Kitchen Clarity

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Kitchen Clarity

There’s something joyful about a transparent kitchen. I swapped my opaque containers out for clear ones. I love mason jars because of the ability to see what’s in them. I like to know what I’m eating, drinking and storing. I love being able to see it. I also like these jars because they represent something old and sturdy, like a truth rediscovered anew, such as the idea that fat really isn’t terrible to consume (it’s processed food that is making you sluggish, fat, and sick!) and how bone broth is such a health-giving tradition and locally grown food is the best.

I like a clean fridge and an orderly pantry. I want to know what I have at a glance. It makes me feel light and free and happy to open a door and know instantly what is there and what is missing. My food-is-love husband gets pleasure from a stuffed fridge. That represents security and comfort for him. We’ve learned to compromise. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on organic food. I figure you pay the price sooner or later with cash or health, so it may as well be up front. He loves quantity. So we’ve settled on buying organic eggs and milk and sometimes grass fed meat.

We both enjoy cooking. I like experimenting with new recipes. It’s a creative outlet for me, and a useful one at that. Like not wanting to wear the same dress twice in a row, I often search for novel dishes to cook up. My husband cooks from memory and typically sticks to his usual delicious favorites. We seem to agree that spending time in the kitchen is worthwhile, and if we’re going to be hanging out there, it may as well be inviting.
If you feel stuck in any area of your life, starting with the physical can get you moving forward- cleaning out your home and your car. Exercising. And if you are in a rut with your dietary habits, why not start with the kitchen? Purge it of anything you don’t want to consume. Clear it and clean it and start fresh. Fresh food and wholesome ingredients and simple recipes and staples in clear view; an uncluttered kitchen can be a great start for a clear mind and body. The kitchen is often the center of a home. We typically eat at least three times a day, so doesn’t this area deserve a lot of attention? Food is medicine. You are what you eat. There is a lot of truth to these old sayings. Food is sustenance, and a clean kitchen invites the flow of something good to nourish us, body and spirit.

Habits, routines and apps, oh my!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how daily habits can really make or break you, so to speak. I have found that if I put off my top priorities for ‘later in the day’, they don’t always happen.   What I do first thing in the morning has everything to do with what kind of day follows. So I gave my routine a mini overhaul. Now I walk-jog before breakfast, and start in on my writing shortly afterwards.  No matter what takes place the rest of the day, if I’ve exercised and written, I am invincible.

I appreciate the words of fiction writer Anna Quindlen when she describes the importance of her own routine.  During her interview with Gretchen Rubin (author of the Happiness Project), Quindlen says: I have a picket fence of habits to keep me on track.  I neither like nor dislike them; I just need them to do my work. I really like how she compares her habits to a picket fence- keeping productivity in and wasted time and energy out.  Her habits include eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day so as not to spend brain power on such decisions. This sounded rigid to me, until I recalled the many times I floundered for breakfast. Oatmeal? An egg? No, yogurt with fruit. Hmm, but we have this new cereal…

I think the key to forming lasting habits is to know yourself and what will actually work for you. Then do it. The beauty of a well formed habit is that we no longer have to think about it. We can use our precious energy for other things- things that really matter to us. Although I am not one of them, I understand that many people thrive on finding and using more and better technology for their everyday needs. Therefore, I did a simple search on some top habit forming apps available on iTunes.  Here are a few:

Carrot– This one is definitely the most amusing. It’s introduction is “Don’t Suck at Life”.  This app is your tough love coach- oh and it has a gender- it’s a girl. She will reward you and punish you, depending on how you are doing. You can earn points or carrots, or whatever she calls them. Those familiar with video games will speak her language.  If you like competition, and do well with negative reinforcement, this one is for you. Also, I read that it does not overload you with options when you start, so you probably won’t spend more time figuring out the features than you will engaging in the desired habit.

The Way of Life- The Ultimate Habit Maker-This one sounds very basic, and is data driven. The free version limits you to three habits, and you simply type them in and check off boxes each time that you meet your goal. You will get a visual of how you are doing as you go along.

Lift– If you are looking for short term support, this one lasts for just seven days, and it somehow involves community support.

Whatever your habit-forming style is, there is a way to succeed.  The distance between feeling like you suck at life, and feeling on top of the world, may just be a few simple habits away!

 

 

Four Secrets to my Writing Process

A belated thanks for the tag, from a prolific and talented fiction writer,  Lee French     http://authorleefrench.wordpress.com/  Here are my answers to the Four Secrets to my Writing Process:

Q1: What are you working on? 

I always have at least one essay or article going, sometimes for a literary magazine or as a guest blog post, and of course there’s this blog.  But my biggest project is  my book, a memoir.

Q2:  How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I have my own story and voice, but also my memoir is partly stunt journalism. I revisit the past while writing about the present journey, day to day.  I touch upon a universal desire to be better and happier today than we were yesterday.  This ‘coming out on top’ is not easy, but it is much simpler than we often make it. I think my book sheds light on this in a way that is useful, honest and entertaining.

 

Q3:  Why do you write what you write?

I’ve been a truth seeker and a story teller for as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, on some level I knew that I would write this story. It is honest even when that is unflattering. I have a lot of emotional courage; I am not afraid to peel off the layers and poke around. This whole blog on simplifying is really about peeling back the layers to get to an authentic life. But sometimes it’s difficult to get there. The layers can be like band-aids for those who have been through harrowing events.  I have a lot of faith that the pure intentions of my book, along with a lot of hard work and revisions, will see me through to its publication.

 

Q4: How does your writing process work?

Typically, I wrestle myself to the page each day. I stare at where I left off until my fingers start moving. I used to edit what I wrote each day, but I’ve learned that I really just need to get it down and the revising will be a whole other step in the process. A huge step. Recently, I felt that something really needed changing. I wanted to give the present more space in the book, but wasn’t sure how. So I opened my mind to what that change would be. By opening my mind, I mean I walked, journaled, meditated and cleaned out my closet. I was in limbo for weeks, and then one morning it struck me. I knew what to do. It’s going to take a lot of extra time to make the changes, but it feels right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fermenting veggies simplified

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I’m not big on chemistry projects or growing mold, so I closed my mind off to fermenting foods until recently. When I could no longer ignore the exceptional health benefits of fermented foods, I searched for the simplest, quickest way for a novice to try it. Here it it is, vegetable fermentation simplified.

What:  A process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch of the vegetable, creating desirable lactic acid.

Why:  Fermented foods are probiotic powerhouses. Fermentation creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics, thus healing the gut (the largest part of our immune system).

How:  Chop various vegetables, including either cabbage or cucumbers. (optional: add seasoning such as garlic, ginger, pepper, mustard seed). Pack them tightly in a mason jar. Mix 2 cups of water per 1 tablespoon of good sea salt. Pour this brine mixture over the veggies, covering them. Place a dry piece of cabbage on top, weighing it down with a clean rock (this is to keep the veggies from rising above the brine). Put mason cover on tightly and store in cabinet for 4-7 days.(Loosen lid to release pressure once per day, just for a few seconds, without letting air in).  After the week is up, you can eat the fermented veggies or store them in your fridge for up to six months.

The Gift of Silence

Of all the things to come to the mainstream, meditation has to be one of the most exciting. Complete with scientific proof of its power, it is free, accessible to anyone, and is life changing. It’s even brain changing. That our brain is pliable and we have the power to alter it for the better through meditation  is so intriguing to me.

Some people suffering from anxiety, depression, stress or confusion have found relief from meditation that they didn’t get from years of therapy. Troubled kids who are growing up in violent homes and communities, and were emotionally unavailable to learn, received mindfulness training at a school in Richmond California, and their classroom success increased drastically.  For those without any serious issues, meditation simply improves day to day life, often dramatically.

I could go on and on about the benefits of meditation, but I think the experts have already said it best. Rebecca Gladding, M.D., in her article in Psychology Today says: I’m sure you’ve heard people extol the virtues of meditation. You may be skeptical of the claims that it helps with all aspects of life. But, the truth is, it does. Sitting every day, for at least 15-30 minutes, makes a huge difference in how you approach life, how personally you take things and how you interact with others. It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has brought meditation to the masses, integrating his yoga and meditation studies with western medicine. He has spoken at colleges, and even led a session on mindfulness at Google: http://yogasanas.net/index.php/component/relatedvideos/?vid=3nwwKbM_vJc

For some, the idea of meditation is too vague. Do I really just sit down and shut up? Do I close my eyes, focus on my breath? How do I stop thinking? Fortunately, technology has made it quite simple.  The easiest way to begin may be to download a free guided meditation,  put in headphones, and in just fifteen minutes, begin to change your brain and your life.  I’ve included a link to one such meditation below, but there are many others to choose from. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2pCDbisNv4

Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, we have to keep meditating consistently to ensure that the new neural pathways that are forming stay strong. Fortunately, meditation is its own motivation. Results are typically obvious and immediate. And once it becomes habit, each meditation session is like coming home.

Our Nutritional Guru: The Body

The mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body.   –George Sheehan

Recently, while at a writers seminar, one woman wrote about how she used to get in fights w/ another girl every day after lunch, before she knew it was caused by her body’s severe mental and physical  reaction to sugar and wheat.  Are you kidding me, I thought. I actually asked her to repeat herself. I’d heard her correctly.  These foods took over her mind and body, as she described it.  She reacted with rage, pummeling the other girl to the ground, causing her opponent to call her “crazy eyes”.

As extreme as this sounded to me, it was a reminder of what I already knew. What we eat affects the way we feel, and this truly is a gift.  When the information of what is good for us and what is not is overwhelming, all we have to do is tune in to our bodies. As a yoga instructor and student, I am very familiar with the mantra, listen to your body.  It’s our key to knowing when we are pushing too hard or not hard enough.  Even more importantly, it’s where we feel our intuition,  hence the terms,  “gut feeling” and “heart wrenching”.  Our body is our instrument for feeling everything.

So when it comes to diet, it really can be that simple.  Listen to the body. It never lies. Though just some of us have food allergies, all of us have foods that fuel us and food that makes us sluggish, cranky or bloated.  Sugar makes me tired, as does anything made from flour- bread, pasta, baked goods.  I don’t even get the surge in energy I hear others talk about. I go right to the crash. A bowl of spaghetti leaves me wanting a nap.  Likewise, a plate of cookies can send me to bed.  I am fine with dairy, meat, nuts, rice, and of course fruits and vegetables, especially when raw.  Water is my magic elixir.  I feel icky when I eat anything packaged.

Though people react differently to different foods, it is generally accepted that hydrogenated oils, excess sugar, or basically any processed food versus whole foods, should not be consumed in excess. Some prefer to eliminate them altogether.  Some studies suggest raw foods are far superior to cooked.  And now there is also a lot of hype around gluten, and to quote from the article below, “There is an ever-growing body of research to support the fact that gluten sensitivity is not just an in-fashion health fad, but a real, pressing phenomenon that deserves our attention in a large-scale way.”  Anyone who is curious or interested in this suggestion can read from the following link: http://fixyourdigestion.com/the-trouble-with-gluten/

Chances are, if your body is not tolerating gluten or any other food very well, you won’t feel great after eating it. Foods should be healing, energizing, and we should actually feel vibrant after eating them. Live foods make us feel alive. The information is out there in excess. Whatever we want to research- raw food diets, sugar addiction, gluten intolerance, foods that cause obesity and foods that help us maintain a healthy weight- there is no shortage of information, and often some of this information changes over time:  The importance of dairy. The detriment of dairy.  The merits of a vegetarian or vegan diet. The pitfalls of such diets.   But where do we turn when all this information is just too much? Turn inward. Tune in. The body’s wisdom is always available, silently telling us what to do. We just have to pay attention.

Happiest New Year

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Happy 2014! I love New Year’s Day. It’s the perfect time for setting intentions for the year ahead. No matter what people’s resolutions are, the purpose of them is always the same. To be happier. To live better, feel better, be better.  An old friend texted me a couple of days ago out of the blue:  Have you read the Happiness Project? It reminds me of you so much!  And the thought of that book, which my sister had given me a couple years ago as a gift, came back to mind.  The author, Gretchen Rubin, spent a year journaling her process of doing all things that she thought would make her happier.  Based on studies and theories about how to be happier, plus her own intuition, she spent the year trying  out her happiness project.  When I first read the book, my thought was what a great idea.  I love stunt journalism and this has such a purpose.   Everyone wants to be happy!

But what I really like about her book, which became an instant New York Times bestseller, is that Rubin jumped in to her happiness project wholeheartedly. She awakened to the fact that she had midlife malaise, and she made a firm decision to change that.  There are no half measures when you are determined and passionate about a change.  Rubin tackled all areas of her life, not just one or two. She didn’t just eat better, get more exercise, spend time in quiet, clean out her closets and get organized. She did all of those plus played more, slept more, loved more and pursued a passion. Any one of these things has been shown to boost happiness, but each area compliments the others.

I’m all for moderation in a lot of things, but when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I say go all out. Harness your passion for happiness, your conviction that you are willing to make some changes, and do it with resolve. I happen to think that the reason so many resolutions fail is because they are made only with the head. I’m a believer in wholehearted commitments.  Life is too short for tentative steps. No dipping your toe in the water.  Become a runner if that’s what you know you need.  If you want to organize, never mind cleaning out one little shelf at a time.  At that pace, you’ll still be drowning in your clutter in 2015. Refuse to stop until you’ve eliminated everything that is in your way.   Obsess over a project that makes you happy.  Let the momentum carry you into more and more happiness, better-ness, healthier-ness, authentically-you-ness until you can hardly believe how great 2014 feels.

Most of us already know what we need to be happier.  If we just talk about it, think about it, analyze it, and pick one thing that we “will start tomorrow”, it’s difficult. The failure rate is high.  But if we commit on a bigger scale, with heart, with passion and conviction, that this is our life after all, then it’s simple.  So jump in with both feet, head and heart, and decide it’s going to be your best year yet!  Make happy happen.