Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Self-portrait Series Plate IV

I like to call this, "I just need to make it to Tuesday"

I find the exercise of drawing my own face both satisfying and frustrating. I want to be objective, but I find myself softening the exhaustion in my expression and brightening the corners of my eyes after a grueling day. Its hard to see yourself sometimes. Maybe there is just no objectivity to be had with the self.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Memorial Day.
I sit on the patio at Starbucks. Freedom tastes like an iced Americano. Bitter and sweet.
Ironic, my drink, this drink that GI's in WWII substituted for coffee in Italy, missing their families, and sometimes never returning home, must have been the last taste of freedom for many people. And here I sit in the shade, with a nice breeze, considering what to do with my day, something I surely take for granted.

If you haven't been to Washington since the WWII memorial was built, you should put it on your list. The fountains are ghostly and the monument itself is a stoic reminder of the price of freedom. Today, freedom might taste bitter like espresso, sweet like barbecue, cold as chilled watermelon. Savor your holiday with gratitude for the sacrifice of those who secured that privilege for you, and their loved ones.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Change of Pace

Does absence make the heart grow fonder when your blogger goes AWOL for a while? I'm sorry, things have been really crazy and I've been exploring other expressive outlets over the past few months. I probably miss you more than you miss my blathering anyway...

In the spirit of compelled expression, and since I've been drawing a lot more than writing lately, I wanted to share with you my latest project, one where I'm exploring expressing myself through facial expressions, drawin in self-portraits. I have a lot to say, but lately these emotions tend to bubble out of my face instead of flowing from my keyboard. I like to call this the 'conference call series', since usually I am making these expressions while on mute on a conference call, the way I spend a lot of my day. I find the act of drawing myself is impossible to do with any objectivity, as the overall mood and conditions have a lot to do with the subtle nuances I include. Nonverbally, I'm a buffet of 'tells', spilling out amusement, impatience, agression, and boredom at will. Each of these drawings has become somewhat of a caricature of my daily experience. Work, home, energy level, all are represented here. It's a fascinating process, you should try drawing yourself and then analyze the results.

Plate #1, 'Working on a Travel Day'

I see tired edges around unusually large eyes. I've been taking in information all day, trying to 'see' enough to prepare for the week ahead. In contrast, the mouth is very small, perhaps because I am in 'listen only' mode, or because I consider my input less important than seeing. While I might sometimes look like a gypsy, it's exaggerated in this drawing, perhaps because I'm trying to see this week's future, or conjure up the right potion for a successful training.















Plate #2, "Afternoon Training"

Here, I am focused elsewhere, maybe on my audience. I'm tilting my head to the right, which is something I do when I'm trying to listen intently since my left ear hears best. I see a hint of a smile, enjoying myself, but the slightly stern mouth means business. There might be a slight impatience in this expression, like someone has been asking a very long question and I'm ready to respond, but waiting my turn.
It's an interesting exercise to try to perceive yourself from the outside. Maybe I started doing this because of the mindfulness challenge, paying attention to things I wouldn't normally observe. That is, after all, the point.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Painted a Day Once

My morning.
Beneath yellow walls,
I sat cross-legged,
As the sun rose.

Motionless.
Only a glow shined,
Behind morning fog,
As steady she climbed.

My clock rings.
"Awaken, dear girl.
Your room is sunny,
When the world is cold"

Afternoon.
By the pond, I sit
Watching blueberries
Threatening to split.

New lilies,
Fight the mist to breathe.
Gasping new blossoms,
Await dew's reprieve.
A fish jumps.
Startling the bees,
They're instantly back
Buzzing through leaves.

Twilight. Dusk.
The crickets all cheer,
"Fuck all this dampness!
It's finally clear!"

Black night sky,
The fog a memory,
A satellite travels,
It's lone arc'ed journey.

My midnight
Cross-legged, yet again.
Alone in the grass
Gazing up at my friends.

Perseus,
Saturn in Leo,
Thin hazy half-moon,
Rising up behind me.

Believing, while...
Sunny days, I have known,
When yours starts out gray,
To end up in this place,
You just paint it yellow.

Believing, while
Sunny days I have known
When yours starts out gray
To end up in this place,
You just paint it yellow.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Raise Your Hand If You Like Pot Bellies - Raise IT!

You know what, kids? I'm letting go of something.

I know everyone has that part of their body that they hate, it's too fat, or too flabby, or too big or small, or too pasty, wrinkly, disproportionate... No matter how many hours on the treadmill, or personal trainers, or in some cases, plastic surgeries, you can't let it go. Well, I'm done. I'm done with the kind of self-loathing that makes every touch of my waistband a reminder that my pot belly hangs over my trousers and I'll never escape the dreaded muffin-top.

I'm just done. We all prescribe to an ideal that a certain figure is right, thin, svelte, even curvy is acceptable, but there isn't even a faction of the public that finds a beer gut sexy. I want to change that. I declare from now on, pot bellies are IN. In one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, the sneetches fight and ultimately destroy themselves by wishing their bellies were different. Adorned or not, they wanted something else, well I'm done. I'll never have sculpted abs, because genetics and my lifestyle make that out of reach. I'll never have a flat tummy, and instead of resenting it each time I eat too many german pretzels, swallowed down with beer, I'm going to love it. And encourage others to love it too. Have you seen it? It actually is quite lovely when I'm not looking down upon it... Not only does it look nothing like it does in my mind, it's a beautiful reminder of the things that feed me in life. I'm well-fed by love and tasty food, good wine, great literature, excellent music, and I've soaked all of those things up into a little pillow of happiness behind my belly button. The times in my life when I haven't had a belly have been empty of those things. I don't need to go back.

We should all step away from the things we hate about ourselves. Self-loathing is for anorexics. I want to replace my own loathe with love, and here's how I started. I photographed myself in full potbellied regalia. This is what real women look like, lumpy and pale, and usually hidden from view. You should try it, take a piece of you that you hate, stand in the mirror, and snap a pic with your phone or camera. See it through a lens and see if you can find something beautiful about it. Mine makes me want to paint a star on it like the sneetches, and wear it out for everyone to see. I'm starting a beautiful belly club. I dare you to start a beautiful nose/thighs/love handles/back fat club. I'm not feeding that kind of self-loathing anymore, but I'll cook anyone dinner who is willing to love the extra flab I'm feeding.

I understand - from Maria DeMedeiros' character in Pulp Fiction, at least - that some societies find pot bellies sexy. Let's make ours one of them.



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Rich Dives One Last Time

We lost a poet today. Adrienne Rich slipped into the deep from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, another one of these badass autoimmune disorders. She takes with her an era of pure thought cloaked in controversy. I really admire a lady with the kind of balls she had, unafraid to talk about women's rights, motherhood, love between women and even war. She contributed to the 20th century repertoire, some of the most hauntingly metaphoric poems I've ever loved. Read them. My favorite:

Diving Into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
abroad the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it's a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or week

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
and I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
Obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to the scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Adrienne Rich

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Belong Among The Wildflowers

I'm somewhat infamous for my penchant for the dramatic...

I know it. I'm an introspective gal. I have this curious habit of marking places in my life that feel different, like a rough cuticle over smooth silk... snagging and catching along the otherwise even and unchanging landscape of my life. I passed another one today, and thankfully, for a few hours was stuck there.

I may have told you on our desert trip that at some point I switched my camera on full manual and never looked back, and the few times I have gone back to 'auto' I've been disappointed by the results. That was a big deal for me. I don't use a fancy camera, mine is 6 years old, I bought it well-used, and I'm using a kit lens that came with it. There have never been any smoke and mirrors involved in my photos, since I'm a 'tard at editing and can't afford a better rig. So the day I became happy with the photos I produce, without help, is a big deal. I am not a photographer. My husband is, and a very talented one, at that. I've been involved in the business as his event planner and organizer - sometimes backing him up at events. But today, I shot some things I'm proud of. And because I'm a 'tard at editing, you'll get to see them raw and untouched. I'm even too lazy to crop. Feel free to take a stab at cleaning them up for me. I said they were my best, not the best.

This weekend I had the opportunity to wear the right kind of eyes and experience the Texas Hill Country for its rugged magnificence. Most of the day on Saturday, I drove winding roads up and down hills through land adorned with wildflowers so beautiful they would make you cry. I cried a lot. Mostly at the fact that I had left my camera at home and couldn't look at them later. So today, I packed up my camera, waited for the end of the work day and fought Austin traffic out...

I only posted a few here, find the rest in the gallery.

P.S. Picasa is an asshole, so I can't organize the gallery... enjoy chronological order in the gallery. Grr.






Friday, March 23, 2012

I Don't Like It, But I'm a Robot and an Animal.

I might have commitment issues.

I've been doing this mindfulness challenge now for almost a quarter of the year, and trying to faithfully uphold the challenges as they come along. Some have been easier than others, but I haven't found one yet that proves impossible for me. That is, until this week.

You'll notice I'm late posting this week's recap and challenge. That's because I'm committed to fully attending to it until I tell you all about it. Well, I suck, that's all there is to it. Not at everything, but certainly this one thing... and it turns out, it's pretty important.

This week, I've been tasked to do something very simple, and taken it to a level that I felt it resonate. The challenge in the book reads:
Each time you hear a telephone ring, chime or buzz, stop what you are doing and take three mindful breaths to settle the mind before answering.
I don't know about you, but these noises are incessant during my day. I have two mobile phones. One of them chimes each time I get an email (I do work in IT) and the other has plenty of text messages, Facebook alerts and CNN updates throughout the day BEFORE it ever rings for a call. It's really hard, extremely hard, like - not eating another Lay's potato chip, hard - or not saying 'bless you' to someone who sneezes, hard - or (if you're compulsive like me) not counting every occurrence of "buy-in" on each conference call, hard...

not to look THE SECOND they alert.

At one point, I thought of disabling the alerts for things that didn't need my attention completely, but I decided that would defeat some of the purpose, so I kept all of the (now horrifyingly annoying) sounds: chimes, beeps, clicks, rings, tones, music, and buzzes turned on.

I do enjoy my commitment to the project, and the fact that when I find I can't comply, I don't just skip to the next chapter because I've sat for the prescribed week with this one. Commitment isn't always bad. It's nice to know I'm consistent with my compulsion, the same thing that makes it impossible for me think before looking at my iPhone also makes it impossible for me to half-ass this challenge - but, uh... geez.

Okay, so I'm stuck. Until I can feel like at least half of my phones' noises don't compel me to pick the device up, I can't move on. So let's examine that for a second: compulsion. We're compelled to do a lot of things.
  • Clean up your table in a busy lunchroom so someone can have your spot
  • Appear at jury duty
  • Ask someone how their day is going when they make eye contact in the elevator
  • Hush a crying baby
  • Swat gnats flying in your eyeballs
  • Reciprocate
  • Pick up the phone and call for takeout
  • Bite your fingernails
If you look at the motivations behind all of these compulsions - and they are compulsions, no one genuinely cares how your day is going - they're all things that probably compel us more than we'd like. Politeness, the law, social norms, someone else's comfort, your own comfort, the weird laws of balance in the universe, your hungry tummy, your subconscious distress with your upbringing - all of these things make us mindless.

At one point, during a conversation today, I stuttered long enough to take a breath, and found what I was about to say entirely compulsory. I didn't mean it, I didn't want to say it, and it didn't have to come out of my mouth. This is the kind of control it takes to breathe before you answer the phone. Seems easy, but we're robots when it comes to these things. Until I have a decent handle on compulsion, I can't move on... I can't stop picking my cuticles long enough to write this blog, much less answer a Pavlovian tone on my phone with pause. Once a day is not enough. I feel like a bell goes off and I salivate - for the email or call or badge or whatever. I'm in control, not the bell.

Here's hoping this doesn't take all year!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Hear You.

Mindfulness, week 9.

Wrapping up this week's challenge, allowing yourself to be aware of all the sounds around you, enveloping you, existing outside your person... I sit on the couch listening to what I'm pretty sure is a rodent. I'll have to investigate further.

I have a lot of observations this week. I have been in relative silence, and spent a considerable amount of time saturated in sounds this past week. Here's what I noticed:
  • I'm deeply affected by sound quality. If I'm listening to something that is distorted or off-key, or out of place, that distracts me to a fault... I can't hear anything but imperfection. On Saturday, my friend got married in a church and the pianist played an out-of-tune baby grand. I couldn't concentrate for the overwhelming urge to stop the ugly noise coming from this beautiful instrument.
  • I'm sensitive to volume. I have a friend who is losing his hearing and listens to everything REALLY loud. I couldn't concentrate then either, but mostly because my fillings were vibrating. When he wasn't around, I found myself very aware of how loud my speakers/headphones/stereo were, and turning it down until I was happy with the volume, but also able to listen without body tension. It literally tenses me up to be around music that is too loud and somehow imperfect (see distortion).
  • Sound can alert us to our surroundings. I found a moth in the kitchen, and also this rodent in the walls because I was listening where I wouldn't have before. It's remarkable when we scan our environment and recognize things that are calling out to us.
  • It's painful. I literally have the sensation of pain with some noises, this afternoon... each time I would scrub the bathtub, I'd flinch a little because the racket of the scotch brite against the porcelain was making me recoil. I must take care not to harm myself with these noises if I can help it.
  • I use sound to disconnect. Both in a good and bad way. I like to check out, and use my headphones to do it. Last night, when I wanted to write in a busy place, I plugged into music to distract me. Sometimes this is bad... like when I'm walking in the grocery store and can't hear someone call my name because I'm isolating the world, while walking around in it.
  • Sounds have a comfort associated with their rhythm. It's the repeat that makes us calmed by sound. I like the noise of a wet street outside, it plugs me into my environment. Some people find this with traffic, or trains, or something that repeats outside their door in an environment they enjoy. The voice of your mother was the first thing you listened to on repeat, and it likely still has an effect on you. I experienced this firsthand talking to Mom this week.
  • I have a pair of shoes that have a terribly annoying squeak. I hate squeaks, long before mindfulness, I hated them. Basketball on TV, no way. Mushrooms squeaking against my teeth when I bite, get out. I can't have it on my favorite flip-flops too.
I hope you've been able to tune in a little to your environment this week. Listen carefully.

Doesn't everyone do this?

I find myself doing this thing lately when I can't sleep - which is increasingly often. If I'm laying in bed and have been for a while, I'll imagine all of the things that might happen if I don't get out of bed. Some of them are reasonable, like if I never get out of bed, I might get really hungry since I have to get up to eat. Others are less reasonable... This morning, for example, I laid in bed for a good hour and a half or so, and the better portion of that time was spent imagining all of the ways I could be responsible for the house burning down if I don't get out of bed. Seems like a remote possibility, I know, that if I don't move an inch, the house could spontaneously burst into flames... but roll with me for a second: If I don't get up, it could cloud over by this afternoon. A spring thunderstorm might sweep through Austin, filling the creek behind the house, and snapping thunder overhead. If I'm still in bed (and starving at this point) it's possible that lightning could hit the tree outside, dropping a flaming dead limb on the house. It would quickly burn through the roof and the house would go up in smoke. Not that me getting out of bed could prevent that scenario, I'm not superwoman or anything, the most I could do to prevent catastrophe is weakly try to pull the limb down off the roof or dial 911, but at least if I was out of bed by then, the house wouldn't burn with me inside.


Another fiery possibility... while I'm laying here, listening to the veritable forest canopy outside this tree house, a hobo could scale the back patio... rummage through the contents of the washer and dryer, then let himself in the unlocked sliding glass door. Once inside, he could decide he wants some toast, and not finding a toaster, preheat the oven. While he's getting the bread ready for toasting, he might see the plethora of alcoholic drinks in the fridge, and, unable to stop himself, drink all of it while sitting on the couch watching TMZ. As he snoozes on the couch, the bread catches fire in the oven and sparks a kitchen fire that burns the whole house down. I die with celebrity gossip ringing in my ears. At least this scenario could be prevented by me getting my ass out of bed and locking the back door... or at least posting myself as sentry on the couch. I might deter a few toast-seeking hobos.
The third scenario I'll offer up involves these obese squirrels that seem intent on waking me up in the first place. It's like they can read my mind, and know that if they wake me up early, I'll sit in bed listening to them scamper for quite a while. I'm pretty sure every animal in Austin is in better shape than me, they all walk, ride, skate or something... except these squirrels. These are the fattest squirrels I've ever seen. They have chubby cheeks, and bellies that hang down below their hind paws, and if you catch them off-guard while eating... I swear they look guilty, like they know they should exhibit some self-control and have a carrot instead of the fatty nuts they're chowing down on. Anyway, these chubby squirrels chase each other across the roof all day. I have problems with squirrels, especially if they are doing something annoying like playing dead dramatically, or running across the roof at breakneck speed... but I just know that these fatsos in particular could eventually be responsible for my death by fire if they ran down the back patio, noticed the laundry room was open, and went in to take a look around. They'd be unable to resist the temptation of the insulation on the washer and dryer wire, I mean it's clear they have problems with impulse control, and they'd begin munching immediately. Insulation must be like cake to these fat kids, so they'd binge and expose the wires and the next time I do laundry, voila - electrical fire. This one is a little problematic in that I'd have to get out of bed to do the laundry, so I'm actually doing myself a favor by staying there. If I don't get up, I can't be the next apparatus in the Rube-Goldberg reaction that will surely cause me to die in a fire...
These are the things I ponder while staring at the ceiling fan, and I don't find them extraordinarily odd, just a brand of insomniac-odd.

Hope is out of tune and does not tire.

Frogs don't care.
They don't tune
or practice
or critique
or learn to better their song

They simply sing.
Tireless.
Tuned only to one source:
Themselves.

The same venue
Same old song
Night after night
Undeterred
\
While I try,
tune and fuss,
improve as endlessly
as they don't care.

Their voice
means more and less
especially while
I improve and regress.

Here we are,
at the top of our lungs
claiming "I am!".
real, perfectly,
out of tune
brave and imperfect
but singing nevertheless
not muted by taste or duty.

The difference of course
is that they come back
while some days I want to quit.
and be quiet.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Important... Radio Silence?

Ladies and gentlemen, let me bring you into a new fold...

These past 9 weeks, you've followed me on a journey toward mindfulness, and today, I ask you to follow me on a journey of self-awareness.

I'm taking a sabbatical. A real-life, pack your suitcases, say goodbye for a while - sabbatical. It might mean that the only blog posts you see relate to my mindfulness challenge. And for that I apologize, but I need to do some things for myself. So family, friends, strangers, on Sunday, I'm picking up and leaving DFW. I'm going to live alone in the hill country for a while and sort myself out.

Know that I'm okay, the people I love are okay, I just need a little time to myself. It doesn't mean I'm getting plastic surgery (again) or that I'm fighting with my loved ones, I'm just taking a little break. I don't know how long I'll be gone. Long enough to patch up myself and come home better. Bart is sticking around in Dallas, and he's also fine, but likely a little lonely with me gone for an extended period. Call him if you feel so inclined.

I appreciate everyone's respect during this time of change, and I also expect all of you to look here for updates. If you call, I might be busy, please understand. I'm perfectly capable of successfully disappearing for a while.

I love all of you. In the name of mindfulness, you'll be with me on this journey.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Grateful

While I lack the energy to tell you about my findings in this week of gratitude, I'm simultaneously grateful for the energy to report progress, at least. I can tell you that I really enjoyed this challenge, it was something I did pretty well at, and while I think I have a lot to learn about being grateful... for the most part, I was satisfied with my attention to gratitude this week. I've had some very intense experiences over the last seven days, and that has allowed me to be grateful in the most intense ways. This could be a reason for my exhaustion. Allow me to share the remaining three days of my weeklong 'gratitude at the end of the day'. I think I might continue this one because it makes me so happy to do...

Monday
  1. The fact that shame is directly correlated to the difference between the shamer and the shamed.
  2. Full gratitude for life, living, being on this earth.
  3. My sense of smell
  4. My own companionship
  5. Crunchy food
Tuesday
  1. Time
  2. A decent view and a walk
  3. Medicine
  4. Organization at work
  5. Starfish
Wednesday
  1. Clarity
  2. Music
  3. Showers
  4. Pinot Noir
  5. Waking up happy
I value the differences in my days over the past week. I've had incredible ones, and really shitty ones. But the common theme this week has been that I am grateful for living them, sometimes as they happen. I like the fact that a positive attitude and one of grace (where that 'gratitude' word comes from) is something you can cultivate. Feed it energy and it grows.

This week, I pay attention to sounds. Noises the refrigerator makes, the sound of the rain today, the buzz of my monitor, my cats wrestling in the back of the house, the train across town, my body digesting food. I think I'll do pretty well at this one too, since I'm so sensitive to my ears. Here's to becoming even more acutely aware of them.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gratitude = Addictive

When I began this week's challenge, I was pretty stoked. I love the idea of attention to gratitude, and it fits with my yoga practice and philosophy on life so well, I thought it would be fun. It certainly has been.

The most interesting effect of keeping track of things I'm grateful for? I find myself enjoying them more as they happen because I'll be adding them to the gratitude list at the end of the day. Recognizing the joys and sometimes sadnesses with presence and thanking them for their lesson is extremely - well - gratifying! Since part of the exercise was to share the list with a close friend or loved one at the end of the day, I've done that... but also want to share with you. I think it's pretty neat to be able to look back on your day and see it with the right kind of eyes.

Thursday
  1. Vodka
  2. Patience in the face of adversity
  3. Working with friends
  4. Freedom of expression
  5. Comfortable shoes
Friday
  1. The wisdom of the human body - and mine being perfect
  2. Friends that are tuned in to me
  3. Sunshine
  4. Teachers
  5. The color yellow
Saturday - I got a little carried away, but I figure gratitude isn't something you should do in moderation
  1. Albert Einstein
  2. Dark sky
  3. Freedom to be spontaneous
  4. Parallel universes
  5. Inspiration
  6. Moonlight
  7. Laughter
  8. Music
  9. Restroom buses
  10. Helical shapes
  11. The sensation of pain
  12. Still water and Bob Ross
  13. The right recipe of random
  14. Starfish
  15. My kidneys
Sunday
  1. Sleep
  2. Unflappable courage
  3. A great haircut
  4. Patience
  5. Beets

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Straighten Up, Kate.

I -

LOVE  

this week's lesson in mindfulness.

I started a blog post a few days ago that is drastically different from what I sit down to write now [so much so that I trashed it and started over], and that fact is both surprising and encouraging. I relish being able to notice a change in my thoughts and behavior as a result of this practice. Over just a few days, astonishing.

A few minutes ago, I was a beaten, tired, even sullen, woman. I have had a terrible few days of travel and training, very taxing and difficult on my spirit. But I committed to this exercise, and while I'm tired, I still deserve to recap the last week's lesson and receive a new one.

So before I even read this week's lesson, I wanted to truly reflect on the past week's challenge, mindfulness of posture. Let me remind you, I teach body language. I'm tuned to the finery of communication we execute with our outward selves. I even worry about this in a non-mindful way, teaching my students to mind their body language, even if they are unaware of it, because it is so powerful and can change your attitude subconsciously in a snap. For instance, if you are in a classroom, and cold - say, or uncomfortable in your clothes, if you cross your arms, studies show you retain less of the message the professor is trying to give you. Just because you unconsciously close off, you're listening a little less to what they say.

This is huge. I never paid attention before to my posture in the way I have this week. Driving from New York to Philadelphia, I was tired and beaten from a tough day of training, and I found myself angry with the drive, and also - slumped over in the driver's seat. What we project on the outside has a profound effect on our inner mood. Just by straightening up, relaxing my shoulders and bringing awareness back to my outward self, I was brought back into the moment. Less worrying about my day, more driving.

This week, the book talks about the mindfulness of outward self - and posture - that allows us to communicate subtlely with the outside world. We say a lot before words ever leave our mouths, no one is more acutely aware of this than me (and my students. STARFISH!!) and have ultimate control if we can tune in to the broadcast we're in control of...

It brings me back to the fundamentals of the communication theory I teach. Albert Mehrabian was a psychologist who postulated that 55% of our communication was physical - body language, smells, faces, gestures.... 38% tone of voice, our intonation, inflection, accents, dialect, etc... and a WHOPPING 7% the words we say. Only 7% is up to our message, so we better pay attention to the other sections...

or else, be misunderstood. I talked for at least 8 hours today about something I've NEVER seen before because I didn't have time to prep. What does that mean? I was relying on the other 93% to get me through, all day long. And because I am mindful of its presence, my class [hopefully] knows what I said.

I can't express how profound this is for me. This is the first week that, given my admitted struggle with the challenge, I have learned something HUGE.

Starting tomorrow, the challenge is to - let me read that one, quick -

Oh shit.

"Gratitude at the end of the day"

At the end of the day, write five things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. At the end of the week, read it out loud to a friend, partner, or mindfulness companion.
So I'm starting tomorrow, honestly collecting a record of my gratitude. Awesome, I think.

Best of luck to you all. Message me if you want my number for mindfulness companionship. I think I need help expressing myself at the end of this week - FOR SURE!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

True Compliments

Each week this year, I'm attempting a new challenge to increase my mindfulness and attention to the present. I was unsure how successful I could be when introduced this week's challenge... to pay attention to true compliments. Each day, I tried to give someone close to me a genuine compliment that they deserve. Also, I paid attention to the compliments I received during the week.

This was a deeply personal exercise for me. I find that I impart a value statement each time I give another a compliment. If I say, "That was very thoughtful of you", I'm implying that I approve of the behavior. I had a really hard time disconnecting myself from each compliment that I gave. Also, I found it difficult to compliment those who are closest to me. The book where I'm getting these challenges, How to Train a Wild Elephant, mentions that when people become the 'furniture of our lives' we no longer compliment them on things. I was shocked at how much kindness and special attention I take for granted. We have to make an effort to communicate gratitude, praise and appreciation, especially to our closest peeps.

The types of compliments I tried to give this week were also difficult for me. I wanted to compliment people on behaviors or attributes that I knew were directly within their control. It's not up to my sister-in-law to have beautiful hair (which she does), but it is in her control to be generous with her time, and I was touched that she offered so much of it to help with Bart in the hospital this past week. Those kinds of compliments took a little finesse, I'm such an overachiever I wanted to give everyone the most perfect, observant, unique compliment I could come up with. Why this always goes back to me, I have no idea. Narcissistic, I guess.

Receiving compliments is something I'm historically bad at as well, and this week is no exception. Since it's been mostly written words around my house without a lot of conversation, I can only call on a few instances where I received a compliment this week... but in those cases I deflected, ignored, glossed over, and changed the subject. Is it so hard to believe that someone would have something nice to say about me? And is humility so valued that I'm doing myself a favor by not accepting someone's compliment? I have a lot wrong with me, but I also have a lot right... I need to work on accepting the latter. Words of praise are important, and I find it's easier to keep them on the tip of my tongue when children are around. It seems natural to me to keep encouraging kids in a positive manner, instead of just punishing their negative behaviors... why doesn't that also apply to adults? We should reinforce positive behavior whether it comes from our kids, our pets, our spouses, our parents... something to aspire to.

This week... a different type of challenge. Mindfulness of posture. I'm excited about this one, because it is something that I need to improve, and it brings my focus back to the parts of my body I neglect. When I worked at the yoga studio and was constantly in touch with my body, this was something I did several times a day... full body systems-checks throughout the day, while sitting in your office chair, on an airplane, while laying in bed, standing in the shower, take stock and assess your posture. Are you relaxed? Is one shoulder higher than the other? Are you putting more weight on one side of your behind as you sit? Balance comes from deep in your physical being. See how close to even and upright you can be. Enlist the help of family and friends to remind you when you're slumpy... My Mom is great at this... she's even told me on the phone before - where she couldn't even see me - to sit up straight, and of course she was right (she usually is), I was slouching at the time! Good luck!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Failed Pudding Is Always An Opportunity

I've been cooking for long enough to have failed miserably. I've even shared some of those stories with you. Sadly, most of my failures can be summed up in one category: dessert. I've failed candy, baked goods, ice cream, even simple things, like cookies... but today, I turned a corner.

It started with failure... surprise, surprise.

I cooked a dal for Bart since he needs liquid food. Lentils have lots of protein and are tasty when cooked with the right spices, so an Indian lentil soup like Dal makes perfect sense. His favorite is Dal Shorva, but today I decided to make Masoor lentils (red ones) with a traditional masala. I prepared a ton of rice to go along with the dal and wanted to make some rice pudding as well...

After dinner, I started chopping strawberries. I know what you're thinking... rice pudding means dried fruits like raisins, or nuts - pistachios, walnuts and pecans. Maybe some cinnamon, but never strawberries. I probably would agree with you, except the strawberries were on sale, and I have 4 pints of them in the fridge that need to be used before they turn into a furry mass of wasted sale-food. So I diced some berries, spooned out a couple of cups of rice into the pan and lit a fire.



I should mention that while I've made countless rice puddings, I've never made rice pudding with strawberries before and evidently, I had a lot to learn. Normally, I take cooked rice, sugar and milk and bring it just to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering the pudding until it's thickened. This time, I added the strawberries in the beginning, thinking they'd enhance the flavor. Probably, but you have to remember the basic fundamentals of cooking science.

Milk is an emulsification of fats, solids and liquids. To separate these, cheesemakers use acids and enzymes to split the curd from the whey. Usually this is done with heat. So I made a fundamental mistake when I added the berries - acidic and full of enzymes, to the hot milk and rice. It curdled pretty quickly, and I had a separated mess of rice and berry water.

What happens when I ruin a dish? I usually say some curse words, and most of the time, I start again.



So this time, I thought a little bit more before I started the second batch. Instead of dairy milk, which I cook so rarely with I couldn't predict what would happen, I used coconut milk... something I'm used to. I heated the coconut milk, then added the cooked rice (glad I made a ton) and a can of condensed milk. All of the milk flavor, fewer separating qualities, and added sugar. I was in business. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes while it thickens, and I have a reliable rice pudding, that I will wait to add berries to right before serving.

After seasoning with vanilla, I cooled it slightly before spooning into a bowl and covering with good old-fashioned sugared strawberries. This was a tradition in my house growing up, buy a flat of strawberries, clean and trim them, smother them in sugar until they make their own syrup... and my own twist, add a splash of vanilla to the syrup just before serving over angel food or shortbread. In this case, I served the berry goodness over the rice pudding. Heaven. Like sex in a bowl. Good sex. Good, vanilla, strawberry, rice-sex. Enjoy.

Moral of the story: if you screw up your pudding, you can quit and be without pudding for the foreseeable future. Or you can be awesome and fix your problems from the first batch by analyzing what you did wrong, and changing enough to rock it out of the park the second time, and enjoy plenty of successful pudding. It's up to you whether you actually eat pudding or not. (this may be a sugary metaphor for life)

Kate's Strawberry Sex Pudding

2 cups cooked rice
1 can lite coconut milk
1 can condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 pints strawberries, stems removed, diced
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine berries and sugar and set aside. Berries will macerate into a lovely syrup. Meanwhile, combine rice, coconut milk and condensed milk in a 2 quart pan over medium heat. Heat just to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes until thickened. Stir in vanilla. Spoon into dishes. Add vanilla to macerated berries and use the mixture to top the pudding. Make awesome faces and noises while you eat.
Bon Appetit!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Liquefied Food, Day 1 - Veggie Stock & Creamed Veggie Soup (Recipe)

Since the foods around my house have to fit through a tiny straw these days, I decided to cook up a batch of homemade stock to use while blenderizing everything. Bart has to be on liquids-only for the next 10 days or so, and pretty much everything savory gets thinned with the stuff. (Sweets and dairy get thinned with soymilk). Sometimes, being around a woman in a crazy hormone-induced mania has its perks. One of those is awesome home-cooked meals. Just be sure and tell her it tastes fantastic or she'll cry.

Since I'm doing some juicing as well, I had a mess of produce on hand yesterday, you don't need all of this stuff. Just the basics (denoted with asterisks) will yield a tasty broth that will be better than that canned swill, I promise. Any other vegetables you want to add will enhance the stock. My favorites that aren't listed here are parsnips, broccoli and kale.. even canned tomatoes. Lets begin with my shopping list:

2 medium onions* - I normally leave these out, but need this to be as tasty as possible
8 small carrots*
1 bunch celery*
1 bulb fennel
1 large bell pepper
2-inch piece of ginger
1 bulb of garlic (you'll need 4 cloves)
2 jalapenos (for a mild spice level, adjust if necessary)
1 bunch parsley
Bay leaves
Salt
Tamari

7-8 quart stock pot

*These vegetables make up a traditional mirepoix, which is the french base for most dishes involving vegetables. All three are typically seasoned and sweated in oil until the onion is translucent to begin a dish.
Since I decided to make a soup out of the veggies I used to make this stock, I peeled the onions and carrots, and diced them with the bell pepper, jalapeno and fennel.


If you're not going to continue on with the soup recipe, roughly chop the veggies - just enough to break them up and allow their flavors to permeate the stock. 2-inch sections should be small enough. In fact, I used the scraps and peelings from my batch to create a second stock in another pan.


When all of those are chopped, heat two tablespoons olive or canola oil in a stock pot on medium high heat. When the oil shimmers in the bottom of the pan, add all the vegetables but the ginger and garlic.



Add 1 tsp salt, and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent. Add the minced garlic and ginger, and continue cooking for 2 min. Pour in 1 gallon of water and add 2-3 bay leaves and 1/2 cup chopped parsley. Turn the heat up to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and partially cover the pot. Simmer for 40 minutes.


When your stock is finished cooking, season with 1/4 cup Tamari to taste. Strain the stock through a colander or sieve to remove the solid vegetables. If you're continuing on to the next recipe, reserve 1-1/2 cups of the cooked veggies. Otherwise, discard them.

Cool your veggie stock before storing. Large volumes of liquids like soups and stocks take a long time to cool  if left in a large pot with little surface area and are the favorite stomping grounds of nasty bacteria like salmonella and shigella. To keep your stock safe, cool it rapidly by dividing it into several containers and putting it in the fridge asap. I normally don't keep meat or milk in my fridge, but if you do, turn down your fridge temperature before cooking to prepare for the hot soup raising the temp and potentially other foods.

See this article for tips on cooling soup safely.

Once cooled, the stock can be transferred to ice cube trays for easy use, frozen flat in freezer bags for easy storage, or sealed and stored in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Use it for soups, rice, mashed potatoes, braising, and my new favorite - thinning foods out in the blender.

Stock prepared, I moved on to last night's dinner:

Creamed Veggie Soup
Your jaw doesn't have to be wired shut to like it :)

1-1/2 cups cooked veggies from stock (if you're making from scratch, use 1/2 cup each: onion, carrot and celery and saute on medium heat for 5 minutes before adding to this recipe)
1/2 cup dried red lentils
1/2 cup dried split-peas
1/2 cup pearled barley (you could also use orzo or other small pasta)
4-1/2 cups homemade veggie stock
Simmer together in a large saucepan for 30 minutes until the barley is tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then transfer the hot mixture to the blender. (I made a half-batch)


Remove the center of the lid to vent steam and hold a kitchen towel over the opening. Pulse a few times until incorporated, then puree for 2 minutes. Serves 4.



If you want, add 1 cup of heavy cream (substitute skim milk or fat-free yogurt if you're watching your figure) after blending and return to the pan to heat. Be careful not to boil the soup again or you'll scorch the milk.



Happy cooking and eating, and enjoy the use of your teeth!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'Hormonal' Why, Whatever Gives You That Impression?

It can be difficult to determine what a woman means exactly when she says she is 'hormonal'. It could simply mean she has a headache, or is a little cranky... perhaps bloated and a little sad. You never can tell. Of course, it's a terrible idea to ask a lady to clarify what level of 'hormonal' she is.

"Hormonal, huh? Are we talking a chocolate cookie dough kind of night? Or a date with the exorcist?"
Bad idea.
It's always polite to respond instead with:

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Would you like me to rub your [insert body part here: feet, neck, shoulders, breasts, other bits]?"
Also acceptable:

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Would you like me to run to Krispy Kreme/Sonic/Baskin Robbins/The Cheesemonger at Scardello for you?"
This is indeed what a woman is looking for when she announces her mental state as 'hormonal'. You would only understand this if you had ever been a woman with PMS, tried to understand what that means by asking a woman with PMS, or if you had encountered a wild grizzly while wearing a suit made of raw pork belly. You can either give the bear what it wants, or suffer the wrath.

Sometimes, 'hormonal' is a less predictable form of crazy, bordering on psychosis. Let me preface the description of my day with the fact that its been a very long week with Bart's hospital stay, and I've slept very little. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I probably should have seen the warning signs early, took an Ambien and gone back to bed.

My Saturday:

1. I didn't sleep last night, despite being so tired I couldn't coordinate my hands to do simple tasks when I got home. I went to pour myself some wine, and started pouring about an inch to the right of the mouth of my glass. I watched in amazement as - for the second time this week - I watched myself pour wine all over the counter with zero control of my extremities.

Sudden lack of coordination: sign you might be hormonal. (Wine all over the counter also counts toward diagnosis, crying over said wine is a guarantee of the condition.)

2. Since I was up so early, I started doing laundry and washing dishes at 5:15am. Once a chunk of chores were off my list, I decided to go back and try to grab a nap before it was time to get Bart at the hospital. I laid back down and suddenly, off in the corner of the room, a tiny little grumble started repeating itself. I would barely have dozed off, and the grumble would wake me. It had been raining, the cat was annoying me, and I was so delirious, I didn't care where it was coming from until, in a fit of rage, I realized it was my own stomach and spoke to it in tongues, commanding it to LEAVE ME ALONE SO I CAN SLEEP! Only I was the only one who understood the message, because what came out of my mouth sounded more like WHY DOES EVERYTHING IN MY HOUSE, INCLUDING MY CATS AND MY BODY WANT ME TO BE UNHAPPY?!

Holding your biology responsible for your happiness: sign you might be hormal.

3. Since I was definitely awake again, and evidently hungry, I went to the kitchen and wrestled the pizza box out from the night before. I had wedged it in carelessly, and I knocked some pudding off the second shelf of the fridge. It landed on the island next to the bottle of wine - the one I opened so I could pour it all over the counter. I was suddenly unable to concentrate on anything else except for the life and death decision that I had to make that very second. Do I pick up the pudding - put it back in the fridge (or eat it along the way)? Or do I pour myself a glass of wine? I am essentially still up from the night before, plus it might chill me out enough to get some sleep, and I'm about to eat some pizza - where did the pizza go again? Why not? 2 minutes later, several slices of insanely salty & cheesy goodness, a glass of wine, and me were all snuggled back under the covers watching Mythbusters. The sun wasn't even up yet, it felt perfectly normal.

Rationalizing pizza and chianti as breakfast because the night and morning touch each other in a grey area: sign you might be hormonal.

I'd like to tell you that at this point, I admitted that today was going to be a problem and stayed inside, but tragically, that is not the end to my behavior.

4. While cleaning the house like a madwoman before Bart was discharged, I started a grocery list. I remembered a few things I wanted to get for him and was going to run out in the afternoon when he was settled. I should have foreseen complications when the first three items I wrote on the list were spicy mustard, fritos, and ice cream. As the day dragged on, the list got more insane by the entry. I was coming up with recipes in my head, when I would dream up something I didn't want to make because Bart couldn't eat it, I would modify it so he could. Next thing I know, my shopping list includes 4 stores, things like celeriac, and even a few appliances. Several hours later, I returned to the house with enough produce to stuff a tofurkey the size of my car, a few necessities, and some dangerous plans. Somewhere along the way, I had decided the veggie stock I bought to thin foods for him in the blender was substandard and I needed to make it from scratch. While I was making stock, why not make a ton and freeze it? While I'm making a ton of stock, why not make a soup for dinner tonight with the veggies from the stock? While making veggies in the stock for the soup, why not add some lentils, split-peas and barley for protein and make a cream of veggie soup instead?

Going to the store for yogurt and Dimetapp and coming home with an entire evening's worth of prep and cooking (with no room in the freezer to store the results): sign you might be hormonal.

5. The entire day was capped off for me a few minutes ago, when, after ransacking the kitchen looking for sweets, while eating directly out of the container of cookies & cream (too cliche to list as an actual sign of hormonalness), I got a craving so mad for chocolate that I tore apart the refrigerator before moving on the freezer, meticulously looking and eventually finding... behind the pedialyte popsicles... under the box of henna... in a frostbitten package that wasn't even sealed up properly... I found...

Two, just two - Thin Mint cookies. I could hear angels sing. Really, angels.

They looked like they had been entombed in the fortress of solitude for way too long. They weren't really a color anymore, just gray and fuzzy looking. They smelled a little like the hatch chilies they lived next to for a while in the freezer door. I thought about the worst-case scenario. Maybe I'll eat them and they're horrible, and I have to continue looking for chocolate. Maybe I'll bite into them and they are imposters, meant to look like Thin Mints, but actually tiny veggie burgers or the remnants of a chipotle paste I froze into disks. Before I could really reason with myself, one of them was in my mouth. I stood there before the open freezer, eyes closed, head back, chewing a Thin Mint that, by all calculations has to be three years old, covered in freezer burn, with only its single lowly companion in my hand. I popped that last guy in my mouth and savored the taste of a distinct remote possibility that the waxy cardboard I just ate was a Thin Mint. Nothing else mattered. I was victorious.

Looking for, finding, and then eating 3-year old girl scout cookies to satisfy the crazy inside you that is making you destroy your kitchen (and your waistline) all day? Proof you're hormonal. And not just kinda either, sister, you're full-on, grizzly bear, irrationally and incessantly driven - hormonal. Batshit pscyhotic hormonal is right around the corner.

I'd like to post pics and the recipe for my stock and soup, but I'm afraid to go back into the kitchen to grab the camera. I have to allow the estrogen balance to return or I might somehow get myself arrested in there.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Nosh Thoughtfully

I'm a couple of days behind posting this week's mindfulness challenge, so let's wrap up last week's assignment. We were tasked that, when eating a meal, just eat. Don't watch TV, don't look at your phone, don't read the back of a cereal box... just eat. I found this challenge enlightening, some days I couldn't remember the challenge and was halfway through a meal before it popped into my head. If I'm eating on autopilot, I might be overeating, or just overlooking my food. This was easier to do in restaurants, while traveling, all I had to do was leave my phone in my bag. At home and the office, however, it was exceedingly difficult to break the habit of eating at/on/with my computer while I work. If I must be stimulated by something other than my food, I am probably generally overstimulated. Noted.

Another twist to the 'Just Eat' challenge, Bart had his jaw surgery on Wednesday, and with both jaws broken, he can only drink liquids through a syringe. Helping him with this process has been another eye-opener. First, he has no choice but to 'just eat', since it takes both hands, mouth dexterity and concentration to get the tube behind his cheek far enough that his liquefied food doesn't escape down his chin. For the last few days, he's been on clear liquids only... so he's probably starving underneath the surgical bands, but the process of eating is so frustrating, it can't be satisfying. I really have been taking for granted the use of my mouth, not only for eating, but for talking, coughing, sighing, laughing, smirking, screaming, for many things. I need to respect it and when it's in use, pay a little more attention. I really enjoy the cumulative effects of this challenge thus far, by adding one mindfulness measure a week, I'm able to juggle them and keep track of my progress on all of the initiatives. I might eat (just eat) with my left hand, leave the kitchen cleaner than before dinner, and describe the meal with fewer filler words while observing my own hand gestures. And it doesn't at all seem like I'm patting my head and rubbing my belly, they all work in concert. Brilliant. It reminds me of that irritating song kids sing about the guy who works in the button factory, "Hi. My name is Joe. And I work in a button factory. One day, my boss came up to me and said, 'Hey Joe, turn the button with your left hand..." This is incidentally how I learn a room full of people's names in less than an hour. I start with one person, once I remember them, I move on down the line until I've added everyone's faces and names to my memory.

This week's challenge is to give 'True Compliments'. Once a day, I am to think about someone close to me, a family member, a friend, a co-worker and pay them a genuine compliment. Not the kind of compliment where you notice someone got a haircut and you say you like it, just because you're pointing it out... but a real, thoughtful compliment that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to say. Also, to be aware of the compliments others give you. Why do they do it? What does their compliment do to you?

A big thanks to my big mouth for helping out with this week's challenge. You're awesome, and perfect, and I wouldn't want any other mouth. Does that count as a compliment?

back to hospital noises... Bart should get to come home later today.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Just Eat, and Be Terrified of Being Alone

This past week for the mindfulness challenge, I've been 'paying attention to my hands'. This means I have watched them as if they belonged to someone else... and in most cases, I find I do that already. It might seem odd that I pay so much attention to my hands, but they are an outward symptom of my auto-immune disorder. One I am keenly, sometimes too keenly, aware of. This past week, I tried to behold them as the tools they are... graciously doing my bidding, helping each other, as perfect partners and as independent operators. One thing I take for granted about them is their deep communicative potential. I painted my nails each day a different color and I noticed the people in my life watching me with renewed animation. My gestures were set ablaze by the blue, purple and black polish on my nails. Like a signal light on my fingers, they signed the words I speak.

Of course each of these weeks has meant a significant self-examination, but today's has been especially poignant and painful. This week, my task is to 'Just Eat'. Don't watch tv, text, look up the news or daydream while eating, just eat. It brings to mind all of the things I do that are automatic and robotic.. I usually eat while working during the day, hunched over my computer, focused on the task at hand instead of my noodles/rice/sandwich. I probably eat too much as a result, enjoy too little, and lack connection with my nourishment. This will be a good exercise for me. To date, this week, I've done better than in any other challenge. I ate a few meals with my niece, which means I can't have my attention anywhere but the table. I made it a point tonight to eat at the table with Bart... something that we usually don't do, in order to focus more at my food. I really should respect food as fuel, not entertainment, or mindless comfort. Good luck doing the same this week.

In other news, I watched the movie 127 hours tonight. I'm irrevocably disturbed. At the beginning of the film, I literally screamed in agony that I am not currently in Utah, because I suddenly felt the ache to be there so badly it hurt my physical form. I realize my travelogue might have been vague and indescriptive about the real beauty of this place, but I can describe a little of it as - being on Mars, with no other humans around, no rover, no spacesuit, and the landscape is sucking the oxygen from your body with each breath. I saw so many of these unique and different breathtaking vistas in Utah that I'm quite sure I aged irreparably while there. If you haven't witnessed this place, email me. I'm going back as soon as I can and I want to take you with me.

Anyway, Utah was on my mind because of this film... 127 hours. In the film, a real dude, Aron, falls in a slot canyon and is stuck there for over six days. He has to endure some harsh realities while trapped in this canyon; his arm is clinched between two boulders, he's running out of water, and has no way to communicate to the outside world. Of course, having hiked recently in Utah's slot canyons (in a cast, especially conscious of danger), I immediately hearken to the fact that he is hiking alone. Bart and I disagree on a lot of things, and one of the fundamentals is that he insists on telling the world where he is, while I relish the times when I can disappear into the wilderness alone. Watching this film gives me a little pause, since Aron was only stuck in the canyon for extended periods because no one knew where he was. Isolation in its purest form is like a hug for me. I long to be away from everyone, alone on the face of the earth. In fact, that's what my walkabout was intended to do, put a little distance between me and humanity, and recoup some of my energy - alone. Alas, this is a lovely way for introverts to recharge, but if you fall in a canyon whilst recharging, shame on you if you don't bring a radio...

Which brings me to my second point. I've been well-cared-for my entire life. Long before I met my scout-like husband, my military brother kept me well-prepared for any life outdoors. I was not only equipped for rugged camping at all times at 16, I could set up a full camp, find water and firewood, and fend for myself against a number of adversaries. I felt empowered in the woods because Patrick had taught me how to tie a knot, build a fire, dig a latrine and keep myself safe. I'm not saying I'm a mountain-woman, just able to wield a pocketknife adeptly. When I packed off for Utah in December, it was Patrick who insisted I bring a Ham radio in case I was stuck out of cell range in danger. In truth, most times we were hiking in Utah, the radio was our only way of calling for help. Had I fallen into the same slot canyon as Aron, I would have been able to contact someone immediately. I also would have had GPS coordinates, because I asked to borrow Patrick's handheld GPS. I think the moral of this story is that if you want to be a cowboy, and isolate yourself from the rest of the world, that's fine. I know all about wanting to be alone. But if you want someone to find you when you fall in a hole, you better be willing to rely on others for help. If the extra 1.5 pounds in my pack mean I won't have to amputate my own arm, I'll continue to lug it around. How much does an arm weigh, anyway? Life is so much simpler on the trail.

Happy eating this week, readers. And if you feel compelled to isolate yourselves like I sometimes do, bring a radio. Simple enough.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Let's Get Handsy

Off a week of failure, having made a lame, half-hearted, contrite effort to remove filler words from my speech, I concluded this mindfulness challenge with the thought that while aware of my actions, I am not easily able to modify my speech. I talk for a living, and while I think that I'm conscious of my unnecessary words, I don't think this is the case. I have also heard others' filler words loud and clear this week, like 'I mean', and 'you know'.

On to the next challenge. This week, I'm tasked to pay special attention and appreciate my hands. This is uniquely hard for me, because I spend a lot of my life trying to hide my hands from others and not draw attention to them... even from myself. As the book suggested, I wrote the words 'watch me' on the back of each hand, one rather normal-looking, and the other looking like I went to a serial killer nightclub and got stamped with psycho handwriting... I also put a coat of nail polish on to help me remind myself to observe my hands. They are active most of the day, even in my sleep, and while I give attention to hiding them, this week I'm going to see them as if they belonged to someone else. Without judgment, without self... just the tools I am always close to.

When I was young, people complimented me on my hands... having long fingers and thin bones, I thought they were really special. As I've gotten older, my hands have aged faster than the rest of my body and now wear the signs of my years on earth, outward reminders that my immune system is at war with itself. The only way you can tell that sometimes, despite all attempts, I don't feel well.

Join me in loving your hands this week. This is the perfect challenge for someone I know, who is keenly aware of hands and their elusive power. See a little of that attention in this drawing... appropriately from this week  The challenge is recruiting participants!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Filler Up

Uhhh... okay, so I basically failed the first day of the week 3 mindfulness challenge.

I recorded a lot of my speech today, two classes and several phone calls later, I'm appalled. Even when I'm consciously making an effort to remove the filler words, I'm spewing them all over the place. It's like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time... in some cases I failed at all of it. In this random 10-minute snippet of today's noon class, I counted the filler... and this is trying REALLY hard not to say this stuff!
  • 'so' - 4 times
  • 'okay' - 6 times
  • 'um' - 8 times
  • 'now' - 3 times
  • 'alright' - once
And all that trying to speak words and words only, meant that my usual stutter-prevention system was off... and that during the same section, I stammered 14 times and cloaked the stutter with a pause countless times more.

Thus far, I've noticed a few things. I use filler words when I'm trying to BS someone (there's a little of that in this recording), unsure, or if I need to collect my thoughts before answering a question. When I clearly know the answer to something, or my next move, or I'm actively listening to someone else, I don't stutter or fill at all. During the periods of this class where I did my worst at controlling the filler words were the times that I know in my mind I was skipping ahead or thinking of something else, like how to disguise an error or shortcoming of the system I was demonstrating. When your mind wanders, your speech suffers. I'm exhausted and it's only day 1 of this week's challenge. I have my work cut out for me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Filler Words. Mindfulness Week 3.

Week 3 - Mindfulness challenge:

This week, through the mindfulness challenge, I am tasked to use no 'filler words'. These words are those that we fill in when we need to extend, add nonverbal weight, or procrastinate within a sentence... An example, "So, I was talking to my cousin, like, just the other day, and she, uh, she was working on this thing that is basically an art project, anyway, she like doesn't know what to do with the end product, or something." In this case, the italicized words are filler... they don't add any meaning to the sentence itself. We say them because they, like... they do something for us, anyway... the assignment is to identify them and remove them from our vocabulary.

Because of my line of work, I'm naturally sensitive to certain filler phrases. I have been cataloguing them for years, actually. It's somewhat of a tic, each time people say words or phrases that I find worthless in their speech, especially repeat offenders, I count the instance. It's so bad for certain people that I can't hear any of their message, and their phrases or words are in the quadruple digits of lifetime misuse. There is a trainer at work who says 'things of that nature' so much during her presentations, that I have never been able to watch a single training she presents without missing the message entirely, leaving only with a tally of "TOFTN's". It especially bothers me when people say things that are filler phrases, but incorrectly... for instance, I had a boss that used to say 'things to that nature' instead, a double-whammy. Not only is the phrase completely worthless, but it is more meaningless because it was repeated incorrectly.

Besides some OCD tendencies, this focus comes from a deep root within my development, since I have a stutter. Many people with stutters add utterances or sounds to their speech to cover the pause or stammer that is occurring on certain words. For instance, instead of saying t-t-t-traffic, I might say uh-traffic instead. I've worked very hard over the years to avoid these cover (filler) words, instead, adjusting the cadence of my speech to disguise the stammer with a pregnant pause that sounds thoughtful or natural. It doesn't mean I've eliminated filler words, just that I've adapted to the problem I used them to cover. So this week, to experience mindfulness, I'll examine speech, and find the words I use to say nothing at all. I spend a good time yapping thoughtlessly, so it should be quite a task. I'll start by recording a training I have early tomorrow and counting my own worthless speech.

On my list to remove, before ever listening to myself for this meaning:
  • apparently
  • so
  • like
  • absolutely (not filler, just overused by me)
  • uh
  • pauses
I challenge you to examine your speech, how much time do you spend making worthless noise? And who do you subject to mindless filler words? Do you use them more often when you're made nervous by your audience? Bored? Uncertain?

Our words communicate our entire being, our intelligence, socialization, interest level, confidence, and sometimes, our message (if we're lucky). Don't they deserve a little scrutiny to ensure we're communicating directly, not shrouding our message in verbal smoke and mirrors?

Good luck, like, seriously.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Leaving No Trace, But Making An Impact

This week’s mission to ‘leave no trace’ continues. I’m still trying to leave the kitchen cleaner and better than I found it. This means that everything gets put away and cleaned up each time I visit the room. I’ve found this surprisingly easy and satisfying, knowing that I’m leaving a clean space to come back to. The exercise has also allowed me to appreciate the impact that I have on the world, something as simple as wiping down the counter is a reminder of the stewardship I can offer this place. It’s creeping outside of the kitchen as well. Yesterday, we walked up to Starbucks and on the way home, I picked up a coffee cup on the side of the road that someone had carelessly thrown out. I don’t think that I would have been compelled to pick up the trash if it hadn’t been for this week’s mindfulness challenge. I am encouraged by my resolution to keep the one room clean, and feel like I can take a little extra responsibility to make the world a little better because I was here, even if it only means a piece of trash. I would have walked past the coffee cup and not given it a second thought last week, but this week I think, I’ve got a free hand, I can carry that trash home and put it in the garbage. That’s been the attitude in the kitchen too, instead of taking a dish to the kitchen counter and leaving it there to clean later, I follow through and wash it. It’s extremely gratifying. This stewardship is contagious as well, after I picked up the coffee cup, Tiffany felt compelled to pick up some trash too. Even just one piece makes a difference, a tiny change that is compounded by people who see you do it. Empowerment.


While we’re on the subject of littering, it occurs to me that the trash people throw out of their cars might say something about them. From cigarette butts to apple cores, the things people choose to send out the window are unique and possibly based on socioeconomic or cultural factors. For instance, if I littered, my garbage would most likely consist of BC powder packets and diet Pepsi cans. Since I don’t, there is usually one or more of these items behind my seat in the car waiting to be properly disposed of. Here are the items we collected on our way home yesterday, you can use your imagination to picture the litterbugs responsible. Maybe one of them was a yuppie late for work, tossing their latte cup out the window of their BMW, too self-important to waste any energy on finding a trashcan. Another, a late-night partygoer, careless enough to drink and drive, but cautious enough to discard the open container in case the police stop them. They all need to make a better effort.

This week's challenge continues on the road, I'm trying to leave no trace in the bathroom of my hotel room.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Left Hand: Fully Intact, Partial Success.

This week’s mindfulness challenge has been a learning experience to say the least… I am functionally a child with my left hand, as I have been brutally and constantly reminded. And reminded, and reminded and reminded. I feel like I’ve been reminded so many times this week that I have zero chance of survival without my right hand that I might take out a separate insurance policy on it. It’s been hard to live as a lefty. For instance, as I type this blog post, I am only typing about 20 words per minute compared to my usual 70. I have to constantly spur my hands on and remind my left thumb to kindly hit the space bar, please… (sometimes not so kindly) a function my right thumb is usually encouraged to do automatically for me. At the same time, since I’m concentrating so hard to space, the rest of my left hand stops working to help me pay attention. My left index finger seems to be so distracted that - not only can it not find the ‘b’ key, it has even stepped up a few times and hit the space bar on it’s own, as if it’s so exasperated waiting for my stumpy thumb that it steals the synapse from my brain and performs the task. Great, I have an impatient limb, what’s next? In fact, the space bar has been the most frustrating part of my current mindfulness task, but I don’t see this frustration as a detriment to my success because of a very strange shift in my consciousness. Instead of wanting to give up because I’m frustrated by this infernal lack of dexterity, I find myself turning to my thoughts instead… What specifically is frustrating me this second? Is it my lack of patience? What will an extra 10 minutes typing this blog cost me? Is it the clumsiness and lack of control? There isn’t a prize for the most graceful typing performed on this airplane. I have a strange sense of calm as I ask my mind these questions, as I observe the emotion and related thoughts, and instead of taking action… keep plugging away at the space bar with my left thumb. Remarkable.

I’ve seen some other tiny changes in the parlor of my mind, where all the thoughts hang out and normally get ignored while I zone out and go on vacation from the work of operating a human body… All week as I’ve eaten (sometimes with senior leaders in my company snickering at me) with my left hand, the self-consciousness of being awkward has been replaced with marveling at how my left hand – seemingly useless – has adapted to the work and constantly improved. I’m less aware of my perception of others while I perform these tasks and instead intrigued by examining and seeing them as they happen. Consequently, while exploring the angles of the left-handed spoon approach, I have been clumsy enough to drop pea soup all over my white blouse (can’t tell you the last time that happened) and then struggle to operate a tide pen to treat the stain.

It hasn’t all been frustration and spilled food, however… I have become a much better lefthanded mouse-operator. I’ve caught myself a few times reaching for a pen with my left hand because it was close, and then keeping the pen in that hand. It’s because of this increasing ease that I’m glad it’s time to move on to the next challenge. The point of this exercise was to access the perspective of beginner’s mind, one where no muscle memory or practiced routine could allow your mind to check out. If I use the left hand enough that it assimilates to the routine, I’ve gained the use of my previously worthless hand, but must find something else to focus my attention in the pursuit of mindfulness.

Surprisingly, with my left hand, I create more pleasing drawings. It could be the extra cognition I’m giving the task, or perhaps that the right hemisphere houses the creativity centers of the brain and plugs them directly into your reach… or maybe it’s the light touch and active listening my hand does in concert with the pencil. I don’t care why.

My handwriting, however, has been compared to both that of a first grader and a serial killer. In this example, I rewrote my notes with my right hand to compare, and was pretty surprised to see some similarities. It’s as if the left hand is a 6-year-old me (I am not a serial killer). A 'me' I have the opportunity to cultivate and exercise. I sure am glad I gave myself the opportunity.


 
This week's challenge is called 'Leave No Trace'. I have to choose a room in my house, I chose the kitchen, and for the whole week, leave it exactly the same as it was before I arrived. All things put away, only food smells and memories to remind me I was there. I think it will be useful, there are a hundred times a week it seems that I could make it all the way to the dishwasher with something but I leave it on the counter or in the sink instead. I'm looking forward to having clean counters. Also, I think it will give me a chance to appreciate the tiny things in my house that allow me to live my life this way.. each pair of chopsticks has a role, each surface should be respected, and even the garbage has a place in my life that I should appreciate. I'll examine them all.
 
Happy mindfulness. And Thursday & stuff.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Abracadabra

Goodnight, internet, I wrote something for you on your day off:

I like to disappear quite much.
In a song, a poem, a moment,
To slip tawny espresso foam
Past my lips to the abyss beyond.

I like to be aware as well,
To feel, interact and influence.
To see my world, awake, alive
In this moment, this place, I belong.

The assignment, then, is to sneak...
Knowing and aware and awakened,
Just beyond senses, unnoticed,
At once, invisible and present...

And be gone.