Tuesday, January 31, 2012

internet discipline and information de-cluttering

I've noticed feelings of restlessness lately, in part due to task lists and a myriad of thoughts and questions regarding my work. But it's also due, in part, to an inability to streamline my use of technology and filter information. What with x number of gadgets with which to check email, read the news, my favorite blogs, watch a yoga instructional video, etc etc... information is literally at my fingertips with a touch or swipe of the screen (thanks to the "fruit company" - remember that from Forrest Gump?). Coupled with my anxious and distractible tendencies, that does not make for a good situation.

The physical effects of technology (over)use

The challenge is that my work requires me to be in front of a screen for hours on end, searching research databases, reading research articles in pdf/electronic form, typing on a document, creating presentations, participate in webconferencing for online teaching, attend "webinars" for professional development... So much that I started feeling my eyelids throbbing, headaches, as well as shoulder and neck tension.

And then there's a matter of all this screen time making me more sedentary. I am really feeling the effects of the extended periods of sitting, in contrast to my previous job teaching children, in which I was almost constantly moving. Humans were not meant to be sedentary, and my lower back ache and shoulder aches are reminding me of that. My comical older brother once told me his prediction that thousands of years from now, with all these modern conveniences, humans will evolve into butts with eyes. As funny and ridiculous as it sounds, it does seem like we can head into that direction at some point - with all the time we spend sitting on our tushies. Funny, yet scary thought.

Is technology making me antisocial?

Because so much of my work is solitary, I realized that I need to be much more thoughtful about how I spend my non-work time. I work on campus 2-3 times a week, the rest of the week I work at home. And I can go a little bit crazy not having real face-to-face interaction with a human being after a few days of solitary work. With the many ways to cyber-connect with people - there's Blogger (stating the obvious, I know), Facebook, Twitter (which I don't use), Pinterest (a recent addiction - but I'm not using it for networking, just archiving images), LinkedIn, etc... all these give an illusion of being truly connected. I do believe in how it does help connect people to a certain degree. I've found "long-lost" friends through these social media. But it's certainly not a replacement for in-person interaction.

Also, after having moved to a new city, I have to say I have not built the same kind of friendships that I had when I lived in Cincinnati. Such things take time. Once again, social networking can lead me to think that I'm in touch with people. But that's not entirely the case - as nothing beats a phone call, or better yet, an afternoon tea or coffee date with a friend and being truly present with that person. So last week, I was curious about a friend of mine whom I have not talked to in a while. Instead of checking her status on Facebook, I decided to give her a call. Although she lives in a city 4 hours away, a phone conversation was certainly better than quickly checking her Facebook page. It can be all too easy to just check her page, but I'm glad I chose another way.

When it becomes too much...

When I was working full-time in a structured 8-5 schedule (outside of the home), I was probably checking Facebook maybe once a week or even once in two weeks. All that started to change when my work situation changed - and I found myself checking it everyday, sometimes even two to three times a day. Not so much to update my status (I don't think I need to announce what I'm doing 24/7), but just out of curiosity about others. It can all be so overwhelming. So for the past few weeks, I decided to only check it once a day. (side note - what do you think about this article about the potentially negative emotional effects of Facebook?). But...I have not one but two Facebook accounts - one for personal reaons, the other solely for professional purposes, because I like keeping them separate. And then I'm also an admin for an organization's Facebook page. Aaaaaaahhhhh.....

I had a recent email conversation with this friend, with whom I was on the same page feeling overwhelmed about the Internet. She decided to limit her Internet browsing time to 2-3 hours a day. While I'd love to do the same, unfortunately my current work situation requires more screen time than that. But again, it's about making a choice - given that I have to spend much of my day in front of a screen, outside of my work do I mindlessly sit in front of the computer and search the Internet for random things, or do I make more thoughtful choices about how I spend my already limited free time?

So... I'm making my list to de-clutter and manage the information coming my way.

  • Check Facebook (personal and professional pages) only once a day
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists that are no longer relevant or in which I'm no longer interested
  • Check blog updates on my Google Reader 3x a week instead of everyday
  • Create short blocks of time to do solid work without checking email; or, schedule specific times during the day to check my email inbox

I'm hoping that with better time management, I can then have more time to engage in more meaningful communication with others - give someone an actual phone call, a more personal email, or even a card via snail mail. I love technology and the possibilities it offers to make work more efficient, collaborative, and creative. But technology should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

How do you feel about technology and the Internet? Have you at some point felt like it was interfering or taking over your life? How do you do your own "information management"?

Ed. 2.3.12: I have decided to reduce my facebook checking even more. Once a day for my professional/group page and personal page 4-5x per week.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

kitchen therapy

There's something so incredibly peaceful about simple, old-fashioned ways of doing things. This video of making homemade pesto (sans food processor or any other electronic kitchen equipment) is a great example of that. I love how the videographer just focused on her hands the whole time - emphasizing the grace, gentleness, and intentionality of her movements. Listening to the music and watching the movement of her hands was stress-relieving enough for me -- mirroring my own tendencies to keep my hands busy when I'm nervous or anxious.

Classic Pesto from Kinfolk on Vimeo.

Here's to a peaceful, restful winter weekend.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

yoga asanas as a reflection of life

Recently I wrote about how I tend to stick to my "safe" poses in my yoga practice.

I've come to the realization that, at least for me, there is an inverse relationship between age and risk-taking. (sorry, geek moment.)

I've tried scuba-diving, wakeboarding, skiing, whitewater rafting, and skydiving. Not activities for the faint of heart, I might say.

my first skydive (2007) - yes, that really is me up there!
photo credit

But I recall the last time I went skiing last winter - I was so much more cautious, to the point of being scared. It was a stark contrast to the first time I tried it. I'm not a great skier by any means, but I felt that based on my first try years ago, my body awareness and balance wasn't bad and I did a pretty decent job for a beginner.

Then recently, I've also been much more cautious during my yoga practice. It's not wrong. It's always good to err on the side of caution. But the downside is that I am not challenging myself, not exploring a variety of poses that might be good for me. I've been sticking to my comfort zone, perhaps a little bit too much.

Then my aha moment came when I realized that I'm taking the same approach to life. I've had some good (I think) ideas brewing in my mind, about "projects" to take on for the year. But I've become fearful - asking myself all the possible what-if questions. So I haven't taken action on my ideas. Mirroring the changes in my asana practice, I've been sticking to my comfort zone in life as well. A stark difference compared to my old ways of always seeking, exploring, challenging.

Perhaps it's true what they say (whoever "they" are) - that the body holds emotions. Places of tightness, resistance in the "outer" body are indicators of tightness and resistance in the "inner" body.


But in a yoga asana practice, I know I can take calculated risks. I can, with awareness, determine what my body is and isn't ready for that day. 

Just as I can take calculated risks in life.

Do you believe your body holds emotions? How does your yoga/movement practice mirror your life?

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

meet resistance with ease

I'm going through a little craziness this week. Much of it is my own doing (as usual... still trying to master Covey's time management matrix), but I'm really feeling the effects of my misguided prioritizing.

But enough with the guilt - it does not really help the situation.

I felt the anxiety creeping up on me again today. I now recognize the warning signs: tension in my shoulders and neck, tightness in my chest, shortness of breath (despite not doing anything vigorous or remotely physical).

First I started pacing around the apartment.

Then I started trying to go through my stacks of papers and other things to read. Didn't help either.

I resisted the urge to stress-eat my way through my Vosges Haut Chocolat Black Salt Caramel dark chocolate. (Ok, I did eat a small piece though.)

I ignored (with difficulty) the urge to stress-cook.

And then I came across these words: meet resistance with ease.

(Imagine light bulb turning on here)

So I came back to the most natural, yet sometimes most difficult thing to do: BREATHE.

I sat on a chair so I can support my back and shoulders, closed my eyes, and breathed.

At first it was challenging - with the many deadlines and tasks swirling around in my brain. I almost gave up, thinking, "I should use all the precious minutes I have today to work." But I decided to sit with it for a while.

I used the sound of my breath to drown my thoughts, and focused on listening to its sound. It was almost like white noise; steady and soothing. I realized the ease with which I can breathe. And I came back to what I knew all along: I CAN calm my mind. I CAN calm my nerves.

With every inhale I summoned my strengths and gifts to bring to my work.

With every exhale I visualized the weight slowly lifting from my shoulders and chest.

Meet resistance with ease...

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

resetting my system

Do you ever feel like you are out of balance? As though your operating system needs an update and a reboot (I can't believe I'm using computer lingo!)?

This past weekend I certainly felt like hitting the "reset" button. I think that I've been feeling this imbalance that has been slowly building up over time as a result of some not-so-great habits.

I've been reading a little bit about Ayurveda (translates to "the science for longevity"). I'm not reading any particular books, just websites for now - such as this one and this one. I've always wanted to study Ayurveda a bit more systematically, but my "main" area of study has been my priority. I have a feeling I'll just be a perpetual student of life. After I get those elusive three letters behind my name, I'd like to study yoga more fully again, as well as Ayurveda, and photography, a new language, and....

Ok, back to my imbalance. As I wrote about in this old post, I believe my predominant dosha (mind-body-state) is vata. Lately, I've been feeling very distracted and unable to focus, both during work and rest periods. I toss and turn at night, thus affecting my energy level and alertness the following day.

I also started thinking about times in which I felt my system was in balance - when I felt energized, alert, creative, and rested. As I reflected more, the list below started making more sense to me...


I would say the second bullet point has been difficult for me: maintain a consistent daily routine. As I no longer have a regular 8-5 day job and work at home most of the time (except for 2 days on campus), structuring my time productively has been a challenge. When I did work a regular job, I was busybusybusy and yet I made time for movement and creative outlets as well as social activities and volunteering. My life was full.

It's because I had a consistent schedule. Consistency is grounding. This tip sounds like a no-brainer, but it's amazing how much of a lifestyle change working at home is. On some days, I have tried to actually get dressed in the morning as though I were going to work, even if it was a work-at-home day. I've heard of other work-at-home folks who really get dressed in corporate attire, have a separate physical space for working at home, and only get out of their home office to take a scheduled lunch break and scheduled breaks in between. And they swear by it as being effective. Wow - that's a lot of discipline! With my work-at-home situation, it's been all too easy to lounge in comfy yoga pants with my messy bed-head while working... and it's been all too easy to get distracted.

Keep exercise gentle and regulated. I have been thinking about this one too, especially after reading a friend's blog post about exercise (a great read!), particularly on increasing stimulation and exercise intensity to stay challenged and continue strengthening muscles. But I suppose I can still challenge myself and increase intensity in gentle ways. Especially thinking about how I'm (a) already in my thirties and losing bone density right this minute, and (b) osteoporosis runs in my family - I do need to incorporate more challenging exercises into my routine, while listening to the needs of my body. I've been doing the 21-day yoga challenge to keep myself inspired and motivated rather than sticking to my same old routine of only favored poses. It truly is important to mix it up and practice poses you don't like as much (as long as they are still safe and appropriate for you) to stimulate other muscles not otherwise challenged, and to challenge the mind as well (hello, revolved triangle). Last weekend's yoga challenge video was a lot of core work (it felt more like Pilates!), and boy did I feel it the next day - only goes to show how much I've neglected my core.

On sleep... Last week, I was also on a better sleep schedule. I got 7-8 hours of good sleep and started my days earlier than usual. And then the weekend rolls around... and I slept in both days, resulting in a lot of tossing and turning the following night. I'm feeling the effects of that now. I think that there's room to be forgiving in terms of my sleep schedule on the weekend, but sleeping in for maybe 30 minutes later than usual is probably more reasonable than sleeping in for 2 hours past my weekday wake-up time. 

"Express your creativity in focused and satisfying ways and allocate space and time for this." I like this piece of advice. I know I do better overall when I have a creative outlet - whether it has to do with food or photography, or even just home design/improvement and rearranging things at home in artful ways.

"up at the trees" original print by this friend, printed in wallet size and arranged asymmetrically in multiples

How do you stay balanced?

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

orange scones: celebrating this season's citrus

I have really been into anything citrus, as I am every winter. Fresh oranges and grapefruit. Blood orange Italian soda. Orange olive oil tea cake.

Last night, despite the winter storm warning, A. and I went to a nearby Italian restaurant called Flour. It was full on a Saturday night, but we gladly sat at the bar - which almost always turns out to be a great decision. The main dining area feels more upscale, whereas the bar is more laid-back, and more characteristic of the the restaurant's tagline: "rustic Italian kitchen".

burrata appetizer with arugula, grilled radicchio, and crostini

We watched the pizza chefs bake maybe 30 or so thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas throughout our dinner. The pizza chefs were friendly and conversational, but not overly so - and helpful in answering any questions about the menu. Because of my citrus craving, I chose this amazing salad of shaved fennel, cara cara oranges, pea tendrils, pink peppercorns, dressed in a citrus (blood orange I think?) vinaigrette. The flavors were spot on. And for dessert, I ordered the winter citrus panna cotta topped with blood orange whipped cream. Absolutely delicious, creamy, but not cloyingly sweet.

winter citrus panna cotta, served in a canning jar

We enjoyed our dinner watching large snowflakes fall slowly outside the tall windows.

But back to the recipe... (how easily distracted I get)

Recently A. also had a craving for orange scones -- and of course I jumped at the chance to take a short break from work to make a batch. If it isn't obvious already, I'll take any excuse to be in the kitchen.

(Loving my "S" mug above - I didn't take my husband's last name after getting married [long story], but I can at least have a mug with the initial letter of his last name. :)

Orange Scones
makes about a dozen 

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour*
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour* (not regular whole wheat flour for bread)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Zest of 1 1/2 to 2 oranges (you can probably just use the zest of 1 orange, but we like a more intense orange flavor)
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup orange juice - freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon orange extract (optional)
1/4 cup plain, whole milk Greek yogurt (can sub sour cream)

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk or water

1. Position your oven rack in the center of the oven, then preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, orange zest, and salt until everything is well-combined. Add the cold butter using a pastry cutter (or your hands, which I did - your hands are your best tools, after all!) and work the butter gently into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly with pea-sized chunks.
3. Stir together the orange juice and Greek yogurt in a small bowl, then add to the dough. Take care not to overmix the dough! Overmixing makes the gluten develop, resulting in tough scones.
4. Roll scones into a ball (about a quarter cup in amount) and place on the cookie sheets. You can also use a cookie scoop for more even portioning. Flatten slightly with your hand so that they become 2-inch rounds.
5. Whisk together the egg and milk and brush over the top of the scones. Let the scones rest for 10 minutes before baking.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are just lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool to room temperature before glazing.

Orange Glaze
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
In a small bowl, stir powdered sugar and orange juice until smooth. If the consistency is too thick, add more orange juice until it is smooth. Drizzle lightly over the cooled scones.

I love how moist and light these scones are. I've had my fair share of store-bought scones that felt as dry as cardboard and as hard as a rock - and since then scones had not been one of my favorite pastries - until this recipe! 

* You can also use 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour instead of the 2 kinds of flour.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

21-day yoga challenge: are you in?

In the spirit of a fresh and positive start to the new year:

21-Day Yoga Challenge

I'm a little late in hearing about this (I believe it's day 3 now), but for whatever it's worth, I'm sharing here. 

Options include beginner and intermediate levels, as well as tracking and sharing your progress by joining on facebook (or not!). The challenge includes a guided yoga asana practice (with video), a guided meditation practice, and even vegetarian meals.

But I believe the real challenge is maintaining a healthy lifestyle as best we can the other 344 days of the year.

Well, a little motivation right now can't hurt, right?

How are you challenging yourself this year?

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

yoga: healthy or hurtful?

My yoga instructor sent me this recent New York Times article on "how yoga can wreck your body."

As in all other things -- even something as wholesome-sounding as yoga -- can be dangerous when taken to the extreme and when focus, awareness, and proper preparation are lacking.

Photo credit

I love advanced poses. Watching others do them, I mean. To be quite honest, I'm not one to include those beautiful acrobatic asanas in my practice. Part of it has to do with my somewhat paranoid tendencies -- having lived by myself for years (before marriage), far away from my home country and my family, I sometimes had irrational thoughts about injuring myself during a home yoga practice, getting knocked unconscious and laying there undiscovered until days later. (I know... like I said, paranoid and irrational. But hey... it can happen, right? Knock on wood. Knock on wood with me, please.)

So I stuck with "safer" poses. Poses in which the chances of me getting knocked unconscious, or slamming my face onto the floor and breaking my front teeth (ok, so that's a bit graphic) are quite slim. It's a little ironic coming from someone who was a gymnast in her childhood. I guess I've turned into an overly cautious adult, but sun salutations, standing poses, seated poses, supine poses, gentle inversions have been my asanas of choice; practicing poses like headstand only occasionally - or unless with an experienced yoga instructor. So despite practicing yoga for about 10 years now, I can't do those jaw-dropping, gravity-defying advanced poses.

And you know what? That is ok. Throughout my yoga journey I've come to the realization that the ability to do jaw-dropping poses does not make me a "better" yoga practitioner. Don't get me wrong - I have utmost respect for people with the strength and balance to be able to do advanced poses. Their focus and discipline are inspiring, and their execution of these poses is like art in motion. It just leaves me mesmerized.

Photo credit

I once heard someone say, "advanced poses are overrated." That was coming from a yoga practitioner who CAN do advanced poses. I chuckled at that, remembering my exhilaration when I first learned to hold an arm balance. I remember feeling a sense of both centeredness and expansion, in being able to focus my energy toward a pose and accomplish something I once thought I couldn't.

But in a recent yoga class, our instructor had us work on only 3 "simple" poses, breaking each one down all the way to the anatomy and physiology of the pose and the pelvic alignment that goes into the pose. (Our instructor is BIG on pelvic alignment - her classes have been extremely eye-opening and informative). Yes, we "only" worked on 3 very-basic looking poses, but these turned out to be incredibly complex. I've never worked this hard on "just" 3 poses in a long time. I felt those same feelings of centeredness and expansion at the same time. And believe me, I felt it in my muscles the next day. Safety is also a huge theme in her class - always focusing on breaking down the asanas to the most basic components, and preparing the body for each. Because it's not just the advanced acrobatics that can have potential dangers - even a seemingly "simple" pose, like a seated twist, can be unsafe if not done correctly.

The thought of potential yoga injuries (not just in myself, but in others) has been my major deterrent to going back to teaching yoga. I haven't kept up with my study of anatomy for a while, and I worry about not having enough knowledge in this area. Sure, I can probably still sequence a class fairly well. I still know some of the basic contraindications of poses. But when it comes to students who have pre-existing injuries or medical concerns, I am concerned that I may not have the anatomy knowledge to teach them safely. Not a fault of my teacher training by any means; I just haven't kept up with my self-study. I do need to revisit my yoga anatomy book (just found out there is a 2nd edition!). Here is another great book on the use of props in yoga (don't be misled by the title!). Props are extremely helpful for increasing safety, promoting proper alignment, and getting to the point of a healthy, delicious stretch.

Here is another interesting article on the topic of the possible safety issues in yoga.

And here is an interesting take on facing your fears in advanced poses.

Photo credit

Do you find these articles on the "dangers" of yoga concerning? What are your thoughts on advanced poses? Do you like them? Do you face your fears or stick to your safety zone?

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

living a dream... well, in the movies at least

A. and I just saw Midnight in Paris this weekend, as a perfect stay-at-home date night, curled up on the couch with a warm blanket and a dish of French macarons. How fitting. Anyway, back to the movie...

What a great film! The cinematography, the script, the music... all taking place in the City of Lights. I loved the "dreamy-ness" (yes, that's a word) of the movie - an aspiring novelist being inside the world of the literary and artistic greats of the 1920's

I love this movie poster - set against Van Gogh's Starry Night. Photo credit

Although it wasn't particularly "heavy" acting, I loved Marion Cotillard in this movie - with her French-accented English and 1920's flapper ensembles combined with an effortless, modern coolness. I could seriously have a girl-crush on her.

Photo credit
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Gil (Owen Wilson's character): "Can you picture how drop-dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the 20's. Paris in the 20's, in the rain. The artists and the writers!"

Photo credit

My favorite line from the movie:

Ernest Hemingway: "I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving or loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face, like some rhino hunters I know, or Belmonte who is truly brave, it is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds. Until it returns, as it does to all men, and then you must make really good love again. Think about it."

Sigh. They just don't make many movies like this anymore.

Even A., whose favorites include the Godfather trilogy, the Bourne series, and The Italian Job, truly loved this film, and was equally captured by Ernest Hemingway's line above.

The story does lead you to a "suspension of disbelief." But just go along with it, and enjoy it without question.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012


I don't want to jinx it, but so far we've been having a fairly mild winter here in Cleveland. High 30s to mid-40's -- even low 50's at times -- in JANUARY??? In the snow belt of Ohio? Unheard of. But, I'm not complaining. I hope it lasts!

A. and I bundled up and went for a 4-mile trail walk in our nearby park. The sunshine was glorious!

North Chagrin Metropark*

We got our stiff winter-time muscles to work again, and stretched with our faces toward the sun.

Aaaahhhhh.... So thankful for days like this.

After that we were starving, so we headed to our nearby authentic Mexican restaurant. What can I say, walking and sunshine made me thirsty for horchata and hungry for a good bowl of guacamole. ;-)

*I am still amazed at how well iPhone photos turn out!

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"make the rest of your life the best of your life"

the rest of our lives...photo taken by this dear soul

I subscribe to Cheryl Richardson's e-newsletters, and I read this quote from Louise Hay in last Sunday's email:

"I choose to make the rest of my life the best of my life."

It seems to me that there are 2 camps on the new year's resolutions debate. Some love it, some seem to hate it. A friend of mine wrote about "expounding on the good rather than pounding on the bad." I like that. It's not "I will give up this bad habit", rather, "I choose to adopt/practice this positive habit."

I personally find that I like taking this time to plan, and dream. I realize that the years in which I put words on paper are the years in which I took action.

Here are some questions with which to start planning and dreaming (with credit to Cheryl Richardson):

What new opportunities would you like to pursue in 2012? 

What exciting changes are you ready to make?  

Who will help make the journey fun and inspiring?

What one, helpful habit are you willing to develop to support your efforts?

I have to admit, I'm not quite ready to share them here yet... I am choosing to hold them close to my heart for now as these plans and ideas "incubate". Some are a little scary, a little outside of my comfort zone... but what is life without those experiences?

In the meantime... I am writing, making lists, and dreaming... and I hope that sometime this year, I will step outside of my comfort zone and just do it.

Big thanks to Sharon for this lovely notebook :)

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

welcome, 2012!

Photo credit

Thought for the new year:

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier." - Mother Teresa

I'd like to adopt this thought as my new morning and bedtime prayer this year...

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