Charmed

October 25, 2012

The bracelet was perfect. After searching from Paris to Alsace to Tuscany, I finally found the jewelry that expressed one of the most important summers of my life.

You see I am not a collector, really. My best friend is the one who collects things. As a teen she collected crystals. Later she took a liking to charms. So whenever I would travel, I would bring her a charm from the places I had been: the Parthenon in Greece; the Eiffel Tower in Paris; the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Until one day her bracelet grew so heavy, her arm could no longer support it.

Infused with the need to find something similar, I looked everywhere for a new charm bracelet, but it seems as though the charm makers had gone out of business. No matter where I went, I couldn’t find any.

That is, until I reached our final destination on our week-long tour of Tuscany in a small town called Lucca. There lay two charm bracelets in the window with exactly the charms I had been searching for. The place was so tiny we had to stand still so as not to touch the walls. With an open face and a kind smile, the shop clerk was incredibly friendly. In our broken Italian we asked for a good place to eat. She called around to her friends, but none of the good places were open. She was the most, well, charming person we had met along the way!

Sometimes we find what we are looking for in the most unexpected places. If we search too hard, we may not see what we need to see. With relaxed eyes and a calm spirit, we are better able to perceive what we are meant to see.

In which ways have you been charmed lately? Life can be spell-bounding, if you let it. Open your heart and look at the world through its eyes. You may find that everything you’ve been looking for is right in front of you.

The Clearing

June 11, 2012

It all started with the blue dress. My daughter and her best friend begged me to take them shopping so, never being one to say no to some leisure, I carted them to the mall in Ingolstadt. Pressing some cash into her palm, I told Daughter to use it wisely. She winked. I wasn’t sure whether to be worried or laugh. I chose the latter.

With time on my hands, I browsed various shops, read a book, then got pulled into a store as if by magic.

As with many things in my life, the blue dress called out to me.

“You must take me home with you.” I drew nearer. Was it really talking to me? Now I know textiles don’t talk, but this one was definitely saying something. I found it hard not to listen.

“But I don’t need you,” I whispered into the clothing rack. A few eyes around the store fell upon me. I tried to ignore them.

“Trust me,” the dress whispered back. “Yes, you do.”

I tried it on to be sure I wasn’t losing my mind. It gave me a hug. I could feel it. So I pulled out the cash and bought it. Full retail price.

When I got home, I took one look at my closet and realized I couldn’t possibly hang this beautiful thing next to so many drabby clothes that smacked of compromise, reason and bargain-hunting.

I started pulling out all kinds of clothing that I really couldn’t stand. Dresses my dear, fashionable sister handed down to me that never really quite fit, clothing I bought on an impulse because I thought it made sense at the time, handbags with stained interiors, and one thigh-high stocking whose pair must have gotten lost in the shuffle at some point. A question formulated in my mind.

“Do I love it?” If the answer wasn’t yes, I dumped it.

Not everything I tossed was old or thread-bare: a sweater I only wore once, a scarf someone well-meaning had given me, an old jacket I donned a dozen times. Other items I kept: a cocktail dress I wore to George H. W. Bush’s Inaugral ball (which, by some miracle, still fits), the dress I wore to the theater the night Princess Diana died, a twenty-four year old Victoria’s secret night gown that has seen more tears than I can tell you.

If clothing makes the woman, then I have set myself free.

The message was obvious. We all need to engage in space clearing in our lives. Whether they are physical things, bad relationships or harmful habits, each of us can start anew by making room for new possibilities. Sometimes all it takes is a moment to listen.

Thank you, blue dress. You were right. I needed you more than I realized.

**Editor’s Note: Not sure how to space clear? This post will tell you.

Happy Earth Day!

Did you know you are what you wear? When it comes to eco-friendly fashion, it’s true!

Wearing an organic t-shirt makes me feel, I don’t know, more noble. It’s a different kind of fashion statement to care about how your clothes got made – and by whom. With reports about child labor and terrible working conditions in Third World textile factories, fashion becomes political. But it’s more than just about how you look, but also about how you feel and what impact you have made on donning garb made by undernourished people stifled in heat-filled rooms with air stuffed with fabric particles.

Slow Fashion, otherwise known as eco-fashion, made a nice showing at the Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver April 10-12. So it only seemed appropriate to chat with an up and coming fashionista herself, Jaimie Hilfiger, about where fashion is headed. Curious about her perspective as the 24-year-old niece of Tommy Hilfiger, I plied her with questions about eco-friendly fashion. What I discovered was astounding.

Photo Courtesy of Chiaroscuro Fotografia

Did you know there was such a thing as the Green Carpet Challenge, spearheaded by Collin Firth’s wife, Livia? At Red Carpet events such as the Oscars, Livia Firth suggests that people show off their eco-friendly apparel. Now how come I never heard about that before? As folks fawn over the latest designer, why were TV hosts mum about an amazing trend coming straight from Hollywood? Did you know, for instance, that Meryl Streep wore a gown to the Academy Awards that was made out of reusable materials? And we’re not talking iron for the lady. It’s an impressive trend few people seem to be talking about.  The effort has a Facebook page with a paltry 200+ fans. So please go there (after reading this post) and ‘like’ it. This campaign deserves more attention.

Jaimie mentioned her admiration for Stella McCarthy who refuses to use any leather or animal fur, for instance. Many of you may know Pamela Anderson would rather go naked than wear such things (well, sometimes one might think she’d just rather be naked anyway). As an environmentalists and thoughtful designer, Stella McCarthy has brought out lines with natural and renewable materials that have caught the eye of Madonna, Gywneth and Kate (Winslet). Shoes without leather? Think straw and cloth.

Another cool brand that Jaimie mentioned is the Urban Renewal Brand, an affordable line found in Urban Outfitters stores. She is also coming out with her own line of high-end leisurewear, so-called transitional clothing between work and bedtime.

“It’s torture that at present we women only have a choice between skinny jeans and those reindeer-printed PJs bottoms,” I commented, then breathed a sigh of relief into the phone when she revealed her plans to make comfortwear fashionable.

We talked some about beauty products and the importance of avoiding all petroleum ingredients. Not only is it bad for the Earth, but it’s murder on your pores too. I was impressed with Jaimie’s direction and commitment. In true power of slow style, she feels a sense of purpose to change the world as a role model in the area of eco-friendly living.

“It is our responsibility to take care of the Earth,” she told me.

Slow Fashion is not just the latest trend. It’s a sustainable one. So take that shoe and wear it. Tread lightly on the Earth and remember: if you feel good in what you’re wearing that also makes the Earth feel good, it’ll show.

Imagine taking an entire day off. No cell phone. No one calling your name. No computer. No client calls. No children begging for ice cream. Just you, yourself, and, well, YOU!

Yesterday I declared a sabbatical from my every day life and headed for the hills. Well, not really. I first headed for the woods. In fact, I left my iPhone, with little battery power left, behind. After an hour power walk, I went to the gym to enjoy the sauna and a hot, albeit short, shower. Browsing the supermarket aisles for a snack, I took my time with no real purpose or timeline. I even waited patiently in line while two women and a two-year-old unloaded their heavy shopping cart onto the conveyor belt. I had two items, but didn’t mind just standing there soaking in my surroundings. What an fabulous feeling not to try to squeeze time like an orange!

I missed the train to Munich so had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. So what. I called my husband with 30% left on my iPhone battery to say I’d be home in the evening or later, in case I found a movie I liked.

When I finally got to my destination, thousands of people rushed to and fro. Seeking refuge (and warmth) in a bookstore, I sat amongst the others on a long bench made for book lovers who just want to focus on one thing: the book or magazine they were reading. I found a book on burnout, which felt purposeful enough as I am doing research for a new book on it myself.

It was there that I realized how tiring a purpose-driven life can be. When we do everything on purpose, with focus and intention, we have no real time for Bacchalian enjoyment. To do a thing simply because we want to resides outside the realm of our vocabulary. In our achievement-oriented society, having a ‘be’ day seems extravagent indeed.

But it was just the thing I needed after a string of successive achievements. When we keep our eyes on accomplishment only,  we have no time to recuperate. With all our time spent on going for the gold, we find our worth only in the doingness of things instead of realizing just being is more than enough.

Did you know you will continue to exist — that is, to be — even when you don’t ‘do’?

Where did our drive for constant activity come from? According to the book I just read, Warum Burnout Nicht Vom Job Kommt by Helen Heinemann (in nearly one sitting – it was that good), burnout comes from the blurring of the lines around our specific roles in public and private life. If we live with uncertainty as to where my role begins and, say, my partner’s ends, we are left with a domain over which we will combat. Combine the lack of clarity with a lack of pause to reconsider which direction each of us should go and a wildfire ensues. Each of us, running as fast as we can, toward an ill-defined end goal can lead to burnout faster than you can say, “Call 911!”

Slowing down and taking pause really do help because in those pockets of air we allow ourselves come the solutions to many of our issues we otherwise quickly try to sweep under the carpet.

Take the Slow Challenge and call a whole day off for yourself. What do you think you’ll discover?

Tis the season to be…maced? The latest Walmart pepper spray incident has left a lot of people perplexed. Had the mace-toting gal had a little more slow, she might have gotten out of Walmart without a police escort. This Wednesday Wait a Minute examines how to deal when the Christmas lights are tangled and your nerves are all a’jangled!

My husband’s cooking is legendary. So whenever I get the chance to try out a new cookbook, I know he’ll start to pour over it before I can even crack the cover.

Last night he topped himself with a Chicken in Thai Green Curry that nearly made me weep. It was that good. Thanks to Wandee Young and Byron Ayanoglu’s Simply Thai Cooking cookbook, I will be able to repeat my husband’s laudable culinary finesse. Although I have a hard time following directions, this cookbook is so easy even I can do it!

If you’re looking for a different kind of Thanksgiving feast this week, consider delving into Moroccan cooking with Pat Crocker’s 150 Best Tagine Recipes. The cover alone will make your mouth water, not to mention the spice descriptions and helpful photos.

Take your Thanksgiving to the next level with one or two ‘exotic’ nontraditional dishes. Remember: diversity is the spice of life. If spice is what you need, you’ll get it with these two cookbooks!

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

The New York Times recently reported on an interesting concept called ‘shadow work’, the unpaid duties we fulfill every day. Going beyond the obvious (such as child care and household chores), the article’s author, Craig Lambert pointed to the real reason we’re all so exhausted. We complete more tasks today than ever before.

And I’m not just talking about email or iPhone usage, but also about mundane things such as the self-check out function at most any grocery store.

At the risk of sounding nostaglic (and, tangently, pathetic), I would like to reminisce for just one moment. It used to be you had a bag boy who would roll your groceries out to the car for you. No more. You may have a bag boy (or girl) in the US, but those things never really existed in Germany, where I live. In fact, in addition to bagging the groceries yourself, here you have to even coin-operate the shopping cart, resulting in your having to push the thing back into its slot to retrieve the coin you put into it. It prevents car dings. It preserves order. And it’s an athletic event every time I food shop.

Now there’s something lovely and slow about bringing your own bag. Really, there is. But let’s look at a few other examples, such as the gas station. As Craig suggests, gas stations used to be called service stations because you had, well, service. The guy in the red jumpsuit and clipboard would ask what kind of gas you wanted, pumped it, then managed the payment. Now you can swipe, pump and drive without talking to a soul.

It feels lifeless. And robotic. And 1984-ish. Only it’s 2011.

If we opt to stand in the check out line (in Germany, you have no choice but to do that, besides at IKEA, which has its own brand of do-it-yourself flair), we are often tempted to check our smartphones while waiting to see what in the world we missed in the 18 minutes we food-shopped. I do it. I know some of you do it too.

By day’s end, it’s no wonder we’re so exhausted. All that DIYing can put a strain on one’s sensibilities. We all need each other and helping others is a great way to connect and feel part of something greater than ourselves. So the next time you’re tempted to push the 15 items or less limit to check out faster, seek human connection instead. Smile. And the cashier might just smile back. The machine won’t. Guaranteed.

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