Category Archives: Raw

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.

Spring

On the final Friday of Spring Break, I went to hot yoga, and for an hour I twisted and sweated and worked and let go. Early spring is chaotic, my teacher said—the weather is chaotic, hot-and-cold, windy-wet-placid-windy, and our lives can reflect that, our bodies can reflect that—and her words resonated with me, in my own season of chaos. This semester has been a complicated series of tight deadlines, of endless paperwork, of snow days and the work that comes with making up for snow days, of grading-grading-grading, of pouring everything I can into my students, while still staying married and somewhat sane.

I’m co-leading a study abroad to China this summer, and what that means is it’s my job to make sure seventeen of the very best students on our campus get their paperwork filled out correctly, get their visas on time, get on the right plane, and spend over a month in China having the time of their lives (without getting bird flu). It’s been much more demanding—and even more rewarding—than I could have anticipated.

But the season has taken its toll on me. I am the kind of person who internalizes stress, who gets everything done, who meets every deadline, but then who crashes physically. I have done this as long as I can remember. But I am getting older now, and I realize that my ability to do this is waning.

So I take breaks. I go to yoga. I slow down. I do my best.

And I’ve been trying to feed myself more vegetables, trying to be better to my body, trying to give it what it needs to repair itself. To restore itself.

This week, we got our first Produce Box of the season, and I was delighted at the return of our weekly vegetables. This week, we received sweet potatoes, kale, tangerines, pea shoots, and the softest lettuce I’ve ever had. So this weekend, I made salads. Tender, sweet vegetables, lots of color, tahini dressing.

The pussy willow in our front yard is blooming, its delicate fuzzy catkins a promise of milder temperatures and calmer weather that surely must be on its way. In the air is a feeling of promise, of renewal, and I cling to this feeling. I can’t wait to be on the plane to China, to be so singularly focused. To put the cold and wet of the winter behind me, to thaw out and let the sun warm me to my bones.

Pussy willows are sometimes used in Chinese New Year decorations (the name translates to “silver willow” and sounds like the words that mean “money flowing in”). They’ve also been connected to Palm Sunday celebrations, and in Latvia, the holiday is even called “Pussy Willow Sunday,” the branches of the plant a harbinger of spring, of new life. Resurrection. A new beginning.

So this spring, I cut pussy willow sprigs and bring them inside. I eat my salads. I go to yoga. I untangle myself from the icy, brittle winter, and prepare for summer. The season is still chaos, and will be chaos until the middle of May, but I know it’s a season. And every season ends.

For this salad, I used the vegetables and toppings I had on hand: lettuce, pea shoots, cucumber, red pepper, red cabbage, toasted cashews, golden raisins. I made this dressing, and it was delightful.

Smoky Lemon Tahini Salad Dressing

Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice (about one lemon)
1 garlic clove, grated
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp smoked paprika

Purée all ingredients in a blender, thinning with more water if desired. 

Love Letter to Myself at 14

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1. Saved

When I was seven, my family and I started going to a big Baptist church in our little town, and I was told I needed to be saved. This was easily remedied: walk down an aisle in front of my Sunday school class, pray a specific prayer, and then you’re in. If I did this, I would go to heaven instead of hell when I died.

Only problem was, I had never thought I wasn’t going to heaven. I had always loved God. All my life. I never started believing in God. I didn’t even really understand the concept of “believing in” God. I didn’t “believe in” my parents. They just were. And so was God. Since I was a toddler, I had loved God, and He loved me. He was close to me. I was special to Him. I never questioned this. This was my reality, this was who I was.

Until I was seven. I had never said any specific prayer, had never “asked God into my heart.” I asked my parents over dinner one night if you would go to hell if you died before you said the prayer. There was a little pond a few streets over from my house, and there was an alligator that lived there. I thought of that alligator then. I thought of being pulled into the lake and never coming out. It seemed to me the most likely way I could die.

I can’t remember their answer, but I do remember that the more we went to that church, the more I realized that I was in the hell crowd because I’d not said the prayer. So, one night I asked my mom to pray it with me, and I did, I fulfilled the requirements, got myself on the heaven list.

And felt—somewhere deep inside—betrayed by God. I had loved Him all my life, but my eternal destiny was decided not by Him, but by a stupid prayer. If I hadn’t said those words that night, He would have sent me to hell.

2. Middle School

In seventh grade, I lost my best friend. She had been ushered into the “popular crowd” and there was no room in her life for me. Nothing about me was cool. My frizzy, uncontrollable hair, my big glasses, my sense of style—I wore baggy clothes, vests, long beaded necklaces, bright colors. Nothing about me matched. Most of my clothes came from thrift stores. I had not yet realized how important clothes were in how people treated you, had no sense of the importance of appearance. I was who I was. But when my best friend—who had been closer than a sister since first grade—stopped returning my calls, started pretending I didn’t exist, when that happened, I needed to find out what happened. And how to fix it.

And that meant fixing me.

3. Live Wire

I’ve always felt like a wire without its casing. I felt everything too much. Happiness was elation. Sadness was deep depression. There wasn’t anything in the middle. I was all extremes. Everything about me was sensitive, and I felt everything with a depth and a suddenness that I only later realized not everyone felt.

4. What You Learned in High School

This is what you are learning: that there are two of you, the person people see and the person you are.

You read your Bible. You memorized every verse for Sunday school. You always had the right answer. Once, you won a new Bible in some church contest. Its binding was stiff, and your Sunday school teacher remarked, in front of the other girls, that knowing you, you’d soon have it worn and creased.

After middle school, you changed your hairstyle. You wore different clothes. You started wearing makeup. You maintained status as teacher’s pet. You played piano at church.

You started watching what you ate. You got rid of all that baby fat.

You felt strong when you were hungry. It meant you were in control. It meant you were making the decisions. It meant you were invincible. You didn’t need anyone, you couldn’t be hurt, you didn’t need anything—you didn’t even need to eat. Desire was the enemy, and you were winning.

You were always alone, even when you were surrounded by friends. The real you—the inside you—was always alone.

5. Surfacing

In college, I started writing about my eating disorder. The fog of my adolescent depression began to lift, and I found other ways of being in control, of mastering my destiny. I became busy. Every hour of the day was scheduled. I made straight A’s. I was president of the English honors club. I made good friends and fell in love with food again. It felt like waking up.

6. Love Letter

Sometimes, I wish I could talk to myself at age fourteen. I wish I could take that girl by the hand and tell her not to change herself for anyone. I wish I could tell her that by the time she was thirty, she really wouldn’t care about anyone who had been in the popular crowd in high school. I wish I could tell her that her value was inherent, was integral—it was always there, God had always loved her, she had always been what she needed to be, in every moment, just what she needed to be. And it has nothing to do with what words you said and when, what clothes you wore, what you weigh.

If only I could tell her those things.

For years, I have either tried to forget I was ever that person, that sad little girl, or I have taken pride in how I had changed, how I had conquered my eating disorder, how I had gone from starving myself to taking great joy in preparing food. I pitied my former self and was glad I was no longer that person. I learned to harness the sensitivity and make it work for me. I wrote and wrote and wrote and found that vulnerability could be power when it found its way onto the page.

Now, instead of rejecting my old self, I am learning to embrace her. I love that little girl, the one who felt too much, who overanalyzed everything. The sensitive girl who wanted to be loved.

And I am beginning to realize that there is no “if” in the statement “If I could tell her.” Because though I am older now, I am still her, I am still that girl, and though I know a whole lot more about depression now than I did then, and though I’ve learned a lot about true friendship, and though I know a lot more theology than I did then, I am still myself, will always be myself. I carry around my former selves, because none of them are really former, not really.

7. Pudding

I don’t know if I can explain the connection here. The thread that connects pudding to learning to love myself. I won’t try too hard, as I run the risk of making this seem silly.

I will say, however, that I love to make myself this pudding (raw, vegan avocado chocolate pudding) by Laura Miller, and to me it feels like a gift, a way of nourishing myself, of giving my body something good. I will never diet again, will never restrict my food the way I did when I was young; though some could see this as a “diet food” because it’s raw and vegan, I don’t see it that way at all. I think of the avocados and the way they’re good for my heart and brain, the way they prevent cancer.

The pudding’s full of vitamins, nutrients, all that good stuff, it’s a little present, a little comforting package that says, hello, you are not just fine the way you are, you are not just acceptable, you are beautiful.