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The Chi of DC

Wed Feb 01 2017 | Author: Carol Olmstead
Every year on New Year’s Day or soon after, I take on major clutter clearing projects around my house. This year, after I did an obligatory closet clearing, I tackled my computer, and that’s where things got interesting.

I started with my desktop, deleting and filing files so the only folders remaining were the ones I clicked on frequently. Then, I went through my email folders, deleting or archiving the emails within them, then deleting the folders. Dozens of them. Or was it hundreds of them? I emptied the trash many times as I continued to get rid of information that was no longer relevant.

That felt so good I moved on to my website, where I was shocked to find many of the resources in my Links section were outdated or led to that dreaded 404 error code. Out they went. I updated the remaining resources with the correct link.

DCPlan175
Next, I moved on to the Media section where I post articles that have been written about me and my Feng Shui practice, links to my videos, press releases, and assorted other info in my digital media kit. That’s where I discovered a long-forgotten interview I had done with Where Washington, a Washington, DC, magazine. The article was The Chi of DC by Corinne Whiting.

The editor had given me an aerial view of the layout of our capital city as designed by architect Pierre L'Enfant and asked me to perform a Feng Shui analysis. Among other things, she writes about how I characterized the straight line of the National Mall as a “poison arrow,” and the natural location of the city on the curve of the Potomac River as a positive feature. Despite the fact that the article was written in 2008 and many things have changed around the National Mall, I was struck by the timelessness of my analysis of the juxtaposition of the Capitol and the White House.

There's nothing political here, only a timely Feng Shui statement about how the layout of a city can affect what goes on within its boundaries:
L'Enfant called for a grand boulevard to connect the two seats of power, a direct line now disrupted by the Treasury Building. Olmstead sees Pennsylvania Avenue as a symbol of communication flow, yet she would prefer that the White House and Capitol be sited at slight angles (directly facing would be too "confrontational"). The Capitol's elevation asserts not just its dominant position in the cityscape but the very nature of democracy: the president must listen to the people. Could it be that the founding fathers did have "a natural sense" of the capital's design after all?

What do you think? Read the article, then email me with your thoughts about how the layout of Washington, DC – or another capital or major city – affects what goes on in that seat of power.

Posted in: General | Tags: feng shui, Washington, DC, DC, White House, Capitol, National Mall, chi


Memories

Sat Apr 16 2016 | Author: Carol Olmstead
Cemetery
I experienced two deaths within days of each other this month, first my beloved Aunt Lily and then my dear friend's mom, Sylvia. Both women were family matriarchs, and despite being in their 90s, their deaths are difficult for family and friends. As I sat in the house my aunt had lived in for more than 60 years, I realized that I would never return, never see her unique wallpaper, or sit on the carefully-selected furniture, or admire the art objects she had collected on exciting trips around the world - several of which I shared with her.

A house is more than the sum total of the objects we put in it, but I couldn't stop thinking about how I would miss these familiar objects and how complicated it would be for the family to deal with them.

Years ago I had to close up my father's apartment and deal with my parents' furniture and the objects they had collected for almost 75 years together. I donated as much as I could and had the rest shipped to a storage unit near my home in another state. Every few days I would go to the unit and bring home a box or two to unpack. I had expected that I would be adding to my collection with my mom's porcelain, silver, and art, because these were all a vivid part of my childhood. But, I found little in each box that I wanted to keep - each item had my mother's touch and related to my parent's life but didn't fit with my own decor or style. Things that seemed perfect to me as a child in reality had chips and cracks. I decided to keep a few representative items, like my mom's needlepoint piano bench, the few cups and saucers from her large collection that I had given to her as birthday gifts, two 1950s silk scarves from my parents' trip to Paris, the demitasse spoons engraved with the name of a famous hotel (your secret is safe with me, Mom). I selected a few of the doilies she had crocheted commuting on the train to see my father when he was in Army basic training during World War II. I cut the fabric flower off the dress she wore to my wedding. I donated the rest. In less than three months I could give up the storage unit because it was empty.

Feng Shui was developed in China to help locate family graves in the most auspicious location. The basic rule was "water in front of the grave, mountain behind, and luxuriant plants around," which was supposed to protect the offspring and bring them peace, health, fortune, good luck, and other positive qualities. My aunt joins my parents, uncle, and grandparents in the family plot in a location that comes pretty close to this Feng Shui rule. I'm honored that this location conveys protection and good fortune to the living members of our family.



Posted in: General | Tags: Feng Shui, cemetery, funeral, memories, chi, graves


Birds Bouncing Badly

Tue Feb 24 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
Bird250
Two birds have already bounced off my office windows this morning – one hit the window across from my desk and the other dive-bombed into the window on my left – and it’s not even 9am. Yesterday, a bird bounced off the other window across from my desk. Fortunately, they all seemed to have survived. But it seems to be the season for bombardier birds, because last weekend I got a frantic email from a friend who lives about 5 miles from me saying that 14 robins had bounced off the glassed-in room at the front of her house. Sadly, these fellows were not so fortunate as mine.

In Feng Shui, birds are considered powerful symbols of new opportunities that are there for you, even in times of adversity. So, I figured it was time to consult my colleagues at the International Feng Shui Guild (IFSG) about this one.

“Any Feng Shui significance with birds flying into windows?” I posted on the Guild's special private Facebook page.

“Sadly, this is likely a very mundane problem,” wrote Mia Staysko, Chair of the IFSG Board. “Usually, at two times of the year windows in buildings reflect in such a way as to make it appear that they are not there. The poor birds simply cannot see them."

I appreciated Mia’s explanation, and in fact the lighting was strange the morning my friend had her bird bombardment – the sun was gleaming off the mountains that were covered with new snow. Within seconds the sun got brighter and fog rolled in and created this eerie light so we couldn't see anything, and that could have easily spooked the birds.

But of course, since the IFSG welcomes all approaches to Feng Shui I wasn’t surprised to read a different take on the issue. “The robin is the symbol of spring and of new growth," wrote another colleague, and whenever birds hit windows like that it’s the universe trying to get the attention of the people in the home." Another colleague suggested that the message from the birds was to ask where you're resisting growth in your life or in the affected bagua area. And another added that death of a bird or any animal is about transformation for the observer. "It seems like the people in the bird-bombed house are resisting moving forward in some area of their life."

OK, now I'm listening.

And leave it to the always-grounded Mia to come back with another take on my bouncing birds. “I don't mean to rain on the metaphysical parade with this explanation," she added, "but sometimes there is meaning in things and sometimes birds just hit windows. And if it was a big flock who tend to stick together, if one goes down, they all follow."

Hummingbird in garage280
Last summer a hummingbird flew into our garage. It perched on the bright red and blue cross-country skis hanging on the wall (I never knew hummingbirds could stop flapping their wings long enough to perch but it did), and then after a minute it flew up into the skylight. When it couldn’t get outside that way it flew back to the skis. The poor little thing did this four times as we gently tried to use a broom to aim it toward the open door. Finally, it got the message, flew out the door, and then went straight up like a rocket until it disappeared into the stratosphere.

So, okay, maybe I'm the one with the bird issue after all. My Feng Shui colleagues advise putting decals on the windows. My granddaughter Izzy says I should put out a warning sign for the birds. Maybe it's time for my friend and I to sit down with a bottle of Grey Goose to toast our bouncing birds and try to figure out just what transformation we're resisting.


Posted in: General | Tags: feng shui, birds, symbols, windows, bagua


This is Your Brain on Curves

Thu Oct 31 2013 | Author: Carol Olmstead
Foyer250
I got a new watch last Mother’s Day, a Raymond Weil with a beautiful mother of pearl dial, which I picked out myself. I started out look for my standard round dial but when the salesman suggested I try something new I decided on the rectangular face. So why, I’ve been asking myself for the past six months later, can’t I warm up to my new rectangular watch? Well, it looks like I finally found the answer in an article shared by one of my colleagues at the International Feng Shui Guild. According to the article “Why Our Brains Love Curvy Architecture” on FastCoDesign.com, people are far more likely to call something beautiful when its design is round instead of linear. It seems our brains may just be hard-wired to love the curve.

Time and again when people are asked to choose between an object that's linear and one that's curved, they prefer the latter. That goes for everything from architecture, to curly fonts (is that why I love Comic Sans?), to curvy cushions on couches, to dental floss with round packaging, and you guessed it, round watch faces.

As a Feng Shui practitioner I’m always recommending that my clients replace their hard angled furniture with curved pieces. And, I recently started consulting on a landscape plan for a campus that was a World War II airfield, where you can bet I’m recommending nothing but curves to combat the long runway-like walkways. But, it never occurred to me that my abrupt change from a round to a square watch face would make such a difference.

And here’s another example of how the Feng Shui requirement for curves has some science behind it - neuroscientists have shown that this love of the curve isn't just a matter of personal taste, it's part of our basic brain chemistry. A research team led by psychologist Oshin Vartanian of the University of Toronto at Scarborough compiled 200 images of interior architecture. Some of the rooms had a round style, while others had a rectangular shape. The researchers put their subjects in a brain imaging machine, showed them the pictures, and then asked them to label each room as "beautiful" or "not beautiful." They reported that participants were far more likely to consider a room beautiful when it was filled with curves rather than straight lines. Twice as many women as men took part in the study, but the preference for roundness seemed to be universal.

The researchers also found that people looking at a curved design had significantly more activity in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex, compared to people who were looking at linear decorations. This brain area has many cognitive functions, including its involvement in emotion, causing the researchers to suggest that curved designs use our brains to “tug at our hearts.”

"Our preference for curves can not be explained entirely in terms of a 'cold' cognitive assessment of the qualities of curved objects," says Vartanian. "Curvature appears to affect our feelings, which in turn could drive our preference."

Another brain imaging study, conducted several years ago by Moshe Bar and colleagues of Harvard Medical School, found that viewing objects with sharp aspects - like couches with pointed edges and watches like mine with a rectangular face - activated the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that processes fear. These researchers suggest that the reason human brains associate sharp lines with threats is that pointed objects have long signaled physical danger. Curves, by comparison, are seen as the absence of threat, and therefore harmless and safe.

Who knew that my brain would feel this way about a watch face?

Looks like it’s time to Feng Shui my watch face (pun intended). Guess it’s a good thing that Chanukah and Christmas are right around the corner.

Posted in: General | Tags: feng shui, shapes, curve, curvy rectangle, science, research


Is Your Home Making You Fat?

Sun Aug 25 2013 | Author: Carol Olmstead
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It seems that “obesogenic” is a real word meaning “causing obesity,” and it was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary last year. And you can imagine that as a Feng Shui practitioner I was pretty intrigued by the article “Is Your Home Obesogenic” in Real Simple magazine. I had no doubt that a house could affect your weight, especially since I’ve written articles about how to rearrange a house to encourage weight loss. But I wanted to see how the science matched the Feng Shui. Here are their suggestions that pass my Feng Shui checklist:

Dine Off Salad Plates. The average size of a dinner plate has ballooned by 23 percent since 1900, and therefore the amount we put on it has ballooned, too. Cornell researchers suggest that switching from 12-inch to 10-inch plates could help you consume up to 22 percent fewer calories. And I add my Feng Shui suggestion to dine on blue plates, since they make you eat slower.

Rearrange Your Food. “We find that people are three times as likely to take the first thing they see when they open the cupboard than the fifth thing they see,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. “Hide and eat less” even works with candy, because Wansink’s team observed that people dip into candy bowls 71 percent more frequently when the bowls are transparent than when they are white.

Stock Smarter. The Cornell researchers found that when people put four boxes of crackers on their shelves instead of their usual two, they ate the extra boxes faster than normal, until they were left with the amount they usually have on hand. The simple solution - keep everything you wouldn’t typically go through in a week on a high shelf or in the garage.

Make Your Food Look Dramatic. Serve light foods on dark tableware and dark foods on light. This is basic Feng Shui yin-yang theory. In a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people served themselves more when their dishes matched the foods they were eating than when they were given contrasting plates. That means since your mashed potatoes are less noticeable on a white plate, you'll pay less attention to how much you're dishing out and eating.

Stop Eating in Front of the TV. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate in front of the TV consumed more and were more likely to describe their meals as unsatisfying. And a study in Appetite showed that women who had lunch while watching television ate more cookies than did those who ate at a table.

Declutter. If you want your table to be a place where the family gathers for healthy meals, then it needs to be neat and inviting, not buried in homework and bills. Feng Shui practitioners can't stop saying enough about this one.

Keep the Setting Mellow. Studies have found that fast, loud music makes people eat more. A review in Physiology & Behavior explains that noise makes it difficult to focus on the sensory experience of eating, which is essential to feeling satiated. Wansink has also found that brightly lit places inspire faster eating. Yup, Feng Shui says the same thing.

Clear Off Your Workout Equipment. Don’t use your treadmill as an extra closet, because it you have to spend even a few seconds removing a pile of clothes, you’re less likely to work out. If you exercise at the gym, create storage in your entry for your gym bag so you have a visual cue that your stuff is ready when you are.

Donate Your “Fat” Clothes. Bigger clothes send signals that you don’t expect to keep off any weight that you've lost. And if you’re wearing bigger clothes, you can’t keep tabs on your weight by keeping tabs on your waistband. My additional Feng Shui advice - you want to make room in your closet for new clothes, in smaller sizes, to find you.

Posted in: General | Tags: feng shui, weight loss, obesogenic, clutter, rearrange, fat




© Copyright 2017, Carol Olmstead