Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ruminate Beyond the Parameters

Isn't it ironic that "think outside the box" is now a cliche? It's so easy to get doing the same things, looking at things the same ways, that even our terms to warn against it become a part of it. Now, there is nothing wrong with the tried and true. Sometimes you need to hang in there, go with the flow. You can't always be reinventing the wheel. But have you ever stopped and thought about how many invaluable inventions started out as something else? In a wonderful little book by Don Wulffson called "The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle," I found story after story of things we all use every day that were basically invented because the person who came up with them was at a dead end with their original idea. Instead of beating their head against the brick wall, they looked for a window, and ended up giving us all things we now can't live without. For instance, did you know that cellophane was originally meant to be a stain-proof tablecloth? Of course, it was too flimsy for a tablecloth - but perfect as a food wrap. The flashlight began life as a novelty item called an electric flowerpot. No one liked them and the inventor had a bunch of unusuable stock. So he removed the center cardboard tube consisting of a battery at one end and a light at the other, and began selling the "Portable Electric Light." Yes, he got rich. And there's the indispensable, common paper cup. An inventor actually came up with a vending machine that dispensed a cup of chilled water for a penny a cupful. No one was interested in paying for water (the poor guy was ahead of his time!), but people were interested in staying healthy, and everyone drinking from a common dipper was not a good way to do that. Soon the inventor met a rich man willing to invest, not in the water vending machine, but in the cups! There are many other examples that teach us not to give up too easily. So the next time life hands you lemons, what are you going to do? How about making invisible ink? Cleaning your garbage disposal? Making lemon merengue pie? Lightening your hair? After all, not everyone likes lemonade!

Friday, February 15, 2008

To Rain!

What is it that I love so much about rain? I love its gentle, soothing sound that lulls me, when the sky is dark and everything is cozy. I love its wild freedom when it is pouring and blowing everywhere, accompanied by great claps of thunder and sky-splitting lightening. It surprises me, coming from a blue, blue sky, as if God is feeling lighthearted and playing a gentle prank. My plants respond to rain in a way they never do to the water hose. The water hose keeps them alive, but the rain nourishes and refreshes them. My children were always extra happy, wide smiles under dripping bangs, when they were allowed to play in the rain. The whole earth seems happy after a rain storm, everything bright and clean, ducks quacking while skimming around the pond, frogs in the pasture putting on a concert. I love the gathering clouds as a rainstorm approaches, and the sun as it breaks through afterward in shining paths straight from heaven. And the rainbows! Stretched from earth to sky and back again, full of shimmery promise. How do I love the rain? Let me count the ways.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Simple Sweets

Sometimes you need cookies in a hurry. Maybe you forgot the bake sale you promised to bake something for, or your child wants to learn to cook. Perhaps company is coming and it's nearly grocery day so you don't have many ingredients to work with. Don't sweat it, cooking is more art than science and there are plenty of simple, quick recipes with minimal ingredients. In fact, I'll get you started with a few recipes I pull out in emergencies. They are really good, too, so you don't have to feel guilty. Of course, immediately you'll see all the possibilities... if I just add this, or that, they'd be so much better, you'll think. Resist the urge. There are plenty of recipes with this and that in them. Enjoy the simplicity of these, they really are better just the way they are. (Yeah, I admit it, I speak from experience. I didn't resist the urge!)

Following are 3-ingredient cookies, quick butter cookies, and 3-minute fudge as a bonus (cook it for only 1 minute and it's icing). Enjoy!

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
Preheat oven to 375
Beat 1 egg in a bowl with a fork.
Beat in 1 cup sugar, with a spoon.
Beat in 1 cup peanut butter.
Drop by spoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
You can probably squeeze about 2 doz. out of this recipe.

Cornmeal Butter Cookies
Preheat oven to 350
3/4 cups margarine (that's 1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cups sugar
1 egg
1 + 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix margarine and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg, beat well. Add rest of ingredients and beat well.
Drop dough from spoon onto greased baking pan. Bake about 15 minutes until lightly brown.
Makes from 2 - 3 doz. cookies, depending on size of spoon

Three-Ingredient Scotch Shortbread Cookies
Preheat oven to 350
3/4 cups margarine or butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
(Can add 1 - 2 Tblsp. more if dough is too crumbly)
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour (NOT self-rising)
dough about 1/2" thick on light floured board.
You can cut the dough into small shapes with cookie cutters or knife, or just use biscuit cutter to do round ones.
about 1/2" apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake about 20 min. until set. Immediately remove from cookie sheet.

Three Minute Fudge (Or 1 Minute Fudge Icing)
2 Tablespoons Cocoa
4 Tablespoons butter (or margarine)
1/4 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. of salt (important!)
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix all except vanilla in saucepan, cook on high and STIR until it comes to a boil (it won't take long).
Reduce heat to medium and boil (rolling) 3 minutes
Remove from heat, add vanilla, and beat until thicker and less glossy. Pour in small buttered dish.
For ICING, boil for just 1 minute, and don't beat quite so long. Pour over cooled cake while icing is still hot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

High School Revisited

I found a great new high school alumni site recently. A high school classmate and fellow drummer has worked hard at making a bridge between old and new. I was able to see current pictures beside the high school pictures, which was a bit of a shock at first. All of those people had been frozen in my mind, forever 18, so to see gray hair and relaxed waistlines just did not compute. But after my initial reaction, I felt the tension of 30 years' peer pressure melt away. I had last seen most of these people at graduation. I took the best part of high school with me by marrying my high school sweetheart, so I didn't look back. I missed the reunions. It seems every time there was a reunion I was in the hospital for something, surgery, or having a baby. This would be the year for a reunion, come to think of it, so forgive me when I say I'd just as soon they didn't do one this year! But if they did, I would feel totally comfortable going, because even though I don't look like a kid anymore, I know I would feel comfortable among these old friends.

I began reading profiles, catching up on people's lives, and found surprises in every one. No one's life seems to have turned out the way I (or they!) thought it would, but most everyone seems to have gotten to a place of contentment. We've all lived long enough to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. We may not have accomplished what we set out to, but we have lived good lives. Most of us have children or even grandchildren we are very proud of, with which we have enriched the earth. I left a profile too, somewhat guarded, but a beginning. We all shared a time in our lives that helped shape us, a time we'll never forget, and it has been long enough that acknowledging that connection feels right.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Heavenly Beach Days

I can't help thinking there will be beaches in heaven. Beaches are just so heavenly! Everyone there is so happy, peaceful and relaxed. Everything there is so beautiful!

It is probably obvious that I went to the beach recently. It was a perfect winter Saturday, temps in the low 80s, sun streaming from a nearly cloudless sky. First I enjoyed the long, scenic drive with my husband, sunroof open and conversation flowing. We chose Lover's Key and after parking the car and walking a bit, we took a tram the rest of the way to the beach. It was a bit of a blow to discover that the lovely, shady Australian pines that used to make this beach so beautiful (and did I mention shady?) are gone, victims of the 2004 hurricanes. When we were younger, it wouldn't have mattered, but we simply can't take the sun like we used to. I used to be a major sun bunny, but now certain medications make me burn easily, and we both used to spend our time swimming, sunbathing or walking anyway, but today we are content to park ourselves in a chair for the duration. Turned out there was a fellow renting large beach umbrellas, so the problem was quickly solved. There was plenty to see.

First we enjoyed a pair of dolphins making their leisurely way parallel to the shore. Pelicans dove for fish, and seagulls swept down the beach, settling in large groups periodically, on shore or out along a sandbar. There were catamarans sailing along, and large boats coming in as close as they could, then unloading people on to smaller boats to come to shore, or staying on board and fishing not far out. Some brave souls were kayaking, and we could see parasailers in the distance. Suddenly off to the left, we spotted Wave Runners, and they just kept coming. We counted 18 in a row, and decided it must be a club, like a motorcycle club. They all made their way past us and down the Gulf to our right.

The people-watching was entertaining as well. There were young couples with adorable toddlers, brave little things who seemed to consider the huge Gulf their personal wading pools. One tiny girl laughed every time a wave hit her, and kept trying to coax her daddy to take her out further. One enterprising young father dug a "baby pit" and set his little toddler in it right at the edge of the surf, where she could play happily in her sand pen. There were folks looking for shells, strolling, sunbathing, swimming, eating, relaxing and even sleeping. Breathing in the salt air, basking in the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the day, I could feel the tension draining out of my body, leaving me limp as a jellyfish. Meanwhile, the surf pounded noisily against the shore and the sun climbed higher in the sky. I finally made my way to the water, shocked and refreshed by the chill of it against my sunwarmed legs. The time passed in the strange way it always does at the beach, quickly, while seeming to stand still. The only thing that changes is the position of the sun.

Back in the car, we weren't quite ready to leave, so we took a slow drive down the main strip. It was bumper to bumper, crawling along through crowds of strolling people, inching behind people-watching people in no hurry to actually go anywhere. It gave us plenty of time to examine the beach cottages with their parking spots underneath and rooftop decks, sometimes three stories up. Finally, after a very long, full, perfect day, we headed home, sleepy from sun, sand, wind and wave, already planning our next visit.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You Don't Have to Lose 100 Lbs. - Part III

The thing that amazed me the most was how much I was able to eat! The foods I ate were far more satisfying than I had been eating previously, and then I either didn't miss the treats, or really savored smaller amounts. Whereas before, I might eat a candy bar, and then not be hungry for a proper lunch, then eat 2 or 3 helpings at dinner of casserole or whatever, and not be hungry for veggies, now I was enjoying a large, satisfying meal and not wanting dessert, or having 1/2 a candy bar once a week. I also discovered small but satisfying treats. I realized that when I ate one little chocolate chip cookie, which was 2 carbs and about a zillion calories, I was really only eating it for the chocolate. So for me it is much smarter to just have a handful of chocolate chips themselves. Thirty-three is one serving, about 60 calories and only 1 carb. If I eat them slowly, I really get that chocolate that I crave without much harm. And for me, semi-sweet gives me what I need without making me want more, whereas I cannot stay away from milk chocolate. I also discovered that when I just plain have the munchies, it doesn't have to be potato chips that I eat. It's too easy to eat a whole bunch before I come to my senses. If I eat the little, tiny carrots instead, I can eat as many as I want, and when I am ready to stop, I haven't really done any harm. I was surprised to realize how often I ate because I was thirsty, too, so I learned to drink a glass of water if I was hungry when I didn't need to eat. It also helped to chew gum after eating a proper meal, as a signal that the meal was over and it was time to stop eating for awhile. My sister, on the other hand, tends to nibble while she's cooking, so that's when gum helps her.

There are many tips and tricks that work for different people, but the bottom line is finding what works for you. Actually, this is getting sensible. We were tricking ourselves before when we had an unhealthy relationship with food. Food is fuel for our bodies. It isn't companionship, entertainment, comfort, recreation or most of the other things we use it for. Many times we should be taking a walk, or a nap, making a phone call or reading a book, praying, and even fasting instead of eating. When we do eat, we can take pleasure in choosing from a wide variety of healthy, tasty nourishment that fuels our other activities. It's time to find new ways of being well-rounded!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

You Don't Have to Lose 100 Pounds - Part II

The turning point for me was ending up in the hospital for a week when I hadn't even known I was sick. All I did was go to church! While there I participated in a free blood pressure screening, more to please the friend who had set it up as a ministry than anything. But my blood pressure was something like 250/130. They called it a hypertensive crisis. At the emergency room they discovered I also had really high blood sugar. By the time they released me I was on roughly 21 pills a day, which "lowered" my blood pressure to about 164/101 and my sugar to 271. Not very encouraging.

While I was in the hospital, I was visited daily by two different dietitians, one for the hypertension and one for the diabetes. Their advice wasn't exactly contradictory, but basically what one would allow me the other one wouldn't. I remember pouting that they were putting me on a no-food diet! When I got home, though, I sat myself down and took a hard look at what I had been doing to get myself in this mess, and what I could do to get myself out of it. The scenario of a very long term nursing home situation while I was still in my 40's had been painted for me in lurid detail, and it didn't appeal to me a whole lot.

The first thing I did was think of food as fuel, almost as a scientific formula. I thought about which foods provided which nutrients, especially protein, carbohydrates and fats. I thought about how much I needed when, and what combinations would please me the most. I began writing down what I ate when, how many calories, carbohydrates and sodium grams each had, how much water I drank and how much exercise I did. I measured everything. I really worked hard at learning about food and nutrition and how it all affected me personally. After a while I began to learn enough to be able to cut some corners without harming myself. For instance, the diabetes educator taught me about the plate method of serving up dinner. One-half of the plate was to be devoted to vegetables of some kind. Salad, green beans, whatever I wanted, and lots of it. A fourth of the plate was some sort of protein and a fourth was a carb. I could add a milk or fruit, but I learned it was better to have them at a different time. In other words, eat more often during the day with less at each sitting. And many people have learned that they do better eating off smaller plates. What I did was splurge on veggies, which took the edge off my hunger, and then I found the 1/2 to 1 cup of pasta or potatoes and the 3 oz of meat were more than enough!

Then I learned ways to measure portions more easily. Your measuring device is literally in the palm of your hand! The tip of the thumb is about 1 teaspoon - think butter or mayo. The closed fist is the size of 1 cup. The palm of the hand is the size of a portion of meat, about as thick as the little finger is wide. There are other tips, too. A medium-sized potato is about the same size as a computer mouse, or 1/2 a soda can. A golf ball measures about 1/4 cup. 1 oz of nuts is about 2 full shot glasses. Fill a coffee mug with pretzels - that's about 3/4 oz. One chicken thigh or leg is about 2 oz of meat, while 1/2 of a chicken breast is 3 oz.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

You Don't Have to Lose 100 Pounds - Part I

When you hear about someone who has lost 100 pounds, doesn't it just inspire you to do the same? No, me either. It's not that I'm not happy for them. It's that, just like if someone won a million dollars on a game show, gold in the Olympics, or the Nobel Peace Prize, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with me. It's too big and I don't even know where to begin. To me it is much more inspiring to hear of someone who is gradually losing weight and thereby getting healthier. If that is what inspires you too, then I have good news for you. I'm doing it, and I can show you how you can do it too.
First of all, Joslin Diabetes Center has done a study showing that people who lose just 7% of their weight along with a program of moderate-intensity exercise for six months, improved their blood vessel function by 80%! Seven percent is doable. The example they give is a 220lb, 5'5" tall woman losing 16 pounds. I think 7% is an excellent goal to shoot for. When you reach it, you can do another 7%, right? And even if you don't, you have still succeeded in making yourself healthier, along with building true healthy habits that you can probably stick with long term.
Another sticking point for a lot of people is going on a diet. They don't believe they'll be able to keep it up long enough to do any good. The good news and the bad news is that your new eating plan needs to be something you can live with, not something you "do" for a short time. But that's really better news than you may realize. If you know you are developing a new way of dealing with food, you are more apt to take the time to think it through and make choices you'll really like. Because the truth is, food is NOT your enemy! Food is given to us by God to nourish us. Nourishment has connotations of fueling our bodies, sure, but it also has unmistakable connections with comfort as well. It's ok to like food! Liking food will not make you fat. Really enjoying what you do eat will actually make it a lot easier to skip the food you've decided you don't want to eat.
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