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.