A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

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I am grateful for…

…Monday morning.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was not grateful for any morning, let alone Mondays. A new beginning, a new day, a new opportunity. Whenever I heard or read any of this, I rolled my eyes and went back to hide under the covers. Yes, I was depressed and yes, I hadn’t yet hit the bottom.

And there was another time, even longer ago, when Monday was just another day feeding into another week which was part of another month of an infinite row of years. Yes, that’s how we think when we are young: that we are eternal and time will always be on our side, aren’t we stupid. A good number of years in that – now I know it’s rather finite – row passed before I got to the bottom of that depression valley, and all the Mondays – slowly but surely – lost their flavour and excitement and joy.

Until one day. I don’t even remember if it was a Monday – probably not. It doesn’t matter. Out of the blue came the memory of another day from that forgotten youth when a nice kind man had woken me up to say “I have news for you.” (We had had a conversation the previous night and I had confessed to him that sunny mornings were not giving me joy any longer). So I said: “Yeah, what kind of news?”

“Well, mixed really. The bad news is that it’s sunny outside…” – he said seriously.

I smiled thinking of our talk. “Oh yeah?”

“… and the good news is that it’s sunny outside.” – he smiled back at me.

I didn’t get it then, I thought he was just trying to look smart to impress me. He was, in a way (long story short, he’s my husband of twenty years now). I got out of bed, had breakfast with him, and then we walked through sparkling snow for about 4 hours. He was courting me, it was lovely.

Six years ago, he watched me helplessly while I drowned in my own sorrows. Then, as I was saying, that memory came back and I got it: it was all about perspective. You’d think I’m pretty obtuse, how could I not get that in the first place? Oh, but I did: in my head. It sounded like a joke then. And suddenly, so many years later, it sank into my heart and it became reality.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is shining. What? It’s cloudy? So? The sun is still there, above the clouds, and your brain knows it. Now let your heart be flooded with its warmth. Feel the new beginning, the new day, the new opportunity. Life is yours to live it. You gotta want it – and why wouldn’t you? It’s in your power to change everything. Yes, gradually – you know, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day either, and that’s one true saying. So start with that step you don’t want to take and just be grateful for today.

Happy Monday!

Groceries: the BIG FUN job

Saturday morning. Quickly-quickly, before it gets to noon…! I’ll have to try prepare these posts in advance, Saturday mornings are the leisure part of our week (before it gets busy again towards noon, which is where I’m heading now…)

We do grocery shopping and laundry and fix things and other house stuff on Saturdays. It’s a good time to do this, I find. During the years, we’ve had one possible activity scheduled for the kids in the afternoon, though we’ve tried to avoid it in the early years as they’re more likely to be invited to birthday parties at this time. Talking about organizing your life so you stay (pretty much) on top of things?

Let’s talk about that grocery list today. Ideally, you’d shop for the whole week. That doesn’t exactly work as fantastic as it sounds in larger families if you don’t have two fridges or a separate freezer – and we don’t. We mostly cook from scratch, and I‘m mostly the one who does the cooking (almost daily; I know, but you get used to it), so I need to first do another list of possible dishes to cook in the following week. I have a friend who’s a dedicated working mother – and when I say “dedicated”, it’s in all respects. She has two altars she constantly dies on: work during the day, home during the night and weekends. To keep up with everything, on Saturdays she cooks for the entire following week. I could NEVER do that, it’s too depressing. But hey, if it works for you, go ahead and try it. I’ve adapted this by having a (tentative) idea of what I’ll be feeding my gang weekly.

My cooking list is usually 8 or 9 items long and it includes the daily dinners for the next six evenings and some loose thoughts on lunches or snacks, depending on the time of the year (school-time or summer vacation). I’ve developed an array of dishes which are easy and quick to make, need only a few ingredients and feed tons of people, plus leftovers for next day lunch bags. True that the bulk of these dishes come from the Romanian cuisine, which I’ve been brought up with and might sound strange to anybody who’s not Eastern European or Mediterranean – but you can always adapt it to the cuisine you know and love best. One of the dishes is necessarily some soup – why? Most complicated thing about it is the chopping – other than that, you just put everything in a pot and let it boil until ready. I’ll continue to post recipes on my Wednesday series.

Here’s a possible cooking list for the week:

Chicken and yellow beans (the Greeks call it fasolakia, same thing)

Fish (oven) + corn and peas (boiled)

Pasta with meat/mushrooms/peppers

Pizza

Chicken soup with vegetables and dumplings

Baked potatoes/ hummus/green salad/tomatoes etc. (vegan)

Munchies, snack bars, deli & cheeses for sandwiches

Banana bread / some kind of sweet pie………

Sometimes, I get ready-made dinners – once a month is no big deal, even for healthy-living crazed people. Or we get take out. Or I feel like trying Turkish recipes or Thai or fancy French ones like coq-au-vin (which is really a variation of a Romanian similar recipe, only we use white wine whereas the French use red). Once you start cooking, you get the hang of it and you can vary stuff. The idea is to get to the point when you don’t worry. You cook with whatever is in the fridge (and a little extra, which might require a trip to the store in the middle of the week). Which brings me to the REALLY fun part of doing the groceries!

My husband insists he does the Saturday shopping. He asks for my list, completes it with one or two things he likes, and then sticks to it almost religiously. Like most men, he has little imagination, (mildly) forgets about replenishing kitchen supplies like salt, oil, napkins and the like, plus he does. not. do. the. cooking. (he insists he cooks as much as I do. Sure.) He’s been annoyed for years that by next Wednesday (or some other aleatory day) I do a second (might I say, light) round of groceries. We disagree, obviously. He constantly bugs me about dropping that habit – and why on earth, why can’t I just stick to the list if I come along shopping with him? (does this resonate with any other women?)

So one time, it was I who got so annoyed with him that I let him cook with whatever he bought. Not just that Saturday night, but FOR SOME TIME afterwards. Guess what happened. That Saturday he did some barbecue, nice, he’s good at that. Sunday afternoon, I had to go out running some errands, and asked before I left the house: “so what’s for dinner tonight, honey?” He looked at me aslant and said: “it’s OK, I got it.” I get back home two hours later to find him cooking lasagna (a favourite of his, I never cook lasagna, his is perfect). “Lasagna?” I say with laughter in my voice. “I don’t recall you getting minced meat yesterday.” “I went to the shop and bought some.” he says, avoiding my gaze. “Oh.” I burst out laughing. “It didn’t last you till Wednesday.” He makes himself busy. Funny, right? Lasagna was great that night and it lasted, you got it, for another night. Surprise, surprise, on Tuesday night there was no more. “And what’s for dinner, darling?” Oops. “Err… we have stuff in the fridge.” Right. Sandwiches. We also had some pasta and cheese three nights later.

We lasted like this for about two weeks. The kids started to beg: “moooom, stop this… when are you gonna cook again?” I looked at the love of my life and raised my eyebrows. His lips were pretty tight closed. Ever since, he hasn’t commented much on either the grocery list, my mid-week second round of shopping or my cooking. Getting organized and sticking to a point is working in all respects, trust me. Just find your own way to do it.

Happy Saturday!

Time for a Treat

Thursday morning. Man, it’s the middle of the week. Bad news: work is still there and won’t go away by the weekend (worse than bad news: you don’t have a job; keep reading and hopefully you’ll find some helpful ideas below). Good news: you can take a break any time to recharge your batteries. And what better time than today!

Today you’re gonna GO OUT and have coffee, tea or lunch. With or without a friend. Preferably “with” – a friend who’ll have coffee with you at any time really cares for you and…

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(yes, this is my photo of a sewing kit I bought and I intend to sew this little thing – will post it when ready)

But maybe you are a loner and you don’t have friends (yet! – you’ll make some in due time, plus see picture above). That’s OK, you have a date with your best “friend” then: YOU.

You’re gonna dress nicely for this, even if you go to the cheapest place in town. Why? You respect yourself, you respect your audience, friends, family etc. It all starts with you. Even Jesus Christ gave us the command as such: “Love your neighbour like yourself.” Well, if you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love someone else. Makes sense? That coffee you’re gonna have will make YOU feel good first and foremost, whether you’re helping yourself or others. Get that?

So start with putting on your best comfortable clothes and shoes. Open the door and go straight to that shop and try spot a table by the window or by the fireplace or in a nook. It’s part of treating yourself. Enjoy every sip. This is not the time to start dieting (by the way, any diet sucks – if it’s not attached to a doctor’s prescription or to a healthy and balanced pattern of fasting, don’t inflict it on yourself. I’ll write a separate posting about fasting, promise.)

Talk to your friend or to your self. Take that half an hour or more to focus on positive things. It’s OK if you need to cry and be comforted, just try not leave the table on a sad or angry note. Think of something good for that last sip.

Worst case scenario: you’re totally miserable, you don’t have any friends, you don’t have any money, your best clothes are mostly rags. OK. All it takes is your will power. Do you wanna feel better? Here’s what you do: You put on your best rags. You take a look at that Monday mirror and see that you’re enough the way you are. You get out of your current physical environment and step into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of water and sit by any available window for 10 minutes. Think about the good stuff in your life, anytime, anywhere. There must be something, dig deep into your memory and let the good bits resurface. If a bad memory tries to take over, push it aside gently saying: “I don’t need you right now.” You do this exercise as often as you can (think of), and in a short time you’ll feel better, more confident, richer and more sociable. Stick to it, baby. It’s called the discipline of feeling good.

In any of these instances, appreciate you took the time to dress up and go out because you deserve it.

Happy Thursday!

 

Good Stuff

Wednesday morning. Well, more like lunch time now as I’m posting this, as I was too tired last night to write this and schedule it for posting in the morning. But the timing is good and here’s why: this post is about food!

Remember Monday you took care of your self. Tuesday you walked a bit to exercise your muscles. Now it’s time for some good food and whether you are a cook or not, you are going to try making this from scratch. The only thing you can complain about is it takes 10 minutes to make, otherwise it has only advantages: it’s good and healthy, it doesn’t have any food additives because it tastes excellent on its own, plus you know exactly what’s in it, it’s easy and beautiful to look at, it’s cheaper than processed food. It’s also pure vegan or you can have it as a side dish with meat or eggs or cheeses. You can have it for lunch or serve it at a party as an amuse-bouche (appetizer in English – I like the French term because it is a great description of the function this food fulfills: it amuses the mouth – and the eyes!)

So grab the following:

One pepper of each colour you can think of and/or find it in the store: red, orange, yellow, green should do the trick.

A few types of olives: green, black, mauve, spicy or not, depends on your personal taste.

Some cloves of garlic.

Olive oil (or any other kind)

Some fresh herbs: Best is rosemary leaves, it also works with marjoram, thyme, sage.

Now chop the peppers and the garlic in big chunks, they’re tastier this way.

Get a pan, heat it up a bit and pour the oil in it. Add the chopped peppers and garlic. Fry for a few minutes until the skin of peppers looks soaked. Add olives and rosemary and fry for another minute or two. Ta-da!! Ready. Add salt or not.

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The trick with cooking is to not be afraid to taste stuff as you make it. That’s how you know what it still needs. Tell me you made it. Tell me I’m helping with turning you into a courageous cook. Or don’t tell me a thing, just do it.

You owe this to yourself. You need good food. Enjoy!

Happy Wednesday!

 

Walk the Talk

Tuesday morning. Time to do some body exercise.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep to a gymnastics schedule. People who know me in real life would be surprised, they will most likely think of me as a disciplined person as I manage to achieve quite a lot throughout the day, month, years. But I’m not exactly disciplined. Even Qi Gong – which I have discovered a few years ago – I do every now and then, when my organs inside hurt. Running for running sake makes no sense, I don’t need to lose calories. So I walk.

You wanna get out of depression, do some mild work out too along with thinking better of your self. I started walking last fall as a means to begin the day on a positive tone. I decided that after I see my little one to the school bus, I could go around a few streets in my neighbourhood before I have breakfast. My walk takes about 25 minutes, it’s always the same route, and I do it as often as I can (talk about strict discipline! but hey, I’m trying, see?) I love my neighbourhood, it reminds me of the one I grew up in, not in the architectural style of the houses but in the friendly atmosphere it exudes.

We live on top of a hill whose streets are lined with postwar small houses built in the mid-sixties. They may not look spectacular to some, but I like the ownership pride they show. They are so well taken care of, it gives you confidence in the solid little details which make a good life.

Some are detached bungalows or two-storeys.

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Other are split houses (the ones which have the living/dining/kitchen combo half-way between two floors making the bedroom-garage wing).

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There are also the undefined ones which look like two storey, when in fact they have an elevated main floor (a sort of Italian piano nobile – no wonder, there are many Italians in the area!) over a lower floor with bedrooms and the garage.

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As I’ve been walking by these houses almost daily, their presence has faded in the background and gave way to the seasonal details of their gardens. And so one split came alive with the flame of its yellow maple tree…

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… another one with an “ever-green” which turned golden too…

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… then you’d have pure fire coming right at you…

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…or burning your feet…

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…or just splashes of colour…

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…and weird reminders that as some die, others are born…

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And so it went, from fall into spring – admittedly, we had a lousy winter this one so I didn’t take many pictures as I wasn’t out much (yep, laziness – no, let’s call it by its nicer name “coziness” made a mess of my discipline). But hey, one Tuesday morning, as I was saying, I got back on the road and here’s what I saw:

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Some people even got their beauties out…

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… and the magnolias were simply irresistible!

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SO… what I want you to do is this: get out of the house. Just do it. If you’re somewhere in the northern hemisphere, right now chances are the weather is cooperating. (I hear it’s nice in the southern hemisphere, never been there – you figure it out and let me know.) It may be sunny or not. Get an umbrella or a jacket if it rains. Or walk out and sing in the rain as you are. Rain boots maybe? They are great ’cause you can jump into puddles – and why wouldn’t you? Be a kid. Have you noticed how happy water makes kids? It’s a miracle. You wouldn’t live three days without water, appreciate it, love it. Go out and enjoy every step, even for 5 minutes. And if it’s sunny, you really don’t have any excuse. Step out, walk, close your eyes and let the rays warm your face and soul.

Then come back inside and make yourself a tea or a coffee. You deserve it.

Happy Tuesday!

Mirror Words

Monday morning. Wake up. Grab a marker, the bigger the tip the better.

Find a mirror. Check bathroom. There must be a mirror there. Or back in the bedroom, or in the wardrobe. Hallway is OK too. Wherever. Just find a mirror. Don’t look into it just yet.

While in front of the mirror, close your eyes and do a mental check for a word which defines your self. Preferably a positive word: kind, beautiful, smart, patient, good, witty, funny… It’s OK if it’s not positive.

Now open your eyes and write this on the mirror: I AM [word]

I am kind.

I am beautiful.

I am smart.

I am patient.

I am good.

I am witty.

I am funny.

If your word is not exactly positive and inspiring, write it on the mirror anyway, then cross it with a line and write instead: who I am.

Such as:

I am dumb who I am

I am angry who I am

I am fat who I am

I am lazy who I am

I am anxiety-full who I am

I am unlovable who I am
Under this first sentence write the second: I am enough.

And then the third: I am loved.

Now go start your day. ┬áNext time you look yourself in the mirror, you’ll see a human being with qualities and flaws and courage to keep going. Each time you’ll see that human being, your good beautiful kind smart part will conquer ground. We all need that throughout the week, which is why this is a good exercise for Monday.

You really are beautiful the way you are, in every cell. Believe it and you’ll win the hardest game there is: that of changing your self for the better.

Happy Monday!