Sunday, March 29, 2009

I can't believe...

someone took the time to write this article. And that another bunch of people took the time to comment. Oh, and that some poor soul at the CDC was forced to compile the data in the first place. Next up, the detrimental effects of paper cuts on work productivity.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Good Choice

Every year the James Beard Foundation hands out awards to cookbooks.   There are several categories.  One of this year's nominees for Single Subject book is:

Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Commandment 5

5. Do not feel bad about being idle and still.

One weekend not long ago I was just sitting on my bed. I thought to myself, "I should be knitting. I like to knit so I should be doing it otherwise I'm wasting my leisure time." I actually thought that. I mean, how crazy is that? X is fun so I must do X. That's what my leisure time is for, fun, dammit. Of course it's ridiculous. Why shouldn't I just sit on my bed? Why must my time be filled with something? Why should I feel that simply being is somehow a waste? We are a very doing society. Idle hands are the devil's playground, life is for achievement, multi-tasking is good, productivity is paramount, yadda, yadda yadda.... I say fie on that and the horse it rode in on. Enjoyment is where ever you find it, in work or in idleness and it should not be scorned.

I've been reading Happiness: A History by Darrin M. McMahon. It's a scholarly work that aims to lead us through the various notions of happiness. It's hard to think of any other concept that is so sought after and yet so elusive and hard to define. One item in particular that I found interesting in the book is a letter from Luther (who it seems suffered from depression) to a prince who was feeling melancholy.

...(that) we may be relieved of the blindness and misery in which we are steeped so deeply, and may truly understand the Word and will of God and earnestly accept it... learn how to obtain an abundance of joy, happiness, and salvation, both here and in eternity...(we could hope) to be joyful in all things.

He called all creation "a pleasure garden for the soul". For Luther, misery and melancholy are signs of sin. Pain exists in life but it should not be sought after, it is not the path to salvation. Now, I've always associated Protestantism and Lutheranism in particular with asceticism and grimness. It seems I was mistaken. To be sure, there is an emphasis on the avoidance of sin and the idea that only the chosen will be saved, but there is also an embrace of joy and assurance that it can be found here in this life as well as in eternity. To quote McMahon, "Not only was human dignity compatible with earthly pleasure, but there was righteousness in the pursuit". Who knew?

Another thing that's very interesting about it is the similarity to Buddhist thought. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are:
1. Life means suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by attachment and craving.
3. It is possible to avoid suffering by letting go of cravings.
4. The path to end suffering leads down the middle between Hedonism and Asceticism. (the Eightfold Path).

The real difference between the two philosophies is the means to ending suffering. For the Protestants it is God's grace and for the Buddhists it is entirely in your own hands. It's a big difference, but nonetheless, we are more alike than we prefer to think.

Monday, March 09, 2009


In case you were wondering, I can confirm that avoiding habitual thinking is very, very hard. But hard work has its rewards. On Saturday I went to the park. Instead of taking my usual route in I took an alternate way and then I sat for a while in a spot where I don't usually sit. I'd been there for about 10 minutes when a hawk landed on a low branch not 12 feet from me. He was grand, almost 2 feet tall with a 4 foot wing span. We sat there together for some time. Eventually I got up and walked a little closer. He let me approach for a bit but then flew off to a higher branch and began to nonchalantly clean his feathers. I took this as my cue to leave though I was sorry to go. I wished he would come and sit outside my window. I wonder what the cats would think of him? Not something to pounce on with his long talons and serious beak. I would not like to be something small and furry and see those piercing eyes looking at me. I hope I get to see him (or her) again.

I had another reward too, but this one I gave myself. This week's bread is chocolate bread. Half the recipe makes a large loaf that smells heavenly. I had a slice this morning with peanut butter but I think it may be best all by itself. I recommend it.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


March has come in like a lion. It's snowing today and spring seems far away. This is always the hardest part of the winter for me, the home stretch. It seems as if spring will never come and then suddenly the world is green.


Though I am technically Christian - that is, I was baptized - I have never had faith or practiced beyond the occasional Christmas service. But there is one tradition that I have taken up recently. Lent. Not out of penitence or desire to prepare for Easter but out of a desire to change my thinking, my attitudes, and possibly my life. Last year I gave up negative thinking for Lent. If I had a negative thought I would banish it, and if possible replace it with a positive one. As you might expect, this was not easy though I did fairly well and have continued the practice as best I can. This year I'm trying something harder. I'm giving up habitual thinking. This includes those frequent negatives but also judgments and choices of all sorts. Any habit is hard to break and habits of thought particularly so. The monkey mind wants to follow familiar paths, to take the easy way. Vigilance is required as well as acceptance of the stumbles that will happen. But as in meditation this is not failure. You just start again. So when I have an automatic thought about something, from the guy who cuts me off at the subway door to deciding what to eat for lunch to accepting a perceived limitation I will stop and think about it differently. Modern science has come to see the brain as very plastic, malleable and changeable. We can make new roads, new patterns of thought, new habits if we try.
Since I am - technically - Eastern Orthodox my Lent will begin tomorrow and end on the Friday before Orthodox Palm Sunday which is April 12. Why are the dates different you ask? For some reason the Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar to calculate its holidays. I have no idea why. It worked out well for me when I was a kid because we had 2 Christmases, one on December 25 and then another on January 7. Who doesn't want two days of presents and celebratory dinners (which always included cake)? Then the Orthodox church changed its Christmas to coincide with the rest of the Christian church. But it did not do this for Easter. Again, I have no idea why. It really doesn't matter. One just needs a beginning.