the other side of the fence

The past few months, I’ve been battling life’s busyness.  It hasn’t been because the holiday season is in full swing with New Year’s right around the corner, although that is a contributor.  Rather, it has been the everyday things that come up.  Install new dishwasher. Check.  Wipe up the sticky stuff off the floor in front of the kitchen sink.  Check.  Plant 60 feet of new hedge in the backyard so Ollie, our labradoodle, is no longer able to escape under the fence.  Can’t put a checkmark on that one yet. I did put in the hedge.  He is still getting out.   Negotiate and purchase a new car.  Check.  Make Soup.  Check.

Our labradoodle’s latest adventure is escaping from the backyard by flattening himself like a pancake and squeezing out underneath the fence all of which he can do in under three seconds.  The fence being the new, taller fence that we installed so that he would not be able to jump over it.  Well, he is no longer jumping over it.
Ollie is not neutered.  I was in a free spirit state of mind when we got him and wanted Simon, our goldendoodle, and Ollie to be who they were born to be.  I still do.  But, that has consequences.  Non-neutered animals have greater ligament strength and, possibly, greater stamina than neutered animals.  The recent adventures of Ollie have led me to consider, once again, having him neutered.  I’ve fought with myself about this on and off for the past three years.  The end result of this internal struggle is that I feel I would be shortchanging Ollie by neutering him.  The Oxford Dictionary defines neutering as “to render ineffective, to deprive of vigor and force.”  

Similarly, don’t we neuter our lives when we engage in much of life’s busyness?  Don’t we hamper and shortchange ourselves directing our time, energy and attention to things that may very well be left undone?  Are we not depriving ourselves of our personal vigor and force when we engage in busyness?

When I ask myself questions such as those put forth above, my answer is “yes” to each.  There are many times in my life when I wish I could answer each of those questions with a resounding, “no.”  Why?  Because in many ways it is easier to keep busy.  We avoid things by keeping busy.  That is one reason I prefer to keep myself occupied.  I can avoid my fears.  If I am engaged in doing something, I don’t have to face my fears.  Does it help?  Does that deal with the issue or the fear?  No.  At least not for me anyway.

Avoidance aside, to my mind the real risk of constant busyness is that it pulls us away from being in the present moment.  It leads us into the future by way of achievement and accomplishment, but it isn’t centering and grounding.  We may cross off items 1 – 5 on our list … but where does that leave us?  Really.  It leaves us with items 1 – 5 crossed off the list.  Maybe we feel a bit relieved temporarily once those items are checked.  But, does it leave us better off?  Does it leave us centered and grounded as experiencing the present moment can?

Being in the present moment can come about by doing something that calms your mind and focuses attention.  One way in which to do this is to orient yourself to the space and time you currently occupy.  Become aware of the space on your left side, right side, in front and behind you, underneath you.  Become aware of the air around you.  By becoming oriented to the time and space which we currently occupy, time’s significance is modified.  Our experience of time and our relationship to it changes. The things we thought were so important to accomplish?  Maybe we’ll find they are no longer significant.  Maybe we’ll find ourselves being less busy.

Here is the final kicker.  If we are truly engaged in the present moment, we are not thinking about the past or the future.  Our mind becomes freer.  It becomes less encumbered with fear.

This New Year will find me becoming more aware of and developing a better understanding of my reasons for engaging in busyness.  Might I slip?  Might I need to remind myself of those things I want in my life and those things I really don’t need?  Absolutely.  I’ll slip and fall.  And, happily do it all over again.

What am I going to do with Ollie and the escaping issue?  I have a few other tricks up my sleeve.  After laying landscape timbers along the fence line that function as kind of an outdoor baseboard for the bottom of the fence, I bought a hybrid bike.  Once I buy a bike attachment for his harness that will keep both of us safe, I can ride with him while he runs.  That will accomplish fulfilling one of his needs (lots of exercise) in turn maybe lessening his desire to find adventure on the other side of the fence.

Maybe we too can find fulfillment in becoming a little more engaged in the present moment, thereby lessening our need to be busy.

Cranberry Spice Cake was on board to be the recipe du jour, adapted from Bon Appétit.  It is a pretty, festive cake.

But on the same day I made the cake, I also made Split Pea Soup.  The nutritional qualities of dried legumes combined with the relative ease of making soup with split peas because they do not need to be soaked, equals a need for me to share this.

I am bowled over by split pea’s nutritional content.  A one cup serving of split peas provide 14 grams each of fiber and protein along with many trace minerals.   That is tough to beat.

When I want to bake something sweet, I look for what I think of as the everydayness in a recipe.  When I want to make soup, I think of what I have in the refrigerator.  I already had on hand, as I typically do, onions and carrots.  Parsnips I had purchased to roast.  A bag of split peas was in the pantry.

Split Pea Soup with Parsnips                             Serves 4 – 6 

Cooks Notes:  The split peas will have a bite to them after cooking.  The consistency is not similar to canned split pea soups.  By blending or mashing the contents of the soup, the end result is a thicker, creamier soup.  The parsnips add a hint of sweetness.  I had less than 1/2 of a ham steak on hand.  I added it, diced, at the end.


1 lb. dried green split peas

1 large yellow or sweet onion, diced

2 – 3 carrots, rinsed, diced

2 parsnips, rinsed, diced

1 t. jarred minced garlic or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced

6 – 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 T. (heaping) oregano

1/2 or 1 thick cut ham steak, chopped (optional)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil


  1. In a mesh colander, rinse split peas removing any debris, set aside.
  2. In a dutch oven or large saucepan, warm over medium heat 3 T. extra virgin olive oil.  Saute onion, carrot and parsnips over medium, medium high heat with a generous pinch of salt and black pepper until the vegetables have softened, approximately 10 – 15 minutes taking care to reduce heat if vegetables are browning too much.
  3. Add garlic.  Stir 30 – 60 seconds until garlic is fragrant.  Add the peas and 6 c. of broth.  Bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 45 minutes skimming off foam.
  4. Add remainder of broth to desired consistency.   Simmer another 45 minutes until peas are al dente.  With either a hand held masher or an immersion blender, mash or blend peas and vegetables until roughly 1/2 of peas and veg are blended.  Add ham if desired.  Stir and warm through.  Adjust seasonings.  Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

lemons of the mind

Let’s just get this on the table – someone should put a sticker on my forehead labeled, “imposter.”  A sticker would be preferable to permanent marker because it would take quite awhile for the marker to wear off, and I am not above only labeling myself for as long as I can take it.

I startled myself recently.  I was in the kitchen washing dishes when the thought came to me that I have not been honest with myself.  And, I didn’t realize it.

At that moment in the kitchen, I understood that driving my desire to find distractions when it is time for me to sit down and write was because I did not want to deal with the task of meeting my mind.  It is much easier to keep busy.

(The phrase “meeting my mind,” one of my favorite phrases, is an idiom from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, an international teacher of Buddhist philosophy.)

I’ve found in the past several months when it is time for me to write,  I’ll actively look for something else to do.  I go in search of a distraction.   Then, I become frustrated with myself for not having written that day.

The light bulb should have come on for me many months ago.  I meditate regularly. (I believe it is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, our families and our neighbors.)  The reason the lightbulb should have come on for me sooner, is that I’ve experienced this feeling before.  When I began my meditation practice about eight years ago, it was very difficult for me to sit down to practice.  I would argue internally with myself, make excuses, probably complain;  but,  I knew it is what I had to do.  I knew if I wanted to begin purging myself of irrational fears and begin to know myself, as unpleasant as that process could be, I needed to sit for meditation.  So, I did.  I fought myself and I sat.  Fought myself and sat.

As a newbie writer, writing for me entails quite a bit of thinking, editing, revisions and the like.  All of which lend themselves to the opposite of being busy.  During that time my mind has the opportunity to tell me all of those things I do not want to hear.  Or, at least, I don’t want to hear them repeatedly.

So, when you are fortunate enough to notice a subtlety in yourself, slightly different perspective or understanding, however small it may be, rejoice.  Rejoice silently.  Be grateful.   I believe tiny shifts hold big promise.

Nothing new here.  But, to my mind, a crisp or a crumble is hard to beat for a late summer dessert.  Cooks Illustrated has a good recipe for apple crisp.  I’ve tweaked it a bit, adding lots of oats and almonds, less sugar, more fruit, and some spices, to incorporate what I like into a dessert.   I’ve tried many other recipes.  Time and time again I go back to this method.

Peach Blueberry Crisp

adapted from Cooks Illustrated


8 small peaches, rinsed and cut into bite size pieces, skins on, set aside

1 pint blueberries, rinsed and set aside

zest of 1 lemon (optional)

juice of 1/2 lemon (bottled lemon juice can be substituted)

1 T. fresh ginger, peeled and minced (optional)

1/4 c. (scant) sugar


1 1/4 c. old fashioned oats

1/4 c. sliced or slivered almonds (optional)

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. brown sugar

3 T. flour

1/4 t. each cinnamon and nutmeg

pinch salt

5 T. cold butter, diced

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In an 8 x 8 baking dish, combine the filling ingredients.  Toss to coat and spread evenly in baking dish.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine topping ingredients from oats to pinch of salt.  Mix until well incorporated.  Cut in the diced, cold butter with pastry cutter or hands.  Combine until butter is incorporated throughout the topping mixture. ( I find that my hands to the best job here.)

3.  Spread topping evenly over fruit mixture.  Place baking dish on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Bake for 40 – 50 minutes until topping begins to turn golden brown and fruit juices are bubbling.  Check oven after 40 minutes to ensure topping does not brown too much.  Serve warm.