Monday, February 21, 2011

Perfect day for a cuppa chai

Beautiful snow today. A sprinkle of dancing, whisper-light flakes, straight out of a fairy tale. After a couple of days of spring-like temperatures, the cold felt like a surprise. It was a perfect day for chai. (For my southern readers who're enjoying almost summery temperatures today, try pouring the chai over ice for iced spiced chai instead.)

Spiced chai
Adapted from a variety of internet sources

2 cups milk
2 cups water
8 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
8 cardamom pods
1 slice fresh ginger root (approximately 1/8") diced
5 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tea bags (black tea...we used Twinings Irish Breakfast)

Crush cardamom pods to crack them open. Pour milk and water into a small saucepan. Add cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and peppercorns and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat a little, stir in sugar, and boil for 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat. Add tea bags, cover, and steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and pour through a strainer into a teapot. I like to squeeze the teabags against the side of the pot before I remove them.

The above teapot, by the way, is after we'd already drunk a few cups. We've been brewing up more time- and attention-intensive warm drinks lately. Perhaps it's just an outgrowth of my attempts to live more mindfully. I'm finding that the rewards of homemade chai or slow-poured coffee far outweigh the small amount of extra effort required.

And speaking of living mindfully, I recently realized that it's a sad fact that I don't have time to write two blogs. Not if I want to write them really well. My initial idea was that perhaps through learning to live more mindfully, I can find my most authentic self in the suburbs, amidst the laundry and the extracurriculars. I think I underestimated how much time laundry and extracurriculars require.

The idea of mindful living and exploring its many facets still intrigue me. Perhaps some day I'll have that precious resource of time to devote to it. So while 2011 will still be my year to live mindfully, I've decided to fold my Year of Living Mindfully blog into the Bluebonnet in Beantown blog. All appropriate articles will be labeled as "year of living mindfully" in the Bluebonnet blog.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mindfulness in the media

Today, my arms and shoulders and back ache from shoveling snow. We now have mounds of snow as tall as my son. He stands a smidge taller than five feet. I call the two biggest mounds "Snowhenge." Atop the retaining wall that runs along the driveway, the snow towers taller than my head. I can no longer simply shovel. I have to throw the snow as high as I can in the air. Yep. I can feel the burn.

Regardless of the burn, or maybe because of the burn, there's something about shoveling snow that feels so peaceful. The hush. The rhythmic scrape of the shovel against the pavement. Muscles straining. Breath pluming. Snow falling and turning to ice crystals in my hair. I much prefer it to breaking out the snow blower. The blower belches gas fumes and feels absolutely harsh and alien. More efficient, yes. Necessary, especially when digging out from a heavy snowfall, yes. But also alien.

Serendipity again? Yesterday, the Boston Globe featured this article, "Mindfulness therapy puts the focus on improving the quality of body and spirit." A recent study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that "the practice of paying attention leads to anatomical changes in the brain." Volunteers were given MRI scans before and after they attended weekly mindfulness classes for eight weeks. After eight weeks, they experienced "a 1 to 3 percent increase in their brain’s gray matter in particular areas responsible for learning, memory, and emotional regulation."

The article quotes Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindfulness Solution. He states, "It’s all about adopting a receptive attitude: paying attention to how things are rather than how you want them to be [emphasis mine]."

Ahhh...the should-be's. I've been afflicted by a terrible case of the should-be's for as long as I can remember. You could even say I have a terminal case. After my first child was born, I scoured baby books, memorizing milestone lists and fretting constantly if my child were not meeting milestones at the proper rate. "He should now," was my constant refrain. Still is in a way. Poor kid. By the time numbers two and three rolled around, I was too overwhelmed to be worrying about milestones. I can't even remember when my youngest first walked or said her first words. I had two littles thirteen months apart, and I was lucky if I remembered to buy food. If living mindfully helps me to shake the should-be's, I'll be so thankful. Thinking that something "should be" something else (better, different, faster, stronger) is so incredibly destructive, but just realizing that hasn't made me stop.

Another (snowy) day. Living mindfully.