Posts tagged ‘wisdom for life’

Pray, Walk, Cook

roast with potatoesI have a new addiction. I discovered this on a recent Saturday at the lunch table. To be precisely accurate,  it’s really an old addiction, revisited and revised, but the awakened sense of craving is undeniable, and it reminds me of how comforting a simple, satisfying meal can be. This comes at a time when I could use the positive distraction of experimenting in the kitchen.

So what’s with that title? Like many of us, my mind is heavy with concern for those being  victimized by terrorists and corrupt rulers. Throw in concern for dear ones who face cancer, the plight of neighbors making the difficult transition to widowhood, and the daily struggle to meet the challenge of my husband’s gastroparesis – a complication of diabetes that baffles even the specialists.

To cap it all, the same entertainment industry which has done more to reduce lovemaking to a rude, crude, meaningless act than any other force on earth starts lecturing the rest of us about our responsibility to stem the tide of sexual assaults. Kinda’ like a swelling, hurricane-churned ocean belittling the meek, quavering levy for not holding it back.

I know I’ve addressed this subject here before, but I’ll be danged if the battle against anxiety never gets won for good. Not if you have half a brain and half a heart. Sometimes life just gets too loud. Taking a giant step back from news reports once in a while to sift out those problems we can actually do something about is a start. Beyond that, I have developed a formula that hasn’t failed me yet.

ACTION STEP NUMBER ONE: Pray. And by this I do not mean contemplate the universe to fortify your aura. Nor do I mean meditatively conjure positive mental images in order to suck good things into your spiritual vortex or cast hopeful wishes skyward toward “The Unknown Source” and hope She’s out there with her catcher’s mitt on, paying attention.

Not any of that. Just true, humbling, turn it all over in faith and beg for guidance and endurance from your Creator prayer. I appeal to the Lord to use me in combating evil and in offering comfort to the burdened. I plead for the stamina to hold onto Joy and Peace in a sin-mired world. And I ask for an emboldened will to fend off my quavering, as news of wars, and rumors of impending wars, bombard from all sides.

To quote one Pastor David Fuerstenau, “God answers with encouragement and strength, but not without our participation in the battle.”

ACTION STEP NUMBER TWO: Walk. Prevention magazine has recommended this cure for decades. Pumping the limbs and soaking up sunshine is incredibly therapeutic, both physically and psychologically. In crummy weather, pounding out a few miles on a treadmill or elliptical trainer fills the prescription. And for us multi-taskers, steps one and two often overlap. If my mind should stray to unpleasant thoughts while I’m puffing through a power hike, I mentally list all the things I am grateful for. Counted blessings add up to attitude adjustment, guaranteed. No anxiety drug could cover all these bases in a million years, and with only pleasant side-effects.

ACTION STEP NUMBER THREE: Cook. A friend and I once tried to pin down why cooking can be such an enriching endeavor. It’s not just that a growling stomach gets tamed and a primal need satisfied, because I get a sense of fulfillment whether I am cooking for myself or for a tableful of family members.

The chopping and sautéing. The alchemy of transforming unappealing raw ingredients into aromatic, fresh-from-the-oven offerings. The artistry of arranging avocado and orange slices on a bed of romaine with slices of red onion. Each has its own reward.

I suppose this is because food is so basic to life. A human essential, like the hunger for nurturing we all harbor. Caringly prepared, nutritionally-dense fare acknowledges both needs. I can buy a box of chocolates churned out in some factory somewhere. Or I can spend a few hours shopping for quality ingredients and forming them into dozens of homemade truffles for a treasured friend’s birthday. Both acts are thoughtful. But for the cooking-minded foodie, only one is an option.

So that’s my formula. The prayer part is easy, and some form of physical exertion can be adapted for virtually everyone.

As for the cooking, anyone I know can scramble a soft, fluffy egg and sprinkle it with grated cheddar, or slide a beef roast into a pan with a bit of wine and broth, along with a few potatoes and onions to slowly caramelize over the next few hours, perfuming the air with their magnificence.

And that rediscovered addiction? Peanut butter and braunschweiger. When my daring big brother insisted I try this combination as a child, I almost gagged in disbelief. Here he was, trying to punk me again. It was that Christmas tin of chocolate-covered ants all over again.

But eventually I accepted the challenge, and while it’s not a frequent indulgence, I haven’t ever regretted it. I had only gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread on hand last weekend to pair with a leftover chunk of liverwurst. So, in my own spurt of daring, I toasted two slices of that heavenly redolent stuff, gopped on some chunky peanut butter as a base, then layered on a few ounces of the creamy, mauve-colored meat paste. Soon I was issuing Homer Simpson-like gargles in my private moment of bliss. I’m still at a loss to describe the umami-ness of it.

Hey, I once scoffed myself, if you’ll recall. But accept the dare and you just might get a few satisfied sighs out of it. You can always prayer-walk off the calories later.

October 23, 2014 at 3:11 am Leave a comment

Vroooom and Zoom – There Goes Summer

Freedom_of_SpeechIt’s been over a month since I last wrote anything here, and by golly if we aren’t practically staring autumn in the face already. By the time I publish my observations on days six and seven of our April trip to Mexico, we’ll probably be ankle-deep in our first snow fall of the season – an event we had hoped to miss out on this year before we stepped into the surreal world of selling our house.

It’s all starting to seem like an endless loop of one thing leading to another, this business of upping the curb appeal, bringing the interior up-to-date, listing the property with a realtor, and finding a warmer location we feel comfortable retiring to before 2014 comes to an end – all while simultaneously sorting and clearing fifty-plus years of habitation out of every nook and cranny of my husband’s family homestead.

But one of the rewards of pawing through other people’s decades’ worth of collected memorabilia (and my in-laws were world champion savers, for sure) is that you stumble upon at least one treasure in every string of “what in the world is this?” discoveries.

Below, the transcription of a P.R. piece published circa 1963, in blue ink, on an ivory-colored 6″ by 3-1/2″ card by Coast Federal Savings and Loan Association’s Free Enterprise Department, located at 9th and Hill, Los Angeles 14, California.

Try picturing a contemporary politician being willing to risk offending the low-information contingent of the electorate with such high expectations. And can you even imagine a bank today having the backbone to share such a message, with ranks of waiting-to-be-insulted professional victims lurking around every corner, visions of a lucrative lawsuit dancing in their heads?
Sadly, neither can I. But here, from a slightly more common sense era, the quoted comments of Representative Richard H. Poff, as originally published in the November 3, 1962, issue of the magazine Human Events.

WHAT IS FREE ENTERPRISE
“Basically, the free enterprise system means freedom of the individual. Under the free enterprise system, the individual is free to make something of himself if he has the enterprise to do it. Too many people put too much emphasis on ‘free’ and too little emphasis on ‘enterprise.’

“The difference between a free nation and a slave nation can be very simply stated. In a free nation, the people accept the responsibility for their own welfare; while in a slave nation that responsibility is turned over to the government. Or, to put it another way, meaning the same thing, in a free nation the state gets its right from the people; while in a slave nation, the people get their rights, if any, from the state.”

But wait, as infomercials are fond of insisting; there’s more. Flip the card over and you find these words of wisdom, reprinted from the January 1961 issue of Manage Magazine, and titled

TIME IS RUNNING OUT
“The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations progressed through this sequence:
From Bondage to Spiritual Faith
From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage
From Courage to Liberty
From Liberty to Abundance
From Abundance to Selfishness
From Selfishness to Complacency
From Complacency to Apathy
From Apathy to Dependency
From Dependency back again into Bondage

“In sixteen years our nation will be 200 years old. This cycle is not inevitable…
IT DEPENDS UPON YOU”

Is it just me being paranoid, or have we indeed become far too comfortable with the idea that our rights derive from the government, and far too accepting of the creeping ideology that we answer to government rather than the other way ’round? Is this the selfish complacency of which we were warned, the apathy and dependency predicted about the same time this sturdy old house of mine was being built?

This Labor Day holiday, I hope to stand with the Founders and reclaim the truth that man’s rights come from God, not from an elitist political class which wields the power of the State like a sledge hammer. May the free and the enterprising lead the way out of this bondage and back again into the spiritual faith from which our true liberty derives.

September 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm 2 comments

True Romantics

old booksI was musing here not long ago about the rewards of preserving snippets of the past. Valentine’s Day being a time for sharing the sentimental, and as a sort of post script to that previous piece, I’m sharing another recent experience that left my heart warmed and rewarded.

A few months ago I posted the following ad online:

Early 20th Century Cookbook Collection

Fascinating materials for the food historian or the curious contemporary cook. Eight hardcover books from 1908-1946, plus 14 paperback booklets dated 1906-1950, including 1917’s A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband With Bettina’s Best Recipes; a 1946 edition of Joy of Cooking; a 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book; the 1944 Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book; The New Jell-o Book of Surprises from 1930; Rumford Southern Recipes, and more. Books range from fair to good condition.

This assortment had belonged to my beloved stepmother, but I was running out of room, and none of my stepsisters were interested in these family items.

With nary a nibble from the Craig’s list crowd, I hatched the bright idea of narrowing my audience to a more select group. The term “Home Economics” is apparently as outdated as my association with college campuses, but I managed to locate and contact the Food Science and Nutrition Department through the University of Minnesota’s home page.

The secretary – excuse me – the administrative assistant there referred me to the Department Head who offered to place a blurb in the staff newsletter. When the Department Head himself thought about my offering, he decided to purchase the set for his wife, as part of her Christmas gift last December. “She tells me she really enjoys reading old cookbooks,” he shared. It was an example of what my stepmother would have called synchronicity.

I delivered the books to said professor in ribbon-tied bundles according to size, and then rushed off to finish my own harried Christmas preparations. He was a very nice, soft-spoken fellow. A genteel individual in the classic sense. I was immediately sorry to have rushed through our exchange so quickly, but soon refocused on more positive thoughts of the holiday to come.

Come January, I found myself speculating over how this kind man’s wife might have received his thoughtful and unique gift, worrying just a tad that it might have been a disappointment to one of them, once in hand. The brown-edged covers of the paperback pamphlets were charming, with their marcel-waved, cherry-faced housewives positively elated over the products of their displayed baking efforts, but some were a bit weary with age. Would that have been a detracting feature?

Driven, cat-like, by a raging sense of curiosity, I decided to inquire.

On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 12:53 PM I wrote:

Professor:

Good morning. I am the person from whom you purchased the old cook book collection that had come to me through my stepmother and her ancestors. I don’t mean to barge into your busy day, but I have been curious to know if your wife found the assortment to be entertaining and informative, as I did.

A belated happy new year to you and yours.

SAK

At 1:21 on that same date, the professor responded:

She loves them. I will find her at the kitchen table or by the living room fireplace reading them. They are the perfect gift for her. (They have a good home.)
Thank you,

G

On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 4:41 PM, I replied:

How delightful. Thank you for taking the time to respond. You are a gracious gentleman, and I was pleased to have the chance to meet you.

To which he further responded:

And I enjoyed meeting a person who is obviously very caring – you did not sell the books to the highest bidder but to a person who would value, enjoy and care for them.

My best wishes,

G

The image of this nice man’s wife poring over with interest the contents of a literary time capsule from generations past that my stepmother had cherished brightened my day. Lit up my week. And his generous comments put to rest any lingering concerns about the decision to give the volumes up.

They indeed have a good home. That, in my mind, is a romantic thought: A loving husband valuing treasures from the past, and being tuned in enough to his wife’s passions that he found her the perfect gift.

A match made in heaven, perhaps. Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

February 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm 3 comments

The Persistence of Memories

bundle of old lettersLast year, for my birthday, a dear, long-time friend sent me three letters I had written to her eons ago. I caught my breath and felt a lump form in my throat when I saw that vaguely familiar loopy adolescent handwriting and the ancient return address. I chuckled out loud over the goofy notation on the backside of one of the envelopes, “To open, insert big toe under flap and wiggle.”

Reading the letters themselves, the words and thoughts of my 14-to-17-year-old self, led me through a whole catalogue of feelings. This was possibly the most meaningful gift I have ever received. A little background:

I am a saver. It’s a compulsion I’ve been trying to rein in, having now disbursed the material belongings for two households with similar inclinations. There’s nothing like plowing through someone else’s inexplicable stashes – used zippers and outdated advice columns anyone? – to make one take the vow. My husband and I are determined not to leave the same massive challenge behind for our survivors. But holding onto things is a tough tendency to reform, with its intensely emotional and deep-planted roots.

To be clear, there are two kinds of motivation for us saver-types. One, the practical if extremist conserve/reuse/recycle mentality; the other, a result of being raised by a thrower, and the sense of grief that the loss of childhood treasures can create. I suffer the double-whammy of being plagued by both impulses, and crushing regret over lost diaries, doll collections, and scrapbooks plagues my psyche to this day.

So my approach to “clearing out” is definitely a cautious one. Over the past decade of trolling through the files of departed loved ones, I have appreciated coming across old correspondence, which either makes a good contribution to the Family History portfolio – another project for another day – or becomes a perfect opportunity to re-gift the original sender by sharing the long-lost sentiments of an earlier day. A note written by a beloved aunt to my mother-in-law when her baby boomer sons were still toddlers; a beautiful letter sent to that same mother-in-law by her soon-to-be daughter-in-law in 1970; actual recordings of the voices of my stepmother’s three grandsons, circa 19774.

When I received my own such offering from a friend who knows me well enough to understand how very much I would value it, my goal of carefully preserving all that which has meaning and sharing it with others was reinforced ten-fold.

I started with my own Christmas card stash, and tossed all the generic messages, saving only the photos and annual letters. That’s one whole grocery bagful to the recycling bin and out of my file drawer.

Next, my own bulging file folders labeled “Personal Correspondence” and “Consumer Correspondence.” Most of the consumer-related stuff can be purged, although you may see a few prime examples of snarky and indignant complaints reprinted here for your entertainment in the future. But the personal communications will be fine-tooth-combed for opportunities to share the delights of a photographically accurate step back in time with others.

Today, a friend’s daughter celebrates her 13th birthday. This child was a mid-life blessing to a loving mom who had finally found her prince, and I remember the day of her baby’s birth with crystal clarity. What I had forgotten was the charming content of emails this mom and I exchanged leading up to her miracle baby’s entrance into the world.

Today I am putting together a folder of chronologically-ordered email exchanges I printed out and filed away at the time. This afternoon, I will deliver this collection to the mom along with her daughter’s birthday gift. The notes are replete with joy and humor and a teensy bit of angst, and they transported me right back to the time and place and state of mind of their origins. They made me smile, they touched my heart, and they recaptured lost moments.

I hope and pray that they will do the same for my good friend, also known as the beautiful Sarah’s mom.

February 6, 2014 at 6:20 pm 2 comments

Every Day in Every Way

walker III was all set to sit down and indulge in another clichéd mini-rant about Minnesota, The Land of 10,000 Extremes. A self-indulgent ramble about how, one Wednesday, most of the state is suffering through a 105 degree heat index, and the next Wednesday, record-breaking lows have us all flipping our thermostat switches from “Cool” to “Heat” at night. The Ides of July, I was going to title it.

When I realized how much effort was required to make that topic interesting, again, even as a segue into the more stimulating subject of Minnesota’s weird political climate, I abandoned the idea. My critic’s eye has noted too many published articles that read as if the author were motivated to crank out something, anything, just to get some quick cash coming in for the month. There is no passion or depth to them. Don’t particularly want to join that club, even if there isn’t a paycheck involved.

What then seeped into my mind were thoughts on a very personal undertaking I’ve tackled this week: Operation Saving Mom. Sounds a bit grandiose, I suppose, but I am only ashamed that I didn’t catch on sooner that the lady who lives downstairs, and happens to be my mother-in-law, wasn’t just being her usual “the glass is half-empty,” headstrong little German self about things, she was sinking into depression.

I’ve skidded down that muddy slope in the past myself; it’s the reason I’m so committed to vigorous physical activity to keep my personal supply of endorphins pumped up throughout the day. As soon as Mom K quit watching the news or doing her laundry, I should have recognized the symptoms. But I was too busy being angry with her for rejecting the helpful advice of the savvy, caring geriatrician we finally hooked her up with. For always being back in bed when I went down with the mail or a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies; for not showing any interest in using a prescribed walker to get back on her feet; for nibbling on sweets rather than devouring the juicy turkey meatloaf patty, made just to her tastes.

So she sank, deeper and deeper, into that sickness of spirit that leaves a person not wanting to move and wondering why God is taking so long to call you home. I still can’t believe that I was so blind to the emerging clues. But as I said, I was too busy analyzing the situation, and how I felt about it.

Still, I did invest a lot of prayer in her plight. And as usual, the answer I got was not the one I expected. After a particularly trying day, which had my husband and me racked with frustration over Mom’s surrender to negative thinking, I woke up the next morning to a “duh” moment: She had missed meals and was acting confused. She was probably so weak that she had nothing left to draw on. She needed an intervention, and I had my nose up so close to the window of her life that I couldn’t see it.

You have to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I remember that irrational state of mind very well. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself, if there’s nothing pulling you into the day ahead, why greet morning? Why eat breakfast? Why get dressed? And the less you move around and the more malnourished you are, the faster the downward spiral.

Starting this week, I go down right about when breakfast should take place, and then again to set up lunch, and with the day’s mail, and with dinner. And her beloved son visits and checks her pill dispenser every evening, after he gets home from work.

She is getting out of bed now, because she knows I’ll be knocking on her door. And she is eating the protein-heavy meals I cook and put on a tray in front of her. Scrambled egg and a whole grain waffle square. Open-faced Tuna melt sandwich with grapes on the side. French toast and extra crisp bacon for brunch one lazy, sleep-in day. Pork loin with roasted potatoes and fresh green beans. And whole-grain fresh peach cobbler with salted caramel ice cream to satisfy that sweet tooth of hers. While I’m there, I read to her, humorous articles or excerpts from recollections written by her peers, and she relates and discusses them with some interest.

She’s feeling a little better after only a few days of this intensive “TLC therapy.” So am I.

Mom had tried a daily mantra of, “Every day in every way, I’m getting better and stronger.” It’s not, we had to tell her, a magical incantation. It doesn’t work of your heart and will aren’t behind it. A few weeks before the flash of enlightenment that got the belated intervention rolling, I had started regular deliveries of affirmations to replace her limp recitations of the old standby chant. She tells me these little blurbs mean a lot to her, and I think it’s the idea that someone takes the time, as much as it is the messages. But I’m also front-loading those affirmations with gentle nudgings to not shrink from the challenge of keeping life meaningful at 90, and beyond.

So, six days a week, a neon orange half-sheet of text goes down with the daily mail, with the heading, “Every day in every way, God has a purpose for my life,” followed by a few lines of encouragement:

“Each day, I bring glory to God through my example of living my faith.”
“I have children who love me and a church family that cares about me. They look to me for hope and inspiration for their own later years.”
“This world is not my home. But it is a temporary assignment that God wants me to take seriously right up to its very last day.”

The next phase of our Saving Mom project? It’s a quirk of human physiology that expending energy generates more energy. It may take a while for the fire to ignite, but a daily walk that first seems wearying eventually becomes the pilot light that keeps your burners firing throughout the day. The more you do, the more you feel like doing. A human body in motion truly wants to stay in motion. This is a hard sell for Mom, who has been sitting in a chair for months, waiting to feel “better” enough to start moving again. But resort to a cane for stability? Never.

Meanwhile, her muscles atrophy and her gate becomes more and more unsteady. My husband’s mission is to convince her that, with his help, she can get up and about – maybe even out of the house – and regain some mobility. So we snuck out and bought her a walker. Please pray for us!

As for my own attitude adjustment strategy, this is my new daily mantra:

Every day, in every way, God has a purpose for my life….
“And it’s not about me. Everything originated in Him and finds its purpose in Him.”

August 2, 2013 at 6:18 pm 3 comments

Lessons From a Cleanse: Part Last

Front Yrd 3-23-11 IIEntering weeks two and three. “I needed to be reminded of the importance of variety and balance that this past week has taught me,” reads my journal entry for day 8. I focus on flavor vs. plate-filling bulk, and learn more about the satiating attributes of omega-3 oils and the metabolism-boosting, immunity-bolstering benefits of exotic spices.

I connect with the Creator through prayer, not meditation, so while I don’t “practice” yoga, I do yoga-style limbering exercises from a dusty tome I discovered in my book collection, and rid myself of stress headaches and neck tension in the process. My four mile morning walk had become less than relaxing, upper body muscles contracting against sub-zero wind-chills and lower body tensing against the frosty uncertainty underfoot. In its place, I reintroduce some weight training and intensify the indoor aerobics sessions.

Week two also allows for hot breakfasts – cardamom quinoa porridge with toasted almonds, and luscious banana, oat flour pancakes smeared with honey. One day I go crazy and sub in a bowl of brown rice with vanilla almond milk, nutmeg, and chopped gala apple. Severely sublime.

Lunch and dinner recipes include the one and only clunker in the batch, sesame kale salad, but that is more than compensated for by mouth-watering baked salmon in coconut broth; earthy, nutty black bean-brown rice patties; paprika-warmed roasted squash and brussels sprouts on quinoa with tahini sauce; a Dijon, lemon, olive oil-dressed broccoli and chick pea salad for the gods; baked sweet potato with Swiss chard and creamy avocado; and a lemon-herb sardine salad that is way, way better than it sounds.

I never even got around to baking cherry-date bars or making creamy mango pops. I was too busy experimenting with my new favorite snack – fruit smoothies. My proudest serendipitous find: a whole, small, fresh pineapple trimmed, cored, and whirred to a pulp with a splash of light coconut milk and a generous cup of frozen raspberries. No stomach rumblings going on that night as I lay me down to sleep.

On day 10 I write, “Even better energy, body-ache, mood, and flexibility-wise than days 1-9. I am loving this. My only complaint about the menu is that it is too rich; I cut back on the oil-heavy sauces, and still have lip-smackingly good results. And what a revelation: Vegetarian doesn’t suck, or suck you dry of energy.”

On day 12, “I think the euphoria is wearing off a bit. Maybe it’s being stuck inside, trapped by the frigid weather day after day; maybe I’m craving some good ol’ lean beef chili or a baked chicken breast. It’s not a terrible crash, but anticipating week three’s prescribed tofu-heavy menus doesn’t help. We’ll see how it goes.”

Well. That’s how it goes. Very well. I should have known that if you marinate almost anything edible in enough soy sauce, olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast it until it bubbles, it’s going to turn out pretty darned tasty. Firm tofu – basically soy bean curd formed into spongy blocks – is quite, uh, sponge-like. It absorbs whatever good, flavorful stuff you expose it to. Serve it thusly infused, on a bed of shredded fresh baby spinach leaves and warm brown rice, and it is, dare I say, beefy – in both texture and flavor.

Add in lunch and dinner recipes for roasted red pepper and kale frittatas; garlic and lime-dressed avocado and black bean tacos sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds; baked acorn squash stuffed with shimmering sautéed onion, cannellini beans, quinoa, and kale; poached egg on a bed of brown rice, shredded red cabbage, and edamame beans; and a roasted slab of halibut with diced beets and lemon dressing, and you have another seven day’s worth of epicurean delights.

And I haven’t even mentioned week three’s bodacious recipe for banana-apple buckwheat muffins. I didn’t have buckwheat, so I used millet flour – also gluten free. The results were, like the old Mounds candy bar commercial claim, indescribably delicious. But you know me; I’ll have a go at it anyway. The dense, moist, honey-sweetened little breakfast cakes that tumbled out of my oiled muffin tins were rich with cinnamon, mellow with diced sweet apple chunks, and satisfyingly crunchy with coarse-chopped walnuts. I wanted to eat all four in one sitting, but reined myself in to the recommended two per serving. With a cup of hot tea, these would make a tantalizing treat for any day of the year. Morning, noon, or night.

By week’s end, I’m feeling fabulous again, if a tad hungry on the small portions. The added exercise inspires me to note, “Perhaps this will be the week I prove to myself that I need them pork chops!”

But as I count down the last three days of “clean” eating, I don’t feel deprived at all. I chow down on those delectable muffins, revisit my favorite aoili-dressed broccoli and garbanzo salad lunch, and find that I am not even remotely straining at the bit to get back to “normal” eating.

So what is my bottom-line take-away from this little experiment? For a type-A perfectionist, there’s the reinforced message that slowing down, focusing with heightened intention on what you put into your mouth and what you expect of your body, and seeking out ways to feel lighter and less sluggish after a meal are legitimate steps on the ladder to overall wellness. Even if you think, as I did, that you have it all figured out, opening the mind to new input can nudge you up and over your seasonal lethargy like nothing else I’ve stumbled upon.

Seven weeks post-cleanse, I am still feeling good; still benefitting from a varied exercise routine, the occasional vegetarian meal, and the creamy, high-calcium, low-calorie goodness of unsweetened almond milk on my morning oatmeal. Although the regimen I’ve described hardly requires sacrifice – a word with such poignant meaning for large portions of the world’s population – it does demonstrate that even voluntarily giving up indulgences can buttress a sagging disposition.

As we Minnesotans tiptoe cautiously toward the Ides of April, today’s weather forecast reads like an Almanac page from February: Storm warnings blanket half the state, with predictions for up to eight inches of new snow and a feels-like temperature of 20-something. Now there’s a Real World trial for a reinforced spirit. You may just see me careening back to the shelter of the three week challenge, desperately seeking serenity. The perpetual grayness of an interminable winter does have a way of punching a big fat hole in even the most determinedly readjusted attitude.

Note: To find the recipes I’ve gushed about above, pop on over to http://www.wholeliving.com/action-plan.

April 11, 2013 at 4:57 pm 2 comments

Lessons From a Cleanse: Part II

cashews in a glass bowlSo here we are. Day One of Week One. I’ve shopped for the requisite lemons, limes, pineapple, oranges, mangos, and other fresh fruits; stocked up on lentils, vegetables, nuts, and seeds; indulged in an array of fresh herbs and a bottle of dried turmeric. I tentatively accept the proposition that combinations of these foods will “tune up the liver by supplying it with the things it needs most.” Now I look forward to the promised result of increased energy and sounder sleep.

The plan directs me to skip weight training and focus on stretching for ten minutes, five days this week, with 30 minutes of mellow cardio on three days. I will increase that to daily half-hour elliptical workouts on six days. I know my well-being requires this. I’ll also expand the stretching sessions to 20-30 minutes each, and add a 20 minute midday yoga session every day but Sunday.

My meals for days one through seven are tasty, if sparser than the mounded platters I usually dish up. French lentil salad, creamy broccoli soup, cauliflower “rice” stir-fry, roasted portabellas with kale, red lentil and sweet potato stew, roasted beets on greens.

Breakfasts this week are smoothies. Rejecting juicers because they waste so much nutritious fiber, I’ve printed out alternative blender recipes from wholeliving.com, and soon learn that puréed green apple and kale gives no comfort on a frigid winter morning. But the mango-tahini blend is luscious, the blueberry-mint refreshing, and the carrot-beet-pear combination gives my taste buds a happy surprise.

I enjoy an evening snack every day but Tuesday, when I ironically fall into bed too hungry to schlep my bod back into the kitchen and whip something up. End of the day munchables include strawberry-coconut-banana smoothies, sweet potato chips, raisins and pumpkin seeds, or an apple with homemade cashew cream.

With all the initial food prep required, some days I don’t eat lunch until 2:30 or 3:00, and am stunned to be neither swooning with hunger nor shaky and irritable from dips in my blood sugar. Bottom line: mood and energy levels, a-okay, and tummy just empty enough to really appreciate the good stuff coming its way. “When you know you’re locked in to a prescribed menu, you are freed to focus on other things,” I write in my journal.

My usual sleep patterns are pretty good, but I find that I’m sleeping well and long consistently, rather than sporadically. It’s just plain easier to get out of bed in the morning. By Wednesday, I have a distinct sense of benefit from the stretching and yoga. My mind doesn’t race as much, with thoughts tumbling and tripping over each other and bouncing off the walls of my cranium. And by Thursday, I feel reprogrammed somehow. Softer around the edges, but not weak or depleted. I fully expected to be hallucinating by now, instead of enjoying a sense of calm and well-being.

Except for that one night. I haven’t had a handful of Lay’s or Pringles in years, but my subconscious must be totally confused by what’s happening inside the body cavities below because I awaken in a panic from a gustatory nightmare: I dreamt I’d eaten a whole, family-size bag of cool ranch potato chips, ruined the whole effort, and had to start all over again. Maybe losing a quick three or four pounds from these radical alterations to my diet is doing weird things to the brain.

Getting ready to enter week two, I am astounded at how fabulous I feel. My energy levels remain high and this sense of peace is an unexpected gift. When our (new) computer crashes and I have to recreate an entire blog piece plus three laboriously produced pages of the memoir I’m working on, it is unfortunate, but not devastating. My temper never even flirts with a meltdown. At this point, I decide that my rage center has put up the “Gone Fishing” sign. Let’s make that an extended vacation, please.

If my senses are being distorted by chemical changes in my system, then the transformation must be for the good. Sitting across from my nacho-noshing husband at Taco Bell, as I nibble on the sugar snap peas I bagged up and brought along from home, something sinks in hard: Boldly embracing the discarded concept of will power and reconnecting with one’s sense of self-control feels pretty darned good.

I’ll put my halo away for now, and get this posted. Notes on weeks two and three will follow shortly. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you about this whole subject of cleanses, detoxing, or simply revamping and tweaking your routine. What has worked for you?

March 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm 1 comment

For Better or for Worse, But Better is Better

Heart figureIt is the day after Cupid’s Day and I’m chomping sour grapes.  I’ve managed to convince myself that the only reason I didn’t win a Valentine dinner out with my sweetie is because the local newspaper’s “Greatest Love Story” contest was judged not by the quality of the mini-essay entries, but by who was able to round up enough acquaintances willing to help them stuff the electronic ballot box.  But who wants a fabulous gourmet meal at one of the finest Italian dining establishments the Twin Cities has to offer, anyway?  (Pit-too-ee; these Concord  seeds are hard on the teeth.)

Now that I have that all rationalized, my thoughts are free to explore more consequential things.

On the day before Valentine’s, I interviewed a warm, delightful woman who survived over three decades  of marriage to an emotionally unbalanced man who had never given her one compliment or word of encouragement in 33 years of living together.  A specialist in the art of non-parenting, he overtly favored his first-born son, and virtually ignored his only daughter and son number two.  Looking back, Trudy struggles to forgive herself for not “taking the kids and leaving” that dismal family environment years earlier.

But her children bear no ill feelings.  Somehow, with the help of a gracious God, Whom their mother led them to in quiet moments alone together, all three turned out to be high-achieving, well-adjusted adults.  “Forget it and put it behind us,” they counsel  their mom, appreciating the fact that it was a blessing to have been mostly ignored by this narcissistic man, who bought himself $300.00 suits while his wife and children shopped at second-hand stores.  And the fact that Mom’s loving ministrations had more than compensated for Dad’s neglect and verbal abuse.

Within a year or two of finalizing her divorce from the charmer who shed his niceness like a molting reptile  the moment he had walked down the aisle, Trudy met a wonderful man for whom it is second nature to treat her with loving respect and to be an equal partner in every aspect of their lives.  Her gratitude for this union radiates with every relaxed smile she beams and every endearing southern expression she utters.

My husband’s 2013 Valentine card to me sums it up quite nicely:  “When someone means a lot to you, you need to let them know.”  Inside he had hand-written, “I’m sorry I don’t say it and show it, better and more often.”  He’s not given to grandiose displays of emotion, this is true.  But he shows me his heart in a million ways, large and small, every day of every week of every month of every year.  And that’s more than I would have ever thought to ask for.

My Valentine to him this year is the little blurb I wrote for the newspaper contest:

My husband Jack and I live in Fridley, which is where we first met in high school.  We came close to dating back then, but ended up going separate ways, with separate spouses, until – both single again – we re-met at a reunion years later.

Even after 25 years of marriage, it seems a bit presumptuous to claim to be the world’s greatest romance:  we didn’t exchange love letters across a war-torn continent or have the honor of donating a major organ, one to the other.  But we did give each other that cherished second chance to discover true devotion – the kind that survives rebellious stepchildren, career disappointments, the loss of loved ones, and personal health crises; the kind that hangs in there for the ebb and flow between passion and friendship.  And that particular blessing may just translate to the best gift this earthly life has to offer:  someone who will always, bottom line, invest the time and effort to figure you out, to help you over the rough spots, and to guide you toward your better self.

I only hope that my appreciation for my second chance shows forth like Trudy’s does.  But I know one thing for sure:  I don’t need to win some silly contest to confirm my great good fortune.  And that’s not the sour grapes talkin’, either.

February 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm 2 comments

Poet Unaware

RH&RYears ago, before she gained national acclaim, I took a writing course from Natalie Goldberg at The Loft in Minneapolis.  One of the concepts she introduced in class was “found poetry.”  As examples she used an old journal entry of her own and a WWI-era letter written by a female relative.  I may not have the details precisely right for that second example – it may have been a WWII-era letter – but what did stick emphatically in my brain is the idea that gems of prose and poetic expression can often be unearthed from unexpected places. 

When my father passed away in 2006, I became sole heir to his office contents.  Dad was not an overtly emotional sort, but apparently he harbored a private reverence for meaningful mementos.  Among his papers were files labeled Personal History, holding his baby album, his high school diploma, and newspaper clippings about family members; a Personal Correspondence folder that includes wonderfully animated – and sometimes illustrated – letters written by my stepmother while they were long-distance dating in the mid-70s; and one manila treasure-trove marked Personal and Professional Letters

This last batch was subtitled, in bright orange marker, Ego.  He hadn’t preserved them because they touched his heart and warmed his cockles.  Oh, no.  Merely because they flattered.  Tucked in among the documents that crossed the line from professional to personal was a memo written in 1963 by Bud Dunham.  Bud was the head honcho in the Detroit office of the firm of consulting psychologists where my father and Bill Meyer, his best friend from graduate school, had worked since graduation – nine years for Dad and ten for Bill M.  

I always liked Bud.  And I liked his family.  We enjoyed so many delightful times with them all at company picnics and holiday gatherings, and even a memorable week at family camp in Pennsylvania, abuzz with horse back riding, tennis, golf, arts and crafts, and even a kid-performed water ballet to wrap things up. 

Still, my childhood memories have frozen in time a clear image of an imposing figure:  athletic and burly; competent, accomplished, authoritative.  Dr. Dunham.  As a kid, I wouldn’t have thought to describe him as warm and fuzzy.  Well, maybe a little fuzzy, with his carpeted chest and that topper of coarse, wavy, salt-and-pepper hair.   But to my younger self, this tall, cigar-chomping bear of masculinity was more tough than tender.  Not the sentimentally gushy type at all.  

Fourteen-year-old me collapsed into tears when my father broke the news that he was being transferred from Michigan to Minnesota to open a Twin Cities branch for the firm, but all around me the adults were handling the announcement with business-like acceptance.  Appearances can be deceiving, of course, and sometimes time reveals that change can also translates to loss.  Even for the most grown-up among us.  

On the day before Christmas, a little over 50 years ago, Bud Dunham settled into his big leather desk chair on a gray, snowy day in a still-thriving downtown Detroit, and hand-wrote the following memo to Dad and Bill M., who had been transferred to Illinois to head up the firm’s Chicago office.  Having discovered this archived copy of it, I will never again think of my father and his former boss in the same simplistic terms. 

#### 

 Rohrer, Hibler & Replogle

Detroit

TO:  Bill Meyer & Bill Williams                                                                                                                                                       DATE:  December 24, 1963

FROM:  Bud Dunham                                                                                                                                                                         RE:  “’Twas the Day Before…”

            Today started out about like any other winter day in Detroit – cold, blustery, traces of snow in the air – a speck of dust in my eye – the elevator girls snapping at the tenants of the Guardian Bldg – the tenants reciprocating – me with 11 evaluations to dictate and two talks to prepare – last-minute shopping to do, with no clear-cut idea about what I’m going to buy – yes, it started out about like any other day-before Christmas. 

            But as the day wore along, I began to realize that it wasn’t the same.  Maybe the fact that Dave is on vacation, Wayne is in Houston, Mildred had already made another date for lunch and I had to eat alone, – maybe this has something to do with my feelings. 

            Anyhow, all at once I realized what it was – you two guys weren’t here for the first time in many years.  I guess this was the first time I really had faced that fact, what with all the turmoil we’ve had since the middle of last summer.  And I’ve got to admit that your departure has left a real void in the Detroit-RHR stable.           

Who was it who said:  “And the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on,” or words to that effect?  Not that it would help to know who did write it – I still have to find the answer for myself (that’s odd; I was having trouble with only one eye when I started to write this). 

It’s a good thing tomorrow is another day – I’ve had enough of this one!  So I am going to take the automatic elevator when I leave, and try to think of Santa Claus when someone cuts ahead of me in that lousy traffic! 

Merry Christmas and a Happy new year to both of you and the families. 

### 

Kleenex, anyone?

February 1, 2013 at 4:17 am 4 comments

Now Sings My Soul

Ingram Publishing

Ingram Publishing

I wasn’t planning to publish another post this week, but I just returned from a funeral service for a 52 year old member of my church, a father of two who died of leukemia after a few months of attempted treatments leading to cardiac complications.

I remember with a shudder that I once, in my rebellious younger years, would have sat at such a Christian service with my mind slammed shut, harboring a cold heart and refusing to participate in hymn-singing or prayer recitations.  Turning away, in other words, from the very sustenance that my angry, hungry soul was starved of.  And how I hated weddings back then, with their ritual and scripture readings and rosy expectations.  If I couldn’t avoid one, I would sit in the pew in recoiled posture, like a vampiress confronted with a bouquet of garlic, hawthorne, and wild rose.

When funerals or weddings take place in our humble sanctuary these days, I can’t help but glance around at the faces of the crowd and wonder how many of them are not participating because the words are unfamiliar, and how many are hunched behind a wall of resistance.  My prayer, always, is that the legacy of the departed believer’s faith will soften stony hearts and open narrowed minds to the full peace and comfort to be gained by accepting the balm of God’s Word.

The opening hymn for today’s service says it better than I could ever hope to.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Text: Joseph M. Scriven, 1820-1886
Music: Charles C. Converse, 1832-1918

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

all because we do not carry

everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged;

take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful

who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness;

take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,

cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge;

take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;

thou wilt find a solace there.

January 18, 2013 at 7:28 pm 2 comments

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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.)

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