Today, I am Grateful for … TEDx

I have mixed feelings about “Big TED,” but I love TEDxSanDiego and many of the individual TEDx events all over the world. The TEDx organizers give so much of themselves, for free, in order to put on an event that they hope will make the world just a little better, and so often they do just that.

I am biased, of course, because my husband organized the first few TEDxSanDiego events and I saw how hard he worked to raise funds, vet speakers, coach speakers, figure out the technical sound and video issues required to create the best videos for uploading onto the TED site, find volunteers to help before and during the event, etc. And I was able to do nothing more than give emotional support, have patience with his stress loads and crazy schedule, and then enjoy the amazing event when it all came together.

Jake Schimabukuro making his magic

Through TEDxSanDiego and the TEDx organizers’ network I’ve been able to meet and get to know some amazing people, including Jake Shimabukuro, a virtuoso on the ukulele whose heart is as huge as his musical talents.

Maya Fiennes

And, after practicing yoga with Maya Fiennes DVDs every morning for more than a year, we were thrilled to practice with her in person at a “baby TED” TED Active several years ago. We were even able to have her lead some yoga workshops in our living room as a result of meeting through TED (that’s Maya standing in front of our TEDx sign in our yard, above, after one of those workshops).

Jack introducing the musicians for a TEDxSanDiego event

Each year TEDxSanDiego had an eclectic mix of musicians, artists, scientists, and thought leaders spent their time sharing their gifts and their wisdom and being along for the ride as a spouse of the organizer has been a gift for which I am grateful today. TEDxSanDiego has had speakers like Richard Dreyfuss, Martha Beck, Dr. Edith Eva Eger, Tina Guo, Ken Blanchard, Ben Sollee, James Fowler and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and many, many more who have touched my heart and inspired me to create community and give more of myself whenever I can.

This year’s TEDxSanDiego will take place at the end of March. The website should be updated in the next week or so to give more details about it — even before then you can scroll to the bottom of the website and sign up for the email newsletter and be the first to hear about the upcoming events. It’s sure to be another don’t-miss opportunity to connect, engage and transform your life!


Spices and The Oldest Café in Paris

Founded in 1686, where gentlemen of fashion came to drink the exotic beverage we know as coffee

Teas since 1692, and All the Colors of Pepper

Despite light rain all day, I wandered in search of Hôtel de Sully, missing it but finding the Place des Vosges as my consolation prize, and picked up some delicious tea from the people who have been providing tea to Parisians since 1692, as authorized by King Louis XIV, Dammann Frères. One tin of Christmas tea and one of Happy Dreams later, I picked up some gorgeous fresh strawberries and blueberries while wandering the streets towards home.

After a bit of work and checking of emails, Jack and I headed in search of a spice store we’d visited when we were last in town, Compagnie Française des Poivres et des Epices, an artisanal boutique of peppers, spices, salts and sugars in a beautiful square. There are 8 or so white peppers, several red, multiple black, four smoked, so a pepper for any meal. It is hard to choose, but we ended up with a white that’s great with chicken, a red to use for vegetables and a spicy black pepper for everything else. I have a cool antique-looking pepper grinder at home, but the saleswoman says the best way to grind the peppercorns is with a mortar and pestle. So at least I’ll get a little arm workout while preparing my pepper!

Restaurant Procope

The inside of restaurant Procope

Walking home from Saint-Germaine, we were searching around rue de Buci for a place for dinner when I realized we were standing in front of a restaurant we’d been looking for earlier — restaurant Procope, which started its life in 1686. On an earlier visit we’d done a Paris Walks focused on Revolutionary France where the guide mentioned the restaurant as one in which Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, many revolutionary leaders, as well as Voltaire and many philosophers and writers have gathered over the years. Napoleon apparently left one of his hats to guarantee payment of a bill, which he never came back to collect and which is now showcased on the stair landing.

The story of Napoleon and the restaurant holding his hat as a pledge
The infamous hat

In fact, I realized while eating that a letter signed by Napoleon was framed and hanging just behind my head. We had the fixed price menu, which was a DELICIOUS ravioli (seriously, it’s small but so, so good) and (for me) trout and (for Jack) beef. The trout was tender but served as a whole fish and I never enjoy eating the body of a fish when its head and tail are there making it impossible for me not to realize that a fish had to die to make my dinner. So, but for my idiosyncrasies, it was great. Jack enjoyed his beef.

Right behind me I find a letter signed by Napoleon

While we were eating, a group of men all dressed up showed up to gather at what I believe was a private dining area upstairs, and definitely added to the atmosphere.

This man was all in — the only one I saw carrying a sword
Love the hats

Walking Home On A Rainy Night And Enjoying The Sights

The walk home was lovely, strolling down streets strung with lights, crossing the Seine near the Notre Dame, still glorious despite the fire and rebuilding now underway.

Lights strung along a street add just the right ambiance
Yet another gorgeous Paris street
Notre Dame and the scaffolding that will help rebuild it
Another view of the great lady.

All in all, another lovely day in the City of Lights, love, wine, cheese, croissants, strolling, history, and so many other good and delicious wonders. We are only missing our little dog … and of course, our children!


Writing away … is it hopeless?

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I did not go outside my apartment today other than making a run to the pâtisserie for croissants for breakfast and a short stroll of the neighborhood on a very chilly evening after dinner. Otherwise, other than a short Yoga with Adriene session, I was struggling to write the opening scene of my hoped-for historical novel.

Image purportedly of Adela, Countess of Blois

I’ve wanted to write the story of Adela, Countess of Blois, Chartres and Meaux from the late 1080s until 1125 or so. I’ve read historical fiction all my life, and always have said I want to be a writer but the pressure from my family or my own inner critic or society — or fear or procrastination or all of the above — kept me on a different path. When I turned 50 (12 long years ago) I knew that the only regret I would have if I were to die then without having ever tried to write a book.

Finally, about six months ago, I decided to get serious, hired a book coach to help and then promptly have tried to postpone my calls with the book coach as often as possible because I haven’t actually taken the time to sit down and write, or plot, or whatever my assignment might be.

Well, today I spent hours struggling over the opening scene. I don’t know if I can do this…I really think I cannot, but I also do not want to give up without having put in the time actually writing.

I want the world to know Adela’s story. Plenty of books have been written about her father (William the Conqueror), mother (Queen Matilda), brothers (especially King Henry I), and son (King Stephen), but those books only mention one aspect of Adela, and it is not a flattering one. A brilliant historian wrote her doctoral thesis on Adela and that’s been a great source for the facts. Now I have to turn it into a story, with a character arc and obstacles and all the stuff. And it’s not coming easy to me. I have to turn off my attorney mind and my inner critic and reach deep down inside myself and be vulnerable. I am not good at vulnerable.

Tomorrow I will explore Paris again, but I hope to also explore my writing about Adela, a little every day, until I have a shitty first draft to edit, until I can finally say I didn’t give up without giving it my best effort. And maybe it will stay shitty because it’s not a book that’s meant for me to write, but at least I will have tried!


Two Weeks in Paris

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Continuing with yesterday’s theme, and to enhance my memories of my trip when I try to recall it years from now, my blog will serve as my diary of Two Weeks in Paris, Winter 2022 edition.

I was born in Beaumont, TX, which is not at all like Paris other than people live in both places. I dreamt of Europe all of my childhood. I’d put myself to sleep imaging myself living abroad — always a home in Paris, sometimes a chalet in Switzerland or an old mansion with big bay windows and a comfy window seat with a plush red curtain overlooking the English countryside.

And now, I’m here, in “my” apartment (well, me and 12 other owners), in the Marais. And it’s as lovely as I imagined it would be.

Our flight here arrived so early that we had to wait on the airport bus before entering the terminal for the Covid checkers to arrive. Once they did, we handed over our Covid vaccination cards, our negative Covid tests, and our sworn statements promising to get another antigen test within 24 hours and then on to the regular passport/customs/baggage lines. After the taxi from Paris Orly airport we settled into the apartment, then walked the neighborhood soaking it all in… and ate a croissant with all the flakes.

I didn’t like croissants before, but now I am addicted. The carbs and butter are not the best way to start my 2022 diet trying to lose my Covid weight, but they are delicious!

I don’t know what this is a photo of, but it reminds me of Beaumont, TX Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com
In contrast… Paris. Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

After an afternoon of walking, capped off by Falafels to go and a bottle of wine, we slept. And slept. Intermittently, awaken by calls from the States unaware that we were on a different time zone, until 11:30 this morning. I still felt groggy.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Nothing that a croissant and some Earl Grey couldn’t solve! Then we wandered the streets, coming across a clothing sale in a warehouse where 1 kilo of clothing was 10 euros and I got a dress and a shirt for 4 euros. They ended up not fitting (until I lose 10 pounds?), but it was fun to browse anyway.

Then work calls, and translating the French/Italian oven manual with the help of Google Translate so we could prepare chicken, veggies and baked sweet potato for dinner, accompanied by the last of last night’s wine, and then binge watching Emily in Paris for fun.

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And now, time for bed. Or, given my usually 9 p.m. bedtime, way past time (it’s 1 a.m.). I hate jet lag.

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Now, for Day Three!


Lit Up By “The City of Light”

Today’s gratitude thought is an easy one — I arrived safe and sound, despite Covid-19 and so many flight cancellations and delays, in Paris this morning. But, KN95 mask and safety googles on, we made it safely here. Today, I’m grateful for Paris.

We flew for the second time on La Compagnie, which is a lovely airline but a pain to use from San Diego, as they only have one flight to Paris, out of Newark, and getting to Newark on a different airline in order to make the flight in time is a bit of a challenge, but worth it.

View from my living room in the Marais

Late last year we sold one tiny fractional studio apartment down the street and purchased a slightly larger one-bedroom fractional with a sleeper sofa my kids can use when they are able to visit with us. Its remodel was just finished a week ago and we are the first of the owners to be able to visit, and love it! Above is a view from our living room; below is the view from our kitchen.

View from my kitchen, over looking the St Paul metro carousel
View of the kitchen into the dining area, with beautiful old wooden beams

It’s long been a dream to have an apartment in Paris and while I only own 1/13th of this one, it’s a start! And my neighborhood is lovely, with organic groceries, wine stores, boutiques, metros, and more.

And just a short walk away is some of the best falafel, and we were lucky enough to stop by when there was no line. Picked up our food, picked up a bottle of wine on the walk home and enjoyed a lovely dinner. Now on to get some sleep and recover from my jet lag.

Highly recommend L’As du Falafel!

In writing the headline for this blog post, I researched why Paris is called the City of Light. In 1667, King Louis XIV entrusted his police lieutenant to make Paris safer, in part by installing street lights. Lanterns were placed on almost every main street, and residents were asked to light their windows with candles or oil lamps. The idea was to prevent dark corners and alleyways criminals where criminals could hide.

I am so grateful to King Louis XIV, and to his police lieutenant, and to every single person who has contributed to make Paris the gorgeous city that I (and millions of others) love so.

Thank you Paris, for being you!

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Backup Singers

“20 Feet from Stardom”

By Derived from a digital capture (photo/scan) of the Film Poster/DVD Cover (creator of this digital version is irrelevant as the copyright in all equivalent images is still held by the same party). Copyright held by the film company or the artist. Claimed as fair use regardless., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39331832

Today I’m grateful for the unsung heroes of the music I dance, cry, relax and write to … the backup singers. I watched the movie “20 Feet from Stardom” on the plane from San Diego to NYC and it was moving to hear the stories of these (mostly) women (mostly) of color who lent their magic and invaluable gifts of their voices to create so much of the music I know and love. And yet I’ve never before thought of their contributions and certainly haven’t given them the credit for the songs I love.

It’s the people in the background who give so much of themselves that if all were right with the world would get the glory, acclaim and success — at least as much as the stars receive. As someone who has worked away, head down, hoping that producing good work, exceeding expectations, giving my all would be rewarded only to find that, usually, it is not, I should do my part to always seek out those behind the scenes, to thank them for their contributions, to acknowledge their efforts.

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My gratitude journal today, then, is filled with gratitude for the beauty and joy that these back-up singers have brought to our lives, for the sound they have created, for their bravely using their gifts to bless us with music that touches our souls.

Thank you, backup singers, with all my heart.


Buttermilk

Today I’m grateful for buttermilk.

When he was just a toddler, my mother used to trick my little brother by handing him a glass of “milk” filled with buttermilk instead of the creamy sweet whole milk he was anticipating. He’d take the glass, smiling, looking forward to a delicious treat of slightly sweet, smooth, rich milk and then make the funniest face, twisted mouth and wide eyes, when the sour, tang of buttermilk touched his tongue instead. OK it was mean but it was funny. And don’t worry, he got me back plenty when he got a little older.

This is not my brother; we didn’t have cellphones to let us easily capture all the moments back in the day. But you get the idea.

In addition to bringing back a memory that still makes me smile, I’m also grateful to buttermilk for the tang and depth it brings to my brown sugar buttermilk waffles (so delicious), and so many of the Southern dishes that were staples of my East Texas childhood.

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Buttermilk reminds me of my grandmother, too. Not so much because of her cooking but because of all the work required of her to provide the basics for her family. There was no carton of buttermilk at a store to be picked up waiting for her. She (or my uncle) had to milk their cows, then she had to churn the milk, and only then would she have buttermilk and the other dairy necessities required to cook the meals over an old-fashioned stove in the heat of a Texas summer with no air conditioning other than a paper fan saved from some outdoor church event. But gratitude for my grandmother will be another post, for another day.

Photo by Jefferson Lucena on Pexels.com

Today, it’s buttermilk. Tangy, tart, with the ability to add just the “je ne sais quo” to so many meals. To the soil that grew the grass that fed the cows that produced the milk, as well as the farmers, factory workers, truck drivers, grocery shelf stockers and cashiers required for me to access it. The sun that shone to grow the grass, the rain that watered the fields. All the little actions required to put 1-3/4 cup of buttermilk into my soon-to-be-eaten waffles this morning. Buttermilk, I salute you.


Fresh Starts

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January 1, 2022. The first day of a new year — a fresh start — albeit amidst a pandemic that after two years and lots of vaccines is nonetheless surging to its highest peaks yet.

I feel the urge to start “A Year of” … something, and it feels as if to do so requires starting it on this, the first day of the new year.

A year of expressing gratitude — testing if indeed expressing gratitude is the surest path to joy — seems like a fine ambition/resolution to make.

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And, if I express my gratitude here, on my blog, it can be a year of daily writing as well. Two birds and all that. So, short and sweet, today I am grateful for being born a human.

If you read Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening,” you’ll know what I mean. In his entry for January 1, he writes of how blessed we are humans are that we are living out our lives as human beings and not as rocks or ants or grass or cows or any other living thing on this earth.

Some days, honestly, I think I would rather be a tree. A giant redwood overlooking the pounding Pacific surf, or an oak tree providing blessed shade in a summer’s heat. But for this life, I am me, and all that comes with that — including the responsibilities for living my life fully and passionately and boldly and in a way that makes the world just a little better for my having lived in this form on this earth at this time.

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In this life, I am not a redwood tree. But I am a person with the opportunity to visit the trees, walk among them, embrace them, find peace among them, be grateful for them, and then leave the woods and walk along the beach and feel sand and salty air. And then buy an airline ticket and 9 hours later walk the cobblestone streets of Paris and then, who knows what adventure I can go on, all because I’ve been born a human at this time, in this place.

So today, I’m grateful to be alive in this form to fight the good fight, to write out whatever crazy thought comes to mind, to experiment with the relationship between gratitude and joy.

So welcome to my gratitude journal for 2022, I am thankful for visiting my site and grateful that you took the time to read this far. Thank you for being you, and for all that you bring to the world. And so it begins….

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Be Happy

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If you are too tired to exercise, and that Christmas cookie is too delicious to resist, you can still do something good for your heart — be happy. Dr. Karina Davidson of Columbia University Medical Center says that “If you aren’t naturally a happy person, just try acting like one,” according to a recent Associated Press news article. Researchers studied more than 1,700 adults for over a decade, and found that the ones that were happier had fewer heart attacks.

Maybe it’s because happier people tend to have healthier lifestyles, or because they have less stress and thus avoid the hormones that damage heart muscles which stress can produce. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that even faking happiness can help your health. And if my experience is any guide, sometimes when you put your heart into faking happiness — really give it that old college try — before you know it you are feeling genuinely happier.

It’s worth a try. So turn that frown upside down and follow the advice of Bob Marley — don’t worry, Be Happy!

Smile! Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Joy vs. Happiness and How to Get More of Both

Feeling Joyful and Free

Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown gave a talk a few night’s ago to discuss her new book, Atlas of the Heart. Her research and thoughts on Joy vs. Happiness were interesting to me, as it’s a distinction my husband is often asked about, since he started Made for Joy.

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Defining Joy

Brown defines Joy, based on her research, as “an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation,” as contrasted with Happiness, where her data suggests is defined as “feeling pleasure often related to the immediate environment or current circumstances.” What struck me most was her belief that Joy is associated with connection — connection to others, to God, to nature, to the Universe — it’s more internal, she believes, whereas happiness is more external and circumstantial.

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Always with the Gratitude …

And the clearest path to deeper and more frequent Joy is through Gratitude. I know that, yet do I have a daily Gratitude practice? No, I do not. Are my bookshelves lined with Gratitude Journals begun and abandoned? Yes, they are. My best efforts lasted only days before they were forgotten in the press of work or errands or cooking or reading or any of the dozens of items that appear on my daily “To Do” list. Just five minutes is all a Gratitude Practice requires, and yet it’s five minutes that I cannot seem to find. And yet, Brown’s findings that being grateful adds to and deepens our Joy makes complete sense.

You’ve probably heard that as humans we tend to have a genetic set point of happiness that momentary ups and downs quickly modulate back to as baseline. But Brown’s research leads her to believe that practicing gratitude can extract more from our best moments. Yes, the “newness” and excitement of that car, house, dress, shoe, spouse will fade, but if we take the time to appreciate it, the feelings of joy and happiness derived from it will be deeper, and perhaps longer-lasting.

Foreboding Joy (sounds scary!)

One other take-away on Joy that spoke to me, Brown calls “foreboding Joy.” Never heard of it, but definitely have experienced it. It’s when “you’re afraid to lean into good news, wonderful moments, and joy.” You are afraid that if you lean into it, fully experience and embrace it, you’ll only end up hurt more in the end. You wait for the other shoe to drop, as surely it will, and by protecting yourself from that assumed inevitability you also shield yourself from truly feeling deep joy. Truly experiencing Joy, Brown says, is an act of vulnerability. Her research found that everyone who showed a deep capacity for joy also practice gratitude. There’s that Gratitude word again. Pursuing me, relentlessly. Demanding that I pay attention if I want to truly live my fullest, my best life.

My Life Lesson

The lesson I got from reading Brown’s thoughts on Joy and Happiness? Be grateful for each joyful moment life brings me. Soak it in — smell, taste, touch, feel and embrace it fully. It’s not going to last forever, and surely some obstacle or challenge or depressing or sad or horrible thing also lies ahead, but at least by embracing the moments of joy that equally await I will have the resilience, strength and courage to take on whatever life may bring. The best way to do that?

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Connect — with others, with Nature, with the Universe…

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Practice Gratitude. Picking up one of my many gratitude journals and going for it again!