Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Stress Rescue: How to feed adrenals under pressure

It's been a pressure cooker around here, and I am not referring to the weather. My thesis (and my mood that's gone with it), family crises, illness, several sets of guests, and more have conspired to make me one crabby hunter-gatherer. I don't always cope well with stress, so I wanted to share some of my rescues. This is not medical advice or even a recipe for you to use, it's just a set of tools that has worked for me. I am always experimenting, so who knows what I will find next week? That's the spirit in which I describe these to you, to add to your knowledge base as you are working through your own health onion.

I use some or all of these depending on a) how badly I am feeling and b) where I am at the time & what I have on hand. This list is no particular order and is far from complete. Feel free to share your tips too, in the comments section.

~Maca drops--the one I have right now is a glycerite and seems to work fine. I keep it in my purse for those stressful moments out and about, like having just avoided an accident or having some crazy you-know-what scream at you.  There are quite a few other adrenal "adaptogens" (essentially, herbs that support how you deal with stress), this is the one that works for me. It takes quite a bit of trial-and-error to find your personal adrenal ally, but it is worth it.

~Rescue Remedy, and other such floral essences, work homeopathically, on an energetic level, but address the emotions primarily, instead of physical symptoms. It is worth carrying at all times as well--I have given it to freaked moms while fixing their kids' boo-boos with arnica and a bit of sympathy.

~Salt "loading"--this is where you drink a glass of water with sea salt (the real thing with all the minerals--don't use any bleached white salt), followed with more water. I usually only have to do it once a day, but it can be done more often. Sea salt is another thing I carry with me always, in a tiny pill box. It's even better, for you and for the taste, with some lemon in it. The adrenals need salt and C to keep functioning under stress. They also need fat, which brings me to...

~Fat--Coconut oil, butter, nuts, avocado...I just need to get some fat in me when I am stressed. With recent events I have been making a version of avocado "pudding." I put all of this in the blender , blend till smooth, and eat with a spoon (sometimes out of the blender, and yes, I eat it all. This is not the time to count calories):

  • a small ripe avocado (peeled, natch)
  • 1 piece of soft fruit (I just used a peach, have used banana, berries, etc. Leave it out if sugars are an issue, and definitely make sure it is ripe.)
  • a pastured egg (I do include the white, but you can leave it out if you avoid raw whites)
  • a spoonful of coconut oil (and/or butter)
  • anti-inflammatory spices, such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon. I often add vanilla or almond extract, especially if I am not adding sweetener.
  • sweetener--I use honey, just a bit, but use what you prefer that won't make you feel worse
  • If the stress is of a particular variety, I throw in a handful of (organic, of course) chocolate chips (could use a spoonful of cocoa for chocolate pudding). Sometimes I blend them a bit, sometimes not. And yes, they have sugar in them, a touch, and sugar is the devil and it undermines health. Yes it does, but I seem to tolerate this amount just fine. Just telling you my story--you decide what works for you, ok? I mean that in the nicest way, because what works for one person is almost guaranteed not to work that way for someone else, so what I do is just what I know works for me. Like I said, next week I may learn something new...

~Tulsi or Holy Basil--I drink tulsi tea quite often. I think it helps, but is both pretty gentle and maybe one of those things that needs to build up in the body to work, so it's not a fabulous rescue. It is good to bring peace to an agitated afternoon.

~Broth--Superfood supreme, this has adrenal support as another of its virtues. So maybe "salt load" with a mug of salty, lemony broth and lift it to toast the Stock Pot Gods. And check out this great post on the science behind how broth can help us manage stress.

~Hot tub--self explanatory, right? Saunas, steam baths, and the bathtub work too. Even a hot shower helps.

~Sleep!!!-Yes, this is a tough one, but I do everything I can to sleep, especially when under stress. Whatever ritual gets you there, do it, I say!

~Bodywork--a massage, chiropractic adjustment, or other body therapy works wonders. It gives me some space out of my head and stress, and it corrects the weird things I have forced my poor body to do while working and stressing. A facial or foot massage helps too! There are lots of ways to pamper even without big bucks.

~Walk--or run or do yoga or bike or... just move! But not too much, because that adds stress to the adrenals. Walk with someone and keep a pace where you can talk--that's about right.

~Talk--"reach out and touch ..." (Boy, did that date me). Yes, call someone and talk out the issues, have lunch with a friend, cry on your sweetheart"s shoulder, whatever--just know you don't have to shoulder the burden alone (unless you choose to, but then you probably wouldn't be reading this, would you?)

~Sunbathe-- I have no idea of the science backs me up on this, but laying in the sun for 15 minutes or so makes me feel better. Good enough for me!

~Laugh--make jokes, watch a funny movie, hang out with your goofiest friend. Laughing has actual physical healing properties, but the way I think it really helps stress is to take the focus off what's eating me. It's a great refocusing tool, by creating perspective. It's all pretty funny, so just laugh... If that's hard, start by smiling. Preferably at someone, but (and I have done this, so I know it works) just standing and smiling at yourself in the mirror can actually change your mood. Try it!

~Distraction--especially useful for prolonged stress, this is very personal. I read junky magazines, surf the web or window shop. I make things. I set limits on how much time I can spend on this, if work is the stress, but I do take a while to make sure my head is clear and I am not crazed when I sit down to work or I will get even more frustrated and bitchy.  If it takes a cup of tea and looking at vintage dresses online for a few minutes, so be it.

Resolving the stress is the best way to cope, but it isn't always possible to do before stress affects us negatively.  At that point, we also need to support the immune system in our customary ways. I eat lots of garlic, onions, ginger, increase my broth, probiotic foods, cod liver oil and keep immune boosters like elderberry and echinacea on hand.

I avoided talking much about sweets and didn't mention various drugs or alcohol because, while these things can help in sane doses and in the right situation, they can also contribute to physical stress and undermine immunity--just when you want to strengthen it. Use them at your discretion and keep notes on all of your experiments and trials, because that's the only way to know works and what doesn't.

Hugs to you all! It's coziest stress-buster ever....

How do you deal with stress? Any techniques or foods/herbs/etc that work really well for you? Please share them below so we can all get better at managing these situations....

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

So Very Close....

Ok my, Loyal Supporters, I am almost DONE. Major project submitted, one mama bear sized one almost done, and the baby bear will be turned in this coming weekend. So someday I will be back here writing original stuff. But in the meantime, I wanted to share this post about....writing! I especially like this quote (obvious, I suppose, but it sums up what I have been up to):
it’s okay if I can’t find time to blog, but it’s not okay if you don’t find time to write your thesis. Convenient, perhaps, but also true. The more you can think of writing as an obligation, the more progress you will make towards the goal of a completed thesis.
Go here to read the full post: which sheds some light on blogs and writing in general. I miss being here and I'm nearing home, so keep a light on for me, will you? p.s. I am having formatting issues--perhaps from an overuse of my detail brain recently, but please excuse the lack of a paragraph break above. I am giving up on trying to fix it now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Finding My Voice

Struggling to find My Voice today, the one that resides comfortably in my head, the one that spins a story to support a serious fact with ease and a bit of humor.

Instead, the one that nags loudly is Academic Voice, the one that produces painful run-on sentences with convoluted subordinate clauses (all perfectly footnoted in APA style). And doesn’t trust anything she writes.

Every so often Snarky Girl pipes up too, wanting her say. Snarky Girl like to write with a lot (a lot!!!!!!!!) of exclamation points when she’s not being sarcastic. She also sounds like every other snarky girl out there.

Needless to say, this situation is a bit of a problem, with The Thesis deadline looming.

I have started several times. I have written clunky,
and (maybe one or two) witty lines.

Nothing is working. But don’t give me that “W.B.” title (no, I won’t write it out, that might be giving it too much power). Because I think the problem is that I haven’t been writing for YOU. I think I have misplaced My Voice because I am just not looking in the WRITE PLACE.

Yes, I did just pun on myself. Sorry. I need to just do this--you can shield your eyes if it’s upsetting to your sensibilities.

In The Last Place I Look
You do see what I am getting at, though, I know you do. I keep telling myself that my blog is an extra, to just stick to the writing, the Serious Writing, that I must do to finish my masters. I have been doing this for months, neglecting you all, neglecting my true inspiration. Yet, this is what feeds me: coming here and talking about whatever you need to know, whatever I need to share, whatever is new and juicy and so compelling that the posts damn near write themselves.

All the posts I have missed on this austerity plan could fill a book. Which is good, because I need to write a book right now.

So here is what I am going to do: write blog posts. Some I will share with you and some will go in the book, depending on the day. Maybe I can feed you all, myself AND The Beast at the same time. Because there is more than one way to skin this cat[1].  

And if nothing else, we can all have fun in the attempt.....
[1] No actual animals were harmed in the production of this blog post.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Meet the Gudanovs: Confessions of a Nit-picker

It's January, and, as I do every year, I have been reading fervent and encouraging blog posts focusing on the change we would all like to create in our lives. You know, that human impulse toward new beginnings, to remaking ourselves. I have tried to understand this phenomenon, the one usually accompanied by "new year's resolutions" but it's not something in my family culture. Instead, we--my birth family--always seem to be trying to make ourselves better.

I mean ALWAYS.

It's actually sort of a curse, if you think about it. In this world view, nothing is ever quite right, quite acceptable, so we keep trying to meet that Standard in the Sky. My husband's clan name for us is Notgudanov, and that about sums it up.

Oh, I don't mean that we are slackers or dolts. Actually, we are are a fairly intelligent and hard-working lot (ok, that's not modest, but it is important to understanding the issue). The expectations are actually enormous, coming from three generations of Ivy League educated professionals. No, that not good enough feeling--it's hardwired at birth in my family. And we spend the rest of our lives trying to master that one pesky emotion. The one that says we must do great things....except that we will never get it quite right.

Which can lead to a sort of paralysis, if you are following the logic of how this affliction unfolds. It can be hard to start something if it is obvious that others have done it better, or if the concept is too difficult to understand every nuance, or if there is insufficient time to do it perfectly.

Because "good enough" never entered the family vocabulary.

This is a pretty stressfully way to live. It involves surrounding myself with people who will reinforce my negative views. It involves taking on projects so large I will surely fail. It involves focusing on the ugly, awful, hard, unpleasant aspects of life to the exclusion of almost all else.

It makes me miserable.

As long as am being so intimate with you all as to share my dark side, I should really come clean: My name is Justine, and I am A Perfectionist.

When I looked perfectionist up, hoping to come up with a cute or quirky synonym, I realized that I was resorting to the same old tactic: substiting the fancy for the plain to try to look better, smarter, whatever. There is no better word. I am a fuss-budget, nit-picky, slightly obsessive, purist. (Note the Oxford comma ;/ I can't seem to get out of my own way.) I grew up being called many of the names on the list. I guess it was all part of the training program.

So here I am, a grown up fuss budget and I want to change. Yeah, I know, that's where I started this rant, with railing against my internal "not good enough" meter yelling at me to Change! As I see it today, though, there is healthy change (fixing a problem) and pathological change (trying to fix what is fine). The change I need is to recognize when nothing needs fixing.

I actually started this process some years ago, by fixing some huge problems I had created in my life (see above, the paragraph about reinforcing the negatives). I got out of an unhealthy marriage, returned to school, found my soul mate, addressed some health issues. I have found areas of study that compel me, despite my perfectionism. What I am left with is the nasty sticky emotion of not being good enough.

And that is what needs changing--because nothing is wrong except my perception. It is obviously broken, as broken as an anorexic's body image.

What does this have to do with you all, who come here for talk about food and politics and snippets of family life on a boat? In some ways, nothing. I will keep writing about all of that. But what I am trying to do is to stop feeling guilty when I don't write on a schedule. And I want to be able to talk about what's on my mind, even if it isn't perfectly on topic. I am a person, not an anonymous content creator, and I have so many interests and concerns and observations that I can hardly restrain myself from sharing them. But I do just that: I restrain myself, because I think I won't write the definitive post, or someone will unsubscribe, or I don't have the time to write it "right".

Which is all so dumb it makes me want to scream. It's tiring. And not at all productive (talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!) So, I am actually going to create something that smells awfully like a new year's resolution. I am stating one goal for myself this year: I will speak, write, act with joy (rather than self censorship, fear, and negativity). That doesn't mean I won't have sad or angry feelings--those come with my chosen territory (did you see that CDC recommendation to curtail breastfeeding when vaccinating to make the vaccine "take" better? There is work to do...) It's the ridiculous standards that have to go, not the passion. Who knows, maybe I'll be even more outspoken!

Choosing to dismantle my perfectionism may be a long process with false starts and detours along the way, but I hope you stick it out with me. I am determined to fill my life with people who are supportive, and who are fascinated by similar issues--that's YOU! I am honored that you choose to read my words when I muster enough of them to press "publish" and I hope to grow to deserve your continued love and support. Thank you for being here.

Post Script: I am working on my thesis right now, so whatever writing I do for the next few months is sure to reflect that. I would love feedback as I go along, so please do come right to the blog and post your comments.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fermenting Change

Autumn is a busy time here on our boatstead. We have been gathering apples, pressing them in our gorgeous cider press for our year's supply of wine and hard cider. I have been canning: tomatoes, tuna, applesauce. And more applesauce. I have dried wild mushrooms and tomatoes. This year we put in a small garden on the top deck, mostly herbs and tomatoes (plus a few leeks that traveled from Kirkland to Oakland and then to us, which is a longer story than I am going to tell right now).

Fermentation is Science for Cooks!

This week the theme is ferments.  Fabulous Ferments, of course! I am conducting a fermentation workshop on Saturday for the members of our new GAPS support group (and anyone else who wants to learn, of course). Starting GAPS is hard enough without struggling to make unfamiliar things like kraut and stocks, so this is where we need to start, with the basics.  When I do a workshop, I always bring as many samples as I can, to demonstrate the possible variety, so I am scrambling to have enough to showcase. Because my ferments have been kind of wacky recently. Well, slimy is a more exact word. Odd, though, that the vegetable matter isn't slimy and the smell and taste are fine. It's just the brine that has the consistency of raw egg whites, which is not a big selling point for most people.

So I am conducting a major experiment: I bought a monster cabbage at Sunny Farms--it weighed over 20 pounds!--and prepared the whole thing by shredding and salting, using my thrifted old-timey cabbage shredder (which looks like an overgrown mandoline, and makes cutting the cabbage in fine threads so easy) Then the fun really began! I stuffed each of five mason jars with the basic kraut mixture, then added a different starter to each one: powdered yoghurt, powdered kefir, a commercial probiotic, liquid whey, and the fifth was left wild, using the lactobacillus naturally present on cabbage. One more jar was also left wild, but airlocked, in a Pickl-It jar.

I have had some success with the Pickl-Its, but we have odd flora on the boat, and they somehow managed to infiltrate the supposedly closed system. I have scalded the jars, sterilized them with bleach (yuck, I know, but I am desperate to get rid of the funky slime). Still I have this ropy liquid I am hesitant to call brine. Which has led me to turning the boat into a laboratory this week.  I think the natives are getting restless, what with the discombobulation in our small floating home. Let's see what the experiment tells us in a few days... Hopefully it will have been worth the mess and disruption, when I have a successful approach to ferments in our marine environment.


A note about starters: I used what was available to me locally, which means I didn't have a dairy-free starter. Those are available online, and I am going to get my hands on some for experiments. Whey (from dripped yoghurt)is obviously a dairy-based starter, but I have always been able to tolerate the small amount that remains in my kvass, despite not doing well on dairy (other than butter, and the newly-introduced homemade sour cream--yay!) Powdered starters are convenient, though they are not perfect. I believe that it is much better to use real kefir grains than any starter, but I neither have any nor am I at all sure how I would use them to ferment something thick like applesauce. Another experiment in my future! When I make yoghurt I use a good quality commercial yoghurt, with no fillers or extra ingredients, as the starter. Using the dried powder starters seemed to be a good starting place for my investigations, as they are reliable, relatively easy to use, something I can teach others to do.

Call me crazy, but when I get on a roll, well, lots of things get done! In addition to the plain kraut, I made one jar with cumin and fenugreek and one with juniper berries and cauliflower. There is a new jar of basic beet kvass (I like it well aged, so have to make ahead), no additions, and a jar of Dr. Natasha's Vegetable Medley. Add in a jar of ginger carrots (from Nourishing Traditions, and four jars of fermented applesauce--two raw and and two cooked, and WHEW!! I am done for now, and am enjoying the array of bubbling jars on the shelf behind the setee.

There are wonderful sites, blogs, and books now devoted to the art of fermenting, but I always come back to Sandor Katz' Wild Fermentation, with a book and blog of the same name. He does an amazing job of introducing many types of ferments, why we would want to make and eat them, and--best of all--he transmits a infectious joy for all things microbial. I encourage any of you who have yet to dip a toe into the world of ferments, traditional and inventive, to explore what "Sandorkraut" has to offer.

Why Ferment?

We humans have more microbes in our digestive tracts than we have cells in our bodies--about five pounds of the stuff! These microbes--bacteria, yeasts, viruses and tiny parasites, come in both beneficial and pathogenic varieties. The beneficial beasties help with digestion, with conversion of various substances we eat to usable forms, and they even manufacture some nutrients that we depend upon (vitamin K is a well-known example). They help keep the pathogens in check, both the ones that reside in the gut, and the ones that show up on occasion--so they are a functioning part of our immune systems.

Unfortunately, there are multiple factors in our modern life that can destroy our microbial friends. The list is long: antibiotics (which do not discriminate between the good guys and the bad), steroids, birth control pills, denatured foods, metal toxicity, multiple chemicals (in foods, the environments, cleaning supplies, etc), and more.

As concerning is the fact that we don't have or take in the microbes that we might have in the past. Babies are supposed to acquire probiotic bacteria as they travel through the birth canal, swallowing fluids from mama, and then through the skin-to-skin contact of nursing and being held. As more babies are born by C-section, and fewer are nursed, and many moms receive antibiotics during labor, many babies start life at a microbial disadvantage. 

In the past we sourced our water from streams and wells, where we gained the benefit of pure water (no chemicals) and trace soil organisms. Our forbears ate quite a bit of their food fermented, perhaps originally owing to a lack of refrigeration, but eventually because people enjoyed and thrived on the changed foods. We developed a taste for all sorts of ferments, things you might not even know were once fermented: soda, yoghurt, vinegar, sausages (such as salami), bread, beer, wine, ketchup, fish sauce, myriad pickles, chocolate, coffee, tea. Just about every culture has a favorite culture! Think dosas and iddlies in India, sauerkraut in Germany, root beer in the USA, tsukemono, natto, and miso in Japan, kvass of all sorts in Russia. I know I am just scratching the surface, but that should give you a sense of the enormous variety in the world of fermentation.

Eating cultured food does not replace the flora we should have gotten at birth, but it goes a long way toward keeping us healthy. Hippocrates famously said that all disease begins in the gut, and now we are finally proving this scientifically. Luckily, though, we don't need scientists to help us shift the balance toward the beneficial, friendly, tribe. We just need to take the offenders out of our lives, as much as we can control, and add the good guys in on a daily basis. In an acute situation, a bottled commercial probiotic can be helpful, but we all need to consume some amount of cultured food to keep the healthy balance we were meant to have. Some folks have even reversed very troubling issues with powerful probiotic foods such as kefir (see Dom's site for one inspiring story).

OK, so these foods are almost miraculous. Will they change the world? Will they satisfy those agitating for various political and economic shifts? Why should we put so much energy into food? I don't have all of those answers, but I will say this: slowing down to make and appreciate real, healing, foods may indeed change your life. It has changed mine. And if our lives change, we may influence some others. We may be able to turn around and help a friend, a neighbor, a relative. We can set an example of a simple and healthful life, which might shift the energy in our social circle. That in turn, can affect a neighborhood, a town, and who knows where the change might end.

It is entirely possible that by helping our microbes instead of killing them, that maybe we might Ferment Change in the world.

All it takes is a head of cabbage, some salt and a jar....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Recipe (and a bit of a rant.)

I trust my farmers. I trust them deeply, else I would not eat the food that I do (and I feed my family with this food, so this is terribly important to me, that I can look a farmer in the eye, go to his or her farm, observe how the animals live).

When I started eating in the manner advocated by Weston A. Price, Sally Fallon, and Nourishing Traditions, some years ago, I had no idea that I would have such gratifying relationships with our local farmers. Over time, they have become Friends Who Happen to Raise Our Food. I believe this is what happens when there is no separation in the form of a grocery store or other middle man. Every week we go to the farmers market. That is beginning of the story. What happens from there depends on the day. We might have intense conversation over whether the cheese is better with or without the rind. About how hot the Big Bomb peppers are. About the best way to prepare beef heart. That may seem obvious, talking about the food.

Soon, though, something else started to happen. If we missed a week, we were greeted with loving concern ("Is everything all right? We missed you..."), there were questions back and forth about kids, about health concerns, about the weather and the economy. We were becoming part of a rich community. Now we hear about sweethearts and weddings, the loss of another farmer's chickens, the immigration troubles of a relative. We exchange hugs, phone numbers, recipes.

And because I trust my farmers, I generally trust their recipes. Tonight I tried something a bit out of my comfort zone, recommended by Fred and Joanne Hatfield of Kol Simcha Farm. Fred and Joanne raise lamb, chickens for eggs and vegetables. They are always ready with a wonderful recipe and the ingredients to prepare it, so when they suggested making a lamb stew Fred remembered fondly from his fishing days, we had to try it. I wasn't too sure about the combination of lamb, cabbage and peppercorns, and I had no idea this dish is a national icon in Norway, but I am game to do almost anything once.

Only, when I went to make dinner, I had misplaced the recipe that Joanne had tucked into my bag of lamb shanks and cabbage. A bit of googling turned up multiple recipes for faarikaal the national dish of Norway. (Do we have a national dish? Do I really want to know what that might be?) I remembered a few details (such as a copious amount of peppercorns--I used two tablespoons, and I think Joanne recommended four!) and set out to recreate what our friends had enthusiastically described. A simple braise, faarikaal can be pared down to four ingredients; lamb, cabbage, peppercorns, salt. Easy! And GAPS friendly too! I added some onion and carrot to those four things, filled one of my big Dutch ovens halfway with water and a bit of broth, and set the whole thing in the oven for three or four hours. That's it, nothing difficult. I had four shanks and used 1/2 of a medium cabbage and 3 carrots. The rest is done by eye and taste (meaning that you don't need a recipe with exact proportions, just trust it will work out).

As it happens, I had to go out in the early evening, and by the time I got home, the whole boat was filled with the aroma of faarikaal, warm and inviting. It was so late and I was so hungry that I just served the stew with no accompaniments other than some tart red kraut (yeah, more cabbage, but the tart was perfect with the rich meat and broth. I think lingonberries are a traditional accompaniment, for just that reason). I know you want pictures, but I was way too famished to stop and take any (there are a few at the above link).

So yummy and warming. Just like our friendships with our farmers. It's easy to say that we would be lost without farms and farmers. That must be clear to most anyone who thinks about it for a few minutes. But do most Americans know what has happened to the family farm? Do they know that most of the country's food comes from places that look very little like the pretty little farms in our children's picture books (or on the greenwashed packages in places like Whole Foods)? There's a reason they are called "factory" farms, with a heavy emphasis on the factory part.

This has been weighing heavily on my mind since Michael Schmidt began his hunger strike 33 days ago. Here is a farmer who has spent his life fighting for food freedom, for our right to eat real food, free from government interference, and who has won the loyalty of many around the world for his impeccable integrity. Unfortunately, the government of Canada, where he lives and farms, does not see it that way. He has been raided, harassed, and brought close to ruin more than once by government agencies that don't really care whether he is doing a service to families that choose--freely--to buy his milk. Rules is rules, according to them, never mind that the rules are bizarre, really serving to squelch real competition on the market.

Raw milk politics may seem marginal to many, but this is bigger than raw milk--it is about the freedom to choose Real Food. No one tells me I can't buy raw oysters (for now). I don't have to lie and claim they are cat food (though Mr. Chippy does love his oysters!) No one demands that fish or meat be sold cooked only. Why must we treat people like idiots or babies and force them to buy cooked milk only? Because, for some reason, the milk industry is actually feeling threatened by the presence of cow shares and milk coops. They will claim it is because people have been sickened by raw milk, but if you spend a while on you will see that more people have contracted illnesses from things like lunch meats, produce, and other products of Big Agriculture. I retain the right to eat what I feel nourishes me and my family. And I will go down fighting for your right to do so as well.

Which is why Michael Schmidt is fasting. His demand: a meeting with the premier of Ontario to discuss these matters face to face, with no intermediaries. The premier, Dalton McGuinty, has yet to even say whether he will meet with Schmidt. The demand is not to change policy, just to have a meeting, a conversation. Are we so frightened as a society that we can't honor a request for dialog? I have a hard time believing that a politician could let another man die on his watch, rather than man up and have a discussion with him, no matter how much they might disagree.

There is so much more I could say, but it is late and I am beginning to ramble. Lots of wonderful bloggers have written sensitive analyses of what is happening. If I have time tomorrow I will compile a list (for now, go to the FaceBook page that is serving as a clearing house for support and information: ) I hope that I am being clear though: we have to fight for our freedoms, in whatever way we can. Most of us can not risk our lives with a hunger strike, but might sign a petition, talk to someone, write a letter, attend a rally, or just go buy some raw milk--or oysters, for that matter--just go find some real food and support the farmer who is selling it.

And remember, those farmers, who work such long days to bring us our food...they could be your friends. Start a conversation. Who knows where it might lead?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Velvet Ropes in the Theatre of My Life: Boundaries

I grew up in New York City--land of noise, constant stimulation, non-stop entertainment.

There's a seeming chaos in The City, to the uninitiated. But New York has it's rules, it's order, things that make it negotiable to those who stick around long enough to learn what they are. It's easy to feel overwhelmed if you don't do like the New Yorkers. And one thing New Yorkers do well is lines (queues, in Brit-speak). Lines tell you where to go, and also where you cannot go. This can be very comforting in a hectic environment. Look for the line in a crowd and you can find the way into a popular eatery, or the source of the music, or...

When I was about 8 years old, my grandmother took me and my younger brother to Radio City Music Hall. It was grand--huge, ornate, imposing. The line snaked around the block, defined by heavy red velvet ropes, suspended from brass posts. As we stood in the line, making our way closer to the entrance that would signal our transition from Outsiders to the Privileged Few, I watched people and read posters for future shows. Slowly I realized that I was being watched in return. Passersby would scan the faces in the line, looking for something. Maybe they were jealous, maybe they wanted to take the afternoon to watch the Rockettes and Song of the South (yes! That was the show!) instead of having to hustle off to their next appointment. I am not sure, but I saw that, even behind the velvet ropes, even before walking through the grand entrance, that I was already "other".

The line somehow gave me space, set me apart. I am sure someone has done a study of the science of lines and crowd behaviour, but I can tell you from my little-girl observations that boundaries give us space to see where we stand. If we embrace them, they can define our space, give us breathing room and create order. I am a person who needs a certain amount of order in my life, so I guess it's time I looked at the boundaries I do and don't have in my life.

Because I have been overwhelmed recently.

I can only imagine where I would be if I were not nourishing myself well. As it is I have not had the energy or desire to write. It has taken all of my resources to do the daily tasks and to focus on my family. We have had a variety of our children and grandchildren here, at one point last week numbering eleven people between our two boats. Neither boat is huge, so it's natural that--with everyone cheek by jowl--we have had some frayed nerves. The stress of writing my thesis loomed large on top of it all.

A selection of us took an overnight trip to Victoria last week, a lovely two days in our charming neighbor city across the Strait. The outing was organized by our homeschool group, which provided for a tour bus, a hotel, and various attractions. It was a wholly different experience than we had previously had, exploring the town on foot between the morning and evening ferries. If you ever visit Victoria I highly recommend the Castle and the Miniature Museum--both were charming and great fun. I can't say enough about how beautiful this very European-feeling city is! We are really so very lucky to live in a small town with a world-class city ninety minutes away by water...

I did get a migraine while away, a stark reminder of where I used to be. I was not able to treat it the way I would at home, but did the best I could with the tools I had with me. I think that something in my lunch that day contained hidden MSG, judging from the unpleasant reaction I had. My older daughters collected the makings for ginger tea with honey and lemon from the restaurant at the hotel and the dim sum place where they ate dinner. They fixed in the the room's coffee pot--such resourceful kids! We made an ice pack out of a plastic bag, which I ended up sleeping with. I survived, but I am so glad that such an experience is now rare for me.

Back to the Velvet Ropes (aka Boundaries): I tend to be a very giving person, wanting to help wherever I can. Like most people with this tendency (mostly women, I think) I usually put myself last. I have variously been a teacher, cook/baker, midwife and health educator. And Mom. All of these are nurturing, even feminine, occupations, which are often also poorly paid. Many of you in caregiving roles (paid and unpaid) will recognize the tendency to give even when our personal resources are dwindling.

I lived like that for many years, first as a special education teacher in a residential facility, then in an unhappy marriage, and then as a single mom in midwifery school--finally happy but overextended. It seems I have always had boundary issues. In all of the drama surrounding my divorce, my dad (The Shrink, which he is) reminded me that "you never have to drink the soup as hot as it's served." Which is to say that I am ultimately in charge. I can respond in a situation, as opposed to reacting. I know this, but do not always live it (but The Captain is always ready to hold up a mirror for me, to gently remind me that just because someone says something doesn't necessarily make it true. Deep breath drop the shoulders....)

Even when the stressor is a good thing, as in visiting family, weddings, babies, etc, we can neglect ourselves in a way that leads to resentment, a lack of flexibility, an impaired ability to handle the varying needs and circumstances. It makes me in particular crochety, edgy, almost prickly.  I gather I haven't been much fun to live with recently.

I am trying to do some "selfish" things, to restore balance. I opted out of cooking dinner yesterday, instead shutting myself into my personal space for some quiet time. I also spent a while poking around in one of the local antique/junk shops yesterday afternoon--and found a few treasures! Today I go do laundry, not a glorious job, but it is time alone, so I'll take it gladly. And, after talking with my advisor, I think I will delay my thesis until this storm passes.

Still, I struggle with this issue. I want to be a giver, but I realize that I have to be full myself to do that. The last few weeks I have also been reaching out to a few friends who really empathize, who are solid and supportive of what I am processing. They also act as mirrors, giving me their perspectives while not allowing me to wallow (too much). I truly appreciate these wonderful people who have taken the time to listen as I said the same thing over and over, seeking a deeper understanding with each conversation. You know who you are, so please accept my hugs and loving appreciation.

Writing may be erratic this summer. I wish it were otherwise, as the writing does feed me as well as you all, but it's another little "selfishness" I need to embrace. I will write as I am moved, as I have things to share. I hope that will be several times a week, but if it's not, I know you will understand that I am taking care of myself and my family.  That I am welcoming and installing very elegant velvet ropes in my life so that I will know where I stand. The theatre of my life is non-stop, but sometimes I am backstage, sometimes I am in the audience, and only sometimes will I be front and center. Thanks for joining me as I define those roles!

Do boundaries serve you well in your life? Do you wish you had more or fewer?
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