Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Do the Thing You Think You Cannot Do!

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  Do the thing you think you cannot do.Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote is one of my favorite mottoes.  When I think about the message and the tenacity and influence of the woman who spoke those words, it enhances my determination to choose the courageous, perhaps even the more daring, approach to handling a challenge or a problem.  When faced with the new and unfamiliar, the threatening, the upsetting, the downright scary, I will actually tell myself that I must persevere, no matter what --- sometimes even saying the words out loud. I will take a deep breath, square my shoulders and hunker down for a full on surge of research, planning and effort to improve my understanding of the situation.  I am doggedly determined to find solutions and act on them.  I keep telling myself, "You can do it."  It is our actions that define us.

It could be said that former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's strength was born out of her husband's weaknesses: first, after she discovered an extra-marital affair early in their marriage, she resolved to live on her own terms — not merely as an accessory to her powerful husband. Later, as first lady, Eleanor took 'fact-finding' trips for her husband who lost the use of his legs after contracting polio in 1921. She spoke fiercely and freely about racism, poverty and sexism in a way that would have been impossible for a sitting president at the time.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a distinguished public figure in her own right. A humanitarian, diplomat, social reformer, and author, her work on behalf of youth, blacks, the poor, women, and the United Nations surpassed her twelve years as first lady in establishing her as one of the most important women of the 20th century. 

Excerpted from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum web site:
"The Early Years 
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 11, 1884. Her father was Elliott Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt's younger brother and her mother was Anna Hall, a member of the distinguished Livingston family. Both her parents died when she was a child, her mother in 1892, and her father in 1894. After her mother's death, Eleanor went to live with her grandmother, Mrs. Valentine G. Hall, in Tivoli, New York. She was educated by private tutors until the age of 15, when she was sent to Allenswood, a school for girls in England. The headmistress, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, took a special interest in young Eleanor and had a great influence on her education and thinking. At age 18, Eleanor returned to New York with a fresh sense of confidence in herself and her abilities. She became involved in social service work, joined the Junior League and taught at the Rivington Street Settlement House.

On March 17, 1905, she married her fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and between 1906 and 1916, they became the parents of six children: Anna Eleanor (1906-75), James (1907-91), Franklin Delano, Jr. (1909), Elliott (1910-90), Franklin, Jr. (1914-88) and John (1916-81). During this period, her public activities gave way to family concerns and her husband's political career. However, with American entry in World War I, she became active in the American Red Cross and in volunteer work in Navy hospitals. In 1921, Franklin Roosevelt was stricken with polio causing Mrs. Roosevelt to become increasingly active in politics in part to help him maintain his interests but also to assert her own personality and goals. She participated in the League of Women Voters, joined the Women's Trade Union League, and worked for the Women's Division of the New York State Democratic Committee. She helped to establish Val-Kill Industries, a non-profit furniture factory in Hyde Park, New York, and taught at the Todhunter School, a private girls' school in New York City.

The First Lady 

Upon moving to the White House in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt informed the nation that they should not expect their new first lady to be a symbol of elegance, but rather 'plain, ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt.' Despite this disclaimer, she showed herself to be an extraordinary First Lady.

In 1933, Mrs. Roosevelt became the first, First Lady to hold her own press conference. In an attempt to afford equal time to women--who were traditionally barred from presidential press conferences--she allowed only female reporters to attend. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Marion Anderson, an African American singer, to perform in their auditorium. In protest, Mrs. Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR.

Throughout Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, Eleanor traveled extensively around the nation, visiting relief projects, surveying working and living conditions, and then reporting her observations to the President. She was called "the President's eyes, ears and legs" and provided objective information to her husband. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered WWII, Mrs. Roosevelt made certain that the President did not abandon the goals he had put forth in the New Deal. She also exercised her own political and social influence; she became an advocate of the rights and needs of the poor, of minorities, and of the disadvantaged. The public was drawn in by the First Lady's exploits and adventures which she recounted in her daily syndicated column, 'My Day'. She began writing the column in 1935 and continued until her death in 1962.

During the war, she served as Assistant Director of Civilian Defense from 1941 to 1942 and she visited England and the South Pacific to foster good will among the Allies and to boost the morale of U.S. servicemen overseas.

The 'First Lady of the World'

After President Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945, Mrs. Roosevelt continued in her public life. President Truman appointed her to the United Nations General Assembly. She served as chair of the Human Rights Commission and worked tirelessly to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

In 1953, Mrs. Roosevelt dutifully resigned from the United States Delegation to the United Nations, so that incoming Republican President Dwight Eisenhower could fill the position with an appointee of his own choosing. She then volunteered her services to the American Association for the U. N., and was an American representative to the World Federation of the U. N. Associations. She later became the chair of the Associations' Board of Directors. She was reappointed to the United States Delegation to the U. N. by President Kennedy in 1961. Later he appointed her to the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps and chair of the President's Commission on the Status of Women. Mrs. Roosevelt became a recognized leader in promoting humanitarian efforts.
She was in great demand as a speaker and lecturer. Like her husband had done with radio, she also made effective use of the emerging technology of television. She was a prolific writer with many articles and books to her credit including a multi-volume autobiography.

In her later years, Mrs. Roosevelt lived at Val-Kill in Hyde Park, New York. She also maintained an apartment in New York City. She died on November 7, 1962, and is buried alongside her husband in the Rose Garden of their estate at Hyde Park, now a national historic site."

For a more colorful and less "white-washed" appreciation of Eleanor's life, this essay provides more nuanced insights into her lonely childhood, her cruel mother, her domineering mother-in-law and her personal quest for excellence.

[Photo credit: <a href="">Kemon01</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>]

Friday, July 12, 2013

In the Kitchen: Eggplant 101

The eggplant, a favorite in my kitchen, belongs to the nightshade family of vegetables which includes tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes.  Like tomatoes, they hang from the vines of plants that grow several feet tall. Although available in markets year round, they are at their best when in season from August through October.

In Cook’s magazine, Alice Waters, owner of the legendary  restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkley, said that the key to selecting a non-bitter eggplant is freshness. That means an eggplant which is not too large and is shiny on the outside with taut, deep-colored skin. The flesh should spring back when pressed. Dull skin and rust-colored spots are a sign of age. The inside of the eggplant should be white with few seeds and no green. Green indicates an immature eggplant.  Also, eggplant that is not used right away will have a tendency to become bitter.

My favorite variety is the smaller, thinner Japanese eggplant.  It is often sweeter than larger globe varieties with less tendency toward bitterness. 


Although the name "eggplant" strikes me as a misnomer, history reveals that early versions of the eggplant were actually white and about the size of an egg. The first written record of eggplant was in China during the fifth century, though some believe India is the vegetable’s birthplace.  Traders carried the eggplant from India to Europe through the Middle East which helps explain why there are so many eggplant preparations from India to Morocco.

The eggplant is steeped in lore and superstition. Society women in China used the skin of dark eggplants to color their teeth a fashionable black.  Glad that's behind us!  A Turkish sultan supposedly favored one of his wives over the 170 others he had taken because she was adept at preparing eggplant, which the sultan believed provided long life and sexual potency.  How else would he be able to tell her apart from the others!

Sex was certainly on the minds of 16th century Spaniards who called eggplants “love apples.” Others in Europe at the time weren’t so sure. They thought eggplants caused insanity as well as a host of other nasty diseases.  But King Louis the XIV delighted in surprising his court with exotic food and ordered aubergines grown in the royal garden. The Spanish brought eggplant seeds to the New World. But before the 20th century, most eggplant grown in the United States was used for ornamentation.


Eggplants are like potatoes in this respect:  as long as you reduce the fat in which you cook them, they’re a low-calorie food. One cup cubed has about 25 calories as well as 2 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of protein. A serving also contains a smidgen of vitamin C and iron.


Eggplant does not like severe cold --- 46 to 54 degrees is the ideal temperature range for storage. Because eggplant is ethylene sensitive, store it away from ethylene-producing items such as apples. Kept in the fridge in those light green ethylene resistant plastic bags,  eggplant will last up to five days. 

Depending on the type of preparation, one large eggplant (about 11/2 pounds) will serve 4 people. It will yield about 4 cups of chopped or cubed eggplant, peeled and trimmed.

When you prepare your dish, the first decision you will need to make is whether to peel or not to peel. With most preparations such as eggplant Parmesan, grilled eggplant and caponata, I like to keep the skin on. Oil can be a problem when cooking eggplant because it soaks it up like a sponge. For this reason, I like to broil or grill eggplant instead of frying it. Before doing either, I spray slices with a mist of olive oil. If you choose to pan fry slices after spraying, a non-stick skillet with perhaps a few drops of olive oil or ghee will aid in browning.


Eggplant lends itself to a multitude of ethnic preparations from Indian to Moroccan with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes in between. Garlic, onion, tomatoes, peppers, olive oil and sesame oils are merely a few of the many seasonings and vegetables that go well with eggplant

Eggplant Rollatini a la Giada De Laurentis
(I  also use a chiffonade of spinach leaves.  If I don't grill the eggplant, I saute it until soft and maleable in a skillet with olive oil spray or a little ghee.)

Eggplant/Walnut Pate

Eggplant Roll-ups

Broiled Eggplant/Zucchini 

Paleo Crispy Eggplant Dippers 

Eggplant Lasagna 


[photo credit: <a href="">garlandcannon</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>]

Monday, July 8, 2013

Why I Love Gretchen Rubin

I understand this woman.  We are on the same wave length.  She speaks to my most fundamental sense of myself.   We are two women who enjoy the sublime pleasure of mindful living, examining our unconscious habits while bringing a sense of awareness and appreciation to life.  We thrive on the belief that happiness can spring from the talent of elevating the minutiae of daily living into art.  We accept that we are the authors of our own happiness.

A quirky, idiosyncratic Yale educated attorney, former editor of the Yale Law Journal, former clerk to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, she lassoed her destiny as a writer, leaving a legal career behind in a swirling cloud of dust.  Convinced of the rightness of her career change, she plunged into her love of reading, researching and writing.  Pondering the idea that although she was already happy, how could she do more to become even happier without making radical changes to either her or her family's daily life.  "Being Gretchen" she did what she does best and loves most, she read, read, read and wrote, wrote, wrote.  Her driving passion?  The discovery of what science, philosophy and literature had to say about happiness and how she could interpret her findings into easily applicable precepts and actions to improve the happiness quotient of each day.

And so the Gretchen Rubin happiness cottage industry was born.  As she researched and wrote, she knew she was creating a valuable framework on which to hang her happiness quest.  Yet, she also fretted about projecting an authentic voice on matters of happiness.   How could a woman from her background, an upper middle class family, a Yale educated lawyer, married to Jamie Rubin, son of Robert Rubin, Clinton's former Secretary of the Treasury, a resident of NYC's upper east side, a mother supported by domestic help, wanting for nothing that money can buy, think out loud about this subject without sounding pompous or disingenuous? 

Although some readers do take aim at her privilege, for the most part, she has found that her sincere, earnest, introspective, self-deprecating, informative, thoughtful voice hits that sweet spot where contemplative readers relish pondering this question for themselves.  Many of her loyal readers explore the subject of happiness on their own blogs and in their own professional lives.  Most of her loyal readers eagerly seize upon even the most subtle suggestion, idea, philosophy or perspective tweaking that can, in fact, improve their sense of well-being and perception of their own happiness.  What's not to like about that?  I love her!

Although her blog contains the evolution of her thinking since 2006, her ensuing books, the Happiness Project and Happier at Home, consolidate her years of exploration into two volumes designed to inspire each of us to boost our happiness and amplify our sense of well-being.  Armed, most often, with nothing more than your resolve to try any one of the 100's of suggestions she posits, you too can be well on your way to realizing noticeable and satisfying changes in your daily life.

Thinking and talking about happiness makes me so happy that I'll be revisiting this territory often!

Gretchenisms that make me happy:

“To eke out the most happiness from an experience, we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.”
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

“In fact, in what’s known as “rosy prospection,” anticipation of happiness is sometimes greater than the happiness actually experienced.”
Gretchen Rubin  

“As I turned the key and pushed open the front door, as I crossed the threshold, I thought how breathtaking, how fleeting, how precious was my ordinary day Now is now. Here is my treasure.”
Gretchen Rubin, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life  

“Happiness," wrote Yeats, "is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing." Contemporary researchers make the same argument: that it isn't goal attainment but the process of striving after goals-that is, growth-that brings happiness.”
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun 

“Studies show that in a phenomenon called "emotional contagion," we unconsciously catch emotions from other people--whether good moods or bad ones. Taking the time to be silly means that we're infecting one another with good cheer, and people who enjoy silliness are one third more likely to be happy.”
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun  

[photo credit: <a href="">Acumen Fund</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>]

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

On the Fourth of July, our nation's Independence Day, my mind wanders to the Declaration of Independence.  Doesn't yours?  No?  Well, how about the splendid notion of the "pursuit of happiness" contained therein?  I am forever cogitating on the subject of happiness.  Exploring this vast wonderland captures my imagination like nothing else.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in a matter of days, including the reference to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the original.  The draft he delivered to the Second Continental Congress, even after many rewrites and edits, still contained that stirring phrase.  It so completely expressed core American ideals, freedom from tyranny, freedom of self-determination and the freedom to pursue happiness.

In his article entitled "The Meaning of the Pursuit of Happiness," James R. Rogers explores this concept in the context of the time in which Jefferson understood the phrase.   In that late 1700's, one might think of "pursuit" as a sense of vocation, a calling.  Rogers says, "So the 'pursuit of happiness' means something like occupying one's life with the activities that provide for overall well-being.  This certainly includes a right to the ownership and enjoyment of material things, but it goes beyond that to include humanity's spiritual and moral conditions."  I interpret this as the freedom to work toward and achieve self-actualization.

Leaping across several centuries of exploration about the meaning of and search for happiness, Maria Popova, the talented curator at Brain Pickings, has assembled a list of 7 Must-Read Books on the Art and Science of Happiness for our reading pleasure.    I have savored this list like a child with only 7 pieces of candy remaining from her Halloween stash.  This list tempts me to dig in, each tasty morsel promising untold treasures to savor, luring me back time and again to reread the post and imagine the assortment of delectable ideas nestled within those pages.  But I resist digging in because I want to prolong the pleasure of, drum roll please, anticipation.  Merely savoring the anticipation of something enjoyable creates untold hours of pure happiness for me.  And it's free!!!

Now in truth, I have started reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.   The subject of how to amplify one's daily level of happiness hits such a sweet spot in my nature.  It is a key area of fascination as I work toward achieving my sense of self-actualization.  Even still, I keep laying the book aside to postpone its inevitable end. I don't want the book to end because I find such happiness in savoring all the subtleties of the ideas she explores. 

Gretchen Rubin has mastered the art of distilling ideas into their essence, linking one to the next, articulating a framework which provides thoughtful hook upon which I can organize my own thinking on the subject.  So instead, I nibble at at her blog posts, her Facebook page, her Huffington Post and Linked In Influencer posts.  I watch her You Tube videos and generally inhale all things Gretchen.  For me, the content of all the media she harnesses to her search for greater happiness provides a rich buffet of food for thought.  Yes, I confess, I am an unabashed Gretchen Rubin Groupie.  More about Gretchen in my next post....

[photo credit: <a href="">Christopher Chan</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>]

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Worry Robs Today of its Joy

My first husband used to shake his head in disbelief and ask me, jokingly of course because he clearly knew the answer, "Are you sure you're really Jewish?  You don't worry or feel guilty about anything."  Even if we were caught up in the same drama, he grappled with those nagging feelings while I seemed to bob on the surface of the issue without being pulled under by those thoughts.

There must be something in my wiring that short circuits worry molecules before they go into overdrive and disturb my equilibrium.  Of course I can rev into emotional reactions, feeling all kinds of negative emotions when warranted --- scared, hurt, angry --- but worry and guilt do not have the skeleton key to my psyche.  I am not plagued by lingering doubts, what-ifs, recriminations, or second-guessing my choices in life.  What about you?  Do you find yourself in the cross-hairs of worry or guilt, sometimes without even realizing you've arrived?

Here are some quotes which capture my relationship to worry.

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength."  Corrie ten Boom

"If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry.  If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.  There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever."  Dalai Lama XIV

"Never let the future disturb you.  You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."  Marcus Aurelius

"Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight." Benjamin Franklin

"Instead of fretting about getting everything done, why not simply accept that being alive means having things to do?  Then drop into full engagement with whatever you're doing, and let the worry go."  Martha Beck

"In Europe people don't worry about the body."  Paz Vega

"We would worry less if we praised more.  Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction."  Henry A. Ironside

Want to learn about ways to get off the worry merry-go-round?  Strategies to stop worrying?  Take a look at "How to Stop Worrying" for some insightful tips.

[photo credit: <a href="">Life Mental Health</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>]