The Happiness Project–Finding Happiness Everyday

I first came across The Happiness Project when I was at the airport in Atlanta last September. The title, 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, and the bright blue cover caught my eye. I added it to my book list, but I didn’t buy it at the time because I already had quite a few books on my list . But I knew I really wanted to read it at some point.

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About two months ago, a dear friend of mine, who had just lost his mother to sickle cell anemia, told me that he had a book that he wanted me to read. He enjoyed reading it and he thought it was perfect for me.  I was pleasantly surprised when I received a package in the mail the following week. Inside was The Happiness Project. He hadn’t mentioned the title when we spoke on the phone, and he had no idea that I had it on my book list. Isn’t it interesting how those things work out?

The Happiness Project is my favorite pick for the summer. It details author Gretchen Rubin’s one year journey to find ordinary ways to live a happier life. One of the things I love about the book, besides the insightful, engaging writing, is Rubin’s practical approach. In the midst of her busy life in New York City, Rubin realizes one day that although she lives an overall satisfying life, she can do more to feel happier.

Instead of taking a big leap that we might think of as a way to “finding happiness”, like leaving a job, or traveling abroad, she incorporates small, practical things into everyday life. I love this approach, because I too believe small steps can lead to a big change.

Rubin’s writing is filled with interesting research on happiness, along with witty, entertaining comments about her own experience. She manages to describe her happiness project in a way that makes you feel as though you are a part of her journey. She breaks the project into twelve months, assigning a happiness goal for each month, and the lesson that she learned from applying each goal. She creates a “happiness chart” to document her progress along the way.

I found The Happiness Project to be both inspiring and uplifting, just as my friend had promised. And it came when I needed it.  It was a much needed reminder of how being grateful, pursuing passions and making a conscious effort to shift our perspective can contribute to a happier, more fulfilling life.

I intend to read The Happiness Project again. And I’ve never read the same book twice! I think it will be one that I keep on my bedside table, and refer to time and time again. I hope you’ll have a chance to read it sometime too.

What’s your favorite read this summer? Please share!

Food and Fun with Family

This weekend I visited some of my family in Virginia. I spent time with my aunt, who lucky for me, is a great cook (almost as good as my mom!) I love being with her in the kitchen because she is so knowledgeable about foods and their health and healing benefits. She knows a lot of Middle Eastern home remedies too. I should take notes from her!

On the first night I arrived, she prepared Shawarma with fresh meat seasoned with tons of spices, alongside roasted vegetables from her garden, Mediterranean salad, rice (a staple in Middle eastern cuisine) and fresh, organic yogurt. It was delicious!

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Saturday morning I woke up craving pancakes for some strange reason. I made some for everyone and we ate them with fresh fruit. (even though I really wanted it with bacon!)

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Later that day, I visited my cousin Huda, a practicing esthetician, who is also very health conscious. I get all my natural health & beauty advice from her. It’s so nice to have women in my life who are such a wealth of knowledge in healthy living.

She made me a juice in her VitaMix blender chocked full of fresh fruits & veggies. I’ve been wanting to try the VitaMix for a while now, so I was excited! It is pretty impressive!

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On Sunday, we visited the Eastern market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It is Washington DC’s oldest, continually operated fresh food public market. They had tons of neat goodies there. I can’t get enough of these outdoor markets! I bought some gifts and enjoyed and enjoyed all the sights there.

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On our last morning, my aunt sent us off with a proper Mediterranean lunch. This is one of my favorites! Homemade hummus, bread for dipping with olive oil, zaatar, garden tomatoes & cucumbers, pickled olives, sautéed mushrooms, yogurt, and fresh fruit with chai (tea) and mint.

I ate so much good food this weekend, and really enjoyed spending time with my family that I don’t get to see often. I’m grateful I had the chance to do it.

Now, it’s back to New Orleans for me. I’ve been away for a while and I’m looking forward to coming home. I always miss that place when I leave.

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Dancing In The Rain

You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I came across this picture last week. I remember hearing this when I was much younger, and thinking..”Who wouldn’t want to dance in the rain? That sounds like fun!”

Little did I know.

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Now, as an adult having faced some of life’s most enduring challenges..illness, death, and loss, I understand what this saying really means. When things aren’t going as we planned, expected or hoped, it’s about embracing those experiences and living in the moment, anyway.

This is no easy practice to apply.

Last weekend, my sister Ivan and two of my cousins, Huda and Linda were visiting . (I’m currently visiting my sister Nina in Philadelphia) We planned to go out and see some of the sites in the city and spend the day outside. When we made it to our first stop, the famous Rocky statue, it started raining. We tried waiting it out, but it didn’t let up. So we decided to leave and find a coffee shop where we could sit inside and wait for the weather to clear up. As soon as we arrived to the central part of the city, it started pouring down rain. There went our plans for the day.

The five of us huddled under an awning and waited impatiently as we watched the rain come down. Immediately, I started to think how annoying it was that the rain had ruined our plans. But then I caught myself. Instead of thinking that our day was ruined, I thought, why not make the most of it? You can’t change the weather. How often do the five of us get to spend time together (we each live in different cities) and just slow down? In fact, that moment is what made me recall the saying, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

That’s what I’ve been learning, especially over the past year. We all make big plans for life, and we expect life to act accordingly. But often times, our plans, big or small, don’t work out the way we want them to.  And when that happens, it’s easy for us to feel discouraged or frustrated. I’ve found myself in situations saying, “This is not how it’s supposed to be.” Or “This is not what I was expecting.”  But instead of backing away, and waiting for things to change or get better,  we can appreciate our experiences for what they are.

Our day in the rain was just a small thing. But I thought, if I could adapt this way of thinking to ordinary things, then maybe I could learn to see the bigger plans that don’t work out the way I hoped, as opportunities to embrace too. I think the true test of our character comes when things don’t turn out quite the way we want, but we go forward with grace anyway.

Have you recently had an experience that made you think of this saying? Maybe it was an important event in your life, or a vacation you planned? Or even a social activity you were looking forward to? Please share if you have.

Back to Healthy Meals

It’s hard to lead a healthy lifestyle when you’re traveling. (especially with all those delicious croissants in France!) I’m happy to get back to my healthy meals.

Today, for breakfast, I had Oikos yogurt, with Bear Naked granola, which I tried for the first time and loved. I topped it with strawberries, raspberries and honey. I enjoyed it with a cup of Bigelow French Vanilla black tea. One of my favorites.

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For lunch, I made a salad with spring greens, red, yellow & green bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, green plums, pine nuts, and Breakstone’s low-fat cottage cheese. I drizzled it with an olive oil and lemon vinagarette dressing. Salads don’t keep me full for long, so I’ll have to have a few snacks before dinner 🙂

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Dinner is TBD!

Germany: A Journey in History

The last stop on my trip was Germany. By this time, all the traveling had caught up to me and I was really tired. But I had to push myself because I had been looking forward to seeing Germany. I arrived in Frankfurt and my family, who lives about forty five minutes away in a small town, Diez, greeted me there. It was so nice to see familiar faces when I arrived. When we made it home, my aunt had prepared a nice meal for us and we enjoyed it outside on their patio.

The next day, I stayed at home and took another day of rest. After this trip, I learned that in the future, I will need to build days of rest into my travels. I’m excited about this, since I am finding new ways to better manage my health. It’s progress. However, there wasn’t too much time for rest. We had to start planning our next move. This time I had a little help. My cousin, Nadia planned all the travel arrangements. She is a native German speaker, so it was great.

That evening we went to nearby Limburg, which is known for some of the oldest homes in Germany. Much of the town was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1289, but the homes were rebuilt and their original style was restored. It is a charming little town, and it was a great start to seeing Germany.

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The next day we traveled to Cologne, which is Germany’s fourth largest city. What is really neat about Cologne is that it is located on both sides of the beautiful Rhine river. It was almost completely destroyed in World War II and was later rebuilt. Many of its’ historic buildings were restored, which gives it a dynamic landscape with both old and modern buildings. Also famous, is the Cologne Cathedral, or Kolner Dom. The cathedral was heavily bombed in World War II, but it withstood the damage. It is said that the two spires of the cathedral were used as navigational aids by pilots, which may have saved the cathedral from being completely demolished. Divine guidance? (I couldn’t help but wonder.) I would have loved to spend more time in Cologne exploring its rich history, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time. We had to move on to our next stop, Berlin!

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We arrived in Berlin Thursday evening. Later that night, I was  excited to reconnect with two of my friends, Sarah and Vivian, who I’d met while they were visiting fellows at CNN. They are both correspondents for one of Germany’s television stations, RTL. It was great to see them and talk to locals’  about their thoughts on German media, politics and history.

The next day, I met Sarah and Vivian for lunch and they gave me a tour of RTL, and I saw CNN’s berlin bureau, which is modest–a small room cramped with tons of television equipment. It was neat to see where our team in Berlin works out of. I’ve corresponded with them a lot at work, so it was neat to see where they actually work.

After my tour of the station, I went out to explore more. Berlin is a fascinating city. There is so much history in one place, yet it’s also a thriving, modern city. There’s so much to see there, you need at least a week. We only had two full days, so we had to make the most of it. On our first day, we visited the Brandenburg Gate, or Brandenburger Tor. It was originally built as a symbol of peace in 1788. It suffered serious damage in the war, and was only fully restored in 2000. It is now considered a symbol of Germany and Europe’s tumultuous past, and a sign of its unity as well. How ironic.

Then, we visited the Reischstag, where the German parliament convenes. I was thrilled to see it for myself. I am fascinated by Germany’s government and it was a treat for me. What a nerd, I know!

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Last, but certainly not least was the Berlin wall.  Its’ importance in German and European history goes without saying. It’s hard to believe that wall came down only a little more than twenty years ago. We also stopped by the East Side Gallery, which is where local artists have displayed their artwork on the wall. It’s really neat to walk along and see all the artwork. It’s a point in the city where history and art collide.

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Germany was a fantastic end to my trip. I am happy to have learned so much about it through my work at CNN, and have had the opportunity to see it myself. Most of all, I am grateful that I was able to experience it in good health.  That was the best part for me!

Lovin’ London Town: Art, Culture & Music

I first visited London in the summer of 2009, and although I enjoyed seeing the royal sites, I wasn’t too keen on the city itself. This time though, I had a chance to get to know it a little better. We arrived in London at about 11p.m. after missing our flight from Nice. Long story. But a lovely lady at British airways booked us on the next flight that evening without charging us a penalty fee. Thank you British Airways!

After a very long day of travel, we made it to our hotel after midnight. The next day, I was exhausted. My body was talking to me, and I listened. I rested in bed at the hotel for most of the next day, except for a walk in the evening. Although I was not happy to forfeit a day of sightseeing, the rest was much needed. Traveling can be exhausting, and proper rest is essential to keeping your immune system strong, and staying healthy while traveling. The next day I was rested and ready to explore the city.

I visited the Tate modern museum which has a fabulous collection. I really liked one exhibition by artist Chen Zhen. The museum featured his late works which reflect the experience of chronic illness through fragile combinations of everyday objects. Zhen had a strong interest in healing, and intended for his work to have a therapeutic and meditative aspect. He suffered from a serious blood disease for more than twenty years, that sadly took his life.

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I was moved when I read about Zhen and saw his work. I have developed a compassion for stories of people who face health struggles, since my own experience. I was inspired by Zhen’s resolve to create art that expressed his own struggle with illness.

I also visited St. Paul’s cathedral later that evening. It is a beautiful site, sitting on the highest point in the city of London. I always enjoy visiting religious places of worship when I travel. I find it warming to watch people from different faiths and backgrounds appreciate these sites, regardless of their own religious beliefs.

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The next day, I visited the Portobello market, at the suggestion of a close friend of mind who studied in London. It is a delightful stretch of outdoor and indoor markets filled with antiques, specialty shops, modern goods and cafes and restaurants. It is by far, my favorite market that I’ve visited in all of the cities I’ve traveled to! You really need a whole day just to look and be dazzled by all the sights there. I want to go back just to go to there again!

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On my last day in London, I joined my friend Sophie at a music festival at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I am not a dedicated music follower myself; she is a true music lover. But I am happy that she invited me to the festival. Being surrounded by thousands of people who love and appreciate music was energizing and uplifting. It gave me an opportunity to witness the universal power of music. I think it is one of those rare things that transcends race, religion, and profession, among other things. Being in the middle of it all gave me a greater appreciation for music, and its ability to move people. I also got to see Jay Z and Justin Timberlake perform, who were fantastic!

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By the end of my time in London, I had fallen in love with the city. It was kind of like when you meet someone for the first time, and you don’t think much about it. But when you get to know them better, you realize you like them a lot, after all. Overall, I had a wonderful time there and I would love to visit again. I was secretly hoping that princess Kate would give birth while I was there. I surely would have been in line to witness the spectacle. (Yes, I love Kate Middleton!) Oh well. Cheers to London and a healthy royal baby!

My next and final destination was Germany, which I will follow up with in my next post.

Have you visited Europe? If so, what was your favorite place? What did you love about it?

Charmed by the Côte d’Azur

There is something about traveling that is healing. It’s good for the soul. It may be the spectacular views of the sea, or the hilltops splashed with sunlight. It may be the thrill of exploring a place that is completely new to all your senses. Perhaps it’s a mixture of these things, but I think most people who have a passion for traveling would agree. I find it both fascinating and humbling to have witnessed the sights of the south of France this past week. It was truly marvelous.

We spent three days each in Nice and Cannes. Nice was quite charming to me. Despite that I’d heard it is very touristy, I thought it was authentic and inviting. The locals were kind and friendly.We spent much of our time there on the beach, which I can never get enough of. We also traveled to Eze village, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Nice. It is filled with tiny artisan shops and cozy restaurants built into narrow, winding streets. We took a bus from Nice to Eze and the scenery was beautiful. Eze village sits high in the hills, which makes for gorgeous views. I enjoy visiting smaller towns because of the intimacy they offer.

On Sunday afternoon we arrived in Cannes. I couldn’t sleep the previous night, so I suffered through the next day. Even our host mom at our bed & breakfast noticed how different I was! I recently read that sleep deficiency causes inflammation in the body of an average, healthy person. When you don’t get at least 6 hours or more of undisrupted sleep, your body produces C reactive protein (CRP).

My body is already on inflammation over drive, so when I don’t sleep, my health immediately takes a hit. In other words, I become another person! And I don’t like her! However, I managed to get through the day of hauling my suitcase up and down stairs, on and off trains, and in and around hotels. I was so relieved when we finally made it to our hotel in Cannes. We took the train to Cannes which was a quick & smooth 30 minute ride. So easy!

I was looking forward to visiting the famed site of of the Cannes film festival, the Palais des Festivals Et des Congres. Although I’d also heard that Cannes is more enjoyable to visit, I adored Nice. Cannes is very flashy and full of high-end, designer shops on the Croisette, the main street on the beach promenade. And although that’s fun to revel in (and fantasize), I much rather quaint shops with character and old world charm. However, this is not to take away from the fabulous city of Cannes, its beautiful shores and sparkling glamour.

It does boast plenty of culture and art. We visited La Malmaison museum whose current exhibition is a collection of nude artwork by Picasso. I loved it! There were tons of museums to visit. You’d need a week just to see the museums alone.

One of my favorite experiences while in Cannes was drinking a cafe au lait on Rue de St. Antoine. I have almost completely eliminated coffee from my diet, because it doesn’t work well with my medicine, but I saved my last night to indulge. Mmmm! What a privilege it was to have a cafe au lait in a tiny, corner cafe on a street in the south of France. Blessed!

On our last day in France, we visited the town of Antibes. This was my favorite part. It was a small town filled with local artisan shops, restaurants and patisseries. The beach was smaller, but it was lovely. The shore is surrounded by a fortress, and it gives the beach an exclusivity that is I wish we had more time to spend there. I would love to go back again!

I was sad to leave France. It didn’t take long to feel both welcomed and acquainted there. Yet, it felt like a dream too. When I look at my pictures, it seems surreal. I hope to return again someday, and take my mom and dad there. I know they would truly marvel in appreciate the wonder that is the Cote d’Azur.

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