But it’s way more than just a little book– it’s a journal too! And it’s lent-specific. Things to think about every day for 40 days. Kind of excited!
The title of the book is “40 Soul-Stretching Conversations” and every day for the forty days of lent, there’s a little bit of space to write, and two little things to think about– one quotation from someone awesome (e.g. Teresa of Avila) and a reflection on the topic by Joan Chittister (the awesome-est).
So let’s chat about these things, shall we? For 40 days! 40 nights!
Hopefully it’ll be more pleasant than wandering in the desert 😉
So today, conversation numero uno:
“The things of the soul must always be considered as plentiful, spacious and large.” –Teresa of Avila
“But what are the ‘things of the soul’? Surely they are every breath we breathe, every word we hear, every thought we think. The things of the soul have been too long compartmentalized. And so we got religion but not spirituality. We got church but not God. We got the sacred but no the sacredness of the secular. Or better yet, the revelation that there is nothing ‘secular’ at all.” –Joan Chittister
And in reading that very first page… I knew that this was absolutely the book for me. It so eloquently says things that have been swirling and twirling around in my head for a long time now.
Simply put: merely going through the motions cannot feed your soul.
Granted, the entire notion of something “feeding the soul” was completely foreign to me until two short years ago when a woman I met at a conference in Milwaukee asked me about the church I go to– she said, “yes, but are you being spiritually fed?”
I was kind of taken aback at first. How do you answer something like that? How do I know if I’m being spiritually fed?
So I stopped thinking and I answered with my gut.
No, I was not being spiritually fed.
But was that my church’s fault?
It was mine. I wasn’t even looking for food for the soul.
I had church without God. I had religion without spirituality. I had a compartmentalized soul that was so well compartmentalized that it rarely saw the light of day. And not just in the realm of religion/spirituality/the other-worldy-in-other-ways. In everything. What fed my soul just wasn’t a consideration.
My soul, though, has been released from it’s compartment as of late. And dang. That this is hoooooong-ry! Nom nom nom…
Turns out, lots and lots of things can feed my soul. Before that nice, yet rather blunt, lady I had never even thought about it. Now I think about it all the time.
Because I think if I look for the common denominator in all these soul foods, of the metaphorical variety, of course, I think intention is really where it’s at.
My intention changes the way I approach everything, even secular things, and turns them into activities that feed my soul.
When my intention is to build relationships and be the best communicator that I can be, work feeds my soul.
When my intention is to move my body and feel my muscles work, exercise feeds my soul.
When my intention is to spend time preparing good food for myself and my family, cooking feeds my soul.
Anything can feed my soul… if I choose to let it. If I choose to approach it with good intentions, a positive attitude, a sense of optimism, an eye out for the silver lining.
A little soul for everything and everything for my soul.
Life… you know? Sometimes it can be so hard to write! Let’s be friends on Facebook, then you’ll know I’m still around. And we can virtually hang out– how fun! (Rachel Stankowski, search for me and I promise to accept you… except if you thank me for “excepting” you, I will probably unfriend you. Grammar.)
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m “back,” but I am here today. So let’s talk about the letter N.
Since I told you before about my childhood obsession with frosting, it probably won’t surprise you that as an adult with a more refined palate (ha!), my attentions turned instead to Nutella.
Mmmmm… Nutella. It’s delicious on everything and anything, but most delicious on nothing but a spoon. (Or your finger, in a pinch. I’m not going to lie though, I’ll even lick it off the foil covering when I open up a new jar.)
And yet, Nutella does not feel quite the same way about me. In fact, it hates me.
The hate grew gradually, over time, but that whole “made with skim milk” claim right on the front of the jar has most certainly become a big warning label for me.
Made with milk = contains lactose. And I just can’t do it.
Back in my binge eating days (you know, like yesterday, except when those days also included lactose) Nutella was basically my go to substance for the drowning of feelings and rapid intake of calories.
While I was on Weight Watchers,* I even calculated that a full jar of Nutella constituted 24 points (FYI: that was on the “old” points system, so don’t go eating a jar of Nutella and recording it as such if you participate currently)… and I’d save up the extras and work out to “afford” to eat at least half a jar. Because what better to spend 12 points on?!
The extremes to which I would go. I wonder if I can help you to understand…
I would save up my WW points all week and on the day furthest from my weekly meeting, I would have everything all planned out. I’d bring a spoon to school with me, even if I didn’t need one, just so that I’d have it ready in my lunch bag. On the way home, I’d swing by the Safeway on Shady Grove Rd in Rockville and I’d park halfway between the Safeway and the Krispy Kreme because not a lot of other cars parked there. I’d run in, purchase my jar of Nutella and a couple other healthy cover foods, and then head back to the car where I would absolutely DIG IN. When I got back to the apartment, I would pull into a spot close to the grill area near the parking lot, where a cleverly placed garbage can allowed me to dispose of the evidence, and then I’d head up the four flights of stairs to my apartment– moaning and groaning all the way because, let me tell you, there’s just no eating a whole jar of Nutella (or even half!) without basically destroying your insides. Try it when you’re lactose-intolerant and it’s even more catastrophic.
And yet, I did it. Time after time after time. In company, I would eat the Nutella on animal crackers or some other suitable vehicle. But man, as soon as I was alone, or at least unobserved, I would eat it as though I hadn’t eaten in weeks and wouldn’t again for weeks more.
Binge trigger? Maybe. But as the title suggests, I prefer to think of Nutella as a nectar of Satan. Ridiculously tempting and easy to acquire, but just waiting to destroy me from the inside out.
Nutella’s not nearly as tempting to me today as it was before I used up all the lactase my body had to offer. (Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar lactose. Not making lactase is what makes a person intolerant to lactose. The more you know.) These days, lactaid (or as Target brand likes to call it: dairy digestive supplement) doesn’t even help much and I voluntarily avoid things like cheese, chocolate, and baked goods simply because I know what I’m in for if I eat them… and it’s not good.
They say an elephant never forgets. And for the most part, I believe that to be true. Things that have stung emotionally are basically impossible for me to forget. Things that sting physiologically, on the other hand? Those, I forget pretty readily. So I do it to myself again and again with, not so much the Nutella, but other tempting nectars that present themselves… things like alfredo sauce (seriously, lactaid does not work in that instance and I need to stop!), cheese curds (Wisconsiiiin!!! WHY?!?!?!), and hot chocolate (because it’s NOT just chocolate, sugar, and water, FYI).
Lactose isn’t the be all, end all though. I told you that my hands went totally crazy while I was in Arizona and that hadn’t happened since I had the piggy pigs (swine flu) and started getting rashes all the dang time while I was in grad school. At that time, I stopped eating gluten and that seemed to help quite a bit. But the doctor (MD, gastroenterology) told me the gluten thing was all in my head, so I ate it again. And then my hands… and my stomach… and whatever. I am a mess! But, I am also a doctor. Not a physician, but close enough right? And I know how I’m feeling better than anyone else.
Recently, another doctor of the same variety as me (i.e. PhD rather than MD, also her name is Rachel, too, except she’s French** (awesome!) so it’s pronounced Ruh-shell, you know, the pretty way) sent me an interesting article she saw in the Oprah magazine about dietary changes for intestinal disorders and the battle to get to a place that’s healthy, or at least pain- and bathroom emergency-free, in the absence of hard evidence and in the face of everyone in MD-style medicine calling you crazy. It was my story, exactly, except much worse. And it was so validating. Especially because Rachel sent it, and because Rachel likes Oprah’s magazine like I do, and I kind of worship Rachel as one of the most brilliant and thoughtful people I know… so….
So, at this point, I avoid lactose and gluten. When I do, my stomach is (relatively) calm and my hands remain human-sized. Perhaps this food avoidance is addressing something that is merely psychosomatic, but if that’s the case… it’s working!
And here’s some super good news: several varieties of store bought frosting are both lactose AND gluten free. Bring it on, Satan!
*I would like to be clear here that this was while I was on Weight Watchers the most recent time, back in 2010-2011, when I wanted to lose weight before getting married. At the time, I weighed approximately 165 lbs, which is, on my 5’10” – 5’11” frame, perfectly healthy and, dare I say, even somewhat THIN! And yet, Weight Watchers happily took my money and let me participate in full. I even lost some weight! Because anyone can lose weight if they restrict what they eat to a great enough extent and exercise (cardio plus weights!) for a mere 1 – 2 hours per day. Easy peasy, right? But let’s be honest here, WW doesn’t care, they’re getting paid, that’s good enough. And that’s why they let me join for the first time when I was still in elementary school. Nothing better for a little girl… who now eats Nutella by the jar. (Except not really because it’s chock-full of lactose and it would destroy me, but you get my point.)
**I’m sure you’re familiar with the bacteria E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, yes? Well, my friend Rachel (the French way) says it so ridiculously beautifully that because of that pronunciation and the movie Amelie (have you seen it?! SO good!) I would consider myself a Francophile. Science is just better with in French-accented English. It’s true. Also, one time, Rachel complimented my dexterity (with tiny little dishes full of Chlamydia— good reason to be careful!) and it made me feel so ridiculously happy that it’s one of those things that this elephant will never forget.
You know how people get about bacon? Like obsessive? Yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel about kielbasa. When it’s on sale at Festival (love my grocery store!) I always stock up and have some in the freezer. It’s great have it on hand– especially in the winter. Nothing (nothing!!) makes soup more delicious!
The reason kielbasa is worthy of an entire letter-based post all on its own, though, is more than just the sausage. It’s about what it represents.
You see, once upon a time I didn’t think I liked kielbasa. I know that I don’t like potato sausage (yoopers, I tell ya), and I assumed they were pretty much the same thing. So I always avoided it. Until one Easter at the farm (my first one in Wisconsin) when there was simply no way to avoid it. It was Easter breakfast, we were at the farm before church, and I had to eat something. Toast and donuts were out on account of the gluten (let’s talk about that some more in the near future) and I’m super picky about fruit (as in, I’ll eat some grapes, sure, but only if they haven’t touched the melon, thankyouverymuch). I recognize that I’m way too old to have these kinds of food avoidance issues, but it’s a pretty big thing for me– like maybe I’m on the autism spectrum or something? Certain foods… I just can’t do it. Not-green onions. Green peppers. Melon of any kind. Strawberries, but only when whole or sliced, I think they are delicious blended or dehydrated. Super weird, I know.
Anyway, on that particular Easter morning, I ate the kielbasa. Just a small piece at first. And then another small piece, because dang, that was pretty tasty. And then some more. And more and more and more and now I’m in love with it.
I tried something I was scared of! At the farm! And I liked it!
Same goes for asparagus, rhubarb, kale, kholrabi, swiss chard, rutabaga, chia seeds, lemons, zucchini, cream cheese (yes, even cream cheese)…
Sometimes I still don’t like things even after I try them– oranges, for example. (Even thinking about them creeps me out! That awful, awful smell!) And white or yellow onions. (Red, green, or shallots I can do…) But I can definitely pat myself on the back for trying them.
Trying new things is super hard for me though. Just ask my friend Melissa– she supported me through the great zucchini trial of 2012. We were spending a week together at a beautiful beach house in Huntington Beach, California. It was a gorgeous and ridiculously happy week and the whole time, Melissa and I pretended to be sister-wives. It… was… awesome. (Our husbands declared that they were, in that case, brother-husbands, but that’s just ridiculous.) Melissa and I drove all over up and down the Pacific Coast Highway (yes, that PCH!!) grocery shopping and we picked up some absolutely darling tiny zucchinis at Trader Joe’s. Melissa sauteed it and I screwed up my courage until I could finally take a bite. And when I did, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I actually liked it! So much so that it’s my go-to vegetable for stir fry these days and I’m always happy to take prolific garden zucchini off anyone’s hands!
My pickiness is embarrassing, honestly. Not only that, but I can’t have lactose. I just can’t do it– even lactaid is barely cutting it these days. Alas, that little magic pill always was to good to be true. Cheese and I? We’re just not meant to be. Which is a shame, because with the exception of cream cheese (until recently and only in frosting) I love pretty much all cheese. (Especially my very own Cheesehead husband!!)
I can have kielbasa though. And I can try other new things. More importantly: I will try new things. I can walk over to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning (also hosted at my local Festival grocery store– love it!) and pick out something new and interesting. I can see if my favorite farmer has a special veggie of the week for my to try– he introduced me to purple beans and rutabaga (except he pronounces it root-a-beggy, which I love) and hasn’t led me astray so far! True, I may be picky, but I’m no longer unwilling to at least try.
To think– it all started with kielbasa. That’s an affair to remember.
Speaking of no lactose, here’s an un-fun fact: Alieve Cold and Sinus, the best drug for congestion ever, uses lactose as a filler. DANG IT! Want to know how I found out? Well, after I spent this morning at work running to the bathroom over and over again, I checked the ingredients, and there it was… lactose. Not cool. The thing that kills me is that talc, as in chalk, is an ingredient, and yet they still felt the need to sprinkle some lactose in. WHY?! Would the chalk have been less tasty with just a little more chalk and no lactose? I highly doubt it! Anyway, now I know, and I won’t be taking Alieve Cold and Sinus, the wonder drug, anymore… regardless of how congested I am.
Want to know why I’m congested? Seth brought me a cold home from Miami last time he was there. So nice of him to be so considerate of me, but I’ve asked him to forget about any gifts in the future.
Nothing like the first page of a brand new planner. I’ll always be a pen and paper girl and for me, that first week in January when you crack open the pages for the first time– heaven!
I love blank slates… fresh starts, do-overs, and second chances.* I also love dinosaurs. But that’s not the point.
The point is, a new year offers a fresh start. But so does a new month. A new week, a new day. Each new minute is another chance to start.
I told you like a million years ago (poetic license) that I was reading a book by Joan Chittister called Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and I mentioned that I was both excited and nervous to get to the chapter entitled “What’s Wrong with Me: Why Can’t I Change?” Excited because I thought maybe she’d have the answer for me. Nervous because maybe it would be something that I couldn’t do, couldn’t handle, whatever.
What Joan Chittister told me was incredibly simple, yet remarkably profound:
“If the question is, What is wrong with me: what can’t I change? the answer may be that I have to decide to begin. When the struggle will finally end, what the end will look like, we cannot know. We can only know that beginning to begin is the secret.”
While we aren’t given unlimited time, we always have a moment in which we can decide to begin. It’s that grace thing again. Maybe you did burn all your bridges… but you could learn to swim. You could build a boat. You could purchase water wings. You could tame a dolphin and ride him. Or you could just build another bridge, I suppose. Lots of ways to get to the other side.
Resolutions early on in the new year are truly a dime a dozen. For that reason, you’ll hear lots and lots of naysayers– “80% of all resolutions are given up by February” and “bandwagons are bad” and all that. But a dime a dozen?! Sound like a pretty good deal to me! And bandwagons can be a lot of fun. (I imagine it to be like a hay ride– with a drum line. Sweet. Work those quads, LQ!)
I’ve got a couple ideas about what I’d like to do in 2014… not necessarily hard and fast resolutions, per se. Just some ideas:
Be funnier. I’ve been a little bit serious on Under the Tapestry as of late. More jokes, more jokes!!
Grow more food and/or eat more food that other people grow. This year, I’ve got to get a garden up and running so I can can some of my own stuff. (Love when two or more cans happen in a row! Can can can you do the can can?!) Also, I got a pressure canner for Christmas (oh snap, I am getting SO brave!) so that I can can stuff that’s not super acidic. Pretty pumped about that! Beans? Pumpkin puree? And I’m sure Seth wouldn’t mind more homemade ketchup (although that was a lot of work).
Sew more. I was warned it would happen– fabric, half-finished projects, materials for grand ideas that never get used. I didn’t believe it would happen to me, but it did. By the end of 2014, however, I will finish my duvet cover. (omg! you guys, it’s so awesome– and more than halfway done, I can’t wait to show you!) In addition to a couple other projects I’d love to turn out sometime in the near future (I found some tweed with a touch of sparkle– it’s been begging me to make it into a super cute skirt)!
Improve my home. My husband is awesome at his part of this. He’s ridiculously handy and loves learning to do even more stuff from his dad, who is even more ridiculously handy than my husband. Seth has installed new wiring, gas lines, insulation, a satellite mount, in-wall/in-ceiling surround sound speakers, and a new water softener among a million other projects both small and large. The nuts/bolts and inner workings of the house are very well taken care. The aesthetics are more my domain… I painted a couple rooms, hung some new curtains, halfway finished a duvet cover (see above), purchased the paint for another room… and then… got tired? Gave up? I don’t know what. But I need to get back on that. And stat. For that reason, I’ve joined the Apartment Therapy January Cure for some motivation, and I’m pretty excited about that! Today, I made a list of 3 – 5 things per room in my house I’d like to change. Project list– check! It’s a start, anyway!
Read! For book club, of course, and anything else that sounds interesting. But I’d also like to embark on some sort of awesome book challenge. My friend Nicole pointed me to this woman’s challenge of reading a book from every country in the world. Dang. I’m amazed– she must have learned so much! I’m thinking something smaller, perhaps a little more domestic. But what? My initial thought was to read at least one book set in every state (plus one more for the UP, because I think we all know God’s country warrants at least one book of it’s own)… but I’m certainly open to any other suggestions? Also, I super want Nicole to do the challenge with me! And to blog about it! Thoughts? Anyone?
You’ve probably noticed that all of these things are things I’ve started before. I’ve told a joke (or two), canned some tomatoes, sewed most of a duvet cover, painted a couple rooms, and read many, many books. But there’s no reason I can’t begin again and I’m desperate for a ride on that 2014 bandwagon (can’t you hear the cadence?! I need to groove along with it!) so I’m deciding to begin in these 5 areas again. Because I’m allowed to do that– and so are you!
As Joan Chittister suggests, the only way to change is to decide to begin. Any day, any time.
*Unfortunately, sometimes my anal retentiveness goes a little too far and I love these fresh starts a little too much. One time (ok, several times) in high school (and yeah, maybe in college… and grad school…) (ugh, and my real life current job…) I’ve gotten so annoyed with my handwriting or a stain on something that I’ve copied it again, neater or on a fresh sheet of paper, and tossed the old one so that I could admire the new one. Pathetic? Maybe. But it just looks so nice! Plus, copying your own notes is actually a decent way to study something… it can’t really have hurt, anyway.
You know how in cartoons, a good smell will come wafting by and the character floats along on the stream of good smells until they find what it is that smells so dang good? Like this:
(Note: if you click on the link to the picture source, you’ll find a recipe from May the Fork Be with You for homemade pierogies with kielbasa that looks to… die… for… Definitely going to have to try that.)
Anyway, I was sitting in my office this morning when that exact thing happened to me.
A delicious smell touched my nose and I floated up, up, up out of my chair and down the hall toward what was truly a sight to behold!
I’ve mentioned before that I have some pretty stellar coworkers. And by stellar I mean, of course, out-of-this-flipping-world. But it’s not just my coworkers that are completely awesome.com. The people who work near us are awesome as well. And my friend Debbie Crocker is no exception.
Although, she is exceptional. And she was responsible for that heavenly smell.
Debbie Crocker went ALL OUT to celebrate Christmas with us today! She brought homemade chicken fettuccine alfredo with garlic and parmesan to top it! She brought big puffy rolls and butter to spread on them– with a Christmas tree-topped spreader! And the cookies, my goodness! Debbie Crocker is famous for her annual cookie day and she brought us the spoils! And in case all that weren’t enough, she even brought a deliciously cheesy chip dip as an appetizer! Un-be-lieve-a-ble!
I know it looks like your typical office potluck. But it’s not– Debbie Crocker brought in and made everything herself. And this is what it actually looked like in person (i.e. through my eyes) because the photo above just does’t do it justice:
(I really identify with Miss Piggy, FYI.)
This woman’s heart… it’s just so big, so beautiful, so good… so overflowing with kindness and positivity and joy. My heart swells just looking at her! And I can tell you without a doubt, that today, I am feeling very loved (and very, very full) and I’m sure all of my coworkers (and even Sister Doctor who was invited for lunch!) do too. Because this is a very, very special woman.
You know the end of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens– Scrooge becomes a changed man and says, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” My dear friend Debbie Crocker is that person, the person who has Christmas in her heart, and happiness and goodness besides, the whole year round.
Today, she was absolutely the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge after his revelation. The Grinch after his heart burst the little measuring doo-hicky. But most importantly, Deb is like that every day– every. single. day. She is just awesome. And while I know I can never be just like Deb, because she’s truly one-of-a-kind, she does inspire me to do everything I can to make others feel as good as she makes me feel through kindness and love.
Kindness and love and cookies. Christmas cookies.
PS: Did you notice the falling snow on the blog?! Isn’t that awesome! I’m in love with it!
Remember when I ranted and raved about how awesome Mindy Kaling is and I told you to add The Mindy Project to your DVR? Did you listen? Are you watching it??? I hope so! Because if not, you’ve missed some seriously funny stuff.
And right now, I’d like… no… LOVE… to talk about this funny little scene right here:
In this scene, Mindy is hanging out at Danny’s and it’s all very cute, but what I really need to bring your attention to is this:
MINDY IS EATING SUGAR CUBES STRAIGHT OUT OF THE BOX!
(See the little box, just next to Mindy’s left hip… that’s the sugar cubes! I’d recognize that box anywhere!)
This beautiful, validating scene!!
Seriously, who is watching me at my house?! And how did this get on national television?! And why do I feel so insanely validated right now?!
We’ve discussed binge eating disorder before and it’s very serious and painful and shameful and all of that, of course… but sometimes, when I’m not sitting down in the bottom of that deep dark hole, it’s actually really flipping funny. Because some of the stuff I have eaten when desperate for a binge (yes… this is why food issues parallel the language of addiction…) have been absolutely insane. And I’m not going to lie to you right now, sugar cubes have been it for me before.
But last week, there it was on tv– a gorgeous actress, playing an awesome and lovable doctor on tv, eating sugar cubes straight out of the box. I loved Mindy Kaling before, but this– a whole new level of devotion!
And now that I think about it, these brilliantly funny actresses who are really into food– love them all! Tiny Fey as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock says one time that she’s headed home for a nooner… which is what she calls having pancakes for lunch. Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec is a waffle fiend (oh snap, love me some waffles) and when Rebel Wilson as Kimmi in Super Fun Night sees that her man friend has ordered her fries to go along with the champagne, her reaction is priceless! These are the women I can get behind and cheer for, because sometimes food is way more than just food– it can be a nooner, a top three life priority, a mood setter, or even just a little something crispy and sweet to take the edge off a long day. I’m not advocating food abuse, of course, but I do like when it gets represented on tv in a normal way, which is kind of funny, kind of weird, and definitely multi-dimensional in this crazy thin-obsessed culture of ours where to admit you’d rather have the burger than the salad is not the cool thing to do.
I have sugar cubes in my house because they are necessary for real old fashions (i.e. made with bitters and cherries rather than a mix) and my husband is a big old fashion fan. I’ve always thought that they’d be really useful if a stray horse every showed up in our back yard and I needed to lure it to the deck to secure it (it could happen– there’s a lot of Amish around here). Horses do love sugar cubes, right? Why do I feel so sure about this? I don’t know… but it turns out horses and I aren’t the only ones who need a sugar cube every now and again. So does Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, and suddenly my secret shame doesn’t feel quite so shameful anymore.