Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolved: No More New Year's Resolutions

I gave up on New Year's resolutions many years ago. I used to promise myself all the usual things: lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier. Sometimes I would get creative and promise to learn a new language or fun skill such as ice-skating or ballroom dancing.

Somehow, though, all the usual excuses would creep in: work was keeping me too busy to exercise, too much traveling prevented healthier eating, I wasn't coordinated enough, or graceful enough, or committed enough . . .etc. etc. etc. And somehow all the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year seemed less important when I was grappling with the ongoing trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows, and just plain ol' day-in, day-out routine of living.

I tried, really tried, to be a better person, but failed miserably each time.

Then (I think it was 2002), I had a brilliant idea: why not give up resolutions altogether? Why make myself feel like a failure over something that was a self-imposed idea of a "perfect me." I really wasn't unhappy with who I was, so why did I feel like I needed to be improved? If New Year's resolutions were difficult to keep and making me miserable, then why not give them up?

So I did and, not surprisingly, my life didn't change dramatically. I still wasn't any thinner or buffer or healthier but I felt better about myself now that the pressure was off. And when I did occasionally make a few attempts at exercising more or choosing a salad over a hamburger and fries, I congratulated myself for doing so rather than beating myself up for all the times I didn't do it.

Giving up resolutions helped me focus more on all the positive things I was doing rather than all the positive things I could be doing.

But I felt something missing with each successive New Year. I had liked the internal exercise of taking an accounting of one's actions, behaviors, and attitudes in the past year. So this year, I have decided to re-institute New Year's Resolutions, not with the idea of improving myself but with the idea of enjoying life more.

To that end, I decided to take a favorite quote as a guiding principle. So, paraphrasing Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, for this New Year of 2009, I herewith resolve:
"Every day to hear at least one little song, read one good poem, see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words."
To all of you, I wish you much harmony in the New Year! - Sally

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peace Traditions: Japanese Peace Cranes

"Peace Crane, I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world" (Sadako Sasaki, age 12)

A Japanese legend asserts that folding 1,000 paper cranes will bring peace, health, and good fortune to the folder. Sadako Sasaki, born in Hiroshima, Japan, was only 12 years old when she died of leukemia, the "atom bomb disease." She had folded 644 paper cranes. Her classmates folded the rest so that 1,000 paper cranes were buried with her. The statue erected in Hiroshima Peace Park in honor of Sadako is inscribed with her wish for the world: "This is our cry, this is our prayer: peace in the world."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Peace Traditions: Tibetan Prayer Flags

In Tibet, prayer flags flutter everywhere. They are strung from the highest mountains and across the lowliest valleys. Tibetans believe that, as the flags flutter in the breeze, the "lungta" or windhorse will carry your prayers for peace and compassion to all the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

World Peace Begins With Inner Peace

Living a harmonious life means working towards developing that inner peace that can then result in increased caring for others, leading ultimately to world peace. One of my most favorite quotes about world peace comes from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama:
"World Peace must develop from Inner Peace. Peace is not the absence of violence, peace is the manifestation of human compassion."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Living With Outrageous Joy (book review)

“Trying creates impossibilities, letting go creates what is desired.” - Stalking Wolf, an Apache elder

Living With Outrageous Joy, by Madeleine Kay, is a wonderful little book with a big message. In easy-to-read snippets, Madeleine Kay presents her ideas about living a joy-filled life. She quotes freely from Native American elders, as well as from Michelangelo, Helen Keller, and the Buddha, among others. This book is fun, energetic, and motivating and makes a great gift for anyone who needs a little joy in their lives.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Choose Joy!

In the midst of our stress-filled, busy days we often find ourselves focusing on all the ways we failed to live up to our own expectations – the tasks that didn’t get completed or that were completed imperfectly, the people we failed to persuade or influence, the situations that didn’t turn out quite the way we had planned.

We spend precious minutes of every day focusing on the negative things in our lives – what we want and don’t have, what we don’t want yet have, the people who dislike us or are discourteous to us, the situations that we can’t control yet would somehow change . . . all of life’s little, and big, frustrations.

How much of what we spend our days worrying about really matters?

Choose joy, instead.

Choosing joy means:

  • Mindful Living – living with conscious, and constant, awareness of our thoughts, emotions, behaviors - and the choices we make throughout the day;
  • Focusing on the positive rather than the negative;
  • Recognizing those things that are within our control and giving up trying to control those that are not;
  • Doing something nice for someone else. It’s quite amazing to learn that when you bring a little joy into someone else’s life, it spills over into your own.

Choosing joy means not only accepting your own limitations and those of others but also recognizing that, in these troubling times we live, every moment counts. So make every moment count positively – choose joy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Building Community, Restoring the Economy

One of the many things I like about living in Alexandria, Virginia is the small town feel with big city amenities. Public transportation, from buses to cabs to subway, is plentiful and easily accessible yet Alexandria remains a very walkable (and "bikeable") city. The small family-run shops along Alexandria's main street, the historic King Street, contributes to the Mayberry-like ambiance.

Having grown up in a family-run shop and, now, owning my own little shop (full disclosure: yes, on King Street in Old Town Alexandria), I know how difficult it is to actually make a decent living in small, independent retail. These days, with the encroachment of Wal-Marts and other big-box and national chain stores, we independent shopkeepers seem to be a dying breed.

And yet, it is the small independent businesses that continue to be the financial backbone of any town or city in America. According to the American Independent Business Alliance (

* Every dollar spent at a local, independent business returns three times more money to the local economy than one spent at a chain store;

* Locally-owned businesses make fewer demands on roads, sewers, and other city services than chain stores, and generate more tax revenue per sales dollar thus helping to keep your taxes lower;

* Locally-owned businesses employ more local residents and pay higher wages than the average chain store;

* Locally-owned businesses contribute to a neighborhood's unique character and provide opportunities for social gatherings, contributing to a sense of community;

* Locally-owned businesses contribute more than twice as much per sales dollar than chains to local charities, clubs, and events - giving back to the community in many ways.

In these difficult economic times, many people are understandably cutting back on their holiday spending. However, if you plan to shop at all during the next few weeks, you may want to consider shopping at your locally-owned neighborhood stores. Think of your favorite neighborhood business and how you might feel if it weren't there next year. Buying your holiday gifts at the shops owned by your neighbors ensures that your gifts will be original, thoughtful, and valued; and contributes to revitalizing the local economy - for everyone's sake.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Finding Beauty in Simple Things

Christopher Engnoth is a talented Alexandria artist as well as the art director at my shop, Mindful Hands, and my life partner. So I'm a little biased when I say his landscapes of the Potomac River and surrounding environs are quite breath-taking. The image here is of Chris' watercolor, "Frozen Potomac." His interest in nature and water was sparked by his childhood on the Chesapeake Bay. He says of his art, "I hope that my paintings can bring some measure of peace and joy to those who, like me, can appreciate the beauty in simple things."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Sunday Stroll

Living in the city as I do, I don't have the opportunity to walk in the woods often. However, I am fortunate in that I live in Alexandria, Virginia, a city that has a real commitment to preserving "green space" and urban hike-and-bike trails. One such trail is the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile paved trail that extends from George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate north through Old Town Alexandria and then even further north to connect with the W&OD rail trail that runs west for 45-miles through Northern Virginia and nearly to West Virginia.

I live close enough to the trail that I can (if I get up early enough) walk to my work in Old Town, about an hour's stroll away. I find walking the trail to be relaxing and refreshing. The trail follows the Potomac River the entire way and, no matter what mood the river is in - whether cheery and bright blue or dour and gray - I find it soothing just to look at the gently rolling waves and breathe in the fresh air. Though the trail passes right by National Airport and a coal-powered electricity plant, it also has some lightly wooded areas and marshy spots. I share the trail with many rabbits, geese, beavers, and even a turtle or two.

I may not be able to walk in the deep woods on a regular basis but I find the Mount Vernon Trail to be just as restorative. As the naturalist John Burroughs said, "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Simple Life

Here is one of my favorite quotes about nature and living the simple life:

"To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring - these are some of the rewards of the simple life." (John Burroughs)

Monday, December 1, 2008

"The Peace That Brings Happiness"

One of my favorite things is the musical compositions of Tibetan singer, Dechen Shak-Dagsey. "Shi De" is Tibetan for "the peace that brings happiness." Dechen Shak-Dagsey, the daughter of a Tibetan lama, adds her crystalline voice to these hauntingly beautiful original compositions. With titles such as "Care for the Animals," "Care for the Environment," and "A World Without Weapons," these songs are an appeal to all people to tune into their higher selves for the sake of world harmony.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
(Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse)

We've all certainly experienced an act of kindness - a memorable event when someone, perhaps even a complete stranger, came to our aid when we least expected it: a flat tire changed, a casserole baked, a helping hand with a heavy load. When we are at the receiving end of an act of kindness, no matter how small, we experience lowered stress levels and a lift in our spirits.

Apparently, so does the giver of the good deed. In recent years, there has been a host of research studies that indicate that doing good can indeed be good for you. "Helper's high," the rush of adrenaline that altruistic people can sometimes feel after doing a good deed for someone else, has been linked to lowered stress levels, improved immunity from illness, and longer life, in addition to a general sense of calm and positive well-being. And these feelings lead to the desire to do more good deeds, thus lifting your own spirits as well as those of whom you help.

According to Stephen G. Post, PhD, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a prominent researcher in the study of the biological effects of altruism, "All the great spiritual traditions and the field of positive psychology are emphatic on this point -- that the best way to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, jealousy is to do unto others in a positive way" (WebMD).

And so, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, if you're feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed (and who isn't in today's economy?), the best way to help yourself is by helping others.

The Science of Good Deeds, WebMD,

For more information:
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation,
SmileCard Project,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Going Car-Free

I am lucky to live in one of the most picturesque cities in America: Alexandria, Virginia. From cobblestone streets, tree-lined avenues, hike-and-bike trails along the Potomac River, an historic waterfront district and colonial-era architecture, Alexandria is a quaint little city with a small town feel.

Recently, the city of Alexandria passed an Eco-City Environmental Charter, committing to make Alexandria a place where its citizens can live healthier lives while reducing their impact on the environment. Alexandria is already a "walkable" city, pedestrian-friendly and with nearly-excellent public transportation options. The Eco-City Charter delineates the city's commitment to preserving green space, expanding hike-and-bike trails, and encouraging the use of public transportation in an effort to change the culture of the city from "cars first" to "people first."

I had been thinking about giving up my car for a long time. My Mazda 626 was ten years old and required extensive maintenance every year just to keep it running. I live right on a main bus line, so getting to work every day would not be a problem. Still I hesitated. I was worried that without a car I would feel a real loss of freedom.

The final straw came when I took my car in for its annual inspection and received the shocking news that it would need at least $1,500 in repairs to pass. That was it. $1,500 would pay for round trip bus fare every day for two years! Let's not even talk about the price of gas, rising then to outrageous levels. And when you consider insurance and taxes, it seemed like a no-brainer for my significant other and me to become a one-car family.

So I did it - I went car free! I was little anxious standing at the bus stop the first time. Would the bus actually come on schedule? (yes) Would I be late to work? (no) Would the bus driver be pleasant and helpful if I didn't quite know where my destination stop was? (yes)

I survived my first day on the bus , feeling really good about my contribution to the environment. And when, a few weeks later, I really needed a car, there was Zipcar ready and waiting for me. If you don't live in a city that has been Zipped yet (it's only a matter of time before "Zipcar" becomes a verb, like Google became "googling" and "googled") then let me fill you in. Zipcar is a car-share program, their tagline is: "wheels when you need 'em." They have cars in all sizes and shapes, and parked in convenient locations like metro stations. And they're reasonably-priced. Best yet, all gas included! You pay an annual membership fee (Alexandria reimburses your first year's fee, check to see if your city does too) and that allows you the privilege of reserving a car anytime throughout the year.

So I'm pretty happy with my decision to go car-free. And I find that I'm not too anxious to get a new car after all. I'm afraid that with all the maintenance and responsibility that comes with owning a car, I would feel a real loss of freedom.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's Your Footprint?

What's YOUR footprint? No, we're not talking about your shoe size. Your "environmental footprint" is, simply put, how much water, trees, and other natural resources you consume in order to maintain your lifestyle. According to The Footprint Network, the ecological footprint of the world is now almost 25% larger than what the earth can regenerate. In other words, we are using up natural resources faster than we can replace them.

In environmental terms, "sustainability" is the equivalent of a balanced budget. Sustainability occurs when our demands on our natural resources are equal to or less than the earth's ability to produce those resources, resulting in a balanced environment. To estimate your individual impact on the environment, take the Ecological Footprint Quiz at

When you think about your ecological footprint, it might be worth remembering this old Native American saying: “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Five Good Minutes

Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices to Help You Stay Calm and Focused All Day Long (Jeffrey Brantley, M.D.)

I'm a big believer in the value of meditation. Even if you can only squeeze in five minutes a day for meditating, the benefits you will receive in stress-reduction and re-energizing yourself are enormous. This compact little book contains 100 simple exercises, all of which can be practiced in five minutes or less. Starting with “breathing mindfully,” Dr. Brantley recommends new ways of looking at and doing everyday things – like taking a shower or drinking coffee -- that transforms simple activities into peace-inducing meditative moments.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Wait? Meditate!

Why Wait? Meditate! Meditation techniques have been practiced for thousands of years in all countries and cultures. And the number of people engaging in meditation is steadily increasing. According to TIME Magazine, in a cover story published in 2003 on the health benefits of meditation, “ten million American adults now say they practice some form of meditation regularly, twice as many as a decade ago.” Meditation has been credited with many health and wellness benefits, including relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. A recent study has found that meditation can even increase brain size.

There are many different meditation techniques that are used for a variety of purposes. Some of the most popular techniques are: guided meditation, walking meditation, breath-awareness, and concentration (or calm-abiding) meditation. Whichever method you choose, meditation as a daily or weekly practice can help “calm your mind, relax your body, and soothe your spirit.” So, why wait? Meditate!

(sources: Harvard University Gazette,, TIME Magazine)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What Makes You Happy?

What makes you happy? Like Maria in A Sound of Music, I can list a few of my favorite things: hot cocoa on a cold winter's day, brightly-colored birds twittering excitedly around a bird feeder, long walks along the river with my honey. . . When you're feeling down, what gets you "up" again? What makes you happy?

Most people believe themselves to be pretty happy, overall. Research shows that "happier people are healthier, more successful, harder-working, caring, and more socially engaged." (The Sunday Times Magazine, October 2, 2005; read the full article

Research on what makes people happy has blossomed in the last several years as a new field of study called "Positive Psychology." As its name implies, Positive Psychology focuses on the positive experiences in people's lives as well as the specific character strengths - such as humor and honesty - that make happy people happy. Some of the goals of Positive Psychology are to support the development of happy, healthy families, schools, and communities.

Positive Psychology support groups are popping up all over, including right here in my town of Alexandria, VA.
The Inner Arts Center sponsors a monthly group on the 3rd Saturday of every month. The group shares articles, books, and techniques exploring topics such as optimism, resilience, savoring, and awe. If you're interested in bringing more happiness and joy into your life then you may want to look for a Positive Psychology support group in your own area.

And, as Maria von Trapp knew, simply remembering a few of your favorite things will bring a lilt to your step and a smile to your face - and then you won't feel so bad!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Be The Change

One of my favorite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi:

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

This little web journal is my contribution towards positive change - if not in the whole world then at least in my little corner of it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


So. What do we call this thing, this blog? I wanted a catchy name that would encapsulate the topics I would cover here: getting back to priorities, simplifying your life, being happy with what you've got, not always chasing after more, more, more. Oh, and re-connecting with nature. Very important, if you've lived as I have, without a garden for so many years, surrounded all day long with gray walls and fluorescent lighting.

You get the picture. Somehow we've (I've) lost sight of who we really are. We are not the things we accumulate, the spouses we marry, the jobs and careers we work so hard at, the children we give birth to and raise. Certainly these things are important and they have their place in a happy life, but they are not the sum total of who "I" am.

And, to some extent, all these things can be so distracting, feeling that we need to work harder in order to have the perfect house, better cars, a nice vacation, to send our children to the best schools. We spend so much of the short time we have on earth in all these activities that are not "I" that there is no time left to spend on really knowing who we are, re-acquainting ourselves with ourselves.

And there's a certain dissonance in that. A feeling that even though all these things, these activities, these people we surround ourselves with and fill up our time with may indeed be pleasurable (or not, as the case may be), still they're not enough. There's something missing, a vague sense of incompleteness, a feeling that we can be so much more than just the sum total of what we have and what we do.

And after we've eliminated - figuratively if not literally - all the things that are not "I," then what's left? How do we re-prioritize, re-focus, re-acquaint? Simplify, pacify, restore, and re-energize? Calm down and de-stress? Un-busy ourselves. It's not so much the gaining control over life as the letting go of needing control.

So. We come back again to the beginning. I hope in this blog just to present some ideas, not necessarily to come to any definite conclusions, about re-prioritizing, de-stressing and un-busying, learning how to nurture ourselves as well as the people we care for, re-connecting with community and nature. Ultimately, learning how to live in peace and harmony.

Welcome to Harmonious Living.