Spring seeds

Crocuses are just starting to appear, and all but the biggest snow piles have melted completely, leaving only a few, tiny, dirty piles of snow in the back of big parking lots. Can spring finally be here? I hate to jinx it by saying so. But looking out my window, in perfect synchronicity, my neighbor is erecting another raised bed in her back garden. So I must not be the only one declaring it so.

In honor of Spring’s (late) arrival, I started some seeds. Without a greenhouse or heating pad, I have waited (longer than I thought possible) to start seeds. Wary of the temperature, I have started with veggies and herbs that don’t mind a little coolness. My basement set up, while warmer than outside, still isn’t warm enough for those seeds that like it really warm.

I started cilantro, kale, and three kinds of lettuces. This year I opted for a greener planting method- using toilet paper (loo roll) tubes as containers. It’s free, easy, green because I’m reusing and repurposing, and less plastic means less worry.

I am also hoping it will reduce work in the long run. When it comes time to plant them outside, just pop them into place without even removing the cardboard tubes. I’m hoping they will rot in place without falling apart on me before I plant them out (fingers crossed).

If you like to start from seed too, what are your favorite methods? Have you tried the toilet roll tube method?

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Finding connection: Nature-Deficit

Emotionally, we need to have a connection: to other people, a place in society, a quiet place in nature to listen to the birds, or even time with our own breath. We all have a type of connection that speaks to us, that we desire or even crave. Other types of connection we can shun, ignore, or mean to cultivate but never seem to have the time.

I have been thinking recently, that we should spend more time seeking out all kinds of connection, including more of what we know we love and new kinds of connections.

It turns out that not taking time to connect with nature even has a name: nature-deficit disorder. Did you know that we, Americans, spend 80% to 99% of our time indoors? (I read that in this fun piece where I first heard of nature-deficit disorder)

Honestly, that feels a bit shameful. To be fair, it’s hard this time of year in the north- with snow covering almost every inch of earth- to find time to connect to the outdoors. Which is why it is important to make it a conscious priority whenever a chance comes a long. This weekend I am traveling to visit my grandmother in Florida. It may not seem like much of a burden to promise to spend as much time on the beach with my feet in the sand enjoying the sound of the waves, because it isn’t. Nature is a wonderful place to spend some down time. If you can learn to cultivate a love for the nature around where you live, you’ll be able to find a connection every time you step outside. We just need to make it a priority.

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In this moment: Self expression and brain fog

I have made it a goal to write a blog entry a week. Some weeks are easy, some it’s difficult to make my goal. Sometimes I can’t focus due to brain fog, others I can’t think of what to write. This week its more of a focus problem- I can think of lots of ideas, but don’t have the mental stamina to see an idea through, nor the big-picture clarity to choose just one.

In the end I chose write about that very predicament. In a way, writing about “this moment” will highlight ways in which CFS affects my daily life.

Many around me think I express myself, thoughts, ideas well- either in person on in writing. My boss goes as far as to say I’m a good writer. My high school english teachers would laugh, but honestly, these days I am pretty good at expressing myself- only because at times it is so difficult. It takes so much more effort to craft just the right way to express myself. I also know what its like to be confused by an ill-crafted statement. Having brain fog means you get both sides- being confused by what you are taking in, and unable to fully express what you want to want to in a cohesive manner. Leaving me with a greater understanding of how to write or craft an idea in a less confusing way. And in the days and moments of clarity, I use these powers to the fullest- knowing there are times when I cannot express myself, when words escape, when I cannot remember what I was saying (mid sentence), or days when even cohesive thoughts/self-talk are illusive.

The word ‘fatigue’ in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome elicits thoughts of physical fatigue. Rarely do people think about mental fatigue. I never knew what it was even like to be mentally fatigued until I had CFS. It’s nearly impossible to describe, and unbearably frustrating to live with. In a way you feel you are loosing yourself, your essence. But I cannot deny that while CFS brings new and exasperating challenges, it also has come with the chance to grow. Using the challenges as a jumping point for self-improvement; from becoming a better writer, to being more empathetic and understanding. Sometimes a loss can also be a win.

“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

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Warming lamb with rice

This is one of those made-up-on-the-spot recipes I came up with last year, and was good enough to write down and repeat. Made with lamb and cinnamon, this dish is warming- particularly good for the cold days we’ve been having.

Did I mention it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, low FODMAP, and oh so easy?

Here are the ingredients:

1 lb ground lamb (minced lamb)

1 really big carrot, peeled and shredded

1 tsp powdered cinnamon

1 tsp ground cumin

1 cup of leftover rice *

*Using leftover rice (basmati preferably) is what makes this a relatively quick dish, but if you don’t have any, you’ll have to wait for the rice to cook. (And remember in the future to make extra rice- it’s great in things like this and fried rice)

In a deep fry pan, heat some oil/fat of your choosing. Fry up the lamb, stirring to brown and break up the pieces. Once browned, remove any extra meat juices carefully and discard (or use in something else).

Add a little more fat and then the carrot and cook for 5 minutes (until carrots are sauteed), stirring to keep from any one part from burning. Add the spices and stir in. Once spices are fragrant add the leftover rice, stirring to break up any clumps and to get an even mixture. Cook long enough to heat the rice through. Voila! Now serve with toasted pine nuts.

This dish would also be good with chopped up, cooked spinach, or even dried fruit like golden raisins (marinate them in some water or orange juice before adding them last minute to the pan for extra juiciness and flavor). And one last note- if you like full flavor- go ahead and up the spices to 2 tsp each- mmm mmm!

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Holy swear-word batman! Gluten-free, vegan (dairy and egg free), oh and did I mention low FODMAP and corn, potato, soy, and bean/pea free too?

Happy pancake day to me! And to all of you ;)

ps. The first few were terrible, so I tweaked the batter and voila! I also added un-sweetened shredded (desiccated) coconut to the batter too- to give a nice sweetness as well as texture. These were good-without-anything-on-them pancakes; so no one has to choose sides (maple syrup like in the US or lemon and powdered sugar like in the UK). When I am sure I have perfected the recipe, I’ll post it. Until then, keep experimenting- you never know what you might come up with!

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Bruised ego; getting back up again

I had my ego bruised this weekend. One of my goals this year is to work on traveling more: a. to see friends who are scattered about the country and world; b. to feel more a part of this world, experience new things and see different sights (insights too). As a starting point a friend who lives an hour away seemed like an excellent start. I built myself up for the trip, partly with unrealistic expectations about how my health would hold up, only to have those expectations quashed. It was a pretty obvious outcome in hindsight, and bruised my ego. Spending most of my time lying down, too exhausted to move was not how I pictured the weekend (not many sights seen for one).
After 2 days my bruised ego (who I had been feeding to be fair) lashed out with depressive thoughts. “This was a waste of time”… “I should have known I couldn’t do this”… “I’ll never get better”… “everything is hopeless”… “I’m a failure.” As you probably know thoughts get out of hand quite quickly. Anger, resentment, sadness, lethargy, and emotional exhaustion also joined the pity party.

I’m sorting through the pieces today. While I don’t have total clarity just yet, I am re-learning a lot. First and foremost: I’m always surprised that this is a journey not a destination. Whenever things go wrong, I get surprised that I end up in the same emotional state or with the same feelings. I must think that once you get through them once they’ll never return. Wrong. But if you have been through it before, you can bolster yourself knowing you’ve gotten through it before and you will this time too. Sort of like “oh yeah, I’ve been here before, i think this is the way out.” Second: patience. Journey it may be, but it is not a short one. Even if you know the way. Have patience with yourself (easier said than done, but this is something that gets better with practice). In turn it will help you have patience with others. Third: I learned and re-learned more about myself. Sifting through what happened I see things more clearly- where I can improve next time, what to account for, how to be more patient and kind with myself, reminding myself this is an experiment in self-love (well, life is really if you make it so). I’m thinking of things I can do or say to improve the outcome the next time, giving myself credit for trying and re-writing the experience as a win rather than a failure (I did it, my expectations were not fully met, but I managed a long drive and visit and this is a fantastic starting point- physically accomplished and with polishing it can get better).

If you turn off ego’s negative thought patterns (in a similar way that meditation works- when a thought arises remind yourself that you don’t actually believe it and refocus) you have more room to think and plan for how to better handle a situation next time it arrises, as well as take some time and patience to check in with your heart. Ego, especially depressed thoughts, may feel like an emotion- but it’s not, it’s the pain-pleasure part of your BRAIN. Not your heart. That’s not how you really feel. So don’t forget to push ego aside and check in with how you really feel. I’m feeling vulnerable yet gently optimistic about the future. I am looking forward to trying again. Remember: it’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up again.

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Risk your heart, learning to be more open

Today I’m reminding myself to be more open. To let come what may, to take emotional risks and trust that whatever comes, I can handle it.

Not just in relationships, but also in life, you must open yourself up. It is in being vulnerable that we find the best life has to offer: love, joy, happiness: things that make life worth living. By being open to failure, we in turn live more fully and deeply.

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Helpful books: “Beating Stress, Anxiety & Depression”

A recent conversation reminded me that I have read some really helpful books, and I have decided to start sharing some of the best here.

I decided to start with “Beating Stress, Anxiety & Depression” by J. Plant and J. Stephenson published in the UK in 2008 (I have a 2011 reprint).

This book breaks down depression, anxiety and stress in an unprecedentedly thorough way. Written by people who have been on the receiving end of care (on the NHS in the UK), they also add a personal touch with some stories of their own experiences. The book has three parts- the first about understanding the conditions includes more recent studies and information than what your doctor is likely working with. The second is a comprehensive list of treatment options including complimentary/alternative medicine options for healing. The third has more self-help recommendations.

Despite being written in the UK, there is enough cross over to how diagnosis and treatment works in the US to make it well worth the read. I read this a couple years ago, and looking through it again, I can’t recommend this book enough!

I should warn you this book may make you a little angry at the current medical system (from personal experience), but perhaps a small price to pay to be so well informed.

I hope it is helpful to you too!


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Snow Shoeing

I’ve decided to share more small joys. In a way to celebrate them, and I hope it encourages you to celebrate the small wins too.

Today I tried something new- snow shoeing! It was great to get out of the house (we have a good amount of snow on the ground- I doubt we’ll see

sidewalks/pavements for at least a few weeks, maybe months) and get some fresh air. Not to mention, enjoy nature!

My parents bought some snow shoes a few years back, and then never used them. So this snow was a great excuse to “try them out”. There are some woods behind their development so my father and I took a mile stroll through the woods. It was a lot of fun.

Though a bit exhausting (a mile is my current walking limit, and snow shoeing takes more effort). I may need an extra few lie downs, but it put a big smile on my face. I’m counting it as a win.

What small joy are you celebrating?

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Truth vs Helpfulness

There seem to be two common ways of thinking- Judging thoughts and words on ‘truth’, or judging them on ‘helpfulness’ (or usefulness).

Those of us who judge by truthfulness pride ourselves in doing so, we tend to judge others who don’t, hold ourselves to a high standard, and don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t do it like we do, or at least wonder why we are judged for doing so. When we say or hear something hurtful, we judge it on its truth first and see being hurt by it as a necessary consequence to the truth. We see people who hold back on telling the truth to avoid hurting themselves or others as weak. That facing the truth of this sometimes-cruel world is strength.

But this gets us into problems, not just with others but also with ourselves. It is easy, with “truth” in hand, to be quite self-deprecating. The truth can be used to defend negative thoughts – not just about others, but about ourselves. In downward-spiral-thinking, fueled by “truths” without any regards to usefulness, negative (and often harmful) but true thoughts remain undefeated.

In some way- this kind of thinking is “small truth” thinking. Take for example the “truth” that in the end, you are “destined to be alone”. Yes, no relationship you have ever had has lasted, each time you were left lonely. But the “big truth” is this: that’s how it works- for you, for me, for everyone. All relationships end- by death or choice. This is how the universe works, how society works, how life works.

Helpfulness (or usefulness) is a tool we can use to see the big truth, and to help us out of our self-deprecating rut. Is it true that after a breakup you are alone? Yes. Is it helpful to feel like loneliness is a punishment made only for you? No.

To punish yourself with small truths while avoiding the big truth is not only unhelpful, but also untruthful. To edit out these bigger truths is as much a white lie as any other.

So the next time you find yourself judging something on truth, ask yourself – is this a small truth or big truth? And how useful are the feelings that surface?

What “small truths” keep you stuck?

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