What’s in it For Me?

Go ahead and ask, “What’s in it for me?” You may cringe when you read that. I know a lot of people feel like they’re currently surrounded by selfishness. But I really want to explore the opposite: What’s in it for me when I give my time to help someone else?

My timing may seem off to you. Most of us are struggling just to get through the craziness of 2020. But sometimes the best way to get past a struggle is to help someone else. I’m not suggesting that you leave your home or take more risks of exposure to COVID-19. There are many ways to contribute from where you sit.

When you feel bored, anxious, or worried, changing focus can work wonders. But it can be hard to think of a constructive way to use your time when you’re stuck at home with nothing on the agenda. So, let’s go back to the question at hand, “What’s in it for me?

I’ve fallen into some really great opportunities to volunteer by attending a training, workshop, or lecture. I go for the intellectual stimulation, but I stay because I find a place I feel I can make a difference. This year, I’ve discovered I can actually attend more events because there’s no travel involved and fees have been lowered.

You don’t have to be passionate about any particular cause to make a difference. Perhaps your talent is making connections. You may be able to help a friend or associate find a new job by putting them into contact with people you know. You may be the perfect person to solicit committee members, put together a task force, or provide resources for a newcomer. You could end up introducing someone to a new partner. The right introduction can change a life.

If you’re a good communicator, you may want to write letters to teens residing in behavioral health hospitals. With COVID limiting visitors, children can use extra comforting words. Our nursing home residents and prisoners can also use extra comfort this year. Words are powerful. They can provide distraction and inspiration.

And let’s not forget healthcare workers. I have a handful of doctors I email or text on a regular basis to let them know I appreciate them. In spite of their added burdens, they often respond with encouraging messages for me. These are incredible people! And although it is not my intent for them to feel obligated to respond, there’s a lot of gratitude and reassurance available for me to absorb.

If you’re crafty, you can knit caps for newborns, sew masks for hospital visitors, or create Christmas stockings for teachers and fill them with supplies. This Christmas, I’m planning to fill stockings with holiday treats for my neighbors and leave them on their porches. I did this for Easter and the 4th of July. It’s a tiny thing to do, but brightening their day brightens mine.

And that’s the point. If you feel there’s something missing from your life, try giving that something to someone else. I’m not saying to do this in place of self-care, but as a form of self-care. We often think of giving as a tiring obligation, until we try it. Once you start using your time to create joy or comfort for someone else, you’ll be amazed how it will fill your heart and bring you joy as well.

There you have it. That’s what’s in it for me.

Volunteer Opportunities

Lessons from the Garden

While I was pulling weeds yesterday, I began reflecting on lessons from the garden. Beyond healthy food, fresh air, sunshine, and closeness to the Earth, gardening brings other positives. And time in the garden when your hands are busy, but your mind is free is time that can be spent exploring them.

I’m not a landscape-pretty raised-bed gardener. Even though I live in the city, I garden like we did on the farm. I have a wire fence enclosure and plant seeds directly in the ground. I’m not as haphazard as my stepfather who just throws a few seeds in a patch of weeds and lets them all grow together. I have rows and I weed in between them as well as in between the plants.

My watering schedule is observational and instinctive. I try to mimic nature. Sometimes I spray with the hand sprayer to impersonate a hard rain that removes larvae from leaves. Other times I use a sprinkler to mimic a slow, soaking rain. If an afternoon is hot, sunny, and bright, I don’t water. Nature would rarely combine heat, bright sun, and rain. So far, I’ve been rewarded with good harvests.

That brings me right back to lessons from the garden:

Finding Balance

Balance is key to my health as well as the health of my garden. Finding balance is part instinct and part effort. My senses tell me when I haven’t had enough water to drink or enough sleep. If I’m a careful observer, I know when I need to say no to that one small obligation that will rob me of needed down time. I know when I need to seek something that stimulates my mind or comforts me physically.

While it sounds like a simple planning issue, a schedule doesn’t work perfectly for keeping balance. Unexpected weather rolls in and everything changes.

Yield to the Weather

And so the garden teaches me that I must yield to the weather. Think how much time we spend attempting to anticipate the weather. Newscasts feature forecasts multiple times an hour. A phone app or website tells us what’s happening 10 days out. We discuss it with friends and look out the window and still sometimes we’re left in a house with no food and no power because a tropical storm turns out to be a Category 2 hurricane or a tornado roars through.

Obviously, not all sudden shifts are from the weather, but the principle applies. With any sudden change that I can’t control, my options are to be flexible and adapt to my new situation or be stuck with a plan that no longer fits.


While my spring garden had a few weeds, my fall garden was overrun with them by the time I finished forming rows to plant. I weeded and within a day or two the weeds were back. Swift weed removal became my focus. Then I walked down the row of mâche and realized I couldn’t tell the seedlings from the weeds. In order to protect the mâche, I had to let both grow for awhile.

I’m not much for waiting when I know a task is at hand, but the garden teaches patience. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later the wait paid off and there was no question which plants should be removed.

Estimations Can be Wrong

It’s hard to gauge the size of a harvest the first year. You can estimate. You can follow the guidance of experienced gardeners, but your particular garden plot will be unique. Greens may do well and carrots may not. Two of your rows may get more shade than you realized. Having a contingency plan when estimates don’t pan out is always a good idea.

Small Wounds Can Yield Big Pain

My garden has ants. If you’ve ever had an ant bite, you already know the kind of pain they can inflict. It seems wrong. They’re so small. And their bites are so tiny. In fact, they’re so small you may ignore a bite at first. But soon it itches. Then it hurts. A blister forms. By the next day, your whole finger or hand may be swollen. You can’t think about anything besides the bite (especially if there are multiples). All the while, your brain is telling you this is silly. It’s only a tiny ant bite. Get a grip.

Like the physical response to an ant bite, an emotional response may seem disproportionate to a situation. When that response is yours, you may immediately understand that you’re responding to much more than anyone else sees. This is just the straw or it triggered an emotional flashback of sorts. Other times, you may witness someone else experience a large pain that appears to come from a small wound. This can be disconcerting.

Maintaining a connection and holding space for each other to work things out is a soothing compress. The swelling must subside before the pain is gone and that takes a minute. Thank goodness the garden already taught us patience!

For lunch I enjoyed a spinach salad fresh with lessons from the garden. Yum!

Ant Bites

Scaling Back Thanksgiving

Here are some tips for scaling back Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is such a great time to embrace extended family! For years, I hosted a Saturday-after dinner for 26 relatives who live nearby. It started as a Hamming it Up celebration and continued through a year when I burned the ham and another when my stove was broken. It was the only time of year the whole group got together. Your family may enjoy similar gatherings. This year, many of our traditions will change as we scale back in order to be safe.

None of us like giving up the traditions we love. We don’t even like putting them temporarily on hold. At this moment, my family is experiencing a reminder of why a different plan may be necessary this year whether we like it or not. My father’s youngest sister died a few weeks ago. Now two of my cousins who attended her funeral are sick with COVID-19.

Exposure is one of the risks we must weigh as we determine the number of this year’s invitations. While this is a hard reality, it doesn’t have to mean the menu is peanut butter sandwiches even if you’re only joining the family via Zoom. Luckily, I’ve prepared one-and-two-person Thanksgiving meals as often as large ones, so I am familiar with techniques for enjoying familiar flavors at a smaller scale.

When planning meals, I like to think a few meals past the event. What will be good served as leftovers? What do we enjoy so much I need to prepare extra helpings? What can easily be repurposed into other dishes? Can I share any leftovers with elderly neighbors or friends? Answering these questions helps me determine whether I need to alter a recipe or consider a replacement.

On a normal year, I make dressing that starts with two recipes of cornbread. This is a family favorite, so we often eat more than one serving each at the main meal. Even so, it feeds eight and still leaves leftovers. If there will only be four people at the table, I cut the recipe in half. If there are only two, I substitute rice pilaf.

Turkeys come in many sizes. If you anticipate that the smallest whole bird will leave too many leftovers, consider a turkey breast. For one or two people, I opt for Cornish hens. Some years these are hard to come by so it’s smart to shop early.

I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes, but not candied yams. That means, I usually opt for baked sweet potatoes with a little salt and butter even when I have a crowd. If you want the candied yam experience for one without lots of prep time, consider topping a baked sweet potato with butter, brown sugar, and a dollop of marshmallow crème.

If you prefer a little brown crunch on your marshmallows, you can treat a baked sweet potato like a twice baked potato. Once the potato is done, gently remove the inside from the skin. Mix in butter and brown sugar. Return to the skin. Top with marshmallow halves. Place under the broiler until the top of the marshmallow browns.

For a couple, sautéed fresh green beans is a faster and easier preparation than a casserole. If that doesn’t seem special enough, green bean bundles are another great option. I also like apricot glazed green beans from time to time. They’re fast, easy, and special all at once.

If you are only serving one or two people but still want a casserole, here’s an easy one that can be made in about 10 minutes:

Spinach and Rice

3 tbsp butter

1/4 cup diced onion

2 Minute® Ready to Serve White Rice cups

1/2 cup drained canned spinach

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

Place butter and onion in a 1-quart microwaveable casserole dish. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave.

Cook each cup of rice separately per package directions. Add rice, spinach, and half of the cheese to onion and butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Top with remaining cheese and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Serve hot.

If baking rolls from scratch sounds like too much trouble, frozen gluten-free Brazilian cheese rolls may be an option. First, and most importantly, they’re delicious! Some are available through grocery pick-up and delivery. In my city, there’s a bakery that makes these. They sell them baked or frozen delivered by multiple services.

Even if the crowd size is reduced, you may want to keep the desserts large and cut back the number of choices. Pie is always a special treat, but I serve all sorts of desserts for Thanksgiving. I’ve made personal size orange cakes, panna cotta with sweet potato topping, and cheesecake. I also like banana bread, pumpkin bread, and iced pumpkin cookies. If you want to eat dessert over a long period of time, making cookie dough and freezing three-fourths, one-half, or one-third of it for the holiday and saving the best for later can help you resist the temptation of eating more than you plan in one sitting.

Some areas are still experiencing periodic shortages. Allowing more lead time and having some backup recipes will make the holiday less stressful as you scale back Thanksgiving.

I’ve focused on adapting traditional Thanksgiving flavors, but many of us will have more freedom to shift gears and enjoy nontraditional menus this year. Whether you choose clam chowder or chili, hot dogs or shrimp, prime rib or neck bones, enjoying your selection with gusto is the recipe for a successful Thanksgiving holiday!

Brazil Bites

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Free Your Mind

“Free your mind and the rest will follow.” 1

Remember that song, “Free Your Mind” from the 1990s? It’s seared into my memory by a moment on the dance floor. I looked to my right and grooving to En Vogue as if she had not a care in the world was a woman about to go on trial for killing her husband. I knew her from the pictures that were plastered on the front of my newspaper every day. I felt shocked, amazed, and somehow challenged/inspired. Even if she was innocent, how could she possibly feel free enough to fully enjoy that moment?

I’ve come back to this question from time to time in the ensuing decades. I inherently understand that no matter what has happened or what other people think, my thoughts are mine. And I’m happy letting my mind roam free. But understanding on a deeper level why she could dance freely in a situation in which I would be more likely to hide requires an exploration of the emotions, training, and thinking that limit me.

Exploring these has led me to some thoughts on how can freeing your mind improve your life. Here are a few:

You cannot control anyone but yourself.

The dancing alleged murderer could not control the crime investigation, the newspaper reports, her employer (who fired her the minute she was arrested without waiting to see if she was guilty), or any of us on the dance floor. She could only control herself.

Attempting to impose limits on someone else so that they will conform to you is futile. When you change yourself, everything around you will shift. Sometimes this may be joyfully in the direction you desire. Other times it will be painful. I witnessed a moment of joy on that dance floor. No matter what my training said about an alleged criminal enjoying life with abandonment, that moment was inspiring.

For everything you think you know about someone, you don’t know much unless you’re willing to invest.

So often we make choices based on people’s outward presentation. This limits our choices for friendships, romantic partners, employees, and caregivers. The caregiver who treats you with kindness, gentleness, affection, and respect may use bad grammar or vote for another political party. The well-read, well-spoken, impeccably dressed professor may beat his wife.

My parents greatly diverged in their understanding of this concept. Very few of my dad’s friends were acceptable to my mother. They were mostly what you’d call colorful characters that brought him laughter, adventure, and intellectual stimulation. My mother preferred socially acceptable appearance above all else. She missed many opportunities for expanding her thinking and enriching her life even within our extended family.

Free your mind to visualize.

When you learn to waterski, you also learn to fall. If you can’t get the falling out of your mind, you won’t get it out of your muscle memory. We accept that many sports require conquering the mind game. Life in general is no different. And just like you can improve your basketball shot by visualizing, you can improve your chances of becoming successful at any goal using the same technique.

I’m not saying that visualization will suddenly make me a great basketball player, but unless I can see the possibility of becoming one, I’m doomed before I start. Many of us have learned how to visualize failure.

Most limits are self-imposed.

If your initial response to this statement is a four-letter word, that’s not surprising. It’s more enticing to believe that we are limited by outside forces. It is a fact that outside forces affect us and may change the options, but they limit us less than we believe they do. When we let go of the idea that outside forces control our fate, we are required to face our own demons.

Taking responsibility for our limiting thoughts and behavior is much more emotionally difficult. It may require processing through anger, grief, and loss. It may require a shift in self-image. It will require some decisions that don’t feel good. Letting go of self-imposed limits is not easy, but to the degree it’s hard it’s also healing and rewarding.

Flip the script.

If you understand the value of freeing your mind but aren’t sure how to start seeing the possibilities, try flipping the script. For example, instead of imagining only how awful you’ll feel if you don’t get the job you really want, imagine how great you’ll feel when you do. Don’t stop there. Imagine days, months, and years filled with excitement and fulfillment. Hold onto those thoughts and feelings until you feel a shift from anxiety to confidence.

It is at that moment that the world of possibilities will open. You don’t need that particular job anymore. You want it, but it’s not the only gig in the world worth having. There are millions of opportunities. When your mind is free to embrace all the options, you’ll be free to see abundance instead of scarcity.

It’s not mind over matter.

For some this will work differently. If you have experienced significant trauma, you may need to free your body before you can free your mind. The two are significantly intertwined. There’s nothing wrong with this and there are great tools to help – somatic experiencing therapy, EMDR, and yoga for trauma are all great options for helping your body release so your mind can follow.

Another benefit of freeing your mind is problem solving will get easier. There are multiple solutions to any problem that presents itself. An open mind makes it possible to imagine creative and innovative approaches. Easier problem solving alone is a great reason to free your mind!

I’ll just dance my way out now.