Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: "A Better Life"

This week's guest blogger is Ms. Lena from The Colors Magazine, and her fictional story, which was inspired by her own life growing up in Russia, is dear to my heart because it's about the importance of an education. If you don't know (because you are new to this blog), I am a high school English teacher, and many of my students are inner-city children. Please read, enjoy, and be inspired by this story about overcoming...

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"A Better Life"
By: Lena Toporikova

We had never been rich. Or a middle class for that matter. One could tell we were poor, but my mother would never admit this. After all, we had a place to live in; clothes to wear; both kids, my brother and I, were going to school; and we had at least a piece of bread to eat each day. Some people, my mother used to repeat, do not have even this.

I agreed, but it did not make me feel any better about who we were.

Yes, we had a place to live in, a one-room apartment, for a mother with two kids and an always drunk stepfather. Unpaid bills and a constant fear to be thrown out…

Yes, we had clothes to wear. I still remember the old blue sweater I used to wear till it finally could tear at a touch. All clothes we wore were second hand, given to us by relatives who believed in good deeds that should be rewarded, which meant I was obliged to babysit their kids and tutor them when they failed in the exams. No pay, of course. After all I got to wear the old blue sweater, didn’t I?

And yes, we had a piece of bread to eat each day, on some days it was the only food we had. And then that blue sweater hung loosely so that my little brother could fit in.

It was true also that my brother and I were going to school. Different ones though. And maybe that was my problem. I went to a school for rich kids. That school had a quota for gifted children. And unfortunately, I got into it. I was smart, I could count, and I knew multiplication. I began reading when I was four. By the time I had to go to school I had read more books than most of my schoolmates would ever read in their entire life.

My mom was working twelve hours a day; the stepfather came home at around 2:00 p.m. drunk and angry. The best I could do was to take my brother and to go somewhere just to avoid being in one room with that man. Of course, I knew he would fall asleep right after an hour or so, but I still preferred to stay away from our apartment (I couldn’t call that place home) when my mother was not there. There always had been something dangerous about that man, something dark. I never heard a sweet word from him, he always reeked of alcohol, and I had intensely ill feelings for him. At that time I didn’t even know he was not my biological father, but I guess kids understand easily when adults don’t love them and act accordingly. So did I. I just took my brother and fled that place once the man appeared.

Sometimes we would go to our neighbors’ place, and if we were lucky, we got a bowl of soup, and I was allowed to read the books in their library. Our neighbors were nice people, and I believe they had sympathy for us, but sometimes they acted differently. They wouldn’t let us in, just saying they were busy and giving us a piece of cake. Not that it was bad; now, I think they probably had their problems too. They had divorced by the time I was ten. Though when I was six, I didn’t care much about their problems but would sit somewhere on the bench in the park and cry about not being allowed to read anything and call the neighbors names that were used often by my parents.

On one of such days, I was crying in the park, my brother was playing with his toys nearby when a woman approached us.

“Are you two alone here?” she asked.

“Yes, M’am.”

“Where are your parents?”

“My mom is working; dad is sleeping,” I replied.

“How old are you?”

“I am six, M’am,”

“Six year old and alone here in the park? Should I take you home?”

“No, thank you.” I began wondering if the woman would really bring us home, and since I didn’t want it, I added hastily, “Our mom will pick us up when she finishes.”

“Okay. You know what? For a girl of your age you speak too well. Does your mom read for you a lot?”

“No, M’am, she does not. I read myself.”

The woman should have seemed surprised, but I don’t really remember. I was six after all; I can’t remember all the details.

“Do you read? And what do you read, Sweetheart?”

“Books,” I replied searching with eyes for my brother. He was nowhere near the bench, and I began worrying. Of course he was only four, and he wouldn’t go anywhere far, but I panicked.

Finally, I located him twenty feet away and ran towards him. The woman followed me. I took my brother’s hand and apologized to the woman.

“I am sorry; usually we stay at our neighbors’ place, and he plays with his toys, and I read books. But today they didn’t let us.” I began crying again, sobbing, trying to say something, to explain, but words failed me. That my mom was working too hard to make the ends meet? That my stepfather was an alcoholic? That our neighbors are sorting out their own problems and don’t need paupers’ kids like us getting under their feet?

I can say it now, now that I am a twenty-six-year-old, and an independent and a self-sufficient woman. But back then, I was just a six years old, practically abandoned kid who made it her responsibility to look after her younger brother. I was the girl that didn’t know that kids were supposed to have fun and eat sweets and be loved by their parents. I didn’t know these things, didn’t know life could be any different. I just cried because I was not allowed to read books on that day.

On that day, the woman took me to a public library, and it changed my life. The woman’s name was Margaret Simpson, but I was allowed to call her Maggie.

When we entered the library that day I was amazed at the number of books they had there. Maggie asked me to take a sit and started to talk with one of the librarians. Take a seat? Was she kidding? I was so excited to be in that place that I would not stop walking around the bookshelves, taking every second book into my hands, turning over the pages, smiling at myself, wondering if they had books from all over the world. I could not imagine at that time that it was one of the smallest libraries I would ever be in. For me it was huge; it was the paradise. Every now and then I looked at Maggie who was still talking with the librarian, and couple of times I saw her pointing at me and my brother and gesticulating frantically. After a while, that seemed an eternity, she asked me to come closer.

I did.

“Mandy,” she said. Mandy is my name if you don’t know it yet. “This is Mrs. Anderson; she works here, and she was very kind to allow you to use the services of this library.”

I looked puzzled at Maggie. “Allow us to use services”? I didn’t know what that meant. And I was so scared that if they thought I were dumb, they would never let me in here so I didn’t dare to ask.

But Mrs. Anderson was a wise old lady who understood my confusion and helped me out.
“It means, dear, that you can come here anytime you wish and read the books you want to.”
I couldn’t believe my happiness.

I.
Was.
Allowed.
To.
Read.
Books.


That was like all dreams come true.

“Thank you. Thank you so much!” I couldn’t decide which of the two women I was more grateful to.

Since that time, I was a regular visitor in the library. That was a place where we were always welcome: the place that I called home. Nobody cared how poor or rich we were. Nobody bothered with what clothes we were wearing. They only knew I loved reading, and it was enough for them.

One of the regular visitors was an old man who we soon had become friends with. He used to tell me stories about his young age, and I told him all about mom and stepdad and their constant fights. He was always nice to me so when one day he asked me if he could walk us home I agreed. When we reached home he wanted to talk to my mom. They had stayed in the kitchen for nearly thirty minutes, and when they finished my mom called me.

“Mandy, this gentleman says you can read very well. Is it true?”

Surprised I looked at my mom and nodded. She gave me an old newspaper.

“Read.”

I began reading. It was an article about some political issues in the parliament.

“Do you understand what you are reading about?” she asked.

I again nodded hesitantly. All this while I was praying she would not put a veto on a library-thing.

“You see,” the man broke the silence. “Your daughter is very gifted. Don’t let her talents go to waste.”

Since that day my mother couldn’t stop talking about the better future for all of us.

“Mandy, you will go to a good school, get an education. You won’t have to work for twelve hours to have nothing but debts. It will be a new life.”

I didn’t bother about this new life much, though now I think I should have. But all I could think about at that time was how great my mom was to allow me to go to the library again.

A couple of months later my mom came home excited as never before.

“Tomorrow is our great day, Honey. The beginning of our future.” And tomorrow indeed was a beginning… a beginning of my life in hell. She brought me to this school. There already was a large crowd of people, parents with their offspring. Everyone was eager to get their kid into this school.

They called us one-by-one. And when someone disappeared behind the door, the rest of us were staring at it wondering when they would come out, but nobody did. Maybe because there was another door, a way out. Sometimes I wish I knew that way. Sometimes I’m glad I did not.
When they called out my name, I went in scared like any other little kid about what would happen now. It turned out there was nothing to be scared about. They just talked to me. I read for them, made some calculations, and answered a few questions. Then I went out where my mom was waiting for me, and we went home. Two days later we learned I made it to the second round. After the second round, there was the third, and finally, I and four more kids were accepted into this school.

But from all of us, five little kids from a poor district, there was only me who made it up to the graduation day. The other three boys and a girl had to quit because of constant persecution, offences and harassment we all had to go through every single day of our lives in that school.
Sometimes I wish I had quit too, but then I am glad I had not. It made me stronger, made me who I am, and all that while it made my mom happy to know that I am destined for a better future.

She had never managed to see this future though. She died shortly before my graduation. And she had never learned that I made it through all the obstacles to the place where I was now. The place where I was happy…

Now I had something my mother always missed: happiness.

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About the Author:

Lena is a Russian blogger who writes in English. She is passionate about writing and hopes to finish a novel of her own one day. While it takes time to put all her thoughts down on paper, she writes about anything she likes in her online home - The Colors Magazine. This is the place she created in hope that it could be a platform for her to exercise and improve her writing skills, as well as as platform for other bloggers to communicate and share views.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is This the Day, Little Bird?

"Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out." --Oliver Wendell Holmes

"God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well." --Voltaire

"Never forget that you must die; that death will come sooner than you expect... God has written the letters of death upon your hands." -- J. Furniss


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How silly we all are… I mean, really!

We run here, and we run there. We fret over this bill and that line… We worry about Friday’s change of plans and what so-and-so supposedly said about so-and-so…

It’s so easy to become nearsighted, isn’t it?

On our Facebook community, I posted a quote from the timeless, bestselling novel Tuesdays with Morrie, and it goes like this: “Put a bird on your shoulder. That's what the Buddhists do. Just imagine a little bird on your shoulder and every day you say, ‘Is this the day I'm going die, little bird? Am I leading the life I want to lead? Am I the person that I want to be?’ If we accept the fact that we can die at any time, we'd lead our lives differently. So everyday you say, ‘Is this the day?’” Apparently Morrie Schwartz’s powerful paraphrasing of the Buddhist proverb touched many people.

It got me to thinking, why can’t we somehow become more mindful in every moment, whether it’s a challenging one or a peaceful one? I mean, in the scheme of life, when we look over our shoulders, we rarely remember EVERY little detail, but what we DO remember is how we felt.

I can’t tell you all the nitty-gritty details of what I was specifically doing to allow myself such pain and difficulty over the years: the faces have blurred, the stories have been washed away by the current of time, and the many words and circumstances have disappeared as storm clouds do after the rain. What I do remember is how I felt… and that wasn’t so good...

I got nearsighted!

I was so focused on the minutia of the daily grind, and I was so content on keeping score and proving myself to near strangers that I was forgetting what a gift this fleeting life really is…

I was young.

I was stupid.

I was squandering my life!

So what did I learn from Morrie? What have I learned since becoming a student of life? I’ve come to understand since those difficult years that life is truly what you make it, and that it is a fleeting experience you only have once. All the things we see, love, touch, taste, feel, and possess are TRANSIENT! The way we look, our jobs, our children, our spouse, our minds… We WILL lose them all.

As my father puts it so bluntly, “No one gets out of this alive.” And it’s so true... Although I prefer to put a more positive spin on his catch phrase…

So now I open my eyes in the morning… I take a deep breath… I place one foot in front of the other, and I walk about seeking joy, forgiveness, love, and enlightenment… And I ask, “Is this the day, little bird? Is this it?”

It’s a daily struggle, and of the hardest kind, to keep our eyes and minds focused on the bigger picture. But if we are brave enough to put that little bird on our shoulder, if we are wise enough to acknowledge his presence everyday, we will be indubitably blessed with a vision that is FAR from nearsightedness.

We will be blessed.

We will say the words we need to say.

We will find ways to forgive the ones that need our forgiveness.

We will strive for the dreams that seem to elude us.

We will find vigor and bravery.

We will have dignity and grace.

And all of it—the love, the pain, the ups, and the downs—will taste twice as sweet.

Impermanence tends to do that!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Confession

I’m sorry. I’ve disappeared again.

I am not sure about you, but I have my favorite blogs, and when my trusty Internet friend of words goes missing, I think, “Hey! Where’d you go?” It’s sort of like the boyfriend that doesn’t call you back… Or like the colleague that is too busy to reply to your e-mail. In a way, your blogger friend’s words, ideas, and pictures have become a part of your day. Or at the very least, they’ve played a part in how you like to unwind at the end of the day.

Normally, I don’t ever get too personal with the specifics about my life because I’ve always felt like you wouldn’t want to hear about that. I typically like to write about things that we all have in common, but tonight (maybe because I am rundown and maybe because my walls are slipping a bit) I’d like to share a little something with you.

Is that okay?

There are a lot of things I am, and there’re a lot of things I am not. But the one thing I am is loyal… and to a fault, really. Honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to write to you all this past week and a half because I hurt right now, and I am having a hard time taking my own advice. Two people I love a great deal sometimes act as if having a relationship with me is work that they can’t be bothered to do, as if I am an inconvenience. I’ve been feeling like a burden in a box for a long, long time. I’ve been feeling like I am not good enough, and there’s nothing worse than feeling like a trouble to the ones you love and revere the most in this world. And it’s even worse when you can’t seem to communicate with them because they can’t hear what you have to say. And it’s particularly hard when all the words you have can’t change a thing.

I’ve heard this before: people don’t change. Sometimes I feel like I believe it.

So I am putting it out there. I can’t write to you all right now because I am loyal to you. Does that make sense? I couldn’t live with myself if I put on my writer’s voice when I just wasn’t feeling it genuinely. Every time I write to you, I make sure I am coming from a sincere, honest place. If I didn’t, I would feel like a fake, a fraud, and worse… a hypocrite. If I wrote about love when I wasn’t feeling love, I’d be wrong… Or if I wrote about forgiveness when I was personally having a hard time turning the other cheek, I’d be wrong.

I know I will come around; I always do. I know that these people in my life are the people I love the very most, and I know, like so many times before, I can learn to put a smile on my face. I can be brave and act as if their actions never hurt me. I’ve done it before; I’ll do it again. It’s just that this time, I can’t say that the wounds I carry around within me won’t surface again. They’ve been bubbling up so much because as I get older, I am learning that sharing your life with someone is how your show and experience love. And though I am getting older, I am learning it’s still so hard to forgive and forget when you’re the only one that wants to try. One-way streets are the loneliest kinds.


To the ones that love me to the ends of the Earth but seem to never truly understand me and see me for the woman I am, I love you, respect you, and cherish you from afar. If it takes another lifetime of putting on my brave face so that I can have a relationship with you on your terms, I’ll do that. If it takes 100 more journeys, me going to you, I’ll gladly do it. And if it takes years upon years of me succumbing to your ways, I’ll do it just so I can pivot in your world for a little while…

I’ll do it all… again and again.

Just give me time for now…

Please...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guest Blogger: Family Stories

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Every week this month, I will be featuring a guest blogger/writer. If you are interested in being featured next month, please contact me at TheUniversalSoul@hotmail.com with your stories, advice, experiences, and poetry!
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Kathryn Embrey is our second guest blogger in the month of April. Her story is a narrative that explores the power of love a first glance and the family legacy that follows. If you have family stories you'd like to share at The Universal Soul, please send me an e-mail.

"The Beginning of Every Family"

There is moment that becomes the beginning of every family. It could be an introduction from a mutual friend or a cursory glance given in passing. For mine, it was a chance meeting of two strangers on an old country road...

It was 1952, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and two strangers woke up one morning not knowing that by the afternoon both of their lives would change forever. As far as they knew, it was a normal day with normal routines and normal activities.

Evelyn, a young waitress at the local ice cream parlor, began her day as usual. She woke to a clear blue sky that she welcomed with a broad smile. For the past week, it had rained every which way imaginable and muddied up the streets. The break from the rainy weather was an invitation to be outside, and Evelyn planned to do just that. Evelyn combed through her dark hair letting it lay naturally. After sifting through her closet, she decided on a plain lilac colored dress. It was nothing special and was not meant to impress, but it fit nicely. Evelyn and a friend, Thelma, made plans to walk through town that day.

Thelma worked at a local diner and was quite the chatterbox. She could talk for an eternity about nothing, some people used to say. As Evelyn and Thelma walked, rain puddles were disturbed by their shoes shuffling down the street. Thelma began to gush and rattle on about some guy that came to the diner she worked at recently. Thelma wanted to go see him and Evelyn sensed that her chatterbox friend had other motives than a simple visit. As they made their way down the street, a stranger to this town had started his morning rather differently.

Paul was already on his way to work before the sun even peaked above the horizon. He worked for Burnup and Sims, a telecommunications company, digging trenches to lay cables and phone lines. It was hard work, the kind that made his muscles ache for days. But it was work, and Paul was thankful for the job. He had travelled from Florida along the Gulf Coast digging the trenches and laying the cable. For the past week, he and a few other men had made their way to the small town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The torrential rain that fell from the dark clouds in previous days made today's work more difficult than anticipated. The trenches had become slippery, slick, and sticky. It was hard enough for the men to get in and out of the deep trenches, let alone complete the job they were sent to do.

The sun reached the highest point in the sky, and its rays stung the back of Paul's neck. He never complained, but the warmth of the sun was better than the ice cold rain, he thought. In the distance, Paul could hear two voices and recognized one of them. It was Thelma, he thought, the waitress that served him every time he went to the diner. Thelma was nice, a little chatty, but a nice girl all the same. He noticed that she had taken an interest in him but never gave into her advances. Paul had always wanted a family, but he was focused on his work for the time being.

"Paul!" Thelma called out in excitement.

He looked up from the deep, muddy hole he stood in to not only see Thelma but another girl with her. Paul was stunned. Thelma began to attempt to get his attention by asking too many questions but Paul paid no mind to her. His focus was on the dark haired girl standing next to Thelma. Paul was overcome with a wonderful sensation, and he could not look away from the creature that stood before him.

Paul Martin may have been a simple Georgia boy, but he knew a good thing when it crossed his path.

Evelyn had no expectations of the person that Thelma had spoken so highly of during their walk. He sounded like a nice person, but Evelyn could not be so sure, especially when it came from Thelma. Bay St. Louis was not a large city at all, and Evelyn and Thelma reached the place that Thelma spoke of in no time.

It was muddy, and the ground was still soaked from the rain. On the edge of the road a deep hole filled with mud, water, and a few men. One man looked up at her as Thelma called his name. Evelyn saw past his the muddy covered waders and the sweat stained face.

In that very moment Paul and Evelyn's eyes met. In that moment, two strangers met on an old country road. In that moment, a 56-year love affair had begun. In that moment, a real fairytale had sprung from the worn pages of storybook and into reality.

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Words From the Author:

I am a 20 year old college student attending the University of South Florida to study Elementary Education. I am excited to be a future educator and mentor to children. I grew up in a broken home and have lost loved ones throughout my short life. Despite the loss, I find comfort in the written word, such as poetry and song lyrics. I hold onto the hope that I too will have a "happily ever after" as my grandparents did.

After my grandparents met that day, three months later, they were married and moved to Florida. There they had three children together, Paul Jr., Peter, and Lillian, who is my mother. Their life together was based on their love for each other, and more importantly their Faith. My grandparents loved each other up until the very moment my Grandaddy passed from one life into the next.

Kathryn posts her words and poetry at her blog here: http://greengold0910.blogspot.com/

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Food 101: Top 10 “Must Haves” for an Anti-Aging Diet (Part I)

Things sort of go in cycles, don’t they?

I've been posting a lot about the spiritual aspects of life. And in that time, I've noticed that I have neglected the "body" side of The Universal Soul.

Now that the weather is warming and SPRING is in the air, it's a time for so many people to rejuvenate themselves, their routines, and even their New Year's Resolutions. Personally, I am challenging myself to step up my workouts and recommit to my yoga routines because—to be frank with you all—I’ve been doing the minimum.

A while back I started to put together a “Food 101” study for you. Today, I came across it… and spruced it up! And now, I'd like to share it with you all as we dive into SPRING! I hope this user-friendly guide is practical, informative, and inspiring. Simply, I hope this two-part series will give you the lowdown on the path to a healthy, anti-aging diet.

I was sure to base this list off research and my personal experiences. Since I dramatically overhauled my diet a bit more than a year ago, I’ve seen a huge difference in so many ways. My skin is clearer and looks younger than before. My hair is healthier and shines more. I’ve lost weight and have kept it off easily with my current (still in need of improvement) exercise routine. I have more energy, and most importantly, I am healthier and feeling better than I ever did before.

So I was thinking… Why not share that journey with you?

I am no one special, but with this realistic approach, I was able to get results that any woman could feel great about. Each month I added something good to my diet while removing something that was bad. I kept thinking, “I have to start small for this to stick.”

At first, it was hard to give up so many yummy treats, quick meals, and greasy snacks. And I’m not going to lie; they taste amazing. And like all of you, I love comfort food (particularly chips and dip or ice cream before bed). But once I started to see and feel the results, it was easier for me to continue down the road to ultimate health…

It’s a road I am still traveling down now. And like everybody, I have my ups and downs, and I have my good weeks and bad weeks… There aren’t any quick fixes or cure-alls like many drug, food, and exercise companies want you to believe. Ultimate health is really about hard work, dedication, and a long journey toward lifestyle changes.



TOP 10 “Must Haves” (#1-5)

1. Berries and Citrus-

a. What’s great about it? Berries and citrus aren’t only great-tasting and refreshing; they’re rich in vitamin C, folic acid, and fiber. That alone should inspire you to eat or juice your fruits. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which fights free radicals. Free radicals cause aging and disease. Just remember the darker the berry, the bigger the punch, when it comes to antioxidants.
b. How do I do it? To get a lot of berries into my diet, I started putting them in pancakes and on a low fat dollop of ice cream. I also mix them with nuts for a snack or dessert.


2. Nuts-
a. What’s great about it? Walnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews… they’re all good for you. Eating nuts fills you up which helps weight control, and a high intake of nuts dramatically cuts down on heart disease. According to Women’s Fitness, nuts help “your digestive and immune systems, improve your skin, and help control or prevent cancer.”
b. How do I do it? I upped my nut intake by putting them in my salads and on my dollop of low fat ice cream or frozen yogurt (along with berries of course) I also use them as a way to stay away from the vending machines, which are dangerous to a healthy diet. I just keep a pack of pecans in my desk at work at all times; they’re my favorite. Every time I get a bit hungry, I snack on them without any guilt.


3. Green Tea-
a. What’s great about it? According to Wellsphere, “Green tea is famous for being a strong antioxidant that exonerates toxic substances from the body.” It’s also been known to improve mental acuity, improve heart health, regulate blood sugar, and improve digestion. What’s it secret? It’s loaded with antioxidants.
b. How do I do it? It’s easy to have a glass of green tea every day, especially if you make it your special routine. I crave a glass as soon as I get home from work. I take my vitamins with it, and it helps me relax. Use green tea to replace your sugary drinks.


4. Fish-
a. What’s great about it? Seafood is essential to healthy living, not to mention, it fights the aging process with its omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends that you consume fish twice weekly. Be sure the seafood you are eating had scales. Seafood without scales, such as crustaceans, doesn’t have the essential nutrients and aren’t protected from mercury absorption. And of course, “wild” fish is highly preferred over farmed fish.
b. How do I do it? To get more fish in my life, I said goodbye to chicken. The only meat I eat is chicken, turkey, and seafood. Typically I would order meals with chicken or eat chicken at home. Know I’ve replaced my “meat” portion of my meal with wild salmon or whatever fresh wild fish my hubby picks up from the store.


5. Yogurt-
a. What’s great about it? According to WebMD, yogurt “has all the benefits of dairy foods, plus probiotics that help add healthy bacteria to the intestines.” It is recommended by many doctors that you eat a yogurt that has active cultures each day. Typically, one package of yogurt will be enough to fulfill you three daily dairy servings.
b. How do I do it? This is the ideal snack, breakfast, or dessert replacement. Yogurt is so versatile. Just pick how you’ll replace one aspect of your diet every day, and let yogurt be it’s substitute. With all the flavors and packaging out there, you’re sure to find the kind that works for you. I love vanilla and coffee low fat Yoplait yogurts for dessert or my afternoon snack. Drop so berries and nuts in a vanilla yogurt for an impromptu parfait.

*If possible, it is essential to buy local, organic, natural foods.

In Part II, I’ll share the second half of “Must Haves” for an anti-aging diet.

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Recipes that promise to be DELICIOUSLY tasty and healthy:
Dessert-- Citrus-Berry Parfait from Women’s Health:
http://womenshealth.coverleaf.com/womenshealth/201004?pg=80#pg80
Snack/Breakfast-- Emeril's Whole Lotta Nuts Granola: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Breakfast/recipe?id=7281615
Dinner-- Paula Deen’s Pecan Coated Fish with Remoulade Sauce: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/pecan-coated-fish-with-remoulade-sauce-recipe/index.html
Lunch/Salad--Mixed Greens with Berries and Honey-Glazed Hazelnuts: http://www.delish.com/recipefinder/mixed-greens-berries-honey-glazed-hazelnuts-recipe-5216

Sources:
http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/anti-aging-diet
http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet/anti-aging-diet-tips
http://www.healthyeatingadvisor.com/food-labels.html
http://www.time-to-run.com/nutrition/worstfoods.htm
http://www.rd.com/living-healthy/4-most-harmful-ingredients-in-packaged-foods/article14901.html
http://www.womenfitness.net/anti_aging_food.htm
http://www.talbottteas.com/green_black_rooibos_tea_health_benefits.html

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blog Contest with The Colors Magazine

The Colors Magazine is a website dedicated to celebrating life. If you like The Universal Soul, you might want to check it out. According to its founder, "The idea of The Colors Magazine is to make readers notice the beauty of life and let them color their miracles as bright as rainbows... to show life as it comes, depicting all aspects of it. Beautiful and ugly, happy and sad."

I like The Colors Magazine and pop over from time to time. In fact I've just entered "A Letter From Another Place" in a contest for Blog Post of the Month at The Colors Magazine. If you want to join in too or if you know a blogger who might, check out the link here: http://www.thecolorsmagazine.com/2010/04/show-your-best-march-contest/

Enjoy the day!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Little Thing that Will Change Your Life

The big things... We sure do worry about the “big things,” don’t we? We ask, am I successful? Am I a good person? Am I a good parent or spouse or friend to the ones I love most? Am I good enough at work or at school?

And in the hustle and bustle of our concerns for the big things, we tend to lose sight of a small thing (that really is a big thing) that should be present in every exchange we have, in every deed we commit, in every journey we venture on, and in every relationship we forge…

In today’s hyper-connected, get-it-done-NOW society, we surely lose sight of this small thing... When we’re in our cars, we zoom lane to lane in the chase for a green light. And we forget about the danger we’re putting ourselves and others in. When we’re in an argument, we are so intent on having OUR point of view heard. And we forget to listen. When we’re in school, we can’t WAIT to graduate. And we forget to enjoy those short years when everything is new and the possibilities are endless. When we’re at work on a Monday, we can’t wait for the weekend. And we end up sleepwalking through the week.

We might have the best job, the nicest things, a solid marriage, and healthy relationships with our kids. We might have a nice house, a pristine yard, and exotic vacation plans—the list can go on and on... But what we DON’T have is piece of mind. What we DON’T have is PATIENCE.

This culture and our wanting bellies demand it all NOW, and in that obsession with the “next big thing,” we are squandering the here and now. We are not mindful of the very moment we dwell in and all the beauty it has to offer.

Think of it like this: If we are always chasing after what comes next, how will we ever really live? When we get to where we’re going, we’ll arrive, take a quick look around, and be onto the next thing before we can ever experience that present moment fully. The whole pattern facilitates a sleepwalking kind of life, but in a fast-forward kind of way since we are all quite impatient.

In Whenever You Go, There You Are, the author Jon Kabat-Zinn eloquently explains patience like this: “[Patience] is a remembering that things unfold in their own time. The seasons cannot be hurried. Spring comes; the grass grows by itself. Being in a hurry usually doesn’t help, and it can create a great deal of suffering… Patience is an ever present alternative to the mind’s endemic restlessness and impatience. Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it is anger.”

The idea of patience is sometimes seen as a little thing, but in many ways it is a very big thing. Patience allows us to embrace higher understandings and emotions that we would never achieve if our knee-jerk reaction was anger or haste.

Jon Kabat-Zinn depicted his vision of patience by asking this: If someone hits you with a stick, who are you impatient and angry with? The stick? The arm? The person who did it? Or what about the parents that failed him? Or better yet, what about the world or culture that was harsh to his parents when they were children? Aren’t you of that world? Aren’t you then connected? And in that understanding, can’t you find patience? Love is patient first.

Now that doesn’t mean that what that person did wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. But what it does mean is that patience and understanding will help you cope with the experience and perhaps, in time, you will be able to show compassion.

When the Dalai Lama was asked why he was so patient with the Chinese, even though the policy of the Chinese government at the time and for many years was to practice genocide on the Tibetans as an assault to their beliefs, he offered this highly enlightened response: “They have taken everything from us; should I let them take my mind as well?”

This response, as Kabat-Zinn explained, was “…a remarkable display of peace… the inner peace of knowing what is most fundamental, and the outer peace of embodying that wisdom in carriage and action. Peace, and a willingness to be patient in the face of such enormous provocation and suffering, can only come about through the inner cultivation of compassion, a compassion that is not limited to friends, but is felt equally for those who, out of ignorance and often seen as evil, may cause you and those you love to suffer.”

We must have patience.

It can be small... Someone cuts you off in traffic. Will you curse them? Will you grow impatient? Or will you think about where they may be trying to go? Perhaps there is an emergency in their life? Perhaps not. But will you still be patient?

It can be big… Someone betrays you or hurts your dearest loved one. Will you curse them? Will you grow impatient? Or will you wonder about why they did what they did? Or worry about what need in their life isn’t being met?

Patience doesn’t make a wrong right. It doesn’t mean the wrong won’t hurt.

But what it does do is offer up a promise. A promise that you will be enlightened. A promise that you will be mindful. A promise that your actions will be right and just.

If we could just do this one little thing, we could CHANGE our lives! And though we may miss the target on some days, it’s surely worth the attempt.
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“The keys to patience are acceptance and faith. Accept things as they are, and look realistically at the world around you. Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen.” ~Ralph Marston

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Guest Blogger: "When a Tree Falls"


Every week this month, I will be featuring a guest blogger/writer. I have three wonderful guest bloggers lined up thus far, but I need one more for the last week of April... Please contact me at TheUniversalSoul@hotmail.com with your stories, advice, experiences, and poetry!

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Ms. Mary Perez is our first guest. Her enlightening monologue below is an powerful message that reminds us of who we are and where we've been. It's vital that we know where we come from and that we are always mindful and present in our journey to where we are going...

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"When a Tree Falls"
By: Mary Perez


I appreciate this time to reflect; time to put my life in perspective. And, today, in this state of mind I began thinking about the question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it did it happen? I liken it to how we remember those who have passed on before us…those who become a part of the changing landscape of our lives. How does it affect us? How do we interpret the loss once discovered?

When I think about my parents I could choose to feel conflicted about how I interpret my life. I could sustain a battle with the innermost me and fight the demons I might perceive because of a less than perfect upbringing to find fault and blame. I've felt conflicted. I've felt blame. I choose to live the rest of my life remembering all of the good they did and the lessons they taught me, what I learned from them as a young sapling that helped me grow. They loved me. They gave me life. I AM who I AM because of them.

And then I began to think upon my friend Roxann who left this world too soon. Why? She was an amazing woman: smart, creative, giving, funny. She had a beautiful smile that would light up any room she entered. In her passing, I will always remember her for all the good she did and the joy she shared. Her gift to me was her sunny smile and joy-filled laugh. They are with me always.

I am in contact with Roxann's daughter who writes warmly of her mother and honors her life in her own words. She is holding onto the good times, the good memories. Like most of us, I suspect, there may be moments of anger. Sometimes we have to go through one emotion to get to the other side of it; like the root of a tree reaching through the dry ground to find water. Roxann left her daughter with her gifts... She is an amazing woman in her own right.

My oldest and dearest friend lost her son Scott… far too young and more devastating than I can imagine. What does a parent learn from their child at such a time? How do we make sense of senseless? My friend holds onto her faith to keep her rooted on solid ground. And her roots are deep. She is a survivor. I remember Scott as a smart, loving, and sensitive young man. He loved his mother. He enriched her life. I didn’t know all of his struggles, nor the depth of them but I will always remember the good, sweet, and kindhearted person I knew him to be.

My parents, Roxann, and Scott live flawless in my memories… and my memories of them are precious.

My landscape has changed in their passing... but the memory of them only continues to enrich my life.

No one else may see the trees as they fall in our lives; what they will see are the changes to the landscape of our life.

The tree did fall in the forest. Even though I did not hear the sound of it hitting the earth, it's falling changed my landscape... and it is softer around the edges.

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About the Author:

Mary Perez is 57 years young and has been married to the love of her life for almost 30 years! She is an RN and has made her mark on the world helping others bring there new additions into it, as she’s been working in Labor and Delivery since 1987. In her spiritual journey, Mary found great inspiration in the words of Emerson and Thoreau, and she has studied them very closely. She is also deeply touched by the works of Robert Richardson Jr., Marianne Williamson, and Wayne Dyer.

Of her current spiritual state, Mary explains, “I have come to understand the value of the present moment and can bring myself to a calm and joyful place just by stopping in the midst of any moment and taking a breath... As I sit here I can find so much to appreciate… I believe we are meant to be joyful beings. I feel blessed to live the life that I live, but I know that by my intention I have been the creator of my life.”

Thank you again, Mary, for sharing your story!

POETography: Alone and Thinking


POETography is when you post what you're thinking in words, phrases, stories, or poetry about the photograph above. It can be whatever comes to your mind. It can be a personal memory...

So what do you think? Comment here or at our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Universal-Soul/175779326361?ref=ts#!/pages/The-Universal-Soul/175779326361?ref=ts) with your thoughts, words, or poetry.
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As before, I've posted my response in the comments section to get the ball rolling. Check it out and post your own... Don't be a stranger! ;)
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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Great Outdoors

Maybe you've been wondering where I've been...

Maybe you haven’t, but I bet you’re wondering now…

I've been away, taking in the great outdoors…

Camping, actually. And it was rejuvenating and utterly peaceful. In fact, all I could think about were the words of Thoreau and Emerson as I gazed at the starry nights and glided across the rippling rivers of Florida...

But I'll write on my adventures later... and maybe post some inspired photographs…

But for now, here's your monthly dose of Emerson. Please do enjoy and make time this week to venture out into nature (if it's warm enough where you are, of course): camp, ride your bike, go for a walk, photograph the great outdoors, paint the great outdoors, write a poem or a letter outside, read your book in the sun, sit on your rocking chair on the front porch, lounge in your hammock in your backyard...


Do something to take it in! Because, as Thoreau once wrote, "There is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright." It doesn't get more sublime than that!

Chapter 1: Excerpt from Ralph Waldo's Emerson's Nature

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.

When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet. The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, -- he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, -- master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight, does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both. It is necessary to use these pleasures with great temperance. For, nature is not always tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the frolic of the nymphs, is overspread with melancholy today. Nature always wears the colors of the spirit. To a man laboring under calamity, the heat of his own fire hath sadness in it. Then, there is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend. The sky is less grand as it shuts down over less worth in the population.

Click here for more: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/emerson/nature-contents.html

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