• Celebrating a Mother’s Love

    In a few days, I will celebrate my first Mother’s Day. Because I became a mother 5 weeks ago, this one will be different for me. I expected motherhood would bring me feelings of deep love for my baby, but I didn’t expect to reflect so much on how much my mother must have loved me. I have come to realize this ferocious collective love for our children is what makes this world go round.

    Someone cared immensely for each and every one of us in these early days. Without that love and surrender, none of us would have survived, let alone thrived. So this week I celebrate not really what it means to be a mother, but what it means to have been someone’s infant. No matter the state of your relationship today or your perceived shortcomings, once upon a time your mother cried happy tears because of the miracle you represented.

    Pregnancy has its well-known aches and pains but when I was carrying my child, it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. It simply seemed like a long voyage to a promised land. Until I experienced it, though, I never appreciated the fact that my mother went through the very same things I did when she was pregnant with me.

    She decided she wanted me. She asked my dad about having another baby. She tried to get pregnant and spent days or weeks wondering “Am I?”. She analyzed herself physically, trying to determine if she felt different. It’s likely she had constant heartburn and nausea and uncomfortable sleepless nights and cramping and hip pain and peed at least two times every waking hour. She wondered if everything she was feeling was normal and worried about miscarriage. She wondered if I would be healthy. She wondered if I would be a boy or girl. She wondered if I would be like her or my dad or neither.

    She spent weeks wondering when labor would start. She went through childbirth. Her heart burst open when a wet baby emerged from her. I know she felt the same joy I felt when we found out our baby was a daughter. She probably felt relief at no longer being pregnant, only to then remember being a lactating mother isn’t any easier.

    She went home from the hospital, on a high from witnessing this miracle while on the brink of deliriousness from lack of sleep, sore and vulnerable and still expectant even though I had arrived. She put her ear to my mouth to make sure I was breathing many times.

    She learned how I signaled hunger. She learned how to make me stop crying. She fed me every 2-3 hours around the clock for the entire first few months of my life. She figured out how I liked to be carried. She left me for the first time for a few hours (like I have done today with my daughter, writing this from a coffee shop). Like me, she probably felt a mixture of guilt and elation at being by herself and she probably missed me intensely like I am missing my daughter right now.

    She watched my face in the middle of the night, singing silly made-up songs like I sing, and wondering when my eyes would close. She wondered if she was doing it right. She figured out how to juggle work and mothering. She wondered who I would become. And most of all, she wondered if I would always be safe. She hoped she had given me the tools to take care of myself one day.

    She never knew if I was going to sleep for 5 minutes or 5 hours and couldn’t plan anything. She wished that, more than anything, someone would come pick up the kids and give her a break so she could just chill and be alone with her thoughts for an hour or two. She wished we would just not bother her for a little bit, not to be lazy but just long enough to get some food on the table for us after a long day at work. I never knew any of this until a few weeks ago. I just always assumed it was easy for her. Loving us was easy but caring for us had its challenges.

    When a baby grows inside you, you feel like he or she is always connected to you. The umbilical cord gets cut but it feels like there is forever an invisible cord tugging on your heart. Because you sheltered this little soul, you somehow feel responsible for her fate. Nearly every person in this world has a mother that feels this way. You were that person to your mother.

    I think the best gift we can give our mothers is simply acknowledging how much they loved us. Thanks for loving me, Mom.

  • 5 Things NOT to Say to Non-Parents: To My Future Self

    There are a lot of things that people with children used to say to me before I officially began my parenthood journey by becoming pregnant and becoming a stepmother in the same year that really used to annoy me.   They annoyed not only because of their content, but because inherent in these comments was the assumption I would one day have kids.  I know for myself, who struggled with fertility issues in my past, or for those who do not or will not have kids for a medley of reasons, this assumption can be kind of upsetting.

    Chief and I have a baby arriving at the end of March and so I am writing this post as a reminder to my future self about what not to say to those who do not have kids. I hope that by recording these “pre-baby” feelings and emotions, I can help keep myself connected with how I relate to people without kids.  So, here they are…the 5 big things I want to remind myself not to say:

    1. It will change your life.  Really?  No shite, Sherlock.  When you cruise through life only worried about yourself (not in a self-indulgent way but in an independent way), doing adult things, it’s different than when you have a helpless infant or child dependent on you for survival that can’t be left alone.  It doesn’t take some magical switch to be turned on once motherhood kicks in that suddenly makes you realize that life is different when you have kids.  What really annoys me is when I try to tell my friends about something fun I’m doing – anything from a nice dinner with my husband to a spontaneous trip to Latin America to an afternoon nap.  And then I get the inevitable, “Just wait until you have kids.  You can kiss those times goodbye.”  Ya, I know…the trouble probably won’t be worth the reward, spontaneity is a lot more difficult, and the simple activity might not be possible with kids.  Each time I do one of these things now, I appreciate the simplicity of the situation and I think everyone without kids recognizes the same.  This is exactly why I’ve spent the last ten years enjoying these sorts of events.
    2. Oh, you think you’re tired now…just wait until you have kids! Yes, yes, yes, we’re all tired.  Yes, little kids don’t sleep in.  Yes, they wake up in the middle of the night.  Sometimes vomiting and pooing.  Sometimes at the same time.  They need you at all hours and keep you awake.  So I know I’ll be really, really tired but that is no reason for parents to marginalize how tired a childless person is today or this week. It’s not like up until this point I’ve been milking 9 hours of sweet surrender night after night.  I sleep an average of 6.5 hours per night and I know that if I only get 4 hours per night for a few months on end it will be exhausting but that’s the obvious.  Please just let me tell you I am tired today without one-upping it.
    3. You say you won’t [insert thing I loathe] now, but wait until you have kids.  I have heard this about everything from disposable diapers to fast food to a house in the suburbs.  OK, I relent…a house in the suburbs is a possibility someday.  The point being that I will go through some fundamental changes when I have kids (see number 1) but my values won’t change.  Living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and keeping some order in my life are always going to be things that are really important to me.  I’m not instantly going to become a consumerist with a disposable and unhealthy lifestyle just because I have kids.  Me having kids does not mean I am going to suddenly adopt your values just because we both have kids.  I know I’ll have my days when I prepare macaroni and cheese from a box for dinner and I know there will be days when the house is a disaster because I need sleep (see #2) but I’ll still be me.  I do realize there will be some things I try that are important to me that I might deem a failure but I realize that is part of the process.  It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t even try or that I should follow society’s norm on the things that really bother me now.
    4. These are the kind of things you’ll do on weekends when you have kids.  I can’t stand how every time I go to any sort of kid-friendly function, whether it’s a birthday party or dinner at someone’s house with kids, or a festival when the parents look at me and say things like, “Remember how it used to be before we had kids?  Well, just you wait.  This is what weekends are like now that we have kids- it’s all about them.”  Obviously!  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that weekend-long benders and fine dining aren’t particularly conducive to toddlers.  These people say it like I should start preparing for my life to come to an end though.  Most people who make the leap to having kids are quite ready to mostly give up these things at this point in their life anyway.  It’s not like me being childless doesn’t allow me to see that some activities are no longer possible when spending time together as a family.  And please don’t follow it up with the “I bet this is good birth control for you.”  Kids do kid-things in kid-ways and just because I’m childless doesn’t mean I want to remain that way because sometimes they get needy or have meltdowns at places like Chuck-E-Cheese.
    5. You can’t understand the love you will have for them.  Yes, I can.  It’s very easy for me to imagine the kind of love I will feel for a child that I am raising.   What especially bothers me about this statement is when it’s used as the justification for why someone no longer cares about his or her pet. I’m not necessarily trying to say that a love for a child can be compared straight on to the love for a pet but please don’t justify your actions by patronizing me and saying it’s because I don’t understand love. I really can imagine how much I will love my children.  I know it bursts the heart wide open and it is one of the most profound emotions a person can feel but that doesn’t mean childless people are incapable of comprehending this emotion.
  • Cat Got Your Tongue, Girl?

    I don’t know why I have no words sometimes.  I really wish I did.  Instead I sit there squirming in awkwardness, wishing everyone were more comfortable with fewer words.  The words I like tend to be printed where they are parceled out and the length of the communication is finite.  The words that come to me via my ears are fraught with how I am going to answer them.  I think slowly so I know I won’t answer what my real answer is, what my thoughtful answer is.

    Or if I say something, I’m afraid it is going to be flung out in to a new world, where everyone can say, “Oh, so you mean…” or use it against me like, “But you said…” Well, maybe I said because I wasn’t ready for it and I had to fill the air with something, anything before my silence was taken as agreement with the talker.  I am not allowed to express my thoughts if I stay quiet.  It bothers me though that the thoughts had to be prematurely expressed when they were ephemeral and unformed, coiled with potential energy but no kinetic energy.

    If you are a person who is constantly talking, it might be hard to imagine what it is like, how physically exhausting it is, to focus on a conversation that your own train of thought is not on board with.  It is a constant bifurcation, of swimming upstream to get back in to the right braid of the river.

    I have struggled with this language issue all my life.  It’s one of the reasons I love being alone, or being with someone who is patient in their words.  I like being around someone who is not going to verbally yank on my leash when I’ve found something interesting to sniff.

    I have been reading an interesting book about language that had a message I didn’t expect.  It is called Language and the Pursuit of Happiness by Chalmers Brothers.  The book promises to allow you to have peacefulness and productivity by using a tool you didn’t know you had.  As you may have guessed based on the title of the book, this tool is language.

    I expected the book would  be about using language as a tool to make us feel a certain way about our thoughts.  For example, I have used the tactic of “power words” I learned when I read Anthony Robbin’s  Awaken the Giant Within .  The way this works is when I am feeling sullen, exhausted or overwhelmed I sometimes smile and tell people I am “introspective” or “stimulated” when they ask how I am because using positive words allows me to color my situation.  It’s similar to the idea by Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project who says that acting the way you want to feel is one of the keys to happiness, instead of it being the other way around.

    I originally bought Language and the Pursuit of Happiness because I thought it would build on this positivity tactic. The message was different than what I expected though.  It was as follows: language is generative.

    Language is generative.

    Wow.  How simple and obvious but I never actually thought about it!  Until you express an idea or a fact, it may as well have not existed for the listener.  For example, “I want a divorce” or “You have received a promotion.”  Did those things exist before they were spoken?  Yes, they did but someone had to say the words to you in order for it to be so.  And then the whole world changes.

    Coming to this simple conclusion has really helped me speak up when I need to.  I have been complacent far too many times because of my fear of speaking up.   But speaking creates possibilities.  It generates outcomes.  Staying quiet is shutting doors.

    If something is bothering me at work, no one will probably know until I tell him or her.  If I am appreciative of something Chief is doing for me, he will probably never know until I tell him.   If I have an idea about something being discussed in a meeting, no one else will get to hear it until I speak up.

    I might be wrong and I might be put on the spot.  I think that is what used to stop me but I have finally decided that the risk is worth it.

    I actually heard a really interesting broadcast on BBC the other day.  I wish I could find the resource for it because I wasn’t paying attention until something caught my ear.   A female economy modeler was speaking and the interviewer was asking her why so few women go in to her field.  The interviewee, who was also a professor, speculated on the answer.  She noted that very few women would ask questions in the classes she taught.  She said that she herself used to be afraid to speak up earlier in her career for fear of saying something wrong and maybe it was this fear of being “wrong” in front of others that prevented women from choosing this career path.

    She said that often times she would have the exact same question or comment in her head that a male counterpart would ask a little bit later and then she would kick herself for not speaking up.  I have been noticing this a lot about myself lately and have realized I need to work harder about not really caring what people think.  I might say something wrong.  I might express something controversial that I don’t really care to argue about (either because I want more information before I have the argument or I don’t feel like being attacked and putting up a stand) but staying quiet can be a greater risk.  I might honestly ask a stupid question but at least if it’s something burning in my head, I have expressed it.  And that is what language is intended to do.

    Around Chief, and my close friends and family, I don’t have a problem speaking up, but I know that in the world at large it is something I need to continue to work on.  I know being quiet is part of who I am but I also know that part of being successful means speaking up at the right time.

  • Don’t Complain

    “If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude.  Don’t complain.” ~Maya Angelou

    Though this quote is really simple, I feel it’s one of the important rules of life.  I found it a few years ago and have been a much happier person since applying it to my life.  It can apply to anything from the very everyday, like my office situation, or to things as serious as a relationship or illness.

    A simple example is my office situation at work.  Yes, I’ve been waiting to write about this for awhile because I usually wait until any bitterness or angriness about a situation has passed so I don’t write in a bitching or whining tone but I think I’ve resolved at least one part of this equation that is bothering me.

    When I moved to my new group for a temporary assignment a couple years ago that I was really excited about, they told me that the floor was packed and that I would not get a window office.  I’m sure lots of you work in windowless spaces but at the office I’m in, 98% of the other scientists at my seniority have a window office, so it’s something I had an expectation for.  It just wasn’t possible, so I sucked it up and went it to my office and put my head down.

    The temporary assignment turned in to a permanent one and the window offices still weren’t available to me.  I would leave work every day with my eyes burning from the fluorescence, feeling upset and angry and in pain.  It was pain of both a pride sting and physical pain from sitting in that horrible little office.  I used to feel inspired to write poetry every morning when I watched the sun rise out my window.  I’m a big fan of watching weather.  Annoying noises around me seemed to be amplified because I didn’t have visual stimulation.  I was constantly complaining about my situation.  One day I went and asked my boss one final time if the offices weren’t really going to be available to me.  It became clear that there was nothing they could do.  It wasn’t from my lack of trying, I assure you.

    Once I realized my office was not going to be moved, I realized I need to change something so that I wouldn’t leave work feeling so physically poor and emotionally down, full of complaints.

    I went out and bought two lamps along with a sunshine simulator lamp for people that have SAD and turned off the overhead fluorescent lights for good.  I brought in a favorite piece of artwork that Chief had never really liked anyway.  I got three plants and an aromatherapy diffuser.  I brought in a glowing salt crystal lamp and completely cleaned up and tidied my office.  All of a sudden, the space was transformed and all my colleagues were stopping by to take pictures and video and to just stop and sit in my office and take it all in.  They said they wanted to make it the clubhouse of the floor.

    So I still pine for a window office again – it sounds like one will become available right as my maternity leave starts as luck would have it, but I did something about my situation and am much happier and actually look forward to being in my space.

    This can apply to so many situations.  Complaining is exhausting for yourself and the people around you.  Change your situation if it makes you complain.  If it truly can’t be changed, change your attitude and make peace with it.  This could apply to anything from relationships to living situations to goals to economic situations to family situations.

  • Finding the Good in the Bad

    We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. ~Abraham Lincoln

    The other day as it turned from warm sunny and beautiful to windy, Chief and I found ourselves complaining that it was now too breezy to grill our dinner outside.  We set aside our plans for a barbecue and a bike ride with a resigned sigh and went out for dinner.  The next day, the wind dissipated and so we went out to grill our original meal, finding it still and muggy and hot.  As we started preparing everything, we realized the mosquitoes were out.  If only we had some wind to keep them away!

    We have pretty much stopped using our air conditioning and heating, the Houston climate sometimes verging on freezing and often verging on hot, but never enough that you can’t stand it.  It doesn’t make sense to blast air in to our old and energy inefficient house.  All  last winter I ran around covered in three layers and down slippers, occasionally a hat, piling on blankets to go to bed.  I dreamed of the summer days when I could again walk around feeling warm, taking cold baths and wearing hot yoga shorts and a bralette around the house.  Well, those days arrived and guess what?  I once again found myself longing for those days we spent snuggling under the covers and making hearty stews.

    All of this has caused me to reflect on how we feel about life in general.  Sometimes we long for something to be how it used to be, or to look forward to the way things will be without appreciating all the things about the present moment.

    When it’s windy, it keeps the bugs away.  When it’s raining, it’s good for the garden and plants and gives us an excuse to not feel guilty about curling up with a book or movie.  When it’s cold, it gives us a chance to put together cute outfits and make a fire and snuggle up with loved ones.  When it’s warm, we can leave the house without worrying about a chill. When it’s humid, it keeps our skin plump and hydrated.  When it’s dry we can cruise on foot or bicycle without becoming covered in sweat.  When it’s sunny, we can soak up the vitamin D and watch the solar-powered rainbow maker.  When it’s cloudy, it gives us a cozy feeling.

    What if instead of assessing what’s wrong with today, we appreciated what this weather or circumstance was bringing to our life?  I am trying to be thankful for the things that may seem like annoyances or deterrents and appreciate them for what they are providing instead of focusing on what they are preventing.  Like weather, life always changes.

    A windy (but bug free!) hike in Big Bend National Park

    A windy (but bug free!) hike in Big Bend National Park

  • Bitchy Resting Face

    Chief and I were sitting at West Alabama Ice House the other evening having a post-work Friday beer.  It’s a casual place full of a crowd that ranges from biker groups to white collar professionals.  You can bring in your own food, or grab something from the taco truck parked in the lot.  I love icehouses because kids can come along to play basketball and dogs are welcome.  Other icehouses have games like horseshoes or the beanbag toss.  Anyway, the icehouse doesn’t have a whole lot to do with this post, but it was a nice relaxing Friday afternoon and I started to flip through Facebook.  One of my friends had posted a YouTube video called “Bitchy Resting Face.” I clicked on it out of curiosity and the video made me burst out laughing.  Chief was wondering what was so funny so I showed it to him and he had the same reaction.  The link to the video is here.

    The concept of the video is a parody of women who suffer from a condition called Bitchy Resting Face.  That is, when their face is in a relaxed position, they have kind of a bitchy look to it.  I had never really stopped to think about what kind of effect this might have on a person’s life.  They were doing all kinds of funny skits in the clip, like a man proposing and then running away when the look on the woman’s face was “bitchy.”  Toward the end, they introduced the concept of the Asshole Resting Face  (for men), which was equally funny.

    But this video really got us thinking.  Not only about how the natural look on a person’s face could actually alter their destiny, but also how if a person is having an off day walking around looking sad or mad how it might affect them.  It’s like a feedback loop.

    It can work the opposite way too.  There are days I come bounding in the door telling Chief that everyone has been being so nice to me.  It seems to happen on days that I got a good night’s sleep and/or I’m not in a hurry and just out enjoying my day.  When you are out cruising around with a relaxed and happy face, people tend to smile at you.  And then smiles are contagious so you smile back.  And then other people see you’re smiling and assume you’re a nice person and start smiling at you and engaging you.

    People with Bitchy Resting Face might feel like they just can’t get a break, and become the Eeyore’s of the world.  Maybe they had a tough day or year (or maybe they just have a face that is naturally an unfortunate Bitchy Resting Face). People that see them interpret them to be negative and because of that, they don’t smile at them or engage them or may be rude to them.  This, in turn, makes the person feel more unloved and less supported which further enforces their negative look.

    This can happen with couples too and reinforce arguments.  For example, a man might be feeling upset because he feels like his partner is not attentive to how he is feeling.  The woman walks in on him and sees him with kind of a mean look on his face.  Because he looks unapproachable, she walks out of the room and doesn’t ask him what’s wrong and figures maybe it should be a girls’ night out to give him some space.  When she doesn’t even ask him what’s wrong and heads out for the night, it further enforces that she doesn’t care about him or what’s going on with him.  You can imagine the thousands of permutations of the way this could play out.

    So I think it’s an interesting thing to note.  What kind of look do you have on your face?  Might you have misinterpreted another person’s looks and considered them to be a bad person because of how they were holding their face?  If you’re having a bad day, could watching or listening to something that makes you turn your frown upside down positively affect your day because of how others will react to you?  It reminds me of the concept Gretchen Rubin talks about in her book The Happiness Project.  She says to act the way you want to feel.  Smiling may serve the purpose of making you look happy which makes others around you respond in a positive way.

  • My Evolving Thoughts on Food

    Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.  ~Hippocrates, ~400 BC

    Only eat things that nourish your body and make you feel wholesome – you are what you eat.  That is my latest and hopefully forever philosophy about food.  But it’s hard when there is so much confusion about what is actually good for my body.   Since I put a number of recipes on here and talk about food a lot, I wanted a post about how I feel about food to help frame where I’m coming from.  My thoughts on nutrition have always been evolving, as I document in this post.  I like to think I have landed at a place I will no longer waver since I am now using what I feel is common sense, but I’m not naïve enough to think I have figured it all out.

    My thoughts on food have pretty followed much the same path as American society over the last 30 years.  I’m lucky not to have any allergies or digestive problems.  I have never yo-yo dieted.  In fact, I find it pretty ridiculous to follow a “diet” with the objective to lose weight because what happens when you go off the diet?  Why not just commit to eating better food as a way of life?  I have tried things for the occasional month, just to gather empirical data.  I am a scientist by nature and profession so I’m often curious to see what happens to my body and psyche by adding or eliminating certain foods.  I remember my seventh grade science project involving cholesterol tracking of my best friend and I.  I read a lot of books on the science of nutrition, both the hyped stuff and the tried and true stuff.  The book that best matches my own thoughts is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, which I highly recommend.

    The origin of my food journey was Fargo, ND in the eighties.  It was a good place to ease in to the whole food thing.  My childhood was meat and potatoes-centric.  One of my absolute favorite meals was mashed potatoes and Jennie-O “turkeyloaf.”  To this day, I’m not really sure what turkeyloaf is and I think I am better off not knowing the details.  Generally, the questions to answer about dinner were 1) which meat, 2) which potato, 3) which type of bread, 4) what type of boiled vegetable and 5) which type of Jell-O or Jell-O pudding for dessert?  Some nights all these things were combined in to one in a “hotdish” or “casserole” (minus the Jell-O!).  Tater Tot Hotdish was one of the best!  On a lucky night, I might get my favorite – Orange Fluff.  If there was a salad, it was either Ranch or French dressing  from the bottle on iceberg lettuce.  It was a very typical Midwestern diet and my family was great about putting dinner on the table and catering to my favorites and trying to feed me a well-balanced diet.

    As I graduated high school and began college, I decided to do an experimental cleanse/fast.  It was the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet.  By the fourth day of it, I was sweating this interesting vegetable smell and felt like I was on a high.  This high was more than likely due to dizziness as a result of starvation, but I deduced that it was from the elimination of meat for four days so after the cleanse, I swore off meat.  That lasted for about four years and I have dabbled in different forms of vegetarianism since.

    Those four years occurred during the height of the low-fat phase. I shudder to think I ever thought there was some sort of scientific evidence to back this!  The idea was that eating fat of any kind made you fat.  I remember dutifully scanning the nutrition information on the back of packages and filling up my backpack with boxes of macaroni and cheese and non-fat sugary yogurt, and low-fat cheese with bread, bagels and fat-free cream cheese, and Popsicles.  I didn’t have a car so had to fit all my low-fat selections in to a backpack I could bike with.  This phase culminated with a bang.  Literally.  Explosive farts and anal leakage caused by Olestra in fat-free Dorito’s.  I began to re-think whether or not fat-free was good for one’s body.

    It was about this same time that I met my former husband who introduced me to a whole new world that a girl from Fargo had never experienced…Indian food, shellfish with shells on them, and sauces made with ingredients that didn’t come from a can.  We ate absolutely everything that tasted good to us and I slowly began to add meat back in to my diet.  Peppered with the occasional healthy meals were copious amounts of Ruby Red Squirt, Tostito’s nacho cheese sauce (which we thoughtfully added fresh jalapenos and tomatoes to), marinara with Italian sausage, jars of Alfredo sauce poured over noodles, and pizza (also with fresh jalapenos), biscuits and gravy.

    The chubbies happened slowly enough not to notice the transformation.   I was in grad school at the time and writing a thesis all night and showing up to crush rocks in a lab didn’t really require tailored clothes.  Upon moving to Houston, I realized we were looking a little pudgy.  The timing of this realization was coincident with the discovery of gourmet health food stores in the big city.  We slowly began transforming our eating style focusing on fairly lean meats and, following the carb phase that everyone was going through, began to limit our carbs and got back to a less puffy weight.

    I don’t still follow a “low carb” diet but am very conscious of the proportion of carbs I eat relative to the rest of my diet and am quite choosy about which ones I eat.  I resisted the movement that began to happen which starred gluten as the devil as well as the paleo-type diet.  I felt that perhaps our bodies should have learned to evolve with the crops we had learned to grow.  It seemed counter-intuitive to me that our smart species was destined to remain listless wanderers, killing mammoths and plucking fruit and seeds off trees forever.

    I have reconsidered my thoughts on gluten and eating more of a paleo type diet as of late and think it’s a great philosophy though it’s hard for me to adhere to it at all times.  Really, I think any type of special way of eating is hard because it often makes social gatherings where food is consumed feel odd.  You don’t want to feel high maintenance or left out.

    I started to reconsider based on a book I read recently called Wheat Belly, which had quite an impact on me.  The idea is that wheat has been completely bastardized since the original crop.  Back in the 1960’s a new variety of wheat was invented to help combat the problem of world hunger.  This wheat was basically a Frankenstein wheat that was more of a dwarf plant bred to increase yield.  Because of its heartiness for harvesting, nearly all our planet’s wheat that is being grown has been transformed to this type.  Its effects on humans were never tested though.  It has lately been accused of producing very detrimental effects due to inflammation and interactions it has on brain chemistry and is being blamed for everything from heart disease to arthritis to high cholesterol to diabetes.  And then, of course, the ADA’s recommendation to all people with these conditions is to eat more “healthy whole grains” which most of the population consumes in the form of wheat, so this further exacerbates the problem.

    I hate to be a conspiracy theorist worried about what the government is allowing in regards to the food we eat.  But there is a lot of information available regarding how many of these people are in bed with the large pharmaceutical companies and government nutrition agencies.  It’s hard to trust that there is no self-serving relationships among all these organizations and companies.

    Along these same lines we now have GMO’s or Genetically Modified Organisms and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, etc. (non-organic food) to deal with.  This is such a huge problem in our society and I can’t even begin to express how worried it makes me here.  I find it very scary though that we really have no control over this food, that it is not regulated and that we all may be consuming it inadvertently.  I feel it has the potential to have a seriously bad impact on the health of our people and our planet and the biodiversity it supports.  It bothers me that so much of our population is either unaware of these issues or can’t afford to eat organic food.  It just doesn’t seem right this food is not regulated or not available to everyone.

    I have also had major struggles with how I feel about the consumption of animal products.  I consider myself an animal lover but have tried vegan and I feel like I am doing something negative to my body.  I don’t feel or look healthy and I don’t feel balanced.  It’s also difficult socially.  So I try to be very choosy about which animal products I eat.  It’s important to me that I know where it came from and I try to really limit my meat consumption.  I don’t eat factory-farmed meat and I am trying to be very careful about the type of dairy I consume as well.  I’ll put in some posts later about local family farms I visit to find meat and animal products.  In a perfect world, I’d raise all my own animals or a friend would hunt meat for me.

    I also think westerners are just deluded about how much meat we need.  I think a little bit of meat once or twice a week is quite sufficient and a great way to reduce our impact on the globe and to allow for better animal welfare.  I don’t think we need to be killing 10 billion animals per year to feed our population of 300 million.  When each of us feels it’s necessary to consume up to a pound of meat every single day, there is no chance for reforming the welfare of these exploited beasts because of the sheer number that must be slaughtered to support this unhealthy habit.  I actually shed tears at times thinking about these animals.

    So in all this wandering, this subscribing to new philosophies and discarding others, I feel like many of us are back where we started, as we are in so many things in life.  I’m going back to the way of my great-grandparents.   I try to eat a well-balanced diet with no refining, processing, extra sugar, or artificial additives.  I try not to eat too much of any one food group (except vegetables).  I eat limited amounts meat from ethical and sustainable sources and try to use all the parts in stocks, etc. I try not to eat anything that has been altered or produced in a factory from ingredients that aren’t food.  I consume mostly organic and local, when possible (I know I’m spoiled for living in a place where fresh food is grown all year round).  If I’m going to indulge in something like milk, cheese, etc. I go for the full fat satisfying stuff instead of the stuff that has been altered and processed.

    So, that’s where I’m at.  I know this is a long post but I wanted my philosophies somewhere on this blog.  Chief feels the same way I do, though he is much more of a meat eater but I think my habits rub off on him a little.  As his do on mine – he is even better about avoiding anything “convenience” or packaged.  We want our family growing up appreciating the culinary tradition, understanding where food comes from and how to cook it.  We recognize humans preparing and sharing food together is one of the greatest and most ancient pleasures and where a sense of community evolves.  Feeding a family healthfully is a way of showing love.  So I hope all our recipes and experiments in here continue to adhere to these philosophies.

  • Life Lessons From Yoga – Introduction

    I am dedicating the month of August to all the life philosophies I have learned from yoga.  I began practicing for fitness more than anything when I moved to Houston around 2005.  Since that time, my appreciation and understanding of yoga has grown considerably and I’m to the point I would like to share many of the wonderful things the practice has taught me about how to live.

    Like most people, I started yoga for the physical health benefits and, for that reason, I expected it to have only physical results.  What I didn’t realize is how profound of an effect yoga would have on my emotional and mental health as well.  It ushered forth realizations and helped me learn to be strong, tenacious and confident when those realizations brought me stress, pain, anxiety, or healthy fear.

    I also didn’t realize that yoga is a way to develop spiritually.  The asanas, or poses, subtly affect the body and allow transformations to occur, new ways of seeing things and growing.

    Read more

  • Life Lessons from Yoga #10

    Abandon your ego.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    One of the hardest things to get used to in yoga is that, unlike other physical activities, it’s not about coming to win, or to get the best time, or to stand out among the other students.  When we are on our mats, we are trying to look within, to focus our gaze, or drishti, on ourselves and improve from the inside out.  Sometimes the studio has mirrors to help you with your alignment but we aren’t using these mirrors to see how good we look (or don’t look) or how the other students are doing.  In fact, often times we’re instructed to focus only on ourselves and to respect the privacy of others.

    In some ways, it reminds of a concept in the historical fiction book, Shogun by James Clavell.  In that book (which is one of my favorite fiction books of all time), European sailors are shipwrecked in Japan around 1600.  They go through all kinds of transitions adjusting to the culture there and one of the things they have to get used are the thin rice paper walls and how the Japanese do not allow themselves to listen to the conversations they can audibly hear.  Learning to turn attention elsewhere like this brings great power of focus (it’s great for ADHD) and teaches us humility.

    Part of the reason we focus so hard on not focusing on anything in yoga is that the real work is going on inside of us.  As I mentioned in the other posts, you are learning to strengthen your weak parts and you are transforming yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It’s not a competition because we can’t always see or measure the million little ways in which we might be setting ourselves up for success.

    The other important thing about abandoning the ego is that no pose should ever hurt, as I mention in the previous post on listening to your body.  Injuries can occur when people become irresponsible by ignoring their body’s messages because they don’t want to appear like a weakling.

    Learning to abandon your ego can be a humbling experience in life.  Are there times you kept fighting in an argument even once you realized you were in the wrong because you didn’t want to lose face?  Are there things you could apologize for that your pride didn’t allow you to?  Or how many times have you hurt yourself or hurt others because you were trying to prove something?

    Every day, every breath could simply be bringing us to a better place.  We don’t need to do something medal-worthy to find this success.  We can prove it by way of the fluidity and lightness that honoring ourselves and respecting others brings us.


  • Life Lessons from Yoga: #9

    Listen to your body.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    In yoga we want to push ourselves every time we show up but we never want to do it to the point of pain.  There are a lot of poses you might see other people doing that look easy enough.  But if you try to twist right in to them, you risk damaging your body.  The people that are able to get in to those poses have probably been doing them for years, trying to perfect it day after day.  Chances are the first time they tried it, it wasn’t as easy as they’re making it look now.

    As I talked about before, yoga requires a combination of strength, flexibility, and balance of both the body and mind.  Sometimes the poses, or asanas, can be deceiving in that the things that look like they require flexibility actually require balance.  Or those that look like they require strength of the body actually require strength of the mind.  It takes a long time to summon what exactly the body needs to do to accommodate these poses.

    If you are taking your first yoga class, the instructor should tell you not to do anything that hurts.  Yes, sometimes we tremble trying to hold a pose ten seconds longer than is comfortable.  Sometimes we approach our edge and these are the ways that we grow mentally tenacious and strengthen whichever muscle we’re working, but that is different from overt pain.

    It is like this in life too.  There are so many times we don’t listen to our body, when we try to prove to ourselves or to the world how hardcore we are and we ignore our body’s message that we are pushing too far before we were ready.

    How may times have you ignored the crawly feeling a particular person gives you only to be hurt or disappointed by them later?  How often have you said yes to something, even knowing you were biting off more than you could chew?  How many times have you tried to prove how strong you were by staying up late to get everything done and look like a superstar only to find yourself absolutely exhausted the next day or completely burned out?  How many times have you tolerated a situation or lifestyle that gave you anxiety and ignored the warning signals when the life you want has started to veer off its tracks?

    Yoga has taught me that our body sends us messages and we shouldn’t ignore them.  Sometimes getting everything right takes years of interpreting just how to coordinate strength, flexibility and balance of body and mind to get everything how we want it.