Scarlette Letter – September 4, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude: I am grateful to have plenty of quiet time alone to create and reflect

Affirmation: I am present

Attitude: I am feeling solitary and content

Activity: Aerobic shoe shopping (rest day for long run tomorrow)

Nurture  – A hedonistic pleasure; I sat in the shade on the sunny deck, read a chapter in a novel and enjoyed an IPA with lunch. For dinner, a chapter from a Wayne Dyer audiobook, “I Can See Clearly Now”, and a chapter from the audiobook “Life of Pi”.

Enrichment – Every living thing has something to share, watch, and learn

Nourishment –

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Giving – Good “carma”. I make it a practice to let cars merge or turn ahead of me in traffic. I also allow pedestrians to cross. I committed these acts several times, today, in the very crowded Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s/Target parking lot and good carma paid off; I got the best, shadiest parking spot in the whole lot!

Connection – Only social mediocrity, I mean, social media.

Simplifying: I dropped off a bag of clothes and a pair of boots at Goodwill. But then I bought a pair of shoes. A small pair of shoes, I think I’m net ahead, for the day, in the matter of matter.

Journaling – Today’s Story

The Playground Bully

Do you remember being a kid, out on the school playground, during recess? You’d play with your friends and try to avoid the playground bully.

I’m an only child, and, as a kid, I struggled with two things. Having very little exposure to social norms for children until grade school, I had no real examples to emulate. I was, initially, very bossy. I bossed my friends around, told them what we were going to play and how we were going to play it. I remember once recess, in particular, the two girls I’d been playing with, started to yell at me. They told me what to do and what not to do, and they weren’t very nice about it. I started to cry and they told me that’s how I treated them all the time. I was instantly reformed. From that point on I suffered more from shyness and fear of not being accepted, until adulthood, though, I think I’ve now almost overcome that affliction, too!

I also remember a large, swarthy, brusque girl in my class. I was quite tiny and she made about two of me. In the second grade. Her name, believe it, or not, was Helga. And she was a horror! She was the first bully I ever encountered, though certainly not the last. I still encounter them!

Helga called kids names, mean names. The standard playground response when someone called you a bad name was to retort, “I know you are, but what am I?” Which usually elicited a worse name. The better and more final response, we found, was, “What you say is what you are!”

These words, actually, ring very true throughout life. People tend to look externally for a frame of reference for self. If a child is told they are dumb, they believe it, they adopt that as truth, and are shaped by that for a very long time, even, perhaps, for life. We have become aware of what the fashion and entertainment industry has done to our self-perception with airbrushed and impossibly perfected images of models and stars; we feel inferior, imperfect, fat, and ugly, when in fact, we just don’t have a team of makeup artists, airbrush artists and Photoshop editors to craft our appearance on daily basis.

Scarlette Begonia

So, what do you say you are? What do you tell yourself, about yourself, on a daily basis? And what lasting and damaging effects do you think that cruel, playground, bully has had on you?

As  students of happiness, we need to be aware of the words we hear and how we allow them to influence us, and the most important words we hear are the words we say to ourselves, silently or aloud. Be kind. Be kind to others. Be, especially, kind to yourself, in word, in act, in deed. What you say is what you are.

Scarlette Begonia

Scarlette Letter – September 2, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have available to me

Affirmation – I am focused

Attitude – Joyful

Activity – Just a little strolling

Nurture – Hugs, kisses, hand-holding, loving, and snuggling

Enrichment – “Make sure you understand your beliefs”

Nourishment – Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Scarlette Begonia

Giving – only love and compliments

Connection – I spent the afternoon and evening with my sweet, wonderful, man

Simplifying – I bought a very small, zippered, cosmetic bag and filled it with absolute essentials for an overnight stay: two small toothbrushes, toothpaste, small container of floss, a couple of makeup wipes in a Ziploc, a sliver of face soap. The case slips into almost any purse I carry and negates the necessity to carry an overnight bag for those spontaneous outings and overnights that seem to manifest when I spend time with my sweetheart (that’s why the two toothbrushes)

Simple.
Simple.

TV Guide Lifestyle

Like most people, I am a creature of contradictions. Is it possible to love both routine and spontaneity? I believe so, because I do.

I would describe myself as a disciple of spontaneity before I’d say I was a proponent of strict routine. I think there are routines that are helpful, based on personal preferences, needs, and desires, but I truly believe that spontaneity is a component of a joyful lifestyle.

The household I grew up in, the three of us, me, Mom, and Dad, was very routinized. Everyone got up at exactly the same time every work/school day. Breakfast was almost always the same for every week day, for long periods of time. Lunch may have had slight variations, but always had the same components. Dinner was predictable, though delicious, based on the night of the week and which diet book Mom was following at the time (Scarsdale was her favorite, though I think there was a “Pritikin” in there, too). Dinner was always at precisely the same time every night, timed to quickly follow the very predictable time of arrival of my dad, from work, a quick cocktail, and his shower. After dinner, Dad stayed at the kitchen table, drank his wine, did his bookwork, and read Time magazine before heading to bed to repeat the process anew the next morning. Mom headed downstairs to the family room to watch the same sitcoms night after night, week after week, year after year, rotating new offerings into the rotation as other favorite shows stopped airing. I remember M*A*S*H*, and the Six Million Dollar Man, All in the Family, the Jeffersons, and One Day at a Time. It was a T.V. Guide lifestyle, and it was good.

Raising my own family, we were far more bohemian. While the children were young and I worked full-time, we did set aside some time for routine; homework and dinner together. For most of their childhood, there was no television programming. There was a T.V., but it was for watching videos together as a family.

We often opted to dine out rather than prepare meals at home. My husband’s work schedule varied and sometimes he even worked from home. When my kids entered grade school, I moved to a part-time position, which I clung to until they were nearly through high school and it became financially necessary for me to take a full time position. We had many, many, extracurricular activities that filled our afternoons and evenings. While those extracurricular activities were confined to meetings that fell on routine days of the week, the events and activities for each of the meetings themselves were always new, fun, and interesting, no two were ever exactly the same.

Now that the kids are grown and we’re all on our own, I’ve come to really crave spontaneity, but I do appreciate some sense of routine. My job, until recently, required a great deal of travel, I was never in the same place from one week to the next. Now, for the time being, I work exclusively from home, but have a varied and unpredictable schedule.

If I could design my life, I’d like my mornings free until about 10:00, that’s when I’m most creative. Then I’d like my late mornings free, until noon or so. That’s when I most like to work out. And that’s all the routine I crave. The rest of every part of every day would be reserved for spontaneity.

Spontaneity, I think, fosters a sense of youthfulness, an expression of freedom, and encourages living in the moment. These, I believe, are components of a joyful lifestyle. Living a routine, T.V. Guide lifestyle seems to be our nature, our inclination, the comfort zone. There are benefits to both routine and spontaneity; the challenge is finding the right recipe.

Well Balanced Diet

I am a proponent of healthy eating, yes. I eat mostly organic food, when possible, and as clean as possible when organic isn’t an option. I love food, and eat very, very well. I am careful to include the appropriate amounts of lean protein, whole grains and fresh veggies and fruit in my diet. And, in my opinion, a balanced diet also needs to take into consideration what we drink; I like to make sure I have one glass of wine for every beer I consume, just to be well balanced!

I am also very diligent about balancing my nutritional intake with my physical activity. I don’t count calories in and out, like I used to when I was trying to lose a ton of weight, but I have a rough idea of what goes in and what is expended, and it seems to be working, for the most part, I’ve maintained my weight for about three years, with about a seven pound swing through my busy travel/eat in restaurants every meal time of year (nine months) and my work from home, eat nutritious, home cooked meals time of year (three months).

But, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about food, or beverage or exercise, right now. I want to talk about “balance.” And, no, I don’t want to talk about living a balanced life, I’ve talked about that a couple of times before. I want to talk about “balance”, you know, like not falling down!

Gravity is real, undeniably, unarguably real. Some of us have a run in with the law, the law of gravity, more often than others. As we age, sadly, it is gravity and our deteriorating balance that can get us into pretty deep doo doo.

My grandfather lived to be 100 years old. He was in excellent health at 100 years old, and, in fact, still lived on his own in his house and even mowed his own lawn with a push mower, you know, the kind without the motor. Every day, he’d walk a few blocks from his house to the nursing home to have lunch, not with his friends, as they were all long gone, but with his friends’ kids, who were now residents and in need of assisted living. It was on one of these lunchtime jaunts that Grandpa got into trouble with the law, the law of gravity. He fell, broke his hip, went to the hospital and died of pneumonia in short order. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure he’d still be kicking about.

I listened to a great audiobook recently, and have shared it before, “Younger Next Year (for Women): Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Hendry S. Lodge, M.D. With a title like that, how can you resist, right? The book is funny and loaded with great advice and information. This book also addresses the importance of maintaining strength, and thereby, improving your balance, rather than allowing it to deteriorate with the rest of our bodies as we age, or “decay”, as Chris says throughout the volume. As we age, it is falling that is most likely to put an abrupt end to our ambulatory days, if not our life. I don’t know about you, but that’s not in my script, if I have anything to do with writing it!

I am often surprised at how few people I meet that have really good balance. I don’t mean people who don’t work out at all, either, all sorts of people. I am in a running club and I run with folks who regularly compete in 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons and even ultra-marathons. After our workouts, we dutifully stretch. One stretch we do, of course, is the hamstring stretch, where you stand on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and grab your foot. These fit, runner people are hopping all over the place, falling, leaning on each other and against trees, struggling to stay on the right side of the law. Fit, strong, healthy people totally unable to balance on one foot for thirty seconds. Lawbreakers!

Try this; stand up, move away from anything you can hold on to like a wall, a chair, a table, the couch, a loved one, the dog. Now stand on one foot. How long can you do this? How long does it take before you have to set your foot back down, or grab onto something I told you not to stand next to?

Balance is strength. Good balance requires good core strength and it also requires the use of all sorts of tiny little muscles and ligaments in the lower leg and feet. Try this! Stand up, (yes, again), bend over so your hands are as close to your feet, or the floor, as possible. If you can, grab one ankle with one or both hands, now lift the other foot off the ground and balance. Can you feel all the little, minute adjustments your standing leg is going through to try to keep you from losing your balance? So, to improve balance, to avoid getting into trouble with the law, just strengthen all those little muscles and ligaments, oh, and your core, too!

Personally, I find yoga to be extremely beneficial in developing core strength and in fine-tuning all those little muscles and in perfecting your balance. Ballet is good, too, or gymnastics, tumbling or calisthenics. I like yoga because I get to work on my mind a bit, at the same time. Yoga is a practice. So is balance. Balance takes practice and I combine my balancing practice with my mindfulness practice with my yoga practice. It’s the most productive hour I can squeeze into a day!

But, still, I practice balance even more. I have always been a law-abiding citizen, except for highway speed limits, but I consider that sport, not deviance, a game of cat and mouse, predator and prey; I’m the mouse, the CHP are cats, and I’ve been winning for the last thirty years. Knock on wood. Anyway. Practice. There are so many opportunities for practicing balance that you can incorporate into daily life; no gym membership, no expensive workout equipment, no gimmicky gizmos as seen on TV. Consider the following.

I am avid about dental hygiene. I like to brush my teeth. My childhood orthodontist would be so proud of me now! I was driving through the middle of Indiana some time last year. There isn’t much to see. Grass. Highway. Trees. Grass. Highway. Trees. And billboards. One billboard I passed presented a big, happy, cheesy smiling face and a caption that read, “Brush for two minutes, twice daily.” It struck me that someone, somewhere, paid money to advertise what we should’ve all known, and been doing, since we were two years old. But, whatever. Later that night, as I brushed my teeth for the third time that day, I thought about “two minutes”. I got my iPhone out, opened up the clock app, and set the timer for a minute. As I brushed the teeth on the right side of my mouth, I stood in tree pose (stand on one foot, bend the suspended leg at the knee and rest the foot either just above or below the knee. And hold). I brushed and balanced and brushed and balanced. When the timer went off, I set it for another minute and did the other side, teeth and tree pose. I do this every time I brush my teeth, now.

I ran six miles today. I ran eight miles a couple of days ago. I like to run. Every time my demons start to catch up with me, I go out and run, it keeps them at a distance for a while. It works, I swear by it. I plan my run so I after I complete the planned mileage, I have another half mile or so to walk back to where I’ve parked, that’s my cool down. Then I stretch when I get to my car. I have been running in a suburban neighborhood area, near a park, quite routinely. The other day, after my eight-mile run, I felt so fantastic! The weather was perfect, it was a Saturday morning, so the whole world smelled like pancakes and bacon, and every friendly fitness fiend was out and about, all calling “hello!” and exchanging other kind remarks. I finished my eight miles and as I walked the last half mile, I found myself walking on the curb. I walked the curb, you know, the narrow strip of elevated concrete between the landscaping and the gutter and roadway? It’s like a balance beam, but not so scary high off the ground. I walked a half a mile, on the curb, without losing my balance. After running eight miles. I did it again, today. When was the last time you  “walked a curb”? I walk every curb I come close to; in parking lots, even carrying groceries, even carrying my half-caf, soy latte that cost five bucks, I walk curbs in neighborhoods and in the city, but only if I’m not going to get hit by a bus or a garbage truck!

A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!
A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!

Being well balanced just requires a regular diet of, well, balancing. Find fun ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Do the dishes standing on one leg! If you have to stand in line at Target or the grocery check out, or at the bank, if you’re app resistant and still actually go to the bank, stand on one foot. You don’t have to be real obvious about it, you don’t have to do a hamstring stretch or an arabesque or anything, unless you like to draw attention to yourself. Just lift one foot casually off the floor and rest it atop your other foot. Then switch.

I know, this all sounds pretty loopy, but, seriously, I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get into trouble with the law. Try to stick to a “well-balanced diet” and maybe when you’re 100 years old, you can walk the curb all the way to the old folks home to visit your friends’ kids for lunch!

 

 

 

 

All or Nothing

I’ve always been an “all or nothing” kind of girl. But I’m getting over it.

It used to be, if the package of Oreos were opened, I’d eat them, three at a time, until they were all gone. This usually took a day and a half to two days. It used to be, if I was going to In N Out Burger, I was having a Double Double, fries and a shake. With a Diet Coke.  If I was going to drink soda, I was going to have three a day. If the “pounder” bag of pretzels was open, I wasn’t going to stop eating pretzels until there were only salt crystals at the bottom of the bag.

In interest of moderation, I found, if I just didn’t buy Oreos or go to In N Out, then I could easily abstain. Pretzels and Diet Coke were another matter, and, in fact, comprised my “lunch” for quite some time. With Red Vines for dessert. Hey, it was all “fat free”, right?

I was on the weight loss roller coaster for years, about twenty, or so. I’d lose weight for a big outing, like a backpacking trek, then gain it all back plus a few. I never grew out of the “junior” size clothing, even at my plumpest, but I was what I called a “top shelf” girl at Hollister. They keep the larger sizes on a top shelf, out of reach of the rotund, and so we have to waddle around the store and find some impossibly thin creature employed there to retrieve them for us. They look at us with something between pity and disgust as they hand us a voluminous bundle of denim, and point us in the direction of the dressing room, knowing full well, in five minutes or less, they’d be putting those jeans back up on the top shelf. I shopped at PacSun and American Eagle to avoid the humiliation, for whatever reason, they were more kind.

When my whole life turned upside down, I saw, where most would see darkness, doom, dismay, and dread, a light. I used foreclosure and short sale, the long overdue collapse of a marriage, and the struggles of rebuilding my own life, by myself, as an opportunity to change. It was a catalyst for growth. If everything was changed, then I was going to change everything.

Somewhere during that period of time, always being a fan of exercising, just more a fan of eating, as was apparent, my son mentioned he’d done a workout video, at home, with his roommate’s girlfriend, and it “kicked his butt”. He is one of the most fit people I know; cross country runner, avid cyclist, gym rat. I drove to Target as fast as I could and bought my first Jillian Michaels workout video. It kicked my butt. I sat down after the warm up and watched the rest from the couch, incredulously, dabbing the sweat from my brow.

Within a week, I was able to complete the video with a fair amount of self-respect. I bought another video. And another. I like variety. And I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl. I was going to have ALL of Jillian’s videos, and new ones, too, as soon as they became available. Then I spied a book of hers at Target. I bought it. I read it cover to cover in about two days. I have never been the same. I have never been better.

I don't have them ALL, but I got LOTS!
I don’t have them ALL, but I got LOTS!
The book that changed my life.
The book that changed my life.

In Jillian’s book, I learned about diet, exercise, sleep, thought, environment, and, most importantly, how all of this relates to our hormones and that our hormones are what regulate our metabolism, and, so, our weight. I lost fifty pounds. There are ten pounds that come and go, but they do go with minimal effort. The real bragging rights, here, are that I’ve kept most of that fifty pounds of for most of three years. Give or take. I’ve kind of lost track.

The best part about losing that much weight, other than being able to tie my shoes, with the bows on the top of my feet, rather than on the side, where it was easier to reach, or the fact that my upper arms look like arms and not thighs, or the fact that it feels really, really, good to be thin, is that I got to shop for a new wardrobe three times in one year! How cool is that? I had to replace my tight size fourteens with size twelves because the fourteens, literally, fell off. I wore the twelves until they, too, fell off, and replaced them with eights. When the eights got to be ridiculously baggy, I bought sixes, and this is where I’ve been for two years now. So, no, I’m not some tiny, frail, creature riddled with eating disorders. I look pretty darn good and I eat pretty darn well and I feel pretty darn awesome and I can do any darn thing.

With this huge personal success, I became so confident, so inspired and so motivated, I knew, without a doubt, I could do anything. Anything at all. And this set my “effort to evolve” into motion. I vowed to myself to continue to evolve, in every area of my life, and then, to share my experiences, to, hopefully, inspire others.

I am absolutely NOT an all or nothing kind of girl anymore. I can eat two Oreos from an open package and make that package last weeks. If I really try. I still won’t ever buy Oreos for myself, but, others do. I can go to In N Out Burger and eat a lettuce wrap burger and pick at someone else’s fries and drink a nice, refreshing glass of water. Except after a marathon, then I get a Double Double, my own fries and a shake. Just sayin’. Every now and then, a bottle of really good red wine, or a super refreshing bottle of sparkling wine, does challenge my abilities to refrain from my current state of “all or nothingness”. But, I’m working on it.

By the way, where does it say that if something tastes really, really good that more of it will taste better? Why does having more, or all of it, now, make us think we’ll be more satisfied? The last Oreo tastes the same as the first. Isn’t it better to make it all last? Two Oreos every day for a month versus all the Oreos today, prolonged enjoyment, less negative impact. The first glass of wine is enough, and, then, I can enjoy it, again, tomorrow. So, I’m working on it.

Jillian taught me the virtues of NOT being an all or nothing kind of girl, in fact, she preaches it in all of her books. Okay, so, yah, I do have ALL of her books. And videos. And buy the new ones as soon as they come out. It isn’t al “all or nothing” thing, I swear, I’m studying her as a marketing role model. I only hope to be a fraction as successful in my endeavors, some day! Wink, wink.

Being an All or Nothing, Today – In Application:

It used to be, and this is so common it’s a joke, really, I’d start my “healthy eating” program on Monday morning. I’d cave at about 3:00 PM on Monday and, so, the week was “blown”, I’d start, again, on the following Monday. For a few hours. Why do we believe that “healthy” can only begin on Mondays? Now, I eat healthy most of the time. When I don’t, I don’t and then I resume my healthy eating with the very next bite. In this practice, I gain six and a half days of healthy eating every week over what I used to do. Make sense? It isn’t an all or nothing, take it a bite at a time, a meal at a time, not a week at a time. Just keep at it and be as consistent as possible for as much of the week as possible, every week, forever. That’s what healthy is!

It is almost that time of year, again, one I dread with ferocity. In a few weeks the gym is going to be a zoo. For about two weeks. Then it will be a gym, again. For those two weeks, the “resolutionists” will be flocking to fitness classes and crowding the weight room floor. The cardio equipment will have plump, impatient people waiting in line for their fifteen-minute cardio embarrassment. New Years and all those well-meant resolutions will be forgotten within two weeks and the couch and the potato chips will win out, for most. Sad, but true. And, where, exactly, is it written that an “exercise regime” can only begin on January 1st? Why not March 12th? Or August 27th? So fitness is an all year or nothing thing? Nope. It isn’t. I have weeks where I work out, per plan, four, five maybe even six times. I have weeks where I work out only once, and, every now and then, I have a week without any workouts. But, more weeks than not, I am working out at least four times. It isn’t an all or nothing deal. Just keep at it and be as consistent as possible for as much of the year as possible, every year, forever. That’s what healthy is!

Part of “living clean”, part of what impacts our hormones, is our environment, and this is something that most folks aren’t aware of. Being healthy goes beyond diet and exercise. There are many other factors that impact our health that we are surrounded by, all the time. They are practically inescapable in many households and work settings. The cleansers we use, the detergents and soaps we use, the household products we use, the stuff we spray and squirt on the animals we hug, kiss and snuggle with all night, the stuff we spray in the air and on our furniture and carpets to mask the smell of our chemically treated pets, the things we smear on every part of our body from scalp to armpits to eyelids. All of it is chemical based. All of it is, if not toxic, at least harmful to our endocrine system, altering our hormones, which regulate our metabolism, which is a very necessary component of our health and our ability to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and state. Is it possible, then, to rid our environments of all of these harmful products? No. Not at all. But, every product we are able to replace with something natural, something organic, is one small step in the right direction. We can’t just throw up our hands in surrender and assume if we can’t afford all organic cleaning and personal hygiene products that all is lost and we should just commit suicide, slowly, by sitting on the couch eating ice cream, potato chips and Texas Toast.

There are strategies for low cost alternatives to organic products. There are a million resources for finding them online. Well, maybe not a million GOOD sources, but there are a few.

Great stuff and lots of resources for clean living within.
Great stuff and lots of resources for clean living within.

So, if you refuse to give up your “all or nothing” attitude, fine, but try this first; change a few of the things you do and don’t give up on January 14th or on Monday at 3:11 PM. Just keep at it and be as consistent as possible, forever. I promise, you’ll see positive results, inside and out. Hopefully, this will inspire you to make a few more changes. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

When we were in the second grade and out on the playground playing jump rope, when our turn came and we “ran in” and jumped, eventually, we’d mess up and our turn would be over, at which point, by golly, we got right back in line and anxiously waited for our next turn. We didn’t just say “well, screw that, I blew it, can’t jump rope again until next Monday, or until next January.” We just kept at it, trying again and again and again, until the recess bell rang, and then we were at it again the next recess, always getting better and better. Did we ever get it perfect? Obviously not, or we’d still be out there on the playground, jumping, jumping, jumping, chanting the lyrics along with a bunch of very patient second graders, hoping for a turn, someday.

Perfection is non-existent. There is perceived perfection, occasionally, but even it is rare and illusive. Do the best you can, just keep at it and be as consistent as possible, forever. A healthy lifestyle isn’t an all or nothing kind of thing. Life isn’t an all or nothing kind of thing. Nor am I.

Have a great Monday! Have a great New Year! Have great health! Have a great life!

Not a diet or exercise book, just a great inspirational read for life, in general.
Not a diet or exercise book, just a great inspirational read for life, in general.

 

Scarlett’s Letter December 2, 2013

What happened yesterday?

COFFEE GRINDER!!!
COFFEE GRINDER!!!

I got shit done and that’s it. Ten mile run. I finally got the coffee grinder from storage but only after getting coffee at the coffee shop, and breakfast, and running, and a shower. I also got my little Target brand Christmas tree up. Packed. Let Mom cook me GMO laced food featuring medicated, tortured cow. I only buy happy dead cow flesh, you know. Cows that were bottle fed by cherubs in sunny pastures, cattle that were lulled to sleep each night by the voices of fair maidens, fed on only lush, pesticide free grass growing in the richest of soils in some beautiful pasture with a view of the ocean,  treated holistically for any ailment that may materialize, provided with an endless supply of Evian water, massaged, by Swedish masseuses, and then, one day, blammo, hamburger. After a tasty, though suspect, meal, I packed for my two weeks away from home and went to bed. It is so much easier to go to bed at 7:00 PM when it’s actually dark out. I still didn’t end up turning out the light until 9:00. And my alarm went off at 1:00 AM.

Monday, squared.

Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!

In the few hours I slept, though, I had some crazy, crazy dreams. And I can even explain them! Mostly. I don’t know if my explanation is accurate, but there are some coincidences with what I dreamt and a few things that I viewed in the past couple of days. Either that, or I’m completely off my rails. Or both.

I dreamt, first, that there were a bunch of baby elephants wandering the streets in my neighborhood. Yes. Baby elephants. Just baby elephants. No mommy or daddy elephants. Then, I dreamt there were lions outside my bedroom window, standing on the roofs of the cars in the driveway, roaring, and trying to get inside. Oh, and the only part I can’t explain, I boxed some obnoxious lady in the ear because she was blocking the way to the restroom in some restaurant and she got belligerent when I asked her if I could pass. I’m not normally prone to acts of physical violence, so I’m not sure where that bit of the dream came from. I woke up right then, so I don’t know what happened.

I ground my coffee last night and actually made coffee for myself this morning, just to get me to the Starbucks at the airport in Sacramento, alive. With my “usual” latte, banana, oatmeal and large Fiji water, all in a Starbucks carrier bag, I made my way to the gate. How bad is it that I recognize several people in the boarding area, weekly travelers, like me. The United flight to Chicago every Monday morning is like a commuter train, all the same faces, all the same discussions; mileage, the state of the airline, airports. I look on, and listen, detached. I am not quite yet among their ranks, they all log over 100k miles a year. I’m struggling to make my much desired “Gold” status. Without gold status, I simply cannot imagine travel. I’d have to pay for luggage, I wouldn’t be able to book seats in “economy plus” for free, my bags wouldn’t be the first off the plane and I wouldn’t get premier access to ticketing. I’m not sure what would happen to my TSA Pre-Check status. So easily am I spoiled. I am oh-so close. I was going to book a trip to Hawaii to visit my son, but the ticket prices between now and the end of the year are pretty steep and I’d have to travel before the end of the year, I think, to “get” the extra miles.

The "Monday Morning Line" at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.
The “Monday Morning Line” at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.

The flight to Chicago is miserable. It’s either a brand new plane or a newly retrofitted plane, but, there is no economy plus seating, no extra legroom, it’s like coach. Somehow, after tweeting my complaint @united, I manage to sleep most of the way, just to block out the horrible experience.

No legroom in a seat that would formerly been in the United Economy Plus section.
No legroom in a seat that would formerly have been in the United Economy Plus section.
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I'm talking about!
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I’m talking about!

I am so excited to have a couple of hour layover at O’Hare! I love O’Hare. I could live in O’Hare! We deplane a couple of gates down from Beaudevin wine bar. It’s noonish. Wine seems fine. But, I am torn. I’d like to have lunch at Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera. There is a bar there that serves Negra Modelo AND has plentiful electrical outlets. Tortas Frontera is very popular, though, I can only imagine the wait in line for food, and then the wait for a seat at the bar or at a nearby table. And especially right at noon. I peruse the food displayed at Beaudevin and it doesn’t look so good. All of the salads feature iceberg lettuce with browned edges. First of all, iceberg lettuce has the nutritional value of water and tastes about the same. It’s only redeeming quality is it’s crispiness, but, the browned edges led me to believe that the crispiness may long since have deteriorated from the salads displayed. I walked past, heading for Tortas Frontera, glance at my watch and turn back, again, towards Beaudevin. I notice they now have electrical outlets beneath the bar AND open seats. I envision waiting for a seat at TF, I think of the limp salads, compared to a Cochinita Pibil torta, I turn, take three steps towards Tortas Frontera, eye the wine selection, again, and the open seating, and turn back. I climb up on an overly padded stool at the bar and look over the menu. I decide on a flight of California Cabs and the cheese platter. You can’t go wrong with cheese and wine that come from NorCal. Can’t. Unless, of course, the cheese is so over-chilled you can’t taste it, so over-chilled it won’t even slice, let alone spread on the oddly textured bread. The wine is good. I pick at my cheese plate, eat about two-thirds of it, and give up.

Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
 I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
Aaaaahhhh.
Aaaaahhhh.

I pay up and make my way to my gate in the other terminal, and, as luck would have it, is right next to Tortas Frontera, which, by now, is not so busy. There’s an open seat at the bar and I sidle up and order a Negra Modelo. Yes, I enjoy beer and wine, often, but I consume, perhaps, a little too much on travel days. I won’t even begin to try to justify it. Sport? Challenge? Or just seeking an ultra-relaxed and altered state of mind in a “world” of frenzied, unprepared, entertaining, though annoying, casual, infrequent travelers. My subliminal goal is to be the first in my boarding group to board the damn plane, find my seat, and slip into a numbed state of mind, if not sleep. Sleep is preferable.  

This, I accomplish on the flight from Chicago to LaGuardia. I stop at the natural food kiosk on my way to the baggage claim and grab a yogurt and an “Eighteen Rabbits” bar for breakfast in the morning. By the time I get to the baggage carousel, my bags have arrived and been unloaded to the side with a handful of others. They are mighty fast at this airport. And, this is one of the few airports where someone insists on comparing your baggage claim tickets to the bags you’re trying to remove. I appreciate this. I may be the only one.

I catch the bus to the rental car lot and select, as my car of the week, a Challenger. Black. Cool, right? Personally, I prefer the Charger. I have opinions on cars much like I do food, wine, fashion and airlines. It is rush hour and I’m in a muscle car. In Long Island. Talk about a complete waste. I honestly think I could live here for decades, not that I’d want to, and still not be able to visualize the maze of highways, interstates and expressways. It is dizzying, and, not much unlike California, SoCal in particular, most conversations quickly turn from the weather to “how I commuted today”.  I listen to David Zabriskie of Team Garmin on my Nuvii as we navigate fast, then slow, fast, then slow, fast, then slow, the fourteen miles to Garden City where I am to live and work for the rest of the work week.

Challenger; car of the week.
Challenger; car of the week.

I come here, for the same client, every year. Often twice. This is my second week here in the past month. I stay in the same hotel and dine at many of the same restaurants. Tonight, for example, tired and lacking energy and enthusiasm, it will be comfort food; Shake Shack, which is practically across the street from my hotel. A beer there, with my SmokeShack burger, hold the sauce, oh, and fries, don’t tell Jillian, and I am ready to go back to the hotel to get ready for the week.  Iron, organize my training materials, set out the tip for housekeeping for tomorrow and get ready for bed. I need sleep.

Comfort food - the Smokeshack at Shake Shack.
Comfort food – the Smokeshack and a Shakemeister beer at Shake Shack.

Let’s Get Cookin’

It’s that time of year, my favorite time of year. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. I agree. Presently, on a cool October morning, overcast, damp and chilly, I sit in a coffee shop in Downtown Napa, writing, sipping and getting things organized for the rest of the day and for the upcoming weekend. It is warm and cozy and smells divine in here. There is enough activity to be interesting, but not so noisy to be overwhelming.

Where I am enjoying my morning.
Where I am enjoying my morning.

On my list of things to do today is to dig up the pumpkin soup recipe I made, traditionally, for many years, before the kids went out trick or treating on Halloween. I always believed in family dinners and pulled them off on a regular basis, until both kids were in high school and we had multiple activities in multiple directions, every night of the week. So, even on Halloween, for many, many years, there was a family meal. We’d have my pumpkin soup and the kids would be off to trick or treat. I usually stayed home, dressed as Morticia from the Addams Family, answered the door and doled out candy. It was our tradition. My soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook. I have many, many cookbooks. I love cookbooks, really good, quality cookbooks by esteemed chefs. I like to browse through them, given the time, especially when preparing to entertain. I read them like novels and sometimes I will find myself amidst a pile of cookbooks and half an afternoon has vanished.

My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.
My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.

My pumpkin soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook, the one cookbook I always reach for first, my “go to” guide to all things kitchen. Fannie Farmer, revised by Marion Cunningham. There may be a newer version out there, mine is pretty faded, splotched and tattered from many years of use, but it is this book I love, no matter its antiquity.

My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.
My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.

My mom has her favorite cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens one. She gave me a copy, too, when I went off to college, I think, but I no longer have it. My man has his favorite cookbook, always on the windowsill, at the ready, “The Joy of Cooking”, his “go-to “guide, that, and anything that Jacques Pepin said, ever.  No complaints, no complaints, he is a master in the kitchen and never have I been disappointed.

An old standard.
An old standard.
My man's favorite go-to cookbook.
My man’s favorite go-to cookbook.

There is a “neighborhood” wine tasting party in his neighborhood in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I won’t be there to attend, but he’d mentioned maybe making pumpkin soup, so, I thought I’d send him my recipe, I mean Fannie’s recipe, or Marion’s. The recipe I’ve used many, many times. We’ll leave it at that. The recipe I use calls for canned pumpkin puree, which is fine and, even by my standards, can be obtained in a suitably organic, sustainable variety. Otherwise, I’m not much of one for canned food. I buy organic canned tomato sauce and fire roasted tomatoes from Whole Foods for a fast, weeknight spaghetti sauce, but, generally, I prefer fresh. I thought I’d look up pumpkin soup recipes on my favorite “go-to” online recipe resource, AllRecipes.com, and I found pages and pages and pages of pumpkin soup recipe. I only wanted one, one that used fresh pumpkin, as an alternative to my recipe and the canned pumpkin puree. Pages and pages and pages, and many of them with many reviews and many stars, which would be my obvious selection criteria. I mean, really, who would choose to use a recipe that had only a few stars, or none, and only a few reviews, or none? My point, exactly.

Too many pumpkin soup recipes!
Too many pumpkin soup recipes!

So, today, at some point, I am going to gather up two recipes for pumpkin soup, the one I’ve used with fantastic results for many, many years and another that I decide on from AllRecipes.com, I’m going to tuck them into a sweet, romantic card I’ll find, no doubt, at Target, fill it with mushy musings, and address it to my Sweetie, far, far away.

Recipes. It occurs to me that recipes are much like life. Think about it.

We are all trying to piece together a life for ourselves that ends up like a beautiful cake, the perfect crumb, texture, moistness, flavor, the loveliest icing, decoration, and garnish. There are as many lovely cake recipes as there are people on the planet, I’m nearly certain, if, ever, you could gather together every known cake recipe of all time. I mean, I have “The Cake Bible” and in my entire life I don’t think I could ever bake every recipe in that one book alone, though the idea intrigues me in a “Julie and Julia” kind of way. Food for thought, no pun intended, and you know, I am the Queen of Puns.

If I were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of my dreams and you were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of your dreams, I’m 99.9% certain we’d have different recipes and that our idea of the cake of our dreams would differ considerably as well. So it is with finding the recipe for our perfect life. We all have unique, individual ideas of what “our perfect life” would be, and even over time, our ideas are certain to change. Just like I may decide carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is my favorite, I may change my mind, at some point, and declare red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting my favorite. That’s okay, our goals, purpose and passions in life change like our preference for dessert, but, generally speaking, we have a few favorites we are always happy to see on the dessert menu!

If I were to make a carrot cake or a red velvet cake, again, there’d be countless recipes from which to choose, and each would be a different combination of different quantities of ingredients. Almost certainly, for carrot cake and for red velvet cake, there’d be common ingredients across a majority of the recipes; flour and sugar, for example. Again, so it is with building our perfect life, there are likely to be key ingredients we are going to want to include for best results.

So, if I wanted to piece together a perfect life, what would my recipe look like? That’s the first question, always, what kind of cake do I want? There are several ways to approach selecting a recipe, one is to consider the ingredients you already have on hand, the number of people you intend to feed, the cost, the nutritional value, another is to see a picture or read a recipe, and no matter the contents or cost, that’s what you want to bake!

With choosing the recipe for our perfect life, then, do we consider the ingredients we already have on hand? Or do we start from scratch using the pretty picture and yummy sounding recipe as inspiration? That, you must decide. Do the ingredients in your life, now, include things you want in your final recipe? Your home, your family, your career? Likely so. Or, are you in a place where you are gathering those ingredients up and don’t have them on hand, just yet? You see what I say?

There are going to be those secret ingredients, too, that all good cooks have, that ensure their success. A dear friend of mine, one I’ve known since kindergarten, is a well-known, successful pastry chef. She has always loved to cook and to bake, even as kids, she’d come over to my house after school, now and then, and we’d get out my Betty Crocker Cook Book for children and we’d whip up a batch of cookie dough. We’d practice our fractions and halve the recipe, or quarter it, and, once in a while, we’d even bake the cookie dough. Usually not. Anyway, she went on to enter the Napa Town and Country Fair cake decorating category every year beginning in high school, and she’d win. She decorated cakes for all us girls for birthdays and other occasions. She graduated to baking cakes, having attended a culinary program at a nearby community college, and, year after year, her cakes won at the local fair. She’d be asked to produce a recipe, which she had, in her mind and would have to transcribe it in written form to be published in The Napa Register. Every year she won, and every year, it was, essentially, the same cake recipe. Chocolate with a rich, chocolate filling and frosting. Her success was in the quality of her recipe, and she applied it consistently, and won. Consistently. She has since gone on to accomplish great things, I’ve seen her name listed in Gourmet Magazine a time or two, which considering the number of pastry chefs in Napa alone, is quite an accomplishment.

How it all started.
How it all started.

So, what’s your recipe? Mine includes the following ingredients:

Purpose

Passion

Values

Guiding principles

Roles

Goals

I decorate my cake with carefully selected ingredients, including:

Self esteem

Self-confidence

Self discipline

Inspiration

Motivation

Enthusiasm

Action

Every now and then, I have to adjust the ingredients a little, add a little more self-confidence and a little less action, or I may re-evaluate my roles and goals, but, in the end, the same key ingredients are always in my recipe. And that is my recipe for personal success, that’s how I piece together my perfect cake.

When you look at the ingredients list, though, each and every one of those ingredients are rare and somewhat elusive. Like making an exquisite cake, some of the ingredients may be very hard to find, very hard to come by. We often struggle with identifying our passion, but we must in order to find our purpose. We have to know our roles in order to be able to identify our goals. All of this takes time, a lot of discernment, constant consideration and occasional adjustment. Other ingredients will need to be continually replaced, refreshed. You’d never use old eggs or outdated cream in your cake recipe, would you? Likewise, my self-esteem, self-confidence, inspiration and enthusiasm need to be refreshed daily, for best results.

And your recipe may differ from mine in the source of your ingredients, though, in all likelihood, the same key ingredients will be there. You must have passion and purpose, you absolutely require values and guiding principles, and I can’t imagine a recipe not including roles and goals. None of these key ingredients are going to mix well and rise properly without self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, and inspiration. And it all requires action, like baking the ingredients, otherwise, you’ve just got batter!

As we become comfortable in the kitchen, the recipes we use regularly are rarely written down. I’m fairly certain that most of the meals we cook, nightly, week in and week out are not carefully measured and read out of a cook book. We know how much salt, pepper, and smoked paprika we like on our pork chops, we aren’t measuring an eighth of a teaspoon of each, precisely, based on the written recipe. And I’m sure we all use slightly different amounts of slightly different ingredients. The results are all good, I bet I’d like your pork chops nearly as much as mine. My point here, is that our daily recipes, our most successful and relied upon recipes, are from memory, are so familiar and reliable that they are comfortable to us, and we don’t have to labor over specific instruction to prepare them. And, our daily recipes that we are so comfortable with, that we rely on for sustenance, regularly, are completely individual and unique, as each of us are as humans. We are all masters in our own kitchens, we all have our unique masterpieces. My Sweetie and I both love to cook, when he cooks he does things his way and the result is fantastic. When I cook, I do things as I’ve always done, and the results are wonderful, if I do say so myself. We do things differently for different reasons, based on different resources and preferences, neither of us is more or less right, just unique, just individual preference, just habit.

So, whatever you come up with, ultimately, as your recipe for your perfect life may contain many of the same ingredients as mine, but as master of your own kitchen, you may use a whisk where I’d use a wooden spoon, you may use Canola oil where I’d use EVOO. The results of both will be extraordinary, guaranteed, but unique, I promise. Put your apron on, read a few cookbooks for inspiration, and get cooking. Life was never meant to be just batter, but better. You can have your cake and eat it, too!

Scarlett’s Letter August 21, 2013

Eggs God Dammit! I had eggs, again, for breakfast. I’ve ordered a hit on Humpty Dumpty.

OMG E.GG.s again.
OMG E.GG.s again.

Today is my “travel day”. My alarm was set for 1:30 AM. No matter which airport I choose and no matter how I do the math, it’s five hours from alarm to wheels up. I will admit, and you will probably agree, I am more than just a little OCD about arriving at the airport with ample time. Okay, with time to spare. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard, but traveling for work as much as I do, I feel quite at home in airports, and, sadly, rather enjoy them. I could live in O’Hare like Tom Hanks in Terminal. So!

I left precisely thirteen minutes later than I’d hoped, but, I made it to the airport and parked exactly three minutes ahead of schedule. Living in Napa, adding significant time and no less than four highways to my commute, I allow more time than every App I own tells me I need. Have you noticed that every highway, roadway, boulevard, avenue, street, road, lane, and path are under some kind of construction? I travel all over the U.S. and it’s the same story everywhere. I’m quite certain it has a lot to do with Federal funding and money grabs. For the rest of us, it means one lane open out of four at any time of the day or night. I plan accordingly. I cannot imagine anything more stressful than being late for a flight. Well, actually, I can, but not in my daily life.

My flight was rather uneventful, thankfully. I didn’t get a first class upgrade, but because of my status, I had an “Economy Plus” aisle seat, which is the next best thing. So I was happy. For a minute. I had a chubby lady next to me who was also an arm rest hog. And snored. Next to her, an over talkative, gushing new mom and her seven month old baby girl. I will admit, the kid was cute, but she’d be a lot cuter further back in the plane. Miracle of miracles, she was quiet with only the occasional “happy sounds” for the whole three hour and forty minute flight. The baby , that is.

Once in Chicago, I gathered my luggage. The cool thing about status with United is that my bags are usually among the first off the plane. I took the bus to the car rental agency and, since I use National and have Executive status with them, I get to choose any car parked in my area and drive off. I don’t usually have really cool cars to choose from, though I’ve had a Mustang, a Charger and a Challenger. Today, sitting there, beckoning, was a Nissan Exterra. All but one passenger on the bus was headed for the Executive lot. I may have broken into a jog, towing two large purple suitcases behind me. I launched those suitcases into the cargo area as fast as I could heave the, jumped into the driver’s seat and took off. I haven’t had the opportunity to drive one, ever, and thought it would be fun!

It was fun! It’s a speedy little SUV, very quick to accelerate. A little twitchy at high speeds on the Interstate that is made rough from all the big rigs. But, I was able to deftly maneuver, at rather accelerated speeds, around all those big rigs and make my way, in short order, to a Whole Foods for sustenance.

It is sort of a loose mission, not formally stated, and likely not achievable, to visit every Whole Foods in the country. As there are whole states I haven’t visited yet, there are likely to be some missed locations. But, I am fairly certain I am gaining ground in Chicagoland. Today, I found yet another. And not entirely easy, nor by design. I really didn’t want to go downtown today, I’m saving that for Saturday. I was aiming for a Whole Foods in the burbs along my route. So I set off and thought I’d leave it to Siri. I’d ask Siri, while driving and taking pictures and video, for directions to the nearest Whole Foods. She kept wanting me to make a U-turn and head in the opposite direction. No matter where I asked her, that seemed to be her intent. I have a voice activated Garmin GPS I named Armando, though I don’t know why. I asked Armando for directions and he is way more categorical than Siri. He never even found a Whole Foods, ahead or behind me. So, I finally had to follow Siri’s advice, make a U-turn, pay another toll, and go where she wanted me to. But, at least, at the end of the exercise I had good food and a couple of promising bottles of wine to sustain me through the week.

I was headed for Michigan City, Indiana. I’ve been there a few times before. It is sort of a mid-western, meat and potatoes, twelve starches with dinner, gravy on top, corporate chain kind of a town. My only hope is a supply of wholesome, organic food to nosh on for at least two meals out of the day. The city is perched on the shores of Lake Michigan and you can, painfully, see the Chicago skyline far off, across the lake. The only “skyline” Michigan City has is the nuclear plant and the casino. Neither of which I find very appealing. The nuclear plant is actually right on the beach. The beach itself is really nice. Sandy and wide, with nice homes set close together along the edge on Lakeshore Drive. The “uptown” part of town looks like it’s trying really, really hard to be vital and artsy. I just don’t think the population is there to support it. There are some outlet shops immediately adjacent to the power plant. I generally try to avoid outlet stores, yesterday being a unique exception. I was desperate.

I arrived in Michigan City with my wholesome food for breakfasts and lunches. I checked in to my hotel, one I’ve stayed at before. The casino has a hotel but is clear across town, and I’m really not a huge fan of casinos. So, I stayed at the next best hotel, which is barely more than a motel. A very low-end chain hotel. But, it’s clean. Usually. And quiet. Usually. I lug all my groceries in with me and head to the counter to check in. Because I’m a member of their rewards program, I get a “treat bag”. It is chock full of all the stuff I don’t eat, including my favorite food in the whole world; Oreos. I. Think. I. Can. Resist. We’ll see.

My Whole Foods loot.
My Whole Foods loot.
My "gift" from the hotel. "Thank you for your loyalty to our chain, here is some crap."
My “gift” from the hotel. “Thank you for your loyalty to our chain, here is some crap.”

Since I’ve been here before, I’ve already explored the restaurant scene. I don’t like corporate chain restaurants. I can eat at those any old time in any old city, and, frankly, I’d rather eat tomatoes and dried kale in my room, it’s at least more imaginative than the menu offerings at all the usual restaurants; Applebee’s, Bob Evans, Gold Corral, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Chilis. You get the idea. Open Table comes up zilch and I can’t get Yelp to load. I have 4G and full coverage (not LTE, though), but I can’t even get Google on my phone. Must be some weird force or aura or static or interference, while I look at the nuclear plant steaming away about five feet from the center of town. No. I trust nuclear power. Really, I support it. But at least give us the illusion of safety, like Sacramento did when Rancho Seco was live, build it way the fuck out of town. I know it wasn’t far enough out of town, but out of sight, out of mind. When the steam from the tower frizzes your hair, it’s too close!

After about three trips through town, gazing into all the vacant storefronts, I finally spot a Lebanese restaurant and stopped in for a fantastic dinner. And it wasn’t eggs! That was the highlight of my night, after which, I returned to the hotel to enjoy a glass of wine. But, once in my room, I just couldn’t abide by drinking wine from a disposable, plastic cup for yet another trip. I went to, heaven help me, Wal-Mart, which I could hit with a rock from my hotel window, if I tried. Really hard. I found a plastic, stemless wine glass for $1.97 and bought it. I swear it improved my experience. I’ll just keep it in my suitcase, along with my silverware, bowls, spices and wine bottle opener. Hey, when you live out of a suitcase, you may as well make it home. Right?

WalMart. I can see effing WalMart from my window. I AM in hell.
WalMart. I can see effing WalMart from my window. I AM in hell.

 

Cedar Pita in Michigan City , IN. If, for whatever reason or whatever misfortune lands you here, this is a bright spot.
Cedar Pita in Michigan City , IN. If, for whatever reason or whatever misfortune lands you here, this is a bright spot.

I enjoyed my wine, a Sonoma old vine zinfandel, and wrote, talked on the phone with my Sweetheart and prepared for my day tomorrow.

A really nice Sonoma County old vine Zinfandel, purchased at a Whole Foods is Chi-Town.
A really nice Sonoma County old vine Zinfandel, purchased at a Whole Foods is Chi-Town.

Today is National Spumoni Day and National Senior Citizens Day and I didn’t celebrate either of those things. I will have to celebrate with Mom when I get home, at almost ninety, she is definitely a senior citizen. We’ll have spumoni! Party on Wayne! Party on Garth!

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 10, 2013

When I woke up I was in bed, not the truck , and it was late morning. The salmon saga was to continue. There were two large coolers full of fresh caught, wild red salmon. Have you priced this in the stores lately? Precious, fresh caught, wild, red salmon. A valuable commodity that took an incredible amount of time and effort to obtain. We needed to be sure it was all taken care of as quickly as possible to maintain its freshness.

As we pulled the first fish out of the cooler it was still in rigor mortis. A good sign. Once this stage has passed, the freshness has already deteriorated. Did you know that? So, how fresh are the chunks of cellophane wrapped fish you buy at the market? Or the super expensive ones, on ice, in the fish case? Or the “flash frozen” filets you buy by the bag out of the freezer case at Target? The ones that you pay extra for because the label says “fresh caught wild salmon?” They’re stiff only because they’re nearly frozen. Or are frozen. Or they aren’t stiff at all. I promise you, they aren’t still in rigor mortis and aren’t as fresh as the fish we unloaded from the cooler onto the kitchen island today. What a rare treat for a suburban, Cali-Girl, Whole Foods shopper! And I live near the coast. I still can’t buy fish this fresh.

We enlisted the help of the neighbor which made the work much more fun and much more efficient. Of course wine and music were involved! The work, itself, consisting of fileting some of the salmon and putting them in freezer bags for freezing. Fileting salmon is a skill and one I didn’t personally take on. Just yet. I did observe and even took a video so I could do it, if I had to, on my own, some day. Just in case the opportunity to fish for salmon presents itself when I return to California, or return, again, to Alaska. Which it will. And which I will. In fileting a salmon, everything is preserved and used. The fins are often given to friends with sled dogs to be incorporated into their feed. The “backs”, so, the spine and ribs, are placed in another bag for later enjoyment. A real treat, and considered almost a delicacy by those who have had them before. I, personally, could eat salmon, in any form, just about everyday, and I actually come pretty close. I eat small portions, so one of these fish would probably last me about twelve meals. I think. We froze some larger portions and some smaller portions. I am, in fact, enjoying, at this very moment, some salmon strips I brought home with me. I like them more than Oreos, I swear, and have been known to just stand with the Ziploc bag and eat one after the other until they’re all gone. They are a treat that don’t last long and should be savored and rationed, but I just can’t seem to help myself. Nom, nom, nom!

We also “jarred” some fish, this actually being the preferred salmon of many. When “jarring” salmon, the common practice is to leave the skin and bones intact, providing calcium and other nutrients with the fish. The fish is cut and placed into canning jars, a little salt added, sometimes some jalapeños, too, for a little kick. The jars of fish are then prepared for canning and pressure cooked for an hour and half. You can eat the salmon, as is, out of the jar, or use it for salmon recipes or sandwich filling. Good stuff! Really, it may not seem like “canned” fish with the bones and the skin would be very appetizing, but it is fantastic! And it makes for the very best salmon sandwiches you’ve ever eaten, not at all like buying canned salmon at the grocery store, this actually has taste and texture and nutritive value with minimal processing.

As focused as I am on the food I eat, the number of processes any food I consume goes through, the nutritive value, the quality, the source, the handling, the purity, etc., being able to see the fish caught, cleaned and “processed” was a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. One of the things I so appreciate about Alaska and the people, is their reverence for food and the amount of time, effort and dedication that goes into catching, hunting, growing and gathering much of the food they will depend on for the long, dark winter. Brief is the summer and the long days of daylight. Every waking moment, and there are more waking moments in those long hours of daylight, is devoted to preparing for the long winter cold. And yet, there is joy and fun and fellowship in all that is accomplished. There are ample opportunities for recreation and adventure because that is as much a part of life and preparing for the winter months as the sun is to the summer. I am in awe and have so much admiration and respect for this way of life.

For lunch, as we waited for the first batch of jars to pressure cook, fish backs were fried up, with much anticipation by everyone, and a little trepidation by me. They smelled delicious, of course, and when done are eaten much like corn on the cob. You pull the salmon meet gingerly off the rib bones and spine with your teeth, and, truly, there is nothing like it. Nom, nom, nom! I could eat these all day. For the sake of modesty, I think I quit at four.

We continued jarring the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Dinnertime rolled around and, again, salmon backs were fried up! I couldn’t be happier! Salmon, wine, friends, music, and a task to keep the hands busy. To some, a day of cutting up fish, bagging and jarring it, then eating the scraps, may sound like penance for some misdeed. Until you’ve actually been involved in the process, from start to finish, I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate the joy that comes from “farm to table”, as we like to call it in Cali, from source to supply. Bon apetit!

 

A cooler full of the freshest fish ever!
A cooler full of the freshest fish ever!
Rigor motris! Yes!
Rigor motris! Yes!
Filet of fish. Not McDonalds style.
Filet of fish. Not McDonalds style.
Jars.
Jars.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Patience.
Patience.
Fried fish backs! Nom! Nom! Nom!
Fried fish backs! Nom! Nom! Nom!

An Effort to Evolve

All done! Jarred salmon! Yum!
All done! Jarred salmon! Yum!

Scarlett’s Letter July 5, 2013

Today was sort of a low key, high-accomplishment day. We stuck close to home and had no real plan other than to pick away at stuff and see where the day took us.

One task that needed to be completed was the “chukar relocation project”. Chukars are a bird, a partridge, actually, and there were twenty of them in a cage next to the porch, growing bigger and more feathered by the day. Once big enough, they have a large pen behind the greenhouse where they will live out their days. Some will, well, become dinner, others will be “wintered over” and hopefully will breed enough to supply food, and possibly birds to sell, next year. Their pen was located near the porch, the garage and the front door in hopes that the birds would become accustomed to people and if not tame, at least calm. No such luck. Birdbrains.

The neighbors came up to assist in the effort. We figured this was going to be a big chore and we could use the help, all told, we were done in about fifteen minutes. The birds were caught in a dip net (used for fishing) and handed to us one at a time to be carried around the house and into the pen. In carrying them, the bird’s legs were held firmly between our fingers and the other hand was place on top, sort of like a running back carefully protecting the football while navigating towards the goal posts. One of us caught, two of us ran back and forth, the fourth managed the door to the pen. A couple of times, several birds were caught in the net and we just carried the net back to free the birds into the pen. And, yes, there was a mishap, and of course, it was me. If anyone was going to accidently free a bird it was bound to be me. My klutzitude is substantial, especially after having been carefully warned of the consequences. If you tell me “don’t let go no matter what”, I will let go. This, I cannot explain other than the powers of visualization and manifestation. As soon as you tell me not to let go and what will happen if I do, I visualize it and it manifests. Visualization and manifestation can be a very powerful and useful skill, or tool, to develop in life, but not when used involuntarily in visualizing that which you don’t want to happen. Welcome to my world. I’m working on it. So, yes, I let go of one of the birds, the very untamed and impossible to catch birds. I could feel the little bird legs slipping out from between my fingers. I was struggling to regain my grasp and the bird started flapping furiously before I could get my hand over his (or her) back. I am grateful for two things; my man is a very patient man and, the neighbor is a fast and agile man. The stray bird was caught and placed in the pen with the rest.

In Alaska, at least the Alaska I am witness to, there is an unspoken code; if someone helps you out with something, you reciprocate. I know this unspoken code exists elsewhere, in more rural communities certainly, but I think it is beginning to be less and less so in newer suburban neighborhoods where people often don’t even know their neighbors. The code may exist within families or groups of friends, but rarely with people who just happen to live near you. I have lived in newer suburban neighborhoods, for years at a time, where we knew no neighbors. People just came and went, managed their lives, and barely made eye contact. A pensive “hello” may be exchanged if people passed one another on a narrow sidewalk, sometimes, though, the greeting would go unanswered. This is not the case here.

So, after the chukar relocation project, we visited the neighbors and worked on “the bus” for a bit. “The bus” being an old school bus that is being converted into a recreational vehicle with a loo, complete with a shower, a kitchen and a rooftop bedroom and redwood deck. It has been fun to watch progress with each visit I make, and has now even made a successful voyage.

The natural progression of these neighborly exchanges is a shared meal at one place or the other. So, we hosted dinner; moose roast, salmon, salad, veggies, and fixings and trimmings galore. As is also our custom, we killed a few bottles of wine in the process, most were enjoyed after dinner while playing the worst (in a good, but oh so bad way) card game ever, “Cards Against Humanity”. We have played this before and I’m pretty certain another unwritten code is that when visiting Alaska, thou shalt bring the game.

My son told me about this game a few months ago. As my kids were growing up we often played “Apples to Apples”, a game of matching words and phrases into logical, or funny, or totally illogical and hilarious combinations, and then taking turns “judging” the combinations to determine the winner of each round. “Cards Against Humanity” is similar but extremely adult, and twisted, on many, many, many levels. If you have the opportunity to check out either of these games, considering the audience carefully, do so.

A day without a real plan, or direction, turned out to be a very full, very accomplished, very rewarding and very social day.

Chukars = birdbrains
Chukars = birdbrains

 

Toxic

As I smeared deodorant/antiperspirant all over my armpits this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder; is this going to be what kills me? Everything we do, everything we use, everything we eat, drink, breathe or absorb into our skin contains some level of “toxins” that alter the way our bodies function, believed to contribute to disease and chronic health conditions. We wonder why diabetes and cancer and other horrible, life-threatening diseases seem to be on the rise; the answer is all around us. On us. In us.

I try to buy and use “non-toxic”, “natural”, “organic” products whenever I can, but, quite frankly, they don’t all work as well as the more chemically based products on the market. Deodorant being one. I have tried several “natural” varieties and they, quite literally, stink. Going without has not worked well, either. I value my friendships.

In reading and re-reading and re-reading again (and again) Jillian Michaels “Master Your Metabolism …”, I am convinced that the more pure food and products we use, the more pure our environment (home and yard) can be, the better. True, we can’t be in control of every aspect, for example, this week, my mother’s gardener put highly toxic chemicals all over the lawns. I can smell them from inside the house, days later. I can also smell something coming from the dishwasher, a steam tainted with a quasi-lemon-“flavored” chemical substance. I use organic products to wash my dishes, but I have a hard time avoiding the toxic steam coming from the kitchen. But, again, I can’t help but think, the more I do, the more I will benefit.

Cleaning products, personal care products, air pollution, impure and over treated water supplies, genetically modified foods, chemical ingredients in food, pest-control products in our homes and on our pets and even on our skin, lawn and garden products, everything. There really, truly is no escape. So, the best we can do is to try to limit our use and ingestion of “toxic” products. Not that it’s a lost cause if we can’t eliminate them all, really, any measures we can take will be beneficial. Just remember, all we can do is all we can do, but something is better than nothing. Dabbling is always better than wallowing.

There are toxins in our homes, toxins in our environment. But that’s not all. “Toxins” exist in other aspects of our lives, too. There are toxins in our mind in the manner of toxic thoughts. Any thought that does not serve to promote our goals, to enhance our self-esteem, our growth as an individual, our happiness is toxic and should be avoided, removed and an alternative used in it’s place.

The “egoic” voice, as my yoga instructor calls it, our “superficial” voice, that voice in our head that talks and talks and talks all day, and sometimes, all night, very often is toxic. Listen to that voice. Actually, don’t. Identify it, and disregard it. Today, I caught my superficial voice tell myself, twice, that I’m fat. I’m not at all fat, I’m a size six. I caught that voice tell myself that my nose is crooked. So what, whose isn’t? The plastic surgeon’s wife, and that’s about it. And who cares. It adds character. Today, I caught my superficial voice tell myself I’m stupid. Wrong, again. Our superficial voice tries to make us irritable, grumpy, impatient, intolerant, judgmental, overindulgent, critical, controlling, and so much more. Have you noticed? Do. Treat that superficial voice, your egoic voice, as though it were toxic. Quickly neutralize it and replace it with something more wholesome and pure, your inner voice, your true voice. Find that inner voice, deep inside you, fueled by your true desires, your goals, your values and replace the toxic, superficial voice with what your true voice has to say. The true voice is “organic”, but it is polite and quiet, like all truly great leaders. Give your true voice a chance to lead, neutralize the toxic voice and you’ll find a level of happiness develop within your life you only ever imagined possible. Think of your true voice like Gandhi, Buddha, or the Dalai Lama and your superficial voice as Hitler, Saddam Hussein or Kim Jung Il. That should give you some perspective. The best resource I have found here is a book by Richard Carlson PhD “You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles for Keeping Life in Perspective”, and, for the record, any book he recommends is equally as valuable. I’ve read them all.

What other toxins poison our lives? Toxins within us that pollute our relationships, whether friendships, family relationships, working relationships, marriages or other long-term committed relationships. What are these toxins? Jealousy, deceit, dishonesty, control, and probably the worst enemy of just about everything, complacency. True, it is nearly impossible to completely eradicate these toxins from our natural disposition. With the help of our organic, inner voice, though, we can gain an upper hand on most of these relationship toxins once we’ve identified them. We can turn the tide on almost any relationship, as long as it isn’t abusive, by replacing toxic behavior with wholesome behavior. This. Takes. Practice. The behaviors that will benefit a relationship, any type of relationship are integrity, honesty, compassion, understanding, the act of genuine and active listening, tolerance, acceptance, interest and attentiveness. Just like replacing the toxic cleansers we use in our home with natural-based products, we can replace toxic behavior with behaviors that will grow our relationship, which will bolster it, that will deepen it, that will improve it. The best resource I can recommend for additional information is a book by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn, “The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships”.

While we’re talking about people in our lives, are there people with toxicity causing disease and dysfunction in our lives? It is a harsh assessment, but, sadly, necessary. In discussing relationships, above, I mentioned that any relationship was salvageable, as long as it wasn’t abusive. If you are in an abusive relationship, of any type, GET OUT and GET HELP!  If you are the abuser, GET HELP! An abusive relationship is most certainly toxic, and, again, can be any kind of relationship; friends, coworkers, family, significant others. It matters not the who of an abusive relationship, what matters is that you remove yourself from it. Fast. And find some support. Now.

If you are in a relationship that isn’t abusive, but is toxic, then you need to weigh some alternatives and make a move. Something has to change. Just like all toxins in our lives, toxic relationships have no place and we either need to neutralize them, or get rid of them. Harsh, I know, but true. You cannot begin to be who you deserve to be if someone, through their toxicity, is undermining your self-esteem, your self-confidence, your motivation, your energy and your enthusiasm.

Toxic relationships often have certain, easily identifiable elements; usually the toxic party is negative, most of the time. They may think in very black and white terms, all good or bad, they always need to be right, it’s their way or the highway. Most often, they are takers, but not givers. Their own lives tend to be extremely chaotic and that’s all they’re willing to talk about. Toxic people are usually needy and seek to become instant friends or lovers or partners and they will often idealize you, at first. Toxic people are usually passive/aggressive and can be manipulative, even exploitive. They are extremely judgmental. Toxic people are seldom satisfied, they always seek more and whatever you give is never quite enough, is denied or completely dismissed. Toxic people are needy and require constant attention, reassurance and validation, they are self-involved, self-absorbed, and not only are they only focused on their own needs, insecurities and emotions, but insist that your attentions also be so focused. Does this sound like anyone you know? Yes? So, what to do?

When we have toxic people around us, and especially when those toxic people are folks we simply can’t just “unfriend”, like on Facebook, we have to figure out how to deal. Distance is good, unless “the toxin” is close enough to you (as in, perhaps, spouse or family) that you can suggest they seek some professional guidance. I’m sure, if you’re like me, you have no limit of toxic people in your life. Usually, “unfriending” or “divorcing” these people, either literally or figuratively, while a solution, winds us up with a certain amount of regret. If we aren’t in a position to suggest they seek help, then distance and infrequency is, perhaps, a workable solution. Unless a relationship is seriously toxic, perhaps limited exposure is better than “unfriending”. Just like any toxin, if you must be exposed, limited exposure is best. I suppose we have to determine the level of toxicity, our ability to distance ourselves, or “limit” our exposure, and then execute a plan from there. It isn’t an easy topic. Identifying toxic people is FAR easier than knowing what to do about them.

In an effort to evolve into more healthy, happy, productive and fulfilled people, we need to care for ourselves on several levels; physical, environmental, mental, interpersonal, and emotional. One of the key things we can do to this end is identify things that will impede our progress or undermine our efforts. Toxins are high on that list, in every realm. Look around you. What’s toxic? Look within you, What’s toxic? Let’s do everything we can to remove toxins from our lives!