Friday, October 14, 2011

Polaroid: Toaster

Sloping arch of chrome and serious black, my retro toaster's lines have curves like a '57 Buick; always at attentive ready stance for whatever I feed its double mouth.

It's like the one from the Dearborn house. Mom would pluck the toast just as it reached a late summer tan color and then punish its perfect surface with cold butter until it was a sorry flat echo of its former self. I didn't really care as long as it still had enough strength to shovel the golden sauce trapped beneath the gossamer surface of my over easy.

I guess that's what was going through my head at the kitchen store the day I bought this thing instead of the sleek plastic toaster. She was on my mind. Her and her Revlon Red nails looking chic as she whipped out food like a short order cook in a belted shirtdress. The sturdy masculine appliance backdrop of the era made her rickrack aprons and spoolie rolled hair seem like a dress up game.

From my place on the bench seat I could watch the kitchen drama reflected in our old mirrored toaster. Practicing my spy skills, I would keep my head turned and still slap a hand that tried to steal my bacon.

Now, I see my dog reflected next to me and shake off the reverie. How long have I been standing at the toaster this time, lost in a long gone morning when a Jack was in the Whitehouse and my mother's voice was so much more than faded memory?
And that's what you write BEFORE you have your morning coffee, and after four hours of sleep because a family of raccoons decided to hold a rave outside your window all night long...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Looking For My Real Friend

You know those horribly snotty girls in 7th grade who were your best friend during the summer and by the third week of September, walk past you without looking while chatting with a clique of "popular" kids? Sure you do. We all watched that drama unfold when we were 12. 

So today, I'm feeling like I've been the snotty girl and Weight Watchers was my best friend until I got distracted by some super cliquey, danger foods and I've been walking right past the website and the food journal and the power foods, and with a little attitude, grabbed my coffee and pastry and headed for the sofa where we could commiserate about that whiny food program. "She's SUCH a downer!"

My popular pastry pal turned out to be exactly who she always was, a vapid, vacuous, overdone, over rated, empty calorie, shallow dish.

I'm wandering the halls now headed to my summer friend's lonely table to ask her if it's too late to join her again. We really did have fun, she was always there for me-no matter what and and she never lied to me.

I'm bringing her an apple as a peace offering...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer...Drink It In

I just got back from the Florida Keys and a stop at The Conch House in Key Largo. In fact, the food was so good, we ate there on the way down and again on the way out. They had killer ceviche, an incredible fish taco and the best key lime pie I've ever tasted.

What I am stealing from them for my own new fav is iced herb teas. They served Mighty Leaf tea blends in small French presses accompanied by two glasses filled with ice so you could pour it as strong as you'd like. Mine was the pink Hibiscus in the middle; delicious!

Hit that tea aisle in the grocery store this summer and brew a pot of your fav then pour it over ice. Don't forget to put a metal spoon in the ice to disperse the boiling hot tea if you use a glass pitcher or the glass can break.

Be bold and make your own blends from your herb garden. Steep mint leaves for a cool refreshing summer iced tea or lemon verbena leaves. Mix your favorite chamomile with some vanilla bean scrapings. Brew some Constant Comment tea bags and chill it for a crisp spicy orange iced tea. Go nuts! Permission granted. And you won't even have to stick your pinkie finger in the air as you drink. Ahh. Summer. It doesn't get much better than that.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Samurai at the Slumber Party

Life was a hands on workshop this past couple of weeks. After attending a family wedding in Florida, where I lived for many years, I turned my rental car north to head up the coast a bit to spend a few days with two women that I have known for nearly 30 years.

We three, in different combinations, have been boss-employee, co-members of study groups, travel companions, photographer at the birth of both my children, confidantes and, always, sister-friends. As we age, we find stretches of time when we aren’t in direct contact as often as we once were. In the 19 years since I piled my family into our car and drove away from our home in Jupiter to move for a new job in Michigan, a lot has happened. Kids grew, parents died, wrinkles and folds and gray have replaced smooth and slim and young.

In the seven or so years it’s been since I have been in the presence of these women, I have walked through my own breast cancer adventure and launched my now-college-grad kids into the world, while they have been pounded by hurricanes, crashing economies and the sudden loss of a beloved grandson. We knew that the moment we were in each other’s presence, it would feel like no time had passed at all. “Like I was saying…” could have been the very next thing after hello and we’d know right where the conversation left off last time.

At some point in the second night of our slumber-party-gab-festival, one of them said to me, “You know, you never called us when you went through the breast cancer thing. We didn’t know until it was done. What happened there?” She was right.

When I got the news that I’d be starting a medication regimen and many weeks of radiation, I automatically went into a preparation mode that’s specific intensity didn’t register with me until long after I had come out of it again. Faced with having to put into words what five years earlier just felt like something I had to do, the course of the process I had surrendered to became clearer than when it was happening.

I told her then that I felt as if I went into a silent state of meditation to prepare for war. The motions of each day were like a Samurai, rising at dawn, walking to the clearing of a forest with weapons on my back, and training, hard, to slash and thrust and spin and focus. No one was invited to the training field because I could not guarantee their safety if I was lost in the motion of that sword dance. When I wasn’t training, I was silently working my sword with a whetstone and resting my body for the daily journey to the machine where the battle took place each day for weeks. It was just a little white pill and a white machine to lie down on, arms over my head while it hummed its song, but on some level unseen, this silent skirmish was playing out. There was no room there for anyone but me and even my husband and children stepped to the side to let me pass, knowing that I was on a mission and they honored that space.

It wasn’t until months after the appointments ended and I wasn’t so tired anymore that I could rise up out of the ready stance I had taken and lay down the sword to join the dinner table again. It was a few years after that until I reconnected with a larger circle of people and by then found myself comforting others because I had not included them in what was going on. Some, who were still reeling from the passing of someone close simply said “I get the distance thing. When I heard about you, I just kind of shut down to prepare myself for another possible loss of someone I loved.”

We each do what we need to do when staring down something that appears to be larger than we are in that moment. Be it a health, relationship, job or financial challenge, or grieving a profound loss, we walk through a personal maze of emotion and thought that is custom suited to each of us individually.

Surely, this is what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers experience until they find the right place to speak; not that my own experience could ever compare to the very real danger and horrors soldiers face every day in a war zone. Any experience that moves us out of the floating mental world we typically exist in each day is one that drops us into a heightened state of awareness of the place, condition and safety of our physical bodies. In this heightened awareness we produce a sustained wash of adrenaline over our neural pathways. Perhaps the abundant adrenaline burns off whatever serene chemicals usually coat our brain cells like acid reflux burns our esophagus leaving us on a permanent diet of antacids. Without our stash of the serene chemicals, we move in a fight or flight state constantly and our confidence and our ability to trust that those around us are on our side erodes. The action of speaking is like a water hose washing off the adrenaline spill and it clears the way for serenity to recover the raw space.

Here is the most important thing; until we have reconnected with those we love and spoken the words that fill in the blank portions of their understanding, we are not done yet. Until we say to another person; friend, counselor or both, out loud, what we felt and where we are now, we are not done yet. In my slumber party setting, safely surrounded by these sister-friends, while putting my own process into words for them, I felt a story circle with a beginning, middle and end; finally.

I feel different now. I feel like something shifted after speaking a deep truth to my sister-friends at our little slumber party. Seeing their faces again and hearing their understanding and sage advice on where to put my feet next, the circle of the story closed when I could tell it the way it had to be told. Though my blade still gleams from the touch of the whetstone, it’s hanging up now, point down, in a place of honor and I can nod in gratitude as I pass it on my way out the door and into my life.

*"Young Samurai" Painting by Jane Norman
See more of her art at:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sending Out For Alterations

"Anything you place on the altar is then altered." Author, teacher, amazing human, Marianne Williamson said that on her social network feeds the other day. I love how she cuts straight to the heart of the matter. 

It made me think about my own, many altars. I'm sure that would sound odd if you knew that I do not practice a form of organized religion. I was raised as a Roman Catholic back when masses were in Latin and seemed very mysterious and important. I'm certain the theatrical quality of Sunday mornings was enough to keep me mesmerized until I was older and started asking questions that got way too many answers that didn’t ring true and right inside of me.

When I look around my house I see that there are altars of a sort in every single room; the top of a dresser, the space in front of books on a shelf, the top of a towel cabinet in the bathroom, a fireplace mantle, a sideboard and the one I love the most, the shelf over my kitchen sink.

As I look at my kitchen window sill, I see a small diorama of my life as woman, wife, mother, friend and all the other titles that stream out invisibly behind me as I walk through life. There's a little olivewood bowl of salt that I keep there that feels like a commentary on the preservation of life's deliciousness and to the simplicity of goodness. There’s a little ceramic otter that reminds me to play. There are beautiful pieces of star anise spice with their apple like seeds in the perfect flower of their seven petaled pod and they remind me to add some spice to everything I do. There's a palm sized Kwan Yin- Goddess of Mercy, who was too serene to leave on the dusty store shelf and she and I have a deal to watch over my loved ones when they're out of my sight. There are teeny pine cone buds that remind me where we start from on our way to becoming towering trees, and small vases that hold blooms from anywhere I can find them.

On the phone this morning, I was talking about altars with a friend. She happened to be at her sink and laughed as she looked around at her carefully placed dragonflies and wind chimes that she loves and the cardinal that reminds her of her late mother and stars that remind her of her daughters. She had also created an altar on her kitchen window sill as well without even trying.

Is it just women who do this over their kitchen sinks or do men also place things there, with love and care, and while they settle into the meditation in motion of washing away mess and making their lives clean again, do they stop and realize what they were doing?

All over the world, outside of the structure of religions and officially sanctioned sacred spots, there are prayers going out and altars being built and voices asking for help with whatever challenges we face. Faith isn't a word that belongs to churches. Faith is a word that means I trust that there is an answer and it will be found. Faith is a word that should mean that you have asked already and it is now being handled. And faith is a word that means you have the patience to live your life while the pieces come together. It has nothing to do with buildings or job titles or words in a book or adherence to a strict ritual of behavior. It's trust, confidence and patience; three things we must have in order to reach our goals whatever they may be. .

So today I'm making a tiny scroll and tying it with a small piece of ribbon and on that scroll I am putting down my request for assistance everyday with my judgment when I am faced with choices that will affect my health and well being. It's going onto one of my many little altars around my home and I am going to walk away from it because I know that my request was heard and my own alterations began the very second I wrote the note.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Fastest Food Shoveler In The West

The topic at WW this week was tips on how to really slow down and enjoy your food. My husband eats like he’s in a prison camp with 4 minutes to shovel as much as possible into his stomach because his next meal may not be for several days.

We also, like so many other empty nesters, have gotten into the very bad habit of eating dinner, each and every week night, with Diane Sawyer. I work from home, so each afternoon I start to pull together an evening meal for later, when the H gets home. Sometimes, I can create a meal quickly if it’s something really basic. I’m not much of a sandwich or eggs for dinner kind of gal. I probably should have been a chef or at least a short order cook, as I can’t seem to give up the temptation to “mess” with dishes so they’ll be “better”.
Even the occasional frozen pizza does not escape me adding some fresh mozzarella or a few microplane swipes of Grana Padano, fresh tomato slices, mushrooms, fresh basil or a dash of my Italian seasoning mix before it hits the oven. Nothing is safe when you hear me say, “Oooo, hang on a sec…”. I‘m an awesome cook and I love to take my time to create things that make your mouth sing.

When I have spent an hour or two making fresh raspberry vinaigrette dressing for the salad greens I have laced with slices of fennel bulbs, almonds, slivers of Muenster cheese and a few home made seasoned croutons to pair with a pork roast and balsamic vinegar and apple reduction sauce, I would like to think that the eater of my offerings actually tasted what I took all that time to make.

Imagine my surprise (she said sarcastically), when I get my plate and head to the TV room where the husband has already taken his plate and flipped on Diane and the nightly news and by the time I sit down, he is done with his dinner. Really? We don’t live in a 20,000 square foot home. It’s about 30 feet from the stove to the sofa in the TV room. If I walk very slowly, and I mean cartoonishly slow, it might take me 10 seconds to get from one place to another. Did he give it to the dog? Did he shove it under the sofa? If he ate it, did he chew or simply unhinge his jaw like the Anaconda’s of the Amazon? I am baffled with the speed in which this food was inhaled, and frankly, a little insulted.

At the WW meeting this morning, a woman who grew up on a local farm with many siblings shared her family food motto. It goes like this; He who eats the fastest gets the most. Then, to a round of laughter from the 50 people gathered, she added, “I won.”

We learn fast eating from somewhere; our families or an over crowded school system that allots 10 minutes for lunch or the military operations that rush you through as you try and get a handful of whatever they’re serving. It’s a really bad habit and unless you are out there doing the Jillian Michaels killer boot camp every day, you are going to over eat when you do it at home and no one is there to eat up or remove the seconds and thirds you’ll be going for a few minutes after inhaling your first helping.

The H is the youngest of four boys and his father before him was the youngest of more sibs than that. My father-in-law proudly told the story of rushing to his childhood breakfast table and licking every piece of toast so his sibs wouldn't want them. He thought it was hilarious. I thought it was his training ground for the Grinch-like character he became during his lifetime.

It takes almost 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach you are full. When you eat like a speed demon, you could have eaten your third helping in 20 minutes. When you're shoveling it in at the speed of light you're not really enjoying it and, more importantly, it hasn't had time to register on the FULL meter.

An empty stomach is the size of your fist. Hold your fist out over the cookware and bowls full of food before you eat and mentally absorb the fact that there is more than enough to fill you many times over. That may still the desperate kid buried deep in our mind that's screaming, "There won't be enough for me!"

Here’s another suggestion for slowing your meals down and forcing yourself to taste, chew and savor every bite of your food: use chop sticks whenever possible. Get some really nice ones. I bought several sets when I was in Hong Kong and Japan and I’ve also collected some nice contemporary wooden ones, traditional ceramic and even a couple of fancy ceremonial  sets. I love the way they feel in my hands and if you can snap your fingers, you can figure out how to eat with them.

This is one simple change you can make that will make a world of difference in how much you are eating and in how much you actually taste the meal that you or someone else may have taken a very long time to lovingly create. Your satisfied stomach will thank you and the cook will thank you for properly appreciating their culinary artistry and spare you their silent wrath, or loud wrath or wrathy wrath in my case. What? It could be a word.  

I'm hiding the forks tonight. How about you?

Check out your local Asian grocery store, World Market, China Town or the web for some beautiful chopstick sets. Here’s an entire website devoted to these handy dandy eating tools:

And if you don’t know how to use two sticks to eat, here’s a lesson. Go watch it! Chop, chop!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bringing Outrageous Vanity To The Party

“Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.”  Logan Pearsall Smith, American essayist, 1865-1946

I read that quote last night about 1AM, while trying to absorb some inspiration for the novel I’m working on. I’m 22,000 odd words into it and another 50,000 to go. Did you know that a manuscript should be at least 60,000 words long to be considered a novel? According to a study at the University of Pennsylvania, the gender breakdown of number of words spoken each day looks like this: male = 6073 words per day, female = 8805 words per day. I’m more like 10G a day, but did I really say anything at all? That’s debatable. At that rate though, I’ll toss out 60,000 words every week; over 3 million words a year. Though writing 60,000 words on paper, on purpose, in a pleasing and entertaining fashion, is a far more daunting task. It can be done though; just one word at a time.

As I started to drift off, with the brilliance of Smith's statement about barely contained “outrageous vanity” whirling around my thoughts, another presence stirred. It was the part of me that taps me on the shoulder as I write and asks what makes me think anyone will want to read this drivel? It’s that damn Shameus again. If you’ve followed these blog-isodes, you’ll remember Shameus as the self defeating voice that’s always there to knock us down a peg, bring us down to size, or put us in our place when we get all high and mighty. He’s there to shame us, hence the name.

Shameus hangs out in the bleacher seats while I write and he also likes to hang around my makeup table and my closet when I get dressed (the perv). He’s there when I longingly smooth the fabric of that dress I want to fit into this summer and I hear his barely muffled guffaw, like I’m pipe dreaming to think it will ever fit again and I’m a complete fool hanging on to it anyway.

You know what shuts Shameus up? Outrageous Vanity. I need to dig deep and pull out that woman who stood once, across the room from my heart’s desire, and boldly stepped forward into the unknown because it was worth the risk. We all need to dig out those photos of us when we were goddesses and gods and we moved through the world with confidence and poise and yes, outrageous vanity and be inspired. We need to locate that powerful part of ourselves and post it as guard and guardian to bar the way when Shameus shows up with the mac and cheese or the one little piece of pizza that he knows would turn into three.

There is not a painter worth their brush or a writer worth their pen or an athlete worth their medal or an actor worth their Oscar that has not silenced their own Shameus and allowed their outrageous vanity to lead them to their goal.  

Author, Ph.D, M.D. and nationally known psychiatrist, David R. Hawkins, wrote a book called Power vs. Force. It’s a brilliant piece of work and it contains a “map of consciousness” that he developed after years of extensive study. On this map, he identifies 17 levels of consciousness; levels we might be functioning at during any given period of time, and they range from the lowest, which is shame, to the highest functioning level, which is enlightenment. On this map, pride ranks 8th moving up the scale towards enlightenment. He says that we must rise up through each of the levels to become what we were meant to be. The levels reflect individual progress but they also accurately reflect societal and cultural evolution as well. Cities can function, predominantly in shame or fear, or anger or pride or courage or willingness or even love. On the map, Pride sits one level higher than anger, which is #7, and as Hawkins points out, we have to “get mad” enough about something to actually get up off our asses and do something about it. We have to get mad enough to uncover the pride we have in ourselves, our families, our communities and our futures and then we become motivated to make some changes. Guess what the next level #9 is? Courage. We have to get mad about what is, gather some pride about what could be, so we can locate the courage to really make the changes that need to be made; anger and then pride and then courage. Genius, isn’t it? I love it.

So I’m telling you and I’m telling myself, the way to get back on a program or to stay on a program so we can shut Shameus up once and for all is to not only find Outrageous Vanity inside us, but to make her our Plus 1 when we R.S.V.P. our future. I mean really, who would you rather take to a grand opening gala when you reach your goal and you’re finally wearing that outfit you’ve been waiting to wear; Shameus or your new/old pal Ovie? Time to let her out.

Power Vs. Force is available at Amazon or at Veritas Publishing:

Another book Hawkins co-authored:
A Multivariant Psychopharmacologic Study in Normals Reprinted from Psychosomatic Medicine Vol. XXIII No. 1 1961

Um. Yeah. What he said.

And if you’d rather listen to some music about it, here’s a promo from Paula Cole’s amazing 2007 album, Courage:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Life Advice From A Quirky Source

I'm a fan of author, Christopher Moore. His twisted humor is, decidedly, an acquired taste and growing up on Vonnegut and other writers that pushed the edges of humor and circumstance right off the cliff, just for the heck of it, for me, Moore carries on that tradition in all it's glory.

If you can't handle saucy language or racy settings, he may not be your cup of tea. And if you're devoutly religious, you are not going to want to read Lamb- though it's one of my all time favorite books that made me laugh out loud and cry while reading it.

Moore was interviewed recently about his career, writing process, character inspirations and life advice. Here's what he said on the later, which I happen to think is pretty brilliant, and why I'm sharing it here. Enjoy-

"Don't drive drunk. Ever. Don't shag anyone you don't like, or who doesn't like you. Get a look at how people live in a place where you don't. Suffering is over-rated, don't pursue it. Ask for help when you need it, don't when you don't, and learn to recognize the difference. Don't confuse movement and progress. Be kind. Be forgiving. Pay attention."

Look him up at

And here's a great interview with sound advice to writers:

And a new interview!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Lost Herb

I’ve been to five grocery stores this week looking for savory; summer savory preferably.  Even though it’s winter in this hemisphere now, you would still think some enterprising spice company would have dried and bottled some of the summer harvest to sell now, and hey, dry the winter now to sell in the summer. The summer harvest is a more delicate spice that falls on the flavor scale somewhere in the neighborhood of peppery thyme dancing around the edge of oregano and marjoram. The winter is a stronger taste so I just use a bit less of it, but it’s still a smell I could roll around in.

I have friends who season with salt and pepper. The end. It’s the way their mother’s cooked and it’s never occurred to them that the hundreds of other containers in the spice isle might hold something they could add to their food when they cook. Little do they know that their husbands, craving “something more”, sneak off to little lunch joints and regularly order spicy food dishes to add a some variety to their boring food lives back home.

My Dad, a 1st generation American with Italian parents right off the boat, literally, used to groan and grumble when we had to go to my maternal grandmother’s home for a Sunday dinner. My Mom’s mother, a stoic Czech, never embraced the sensual art of cooking. I swear, she thought that spices were somehow directly connected to overt sexuality and using these outrageous flavors on your food was akin to doing a pole dance in a Catholic church. 

On those dreaded Sundays when we would forgo my Italian grandmother’s phenomenal table laden with heavenly food fragrances to head to the other grandmother’s home, there were stalling and delay tactics afoot. We would pile into our car in the Chicago suburbs and drive down to Roscoeville in the city where my grandmother had been cooking the chicken for at least three hours. This wasn’t a turkey mind you, but a regular whole roaster that began, like all chicken, with the potential for deliciousness, but after hours of submitting to the heat of an oven, had given up and just lay there drying to a stringy mess. Her vegetables, boiled, had also been roiling away on the stove for “a while” rendering them to a paste and slime consistency. Where my Mom couldn’t hear, my Dad would whisper, “This chicken tastes like my arm is asleep”, and  I would be reduced to giggling into my cloth napkin.

On the way home, he would swing the car into an Italian beef sandwich shop and pick up a bag full of the fragrant sandwiches, extra cups of au jus gravy and giardiniera and we would dig in picnic style back at the kitchen table at home. Mom would feign upset and then dig in with the rest of us traitors.   

I’m a spice freak. I have cabinets full of different spices and I’m not afraid to use them! Like the savory I went in search of this week. I finally found one store that carried the dried herb and then, surprisingly, I found bundles of fresh savory at my local Meijer store in the section with the plastic boxes of fresh herbs. I bought a couple boxes and I’m drying them out so I’ll have them when I want them. I went on this quest because my daughter has recently moved to the Detroit area and on a visit home, asked if I could fix her up a few bottles of some of my spice mixes for her kitchen.

She was looking in particular for a mix I call Summer Field. It’s a delicious green and fragrant blend of dill, chive and savory. I mix it to my own taste, close to equal proportions of each though I go a bit heavier on the savory.  I use a little of this spice blend in fat free sour cream for an amazing dip for carrots and other cut veggies. I also use a pinch in Egg Beater omelets with some kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, low fat Lorraine Swiss cheese and some slices of Portobello mushrooms. Shitakes are better as they add a smoky flavor to the dish, but if you can’t find them, go with the Portobello. Summer Field is a great add in to home made vegetable soup and if you make your own herb breads, throw in a tablespoon along with some dried onion flakes and you’ll have killer bread for ham sandwiches!

Don’t be a sleeping arm chicken cooker. Get in that spice isle and play! If you don’t know what the spices taste or smell like, start in the vegetable section at the best grocery store you have. Pick up the bundles of each herb and give them a smell. Bring a little notebook and write down what you discover. Make it like a wine tasting and notice the undertones of the herbs. Is it lemony, peppery, minty, sweet or bitter? If you’re on the Internet to read a blog, then you can Google search the interesting herbs and find out how they’re commonly used. Depending on where they are from originally, you’ll find a way to use the flavor in ethnic cooking or how to adapt it to your own favorite dishes.

Sorry Grandma, but I have to go with Dad on this topic. I’ve grown up to be a wild and out of control spice woman and I’m proud of it.

While you’re on your spice sojourn, pick up a few blood oranges in the fruit section! They’re in season right now and if you haven’t discovered these yet, you’re in for a treat. The beautiful merlot wine color of the juice is a sweet treat and squeezing a blood orange into a salad dressing makes for a surprising flavor fest. Get a packet of Good Seasonings, Zesty Italian Dressing mix, cut up a small shallot into tiny dice and add 1 tsp. to the mix along with the juice of 1 small blood orange,  light oil and red wine vinegar, you have a sparkling salad! Don’t throw the meat of the orange away after juicing. Pull off the peel and chop up the orange into little bits and throw it into the salad as well. Go crazy! Add some almond slices and a few of those raspberries you were eyeing at the store. There you go. Now you’re on the crazy spice train too. It’s like a Flamenco dance on your tongue. Ole!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Brain Cloud

If you haven’t seen the movie, Joe vs. The Volcano, get to that crusty video rental store and find a copy this weekend. Here’s the IMDB synopsis: When a hypochondriac learns that he is dying, he accepts an offer to throw himself in a volcano at a tropical island, and along the way there, learns to truly live.

Though it’s a simple concept, this little film is packed full with moments that are hard to forget. Tom Hanks is terrific and Meg Ryan plays three distinct characters. I do wish she would do an entire film as the second LaLaLand sister, Angelica; a fabulous little gem of a character.

So our hero, Joe, was diagnosed with a “Brain Cloud”. He was told it was fatal and he believed the doctor because he wanted to, being a hypochondriac and all. Slapped with that wet fish of information, he faces a choice to either give up and live the last days of his life like he lived the previous thousands or to do something new until the end. "Live like a king and die like a man".
I’m on the fifth day of a monster cold. That’s why I’m thinking about brain clouds. The sensation I have with all this sinus pressure is a brain cloud like disconnected zombie march to the refrigerator when some errant thought triggers a need that is too vague to name. It’s like the mucus has entered between brain synapses and impaired the higher functioning of my mind. Problem: my feet are cold. Solution: go to the kitchen and get a cup of cocoa with marshmallows and some graham crackers. I’m not intending to put my feet into the cocoa for warmth and it doesn’t occur to me until after my trip to the goodies that a pair of warm socks might have been the wiser choice. Hmm. Brilliant.
Isn’t that the root of all mindless eating though? Not the mucus part, although that could be  more of a problem than any of us recognize. I mean the impaired higher function of our minds.  When something gets in between the short and direct connection from the cold foot problem to the warm sock solution, we get carjacked and taken somewhere we really don’t want to be going. Let’s call this phenomena "brainjacking".

The truth is, if we were thinking clearly before we head towards the food or the booze or whatever it is we have selected to use as emotional duct tape, we’d be changing direction and heading for a far more appropriate tool for resolution. Colds and flu are a lot like “brain clouds” and while they have us in their grip, we’re facing an even bigger challenge of maintaining a food program that we chose to be on and would really like to stay on while we get ourselves over the illness, nourished and healthy again.

Let’s pretend that every year there’s a visit for us from a cold or the flu and that we don’t know exactly which day these unwelcome guests are going to show up at our door and move in until we kick their sorry rear ends out. With this foreknowledge, next time you go shopping, how about grabbing one grocery bag full of things you’re going to need to get through a few sick days? Find some canned soups that are low point value and that you enjoy eating. Get some fruit or vegetable juices, teas, low fat crackers and even a few frozen meals while your head is cloud free and you can make good decisions about which to select. Just stick them in the cupboard or the freezer and they will be waiting patiently for you when you need them.

I share this because I’m sitting here with my cocoa and my feet are cold and if I could drive right now, I’d be out buying things to make a pot of delicious soup instead of starring at the bag of chips across the room that’s asking me to jump into the junk food volcano with him.

While you’re watching the movie this weekend, think about how it felt before you decided to start a food program like Weight Watchers. I don’t know about you, but for me, I faced my closet and a lot of things in my life the same way Joe Banks faced his dehumanizing job each day. When we finally stand up and make a choice to change our bodies and change our lives, our posture in the world is instantly transformed and we don’t want to go back to the way it was before. Having this cold producing brain cloud has reminded me just how many times I was brainjacked into zombie-like decision making in years past and that I am in charge of changing all that.

There’s a scene in this movie that is one of my most favorite in any film, ever. Joe, adrift on a raft for days in the South Pacific and nearing the end is startled by the giant rising moon. He struggles to his feet and flings his arms out wide and says a line of dialog that I would chisel on a headstone if I were to ever have one (which I won’t, but that’s another story).

He says, “Dear God, whose name I do not know, thank you for my life.”  

BRILLIANT. Stunning. 
There was never a more perfect prayer written and I try to remember it every day. 

For me,I'm working on shaking off the brain cloud and getting back to conscious decision making after a few days of struggling with my cocoa vs. socks dilemna. You need to get to the store and pick up your stash of cold & flu goods. And, hey, before you go, could you pass the Kleenex?

Here’s a link to the movie trailer from1990

Monday, February 14, 2011

Not Your Average Valentine

Valentine’s Day~

If you’re over 20, then you have an eclectic collection of emotion swirling around you on a day like Valentine’s Day. You’re feeling love or loss, anticipation or frustration, expectation or disappointment, touched or forgotten. By the time you’re this age you will have given cards and gotten them from raggedy cut out hearts with glitter glue to elaborate store bought numbers with sentiments that could only have been created by the writers at All My Children, circa 1979.

I was fishing around my emotional cabinetry as this day approached and I found an anomalous emotion rising like a chunk of parmesan rind in a pot of simmering red sauce: anger. I grabbed at it and started to pull the feeling towards me to find out what it might be anchored to and up came a memory of my mother.

Not a huge surprise given that she passed away on Valentine’s Day in 1998 after losing a long battle with emphysema. She loved her cigarettes. Even after the diagnosis, she was the one pulling off her oxygen mask and trying to reach for her cigarettes as we flew out of our chairs to stop her before the living room became a scene from a Transporter movie. She didn’t get the whole oxygen/fire thing. Her doctor told her if she quit right then, she could have at least another 10 to 15 years. She said she didn’t want to “get fat”. She’d rather be dead than fat. Wish granted. She weighed about 87 pounds in her casket. Very Nancy Reagan-ish.

I realized that I was mad that her use of cigarettes as a dieting tool meant that she never saw my daughter play soccer or volleyball or my son play lacrosse; both kids as captains of their varsity teams. I was mad that she wasn’t at any of their graduations from high school or from college. I was mad that she was already too sick to travel and her last years were spent, not near her beloved Lake Michigan and the fresh green smells of the Mid West, but in the cement and scorching heat of Phoenix; a city she reluctantly moved to when my father was transferred and vowed to leave one day.  I was mad that she couldn’t, no scratch that; wouldn’t do the one simple thing that could have let her be there for all the kids, grandkids and great grandkids, at least for a little while. Put down the cigarettes. I did it. She could have too. She could have been here right now.

As I was swimming around in the angry soup that morning, I reached for my blood pressure medication and holding that bottle in my hand the divine irony of the situation poured like ice water over my head. How is not taking care of my own body any different from what she did? Who am I to hold a grudge about her stubborn continuation of a lifestyle that, literally, killed her when I was doing so little to improve my own?

The Hawaiian Huna culture has a beautiful practice called Ho’ Oponopono. It’s a healing ritual of forgiveness and completion and though the traditional practice is a much longer prayer, I can boil the essence of it down for you. There are four things we must voice if we want to be healed and complete with any one or anything in our lives and it does not matter if the other person is present or not, living or not. This is between your own higher self and theirs. The words are simple and profound. Here they are;

Thank you.
I’m sorry.
I forgive you.
I love you.

That’s it. There is nothing that can’t be covered within the boundaries of those four statements. Think of them as a mantra.  I am spending a little photo visit time with mom today to tell her this and then I am going to say this to myself and start to do for my own kids what she wasn’t able to do for mine; be there as long as I possibly can. 
Happy Valentine’s Day Mom.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Who Ate My Stuff?

I've been out in the world this week and away from my blogging. I am squarely in the middle of the event planning, for the fifth year, for our local food bank fundraiser called "Empty Plate". The irony of writing a weight loss blog and working a job on either end of the plate too full and the plate too empty spectrum is not lost on me. In fact, it's helping me this year as I am consciously making a connection between my too much and the hundreds of locals who have too little every time I really, really, really want to go back to the kitchen for "just a bit more" of something delicious.

Here's a little tool I'm using to try and slap my coma eating awake again- I have made an agreement with myself to never eat anything (except single serve yogurt), out of the container it came in. If you're like me, you'll settle in to the comfy chair so you can spend an hour with Nathan Fillion on Castle every Monday night and you'll pop open a bag of something crunchy and cheesy and yummy and eat without ever looking down to see where the food is coming from or how much is left in the bag. Heck, I could have eaten a flattened cockroach for all I know. I really didn't look. Eating without looking creates the surprise when you go for another cruncher and the bag is empty. Who ate my stuff? Oh yeah. That was me.

I have some beautiful bowls that I've bought from our local potter's guild at their yearly sale. These are nice, single serve size bowls with gorgeous blues and greens and coppery colors that I've used on party buffets and the dinner table for years. I sometimes forget that they are really mine, so they sit on a shelf looking lonely most of the time, like I'm waiting for permission from some other adult to let me use them. I am taking them out now and when I want a bag of Cheddar Twists, I pour the contents out into my pretty bowl and I eat only what is in that bowl. When it's empty, I am done.

I like the way the bowl looks and feels so now I look down to admire the glaze and the color and, AMAZING!, I also look at the food when I eat it. This way I know for a fact that it was me who ate it all and not the neighbor kid wearing his cloak of invisibility.

Honor your food and honor yourself by using those bowls and cups and glasses that you usually save for company. Guess who you're entertaining tonight? The new healthy you who is here as honored guest. Mangia!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chop Sticks Anyone?

I love stuff like this- technology used for good instead of evil. Maybe schools should be installing these since they're taking away gym class.



Piano Stair Case

In Case Of Emergency Tear Here

A little stress and tension is a good thing. Without it, handles wouldn’t stay on tea kettles, bridges would collapse and your pants would fall down.

A little stress has to exist in our lives otherwise we would never kick off the covers and start the day.  It’s the unexpected situations that make us dig into our adrenaline locker and pull out a wad to throw at our bloodstream and then our heart rate, blood pressure, sweat glands and gyroscopic thoughts are off to the races.
We once faced real dangers on a regular basis and some people living in isolated areas still do; the crocodile encounter at the river where you get your water, the tiger on the walkway through the jungle, the grizzly at the dumpster. It happens. For most of us though, the stress factors aren’t
nearly as interesting or dangerous. The stress factors look more like our family members, co-workers, or inanimate things like project deadlines and financial situations. Most stressors on modern humans are other humans and the “stuff” they drag into our lives. Or it’s ourselves, making poor decisions and the “stuff” that we drag into our own lives.

For some reason, our fight or flight response alert system has uploaded a file on The Boss, or The Significant Other or The Mother in Law, and just seeing a name on the caller ID can start the engines roaring. Being Italian and using my hands to gesture wildly about anything, I can see the centuries old traditional hand bite sign when I’m faced with dealing with someone/something that really gets my shorts in a knot. Something to the mouth is a pretty clear signal that stuffing something into your mouth is a comforting gesture. 

We’re taught as babies how to comfort ourselves. If mom was too busy to pick us up and rock us, we usually had a bottle shoved into our mouths or a pacifier so we’d quiet down while she finished whatever she was doing.  The self comfort program was installed in our little heads long ago and unless we remove the old program and install a better one, we will be trapped on a continuous loop until we are completely addicted to using that one and only coping mechanism. Stress rises and we run to the vending machine and tear open the plastic bag containing some calorie laden,  preservative filled thing that if we were calm, we would never eat. I mean really, anything that sat in a warehouse for four months before it sat in a vending machine for three weeks before you dropped your money in and pulled it out isn’t going to be healthy or helping you in any way.  Stress rises and we open our mouths awaiting the comfort that comes from food, or cigarettes or alcohol or, well, you get the picture.
I read a lot. Some books, self help in particular, either thrill me or I get 20 pages in and then it just goes on the shelf and leans on pottery pieces. The good ones, the ones that have a mindful practice included, feel like home to me and I return to them again and again. They usually offer a little mini tune up.  It’s something simple that I can do in less than 20 minutes, Thank God, because I am SO busy saving the world each day that I couldn’t possibly spare more time than that.

I am working on replacing my hand bites and my food bites with bites of silence. I am starting to call for a time out when I hear the first warning sign of approaching stress. I love the scene in Finding Nemo when Dory, the fish, is lost in the dark and saying “Find your happy place! Find
your happy place!” It may look a little odd to others when you ask for a short break, but the person you’ll be when you rejoin the gang will be a calm and collected one. Go into the restroom if you don’t have an office door to shut. Go for a walk if you can. Change the scenery by simply moving somewhere else in your home for a few minutes.
When you get to that other physical place, or even if you cannot leave the room where you’re at, you can get to the other mental place by focusing on your breath. Breathe in through your nose, slowly and calmly, and blow gently, out through your mouth. Do it 20 times. It can be so soft and
quiet that anyone around you wouldn’t know what you’re doing. If you’re concerned someone is looking at you, pick up a file or a book or something and pretend you’re reading while you do this. Don’t actually read because you won’t be focusing on your breath.  Just breathe. It’s instantly transforming and when you return to the stress zone, your calm can affect the others by calming them down as well. I don’t think it will have the same affect on the crocodile at the watering hole, but done each day before you enter the zone, and done each time you feel the stress triggers begin, your little moment of Zen space just might make all the difference. Practice mindful breathing. It’s free, it’s immediately available, it does not require a college degree and best of all, it’s zero calories, fat free and looks so much better than that snickers bar on your thighs.

Recommended book with Mindful Practices worth exploring: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s not just for “artists” in the traditional sense. It’s for anyone trying to make a masterpiece of their life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I've Got To Hand It To You

A friend online wrote a poem this morning about her body and all the wonderful things it's done for her. She wrote about the need to acknowledge the journey her body has been on for all these years and to be patient with it as it changes again and again. Inspired by her, I am writing about my hands today. What's funny about hands? You haven't shaken my hand, have you? I've always worn men's gloves because, as a palm reader told me once, I have "Working Witch's Hands"; wide palm but very long slender fingers. I have always been able to palm a basketball. Mine are not ballerina hands, but graceful in their own "I can hold your whole face" sort of way.   What's your poem for the day?

Hand Resume

These same hands
climbed the tree
turned the pages
swam the distance
wrote the poems
played the music
drove the roads
held the lover
rocked the babies
cooked the food
touched the gravestones
cheered the team
brushed the hair

made the deal
wrapped the presents
held the hands
raised the fists
gave the directions
typed the words,
these same hands that got me here
will get me to where I’m going.
Only what matters should touch my hands.
Me and my hands choose wisely now.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Swimming In Dusty Exercise Equipment

I’m approaching this new food and health program as calmly and peacefully as I can. If you read my blog entry called “Attention! I’m Not Paying Attention.” You’ll know that I am purposely putting my attention on fun, creativity with the foods that I am eating now and removing the "Guilt" portion of the program so I won’t get bored and bail on it. I’m adding elements of this new lifestyle one at a time. Maybe I should say old lifestyle that I checked out of but have now checked back into. The food changes were first and now I’m trying to add some new activity back into my routine.

I headed out the door with my dog in her “coat”, ready for a brisk walk. I say brisk not in the race walking sense but in the arctic, blue lips sense in our 9 degree Michigan morning. The neighborhood sidewalk was like an ice rink, and not being Michelle Kwan, the pup and I turned back towards home after the third near miss of kissing the ground only a few blocks out. Even Matilda was not all that upset when she got back into the warm house and headed for her soft place on the sofa with her squeaky toy. I need an indoor activity.

Maybe you’re like me and the Magical Fairy of Good Intentions has guided you, over the years, to purchase exercise equipment to use in the privacy of your home. Curse you Infomercials! And maybe, like me, that equipment was used as often as the “Manual Food Processor” you got as a gift five years ago. Remember? You had to use a knife to chop the food into smaller pieces to fit it into the machine and then hand crank it like an old ice cream churn so it would cut the food up in smaller pieces that you could have used your knife to do in the first place? Yeah. That one.

Right now I have a pilates machine (in the attic), an elliptical that needs repair, a mini trampoline, an Easy Rider thingy, more than ten videos and DVD’s of yoga and aerobics, hand weights, stretchy band sets and a other things I forgot about. It’s pathetic. I just have to pick one, just one and start to use it. Be quiet. I’m thinking…

Actually, I’m thinking about back when my daughter graduated high school. A serape decoration was sitting on the elliptical and jogged a memory. She had waffled around about if or when she should have a party and finally settled on late summer, before leaving for college, which, by the way, is a GENIUS idea for parents of high school seniors. All the other parties were on the same nights in May and June and no one got to all of them. By mid-summer kids start to lose touch with each other. My kid’s Mid August Graduation Procrastination Celebration Fiesta (Mexican food and decoration theme) was attended by most of her graduating class and turned out to be the very last group get together before they all headed out in different directions to their new lives. It was fun and sad and sweet. Sometimes stalling is good.

Not so in the case of the dusty exercise equipment. I need to pick one and start to use it every day. I know that some people are working a food program to get to a class reunion, or to get into a wedding dress. What’s at the end of the fitness quest, for me, isn’t a singular event. It’s the ability to do something comfortably and confidently that I haven’t done in years.

I want to accept the invitation of the long, cool stretch of water waiting at a pool. I swam competitively as a kid. I was good. Not fabulous like some of my teammates and siblings, but good enough to make a small mark in my world. I miss the smell of chlorine, the familiarity of the lane markers and the weightless, other worldly sensation of moving fast through an element as peaceful and powerful and sexy and mysterious as water. At this moment of my life, you could not pay me enough money to get me into a swimsuit at a public pool. Since moving north from Florida, I no longer have my own in my yard where I can slide in and just move day or night whenever I want to. When I get my body to where I am going in my new food lifestyle, I want to pull on a tank suit without hesitation, curl my toes over the edge of the deck, launch myself out into the air and cut through the water again, just for my own pleasure.

Until I get there, I’ll have to choose another weapon for my Battle for Speedo Land. I’ll let you know
how it goes.
Don’t know how to swim? My own coach from back in the day is still out there swimming and doing amazing things. In his 60’s now, he’s still competing and is a World Record Holder and multiple gold medal winner in the Masters Swimming Program. Let him kick your butt for awhile! Here’s his Swim Instruction website:
Dr. Pete Andersen:

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Remember when you had to raise your hand and get a hall pass to go to the bathroom? Remember how your parents made you eat everything on your plate before you could eat your dessert? Even the horrible, overcooked, canned green vegetables that now sat there looking somewhere between an olive and a brown color and had the texture of slimy pond scum. How about “the haircut” that your mother gave you, or worse, paid some one else to give you, leaving you with 1/4” of bangs or some hideous helmet shape that is forever immortalized in your sixth grade school photo?
There are a thousand little moments in our lives, mostly from our childhood, when we felt we had no choice but to surrender, cave, give up, capitulate, yield, or cede.

Here’s the dictionary definition of this six letter word:
CHOICE: Noun– the person or thing chosen or selected, the act of choosing or selecting, one of a number of things from which only one can be chosen. Adjective– of superior grade, appealing to refined taste, pleasing to the sense of taste.
The thing is, we’re not children anymore. There is no one standing behind us watching our plates and forcing us to eat the double bacon cheeseburger with onion rings, fries and a chocolate shake. We chose that. We get to choose what we eat. As a direct result of that power we can either create a body that is healthy or a garbage storage unit that will hold onto everything we could shove in and slam the door down on.
Every time we raise a fork, or a spoon or a chopstick or our bare hands up to our mouths, we are able to choose to continue or stop. We even get to choose between healthy food and unhealthy food. We are not goats who will, at times, eat anything; an empty can, a discarded shoe or that fruitcake from 1987 that’s made it’s way around your entire family in the Great Re–Gifting Circle. Goats don’t do this because they are stupid, but because they are desperate. According to one goat expert: “The reason for this seems to be that goats are rarely given the food and care bestowed on other domestic animals.  The goat has been called the most optimistic of animals. Since it usually is not fed well, it will try to eat anything in the hope that it may be good.”
We’re not stupid either. We just make bad choices sometimes.
We also get to choose better next time, so choose as if your life depended on it. 
I’m so glad I’m not a goat … in this lifetime.

Since we’re talking about goats, here’s a talking goat.


OK, so maybe some goats are stupid. Here’s one “learning” about an electric fence.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is That A Wombat In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

I’m watching Oprah this week because she’s featuring the audience trip to Australia. If there is a country I would pack up and move to in one second flat, no hesitation, it’s Australia.  If you don’t go for the scenery, go for the food, the humor and that Jackman guy. (WooHoo!).

Question: Are there any men on TV shows who are American or are all of them graduates of the Australian Academy Of Seriously Hot Male Actors Who Do Perfect American Accents? I’m just wondering. Not complaining. Oh no. Just wondering…

My work resume, as I’ve mentioned, beyond “Most Awesome Mom Ever”, includes a variety of experience involving things I love; art, design, food, travel, the written word, and studies of body/mind/spirit. In the travel part, I’ve been a tour guide and worked in various posts creating, marketing and facilitating tours and events. Back in 1979, I had a whole busload of charming Aussies on my California/Las Vegas tour for 14 days.

Side note: The Aussie 10 cent coin is virtually the same size and weight of a US quarter, so when your tour group starts chucking them in the slot machines in Vegas, it is time to round up the gang for a “chat.” Second side note: Day 5 of the tour, they announced that their “favorite” American saying was “Holy Shit”. Ah, it’s the little things that are our real souvenirs…

By the time I sent them on their way back home, we’d exchanged addresses and phone numbers and I’d promised to let them know when I’d be Down Under to visit, not knowing I’d be able to keep that promise the very next year. As it turned out, this very same week, 30 years ago, I was winging my way south with a group of tourism representatives from the USA. We traveled to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.  

A cluster of my tour buddies lived in Adelaide and picked me up at my hotel on my work free night. I thought we were going to a restaurant to have a meal with them. Instead, I was brought to the parent’s home of one of the 20-something guys from the tour.

When I entered their backyard, I was greeted by about 30 people and outdoor tables decorated with little US & Australian flags: a true Shrimp on the Barbie meal. Apparently, I was the first American they had ever had at their home, so I felt a little like Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon with cameras at the ready to capture the moment for posterity. No pressure, right?

These folks couldn’t have made me more comfortable and beyond their great sense of humor and hospitality, I was really impressed with the great, simple, fresh food they served; so different from the gooey, starchy, fatty stuff we tend to bring to our own BBQ’s here in the states. We had gorgeous green salads laced with tropical fruits, incredibly fresh seafood and a “mixed grill” of lamb, beef and pork and ended the meal with fresh fruit and cheese for dessert.

The Barbie in Adelaide was an eye opener regarding the portion sizes as well. Some restaurants tend to serve fashionably small portions both here and abroad, but you get the truth about how a country eats when you go into someone’s home and see it firsthand. Australian portions were human sized and not Shrek sized like we expect here stateside.The people there were also human sized, mostly, and the clusters of very overweight people tended to be tourists… from America. When did we start to expect a giant container of food for our meals? Maybe we have to leave America to get a better idea about how completely bizarre our portion sizes are.

I remember the look on the face of an elderly woman from India on one the Arizona tours I guided when the gigantic steak meal was mistakenly set down in front of her at Pinnacle Peak, a western style steakhouse north of Phoenix. The meat was the first issue, being Hindu, but the portion size really took her over the edge. I grabbed the plate and whisked it out to the server to replace it with the vegetarian meal I had pre-ordered her. I guess her gorgeous green traditional sari or the Kumkum Sindoor mark on her forehead weren't a good enough clue as to who, at the table, might have asked for a vegetarian meal. One guy down the family style table had ordered the Cowboy; a 32 ounce porterhouse steak and my Hindu guest silently prayed her way through the meal. I took her outside to see the stars while the rest chowed down inside.

Actually seeing a person struggling to watch someone eat something that they don’t was an eye opening exercise. Watching them eat a portion the size of an entire butt cheek really drove the lesson home: We are a nation of mindless eaters like greedy children grabbing for the last bite and willing to pay for it with more money than most of the world earns in a week. We also pay for it with shorter, unhealthier lives.  

It should be required that every American travel abroad at least once in their lives. We should want to know how the rest of the world eats and we should not see a day when a flight attendant announces to the plane that in case of an emergency, the passenger in seats 37 A & B may be used as a flotation device.

So, Simon, John, Peter & Rosalie, I’ll be watching the rest of Oprah’s adventure as she swings her cameras around your part of the world. Thanks for the wonderful memories, the amazing hospitality, the great conversations and the food I still remember, 30 years later.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy, Oy Oy!