Category Archives: Healthy

Changing Seasons

I feel it happening, somewhere in my bones, the change from summer to fall. Summer is still roaring, the temperatures often above 90, the humidity frizzing my hair and causing makeup to weep off my face, the sun bright and baking. Somewhere, though, the seed of fall has cracked open. Maybe it’s the early morning air, the coolness that’s creeping in. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new semester: new faces, familiar faces, essays I’ve read and essays I’ve not yet read. I can feel it, the change that’s going to come. I’m savoring every moment of summer while it is still with me, but at the same time anticipating the crisp breezes and the smell of cinnamon and dead leaves drying on the lawn. Making pots of chili and baking apples and sitting outside with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

I also feel the change in a more symbolic sense.

There have been a few times in my life when I felt great life changes before they happened, when I knew something was coming before knowing just what, when I could tell something had altered inside of me, knowing that the alteration would eventually ripple its way outward. I remember coming back to Wilmington after my first trip to Congo in 2009. Everything felt shifted. Something in me was moving somewhere, and I wasn’t sure where. Friendships that had seemed vital to me lost something, felt increasingly more hollow. The church we felt was home felt less and less so. I felt unmoored.

In 2011, it was the month in San Francisco. I came home from that more centered in myself, more alive to my own internal being. Maybe it was the fog in the Inner Sunset, where I lived that month, maybe it was the fog that grayed everything out and gave me permission to be introspective, to be alone, to be quiet. Every time I took the N-Judah to downtown, I could almost tell you the exact street where the fog would lift and the sun would break through, and I still remember passing the bakery where that happened, and the park just past it; I stared out that train window and watched people play Frisbee with their dogs, the grass impossibly green, the sky impossibly blue, the houses pastel and perfect, and I knew life was delicious in ways I had never imagined.

When I came home from that month away, I had only a few months before we received Tom’s diagnosis. I would learn that life is painful in ways I couldn’t have imagined either.

Now, in 2014, after China, after those two months on the other side of the world, I am back home, and I am different yet again. I don’t think even I myself will understand it for a good, long time. I am more excited by things—by the blueness of the ocean, by the taste of eggplants. I am feeling bolder, feeling less apologetic for what I think and what I love. I am feeling decisive.

I have taken up cycling. My sister-in-law is training for the biking portion of a triathlon, and she’s letting me train with her. We get up early to ride a nearby neighborhood with wide paths snaking by houses we’ll never afford. The sun is buttery, beautiful at that time of day, and I breathe deeply as I work the bike, as I see what my legs can do, as I learn to balance myself and the bike. It feels good, it feels deeply good. Because I like the changes, I love every change I’ve made, and I feel more myself now than I ever have been in the past.

Last night, Jesse’s band played a show on a nearby island, and I stayed home and cooked and read and took a bubble bath. I made myself chapatis and baba ghanouj. I ate a peach that was sweeter and juicier than any I’ve had in a long time. The peach was a shocking color, so rich and so bright. The juice ran down my fingers, and I sat at our little kitchen table, eating alone, and I felt very happy.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Baba Ghanouj (Creamed Eggplant)
From World Vegetarian

 Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

 

Directions:

 Prick eggplant with a fork and roast in a 450-degree oven until collapsing and very soft inside (mine took an hour). Peel and roughly chop the eggplant. Blend or process eggplant with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, until creamy and smooth.

Welcome Home

I remember a day the week we left for China, a bad day. It was hot—unseasonably hot. Way too hot, way too early. I had errands to run, a chiropractor appointment, books to pick up on campus, a hundred thousand items on my to-do list and a rapidly shrinking window of time in which to complete them all. The night before, I hadn’t slept well, and I woke up to a distressing text from someone I loved very much who was in trouble. I panicked. Called her therapist, who suggested I call the police, which I did. Put in the call to 9-1-1 on my way to the chiropractor.

She was okay. Things turned out fine. My fears weren’t realized, much to my great relief. But by mid-morning, I was jarred. My nerves felt frayed, jerky. For this point in the semester, the very end, as I was catapulting toward China, the feeling was not new. Spring 2014 had been the hardest semester I’d ever faced, for a number of reasons, the workload, the preparations for China, the added weight of the budgets and the checklists and everything that goes along with making sure twenty people have the time of their lives in China for a month. And my dear friend, who was struggling, whom I was trying to help. Stay, please, stay.

After the chiropractor appointment, I ran my errands on campus. Acted like a perfectly normal person. Smiled to everyone I saw. But I felt like my body wasn’t able to contain me, wasn’t able to keep all of the emotions in one place, as if I might tumble out of myself, spilling all over the concrete. The sun bore down on me, as if it the sky were sinking down, ever closer, ever hotter.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, and spent. As soon as I walked in the door, the air conditioner cold, I stripped off my clothes and fell onto the couch, facedown, and sobbed. I sobbed like I was breaking. I was breaking.

I remember repeating, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.

Jesse brought me water. Something to eat. I calmed down, cooled down. Rested. Dressed myself. And pulled it together.

Got to China. No one died. No one was lost. I think, even, some people did have the time of their lives.

And two months later, I am back. I am back in the same house, with the same living room, the same job. But I am changed. Those two months were healing for me. There were tears—so many tears—there were hours of writing, and talking, and thinking. About my life, about what I wanted to be the same when I got back, and about what I wanted to be different. About how much I can—and cannot—help other people. About how much I needed to help first myself.

How much I need to be good to myself. To care for my body and my soul. To nourish myself, physically and spiritually. I am back with a peace and a calm inside that I haven’t had for a good, long time. I am back with a strong desire to listen to my body, to listen to my spirit, and to give myself what I need, when I need it. Everything else has to be secondary.

These last two months, I’ve taken nine flights. Nine times I was told to secure my oxygen mask on my own face before helping anyone else. Nine times. And it has begun to sink in. It is not selfish to turn my phone off when I go to sleep. It is not selfish to take the time to exercise, even when I have other things I ought to do. It is not selfish to feed myself well, to take the time to cook a meal, to chop the vegetables, it is not selfish to love who I am becoming, to appreciate myself and what I am good at, it is not selfish to surround myself with beauty, it is not selfish to live a life of desire, to seek out what I love, to seek out the people I love, to collect in this life what makes me happy.

The day after I returned from China, my sister-in-law brought me to a nut and seed milk class with her at a beautiful space called Grub, where two lovely women talk about how important it is to listen to our bodies, to give ourselves what we need, and what nourishes us. They talked about the joy of food, how eating transcends a collection of nutrients and minerals, the act of fortifying our bodies, about how it becomes an act of love.

I thought about my semester, the healing that began in China, and how I would like that to continue. It struck me that food could be a primary vehicle for communicating with myself—my self—hello, dear one, what delights you today? And how may I provide that for you? What will make you strong? What will empower you and others?

Since then, I’ve been making coconut milk and hemp seed milk at home, and these simple acts have been bringing me such delight.

I bought a huge bag of hemp hearts at Costco. Hemp hearts, or hemp seeds, are tender and nutty, sweet and earthy, almost like a tiny, earthier pine nut. I’ve been putting them in my oatmeal in the mornings, in addition to making milk with them. (They won’t get you high, by the way, in case you were wondering. They will give you a ton of nutrients, though.)

As I walked out of Costco that day, the sun bright but not overbearing, cradling a bag of hemp hearts in the crook of my arm, the man who checked my receipt at the door said, “Enjoy your hemp.”

I pulled on my sunglasses and smiled, genuinely happy. “I will.”

Hemp seed milk
Recipe adapted from GRUB

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup hemp hearts
  • 4 cups water (filtered)
  • 2 dates
  • pinch of salt (preferably sea salt or Celtic salt)
  • maple syrup to taste (optional)

Directions

Blend all ingredients in a blender until the dates are fully broken down. There’s no need to strain the milk, though you can if you want to.

Toujours, Provence!

“Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?”
― Peter Mayle

To live in the South means that you’ve engaged in a benign acceptance of the tangle referred to as seasons. Spring and Summer, capricious as they are, have flings with frost, with storms where the weather drops below wintery ranges. You learn to accept it, petals in snow, pollen frozen to the car, 40 degrees in the morning, 74 by noon, 79 by 3. It’s exhausting to plan a wardrobe of choices that can accommodate the fickleness, my car a repository for sweaters, sandals, emergency nail polish should I have to in fact brave the sandals. 

When this confusing kaleidoscope of weather sets in, accompanied by newly acquired allergies, I sink into books of faraway places, places that on the page are both achingly familiar and new. For the last couple of years, it’s been Under the Tuscan Sun, an enchanting incursion into setting up house in Italy. If you’ve watched the film, you might know about the poppy fields, the sunflowers, the house named Bramasole, but other than that, the two have nothing else in common. (Hence, if so inclined, read this delicious humorous book that will have you start packing with its first chapter.)

This year, I’ve picked up another one, to while away some of the minutes I can snag between grading essays. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, with all the humorous reflections you would expect from a true Brit living in France (read: the charming chaos ensues), and unexpected things: the recipe for the perfect fox cassoulet. (I admit feeling a bit offended!) 

This past weekend was unbearably hot, pool weather really, humidity to make the lungs ache. It a busy weekend too, one with little breathing room, so as Mayle waxed about boar pates, choucrutes, Sanguete delapin et oignons  a “crêpe” of rabbit blood and pearl onions,  I created my own Provence in our midtown Atlanta dwelling. We began with a Saturday brunch with dear friends, in which a caramelized spring onion jam was folded into fluffy eggs with mushrooms, spinach, and a goat cheese ricotta blend. We topped those frittaa slices with Campari tomatoes, small, pearl-like, and incredibly sweet. 

Next were crepes. We filled them with whipped cream, fresh berries, jams, drizzled honey. For added protein, small spicy saucisson, some apple flavored, some andouille. There were mimosas and pomegranate bellinis, and coffee with more whipped cream. We had the French doors open, and true to Southern weather, the breeze that stole in was morning cool, and brought in the fragrance of cherry trees and dogwood. Later, I did get a bit of a sore throat from the pollen, but the fragrance alone was worth it. Our brunch extended like a true European meal over a couple of hours, followed by a few more hours of more coffee and conversation. I felt like myself again. 

Before we set off to run errands, we piled the dishes in the sink, left all the glasses strewn on the counter – things that would normally bother me – and went into the courtyard to lay in the sun and read. I continued with my Provence book, read parts of it out loud to Darren. We drank light sour beers and leftover champagne. I wore a hat. It really was a bit like the French countryside with the fountain whistling its song in the background. 

Sunday was yet again, busy, exhausting. Always too many things to do, too much to think about, to explore, to plan. Church, budgets, cooking for the week, exercise,  lesson plans, more grading. Everyone it Atlanta was at the Dogwood Festival, so the Midtown streets were filled with people eating cotton candy, sipping ices, carrying balloons and other paraphernalia suggesting a carnival-like day.

Once the day permitted us, we hid in our home away from the onslaught, and only left again for one brief trek to the supermarket for prosciutto and a baguette. We made luscious sandwiches, a cultural cross between French and Italian. It was our way of inviting the twilight and the cool into ourselves, of gaining quiet, of absorbing the activity of the day, sorting it into its categories of meaning, laying it to rest. 

I packed my Provence book along with my school materials. It is a boon, something to carry with me through the week, a house to walk into when the world throws frost and pollen at me, when students yawn through the elegance of Woolf, when I need a few minutes of indulgent escape. 

The recipe was taken from the Cozy Apron, and made with love and a few tweaks, a baguette instead of Ciabatta, and I used raw sunflower seeds for the vinaigrette. It was a dreamy indulgence, especially accompanied by glasses of sparkling rose.