Spilled Milk and Stormy Weather: Control and Reaction

One week from tonight will be my first “school night” in about two months.  Going back to work will be difficult for a multitude of reasons, but one of them will definitely be the constant exposure to other people’s energy – both positive and negative.  My time at home with Moira has been richer than I ever would have imagined, full of family and friends in the house and on the computer screen.  I will admit, this selected circle, all full of love for me and my growing family has been like fishing in a stocked pond.  These friendships enable me to grow and evolve, certainly, and there are challenges even in these close relationships, but it’s nothing like facing the challenging personalities that one encounters at work.  With all of these week’s distance from my work life I do have enough perspective to understand that I have grown tremendously when I have learned how to accept and deal with difficult people.

Soon, I am going to be assaulted by other people’s “stuff.”  Wait, let me correct that – I will be assaulted by whatever “stuff” I permit to get to me.

One thing I am going to have to learn to just let pass through me?  Hearing other people take the weather personally.  Yep, we live in the northeast where it is cold and dark in January, but no matter how unlucky you are or how much the gods seem to want to toy with you THE WEATHER IS NEVER ABOUT YOU.

But, I am not trying to preempt office whining with blog whining, promise.  I just mention it as an example that I thought of when I was considering the twisty conundrums of control and reaction.

I think many of us are really confused about what we can and cannot control in our lives.  We so often mix up what we should and should not react to.

Last week I talked about how much changing my diet has changed my daughter’s mood and physical well-being.  Cutting out a few foods (a few dietary staples, frankly) has made her into an even more amazing, happy baby.  Something that is so often whispered about like the worst possible fate, the dreaded colic, was pretty much eliminated overnight by cooking something else for dinner.  I have complete control over what I eat and I was able to exercise that control to conquer something that could have victimized us for as long as I was breastfeeding (and perhaps beyond, since we now know her first solid food will decidedly NOT be potatoes!).

The weather and one baby’s crying fits – I realize these are only two handpicked examples, but I wonder if they could help me assemble a theory that could be tested on other things…

We take the weather personally and can be convinced that the clouds have conspired to congregate just because we have a day at the beach planned.  And yet, it is not made immediately clear to all nursing moms that eating foods that have never bothered them might actually be the cause of their babies’ hardened bellies and plaintive cries.

Is it possible that we choose to react to exactly the things we CANNOT control?  We are safe if we bitch about the weather since we know the only action we can take is to wear a raincoat.  But when it comes to something we can control, like eliminating such ubiquitous foodstuffs as corn and wheat and potatoes, why is it that we step back and hide behind the blanket death sentence of “colic”?  (Again, I understand that I am basing all of this on one baby’s belly, but bear with me on this one… I think there may be something to this idea if you insert your own examples).

It’s damn hard to be the primary agent of change in your own life and it certainly isn’t easy to effectively evaluate each situation to determine if it falls within your control and if it necessitates a reaction.  I am going to start small – I won’t react to people who let the sleet ruin their day and I will continue to control what foods land on my plate.

You?

Food and Sacrifice and Getting Tangled Between the Two

I am out of practice here in the blog world, unable to distill my thoughts into the 500 word limit I try to impose upon myself.  As you can tell, I am so immersed in mommyhood that all of my messages are filtered through the all encompassing experience of being with my baby 24-7.  This is supposed to be a post on sacrifice, about how complicated  a relationship we have with giving up what we want to believe is comforting and nourishing, even when we have definitive evidence that it is causing us or someone we love a great deal of harm.  I intended to draw parallels between my diet’s effect on Moira and a conversation that I had with my husband about how lousy we are at really cutting back on anything even when we know our lifestyle is often enjoyed at the expense of our alleged dedication to preserving the planet for our daughter.  Instead, it’s a little rant about the power of food.  I think there are some good ideas in there somewhere…

The healing work that I do incorporates aspects of kinesiology, or muscle testing, a technique by which you can ask the body about the effect of anything from pollutants to emotions to foods.  It is amazing all of the secrets one can uncover by checking on whether someone’s muscle is strong when confronted by a substance or an idea.  It makes one into a detective, unearthing emotional issues and troublesome allergens, but sometimes you get more information than you may have ever wanted.

A full belly...

When my own energy healer worked on both the baby and me we discovered that the main culprits to be blamed for Moira’s digestive distress were corn and nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants).  These are in addition to the foods that I already have to avoid for my own health and sanity.  Now, when I need hundreds of extra calories per day to keep producing good milk for my baby, I find that my diet must be even more limited.  Goodbye moussaka and tortilla chips, hello rice cakes and almond butter… Thing is, I see a hugely positive change in her already so I have a source of constant encouragement helping me to change my habits.  If only we could see the results of every sacrifice so quickly.

If I were not so immersed in healing work and dedicated to being a detective intent on following whatever clues the body and soul have to offer, would I have just sighed at the terrible luck of having a colicky baby?  How is it that we are programmed to be resigned to something like a screaming , hurting child, calling it a phase that she will grow out of?

We are so disconnected from our bodies and so oblivious to our intimate, vital relationship with everything we eat that we so often ignore food’s obvious connection with our well-being at every level.  I will certainly admit that I’m no expert on anything other than how to be Moira’s mummy (and I only have nine inner months and two outer months experience at that!), but, in my brief experience, when it comes to infants, food is mood.  And this is just as true in adult tummies too.

For years now I have been aware that certain foods wreak havoc on my system.  I’ve behaved, I’ve cheated, I’ve gone on benders and consumed sugar and gluten and wine with wild abandon.  Much of the time, I have acted like a recalcitrant child sneaking food or whining (at least internally) about all that I cannot eat.  Of course, it was a foolish, misguided rebellion since the only one who suffered when I raided the Halloween candy stash was me.  Until motherhood, that is – it can take as few as two hours for the food a mother eats to show up in breast milk and then affect a baby’s digestion and, by extension, her entire being.

I know I am not alone in this battle between what my mind know and what my belly craves.  When nearly all of the major illnesses in affecting people in Western culture are linked to poor diet and excessive consumption it seems obvious that food wields infinite amounts of power.

This being Christmas Eve Eve, I realize this is the anti-holiday post in so many ways.  But at least when you gather with your families for the holidays you can see the positive power of food as the table fills with the feast that represents all of the sentiments of the season: gratitude, love, celebration.  Food is tradition and care and seems a more benign force than the other altars that pull us together – the piles gifts or hours of football.

Make the choices that best serve you, body and soul.  No regrets, no looking back and souring a sweet meal with what you shouldn’t have placed on your plate.  Love yourself as you nourish yourself this Christmas.

Letting Creativity Simmer: Unlikely Kitchen Adventures

“If you can read, you can cook.”

My mother always said this whenever I would express any culinary trepidation. I’m not sure if it was disinterest or fear that kept me out of the kitchen, but I would usually nod my head and then disappear with a book, only turning up again when it was time to dress the salad.

Once my grandmother was about to prepare a turkey. She asked me, “Now, if you came home to this, what would you do?” I wasn’t trying to be funny when I replied, “Um, I’d put it back in the fridge.” My concerns about potential food poisoning far outshone my awareness that being involved in the process of cooking a turkey was an option I’d ever pursue.

Now I am married with a house of my own and I am fortunate enough to have a man around who has a way with poultry. I manage to produce a fair number of rather tasty meals (still avoiding having to touch raw meat whenever possible), but there is still a great divide between me and those who actually feel bliss at the other end of a spatula. For years, I had a picture of a redhead in a tiara with the caption “Domestically Disabled” prominently displayed on the refrigerator. A lot of the time, I still feel that way, but the diva excuse doesn’t cut it when you aspire to equality in a marriage and a home that you can be proud of.

To a certain degree, my mom is right: there is no reason to mystify the preparation of food. I have never been such an aloof artistic type that I had no interest in nourishing myself or setting a welcoming table for those I love. Still, it’s not always that easy: I am a pretty skilled reader, but it is amazing how, um, uniquely I can execute a recipe when I try to translate words into action.

There was the time we enjoyed a lovely gazpacho while I listed the five or six ingredients I had neglected to add, I don’t know how many dishes I have served only to exclaim “I forgot the spices!” And then there was last night when I got ready to prepare the fabulous Gluten Free Goddess‘s Mediterranean Chicken Soup (Husband kindly did his magic on the foul while I did the rest). How did I make a grocery list based on a recipe without ever noticing that it was supposed to take five to six HOURS in a crock pot? I wanted to have dinner ready by halftime – I was definitely not part of the slow cook movement. Luckily, though I have no idea how it was supposed to taste, it filled my woefully small soup pot and simmered little while and was actually wonderfully satisfying even on a condensed time line.

I share my culinary misadventures because it has helped me to realize that it is still possible to leave your comfort zone, veer off course dramatically, and still reap some rewards. For me, spending time at the stove is to dabble in someone else’s art, a territory that welcomes me only grudgingly and offers the rewards of a full belly rather than true self expression.

Still, last night was one of those times when I began to understand why those divinely inspired kitchen witches love to create with food. Mixing and tasting and knowing that I was just making it all up as I went along… There was a sense of connection to the vegetables and spices and wonder at the alchemy of making a meal for the person I love.

I may be a writer who reaches out to the world with language and thought, but it is sweetly liberating to learn that creative acts of any form are waiting for me to find them, urging me to look at the world anew.

Turning Wine Back Into Water

Communion CWMGaryDue to a nagging health issue, it has become alarming clear that I really have to eliminate sugar and alcohol from my diet. I’ve been reading about this worst case scenario for years, so it was not a when the news came yesterday that if I am serious about my health, I will do more than merely feel guilty as I delight at the gluten free bakery.

As I write this, I can only think of the incredulous emails I will receive from friends with whom I have downed countless pints of Guinness and emptied hundreds of wine bottles. It will be one thing to turn down birthday cake, but to refuse a champagne toast as well? When I finally do make it back to Galway could I possibly be so crazy as to ask for a club soda when I get everyone to go back to the Crane with me? When we go to beer gardens of Munich this summer will I smile and ask for a really, really big stein of water?

I am mourning all of the wineries in Napa I have never visited and thinking that I never enjoyed local honey enough when I had a chance, but is this really an issue of any worthy, never mind spiritual, import? At this point, I am not sure how all of this gastronomical denial will really affect me. Presumably, it will be much simpler to keep weight off during the holidays and I guess I will be more likely to remember the details of reunions with long lost friends if I do not lubricate my late night chatter with a nice Cabernet. But, at the same time I wonder what it will be like to be excluded from what seem to be amongst the major tenets of my culture: eat (whatever you like), drink (more than a little bit), and be merry (with the glow of all that has passed your lips).

Actually, part of that is really quite untrue – I have been avoiding gluten for a few years now so “eating whatever I want” is made of the stuff of distant memory to be stored next to pulling all-nighters in college and thinking Tom Cruise was attractive. Initially, it seemed impossible that I might have to live without bagels, but eventually I just realized feeling like an entirely different person made baguettes less essential. It just seems so much to excise even more wonderful edible possibilities from my already limited menu.

Of course, this realization is just over twenty-four hours old, so I am still trapped in bemoaning all that I will miss instead of focusing on finding what else there is to really enjoy as I have sagely been advised to do. As I try to cultivate mindfulness, it seems there can be no better way than to be compelled to pay even stricter attention to what nourishes me body and soul and what might be so much good tasting poison.
As I prepare to move through life that is not enriched by chocolate covered strawberries, I wonder what new sugar free, gluten free treats with high price tags and way too much packaging I will discover at the natural food store. It seems so strange that I will be driven, with many others I am sure, to the pricey aisles of such stores in pursuit of a life devoid of such perfectly natural plants as wheat and sugar cane, fermented grapes and aromatic hops. What does it mean when the modern diet (or in my case, modern medicine) has proven so detrimental that it sends us past eating like natural, conscientious omnivores to become odd niche eaters with strict lists and an overdependence on rice cakes? It will open a whole new set of challenges to try to live a more authentic life connected to this earth when I have to respectfully decline so many fruits of the soil and gnaw on some more broccoli. I’ll let you know if such obstacles seem worth it…

Beyond the Inconvenience of Changing Behavior & Changing the World

I am still preoccupied with the issue of global warming and the devastation we cause simply by being regular, average citizens of the western world, but I am ready to draw a more concrete parallel to this awakening and the overall quest for the True Self. Of course, the way we live upon this earth and the imprint that we leave upon creation is an inherently spiritual question in itself, so please forgive me if I get stuck here for a while.

In Entering the Castle Caroline Myss writes a great deal about a fear of humiliation as being the force that keeps us from embracing humility – the quiet, unselfconscious power that can open us to God. She asks her readers to go through these humiliations, from the minor interpersonal stuff that keeps us from changing our morning routine to the deep spiritual elements that affect the way we relate to the Divine. I am beginning to realize that one of the little humiliating situations that I would do anything to avoid is being derided for being too high-maintenance or difficult, for being deemed a chore to have around because I cannot just go with the flow. Of course, I fear a common element of groupthink, the tyranny of the majority that will do everything possible to keep all people at the lowest common denominator.

The food we choose to eat can expose us to a great deal of judgment and ridicule. As someone who is gluten intolerant, I have had more than enough conversations about my diet and my digestive system. Before I got serious about eliminating gluten, I was a relatively serious vegetarian, but once the menu’s meatless pasta choice became a half-remembered dream, I had to give up my anti-flesh convictions. If I planned ahead even more carefully and prepared to refuse even more offered sustenance (let us not forget the degree to which calories are the currency of friendship, love, and hospitality), I might be able to earn back my veggie stripes, but at least to this point, I have found that it is not worth the struggle.

There has been plenty of reporting dedicated to the impact our carnivorous diet has on the planet. Environment Magazine published the first story I ever read about the issue. Even that show I keep talking about, Six Degrees Could Change the World, discussed the amount of energy it takes to put a hamburger on an American plate. The issue is emerging as one that is larger than my own appetite or the annoyance of people who never know what to feed a picky eater like me (ah, those hostesses faces that have fallen to despair when I whisper weakly that soy sauce’s second ingredient is wheat!).

I bring up the issue because I recognize that one reason I do not change my diet is a little bit like my inability/refusal to see the Divine in all people and treat them accordingly. I don’t want to plague loved ones with either my wearisome food concerns or my new codes of honor. Already I am the woman who cannot eat a normal birthday cake and is forever caught up in spiritual pursuits, how can I start passing up pork chops at Sunday dinner and refuse to twist my wit in wicked directions to make friends laugh too? Of course, none of this is to say that I am either entirely virtuous (I liked the turkey and cilantro burgers my husband made for dinner last night and sometimes I am engulfed with a mean spiritedness that is entirely my own) or that I am completely ruled by others’ whims (I am a pretty strong willed person, but sometimes I abandon my principles in an often feeble attempt to be polite).

Some of the most overused words of this decade have got to be “convenient” and “inconvenient” – proof that Al Gore’s movie hit a home run into the modern cultural lexicon. It is time to stop throwing around inconvenience as just another buzz word, however, and realize the deep truth contained in the fact that we are creatures completely addicted to our convenient, disposable world. Changing our behaviors and facing the confused or hurt or laughing faces of our companions really is just a trifle when we talk about affecting the fate of the world or engendering more compassion in this world, but damn, it sure seems hard.