Peace At Christmas, by Tasha Halpert

Johnnys tree2Even as a small child I was aware of the chaos of war. During the second World War my mother’s parents were still in Germany. My mother had not heard from them for almost ten years. Finally when the American forces broke through, her parents were able to communicate. I watched her wrap packages with food, clothing, and other necessities. Although there was still chaos and difficulty in Germany, at least my mother’s heart was at peace.

My cousin who lived in Cuba in the forties endured strife growing up. She wrote me of how shots might ring out and everyone took cover. I grew up without any direct experience of this kind, and I was fortunate. Now it seems that no one in the USA is safe from warlike behavior. What can we do to combat the fear that has begun to pervade our once peaceful atmosphere? I believe that on one hand we can raise up our courage and refuse to be intimidated, and on the other that we can work for peace within our own lives, most especially now.

The words “Peace on Earth” resonate throughout our Christmas carols and scriptural messages, and even our Christmas cards. Yet to think about peace amidst the hectic shopping, baking, wrapping, mailing hustle bustle of the holidays seems difficult. However I can promote peace in small ways.

I can invite a friend to Christmas dinner, bake cookies for the kind man who takes care of my car, listen sympathetically to someone who needs an ear. I can hold the door for someone or the elevator, volunteer to be of help where help is needed. Equally important, I can nurture peace in myself through meditation, eat well for a peaceful stomach, and of course, get enough sleep.

Taking time for myself is vital to my sense of peace. Remembering to breathe deeply, especially during a nature walk helps me feel peaceful. So does hugging a tree. When I am on my feet a lot I take fifteen minutes to lie on my bed with my legs straight up against the wall. This feels wonderful and it pacifies my body. When I feel more peaceful within myself, I influence the atmosphere around me to harmonize with my peacefulness.

I can talk all I want about the need for peace and the lack of it in the world, and that will change nothing. Alternatively I can set about making peace myself, promoting peace in my own way. I can be of service in the cause of peace. While I cannot influence nations or even large groups of people, I can be of help in small ways and thus help make peace.

There is a story about monkeys on an island learning to wash their food. When enough monkeys did that, those on neighboring islands began doing the same. There was no communication between them yet they were influenced. When we are peaceful within ourselves we help others to become more peaceful. When I work for peace in my own life, I am also working to bring peace in the world around me, and perhaps, who knows it may even spread out from there.

Rewards by Tasha Halpert

Sydney's Party 1        Remember when teachers handed out gold stars for rewards? If you did well in class, if you wrote a neat paper, or for any of a multitude of reasons, you could get one next to your name or else on your homework. It was a wonderful experience to get a gold star. For me, it happened seldom. I was young for my age in the class and so my skills were not as well developed as those of my classmates. However, that was long ago and I don’t feel I suffered for it.

Perhaps in today’s politically correct climate teachers might not use gold stars as a reward. Not being in school or in the know, I have no idea. All I do know is that rewards are as important to me now as they were to me as a child. When I have worked hard, done a good job by my own standards, or fulfilled an obligation, I like to find a way to reward myself. It makes me feel good and it also encourages me to continue to make an effort.

At times a reward can function as a kind of bribe or inducement if you will. Not that I feel I must have a reward to do what I have to do–most especially if I don’t feel like doing it just then. However sometimes it’s nice to look forward to one at the end of a difficult task or experience. Most often a reward can be a reminder to me that I love myself and honor my efforts.

In the rather strict atmosphere in which I grew up, there were no rewards for good behavior. I was expected to behave. What usually happened was that I was punished if I didn’t behave the way my parents wanted me to or thought I ought to. Things were different then and those were other days and times. Today’s parents have learned from Dr. Spock and other sources to raise their children in more kindly ways.

Over the years I have learned to treat myself as if I were my own kind parent. It took me a while to understand the importance of that, and once I did it made a great difference. For instance I pat myself on the back when I have done a good job, or praise myself for whatever effort I might have put out even if I wasn’t successful in my attempt. Sometimes I reward myself by going for a walk or reading a book, at other times I might buy a small treat I’ve been wanting. I try not to make food a reward because I don’t need the extra calories.

My favorite reward is to give myself time to do what I enjoy, whether that is reading a book, taking a walk in nature, or writing or working on a poem. To me this is neither selfish nor is it self indulgent. Instead, It seems to me it is an important way to show myself love. It is my understanding that the more I love myself the more love I can feel from those around me. Rewarding myself is an easy way of showing myself love. It feels good, and also it helps me to be a happier, more giving person.

Smelling the Lilies

Star Lilies 4       Of all the flowers with delightful scents, there are three that are favorites of mine: Lilies, Roses, and Hyacinths. So it was that when I was shopping in Trader Joe’s last week and saw the Star Gazer Lilies for sale I could not resist buying a small bunch and bringing them home. As I had hoped they would they have filled our small apartment with their wonderful scent.

As I sit here writing my column I am breathing it in. As I do, these colorful lilies with their glorious perfume remind me over and over again how important it is to give to myself as well as to others. It has taken me more than a few years to recognize the importance of doing that. My dear mother called such thinking selfish. She was raised in a home where children came last, after guests, parents and other adults. To think of oneself first, if at all, was not encouraged.

There was no intentional cruelty involved in this attitude. It sprang from a different way of seeing the world and of acting on that viewpoint. There is a strong behavioral edict that sprang from traditional thinking that it is better to give than to receive. While it is good to give, there are psychological reasons that were not taken into account by this edict that need to be addressed. In addition there is the question of balance versus imbalance to be considered.

I was raised in much the same way. I remember once being surprised when a friend said that we must be home by four o’clock for her children’s TV program. That the wishes of children were something to consider was a new thought for me. As a young mother it never occurred to me that children’s choices were anything to be considered.

In the years since then I have done a lot of learning. A most important lesson of my lifetime has been that if I do not give to myself I will not have much to give others. My cup must have something in it before I can give from it freely. My giving must be in balance with my receiving. What I have discovered, sometimes the hard way is that if I give only to others and not to myself I develop unconscious resentment that can lead me to act unkindly, or be overly critical without meaning to. This can creep up on me and I need to make sure I notice it when it happens.

From the time I was small being kind has always been very important to me. Thus it has become vital that from time to time I assess my behavior to make sure I have been giving to myself enough to balance my graciousness to others. It is not always easy to remember to give to oneself. It often initially feels so good to give to others that it is easy to forget to include oneself. As I inhale the perfume of the wonderful lilies I am reminded again of how grateful I am for this gift I gave to myself, and of how glad I am that I bought them.

Text and Photo by Tasha Halpert

Unexpected Consequences: the New Tablecloth

Unexpected Consequences:

Driftwood Dragon

Driftwood Dragon

With the new year comes a desire for a new look. To that end we’ve been talking about changing some of the art on our walls for some that is presently in storage. Although the furniture in our apartment needs to stay as it is, we figured we could freshen up its appearance in other ways. Toward that end we were walking through one of our favorite home goods stores checking out the merchandise when we came upon a sale table. On it were several dark blue tablecloths.

“One of these could be a nice for our dining table,” Stephen said. “How about one of these for our home for the new year?” Searching through the pile he found a round one. Checking it out I read on the packaging that material would not allow liquids to penetrate and would easily wipe up with a damp cloth. Deciding that this was a win/win situation, we brought it home and put it on the table. It looked splendid. I was curious to see if it would live up to its promises.

It did. The first time a few drops spilled on the cloth they beaded up and were easily blotted away. I was duly impressed. Several days later I tried sponging off the occasional spots that had occurred since, and they too came away relatively easily, leaving the cloth looking as pristine as ever. However I discovered one drawback: Being dark blue it also revealed the presence of all crumbs, bits of herbs and other mealtime sprinkles. If it is not cleaned off after a meal that produces any sort of small debris, the table looks messy.

Thinking about this I realized that life can be like that. Promises are often fulfilled as they are spoken and things work out as indicated, yet other factors I haven’t planned for or thought of may complicate matters. I’m not complaining, I often find it humorous when I have to cope with the unexpected results of what appears to be an improvement or an upgrade. Fortunately, the small dust buster vacuum I had purchased along with its big sister does a fine job on the crumbs. So that situation is not a big deal, just something I didn’t anticipate.

The lesson I took from this experience is that it is important to be flexible, and to not be concerned when the unplanned for experience arises. What often happens for people is that they focus on lamenting the difficulty rather than seek a solution. This attitude can be a result of what is termed the “victim mentality” or the “Oh poor me” syndrome.

What needs to be realized is that complaining only postpones the discovery of a solution because the focus is not on the resolution of the difficulty but on the difficulty itself. This attitude is a blind alley that leads nowhere. When my focus is correctly directed, most often I find a solution without much trouble. In this case the crumbs are nicely swept up with little effort and quickly disposed of. As my dear son Robin used to say, flexibility is the answer to so many problems, and I would add: correct focus.

Words and Image by Tasha Halpert

The Gift and the Wrapping

by Tasha HalpertKathy's Christmas tree

Being somewhat uncoordinated when it come to things like wrapping packages, I have always struggled with trying to make my presents look reasonably attractive. Some people are really creative with how they wrap their presents. I envy them. I wish I had that kind of creativity. My mind tends to run along more utilitarian tracks and I don’t always think to add the trimmings.

I have a friend who does lovely wrapping. She told me about the finishing touches she had put on the colorful hand made gifts she had crocheted. She went on to tell me that someone said to her that the decorative packaging she had purchased to do this was extravagant, asking why she had spent so much money on something that would soon be discarded.

I understood completely why she had wanted to do this. Her gift was special and she wanted it to look that way. Her expenditure made perfect sense to me. While I tend to be less decorative in my thinking I can admire someone who knows how to do up a package and make it look special. My artistic friend has very clever fingers and knows exactly how to fix up a package to make it look extra special. I wish I had her skills.

The care with which a gift is presented says something important about the giver as well as the gift. Stephen and I accumulate presents for family and friends all during the year; my wrapping though not fancy is part of the caring. I used to have a dreadful time wrapping presents until a friend who had done professional wrapping for a department store showed me some useful tricks. Now I can make my packages look much more attractive.

There was a time when wrapping paper for Christmas gifts was not as inexpensive or as available as it is now. When I was a child we used to save all our Christmas gift paper from year to year and reuse it as often as we could. The use of scotch tape was discouraged and gift paper was sturdier as well. I remember one special piece of wrapping paper that appeared every year on a different present. It had an elaborate design and was very lovely as well as quite durable. In her elder years as the Christmas presents were opened my late mother would spend her time folding the wrapping papers. I expect this brought back vanished memories of when we were all young.

At this season of giving many feel compelled to spend money they don’t have to buy gifts for others who probably don’t need them. The simple gift of a hug and a plate of home made cookies or a hand made card might do just as well. Even young children need to learn to be content with less rather than yearn for more. Whatever I give at Christmas is primarily a token of my affection, and it need not be expensive or fancy. I will, however, wrap it with care and love because these are the real gift I am giving.

Giving and Receiving

My loving Heart
gives without thought,
without stint of itself;
gives and is given in return.
And I am given that I may give,
and give that giving may be and continue.

All life is a giving and a receiving,
that the giving may have a purpose
and the receiving a place to be.
Unfolding the gifts means
unwrapping the giving
to discover the receiver
and by accepting
the receiver in turn gives
as the circle becomes complete.

With a full heart my giving is.
With an open heart, my receiving is.
The love that gives and receives
has endless supply and never lacks;
the love that gives without stint
receives the same and more,
and finds in the giving
and in the receiving
endless joy.

Tasha Halpert Pictures downloaded from my camera 2. 115

I am Thankful

Stephen and Tasha Hug          I make a practice of being thankful. I have often shared the little prayer I say a dozen or more times a day for various and sundry blessings. However it is not necessary to pray one’s thanks. It enough to simply acknowledge that one is grateful. My gratitude for what I have is enormous. I am also very grateful for much that I do not have, or may have had and no longer do.

What we have and what we do not have may both are something to be thankful for. Did you ever think back to when you were little and wanted something–a pony, perhaps? Most likely you didn’t get it, and most likely if you had you would soon have tired of taking care of it. Ponies require daily brushing, cleaning up after, feeding, petting, riding, and more: taking care of the saddle, bridle and all the required tack. They are a lot of work, and the child who wants the pony doesn’t think about that.

We seldom think about the consequences of receiving what we wish for. There is an old adage that goes: be careful what you wish for, you may get it. I remember admiring big houses, and oh how I wished for a swimming pool. One day I acquired both. That pool was more work than it was worth, although many people enjoyed it. However they weren’t tasked with the care of it as I was.

I used to think I wanted more space, and now having had two large houses–though one was smaller than the other, I have learned that every bit of space I may have requires care and looking after. I have learned to be content with a lot less space that I ever thought I would be.

As well I am thankful for those difficulties I have left behind. It is lovely not to have to clean three bathrooms each week, tend a huge garden, prune lots of bushes. When I hear a child yelling in the supermarket I am delighted it’s not my job to care for a howling toddler. I am also glad not to have be cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner and hosting a large group of people. I enjoyed and was thankful at the time I did all these things, now I am glad that time has passed.

There is much else I am just as glad not to wish for any longer. I used to think I would like to go up in a balloon, I don’t feel the need to do that any more. I don’t want to jump out of an airplane with a parachute either. I am thankful that I don’t need to do these things to be happy or feel fulfilled.

Thinking about thankfulness as I do each and every day but most especially at Thanksgiving I am struck by the way I have learned what I truly want and how fulfilled I feel. Once I yearned to be more popular. Now I am thankful for the friends I do have. I have learned that what is important to me are the small daily pleasures of contact with people and our communications. Most of all I am grateful for my beloved partner and best friend Stephen. Having a special friend with whom to share my life is my greatest blessing.