Sunday, February 4, 2018

On Groundhog Day and Being Happy

I went to see one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day, on groundhog day this year.  It was made extra special by the fact that it was playing at a local art deco theater that is PINK, is the oldest theater in town, and is now owned by vegans!

I love this movie because within it is the secret to a successful and contented life, if one only pays attention.  The main character, Phil, starts out as an egocentric, jaded person, that sees others only in terms of what they can do for him.  He insults the cameraman, the town and sees his producer as his next conquest.  Only when he gets stuck reliving the same day, is he shaken from his know it all attitude.  He starts with denial, then tries to cheat to get what he wants from others by memorizing people's information and using it against them.  When that doesn't work, he gets depressed and tries to commit suicide over and over.  When none of it works, he inches slowly and reluctantly towards acceptance.  When he starts to accept that this is where he is and there is nothing he can do about it, he starts to relax into the situation.  He starts to get to know the town and most importantly, himself.  The old Phil didn't like himself and used people and things to escape.  The accepting Phil now realizes that there is no where you can go where you can escape yourself.  He starts reading books, gets to know people without an agenda, tries new hobbies and learns to use his energy to help people in need.  He learns to be kind to himself and others.  He learns how to be happy by himself.

THE best superpower that you can cultivate is being happy alone.  When you are happy alone, you will make decisions that are healthier and based on want rather than desperation or neediness.  Another person cannot make you happy.  I know that sounds obvious but a lot of people are pursuing relationships BEFORE they are happy by themselves.  You bring your happiness with you into every relationship.  Friends will come and go from your life.  You will make better decisions about who to let in to your life, when you are happy alone.  You will be able to recognize when someone is trying to use you to make themselves happy, which is an impossible task, and sets the relationship up for failure. When friends leave from your life, it may be temporarily sad but it will not be devastating because your happiness does not rely on them, it comes from within.   All of us have the the task of learning to be happy alone.  It is a happiness that no one can take from you.

In this vein, I love this poem by Helen Dunmore, who died last June after a long illness:

My life’s stem was cut

My life’s stem was cut,
But quickly, lovingly
I was lifted up,
I heard the rush of the tap
And I was set in water
In the blue vase, beautiful
In lip and curve,
And here I am
Opening one petal
As the tea cools.
I wait while the sun moves
And the bees finish their dancing,
I know I am dying
But why not keep flowering
As long as I can
From my cut stem?

Taken from Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore, published by Bloodaxe Books.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

On Taking Care of Yourself and Others

Winter brings the need for self-care into sharp focus for me.  Most mammals hibernate but for some reason humans feel like they need to rush around as usual with no recognition that the seasons have changed.  This brings on depression, exhaustion and sickness.  

If I am sick, I do not go to work and I do not go on social outings.  You do yourself and others a favor by allowing yourself to rest and by not spreading your germs.  I can't tell you the number of times people have shown up at work seriously ill.  The work will always be there.  Even when you  cease to exist, the work will still be there.  Let that give you some perspective.  

Even more maddening is when people show up for social functions when they are sick.  I sat down next to someone at a vegan function at a restaurant once and when I went to shake their hand, they said they were sick.  I moved to another seat and I did not apologize for it.  I recently had a dinner at my home.  One of my friends declined because she was sick.  I really appreciated that she cared enough to think of others and also to take care of herself.  

The plan that I've formulated to get through winter entails slowing down, way down.  I take off significant time from work in January and February, when things are at their gloomiest in Rochester.  I do less things outside the house.  I do less things inside the house.  I listen carefully to my body and my mood and I plan or unplan accordingly.  I intentionally lessen the amount of stress in my life.  I spend time in meditation.  I create space in my body and mind with gentle yoga.  I take my vitamins and I try to eat warm nourishing things.  I get lots of sleep and take naps on the weekends. 

Take some time everyday to take care of yourself.  Re-prioritize if you need to.  Examine your feelings of "missing out", if you have them.  And remember that filling your well is not selfish.  It allows us to be more balanced, make better choices, and help others more effectively.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pizza Dough

Homemade pizza with caramelized onions and sauteed cremini mushrooms

In my opinion, pizza dough has to have the perfect blend of crispy and chewy.  Here is a recipe that I've worked out that I like.

1 (1/4 oz) packet active dry yeast
1.5 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pizza seasoning (optional - I like Frontier brand or use any herbs you like)
1 Tb olive oil

Add the sugar and yeast to the warm water and let sit for 10 minutes. 

In a large bowl, mix the all-purpose flour, bread flour, salt, and pizza seasoning.  Add the water mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together.  Flour a clean surface and knead the dough for a few minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

Wash the  bowl and dry and coat with the oil.  Add the dough, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm spot for 1 hour.  I turn the oven on to 200 F briefly and then turn it off to create a warm space in winter. After 1 hour punch down the dough and give it a light knead in the bowl.  Let rest for at least another hour or longer.  If you don't get to it that day, you can get away with refrigerating your dough and using it the next day.

Makes 1 large pizza crust.

Pizza tips: Use a pizza screen for a nice crispy crust.  You can get them on Amazon and they are inexpensive.  Just make sure you get a size that will fit in your oven.  I bake pizza at 480 F with convection on and it is done in 9 minutes.  Basically you want the oven as hot as you can get it. 

Do Less, Feel More

So, I took a yoga ropes class yesterday.  I had some trepidation about how difficult it would be and if I would be able to _do_it_.   The instructor started us off with a series of gentle spinal waves.  Ahh, spinal waves!  I had forgotten all about spinal the gentle undulations slowly wake up your body.  With the spinal waves, our instructor set our intention for the practice to "do less and feel more."  These words helped me to relax and to understand that today would not be an exercise primarily in muscular force but instead, in allowing energy to flow and to listen carefully to what messages the body was sending.  As space was created in the spine, joints, and organs, I felt an expansiveness of the mind and a great sense of calm and well-being.  Then I had the thought that I could carry this idea to other areas in my life.  And as I am writing this, I see how this also aligns with my minimalist values, to pare life down to the essentials and find out what is important to you and to spend your resources(time, energy, focus, $) on those things.  So now, one of my intentions for the year is to consciously do less and feel more.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Vegan Migas

5 small corn tortillas, cut in half and then each half into thin strips
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
14 oz block of extra-firm tofu
3/4 cup frozen corn (I used trader joe's fire roasted corn)
2 Tb nutritional yeast
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
few grinds of fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tsp hot sauce (I like cholula)
2 tsp diced pickled jalapenos
1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese (optional)
1 can pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed (optional)

Heat 2 tsp oil in large skillet or shallow pan.  Add tortillas and saute til brown and crisp.  Watch carefully because they can burn fast.  Remove to a bowl.  

Add the remaining 2 tsp of oil and saute the onion until golden and translucent.  Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Then add the plum tomatoes.  Crumble in the tofu and add the frozen corn and mix.  Add the nutritional yeast, cumin, turmeric, paprikas, pepper, salt, hot sauce, and pickled jalapenos.  Cook and stir for 5 minutes.  Add the vegan cheese and beans if desired and heat through.

Serve with toast and eat with some hot sauce or salsa.  Migas also make a nice filling for a wrap with some greens. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Its Better than OK to Change Your Mind

Yes, it is better than ok to change your mind!  This is a vital life lesson that we all need to learn and one that I am continually learning.  Perhaps you've agreed to do something and you've begun whatever it is and find that it is not something you can do.  It is imperative at this point to speak up and say "ouch, this is too hard", "this isn't right for me", "I thought I could do this, but I can't."  I always used to be the person that would "grin and bear it" but I have found that does not serve me or others because you are suffering under false pretenses. You allow yourself to suffer and perhaps feel anger and resentment because of it, and the other person doesn't even know that something is wrong.

Situations like this remind me of a SARK story.  I am referring to Susan Arielle Rainbow Kennedy, who wrote all those wonderful SARK books (recommended).  She tells the story of going to Parrot Jungle in Miami and how one of the photo opportunities is when a staff person puts a very large parrot on your head so that whomever you are with can take a picture (I have also been to Parrot Jungle and can really relate to this story).  Anyway, she says that when the parrot was placed on her head, its claws were digging into her scalp and hurting her.  I can't remember if she spoke up or not but the idea is that it is so important to learn to say "ouch, I don't want to do this!", even after you have agreed to the thing.  It is VITAL to speak your truth and advocate for yourself. 

Others may disagree with you and think you are overreacting and say things like "what's the big deal?", "that never bothered me", etc. They may try to downplay what you are experiencing.  Don't let that stop you.  We all have different tolerances for discomfort, pain, stress, hunger, etc.  You have to honor your own boundaries and limits.  You are the one that gets to define them and stick to them.

You may have feelings of disappointment and anger at the lack of empathy or concern from those around you.  Its ok to feel those things but don't dwell on those feelings and let them pass (meditation helps with this).  Have you read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? The first agreement is to not take anything personally.   Everyone is living in their own world with their own experiences and motivations.  Ultimately, the things that people do have nothing to do with other people but with themselves.  Ruiz explains this much better and in greater detail.   I highly recommend the book.  As many people as there are in the world, that's how many "worlds" there are.  None of us thinks like the other.  So the bottom line is, don't take the other person's lack of concern or empathy personally.  Work at this and you will find that it is very freeing.  You are freed from anger, disappointment, and resentment.  Note that it doesn't mean that your relationship with the person won't change but you will be freeing yourself of the negative emotions of the situation.   If someone in your life does not respect your boundaries or truths, you have to re-examine what their role should be in your life.  The people that genuinely care about you will at least respect your position and honor it,  even if they don't understand it.

Ultimately what I want you to know is that you are responsible for taking care of yourself....for learning, understanding, maintaining and sometimes stretching your boundaries.  We are human, we will make mistakes.  If we agree to do something in good faith and then it turns out to not be manageable, the best thing to do for all involved is to say "I'm sorry, I've changed my mind."  The more you practice this skill of speaking your truth, the more it will grow, and the more peace you will have in your life.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year

I'm setting some intentions for myself at the start of this New Year.

1.  I was inspired by this article to make 2018, The Year of No Shopping.  The nice thing is everyone can make their own rules.  My rules are to buy something for myself only if something breaks or wears out (toaster, clothing, shoes).  The exception is if I find some clothing or shoes that are good for work (I could use a few more items in this area).  I will try to buy secondhand. Food is ok.  Like the author, I am ok with buying books as gifts, especially for kids.  Also fine with buying toiletries but only when they run out.  No stocking up.   I will also give homemade gifts.  I started this at Christmas and made homemade granola and raw vegan fruit cake bars as presents.  Experiences are fine such as admission to see bands, movies, and occassionally to eat out (2x/month).

2. This blog post inspired me to Eat My Pantry.  I'm going to be using up the beans, rice, noodles, dried mushrooms, canned goods and freezer items that I already have.  Instead of finding a recipe I want to make, I am going to find some stuff in the pantry and freezer that I want to use up and then figure out what to make with the item(s).  I will continue to buy fresh items such as fruits, veggies, almond milk and tofu. 

3. The Minimalists inspired me to take a Break from Facebook for the month of January.   I played the minimalism game in November 2017 and got rid of a lot of items.  They have helped me to get rid a lot of physical and mental clutter in my life.  They have a nice podcast that I recommend.

4. I am going to Read More Books.  I've finished two books and almost done with a 3rd during my Christmas break.  These books have been sitting on my book shelf for months and I finally got around to reading them.  It feels great!   Another thing that has helped is a tip I got from Austin Kleon and that is if you don't like what you are reading, stop reading it.  Reading should not be an exercise in suffering, unless you are in grad school ;-)

5. I am going to Meditate Daily.  Life feels better when I have taken the time to sit, even if it is for a few minutes.  One of my favorite teachers is Pema Chodron and this is a very nice article about meditation.

6.  Lastly, I set an intention to Move My Body Daily.  Whether it is going for a run, walking the dog, or doing some yoga,  I am going to do something physical each day to take care of my body.

Have you set some intentions for 2018?  If so, I'd love to hear about them :)