Smiles and Frowns can Grow on You

My first husband was in the ROTC in college. After his graduation we went to El Paso to live while he attended officers’ school. My little girl took her first steps there. We lived in a small housing complex with other young families. I became friend with another of the mothers in her twenties. She was from Oklahoma. One of the first things I noticed about her was that living in that hot, dry climate had scored deep frown and squint wrinkles in her youthful skin. Seeing them I determined right then that if I was going to have wrinkles at least they would be pleasant ones, and so I trained myself to notice whenever I started to squint or frown. Then as I caught myself, I would stop.

Some research on the Internet revealed that it takes more muscles for a genuine smile than it does for a frown. Furthermore, the act of smiling exercises the facial muscles and brings more blood to nourish the cells of the face. This I turn helps make us look younger and prettier. More important, so far as I m concerned is that the act of smiling releases endorphins in the brain. These are feel good hormones that makes us feel happier. So as we do so, we smile more and so forth. This is called a positive feedback loop.

One does not always feel like smiling. Some days it seems like the whole world is conspiring to create problems for you. Now certainly you do not feel like smiling. However, you can take heart. Even a pretend smile releases he feel good endorphins. I learned this from Thicht Nhat Hahn, the well-known teacher of meditation. If you make even a small smile it will release some of those feel good endorphins and make you feel better and more like really smiling.

The subject of this column was sparked by the visit of an old and dear friend who came over recently for lunch. He told us that a little while ago when he was interviewing for a job his interviewer asked him, “Do your cheeks hurt?” He said they didn’t and asked why. “Because you never seem to stop smiling,” came the reply. He does indeed smile a lot, and he is a very happy person. I expect there is a connection there. For myself ever since I can remember I have always enjoyed smiling at people. It does make me feel good and sometimes I get a smile in return.

Years ago I did find that it was unwise to smile at strangers on the subway because they might get the wrong idea and try to follow me home. It is also true that in some societies, smiles are considered bad form and indicate something less than friendliness. An article in Wikepedia suggests that smiles may have evolved from a grimace of fear. However, perhaps this worked to make people less fearful and happier, who knows. It has been said that in our youth we have the face God gave us, and in our elder years we have the face we have given ourselves. This is a good enough reason to smile as often as possible.

Tasha Halpert

Saving What Is Useful

useful bags.jpg  When my mother and I went to Russia in 1991 among the places we visited was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It was very impressive. My favorite part was the room with six Rembrandts. Sitting among them was an extraordinary experience. As we left we bought some postcards and other souvenirs and when none seemed to be forthcoming, asked for a bag to put them in. The cashier gave us a sour look then finally dug out a used plastic bag– an obvious treasure from her hoard and placed our items in it. Recycled bags were more common there than new ones were then.

I certainly do save and either use or recycle lots of plastic bags, however I have a stash of various sizes of paper bags as well as small gift boxes that threatens to erupt from its container. Some are saved for when we give people gifts. The ones with decorations for Christmas or birthday, for instance come in very handy. Others with no decorations or simply printed with the name of a store can be used for any occasion, and also for carrying things. I only wish I knew just how many of these decorated bags I would need in the near future so I could pass some of them on to others.

I simply cannot bear to throw out anything that is ultimately useful. Take for instance the elastics that come on things. I haven’t bought any rubber elastics for years. They come in various sizes, shapes and colors, mostly on vegetables. The small bag I have stays full because what I use gets replaced. Twisty ties are something else I tend to save. They too come in various lengths and are useful for tying up many things as well as substituting for the difficult to reuse flat plastic closures most bread bags come with. The long ones are good for wrapping around electric cords and small tools.

I seldom use paper towels unless I want to clean up a mess, thus saving paper. I tear appeal letters and ads for insurance and so forth on 81/2 by 11 sheets with a blank side into thirds, pinch them together with a clip and use them to make my grocery and “to do” lists. Smaller scraps of paper become notes, though I have to be careful not to lose those. String of any length of course gets reused, as does ribbon, and of course wrapping paper. Unless it’s torn, I fold and save Christmas and birthday wrapping paper, as did my parents.

Being of a saving nature runs in my family. My father once told me he found an envelope among his mother’s things with bits of string in it labeled “pieces of string too small to use.” However I have since heard this story from other sources, so it may have been something he borrowed rather than experienced. My mother, my father, my grandmother and my other relatives all followed the Yankee thrift rule: recycle, reuse or do without, so it’s not surprising I developed this habit and needless to say as I have discovered, passed it on to my children.

A Saving Nature

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As far as I remember my dad wasn’t one to save things, quite the contrary. He was much more inclined to throw things out. On the other hand, I have a tendency to save anything I think might be useful or could be helpful in time of need—like extra food. I believe I inherited my saving nature from my mother. Once when I visited her in their weekend cottage in Maine I helped her clear out a closet. In the process I found at least three irons, and several toasters she had bought at yard sales and stored against future need. I kidded her about it and she told me quite seriously that they might come in handy one day, and she was happy to have them.

Another time, when I visited her in South Carolina where she lived after my father passed on, I was rummaging in her kitchen when I saw she had a number of broken items in her kitchen drawers. I asked her about them and she assured me that they could be fixed one day and used again. There was something even more useful in her bathroom. My parents loved to travel and wherever they went, my mother collected the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and whatever else that were provided by the places they stayed. They were all lined up in rows on her bathroom sink, filling the entire flat part around the basin.

Perhaps for her they were souvenirs of her trips with my father because she never did use them. She also had rows of empty toilet paper cardboard tubes stacked next to the toilet. I didn’t ask her why because I am sure she would have had a good reason for why she kept them. A while ago I noticed I had quite a collection of little bottles saved from trips myself, and I decided that rather than purchase shampoo and conditioner I would use them. I didn’t want to be like my mother, hoarding something in case of need and then never getting to make use of it. I have come to realize that as we get older we must be careful not to take on our parents’ habits.

There is nothing wrong in being of a saving nature; however, to save something indefinitely is counter productive. When we were moving to our current apartment I discovered I had quite a lot of canned and boxed food that was out of date on the shelves of my former pantry. Now I realize I need to go through things more often to make sure I use what I have in a timely manner.

My father used to kid my mother because she had kept some linen sheets exactly as she had received them as a wedding present. He would ask her if she was saving them for her next husband. I have been thinking more about my mother’s habit lately and resolving to make use of what I have. After all, what she might not have realized was that once something is gone it may often be replaced by what is even better.

Tasha Halpert