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!