Sunday, March 25, 2012

Vitamin C: Communication!

For one week every summer of my childhood, I attended a multi-generational retreat called UUMAC. Of course there was official programming, "camp outings" to the local attractions like six-flags and white water rafting, and evening entertainment (I served as DJ for a few years in a row). Think Dirty Dancing but for Unitarian Universalists. (Fun fact: that's where I met my partner Dillan!) It was a blast, yes, but most importantly it was a week of face-to-face relationship building communication with all kinds of folks. This was the kind of communication that goes far beyond "how are ya?" and "gosh, there was so much traffic today." It was communication about beliefs, experiences, values, and feelings.

There was a core youth group of about a dozen beautiful individuals whom I would see once a year at UUMAC every summer throughout high school. Those were the years when no one seemed to understand us back home, but these relationships fueled me throughout the year. We all went on with our lives after high school, went to universities all over the East Coast, then moved to Colorado or Massachusetts or wherever. Some of us have gotten married, bought houses, had babies, just generally continued on our respective paths.

The UUMAC Youth, +/- a few, all grown up. Sort of.
Last week I traveled from Boston to Northern Virginia for my first UUMAC reunion in almost a decade. I was so grateful that so many of us prioritized this time, and traveled all those miles, just for the sake of our little community. I have to admit that I was nervous. These people were at the center of my world during my adolescence, but that was years ago. I have grown and changed, and I was sure they had too. It's a big commitment to spend a weekend with 'strangers'. But the visit proved to be even more meaningful than I could have imagined. Despite some serious sleep deprivation and a major change to my usual food routine, I came home feeling energized and renewed.

There were hugs, games, laughing, creativity, and even a dance party. There was also A LOT of catching up to do. We spent one night basically recounting the last 10 years of our lives into the wee hours of the morning. I was reminded: living out loud allows others to do the same. Most of us started out with the basics, but as we felt safer and remembered that bond from years ago, we got more real-- and that's where the magic happens. I noticed that as I shared intimately about the more vulnerable or confusing parts of my recent decade, I heard others share similar hardships or experiences. Even though some of us are taught to "keep it together" or "not to air our dirty laundry" I find that sharing openly in a safe space can bloom into a really precious exchange.

Beauty is in the balance. Yes, the weekend was lots of fun. But real joy happens when we have both the yin and yang. The laughter and the tears. If we hadn't made time for the hard stuff, the laughter wouldn't have felt nearly as light and the connections not nearly so deep. So I was grateful that no one shied away from those hard parts. Instead those moments were met with hugs and warmth.

When we can share our experiences and make the space for others to do so we can be fed at a very deep level, fortified with vitamin C (C for communication!) It's so amazing how both listening and being heard can feed us. Of course we should practice using our voice and communicating our ideas and feelings. It's the listening that more of us struggle with. I don't always do it perfectly, but I know when I practice mindful listening without needing to fix or have the right response or reaction I feel centered and present.

I'll encourage you to seek your own "Vitamin C" in the safe spaces in your lives, with old friends, new friends, a therapist, or your health coach. It looks different for each of us. Sometimes it may be challenging or messy. Sometimes we feel grossly unprepared or ill-equipped. Sometimes we don't want to brag, or be a downer, and we feel like "no one wants to hear about this stuff anyway." Some are trying to communicate around that big dark road block called aphasia, or a voice disorder. But I'll encourage you to just do your best anyway and experience the results.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spice Up Your Plate

I love recipes. There was a time when I used to be so committed to recipes to guide, or shall I say dictate, my cooking that I was lost without one. Now that I have spent more time in the kitchen learning what works for my palate and my patience, I feel confident taking more liberties with my recipes. Recipes still play a very important role for me, however they are now more of a guide or inspiration than a instruction manual.
I've pretty much got the 'food' part down when orchestrating a meal. I know I want to have some greens, some plant based fiber, some healthy fats, and protein (either plant or animal derived). I want to limit the processed elements, and most importantly I want it to be lip smacking delicious. You can't really go wrong with this formula, but whole foods with limited chemical flavors and extra ingredients can be 'bland' to the Standard American Palate. That's why the Universe has given us SPICES.
Using spices effectively continues to be an area of growth for me, as it is for many people. But the more I experiment the more confidence I drum up.
It's not just decoration! We use our spice rack everyday. We've even customized it with the spices that we use most often. I mean, who actually uses "Pizza Seasoning" and "Crushed Mint" in everyday cooking?

My Tips for Spicing Up Your Plate:
1. Do your research: Google search a few different versions of the recipe that you are attempting. If you are making chicken and rice soup, see what spice combos and ratios come up most often in different cook's renditions.
2. Stick with the same spice 'family': think about recipes you've used before. You will often see bay leaves, thyme, and basil together. Where there is chili powder there is often cumin. Indian dishes (some of the most spice-tastic of all) like curry, cardamom, ginger, turmeric etc...
3. Steer clear of seasoning mixes: they often have lots of salt. And don't get me wrong, salt is a beautiful thing, but you can add that at the end.
4. Don't be shy! if you skimp on your amounts, you may not taste it at all. Also, keep your spice supply fresh because as they age spices lose some potency.

And if you needed more reasons to spice up your plate, check out this review of a new study out of Penn State which demonstrated that meals rich in antioxidant spices resulted in significantly lower presence of triglycerides and insulin levels in the body after a meal. This is an important finding because it could lower heart disease and diabetes risk. That's some delicious science!