Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

October 17, 2017

Can You Pivot?

When things don’t turn out as planned, can you pivot? Today, I thought I was going to make enchilada sauce. Over an hour into the process, I realized there was no way my combination of ancho and pasilla chiles, charred vegetables, marjoram and Mexican oregano was going to turn out like any enchilada sauce I’ve ever tasted or hoped to make. The flavors had potential, but not as the end product I’d planned.
I face similar situations regularly. No matter how meticulously I plan, things change. I can either let that throw me, or I can pivot. At those moments, I usually remember my grandmother saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Hearing that over and over let me know that it was not unusual to have to look for another solution.

Changing course is not always easy. Sometimes it requires significant physical, mental, or emotional effort. But with life throwing challenges my way, the ability to pivot has made me less wasteful, more efficient, more creative, more knowledgeable, more confident, and infinitely more resilient. This is true when I’m developing recipes, but it is also true throughout all areas of my life.

Pivoting requires engagement, flexibility and decision making. If I had been determined to end up with enchilada sauce, my efforts would have been wasted. An hour of wasted time with my current schedule can mean I must say no to lunch with a friend or rearrange anticipated down time. That would feel discouraging.

Being able to see potential in the work I’d done allowed me to make a subtle shift that turned the effort into an acceptable mole sauce that can be easily tweaked into perfection. Visualizing a different outcome is one component of a graceful pivot.

Recognizing I’m in a moment that could benefit from a shift comes even before visualization. That was pretty clear to me when adding salt didn’t head the sauce in the right direction. My taste buds called for sweet and something to mellow the bitter overtones. Honey, anise, and chocolate all fit that bill.

Connecting my taste instincts with my food knowledge led to an immediate association of the sauce on my stove and mole sauce. Exploring that thought excited me because most of the jarred mole sauce I’ve found in stores contains crackers or bread. I added a few ingredients to see if my visualized flavor profile would work as I anticipated. It did!

I recorded the changes in the recipe plus a few that I think will improve it next time. Of course, I also had to revise the dish I had planned for dinner. My enchilada pie turned into enmolada pie. It wasn’t that much of a shift and didn’t require a trip to the store.

The pivot, which included recognition of my dilemma, connection to a possible change, exploration of that change, visualization of a new end product, and implementation of the new plan, allowed me to turn a kitchen failure into a successful recipe albeit not the anticipated one.

Imagine what that did for my mood, energy level, and motivation! Instead of feeling defeated or discouraged, I felt excited about all the dishes I can make with mole. Woohoo, my mind is now moving full speed ahead!

The ability to absorb, process, and turn unfortunate events into positive momentum is what allowed a pharmacist I know to purchase and grow his pharmacy into the largest in the county seat, marry and have two beautiful children, and become a pillar of the community in spite of having had polio as a child that rendered him minimal use of his legs.

Instead of viewing his disability as something to hide, he chose to showcase his amazing upper body strength — a pivot that clearly fed positive momentum into the rest of his life. I think of his example each time I walk into his pharmacy.

A willingness to pivot is important for businesses too. If Anheuser-Busch had not reimagined its end product during Prohibition, there would most likely be no Bud Light, Franziskaner, Natty Daddy, or Rolling Rock today. Someone at Molex had to envision a future beyond flower pots and salt tablet dispensers for the company to begin to manufacture electrical appliances. We don’t always notice when a business innovates, but we certainly notice when it doesn’t. We soon become dissatisfied and move on.

It’s common to resist change. But things change whether or not we’re resistant. Hurricanes, floods, fire, and tornadoes reshape communities. Acute or chronic health problems arrive. Spouses leave. Jobs are lost. Violence touches our families. Any of these things can happen at a moment’s notice when we have done nothing wrong. It is at those moments that pivoting becomes a critical skill.

We all want to emerge from shock, trauma, loss, and grief feeling optimistic, energetic, positive, and poised for joy. We all can, but some of us don’t know that we can or don’t know how to get from A to B. That path starts with a simple pivot away from the devastation and toward the possibilities created by that devastation.

I feel fortunate that I can pivot both in and out of the kitchen, but the ability was hard earned. Some tough circumstances early in my life led me to hone this skill. While I’m not all that grateful for some of those circumstances, I am grateful for the resulting resilience. Enough so that I would encourage you to develop this skill even if you don’t see its merits right now.

Sometimes the stakes are much higher than enchilada sauce vs mole.

August 21, 2017

Sandwich in Some Healthy Habits

Today when the moon gets sandwiched between the earth and the sun seems like the perfect opportunity to sandwich in some healthy habits. I’m sure you’ve seen a million warnings in the past two weeks about protecting your eyes during today’s eclipse. You probably prepared by purchasing some special viewing glasses or creating a pinhole viewer. That tiny bit of preparation will protect your eyes as you view something spectacular.



Making tiny changes in preparation for better health as you age can be just as easy and have a big impact over time. If you look at everything you think you should be doing to live a perfectly healthy lifestyle, it may so overwhelming that you don’t ever get started. Statistics indicate that the majority of us fall in this group. The CDC reports that only 20% of Americans meet physical activity recommendations and a 2016 study indicates only 3% of us live a healthy lifestyle.

It is important to note that you can improve your health by making small changes over time. A study published July 13, 2017, in the New England Journal of Medicine found that “Improved diet quality over 12 years was consistently associated with a decreased risk of death. A 20-percentile increase in diet scores (indicating an improved quality of diet) was significantly associated with a reduction in total mortality of 8 to 17%….” In other words, it didn’t take 100% improvement in diet to result in a significant reduction in mortality. And mortality is the extreme. Just imagine how much small changes can improve your everyday energy level, stamina, strength, flexibility, mental acuity, mood, and comfort level.

So often we look at eating well and working out as all or nothing propositions. When all seems like more than we can handle, we go for nothing. Knowing that even small changes can make a difference seems to indicate we should look at healthy habits more like a savings or investment account with benefits that grow slowly, but surely.

What do small changes look like?

Drink water 95% of the time rather than soda, diet soda, energy drinks, sweetened coffee drinks, lemonade, sweet tea, hot chocolate, or any other sweetened drink.
Eat an orange for breakfast rather than drinking orange juice.
Eat plain, unsweetened yogurt topped with fresh fruit rather than flavored yogurt.
Choose eggs and whole grain toast for breakfast rather than cereal and milk.
Snack on raw, unsalted nuts rather than the salted, roasted version.
Choose black beans over pinto beans.
Order a side of mixed vegetables rather than a choice of potato most of the time.
Reserve dessert for special occasions.
Snack on fruit rather than candy.
Pop your own popcorn using a tiny bit of olive oil spray.
Get salad dressing on the side and limit to 1 tbsp.
Buy frozen vegetables rather than canned when you can’t get fresh.
Cook with olive oil.
Take leftovers for lunch rather than eating fast food.
Substitute baked fish for one serving of red meat each week.
Eat less prepared meat.

Sandwich in some activity

Even if you don’t have an hour to spend in the gym, you can increase physical activity during your daily routine.

Stretch every morning.
Walk to lunch.
Walk a few flights of stairs before catching the elevator.
Do stair stretches before you head upstairs to shower.
Regularly park on the far side of the parking lot.
Do some yoga breathing at your desk.
Carry your own boxes.
Wear ankle weights on Saturday.
Do tricep curls with your cast iron skillet before cooking.
Find a video workout you can do at home when there’s no time to go to the gym.
Combine lifting light weights with warrior poses and lunges.

Make sure to rest

Get the electronic lights out of the bedroom.
Allow plenty of time for sleep.
Plan some down time each week.
Do something fun each week.
Don’t skip vacations.

As you can see, nothing on these lists sounds like a big deal. Everything is easily doable. In fact, it’s hard to believe that these changes can make any significant difference in your health. The great thing is, they can. Simple changes like these when made for an extended period of time can have many positive effects. Why not sandwich a few into your day?

July 18, 2017

Form Ever Follows Function

“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.” – Louis H. Sullivan, American Architect (1)

Form vs function is an often discussed topic amongst graphic designers, interior designers, product designers, and car salesmen. Asking a client which is more important is a quick way to determine how to appeal to that client. If the client’s priority is function, they will be more concerned with the performance of a car or chair than the beauty of its lines. An ad agency asking the question immediately knows to focus on copywriting more than graphic design. That client simply won’t appreciate superior design more than good design.

Presenting form and function as a dichotomy is a useful shortcut to discerning priorities, but it misses the point of the original concept. Function is always the basis for form. Without function, we do not need form. With that in mind, I suppose it could be argued that there is no function for art or music. I disagree, and I digress. We don’t talk much about form following function in the kitchen, but keeping that concept in mind can be helpful when making food choices.

Let’s start with the function of food.

The most basic function of food is to provide energy. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are the macronutrients needed in large quantities to give your body the energy it needs to perform daily activities. The body also uses energy to heal wounds.

Deliberately choosing the optimum amount of protein, fat, and carbs for your metabolism and lifestyle will give you the maximum amount of energy. As far as energy goes, it doesn’t matter how the macronutrients taste.

Cell and Organ Health
Vitamins and minerals are necessary for healthy cells and organs. Without enough potassium, your muscles weaken which can cause irregular heart rhythm. A lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy leading to anemia, exhaustion, pain in the limbs and other undesirable effects. Vitamin D deficiency may lead to rickets or weakening of the bones.

While these and other micronutrients are only needed in small amounts, they are essential if you wish to remain healthy.

Digestive Function

Dietary fiber is important to keep your digestive system moving. Fiber is resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine. It helps the colon move waste through the system. Fiber is plentiful in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Water plays a part in breaking down large food molecules into smaller ones. It helps your system transport waste from the body. Lack of water can lead to muscle cramps, headache, confusion, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, fainting, and even death.

As long as you consume sufficient quantity and variety of macronutrients, micronutrients, fiber, and water, enough rest, and plenty of exercise, your body will function well. It does not matter whether the nutrients look pretty, taste good, or are prepared with love using your grandmother’s recipe.

The form of food may not be important to its function, but if it is not appealing to our senses, we won’t choose to eat it. 

How does the form of food affect our appetite?
Appeal to Our Senses
The science of neurogastronomy measures how the senses work together to enhance our experience of food. Eating is a multi-sensory experience. If you’ve ever walked into an office where someone just made popcorn, you know that you don’t have to see or taste the popcorn to want a handful. When a food causes multiple parts of our brain to light up, we will think the food tastes better. Obviously, we will choose foods that appeal to our senses.

And that’s where things start to get sticky. Form follows function in that we’re wired to find certain foods appealing, but while a juicy fresh peach may draw you in, so will the smell of fried chicken or French fries. And sugary cake, candy, ice cream, brownies, and doughnuts can feel irresistible. Things get even more complicated when you factor in all the manufactured and chemical flavorings or flavor enhancers we encounter on a regular basis.

Just because it’s appealing doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

Fat makes food taste better, but is it healthy? There are differing opinions and conflicting studies. Some doctors will advise you to limit fat in your diet to avoid high blood cholesterol. Others will advise you to limit sugar rather than fat. Trying to stay on top of all newly published nutritional information is difficult enough, but when studies conflict and marketing dollars are spent to promote a particular food industry’s interest, it’s hard to know what to believe.

A new Harvard study shows that small dietary changes like eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish and less red and processed meats and sugary beverages over time can reduce the risk of death. Nature does its part to make vegetables and fruits colorful, juicy, and often sweet. A delicious ripe tomato, raspberry, or pear is full of healthy vitamins and carbohydrates and needs no cooking or adornment to taste good. Both form and function are at a peak when we choose these foods.

fruitForm vs Function

It seems like the dichotomy of form vs function has reared its head again. Many forms of food that appeal to us are unhealthy. That’s why it’s good to make function a constant priority. Good health is the same as optimal body function. Making food choices that maximize optimal body function over time are healthy choices.

Luckily, there are millions upon millions of delicious forms of healthy food from which we can choose each day! Keep the choices simple by prioritizing function, then choosing form.

(1)Sullivan, Louis H. (1896). “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. Lippincott’s Magazine (March 1896): 403–409.

June 27, 2017

Keep Track

If we want to know what we’re really consuming each day, we have to keep track. If we really want to know whether we’re feeling more pain, more anxiety, or more fatigue, we have to keep track. If we hope to focus on experiences that create feelings of happiness, peace, gratitude, accomplishment, and joy, we have to keep track.

At some point when you’ve expressed a desire to improve some area of your life, you’ve probably been instructed by a friend or professional to keep a journal of what you eat or what you dream or how much pain you feel. You may have ignored these instructions. At times, I have too. It sounds like a lot of time and effort and I already have plenty to do. What’s the point?
box list
There are many reasons to keep a contemporaneous record…

If you’ve ever kept a weight-loss journal, you’ve probably surprised yourself. What you thought you ate each day and what you wrote down when you began keeping track may have been significantly different. You also may have noticed that your records were more accurate when you made them immediately following a meal rather than when you tried to reconstruct all of your meals at the end of the day.

If you try to remember Monday’s breakfast in exact detail on the following Monday, it is nearly impossible to do so accurately. It is the same with any memory. As time goes on, the details of an experience become more vague and less accurate. Recording what happens contemporaneously is a great reality check.

In the middle of any difficult situation, it’s hard to step back enough to gain perspective. Writing down what happens each day and how we feel about it gives us the opportunity to review later when things have calmed down. This can lead to valuable insights that would otherwise be lost. 

Over time, a written record may reveal significant patterns related to health – pain levels, hormone changes, symptoms of inflammation, sleep patterns, blood pressure, response to foods, response to medications, or a myriad of other health related patterns. Presenting our documentation to the doctor can help her with our diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

A journal can also reveal patterns of behavior in our relationships, jobs, and self-care routines. It can show us how we respond when we feel dismissed, defensive, afraid, or overwhelmed. This is powerful knowledge! While we may not see these patterns as we go about living our lives, having them revealed gives us the opportunity to make informed choices. I can’t think of anything more powerful than informed choice.

We can’t control the curve balls life will throw us. We may suffer an accident or health crisis or loss of our home in a natural disaster. We may suffer abuse or neglect from our parents. We may lose our jobs because a coworker lies about us. The greatest power we have in these situations is the choice we make about how we will allow these events to affect our lives in the long term.

Until we recognize any lingering pattern of behavior that helped at a difficult time, appreciate and acknowledge both the positive assistance and coinciding limits that pattern creates, we cannot make this choice because we don’t see a choice. That makes the journal an immensely powerful tool for improvement in all areas of our lives.

When we are exposed to something over and over again, we develop the ability to tune it out and tolerate more of that stimuli. For instance, if you move to a new city with lots of traffic noise during sleeping hours, you will eventually become desensitized to the noise and be able to sleep. If the level of noise increases slowly over time, it is unlikely that your sleep will be disturbed.

The same is true with gradual increases in pain, fatigue, and general malaise. Our bodies get accustomed to the discomfort and a gradual increase may not register. We tolerate symptoms that would have been clear warning signs if their onset had been acute. Recording details daily and reviewing once a month can help you give your doctor a more accurate view of changes in your condition.

In order to compose a journal entry, you must shift your focus to the subject you’re recording. If you keep a dream journal, your focus will be dreams. If you keep a gratitude journal, your focus will be on things for which you feel grateful. If you keep a pain journal, your focus will be on recording the specifics of your pain.

When we focus our attention on something, other things shift and typically our focus begins to define how we feel. Focusing only on pain can easily lead to feeling helpless, depressed, or discouraged. Because of this tendency, I like to keep balance in my records. If I keep a record of pain, then I like to simultaneously keep a record of accomplishments and things that make me feel good. The two-to-one ratio of things that feel good to things that feel bad ensures that I don’t become absorbed by pain.

In order to see all 3 categories at once, I use a colorful plastic box and a tiny notepad. (There it is in the graphic above. Isn’t it cute? Cuteness makes me feel good.) Each evening, I make 3 lists on separate pieces of paper identified by category, then sit them out side by side. Once I’ve seen the lists together, I put them back in the box until the end of the month. At that point, I review.

I recently used Accomplishments, Things That Made Me Feel Good, and Insights as journal categories for a month. I was struggling. I felt so behind that I had lost any sense of accomplishment. The events that put me behind were also making me feel discouraged.

I decided I would record the tasks I completed so that I could gain perspective. At the same time, I’d record anything that made me feel good so that I could deliberately increase those things and thereby increase how often I felt good. Along the way, I knew I’d have a few revelations.

At the end of the month, I felt better even before reviewing the lists. Recording my accomplishments had already given me a realistic view that I was behind because I had too much on my plate, not because I was being inefficient, lazy, or incompetent. Knowing that meant I could direct my energy toward setting better boundaries and reducing my task list. The shift from only seeing the problem to also seeing possible solutions felt positive, optimistic, and freeing.

Catalyst for Change
If a shift from seeing a problem to seeing solutions feels positive, optimistic, and freeing, why are so many of us averse to change? Fearful habits often keep us stuck in miserable places. We may not register a feeling of fear. We may feel the anticipation of another’s disappointment, shunning, cruelty, or displeasure with us if we buck the system, but we express this as family obligation, work ethic, being considerate, or being conscientious. Sometimes we may even call it love.

We may feel reluctance to challenge a belief that we’re not worthy of good things…what if we find out we’re not? We may be sensitized to emotional danger in a way that makes us hyper-vigilantly avoid rocking the boat at home, at work, or with our friends. No matter how we label these fears, our commitment to them prevents us from embracing change.

Keeping a journal, can be an effective catalyst for change. It’s much harder to deny or ignore how we feel if we’ve recorded those feelings when we experience them. By writing events down, we preserve an accurate record for later reference. And using a journal or a box full of lists to focus our attention differently can make it easier to see solutions to long-standing problems.

They say that if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it. I’d rather keep track now so that I have more options later. How about you?