Seeking Peace and Balance as a Diet Junkie

UntitledI am a diet junkie.  Any new nutrition fad fascinates me.  The latest power food?  Tell me!  If you walked into my house, you would find diet cookbooks in every room — low-cal, low-carb, paleo, flat-belly, DASH, vegetarian, vegan — have I missed any?  You might think a svelte, muscular woman would walk out to greet you.  Let’s skip the Match.com body-type description, and just say . . . I’m not.

My mother fought with food all her life.  She often said she could live on a good loaf of crusty bread with butter.  After the loss of her son and quitting smoking, her eating was out of control.  She was the first person I knew to have a gastric bypass.  Many things have changed since then, but I think I can safely say that surgery is still not an easy way out, by any means.  I watched her recover, and although she was so pleased at the weight loss, she was often tired or ill.  There were certain foods that never agreed with her again.

Soon after the bypass, she developed a lactose intolerance.  One day they diagnosed her with diabetes.  When my father died, suffering from a broken heart, she malnourished herself.

She would look at pictures of momentous life events and remark not over the day itself, but, “Look how thin I was there.”  Or, “Oh my, I was heavy.”  She tried hard to be a good role model for me, and I think she succeeded.  But children notice things like that.  I think I joined her on my first diet when I was twelve or thirteen.

After a stroke that left her too weak to walk on her own and unable to keep most food down, her weight plummeted.  She joked that this was one way to lose weight.  And she was right.  When she took her last breath, she was tiny and frail.

My mother was a vibrant woman in life.  I spent most of my life living in her shadow.  Until the shadow was gone.

And all the things I had watched her do, and say, and be, became relevant.  Because at some point I stepped into the light and realized I belonged there.  People began to say, “You are JUST like your mother.”  And I was so proud, because she was everything I wanted to be.  But I was also so afraid, because of all the things I watched her fight. *One day, I said to myself,

“It is so wonderful to be just like Mom.  But I am not her.  I will live my own life, face my own demons, and clear my own hurdles.”

UntitledI think it was at that moment I veered off her path and started to live my life.  In the year that followed, I lost 45 pounds.  Life and I began a beautiful new relationship.  I got a tattoo of a dragonfly, symbolizing the change from nymph to agile predator.  No longer content to hide unnoticed, I was spreading my wings and meeting life head-on.

However, habits die hard, and I am still fascinated by this food thing.  I’ve found an ebb and flow between the control it has over me and the control I allow it to have.  Therein lies the peace.  Balance is not a thing — it is a constant shifting of yin and yang.

What I’ve learned is that there are many ways to feed yourself.  You can feed the body, feed the mind, or feed the emotions.  All three need to consume their own diet.  You can substitute one for another, but to do so is not healthy and will never produce good results.  It is also true that sometimes you need to let the mind, body, or emotions go without before you can truly feel the pain of hunger and know what is needed to satiate . . .

A good cry . . .

A good book . . .

or a good meal . . .

While one cannot substitute for the other, I have seen all three go quite well together, if necessary.

Peace . . .

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Meal by Meal:  365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance through Mindful Eating by Donald Altman

Available on Amazon.com

 


Lawns, witch-burning, and blood-letting may have run their course

I have a love-hate relationship with lawns.  My toes like to curl deep in a green sponge of the stuff, but there’s a snake lurking in the grass.

Lawns became popular in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.  So did witch-burning and blood-letting.  The kind of lawn most people envy today require several supplements, typically in the form of chemicals.

The suffix -cide is added to words to indicate “killing,” or “to kill”, while the suffix -izer is added to indicate “render,” or “to render.”  The words fungicide, herbicide, pesticide and fertilizer suggest we are killing everything off but the grass, and then trying to render it fertile.

It may be time for a change, eh?

Most of us see the yard as an extension of our house.  We ogle pictures of carpet-like green expanses, and click on pictures of outdoor seating areas free of pollen, seeds, bird poop and rain.

The truth is, our yard is part of nature.  The reason we need all those chemicals is because we are forcing it to be something it was never meant to be.  The out of doors, left to its own devices is biodiverse.  The formal lawn is a monoculture.  Mono.  As in one plant.  Grass.  There are very few examples of monoculture in nature.  Most are purely manmade, such as in agriculture.  But your lawn isn’t even being grown for food.  You might as well pour concrete on the whole thing and paint it green.

The weeds in my yard are a symbol of life.  They are nature trying to regain balance.  The weeds import biodiversity.

UntitledIn the early morning I pad out to the yard in my pajamas, frequently barefoot.  I’m foraging for my grand-rabbit’s breakfast.

I acquired the domestic rabbit when my daughter rescued it from her uncle’s farm.  Little more than a baby, someone had apparently set it “free” when they decided they no longer wanted it.  She is a full-grown rabbit now, and quite at home living in my kitchen.  However, lest anyone (my daughter) forget this is not a pet I chose, but one that was bestowed upon me, I will forever refer to her as my grand-rabbit.  Her given name is Mandi, but I call her Rabbit and occasionally just Bun.  But I digress . . .

On my way in, I will often stop by the salad garden to pick the greens for my own lunch .  Better yet, I might make a breakfast salad with green onions, crumbled bacon, homemade croutons, and a poached egg on top.  Drizzled with a maple vinaigrette, it is the best way to jump-start a five-star day!

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On one particular morning this last week, I was adding dandelion blossoms to Bun’s breakfast.  She gobbles them up like candy.  I left two of them intact, as they each hosted about three tiny bees, bobbing their abdomen atop the yellow flowers.  It reminded me that I share this yard — gladly, too.

Bun dines on the leaves and flowers of dandelion, clover, plantain, and creeping charlie.  Yes, I have creeping charlie.  Sounding more like a security issue than a weed, creeping charlie is the scourge of the lawn.  It can choke out small plants, and as its name implies, creeps sure-footedly across expanses of ground.

My research revealed that it was once touted as a hearty ground cover.  Medicinally, it’s been used to cure everything from sciatica to asthma.  After is was brought to America, it was found to be very high in Vitamin C, and is now naturalized in almost every region.  Please note that not any of these are reasons to purposely plant the stuff, but if you just can’t shake that nasty case of scurvy, you may want to steep a cup of tea.

UntitledWell . . . you know I had to try it.  Several writings described creeping charlie tea as severely bitter.  I found it fairly pleasant, and not as bitter as some of the herbal teas in my cupboard.  *Maybe I just didn’t do it right.  I put it in a cup before adding boiling water, as one blog explained.  At any rate, I didn’t add the honey and lemon they all insisted I would need.

My point being that like people, most plants are not all bad.  Even the mint, chives and oregano I planted need to be carefully watched so as to to take over the garden.  And grass is not a bad thing, as long as we plant it responsibly where it can grow without added chemicals —  or water!  I can’t believe anyone is still using water on their grass.

The latest recommendation is that if possible, try to find a three to four foot stretch at the edge of your property that you can let go.  Let the branches fall and become home for worms.  Let the leaves drop and mulch the earth.  Let the weeds grow and the seeds germinate.  Let the pollinators buzz and the butterflies sip.  Let the squirrels dig.  Let the spiders spin.

Between the strip and your lawn, plant a transition of native plants and a deep mulch bed.  The benefit is less watering, less mowing, and your own little nature preserve right at home.

Peace . . .

*There are all kinds of reasons I wouldn’t suggest you try this on my suggestion.  You would want to make sure you were indeed using the right herb.  You would want to wait after a first sip to make sure there is no reaction.  You want to know there are no toxins on anything you consume.  And you might want to make sure you have someone who can dial for emergency if necessary.  Please do your own research.  I am NO expert on the subject!
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A Train of Thought, Off Its Track

I feel like I owe you an explanation.  Several, actually.

I’ve been busy.  But more than that, I seem to have lost my voice.  Or maybe I’ve lost my train of thought, sprawled recklessly off its track with weeds growing up through the axles.

What started me blogging was a perverse lack of passion for anything at all.  An apathy for life itself.  Blogging became my antidepressant.   And like an antidepressant, as it heals, seems less needed.  The patient forgets to take the dose, or self-prescribes a weaning-off.

My work, the work they pay me to do, requires more thought than my old position; more creative thinking.  Unfortunately, leaving me with less available to me in my leisure.  So instead I create with my hands.

Remember my hugelkulter?  As promised, I am sharing its progress.  I’ve now planted in it — bush beans and cilantro and pepper plants . . .

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A Salad garden was built and is already being harvested . . .

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The rain garden has been dug out and native plantings are going in . . .

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A path was laid . . .

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A stepping stone was made . . .

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The lawn is being taken over one small planting at a time.  Iris and catmint and clematis along the fence . . .

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Cardboard, compost and mulch create a no-dig garden, ready for planting this fall or next early spring . . .

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Planters and feeders . . .

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Herbs . . .

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And plenty of volunteers to help . . .

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(volunteer petunias greet my guests)

I promise I’ll write soon.  I know what I want to say, I just can’t put it to words right now.

Peace . . .


Weekly Photo Challenge: Intricate

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“To be well married you have to have a penchant for the intricacies of intimacy and larval change..If the personality is a spider’s web, you will want to know every thread…Pleasures no longer come to you, but there are pickings to be had if you can learn to scavenge for them”

— Hanif Kureishi, The Body

For more photographic interpretations of Intricate, or to take part in The Weekly Photo Challenge, go to The Daily Post.

The ring bearer’s pillow pictured above exhibits the Norwegian art of Hardanger.  Even weave fabric, cut between series of satin stitches, creates intricate open designs.  I made it in 1982 at the age of 21. 

I haven’t done this Weekly Photo Challenge in a while and I’ve missed it.

Peace . . .


Go Into the World . . .

UntitledThere is a quilt draped across the back of my desk chair.  It’s just a small lap quilt, the kind I remember from nursing homes.  The fabrics are old-fashioned prints, woven from cotton.  The simple squares are sewn together in random sequence.  The layers are tied with yarn at the corners of the pieces.  I don’t even know who made it.

It is, by all standards, a quilt of no distinction at all.

Given to the University of Minnesota by a quilting group, it was made to keep oncology patients warm.  Diminishing weight and the treatments they endure leave cancer patients extremely cold all the time.

UntitledWhen I first saw the quilt, my father sat at the kitchen table, where all memories of my father lead.  He wore a thin grey goose-down jacket.  The stocking cap Mother knitted sat high on his head.  The quilt lay across his lap and over his slippered feet.

The strong, firm man of my childhood was now frail, thin, and weak.  His face produced a genuine smile that visually drained precious energy from his body.  I noticed the quilt immediately.

“Where did you get this?”

I hugged him then walked over to do the same to my mother.  She explained where he received the quilt, and we all agreed how very nice it was.

UntitledAs the weeks progressed, my father was never without his quilt.  And now, as I look at it these twenty-four years later, I imagine it wise and gentle.  The threads woven in purpose.  The pieces cut with precision.  Love somehow supernaturally layered between patchwork and batting and backing.

For decades the quilt sat neatly folded on my bedroom shelves as a reminder of the care my father received during his last months from so many faceless angels.  It is a steadfast message that we just never know when the good we do will affect the lives of others.

Recently I brought the quilt from its place on the shelf and rested it on the back of my chair.  When the temperature dips down, as it can in Minnesota, the quilt comes out to lay across my lap and over my slippered feet.  It reminds me, as I work diligently at my job, to do well.  But more importantly, it reminds me how lucky I am to be in a position where I can do good.

Untitled“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”

― Minor Myers

Peace . . .


What’s a Hugelkultur?

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!
–Sitting Bull

I’m keen on experimenting in the garden.  My friend Mary says I’m a horticulturist.  I like that thought, but I’m not sure I’d use that word to describe myself.  Maybe just a goofy plant lady who gets bored seeding in straight lines.

Last fall I planted eight garlic cloves for the first time.  In their place, eight tender green shoots reach up through the otherwise neglected soil.  There is something about coaxing nature that satisfies me.  One year I tested straw bale gardening.  If I can find some good bales, I’ll try it again.  I’d like to give keyhole gardening a shot in the front yard.  The one thing I can’t grow is grass, but grass is on the way out anyway.

I’m just ahead of the curve.

My yard could also use a few rain gardens.  I live in the middle of a big hill and there is an underground river that would like to flow right through the middle of my basement.

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Bubba helped me fix the drainage.

Bubba helped me fix the drainage so we no longer see any water in the house.  But here’s the deal.  If I and all my neighbors up the hill would do our best to keep our water in our own yard, fewer homes would have drainage issues.

The old adage is to divert the water away from the house.  This is sound advice, but to most homeowners this means draining it from the yard and eventually to the street where it flows freely through underground systems to our natural waterways, fertilizer and all.  We now know this has harmful effects on both the environment and those of us who live in it.

When I moved into my home, it was April.  After some unusually long hard rains, I realized I was now the proud owner of lakefront property and a couple of ducks.  My first instinct was to dig a little trench on the downhill side of the yard and let it all drain away.  That worked great.  This was the year of the foreclosure, and the houses on either side of me were vacant.  The growing pond below me was a great solution.

Then the house uphill from me sold.  A builder came in to flip the house.  He had no interest in neighborliness, only profit.  He used my water hose without asking and parked his trucks in front of my driveway before I had to leave for work.  He pointed rain spouts right at my house, and all of the pavement drained my way.  A call to the city resolved nothing.  After the first good rain, there was a river through my basement, the garage, and the backyard.  The little trench I dug out to drain the yard was quickly eroding and becoming a waterfall.

What’s more, I now had a neighbor downhill from me too, and I was feeling really guilty about draining into his backyard.  But it wasn’t just his yard.  Mentally, I mapped the route the water on my property had taken.  Twenty houses uphill were all emptying their run-off downhill.  Once it hit my yard, it went on to reach other basements, garages, the sewer and eventually our waterways.

Wishing the uphill properties wouldn’t drain into my yard wasn’t enough.  I was a neighbor to those below me.  A change had to occur somewhere with someone.  And that was when I decided it might as well be me.

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Mandi Bunny with an i

I stopped using chemical fertilizer and pesticides.  What used to embarrass me, is now an emblem of pride.  My dandelions feed the pollinators in early spring when other foods are hard to find.  I also have a rabbit who loves for me to forage the chemical-free greens for her breakfast.  As the gardens take over the lawn, maybe someday I can even get rid of my gas-powered lawn mower.

I filled in the drainage trench.  Even if it means living lakefront once a year, I want to keep the water that comes into my yard from leaving my yard.  If we all thought that way it would be an easier task.  And we would be better stewards of our neighborhoods, cities, and the planet.

I built a hugelkultur.  A hugelwhat?

A hugelkultur.  There are right and wrong ways to say it.  I say it hoogle coolter.  That, I believe, is the wrong way, but I’m sticking with it.

I suppose there are also right and wrong ways to do it, and things to plant in it the first or succeeding years.  As I am a dubbed horticulturist and stubbornly self-sufficient, I will learn as I go.

The word hugelkultur translates to the term hill culture.  Typically, a hugelkultur is a raised bed with an inner filling of rotting wood and other composting materials.  I highly suggest, if you have more than a bizarre interest in the word hugelkultur, you do your own research, and not use my trial as your reference.

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Here, the small impression is retaining some of the spring run-off that would normally run quickly through my yard.

Last fall I scooped out some earth to create an indent that will eventually become a rain garden.  The sod and dirt, along with dead wood, was piled on the down side of the indent as a type of dam for heavy rains or spring thaws.  The dam doubles as a raised bed with fertile, moisture-retaining compost inside.

I’ll plant the rain garden this year, making it larger after seeing how well it performed this spring.  Once I add soil and prepare the hugelkultur for planting, I’ll share more photos and you can all watch from your armchairs without getting dirt under your nails.

The hard part will be keeping the dog off of it.  The hugelkultur is in the direct line of Frisbee flight, and you may remember my past challenges with that.

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Peace . . .


Where I Stand

Where do you stand on gun control?  I stand beside a maple night table placed to the left of a double bed, symmetrically balancing the one on the other side.  It looks exactly like I imagine every other parents’ bedroom looks in my neighborhood.  I’m a young girl, alone in the house, except for my friend.  My grandparents have left for the day, mother is picking up dinner on the way home from work.  It is just the two of us, contemplating what we ought do next.

I’m not sure how it became a topic, but it is.  I know the rules.  I know how it works.  I know what it does.  I know it’s kept in the drawer in the night table.

“Do you want to see it?”

I reach for the hard metal pull and the drawer glides open.  We exchange glances as we view the weapon lying patiently for employment.

The metal is cold.  I’ve held it before, yet it is heavier than I expect.  It feels as powerful as I know it is.  I place the firearm in her outstretched palms.  We look at it with wide eyes.

“Are there bullets in it?”

I shrug my shoulders.  She pushes the device back toward me.  Carefully, I lift it from her hands and set it gingerly back in the drawer.  I make certain it looks exactly as I found it.  I know the consequence for breaking this rule.

We breathe a sigh of relief.  The Thing is put away and we never have to hold it again if we don’t need to.  Or want to.  But if we do, we know where it is.  Both of us.

We go back to playing things that little girls play before their parents come home with dinner and friends are sent home to their houses for dinner.

That day we walked away from the night table with the gun in it.  And life went on.  But what if it hadn’t?

And that’s where I stand on gun control . . . by a maple night table placed to the left of a double bed.

Peace . . .


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