May 24, 2016

Is It Me or Is It Kanye? Practice. Practice. Practice.

I’ve been wondering if Kanye West is mostly delusional or just sometimes oddly effective. Of course, I’m knitting while I ponder this question which makes me further wonder – is it me or is it Kanye or is it everyone for that matter? Are we all a bit unhinged?

The words in the previous paragraph sound as loosely related as a Kanye West rant. See why I’m concerned? Here’s the deal…

I HAVE been knitting. It’s something I haven’t done in 25 years and really only did once before last week. I made a decently well-constructed pair of wool socks in 1980. Now socks may not be the easiest knitting project for a beginner, but at the time I was determined and willing to put in the concentration to keep uniform tension on the yarn and count rows when required. The ribbing at the ankles turned out perfectly.
sock
Through sheer force of will, I completed the socks, gave them as a gift, and vowed never to knit again. I understood that I had no real talent for it and not near enough patience. I was clear that my greatest contribution to the world would not come from a pair of knitting needles. Yet here I am 30 years later amusing my sister by adding rows to the one my mom had cast on a needle and trying to remember what it means to purl.

I can see what a terrible job I’m doing. The weave is too loose. There are dropped stitches here and there and I have no idea what I’m making. But will I stop, rip out the flawed rows, and start over? Oh hell no! I just keep going as though this is something I feel compelled to do – as if it’s a creation that will somehow add required beauty to the world.
knitting
This is where I begin to see a resemblance to Kanye. Why do I keep putting effort and time into something I know isn’t for me? Why not invest that time in an artistic pursuit at which I know I excel? Am I being effective? Does Kanye make an effective argument when he rants that he wants to make the world better and stop bullying by producing clothes? Maybe he’s already made the world a better place through his music.

So, here’s what I’m really wondering: Why do we sometimes promote our own outdated, unrealistic, or Ill-suited goals to the detriment of real, positive contributions we can make to our families, communities and the world? If this were a rarity it wouldn’t be worth noting. In my realm of personal contact, it is not rare. It is rampant. Of course this may indicate I need a new social circle, but I don’t think my experience is aberrational.

I don’t really plan to answer this question. I don’t have the answer. I believe the answer is rooted in our relationship to ourselves, our truth, and our perception of our place in the world. I think it has something to do with our relationship to shame and vulnerability. I think it has a lot to do with our relationship to fear. And I believe these are the same relationships that left neglected, disrupted, or dysfunctional leave us vulnerable to over indulgence in numbing behaviors – over-drinking, over-eating, over-working, over-scheduling, over-spending, binge watching, and drug dependence.

The question is complex, the answers myriad. But maybe the solution is simple! Practice. Practice. Practice.

Practice stillness. See what comes up.
Practice gratitude. It’s the quickest path to seeing a silver lining.
Practice self-compassion. This is where all real compassion begins.
Practice fearlessness. Sit with your fear as long as you can. Leave it. Come back to it. Eventually, that particular fear will be gone.
Practice truth telling. Allow yourself to see what is. Not what you want it to be.
Practice joy. Experience what makes you feel full, free, warm, and content. Choose those experiences.
Practice problem prevention. Make deliberate choices. Own the choices you make and the reasons you made them.
Practice forgiveness. Forgive yourself for your flaws, poor choices, harmful behaviors.
Practice health. Feed your body nutrients. Move, move, move. Lift. Breathe.
Practice curiosity. This is the path to unlimited possibility.
Practice healing. Learn to release yourself from your emotional habits.

Now, back to my knitting. It’s a great opportunity to practice truth telling, self-compassion, and problem prevention. The truth is, my knitting quality is poor. I don’t need to push myself to do a better job at it or try to convince anyone it’s going to turn out better than they think. I can prevent myself from feeling inadequate by giving up this activity that I recognize is not my forte – an act which is itself a practice in healing because feeling like a disappointment is one of my emotional habits.

Wow, now I feel grateful for this knitting experience! Look what a great opportunity for reflection it provided. And that, Kanye, is how you make peace with what is. You’re welcome.

May 17, 2016

One Pot Can Do a Lot

chicken one pot
I much prefer cooking to doing the dishes so I’m lucky that one pot can do a lot! I don’t mind chopping, slicing, measuring, whisking, stirring, beating, boiling, and baking, but when it comes to washing the dishes, I’d rather not. If you’re like me, cooking dinner can put you at odds with yourself if the preparation generates lots of pots and pans.

Reducing the amount of pot scrubbing required is one of the reasons I love a one pot meal, but it’s not the only one. One pot meals are a good way to make sure the kids get some vegetables on their plates. Hidden in a mountain of rice and cheese, a stray green pea can find its way onto a spoon without inciting protest from the picky eater.

There’s also something comforting about a hearty bite that combines meat, vegetables and a starch. Chicken, rice, and green peas with curry seasoning or ground beef, rice and black beans with taco seasoning is filling and satisfying whether you grab a bowl on the run or sit down and pair it with fruit and a green salad.
green one pot
And of course, the starch doesn’t have to be rice. I use potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, quinoa, and pasta in one pot meals. When the kids were little, I used to call our one pot meals “stuff”. There were many versions of stuff depending on what was in the fridge at any given moment. With corn I might use ground beef, with Polish sausage I’d choose pasta, and with sweet potatoes, we’d enjoy breakfast sausage.

Most often my one pot meals begin by sautéing an onion. Once the onion is clear, I add fresh vegetables or meat if I have leftover vegetables that are already cooked. While I don’t really make a sauce, I sometimes add sour cream, cheese and RO*TEL tomatoes, or cream cheese and season accordingly. Stuff is never exactly the same, but it is always good!

I always use an oversize pot and fill it with a one pot meal. That means leftovers galore. I may not eat them for several meals in a row, but they become my go-to quick meal throughout the week. I can dish some out into a bowl and microwave it for lunch, or put the pot back on the stove and heat it up for family dinner. Having something ready that I can eat when my schedule suddenly changes means I feel confident that I can keep going full speed ahead because I know I have nutritious gluten-free food available at a moment’s notice.
beef one pot
I love making one pot meals because they reduce the amount of pots and pans I have to wash. They make it easy to get the kids to eat more vegetables. They help me clean out the refrigerator. And best of all, they provide hearty, delicious leftovers that are ready with just one minute of microwaving so I always feel confident to go full speed ahead with my crazy, busy schedule.

I’m so grateful that one pot can do a lot!

May 11, 2016

Maybe the Big Picture is Really Smaller Than You Think

When it comes to living a fulfilling, healthy life, maybe the big picture is really smaller than you think. I’ve spent a week surrounded by irony. My sister and I are cleaning out my mom’s house. It’s a four room farmhouse that over the years grew to 3500 square feet. Located seven miles south of the nearest town and 10 minutes from the first national river, the setting is lush, green, pastoral.
porch
Mom was obsessed with her health. Well, not so much health as her “something must be wrong”. It’s a well catalogued journey. The house is filled with handwritten lists, typed medical history, actual medical records, lab reports, and book after book after book on health, healing, diet, meditation, spiritual healing, and alternative medicine.

It is also filled with spiders, trash, mouse poison dumped in odd places, and dust. The furnace filters clearly haven’t been changed recently. The kitchen counters were so dirty when we arrived that we had to scrub them before we’d even sort dusty dishes on them. The irony? One of Mom’s primary health obsessions was allergies. She wore a dust mask if she went outside and sometimes inside. Well, okay clearly she needed it inside this house.
trash
Another favorite focus was food allergies. In the past two days, I’ve read three allergy reports in which she had skin tests for food allergies. According to an email she wrote, she tested allergic to all but 14 foods. In the lab results I read, there was only one allergy common to all 3 reports – brewer’s yeast, and only 3 foods overall above the moderate range of sensitivity. This wasn’t all that surprising. One of our favorite family stories is the time she told a waiter not to bring her coffee with dessert because she couldn’t have caffeine and then asked him to please bring her a coke. Not only did he look confused, he actually asked her which way it was. Was she allergic to caffeine or not?

For all the time, energy, and attention devoted to identifying foods she could have in order to protect her health, she ate little nutrition at all. We used to laughingly say she lived on Dr. Pepper, saltine crackers, and the occasional piece of cherry pie for 20 years.

That is how I remember it, but I’ve always doubted whether that memory was accurate. Then I found a health history Mom had written. In it she says she drank 12 to 14 twelve ounce Dr. Peppers per day. I read it three times to make sure. 12 to 14. That’s 1800 – 2100 calories per day of nothing but soda. My mom was 5’7″ and never weighed over 125 lbs. It sounds like I wasn’t that far off. She was mostly living on Dr. Pepper.

After days and days of following her health saga in bits and pieces as I sort trash, recycle, shred, donate, sell; trash, recycle, shred, donate, sell; trash, recycle, shred, donate, sell, a clear pattern has emerged. If only Mom had taken small steps each day to change her environment, perhaps she would achieved the overall health or healing she was seeking. Instead, she created an environment that isn’t healthy for anyone. Each decision she made contributed to exactly the health crisis she feared.

If she had chosen not to buy over 300 books (we’ve boxed 310 so far) on allergies, alternative cures, cancer prevention, and spiritual healing, she would have had room on the book shelves for books that stimulated her passion or imagination. Or better yet, she’d have had less books to collect dust the dust that irritated her allergies.

If she had chosen to sit on the porch swing every morning and watch the bluebirds, cardinals, swallows, and woodpeckers I saw this morning while drinking a cup of coffee, maybe she would have felt a greater sense of wonder at the beauty in her front yard.

If she had chosen to ride horses with my dad and me, she could have felt the freedom of a rush of wind when the horse hits a gallop.

If she had tried the vegetables from my grandmother’s garden next to our house, perhaps she would have feared eating them less.

Or perhaps she just would have decided she didn’t like them any more. Last year when the blackberry bushes began to produce loads of delicious blackberries, she decided she wasn’t too fond of them after all.
black berries
I will never understand or be able to explain why my mother made the choices she made, but she has provided me with many reminders that the way to create overall health lies in the small choices I make to improve the quality of my life each day.

I can choose to lift weights because it makes my muscles feel more loose and I like that feeling. I can choose to practice yoga because it helps me recognize my tendency to hold my breath when I feel stressed. I can choose to spend time with people who love to laugh. I can make time to sit on the porch and watch the birds. I can read something interesting every day. I can let go of possessions when I no longer need them. I can say no to buying something new unless it solves a problem. I can spend time playing with my granddog. I can show up to help when I’m needed and stay out of things when I’m not. I can take time to plan my meals so that I eat a variety of fresh food that tastes great. I can make time for those I love. I can sit still. I can get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. I can practice gratitude and always, always tell myself the truth no matter how ugly it is.

Each of these choices is small and each of them improves the quality of any day. When I choose well, then add the days together, I construct a life that is improved one small choice at a time. Eventually, taking care of the small stuff every day will give me the big picture result I desire. And thus, the big picture turns out to be nothing more than one small choice at a time.

April 30, 2016

Travel Tip #15 – Food and Container in One

When you’re traveling, sometimes it’s nice to have your food and container in one and pitch it when you’re done. For the gluten-free among us, Bob’s Red Mill single serving Gluten Free Oatmeal Cups can fill the bill.
oatmeal row
I’m on the road again. I don’t think I’ve been home more than two weeks straight since December. The good thing is, the more you travel, the more you learn. Yesterday, I ran into a small health food market in hope of grabbing some gluten-free crackers to go with the tuna salad in my cooler.

I’m staying in a town of about 13,000 people in a rural area surrounded by mountains. The wireless service is severely lacking, but there are two health food markets that best the choices I have at home. In addition to gluten-free crackers, I chose 3 Gluten Free Oatmeal Cups. I thought it would be fun to try them out.

This morning, I gave the blueberry and hazelnut flavor a whirl. Making it was easy. I removed the lid (make sure to save it), pulled off the plastic seal and placed the bowl in the single serve coffee maker in my hotel room. The coffee cups provided by the hotel are similar in diameter to the oatmeal container, so I filled a coffee cup with water to a level approximating slightly under the fill line on the oatmeal container and poured it into the coffee maker. I put the coffee maker filter holder in place, but left it empty. Then I hit the power button.
coffeemaker
Hot water streamed into my oatmeal. When the level reached the fill line, I removed the oatmeal cup and replaced it with the empty coffee cup to catch any remaining water. Then I stirred the oatmeal, placed the lid back on it, and let it sit for 3 minutes. One more stir and the oatmeal was ready to eat.

In addition to oats, this flavor contains cane sugar, hazelnuts, dried blueberries, chia seed, flaxseed, blueberry powder, and sea salt. The blueberry powder gives the oatmeal a slightly purple color, but there’s no strong blueberry flavor. This oatmeal is balanced. It doesn’t really lean toward sweet or salty.

While I paired my oatmeal with eggs from the hotel breakfast bar, I didn’t dress up the flavor with any of the sugar, butter or milk available there. If I were going to, I’d probably just add a little butter, but my sister would prefer more butter and brown sugar. The 2.5 oz container was more than enough for me so I put the lid back on to see how well it holds up through the day.

I can see carrying these on a road trip or camping trip. There are 4 flavors available: Classic, Blueberry Hazelnut, Apple Cinnamon, and Brown Sugar and Maple. The cup can be microwaved for preparation or reheating. And it’s great to know I have a filling choice available when the hotel breakfast bar features cereal, muffins, waffles, French toast points, eggs on bagels, biscuits, bacon and fruit. I like bacon and fruit, but it doesn’t stick with me long.

Other single serve oatmeal can be prepared in the packet, but the process is not as neat and easy as preparing as these cups. For an easy food and container choice in one, Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oatmeal Cups are a solid choice.


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.”