December 31, 2011

A New Year, and Just One New Resolution

It’s that time of year when everyone’s thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, diets, workout regimens, and cleaning closets (myself included).  While I am all for self-improvement, a long list of to-dos, and to-bes for that matter, can get very overwhelming, and therefore unattainable.  That is why I’ve decided to set just one goal for the New Year, rather than multiple goals as I’ve done in previous years.  My new philosophy is that setting a goal that is achievable, even if it is a less ambitious goal than what I might otherwise want to set for myself, is more realistic and will likely result in success rather than failure.  (I hate failure -- don't you?)

After all, what’s the point in a New Year’s resolution if it lasts only a few weeks? 

That’s why, out of all the resolutions that I’ve pondered over the past few days, Working on improving my posture is the one that might actually last through February, and better yet, be one that I’ll remember.  A ridiculous New Year’s resolution, you might say?  I beg to differ.  First, improving posture is one of those things that can benefit other aspects of well-being: decreasing back pain, upping one's confidence, increasing oxygen flow, and well, let’s be honest here – it makes you look thinner.  And, second, it’s the kind of resolution that is almost impossible to give up on. 

Though many of us strive for perfection in various aspects of our life – the New Year being the pinnacle in which we strive for attainment of that perfection – why can’t we settle, or better yet, accept our flaws?  Chinese philosophy says that lifelong self-improvement is generally a natural byproduct of self-acceptance and increased self-awareness.  Anxiety over our imperfections is never very productive, especially since some of our imperfections are uncontrollable anyway. 

And really, why do we need a New Year to have a clean closet or two?  

December 26, 2011

The Significance of Exchanging Holiday Cards

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is receiving Christmas cards from friends and family, particularly those that I haven't heard from in the past year.  There's something sacred and intimate about sending and receiving during this time of year, when life is so busy and hectic, that we take the time to handwrite our best wishes and news updates for the past year to the people in our lives we care about.  It may be the only time of year we take the time to exchange these niceties, which is why the exchange of holiday cards is so special. 

For almost as many years as I have been sending out holiday cards in my adult life, I have been sending a card to my former 4th grade teacher, Miss Levesque.  I hate to cast favorites, since I have had many good teachers (as well as some rather crummy ones) in my student career, but Miss Levesque wins 1st Prize, which is in part why out of the 35 or so cards I send out (which were probably even less this year), she is a recipient every holiday season.

Though the messages we exchange are not long, Miss Levesque and I share with each other the goings-on for the past year -- where we've been, what we're doing, where we're going -- and more importantly the shared sentiment of wishing each other a happy holiday and a healthy new year.  Every year I look forward to her card written in her idyllic, old-fashioned scroll, exactly how I remembered it from well over a decade ago. 

This year Miss Levesque's card contained a rare treat -- a photograph of my 11-year-old self, standing next to my science fair project that year entitled, "Observing Different Kinds of Hair Under a Microscope."  Wearing a headband and a purple t-shirt (how I loved that t-shirt -- I wore the thing 'til it had holes in it!), bangs cut into wispies like Vada Sultenfuss from My Girl, that was the year of the microscope for me, as well as the year for tween shyness when everything seemed to make me blush.  It's quite amazing to think how a photo can contrast and compare with how we remembered such a time in our lives.

With Christmas behind me, and a New Year fast approaching, I am thankful for the people in my past, present, and future, particularly people like Miss Levesque who are part of my past and continue to be part of my present and future life, even through a simple exchange of a card at Christmastime, in the years ahead.

December 18, 2011

'Tis the Season for Cookies

I wish I made cookies more than twice a year, but I don't because I simply have no self-control around them.  I am the human-sized Cookie Monster, googly eyes and all.  From the potentially salmonella-laden dough (I know, I know -- I am aware of the risks), to the slightly underbaked cookies that come straight from the oven and whose flavors aren't fully realized yet, to the one-day-old cookie that is the perfect coupling of both tender and crumbly -- each life stage of the cookie is dear to me.

My excuse whenever I make cookies is that they're not for myself but for others.  I feel less guilty this way, even if -- let's be honest -- the cookies are kind of for myself, too.  The truth is, I might even like cookie dough more than the finished product itself, but I am an equal opportunist.  When the dough's all rolled up into pre-cookies, I will long for them to be baked, when I can pluck one from the cooling rack, and pop it into my mouth, still too hot that it burns my tastebuds.  (No matter, though; it's worth it!)

I love all cookies, from frosting-covered sugar cookies to pecan sandies to chocolate crinkles, but I am especially gaga for chewy ginger cookies, especially this recipe, which I spent my Friday night making for friends and coworkers, and yes, for myself too.   

Soft Ginger Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening (preferably non-trans fat)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

December 13, 2011

The Art of Good Decision Making

It's in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.  Choose now.  Choose well. 
-- Anthony "Tony" Robbins

Not even knowing who Tony Robbins was, I came upon this quote in an article I was reading in Vanity Fair last week, and was so inspired by it, I hung it on my fridge where it's been ever since.  Not only is it beautifully written, but it's a poignant message -- honest and illuminating and true.  Destiny comes not from karma, but from the decisions we make, whether good or bad.  Life is summed up by a series of decisions.  Every day we're faced with the decision of getting up early to workout or to sleep in, to read the newspaper or to not read it, to stop for the pedestrian at the crosswalk or to speed right past.  Other days, we're faced with bigger decisions -- to get married or to remain single, to have children or to have lots of cats, to buy a bigger house or to stay put.  And still, we're faced with smaller decisions that can alter the way our lives are forever -- to smoke that first cigarette, to take a different route home, or to strike up a conversation with the stranger in the fishermen's sweater. 

In some ways, the realization that we can shape our destiny may seem more frightening than if we think we have no control over it.  Personally, I find it rather empowering to know that our destiny can be molded with our very own hands.  Think about it.  You could have your dream job/partner/house/etc. if you're willing to make the right decisions (and in some cases, sacrifices) to get it.  The caveat to that, of course, is that you must know what your dream job/partner/house really is first.  Many of us don't take the time to reflect on our dreams, on what we really desire, without succombing to the assumption that the mainstream standard must be what we want, because that's what everyone seems to want.  Wrong.  (Sorry, but big weddings and expensive college tuitions weren't what I wanted, so I chose neither, and things turned out alright for me.)  The second caveat is that you must be willing to work for it, but seriously, what good things don't require a little hard work anyway?

My best friend Carrie often says that her biggest pet peeve is when someone says in contempt to another person's success, "It must be nice." (She actually just got her dream teaching job, and I am so flipping proud of her, but I digress.)  I agree with her.  No, it isn't "nice."  One's achievements in life are not simply plucked like an apple from a tree; they are not handed to us.  Such achievements take focus, work, dedication, and good decision making.  But decisions do not always have to be right to be good ones, of course.  Sometimes a few bad decisions along the way are the best opportunities for learning and for realizing that, "Oops, I guess I don't want that after all," or, "Oh, damn -- guess I better not make that mistake again because that could've really fucked it up." 

But if the life that we've been granted consists of a series of decisions, don't you owe it to yourself to think hard and make the right choice, for you?  Remember:  to be, you must do.

December 8, 2011

The Catharsis of a Good Cry

I’m not one who cries at the drop of a hat.  At best, I cry maybe a couple times a year, but in the past four days I’ve cried twice.  The first session happened last Sunday when I got unexpected news that my family had decided not to come over for lunch after I had spent nearly two hours preparing a feast for six.  “What’s the matter?  Did someone die?” my husband asked me, a worried look on his face as he halted the treadmill to an abrupt stop. “No,” I said, sniffling and whimpering, wiping away the tears with the backs of my ketchup-stained hands (I had been making meatloaf -- a prized recipe I love.)  “They’re not coming,” I said, burying my head into his chest, sobbing.  (I am usually not this dramatic, I swear.)

Well, just four days later, without no apparent warning to myself or to my poor spouse, Crying Episode #2 happened.   “Where are you?” my husband called from downstairs.  “In here!” I called from the bedroom where I was folding laundry and listening to The Roots’ newest album, lost in my own thoughts.  “I have a funny story to tell you.”  He proceeded to tell me the story, which wasn’t as funny to me as it was to him, transpiring into me bursting into tears for no apparent reason at all.   "Can you tell me why you're crying?" he asked.  "There's no reason," I said.  "I'm just feeling emotional!"

It's true.  I have been emotional.  In the past two months I have sold my house, packed and moved, have been doing lots of business travel, have been working lots of overtime, and have been renovating my new house.  This all has contributed to surges of emotion, consequently some tears. 

The truth is a good cry is quite cathartic.  It cleanses the soul; it releases inhibitions.  More importantly, it forces us to take a new perspective on a situation.  While we can’t always prevent imbalances in life, personal experience has proven that these usually even out over time, as stressors wane and life returns to normal.  Life is funny like that.  My recent, unexpected crying episodes are signaling my body to rebalance itself, and already, it's been pretty good medicine.  Maybe I should cry more often.