Lighten Up is about peeking at life through a new lens and examining the lighter side of things - world events, family and friends, job stress, pet ownership - for relief from the challenges that weigh us down. Even though we don't shy away from the tough stuff here, we value the humor, the joy, and the absurdity of life. Most of all, Lighten Up promises some thought-provoking conversation, a little laughter, and just a pinch of reality thrown in for flavor.
I apologize for being slightly MIA this weekend. Even though life happened, I continued my own giving, and I hope yours is going well, too.
Other than just a quick check in and a cheer to keep you going (and to ask you to please, please, please comment, share, post, message me with whatever you're doing!), I wanted to share a video reading of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree because, well, because I can't possibly top Silverstein. Whether or not you've read this book as I have (many times), this recording is a treat and a lesson all rolled into one. So I give you this opportunity to sit back, close your eyes, and prepare to be inspired ... to keep on giving.
If you're local, please stop in (often) and browse for yourself and everyone you care about while you pick out a book for a child who needs one. If you're not local but would like to donate to the Holiday Book Project for Disadvantaged Kids, let me know and/or contact East Line directly. Then sit back and acknowledge what a wonderful, priceless gift you have given.
I want to preface this whole post by proudly stating that I love Amazon.com. I have managed to accomplish a lot of my own Christmas shopping from the warm, quiet comfort of my own home this year, thanks to Amazon's great selection and even greater prices (and reasonable shipping and return rates.) And though this may seem like a "Shop Amazon!" commercial for which I am being paid some hefty commission (Don't I wish? Because, yes, I will write for money.), this post was actually inspired by the reaction I had to Amazon's advertising tactics when I opened my email, titled "Gift Ideas by Relationship" this morning. Clearly, this type of advertising isn't Amazon-specific by any means. It's just part of the "for sale" world in which we live, especially at this time of year. So I'll just present you with the following visual and give you a moment to process:
And there it is. Make-up brushes for mom and tools for dad. (La Cage aux Folles this is not!)
But wait, it gets better. Because while the girlfriend/wife and the boyfriend/husband both need jewelry, clearly the girlfriend/wife is more interested in decorating herself, while the boyfriend/husband will be getting the new watch -- probably so he'll have something to tap anxiously while girlfriend/wife threatens to make him late for the party with Family Friends. And speaking of Family Friends, we will all be gifting
those Generic McNobody's with a "candy crate" this year. Something that admits: "We don't know you that well, so we thought we'd raise your blood sugar and add to your cholesterol numbers while contributing a donation in your name to the worldwide obesity fund. Happy holidays."
Of course, we can't forget our grandparents, those wise and lovely elders. I mean, don't we all have meek little grandmothers who live in curlers and aprons, and who long only for more picture frames? Because the infinite number of collages and portraits we've given them for the past twenty Christmases don't cover enough wall and coffee table and china hutch space already. And of course, our grandmas need something to stare at while our stereotypical grandfathers watch sports, right? After all, dad and boyfriend/husband will surely be over on Christmas day (hopefully on time, if mom and girlfriend/wife's beauty regimes and primping sessions don't take too long). And while the dad/boyfriend/husband contingent use their new tools to assemble and hang Grandma's picture frames, mom/girlfriend/wife can apply makeup and covet one another's jewels and marvel over ... the kids, who sit covered in Play-Doh gifts of their own. Because all kids lovvvveeee to smush gooey, sticky stuff between their fingers ... before they eat it. Even though mom/girlfriend/wife has repeatedly told the kids not to put anything in their mouths before threatening: "Wait til I tell dad/boyfriend/husband. Then you'll be sorry." Because mom/girlfriend/wife doesn't punish children, after all. It wouldn't be ladylike. And because dad/boyfriend/husband is the keeper of the tools and the recipient of the new timepiece -- and isn't that the place where all power actually lives?
Of course, the "extras" in the Amazon ad deserve some small mention, if only to pull me toward my final point - which, I realize, seems a long time coming. But can we really do no better for the "Someone with everything" than a fondue pot? Which, let's be honest, is probably what they got from all their "Someone with everything" friends last year. The very same friends who received (and likely regifted) the Candy Crate. At the same time, even for those of us who prefer to keep the personal out of the workplace, can we really do no better for our coworkers than a contraption with little metal balls attached to strings that bang into one another when plucked? Aside from inducing a rather problematic sort of workplace hypnosis, what is this thing supposed to do? What is its function? I see many missed deadlines and unproductive days in the futures of any coworkers who receive this confusing little distraction. Though, as always, I am willing to be educated on this one.
Perhaps the oddest Amazon gift recommendation of all - at least in my opinion - is the College Student coffee maker. Now, on some level, this one actually makes sense to me - college students drink coffee. Lots of it, in some cases. And a coffee maker is pretty gender neutral, which I appreciate. But don't most college students already have a coffee maker if they do, indeed, drink that much coffee? And what about mom/girlfriend/wife, or dad/boyfriend/husband? I bet some of them drink coffee, too. Maybe they would actually like a new coffee maker (perhaps to replace the one their college student son/daughter "borrowed" for the dorm and never returned.) As far as the grandparents are concerned, Grandma probably drinks tea anyway - since that's what all grandmothers do - and Grandpa probably sticks to scotch - since everyone knows that "the war" (Any war. All wars. Even the ones that happened before Grandpa was born) drives him to the bottle, which he now only drinks from when watching sports. Which is why he's always watching sports. And why people buy him more sports for Christmas and then complain that he drinks too much, especially on Christmas day.
I share all this to make one very self-serving Christmas gift recommendation that will deliver happiness and joy to anyone who receives it. It is my holiday pick this year, and my Hasky.com gift recommendation. It is gender neutral, ageless, ranges in price from free up to $1 million (I imagine, though I've never personally seen one that expensive), and will last forever if cared for and talked about and shared as widely as possible. The gift to give this Christmas, my friends, is the gift of books! Words. Stories. Lives. We all live them. We all read them. A few of us even try to write them. And, after all, nothing says "I know you" better than the perfect book. Nothing says "I wanted to get you something you would enjoy and share and appreciate " like the perfect book. Nothing says "I listen to you when you talk to me about your interests" like the perfect book. And nothing says "You're not a generic, stereotypical Mom/Dad/Someone with Everything Coworker Girlfriend/Wife Boyfriend/Husband Teenager Family Friends Grandma/Grandpa Kids College Student" like the perfect book.
So while I love - and will continue to shop at - Amazon, I encourage you to give the people in your life at least one gift that acknowledges how much they mean to you this year. Give each of them a book! And if you need a book recommendation for the Moms/Dads/Someones with Everything Coworkers Girlfriends/Wives Boyfriends/Husbands Teenagers Family Friends Grandmas/Grandpas Kids College Students in your life -- ask them. I bet most of them will be only to happy to help you give them something they will love.
I hope you are enjoying the Challenge so far! Quite a few of you have messaged me privately, and several people have emailed to request "Letters from Santa" for a child (and an in one case an adult) in their lives. So my own giving continues, and it really does feel good.
One unanticipated outcome of this Challenge so far has been the comment I have heard from a few people that "Sometimes I can't think of what to do/give and finding something seems to be on my mind all day." All I can say to that is: Double win! As I shared a few posts ago, giving - in my opinion - is like any other cultivated habit. When we put it in the conscious part of our minds, and when we planfully give with intention and with motivation to help someone else, we begin to change our thinking, which ultimately, over time, creates a change in behavior. This Challenge is less about crossing a "give" off your daily to-do list and more about really thinking through the people you encounter, the needs they have, and what seems a reasonable, sustainable level of giving. Like diets, a crash giving spree probably won't last. But a change in thinking and acting, little by little, will hopefully put this sort of thing on your daily mental radar and keep it there. No need to give every day if you honestly can't think of something. And please don't stress yourself out trying to meet some daily goal I may have set as a generic benchmark. Instead, think about this Challenge within the context of your life, and simply ask yourself what giving "often" would look like for you. Habits are built just as they are broken, and habitual giving is what will make it natural.
This is also another reason to journal - daily, if possible. Even if you don't feel you "gave" anything to anyone on a given day. We often underestimate how naturally we do give. And yes, we also occasionally go through days without giving others' needs a second thought. Journaling can help pull all this together, so use this space and time to reflect on how you feel when planning to give, while giving, and after giving. This will be your takeaway from the Challenge, as you are building what I have referred to several times now as a "giving spectrum" - which is really nothing more than a catalogue of your own ideas and "gives" as well as the ideas that others have shared here. And remember: there is no crime in borrowing someone else's "give"! That's actually the idea. In fact, what a great way for someone to give to you, without realizing it. And how might it look/feel to let that person know, if you can, that he/she gave you an idea, inspiration, motivation?
As we continue on with Day 4, I leave you with a quote that I love, and that I think is a perfect fit for all we are all accomplishing here together:
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit."
Happy holiday season, everyone. As the stress of shopping and baking and decorating and running around threatens to take over our holiday cheer and interrupt our peace and joy, I thought this piece (which I originally shared on December 12, 2011) was a timely re-post. And some necessary food for thought. Enjoy!
"Santa isn't coming this year!"
Last year at this time, life was very much the same as it is today: It was just before Christmas. Red and green decorations erupted all over stores and offices and front lawns while lyrics intended to make me smile and glow (i.e. "Born in a stable" and "I am a poor boy, too") generated tears of sorrow and angst rather than celebratory smiles and endless joy. They always do. I'm not sure why, exactly.
I should probably clarify right away that, overall, I am not anti-Christmas. I even love the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, not because he is an angry, nasty little miser, but because he eventually sees the beauty of humanity that often comes alive at this time of year - and more importantly, he realizes his own capacity for growth and compassion in the process. I love that, despite the anger and hatred that often seem to permeate our world on a daily basis, this time of year inspires people to give -- and not just material gifts, but time, and service, and genuine human connection.
But last year at this time, something out of the ordinary did happen, and I have found myself thinking about it over the last week or so, amidst all the twinkling and sparking and jingling. I was in Plattsburgh visiting my family a few days before Christmas, and while my parents were at work and my brother was busy, I sat at Panera enjoying a hot coffee, an internet connection (much faster than my parents' dial-up), and a two-hour block of time to write. The restaurant was packed, but I had been fortunate enough to find a corner table by an electrical outlet - my own little pre-Christmas miracle. And since I was trapped in a writer's nightmare - time to write and nothing to write about - I was happy to watch groups of people parade by with their packages and their soup/salad combos and their animated conversations. Something would give birth to an idea if I just sat. And sipped. And observed. Patiently.
At about 2pm, a frazzled mother walked by with two very young, very tired children. While the little boy screamed and cried, the little girl pulled on her mother and threw herself into chairs and tables to relieve the indescribable stress of childhood. Suddenly, without a word, the children switched roles - the little boy began slapping himself and falling into walls and garbage cans while the little girl started screaming and pleading for toys and cookies and princess shoes. And then there was mom - loaded down with bags and soup bowls and sippy cups and a very large, ergonomically destructive purse. She threatened to topple as she lumbered past me, and she almost seemed to prefer lying face down on a Panera floor to dealing with her very normal-for-their-age-and-situation kids.
As a childless woman of 37, I sympathized with the mom on some level, even as I wondered what would possess anyone to trek around town on the Friday before Christmas with two little ones who should have eaten lunch (and probably taken a nap) hours ago. But I get it - daycare isn't always an option. And isn't this, at least theoretically, supposed to be part of the seasonal joy? Shopping and lunching with one's children, surrounded by the splendid wonder of Christmas tidings and lightly falling snow?
I'll save you some time on this one: The answer is No.
But I didn't realize it before that moment. Not really. Let me be clear here - I am generally not a "grass is greener" kind of person - only because I have found that, from afar, weeds tend to be greener than grass. It isn't til you are up close and personal with the lovely shade of "greener" that you realize it's non-grass, often covered in fertilizer, or waiting to be plucked and discarded from someone's carefully manicured lawn. That being said, I do have a habit of romanticizing parenthood. I've often wondered whether I made a mistake by choosing not to have children. And then, something like this plays out in front of me and reminds me of the reality: Children are wonderful, beautiful miracles - a good thing since they are exhausting, and expensive, and an unending litany of needs and demands and anxiety-provoking behaviors. They are, after all, human beings.
Of course, none of this logic hit me at that moment. I was too caught up in the scene unfolding, the mother's eyes beginning to water, the children exploding in a cacophony of wails, the eyerolls and speedy exits of the other diners whose "tsk tsk" nods further condemned the already defeated mother as she plopped first the boy, then the girl into red, plastic booster seats and shoved them as close to the table as possible. I didn't think things could possibly get worse, until I watched the little girl pick up her mother's bowl of soup and turn it over on top of the table.
Time stopped. Noodles and chicken hit the floor, landing in puddles of their own broth. The green ceramic bowl sat, inverted, in front of the victorious little girl whose Grinch-like grin curled her mouth upward and forced her eyebrows into a sinister arch. I couldn't move. I didn't know whether to help or look away or leave. And shamefully, I admit, I was most curious to see how mom intended to handle a maneuver that would have paralyzed me.
And that was when it happened. Mom yanked her little girl's arm, looked directly into the child's face, and screamed through the tears leaping two at a time out of her eyes: "SANTA ISN'T COMING THIS YEAR!"
All I could do was join in the collective gasp as everyone in the restaurant (who hadn't already retreated to the quiet parking lot) recoiled and immediately slapped a "Worst Mother of the Year" label on this woman's soul. How could a mother say such a thing? How would these children ever enjoy Christmas now? What about a simple "Time Out" or going to bed without dessert? Or what about feeding these children lunch at a decent hour and navigating the crowds with two children in tow a little more strategically?
But as I sat in judgment, another thought arrived, replacing the all-too-familiar critical voice of a non-parent: This woman, this tired, overwhelmed, vilified woman, was Santa. And she didn't get to go away to a toy shop and hang out with elves and show up once a year to be adored and idolized. She was Santa every day. Unless she was busy playing the role of Tooth Fairy. Or Easter Bunny. Or Nurse/Taxi/Chef/Coach/Teacher/Housekeeper/All-knowing, Never-sleeping, Rarely-eating ... Mom.
For a moment, I met her eyes and tried to tell her, with the nonverbal glance of a non-mom who would never speak her language, that I understood. Not her situation, of course. But her defeat. And her desire to give up. She glared at me as if to scream "What the hell do you know about my life?!" and she was, of course, very right. I knew enough to know that I knew nothing. Not about her life, anyway.
At that moment, a Panera employee showed up with a broom and a pile of napkins - he could have been a knight on a white horse for all the fuss this mother made. She wept and thanked him and apologized over and over while she helped him clean her messy life off the table and floors. Her children simply watched in silence.
It took me a year to write about this - probably becase I felt some sense of voyeuristic shame as I watched it happen, refusing to look away, unable to walk away. But as the holiday season continues to envelop us day by day, I am reminded that the spirit of Christmas is really what we make it. Some of us play Santa. Some of us play Scrooge. Some of us bake and shop and wrap. Some of us sing and party and travel. But no matter what our roles and regardless of our beliefs, we all want Santa to show up with gifts. And it is my hope that whether you are a four year old child in need of a nap, or a forty year old mother in need of a break, or even a kid from 1 to 92, that your Santa Claus knows where to find you. My guess is, your gifts have already arrived, you just haven't gone looking for them yet.
May your holidays and your new year ahead be filled with happiness and peace ... and perhaps a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup.
(Please do not watch this video around young children - you'll see why once you hit "play")
As I mentioned in the video above, I would love to write a "From Santa" letter to any child (or any kid at heart) who would like one. Or who seems to need one. So send me an email with the following information if you know someone who might enjoy or benefit from receiving a letter. (And please put something like "Santa Letter" in the subject line, in case this goes to my Spam folder, which I will check regularly):
Name of child (or kid at heart)
Child's interests, talents, hobbies
Any noteworthy accomplishments the child has had this year
Any challenges the child has faced/overcome or continues to struggle with
Child's "Wish list" for Christmas
Anything else Santa should know and comment on
My goal is to get each letter into the mail within 48 hours after I receive the request.
I recently read and reviewed The Emotional Eater's Repair Manual, by Julie Simon. It hits stands tomorrow (December 1, 2012) and I highly recommend it to anyone who ... eats. Or doesn't, as the case may be.
You can go here for my full review and a brief description of the book.
This morning started like every other morning as I rushed to get ready for work with The Today Show blaring in the background. I rarely even listen to their actual stories anymore, both because I simply don't have time and because the "news" is always the same: tragedy, death, violence, celebrity gossip. Like so many people, I've become desensitized to most of it, not because I don't care, but because I just don't see solutions to the problems that so often generate the news stories themselves, and I find it all too overwhelming to dissect day after day with no hope in sight.
But this morning, as I dashed from washer to dryer with an armload of laundry and my whining puppy glued to my heels in search of his daily treat, my eyes caught an image on the television, of a cop kneeling beside what looked to be a homeless man. The homeless man, who sat hunched on a sidewalk with a small backpack beside him, was bare from foot to mid-calf. He wore neither socks nor shoes, only a thin jacket and what looked to be a lightweight pair of pants that fell to just below the knee. Unlike other similar images that often appear on the morning news, however, the cop in this scene was not standing over the homeless man with an air of authority. Instead, he was crouched beside the homeless man, looking directly at him, his hands folded, his left knee resting on the sidewalk mere inches from where the homeless man sat.
The picture of these two unlikely men, side by side on what I later found out was a New York City street, so surprised me that I dropped my laundry on the couch, tossed my dog his longed-for cookie, and tuned in to the story attached to the visual incongruity. And I am glad I did. Because had I prioritized the routine tasks and breathless hurry from room to room before flying out the door, I wouldn't have started my day learning that earlier this month, NYPD officer Lawrence Deprimo "bought a pair of boots for a barefooted homeless man." Officer Deprimo hadn't stopped to charge the man with loitering or to tell him he had to leave the premises, nor had he simply looked the other way while working his beat that night. In an act of pure compassion and a generosity for which there is no monetary compensation, Officer Deprimo knelt beside this man, asked him his shoe size, purchased the warmest boots (and socks) he could find, then gave them to a fellow human being.
As I think about giving, and about what it means to truly give, I am struck not only by Officer Deprimo's actions, but also by the countless opportunities like this that present themselves every single day. While a new pair of boots for every human who needs them may not be within our own individual financial means, this story is - at least for me - about so much more than the pair of boots. It is about one human being engaging with another. It is about breaking down barriers of inequality on every level. It is about asking someone what he needs and doing whatever possible to give him that. More than anything, it is about two people connecting as people - not as police officer and homeless man, but as two men who both needed a pair of boots on a cold winter night.
I thought this might inspire some of you who are considering the 25 Days of Giving Challenge to think outside the box a little. To imagine all that is possible in the world outside your front door. Given the goal of spending no more than $25.00 throughout this Challenge, a new pair of boots may not - and probably is not - feasible. But are there other ways to help people get what they need? Donations? Fundraisers? Even more important, how can we truly see those who may feel invisible in the world? How can we let them know that they are not anonymous, that we care about them, that they matter, and that they are one of us?
Just some things to ponder as Day 1 of our Challenge approaches.
Welcome to The Challenge! Twenty-five days. Think you can do it? I know you can. And I suspect that on Day 26, at least some of you just may decide to keep on giving. But I'm getting ahead of myself. So let's just begin at the beginning, shall we?
I still don't know that I love the word "challenge" to describe what we are doing here, since I honestly think that giving, like any healthy habit, is most often its own reward. Less a challenge than the development of a regular practice, giving is something we learn to do over time, mindfully, planfully, and selflessly (hopefully!). So this challenge, while probably less an effort than a reminder to take time out of our busy lives for just a few minutes a day, is really a community effort - giving of ourselves to others, and giving of ourselves with others.
Hopefully you have watched my video explanation already (Lighten Up: The 25 Days of Giving Challenge) since it is not quite as dry as my writing. But in case you prefer the written documentation approach over the "talk it through" vlog (which, by the way, will be the primary method of communication over the next 25 days, so get used to a lot of me, talking, in poorly lit rooms, at strange, shaky camera angles, cinéma vérité style), I have decided to bullet point the most important aspects of the Challenge here, for ease of reference over the next 25 days. So use them whenever you need them, but don't rely on them at the expense of your own creativity, either. Give from your heart, even if you have to break a "guideline" because (just between you and me and the cyberverse, nothing bad will happen to you if you, say, spend $26 instead of $25.) It is most important that you give, and that you personally invest in the process and the people to whom you are giving.
So here, in no particular order, are The 25 Days of Giving Challenge Guidelines:
1. Challenge dates: December 1, 2012-December 25, 2012
2. What can you give? What should you give? Well, since there are no "cans" or "shoulds" involved here, the broad answer is: "Anything you want." Sometimes, sitting and talking - really talking - and listening to - really listening to - someone can mean the world to that person. Other people need help with various tasks, projects, challenges. I'm sure there are some people in your life - as there are in mine - who are going through particularly difficult times at the moment, while others are looking to celebrate some great achievement(s) that deserve notice. You can't "give" wrong, so whatever you do will be "right." When else and where else will you get to say that on any given day? Seems like a little more incentive to participate, if you ask me!
3. Spending cap: $25.00. You don't have to spend any money at all (and in fact it would be amazing to spend no money while still giving something to someone every day for 25 days). However, you may spend up to $25, either all at once, on a single person, or spread over the 25 days, in any way(s) you wish.
4. You can devote the 25 days of giving to a single person, or to as many people as you want. These can be family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances in whatever groups or programs you belong to, and/or complete strangers.
5. This should be something you do above and beyond your every day life - outside of your job, your regular family obligations, etc. That doesn't mean you can't do something extra special for a family member or colleague, just that it should be unexpected, out of the ordinary, and nothing for which you expect to be compensated. (Here's a hint: An "I love you" note inside the lunch bag of the loved one whose lunch you make every day would go a long way toward meeting the goal of an unexpected, out of the norm gesture done solely for the purpose of positively impacting someone else's day. Unless said loved one is one's teenager, in which case ... no.)
6. You can do this anonymously, meaning you can leave things for people or engage with them without telling them you are part of this challenge, or you can tell them you are working on paying your own gratitude forward and want to do something for them "just because," as a way of showing your own gratitude. It's up to you.
7. Finally, I would like you to journal your experiences each day. Nothing fancy or wordy (unless you would like to be fancy and wordy - that would be pretty cool, too!). But no pressure to do more than jot down (or vlog, which is what I will mostly be doing) what you did/gave each day, a little about the recipient (relationship to you, why you chose him/her for your giving that day, and his/her behavior both before and after the giving). Also, how did you feel both before and after the giving? Did someone else's gratitude affect your mood at all? Did someone else's gratitude toward you impact your feelings, behavior, and eagerness to give again?
I would LOVE to post anything you would be willing to send - your journal entries, vlogs you would be willing to create and send, links to your own blogs about this challenge (which I hope you will share as widely as possible on your Facebook and Twitter pages), so PLEASE go to the "Contact Me" page and send whatever you have and comment, comment, comment here, too. And remember, the more you share here, the more ideas others will take from you about similar ways to give. So think of your willingness to share as one more way to give.
As Thanksgiving approaches this week, I have been thinking a lot about gratitude. What it means to me. Where it shows up in my life. How I express it. I realize that I am grateful for so many people and so many things, and that my life is blessed in more ways than I can count. Though it is often easy to focus on the things I am trying to fix or the relationships I would like to improve, I think Thanksgiving is a perfect time to sit back and simply reflect on what feels good and brings me joy and peace.
By now you are well acquainted with Beckett, my Wonder Schnoodle, so no shock that he rises to the very top of my gratitude list this year (as he will, I imagine, every year from this point on). But I realized, as I watched him eat his way through his latest chew toy last night, that everything I have learned from him has made my gratitude list this year. Some of the lessons he has taught me are simple, and some are so complex that I have a hard time wrapping my head around them or putting them into words. But either way, his presence in my life is a daily reminder of just how wonderful the unexpected can be, and of how blessings can occasionally appear in the most unlikely places - even in a rescue shelter.
So, here is this year's gratitude list with a unique twist. I like to call it "Everything I am thankful for I learned from my Schnoodle":
1. Life should be all about fun! What's wrong with that? Why should I have to schedule it or time it or ration it? Why can't I just have it? After all, FUN is everywhere! In a stray sock, a new bone, a fluttering leaf, a loud squeaky toy. All I have to do is walk a few feet and fun will be waiting in some form or other. How easy and awesome is that?
2. I eat when I'm hungry. I stop when I'm satisfied. I see nothing wrong with eating a treat when I have done something well (or two treats when I have done something really well!). I don't criticize my mom for rewarding me with food - I just do more of what she wants so I can have ... more rewards. (Don't have to be a math major to figure this one out, people.) Food keeps me alive so I can have ... yup, you guessed it ... more fun. (See #1 above for more details on this).
3. Breathing is important. And not that hurried, shallow nonsense that most humans do because they're always so busy talking and yelling and worrying and rushing. When I breathe, I breathe from my belly, deep, full breaths that fill my lungs and then slowly leave. It's why I can run and chew and bark and jump for hours upon hours while my poor mom alternates between hyperventilating and barely breathing as she hurries through life looking at that time-telling thing on her wrist. She looks at that a lot.
4. When I don't feel well, I nap. When I am tired, I nap. When I feel like napping, I nap. Sleep restores me. I need it. So I take as much as I can, whenever and wherever I can. It repairs my muscles and replenishes my energy and makes me a much happier, much more pleasant Schnoodle to be around. If I loaded my plush bed up with lap tops and remote controls and books like my mom stacks on her bed, I'm pretty sure I'd suffer from chronic insomnia. And while I'm at it, if the television is on, my brain is on, too. Sleep. It's what the body is supposed to do.
5. I love people! Sometimes I bark at them, sometimes I lunge at them, sometimes I size them up, sometimes I circle them. Depends on the person. Depends on how the person treats me. But I always give people the benefit of the doubt, since I am usually pretty sure they show up because they are interested in getting to know me better. And most people are kind. The mean ones eventually go away, and if they don't, well, then I can growl and hide. But why growl and hide before I know why they're there? Maybe they just want to play fetch and give me a cookie. Why would I bark away THAT opportunity?!
6. I don't speak English, so people need to show me they love me.
7. I appreciate people who are willing to sit on the floor so I can look into their eyes and who don't make me struggle and jump to reach their level.
8. Home is where I live and family is who I love and who loves me. Even though my mom doesn't look like me, she chose me.
9. It's not good going through life following people. It's good to be a leader, ahead of the crowd. Bold. Confident. Even loud, when the situation calls for it. My mom is a bit of a follower at times. She once told me that "Neutering is just what good puppy parents do, Beckett." What good parents? I want to meet these so called "good parents"! Followers, the whole lot of them. And look how that ended up for me!
10. Money can't buy everything. Sure, it bought me lots of medical care and toys and food and daycare, but sometimes cuddling with my person is the most priceless part of my day. (Sometimes. Because I did just get a cool new bone, and it's perfectly ok to love that, too!)
This week I saw a news article on Yahoo.com about EDNOS. Most likely unfamiliar to the general populations, EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, is what I like to think of as Anorexia Nervosa's cousin. Or perhaps Bulimia's unpopular step-sister. But EDNOS is actually an eating disorder all its own, and in fact has a higher death rate (at 5.2%) than anorexia and bulimia combined. Shocking, when you realize that, despite how familiar we all are with self-starvation and the binge-purge disease, so few of us have heard of this hybrid condition. Consequently, while millions suffer, we fail to respond to what we are not seeing. Or not understanding. Or both.
After decades of living with an anorexia/bulimia combo of my own, I feel incredibly sad to think that so many are suffering without the qualified, professional help I was blessed enough to find before my own body completely shut down. Wheras the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) clearly defines and distinguishes between anorexia and bulimia, EDNOS tends to fall into a broad, yet nonspecific category just outside the "eating disorder" umbrella and into a vague sort of "disordered eating" category all its own. The problems with this are too numerous to count, but one of the most critical that comes to mind is, of course, the cost of healthcare to treat individuals with EDNOS, given that even patients whose anorexia and bulimia diagnoses who meet all the DSM IV criteria must fight for even partial coverage. Individuals who suffer from EDNOS often maintain above average body weight and appear fully functional, such that their actual medical conditions are labelled as character flaws and the solutions to their very deep and pervasive problems are generally summed up in a one-size-fits-all "eat right and exercise" recommendation by doctors, friends, family, media, society.
So what does this have to do with Lighten Up? Well, the obvious physical message is pretty clear, I think - in our weight-obsessed, thin-obsessed world, we are more willing to look the other way while people starve and over-exercise themselves to death. And diets have become so ubiquitous that children as young as five are afraid of "getting fat" and regularly refuse to eat "bad" foods. Yet despite all that, obesity in America is at an all-time high and the financial and emotional cost of obesity related illness continues incapacitate sufferers in ways we still aren't acknowledging on a larger level. There is a lightening up that needs to happen if we are ever to get to the root causes of what is really going on and begin to treat the myriad people who are needlessly suffering with an actual illness and not a series of poor lifestyle choices or laziness or what is generically referred to as "stress eating." We need to loosen the boundaries on how we define eating disorders and appeal to health insurance companies to recognize the very real and long-lasting damage that these illnesses cause. We need to contact our legislators and insist that they pass bills like Senate Bill 481 andH.R. Bill 2677, 2007.And most of all, we need to lighten up on each other. And on ourselves. We need to embrace health, enjoy food, and value our bodies for all they can do, not punish them for all they can not.
What is one thing you can do today to help yourself and your community embrace healthy body image, healthy bodies, healthy lives? Go do it.
A year ago today, I did one of the craziest, most
anxiety-provoking, most uncharacteristically spontaneous things I’ve ever done
-- perhaps that is why it has turned out to be the most rewarding. I adopted my
beautiful, brilliant Beckett.Known to
some as “the Wonder Schnoodle” and to some as “The Beckett Man,” this little
guy landed in my life and filled it with a level of need I never thought myself
capable of meeting, and filled me with a range of emotions I never thought myself
capable of feeling.He was a seven-pound
runt with chronic giardia, severe anxiety, and a shoe addiction that would put
Amelda Marcos to shame (mainly because Beckett’s addiction revolved around
EATING the shoes, rather than just collecting them). And yet, I loved him from
the moment I first saw him on petfinder.com.Then, of course, once I met and held and talked to him, I was
hooked.He was mine.And nothing- absolutely nothing – makes me happier than the knowledge that he still
is.What’s more, I am his, it seems, and
that is the most wonderful feeling in the world.
This was the day "neuter" became a 4-letter word.
While this year’s Beckett journey has been bumpy at times
and filled with potholes and detours and roadblocks at others, I can’t imagine
my life without him at its center.And I
wouldn’t ever want to.Yes, I thought I
was going to lighten up with Beckett, that we were going to share a life of
running through fields and chilling in front of the fireplace and basically
create our own Norman Rockwell life without a single stressful moment or health
crisis or potty training “accident” (because, after all, I had read all the books,
so what could go wrong?). But Beckett quickly became my teacher as well as my
closest companion, always reminding me that there are simply some things that I
cannot control … and that losing control is not the end of the
world.It’s just a mess on the floor. Or one more antibiotic.Or a lost shoe or two.
Despite my best efforts, Giardia won this round too.
So in the end, I have lightened up - so
subtly and slowly (and often with such resistance) that it has taken all this
time for me to be able to look back at myself a year ago today and admit that yes, I am a
lighter, happier, more peaceful, more content version of the tightly wound,
isolated, singularly focused control freak I used to be.
So thank you, to my beautiful little boy, for having faith
in me when I had none in myself, for sitting on my lap while I cried over my
perceived puppy parenting failures, and for jumping at my feet when I
celebrated the small victories we have shared together.I have no idea where we will be a year from
now, but I know one thing for sure:We
will be together, moving forward, open to whatever awaits us on this path we share.I’m your person, after all, and you are the
little guy who made opening my heart so worth it.
Yesterday's post about Chinese food therapy has me thinking about Beckett's diet, too. After some research, I am considering the alternative dog food recipe below. Even though I buy him the healthiest "bagged food" I can find, I still don't like that I either have to choose minimal ingredients (and therefore minimal nutrients) or lots of nutrients with the added ingredients I don't want him ingesting. And, bonus: he likes every ingredient in this!
YIELD: 20 Servings PREP: 10 mins COOK: 60 mins READY IN: 1 hr 10 mins
6 Cups Water
3 Cups Brown rice
4 Stalks Celery Chopped
3 Large carrots Chopped
1/4 Cup Olive oil
1 Pack Chicken gizzards Find these in the deli
1 Pack Chicken hearts Find these in the deli
2 Bone marrow bones Find these in the deli
In a large pot, bring water to boil.
Add rice and turn down to simmer. Cook for 35 minutes.
Add gizzards, hearts, celery, and carrots into pot. Add a cup of water. Cover and cook for an additional 25 minutes, or until carrots are soft.
I can't imagine handing anything chicken-adjacent, but I also don't think it's healthy to inflict my vegetarianism on my puppy, who needs the protein. Even so, I would LOVE a chicken gizzard/heart alternative (for oh so many reasons!) that would be just as healthy for him, so please share away.
Halloween is here. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And then it's on to Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. No matter what or how you celebrate, one thing is universally true: we have entered The Food Months. And I'm not talking about fresh, healthy, whole foods. I am talking about those familiar sweet, high fat, high carb, low fiber foods that beckon to us until we finally give in. Over and over and over again. Until January 1st, when we land on the couch in a pile of bloated exhaustion, vowing to "eat better, do better, be better" ... starting tomorrow.
But what is it about the availability of so many foods that tempts us, then promises to satisfy us, then fails to sustain us until they tempt us once again? Well, there are as many theories as there are foods, of course, but Chinese food therapy is one that actually makes sense to me.
Chinese food therapy is based on the idea that foods generally fall into two main categories: Yang foods, which heat the body, and Yin foods, that have a chilling effect. When we consume equal and reasonable amounts of Yin and Yang foods, the body achieves its natural state of balance, while an excess or restriction of either category leads to an imbalance of natural "heat" and "cold" in the body that can lead to and/or exacerbate disease.
One of the first signs of hot/cold imbalance often appears in the form of a craving. A sugar craving, for example, is not always about a lack of willpower. In fact, a sugar craving (or worse, a sugar addiction) can be - and most likely is - evidence of yang food overload ... and not enough yin. And why? Because sugar is a Yin food. But guess what? It isn't the only one. So while many of us run to cookies and candy to satisfy our perceived "sugar needs" only to find that we feel bloated, nauseus, and needing more sugar a mere ten minutes later, a serving of healthy Yin foods would likely satisfy our physiological needs without the compounding the sugar toxicity and further tipping the Yin/Yang imbalance.
The Yin/Yang diet is grounded in macrobiotic concepts, as shown in the chart below. Although we need 1/3 yang food to 2/3 yin food, the typical American diet is primarily Yang food-based: meat, potatoes, cheese, and wine, for example with minimal Yin foods. Not too hard to see where the imbalances are coming from or why we turn to the fastest acting Yin foods when the imbalance becomes unmanageable.
Not only a form of nourishment and weight management, food in Chinese culture is also medicinal. Understanding the Yin/Yang food concept is essential for treating "hot" conditions such as Eczema, where garlic, chilies and potatoes may best be avoided. In the same way, it is believed that an over consumption of too many hot foods like " foods like peanuts or smoked fish could cause a rash, whereas too many grapes or bean sprouts could cause digestive problems.
Does any of this ring true for you? Are you a heavy Yin food eater? Or do you consume a diet of mostly Yang foods? If you're considering a holistic approach to diet and healing, give the above list a try and see what happens. Whether your cravings or rashes disappear, whether your energy or sleep improves, and use how you feel as your measure of success.