just washing the ceiling

Three rags in hand, standing on a tall step stool in our screened-in porch with a bucket of dirty, soapy water by my side, I was (ready for this?) washing the ceiling.  Yes, the ceiling.  As I wiped down the beadboard, board by board, I eventually gained a rhythm to the project.

Ollie watching the street scene -age 5

First, I tried a mop.  The end result was a wet head coupled with dirt, grime, and mold smeared on the ceiling.  After replacing the carpeting I had moved out of the way to use the mop, I tried using a rag rubbing back and forth to remove the black grime.  Although it wasn’t quite as messy, the rag quickly became dark with dirt and had to be rinsed too frequently.

I then moved on to using three rags.  Three because I could hold three in one hand and I had enough material to wipe down each board without having to rinse out the rags quite as much. Less steps to climb as I went up and down the stool to refresh each rag.

Varigeted Ginger

If I got ahead of myself, I found I had to redo something. If I skipped a board or did not wipe it down well, I was met with the idea of having a dingy gray ceiling instead of having the shiny, white beadboard ceiling back.  If I tried to reach further than where I comfortably could from the step stool, I became off-balance and my attention was drawn more to not losing my footing than the work I was doing above me.

As I painstakingly cleaned, I thought about how this experience was analogous to many of my life’s experiences. How often have I gotten ahead of myself?  Or, how often had I so badly wanted to get ahead of where I needed to be (or where I was) that I never started what I wanted to start?

Spider Lilly Blooms

Baby steps.  That ceiling took baby steps.  Aside from the fact it may seem crazy to clean a ceiling…I am quite thankful to have been reminded of that lesson.  The lesson that sometimes the only way to reach a goal or go through a process (so many things in life are a process) is one small step followed by another small step.

There is a saying in the yoga world, “meet yourself where you are.”    In other words, become mindful of who you are in the present and your surroundings without wanting something to be different than it is.  Take stock and go from there.  This provides a great jumping off platform…solid footing from which to work.

In that four hours, life was framed.  Life was taught.  Life was as is.

Savory Whole Grain Dish

Quinoa and Sun-Dried Tomatoes with Garbanzo Beans

The sweet sun-dried tomatoes play off the salty olives well.  Substance comes from quinoa, brown rice, and garbanzo beans. Nice finishing touches are a big squeeze of lemon, as much parsley as you like, and a slub of yogurt. If you don’t have quinoa, using all brown rice or farro in this dish would be fine rather than a combination of grains. The yogurt can be made into a sauce to serve on the side.  Add salt, a touch of raw garlic and a squeeze of lemon.  Stir to combine.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. brown rice, cooked
  • 1/2 c. quinoa, cooked
  • 1 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained or cooked dried beans
  • 1 large leek, well cleaned, sliced thinly (about 2/3 c.)
  • 1/2 c. julienned oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 T. oil from tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. (heaping) pitted black olives, thinly sliced
  • vegetable broth, optional
  • chopped parsley
  • lemon wedges
  • T. or two of plain yogurt or prepared sauce, omit for vegans
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  1. Set aside prepared grains and beans.  In a large skillet heat 2 T of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Once heated, add the leeks and pinch of salt.  Increase heat slightly and begin to sauté the leeks.  Once the leeks have softened, about 5 –  7 minutes, stir in the prepared grains, beans, tomatoes, oil from tomatoes, and olives.  Warm through.  Salt to taste.  Add a splash or two of broth if dish needs moistening.
  2. Plate each serving.  Garnish with parsley, lemon wedge, and yogurt.   Serve immediately.  Serves 3 generously.

to tend or to dog paddle

I am dog paddling.  A softer way to put it may be to say I am running in place. Either way, I can attribute it to two things when I start to feel like this:

1) Charged emotion is present.

2) Most likely, fear is involved.

As I mentioned in December’s post, identifying charged events can be helpful in releasing some of the power within them.  Similarly, identifying the charged emotion(s) beneath those events is also helpful in loosening up the stronghold emotion sometimes seems to have in our lives.

January Orchid

Of course, emotions are a part of being human.  Though some may be more difficult than others to handle, both positive and negative emotions can lead us to areas of our life that may need a little tending, if you will.  They need a little care and thought.

I’ve come to think of those aspects of my life simply as being a bit neglected.  Neglected because unprocessed emotions will typically stick around.  And, they are, in effect, neglected because had they been tended to they most likely wouldn’t be sticking around weighing on us, causing us to repeat behavior patterns that we just can’t seem to shake.

January Orchids

I very well may be making this too simplistic, but I think of a main character in a children’s book, a girl about eight years old.  Perhaps this little girl is a sullen friendless child moping around from day to day.  She sees other children playing outside and gets very angry that she does not have a friend.  She experiences jealousy while peering out her bedroom window at the trio of girls playing hopscotch in front of her home.  This goes on for months.

White Rose

But, soon she begins to venture out of her home.  She introduces herself to the group of hopscotcher’s and befriends them.

This little girl was running in place as she moped around from day to day in her home.  She was feeling charged emotion and, possibly, fear was present.  Acknowledging the desire for change, she stepped outside to introduce herself to the group of girls playing outside her home.  Now, she no longer feels anger or jealousy when she sees a group of kids playing together.  She (inadvertently) tended to her emotions.   Seeing the same situation now draws a different response from her.

We too can dissolve tightly held emotions around certain situations in our lives and begin to experience the same situations differently.  Where charged emotion is present if we bring time and attention to it, rather then busy ourselves with whatever method we use for distraction, it may loosen up and begin to dissolve.  The edges of those emotions may begin to soften.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Curry

A friend of mine often reminds me to look under and around emotion.  To soften, loosen up, and eventually dissolve strong emotional reactions, we may ask ourselves what underlies a particular event or situation?  If we are angry, why are we angry?  Might fear be hiding under that anger?  If it is fear, what are we afraid of and is it a realistic fear?

These are just some simple ways to address charged emotion in our lives.  I know I have areas in my life I’d like to tend to a bit more.  If I can, I’ll gently bring time and attention to them.  Maybe, then, the future will find me dog paddling just a little bit less.

Some of my favorite dishes lately have involved curry, coconut milk, and coconut oil.  I found combining many of these traditional curry elements with sweet potatoes, quinoa, and black beans makes for an enjoyable, substantial meal.  The potatoes lend sweetness, the curry is pleasantly pungent, and the quinoa soaks up all of the flavors of the sauce.

Black Bean, Quinoa, and Sweet Potato Curry

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, rinsed, cut into bite-sized pieces, and roasted
  • 1 c. quinoa (white or “regular”), rinsed, cooked according to package directions, set aside
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed, drained, set aside
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed, drained, set aside
  • 2 T. coconut oil
  • 1 thick slice (about 1/2″ thick) yellow or sweet onion, diced
  • 2 scallions, rinsed, diced, reserving a handful of green tops for garnish, if desired
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1″ knob fresh ginger, skin removed, minced or 1 T. jarred minced ginger
  • 1/2 c. full-fat coconut milk, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine or good quality *vegetable broth
  • 1 T. curry powder
  • 1 1/2 t. turmeric
  • 1/2 t. coriander
  • salt

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Clean and cut the sweet potatoes (leaving the skin on) into bite-size pieces.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the sweet potatoes with salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil.  Bake until they are fork tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the quinoa according to the package directions.  Cook until the translucent ring around the seed becomes visible, about 15 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, add 2 T. coconut oil, warm gently over medium heat, add onion and scallions with a pinch of salt, cook until soft, 3 – 5 min.

Add the spices, stirring constantly until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the garlic and ginger stirring constantly until fragrant, about one minute.

Add the wine or broth.  Deglaze the pan and stir to incorporate the ingredients.  Add the coconut milk, black beans, 1/2 of the cooked quinoa, and a pinch of salt.  Stir and warm through for a few minutes.

Add the roasted sweet potatoes and the pinto beans to desired bean to grain ratio (I used almost all of the pintos.) If desired, add more quinoa.  Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more coconut milk for a looser consistency.

Once warmed through, about 3 – 5 minutes, serve.  To reheat, add a splash or two of coconut milk before warming.

Serves 2 – 3 generously.

change with color

In the movie, The Magic of Belle Isle, starring Morgan Freeman, Freeman moves to a small town for a summer and ends up mentoring a young girl, Finnigan, who is almost ten years old.  She wants to be a writer.  Knowing he was a writer, she asks him to teach her.  They exchange $34.18 and he agrees to give her lessons.

Their first lesson begins with both of them out by a road in their neighborhood.  It is an ordinary looking road that one might see in many neighborhoods.  The colors are a neutral palette: the green of leafy canopies, the beige of homes, the gray of concrete.  Trees are here and there, neither plotted nor planned.  Mailboxes line the street in soldier-like fashion.

As the camera pans down the street, Freeman asks Finnigan to look down the road.

“Tell me what it is you do not see,” he says to her.

She spins around toward him, eyebrows raised, hands on hips, “What?!  I paid you $34.18 for lessons.  What do you mean tell you about what I don’t see?”

Angry, she stomps off.  Freeman chuckles gently and calls out to her, “Next lesson will be tomorrow morning!”

What is it that we do not see?  What is it that we do not hear?  I can tell you what I do hear oftentimes, cancer.  It lightly treads around the edges of my consciousness looking for an opening to peek in and ask, “Remember me?”  My neural pathways are well grooved (anymore tunneling and I’d show up in China, head first) when it comes to my mind and dealing with illnesses.  I am missing other good life stuff as my mind travels down that familiar pathway.

Since I want to create new patterns of thinking, going forward how am I going to handle adversity differently?

Certainly there are times when the adversity will be front and center.  If your child seems to be having allergic reactions to foods but you are not yet sure which foods, you’ll be giving that issue more brain space while it is being handled and resolved.  Or, maybe you’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer and need to make treatment decisions.

But, during those times when we are handling difficult tasks, do we see what it is we are not seeing as Freeman was teaching Finnigan to do?  Do we hear what it is we are not hearing?  Are we able to maintain awareness such that we live in the present letting the past lie and allowing the future to come as it will?

There are times in my life when I find this more difficult to do than others.  Lately it has been difficult. So, I’ll be working on this in the coming months and years. (It is a lifetime practice.)  Training to become more aware of what is, presently, rather than what could or should or might be.

If we find ourselves getting caught up in frequent, repetitive thoughts, one idea is to give yourself and your mind a break.  For one or two minutes, hear what it is you are not hearing.  Maybe your toddler is softly humming to herself or the birds are singing.  See what it is you are not seeing.  Maybe the deep purple of cooked black rice could be the next best crayola color, or the clouds have taken on the hue of autumn’s evening light, deep gold.

In shining our light of awareness on what it is we are not hearing or seeing, those familiar grooved pathways we are desirous of changing will become a little less worn. In cultivating this practice, we will develop our mindfulness muscles and create new neural pathways.

Marcia Rose Shulman has well greased pathways in creating gorgeous food.  Her Black Rice Risotto is loaded with color, nutrition, and flavor.  The magenta hue of the beets bleeds beautifully throughout the dish.  Using two different grains provides different textures.  The wine adds complexity and depth of flavor.  Depending on how much cheese you choose to use, the traditional comforting creaminess of a risotto is intact.

Below is my adapted version.  I increased the vegetable to rice ratio.  Omitted the cheese. (But included it as an option in the recipe for those of you who want to add it. A different cheese alternative could be Manchego.  It would be nice grated over the top of the finished dish.) Roasted the beets with the skins on. And, substituted farro for the arborio rice to boost nutrition and texture.

Black Rice Risotto

adapted from Martha Rose Shulman

  • 1 c. black rice*, such as Forbidden Foods Rice, cooked
  • 1 c. farro*
  • 1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock, as needed, preferably low-sodium
  • 1 bunch beet greens, rinsed, stems removed
  • 2 or 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c. onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or 1 t. jarred minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 medium or large beets, rinsed well, cut into bite size pieces, roasted**
  • 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, if using, for a more traditional risotto
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cook black rice according to package directions, set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, warm over medium heat 2 T. extra virgin olive oil.  Once heated, add diced onion.  Sauté the onion until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes, add the farro and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are fragrant about 3 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 qt. stock in a medium saucepan to barely boiling.  Cook the washed beet greens for about 10 seconds or less in stock, just until wilted.  Remove greens with tongs reserving stock.  Set greens aside to cut into bite size pieces.  Turn heat down to simmer on the stock.
  4. Stir the wine into the grain and onion mixture.  Continue stirring frequently until the liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding 1/2 c. or so of broth, stir frequently.  When liquid has been absorbed add another 1/2 c. or so of stock.  Continue adding stock when liquid has been absorbed for about 25 minutes total cooking time until farro is al dente.
  5. Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, place roasted beets, cooked beet greens, add amounts of cooked rice and farro to your liking, reserving the remaining grains for another meal*, add parmesan cheese if using.  Combine well.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve.

*Marcia’s recipe calls for 1 c. cooked black rice.  I used about 1/3 of the cooked rice.  If desire less rice in the dish with fewer leftovers, 1/2 c. rice could be cooked.

**To roast the beets:  preheat the oven to 350°.  On a large baking sheet place cut beets, toss them with salt, pepper and olive oil.  Spread them out evenly.   Roast 25 – 35 minutes until soft.

Yield: 4 servings

 

 

 

 

obstacles be gone!

If I could just get out of my my own way, I may get somewhere.  But, that would also mean I need to remove my obstacles, my psychological obstacles. Ugh. Obstacles that I’ve created.  Double ugh.  I wish I could say that removing self-imposed obstacles can be done by squeezing our eyes shut as intensely as only a four year-old can, waving a magic wand, and…pouf ! we would open our eyes and immediately feel lighter, happier, and brighter.

But, removal of obstacles is a little bit like Butternut Squash Lasagne and “The Little Engine That Could.”  The former takes time.  Time to make and bake.  The latter uses more mind power.   Removal of obstacles takes both.  It takes time and mind power.  Well then, let’s get to it.

It is said that emotional wounds prevent us from manifesting our true happiness.  If this is the case, it seems to me our wounds, wounds that we have not yet healed,  may be co-owner of creating many of our obstacles.  If psychological wounds lead to obstacles, then, by recognizing the wounds and obstacles are there, accepting them, and believing we won’t let them define us, we should find ourselves mentally healthier and happier.

Addressing both psychological elements of wounds and removal of obstacles are big concepts to handle in a small space.  Maybe someday we can drill down deeper into it.  But, I think simply developing an awareness of wounds and obstacles in our lives is quite helpful, quite healing in and of itself.  As a good friend of Scott’s says, “Just showing up is 80% of the job.”  The same rings true for beginning to identify these two elements in our lives.  Because once we simply begin to notice them, I believe we’ve come a long way.

So, where do we start?  How do we do this work?

A good place to start is by becoming mindful of obstacles we’ve put squarely in our paths of something we want to accomplish.  Ask yourself,  have I set a goal but find myself doing everything except those things that enable me to progress toward it?  Or, do you want to accomplish something, but find yourself running around doing everything but that one thing you want done?  If so, don’t judge it.  Just be mindful of it.  Realize that it is there.  Recognize any wounds that may or may not accompany that particular obstacle.  Ask yourself, do I have a wound associated with this obstacle that needs to be healed?  Give yourself a few quiet moments and see where your attention is directed in your body.  Just feel what comes up.

Here is an example from my life. I wanted to learn how to cook.  But, I didn’t want to go through the process of making it happen.  Why?  Because I had obstacles I didn’t want to deal with.  Exasperation and frustration were standing squarely in my way of achieving enjoyment being in the kitchen. They stood there appearing unmovable with their arms crossed.

I had an undercurrent of thoughts that started rolling as soon as I entered the kitchen.  Yet, the thoughts happened so quickly that 1) they were barely perceptible, and 2) the exasperation and frustration were almost instantaneous when I began to make a meal.  As Yongey Minygur Rinpoche, a renowned Tibetan Buddhist master, points out, it is very easy to not notice our thoughts. Early on in his undertaking of meditation practice, he describes his experience of noticing his thoughts as, “The chatter was going on alongside everything else I was thinking and feeling, though so faintly I hadn’t recognized it.”

We may feel the thoughts first because our central nervous system will react to them whether or not we realize what we’ve been thinking.  That can also be a clue to our undercurrent of thoughts.  We may feel something before we notice them.

Turns out, my frustration got its’ power from a bit of perfectionism I expected of myself, a perceived lack of time, and self-doubt at my skills in the kitchen.  The CEO of Lululemon Athletica says when we set goals, we should expect to fail 50% of the time.  Now, if a crisp or crumble I make has too much topping and not enough fruit as it did a few nights ago, I don’t blink an eye.  I just think to myself, “Ok, I’ll do it differently next time. ”


A recipe for healing seems to be in order … this is how I think of it:

Step 1:  Notice how you feel (recognition of wounds and obstacles.) Ask yourself if there may be one wound or obstacle you’d like healed or removed.  Give yourself a few quiet moments to listen for a response.

Another clue in identifying obstacles is looking for areas in our lives where we make continual excuses about not doing something.  Or, maybe we need to forgive ourselves for a past action to remove an obstacle.  Pay attention to areas of your life where you simply have a feeling needs work.

Step 2:  Be mindful of the response you receive in step#1, if there is one, and gentle with a feeling, if one comes up.

This exercise is not meant to be used to chastise ourselves.  It is meant to treat your feelings with gentleness and respect.  Accept and acknowledge the thought or feeling, if there is one.  Whether negative or positive, give that thought or feeling a place at the table.  It is a part of you.  Don’t push it away.  But, at some point, you may tell it it is no longer going to take a front seat anymore.  It is time for another, healthier emotion to take the front seat.

Step 3:  Excavate.  Look into that emotion or thought.  What is beneath it and in it?  Tell it you are sorry for what happened (healing wounds.)  But, things happen and you are ready to move on.

Step 4:  Rest. Repeat.

Being mindful and developing awareness can be done while driving to school to pick up your child, or while unloading the dishwasher.  They can be and are meant to be woven into our everyday lives.  Ohby the way, I don’t see any harm in squeezing our eyes shut and waving a magic wand when we feel like it.  I, for one, have tried it and I am pretty sure a little fairy dust came my way.

For another recipe, how about trying a Butternut Squash Lasagne?  The typical flavor profile of a lasagne is changed using the squash.  It is slightly sweeter with a different texture.  I added spinach because I love something green in almost any dish.  The result is a healthy, not too involved, lasagne.

Years ago while making a butternut squash casserole, I found squash pairs well with nutmeg, sauteéd onion, and bread crumbs.  Continuing that theme, I added those elements to this recipe.

Butternut Squash Lasagne

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced, sauteéd in olive oil, set aside

1 12 oz. frozen package of butternut squash package, thawed, set aside

1 12 oz. frozen package of chopped spinach, thawed, drained well of moisture, set aside

1 15 oz. whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/4 t. nutmeg

1/4 c. (scant) panko bread crumbs

handful of basil leaves, rinsed, chopped (optional)

freshly ground black pepper

1 32 oz. jar marinara sauce

9 no-bake lasagne noodles

1 c. or so shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven according to the pasta instructions.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sauteéd onion through the basil.  Add black pepper to taste.
  3. In a 10″ x 8 ” baking dish( if you do not have a 10″x8″, try a 9″x9″ baking dish), evenly layer 1/3 of the sauce, 3 pasta sheets, 1/3 of the squash filling.  Repeat twice until the final dish has three layers of sauce, pasta and squash filling.
  4. Top the lasagne with cheese.
  5. Place baking dish on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Tent with foil.  Bake for 1 hour and ten minutes or until sauce is bubbling up around edges.  Remove foil for the last ten minutes of baking time.  Let lasagne rest for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30, before cutting. Serve warm.