Focus: Or The Power of A Timeout

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We all feel harried at times by the pressures that life, and sometimes we alone, put on ourselves. During those times, whether we notice it or not, many physical changes can occur: our breathing becomes shallow or we might even hold our breath; we become tense and overloaded by every little thing that’s going on and get angry and frustrated by even the smallest inconveniences. That’s when the power of focus comes in. For a few minutes at least, while you are feeling this way, try and put everything else out of your mind and focus on simple, uncomplicated things- like taking slow, deep breaths, admiring the beauty and details of a flower, or even really studying the forms and lines of the stapler on your desk. Whatever you chose, really focus on it- so that your mind and thoughts slow down and, even if just for a few minutes, you will experience peace and a liberating change in perspective.

Take these beautiful rhododendrons, for example. I was having a stressful morning. You know, one of those mornings when you’re running late and the cat knocks over her water dish and your toast burns and you got about five hours of sleep as usual and that of course inevitably sets you on a downward spiral of negative self assessment and wondering how you’ve managed to waste most of your life and whether you’re actually even doing anything purposeful now … well, you get the idea. With each passing moment, I could feel myself getting more and more agitated as I was waiting for the bus. Well, to be clear, waiting for the NEXT bus -since I already missed the first one. By a minute.

In the middle of all of this, I looked over and saw these beautiful rhododendrons. And I wish I could say that their beauty immediately bettered my mood but to be honest, I just glanced at them for a few minutes before resuming my internal grumbling and worrying.  I did, however, eventually decide that while it came down to me to make whatever life-altering long-term changes I needed to, I can also choose not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ today. Annoying things happen but they don’t have to derail your life – you owe it to yourself to pick happiness as often as you can. So, I looked at those flowers again- and this time felt wonder at every detail. That shockingly beautiful shade of pink, the tiny pearls in the center, the delicate papery petals. I focused on all of those things and while my problems still remained, I found myself in a better mood to deal with them.

May Book Club: The Architecture of Happiness

For those who don’t already know, I host a nonfiction bookclub, called True Grace, at a local bookstore. I have varied interests so the subjects and books that I’ve picked so far have been equally diverse. From digital culture to botany. Last week, we ventured into architecture and philosophy with The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. A beautifully-written, intelligent, and elevated book which is part walking tour of architectural history and part meditation on the nature of beauty and the meaning of shape. I particularly enjoyed the passages where he gave examples of how much we personify objects and symbols – from typeface to furniture.

As for the bookclub, we had about 10 people that night, butterfly sugar cookies, and I raddled off some Advanced Reader copies of new nonfiction titles. We also had a special guest – a local retired architect who I had invited to join in the discussion. He and his firm were responsible for designing many of the important buildings in the city and he, personally, was awarded the American Institute of Architecture’s Lifetime Award for Contribution to Design.
It was wonderful having his expertise present during the meeting since the book, although appreciated by all, was of a subject that was a little tricky to analyze and discuss. Our guest was able to share many insights and answer our questions – so much so, in fact, that I’ve been approached my book club members since then to set up a second group discussion of this topic.

My overall impression is that I enjoyed this book and learning about the different architects and styles and it is definitely something that I will continue to read and study (as you can see by all of the post-its and notes above.) I didn’t, however, agree with everything he said, for example the theory that you can only appreciate the beauty in buildings and windows and doors if you’ve experienced the sobering effect of misery and heartache. I know that I found myself in awe of the ancient temples and forts of India when I was just eight years old, without a failed marriage under my belt. However, in general, the writing stimulated a great deal of thought- I found myself looking at buildings in different, deeper ways – asking myself what emotions architecture is designed to inspire in the viewer. How do the colors, the shapes, the level of ornament make us feel now and make us aspire to later. Is who we are as a community determined by the state of our city planning it is it the other way around? What does the way we chose to live say about who we are as a people? So many things to think about the next time we are commuting through our neighborhoods.

Mondays

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Monday. That very word invokes a feeling of dread and despair. If you work a standard schedule, it usually signifies the day we return to work after a too-short weekend. And, for some reason, it doesn’t even seem to matter if you have a job that you enjoy – this universal hatred of Mondays is the great equalizer. For me and my work schedule, I know it’s because the weekends are the only time I can do anything for myself, my art, chores around the house, or with my friends and family. So, my weekend flies by way too quickly!

Heading to work this morning, I started feeling that grumpiness descend on me and then immediately thought: I hate living like this! Weekends end – that happens EVERY week- so no point feeling bad about it. I thought, instead, that it would be nice to think of some ways to make that weekend feeling of Possibility last ALL week. So, I came up with some things I’m going to incorporate into my life:

1. COLOR INFLUENCES MOOD so surround yourself with your favorite, happy colors. This may be as simple as an article of clothing or setting lovey flowers (like these vibrant, yellow poppies) on your work desk.
2. MAKE MONDAYS A DAY RO LOOK FORWARD TO by setting up a standing date to do something fun by yourself or with a friend. Treat yourself to your favorite breakfast or a yoga appointment after work. Take a lunchtime walk or pick out a new book for the week.
3. VOLUNTEER. Thinking about the needs of others helps to put things in perspective and giving back to society is a natural mood-booster.
4. CREATE MINI GOALS FOR THE WEEK , such as targets for workouts, completing a few pages on that book you’ve wanted to do, clearing one area of your house of clutter. That way, you look forward to making headway on personal projects, and not just work, when the week starts. If you’re like me, you have to do everything on those two days – chores, social life, creative pursuits. It makes the time fly by and you don’t feel very well rested. I’m going to try and do as many chores as I can during the work week and schedule social time then as well. And by that token, make sure you schedule time during the week to continue doing the things you reserve for weekends. For me, that will be finding more time to work on art – a lunch here and there, for example. At the very least, I try to reserve my Sundays for working on whatever I want to. I need personal time , so for me that means staying at home and unwinding. For you, that could mean going out with friends.
5. And finally, my favorite technique: START YOUR WEEK ON SUNDAY. Mentally, if the first day of your week is something you have control over, it sets the tone for the rest of the week. So go ahead, and think of Mondays as the new Tuesdays: Nothing to fret over!!

I’m going to try and incorporate these things in my life and I hope you’ll be able to find some ways to make that transition into the work week more pleasant for yourself as well!

Have a wonderful week!!

The Rosy Side of Life

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IMG_2915I love all things Rose! The flower and the scent remind me of time spent in India, where roses were everywhere! In the beautiful garlands of flowers used to welcome guests and memorialize photographs of late ancestors; in the wicker baskets of street vendors calling out their wares early in the morning. My aunts would always buy a strand or two of roses and jasmines every day,  for me to wear in my hair. The terrace of our house had three pots of rose plants and walking out – into the cool early dawn, before the sounds of the city kicked in or late at night right before bed – to smell those intoxicating blooms, shall always remain one of my very favorite memories.

In this photo are a few little rosy treats that I picked up this week : a sweet little rosebud demitasse spoon, my favorite soap in English Rose, and, as an homage to the roses I used to wear in my hair as a child – a flower garland of buds and blooms in one of the loveliest shades of pink.

Sunday Morning At The Farmers Market

I spent this lovely spring morning at the Farmers Market, where I saw dinosaur hedges, a pig on a leash, treasures and trinkets sold by flea marketers, and a bounty of beautiful tulips! So much creative inspiration for the rest of the week!IMG_2908.PNG

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A Very Literary Cinco De Mayo

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As unbelievable as it may be, Cinco de Mayo is not just a celebration of the Five Dollar Margarita! It, in fact, commemorates the underdog Mexican Army’s victory over much larger French troops at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862.

My homage to this festival today is a literary one – a gathering of favorite colors and books to celebrate the culture of that wonderful country.

Frida Kahlo: Una Biografia by Maria Hesse

I fell in love with this beautiful, illustrated biography of one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo, by another fabulous artist, Maria Hesse. Everything about this is just so perfect . The ivory pages crinkle slightly to your touch, the format stands out in a sea of other books, and the lush illustrations, while capturing all of the vibrancy of Mexico, are sublime in their subtlety. All of the gorgeous colors we associate with that country and with Frida are here – but muted, soft, and dreamy. Another plus in my books is that it is written entirely in Spanish! I’m looking forward to putting my three years of high school Spanish to good use.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

The fiction buyer at my favorite local bookstore is a huge fan of Luiselli and so this surreal, genre-bending novel came highly recommended.

Paint The Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950

Fourteen essays, by authors from both the United States and Mexico, exploring the four decades of cultural and political upheaval during which Mexico emerged as a hub of modern art. Beautiful pieces by Frida Kahlo, Maria Izquierdo and Manuel Rodriguez Lozano to name a few.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone!

Welcome, May!

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It’s May! The height of Spring! The flowers are blooming, there are baby animals everywhere, the weather is transitioning to that sweet spot between spring and summer. I had really lapsed in the maintenance of my Bullet Journal but recently discovered that of all of my many planners, it truly is the system that works best for me. Luckily, due to its very nature, I was able to pick it up and jump right in again! So, here’s my monthly layout for May – inspired by all of the beautiful tulips that I’ve been seeing lately. Spending a few minutes to create something lovely and personal- even though I have a built-in calendar on my phone- was a wonderful way to start off a new month with mindfulness and intention. I’m looking forward to planning the next few weeks and I will definitely be scheduling blocks of time just for myself – to focus inward and simply take a moment or two to slow down and breath.