Pleasure Can Take Many Forms

As regular readers of my column know by now, my mother really did not like to cook. She did what she had to do to feed her family. However, at least as far as I can remember preparing meals gave her no pleasure. Nor did she want my father to cook because, she said, he burnt everything. Perhaps he was impatient or perhaps he wasn’t watchful. I don’t know because I never saw him in the kitchen except to mix cocktails.

The only household chore I ever knew him to do was to polish the silver. My mother refused to do that and I do not blame her in the least. It is a dirty, tedious job. My father however seemed to enjoy it. I have a memory of him in an apron made from black and white striped mattress ticking material, vigorously polishing some of the lovely silver items he had inherited or been given by family members.

I on the other hand have always derived great pleasure from preparing food, baking, and providing meals for loved ones. For years I collected recipes. In the 80’s I wrote a cookie cookbook as well as a completely refined sugar free general cookbook with many recipes I had created. In those desserts I used only honey or maple syrup. Now even that kind of baking, along with a lot of other recipes I enjoyed making over the years, is history.

Recently I was diagnosed with a medical condition that requires severely restricting my carbohydrate intake. This has resulted in a major upheaval in both my eating and my cooking. In addition to sugars I have had to stop eating rice, pasta and potatoes. Thus I have had to eliminate many favorite comfort food recipes. I can no longer eat the Chinese fried rice I specialized in, the home fried potatoes or the shrimp scampi I enjoyed making as well as eating.

Then along came some difficult news. This caused a reaction I did not expect. I found myself in a depressed state and developed new aches and pains. I kept asking myself why was this happening? Then I realized I had been limiting most of my pleasure to cooking and eating. This is not to say I wasn’t doing fun things or having enjoyable experiences other than with food, however, I had concentrated principally on food related pleasure. I no longer regularly practiced other experiences I found pleasurable, like playing my harp or coloring.

Pleasure can rebalance the body’s ph and help keep us healthy. So now I am working to discover ways besides eating and cooking to give myself pleasure. In so doing I have rediscovered hobbies from the past like embroidery and begun to watch favorite old TV shows we have on DVD. I am spending more time with my harp, simply playing for the pleasure of it rather than working to learn tunes. I got out my coloring books and blank paper pads and began to color and as well as to draw. As time goes by I expect to enjoy new pleasures as well and look forward to discovering them. Meanwhile I already feel better.

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

A Valentine to Lost Loves

dscf0142

When I was eight years old my dear nurse, Emily left to get married. She had taken care of me since I was around eighteen months of age and was in most respects my second mother. She was a practical nurse. That meant besides looking after me, she helped with household chores as well as driving me where I might need to go. She was a devoted caretaker and when she left I missed her sorely. While my own mother loved me dearly, she loved me in her own way. Unlike Emily she was not a physically affectionate person. Also she had much higher expectations of me than Emily did.

When I was twelve, my friend and classmate Sally went away to boarding school. A bookish, unathletic, somewhat plump child, I had no interest in the things my classmates did, and neither did she. As a result from the third to the seventh grade we formed a team of two, and I defended her from the bullies that taunted her for her shyness. I missed her sadly. She lived in a big house by the ocean and our idyllic summers were spent swimming and playing tennis in her private court. Her freezer always held a tub of ice cream and we could make cones when we wanted. When we reached sixteen and I began dating, despite my efforts to remain close, we drifted apart. She had been my best and only friend. She remained distant.

Once I was married and had children I became friends with woman whose two boys were around the age of my two girls. We all went everywhere together. She had a wonderful voice and we used to sing folk songs at our children’s school. We even performed in a contest. Very close, we spoke on the phone almost daily. Then for some reason she became angry with me and disappeared from my life. For months I was devastated. Later on I had another friend I went to the beach with each day. Sadly, after several years she went back to Germany and never returned. By then I was beginning to learn what it was to lose someone I loved, and how to handle it; I was able to recover faster.

Throughout my long life I have had many opportunities to learn to live with loss. I had to come to terms with son’s death when he was twenty-eight, and as I grew older, my parents passing. More lately have come the deaths of others I loved. As time has gone on, these experiences have helped me learn to let loved ones go with a more peaceful heart. I have discovered that I do not need to stop thinking about them, nor do I need to regret their absence. I can take the images of them together with the memories of our time together and put them lovingly in a special album I keep in my heart. Then when I wish to I can open it, turn the pages and smile as I remember with joy the good times we had and the love we shared.

Tasha Halpert

The Dailyness of Doing

Nature's Art 1. 2012-06- While I was growing up, when it came to household chores my mother did not consider me to be capable. This may have been because she expected more of me than I was able to do at a young age, or it may have been that she was so particular that my childish efforts were simply inadequate. She had very high standards. Regardless of the reason, she never encouraged me to do any cleaning or other household tasks even after I was in high school. What this meant was that I never really learned how to clean properly.

I remember the day I came home to the first apartment my young husband and I had and found my father sweeping the rug. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was cleaning the rug. But I don’t have a vacuum, I told him. You don’t need one, he said, and inquired of me where I kept my dustpan and brush. I had never realized you could clean a rug just by sweeping it.

I had to learn how to keep house the hard way, by trial and error and doing it. The other day as I cleaned the sink in the bathroom, I began thinking about household tasks in general. I realized that when I complete some tasks, I give a sigh of contentment and think to myself: good, now that’s accomplished. There are others I complete and with a sigh of resignation wonder how soon I’ll be doing it over again. Much depends on the task in question; some are more satisfying than others. Cooking, for example is my delight and I have no problem making three meals a day.

On the other hand, when I wash the kitchen floor, although it looks very nice, I don’t feel happy because it doesn’t last. Somehow it gets dirty practically immediately. Although small in surface, it is still a chore to keep clean. The stove presents the same issue. It seems that no sooner do I clean the pans under the burners than when I next turn them on, they’ll emit a bit of burning smoke from another stray crumb.

It is hard for me to take much satisfaction when I finish doing something I know I will have to do again practically immediately. Yet when I do not allow myself to take that satisfaction, I do not feel rewarded. If I do not feel rewarded it is much more difficult to do what needs doing again with any promptness. The good feeling I get from completing any task is an important part of what helps motivate me to repeat it, no matter how soon.

There is only one solution I can think of: to do the task as fully as possible in the present moment. What this means is that while I am doing it, rather than thinking of how soon I will have to do it again, or how onerous it is, I focus exclusively on the performance of it. It helps almost any situation to be mindful during it. As I direct my attention and my energy to the activity of the task, I am not only more efficient, but also more able to find pleasure in it.

Tasha Halpert

 

Death is a Part of Life by Tasha Halpert

DSCF0192 The recent announcement of President Carter’s cancer follows on the heels of my hearing about many others whose illness of one sort or another has proclaimed their relatively immanent mortality. In other words, a multitude of serious sicknesses–cancer, heart problems and other conditions of ill health have invaded the lives of people I know and in many cases, love. Perhaps this has to do with getting older. I do not remember hearing as much about such things only a few years ago.

I may have been fortunate in this respect: The death of people I knew and loved wasn’t part of my childhood experience–I went to my first funeral, an aged cousin when I was twelve. Yet death as a part of life was no stranger to me. Growing up with pets and small farm animals I had an intimate acquaintance with it. Ducklings, rabbits, dogs, cats, and the chickens we ate for dinner all lived and died as I watched. I buried my pets myself with due ceremony. I watched as the chicken for dinner was beheaded with an ax.

When I was in my twenties I thought little about death. Then my children’s father nearly perished in an automobile accident. The thought of those I loved dying now forced itself on my attention and I began more to appreciate the specialness of life and of my relationships. Still, I was occupied with life and death wasn’t something I thought much about. Time went by and my grandmother died. She seemed to me an appropriate age to pass on. While I mourned her absence, I was busy with life and my little ones, we were no longer living close to one another and I did not miss her presence.

Years later death grew more familiar. I lost my father to illness, then my own precious son. Some years later several young friends died untimely deaths. Moe and more I was brought to an understanding of the place of death in life. As much as I mourned, I began to recognize that death was indeed a part of life; that dying was merely the blowing out of the candle that was lit at birth. Life is a gift for which I am grateful and the lives of those I love and have loved are very dear to me. Yet like flowers we grow, bud, blossom an finally wilt away.

Untimely death is harder to bear than what seems a natural process. My rabbits were killed when a dog got into their pen. My dog was run over in front of me. Later on my son died far sooner than he might have. Yet even untimely, this is still death as a part of life. Although I miss him still, my sorrow is not so much for his death as it is for the life he was not able to live. We are all most fortunate for whatever time we have on this earth. In my nightly prayers I make sure to express my gratitude for my dear ones, those whose candles still burn brightly. May they continue.