Thursday, January 18, 2007


Lately, I've been observing light a lot more. The way light shines off of walls at different times of the day. The way it changes the feel of a room depending on the angles of the blinds or weather outside. The effects of light on the sky - how blue appears so differently depending of which direction you are looking. The way light is depicted in paintings. When I'm onstage with our choir, the light through the stained-glass windows colors the congregation in various shades of purple, blue and golden orange. It's a beautiful sight.

I think it all started a few weeks ago. It was a typical weekday morning, we were rushing around intent on making sure we remembered to do and grab everything we needed for the day. It was cold, so I went out to start the car. And there in the sky, majestic and silent, was the most stunning sunrise. The clouds made the most fascinating patterns and were shining in pinks and golds. I was caught completely off-guard. So I stopped, for a moment, in total appreciation. No distraction, no sound, complete silence. But the sky spoke volumes.

Since then, whenever I go out to start the car, I stop to appreciate the morning sky for a brief moment. How different it is each day... On clear mornings, the deepest blues with golden reds peeking just above the skyline. On a foggy morning, with the mist settled on the trees in the distance and everything soft and peaceful. And most days, the way the clouds slowly drift across the sky - sometimes a golden shimmer, sometimes brilliant pink, sometimes various shades of purple and gray in different patterns and shapes - fabulous!

I picked up the most inspiring little book recently called "Small Graces - The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life" by Kent Nerburn. His writings are so contemplative, so beautiful, I almost cried after reading the introduction!

Anyway, there is one chapter called "The Gift of Clouds" where he tells of a time he was a cab driver. Everyday he would pickup a blind elderly woman and they would chat. One day he asked her if she could choose one thing to see, what would it be. She said "Clouds." He was surprised by that and asked her to explain. She said that it's because no one can explain them to her. They say they are like cotton or fog. The spray whipped cream in her hands and have her feel the shape of them on paintings. But still, she cannot picture them. She asks him how he would explain them. He looks into the sky and says "They're like God's dreams."

And so I have a new appreciation for the sky, for the clouds and for the way the light changes them every moment of every day. And I am grateful to be blessed with the eyes to see them.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sushi and Seagulls

The other day we took a trip to the Asian market. And even though it's just down the road, when you enter it's like you've been transported to another world. There are shelves full of deliciously unusual items: pickled bok choy, fresh tofu soaking in water, boxes of dried shrimp and other assorted creatures, bins full of fresh blue crabs and stacked aquariums filled with fish that watch you as you pass by. While we were there, a man and his son ordered two live eels. I wonder how you prepare those slithering things!?! I'm sure there's a recipe on the web.

Our intention was to pickup up just a few things to add to our miso soup. We ended up with a basket full of groceries! My daughter's favorite is the flavored soda bottles with a marble at the top. You push the marble down and it wobbles around the neck of the bottle. Fun games for kids!

So we ended up with so much food for dinner that we were eating leftovers for a week! We actually did make the miso soup stocked with yummies like baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo, egg and bok choy. We also made our own sushi rolls, spring rolls (with glass noodles!), pot stickers and heated up some Benh-Da, a crunchy cracker-like tortilla with black sesame seeds.

It took a total of 3 hours to make and we were finished in less than 15 minutes. Despite the short time, it was absolutely delicious.

Back to the Asian market... as we were leaving, I noticed seagulls in the parking lot. Since we moved here in 2001, I just can't get over the fact that we have seagulls flying around at all times of the year. Rob and I have lived in Key West and San Franscisco, so it's a given that seagulls are in both places. But I grew up in Pennsylvania and Raleigh kind of reminds me of it. I mean, it gets cold here, there are bonafide winters - most of the time. Plus, the ocean is not exactly within walking distance. Raleigh just strikes me as a land-locked location. So to see seagulls, which is such a "beach" symbol to me, is just kinda odd.

Well, it just so happened that we had a box of leftover bagels from church that morning, so Maddy and I decided to feed the birds. What fun it is to throw bits of bread to the gulls. The funny way they fight over them and look at you expectantly - waiting for the next little bit. The caws and sqaws they shriek, the way they fly down and catch pieces in midflight. I had birds waiting in line mid-air, watching each move I made intently. Once they got their bit, they'd sail off. It's so uplifting to watch them!
It made us both feel light and happy.

Like I said before, we were in a parking lot and it was a busy Sunday. So our little activity drew quite a lot of attention. People in passing cars slowed down to watch, smiling and waving. Those leaving the store would stop to watch a little of the "show". I was delighted to see such happy reactions from others. What a great way to connect with strangers...

So, all in all, our sushi-and-seagulls day was an unexpected success!

Monday, January 8, 2007


Why is it that when you close your eyes, food tastes so much better? When we go out for sushi, our whole little threesome family closes our eyes while we're eating, making yummy sounds. Even now, I'm sitting here having a bite of a Twix bar and when I close my eyes, it's the sweetest, most delightful thing I've ever tasted.

I think if I didn't look so weird doing it, I might close my eyes all the time to eat.

That reminds me of a movie, American Beauty. In one scene, the boy takes a video of a grocery bag swirling around in the wind. Blowing up and down, around in circles, like it was playing with the leaves. It's so mezmorizing, watching that bag dancing with the wind.

Sometimes when I'm at a stop light, I'll observe the trees or the clouds slowly passing in the sky. It occurs to me that if I had a video camera taping the leaves fluttering in the trees or the branches swaying and bowing in the wind, it might be the most inspiring video ever seen. The difference, I think, is watching it without distraction. Like viewing it through a tube or from a box. No cars or pedestrians passing by. No horns blowing. No one watching. Just me and the tree. Or just me and a dancing grocery bag.

There is a quote by a zen monk named Cheri Huber. She's this amazing woman - funny, spritely, not at all what I imagine a zen monk to be. (See Cheri says "The quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention."

I heard this quote last year but I don't think I really got it until recently. I've noticed that when I'm completely focused on a task, when I don't allow any distractions but think only of what I'm doing, things get done so much faster, so much more easily, with such high quality results.

When I'm driving and completely focused, I can avoid all sorts of potential accidents, I never jerk the car to a stop and never get stuck in an intersection. Same thing at work, it's amazing how much I can get done with so little mistakes.

The most interesting thing about focusing on the present moment, is that my face and body completetly relax. When my mind is spinning endlessly, I'll tell myself to stop, be present, see, smell and feel everything around me right then. The muscles on my face relax when I didn't even realize how pinched they were. My skin feels soft and clear, like there's not a wrinkle in sight. I can imagine what Anne Rice was talking about when she described the vampires as having alabaster skin. Completely flawless. Alabaster. (I love that word!) Relaxed with no anxiety, no stress, no problems to solve.

So, I keep on focusing, being present. Maybe I'll even start closing my eyes when I eat. I mean, really, it doesn't bother me to yoga in the middle of the treadmills at the Planet Fitness. Or drive around with blinking red and green lights strung through my bike rack on my car at Christmas. I notice at I get older that I'm less and less self-conscious. But, that's a separate post.

For now, I enjoy the trees blowing in the wind, the sight of a dancing grocery bag and the bite of a Twix bar.

Saturday, January 6, 2007


In our neighborhood, along with the retirees that staple thousands of wonderfully tacky lights to their homes at Christmas time and bring us jars of jam and gifts of lawn equipment, we’re lucky to have several families – all with children between the ages of 5 and 9. Not a huge group, but just enough.

One boy across the street won a contest at school and was awarded with a free party at the local ice skating rink. He chose to invite the neighborhood gang, so we donned our scarves and gloves and met him there. Of the six children present, there were 4 adults, myself, my husband and two other lucky fathers. We fitted the kids with their skates, handed them the beginner training bars and sent them off on the rink. Unfortunately, half of them fell flat on their butts as soon as the metal hit the ice. There was only a small opening to the rink and the kids couldn’t be reached above the rink wall because of the 5 foot plexiglass used during hockey games. My husband and I looked at one another and shrugged our shoulders. Someone had to go out there to help and we seemed to be the most qualified.

Not that I don’t enjoy skating… We used to go ice skating all the times when we were kids. Then there were the roller skating years during middle school (am I dating myself here?) And during our 3 years in Key West, Rob and I used to roller blade every day to shake those pesky hangovers.

I guess on a Sunday afternoon, having rushed there from church without my coat, I was taken off guard. It was freezing in there! But, we braved the chill and headed out.

Bless their hearts, those kids were troopers! Even after numerous hard falls, they kept laughing and smiling. Amazingly, their balance improved and we could leave a few on their own. Rob and I decided to take a few spins around the ice together, in that cheesy cross-handed synchronized couples-skate that reminds me of a good old black-and-white Jimmy Stewart movie. The other dads that accompanied our group laughed as we passed by, but who wouldn’t? We’re both hams and we love it.

So I wonder, with rosy cheeks, flying around the rink, why don’t we do this more often? This is the life! Our daughter should have professional lessons, we should come every weekend, we should twirl our life away is this wondrous, sparkling, icy-filled place!

But, our time on the ice dwindles and the kids are getting cold. We fill them with soft pretzels and hot chocolate, return those battered, scuffed boots worn by so many before us and leave the ice palace. Believe it or not, the Carolinas are having an unseasonably high temperatures and the weather outside is warm, comparatively. Sort of a relief, actually.

We pull up to our house and I remember why it is that we can’t fritter our life away in an icy-dreamland. Right – we’re in the middle of 3 loads of laundry, the plants need water, the cat box needs to be cleaned and the dog wants food. Anything else? Of course, the list goes on but what fun it is! Skating. Perhaps we can squeeze it in next weekend!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


Like the ripples that are created from a pebble dropped into a lake, it's amazing what one smile can do in this life. Not just the smile that I wear, that seems to lift my own spirits, but the smiles that I give to others, in the grocery store, at the mall, in the parking lot.

Have you ever noticed the complete change in demeanor of someone who smiles? It's like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders, like light that shines from their skin. Sometimes someone will come toward me with a scowl, a frown, they are so serious I wonder what on earth could be the matter. You smile at them and they smile back and suddenly the stranger becomes a friend. You see them in a totally different way. They are no longer mean and distant, but kind and understanding. The transformation is so interesting.

For the past few years I've really been working on trying to be a more open and friendly person. I find that it creates a more peaceful atmosphere around me and around others. I hold open the door for someone, I drive with patience and courtesy imagining that my friends and family are in the cars around me, I look a cashier in the eye and say thank you - and really mean it. I leave big tips.

I'd like to think that these small practices are having a ripple effect. I'd like to think that the woman I allowed to go in front of me at the store will feel a little warmth inside. That maybe it will carry over on the road while she's driving and prevent a car accident. Or the man I just waved into a parking spot when we came to it at the same time will lighten up just a little bit. That maybe he'll go home that night and have the urge to give his wife a hug.

We have enough problems in this world to contend with. If we work on being a little bit nicer to each other, I wonder what kind of wonderful place we could create.

So - that's my quest. Laugh more. Smile more. Stay calm. Try to understand instead of react.

Be the light I wish to see in this world.