17 June 2011
A Celebration of Bounty (paper towels, that is)


Today, pearls of wisdom can be found everywhere you look: in tiny gift books sold on  revolving racks next to check-out lines, on bumper stickers, in subscribing to a feed so that inspirational quotes show up in your email, and now, you can get your daily dose of needed inspiration simply by cleaning up. That’s right, you can clear away the dullness on your kitchen counter tops and at the same time brighten your soul with Bounty paper towels. And during this time of economic hardship, it’s a cheap and efficient way of absorbing (yes, in more ways than one) some life lessons.

I came across these paper towels when I was visiting my parents this past spring. My mom was tearing off a section, and she happened to read me the printed saying. Always looking for the simple joys in life, my mom said how much she enjoyed reading them. I had her unroll the towels so I could read all of the sayings, and then, because we were both in a silly mood, we took out another roll. We lined them up with just a section of each showing, with the large two rolls laying at either side.

It resembled a Torah perfectly. We laughingly named in, “The Bounty-ful Bible.”  

And just like the Bible, the Bounty paper towels are ripe with bursting metaphors of the garden of life, and the fruits of one’s labors.

Just yesterday I was planting my New Guinea Impatiens, Verbena, and Dahlias in my garden, and afterwards I called my mom to ask her to read to me from: The Bounty Bible.

Now, my mother is familiar with my spiritual inclinations. She has stood by as I went on silent Buddhist retreats, ventured to the Himalayas, studied with rabbis and Buddhist scholars, and began attending weekly Shabbat services. I told her that all that digging in the dirt made me hungry for the garden wisdom of her beloved paper towels (and a big turkey sandwich but that’s another story), and that, like the Buddha taught, insight and understanding can come from anywhere at anytime if we are open to receive. Or, in the case of the paper towels, if we are open to soak up the offered wisdom.

“Hold on,” my mother said. “I have to unroll the towels.” I sat at my kitchen table (which I realized needed Bounty, the quicker picker upper, for a sticky syrupy spot). Back on the phone, she started reading me the sayings:

No two days are the same in one garden.
No two gardens are the same.
You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.
Gardening is a way of showing you believe in tomorrow.
Friends are flowers in a life's garden.
The flowers of all tomorrows are the seeds of today.

I told her that for some reason, I can’t find the Bounty paper towels with the quotes in my grocery store (I’m in Massachusetts and she lives in Illinois).  That’s why, when I was thinking about them while I was out gardening, I had wanted her to read them to me. The whole idea of inspirational sayings on paper towels was to me, so ridiculous that it was brilliant. I mean, we can spend hours trying to understand the hidden meanings of Kabbalah, or to ascertain the meaning of a Buddhist sutra. But sometimes, that one bumper sticker that you pass, or paper towel that you unroll just speaks to you so simply.

In my novel, when Syd Arthur meets Bodee, who turns out to be a very significant person in Syd’s life he quotes from Heraclitus saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” To me, that’s rings so beautifully true. And honestly, it’s not so different from “No two days are the same in one garden.”

Bodee himself is a gardener, and understands the symbolism of life embedded in the process of bringing forth seeds from the earth. In the late winter, as he surveys the dead remains of his garden he tells Syd, “So much growth going on underneath during these long winter months. Come May, I’ll be picking the first of the carrots…”

“The flowers of all tomorrows are the seeds of today…” Okay, I get it. It’s from a Bounty paper towel, but when our hearts are open, words can seep in (okay, I know, enough with the puns) take root, and flower. In this day and age, with all of the rushing, and the stresses, and the worries and the negativity, why not just admit that regardless of how sappy and seemingly silly reading paper towels for inspiration is, it just might be lifting the spirits of people everywhere? I mean honestly, if we’ve graduated from the notion of not crying over spilled milk, why not take it one step further? Why not get a little enlightenment while we’re cleaning up said spilt milk?

Thanks Mom!

Namaste B’Shalom,
Ellen

Posted by emfrankel at 10:31 AM | Link | 2 comments
 
10 June 2011
My first run after five years
Today,  I decided to go for a run. For other people, this isn’t cause or material for writing a blog post. But for me, who hasn’t put on a pair of running shoes for at least five years, (that’s half a decade, which seems significantly longer), this is something.

When I woke up this morning, with the sunlight streaming through my window, it just came like a sneeze; not something you invited or could control, but something that demanded your full attention and expression. The pull to run was strong and, at first somewhat inexplicable. Why now? Why this morning?

As I pulled my running clothes together, I thought it probably had something to do with the fact that the sticky 90 degree temperatures of yesterday were the breezy 70 degree readings of today. Plus, the coating of pollen on the patio table the past few days had seemed somewhat less intense so maybe I could enjoy the outdoors without worrying that my Zyrtec would be overpowered. But what I also realized was that I was tired of my routine of hopping on my elliptical in the basement and watching CNN. I worked out each morning to the war on terror, the failing economy, and the partisan squabbling. Maybe I was attaining some kind of increased serotonin high from my work out, but I’m pretty sure it was negated by the dismal state of our world that CNN brought to me each day.

Of course, I could work out to something else, but I had grown accustomed to this routine, and though I seek flexibility on my yoga mat, I haven’t always been so great at mastering it in my life. Today, I wanted to feel energized by running with my iPod to some great music and letting that serotonin do it’s job with no CNN interference.

But here’s the truth. Trained as a clinical social worker, I can’t but help look beneath the apparent logic I tell myself about why today, of all days, I decide it’s time for a run. Playing both therapist and client as I tie my running shoes and get ready to stretch, I reflect back on the last 24 hours of my life and wonder if there is anything that relates to this sudden urge to pound the pavement.

It doesn’t take long to figure it out. Yesterday, I got a call from the doctor’s office. It was time to schedule my first colonoscopy and also a bone density scan. Nothing else screams 50 years old quite like that.

Maybe I needed to prove to myself that I still had the energy of my youth. But really, I’ve never been a big runner. I enjoyed going for runs in high school and college, and after I got married and moved to Boston, taking a run was a great way to learn the city. I’d run along the Charles River, or through the Public Gardens. After we moved to the suburbs and had our children, I’d get on a running kick for a month here and there. But my running has always been spotty at best and for at least the past five years, if not more, non-existent. I have friends who have trained for marathons. I applauded their efforts from the comfort of my couch. You get the picture.

But over the years, I’ve learned to go with where the energy is, and so I tried not to question the wisdom of this decision. Only last night, as I was sitting on the couch cross-legged and reading a book, I went to straighten my leg and felt the soreness that has been creeping into my hamstring over the past few weeks. At the end of each chapter, I would have to stretch my neck and shoulders which, for over a decade, have hurt from arthritis which neither physical therapy, acupuncture nor chiropractic work has been able to touch. So I thought, who knows. Maybe running would somehow jostle a vertebrae or move a joint this way or that and actually give me some relief. You never know.

Kudos to my husband, who I met in the hallway as I was heading out. “I’m going for a run,” I said.  He didn’t tell me I was crazy, or that he feared that I would spend the weekend complaining now not only about my sore neck and shoulders, but a pulled thigh muscle as well. He just said to be careful, and when I told him that I was going to do my old 3-mile route, and that if I had to stop and walk, I would, he said, “Yes, walking would probably make more sense.” So half kudos to him; not a ringing endorsement, but there was still a little support embedded in there somewhere.

Here was something new. The last time I had scrolled through my iPod to choose a song to run to, I hadn’t needed to find my reading glasses so that I could see the choices of artists downloaded. Perhaps a bad omen. I chose John Mayer. I like his music, and the tunes are not so fast that I’ll be running to the beat and then burning out too fast.
I finished my stretching, looked at the time on my watch, and began. I stayed cognizant of my inhalation and exhalation just as I do in yoga, making the breath my friend. Slow and steady, that was my plan.

Okay, so back in the day, I used to run to music like the Rolling Stones', Start Me Up. Oh sure, words like: If you start me up, if you start me up I’ll never stop. are all fine and good when you’re all of twenty years old. Thirty some years later, I would most definitely rewrite the lyrics to more accurately reflect my current situation: If you start me up, if you start me up I’m fairly certain soon I’ll stop…

Today, as I was listening to John Mayer’s CD I related well to his song: Gravity. The first lines sing: Gravity is working against me, and gravity wants to bring me down. Trust me, I could relate on so many levels not least of which were my breasts squeezed into an old sport’s bra.

But still I ventured forward. I can remember when I used to run. If I passed someone I knew, I picked up my speed, elongated my stride, tried to show off my best effort in running. Not anymore. Today I nodded my head to a friend who honked hello in her car, but stayed steady and slow. I think that comes with age or maybe self-confidence. I don’t want to have to prove myself to anyone, or worry about what people might think or say about me. When I was younger, I would try to hard to beat my last time, to run faster than the time before. I was in a hurry to get where I intended to go. But with age, what I realize is that there really is no hurry to get where you think you need to go, because it’s ultimately about breathing fully into the space where you are NOW.

Turning onto Seaview Street, I was faced with a hill that I had forgotten about. So I harnessed my energy and pushed upwards, thinking that this running business is a lot like life. You need to find the resources and energy deep within for the challenges that lay in your path. And you are rewarded with the ease that comes when you get to run down hill and feel like you’re free as a bird. With the ups and downs, you learn to surf the waves, to pace yourself, to let the fullness of life wash over you knowing that challenges and triumphs, sorrows and joys, easy days and hard ones, are all part of the marathon of life.

At 50 years old, I have learned how to pace myself and breathe through challenges in a way I couldn’t do when I was younger. Back then, I would fill my head with the immediate future: how fast am I running, can I beat my last time? Why is my shin hurting? Will I be able to make it up that hill? Down that path? Those questions don’t pester me like they used to. At a half a century old, I’ve learned not to get lost in all the possible questions of the future, that no one can know or predict. I’ve learned to breathe through uncertainty, pain, boredom, fear and doubt. I’ve had practice. When my kids were in high school, how many nights did I stay up worrying that they would be home on time and that they would be home safe. Whatever time they promised to be home by, I would spend the fifteen minutes before that time worrying about every possible danger that could have occurred. In fifteen minutes I could spin a tale of terror in my head that momentarily became a truth, until I heard the garage door open, or the key in the front door. And breathed again. How many times did I hold my breath waiting for a loved one’s biopsy or medical test and then breathing again when I heard the word: benign. And when I heard the word: malignant or Alzheimer’s, I learned to live in a  “new normal” where I had to figure out how to breathe again, and keep going. So today, breathing through the challenges of running after not running so long, were not nearly as hard as in the past. I’ve learned, at this stage in my life, how to breathe with what is, and to breathe in the moment, and then to release it.

But those last few blocks, when you haven’t run in years, are a killer. Part of me wanted to give in and stop, and another part of me said, “you made it this far, why don’t you just keep on going?” And I thought to myself, that’s life too, isn’t it? The days where you are challenged to the point of despair and you want to throw the towel in? But you’ve come this far in your life, you might as well stick around and see how it eventually all ends...and so you keep going.

And keep going I did. Mile after mile, minute after minute, second after second. But while I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my life trying to let go of the ego, I’m not sure I can comfortably share with you just how many minutes and seconds it took me to complete these three miles. But when I came home, I felt energized and alive, and in my head I heard the beginning of Mick Jagger sing, “If you start me up, If you start me up I’ll never stop…”

Namaste B’Shalom,
Ellen







Posted by emfrankel at 4:24 PM | Link | 1 comment
 
06 June 2011
Waking Up To Possibilities
In Haikus for Jews, David M. Bader shares the following:

Seven-foot Jews in
the NBA slam-dunking-
my alarm clock rings.

So let me tell you what I woke up to this morning at 7:30 am. There were horns and screams coming from somewhere close - within a few blocks or so. At first, I was concerned. Maybe an accident? Someone hurt on the way to school? There was more honking and shouts and then I realized exactly what it was; I had heard this before. Our town celebrated high school graduation yesterday, and today was the day the high school juniors had waited for - the day to declare themselves high school seniors. Rulers of the world, or at least rulers of the high school halls. I remember when my daughter drove with her friends to school the morning after graduation, declaring her senior status. And then it was my son’s turn. This was a right of passage for the Marblehead students; an announcement to the world, or at least our town, that they were moving into a world of possibilities, a world of excitement, and a huge turning point in their adolescent lives.

I think we adults need that too...to connect with the dreams we once had, or to dream new dreams. In sleep, anything is possible, even tall Jewish NBA stars. Too often in our waking lives, we function on auto pilot, believing that things are as they are, and that our roles and our lives our set. Maybe we once entertained thoughts of painting, or writing or dancing. Maybe we dreamed of owning our own business, traveling to distant places, or learning how to play Mah Jongg or poker or learning a new language. But who has the time when there are bills to be paid, lunches to be made, appointments to be scheduled? Sometimes there isn’t even time to throw something in the microwave; it’s like we are all taking part in that game show of our youth, Beat the Clock.

I study with Rabbi Alan Ullman, and he once told me about a man he was sitting with as the man was dying. The man reached for Rabbi Alan’s hand and pleaded, “What was it all for, what did my life mean?” I think our goal should be to live our lives fully, whatever that means to each of us, so that in the end, we can die full of the life we led.

In my novel, after Syd Arthur begins her spiritual journey, she reflects on the questions that her heart is asking, about the roles she has been playing, and her new awareness that there must be something more. She says:

I have been a seeker all my life, I realize, but a seeker of external perfection: searching for the perfect outfit, praying for the perfect diet, making my house a shrine to contemporary living. But when I die, what will people say about my life? I can just picture Jodi’s eulogy at my funeral:

“Syd was taken from us suddenly, going into cardiac arrest wearing a darling size four Burberry tweed suit and carrying a fabulous Birkan bag. Syd would have been happy to know that she died on one of her ‘thin’ days, and thus will remain svelte into perpetuity. She maintained a spotless house and, thanks to her wonderful housekeeper Marina, barely had to lift a perfectly polished finger to do so. Syd was my best friend, and she can never be replaced. Though we will need to find a new fourth for our Mah Jongg group. We play on Thursday nights, and if anyone here is interested, please see me after the burial.”

We can get complacent. It’s understandable. There is a lot to do in our lives just to maintain we were yesterday. But what about tomorrow? What if we woke up like the new seniors did today, full of excitement and anticipation about taking their place in the world and making their mark? What if we said to ourselves, “Okay, maybe not seven foot Jews in the NBA, but I’d love a new basketball and some good one on one?” What if we expanded our vision of ourselves? What if we remembered that we too, once thought that anything was possible?” Theodor Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” So thank you seniors, for reminding us with your honking cars and shouts of joy that each morning that we wake up, a new day of possibilities is upon us.

Namaste B’Shalom,
Ellen



Posted by emfrankel at 11:19 AM | Link | 2 comments
 
05 June 2011
A great new accessory I discovered at LuLu's Boutique
I live in Marblehead, a quaint seaside town on Boston’s North Shore. I love walking  through the downtown, and on into Old Town, with its cluster of historic houses with shingles identifying when the house was built, to whom and whether they were a baker, or a fisherman or a builder. Walking the narrow, winding streets and breathing in the salty sea air, I typically meander up to Fort Sewall, first established in 1644 and now an historic public park overlooking the historic harbor.

There are many stores and boutiques in both downtown and old town, but on my walks, I tend to just walk on by. Unlike the protagonist in my novel, Syd Arthur, I’d rather walk than shop. But yesterday, I was in downtown Marblehead shopping for some birthday gifts and I ran into two friends who were peeking in and out of various shops. Catching up with one another, we headed into a new store called LuLu’s Boutique, which is run by Amy Evans, a lovely woman who has created a most welcoming store filled with beautiful clothes and accessories. It’s the kind of store you don’t see much anymore in this era of chain stores and malls. It’s a bit like walking into a little bit of heaven where pink and green gum balls fill a jar harkening back to a simpler life where children saved their allowance and walked to the five and dime to buy penny candy. The little sofa, with its fine upholstery, welcomes the weary walker, as does Amy, the owner, who will help you with anything you need...whether it’s purchasing a fabulous summer dress, or some easy chatting.

I ended up buying the birthday gift I was searching for, and along the way, I discovered something in her store that is so simple and so brilliant, I just had to blog about it. But before I do, let me just say if you are in the area, stop by and see the great things at LuLu’s Boutique for yourself (43 Atlantic Avenue in Marblehead) or check it out on their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/LuLus-Boutique/134329293302724.

On the counter, alongside a mix of adorable items, there is a display of something called Belly Buttons. As Amy explained to us what they were for, I realized this had blog written all over it! Remember, I used to treat eating disorders and spent my career working with women to change their relationship with their bodies and with food through ending diets and diet obsessions and moving toward attuned, or intuitive eating. This new accessory helps people practice acceptance and love towards their bodies rather than fueling contempt and hate. Just look at what these little babies can do:

The Belly Buttons are made up of a stylish button with an elastic hoop that loops around  your existing pant button. They are flexible and stretch with you easily adding 1-2 inches to your waistband instantly… there are numerous styles to match your personality…

I bought one with a fun rhinestone. Basically, you just wrap the elastic around the button on your pants, and then button your pants and now there is extra room. How many of you have a favorite pair of jeans that just barely button, but if you are going out to dinner, you hesitate to put them on anticipating the discomfort. So maybe you put them on and order a small salad with dressing on the side and try to ignore the loud growls of your stomach demanding to be fed, all the time feeling anxious and hungry. Or what if you, at times, eat past your fullness and feel uncomfortable physically as the the jeans dig lines in your flesh, and then you berate yourself with an internal dialogue that typically accuses you of being a horrible, miserable person simply because you’ve eaten more than your body needed on that occasion, and your pants, as a result, feel too tight? Instead of the yelling, which only fuels diet mentality and self-loathing, which usually results in more overeating, why not try this Belly Button? It’s not meant for you to ignore the fullness and keep eating. Instead, it’s there to help create a more comfortable experience.

And what about all of the times people scream at themselves because their favorite jeans (never mind that they might have had the pair for over 5 years, and that naturally bodies are going to change) have become snug? They vow to lose 5 pounds by the next weekend so that they can fit into them. They drastically reduce their intake in their quest to fit back into those jeans, and find themselves in the diet binge cycle, the roller coaster of yo-yo dieting that Syd Arthur finds herself in. What if, instead of insisting that you need to change your body to fit into that coveted pair of jeans, you instead either bought a new favorite pair of jeans that fit your body today, or you buy, for $4, the Belly Button and allow yourself the comfort in those jeans that you deserve. Seriously, it’s genius! I’m keeping mine in my purse, so that it’s there when I need it. Like a Tampax.

And for any of you out there who live up this way, on Tuesday, June 7th, LuLu’s is having a ribbon cutting celebration from 4:00-7:00 so stop in...I will be there, and the boutique will also be selling copies of Syd Arthur...and if on your way out your pants feel a little tight, make sure you buy a Belly Button and breathe easier...you deserve it!!

Namaste B’Shalom,
Ellen

Posted by emfrankel at 5:19 PM | Link | 1 comment
 
01 June 2011
Just One Last Posting on Letting Go

I promise, this will be the last blog entry about graduation, moving on and letting go. Really and truly, this is it.  I swear. 

But the conversation keeps coming up everywhere I go, and you write what’s on your mind and in your life, so please, if anyone is out there, indulge me one more time.

Have you read David Bader’s gem of a book: Haikus for Jews?  If you haven’t, you should go on Amazon and order it today (and while you’re there, if you haven’t ordered Syd Arthur, put that in your cart too)!! Anyway, here’s one of his haikus that speaks to so many of us mothers:

“Can’t you just leave it?’"

the new Jewish mother asks-

umbilical cord.

Some of us show signs that we think the cord still connects us. How many of us, at one time or another, have said to our kids, “I’m cold, put on a sweater,” or “I’m hungry, what should we eat?” as if there were no boundaries between mother and child? Their generation made sure to draw the line on where they belonged and on where we belonged…and technology, with facebook, texting and twitter, helped them in this process as we struggled to keep up and find our reading glasses to answer any text or tweet that might come our way.

Our son has called us a few times while on his trip in Israel, and my husband and I happily chatted along with him, until I did the math and realized it was 3:30 am in Jerusalem. “What are you doing up so late?” I’d ask him. He’d tell us they were out on Ben Yehuda Street, that half of his friends were still out, that I should stop worrying. It’s in my DNA I want to tell him. Just wait until you’re a parent.

The day before our daughter left for a 6-month internship in The Hague, she and her boyfriend took a bike ride. Her tires got caught on a rock and she fell off her bike resulting in big cuts on her knee. When she got home, I had her sit down and I gently cleaned the cuts and put on ointment. For a moment, she was my little girl again instead of the young woman she is, going off to work on a war tribunal. She smiled at me as I patted her knee one more time and asked her if there was anything else I could do for her. She nodded yes, and my heart thrilled to the fact that she needed me, her mother. “What can I get you?” I asked in my most maternal voice.
“A beer,” she requested.

So okay, my kids are grown up, and the umbilical cord is no more. But I realize it’s a bit easier being the one taking off for adventure. When the kids were younger, I ventured off to trek in the Himalayas; three times in Nepal and once in Bhutan. I did hiking and Torah study trips with Rabbi Alan Ullman in the Swiss Alps, the Italian Dolomites and Andalucía, Spain. Just this past winter, I went to India on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Buddha. When my kids were young and I would set off, I would always tell them to follow their passions. We would speak of Thoreau’s words: go confidently in the direction of your dreams; live the life you’ve imagined. And so they have. And I am thrilled for them. So now it’s my turn to wait  at home for an email from them, or a text message, or a new posting on facebook.  And I have to remember that being truly connected has nothing to do with an umbilical cord, and that letting go is one of the best ways to show your deep and unending love.

And a call never hurts!!

Namaste B’Shalom,

Ellen

 

 

 

 


Posted by emfrankel at 12:14 PM | Link | 1 comment
 
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