About pujakins

I am a poet and teacher of meditation, with a fondness for words and a husband I love dearly. I write a regular column in my local newspaper and another on the internet. My hope, both in my life and in my writing is to encourage people to see things in way that will help them to live happier, healthier lives.

Respect is the Keystone in a Relationship

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Sixty years ago, when my two oldest daughters were my only children, we all lived in an apartment above that of another family who also had two small daughters. Their mother and I often went on little trips together, which is what we were doing this day. As we set out, my neighbor said, “We must be sure to get back by four o’clock so my girls can watch their program.” Today this sounds quite normal. Sixty years ago, it sounded odd. While I didn’t say it aloud, it was a new thought to me to give importance to the wishes of a child to watch “their” TV program.

When I was being raised, in most families of my generation as well as the ones before that, adults came first. Children’s wishes were paid attention to only if it was convenient or the adults didn’t have any priorities. Dr. Benjamin Spock and his book Baby and Child Care, published in 1946, helped to change that—some thought for the worse. However, when I was raising my daughters, he was only just becoming a well-known authority. In those days, respect for children’s wishes was scarce or even nonexistent. Children were supposed to respect adults; not the other way around. However, these days we have made some progress: children are not considered the possession of the father as in previous centuries.

Once upon a time Children and elders were an important part of the family. Furthermore, in an agrarian society there was respect for the women who planted and grew the food for the table, wove and sewed the clothing, and kept the tribe healthy, fed and clothed. In such a society, there was respect for elders and for the knowledge they had to pass on. Today’s elders, once they cannot live independently, are often shunted off into separate housing. Gone are the days when generations lived together and everyone had tasks that contributed to the household, even the children.

Respect has diminished today, not only for elders but generally. This is an important cause of friction in our society. Respect for one’s other half in marriage is an important component in a good marital relationship. We all have our differences. Some of them are more important to us than others. When there is a difference of opinion it is vital that each side respects the point of view and/or the needs of the other. These things can be discussed amicably, especially when there is respect on both sides for what is important to the other person. Also, it may be necessary to ask one’s partner or friend what his or her needs or feelings are. Shyness or inexperience in relationships may silence the other person.

These days, our society encourages us to put ourselves first. While there are times we may need to do this, when one’s decision or actions involve other people, and most especially in a marriage, it seems wise to seek the other’s point of view. Some things can be changed, others cannot. Some deeply ingrained habits are nonnegotiable, some are not. Bringing the issues out in the open helps even if nothing changes, it shows respect for the other’s side to discuss it. The keystone in an arch that keeps the rest of the stones in place. Respect is a keystone in dealing with others.

 

Take Your Time, Please

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All over the world, New Year’s Eve is celebrated in a variety of ways. In the US many of us watch our TV screens as the ball drops in Times’ Square. My grandmother used to go to the movies. She told me that before midnight they gave out horns and other noisemakers. As midnight struck everyone blew and rattled vigorously. Making a loud noise is one way to drive out any lingering old negativity and start the new one clean and fresh. We have a bell collection and I go around the house ringing each one at midnight.

There are many superstitions associated with the coming of the New Year. Some go as far back as the height of the Greek and Roman civilizations. There are also attempts to predict events for the New Year. I remember my parents once melting lead in a ladle held over the fire in the fireplace. The melted lead was then poured into cold water and examined after it had hardened. The shape it might take was used to predict something for the new year to come. I was quite young and all these years later I can’t remember much more than that.

The old year is often portrayed by an elderly man tottering about and the New Year is portrayed as a baby or young toddler. Father Time himself is seen as an older man with a long beard, carrying a scythe with a long handle. He uses it to cut through the past and reap it in order to help us make use of what has been learned or experienced as we move into the future. Toward that end, most people feel it is important to make New Year resolutions.

As the new year approaches many of us will be doing just that. Sadly, most resolutions will be broken and probably forgotten by the end of January if not sooner. I believe resolutions are best not made, because inevitably we choose not wisely but with wishful thinking. What we wish is often to be thinner, spend less, save more, exercise more, or take better care with whatever or whomever we cherish. Our resolutions are made with well meaning and not realistically, which is why we don’t or can’t keep them.

Most of our resolutions are for what we believe we ought to be doing—losing weight being the most common. Yes, often it is important to lose weight for our good health. Yet making a resolution to do so almost invalidates the effort. It implies that we are making a special effort, not that we are participating in normal behavior. Yet what is usually best is for us to be mindful of what and how much we eat on a daily basis, rather than make a heroic attempt that leaves us feeling hungry and deprived.

The New Year is a good time to look over the last twelve months, see how far we have come, and assess how far or not we may need to go. One of my husband Stephen’s favorite phrases is, “Take your time.” Perhaps that might be our best possible resolution: To take our time, to see what really needs doing and then use the time we have to accomplish the goal of that moment. When we can do that, we are better equipped to live effectively as well as to observe carefully how we are doing. As to resolutions in general, resolving to be kind, to be thoughtful, to be more mindful might be easier and more effective than giving in to our “oughts.”

 

The Gift of Christmas

Deb's mantleWhile generally speaking Thanksgiving is about being thankful, for many people Christmas is about gift giving. There are multiple tales about the giving of gifts on this day or shortly before or after. Christmas legends are fun to read. One of my favorites is about La Befana, an old lady from Italy. It is she who leaves the gifts for children on or around Christmas. The story goes she missed out on the actual birth of the holy child and so leaves all children gifts hoping not to miss out.

Lately my mail has been flooded with appeals. Every charity I give to throughout the year and quite a few I never do has sent me an urgent letter stating its need. Some hope to sweeten the pot by saying a donor has offered to match every donation if it comes in before a certain date. Giving at Christmas is built into our society; however, it is also a tradition that is so old it is part of the body of thinking that in psychological terms is called the collective unconscious.

Many people at this season disregard that way of thinking and deplore the emphasis on gift giving, calling it materialistic, or a symbol of our greedy society. They may be right in their way; however, I wonder if they have considered the inspiration to give that is inherent in Christmas. The focus in many ads is all about buying for others, for those on your Christmas list, and so forth. No one has much to say about buying gifts for yourself.

Actually, it is a good idea to buy yourself a Christmas/Holiday gift—at least one. I am a firm believer in giving to oneself as well as to others. That way you don’t feel deprived if you don’t get much back. To be sure, giving with unconditional love—likely the best way to give, means giving without expectations. Yet this is much easier when you give to yourself, perhaps purchased something you really wanted, or bought a highly personal item that no one is apt to give to you.

I believe the true gift of Christmas is the inspiration to give that it inspires. Depending on their belief system, many will tell you what the basis is for this tradition. For them this may be very important, yet from St. Nicholas to Santa, from the Three Kings to La Befana, whatever the inspiration may be, the gifts in the stockings and under the tree spell Christmas/Solstice/Chanukah /Kwanza, and perhaps other days, for us all.

Mementos of Friends Are Special

3musketeersI took the red and white baking dish out of the drawer under the oven and set it on the counter. An image of the person who had given it to me rose in my mind, and I sighed. We had been friends for many years. Now however she had joined the angels that she so often spoke of. Her faith was strong and she shared it on occasion though not intrusively. A colorful character, she was always fun to see and over the years she had given me other gifts I cherished.

As I reached to put on my earrings, I opened a small trinket box and fished around for a tiny plastic “ear nut.” I keep a lot of them in it, ready to make sure I don’t lose a precious earring. The pretty little box with a woman on the lid was another gift from a special friend and I think of her always when I open it to get one. There is a pair of cute stretchy pants in my drawer, a present from a friend who has moved away, so I don’t see her any longer. I am happy to have this reminder of her and of our friendship.

The lovely glass vase I use for flowers when they arrive as a gift reminds me of a friend who lives in another state, too far to visit. Happily, email does help us keep in touch. These and other things are my special treasures, more precious to me than any glittering object in a catalog, because they remind me of someone dear and special. I feel most fortunate in my friends. One of them recently made me a special birthday picture that I frequently glimpse on the shelf next to my bed.

Treasured items come and go, and we cannot hold onto everything we cherish. Some vanish and others fall apart. There are some we hold especially dear because of how they were acquired. They bring us the memory of the giver and perhaps even the circumstances of the giving.  I have a lovely shawl my daughter knit for me. I feel the warmth of her love whenever I wear it. I also have the memory of the time we spent together choosing the wool. It is a pleasure to enjoy the remembrances attached to the gifts friends have given me.

Life is shorter than we know when are young. Each day is more precious than we can imagine while we move through our busy weeks. It is easy to forget to take notice of what may pass away unexpectedly, or be buried in the inundation of our to-do list. When I glimpse them, these gifts and many more from other dear ones are good reminders to stop, say a short prayer of thanks and wish the giver well. Whether or not we are still able to communicate, I cherish what we had while we had it and give thanks for it and for them, always.

 

 

Giving Thanks for Family

Family dinner 2        As I found out when I read a poem about family to my poetry group, the term family is for many loaded with negative implications. Unhappy childhoods, misbehaving or denigrating progeny, difficult relationships all become causes of grief and unhappiness. Quarrels erupt over division of property or when sharing the belongings of the deceased. Yet to me, family members may not necessarily be of blood but are of the heart and the relationships are often more peaceful and happier.

When I was growing up, we would have Thanksgiving dinner at the home of either my grandmother Nonny, or my great aunt Alice. As a child I didn’t like having meals at Nonny’s because her dining room chairs were uncomfortable. They had horsehair woven into the seats and it prickled the backs of my legs. Also, there were toys at Aunt Alice’s that I never got to play with except at holiday gatherings. They were special, and unusual.  She had a wooden music player that hung from a strap, with a handle that played metal disks that were inserted, with different tunes, and a wonderful bunny that emerged from a head of lettuce and wiggled his ears.

Because my dad’s family was apt to have much to disagree about, most of the Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood featured a guest who was not a member of the family. The reasoning was that there would not be any “rows” as they called their arguments, in front of a guest who was not a family member. I think it must have worked because I don’t seem to remember any fierce or discordant discussions.

Later, when I had my own family, we had Thanksgiving dinners at our house. The table we sat around was the same one I had sat at, as a child, at Nonny’s although not on the same chairs. My children’s grandmother on their father’s side always came for holiday dinners. She was a rather formal lady with wonderful manners we weren’t always used to. She would say, “My that cranberry sauce looks good.” What she intended was for someone to say, “would you like some? And pass it to her,” which, of course none of us realized.

My father had a toast he always said at every Thanksgiving dinner. It followed the toast to the hostess—inevitably Nonny or Aunt Alice. He would hold up his glass and say solemnly, “A toast to the absent ones.” As time went on more and more of those to be thought of were those who were absent from this earthly life. Now that it is my turn to say the toast, I am aware of how many who once graced my table are no longer available to invite.

All of the family members that graced the Thanksgiving tables of my childhood have gone on to the heavenly table to share their Thanksgivings with the angels. I miss them. Over the years my own Thanksgiving table has been graced by a variety of friends and relatives. As my circle of acquaintances has grown, so has the circle of my extended family. I no longer live close enough for them to visit or to have them for a Thanksgiving meal, however I am very glad for their presence in my life. My family of the heart is large and varied, and I think of them with love and gratitude.

Chicken Soup Made Simple

chickens.jpgWhen my mother made chicken soup, unless she was using a canned or dried variety, she had to start from scratch. In those days, markets had a variety of chicken to choose from: fowl, pullets, capons, broilers and roasters. For soup she might purchase a fowl, an older bird, past its egg laying days. If she chose, she could have one of our chickens killed by my Great Aunt Alice’s gardener, in which case she would have to pluck it and eviscerate it herself, which she often did. I’m very thankful I’ve never had to deal with a freshly killed chicken. I can see her still, pulling out feathers by the handfuls as she prepared a meal.

She would boil the chicken and then remove the skin and the meat from the bones. Alternatively, she might put some ingredients in with it, perhaps an onion and some celery to flavor the broth. Canned broth might have been available however she probably didn’t purchase it. Bouillon cubes were a poor substitute for the real thing. She was thrifty and usually used what she had on hand rather than spend money at the market. Convenience food was rare when I was small. You could find Jell-O, or puddings in boxes, however most things had to be made from scratch.

The chicken broth that comes in a box is one of my favorite ingredients.  I often use it to add to the cooking oil when I am frying a vegetable mixture with a starch like rice or another grain. It is a good substitute for additional fat when the mixture needs more “juice” to keep form drying out. I use it to enrich soups or make a white sauce for any number of recipes. It adds flavor and cuts back on calories when frying.

The other night I was casting about for something simple to make for supper. I often have some soup already made or a nice leftover I can reheat and maybe add to. That night I didn’t. Then I remembered the cans of chunk chicken on my pantry shelf.

I had thought of these as being of use in a salad, however, soup felt more appropriate for a chilly evening. I opened the chicken and poured the broth into a pot. Then I began to add ingredients.

First came chicken broth in the box—around two cups. I had a few mushrooms, so I sliced them up and added them. I put in some finely chopped celery and chopped a small onion. There were some leftover cooked carrots in the ‘fridge. I cut those into smaller pieces to add. Lastly, I spooned in thyme, lemon pepper, chopped parsley, and ground garlic. Once I brought the mixture to a boil, I added a handful of rice noodles and let it all cook for around ten minutes. It was delicious and filling.

You can vary the ingredients to suit yourself. Curry powder might be nice, as would turmeric. Quantities are to taste. Parsley is nourishing. Celery is important for flavor. Ground garlic is a very helpful ingredient and not strong tasting, yet it adds tang without sodium. The main ingredients are the broth and the chicken. If you have leftover rice you can use that. A quick supper is a wonderful help on a busy day, and with the holidays coming, days become busier than ever.

 

Sharing Some Wisdom

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A visiting teacher who had come to a weekly yoga class I attended shared his personal mantra: “I know nothing, I want to learn.” At the time this seemed a negative way to approach life. I now understand this to mean what the Buddhists intend by “beginner’s mind.” If I think or believe I know all about something, my mind will be closed to learning more. I have learned much from the many spiritual paths I have studied, and I appreciate what I have gained. I’ve stored up the most helpful teachings and incorporated them into my life, using them to live by.

Stephen and I were celebrating my birthday with my daughter and her fiancé. “Can you share some wisdom,” she asked, “things you have learned over the years?” I thought about it, and nothing came to mind just then. Later that evening I realized she had given me a fine theme for my latest love note. I told her and she agreed. I began to think what I wanted to share with my readers. As I went to bed that night my mind continued to whirl with thoughts.

What might be my best place to start?  What might be the most important lesson I had learned in my long life? Many possibilities occurred. The more I thought, the harder it became to choose from them. Finally I decided on several. My first is that life has been my best and most important teacher. I have had many wonderful teachers. Some have been helpful by providing an example not to follow. Others have provided guidance and support as I grew through their teachings. Yet life itself as I live it every day has helped me the most to learn and grew.

One example: Many years ago, when I was active as a folk singer, I was asked to perform a song in my church. I didn’t know it. Fearful of having to learn it and perhaps do it badly, I said no. Another performed it and I realized I ought to have said yes. The song wasn’t that difficult, and I would have done just fine. I learned from that not to let fear or vanity hold me back. Because I experienced the effect of my ill-advised decision first hand, I never turned down a request like that again. The reason life is such a good teacher is that personal experience always beats simply being told something. Also, if I don’t learn my lesson at the first opportunity, life gives me more chances.

Something else I’ve learned has been to not offer advice unless asked. No matter how well-meaning my suggestions, or how perfectly I think I can solve someone’s problem, I do best to offer my sympathy and my support, not my advice. The third and final thought I have to share is that eventually everything–every experience and every relationship—good bad or indifferent, comes to an end. Once my life as I was living it took an unexpected turn, ending abruptly. I made a new life. I now know enough to enjoy whatever I have and whomever I am with at the time, because one day they will pass out of my life. What wisdom I possess has helped me greatly over the years, and I hope to continue to accumulate more as I learn and grow.