The Pope Just Released A List of 10 Tips for Becoming a Happier Person and They Are Spot On

I don’t like this being billed as “Tips for Happiness” – it’s more like: “Ten More Commandments for the 21st Century.” Learn it, know it, live it.

Higher Learning

In a recent interview with the Argentine publication Viva, Pope Francis issued a list of 10 tips to be a happier person, based on his own life experiences.

The Pope encouraged people to be more positive and generous, to turn off the TV and find healthier forms of leisure, and even to stop trying to convert people to one’s own religion.

But his number one piece of advice came in the form of a somewhat cliche Italian phrase that means, “move forward and let others do the same.” It’s basically the Italian equivalent of, “live and let live.” You can check out the full list below.

The Pope gives a thumbs up to an audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Photo: CSV)

The Pope’s 10 Tips for a Happier Life

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in…

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I’ve been 51 for a week and…

No, this was not the last piece. But it was the cake.
No, this was not the last piece. But it was the cake.

…I just ate the last piece of my own birthday cake. Thank you, Bliss Bakery, for making a cake that is still good a week later.

…what used to be menopause is now officially menofilibuster.

…I am still learning the exact same lessons I thought I’d already learned when I turned 21, 31, and 41. Old dog, same tricks.

…it is now abundantly clear to me why my sister is always formulating plots about faking her own death

…that memoir I’ve been planning to write would likely have to end with me faking my own death, anyway.

…I’ve finally reconciled myself to the fact that when my mother said (disparagingly) in 1981 that moving to Massachusetts would turn me into a bleeding heart liberal she was mostly right.

…I am still mad at Tim Geithner and Larry Summers for siding with the banks (and don’t tell me they didn’t).

…I will always eat lunch at home standing up, even though I haven’t had to do that for, like, ten years.

…I’m ready to admit I buy my jeans at Chico’s.

…so I would like all of the cash I wasted on gym memberships back now, please, because walking in those Chico’s jeans is not only free, it’s so much better for society at large than doing anything in yoga pants in public.

…my friend Jenny is right – everyone thinks you’re lying when you say you’re fifty because it is too round a number, but everyone will believe you when you tell them you are fifty-one.

Clearly I wasn't going to put 51 candles on my own cake (or anyone else's for that matter).
Clearly I wasn’t going to put 51 candles on my own cake (or anyone else’s for that matter).

 

The Man in the Blue Oxford Shirt

CMV with Annie 1993 2

A Remembrance of Charles M. Vest,  former President of MIT

When I think of his memorial service at MIT planned for later this week, it is hard not to envision Chuck Vest himself coming up to he podium, looking around at what is sure to be an impressive gathering, and saying, “Well, hello there!” Legions of others will have better stories of the man in the ubiquitous blue oxford shirt, and I look forward to hearing all of them. All I can say is that these moments are uniquely mine, and they’re dear to me because of both who he was and the singular place he occupies in my life.

I was fortunate to be designated as Chuck’s transition assistant in 1990 and there were moments when we shared a kind of bewildered joy to be there, tucked away in Building 14, with a meeting schedule that could have passed for a list of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I don’t think he ever stopped being tickled to find himself among people he admired. Chuck and I developed a kind of rapport that summer; he would call me Radar for my ability to anticipate what he needed (and my propensity to blurt out an unsolicited opinion at the exact wrong time). But when he announced that everyone needed an e-mail username and address (it was that long ago) and I chose a contraction of my name – Scamp – that was the nickname that stuck over the years.

We have ways of creating stand-ins among the living for those who are with us only in spirit. There comes a point, inevitably, when our parents die and we find ourselves feeling a specific kind of aloneness. When my mother was dying, she had all kinds of crazy wisdom for me, and my favorite was, “You’re turning 40, and we’ll be gone. I never really felt grown up until both of my parents were dead. Your life is your own now; you won’t have me looking over your shoulder. It will be liberating.” I get what she was saying, and, liberated or not, she left me reams of advice that sit in a binder on my shelf.

But with my Dad it was trickier. His illness was shorter than Mom’s, and he was much more reticent to create any sense of closure. On matters of the heart, Mom did all the talking. Dad and I had said goodbye without my realizing it was the last one; I am certain he knew. Several weeks earlier he’d phoned me at MIT – the first and only time Dad called me at work. I happened to be in Chuck’s office that day – I was filling in for Laura for a few weeks while she was away. The call had followed me down the corridor from ASPG.  I rushed to the outer office, my face flushed with embarrassment and concern, and took the call in which my father informed me that he was sending me plane ticket so I could go home for a birthday party he was planning for my mother (another first and only). I had told him before that I was too busy to come; it was a crazy summer. But I was summoned and I went.

At first glance my father and Chuck could not have appeared more different, but they shared some characteristics: a firm handshake, a low voice that was seldom raised, a quiet devotion to family and faith, a way of chuckling through a funny story, a gallows sense of humor and a fondness for mixed nuts. They each had a kind of heartland sensibility that is largely undemonstrative; the hint of a smile or a furrowed brow spoke volumes.

So I flew out to Missouri for the party and had a wonderful time. Dad spent an afternoon at the head of the table, regaling the family with stories we had heard a million times before. When it came time for Dad to drive me to the airport, as he did every time I visited home, he told me that my brother-in-law would drive me instead. I should have known then. But instead I wrote it off to the fact that there were so many people visiting that weekend, Dad could not make all of those trips himself, and I blithely kissed and hugged him goodbye. Two weeks later I was flying back for the funeral. When Mom called to tell me he was ill, I asked if I should come home and she said “No, don’t come. It’s fine, you’ve had your turn.” And it was tough to take, but I guessed she was right.

TQM with CMV July 1992When I returned to Cambridge after the funeral it was the first day of a Total Quality Management Workshop for Constantine’s VP Staff Group. Shioji Shiba, the TQM guru, was there and it was a big deal. I was exhausted and as I stood in a daze during the pre-conference coffee, Chuck approached me, and wordlessly hugged me and kissed my forehead. And that was it. In one moment I got the goodbye I had missed from Dad and the hello that I needed to move forward. I went to the rest room and wept. Then I joined the group and promptly nodded off while Professor Shiba was talking (Yo-One!) and even though everyone around the table could see me, they let me snooze. We gathered for one of those team building group photos, and somebody directed me to a chair and I sat down. I was startled and delighted to find myself seated with Chuck, CBS and Professor Shiba; I’m not quite sure how that happened. We all look so happy, and in that moment, despite my loss, I truly was happy.

I understand much more clearly now the value of the sense of belonging I enjoyed at that time in my life. I look back and wince at my many rookie mistakes – CBS would refer it to it as “letting my slip show” – but I also miss the unbridled enthusiasm I had for nearly everything. I knew from the moment  I arrived in ASPG that that I was part of something extraordinary, but I didn’t grasp then how rare it is to work for and with people who share a common vision and have respect and admiration for each other, even under difficult circumstances. I worked hard and I was rewarded, which is such a simple concept but in these times it seems like something of a miracle.

Twenty-one years have passed. I left my job to stay home with my children, engaged in a new and challenging set of tasks but still working behind the scenes with and for people to whom I am devoted. The affirmations of parenting are both clearer and murkier – a child’s love is magic but you’re never really sure if you did a good job. No calls at the end of the day from CBS on the cell phone patting me on the back while he sped down the Mass Pike in his Volvo, no nod of bemused appreciation from Chuck at my fabulous color coding of the Faculty Meeting agenda. In my case the job has been more hands-on for a longer time; having a child with a disability presents a slew of joys and challenges, and there are no performance evaluations or raises – just a constantly changing job description (there are plenty of meetings, though, and lots of notes to take).

I look back on those days when I was out there in the working world, in that very brief moment where I was not so defined as a daughter or a mother, and feeling that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people. Those moments of synchrony (thank you, MLAM, for giving me that word) are as important to me as falling in love with husband and children. I feel a little nostalgic but mostly I feel incredibly, tremendously lucky.

A few years back, in the process of advocating for my child I got some press and sometime later I heard from Chuck. Over the years we kept tabs on each other, sending photos and occasional pithy e-mails (thanks to Laura, ever the catalyst). In one of those e-mail exchanges about family updates came a small moment – he told me he’d seen the piece in the Globe and that was proud of me. And because it was Chuck, whom I don’t think ever said anything he didn’t mean, it was the kind of validation I thought I had learned to live without.

I have a thin file folder that contains a few handwritten notes and short e-mails from Chuck that mean as much to me as anything I own, and I am grateful for the presence in my life that they represent. I am proud to be among the many people who enjoy the indelible imprint of Chuck Vest on our lives. I’m pretty sure I’m the only Scamp, though.

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Two Steps Back: “The Week” is weak.

IMG_7349There are plenty of reasons I haven’t  posted much lately, but it took this little media gift to send me scurrying back to my blog.

The Week arrived in my U. S. Mail box yesterday. That’s right, a magazine with Santa on the cover arrived on January 6, 2014. It’s dated December 27, 2013, so they even published it after Christmas thinking that Santa was the best cover story. It came with a paper cover inviting me to subscribe. A quick glance though this new aggregator revealed that I had read – literally – 95% of all the articles or topics (I missed the crossword, incest in Australia and a piece on Vespas.) None of the pieces – none – contained any news from the past week – and it’s all content that has already appeared on the web. It does turn out to be a good guide to the sites that provide (reasonably) hard, accurate news, but then again all you would need to do is subscribe to the Times and you’d have the news at least within 24 hours of it breaking instead of three weeks late. I love paper, I love type, I love design. Part of me sincerely wants something like this that fills a real because I miss paper, I really do. But I am addicted to immediacy and now I am paid to feed that addiction through social media and journalism, so my complaints are only that.

IMG_7350
The type is too small for the folks who would actually read this publication.

You know, The Week would actually be a great publication for doctor’s offices and nursing homes – for anyone who has limited or no access (or interest in) the Internet. Except the type is too small for anyone over 55.

September 11 Heralds the Value of Collaborative Storytelling

Sunrise on September 11, 2013
Sunrise on September 11, 2013

I love TED talks, and I get a new one every day in my inbox. I don’t always have time to watch, but yesterday’s by Jake Barton put the best possible spin on today, September 11. He’s immersed in designing the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York slated to open next year and his talk is a journey through that project so far, and how in the process they have designed new ways to enliven modern museums of all stripes. Their interactive museum tools are the new spring growth, the unexpected flower after the scorched earth fire. The interactive features, some of which now in use at the Cleveland Museum of Art, don’t replace the existing exhibits, but they do cool things like allow viewers to put paintings, sculptures and bits of architecture in their original contexts via an integrated digital image. You can see the tapestry on the castle wall, the gargoyle on the building, the bust in the artist’s studio. Our CGI-marinated kids will love this.

220px-911_Tribute_(perspective_fixed)
image credit: wikipedia

The 9/11 Museum also draws on the Storycorps idea of hearing personal stories fro ordinary people about that extraordinary day (if you’ve never heard Storycorps Friday mornings on NPR, they are always worth hearing – click on the link to the main site and listen to one or two – each story is only a few minutes long). They’ll have a booth and people can go in and tell their story, and some of the audio from previously recorded will be playing through the PA system as people walk through the exhibits. Real voices, real people, real stories – unfiltered by historians, TV commentators or politicians.

I’m glad that part of the legacy of this day is bring people together with technology that connects us not just as individuals but with our art, our poetry and our history.

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New England Garden Notebook: Forget Me Nots and Other Things I Forgot

Forget Me Nots
Forget Me Nots

The last garden post overlooked some moments and photos so I’m backtracking a bit. I planted these Forget Me Nots years ago and they’ve always done okay but this year one of the plants in a part-sun location bloomed as never before, and I managed to capture the true blue, which is often elusive with a digital camera. Also having a good year is the only peony bush I planted myself. SONY DSCIt’s taken a few years but now it blooms almost as much as the plants that were here when we moved in. I thought that the flowers would be orangey red but they turned out magenta, which is fine with me. It is an exact match with the magenta in the Crayola Crayon box, which my best friend and I fought over as if it was the most important thing in the world. It must have been second or third grade, and when I think of us sitting in their breakfast room off the kitchen it seems almost quaint to think of us, coloring and arguing so earnestly. My own girl hoarded the red crayons as a toddler, flatly refusing to share, a fierce scowl on her face. We clearly have a gene that predisposes us to jealously guard art supplies. I still love to color with crayons.

IMG_4796And the astilbe – it’s a monster that gets bigger every year and I love it. There were several in the garden when we arrived, but the rest of them are tepid at best while this one now dominates and has practically swallowed up the dephiniums next to it. I didn’t really appreciate the delicate beauty of this plant until I visited Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, MA, last year, The Mount. There’s a lovely labyrinth below the house that is completely made up of white astilbe and we happened to visit when it was in full bloom. Spectacular.

SONY DSC
Edith Wharton’s garden at The Mount, Lenox, MA

Not everything is growing like gangbusters. The hydrangea has been giving us fits, because it is bigger than ever but not blooming like everyone else’s. SONY DSCAfter much consulting and cajoling and applying copious amounts of water, fertilizer and coffee grounds, it finally squeaked out some blossoms. I did so many things I have no idea which, if any, of them, did the trick. The blooms are beautiful at every stage and they last for so long, changing slowly from green to white to blue.

Susan's Grad Cape Cod June 2005 091
MIT garden

Astilbe and hydrangeas are part of our present – plants I’ve only come to appreciate recently –  while the peonies and lilacs and always pull me into the past.  The rhododendrons span across the decades, reminding me of the enormous ones in the gardens at MIT and the even bigger ones that bloom for graduation on the perimeter of  Killian Court. It’s quite a sight.

Grief That is Coming of Age

SONY DSCI found a new diary app call Day One that makes it simple and fun to record moments on my phone and attach a photo. It’s a wonderful, quick way to capture images and events that otherwise get recorded in my many random notebooks. The images get buried in my 30,000+ photo library and the words and pictures seldom come together again in the same way I felt them at the time. All the entries can be downloaded en masse as a PDF on my computer if I ever want to do anything more with it. It’s brilliant.

This morning I was waiting for a child to awaken and took a moment to look at the pouring rain and remember this, the anniversary of our Dad’s death, 21 years ago today. I opened the Day One app and I wrote this:

It set off a chain of events that have influenced every moment since.

It was as though the words typed themselves, without my knowledge or permission. It is absolutely true, though, and even though it may seem like a surprise to me now, I knew even then that something fundamental had changed with Dad’s passing. I felt it on the train home that day, knowing as I stepped off that when I left Cambridge he was alive, and when I arrived in Concord, he was not. When I got to the house I called my brother and told him Dad was gone.

“How could you possibly know?” he asked.

“I just do.”

My brother was in New Jersey, I was in Massachusetts, Dad was in Saint Louis. It didn’t matter. A long chapter in my life, in all of our lives, had closed and we were free to look back and forward in ways that were not possible before that moment. It’s when memories and myths and mysteries all start to form and weave together ways that are different for every person; truth matters for a while but then becomes so complicated and elusive that you give up, only to go looking for it again later.

It happens this way for plenty of people, I’m sure, when they lose someone so influential to them. The absence of the reflected love, hate, or diffidence changes the image in the mirror and adjustments must be made. In my case it marked the start of the transition from being a child to being a parent, and the quick realization that even that traditional and expected path was not as straight or simple as I thought.

Libraries and hard drives the world over are full of the stories behind this revelation – that life seldom is what we expect it might be and what happens to us brings us unheralded joy, pain and wisdom. It just so happens that on this day back in 1992, my life took a turn in a new direction – if it were a movie there would be a map with a prop plane and a dotted line moving across continents with great zigs and zags, still going forward but making its way around the globe again and again, flying repeatedly over that point where the journey began.

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Photo Essay: A Stop at Walden Pond on Thoreau’s Birthday

Henry David Thoreau would have been 196 today. We were in Concord, MA, anyway so we thought we’d stop by Walden. It’s a lovely spot, though there are a few features that might give the old naturalist pause…

Within a stones throw of this, a replica of the cabin where Thoreau lived and wrote for two years,you can see ...
Within a stone’s throw of this, a replica of the cabin where Thoreau lived and wrote for two years, you can see …
...this.
…this.
And you can look at this...
And you can look at this…
... from here ...
… from here …
... or here
… or here.
There really aren't that many places anywhere that you can expect to watch ducks feed and also see someone teach themselves to juggle.
There really aren’t that many places anywhere that you can expect to see ducks feed while you watch somebody teach themselves to juggle.
But if you want the real Walden you can walk the perimeter of the pond here ...
But if you want the real Walden you can walk the perimeter of the pond here …
... or stalk a kayaker here ...
… or stalk a kayaker here …
... or contemplate here.
… or contemplate here.
But this might be the best view of all.
But this might be the best view of all.
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