Moving to Pinehurst from Sweden via New York has taught me a thing or two about relaxing.

I haven't really had a relaxing moment since before my kids were born. (Sorry, girls, but it's true.) We've moved six or seven times since my 9-year-old was born in Switzerland. Two of the moves were international. Once to Sweden and then to New York. Not to mention the relocations we did before the girls - from Chicago to Sweden to England to Switzerland.

There wasn't much time left for my husband and me. We were overwhelmed with two full-time jobs, two kids and what seemed a never-ending process of filling out change-of-address forms. Sometimes we were double-forwarding mail just to keep up. And of course, the paperwork was always in a foreign language, just to keep us on our toes. When we did get time, we did the only thing totally exhausted parents could do. We slept.

Moving to Pinehurst took a lot of the stress out of our lives. Here we've found so much less traffic. I relish my weekly drive to the airport. Most of the time, I have the road to myself. And if you avoid that darned Traffic Circle, you can go weeks without much traffic at all. You can almost always find a parking spot wherever you go. Such a bonus.

The neighbors are not only nice, they have plenty of time to talk, and often stop by with suggestion and tips. Heck, they even throw welcome-to-the-neighborhood parties. And best of all, they are always at least a whole house away. No more noisy apartment neighbors for us!

In addition to all these de-stressing factors, there is also more opportunity for exercise. I kayak almost daily when in town. My husband is learning to play golf when he isn't working or shuttling the kids. The girls are swimming and playing tennis. It's easy when outside is so close. There is such a wonderful feeling in being just steps away from the outdoors.

Yes. More outdoors - the ultimate de-stressing ingredient. It is quite amazing to be able to sit outside undisturbed by smog, undisturbed by jet planes and commuter trains, undisturbed by highway traffic, undisturbed by the neighbors in the next apartment balcony.

Those of you who have been here for some time have probably forgotten how very delicious that silence is.

Silence. I was enjoying such silence the other day outside by myself. I easily got lost in my thoughts surrounded by all that amazing silence until it was disturbed by a noise. This was a noise I have since completely fallen in love with -- the sound of a pine cone falling.

You have to hear it a few times to really become acquainted with it. And to hear it, you have to be totally relaxed, very still and completely quiet. Better yet, your eyes should be closed too. If you aren't in this state of relaxation, you won't hear the start of the fall. Somewhere way up there, the tree lets go of the cone and it begins its decent. You can hear it create an ever-so-slight wind whistle on its way down, sometimes interrupted by a brush with a branch, until, at its highest velocity, it hits the ground with a thud and silence resumes.

There's nothing quite like it. I wish I could bottle it and sell it. Or patent it. But I can't.

So I shall satisfy myself with claiming to have invented a new definition - indeed, a new method - for relaxing. Simply put, relaxing is hearing a pine cone fall. You see, to hear it you have to commit some time to, well, doing nothing. So when it comes, it becomes a confirmation of being in the state of relaxation.

I think of it as the Sandhills' very own version of Zen. The resort hotels should include instructions for relaxing in their welcome package for visitors. Step 1: Go outside. Step 2: Wait. Step 3: Hear a pine cone fall. Step 4: Repeat.

So now, if you run into someone in the street who looks a little stressed, tell them to take a pine cone break and explain what it means. I am going to make it a greeting in our household. Instead of saying: "Hi. How was your day?" I will start saying: "Did you hear a pine cone fall today?"

The answer will say it all.

Marybeth Sandell, a Pinehurst resident, travels regularly in her work.


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