Can’t You Do Better?

“That scarf doesn’t match your sweater. Can’t you do better?” That was how our conversation began. My mother’s first cousin Colene never held back an opinion. And yet she never made you feel bad. How did she manage that?
This is the question I’m pondering a month after her death as we approach the new year. The day before she died, a nurse said, “I loved Colene. She was so much fun – even when she was saying she was going to kick us in the teeth!”

I can hear her saying it now. She was fun. She was feisty. She was independent. She was confident enough to take driver’s ed at the local high school when she was 70 years old. And she was successful. She got her driver’s license and drove until she was in her 90s.

My cousin Johnny has a similar gift. He served in a state legislature in the Northwest for 30 years, retiring in 2017. He is disconcertingly direct and unafraid to let you know where he stands. Unlike most politicians, with Johnny there is no spin, no hedging, and no equivocating. Rather than being reviled for this, he is admired, trusted, and respected.

Colene and Johnny were not related, but they knew and liked each other. Dinner with the two of them was an annual event not to be missed. Conversation was lively, sometimes uncomfortable, but always uplifting…always uplifting.

When I ask myself, “Can’t you do better?”, that’s what I’m asking. Is the result of my interactions uplifting? It sounds like an impossible bar, but I have two shining examples that it is not.

Both of those examples felt free to state their truth, share opinions, and be direct. And that’s what they wanted in return. They didn’t have a need for anyone else to conform to their way of thinking. In fact, they welcomed differing viewpoints. That’s what made the conversations interesting.

And perhaps it’s as simple as that. Having the courage to listen, state my truth, share my opinion, and be direct without the need to control the response may be all it takes to leave people feeling better. It certainly builds trust. It has other benefits as well.

Building Trust
I trust you more if I know you’ll level with me. When you don’t, I sense it and become wary. I don’t like feeling that way. If it happens often, I will no longer rely on you. I will feel I must guard myself.

In order to be at our best, do our best work, and thrive, it is important to have people in our lives who will level with us. I remember the poet Miller Williams saying he trusted his wife to tell him when to stop writing because a poem was finished. He relied on her for this. He believed it made his poems better. I can’t argue with that. They feel right to me.

Creating Safety
There’s another benefit to voicing how you really feel without expectation of anyone else. Doing this creates an environment of safety for others to do the same. I always felt free to tell Colene the truth, even when it was not what she wanted to hear.

Once she could not walk, she sometimes asked me if she could go home. I didn’t tell her she might someday or leave her hanging with a we’ll see. I kindly and gently told her no. If she asked why, I would remind her that she could not walk and her house was not set up for lifts and wheelchairs.

She knew all of this was true. She felt it even when she could no longer absorb the words. There was never an argument, hysterics, or whining. She asked a simple question. I gave her a simple answer and the conversation shifted to something else.

Showing Respect
Stating your truth without equivocation shows respect for yourself and also for the listener. Feeling respected builds our sense of worthiness.

Maintaining Bonds
Colene made some pretty strong stands. Many years ago, she objected to one of her relatives’ choice in spouses. On the day of his wedding, she got in the car with her father, mother, and sister to go to the ceremony. A couple of minutes later, she said, “I’m not going to this wedding. I think it’s wrong.” Her father stopped the car, let her out, and she walked home.

In many families, this boycott would have created lingering hard feelings. That was not the case. Colene and the groom remained close until he died at age 91.

Her opinions were well-thought and her sentiments so sincere, you knew she wasn’t condemning you when she disagreed. She was just following her heart and her conscience. This is another characteristic she shared with Johnny and there’s something disarming about it that maintains bonds rather than threatening them.

Living Fully
If I am always holding back, I cannot live fully. It may be tempting to believe that I can garner favor or earn love by syncing my responses with those whose love or admiration I desire. If you have tried that approach, you know as well as I do that it never works that way. Ultimately, those who appreciate me will appreciate me and those who don’t, won’t.

Holding back my truth may sometimes help me avoid embarrassment, shame, humiliation, and feeling alone in a particular moment, but over time it diminishes my spirit and damages my soul. That’s a huge price to pay for momentary comfort. And it may mean that I will miss out on supportive friendships I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to cultivate.

As I process my grief over losing Colene, I often repeat the question — can’t I do better? Of course I can. And I intend to. That still doesn’t mean she’d approve of my scarf choice.

Travel Tip #22 – What to Do When You’re Feeling Peckish

When you’re feeling peckish, use this travel tip. A few years ago, my youngest son often announced he was feeling peckish. No one he knew used that word, but he’s a big reader with a huge vocabulary and it’s not uncommon for him to interject new words into the family lexicon. Once we determined that meant he was a little hungry, we asked him what he wanted to eat. After awhile, his use of the word diminished and my use disappeared…until yesterday when I was walking through the grocery store looking for suitable airplane/airport snacks.

Today, I’m flying to LA to visit my newest grandson. As I’ve mentioned before, I always carry gluten-free food when I fly. That way I’m prepared if I can’t locate something suitable in the airport or there’s a delay that means I must eat on the plane. Perusing the deli case, I suddenly saw boxes labeled PECKISH. Of course that got my attention.
The contents of these boxes turned out to be a protein pack with two “perfectly boiled” organic, free-range eggs and a cup of crunchy dip. The flavor profile of this snack is determined by the crunchy dip. “Fried Rice” dip contains organic quinoa crispies, dried tamari, carrots, toasted sesame oil, sea salt, green onions, garlic, and ginger.
Other flavor options include “Salt & Pepitas”, “Rancheros, “Maple Waffles”, and “Everything”. All flavors are gluten-free, diary-free, and sugar-free. Some are keto and paleo-friendly. Each flavor varies slightly in protein, fiber, and sodium content, but each box is filled with protein because of the eggs.

Once you peel open an individually packed egg and open the dip, you just stick the egg in the dip and take a bite. The inside of my dip’s foil lid is instructing me to double dip!

The already peeled, “perfectly boiled” eggs fall on the soft end of hard boiled. The yolk is not runny, but it is not dry and crumbly. The very center is orange and a tiny bit gooey.

This snack appealed to me not only because of its name, but because I often take hard boiled eggs as an airplane snack. I pre-peel the eggs and drop them into a zip top bag into which I’ve sprinkled a little salt and pepper. I was curious whether the flavored dips would be enough of an upgrade to justify the larger price tag or whether they would inspire me to create some dips of my own.

The “Everything” dip reminds me of the Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend from Trader Joe’s without the bitter aftertaste. Okay, I realize most people put that seasoning blend on something like a bagel and may not know there’s an aftertaste. I’m in the habit of testing recipes which requires tasting things repeatedly–when they’re hot, when they’re cold, a day later–and without embellishment.

Having been known to put strawberry jelly on scrambled eggs, I would expect to like the “Maple Waffles” dip. It does have a subtle sweetness and its lid tells me it’s so dippin’ good! I like the “Fried Rice” dip. It has a pleasing and less subtle blend of savory flavors. The “Salt & Pepitas” serves the purpose, but fails to make a statement. I’ll have to leave you in suspense regarding the “Rancheros”. I haven’t tried it yet.

I like the idea of using crisped quinoa to hold flavors like maple syrup and toasted sesame oil to blend with tamari, but I’m not likely to whisk up a batch of egg dip for one trip for one person. If I want something besides salt & pepper or a seasoning blend I keep on hand, it makes sense to purchase a PECKISH protein pack.

Of course these are also great snacks for road trips, the office, or a kid’s lunch box. If they’re not sold in your area, offers a subscription box feature. You build a home box by choosing 10 protein packs in any combination of flavors and have it delivered to your home at regular intervals.

If your office is into clean eating, keto, or paleo, you can also order weekly, biweekly, or monthly shipments to stock the break room. The office packs are single flavor boxes containing 30 eggs each or a box of 30 eggs without a flavored dip.

It’s good to know that when I anticipate feeling peckish on a trip, I can pack a high protein, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free snack that’s full of flavor without taking the time to cook. All I need to do is follow this travel tip–purchase a PECKISH protein pack.

That’s it for travel tip #22. Happy traveling and happy holidays!

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.”


Does Chocolate Cause You Heartburn?

Does chocolate cause you heartburn? The problem may not be chocolate. I’m familiar with many varieties of stomach and abdominal pain. Sometimes, it’s quite a process to figure out what triggers a specific response.
I can’t say I’ve ever been advised by a physician to try to figure out the cause of any pain, but it seems logical to me to get to the source of a problem whenever possible. That’s the only way to potentially resolve the issue for good rather than continually treating symptoms. After years of practice, here’s the process I follow:

Keep track

I start by being aware of what I’m taking in. Of course this means reading labels and asking good questions in restaurants. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

If you know you have an adverse response to monosodium glutamate (MSG) and you’ve been eating Nacho Cheese Doritos®, a scan of the label will tell you eliminating them may make you feel better. Kentucky Fried Chicken and Campbell’s® Chicken Noodle soup could also be culprits. Even if you can tolerate a small amount, eating three MSG containing foods in one week may overload your system.

Keeping a food journal is more effective than making a mental note. If you just can’t make yourself keep a journal, try texting yourself or creating a suspect food list in your note app.


In addition to keeping track, I observe my body sensations closely to see if I can identify an adverse response early in the process when the signs are subtle. Sometimes I don’t feel the full effects of an offender for a day or two.
Early signs often point me in a different investigative direction than I would go if I wait for full fledged cramping and pain. It can also mean some pain may be avoided.

When I consume dairy, it causes spasms throughout my stomach then my colon. When those are concentrated just to the left of my solar plexus, they can trigger something akin to panic. It’s not exactly the same, but it shares some of the physical responses and can lead to feeling panic if I don’t address it.

Knowing this is simply a response to dairy allows my brain to perceive the spasm as a temporary moment that will pass if I just wait. This keeps me calm. It also means that I don’t tense up my gastrointestinal system which causes the spasms to last longer.

Eliminate the culprit

Although it sounds simple in retrospect, it took a very long time for me to associate milk exposure with the resulting symptoms. Since I didn’t feel the full effects of ingestion until a day later, it wasn’t a natural line for me to draw. As I practiced recognition of subtle symptoms as soon as they appeared, my timeline became more accurate allowing me to identify a pattern in my response to milk. From that point, it was easy to eliminate milk and milk products in order to see if I would experience improvement. I did!

Once I have identified a food that consistently brings me discomfort or pain, I am happy to let it go. I would rather feel good than continue to ingest foods because they are convenient or I like the way they taste. And I don’t want to rely on pharmaceutical support to remain pain free. That means all foods containing milk are now suspect.

Back to chocolate

This brings me back to chocolate. If you google, “Does dark chocolate contain milk?”, you’ll get many answers saying it does not. Before you pop some dark chocolate brownies in your mouth, you need to know you’re still putting yourself at risk.

The label of Nestlé® Toll House 53% Cacao Dark Chocolate Morsels reads: chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, milkfat, nonfat milk, natural flavor and it warns of milk ingredients as an allergen. If the brownies you choose are made with these morsels, you may experience symptoms. There is enough milk in some dark chocolate to trigger my intolerance.

If you ate a few chocolate morsels by themselves, you might notice nothing more than mild heartburn. In my case, heartburn is an early clue that I may need to limit or eliminate a food. Learning to pay attention to this has allowed me to avoid more significant symptoms down the road.

Does chocolate cause you heartburn? Are you milk or lactose intolerant? If so, the problem may not be the chocolate.

For me, that’s great news because it gives me an easy way to eliminate occasional milk exposure and in the process, heartburn, stomach cramps, and panic. And it doesn’t mean I have to eliminate all chocolate. It just means I have to read labels and substitute some ingredients when I bake.

I love a simple solution followed by a So Delicious® Dipped Double Chocolate Delight cashewmilk frozen dessert. I think I’ll have one now!

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.”

Made in Texas?

Can natural spring water be made in Texas? The other day, I picked up a bottle of Ozarka® water at an event. Under the name it says 100% Natural Spring Water. At the top left, it says Made in Texas. This perplexes me.
Unless you’re combining hydrogen and oxygen in a lab to produce water, I’m not sure you can say it was made in any specific location. If the water comes from a spring, its source may originate in a whole other state than Texas. But even if the spring begins in Texas, does Texas make the rain?

I know this may seem like much ado about nothing, but those of us who have allergies and sensitivities depend on accurate labels to stay safe. Playing this loose with label language feels disconcerting at best and at worst, dangerous.

Ozarka Spring Water was first bottled in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. When that spring ran dry, Ozarka sold drinking water and distilled water. At some point, probably the 1990s, Nestlé Waters acquired the rights to Ozarka Spring Water. The exact date and details of this transaction are unclear. Nestlé only lists the 1905 beginning of the Eureka Springs company in its timeline, but Nestlé Waters was not formed until 1992.

Nestlé Waters is part of the larger Swiss company Nestlé that owns many brands including Gerber®, Cheerios®, Stouffers®, Buitoni®, DiGirono®, Lean Cuisine®, and Hot Pockets®. Nestlé water brands include Acqua Panna, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Nestlé Pure Life, Perrier, Poland Spring, S.Pellegrino, and Zephyrhills.

According to its website, Ozarka is currently bottled from three springs in Texas. Why not say Bottled in Texas or, God forbid because I hate this use of the word even though it’s popular, Sourced in Texas? My guess is that there’s a marketing reason for this labeling although I’m not sure what it is.

The Texas Department of Agriculture has a certification program that allows for use of the Go Texan mark to promote Texas products, but I am not aware of a Made in Texas program. Maybe it’s a way to appeal to a certain demographic that might not choose Arrowhead or Acqua Panna. Or perhaps it’s a way to remind Arkansans drawn to the Ozarka name that they can no longer lay claim to this water—it’s made in Texas.

Whatever the reason, I hope it was well considered. I hope all labeling decisions are carefully considered with priority given to the safety of the public. I certainly prefer for label information to be complete and accurate. The problem with statements like Made in Texas on water is that it raises a question.

A labeling question makes me uncomfortable and puts me on alert in regard to all products that company produces. In my head, I start asking whether the marketing department is allowed to write or change the nutrition labels and does that information have good oversight by qualified individuals? Is the company committed to accuracy and transparency? Does management consider labeling a safety matter?

I know many of you may be less skeptical and more trusting than I. You may trust that there are well-thought, specific procedures with adequate oversight in place to ensure that most label information that could affect health is correct. I hope so, but I know it’s not guaranteed.

I have personally witnessed an advertising agency determine all of the label information for a variety of products made by a hot sauce company. I am also aware that on a given week this fall, six of fifteen USDA recalls were due to misbranding and/or undeclared allergens. That’s more than a third of recalls at that particular moment and not every label issue results in a recall.

An undeclared allergen can lead to very serious consequences. The rate at which label errors result in recalls can be disconcerting. Even so, labels are a valuable source of information. I choose to read them and make many decisions based on their content. I also reserve the right to be skeptical about a company’s labeling when I experience an adverse reaction or observe something alarming.

Whether or not Ozarka is Made in Texas is of no material consequence, but it does raise a red flag. It’s unfortunate that many companies seem lax in oversight of labeling practices. It’s also an easy area in which they can improve.

Knowing I can trust the accuracy of a label inspires me to brand loyalty above and beyond marketing and advertising language. I am sure I’m not alone in this. Food production companies, please take note!

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.”