Sometimes You Have to Stop in Order to Start

Today is a great reminder that sometimes you have to stop in order to start. I am organized, efficient, and a solid multitasker with the ability to make long-term and short-term plans at the same time. I can make a great backward timeline. I am known as flexible, resourceful, and a problem solver, but today I am spinning.
There are simply so many things on my schedule requiring input from so many people in such a short time frame, that It’s hard for me to slow my mind down enough to begin anything. When I do, I see the 10 other related things that must be handled and I feel like quitting before I start.

I know it would be easy to send me organizational tips, instructions on setting boundaries, encouraging affirmations, and reminders that this too shall pass. I’d prefer you show up with a home cooked gluten-free meal, clean up my kitchen, fold the laundry, wash my car, fill it with gas, pick up the mail, collect from my two renters who are behind, locate the contractor who keeps failing to show up, and contact the bank about the suspicious activity on my account while I attend to the lengthy list that remains.

Sometimes life is overwhelming. Each of us has a limit to what we can handle — physically and emotionally. A little difficulty helps us develop resilience, but too much can send our defenses springing into action. Those defenses may look like many things, but they often involve disruptive or destructive behavior: failing to follow our health regimen, drinking too much, acting demanding or controlling, hoarding, neglecting responsibilities, fighting, aligning with dangerous people, seeking to be rescued, playing the martyr, excessive spending, and more.

As my morning reminded me, it’s better to recognize how I’m feeling and stop before I hit the point of spinning out of control. I know it sounds crazy to stop everything when there’s too much to be done. After all, how will you make up that time?

While you won’t get more time in a day, stopping will allow you to be more productive as you move forward. Over time, that will make up the difference. Today, after deciding that a 30 minute wait on the line with the bank was not how I wanted to spend my time, I walked away from my desk and my list and worked out. Paying attention to my breath and my workout allowed me to recenter my focus.

When I came back downstairs, I began doing one task at a time and marking them off the list. I may not get done with today’s list. I may have to work late, or reschedule something later this week. I may have to say no to something I really want to do. I’m not going to worry about any of that right now. Until 5pm, I’m simply going to work diligently down my list. At the end of the day, I’ll see where I am and adjust accordingly.

Experience has taught me that I’ll typically have accomplished way more than I believed I could. It also has taught me to be kind to myself. At the end of the day, I will rest if I’m tired — at least for an hour or two and I will be open to renewal.
It’s easy to deny ourselves renewal when there’s no time for a vacation or a full day off, but renewal is available in small doses all around us: noticing how good the breeze feels, watching an herb garden grow taller and smell wonderfully appetizing, receiving and embracing appreciation or a compliment, enjoying the sunset, laughing, or learning something new.

At the end of each day, I write down the things that made me feel good that day. Armed with these lists, I can intentionally repeat and build on those things so that I gradually feel good more often in spite of many current unexpected and difficult life events.

Like yoga or gratitude or shame resilience, building good feelings can be practiced. Like other practices, the more I practice the more proficient I become. And who doesn’t want to become more proficient in feeling good? I just have to remember that sometimes I have to stop in order to start.

The Best Supplement May Be A Grain of Salt

When it comes to your health, the best supplement may be a grain of salt. I’m currently participating in a pilot program at the local medical school in which patients meet with researchers to learn about the research process and how we can participate beyond being research subjects. The program is fascinating. It gives us a glimpse into current trends in medical thought, and it makes us highly aware of the limits that plague medical research, the most frequent being time and money.
Limited time and/or money usually lead(s) to smaller studies. Smaller studies are less representative of the population as a whole and thereby less definitive. Studies get published in medical journals, and along the way some ideas take hold in the medical community. Sometimes these ideas are incorporated into standard medical care even when there’s little evidence to support their clinical relevance.

A recent example of this is the practice of testing vitamin D levels when patients report malaise, fatigue or other nonspecific complaints. According to the CDC, the number of blood tests for vitamin D among Medicare recipients increased 83-fold from 2000-2010 and 2.5-fold from 2009-2014 for those with commercial insurance. At the same time, labs performing these tests started reporting normal levels of 20 to 30 nanograms vitamin D per milliliter of blood as insufficient.(1) As a result, many healthy people began to believe they had a deficiency.
fish oil
When numerous studies over the past decade linked low levels of vitamin D to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, the millions who believed themselves to be deficient began, or were advised, to consume vitamin D supplements. I am one of those who received such advice after routine blood work. The problem is that the existing studies do not provide widely accepted evidence that vitamin D is helpful in preventing or treating these diseases. In fact, current evidence suggests that the main beneficial effects of vitamin D supplements relate to conditions of the muscles, bones, and joints.

And the vitamin D deficiency movement isn’t the first physician advanced idea based on insufficient evidence. Last year, newly issued dietary guidelines removed the restriction on cholesterol consumption because “it is now acknowledged that the original studies purporting to show a linear relation between cholesterol intake and coronary heart disease (CHD) may have contained fundamental study design flaws, including conflated cholesterol and saturated fat consumption rates and inaccurately assessed actual dietary intake of fats by study subjects.”(2)

And the possibly well-intentioned, oft repeated advice to add multivitamins to your regimen because they will make you healthier turns out to be false as well. A growing body of evidence suggests that multivitamins offer little to no health benefits. A study published in the December 17, 2013 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that multivitamin and mineral supplements did not work any better than placebo pills.
test tube
We tend to regard science as infallible or research as indisputable. It’s not. We only know as much as we know in this moment. Our knowledge base will always be growing. Today’s theories will sometimes be proven wrong. Some studies will be statistically significant, but clinically irrelevant. Many studies will have too narrow a focus, too small a sample, or too short a term for the results to be taken as definitive on their own.

As patients, we are vulnerable to misinformation bombarding us from corporations that create supplements, food, and medications. Unfortunately, we are also vulnerable to imperfect science and bias within the medical community. To some degree this is unavoidable. This is where a grain of salt can come in handy. Skepticism can lead you to seek additional information.

If you are not medically trained, you cannot assume you know more than your doctor. You can, however, recognize that you have the final word regarding your healthcare. You have every right to ask questions with the expectation of a well-supported, forthright answer. You have the right to your health records. You have the right to seek a second opinion or a third. A second doctor may interpret your test results in a different manner than the first.

And barring an emergency situation, I’ll posit that you have a responsibility to yourself to remain skeptical regarding treatment recommendations until you become well-informed. That being said, the best supplement available for healthcare may be a grain of salt.

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.”


Spring Cleaning Pantry Challenge

A spring cleaning pantry challenge is a great way to start spring cleaning in the kitchen! I’ll admit it, I’m not really a spring cleaner. That doesn’t mean I don’t do deep cleaning. It just means I tend to do it at the odd times that a spill, utensil search, or crawl under the bed to grab a baby toy lead me into intolerable dust, dirt, or disorganization. Then I stop whatever I had planned and start cleaning. I may not finish moving all the furniture to clean under it right then, but I stick with the project until it is complete.
Whether you’re a sporadic deep cleaner like me or part of the 78% of people who regularly spring clean*, it’s easy to forget about the pantry. With larger tasks like oven cleaning, curtain washing, grout scrubbing, baseboard dusting, and window washing looming, it can be easy to reason that the pantry will take care of itself through regular meal preparation.

The problem with that approach is that few of us have pantry space that’s designed one item deep and one item high in a manner that everything is visible at once. And if you can’t see it, you’re bound to forget about it. Who hasn’t bought some ingredient for a recipe, used part of it and put the rest in the back of the cabinet to be forgotten? I have bottles of fish oil, rice wine vinegar, and real maple syrup sitting in my pantry. I don’t use them often and I can’t tell you how long they’ve been there. It’s definitely time for a pantry challenge at my house.

What’s a pantry challenge?

A pantry challenge is a period of time dedicated to using everything in the pantry before purchasing more groceries. In other words, you’re challenging yourself to plan meals using what you have on hand. Now, obviously you may need to buy milk, eggs, fresh produce, or meat to go with your pantry items, but the goal is to use what’s available in your pantry as quickly as possible.

Before starting the challenge, discard any outdated items. Once those are discarded, create some menu items that include the remaining pantry contents beginning with anything that’s open, partially used, or about to expire. It’s always fun to see what new combinations come to mind when you have limited ingredient choices.
During my pantry challenge, I’ll be enjoying red lentil soup, homemade yogurt, gluten-free pasta with red sauce, molasses cookies, roasted red pepper cornbread, applesauce muffins, and tuna croquettes. That won’t completely deplete the pantry offerings, but it will pare down some of the older items. Before I restock, I’ll clean all of the shelves and drawers and organize whatever remains.

I’ll also take a minute to review my organizational system. There may be some tweaks that will make every day cooking easier. If so, I can implement those changes now and easily incorporate upcoming purchases into the revised system.

As I’ve pared down my furniture, knick-knacks, clothes, shoes, and jewelry over the past couple of years, the over abundance in my pantry feels more noticeable. Because my job includes creating recipes, I can swiftly end up with clutter-creating remnants. I don’t want to wastefully discard them, but I am aware that I need to develop a system for making sure they’re used in a timely manner. My pantry challenge will be a great opportunity to think through this process.

Spring cleaning may not be fun, but a clean, tidy environment can make fun times more joyful. I’ll try to keep that in mind when I’m elbow deep into cleaning out the pantry!


Spring is a Great Time to Locate Sources of Fresh, Local Food

farmers marketEarly in the growing season is a great time to locate the best sources of affordable fresh, local food. Imagine a salad of buttery lettuce, scallions, shaved carrots, spicy micro-greens, and vine ripened tomatoes topped with a grate or two of artisan cheese or one made of crispy cucumber slices and fresh dill. It’s hard to beat the full flavor of fresh produce.

It can also be healing to get your hands dirty. There’s something about working with peaty smelling soil that makes you feel more connected to the earth and its natural ebb and flow of life. The green of a garden makes the space calm and inviting — even if that garden is inside.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the country, your own garden gives you the best of both worlds — fresh produce and a place to work the ground, get some sun, and breath in the smell of earth, grass, and possibly not-as-pleasant compost. When you have the land available, a full-fledged garden may be the best source of fresh food during the growing season. 

I grew up helping my grandmother in the garden. Hers was located on our farm about 10 miles from her home. In the spring, my dad would till up the soil and from that point, it was my grandmother’s domain. Long before anyone talked about the dangers of skin damage from the sun, she wore long sleeved shirts and a broad-brimmed hat while she dug, planted, weeded, and harvested lettuce, onions, cabbage, zucchini, summer squash, okra, peas, green beans, potatoes, corn, and tomatoes. 

Down the road, my great aunts shared a garden. They spent many afternoons sitting in chairs in the lawn shelling peas, snapping beans, or shucking corn together while they swapped stories. When the grandkids were around, we ran free in the yard or the fields. There was a sense of community created by these shared tasks that lessened the drudgery and made them as much enjoyable social activity as everyday task accomplishment. To those of us who grew up in this environment, it’s no surprise that designed communities that encourage similar shared gardens are springing up in cities like Asheville, NC.
If you live where outdoor space is more limited, raised beds or containers provide a suitable environment for tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, kale, cucumbers and other favorites. Even a window sill can host pots of herbs throughout the year. 

Growing your own herbs and vegetables provides an opportunity for mindful interaction with nature and reduces the cost of fresh food, but it also adds to your task list. A garden must be tended to get the best results. Regular watering, weeding, and harvesting all take time. If you’re long on fertile land, but short on time, you may want to explore additional sources of fresh food.

Luckily, the farm-to-table movement has increased the number of options for procuring fresh produce, grass fed beef, and free range chicken. Shares of organic farms can be purchased through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Each share entitles you to a weekly pickup of food from the farm. The contents and amount of food vary depending on your location and the specific farming organization. Another version of this arrangement offers memberships that entitle you to pick up a weekly food basket.
Community garden plots are collectively farmed by a group of people. They may sell food or allow you to trade labor for a certain amount of food. Trading labor for food can make them a budget friendly option. Don’t assume these are only located in affluent neighborhoods. There may be one near you no matter what your economic or social status. My city has a community garden located in a low income, gang saturated neighborhood next to a middle school. It is used as a learning tool for students.

Down the street, a neighbor turned an empty lot into a neighborhood garden. He rented small plots to his neighbors for a nominal fee on a first come, first served basis. On a Saturday morning, it’s not unusual to see neighbors visiting while they work in the garden. Sometimes cities or counties have similar gardens located on the outskirts of town.

Other options for fresh, local food include the traditional Farmers Markets that abound in cities. There may be one within walking distance in your neighborhood. Many vendors can swipe your debit card, so take reusable bags, but don’t worry too much about getting cash on the way.
market 2

In more rural areas, farmers sell fresh fruits and vegetables from the back of pickup trucks. If peaches grow in your state be sure to stop the next time you see a farmer with tubs full for sale. There’s nothing like the perfect fresh peach!

While all these options are worth exploring, you may not need to change your routine at all. Some urban farmers sell their food in grocery stores. Ask a store manager whether this is true in your local store. Natural Grocers has a stock of locally grown produce in my city. Even Walmart has made an effort to increase its selection of locally grown items.

I’m looking forward to digging in the dirt this weekend, but most of all, I’m looking forward to the harvest and all that yummy food!