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Happy New Year!  Want to have a healthy, wealthy and happy year?  Start by dining on black-eyed peas.

At exactly midnight, like millions around the world,  we brought in the new year with a kiss and a champagne toast.  The other New Year’s Day tradition we followed was one that filled our spirits and stomachs with good luck.  We hosted our traditional New Year’s Day dinner. It was a satiating feast of  black-eyed peas, cabbage, cornbread and, instead of the traditional chitlins, ham or hog jowl or fatback, we served baked salmon.

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Black-eyed peas and cornbread with greens—collards, cabbage, mustard greens or a green salad—are a longtime tradition embraced by many in the United States from the South. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day has been a part of the Southern tradition for more than 200 years and considered good luck for at least 1,500 years.

The tradition may have traveled to America with the Sephardic Jews around the 1730s when they settled in Georgia. It was a tradition to eat black-eyed peas in celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Initially black-eyed peas were used as food for livestock, therefore, the crop was ignored by General Sherman’s troops during the Civil War and became a major source of food for surviving Confederate soldiers.

Why is the meal considered good luck?  The foods symbolize money and prosperity throughout the year. Black-eyed peas are associated with coins or pennies. Greens, the color of money, represent paper dollars. Cornbread symbolizes  gold. Black-eyed peas eaten with tomatoes represent wealth and good health.

There are several other traditions associated with the good luck meal. Adding a shiny penny or dime to the pot just before serving is one. When served, the person whose bowl contains the penny or dime receives the best luck for the New Year. If the person swallows the coin, naturally it’s an unlucky start.

Many believe you must eat at least 365 black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to have prosperity throughout the year. Happy eating and happy New Year!

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Hello 2012.  We’re ready to enjoy a new year of new events.

From film festivals to fashion weeks, from movie to music awards shows, from the Olympics to elections, this year will be full of eventful activities filled with special twists we find so appealing.  First up, the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.  Next,  the movie awards season launches with the Golden Globes, SAG, and People’s Choice Awards.   This summer, we can’t wait for London to light the Olympic torch for the games—and the parties—to begin.  Our politically active self  is thrilled about all the political parties and presidential elections taking place throughout the world this year from Senegal to France to our own U.S. presidential election in November.

Our world is full of life and life is full of events.  Those that have twist are the ones we’ll find in 2012.

Life is full of events.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh Image by Geoff Livingston via Flickr

Not all events are launches, openings, award shows, parties or weddings.  Here’s a twist, a lecture event.

Yesterday, I attended a lecture that was the ultimate Zen event in a city known more for zealots than Zen.   Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh delivered the Annual Walter Capps-Bill Emerson Memorial Lecture, before a capacity crowd of members of congress, their families, congressional staff and others linked to the Washington, D.C. world of politics.  It was co-hosted by The Faith & Politics Institute and the United States Institute of Peace.   Yes, Thich Nhat Hanh is the same Zen master and peace activist who Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 and he was on the Hill talking about mindfulness and peace.

Closing Song Sung by Nun

From the moment I walked into the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress and saw the 84-year-old Zen master center stage meditating with other brown-robed nuns and monks, I felt transformed to another space through the aura of calmness that permeated the place.   I knew this was not a typical Capitol Hill activity.   The room exuded an uncommon trait for a Hill event, there was an authentic warmth, a sense of peace and mindfulness, no visible stress, black and grey were replaced with soft browns and tan colors and no checking Blackberrys or cell phones.   Naturally, Thich Nhat Hanh’s presence along with his talk, “Path Toward Peace: Cultivating Clarity, Compassion and Courage in Political Life,” and his soft, unhurried voice set the tone for the relaxing Zen experience and for bringing the “miracle of mindfulness to Capitol Hill.”    By the way, the next day the Zen master was offering the practice of mindfulness with members of congress during an overnight retreat with the idea “that a community of mindfulness practitioners is very well positioned to engage in the type of quality-focused congressional outreach that we know is most influential.”

Thich Naht Hanh at Library of Congress

Calm became cool for one evening on Capitol Hill.   That’s unique.   It would be wonderful to see more mindful conversations in Congress.    That might take some courage.   But Thich Nhat Hanh did say, “courage is power” so the powerful may consider the option.

This Zen experience proved that all events don’t have to be loud to have deep impact.  Creating the right atmosphere and adhering to good intentions make all the difference in producing the outcome you want for any event.

That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” (Steve Jobs, 1998)

Steve Jobs changed the world.  He understood how to deliver a great event.  Give people simple style.  Give them a new design.  Give them what they want—an experience.  And he did that with the release of iTunes, iPod, iPad and more.  Steve Jobs simply thought differently.