Saturday, December 26, 2009

Our Newest Book Release: This is Your Brain in Love



For the last year Dr. Henslin and I have been writing about the world's greatest and most complicated topic: Love. Then we combined that with the world's second most complicated topic: The Brain . I'm pleased to announce that This is Your Brain in Love is now available on Amazon now, and in bookstores soon. (Click on Image of book to the right and it will take you to the Amazon page.)

This is Your Brain in Love shares a fresh way of looking at relationships; one that greatly upsizes the success of marital therapy by taking individual brain health into consideration as a major factor in being happily wed.

Dr. Henslin discusses the 5 Lover Types (when out of balance) and how to:

1) bring your best, healthiest happiest brain to your relationship and
2) support your spouse's efforts to heal/work around their own brain issues.

5 Lover Types in a nutshell are:

Scattered Lover(ADD,creative-ditzy, messy)
Blue Mood Lover
(From Numb to Deeply Depressed)
Over-Focused Lover(Get stuck on grievance like a dog with a bone)
Anxious Lover
(Easily triggered to fear and nervousness)
Agitated Lover
(Prone to anger or irritation)

Here's a sneak peek at Table of Contents as well:


Chapter 1: This Is Your Brain in Love---Or Is It on Drugs?
Chapter 2: Sexuality and Spirituality: Divine Balm for Your Soul and Brain
Chapter 3: Bring Your Best Brain to the Marriage!
Chapter 4: The Scattered Lover (Prefrontal Cortex)
Chapter 5: The Overfocused Lover (Cingulate Gyrus)
Chapter 6: The Blue Mood Lover (Deep Limbic System)
Chapter 7: The Agitated Lover (Temporal Lobes)
Chapter 8: The Anxious Lover (Basal Ganglia)
Chapter 9: The Ancient Secret to Lasting Love

Appendix A: The Joy Diet
Appendix B: SPECT Scans
Appendix C: New Hope: Women and Hormones
Appendix D: New Hope: Men and Sexual Addiction

Okay, that's a little appetizer.

This is Your Brain on Joy is still available with 100 reviews on Amazon (almost all 4 & 5 star) and will remains a great "first primer" for people who are curious about how the brain can be tweaked to experience the joy we were created to know.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Christmas Wish: To "Rise Above"



(Greg and I enjoying Christmas at Rockefeller Plaza last week in New York City!)

Since the holidays came upon us, my poor lonely blog has been neglected. Truth be told, we've had so much company, grand-toddlers & activity that I've precious little time for a deep thought. Last week I enjoyed Christmas in New York City with Greg: a week full of adventure and discovery, walking and walking, which seemed to add balance to my life which is often, too often, lived in the thoughts in my head.


But this morning, I've finally had the chance to be still and listen to what my heart is learning and saying. The term "rise above" has taken my fancy of late. I think it started with, of all things, an episode of Grey's Anatomy. One of the main characters, an African American surgeon and strong mother figure on the show, is called upon to perform surgery on a hate-filled racist who has a swastika tattooed on his chest.


Before she touches knife to his skin, she pauses, prays, and asks God to help her "rise above." In other words, she asked for supernatural strength to use her gifts to heal rather than kill or wound or mar, even though the unconscious man she's operating on would have loved to have seen her dead simply for the color of her skin. "Rising above" is a level of living I am aspiring to, rather than the less thoughtful, less prayerful habit of reacting either in retribution or ruminating. When we choose to "rise" instead of "react" we are, after all, a little closer to heaven.


I've noticed, also, that the more emotionally balanced, secure in love, and busy being happy and helpful that I am, there's an improvement in my general generosity of heart and ability to extend grace or move on from a slight. In the movie Last Chance Harvey, the father, Dustin Hoffman is in a bad emotional place. He's made mistakes he's not yet dealt with, particularly as a father, and so his hurt is compounded when his daughter tells him that she's asked her stepfather (who has been there for her through the years), to walk her down the aisle. He slinks away as soon as he can from the painful situation and stumbles upon a straight-talking woman who befriends him and takes him just as he is.


Their like turns to love in a short time (as happens in the movies), and she accompanies him to his daughter's wedding reception. Buoyed by renewed hope and love in a newly blossoming relationship, Dustin is able to "rise above" his hurt, and to deliver a graceful, loving and grateful toast to his daughter, new son in law and even to the stepfather. Feeling joyful , along with realizing we are loved and accepted, is like helium to the heart; allowing us to "rise above" wounding people or painful circumstances with greater ease.


You see it in the classic Christmas Carol where somehow, Bob Crachit, a man poor in material things but rich in grace, rises above Scrooge's harsh and stingy ways. Bob, as it turns out, is what some would call "The Christ Figure" in this story. The person who sees the best in the rest, because he understands the "story behind the man he became" the way God knows the stories behind who we are and the sometimes shameful ways we behave. And loves us, still.


But most of all we see it in the story of God coming down to dwell among humanity, and then rising above our selfishness and blindsightedness to show us how to be more than we thought we could ever be. To show us how loved we are, what worth we have to the Father, and with that joy firmly inside we can give also give "Joy to the World." Jesus came to show us how to, in Don Miller's words, "live a better story" on earth. One where generosity of heart, gladness of soul, and forgiveness as a way of life. In short, he showed us how to rise above.


That's what I want for Christmas this year: less ruminating, less resentment, less reactivity... and many more experiences of Rising Above.


"Sometimes a light surprises a Christian when he sings;
it is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings."
(From an old hymn...)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guest Blogger: Life Coach, Author, Reformed Perfectionist: Joan Webb!




I love all my friends, but it is amazing how many of them -- who I could happily spend hours of conversation with -- are either writers, therapists or life coaches. Inevitably all three come with deeply human, relatable stories. Also, most tend to be excellent listeners, as eager to share, as they are curious to listen and learn something new from you. In short, delightful company.

One such person in my life is Joan Webb. When I first met the vivacious Joan, and listened as she openly and honestly shared her struggles to stop doing it all, and do it perfectly, I was all ears. Then she shared some of her written thoughts and stories -- about how she put a stop to overcaring, overfixing, overworking and well, over-everythinging. I found that not only could I not put her manuscript down, but that the more I read, the more relaxed and free I felt.

Today it is my pleasure to be a "whistle stop" on Joan's blog tour for her newest devotional book for any woman who struggles with trying to do it all perfectly, and falling short every day. (Or every hour!) The book is called It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life: Devotional Readings for Women Who Strive Too Hard to Make it Just Right (Regal, 2009). Below is a sample devotion. It sure spoke to my over-striving heart this morning, and I hope it also soothes yours.

Uncomplicated Delight

God is more powerful than man is. -Ecclesiastes 6:10, NCV

I sat in the auditorium next to the guests I’d invited to join me for this special event. While engrossed in the beautiful music, it dawned on me: Joan, you’re enjoying this concert for the sheer pleasure of it, without being preoccupied with your guests' thoughts, feelings or reactions. I smiled then and I’m smiling now as I remember.

For years an overzealous sense of responsibility overshadowed my personal enjoyment. When I invited another person to attend a church service, concert or even a luncheon, I felt duty-bound to see that she enjoyed the time and gained new insight. Now I realize that I’m not responsible for someone else’s perceptions, attitudes or knowledge.

Through my years of life coaching and speaking, I’ve noticed an epidemic of over-helping. Those of us who want to join God in his work sometimes live by a false premise that we must fix what’s broken, heal what hurts, and right what’s wrong (in our opinion.) This over-active sense of responsibility can lead us to believe we’re more powerful than we really are. It’s exhausting.

God is the Almighty One, and he wants to release us from this unnecessary responsibility. He is the one in charge of the world, not us. When we give him our shoulds, musts, and ough- tos, we begin to live in genuine freedom. What uncomplicated delight!

Lord, I'm not responsible for anyone else's life fulfillment.

Only my own.

Making It Personal: Jot down an unreasonable I should or I must that has worn you out and threatened to keep you from experiencing your own satisfaction or pleasure.

If you'd like to join Joan's blog train tour and receive more samples of Joan's devos this month, the next stop will be at http://www.skyesofblue.blogspot.com/ tomorrow! Or check out all the stops at http://www.joancwebbblog.com/imperfect-blog-tour/.

Here's to a day of letting go and relaxing into our wonderful, imperfect lives!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dinner for a Dozen in 30 Minutes!

I often tease that if I had a cooking show it would be The Fastest (and Messiest) Cook in the West. Tonight we had 12 people coming for dinner & a game of Texas Hold'em. It's been a snowy weekend so we weren't sure it was going to happen until almost the last miunte. So I pulled a dinner together for 12 in no time flat without breaking a sweat. Then I thought, "Hey, my blog readers might enjoy having this menu as an easy meal to throw together for holiday company!" So here you go.

The menu was Homemade Chili, ham & cheese rolls, sliced pineapple, sliced carrots, and Rotel Cheese Dip with tortilla chips. Nothing fancy, but came together well, and was so, so easy. Plus it filled up a crowd!

On your mark, get set... COOK!

First start the chili. Brown 3 lbs ground beef with a 2 cloves garlic (I use a garlic press but you can use canned or garlic powder...) in a large stock pot. While meat is browning, open 2 32 oz. cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, 2 16 oz. cans Ranch Style Beans and 1 16 oz. can black beans. As soon as meat is browned, drain any grease and add all 5 cans to beef. To this, add 1 heaping tablespoon cumin powder, 2 t.
grill or steak seasoning, 2 T. Thai sweet chili sauce (or if you don't have this, add 1 T. brown sugar and dash Tabasco). Finally toss in about 1/2 c. picante sauce.
Check seasonings and let simmer...uncovered. (You can also toss in leftover corn, any chopped tomatoes that are needing to be used up, bits of leftover roast or steak... )

Now, using 16 large prebaked dinner rolls.. (I highly recommend Sister Schuberts rolls - that now come in frozen food section at Sam's; but Hawaiian or Potato rolls from the deli are also nice..) place them on your largest cookie sheet(s). Slice each roll open and squirt a bit of your favorite mustard on each. Stuff with 2 slices of deli thin ham (folded over) and little square of cheese. (I just tore American cheese slices in quarters.) Cover with foil and bake at 350 until warm.

While chili simmers and rolls are heating... microwave 1 can Rotel tomatoes with 16 oz of Velveeta cheese in a big oven proof covered bowl, until melted. Stir. Pour tortilla chips in a bowl. Queso and chips, done. Keep queso covered to keep warm until serving time.

Now peel and slice 6 carrots (or use mini pre-peeled ones).. arrange around a little bowl of Ranch Dressing. (Or conscript a helper to do this for you!)

Slice a fresh pineapple. Here's how I do it. Fast, fast! Cut off top and bottom. Stand upright and cut in quarters. Take knife and slice the core (long triangle shape)off of each quarter. Then run a sharp long knife around the skin of the pineapple to remove fruit. Then slice pineapple in thin pieces... and serve.

Put grated cheese, chopped green onion and sour cream in 3 bowls on a big serving plate to garnish chili.

Call troops in for dinner. Use paper bowls and plates to make your life easier.

Serve slice and bake cookies for dessert, warm from the oven..

Everybody's happy. You've filled up a hungry crew without knocking yourself out in the kitchen all day!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Tear Down that Wall!" Memories from a 7 Year Old German Boy's Eyes


(Dr. Earl Henslin's lovely daughter Amy with her German Love,Stephan Benzmann)

One of the perks of working with Dr. Earl Henslin on the book This is Your Brain on Joy was meeting his lovely, kind, and talented daughter Amy who often assisted us in gathering information or promotional help. During this time Amy fell in love with one Stephan Benzmann, who is from Germany. Her already beautiful smile seemed to grow wider and wider.

This week, the 20th anniversary of the "Fall of the Wall", Amy shared with me how deeply significant this day was to her boyfriend, Stephan, and so many of the Germans who never dreamed this day would come. It was to so many Germans, what the election of a black President must have been to so many African Americans. They truly never thought this day would come. And here.. it was. I love it when dreams that seem too crazy to come true... somehow, do.

Stephan was seven years old, twenty years ago, and I asked him if he would please share his memories of the event in honor and celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. He graciously did and here his recollection, in his own words.

I was eight when we got the news that the wall fell and East Germans were allowed to cross the boarder. My family was touched by what happened because my dad and his family flew out of East Germany to West Germany in order to cross the border in Berlin one year before the wall was build. The stories he tells today about this experience seem unreal. When I was 6 or 7 I was in Berlin a year before the wall fell. I remember standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate wondering what is behind it. I remember how it took us eight hours to be allowed to cross the border in our car, how they checked everything, how they walked in the rain with our passport just to be rude and how they copied everything written we had with us.

The day the wall fell "accidentally" was very emotional. I watched TV with my mom when they said in the news that they will open the borders. My mom called my dad who was still in his office and told him to come home. He didn´t believe her that they opened the border and it took him some time to come home. When he saw on TV that it was real he started crying. I had never seen my dad crying before...

The next day we drove to the border in Lauenburg where they had a checkpoint. My parents said that they needed to see it otherwise they wouldn’t believe it. The scenes at the border were unbelievable. People were crying, celebrating and hugging people they’d never seen before. Everybody was just happy. The West Germans welcomed every East German car by hitting their Trabbis (this is what East German cars were called, they only had two brands)with their hands. I will always remember when one East German lady was running towards an East German soldier crying "Why did you do that to us? Answer me! Why did you do that to us?"

A few weeks later we travelled to Berlin. We hammered little pieces out the wall by ourselves and we walked through the Brandenburg Gate for the first time......
When I had an internship at the German parliament a few years ago I had to walk through the Brandenburg Gate every day in order to reach the parliament building. I felt blessed every time that I walked through it, that this wall fell, that families or even married couples aren’t divided by this wall anymore, and that all Germans can live in peace and freedom today.
Well that was in a very, very, very short way what I remember about the Wall. I started writing everything down in German, so I don’t have it in English. If you have any questions please fell free to ask.


Thank you so much, Stephan. I post this on Veteran's Day, a day that is so significant to me now since 3 summers ago, when Greg and I went to Europe with two World War 2 vets who were portrayed in the movie, The Band of Brothers. At one of the stops, a war memorial, we met an old German vet, who went up to Buck Compton and Don Malarky to shake hands. Amazing to see men who were forced to fight against each other so many years ago, now shaking hands, smiling and putting the awful past behind them. This is what freedom is, isn't it?

It is not only when walls of brick and mortar fall, but when hearts of hate and anger and opposition also give way to reconciliation and friendship.

I wonder today, what walls in my own life, perhaps, need to fall?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thai Pineapple Chicken Curry




The first time I went to a thai restaurant on a visit to California, it was love at first bite. I started with a wonderful coconut lemongrass soup and dove into my first taste of spicy, peanuty Pad Thai, and haven't stopped craving thai food since. But I'm still learning and trying out many of the dishes. My friend, Carolyn Purcell, encouraged me to try the Pineapple Curry, which is nothing like the Indian curries I'm not crazy about. I fell in love, again. I've since had it two more times and made my own version tonight. Red curry paste is made of ground chilis, garlic, lemongrass, salt and kefir lime and you can buy a little jar of it on the aisle of almost any oriental aisle at major grocery stores. Coconut milk is also very easy to find on the oriental food aisle. It's a sweet/ savory dish.

1 to 1 1/2 T. red curry paste
1(13.5 ounce) cans coconut milk
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into thin strips
salt or fish sauce or soy sauce to taste
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 firmly cooked sweet potato, peeled and diced
(optional green and red pepper slices)
1 cup pineapple tidbits, drained

(Jasmine Rice cooked to make about 4 cups)
.
Saute thinly sliced chicken in wok or big skillet, along with onion, sweet potato and red/green pepper (if you like) season with a little salt or fish sauce or soy sauce. In a bowl, whisk together curry paste, sugar and 1 can coconut milk. Pour over chicken and vegies and cook until sauce is hot and bubbly. Check seasonings to taste.

3. Remove from heat, and stir in pineapple. Serve in bowls over the cooked rice. You can add a slice of lime for garnish and extra zip if you like.

I like to use a spoon to get every drop of the sauce.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cheesy Chicken Sour Cream Enchiladas (with Guac & Marg Bonus Recipes)



It's snowing here in Denver and I just enjoyed the last leftover enchilada to warm myself up! I've experimented with many recipes for sour cream chicken enchiladas, which was my favorite Mexican dish growing up in Texas, where Tex-Mex food is so good it will make you weep in your salsa. I think this is, by far, the closest to enchiladas n my memory.

Cheesy Chicken Sour Cream Enchiladas

Begin by turning oven to 350.

Bone a deli roast chicken or cook and shred whole chicken or chicken breasts to yield about 2 1/2 c. chicken, chopped or shredded. Put in a big bowl.

Soften a dozen corn tortillas by putting them on a plate, sprinkling with water and inverting another plate on top and microwaving about a minute and a half.

In a big skillet, prepare cheese sauce.

Saute 1/2 chopped onion (you can also add some chopped green pepper here if you like) and 1 minced garlic clove in a little olive oil.

Add 2 1/2 c. half-n-half to the skillet, and heat until simmering around the edges.
To this mixture slowly stir in about a cup of grated cheese, any kind you like. This is a great recipe to use up bits of leftover cheese.
Add 1/4 c. bottled picante sauce
1 t. cumin powder

Now, Greg doesn't like little "bits" of onion and "green things" in his food, so at this point, I blend the cheese sauce in a blender to make it smooth for him.

Then ladle about 1 cup of the cheese sauce onto your bowl of chicken and mix until chicken in generously coated. (Adding more sauce if needed)

Put an oblong Pyrex casserole at the ready, spraying bottom with nonstick cooking spray.

Put a couple of Tablespoons or so, of chicken-cheese sauce mixture in each softened tortilla, roll up and place in pan. When your pan is full, pour rest of cheese sauce over all.

Then, put dollops of sour cream (about 2/3 cup) on top of enchiladas, and using a knife
swirl through the cheese, in a pretty pattern. Finally top with one more handful of grated cheese. Garnish with sliced jalapenos and bits of sundried tomato.

Bake until cheese is melted and edges are golden.

Wonderful served with fresh guacamole, chips, salad and fresh margaritas!

Okay, recipe for quac and margaritas?

Here ya go.

Guacamole:

2 avocados, peeled and mashed
1 minced clove garlic (I love those garlic presses for this)
Good squeeze of fresh lime (about 1 - 2 T.)
A pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
Seeded, chopped tomato if desired

Super Fresh Margaritas

Fill blender about 2/3 full with ice
2/3 c. - 1 c. white/clear tequila (better for those prone to headaches)
2 fresh limes, squeezed (if not very juicy, use more!)
1 big juicy fresh orange, squeezed (or 2 -3 seedless clementines)
real maple syrup or agave nectar to sweeten (this varues according to individual taste, but I don't like mine very sweet.)
(can also add 1/2 chopped fresh mango or 1 peach)

Blend until smooth, serve in salt-rimmed glasses and top each margarita with a squeeze of fresh orange or tangerine juice floating atop before serving.

These are very fresh tasting, with no corn syrup sweetener or artificial flavors. I am very prone to headaches from alcohol, but I can enjoy one of these with no ill effects.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Crispy Parmesan Eggplant Appetizers w/ Butternut Squash Marinara Sauce




One of my favorite Italian meals is eggplant Parmesan. Then my son Gabe assisted his friend, Cessna, who is studying to be a chef -- at a big fancy dinner. They made this very thin, very crisp, melt-in-your mouth appetizers that turned out to be maybe in the Top Ten Best Things I've Ever Tasted.

One eggplant makes a bunch. Great for cooking up while your guests are watching a ballgame or milling with you in the kitchen, tasting these amazing appetizers as soon as they come out of the pan.

I used Dave's Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce (purchased at World Market) which was amazing, but you can dip these in any of your favorite marinara sauces or even Ranch Dressing. Or savor without any sauce.....

Crispy Eggplant Appetizers

Peel and cut one eggplant in veeery thin slices. Try for 1/8 inch if you can.

Prepare your "batter" station with 3 bowls, near the stove top.

In Bowl One: put 1 c flour
In Bowl Two: 2 eggs, beaten
In Bowl Three: 1 c. panko bread crumbs (available on Oriental aisle, I just stock up on these when I am at World Market because they are much less expensive here); 1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese; 1 t. salt, 1 t. Italian seasoning, 1 t. pepper, 1/2 t. garlic powder.


Heat a skillet with 1/4 inch olive oil in bottom. Medium High temp.

One at a time, dip thin slices of eggplant into flour then egg (shaking off excess) and finally panko mixture. Fry until golden brown. Remove and let drain on a paper towel, taste to see if they need to be salted a bit (or not), then serve with sauce of your choice.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beef Stroga-Becky: Easy Filling Meal for Holiday Company!



Just got back from a potluck dinner and when I went to pick up the dish I'd brought, it looked like somebody had licked the platter clean!

So here is my easy, cheap, crowd-pleasing recipe for Beef Stroganoff a la... moi. Serves 10 - 12 so it's a great go-to recipe when you've got a hungry group to feed.

I'm a huge fan of Reynold's Cooking bags, which you can get near the paper products at any grocery store. I discovered them when I took a job as a caterer years ago, around Thanksgiving time, and had to cook 10 turkeys. The cooking bags yielded a savory turkey everytime; falling off the bone tender. Plus no mess.

Enough with the 'splainin' ... here's the recipe!

In a large cooking bag that has been set in your biggest Pyrex or roast pan, put 3 pounds of lean cubed stew meat, 1 envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix (dry), 1 can fat=free condensed mushroom soup, 2 cups water, 1 cup wine, 1 coursely chopped onion, 1 clove garlic peeled and cut in half.
Tie up the bag with the enclosed plastic tab, but don't poke a hole in the bag. I've not yet had one to blow up and this keeps all the juices inside.

Bake at 325 for about 4 -5 hours, or until the stew meat is tender. Take out of oven and let cool a bit.

In the meantime, put a big pot of salted water on to boil and boil a large package of wide egg noodles.

Then, in a large skillet, sautee a cup of fresh sliced mushrooms in a little olive oil until they are tender (you can use more mushrooms if you like).

Then carefully cut a hole in the bag of beef which has, by now, made its own gravy and pour into skillet with mushrooms. Add 1 T. brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Then add 1 1/2 c. sour cream (you can use fat free or low fat if you prefer).

Stir gently until sour cream is incorporated and just heated through. (You don't want to overcook at this point, or the sour cream can begin to break up... Just heat until it is hot enough to eat and then remove from stovetop).

Drain noodles, and toss with a little olive oil or butter.

Pour noodles in a big pretty casserole dish or serving platter. Ladle the stroganoff down the middle of the noodles letting the noodles "show" about an inch around the edge. Garnish with fresh or dried parsley or chives. If you want to give a nod to Christmas colors you can also sprinkle with a tiny bit of finely diced red pepper, just enough to garnish.

Serves 10 - 12. Which makes this a great recipe to keep on hand for big family gatherings at holiday time!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Two Southern Sides: Corn Pudding & Orange Glazed Carrots



At least once every two weeks, I bring home a big juicy roast chicken (usually from Sams) and since I don't have to cook the main dish, I can spend a little extra time on the sides.

Here are two of my favorite down-home country sides that -- along with a salad, green beans or broccoli --can sure give Boston Market a run for its money!



Corn Pudding
16 oz. frozen corn (I like Cascadian farms organic , gold & white corn)
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
T. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. half n half
(optional) 2 T. chopped chives
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 grated cheese

In a bowl mix all the ingredients above, except for the corn and the cheese. Butter a round or square pyrex pan. Put corn in pan and pour egg mixture on top. Sprinkle with cheese. To speed up cooking time I like to microwave this (covered) for about 5 minutes, then finish in a 350 oven until cheese is melted and it is a little bit golden around the edges.


Orange Glazed Carrots

Peel about 7 big carrots and steam them, whole. I use a microwave proof bag for this.
Steam until just tender.
Pour any juice into a skillet, and place the carrots on a cutting board until they are cool enough to touch. Then slice them into about 1/4 inch slices.
Into the skillet with any carrot juice, plop a heaping T. of butter, 1/3 c. orange juice, 1 T. brown sugar. Add the carrot slices and simmer until the orange juice is reduced to a thick syrup around the carrots. Season with salt and pepper at this point, to taste.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A-ha Moment: Finding True North Again



As I was sitting in Starbucks yesterday, mentally grappling with fear that had kidnapped me hook, line and sinker; I experienced a one sip revelation. I have had these A-ha moments before in times of deep need, and had been praying for inner relief for two days, after tears and heartache and much wrestling over a couple of tough issues.

When A-ha moments arrive, they feel as though God has injected a thought into my head. And that thought -- a fresh perspective outside of the nonstop gerbil wheel of anxious thoughts -- gives the most instant and total relief that it feels near-miraculous.

So my Ah-ha moment yesterday was this. "All the pain you are feeling is coming from mentally meddling in business that is not your own. If you will only focus on the business labeled 'For Becky's Attention' -- the inner pain will stop."

So I did. And it did.

Almost as simple as that. I also had a good, long cleansing cry that morning that seemed to open my heart to deeper listening. Tears clean out a lot of pent-up toxins and cobwebs that block our ability to hear clearly from God.

Greg was out of town last night and so I bought Chinese food, and for once, got a "fortune" in my cookie that wasn't completely lame. It said, "Stop asking so much if you are doing things right, and ask instead, 'Are you doing the right things?'"

Again, most of my pain came from the angst of wondering if I were saying or doing the right thing to "help" someone else make the right choice, get better, or feel better or like me better. Rather than pausing to ask if I should be doing anything at all, or if, by taking on this mental task,I might actually be draining energy away from my truest calling?

Then it dawned on me that I had gone to meddling again. Feeling completely responsible to rescue, fix, solve the problems of people I could no more control than I could direct the movement of the sun. People who were, for the most part, not even asking for my advice, opinions or input. People who were grown up, bright and capable of making great choices all by themeselves for their very own lives.

I'd steered away from my personal North Star, and that always causes pain.

When I lost everything after an excrutiating divorce, including very nearly my mind, I went through intensive therapy -- going every day for two weeks to try to sort out the remaining puzzle pieces of my life that had been blown to smithereens.

The therapist asked, "What do you want, Becky?" and I said, without hesitation, in an answer that surprised me, "I want to make one really good man happy for the rest of his life. I was born to be a good wife, to a good man." I am not even sure where that came from, and I knew that if this therapist asked other people the same question each of us would respond differently. But for me and my life, I knew my calling with such clarity in that moment when I felt I'd lost everything but my will to live and be happy. I knew that to love and be loved back by a very good man was the box God had labeled "For Becky's Attention."

Then, in God's grace and mercy, I married this very good man and his name is Greg.

Five years into our marriage we have one of the most unique, intimate, loving and fun relationships imaginable. Both of us are tenderhearted nurturers so we pour out a lot of our lives into other people who are going through the "What the heck happened to my life?" experience.

We have six kids (all married or paired up)and three grandsons, between us, and have enjoyed a lot of involvement with them.

Without realizing it,however, over time, I have lost my clear, razor sharp focus. I'd become a card carrying member of the Over-Caring Club. I've allowed myself to go from caring about others to wanting to fix, change, help or rescue them -- and often times without being asked to do so. Sometimes I AM asked to do so, but still tend to take on too much personal responsibility, internally. Instead of helping, I begin trying to fix. Sometimes this shift is totally mental, nobody knows how much emotional energy I'm using to figure out other peoples problems, except me. And God.

And all the while, there is this one very good man, this incredible gift from God, lovingly and patiently holding my hand through it all. And on his forehead is written, "For Becky's Attention" ...

Aside from knowing God, Greg is my clearest calling. Our marriage is my highest privilege. It is, perhaps, the best marriage I've ever observed or known and I do not say that with pride as if I have done anything to deserve it. I say it with awe, that I have been given this privilege.. to love and be loved back by the kindest, wisest, most loving soul I have ever known.

Supporting, tending to, and cherishing this relationship brings me the pure joy of knowing I am following my True North. If something,someday, should happen to Greg, which is my deepest fear, then God will give me a new box with "for Becky's Attention" on it and I'll get a new, clear focus.

But for now, I HAVE my heart's desire and my clarity of purpose. And with the love of a lifetime in my arms, then the rest of life --- other people's pain, a dozen problems ever-waiting to be solved, our grown kids and grandkids, the details of living --all of it will fall into place. Or not. It doesn't really matter.

I only know my own personal calling and it is deep and sure, and the compass for my life. I do not expect that my north star would be YOUR north star or anyone else's. I only know that when own my personal compass is set on toward my true north, I am home.

And when I forget, I am totally lost.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Winter's Take on Summer Dish: Hot Chicken Salad




One of my favorite dishes as a child was my mom's "hot chicken salad casserole" which is warm and tangy, creamy and crunchy and basically... irresistible.

The problem with making it for Greg is that the original recipe called for onions and chopped celery and those two ingredients are on his, "Please, for heavens sake, do not ever serve these to me!" list of most hated foods.

So I've modified the recipe, and it has become one of our favorite wintry meals. Served with a slice of hot bread, and maybe some fresh fruit, and dinner is done. You can bake in individual casseroles or in one large dish.

Hot Chicken Salad Casserole

2 cups, cooked chopped chicken (You can use chicken from a deli roasted chicken or saute diced chicken breasts, seasoning as you like. I like Tony's Cajun seasoning, and a little fresh garlic.)

Toss with:

1 small can chopped, drained water chestnuts
1 cup vegies, your choice! (I usually just toss in frozen peas and a couple of carrots chopped finely. My mom used celery and onions, sauteed but still with some crunch.)
1/2 c. almonds, slivered, sliced or chopped

Mix with:

1/3 to 1/2 c. good lite mayo
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. Ranch Dressing -- lite version

Add until it is the consistency you might like for any cold chicken salad.

Check for seasoning, but go light on salt because you are going to add cheese and salty chips as toppings.

Pour into a square or small rectangle pyrex casserole dish.

Cover top with grated cheese.

Bake at 350% until cheese is melty.

Pull out of oven and then top with a handful of well crushed chips, any kind you like. I like sun chips, some like potato chips, others corn or tortilla chips.

Put back in oven until chips are hot and crunchy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Secret of Happiness is Small Frequent Moments of Gratitude



(Tulips pushing up through the snow in my backyard. This picture always brings to mind a favorite quote: "In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invicible summer." Albert Camus)


"I come in the little things, saith the Lord." Evenlyn Underhill

If you want to know the secret to joy, it is not found in all the big things you dream about. For the big things, like a baby's birth or fresh-found love, or the dream house, dream job or dream car only come around infrequently, and who can afford to put their joy on hold for the rare Big Moments?

No, the secret of people who keep their child-heart alive is that they collect small joys one after another and pause, just briefly, to notice and be grateful. They collect small bits of happiness until they pile up, like a bowl of sea shells, or strings of pearls, or a bouquet of wild flowers.

Here's a poem from a very old book that I came across today, that reminded me to quit waiting for "When the Big Event Happens" ... as I have only to look around, in this very moment, this very room, to find joy.



I HAVE FOUND SUCH JOY


I have found such joy in simple things;
A plain, clean room, a nut-brown loaf of bread
A cup of milk, a kettle as it sings,
The shelter of a roof above my head,
And in a leaf-laced square along the floor,
Where yellow sunlight glimmers through a door.

I have found such joy in things that fill
My quiet days; a curtain's blowing grace.
A potted plant upon my window sill,
A rose, fresh-cut and placed within a vase;
A table cleared, a lamp beside a chair,
And books I long have loved beside me there.

Oh, I have found such joys I wish I might
Tell every woman who goes seeking far
For some elusive, feverish delight,
That very close to home the great joys are;
The elemental things - old as the race,
Yet never, through the ages, commonplace

by Grace Noll Crowell


It is so easy to let concerns, worries and fears overtake our minds and overshadow the goodness in the present moment. I usually find that my peace is stolen the minute I ruminate over yesterday's mistakes or losses; or worry about some supposed upcoming disaster. When I can corral my mind to the here and now and look around for the small blessings that are mine in this moment, I get "centered" and relax and remember the happiness I'd temporarily forgotten. My biggest A-Ha moment of the past few months is that when I need strength to face today or tomorrow, the most reliable place to find it is ask God to open my eyes to the joy that is already mine. Then to hold, savor, give thanks for all the small blessings within my reach. When I am filled back up with joy, I find that strength comes, almost as a side-gift, by the way.

So I don't pray for strength as much as I pray for joy. Because when joy arrives, courage, clarity, strength and wisdom seem to just tag along as well.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Son, Marathon Man




"The Family that Runs Together, Has Fun to Together" -- My son Zeke with his wife Amy and their sons Nate & Titus this past Spring.)

"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. "
Eric Liddell


In going through old boxes of things filed (or more accurately, "things piled") I found a poem that was a favorite of my son Zeke's in high school. I must have asked him for a copy of it to put in his memory file.

Tomorrow this wonderful man (who is also an architect, a fabulous husband to Amy, and father of two adorable sons) is going to run his first marathon! I should also mention that Zeke is one of the kindest most optimistic people I've ever known. I used to call him my sunshine kid because raising him was a walk in the park, easiest thing I ever did as a mom. Except for the fear of him falling off whatever mountain he was climbing, or the two times he dislocated his elbow playing football (known as The Kamikaze Kid), or that one time he fell through the church roof into the kitchen.

But all in all, I hope to grow up to be more like Zeke someday. Still, I know I will never, in a million years, have the perpetual energy he has been given!

In honor of Zeke's big race tomorrow, and the race of life that he's run so very well, I'd like to share this poem today. It brings a tear to my eye every time I read it because it is SO my Zeke, who gives everything he has to all he cares about.

I love you, Son! Run well, and feel God's pleasure in every step!

Mom


To James

Do you remember

how you won

that last race...?

how you flung your body

at the start...

how your spikes

ripped the cinders

in the stretch...

how you catapulted

through the tape...

do you remember?

Don’t you think

I lurched with you

out of those starting holes...?

Don’t you think

my sinews tightened

at those first

few strides...

and when you flew into the stretch

was not all my thrill

of a thousand races

in your blood...?

At your final drive

through the finish line

did not my shout

tell of the

triumphant ecstasy

of victory...?

Live

as I have taught you

to run, Boy -

it’s a short dash.

Dig your starting holes

deep and firm

lurch out of them

into the straightaway

with all the power

that is in you

look straight ahead

to the finish line

think only of the goal

run straight

run high

run hard

save nothing

and finish

with an ecstatic burst

that carries you

hurtling

through the tape

to victory...

By Frank Horne



Saturday, October 10, 2009

Easy, Healthy Pita Pizza




You have to laugh when you find yourself posting about Frito Pie and whipping up southern "butter queen" Paula Deen's strawberry cake, in the same week you are enjoying a healthy South African tea, tasting a Thai pineapple curry, trying a new Indian curry and experimenting with whole wheat pita to make a healthier pizza.

It's Redneck Mama meets International Food Aficionado. Or, The Schizophrenic Gourmet.

Even my choice in food reflects my desire to live in balance and moderation. So if I have a slice of strawberry cake now and again, I'll try hard to eat a a light chicken salad to even things out.

Here's one of my favorite healthier recipes that we enjoy for a busy day supper or quick snack It makes a super thin crispy pizza crust, and if you want to take it to go, you can fold it in half to eat the way they do in Italy! (Great for hungry teen boys on the run.)

Pita Pizzas

Whole Wheat Pitas (Whole Foods Brand preferred)cut in round, thin pizza halves with kitchen shears (2 pitas makes 4 pizza 'crusts')
One small can tomato paste mixed with 1 clove fresh pressed garlic, pinch Italian seasoning, a teaspoon of honey, dash salt
Olive Oil
Cheese of your choice

Toppings: Whatever you like!


For basic pizzas, preheat oven to 400. Sprinkle the biggest flat sheet pan you have with a olive oil. Place pitas on the pan and spread with "fancied up" tomato paste.(It will be thick but if you use sauce, it makes the pita bread too soggy.) Put on toppings and cheese and bake until crust is crispy and cheese is melted. Sometimes I switch to broiler if the bottoms are cooking too fast, but the cheese hasn't melted enough yet.

For Bar-B-Que Chicken pizza, mix a little bar-b-que sauce with the seasoned tomato paste, sprinkle with chopped roasted chicken, red or green onion and top with your choice of grated cheese (cheddar and mozzerella combo is nice)

For Hawaiian Pizza: Sprinkle with well-drained pineapple tidbits or crushed pineapple, green onions and canadian bacon or bits of ham

For Curry Pizza: Mix some of your favorite Indian curry sauce (in a jar) with the tomatoe paste and top with chicken, well drained pineapple, onions and peppers. I really love Patak's brand of Jalfrezi Curry, a combo of tomato, peppers, coconut. World Market has a good assorment of Patak's Indian products.

For Margherita Pizza: Top with fresh mozzerella, sliced grape tomatoes and basil leaves

For Buffalo Pizza: Top with pieces of roast chicken that have been tossed in Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Sauce, and mixture of mozerella and blue cheese crumbles. Before serving, top with chopped celery

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brain Science: Do We All Have the Same Amount of Free Will?


(Photo of Dr. Earl Henslin. Is that a kind face, or what?)

Be compassionate, as I am compassionate." Jesus (Often wrongly translated to say, "Be perfect as I am perfect.")

Yesterday, my friend, Dr. Earl Henslin, once again helped a dear friend of mine stuck in complicated emotional pain. She said, as every one says, after talking with Earl in person or by phone for a typical intake/counseling session, some version of ..."He is an angel. I cannot tell you how much hope I feel. How deeply heard and understood and encouraged I am. I have a plan and a future and I understand my brain and behavior. I get that I am loved by God, that I have value, but that I just need a little help to get where I need to be."

(By the way, if you or someone you love may want a phone counseling session with Dr. Henslin, please tell him or his assistant, Pam, that I sent you. Here's the contact information: www.henslinandassoc.com)

It was a giant privilege to write books with Dr. Henslin because I was able to learn so much more about a subject I've been intensely interested in for many years: the brain. To get to meet his colleague, Dr. Amen, and have my own brain scanned was a life-altering experience.

People sometimes ask me, "Becky, how can you and Greg be so compassionate to people who are hurting or acting out, emotionally?" And I say, "I've looked inside brains, including my own. I cannot argue with the truth that Dr. Amen and Dr. Henslin came to when they saw the wide variety of emotional pain, visible in people's brains.... that we do not all have the same amount of free will. This is why only God can look into our 'innermost parts' and see our brain chemistry; only He knows the stories behind our depression or our anger or addictions. Mother Teresa said, 'If I am too busy judging people, I won't have time to love them.' I feel like saying, 'If I waste time judging someone, I won't have time to get them to the real help they need.'"

These days Greg and I both feel like the "stretcher-bearers" who brought the paralytic man to Jesus for healing. Only, we're bringing them most often to Dr. Henslin, who is one of the most compassionate, brilliant therapists and life coaches we know. Well, that and serving them a cup of hot tea, or a warm meal, or a night or two in the "beach room" -- a place to feel loved and heard in our home. Greg and I offer compassionate "aunt and uncle" lay counseling:) But we know when a person needs more than a hot meal and an empathetic ear, and we are so very grateful to have Dr. Henslin as our top resource.

(To see my post on my brain scan experience click on
http://bit.ly/j8Z9O or click on "brain scan" on the list of posts on the current blog page.)

I have a book of before and after pictures of Spect Scans that I often show people. You can also see many of these for yourself, in living color, at www.amenclinic.com. (Click on Spect Images)

One of the most impactful to me was a woman before and after PMS. During PMS, her cingulate (the obsessive & angry part of the brain) fired up like a literal red flame.
Her cingulate gyrus (the center of anxiety) was also aglow. Even the limbic system, (the area where depression is seen) was red hot. Then a week later, all is calm, all is cool. I have never speculated again, after seeing that scan, if hormones make us crazy. They affect every single neurotransmitter in the brain, and we simply are not functioning with our best brain with untreated PMS. And this is just one small example!

In my next post, I'll share an excerpt This is Your Brain on Joy that will describe Dr. Henslin's first encounter with Spect Imaging, fourteen years ago, and the risk he took to halt practicing therapy as he'd been trained, take 10 years to study the brain with Dr. Amen, and apply it to his counseling practice.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Favorite Chidhood Supper: Mexican Salad!




(Frito Pie)

Sometimes when a dish is so familiar, you assume that everyone has tried it at a Pot Luck supper or made it themselves,but since leaving Texas, I found that many people have never eaten good ol' Frito & Catalina Mexican salad. Like me, once they try it, they come back for seconds every time. There's something about that combo of sweet dressing, salty corn chips and fresh tomatoes and greens that is just... a winner.

I just had it for lunch... two bowls full!

Here's the basic recipe:

Mexican Salad

1 head iceberg or romaine lettuce, chopped
1 large tomato, diced
1 c. grated cheese
1 can Ranch Style beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups small sized Frito's brand corn chips


Toss with enough Catalina Dressing to coat ingredients.

Optional additions:

Green or red onions, chopped
black olives, drained
corn,drained
avocado, chopped
1/2 lb ground beef, seasoned & drained and cooled slightly



If you have leftover corn chips, another Texas favorite was Frito Pie. This was one of my mother's best "go-to" dinners, alongside a green salad, when she'd had a busy day and no time to cook. She used Wolf Brand canned chili, without beans. But you can use any kind you like.

Just coat square pyrex pan with Fritos, pour your favorite chili on top, add chopped onions if you like, sprinkle the top with cheese and bake just until cheese is melty. As a kid, I loved this with ketchup on top... but I may already be making my gourmet friends cringe as it is with this post:) '

If you have a big bunch of teens to feed at a outdoor party or sporting event, this is at great, warm, to-go dish for chilly autumn days or Fall Festival party. Just heat up the chili in a crockpot and when time to serve, put Frito's in bottom of disposable bowls, a scoop of chili on top, then let the kids put cheese, onions or jalapeno slices on top. (Or, my personal favorite, ketchup.:)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Feathers from Heaven


(Melissa with my grandson Georgie, showing off the prized feather find!)


(Michael, Melissa and Sarah Gantt)


(Joshua Gantt, Forever Young, who would have been 27 this week.)

My dear friend and neighbor for a decade in Greenville, Texas -- Melissa Gantt -- recently moved to Seattle, which happens to be down the road from where my son, Zach, and his wife Julie and little boy Georgie have moved. On a visit to the great northwest last week, we had "old home week" with my daughter Rachel & Zach, Michael and Melissa Gantt, together again... only thousands of miles away from our small town life of years before. I was awash in joy and the comfort of being together again when, as we walked to the restaurant near the Pikes Market dock, we spotted a lone white feather. Melissa picked it up with a knowing smile, handing it to Georgie, as Rachel snapped a picture. Here is the story behind the white feather, in honor of what would have been Josh Gantt's 27 birthday this week. He was not only Michael and Melissa's son, and Sarah's brother... he was like a brother to my children, and my daughter Rachel's first "love" and first kiss. His smile could make young girls and even old women go weak in the knees. We miss him.

Feathers from Heaven?
(from my book, It's Fun to Be a Mom, Harvest House Publishers, 2007)

Hope is the thing with feathers on it” Emily Dickinson

When one of my closest friends, Melissa Gantt, was driving along one day, she reached over and found a white feather attached to her shoulder. She picked it off, smiled, turned to her husband Michael and said, “Look what my angel left me.” They shared a good laugh and drove on, not giving the incident much thought.

A couple of years later Melissa was at the funeral of her grandmother when her husband, Michael said, “Look on your shoulder” as he pointed to a white feather that had somehow landed there. Not long after this second feather experience, Melissa found herself in the emergency room. Her little girl, Sarah, was being examined for a head injury after hitting her head on a dock in a waterskiing accident. She was afraid, as any mother would be, and every breath was a prayer. When she and Michael were allowed in to see their daughter, there on the sheet, was a feather.

Michael, normally not a sentimental man, took the white feather that had found its way to his daughter’s bedside, and later brought it to the car and put it in a special box, as a keepsake from above. All would be well, both in Melissa’s heart and thankfully, with Sarah’s head. (She’s since had yet another head injury, and subsequent visit to the emergency room after falling off of a golf-cart onto concrete. We tell her she’s blessed to be hardheaded.)

Then one day, the unthinkable happened. Melissa's son Josh, just shy of his 20th birtday, drowned in the lake where we all lived, laughed, and loved during most of the years of our kids growing up together. The loss is too big to contain in words; however, since the day Joshua left earth for heaven, it has been raining feathers.

There was one large white feather stuck to the front door of the Gantt’s home the morning after Josh died. I was with Melissa on a trip to Montana several months afterward, a girlfriend getaway to do some healing and have some fun, when, just before we left to go home – I saw Melissa reach down and pull a white feather from the top of her suitcase. “I have a stack of them now, I find them everywhere,” she explained. “And Josh’s girlfriend called to tell me she came back to her desk at work today to find two white feathers in her chair.”

On one particularly hard day, not long after Josh died, Melissa allowed Sarah to stay home from school. My friend held her daughter as she cried and grieved convulsions of sorrow that went with the missing o her brother. Then Sarah wiped her tears, stood up and headed toward the kitchen for a drink of water. “Sarah,” Melissa said, laughing through her tears. “Look at the seat of your pants.” Sure enough there was a white feather attached to Sarah’s behind. “That would be just like Josh,” she said, one hand on her hip, then smiled for the first time that day.

Not long after, I was standing in front of a mirror in a hotel room, far from my Texas home, when I happened to notice a white feather stuck to the front of my shirt. Half-joking, half-wondering, I said aloud, “Josh? Lord? Anything you two want to say to us today?” I said it spontaneously, with a chuckle in my voice, but I remember the incident clearly because I spoke the question aloud, even though I was alone. Though I would never claim to be altogether normal, I don’t usually talk to myself out loud.
That afternoon I flew home, and met my son Gabe for dinner. Before we had barely settled into the restaurant booth he said, “Mom, I woke up from the weirdest, but best dream about Joshua this morning.”

“Really?” I asked, more curious because of my own fine-feathered experience that day. “Tell me about it.”

“Well,” he said, “I dreamed I was walking along the lakeside road and Josh came walking toward me. I knew it was a dream, and I knew Josh was in heaven and I was still on earth, but I could talk to him. So I asked him, ‘Josh, what is God like?’ And Joshua said, ‘You know Gabe, God is a lot more down to earth than we thought.’”

Yes, I thought, I believe that. Now more than ever. In fact, He may be close enough to let a feather fall from his hand and onto our sagging shoulders.

I do not know if the feathers we are finding are truly heavenly signs of comfort. I’ll concede (but not without some protest) that this could all be coincidence.I also do not know if Gabe’s dream was anything more than a dream. How could I prove what will remain a mystery until the veil of this life has been lifted? Until we discover, someday, what has truly been going on behind the scenes of the Days of our Lives, no human being can speak authoritatively on “coincidences” around us. The Bible only explains enough to reassure us there is a fascinating life beyond death, more wonderful than we can possibly imagine, but the description is just vague enough to leave plenty of room for plenty of surprises.

Who knows? Perhaps one of the mysteries solved in heaven someday, will be bumping into a ministering angel whose job it was to look for people whose hearts were heavy-laden –and lighten them with feathers.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91:4

Monday, September 21, 2009

Becky's Brown Sugar Bourbon Pork Tenderloin


(The following recipe is for one small tenderloin but you can cook up to 3 of them in a pan-- just double the ingredients for the sauce.)

In a sizzling hot skillet, melt 1 T. of butter with 2 T. Olive oil.Turn oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle all sides of a smallish pork tenderloin with Tony's Cajun Seasoning (or some mixture of salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder & garlic powder) & rub in the seasonings.

Brown all sides of pork loin until it is golden and caramelized.

Place pork loin in an oven proof 9 by 13 inch pan (or leave in skillet if it is oven proof).

Into the skillet drippings, add 1/4 brown sugar, 1/2 c. bourbon, heat and stir until a very thin syrup. Check to see if it needs additional salt & pepper or Tony's seasoning, whatever you prefer.

Pour syrup over pork loin, cover, and put in hot oven another 10 minutes or until the meat is still slightly pink in the middle. (If you cook it until the pork is white all the way through, it may be dry.)

Slice on the diagonal and serve with a ladle of the brown-sugar-buttery-bourbon sauce.

Delicious with sweet potatoes and a spinach salad.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Really Helps When Life Hurts



(Cousin Nate hugging his Cousin Georgie)

Greg and I have both traveled through the darkest of valleys in our past. The pain of that time remains palpable and we do not want to forget the "dark night of the soul" experience even as we are basking in a season of sunlight and joy and love right now.

Why?

Because that dark time stretched our compassion/understanding/empathy in ways that we are now using "in the light" to help others get through the fog of despondency. Some lessons we learned in our valley:

1. Nothing helped more than someone who really cared and listened, deeply. Often just the act of talking about a crisis or tragedy takes the terror out of the event and gives comfort. And even an hour of comfort is an enormous blessing. You can give no finer gift.

2. My friend Shawn sent me a little story about a child who offered to "cry with" a man who was sad. In essence, these are the friends I most cherish in my darkest moment. The ones who withheld judgment to offer their tears and "help me cry."

3. Never say never. When I went through the shock of divorce, I was amazed by my own mental and pscyhological reactions to trauma. I often felt kidnapped by my flailing emotions. I was not "myself" for a very long time. I now understand how good people can do very odd things during a traumatic time. Writing and studying the brain in trauma has further widened my compassion for those suffering from mental or emotional pain. The mind is no different than a bone, it gets shattered, splintered and it takes time to heal. We need to give people a wide berth during crisis and a boatload of grace. For as Jesus said of his children, from the cross, "They know not what they do." None of us knows, with certainty, what we are capable of doing, given a certain set of circumstances, or a brain hijacked by pain, or bad chemistry firing.

4. Professional therapists and life coaches and doctors all play an important part in recovery. But do not underestimate the power of a listening friend. And do not think, if you are the listening friend, that you must have the answers or some profound wisdom. Just being there, showing up, is 90% of what a wounded soul needs.

5. When a person is in overwhelm, it is often the old-fashioned simple things that bring a bit of cheer and relief. Sitting outside in the sun. A leisurely walk. A cup of hot tea served with love. Something for the hands to do -- like knitting, or as my friend Sue is doing -- creating collages from cut-up magazine pictures. Pottery. Hooking a rug.

When my stepson Troy stayed with us during a long recovery from surgery, I headed to the craftstore and bought him paint-by-numbers, a small latch rug kit, colored markers -- and he enjoyed/needed these little projects to keep his mind and hands occupied during the long hours of recovery that could have been so depressing.

In the book, Lifting Depression, the author describes a link between doing something with your hands and a release of comforting chemicals in the brain. Even vacuuming or coloring pictures, mending or ironing or folding clothes can be therapeutic.

6. Some kind of simple movement helps. Walking is wonderful. Swimming is great. I've come to love yoga, and as a Christian, I simply say, "Thank you, Lord" when in the prayer poses. There's something about the beautiful, simple act of humbly saying thanks -- with your body --that has increased my own sense of calm and joy.

7. A hot meal, chicken soup, a good fresh loaf of bread, a gift certificate for take-out (from a healthier restaurant) -- all of these tangible gifts are wonderful. Cooking and eating well tend to take a nose dive during hard or off-kilter times.

8. Offering to spruce up, clean up or paint a room. I will never forget something my adult children did for me when I was at the bottom of my life. My daughter Rachel organized her 3 brothers and picked out a pale sunny yellow paint to spruce up my kitchen and livingroom. I cannot tell you how much having a bright happy room in which to sip my morning coffee, did for my flagging spirits. I felt literally cocooned and hugged by my kids every time I glanced at the happy color surrounding me.

9. In cleaning out my files, recently, I came across a copy of this poem by John Fox. One of my absolute all time favorites. And again, there is no greater gift you can give someone who is muddling through the mire. Listening well, seems to me, a fine art. (Are you noticing a re-occurring theme in this post?) If you ask most therapists or counselors or good pastors or life coaches about the essence of what they do to help others feel better -- most would say, it is that they know how to "deeply listen" to another soul, and make them feel heard, loved and accepted. And so, I'll close with this.....

When Someone Deeply Listens To You

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you've had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind's eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you
your barefeet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.
John Fox

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Love Notes from a 7 Year Old Boy



(My son, Gabe, the romantic.... all grown up now walking on the Oregon beach with the love of his life, Aleks.)

I've been cleaning out old files this week, years of them. Even after a gloriously happy second marriage; I've had a very tough time looking at old photo albums or reading stories from the books I'd written from the years of my first marriage. It hurt too badly to open the pages of my past life. The edges around my heart were still too raw.

Until, now.

For whatever reason -- time's passing, or my heart healing -- it seems, now is the time to sort through what feels like Life #1 with the sort of benevolent distance I've been waiting years to feel.

To my surprise, I am actually having fun... often laughing aloud! Looking through the files has reminded me that all was not pain, there were great moments of joy and many of those moments came from my kids.

Gabe, the youngest of four, was so funny that he actually inspired me to start writing down his take on life which lead to a book called Worms in My Tea, inspired by a day when Gabe -- ever the critter loving little boy - deposited a couple of wringly worms in my glass of iced tea. Unknowingly, I drank the tea and then was horrified to spot two intertwined, slimey critters among the ice cubes at the bottom. Gabe, about age 4, was beaming. "See, how they are huggin' and huggin' each other?" he asked, obviously pleased with this gift he'd shared with his smiling, gagging, mom.

Nobody saw things quite like Gabe did. From a young age he was a ponderer of deep thoughts. ("Does God have hair in his nose?") And he was a romantic from the day he entered first grade and noticed the opposite sex. I found, in the stack of memories, an article I'd written from 3 notes found around Valentine's Day -- written by Gabe, in first grade phoenetic spelling.

The heartfelt sincerity, of this one, to his new little 7 year old "Valentine" was palpable, even spiritual:

"I love you more than dimmines. Yur more preshus than baby Jesus lyin in a manjer with shelperds watching over.

love, Gabe

P.S. its all true"


Gabe saved his dimes and quarters to buy his new girl a white fluffy teddy bear and when she thanked him, he was so touched, he wrote her back. I found this note typed on my computer.

"I'm glad you liked you're teddeybear. i rote a rime for you it goe'es like this
I think you'r grandey
I think you'r handy & I like to give canddey.

I know it's short but you know I love you & that's all that matter's.

love,
Gabe"


Gabe's never been one to mince words; he has always just laid his heart and thoughts out there, telling it like it is. He is still like this today. Like Popeye, "he ams what he ams." I've never had to guess what mood Gabe is in, or what thoughts are flitting through his mind. His mind and his every mood is transparent as glass, which has been challenging at times -- but I wouldn't change this quality of his for anything.

Flipping deeper into the file, I found another note. Apparently Gabe's teacher had given the class a special Valentine's Day assignment and Gabe, in his mater of fact Texas style, complied.

"I'm polst to tell you good things about Valentims. They are giving presents becouse it's fun to watch them open it. I usually give my friends stufft bears & chocklets. The party's are fun beouse we get cookies, candy, Sprite & I can be with my friends.

I just flat out like Vallentines."


Today, that seven year old boy has morphed into a handsome young man of almost 23! He's got a fabulous girl, Aleks, who has stolen his heart ... and it is easy to see that they flat-out love each other. In .fact, I think he loves her even more than "dimmines."

It thrills my heart to know that Gabe has found a home for his heart in Aleks. In fact, that all of my children have found wonderful life mates.

When Greg asked me to marry him, I'll never forget my father (who has been in love with my mother for 53 years) hugged me and said, "I am so happy for you, Becky. There simply is no greater joy in life than to experience true love."

My dad was right. And one of the deepest joys of my heart is to see my kids happily in love. Because, to quote a 7 year old philosopher: "That's all that matters."

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved." George Sand

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

13 Ways to Help Shore Up Your Health to Fight Swine Flu



(Our grandson Georgie, not feeling too well during cold season one year. So pitiful!)

A few years ago, I read the following story, which I’ve summarized from The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. With the nonstop media coverage of the Swine Flu, I went back to re-read this story and decided I want to share with you!

In the 19th century, medicine began to focus on killing germs when Louis Pasteur discovered the antibiotic effects of penicillin.

Another 19th century French scientist, Claude Bernard was also a famous medical researcher and friend of Pasteur, but he approached illness from a totally different point of view.His focus was on the immune system of the patient and believed that keeping people’s immunity high was a much more effective approach than “killing the germ.”

Bernard’s theory led to some interesting studies. In one of them, a Russian scientist named Elie Metchnikoff and his research associates consumed cultures that contained millions of cholera bacteria – yet none of them developed cholera. Why? They had built up their bodies immune systems so well that it defended itself against germ invaders.

Pasteur and Bernard continued a healthy debate about their different approaches to health and wellness for many years. But, as Pasteur perhaps began to see that antibiotics would be come less effective as the germs mutated and gained strength… he changed his mind. (Too late, however, to change the focus of medicine for the next century.)

In fact, on his deathbed, Pasteur said: “Bernard was right. The pathogen (germ) is nothing. The terrain (immune system) is everything.”

Now, we come back to the topic of the day: Swine Flu. Which, last season, caused semi-panic in Mexico, and a general uneasiness in the rest of the world.

There appears to be a new vaccine that might help prevent the spread of swine flue, which is wonderful news, though.. since it is so new, is not without risk. What I am wondering why no one in the media seems to speaking of the need to begin upsizing the quality of our immune systems? Even as an important addition to the vacinne?

If Claude Bernard was right, then we should be focusing less on the “swine germ” and more on building up our body’s immunity.

Here’s a list of things you can do right now, until the swine flu vaccine comes to your neighborhood, to help build up your immune system so that you can help protect yourself and your family from any kind of germ invader -- be it mad cow disease, bird flu, swine flu or anything else that Old MacDonald’s Farm o’ Pathogens can throw our way. And every single thing on this list is also excellent for your brain health!

1. Take a good multivitamin with plenty of vitamin C, garlic (there are many odorless garlic pills), and astragalus, a potent immunity builder. Garlic's antibiotic and antiviral properites are well known but astragalus and elderberry were new to me.

Below are statements from an article, "You can fight swine flu" that certainly piqued my curiosity. I now include them in my Dr. Mom kit!(http://www.acupuncturelongbeach.com/swineflu.pdf)

* "UCLA just completed a study looking at the effectiveness of Astragalus and found that it greatly enhances the body's ability to produce anti-viral properties," said Hensle. "It should be taken at the first sign of an illness coming on."

* "Other herbs, such as sambucol (elderberry extract), also have proved to be potent immune system boosters. Elderberry is a plant known for its remarkable ability to prevent colds and flu. It can be purchased in liquid form or capsules at independent health food stores and larger supermarkets, such as Wild Oats, Whole Foods Market and Clark's Nutrition Center.

* According to www.diagnose-me.com, sambucol was tested on patients during the massive Israeli flu epidemic in 1992 and 1993. The results were amazing. Within 24 hours, 20 percent of all patients had dramatic improvements in their symptoms. By the second day, 73 percent were improved. By day three, the figure jumped to 90 percent."


2. Drink black or green tea with honey (honey has wonderful antibiotic properties) to start your day. (Chamomile herb tea with honey in the evening to wind down your day.)My mother swears by dark stevia, a natural sweetener, that she's used for years with nary a sniffle! She says you've got to use the dark kind for it to be effective.

3.Take probiotics or enjoy yogurts with active cultures like Activia or Dan Active on a regular basis. (Also eat something "live" with something "dead" -- fruit, fresh vegies, etc. with meat or dairy. Your digestion and immunity will thank you.)

4. Drink one smoothie a day (see my favorite Blueberry Smoothie recipe at the end of this post) to ensure you are getting plenty of fiber and antioxidants. (You can put your yogurt in here!) A good immune system has much to do with a healthy gut, and fiber plus probiotics are key. (Plus garlic to help keep bad stuff, like candida yeast, down.)

5. Sleep well and if you don’t, try melatonin or a supplement with GABA and/or magnesium in the evening to help you sleep better.

6. Take periodic “healing” baths -- Epsom salt or sea salt (1/2 to 1 c.) with baking soda (1/2 to 1 c.) and few drops of lavender is one of my favorite “feel better” rituals. It helps pull toxins out of your body and relaxes you for sleep.

7. Exercise – Oxygen is a key nutrient for the brain and body. Just walking a few minutes can have a restorative effect. I took my first yoga class today and loved it! There really is no antidepressent with all positive side effects, like exercise.

8. Take 10 to chill. A couple of times a day, if you can manage it… take ten minutes completely relax your body going from head to toe until you are limp. Breathe slowly and deeply. Some new studies also show that yawning, several times in a row, can be a highly effective way to both relax and restart your engines! Soft music in the back ground can facilitate relaxation, as can aromas like vanilla or lavender. (Use nontoxic candles or essential oils rather than waxy artificial candles).

9. If you can afford a massage --- by all means get one as a special treat now and then!

10. Laugh -- one comedy a day can keep the doctor away! Collect funny friends, sign up for funny emails, talk to a 3 year old… whatever floats your humor boat.

11. Gratitude – adopt an attitude of gratitude and positivity; just say a mental “thank you” prayer to the Creator for all the good things around you as you notice them. Positive people consistently fight off germs better than negative, complaining folk.

12. Nurture Relationships – a network of loving friendships and family, along with a loving marriage (with healthy sex life) is one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system. Hugging, touching, even stroking a pet builds immunity.

13. Follow The Joy Diet! (Plenty of fruits and veggies, healthy oils, lean meat and fish, whole grains and dairy products if you don’t have an allergy to them. Organic and fresh in season when possible. It is listed in detail in This is Your Brain on Joy.)


(Along with the above, of course, washing your hands fairly frequently is also helpful!!)


Swine Flu… Schmine Flu.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry… for tomorrow you have a lot to live for!


Becky’s Feel Better Blueberry Smoothie

1 c. orange juice
1 c. frozen blueberries
1 banana
1 dan active yogurt drink (I like vanilla)
1 emergen-c packet
1 T. protein powder( or more vanilla yogurt if you like..)
dollop of honey (has antibiotic properties)
a little ice if desired
Blend, blend, blend... should serve 2!

(Vary according to your taste....)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Blue Cheese-Pineapple Teriyaki Burgers



These moist, savory burger babies are rich enough to serve without a bun. We had them tonight in toasted Orowheat sandwich rounds. A good side would be baked sweet potato "fries" and a crisp tomato & cucumber salad.


Here's all there is to it:

2 lb ground beef
1 T. grill seasoning (sometimes called Montreal or Canadian seasoning)
3 T. crumbled blue cheese
1/4 c. finely diced canned pineapple (or crushed pineapple, drained)
1/4. c. Teriyaki sauce

Mix all together lightly and press (again, using a light touch for moist burgers) into patties, Grill or cook in a skillet.

When done, brush with a little bit more Teriyaki sauce, a tad of blue cheese or a grilled pineapple if you like.

Easy, but particularly delicious burgers!

Becky's Green Lemonade NRG Booster


(This is a pic of my youngest son Gabe and the love of his life, Aleks. Yes, you, too, can look like this if you just drink your greens every day!)



(The ingredients for my Green Lemonade shots!)

My son Gabe and his girlfriend Aleks went to lunch with Greg and me today. Gabe was getting a cold and Aleks said, "I just told him, don't worry. We're going to your mom's today. She'll fix you up."

One of my friends calls me Medicine Mountain Woman because I always have a wide variety of concoctions on hand to help cure whatever ails you. So I gave Gabe a take-home baggie with astragalas, garlic and elderberry tablets, along with a vitamin C powder. But before he left, I asked, "Do you two want me to make you green drink before you go ?"

To which both nodded enthusiastically, "Yes!"

This is one of Gabe & Alek's favorite energy boosters, and mine too. It actually tastes delicious and refreshing. But I make it in small "shots" -- about 1/2 c. over ice so you can drink it quickly before the green powder unmixes...

In a small juice glass:

Squeeze 1/2 lemon or lime
1 t. green powder (from health food store, I like Kyo-Greens brand pictured above)
1 T. L-carnatine liquid, citrus flavored by NOW products (great tasting stuff & this amino really gives you a non-shaky boost of energy and is excellent for heart health.)
Squirt of agave nectar or real maple syrup; or Stevia to taste

About 1/4 c. to 1/2 c. water
When you sip, it should taste like lemonade or lime-aid with just a little bit of that "freshly mowed lawn" freshness. :) So good.

I like mine over ice and drink it straight, like a cowboy downing his whisky at a bar.

Only it won't make you tipsy, just puts you in a good mood and increases your energy.

I like this at mid-morning and mid-afternoon on days when I need some extra zippidy in my doo-dah.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Oriental Chicken with "Peanut Sauce" Dressing


The first time I tasted a Thai Peanut Sauce, I loved it. If you don't love the peanut flavor, you can still make this dressing and it will be delicious -- just leave out the peanut butter.

For the salads put in each bowl:
Chopped lettuce (I like romaine)
Grated carrot
1/4 c. drained Mandarin oranges
1 T. sliced almonds
1 T. chopped green onions
(Optional: sprinkle of chopped cilantro for garnish if you like it)
Then on top of each salad place some sliced/diced chicken from a roasted chicken. Sam's had incredible bargains on these -- antibiotic free, big and plump and under $5.00.

Then, drizzle the following dressing on top of all:

Peanut Sauce Dressing

1/3 c. oil (I like olive oil)
2 T. rice vinegar (or other mild vinegar of your choice)
Juice from 1/2 fresh lime
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Sweet Thai Chili sauce (If you don't have this, use 1 T. honey plus 1 minced clove garlic and dash hot sauce)
1 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
(I keep pieces of ginger in small Ziploc bag in freezer and just grate it frozen, into whatever dish I'm cooking)
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 t. salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Stir with small whisk or fork until nice and smooth. Makes a great dipping sauce as well as dressing.

As you can see from these pics, I served these with 1/2 of those new sandwich rounds from Orowheat. (Just 50 calories and lots of fiber in each half.) I mixed a little whipped butter with a bit of garlic and parmesan cheese, spread on the sandwich rounds and placed face down in a skillet until browned and warm. Cut in 1/2 and served tucked into the salad.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Crunchy Coconut Cod, Thai Style




You may have heard and read that coconut oil seems to be beneficial for a variety of health issues from immunity, to heart health to weight loss and stress reduction. As with all things, moderation is key, but I love cooking with it. It is perfect for this recipe, giving a nice extra coconut flavor to the fish coating.

(For more information see: http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-oils/organic-coconut-oil/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.html)

This is a delicious recipe for any mild, firm white fish, like cod. Of course, the fresher the fish, better!

4 cod fillets
1 - 2 egg whites
1 c. panko bread crumbs (You can get these in the Oriental section of any grocery store, but I like to get bags of them at World Market because they are cheaper.)
1/4 c. coconut (I like unsweetened flakes but you can use the sweetened variety as well)
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/2 t. garlic powder

Towel dry cod fillets and then dip in egg white. Mix the next 5 ingredients together and gently coat the fillets. (You can also do this same procedure for coconut shrimp but you'll need more oil for cooking -- about 1/2 inch in a big skillet.)

Heat coconut oil in skillet (about 1/8 inch)to medium high. Saute fillets until they are crispy on the outside and flake easily with a fork.

I like to put a nice squiggle of Thai chili sauce on the plate, put fish on top of that, and then a slice of lime for garnish.

I served this with very thinly sliced small, golden potatoes sauteed in just a little olive oil butter, garlic, and seasoned with salt & pepper --- and a green salad.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things





(Salzburg, Austria: The garden from The Sound of Music. Greg & I with castle behind us. The entry to the mountain top castle restaurant where the following story unfolded.)




Two years ago, Greg and I were sitting in a restaurant at the top of a castle in Austria, overlooking Maria Von Trapp's beloved and breathtaking alps. We'd just walked through the famous garden where the children and Julie Andrew's "Maria" had played and sang, "Do, Re, Me" in their clothes made from discarded draperies. (Maria must have had a tad of the creative spirit of Scarlet O'Hara, at least for transforming curtains into clothing, beneath her nun's habit.)

To our left, around a table, sat a happy, noisy family with foreign faces and foreign accents. (I would later find out they were Iranians living in L A on their first trip to Austria.) The mama of the group surveyed the beauty around us and as if unable to contain her joy, burst forth singing "My Favorite Things" -- but she kept stumbling as she struggled to remember all the verses. What was I to do, but join in and help her? After all, I have had every word to every song from The Sound of Music memorized since I was in second grade.

She beamed and encouraged and, in short, this is how I found myself in the most interesting impromptu performance of my life : singing a spunky duet about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens with a Middle Eastern stranger, in a crowded restaurant atop a castle in Austria. Her husband, equally gung-ho, took out his video to record the moment. (I am assuming to save & send in to Europe's "Funniest Home Videos.") As I and my dark-eyed-red-lipsticked-bejeweled singing partner finished up with a rousing, "And then I don't feeeeel.. so bad!" Greg just smiled serenely, as if to say, "This is my beloved wife, with whom, at least, I will never be bored."

That's a pretty elaborate introduction to the topic of this post, which would be, "What are a few of your favorite things?" Which led me to think of the little items or rituals that contribute to the overall joy in my life.

Here's a few things that sprung to mind :

1. Bigelow Lemon Body Cream. It makes me so happy I buy it in 32 ounce jars and smear it on both morning and night. It is the closest one can come to bathing in lemon meringue pie, twice daily. I'm equally enamored of their lemon lip balms.

2. An ear, nose & throat doc recommended that I try something called a sinus rinse by Neil Med. Just google it, at it is not pleasant to describe the process by which one uses this product, but it has added significantly to my quality of life in dry Colorado. Like warm, comforting sea water to dry Sahara sinuses.

3. Starbucks Rooibos Vanilla Tea Latte. It's the most comforting warm drink this side of hot apple cider with heavy cream.

4. Lara Bars. My friend Sue introduced me to them. They typically only have 3 ingredients: dates, nuts and another natural flavoring. It was love at first bite.

5. My supplements, whose praises have been extolled in detail in another post, because they contribute to the happy chemicals in my head.

6. Library Day -- I adore library day, and the vision of a big stack of books on my bedside table awaiting exploring.

7. My Porch Swing -- I once wrote a book called A View from the Porch Swing. What's not to love about what is basically a rocking cradle for grownups? Set in my backyard garden, with a canopy, pillows and a nice cup o' tea nearby .. is heaven.

8. Kashi Waffles smeared with butter & Nutella. It's health food meets decadence. And probably describes my approach to food. I'm happy to go healthy if it tastes good, or if, at the very least you can smear it in chocolate until it tastes good.

9. Herbal Mint bubble bath. I adore my baths, take at least 2 -3 a day. This is also where Greg and I hold our "Bathtub Board Meetings" when we want to relax and talk. You would not believe how many creative titles and problems we've solved under the influence of hot water and bubbles.


10. My favorite ritual of all: Every morning for the last 5 years, when I come down the stairs, there is a smiling man waiting to greet me, hug me and welcome me to the day. As I start down the first few steps, I hear him say, "Do I hear my little mouse?" and then I squeak something out because I am mostly unable to talk before caffiene. Then he gazes at me, no matter how morning-disheveled I am, as if I were Audrey Hepburn descending the stairs in her evening gown from My Fair Lady. Next, he holds me close as both of us bask in the gratitude that we get to live to be married to each other for one more precious day. It is the closest thing I can imagine could happen on earth to being wrapped in the love of God.

Kids, too, have their love of little things and routines. Greg and I love that our grandsons have their favorite things to play with at our house. Nate and Georgie and Titus know where all the good stuff is... from Poppy's magic magnetic rocks (in the living room table drawer) to puzzles to the basket of books and Disney videos, to 3 kinds of blocks, to the farm house & animals, and the big bucket of sports balls outside. Their playtime at Poppy and Nonnie's house is not complete until they've made their rounds to each of their favorite things. Most of the toys, books, etc. were picked up for a song at garage sales. But oh, the joy we've squeezed out of those fifty cent puzzles and 75 cent Disney videos.

There's an old poem with the line: "I come in the little things, saith the Lord" -- and isn't it true that it is the little things, for the most part, strung together like memory pearls, that bring us the greatest joy? Rituals of married love (good morning kisses, spooning at night); rocking a baby to sleep in the porch swing; a good cup of tea, a stack of books, a hot bubble bath or a nice citrus scented lotion.

Or.... raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

Or.... singing about them with a dark-eyed stranger at the top of an Austrian alp.

And what, I wonder, are a few of your favorite things?