Archive for ‘Simple Soutions’

July 9, 2017

Five Easy Ways to Freshen Up Your Summer Menu!

teaHere are five ways to freshen up your summer menu! When it’s hot and humid, the last thing you want is to eat is a heavy meal. Fresh, cool, and light seems much more appealing. My preference is to live on gelato in the summer, but that’s not really practical. Of course, I’d be happy to add ice cream, fresh peach granita, or banana popsicles to the menu – again, not exactly practical.

So what are some easy ways to freshen up your summer menu?

Salads
Many of us default to salads as our lighter fare for the summer. Salads are a great place to showcase seasonal fruit and fresh herbs. Strawberries, blueberries, and peaches are all great additions to spring or bitter greens. It’s also a great time to use tomatoes as a base for Insalata Caprese! Mint and watermelon pair well with salty feta cheese while a salad of cucumber and dill will lighten up the meat off your grill.
caprese salad
Cold Soups
Cold soups can fill you up while cooling you off. I love gazpacho in the summer! The traditional version has a tomato base, but you can also begin with watermelon, cantaloupe, cherries, or strawberries. If you’d rather have a milder flavor, vichyssoise made of potatoes, leeks, cream, and broth may fill the bill. One of my favorite cold soups combines honeydew, cucumber, and jalapeño peppers.
honeydew soup
Chilled Condiments
In the winter, it’s comforting to add complimentary flavors to your dish by serving a warm, thick sauce or gravy. In the summer, pico de gallo, salsa, chimichurri, tzatziki, raita, or another cold condiment will add layers of flavor without the heaviness of gravy. I recently made chimichurri with baby arugula instead of parsley. It was delicious with grilled steak!
asparagus guac
Iced Drinks
Icing down anything when the thermometer hits 100º just seems reasonable – coffee, water, lemon water, juice, gin, and vodka are commonly served with ice. In the South, we also drink a lot of iced tea! Adding muddled mint or cilantro and leaving out the sugar makes the tea even more refreshing.

Cold Desserts
Summer is the perfect time to serve chilled banana, tapioca, or rice pudding. It’s also a great time for no-bake fresh fruit pies. My mom made a fresh peach pie that makes my mouth water every time I think about it. And really, there’s no need to cook – a bowl of fresh fruit topped with a tiny bit of plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg can easily satisfy your sweet tooth in the healthiest way possible.

Freshening up your summer menu with chilled food and fresh produce is practical, easy, and delicious! Give these 5 ways a try.

July 4, 2017

Being Gluten-Free Doesn’t Mean You Have to be a Wet Blanket

flagIt’s a holiday and nobody wants a wet blanket at the party! I am qualified to give Fourth of July advice because I once lived in a house with patriotically colored shag carpet. I’m not kidding, the house had red, white, and blue carpet. When I lived there, my family hosted a Fourth of July party at which invitees were asked to design a new flag or write a new national anthem.

Participation was enthusiastic. One couple extended a dog food bag between two poles and barked their national anthem. One couple displayed a Butter Side Down flag and read Dr. Seuss’s “The Butter Battle Book”. Two young men representing the Nation of Lost Children waved inflated condom flags on their heads. (I didn’t say the party was reverent.) No one took things too seriously and no one was afraid to participate.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a party like that. Cell phone cameras, social media derision, and an increasingly thin cultural skin has put a damper on lots of good-natured fun. With this new starting point, I feel even more responsibility to make sure I remain gluten-free without throwing a wet blanket on the party! You may feel the same way. My approach to gluten-free party fun is practical.

Family BBQ
Many Fourth of July celebrations include a family barbecue in the backyard, around the pool, at the lake, or on the beach. The key word here is family. You know your family dynamics. While I prefer to default to the direct approach, sometimes long-standing dysfunction means directness gets rewarded with punishment. If you believe that your requests will be ignored or your contribution unwelcome, you still have options to make a family gathering work for you. Let’s explore several possibilities.

Volunteer to bring an appetizer, side dish, or dessert.

I like this option because it’s a chance to change preconceived notions about gluten-free food. Ask if the host has specific dish in mind then, without mentioning it in advance, bring a gluten-free version that knocks their socks off. When you get a compliment and casually mention you made it gluten-free, you can see light bulbs go off. I love it when that happens!

Bring a favorite family recipe.

My Aunt Opal and my ex-husband take a slightly different approach. They arrive at parties bearing family favorites. While they hostess may not have been expecting it, the minute word spreads that Aunt Opal brought a cherry pie, excitement builds. If you make a mean GF version of your grandmother’s pound cake, just bring it and see what happens. Save a portion for yourself in a discreet separate container so you have a desert option available. If the hostess doesn’t want to serve the rest of the cake alongside her desserts, you can eat your portion and leave the rest as a hostess gift.
grill
Make it easy for the host.

If your sister-in-law begins to fret that she isn’t sure which hot dogs are gluten-free, offer to bring a package so she doesn’t have to read labels. If she doesn’t like that idea, ask if she’d mind saving the package until you have a chance to read it. Either option takes the burden off the host and puts it on you. Making it easier for the host means anticipating your presence at an event won’t put a damper on the party planning.

Don’t whine.

Whining is a definite wet blanket. Even if you believe that your sister was deliberate in failing to provide an option for you at the family bbq, don’t whine at the party. Feel however you want to feel and vent about it later if you’d like, but don’t let her see you sweat. This will take away her power to ignore, dismiss, or torment you and it will allow you to continue to receive invitations to extended family functions. Next year, you don’t have to be available for your sister’s party at all!

It’s much easier not to whine when you’re not hungry. If your family is unreliable, approach the family party as though it’s being hosted by a distant acquaintance. Be prepared by stashing a small cooler in the car filled with your food. You can excuse yourself to eat at the car, or fill your plate from the cooler depending on the circumstances.

No matter how difficult or uncomfortable a situation, it is absolutely okay to take care of yourself. If you do so in the most considerate way possible and a family member becomes irritable, rude, hateful, or cruel, it may be time to reexamine the health of your relationship with that person.

Sometimes it is difficult to see family members as they really are. It can be absolutely heartbreaking to recognize that those you most want to love, protect, and nurture you don’t have your best interest at heart. Unfortunately, the pertinent question may be whether you should sacrifice your well-being or limit your contact. I encourage you to protect your physical and emotional health even if a relationship doesn’t survive. Independence Day is the perfect time to become independently healthy!
food truck

Community Festival

Some towns have 4th-of-July festivals with concerts and fireworks. There’s a lot to enjoy even if you can’t have a funnel cake. A little preparation will allow you to relax and have as much fun as everyone else.

Investigate.

Many festival details will be available on community calendars, in the media, or from the local Chamber of Commerce. Knowing which food vendors or trucks are participating in an event gives you a chance to review menus or contact the vendors for information. There may be plenty of gluten-free options available on site.

Be prepared.

In the heat of summer a lightweight, easy to carry cooler bag is a great investment. With your potato salad on ice, you don’t have to worry about it spoiling. There are backpack styles, messenger bags, and rolling coolers. If your town frowns on outside food at an event, a baby food pack may be in order. If it prohibits outside food, try contacting the organizers for an exception.

Have a fallback plan.

In my family, too hungry comes along with shakiness, irritability, and confusion. If you don’t want a wet blanket squelching your fun, it’s best to never reach that point. That’s why we always have a fallback plan. When it’s impossible to determine what will be offered and bringing food is prevented, we pre-eat.

At one time pre-eating was the standard plan for gluten-free party participants. It’s slightly less necessary now than five years ago, but sometimes it’s still the best option.

Bring a positive attitude!

Of course the real key to having fun whether or not there are gluten-free options is choosing a positive attitude. Many times the only difference between having a fun time or an awful time is making the decision to see all the positive and ignore most of the negative.

Alternative Plans
At other times, you may not be able to wrestle a positive attitude. That’s okay. If you are in too much pain, are exhausted, or simply don’t have enough support in your life at any given time, an event may feel like an additional burden rather than a fun escape. An alternative plan can help keep you connected, but lessen the burden of investigating and planning.

If eating leftovers and taking a long hot bath while everyone else is at the festival makes you feel renewed, that may be a better choice. Offer your friends or family a compromise. After some renewal time, you will plan to join everyone later for drinks and fireworks.

Have fun!

You’ll always have more fun when you can relax and be present in the moment. Planning just enough to make sure your basic needs will be provided for can alleviate anxiety and allow you to focus on the fun of seeing how far you can spit a watermelon seed, spray water with the hose, or shoot a bottle rocket.

Happy 4th! Have fun!

June 20, 2017

Do Something About It or Let It Go?

How do you know whether to do something about it or let it go? Last week, I saw a news story in which a mother gave her 10-year-old son some sage advice. The son was angry that some graves in the veteran’s cemetery where his grandfather was buried did not have flags on them. After a few hours of listening to him complain, his mom told him simply that he needed to do something about it or let it go.
brain maze
That’s the best parenting I’ve seen in a long time. It’s also great advice for all of us. Complaining, ranting, and raving on their own just leave us feeling powerless and increasingly angry. Eventually this affects those around us, poisoning our relationships and social interactions. Observing injustice for what it is and bringing it to light are important steps toward facilitating change. Unfortunately, the complaint phase is an easy place to get stuck.

There’s a ton of injustice in the world. There is avoidable tragedy, inexcusable cruelty, disregard for those who are different, deliberate predatory behavior, negligent laziness, and power-grabbing manipulation. That’s a short list. The real list is long, long, long, unending, overwhelming, and impossible for any one of us to fix.

That means we have decisions to make when we feel the crushing effect of personal dismissal or the heartstring pull of another’s adversity. Should we leave the affluent doctor who verbally abuses our children or should we just rant about what a jerk she is and continue to let her support us? Should we continue to give low pricing to the customer who always wants extra thrown in or should we raise the price and risk losing the business? Should we consider adopting a child even though we’re in our 50s? Should we sue our employer who has fired three different employees because they used sick leave to be present after their wife gave birth? Should we buy our 16-year-old a brand new car, or buy a used car and spend the rest of the money to buy a car for a working single mother whose car just died?

Many of these decisions are difficult, multilayered, and complicated. Our decisions will have ripple effects. Of course it’s easier to rant, rave, and complain about injustice than it is to make a deliberate decision to do something or let it go.

But what is it that really stops us? Is it fear, weakness, or the belief that we have no power? Or does that even matter? Does examining, reexamining, and trying to understand ourselves only lead to paralysis?

Can we be better served by practicing the process of making a choice to do something about it or let it go? Or as my grandmother would have said, to “stop stewing in your own juice.” Let’s start with a simple issue and explore what that process would look like.

contractorScenario 1 (Complain)
I observe that my contractor only shows up 1 out of 3 times that he’s scheduled.
I tell my sister how annoyed I am.
I schedule him again.
He stands me up again.
I more heatedly tell my sister how annoyed I am, then I also tell my neighbor, my uncle, and several other people.
I reschedule the contractor again.
This time, he texts me, but he still doesn’t show.
I call everyone I complained to before and rant this time throwing in a few “why me?” questions like, “Why is it always me who gets stood up?”
I feel angry and powerless.

drillScenario 2 (Do something)
I observe that my contractor only shows up 1 out of 3 times that he’s scheduled.
I tell my sister how annoyed I am.

I begin the process of determining whether I will let him go and find someone new, or try to work this problem out with him.
Here’s how that works:
I review why I chose this contractor…
He’s inexpensive, he does quality work, and he’s fast.
I compare him to other contractors I’ve used…
When he shows up, he’s 80% better than 90% of them.

I decide that it is best to do something to try to make this relationship work.

I set boundaries I can feel good about…
One no show with a text is acceptable. A no show without notice or a 2nd no show with or without notice will be grounds for firing him.
I call the contractor to reschedule…
I tell him simply that I like his work, but he needs to show up more consistently or we won’t be able to work together any more. Then I tell him my specific boundaries. I state them in a clear, concise, straightforward, matter-of-fact manner. I do not apologize or pressure.

I schedule him again…
We’ll see what happens. No matter what, I have a plan. I no longer feel angry or helpless. I won’t feel bad if I have to fire the guy because I know I clearly stated my expectations. The decision is now his. If he chooses to show up, he has a job. If he chooses not to, he doesn’t.
I feel relieved.

hold onScenario 3 (Let it go)
I observe that my contractor only shows up 1 out of 3 times that he’s scheduled.
I tell my sister how annoyed I am.

I begin the process of determining whether I will let him go and find someone new, or try to work this problem out with him. 
Here’s how that works:
I review why I chose this contractor…
He’s inexpensive, he does quality work, and he’s fast.
I compare him to other contractors I’ve used…
When he shows up, he’s 80% better than 90% of them.
I factor in that I need the work done before a family reunion.

I decide that it is best to hire someone I can rely on in order to make my deadline.

I let the contractor know that I can no longer work with him on my project because I have a deadline. I move on and hire someone else.
While I will not recommend the fired contractor for deadline projects, I might tell someone to consider him when there’s no deadline. I feel no need to trash him on social media, continue to complain about him to my family, or even think about him again. I just let it go.
I feel relieved.

Obviously, this is a simple scenario I’ve described, but the more I practice the process, the easier it becomes to follow that process even when the relationships are closer and the feelings more complicated. The resulting peace and freedom I feel each time I embrace my power to do something about it or let it go builds my desire and courage to repeat the process.

And that little boy who received the advice from his mother? He chose to do something. He has now placed over 20,000 flags on veteran’s graves. Thanks Preston Sharp for your service, and thanks mom for your wisdom!

See the story here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/california-boy-11-becomes-the-pied-piper-of-patriotism/

April 25, 2017

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.
spin
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.
trees
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.