The Importance of Self Care

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As children we are often told to be kind, to be sharing and giving, and to show our love to others by how we treat them. We are seldom told to care for or to love ourselves. I remember as a child sending for a nurse kit from Quaker Oats. It was advertised on a radio program I listened to every weekday. I liked the idea of being a nurse. It was a way to care for others, as I was told to do. After my little kit came I bandaged up my teddy bear and treated him to a hospital stay as I played nurse in my little white cap and apron.

As young people we feel invulnerable; we can go for a night without sleep and hardly notice. Unless we have allergies or some medical condition, eating whatever we like is the rule rather than the exception. We seldom need to sit and rest after exertion but can continue on as if we were made of steel. I was in my late forties when I began to realize I could no longer treat my body as if it were some kind of machine that could go on and on.

I began to notice that if I didn’t pace myself I would need to slow down or even stop in the middle of my efforts to get everything done. This bothered, even annoyed me. I didn’t like to stop. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Then I had a real wake-up call: I got an excruciating pain in my neck and shoulder that wouldn’t go away. It took a number of chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest before I was able to move without hurting. The experience was extremely unpleasant. I finally got the message: I had been treating my body badly, and I needed to change my attitude.

First and foremost I realized I heeded to stop and rest between efforts. I also began to notice that when I ate certain foods I was uncomfortable; when I didn’t get enough sleep I was dragging. While this annoyed me, I had to admit it was important information. I realized that while it was strong and able my body needed a different kind of attention. Rather than treat it offhandedly as a machine that just needed fuel and occasional maintenance, I needed to treat it kindly, as if it were a faithful animal that was carrying me where I needed to go. I also had to accept its messages as needs and wants rather as impediments to what I wished to do when I wished to do it.

The importance of my self care grows with each passing year. Movement I used to take for granted has become an effort. There are even things I can’t easily do at all any more. But what is more important is that I remember to do what I need to do for my comfort as well as my health: Rest between efforts, meditate, take time to sit with my feet up, put in my eye drops, drink enough water, eat enough fiber, avoid what I can no longer comfortably digest. My list could go on and on, however I’ve made my point. Self care matters. More importantly, remembering to care for myself means I can continue to care for others, and that most of all is a good reason to do so.

Tasha Halpert

Lenten Discipline, Spiritual Discipline

icicles-2Regardless of one’s spiritual orientation, self-discipline can be helpful to one’s personal growth. In the days before supermarkets or even grocery stores, for people in spiritual or religious communities or congregations to find enough to eat in the latter months of winter could be difficult especially in the six weeks before Easter. The Christian religious institutions of the day dedicated this time, known to Christians as Lent to the spiritual practice of fasting. From a practical standpoint, this extended what supplies remained. It also provided a spiritual bonus to do so. Making a virtue of necessity, the Lenten observances of the past centuries helped individuals get through the scarcity of food.

When I was growing up of course food was abundant. Fasting certainly was not a necessity. I was taught that the way to fulfill my Christian Lenten obligations was to give up something I might enjoy eating. I was told that fasting wasn’t just about going without a meal or not eating meat; it could mean giving up chocolate, or ice cream or sweets in general during Lent as a discipline instead of not eating meat on certain days or whatever else might be considered appropriate.

My great aunt Alice was a woman of character and community mindedness. She was a great believer in doing good and volunteered in a number of organizations as well as gave generously to charities. She had a different approach. She believed in taking on rather than giving up something during Lent. She would assume extra volunteer work or make a special effort at that time to visit elderly or invalid family members or friends.

I have come to believe that my Great Aunt’s idea of a good Lenten discipline is more meaningful as a spiritual practice than giving up desserts or candy. However, I am not one to visit the sick, nor am I usually involved in any community activities of a volunteer nature. Instead I believe that for me to fulfill the spirit of this period I can take on a practice of deliberate focus: to enhance my awareness of gratitude and of opportunities for me to give. I can become more mindful of my blessings, spend more time acknowledging the kindness of friends and family, and be more aware of whatever opportunities may present themselves for me to be kind and thoughtful to others.

Self-discipline can consist of an act of rigorous denial or of observing and then acting as might be appropriate. One can lead a spiritual life whether or not one has taken vows or lives within a specific religious or spiritual setting. If my Lenten practice becomes a habit or enhances my ability to be more mindful, that will do me more good than giving up candy. In the process it may also help me to be more aware of when I can do someone a kindness. By prioritizing these attitudes in my everyday life, I can enact a Lenten discipline that will do more good in general than simply fasting from anything I might enjoy eating.

A Valentine to Lost Loves

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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

How to Grow Your Heart Bigger

Peace Village 3 Heart.jpgVery young children share quite naturally. Who hasn’t been the recipient of a toddler’s offering of a cookie or a treasured toy? Later, children become more self-centered, and parents have to teach them to share. Then we outgrow our parents’ teaching and begin to form our own ways of behavior. At this point we may often emulate peers who may or may not be good examples of heartfelt behavior. Some, like me, inherit critical attitudes from parents or teachers, and so unwittingly continue them. This can shrink the heart.

Most of us are familiar with a character of Dr. Seuss’s called the Grinch. His heart was shrunken–too small by far. This resulted in his acting meanly toward others and because it annoyed him, trying to take away their joy. When he couldn’t, his heart grew. Most of us believe we would never try to steal another’s joy, however perhaps we could be ignoring opportunities to grow our hearts bigger. This is something I’ve had to learn and I worked hard to learn it. It’s not easy to do so; the first step in he process is to observe one’s very own smallness of heart.

For example, when I look at someone or even myself with a critical eye, observe with distaste mine or another’s extra pounds or unkempt clothing, or think negatively of my or another’s behavior and don’t catch myself doing it, I am missing an opportunity to grow my heart. I could change my thinking and reflect that they could be on medication, indigent, ill or feeling uncomfortable and instead feel compassion for them or myself. I’m aware that when I am tired or someone annoys or irritates me, it takes restraint not to snap back. Yet when I can manage to see them in a different light, it will grow my heart.

Another way to grow my heart is to not act selfishly and take the biggest, the best or the most for myself. Being generous to others is a simple way for me to grow my heart. As children we have often been taught this by well meaning parents, yet depending on how I might be feeling, it is easy to do the opposite. Then too, if I do it grudgingly or without a genuine desire to give, it may not be as effective for heart enlargement, however it can still work to my benefit. The most effective attitude is to put others ahead of oneself with joyful willingness as opposed to grudging obligation.

While it is sometimes painful to observe myself behaving in ways other than how I want to see myself, it is also worth doing. I’ve learned that if I catch myself in the act often enough, I will stop whatever negative behavior I observe. Selfish behavior, a judgmental attitude, an outlook automatically critical of others can lead to shrinkage of the heart. Generosity, compassion, and loving giving can lead to the growth of the heart. Plus there is often a return on one’s investment. What goes around really does come around. Those who practice these virtues may well reap good fortune in some way in return. While this is not a reason to be doing it, it is a nice side benefit.

Tasha Halpert

 

Muffins for Fall Munching

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I once attended a weekend Renaissance Fair with some friends. Wearing a costume of a mobcap, a full skirt, blouse and a vest, with my similarly garbed friends I was having breakfast in the restaurant of the motel where we were staying. As I perused the buffet table a man came up to me. “There are no more muffins,” he said. I shook my head and assured him I wasn’t a waitress. “We need more muffins,” he said loudly. My similarity to the waitress’ colonial garb was too convincing. My friends were helpless with laughter. I giggled and joined them. To this day Stephen kids me about the incident.

While I like making muffins now, I didn’t learn to make them in my mother’s kitchen. She didn’t bake from scratch or even at all, and I was not encouraged to do so. Once married I tried to make them but my muffins were invariably heavy, flat and dense in texture. Though edible, they were not how I thought muffins ought to be. When I sought inspiration from more experienced cooks, I found out what I was doing wrong. Voila, my muffins rose nicely.

I discovered that muffins, unlike cakes, cookies and other baked goods did not need to be well beaten. Once I learned to fold the wet ingredients lightly into the dry ingredients my troubles were over. The source of my information was a column in the Boston Globe called the Confidential Chat. It ran several times weekly and was a wonderful source of recipes, advice and help as well as an opportunity to share for those of us who wished to do so. At the peak of my participation I wrote around fifteen or so letters a week, many of which were published, and in the process I learned to write succinctly.

Writers to the column used pen names, so publication was anonymous. However, letters answering you that were not published were forwarded bundled in an envelope you provided, and you could choose to answer any of them if you wished. In certain ways the Confidential Chat was part of the foundation for this column because it helped me learn to write precisely and convey information clearly. Long-winded or unclear letters simply were not published. Since I enjoyed seeing mine in the paper, I worked hard to write well. I also loved the recipes and shared many.

Here is a recipe I use a lot for Banana Chunk Muffins. You may substitute melted butter for the oil. If you do, be very sure to mix lightly. Ingredients: 2 eggs, 1/3 cup oil, ¾ cup any milk, 1 tsp vanilla, ½ cup sugar, 1½ cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 or 3 bananas cut into ½ to 1 inch squares, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped walnuts, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped dates. Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, Mix fruit, nuts with dry ingredients, beat wet ingredients together well and lightly mix into dry. Use liners or grease 1½ dozen muffin cups or 1 8″ square pan. Fill ¾ full and bake for 30 minutes for muffins, 35 to 40 for pan. Enjoy!

Tasha Halpert

Pennies from Heaven

Grammy and Emilia 04My grandmother grew up in a time when a penny, not mention a dollar was worth considerably more than it is today. She also grew up in an era when there were few occupations of any status open to women besides marriage. If you were single and not a member of the “working class,” not much was open to you in he way of employment. You could be a school teacher or a companion to a wealthy older woman otherwise, you most likely lived with your parents and or a sibling, or helped care for those in your family.

I used to enjoy the stories she told me about her growing up years in the big house she shared with one sister and one brother. I remember having tea with my great grandmother in that house when I was very young. Like her, even many years later my grandmother had tea every day at four o’clock. When I was with her I was given ginger ale in a very thin glasses etched with a delicate design. I remember how it tickled my nose as I drank it.

While I was growing up, my grandmother and I were very close. She loved me dearly, and one way she showed it was to save all her pennies for me. When she came to visit, she would hold them clasped in her large wrinkled hands. I would place my small hands together just under hers. Then she would glide her closed hands over mine and say aloud, “Hold fast all I give you, hold fast all I give you, hold fast all I give you.” On the third repetition she would open her hands to let the pennies fall out, and I would open mine. The pennies would pour in, filling my small hands to overflowing.

Even today I love it when I find pennies lying about on the ground or even on the floor in stores. To me this is a sign of good luck. The other day I brought some items to a consignment store. One was a purse and I put a penny inside. I have always put a penny into every purse I have ever given away. When I told the person at the counter what I had done, she smiled and told me that when she found pennies it felt to her as though they were a sign from her late husband that he was still with her. “He loved finding them,” she told me, “though they had to be face up. On our wedding anniversary, and on his birthday both I found a lot of pennies all face up the way he liked them.” Pennies are special to her also.

Though they have lost much of their value monetarily today, a penny is more than just a penny to me. However, back a long way in time, a penny was a significant amount of money. There were even coins in common use smaller than a penny. But then life was cheap and for most people times were hard. Now periodically there are movements to get rid of them entirely because it is said they cost more to manufacture than they are worth and they slow down the process of making change. A number of countries have discontinued them, substituting five and ten cents as their lowest denomination.

For me a shiny penny is more than a coin. It is a symbol of my childhood and a way to access memories from that time. Seeing my grandmother in my mind’s eye, hearing her voice as she chanted the magical words, “Hold fast all I give you,” brings up even more memories of my days with her, of the stories she would tell me about her girlhood and what it was like for her growing up. I am older now than she was then, yet the memories have not faded. Like shiny pennies lying on the ground for me to find, they bring me a happy feeling in my heart.

Tasha Halpert

A New World to Hear

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I remember my great grandmother’s ear trumpet. It was a long instrument, flared at one end. She held the small end to her ear. I also remember a black box the size and shape of a thick brick that had a cord running from sitting on a table that must have been an early hearing instrument. My grandmother wore a case the sizes of a slim cigarette pack clipped to the front of her dress with a cord connected between it and a button in her ear. There was a dial on the box she could turn on and off.

My dad used to say she turned it off when she didn’t want to hear what was being said. I remember as a child thinking how handy that must be. Aids to hearing have come a very long way since then. As people age, much like the normal need for eyeglasses to address a lessening of vision, so too there is a need for aids to hearing. Unfortunately these are extremely expensive compared to eyeglasses. Hopefully one day this will change.

Because of the deafness that seemed to run in my family, I was not surprised when my own hearing began to diminish. I found I needed to have the TV on louder. It was helpful to watch movies on DVD with subtitles, especially when the actors had British accents. If Stephen spoke to me and I was in the other room I had to get closer to him to hear what he was telling me.

Ambient noise interfered with my understanding of words; parties were less fun. My children noticed and suggested I get hearing aids. Still, I wasn’t sure I really needed them, or so I thought. Then as luck would have it I was gifted with a set. My daughter offered me her late mother-in-law’s hearing aids. I am very glad I said yes. It has been an adventure for me to use them. I find myself marveling at sounds I have not really heard before, or not for a long time.

I remember my mother telling me that when my grandmother put on her new hearing aid and went outdoors she said, “What’s all that noise?” It was the birds chirping. She had not heard birds for many years. My ears have not been that bad. I have been able to hear more or less, just not clearly. I notice the difference with the aids: without them, it’s like I have water in my ears. With them when I turn on the sink faucet, I hear splashes and ripples. When I unwrap paper it crackles. The stove timer sounds shrill. I hear sounds I didn’t before.

In the past when I thought about getting hearing aids I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I expected them to be clumsy, perhaps difficult to manage. None of this has proved true. Today’s aids are quite different from those of my grandmother’s or even of recent times. They are virtually invisible. I am very grateful to my daughter for her thoughtfulness, and I look forward to learning more about the new world I am hearing. As I have come to appreciate the clarity I get from wearing eyeglasses, now I enjoy the adventure of listening to a new and different world.