coaxing the unfamiliar into the familiar

There is a tree I can see from my backyard.  Its showy blossoms are as pink as a newborn baby girl’s knit cap.  Having withstood many hurricanes, it stands solidly upright.  This tree with its solidity, showiness, and color stands in the background behind unsightly power lines.  It is not in anyone’s front yard.  It is not showcased along the road. It is in a neighbor’s side yard surrounded by scrub, weeds, and grass.  One has to look to see it.

Could this be so with our true selves?  I think so.  Our true selves typically do not stand in the foreground or showcase themselves in our lives.  They sit in the background.  Guiding us when we allow it.  Our true selves are showy in their own way, but not outwardly so.  They are showy in their steadfast, solid natures that we will experience if we choose to get to know them.

Recently driving from Florida to South Carolina, I had an uneasy feeling.  Not knowing what it was and not having a desire to define it at that moment, I wrote down on the back of a receipt the thought that was bumping around in my head, “Can I make the unfamiliar, familiar?”

Over the course of a week, before returning home, I kept coming back to that question.  I wasn’t focused on it.  It was simply something that would pop into my mind while I was doing other things.  I did think at the time that I wanted to do whatever this feeling was telling me.  But, I didn’t know what the feeling was.  It was a little bit like sitting down in a restaurant and opening a menu that is four pages long and having no idea what you want to eat.  Although you are hungry, nothing sounds good.   

Just as the diner hopes something eventually appeals to her to eat, I was hoping something would ring true for whatever this thing was that was tugging at me.  On the return trip from South Carolina to Florida, I asked myself a couple questions.  Was my desire to become more adaptable in relatively unfamiliar territory – that which is outside of my hometown?  That didn’t strike a chord with me.  I thought about it and shrugged my shoulders.  Or, was it a deeper question?  Do I want more familiarity with myself?  Do I want to be able to access my steadfast, solid nature that emanantes from our true selves more readily?  The bell sounded, ding-ding-ding!   (If anyone has a more convincing way of writing the sound of a bell, please let me know.)  That thought rang true.  Well, ok, so the bell is sounding.  What do I do now? Sure, meditation is always an option and a great one at that.  It brings us home to ourselves.  But, what else can we do?

The day after I returned home to Florida from South Carolina, I attended a yoga conference called “Yoga of the Subtle Body,” given by Christopher Baxter based on the teachings of Tsoknyi Rinpoche and a book he has written, Open Heart, Open Mind.  In short, the conference was about understanding our subtle bodies and their influences on our thoughts, actions, and emotions.  At the end of the workshop, Mr. Baxter introduced us to Vase Breathing.  (The “vase” is the area about two inches below the navel.)   By breathing into this space, it gives the practitioner a sense of coming home (ding-ding-ding!) and introduces us to our now (becoming) more familiar steadfast selves.  

So, maybe in the near future look for that solid, steadfast tree that has been standing tall for decades.  And, maybe take a few minutes to breath into the area just below your navel.   While doing so, notice if you have a sensation of solidity and coming home.  Notice if you begin to feel a little more familiar with yourself.

If we are lucky diners, baked pumpkin steel cut oatmeal will be on the menu.  This is a delicious breakfast treat that can be made the night before and eaten throughout the week.  Another one of Faith’s great ideas, the chewy oats combined with creamy pumpkin and spices make this a fun way to liven up an oatmeal breakfast.  (The only changes I’ve made when making this dish were to increase the spices a tad and sub soymilk for dairy, neither of which are reflected below.)

Baked Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal

recipe adapted from Faith Durand at The Kitchn
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large oven-proof saucepan with lid or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the oats and toast them, stirring frequently.  Adjusting the heat as necessary.
  2. Push the oats over to the side of the pan, and add the second tablespoon of butter in the cleared area of the pan. Add the pumpkin, sugar, and spices cooking the rawness out of the pumpkin about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir frequently.
  3. Add the milk.  Stir to combine.  Add the water, vanilla and salt.  Stir to combine.
  4. Put a lid on the pan and bake for about 35 minutes.  (Be very careful when removing lid.  Steam burns!)  Stir the oatmeal. It will thicken as it cools. Serve immediately or refrigerate for the week ahead.


uncover your winningest self

Most of you have probably already figured this out, I am slower than most.  It has taken me 41 years and a couple months to comprehend the magnitude of accumulated effect.  In other words, it has taken me 41 years and a couple months to do something other than stand at the starting line, flail, jump up and down, and wonder how am I going to get to the finish line?  Baby steps.  Start small.  Set achievable goals.  Yes?  Yes;  but, I think it goes deeper than that.

We drag ourselves down daily in a myriad of ways.  We sabotage ourselves, usually subconsciously.  But, there are steps we can take to unwind some of those thoughts that we no longer need.  That no longer support us, if they ever did.  The first step to make is recognizing and understanding that we are doing it.  For this first step, it doesn’t matter why we are doing it.  Simply a recognition of it makes a difference.
How do we recognize it?  For example, let’s say I have a goal of writing a novel.  And, I can’t figure out why I don’t just start writing one. I have kept many journals about various subject matters I may someday like to write about.   But, I’ve not put the blood, sweat and tears into forming and shaping the material into a story.  Well, I took some time to listen to myself when I sat down at the keyboard.  I began to realize I had a small voice telling me I couldn’t do it.  (That small voice can get really loud.)  It asks me how could I accomplish such a thing?

What am I doing in this scenario?  I am standing at the starting line, flailing, jumping up and down while wondering how am I ever going to get to the finish line.   If I listen more closely to that small voice,  it asks me why start on something I may never accomplish?  Why waste my time when so many other things can be done?  So, in other words, I am sabotaging myself with these thoughts, and by not putting in the effort to make my goal happen.

Two other common ways of undermining ourselves are dilution of personal power and attachments.  Years ago, when I first heard of the concept of personal power, my immediate reaction (emotional reaction) was a negative one.  To my mind, at the time, the word “power” carried with it a negative connotation.  Something that is not necessarily used for the common good.  However, as I began to understand the concept, I developed a much greater appreciation for personal power.

As it turns out, personal power is a good thing.  It  serves the individual well, and equally so, those around him or her.   As Dr. Robert Stephenson describes in The Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships (2009),  there “is a clear distinction between positive power and negative power.  Personal power is based on strength, confidence, and competence.”   He further goes on to explain that when it is “externalized it manifests in things such as generosity, creativity, and good will.  Its primary aim is mastery of self, not others.”

How else do we dilute our personal power?   A few more examples are expectations we have of others, blaming others and attachments.  Recently my husband and I were leaving to return home after a vacation.  I didn’t want to leave.  He had vacationed, it was time to go, time to move on.  I, on the other hand, had an attachment to place.  That didn’t necessarily surprise me.  I know that about myself.  But, you see, I don’t want attachments like that.  Why?  Attachments cause pain and suffering.  The desire to hold onto something causes pain and suffering.  (It is not the enjoyment of the vacation that causes the pain and suffering.  It is the attachment to the enjoyment.  Big distinction.)  Attachments weigh us down.  It causes us to get stuck.  In many ways, it chains us to the past making it difficult to move into the future.  It dilutes our personal power.  Just because I don’t want attachments doesn’t mean I’ll snap my fingers and I’ll no longer have those feelings.  I am sure I’ll have attachment related feelings the rest of my life.  But, I’ve made a small step forward by recognizing it.

Dilution of personal power and attachments remind me of aparigraha.  It is a Sanskrit word meaning non-attachment, non-possessiveness.  It calls for a letting go of whatever the individual is holding onto.  It is a favorite of mine.  I first learned of aparigraha about six years ago.  A yoga instructor mentioned it in a class I was attending.  I don’t recall the context;  but, I’ve heard alot of Sanskrit words and that one stuck with me.  A letting go, a non-clinging, non-possesive call to action.  I believe the reason it stuck with me is because although I’ve made progress in this area,  I still have a lifetime more to do.  And, that is ok.

It was a toss-up today between banana bread and roasted apples.  I am a big fan of both.  But, if I had to pick one, it would be banana bread.  You can’t beat it in the morning with a mug of coffee.  I’ve made banana bread lots of different ways.  I’ve made it with all flour, no oatmeal.  I’ve tried fewer bananas, no nuts.  Below is one of my favorite ways to make it.  It ends up being quite dense with loads of flavor.  This is not a sweet bread.  Serve with honey if desired.

Banana Bread with Oats and Wheat Bran 

1 1/3 c. whole wheat flour

1 1/ 3 c. old fashioned oats

1/4 c. wheat bran

1 t. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)

1 t. baking soda

1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. allspice (optional)

pinch of salt

3 ripe bananas, peeled, mashed, set aside

1/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. sugar

2 eggs

1/4 c. (scant) vegetable oil

1/4 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a loaf pan.  Set aside.  In a medium size mixing bowl, peel and mash bananas, set aside.
  2. In another medium size mixing bowl, combine the flour through the salt.  With either a hand held mixer, or a whisk, combine sugars and banana mash.  Mix until well combined.  Add eggs and oil.  Mix until well combined.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture.  Mix until combined.  Fold in walnuts.
  4. Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55 – 60 minutes until a toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean and the top of the loaf is golden brown.  Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Turn out loaf to cool further.

what is truth?

As much as baked oatmeal and spiced molasses cookies have been on my mind lately, truth has as well.  What is truth?  Do each of us have our own personal truths?  How can individuals view reality differently, if we do?  I have a need to come to an acceptance about this.  Or, at least, an acceptance of it as it relates to who I am now.

Certainly, there are universal truths that can be and have been scientifically quantified. But, personal truths seem to be a different matter.  It is all relative.

The exploration of truth led me to the theory of relativism.  (Stick with me here, I won’t stray too far from baked oatmeal.) In my limited understanding, relativism is a concept that explains there are varying points of view and frames of reference from which each of us view situations, there are no absolute personal truths.

Wikipedia defines truth, in part,  as a “state of being in accord with a particular fact or reality.”  In other words, an individual’s frame of reference and viewpoint will directly impact their perception of reality.  In following, it seems, one’s perception of reality will impact their truth.  Invariably, I come back to personal truth is always relative to a particular point of view, set of beliefs, or frame of reference.

Thank goodness oatmeal is easier to struggle with than truth.

I tried different variations of baked oatmeal only to be disappointed.   While the ingredients were appealing, oatmeal, milk, eggs, butter, raisins, the result wasn’t what I anticipated.  The final product didn’t have enough flavor.  The texture was too dry.  I was after a creamier consistency.

So, I started thinking about the dish from the bottom up.  For some reason a pineapple upside down cake sprang to mind – wouldn’t it be nice to have a sweet surprise at the bottom of the dish?  A sweet surprise that also lends a great deal of moisture….

such as mashed bananas…

layered with apples…

and sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Baked Oatmeal with Bananas and Apples

Cooks Note:  Not included in this recipe, but I think would make a good addition, are sliced almonds.  Next time I make this dish, I’ll add 1/2 c. sliced almonds to the dry mixture.  

This dish is best eaten warm out of the oven. However, leftovers heated up, topped with a little milk, honey, or applesauce is good also.

The brandy is optional.  I often use a little bit with baked apple dishes.   

Serves 6

4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed

2 apples, sliced thinly

1 1/2 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg

2 c. old-fashioned oats

1/2 c. brown sugar

2 t. baking powder

pinch salt

1 c. milk

1 c. (scant) applesauce (I used natural applesauce)

1 egg

1/4 c. molasses

1/4 c. butter (melted and cooled)

2 t. brandy, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 2 quart baking dish.  Set aside.  

2.  In a medium size mixing bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher.  Spread evenly in baking dish.  

3.  Thinly slice the apples.  Layer them evenly over bananas.  Sprinkle banana apple mixture with 1/2 t. each, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside.  

4.   In same medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, oatmeal, brown sugar,  baking powder, salt and remaining 1 t. each, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  

5.  In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients until combined.  (The milk, egg, applesauce, molasses, melted butter, and brandy, if using.)   Pour the wet ingredient mixture into the dry ingredient mixture.  Stir to combine.  Pour evenly over the banana apple mixture.  

6.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Increase heat to 400 degrees.  Bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until top begins to brown slightly.  Serve warm and ponder truth.