Paige Doster-Grimes

Reflections and Ramblings from North Carolina


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Three Stories, with a Twist

I haven’t been writing much lately outside of writing speeches for Toastmasters, but I thought this recent speech (the goal of which was to practice word choice) translated pretty well to the written word. Hope you enjoy!

Imagine floating… slowly… silently… down a gentle stream. The stream empties into a pond so still the surface reflects the sky like mirror. The steady force from the stream nudges you forward, and you glide across the water. Your one-man boat resembles a floating leaf, and it leaves hardly any wake in its path. The pond is surrounded by lush, green forest, and the sky darkens to a deep indigo blue. On a hill ahead of you there is a white cottage and the windows are bright with warm candlelight. You steer your vessel to the edge of the pond and step out of the boat – your bare feet sink just slightly into the damp soil. You embark on the short walk through the forest to the welcoming house.

It’s a different day now, but you’re once again on the water – this time, on a speedboat crashing through Pacific waves. You head west, towards an island just visible on the horizon. The wind whips at your skin but the sun is warm. A pod of dolphins joins alongside the boat. They leap in random rhythm, revealing shiny, smooth bodies that sparkle in the sunlight. There’s a bag of peanut M&M’s in your hand and you savor the moment, grabbing one candy at a time. You eat the chocolates in layers, gently cracking the shell with your teeth until the soft chocolate beneath is completely exposed. Then, you wait until all the chocolate has melted in your mouth before crunching down on the salty peanut core. Everything about today is perfect.

Both of these stories are experiences I had. The second story, on the speed boat, happened in my waking life… and the first in my sleeping life. It was a dream. But the memories I have of each are equally as vivid and real in my mind. In fact, they are both memories I revisit often, especially when I’m lying in bed unable to sleep.

My fascination with dreams began when I was a snaggle-toothed kid. My brother and I shared a bedroom, and one morning he confided in me that he had seen my dreams. He peeked in my ear when I was sleeping and watched the dreams inside my head like a film. I was shocked, but surely my big brother wouldn’t lie to me. “I’ll prove it to you”, he said, “tell me what you dreamt about.” I told him. “Ah ha!” he said, “That is exactly what I saw in your ear.”

I have been trying to make sense of dreams ever since.

In high school, I took a psychology class and it was full of angsty teens eager to self-diagnose all of our quirks. We were given an assignment to present to the class on a topic of our choosing. I chose lucid dreaming, which is being aware that you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. Many people that practice lucid dreaming control what they do in their dreams, like a choose-your-own-adventure book where anything is possible.

I marched to the school library ready to research this window into the subconscious. The Internet was pretty new then, but my web search yielded a long list of results… all of them blocked by the library’s censorship program. I was indignant, and more intrigued than ever. Anything considered too risqué by the school librarians must be cutting-edge and I needed to know more.

birds_non_flying_dream_1491875Since that research project many years ago, I have trained myself to lucid dream. I’d like to say it’s resulted in many introspective experiences where the secrets of the universe are revealed and I discover a greater sense of self. But mostly, I just like to fly. It comes so naturally to me in my dreaming world. I just take a few big hops and before you know it I’m gliding along zephyrs with the birds, whizzing from one rooftop to the next.

I’ve heard that dreams are an important tool for us humans. When we dream, we are processing events and emotions that our conscious brain hasn’t fully synthesized. In a dream state, we aren’t as emotional as we are in waking life and time is more elastic. That’s what makes it a great environment for our brains to make sense of difficult or confusing experiences. Think of it as happy hour for your brain – a chance for it to decompress and sort out what you’ve put it through in the last 16-odd hours.

There are many scientific reasons why dreams are necessary for good brain hygiene. But to be honest, I think the real gift of dreaming is the memories it leaves us with.

There’s another favorite dream I revisit often. I am roller blading through a park. The asphalt path is smooth beneath me and picking up speed is almost effortless. My route is nestled between fields of tall beach grass. As I gently skate up and down the rolling hills I pass a large pond where ducks are swimming. It must be evening because the sun is low in the sky, illuminating everything in peachy light. There is a warm breeze, and the grass rustles. The gentle vibration from my skates reverberates up my legs, through my body, and back out through my fingertips. My whole body feels alive, each cell so full it might burst. As I pass others on the path, they smile serenely.

It may have just been a dream, but the memory is no less significant than events that transpire in my waking life. Do you have a favorite dream memory? I’m curious if other people have a similar Rolodex of sweet dreams.

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30 Things I Know For Sure

Today I turned 30 years old – a seemingly appropriate opportunity to take stock of what

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Me, a little less than 30 years ago.

I’ve gleaned during my three decades lapping the sun. I thought coming up with 30 things I know for sure would be pretty easy, but it’s taken an embarrassingly long time to compose this list. Maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is there is relatively little I’m certain about.

There is a concept often mentioned in Buddhist writing and expressed in a number of different philosophies and areas of study that says, “the opposite of what I know as truth is also true.” Or, as Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr put it, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” I try and remind myself of this sentiment often when confronted with upsetting perspectives or perceived road blocks of my own. Our lived experience shapes our realities greatly – so much so that it may blind us to other truths if we’re not open to seeing them. Side note – this season of the Invisibilia podcast is a fantastic listen for exploring varying perceptions of reality.

In any case, the below list contains 30 things I am certain of… with the understanding that the opposite of each point may in fact be true as well. I wonder how different this list would be for me at age 60? Fingers crossed I have the opportunity to find out. In no particular order:

  1. There is no better gift than the gift of presence. Being fully engaged with another person, no distractions or lapses of attention, is an increasingly rare and precious experience.
  2. No one cares how terribly you’re doing in a workout class.
  3. They may care how you smell.
  4. Public libraries are one of the best resources we have invested in as a community and they provide value beyond imagination for those who seek it.

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    Library love

  5. A big bunch of Astroemeria flowers from Trader Joes costs less than $4 and will last for 2 weeks, easy.
  6. Time in nature can turn most bad moods around.
  7. Classical music isn’t boring and you don’t need to be 70 years old to enjoy it (though maybe it helps). It can be emotional and riveting… plus classical radio stations are usually commercial free.
  8. Kesha is an underrated musical artist.
  9. Trying new things is one of the best ways to keep life from “flying by.” Our perception of time is primarily backwards looking, and the more unique experiences we have dropped onto the landscape of our personal history (milestones, as it were), the easier it is to differentiate periods of time and prevents the years from just “blurring” together.
  10. One bottle of Kiss My Face brand shaving cream will last for ages and feels like silk on your skin.
  11. Whiffing peppermint essential oil and gulping a big glass of water will knock out many headaches, no pills needed.
  12. 85% of the time, generic brands will do just fine.
  13. 95% of the time, hitting the snooze button is a bad idea.
  14. No one is responsible for your choices except for you.
  15. There will always be people who don’t understand your choices. Don’t spend time worrying about them.
  16. Changing to a vegan diet is without a doubt the single greatest choice I’ve made in my life.
  17. Home ownership is more difficult than I expected it would be.
  18. It’s still totally worth it.
  19. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (I never said these were original).
  20. A green smoothie a day keeps the doctor away.

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    Roger Federer – GOAT

  21. Roger Federer is the best tennis player of all time.
  22. Stan Wawrinka, also from Switzerland, is the second best tennis player.
  23. The Swiss really know how to make tennis players. And chocolate.
  24. In a majority of conflicts, the root issue is either miscommunication or lack of communication.
  25. Rescued is the best breed.
  26. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can afford comfort. It is, however, largely unrelated to fulfillment.
  27. We humans are so much more alike than we will ever be different.
  28. Everyone deserves a decent place to live.
  29. Righty tighty, lefty loosy.
  30. A friend wise beyond her years once told me she likes to spend her birthday the way she hopes to spend the rest of the year, and I think that must be the best birthday philosophy. If today is any indication, my year will be spent swimming, reading, writing, connecting with friends and family, and playing with my dog, and that sounds pretty darn good to me.

What is something you know for sure? If you made it this far, I would love to hear your certainties in the comments!


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What’s Your Life Currency?

You know that old saying, “marching to the beat of your own drummer?” I only recently learned that the phrase originated with Henry David Thoreau. In Walden, Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau wants you to ignore the haters and do your own thing.

writes, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” This is a timeless observation from a book that has become more essential with each passing year.

A few weeks ago at the People’s Climate March in DC I had an experience that gave rise to a similar metaphor. As one might expect at a large gathering of environmentally minded folks, there was quite an array of passionate, colorful characters in attendance. At one point we started to hear, above the cacophony of chants and jeers, bagpipes! Sure enough, as we rounded the bend to the White House, a man was standing atop a set of stairs piping out Scottish tunes. Next to him was a woman dancing so intensely it was as though she was entranced… or maybe auditioning for the next Sia video. She was completely absorbed in her movements. I’d like to think that if Thoreau had come across her he might have made “dancing to the drone of one’s own bagpiper” part of our vernacular.

Anyways, I’ve been binge-reading lately – specifically devouring books about our cultural relationship with money. It all started with “The Man Who Quit Money”. It’s the true story of a man who, as you might guess… quit money. To say the book’s protagonist, Daniel, “dances to the drone of his own bagpiper” is an understatement.

What’s interesting about the book is not just the gimmick, though learning exactly how one manages to live without money is pretty interesting (spoiler alert: dumpster diving). What was really eye-opening to me, though, is Daniel’s philosophical reasons for choosing to live the way he does. He thinks about our monetary system in a way that’s so different from what we’re taught. He points out that it’s become essentially illegal to operate outside the monetary system and takes issue with the very premise of exchanging pieces of paper and swipes of plastic for goods and services, or even bartering for what he needs.

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Daniel Suelo – the man who quit money.

You might assume Daniel’s life is miserable and solitary, but the book paints a very different picture. He has many friends at different stages in life, enjoys living outdoors in the beautiful southwest desert, donates his time and skills volunteering, and finds he has more than enough of the material possessions he needs without feeling burdened or insecure. Honestly, how many people with ample money can say the same?

I’m not about to denounce the financial system and take to living in a cave eating discarded tofu of questionable origin. And there’s much to be debated about Daniel’s chosen lifestyle and whether he’s truly operating “outside” the system or just benefitting from the fray. Nevertheless, Daniel’s story got me thinking and turned me onto a whole slew of books and blog posts by other people dancing to the drone of their own bagpiper – financially speaking. Some are pursuing extreme early retirement. Others are seeking another form of financial independence. My favorites are questioning the prevailing “wisdom” of how much money and stuff one needs to be fulfilled.

A Quick Note: I want to acknowledge that only people in positions of privilege can make some of the observations and choices that follow. There are many people in our own communities struggling to get by, whether due to unemployment or underemployment, systemic injustice which keeps marginalized people from having opportunities for advancement, medical emergencies that can bankrupt families, crushing student loan debt… the list goes on. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have an affordable roof over our head and some money in the bank, though, we have choices to consider.

Our modus operandi in the US and much of the developed world is to see money as the currency of our lives… the metric by which we measure our life’s worth and meaning. The benchmarks we use to compare our success and self worth are the size of our salary, the value of our house, the make of our cars, the labels on our clothes, and the quality of school we can afford for our children (be it by tuition to a private school, or the cost of living to inhabit a good public school system).

We all want to live comfortably and feel we are of value. But it seems accumulating stuff has become our default, and the fact that 38% of US households have revolving credit card debt with the amount owed per individual averaging more than $16,000 (yikes!) is

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Blue line is household credit card debt growth, red line is household income growth – via Business Insider.

terrifying to ponder. It’s unfortunate that most of us aren’t encouraged to explore what it would be like if we chose a different currency – other than money and stuff – to collect and use to measure our life’s value.

If you didn’t have the Rent soundtrack stuck in your head already, I’m sorry to do this, but… “525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife…”

There are so many more ways than money to measure our lives. Money – and what we spend it on – may be the default that advertisers everywhere are desperate to keep us fixated on, but it needn’t be this way.

So what might embracing a different life currency look like?

  • Daniel (aka. the man who quit money) seems to thrive on the currency of freedom and autonomy. Despite what many of us may think, money was not the means to finding freedom and autonomy for him, but actually a hindrance.
  • Many people I know have chosen to make personal and professional fulfillment the currency of their lives. They may choose to continue serving in a job such as teaching that isn’t high paying but gives them personal satisfaction and meaningful challenges.
  • Depth of experience is one currency I’m focused on right now. I try to have both the time and attention to be fully present with the people around me and bring new experiences into my life. I do have a money-based goal to pay off our mortgage early, but the purpose of that goal is to have the flexibility to experience more and more as I age. My dream is to have financial security enough so I can care for loved ones if needed, take time to travel, and pursue personal interests without the pressure of any debt on my shoulders.
  • Knowledge and understanding – be it scientific, spiritual, or otherwise – is another currency one could choose to make their focus. On a related note, it’s surprising to me that taking a sabbatical, a common practice in academia that benefits both teachers and the institutions they belong to, has not been more widely co-opted in other industries.

Most people would consider the idea of “giving up money” to be utterly crazy, and I agree. But equally crazy is the practice of making money the main resource we seek and primary driver of our life decisions. Doing so usually means working long days for most – if not all – of one’s limited lifespan. It means becoming more and more dependent on one’s job to finance more and more desires instead of realizing the freedom that humble living and financial security can bring. It means more time shopping and accumulating and, often, taking on debt to do so. It’s participating in a consumer system that continually reaffirms for us that we are not enough as we currently are. That’s utter craziness, even if it’s socially acceptable.

What is the currency of your life? What precious resource are you working to acquire and how can you bring more of it into your daily experience? What might you need to give up to attain it?

The easy answer is trading more of our time for money. With enough money, all other desires should be attainable, right? But if you’re willing to listen to your own bagpiper, you might find some other answers start coming to the surface. How might your life look different if you committed to measuring your success and progress by the amount of freedom you have/fulfillment you attain/depth of experience you are able to live/things you learn? How rich might you feel then? Are you brave enough to start dancing, even if no one else hears the pipes?


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Lessons from Krista Tippett

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Krista Tippett, host of On Being.

Since discovering the On Being radio show a few years ago, I’ve been pretty enamored with Krista Tippett. On Being (available as a podcast) dives into the difficult questions that plague us as human beings – questions about our place in the universe and the meaning of our lives. Krista, the show’s host, is a fantastic interviewer. She has probed some of the most influential minds in science, religion, spirituality, activism, poetry, and more. Some of her interviews – like her dialogue with poet Mary Oliver – expose new dimensions to public figures I already admired. Others – like that with computer scientist and Bach enthusiast Bernard Chazelle – illuminate ideas and individuals that I (and, I expect, many other listeners) had never previously considered. Krista has a soothing and somewhat ethereal voice, which is fitting for the nature of her questioning, often cosmic conversations.

 

In the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to read Krista’s new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, and see her be interviewed by Frank Stasio here in Raleigh. I had high hopes for both the book and the talk, and while each were enjoyable in their own ways, I felt they lacked the depth that she achieves with her guests during On Being. Nevertheless, the ideas she presents are worthy of exploration and she brings a critical perspective to the crazy world we currently inhabit.

Speaking of the world we live in, one of the metaphors she used in her talk has stuck with me. She likened the current state of humanity to that of a teenager’s brain – alight with incredible creativity and sense of possibility, constantly making new connections, tapped into the great potential of technology… and yet also totally reckless, flooded with emotion and uncontrollable yearning, teetering on the precipice of self destruction. I picture an MRI scan coursing with surges of beautiful white light as synapses fire in rapid procession while explosions of red, like a volcano burst, disrupt the flow and threaten to bring down the whole dang system.

Krista also spoke of an idea I’d never considered which is that we are reaching a time – the first ever in the evolution of humanity – where we have the technology, the tools and ability, to act as an entire species. It sounds kind of wild at first, but then you consider how technology connects us in a way we have never known previously. Social media has given many of us a voice and a means of organization. Global reporting has connected us to people from around the globe in more and more personal ways. And yet, with all this opportunity for connection and collective action, our tendency is to use these mediums and opportunities for the opposite. Instead of primarily uniting, we have largely divided. All too often we use the news, social media, and our own daily interactions to strengthen an underlying “us versus them” mentality instead of as an opportunity to recognize that we are all so very similar.

One example Krista sites of this “us versus them” mentality is the seeming divide between science and religion. Her argument is that pitting science and religion against one another is a distraction, and one (I would argue) primarily used by those with something to gain on either side of the equation. From her perspective, science and religion continually reveal ways to support and uncover new mysteries for the other. Not exactly the message being sent by mass media. Stories of fundamentalists fighting the evidence of evolution in text books is much more dramatic and bite-sized than, say, a nuanced exploration of the discovery of a microscopic animal fossil from half a billion years ago that reminds both theologians and scientists alike that we will always possess more questions than answers. Or, as Alan Watts puts it in The Wisdom of Insecurity, “The clash between science and religion has not shown that religion is false and science is true. It has shown that all systems of definition are relative to various purposes, and that none of them actually grasp reality”. If we believe this to be true, the fascinating relationship between science and religion becomes much more productive.

During her conversation with Frank Stasio, Krista suggested that future humans will laugh at our current pervasive belief that the body, mind, and spirit are three different things. “How quaint,” the future humans might say. I think she is probably right, and that this is an interesting example of science and religion supporting one another and leading us in the same direction – recognizing the inseparable connectedness of body, mind and spirit. But when you consider the detachment and division that is so pervasive among us humans in our outward view of the world (the “us and them” mentality mentioned above), it would be crazy to think that sense of detachment and division doesn’t have strong governance over how we also view ourselves. Nevertheless, I hope Krista’s vision of a cultural norm – where humans see the mysterious and wonderful oneness of body, mind, and spirit – comes to fruition. It would signify a greater paradigm shift of acknowledging the interconnectedness of many, many other aspects of our universe.

But how do we even begin deconstructing the figurative (and literal) walls that divide us? One place to start is with generous questions – a topic Krista details in her book. We go into so many of our conversations in life with an agenda (explicit or subconscious) or simply lacking the willingness to listen and be present with those around us. As Krista writes, “It’s not true what they taught us in school; there is such a thing as a bad question. In American life, we trade mostly in answers – competing answers – and in questions that corner, incite, or entertain”. Krista suggests that we trade in leading questions and lack of attention for the art of generous questioning, and it’s counterpart, generous listening.

listen-cartoonWhat is generous questioning and generous listening? It’s the verbal equivalent of the old adage that life’s about the journey, not the destination. It means going into conversation with another not seeking resolution but instead, “to invite searching – not on who is right and who is wrong and the arguments on every side… Learning to relate to each other with dignity, without rushing to common ground that would leave all the hard questions hanging”. Interesting, right? And not as Kumbaya as I expected.

What Krista is suggesting is that we listen to one another and ask questions that dive deeper into topics that are often difficult or uncomfortable. When it gets uncomfortable, we don’t get defensive and we don’t try and dismiss or retreat back to safer territory. In fact, in doing so we would deny ourselves the opportunity to understand others. If we only ever stay on common ground, how can we possibly begin to comprehend what makes us see the world differently and the basis of our divisions?

In addition to encouraging the practice of generous questioning, Krista’s book was a fantastic reminder of the difference between optimism and hope – and how our mindset of choice impacts how we relate to one another. Hope is rooted in the facts of our present reality while optimism is based on a sugarcoated present or hypothetical future. As Krista says, “[Hope] is a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be”. Optimism, on the other hand, not only requires a level of detachment from life as it is but has the added disadvantage of predisposing us to future disappointment when we’re forced to face reality once more.

Ok, so what does this have to do with how we interact with others? In comes one of the most touching stories of Krista’s book, pulled from a moving On Being episode titled The Soul in Depression. In it, Parker Palmer – a very successful and world-renowned author, educator, and activist – speaks about going through a period of deep depression. During optimismthis time many people tried to “cheer” Parker up. They talked to him about all the good he had done and would do in the future, how beautiful the day was and how he should enjoy it, etc. If you’ve ever suffered from depression, you’ll know that this sort of attempt at helping often only serves to make one feel worse. But the one friend who truly helped was a Quaker elder who came to Parker’s home each day, sat with him (often in silence), and would simply massage Parker’s feet.

This story is an excellent depiction of the power of hope versus the disconnection of optimism. Parker’s optimistic friends were speaking of his past and a hypothetical future, but in doing so they were not connecting with him and his present pain. It is no surprise then that their well-intentioned efforts to change him proved futile. On the other hand, the elder who sat with Parker for days on end was willing to be with him in his present experience without judgment or even optimism. He certainly had hope that Parker would recover from his depression; otherwise I don’t imagine he would have been so persistent in his act of kindness. But his hope was deeply rooted in the reality of Parker’s state and that’s what allowed him to connect with his depressed friend in a way that enabled Parker to begin recovery.

While the On Being radio show continues to be my preferred medium for Krista Tippett’s work, I have learned a great deal from her new book and it was really enjoyable to see her speak in person. The ideas of generous questioning/listening and trading optimism for hope are two concepts that I think we could all benefit from practicing more of – I know I sure can. If you’re unfamiliar with Krista’s work and enjoy grappling with some of the ideas I’ve written about, I highly recommend giving her show a listen. She’s been doing it for years so there’s an incredible volume of work to savor.


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The Convenient Kitchen

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Crispy tofu bowl with spicy quick-pickled veggies and sriracha aioli.

Meal delivery companies are proliferating these days. Blue Apron, Green Chef, Purple Carrot, Chartreuse Spatula… ok I made that last one up, but you get the idea. The appeal is undeniable – they mail you the pre-measured ingredients you need to make tasty meals at home and much of the ingredient prep is already completed. Of course, I don’t have to tell you this. You’ve no doubt seen their relentless advertising on social media or heard the spiel on your favorite podcast. The novelty of the meals and time-saving promises of these companies was intriguing to me, but with most plans running a minimum of $70 a week for a 2-person household, my wallet was not on board.

Cut to Christmas, and I became the happy recipient of gift certificates for two of these scrumptious subscriptions. Over the last 3 weeks we received and whipped up 9 meals. Here’s my take on the cooking craze sweeping the upper-middle class, and some feedback for the companies selling the goods.

The experience:

  • Many of the meals we made were really good – the type of meal I’d happily have paid for in a restaurant. My husband always tells me my cooking is yummy, but the compliments for these dishes were on a whole new level (I recall at least two involuntary, audible moans of delight). I attribute it mainly to making more complicated dishes with new spices and special touches than I would do on my own. For example, I typically shy away from recipes that require several spices and garnishes I don’t have on hand and am unlikely to use again. But when you’re delivered these novel ingredients, and just the amount you need for the recipe, culinary nirvana is suddenly within reach.
  • On the flip side, the per-meal cost for both services we tried works out to what we would typically pay at a restaurant in our area ($10-$12 a meal)… a restaurant where we don’t have to do any of the work or the dishes. For us, the cost is just too high for it to be realistic beyond our fun free trial. Plus, while it’s convenient that you receive several meals of food, it’s not like these services remove the need for grocery shopping altogether. If you have the disposable income to use these services regularly and really enjoy cooking new meals at home, I totally get it and more power to ya!
  • So did we take anything tangible away from our free trials? Yes! Over the course of 9 meals, I learned lots of new techniques I can easily bring to everyday cooking. Chief among them was how to crisp things. I mastered how to make crispy fried onions for topping a veggie burger, sage-infused crispy panko breadcrumbs to add crunch to any savory dish, and oven-baked crispy tofu to step-up any Asian entrée. I discovered a new way to fix broccoli that makes the side as grand as the main course (it involves sautéed carrots, bell pepper, and red onion, all dusted with garam masala seasoning – so warming and addictive). I even made crepes for the first time ever! Considering that we make pancakes every single week, you’d think I’d have made that leap sooner. But that’s just the thing – none of these new-to-me methods were difficult, I just needed an extra push to give them a try. These meal services are a great way to expand your repertoire and take some risks in the kitchen… likely to great reward.

Feedback for the companies:

  • If you want to keep your customers, hook them with your proprietary
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    I have no idea what this is, other than delicious.

    y spice blends and sauces. One of the services we tried did this really well. They sent little baggies of pre-mixed spices and their sauces were usually pre-made in adorable little bottles. This meant I had no idea what it was that made my meal so dang tasty. If I wanted to recreate the magic, I depend on them. In the case of one spicy peanut sauce in particular, I would have happily forked over some dough for a larger bottle of that liquid gold. The other service we tried did not seem to embrace this concept. They used minimal spices, and what they did send came individually packaged (oregano in one bag, thyme in another). For one thing, this decreased the perceived value of the meal to me as a consumer. I have 2 giant bottles of oregano in my cabinet right now – couldn’t they have used something a little more exotic for effect? The other thing is, since I know exactly what’s in the recipe, I can recreate it easily on my own. That’s good for me, but it decreases my need for a service like this when I can recreate the exact same meal myself for much less.

  • Please, don’t make me use special equipment. One recipe I made required both a blender AND a food processor. I only do that level of dishes for federally recognized holidays – certainly not a Tuesday night in. Since we’re operating under the assumption that your service makes cooking amazing meals at home easier, minimizing the number of tools I need and cleanup required will help me feel like you delivered on that promise.
  • I’m not your target market, but I could be! I’ll be honest; paying for your service every week is not where I want my hard-earned cash to go. But I would be interested in purchasing the occasional meal for special occasions, and I’d pay a premium for it. If you could give me everything I needed to make a really special dinner for 6-8 people, I would totally give that a shot. If you make it seasonally appropriate and throw in some heirloom ingredients that will make my guests think I’m some kind of purple-carrot-growing wizard, you will have my loyalty.

We had a ton of fun making our 9 special meals. As far as gift-giving goes, this was a perfect choice for us. If you have someone in your life that enjoys cooking, I highly recommend gifting them a week of meals from one of the many meal-delivery companies out there (we were partial to Green Chef). It would also make a great gift for someone recently diagnosed with celiac disease or someone who is going vegetarian or vegan. Most of these delivery services have gluten free and veg options available, and I can’t think of a better way to help someone ease into a new way of eating than making it fun (and less intimidating) than with meals like these.


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Favorite Passages from 2016

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Mary Oliver – always a favorite.

“Off again, on again” is an accurate descriptor for my relationship with reading. My hours spent with a book in hand have ebbed and flowed over the years. Like many people (I suspect), my reading binges tend to cluster around long journeys. Crime and Punishment was consumed over the course of two appropriately turbulent cross-country flights. I tore though half of Tony Hillerman’s collection during the long bus rides of my study abroad experience. The fifth Harry Potter was devoured from the backseat of a rental car weaving up the California coast on Route 1. Yes – it made me carsick. No – that didn’t keep me from finishing.

When I haven’t read anything in a while, my desire to read is dormant and the energy flows into other pursuits… if you can call watching TV a “pursuit.” But shortly after I’ve cracked the spine on a new read, I’ll find myself returning from the library with another handful of titles in tow.

Since this past year has been more of a “flow” year, I thought I’d look through some of my Kindle highlights to share some favorite passages. Here is what I found…

Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk was a slow read, a memoir of a seasoned falconer training the notoriously difficult goshawk following her father’s death. I found it mostly meditative although some friends felt it was too much of a slog. Macdonald’s reflections following her loss – and particularly the passages on the non-linearity of grief and the disorientation of depression – nevertheless put words to experience in ways I never could:

“Time didn’t run forwards anymore. It was a solid thing you could press yourself against and feel it push back; a thick fluid, half-air, half-glass, that flowed both ways and sent ripples of recollection forwards and new events backwards so that the new things I encountered, then, seemed souvenirs from the distant past.”

Like Macdonald, philosopher Alain de Botton is usually a nonfiction writer. While The Course of Love is his second novel, the characters serve primarily as a medium for de Botton (in the role of narrator) to expound upon his ideas of romantic love. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but perhaps it’s better described as a salve for the soul rather than a work of philosophical insights or fictional intrigue. This quote nicely distilled one of the de Botton’s key messages and captures the refreshing honesty found throughout the book:

“ … love can only endure when one is unfaithful to its beguiling opening ambitions, and that, for relationships to work, [we] will need to give up on the feelings that got [us] into them in the first place. [We] will need to learn that love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm.”

From romantic love to sibling affection, this next passage is from Courtney Hodell’s chapter in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed in which she lovingly describes her brother. Honestly, I highlighted this piece aspirationally. Perhaps with practice someone might one day write something as beautiful and flattering of me.

“An atmosphere of calm hangs around about him like a cloud cap on a green mountain. Everyone in need of balm seeks him out: the anxious and the shy, little kids, old people. He’s one of the secret, mighty soothers and nurturers of this world.”

You can’t tell me after reading that you don’t want to be as calm as a cloud cap, or become a mighty soother.

Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts is so complex and thought-provoking it is difficult to pull quotes from. A memoir, this book explores her experience of having a gender-fluid partner undergoing transition, becoming a mother, being a teacher and writer, and much more. Any one line or paragraph is so enhanced by the context of her story that it seems a disservice to share bits of it piecemeal. Even so, this passage – following a conversation in which Nelson and her partner are arguing over the merits of an action film – seemed so very fitting in our fractured society today:

“We bantered good-naturedly, yet somehow allowed ourselves to get polarized into a needless binary. That’s what we both hate about fiction, or at least crappy fiction – it purports to provide occasions for thinking through complex issues, but really it has predetermined the positions, stuffed a narrative full of false choices, and hooked you on them, rendering you less able to see out, to get out.

When we talked we said words like nonviolence, assimilation, threats to survival, preserving the radical. But when I think about it now I only hear the background buzz of our trying to explain something to each other, to ourselves, about our lived experience thus far on this peeled, endangered planet. As is so often the case, the intensity of our need to be understood distorted our positions, backed us further into the cage.”

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air is a haunting and beautiful memoir chronicling his terminal cancer diagnosis and struggle to find his meaning in a life that was supposed to be just beginning (he was finally finishing his residency as a neurosurgeon). My digital copy of this book is littered with highlights. I thought this quote in particular, though, was a fitting accompaniment to Nelson’s perspective above. It’s worth noting that Kalanithi’s first love was not science, but writing:

“Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believed, the richest material for moral reflection. My brief forays into the formal ethics of analytic philosophy felt dry as a bone, missing the messiness and weight of real human life.”

And finally, one more quote from When Breath Becomes Air:

“I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form.”

Who could argue with Paul’s assertion? If language is the way to communion with one another, then surely using our voice and truly listening to the voice of others is one of the best hopes we have for achieving understanding and shattering the facades that only ever appear to separate us. That’s what is so exciting about reading to me. The written word has given us an endless well of understanding to pull from and use to strengthen the relationships we build our lives around.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and what your favorite quotes from the year were, too. And if you’re on Goodreads, I hope you’ll friend me so I can check out your recommendations.


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What I’ve Learned from my Facebook Hiatus

4c35dfc9dedc5f5e453e68c6170ddd82A month or two ago I decided it was time for a Facebook hiatus. If you have a reasonable amount of self-control, the idea of having to delete a social media profile just to spend less time on that platform probably sounds pathetic. My husband, for example, has no problem using his Facebook account for just the periodic check-in and nothing more – it’s one of the many reasons he’s my better half. But for those of you out there who have trouble resisting the heavy pull of a Facebook (or Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…) wormhole, this post is for you.

This is not my first time bidding Facebook ado; I’ve suspended my account on 3 previous occasions. One thing I’ve noticed in my many departures from The Book is how much more difficult it is to suspend your account nowadays. When you find the page to remove your account, they ask you why you’re leaving. Every one of the options (for example, “I get too many notifications from Facebook”) has a solution for you that doesn’t involve closing your account (“Don’t leave Facebook – just edit your notification preferences!”). This is, of course, a great way to keep people engaged in your product… even if the subtext reads a bit like, “You don’t know what’s best for you – we do!”

What really jumped out to me, though, is that when I selected my reason for leaving this time – “This is temporary, I’ll be back” – it prompted me to pick a date that my account would automatically reactivate. Facebook, quit being so codependent – it’s not a good look on you.

Now that I’ve been logged off for a while, I thought I’d share a few observations:

It’s freeing! Ever accidentally leave your phone at home, panic, and then get a little rush like you’re on the lam? Suddenly you’re paying more attention to the things around you and you feel untethered by being incommunicado. Jumping off social media can be a little like that.

Sending a thoughtful note or giving a friend a call becomes more appealing. When you’re keeping up with someone else via Facebook, it’s easy to go for long periods of time without personally connecting. After all, it seems like you know what’s happening in their life – you could name every meal they ate on their recent weekend getaway to Atlantic City! But there’s no replacement for time spent sharing ideas and memories directly with others, and hopping off of Facebook quickly makes you realize how long it has been since you last spent quality time with certain friends or relatives.

You naturally spend less time comparing yourself to others. Facebook is a great tool for highlighting our best photos, proudest achievements, and portraying just the parts of life we want others to see. It can be really fun to see what our old classmates or childhood friends are up to. But on the flip side, getting a curated peak into the lives of people we don’t really know anymore can be deceiving and create the prime conditions for unhealthy comparisons.

It can be kind of lonely. Facebook is wildly successful in part because it replicates and magnifies what we as social creatures are hardwired to do – see ourselves as part of different communal circles and seek affirmation of our place in the Venn diagram of our unique tribes. It’s not surprising that Facebook became such a festering pool of vitriol during the election. What better place to proclaim to the world what your values are, see who has your back, revel in the “likes” that validate your position, and triumphantly dismiss the haters that are wrong?

We’ve evolved to seek the validation of our peers – it’s a long-held survival mechanism since we’d never last as a lone-wolf species. That’s why it feels so good to be validated by our peers, and Facebook makes it easy to get that hit of dopamine when people like our post or write supportive and flattering comments on our latest pictures. Cutting the social media cord does mean letting go of one of our main sources of positive social feedback. And that can be kind of lonely and take some getting used to.

It’s a great reminder that opting out is an option. Facebook is so ubiquitous now that everyone assumes you have an account. And most of us do. But we certainly don’t have to. It’s not unlike many other things people might assume about us… or we might even assume about ourselves. Things like: I wish to be married and have children. I belong to a major recognized religion. I work a standard 9-5 job. I own a house or desire to own a house. I have to shave my legs (or face) or wear my hair long (or short).

These are can be fine ideals, but they are certainly not universal. If we don’t take time to think about what we really want out of life and what we believe, it’s easy to be swept up in what others expect or do without stopping to make conscious and intentional decisions for ourselves.

I think that’s actually the best thing to come out of my hiatus. I recognize now that I had no idea why I was hopping on Facebook every day. It was a decade-long habit, but aside from that I didn’t really think much about what I was getting out of it and if it was worthwhile to me or not. Opting out – even temporarily – gives us the space to consider if a behavior is enriching our lives or detracting from other life-enriching endeavors.

For me, for now, I’m happier being off of Facebook. And I’m glad for this particular hiatus as it’s inspired me to try taking a break from some other activities, too. Just not Instagram 🙂