Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Straighten Up, Kate.

I -


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

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!