Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Gravy Train - Freedom, Part II

The need for freedom runs deep in me. Those who know me will attest to this.

The past two weeks have found me a bit run down - lots of projects, both at home and professionally, and traveling. The supplements I take are holding me up, and the extra couple hours of sleep are helping too. Interesting how when I feel this way, suddenly time opens up, and the crammed schedule I normally keep just disappears. The body knows how to slow me down when I don't take the time I need for myself everyday. Amazing how I can prioritize when I need to focus on taking extra care of my body.

Eating healthy meals requires time. Time to shop, store, and prepare. Quick, healthy meals don't need to take more than 30-60 minutes, but that is still a chunk of time that can seem like forever when the rest of your life is packed. During some down time yesterday, I had the memory of a delicate, vegetable gravy that I made about 9 years ago. I don't know why I had this memory, but I got to thinking about the day I prepared it. My future in-laws were coming for dinner. I had only known them a few months, and I wanted to prepare a delicious meal. I wanted to make a gravy for the scallops and garlic and herb mashed potatoes. I found a recipe (from a cookbook I don't remember), and set out to make the meal. When I read the instructions for the gravy, I suddenly realized that it was going to take many hours. I hadn't planned on that, but I had never made something like this before.

What I can remember is the chopping, sauteing, simmering, straining, simmering. After about 5-6 hours, it was done. I can honestly say that the gravy ended up being the star of the show, the best I've ever tasted - fresh, organic vegetables, organic stock. Absolutely delicious. The rest of the meal was wonderful, too. (My stuffed mushrooms were incredible.) However, I vowed at the end of the night that I would never make a gravy like that again. I was feeling exhausted - my legs ached from standing all day, and I just wasn't sure the gravy was worth it.

Looking back at that night, the time was well worth the effort. I haven't made that gravy again, and I know it's because I couldn't justify spending 5-6 hours cooking. (What I didn't realize then was that the mushrooms were far more work intensive than the gravy - I blamed the gravy unnecessarily.) Now, the possibility of having an entire day to cook sounds delightful. And, I know what you're thinking - take an entire day and cook. Why not? That's a good question.

Until recently, cooking was something I did to nourish my body, but it was always secondary to my other activities. My priorities are changing. I thought of my great grandmother yesterday when I remembered the gravy. She spent her days cooking for her family. Cooking was the main focus of her life along with childrearing. To have nothing else to focus on...that looks like freedom to me with the hectic schedule that I keep, and with the demands I place on myself. But, the grass always looks greener on the other side. My great grandmother would have thoroughly enjoyed the freedoms I take for granted - the ability to have a career and enjoy a fulfilling personal and professional life, and do things like vote, drive, and travel.

Spending time contemplating this brings home the point that the choices I make can either support and nurture the feeling of freedom within me or not. I am choosing to do only half of what is on my to-do list for today. As a result, I do feel like I have more room to breathe. One of my desires for this month is to spend the day making bread. I need to take my time making bread. That's coming soon.

Making gravy and feeling free - that's my mantra for today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I especially appreciate a good book. The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin is my current read. A renowned world chef, his memoir touches me deeply. He speaks about respecting ingredients, and the power of food and a meal to bring family and friends together. Once he had lived in America for several years, he writes about feeling free to begin to create dishes that deviated from the traditional French dishes he was accustomed to making.

Reading his words got me thinking about all the immigrants that ventured to America, but most especially my ancestors. They did not leave Italy in search of an adventure. They left specifically for freedom - the freedom that expanded opportunity provides. While they had to work very hard and experienced prejudice, they also actively participated in a supportive community in the Italian neighborhoods of Chicago. They grew to love and cherish the spirit of freedom that is so very palpable in the United States. Their courage to cross an ocean is reflected in the millions of journeys taken, risking everything for freedom. I get that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Airplanes, Food, and Other Stuff

Life is funny. When you least expect it, a new friend can show up in the most unexpected places. However, I have a history of connecting with people on planes that end up significantly changing my life. The first encounter occurred back in the '90s when coach customers still received a meal (for "free"). I ordered a "special" meal since I'm a vegetarian. The man sitting two sits away found this curious and a bit annoying that I should have a "special" meal that included an apple. We struck up a conversation, and he told me a little about where he lived. Shortly thereafter, I visited, and a year later, I moved to that place. (No, not with him). Needless to say, that meeting was very significant.

Well, just the other day, I was flying again, and without any notice, I have a new friend. The plane was full, and I nearly didn't make it on board since I fly standby, but I got the last seat. A might fine one at that - by the window. There was a man in the aisle seat, and no one between us. Then just as the door was getting ready to close, a lady came aboard carrying her pillow, and sure enough she was sitting between us. Before buckling her seatbelt, she grabbed my hand, told me she hadn't flown in twenty years, and was very anxious. Immediately, I had the feeling that she was honest and authentic. She proceeded to tell me about herself, her family, her friends. We then began talking about nutrition and food in general, and discovered we have a lot in common. We like to cook - she bakes, and I just like cooking, in general. We talked about individual ingredients and their health benefits. (I bought organic extra virgin coconut oil today!) I told her about the cookbook. She smiled. She said she always wanted to be Italian.

She bought an organic snack box, and she shared her goodies with me. The two hours flew by, and what could have been a nerve wrecking trip for her, was a most enjoyable adventure for both of us. I love talking about the cookbook. Cookbooks, in general, are so joyous. We all have some sort of relationship with food. We all need food to live (minus the saints and ascended masters), regardless of our likes and dislikes. Eating with someone else can provide a powerful foundation on which to build a relationship.

I would like to think that I would have always extended myself to someone like my new friend, and I hope that is true. Remembering the title of my blog, I remained open to listening and sharing with this unique being that suddenly graced my life. I often feel I'm navigating through a blurry sea of faces at an airport or need to curl up in my own little cacoon. As a result, I miss out on the opportunity of connecting with someone who could literally change my life. This trip proved, once again, that an open heart and mind take me beyond the boundaries of what I know, and move me to a place where infinite possibility exists. In that eternal place, what God can dream for me I can allow to come true.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Feel and Flow

There is a scene in a Seinfeld episode (The Sniffing Accountant) in which Jerry, Kramer, and Newman set up a sting. The three of them are in the car, and Kramer and Newman launch into a discussion about the "feel" of the day.

Kramer: "What's today?"
Newman: "It's Thursday."
Kramer: "Feels like Tuesday."
Newman: "Tuesday has no feel. Monday has a feel. Friday has a feel. Sunday has a feel."
Kramer: "I feel Tuesday and Wednesday... "
Jerry: "Alright, shut up both of you!"

More, hilarious Seinfeld nonsense.

I remembered this scene as I thought about the "feel" of this week. Everywhere I look, the people I know are slowing down after a hectic Labor Day weekend. People are heading out for day trips, weekend getaways, or just a well-deserved day off. This is not a coincidence. Perhaps this is related to some gentle, yet powerful natural rhythm. Something is definitely in the air this week.

Going With the Flow

I believe that the "feel" of the day or week, etc., is really an intuitive nudge, a message from within that warrants attention. For me, the feel of this week is about relaxation, rest, rejuvenation, and enjoyment. Based on this, I'm going with the flow of it - taking time to rest and enjoy the beautiful weather. To do otherwise would be to ignore the internal messages that I rely on for guidance. For me, this is going with my own personal flow.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Inspiration - a topic I've written about before continues to come at the most inconvenient times, but I'm not complaining. This time, however, the inspiration was for my colleagues book project. I awoke with ideas about the interior of the book that will allow readers to connect with the material at a more intimate level.

When and why inspiration comes in the middle of the night is really a mystery, but I have a theory. The middle of the night is when I'm the quietest other than when I'm meditating. When I'm meditating, I am focused on my mantra and on stilling the mind completely, so I typically don't receive inspiration then. (However, that is likely the time that the inspiration seed gets planted.) So, the best time, for me, to receive the information I've requested, is in the middle of the night. The information rises to the surface of my conscious mind, and I'm then able to access it, and generally, I'm very pleased with what comes.

Why I received info about Michael's book project, who knows? But, when I told him about it today, he told me he also received that guidance. The information that came to me just confirmed his own guidance. Sometimes, that's the point - to help and support each other. That's so cool.

Monday, September 7, 2009


An update on the progress of the book. The recipes are coming along - sauces are done, working on vegetable dishes. Finalized the design for the cover with the artist (who lives in Nicaragua). We also discussed sketches for the interior. We agreed on a price, so it's a go. With the cooking classes approaching, I have been holding a space for the intro, but not physically working on it. Inspiration comes, however, and I take notes so I don't forget. Planning on having time tomorrow for writing.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


For today, my entry departs from the usual reflections about the relevance of my day to day life on the writing of the cookbook. Instead, I will relate the events of the last 24 hours. When I returned from the fair yesterday afternoon, I called my husband. We talked about my experience, and he suggested that we send an email to friends (along with the pictures I had taken), telling them we bought a farm. We laughed so hard. We truly thought everyone would know that we were kidding.

The email began with an explanation of how we wanted to return to the earth, live off the land, etc. We do love our gardens, but a farm? I included pictures of the cows, pigs, roosters, lambs, goats, and the various vegetables on display. I did expect responses, just not the ones we received.

Many of our friends were so supportive of our idea to buy a farm. Many said they could see us with the animals, and they wondered what vegetables we would be planting. They sent love and blessings to us, and I was so moved. Honestly, since reading their responses, I wonder if we should consider getting the goats we've talked about. We will be expanding our garden next year. Since neither of us eat meat, I don't know what we'd do with the pigs. (They eat poison ivy, though, and we have alot of that). One girlfriend had a really hard time putting her head around the idea - she wondered how I had learned so much about farm animals since the last time we talked.

Big sigh. Thank you, friends, for the support. Even after I informed everyone of the joke, they still insisted they could see us living on a farm. I'm sure they feel how peaceful we are here with the land we do have. Sending out that email stirred up a lot of stuff, and made us both feel really loved.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Fair

The Modern Day Fair
In the early '90's I lived in central Illinois. I was in graduate school, and it was during this time that I developed an appreciation for country music. To this day, no one close to me can believe I listen to the stuff. My favorite artists - Travis Tritt, Martina McBride, Randy Travis, Vince Gill, to name a few. I have always had and worn a cowboy hat, especially when I was in college. Being close to the land has always been important to me as much as I love cities, big cities. When it comes to settling down - I need land around me. Being from the Midwest, corn and wheat fields make my heart sing. Yes, there's a little bit of country in this city girl.

My plan since Tuesday was to go to the local fair today. In my heart, I really didn't want to go, but it was something I said I would do. My usual approach to things is to do some research first, and that's just what I did. I went to the fair's website - printed out the map of the fair grounds, (and was told by a friend that I was overplanning). I also did some digging for an ethnography or two about county fairs. And guess what? I found a book review in Museum Anthropology, vol 20, number 1, pp 79-81. The review critiques Leslie Prosterman's work entitled Ordinary Life, Festival Days: Aesthetics in the Midwestern County Fair. She is known for her field work exploring county fairs in Illinois and Wisconsin. Ms. Prosterman asserts that the fair be perceived as an art form in which the "folk" (farmers) purposely arrange and run the fair in an uniform and organized manner to offset their otherwise unpredictable life (dealing with nature's elements, death, and dirt). She does, however, point to many ironies and tensions, "in the pursuit of uniformity" that are quite interesting. I bring this up because I wanted to gain more insight on the fair culture of which I am an outsider. Feeling slightly more enlightened, I headed out.

Pulling into the fair grounds, I had a deja vu experience. Just yesterday, I was listening to a friend talk about cellular memory. Memories are stored in the body, and when we revisit a place or a similar situation, those memories can rise to the surface. This can have varying emotional responses within us. I parked the car in the field, and as I started walking toward the entrance, tears were streaming down my face. The rural corn fields of Northern Illinois were calling, and I could feel them in my body. Memories of my undergraduate days came flooding back. I was having a nostalgic moment.

Unfortunately, as soon as I entered, the sweet memories of days gone by quickly evaporated. Feeling bombarded by carnival rides, cheap trinkets, and gut wrenching food, I headed for the exhibits. "Get to the animals" became my mantra. I found the cows first. To be honest, I was taken aback at the size of some of these cows - are they all called cows? I don't think so, and I apologize for not educating myself a bit more on their official names. Anyway, two very nice women took my picture with some miniature cows - maybe they were youngsters. I don't know. In any case, I enjoyed my time in that barn very much. Bless the sweet animals.

The noise and racket in the poultry and rabbit barn was enough to split my eardrums. However, it was here that I met Millie. That's my name for her. A great big pig with some new babes all huddled around her nipples. Poor thing looks exhausted, don't you think? Then on to the sheep who stood perfectly still for people to pet them, and I took advantage of that - definitely a lot of firsts for me today.

The vegi and fruit exhibit was interesting. Of course, we don't know what kind of farming practices produced these specimens. This is important to me. Non genetically modified food that is raised pesticide and chemical free is what we all need to be fighting for. Walking up and down the aisles admiring the food made me smile. They finally got their day in the spotlight. I like the idea of honoring the food. (And yes, I did notice that every other vegetable and fruit had either a red or blue ribbon on it. How can they all have won first or second prize?)

The birthing barn would have been exciting and thrilling, but there was a new calf, and the children running the barn were allowing people to pet this small creature who was just born a few hours before. Taken away from its mother, surrounded by strange human hands, how was it going to feel safe? What if it wanted to eat? Would we do that to a human baby? Can we please stop treating animals as if they are inanimate objects? I had enough.

From here, I found some extremely average Thai food, and the exit. I can honestly say that I can't think of a reason I would ever go to the fair in the future. The carneval aspect killed the idea of ever doing something like this again - it bleeds out into everything else. The birthing barn experience did not sit well with me.

Ancestral Connection
A cowbell sits on my nightstand next to my bed. It belonged to my maternal great grandfather, and was worn by one of his precious animals in Italy. Holding the bell calls my great grandfather to me, and I can feel his love for the land and his animals. I had almost forgotten about this until I got home today. Visiting the animals at the fair is something my great grandparents would have loved to do. They cherished the land, and revered God's creatures. I didn't know I would feel them so close to me today - that was a gift.

I do know, however, that there is a simple country girl inside me who treasures the land. Home is the peace and quiet and beauty of nature where my heart and soul rest.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Less is More

One of the perks of being an adult is that you can eat ice cream or cereal for dinner. No, I'm not advocating that, but we've all had those nights when cooking just isn't an option, and the frig holds nothing of interest. For my ancestors, cooking fulfilled a large part of their role as wife and mother. Sitting down to a homemade, nutritious meal was a given for my mom, and her extended family. (My great grandmother did work, briefly, at a mill, but the women there made fun of her Italian accent. She was trying to learn to speak English. She left that job).

Today, I eat a big lunch, and a very simple and light dinner - hummus and whole grain crackers, a piece of fruit is all I generally want. No one to worry that I'm not eating enough, and I know I'm getting enough protein and other nutrients - I monitor that closely.

The key is that I'm listening to my body, and honoring its messages. With time, I've been able to discern the foods that my body needs and does not need. I'm not talking about cravings, but instead, my body tells me which vitamins and minerals it needs by what I have a taste for, and I know the difference between a craving, and a real nutritional message from my body. I usually want vegetables of some kind and fruit. I've never felt better than I do at this time in my life, and this has been confirmed by the blood work ordered by my doctor).

I'm no longer afraid to fast or eat light at a meal. (In an Italian home, not eating or not eating enough is sacrilegious). There is a deeper trust between me, myself, and I, that is new for me. That has made all the difference.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


What a day yesterday! I don't think the moon was full, but it was sure bright in the sky. I wonder how much that contributed to the fullness of energy I felt all around me. The abundance of energy was there from the morning. When I finally sat down to write, I accomplished some tasks toward my cooking classes coming up in the fall, returned emails, and continued to enjoy the glorious weather.

In the back of my mind all day, I was anticipating a live, on-line radio seminar by one of my teachers, Denise Linn. She is a powerhouse of energy, empowering others to transform their lives, and my time with her is always so healing. The seminar is based on her 28-day Soul Coaching program, but instead, we're doing a 28-week program. Each month we focus on clearing various apsects of the self and our environment. It's a big clutter clearing that lasts 7 months.

She gave us some assignments for this first month, and one of them is to do something we've never done before. I sat there listening, wondering what I could do. I didn't know the answer would come later that night.

Immediately following Denise Linn's radio program, I left to pick up a yoga student. She is a 16 year old high school sophmore who has been studying yoga with us for 4 years now. She takes private lessons with us, and a couple months ago we were on the radio discussing yoga. Being on the radio is a blast - we both enjoyed it. So, she took it upon herself to get us a gig on another radio show through her connections at church.

This particular show focuses on promoting a healthy lifestyle, and it's facilitated by two men who clearly enjoy their work - the show is both humorous and intelligent. After discussing yoga for nearly half the show, they mentioned that the fair is coming up in town this weekend - a 4 day event. This particular fair is visited by thousands each year, and I mentioned I have never attended. The looks on their faces were priceless.

Fairs just don't do it for me. I don't eat junk food. I don't like rides (motion sickness). Crowds don't thrill me unless I'm in the city, and then, for some reason, I'm okay with it. So, the challenge was extended to me to go the fair - to give it a try. I said I would go if I could make another visit to the radio show. They agreed.

When I got home, I started thinking about my assignment from Denise Linn, and the challenge I was given by my new radio friends. The light bulb went on - going to the fair is something I've never done before. I will be out of my comfort zone, doing something I would rather not do, and have no interest in. This is perfecct.

Then I reflected some more. Italy, the home of my ancestors, is alive and vibrant with a sense of community that you can feel in the air. Celebrating with friends, family, and neighbors is at the heart of everyday life. Festivals are common in Italy. My mom has a picture of my grandfather as a young man participating in one of the feast days to the Virgin Mary.

Yes, clearly there are stark differences between the feast day celebrations in Italy which tend to be held with sacrednes and a country fair. However, there are some important similarities. Fairs honor American roots and celebrate the heartland. The same is true for Italy - feast day celebrations continue to be honored to this day keeping ancient Italian traditions alive. Whether in Italy or America, food, music, and community can be found, all of which make us feel connected to each other, and we need more of that in this world. While some of us prefer the Italian version, many love and enjoy the American version - fried twinkies and all.

My plan is to go to the fair on Friday. You can be sure my adventure at the fair will be well documented. In the end, perhaps the fair will be, yet, another source for connecting me to my ancestors.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


My brain has a machine inside it that creates lists. My list-making machine is unique to me, but perhaps your brain has a similar mechanism? Mine functions seemingly without any human assistance, and doesn't appear to need any tune ups. My list consists of projects which cover many categories - home: paint trim, clean windows, balance the checking account, buy silver polish..., work: write introduction, finish typing recipes, prepare for cooking classes, balance checking account..., personal: do yoga, meditate, give myself a pedicure and manicure (or pay someone to do it), eat consciously, plan dinner... Of course, the categories and list continues, but I won't bore you with the mundane details.

I have discovered that I can turn the machine off, however. That is what I am doing this morning - turning the machine off. I don't want to unplug for the whole day, but as I sit here, I just don't feel like writing right now. My yoga mat calls, and it is so beautiful outside. The beauty of a brain that makes lists is that it's always there when I need to refer to it.

I am grateful to have the flexibility in my day to be able to pick and choose my activities. I don't take that for granted.