This very simple recipe is elevated by the quality of its seasonal ingredients, making beautiful use of all those ripe tomatoes you have in your garden or just picked up at the farmers’ market. It’s super healthy because it really doesn’t need dressing; the ripe tomatoes and all of the flavors just meld into a celebration of summer.

6-8 Ripe summer tomatoes, thinly sliced  (no need to peel or remove seeds)

2 Sweet or Vidalia onions, very thinly sliced

2 Cucumbers, peeled if not organic, very thinly sliced

Salt

Fresh ground pepper

A bit of chopped fresh basil, dill, or parsley if desired

Layer the bottom of a large salad bowl with cucumber slices.  Follow with onion slices, then layer on tomato slices. Generously season with salt, pepper, and herbs if you are using. Continue layering in this order until all ingredients are used. Chill in the refrigerator for about two hours to allow flavors to blend.

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So I had this little fall, one false move, on the stubborn ice of late winter. It began a journey of injury, surgery, and rehab. A small injury by many standards, but a torn rotator cuff causes an impressive amount of trouble.

At first, I continued yoga at half mast. Three months later, post surgery, I ran around town in a massive sling. Six weeks later, off with the sling, but then my right arm didn’t work from being immobilized for so long.

Enter physical therapy, three days a week. Joe, my awesome therapist, made a little speech at our first session, assuring me he knew what he was doing. I’m glad he told me this, because there were many times I thought he was trying to break my arm.

Through this experience, I’ve learned a few things.

In yoga, your instructor reminds you to stretch to your edge but back off at the first sense of pain. I applied this practice to my home rehab work. After six weeks, my surgeon registered his disappointment in my progress by gently grabbing my arm and demonstrating how it should feel when I work. I learned quickly that therapy doesn’t involve a gentle yogic stretch. It’s not even old school “feel the burn”. It is dig in and push yourself right past the barrier you thought existed.

I’ve also learned that my sense of empathy is heightened, always a good thing. I understand that my experience, as challenging as I find it, is minor compared to what so many people face.

I’ve long had a reverential appreciation for what our bodies can do, and now that mine is floundering, I feel that I owe it everything I’ve got to recover.

My sense of self discipline is getting a nice workout in itself as I keep up the therapy routines at home.

To that end… I’m not much of a TV watcher. But suddenly, every time I walked through the living room there were zombies staggering around on the screen. Never having seen such a thing, I sat down and while I watched, I cranked my arm and hardly noticed the pain. I learned that it’s OK to binge watch episodes of The Walking Dead. It can be therapeutic to work on my routine while watching silly horror TV, summer evening after summer evening, with my teenage son.

A friend recently invited me to a Yin class, my first yoga class in months. Yin is a perfect re-entry into yoga, because it is quiet, open, focused, and can be modified for anyone. I’m thrilled that I can move into Yin and eventually back to all that yoga has to offer.

As much as I have missed restful nights, a strong right arm, and my favorite summer sports of bicycling and kayaking, I’ve re-learned an important truth… that pain and challenge opens the mind to a greater appreciation of all we have.

I’m psyched! I just signed up for a writer’s workshop run by some of Chicago’s top writers. So now I know what I’m doing the next two Saturdays.

And that’s really good, because lately life has been full of personal challenges and difficult work.

We all face tough times — too much of something for weeks then too little of something else for much longer. And it’s easy to get “stuck in your head”; rarely coming up for air to notice the truly good things in life or to notice how we are taking care of ourselves.

But by giving yourself some structure in your daily and weekly routine, like exercising regularly or attending a class, you create a reality base for yourself (yes, you do have a life outside these problems!) It clears your mind, helps you focus, and allows you to say adieu to much of that built up stress.

On the next level, by scheduling personal events that are intriguing by your definition, you create a meaningful and tangible near future. Give yourself something to look forward to, and you can manage today.

For me it’s the summer workshop, a trip up north, an Atoms for Peace concert in the fall, and more. I’ve got a few great events planned, and in between these events, I hope to create many moments of peace, spontaneity and balance.

Riding the bus today, I felt a slight tap on my knee. I looked up, and the man across from me asked, “Are you a poetry lover?”

I very much am, so I laughed a little in surprise and responded, “How did you know that?”

Turned out that this polite man was a Vietnam vet and a street poet. He was selling 10-page booklets of poems he had written himself. In the interest of poetry and in the interest of helping out a fellow human being, I paid him for a booklet, dropped it in my bag, and exited the bus.

After I was back home a while, I pulled out the booklet and was delighted to find a genuine effort and beautiful work. The poems are accompanied by drawings which I assume he also created.

The gentleman’s name is Marcus L. Green, and he wrote a poem that is aligned in thought to my recent post about forces beyond current scientific understanding or the laws of nature, so I wanted to share it:

ENERGY

Energy – We are electro-magnetic fields
Encased in ectoplasm, embodied in prototplasm,
And as such, permanent fixtures of
The universe forever because of
The first law of thermodynamics
Which states: Energy cannot be
created or destroyed, only changed
In form. That is reincarnation.
We come back again and again.
The universe does not deal in vacuums.

          — Marcus L. Green

Peace and good health to you, Mr. Green.

Metaphysics. Astrophysics. Chemistry. Parapsychology. Hard sciences and conceptual hooey. What is proven, what is real?

When I learned we are made of stardust (embarrassingly, not too long ago) … well, that did it for me. Energy can transfer in all kinds of astonishing, scientific, and mystical ways. Based on a few life experiences, I’m open to them all.

Our world and the way we interact within it and respond to it is infinitely complex. Throw in relationships among ourselves, and the layers get even deeper. Thinking of someone and receiving a phone call from them minutes later is not a coincidence that keeps happening over and over. It’s akin to the way my dog senses the kids getting out of school and heading home… she perks up and stares out the window toward the bus stop at the same time each weekday, long before she sees the visual cue of them walking toward her.

An incident that stands out most in my mind, though, makes me a believer in precognition, and I’m eternally grateful for it. When my son was eight years old, he was sitting at the kitchen table, engrossed in an art project. I was two rooms away in my home office. Russell wandered into my office and asked for an art supply, glue or something. At that moment, I heard an indescribable sound — a combination rumble, loud crash and long flowing noise, if that makes any sense.

I thought of my daughter and her friend, also young, playing in the house, then of the tall bookcase in the den. I rushed out. The girls were fine and the bookcase was intact. Then I walked into the kitchen, where Russell had been working.

A large three-shelf cabinet, completely filled with food in glass bottles, cans, and other packages had seemingly jumped off the wall, clearing the narrow counter below and crashing full on to the kitchen table and landing at a crazy angle on a chair. Cans and bottles were strewn in a huge path over the table and onto the floor.

The wonderful scent of pure Madagascar vanilla extract filled the room, as the small bottle of vanilla and a bottle of oil were the only containers that broke.

I was a bit in shock and didn’t start cleaning up the mess right away. The kids were, of course, shaken as well, and I immediately called my neighbor to come pick up her daughter who thought our house was haunted at this point.

And it wasn’t until much later that it hit me…. my son had been sitting, happily busy, in that chair, the chair that was now contorted and bent under the weight of the cabinet. He would most certainly have been deeply injured or even lost his life under the weight of that huge fallen cabinet and its contents.

We learned later that the cabinet had been improperly secured to the wall. But I will always wonder… what led a child to get up and walk away seconds before a horrific weight would cascade down upon him?

I know Russell well enough to believe that he had sensed something more important than the immediate need for a bit of paper or glue. I believe that the atoms or electricity or whatever in his body went on high alert and prompted him to move away from danger.

Close call? Coincidence? It happens every day. Most we win, and some we lose, which is when tragedy strikes, but I think we all have powers within us that have saved us more than we know.

And although I’m fascinated by studies of science and phenomena, I don’t really need all the explanations. I just think they are a wonderful part of experiencing life and our world and ourselves.

Yesterday was my birthday. And for the first time in as long as I can remember, my day didn’t include an early morning call from my mother. She had a long tradition of, upon hearing me answer “Hello?”, carefully singing the Happy Birthday song over the phone.

My mother has Alzheimer’s. This was just one of those many little differences I notice as time goes by and the disease takes its toll. Since I didn’t want the day to pass without contact with her, I called her in the evening. After a few hints about the date and what significance it might have within our family, she remembered. “It is your birthday!” she announced. When I sensed what might come next, that she might feel badly about not remembering, I switched the attention to her.

We reminisced about what an exciting day it had been in her life. She remembered how she had been hoping for a baby girl since she had a young son at home, and how special it had been to bring home a new baby. She went on about a few more details… a clear example of long term memory trumping short term.

Birthday celebrations are fine, but for this one it was nice to turn the tables and make my mother feel happy and special… making it her day.

April is National Poetry Month… designated so in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.

(I once sent in a poem to Poetry magazine, based here in Chicago, which they promptly but very politely… rejected. But it was like job hunting; I appreciated that they took my work seriously enough to email a personalized rejection!)

National Poetry Month is an effort to recognize and promote poetry as an accessible art form for everyone. Too many people, I think, see poetry as an avant-garde art form, like free form jazz or abstract painting or spoken word performance. Conversely, some might view poetry as an archaic medium, in line with opera, classical music, and Shakespeare – created long ago and certainly not modern.

As someone who tends toward minimalism, I love poetry’s spare piecing together of carefully chosen words. Although there are epic poems that are page turners in themselves, my favorites tend to be poems that explore simple topics and evoke powerful imagery.

As an example, I turn to a work by Ted Kooser, contemporary poet and U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006) who is known for his clear and honest verse.

Tattoo

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

from Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

Does this poem not create a story in your mind? Reading it is like watching a scene in a movie, only your imagination does the job of envisioning the man at the yard sale. The moment is familiar and real. And the poem is written from an observational point of view, as if you were sitting behind the sale table just noticing this person and perhaps wondering a bit about his past.

I also lean toward poetry about nature and stillness, but you can find poetry about every topic and walk of life imaginable.

And the practical part about reading poetry? It only a few minutes to read a poem! You can carry a slim volume in your bag to read when waiting in line or in your parked car.

And I feel the best way to end the day is with a mug of herbal tea and a poem, giving me something to focus and reflect upon as I drift off to sleep…

Poetry is ancient; poetry is as modern as today. Check out the Poetry section of your local library or book shop and you are sure to find a title that you can relate to and a poem that stirs in you.

Focus is magic. To pull yourself, for a few minutes or a few hours, away from distraction and find focus is sheer luxury. Good hard work, but nonetheless a luxury of the mind.

I once took a drawing class, working in pencil and graphite. That’s it. A subject, white paper, and an instrument in your hand. To face this for two hours takes a bit of skill… not in actual drawing, but in decompressing, in clearing your mind, until all you are thinking about is the width of a line, the depth of a shade. A fabulous way to foster an active and focused yet meditative mind.

Not surprisingly, practicing yoga promotes this as well, bringing the body into play. The bend of an arm, the angle of a hip, a slight deepening of a fold. The learning is infinite.

Heaven!

I love this word byte from Thom Yorke: “Just being looser in your thinking allows you to avoid fixed ideas.” … Yorke has come to discover that the best things that happen musically “are often when you’re super-unsure and kind of flailing around. You just work at it and wait.”

source: http://www.guardian.co.uk The Observer, Saturday 23 February 2013 15.00 EST

He may brood in the spotlight, but Yorke is an unpretentious and honest artist. And doesn’t his observation apply to all creative work? Aren’t we all super-unsure (to say the least!)? Nice to be reminded that all of us, even those who are considered super creative powers-of-the-universe, start from basically the same mind space as we approach new work.

Being more a purpose-driven than recreational shopper, I don’t get out that much in the chain retail world. However, on a recent excursion, this item stopped me in my tracks.

Product: Decorative Wine Corks
Store: Bed, Bath, and Beyond
Website description: A stylish way to re-use discarded wine toppers, these assorted corks are great for filling tabletop vases or bowls to enhance their decorative appeal.

Discarded wine toppers? Do you mean corks? So if you love wine (ahem, as I do) enough to want to decorate with wine corks, would you not have the corks from drinking the wine? And if you don’t enjoy wine, why would you want to decorate with wine corks? I guess this product is for an emergency wine cork situation… you need to decorate FAST and have just recycled your corks at Whole Foods…