Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I Think That I Shall Never See...

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A poem as lovely as a tree.

That's the first line from Joyce Kilmer's 1913 poem, "Trees," which is one of the more familiar American poems, possibly because it is often parodied. (For example, "I think that I shall never see a dog who does not like a tree.") The original poem was an immediate hit upon publication in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, and Kilmer earned a whopping six dollars from them for his efforts. Fun fact: I didn't know until very recently--as in yesterday--that Joyce Kilmer was a man. Huh.

In recognition of April being National Poetry Month, I spent the week reading (at least) a poem a day. My two sources were the internet, and a book entitled A Year in Poetry: A treasury of classic and modern verses for every date on the calendar. Yes, all 365 of them, plus Leap Day.

Some of the poems I read were brief, such as the 12-line "Trees." Others were longer and much more dense. James Dickey's "Falling" is 2,162 words inspired by an air accident in which a 29-year-old stewardess (this was some years ago) was sucked out of an airplane emergency exit while in flight. I do recommend it if you're looking to spend a bit of time contemplating very poignant imagery of a woman plummeting through the air to her death.

I've always liked poetry. I never fail to be impressed by how much poets can do with their carefully chosen words. So, I was surprised that I didn't enjoy this week more. Poem-a-day felt kind of like a school assignment, and I found myself procrastinating and then sort of grudgingly getting through it so I could say I did. It rather reminded me of a mental version of planking.

As much as I would like to say that I am the kind of person who would eagerly make room for a poem or two every day of my life, I just don't see that happening right now. For the time being, I guess I'll stick with my usual habit of reading fewer poems less often but enjoying them more.

This week's Take It or Leave It is an unexpected Leave It.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

An Om of My Own

Image result for meditation imagesHappy Wednesday! I don't know about you, but 2019 has been a stressful year so far. Not in any earth-shattering way, thank goodness, but to the point where I frequently feel on the verge of being overwhelmed. Some of it is good stress--what they call eustress, which is physically or psychologically beneficial--and some of it is definitely distress. (And that's without throwing politics into the mix.) There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done, which is nothing new or unusual for any of us, I'm sure.

For years, I've toyed with the idea of starting a meditation practice. I was never sure how to go about it the right way, though, and I wasn't convinced I was that kind of person (whatever "that" means). Books were helpful but a little too static, and joining a class seemed too intimidating. What if my chakras started acting up in public or something? But now, well, this is one place where I have to give technology credit, because there are multiple meditation and mindfulness apps that made dipping my toe into the calm waters of meditation a whole lot easier.
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After a bit of trial and error, I ended up using the (inadequately named, IMHO) app called InsightTimer. It offers 15,000 free meditations, which was a little overwhelming at first. But they are easily filtered by length and focus. I did have to set up an account, but just name and email, no credit card information. Then, I was up and running. (And by that I mean sitting and still.)

I tried a variety of meditations during the week. The shortest was a minute long, the longest was twenty. Most of them were guided, but a couple of times, I just listened to some relaxing music. I meditated in the morning, at night, and occasionally in between. Even though the guided meditations were fundamentally similar in nature, they varied a lot depending on the presenter. Different accents, different pacing, different background music... Some of them didn't quite click for me, but with 15k to choose from, it was easy to find a better fit.

Frankly, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my meditation time. On the whole, I felt happier and less stressed this week--though that might be because we also had some very lovely spring weather. Maybe when the blizzard we're expecting hits and drops the temperature by 40 degrees F, I will be back to my normal grumpy self.

Although the Take Its are definitely piling up, I have to add this one to that list, as well.

Have a relaxing week!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Penny Saved

A very happy April to you! The first quarter of 2019 is in the books, so I thought I'd start with a Take It or Leave It update. So far, I've tried making twelve small changes in my life and decided to keep most of them, which is great...but the flip side is that I started losing track of what I'm supposed to be doing and when. So I set up a spreadsheet to organize what I need to do every day, every other day, or a few times a week. I think that's going to help, and hopefully I won't have a hot mess on my hands by mid-year.

April is also the month for Blogging A to Z. I'm not doing that this time around but will be visiting as many blogs as I can. I really like seeing the fun, smart, wise, and poignant themes people come up with. And I met a wonderful group of bloggers last year, whose blogs I still very much enjoy.

All right, back to Take It or Leave It...

I love a bargain and always feel good when I can save a bit of money, so one might assume I'm a whiz with coupons. I'm not. For years, my MO was to cut them out and then find them crumpled in the bottom of my purse three weeks later. These days, I'm inundated with coupons and "special offers" from all sides, so I thought I'd devote a week to trying to maximize my savings potential.

Digital coupons are much easier to use than paper ones and do not result in purse trash, so those were my go-tos at the grocery store. Before I went to shop, I scrolled through the store's app and clicked on the coupons I thought I might use. This took some time and patience and honestly didn't result in much savings over and above the store's sale prices. Ditto for Target. Maybe I didn't buy enough, or didn't buy the right things, but it really didn't seem worth my while.

Kohl's is a different story. Even my sons, who are not shoppers, know not to ever pay full price for anything at Kohl's. My 20% off mail coupon was digitally upgraded to 30% off, plus an additional $10 savings. That's all very well and good, but the thing about coupons is that I often end up buying things I don't need, from a box of crackers to a polka-dotted jacket. Stores know this, of course, which kind of makes me resent the whole process. Plus, having to download all the various apps, each which requires setting up a separate account so I can receive dozens of emails I don't want, drives me nuts.

I didn't do as much shopping this week as I thought I might, but, hey, not buying something is like saving 100%, so I no doubt came out ahead. Going forward, I will still look for a good deal for big ticket items, clothing, and admission fees to theme parks and the like. For routine purchases, however, I just don't have the commitment to make the coupon lifestyle pay off, so this one is a Leave It.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Pen is Mellower Than the Sword

Image result for chinese calligraphy symbols and meanings(Hello, last Wednesday of March. Where did you come from??) As part of my resolution-making way back in January, I decided I would learn a new skill this year. For some reason, my brain settled on calligraphy. I don't really know why, except that I do love writing with a nice pen on nice paper. Not long after that, I was poking around in Barnes and Noble and came across Suvana Lin's Chinese Calligraphy Workbook: 50 Characters to Inspire PEACE and CALM. (Yes, capitalized and everything, so you know it must be true.) 

I had thought I would start with Ye Olde English Calligraphy. But I was intrigued by the idea of inspiring peace and/or calm, and Lin's book is pretty to look at and very straightforward. A few key points about the process:
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  • China's earliest form of written communication is oracle shell writing, which dates back approximately 3,500 years.
  • The Chinese consider calligraphy to be a regimen to calm the mind and nurture the heart.
  • Traditional calligraphers make their own ink by grinding an ink stick in water on an ink stone or slab. This has the additional benefit of warming up the hand and wrist.
  • The preferred paper is Xuan paper, made of 40-80% elm bark.
  • Each character belongs to a "radical," which is like a root. The radical for waterfall, for example, is water.
  • The 8 basic strokes are always done in order.

I'm sorry to report that I did not grind my own ink. Instead, I used a brush marker I picked up from the craft store. The book includes plenty of practice space, so I didn't feel the need to track down the special elm bark paper, either. Each day, I practiced for at least fifteen minutes. As advised in the book, I started with the easiest character: one--a single, straight horizontal line. In addition to representing the number one, it also means "only," "single-minded," "special," and "unique." 

Over the course of the week, I grew fairly comfortable tracing even the more elaborate characters but was less successful winging it on blank paper. I usually got close enough, though, that someone who knows could probably recognize what I was getting at--the same way I can read a teenage boy's messy penmanship. Because I was pretty focused on trying to do it right, I didn't achieve much peace or calm. But with practice, it seems entirely likely. There is something very meditative about completing the correct strokes in the correct order, with the result being both beautiful and meaningful.

There are plenty of characters in the book for me to continue to learn and practice, so this one is a Take It.

Please don't grade my work

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

It's No Spoonful of Sugar

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Perhaps you've heard of tractor pulling, taffy pulling, pulling your weight, and pulling over for emergency vehicles, but how about oil pulling? Though it sounds like something from the petroleum industry, it is actually a very old technique to improve dental health by reducing the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth. It might seem like a bizarre thing to do, but the benefits may be more than just anecdotal. One study, for example, showed a significant reduction in Streptococcus mutans, which contributes to plaque buildup and tooth decay.

The process is simple: swish some oil around in your mouth for a while and spit it out. The type of oil can vary. Sesame is a traditional choice, but coconut is also popular due to its natural antimicrobial properties. As for the amount and duration, it appears that anything between a teaspoon and a tablespoon swished for 5 to 20 minutes is acceptable. Some proponents recommend brushing before, and some after. 

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Open wide!
Easy enough, right? Except that the first time I put a heaping teaspoon of coconut oil in my mouth, I nearly gagged. I thought there was no way I could swish it for my starting goal of 5 minutes. But I distracted myself with a little Saturday Night Live, and before I knew it, the time was up. I spit out the oil in the trash (to avoid clogging the drain), rinsed my mouth, and was pleasantly surprised to find that my teeth felt pretty darn good.

Over the course of the week, I extended my swishing time by a minute each day until I made it to ten. It did get easier, but, honestly, this whole deal really is kind of gross. What starts out as a mouthful of oil (bad) becomes a mouthful of oil mixed with saliva (worse). My sister suggested adding a drop of tea tree essential oil, and that helped. A little. With practice, I got better at oil pulling, but I never looked forward to it.

I'm really tempted to call this one a Leave It. And I probably would, except for growing research that potentially links oral hygiene with a list of health problems, including heart and respiratory diseases, pancreatic cancer, and Alzheimer's. Apparently, when bad mouth bacteria migrate to the bloodstream, they can wreak all kinds of havoc. So, I think I'll keep up with the oil pulling a while longer and see if my dentist notices a difference.

This week: a reluctant Take It.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Kon-do or Kon-don't?

Japanese organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo is all the rage right now. Her 2011 book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is an international bestseller, and she has a new show on Netflix. Her method, called KonMari, involves these six initial steps:
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  • Commit yourself to tidying up.
  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
  • Finish discarding first. Before getting rid of items, sincerely thank each item for serving its purpose.
  • Tidy by category, not location.
  • Follow the right order. (I don't know what that is, because I haven't read the book.)
  • Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
The crux of the process is getting rid of items that lack value, and (in the case of clothes) goes like this: 
  • Take everything out of closets and drawers.
  • Make a big pile.
  • Consider each item individually to determine whether it sparks joy.
I am intrigued by the sparking joy part, but I also know that I don't have the stamina right now to KonMari my life. If I were to make a pile of all my clothes, in a few days, I would have...the same pile of clothes, but with a couple of helpings of guilt and irritation on the side.

Image result for marie kondo meme funnyBut that doesn't mean I can't take small steps toward "life changing magic," so my Take It or Leave It for last week was to clean one shelf or drawer every day. This was in addition to the routine household tasks that somehow need to be done approximately every six minutes. 

Although I didn't go full Kondo, I actually made demonstrable progress. Most of my projects took less than ten minutes, and it was pretty satisfying to throw stuff away. (BTW, I didn't ask if the old underwear sparked joy; I just pitched them.) 

I look at this week as practice for a time in the future when I'm willing to commit to a big KonMari purge. But maybe if I wait long enough--decades, hopefully--I can jump right into Margareta Magnusson's book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which, in a nutshell, involves getting rid of all my crap before my boys have to deal with it.

This mini-KonMari Take It or Leave It is a Take It, but probably only two or three times a week instead of daily.  

I'll leave you with this quote from Beauty and the Beast Marie Kondo: 

It is only when you put your house in order that your furniture and decorations come to life.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Pull Up a Chair

Image result for dining table with foodAyurveda has a saying: "When you eat standing up, death looks over your shoulder." That strikes me as especially dire because it's a bad habit of mine. I'll eat half my lunch while I'm standing at the counter making it and half my dinner while I'm cleaning up the kitchen. I'll grab a few nuts and eat them on the way to the laundry room or a few crackers as I head out the door. I'm a roving nibbler of the worst order. In a traditional hunter/gatherer society, I'd be the one who returned home with an empty basket every time because I ate all the berries as I was walking along.

Last week, I tried to break the habit...or at least put a dent in it. My rule was that I could only eat while I was sitting at my dining table. Frankly, this was not my most successful endeavor--partly because of a family circumstance that threw me off my schedule and stressed me out, and partly because this eating-on-the-go habit is more deeply ingrained in me than I imagined.

I'm not a drive-through person, so eating in the car isn't an issue, but apparently anywhere in my house is fair game. (Except the bathroom, because ewww.) The ridiculous thing is that it somehow feels more efficient to eat when I'm doing other things. Multitasking, you know. So, even with a concerted effort to pull up a chair every time I put food in my mouth, I probably only remembered to do it about 60 percent of the time.

When I did remember, I usually felt pretty good about it. Sitting down allowed me to be much more mindful, and I'm sure I consumed fewer unnecessary calories, too. But it was occasionally a little irritating, as if I had not death looking over my shoulder but a nosy little hall monitor telling me to slow down, there's no fire.

I would love to say that this is a slam-dunk Take It, that I saw the error of my ways and will now sit, relax, and enjoy each morsel of food, but this one is going to take some time. At least now, though, I'm more aware of it, and sometimes that's half the battle.

Bon appetit!