Whatcha reading?

One of my greatest pleasures is reading novels. I think life is always better when I have a good book going. Sometimes, however, life gets so busy that pleasure reading falls by the wayside. These are precisely the times that reading can be most helpful, providing a momentary escape into someone else’s life. In case you are looking for some recommendations, here are some of my latest reads:

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult — This is a fascinating tale told from the perspectives of a black labor and delivery nurse who is targeted as the scapegoat for an infant’s death and the baby’s parents who are angry, white supremacists. It was a challenging book that brings to light both the blatant and subtle effects of racism and white privilege. It’s eerily timely, given the events in Charlottesville, VA with protesting White Nationalists.

Lucia, Lucia, by Adriana Trigiani — about the love, family, work life of a young Italian-American woman fashion designer in Greenwich Village in the 1950’s

Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline — page-turning parallel stories of two resilient girls from different eras in the foster-care system

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain — historical fiction about the fascinating life of Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly east to west across the Atlantic

Body Surfing, by Anita Shreve — quick read, especially perfect for the beach with its setting on the NH seacoast and its bodysurfing scenes

The Monk Who Lived Downstairs, by Tim Farrington — a sweet book about a single mother landlord and her former monk downstairs tenant

Good in Bed and the Next Best Thing, by Jennifer Weiner — humorous, light reads about the ups and downs of a plus-size columnist and a scarred, first-time Hollywood TV writer, respectively

Our local library had a book sale recently where I picked up a number of books by some of my favorite authors. It’s probably a good thing that I only had a $10 bill on me, which limited on how many books I could buy. I’m making my way through that stack. Once I finish, I’ll be looking for some book recommendations.

I’d love to learn what good books you’ve been reading lately,  so please share any recommendations.

 

Living Well

Once on our way home from a Vermont ski weekend, we stopped for gas at a service station that offered two welcome perks. What initially drew us in was the covered self-serve island, which kept the sloppy mix of snow and rain off my husband as he filled the tank. The added bonus was a set of speakers on the outside of the building broadcasting music. I’m not the biggest fan of country music, but I was a captive audience that day. I found myself listening intently to George Strait’s catchy tune and poignant message: “There’s a difference in living and living well.” During our trip home, I reflected upon the distinction between living and living well and I invite you to do the same.

How would you define living well? Although what first came to my mind were scenes from glossy travel ads of idyllic tropical beaches (I’m sure that had something to do with our chilly weather) and luxurious spas, I quickly thought of some more everyday, low-cost examples of family and friends living well:

• My father, who settled into his recliner every evening with a sigh and an interesting library book
• Friends who sit out on their deck every summer evening to watch the sun set
• My German host parents who have perfected the art of leisurely mealtimes (gemutliches Essen)
• My friend who makes a nightly ritual out of taking a bath by candlelight

candlelight-1433175_640

As you think about your own life, what current evidence do you have that you live well? You might include things often taken for granted: your health, a good night’s sleep, the unconditional love of a pet or more obvious indulgences: a fine bottle of wine, a decadent dessert, silk lingerie. I hope that the length of your list pleasantly surprises you.

What would help you move from just living to consistently living well? There are many small steps you can take that can make a big difference. A shift in thinking is one example. Instead of focusing on what’s lacking in your life use an affirmation such as “All is well. I live well.” and you’ll begin believing it. What are things that you currently do (think eat, drink, sleep, bathe) that with more intention and attention could begin to feel like nurturing rituals instead of routines? What do you have access to but aren’t currently taking advantage of that could contribute to living well? Here’s a list that get you thinking:
• Fine china
• Music—to listen to or play
• Babysitter
• Comfy coach
• Jacuzzi
• Yoga mat
• Exercise videos or equipment
• Unredeemed gift certificates
• Bread machine
• Crock pot
• Fresh flowers

My challenge to you is to not “get through” the coming days, weeks, and holidays but to live them and live them well!

What are you radiating?

I’m participating in the fascinating, free Aura Seeing Fest this week. Although I’ve occasionally been able, under certain conditions, to see a faint ring/border of light around people, it’s not something I’ve focused on developing before. This course is stretching me AND my eyes in new ways. With practice, I hope to be able to see more colors than just a faint blueish tinge which is all I’ve managed to see so far.

There is an energy field that surrounds all things. Inanimate objects have fixed auras. The aura around people and other living things changes based on the state of health, emotion, and energy level. Even if you can’t see auras, you’ve probably sensed before people who seem to radiate light or have a dark cloud around them.

What do you think your aura looks like?
What do you want to radiate?
What steps do you take to raise your vibration?

Flaxseed Crackers

These remind me of Mary’s Gone Crackers but are a fraction of the price.

3/4 cup golden flaxseedflax-crackers
1/4 cup brown flaxseed
2 Tbsp. golden flaxseed meal
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup water, plus more for soaking
1 Tbs. Braggs, soy sauce, or coconut aminos (next time I make them I’m going to use less for a less salty cracker)
1/8 tsp. garlic powder

Mix sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.  Cover with water and let soak at least 10-15 minutes.  Pour ¾ cup water over the flaxseeds and flaxseed meal.  Mix well and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mix becomes thickened, but not too stiff. Towards the end of the soaking time, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain the water from the sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.  Add to flaxseed mixture along with seasonings.  Blend well. Using rubber spatula, spread out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 15-20 minutes until firm enough to peel off in one piece. Flip over.  Score with a pizza cutter or sharp knife.  Bake for another 15-29 minutes or until desired crispness.  Break crackers along score lines and store in an airtight container.

What Type of Task Master are You?

One morning I went to the gym for a swim before starting my work day.  When I got back to the locker room, I realized the clock by the pool was slow.  I didn’t have nearly as much time as I needed to get ready.  Most of my work is done over the phone, so it really doesn’t matter how I look, however, on that day I was going into a company and wanted to look presentable.  I wasn’t sure how that would happen given my limited time.  Out of desperation, I ended up drying my hair while putting on mascara.  Not a pretty picture!  I did get to my meeting on time and in one piece, but with quite a struggle.  I’m lucky I didn’t poke my eye out!

?
?

How often are you multi-tasking instead of mono-tasking, whether by choice or out of habit?  We live in a culture where it’s become the norm to do more than one thing at a time.   We may pride ourselves on our multi-tasking ability, believing that it helps us get more done. When we are honest with ourselves, however, we recognize what studies are beginning to show:  multi-tasking is not productive. It’s really only possible to place your attention on one thing at a time. If you don’t believe this, here’s an experiment: Think about the about the taste of a fresh strawberry (that fresh, luscious, burst of sweetness) at the exact same time as you subtract 37 from 95.  Really concentrate. You can switch back and forth really quickly, but you can’t actually think about both things simultaneously.  When we multi-task, our attention is splintered, flitting back and forth between the multiple things we are attempting to accomplish. If, like me, you attempt to follow Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, including the agreement to “do your best” we would we well served to minimize multi-tasking. When we have more than one thing we are working on, our efforts will rarely be more than second best.

Mono-tasking, on the other hand, has many benefits.  When we give our full attention to something, we usually do it efficiently and well.  It is a form of mindfulness.  We feel better about ourselves, the process we are engaged in, as well as the end product.  As I typed the first word of this paragraph, I noticed I’d made a Freudian slip typo.  I’d written “Mom-tasking”.  It made me recall all the multi-tasking I’d done as a work-from-home mother.  Many afternoons I would be doing laundry, making dinner, listening to a personal or business development recording, and helping a son with his homework, all at the same time.  When my husband or the other son would come into the room to ask me something or share about his day, I hardly gave my full attention.  When we give our full attention to someone and listen with our whole being, it feels like a gift.  Those are moments to treasure in our relationships.

What do you want to give your full attention to?

How do you feel when you mono/multi-task?

Where could you simplify your life by narrowing your focus?

What Fills Your Rain Barrel?

I’ve never been so happy to have rainy days as I’ve been this week.  We’ve had an unusually long spell of hot and dry weather in our area, creating extreme drought conditions.  Lake Cochichewick, our town’s reservoir is fortunately quite large, however, even with a voluntary water ban for most of the summer, the water level is noticeably lower.  We have relied on our rain barrels to supplement watering pots, gardens, and foundation plantings.  At times, our rain barrels ran dry.

To me, rrain-barrelain barrels seem like a metaphor for our own inner resources.  At times during this busy summer, I felt as if my rain barrel was empty.  Even though this season was full of so many blessings—visits with friends and family, a coaching Summit, a retreat, travel, work, gardening, camping, and swimming,—there were times when all of that activity and doing became overwhelming.  As I returned to the meditation cushion after a few very hectic days when I let my practice lapse, I could sense that my rain barrel was beginning to fill again.  I made a mental note of this and for the rest of the summer I did my best to find ways to incorporate some moments of stillness or sky-gazing into every day.

To navigate this transition period between summer and fall with more balance and joy, consider:

What fills your rain barrel?

What depletes it?

What commitment(s) do you want to make to yourself to insure that it doesn’t run dry?

What’s Your Body’s Message?

anatomy-254120_960_720I’m still reeling from a week earlier this month in which a fellow swimmer died, a neighbor had open heart surgery, and my husband suffered from lower back pain and spasms.

My swimming buddy (we shared a lane during an adult swim class) had taken about a month’s break from exercise in between sessions.  I swam with him twice before the next round of classes was to begin.  He said he was having a hard time getting his breathing back.  He was using a heart rate monitor and I recall him taking long rests whenever his heart rate got too high. I may have been one of the last people to see him before he died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving a wife and three children.

My neighbor was fortunate to also be wearing a heartrate monitor when he began having some cardiac symptoms. An ambulance took him right to the hospital for tests which identified the problem. He was lucky to have a successful bypass surgery in time. They were told that with the type of blockage he had, people often just drop dead of a heart attack. Looking back, he and his wife have been able to identify earlier signals, such as pallor, chest pain, and shortness of breath when exercising (which doctors thought was exercise induced asthma.)

My husband, Bill, went into back spasms the day after celebrating his 60th birthday with a party with his mountain biking friends. He’s always been very active and enjoys challenging himself. For example, he recently did a “tri-peak” event where they rode up and down three mountains in one day.  His back pain may have been from his mountain biking or lifting a heavy rock while trail building. He’s never been one to stretch much or do yoga, but he’s becoming more open to it now. He has already benefited from a “yoga for back pain relief” practice that a yoga teacher friend of mine shared with me.

Our bodies are constantly giving us messages.  Sometimes we fail to notice them.  Other times we choose to ignore them.  What I’ve witnessed over and over again is that if we don’t pay attention to the whispers or subtle signs, our bodies will keep turning up the volume until we finally hear the messages.  For instance, I ignored headaches and resisted admitting that alcohol, (even just one drink or glass of wine) is like poison to my body.  It took routine blood work revealing elevated liver enzymes and a thermogram (which I do instead of mammograms) showing a lot of congestion to finally make me serious about healing my liver.

What’s your body’s message?  I invite you to take a few moments to tune into your body:

Close your eyes and slowly begin to scan your body from head to toe.

As you bring your awareness to your body, listen.  Where are the whispers or shouts?

Focus on one area at a time, beginning with the one that’s clamoring for the most attention. What sensations are you feeling in this part of your body?

What emotions might that be expressing?

If this area was trying to tell you something, what might be the message(s)?

What does your body want you to do?

Repeat the process for any other areas of your body that want to be heard.

I highly encourage you to then heed your body’s wisdom!

Have You Discovered the Magic Yet?

It’s that time of year again!  Even though we are in the middle of a snowstorm on this first full day of spring, I’m still feeling the desire to spring clean.  If you have also been feeling the urge to weed out, organize, and clean, read on to learn about an approach that can
have a profound impact.

The book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo came out the fall of 2014 and has become a New York Times best-seller, but I’m still surprised by how many people still aren’t familiar with it.  I remember reading the book while sitting on the beach over Labor Day weekend and feeling eager to get back home to start organizing.   Following the “Kon Mari” method that Marie teaches, I began by organizing by clothes.  The first step in the process is to discard any item which doesn’t spark joy.  Sometimes all I needed to do was touch something to elicit either a feeling of, “Yes, I love to wear this!” or “Ugh.  I don’t want to wear this!”  Other times I tried things on to help me access what would stay or go.  It felt good to pass some clothes on to friends and the rest I donated to charity.  I weeded out so much that I no longer need to put out-of-season clothes in storage.

Once you have pared down to items that you love, the next step is to store them so there’s a place for everything.  Marie suggests folding clothes and socksstoring them upright so you can see each item.  I followed her method for my sock drawer and love the difference it has made!  I’ve maintained this orderly system ever since.  I must confess that I found some of her methods, for instance how to fold and store T-shirts, over-the-top, so I stopped there, despite her recommendation to tidy once and for all in one fell swoop.

Once the spring cleaning energy swept over me, I picked up her book, watched some of her YouTube videos, and am immersed in the process again.  And yes, I’ve learned to fold and store T-shirts in the recommended way.  I have now tidied my closets, drawers, books (although I probably need to be more ruthless here), and have made a huge dent in organizing papers.  With two home offices in addition to household papers and an enormous recipe collection, this is taking some time.  My husband caught the tidying bug and had a shred fest over the weekend.  So far he’s freed up an entire filing cabinet drawer.

Part of the magic of this process is the feeling you experience from this clearing.  You feel light, getting out from underneath the burden of unwanted and unneeded stuff.  This frees up your energy and creates space.  For what?  Well, you just have to wait and see.  There’s always a surprise element with magic.  I’d love to hear what, in addition to joy, the process sparks for you!

Love Litany

20160216_122506_resized

I once hosted my women’s group for a potluck dinner around Valentine’s Day.  Following our meal and catch-up conversations, I suggested we create a love litany. We quickly passed a rose quartz crystal (known to promote feelings of love and compassion) around our circle.  Each time the crystal came around to us, we shared a few words about something we loved.  It was amazing how quickly the mood of the entire group lifted.

I invite you to bring back that loving feeling with your own love litany. Alone, or better yet, in the company of loved ones, recite your list of loves.  Be as specific as possible, describing what you love about a certain person, place, or thing.  For instance, I love my older son’s persistence.  He’s demonstrated this numerous times, in the way he went the distance to get his black belt in karate and more recently when he taught himself how to surf.  I love the way my younger son courageously strikes out into new realms. For example, he was an exchange student to Chile and was the first from his high school to go abroad as a junior.  I also love how intuitive my husband is. He’s usually able to sense exactly what’s going on with me and will step up to help or make a suggestion that’s right on target.

Love has no limits, so there are boundless things you could add to your litany. Consider the people in your life, your pets, the activities that bring you joy, and pleasing elements of your environment. Continue your litany until you begin to run out of loving thoughts.

What I suspect may not have made into your litany was anything about yourself. If that’s the case, I challenge you to add some things you love about you.  Maybe there’s a physical attribute that you are thankful for.  In my case I’m happy for my high metabolism (thanks, Mom!) and my naturally blond hair (thanks, Dad!) What qualities do you love? I love my creativity and the way I look for the best in people. What is the best in you? Complete your litany by celebrating what you love about yourself.

Given the challenges of our troubled times, we need to have multiple tools available to support us. I hope this love litany exercise helps give you a boost.

Applesauce or Banana Muffins

muffin

2 cups gluten-free flour (sometimes I make my own, but this time I used Bob’s Red Mill All purpose gluten-free flour which has garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour and fava bean flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1/3-1/2 cup agave sweetener or honey
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ cup grapeseed oil
½ cup milk or non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup applesauce or mashed banana
Flaked, unsweetened coconut (optional)
Raisins (optional)
Chopped pecans (optional)
Cinnamon & sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins (I used Trader Joe’s Coconut oil spray). or use muffin liners.  Whisk first 4 ingredients together in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk next 6  ingredients together.  Stir liquid ingredients into flour mixture, just until combined.  Stir in coconut, raisins, and nuts if using.  Fill muffin tins.  Sprinkle with cinnamon & sugar.

Make 18-20 minutes.  Makes 18 muffins.