Archive for January, 2011

Simplify to Maximize: Healthy Living 101

It came to me on my walk the other day that there are two supremely important elements of life that affect everybody on earth, whether they realize it or not: spiritual faith and physical wellness. From these two essentials flow all the rudiments for an enhanced existence. 

If your relationship to God is denied entirely or withering from neglect, the needle on your moral compass will soon be pulled in the direction of worldly values: “me first” attitudes and behaviors; a lust for wealth and property and position to fill the nagging void; seeing morality as situational rather than as a rational set of immutable guidelines, complete with inbuilt natural consequences. 

The life-weary rambler, disappointed by mankind’s hollow promises, knows no true peace of mind. Yet that missing serenity is key to psychological and emotional well-being. 

If your physical health is not optimized by informed choices and consciously designed actions, you are subtracting from your quality of life every year that passes – whether that realization hits you at 20, 40, 60, or 80. It’s hard to feel confident and competent, contented and self-accepting, secure about our future, when we know at our core that we are turning a blind eye to protecting that marvel of physiological design, the human body. We keep silver polished and automobiles tuned-up; don’t we have a moral obligation to preserve the efficient operation of our most precious corporeal gift? 

As the song lyrics go, “You don’t know what you’ve got, until you lose it.” But it’s also true that you won’t know what you’re missing by settling for physical mediocrity until you have experienced the sublime state of optimal wellness. 

As far as the spiritual element goes, how’s this for an uncomplicated summary: Love the Lord and keep His commandments. And for the “how-to,” I can refer you to an excellent, compact, two-part instruction manual called The Bible – amazingly still available all these millennia later (what earthly publisher could have managed that feat?) at your local bookstore. The Master will lead you from there. 

What I can offer here is a bit of help in sorting through the reams of available advice on flourishing, physically. Ergo, a composite, shaped by my own experience, of some keys to good health. Usually packaged in a pink bow for a female audience, my hints are tailored for general consumption, so to speak. This batch comes from the first of a set of weekly emails I’m putting together for the son of a friend, who is looking to optimize his own physical condition – a collection, as I wrote to this young man recently, of timely tidbits to chew on over the week ahead. Bon appetit.  (more…)

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January 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm 1 comment

“Hallelujah,” And Other Mood-Altering Mental Exercises

In my small CLC congregation, we have a lovely tradition of singing the the Hallelujah Chorus at the close of our Christmas morning worship services. Well, I say “we,” when in fact it is our golden-toned choir joined by visiting choir alumni who provide this rendition of Handel’s most inspired contribution to the world of music. And oh, what a glorious, rafters-lifting sound they produce, as they author wave after wave of goose pimples on the flesh on this particular pew potato. The audio memory replays inside my skull for days and weeks following my enjoyment of the original performance. 

Nothing too unusual about all of that, except that I have turned this healthy compulsion into a sanity-preserver, and the formation of that new habit went something like this: Like most people who try to make sense of society’s capacity for moral malefaction, distressing thoughts sometimes creep into my consciousness – most often when I am out walking and away from mundane distractions. But recently we’ve had many personal reasons to direct “hallelujahs” heavenward, so I promised myself I’d abandon my old, futile habit of fuming over the irrational ways of the world and adopt a new plan. 

The next time I caught myself grieving over the government meddling that has brought our once-great health care system to its knees over the past 66 years, I thought about the dear wife of a dear friend, and her recent miracle of a successful kidney transplant. “Hallelujah!” I shouted inside my head, and the resentment evaporated, poof, like a cost-of-living increase in a stinky economy. 

Later, as thoughts about the recent Tucson tragedy and how it was further embedded with angst by finger-pointing politicos started to stir up some ill will, I reminded myself that a wonderful human being we know and love, who shops regularly at the Safeway store where the atrocity occurred, was spared any personal harm or injury in that dreadful event. “Hallelujah!” echoed the now-automatic mantra inside my cranium.

And yet again, as I stewed and brewed over the recent announcement that only 35% of the 1.4 billion in relief aid sent to Haiti after last year’s earthquake has sifted through a corrupt government to reach desperate citizens, I recall that we just got news that a friend got a fine report on her cardiac stress test following complications from gastric lap-band surgery, and the “hallelujah!” burst forth out of nowhere, as if it had taken on a life of its own. 

Over and over, this little psychological tool worked to hone my perspective and balance my mood. The renewed spring in my step is sure welcome, since I’ve been experiencing “winter fatigue” lately. 

Back at home, I type into my search engine, “Why am I so tired during the winter months?” The results tell me pretty much what I’d expected: Too little daylight translates to sluggishness. Get plenty of sleep; exercise regularly – outside whenever possible; hang around with upbeat people, I read. With a new strategy for not letting life’s woes settle in to roost in my psyche, a few sunny days here and there, distraction in the form of workouts and editing projects, and a whole universe of healthful recipes yet to be sampled, I have stopped grumbling and taken action. 

Need a little extra energy to conquer your own internal and external roadblocks? How about a lovely New Year’s Day Bean Soup, some classic All-Beef Meatloaf with Mashed Sweet Potatoes, a Whole Wheat Spinach and Mozzarella Pizza for color and a virtual alphabet of vitamins, and a little dietary indulgence therapy in the form of Orange Buttermilk Cranberry Upside Down-Upside Down Cake? (more…)

January 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm 1 comment

Spaghetti Night at Grandma’s

It’s 52 miles between the small dairy farm outside of Luck, Wisconsin, where Irma Skow DeGidio grew up, and the Minneapolis suburb where she and husband Nick settled to raise their family. But frequent trips home to make huge batches of Christmas stew or to help out during the summer canning season have kept her rural connections robust over the years. 

With their five daughters mostly grown and starting families of their own, she and Nick relocated to Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and Irma decided it was time to weave a few more country customs into the fabric of their suburban life. Twenty-eight years later, Spaghetti Night at Grandma’s is still the sturdy thread that draws her extended clan together on a regular basis. Summer or winter, sunshine or sleet, up to 40 people gather in Irma’s immaculate garage or basement once a week to share the latest family news and swap vacation stories or ideas for recreation or dining out or home maintenance.   

“Keeping in touch is so important,” Irma explains. “The grandchildren learn so much from spending time with family, and open doors invite people to bring their concerns to those who love them.” She shares this sage advice by example; her collection of family recipes upon request; and the gift of these warm mini-reunions with friends, neighbors, and out-of-town visitors as well as in-town relatives. 

That universe of in-town relatives seems to be an ever-expanding one, with the current count at 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, most of whom show up for spaghetti night at least a percentage of the time, “Along with a few of the teenagers’ boyfriends and girlfriends,” Irma adds. That calls for buckets of pasta and all the trimmings, and of course a selection of Grandma’s homemade desserts. 

How does this soon-to-be-85-year-old, who takes two blood pressure medications and suffers from arthritis and peripheral edema, manage this weekly feat? She simply does what come naturally, building on her own country traditions to preserve the true meaning of “family values.”  (more…)

January 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm 2 comments

Christmas Passed…Or Did It?

How to Stay Warm Through a Minnesota Winter

When temps dip too low, my outdoor thermometer flatlines, as if to say, “You donwanna know.” On this first day of 2011, it is cold enough that my husband has trouble surfacing from the warmth of the quilted comforter, so I send little Muñeca in to keep him motivated. Her self-defined job description? To paw for a little petting attention and keep him from falling hopelessly back into a REM state. Soon I hear his gravel-voiced declaration, “She’s a big help in getting me up,” and peer in to see her snuggle-bugged up close to his side, her own eyelids heavy with sleep. 

As the mercury grunts its way up to 14°, the crunch of powdered sugar under my boots, the pup and I try our footing on the snow-frosted layer of ice that came down in one five-minute deluge on New Year’s Eve afternoon. The pup thinks better of it and heads back inside, while I trudge forth – if not smarter, at least hardier. But iced-over streets prove less of a challenge than the park paths, where planting my foot in the frozen imprint of a previous trekker is essential to staying upright and not breaking an ankle in the deep, crusted snow. Bundled in quilted outerwear, I must look like the Michelin Man on a tightrope. 

Meanwhile, the 40 percent of my mind that is not occupied with this balancing act idly marvels at the fact that the Christmas commercials that have plagued us for over two months are still jingling out their “buy me” messages a week after The Day itself has passed. As an antidote, I try to reconstruct the beautiful Oswald Chambers passage I read from the December 31st offering in My Utmost for His Highest. 

It seems that no matter how I hard I try to stay focused on the Real Reason for the season, a hustle and bustle atmosphere inevitably churns up around me as I rush to get baked goods into the mail for dear ones far from us and try to keep on schedule with seasonal projects that pile up on top of daily chores. But that Chambers’ entry haunts me, so I remind myself that the four weeks of Advent have led us directly into the brilliant illumination of the Epiphany season, and seek it out for a refresher read: 

“Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.” These two straightforward sentences put all the mainstream New Year’s resolution advice to certain shame. 

And I am definitely a New Year’s reformist, a believer in fresh starts. The very possibility of God guiding me to improve on (or build on) the week before delivers me into each Monday morning with a sense of hopeful enthusiasm. You can imagine what a thrill January 1st ignites in me. So I’ll cast only a quick glance back at Christmas Dinner Past before striding into 2011. 

Our celebration menu started with one of my (in)famous improvised punches, poetically labeled Kirhamshire Cranberry Shrub, followed by Butternut Squash Soup with Rye Toast Croutons, Sirloin Tip Roast with Sherry Pan Sauce, Sautéed Mushrooms and Onions, Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes, Green beans with Crumbled Bacon and Pine Nuts, Citrus-Avocado Salad, Tweed Popovers, Roasted Pear Wedges, and Red and Green Ice Cream Bombé with Assorted Christmas Cookies. (more…)

January 3, 2011 at 11:17 pm Leave a comment


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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

Have a taste and see what you think. If you like what we are serving up, please tell your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to stop by for a visit, too.

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