Friday, October 29, 2010

Creating a More Spacious Life

(This is a picture from the top of a mountain, taken when my son Gabe asked me, spontaneously, to drive up and join him at his campsite for dinner one evening. Because there was "margin" in my life, I could accept the invitation and it will always be one of my best memories with my boy.)

A wise friend of mine once said, "First, there is the life you learn from; then, there is the life you live."

If that is true, then one of the things I gleaned in The Life I Learned From is that I blossom best in certain environments. My "element" is being in a loving marriage; prioritizing time with family and dear friends; plenty of free time with breathing space for creativity and rest, particularly after a day of giving or focusing on others. One of the perks of hitting mid-life, it seems to me, should be designing a life you love waking up to, based on all those decades of learning about what brings out your best self.

I have experienced what it feels like to have 5000 people standing and applauding a speech I just gave. I know what it is like to write books that thousands of people read and enjoy. And it was wonderful. But it was nothing compared to the "story "my four year old grandson Nate dictated to me last week, where he had me write: "Nonnie and me have been BEST friends." I have lived widely; now I want to live deeply. I've lived large;now I cherish one on one time with family, fewer friends, fewer activities, fewer projects. And I want to savor and enjoy what I do include in my life much more.

If you resonate with this and want to create more breathing room in your life in general, to do less but do it with focus and care, here's one way to begin the journey.

Make 3 Lists.

In list #1: write down the activities & people that you love AND that leave you energized.

In list #2: write down the activities and people that you feel passionate about, and want to prioritize, but... if you are honest, they are energy drainers. That's okay, you want these things or people in your life, but you need to preserve energy for them.

In list #3: write down activities and people you do not enjoy at all, but feel an obligation to keep in your life, either out of guilt or necessity.

Now, take a hard look at List #3. Take your time, this doesn't have to be done in a day.
Now, see if you can do one of three things with this last list:

1. Cross it out and fuggedaboutit
2. Delegate it or if you can afford to -- hire it out. Or barter it away with creative trading.
3. If you have to do the activity or see this person -- see if you can minimize the amount of time it (or the person) takes, or minimize the amount of brain space or emotional energy you "rent" to it. Or, make seeing the person or handling the task more enjoyable by rewarding yourself either during or shortly afterwards with something pleasurable and restorative.

For example, one of the activities I don't yet enjoy very much is exercising. But, if I can listen to an audio book as I walk, or chat and walk with my husband, it is easier. Even pleasurable. I could also reward myself in some way. Perhaps after a week of walking 10 miles, I treat myself to a cute work-out T shirt. Or I walk to Starbucks and reward myself with a cold Tazo tea and a healthy treat when I arrive.

If you have friend or relative whom you care about, but find yourself stressed or drained after time with them, see if you can orchestrate your time with them in a way that is less mentally exhausting. Can you see a movie or meet at a restaurant, rather than having them to your home where they may tend to linger too long? Can you kill two birds with one stone, and walk with them as you talk, rather than sitting and talking?
Also, on days when you have to do a lot of List #2 or #3 items, try to space them apart with days that have more List #1 items. When given a choice, cushion your difficult days or high energy days with days of ease or pleasure.

You may think that if you just push, push, push without breaks that you'll get more done or get all caught up. News Flash: The Land of All Caught Up is like Neverland or the Land of Oz. It never really arrives and when you look back on your life; trust me, you don't want to look back in regret, having missed the moments that make it worth the journey.

Truth is: I write better and generate more creative ideas when I take time to be with friends who energize me. I counsel and listen more deeply and love others with more focus when I've taken time to be alone and have filled my tank by reading, or journaling or simply putzing around doing whatever I want to do at any given moment. I'd even go out on a limb and say that when I live my life with more pleasurable spaces, between the more energy-draining stuff, that I get twice as much accomplished. Because I'm more fully present and energized for the tasks at hand, they get done with more ease and less angst.

Finally, for myself, I'd like enough free space or margin in my life that I can graciously adjust to an interruption, a real pressing need that pops up. I'd like to be, in a word... more available. Somebody needs to be available in a world when everyone is so busy they can hardly take time to breathe, much less slow down enough to soothe a hurt, or rock a baby, bring a casserole, or listen deeply to a child's inner thoughts. I realize this was not always possible when I was raising small children and juggling a busy career; so I am enormously grateful to finally be able to live a more spacious life.
"Actually,margin is not a spiritual necessity. But availability is. God expects us to be available for the needs of others. And without margin, each of us would have great difficulty guaranteeing availability. Instead, when God calls, He gets a busy signal." from the book Margin by Dr.Richard Swenson

Warm Spinach-Bacon Salad with Goat Cheese & Tomatoes

This is one of my favorite go-to spinach salads. Here's a recipe for two.

Pan fry 4 slices of bacon in a small skillet.
(I like to use the thin pieces of pre-cooked bacon, weighing in at only 70 calories for all 4 slices and cooks up quickly)

Remove the bacon, drain and crumble for topping the salad later, leaving about 1 teaspoon or less of of bacon drippings in the pan. To the pan about 1/8 cup of any oil & vinegar based dressing (I like Balsamic or Italian) and 1/8 c. a sweet French type dressing (I like Catalina). Stir, and warm the dressings until just bubbling.

Pour desired amount of dressing over two individual salad bowls of spinach, sliced tomatoes, bits of goat cheese (or feta or blue or Gorgonzola cheese) and a few toasted pine nuts. The hot dressing will soften the spinach a bit. Top with reserved bacon crumbles and serve.
Serves 2.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Best Ever 'Nana Pudding or Banana Cream Pie with Almond Coconut Crust

My son, Gabe, is a 'Nana Puddin' gourmet, always in search of pudding perfection. He declares this recipe the BEST. I've worked a long time on perfecting the recipe so that it is just right-but-not-too-sweet, and fail proof. No reason to make pudding from a box, or try to hide the boxed taste by adding cream cheese, Cool Whip and sweetened condensed milk-- which boggles the mind and taste buds.

Using both brown & white sugar adds a smooth subtle caramel tone, and because with this method you don't have to temper the eggs, I've never issues with floating "egg bits" or flour lumps.

I've also included a recipe for a wonderful crunchy pie crust made with graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds if you prefer to make a banana cream pie instead of a pudding. My sister Rachel is a huge banana cream pie fan so I created this recipe for her, which provoked an eyes rolled to heaven response upon taking the first bite.

Vanilla-Scotch Cream Filling

3 cups whole milk
1/3 c. white sugar and 1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
(may use up to 1/2 t. if you are using it in pudding... the pie shell, however has enough saltiness from the butter that you want to err on the side of less salt if using this as pie filling)
3 large egg yolks, well beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

With a wire whisk (use a heatproof rubber coated whisk if you are using nonstick pots)-- stir together all the dry ingredients in the bottom of a large sauce or soup pan.

In a separate large bowl, beat egg yolks well and slowly add milk , whisking, until there are no little “egg bits” and it’s one creamy mixture.

Slowly whisk the milk/egg mixture into the dry ingredients over a medium high heat, stirring constantly. It will take a while, but when the mixture begins to bubble and boil, count sloooowly to 60 because you want to make sure it boils the full minute. (If it looks like it is going to boil over, turn down the heat a bit.) Remove from heat and stir in 2 T. of butter and 1 t. vanilla.

For Pudding: Layer cooled pudding with Nabisco brand vanilla wafers and about 3-4 sliced bananas, ending with wafers and topping with whipping cream just before serving. Gabe prefers his pudding cold, served within an hour so the wafers aren't too soggy, waiting to top with fresh vanilla wafers just before serving so you also get a nice crunch.

Whipped Cream

Whip a small container of whipping cream. (Or however much you want.. a cup of whipping cream makes plenty for one pie.) Slowly whip in a few Tablespoons of powdered sugar – to taste - and 1 t. vanilla. (I like regular whipping cream much better than heavy whipping cream and using powdered sugar instead of sugar to sweeten as helps it stay “whipped” in a Tupperware in the fridge for several days.)

Banana Cream Pie with Almond-Coconut Crust

(Follow directions above for pudding, let pudding cool and slice in 3 bananas or as many as you like. Pour into pie shell below and top with whipped cream. Best served within an hour after filling is in the shell. You can also refrigerate the filling (without bananas) make the crust ahead of time and assemble the pie 30 minutes to one hour before serving. )

½ stick salted butter, melted

¼ c. almond slivers

1 c. graham cracker crumbs – (store bought, in baking aisle)

¼ c. finely grated, preferably unsweetened, coconut

Mix melted butter with graham cracker crumbs. Pat into a pie pan. Sprinkle almond slivers on bottom of pie crust. Bake at 350 about 5 minutes to let it harden and to toast the almonds.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Chill in the Air" Clam Chowder

(View from our backyard this week! Can you feel the autumn nip in the air?)

The first real chill in the air came to Colorado this week and with it, a hankering for good clam chowder, the sort we once tasted on our trip to Boston and Cape Cod a few years ago. There is nothing worse, to me, than a bowl of clam chowder that tastes like thick white gravy.... so I don't use any flour to thicken. Just pure cow's cream. We don't have clam chowder that often, and some things in this life simply call for heavy cream, no substitutes. This is one of them. This recipe is generous on the clams, as well. If you use small golden potatoes you don't need to peel them and they hold up very well in chowders.

However, I'm all about quick and easy, so I used some Ziploc steam bags to help speed up the process. Here's how I put it together:

In a Ziploc steaming bag place 2 peeled carrots & 4 -5 small golden potatoes (skin on)
Nuke 4 minutes, while you saute 1/4 onion and 2 stalks celery, diced, in a little olive oil until tender-crisp in a soup pot. (You can cover pan to speed cooking, since you don't need to brown these.)

Greg doesn't like the texture of onions & celery, so at this point I blended them with 1 c. vegetable broth into unrecognizable flavor:) For those who enjoy the texture of onions & celery, simply add 1. c. vegetable broth (or chicken broth), a minced garlic clove and 1 bay leaf to the pan. Simmer. It is okay for the broth to reduce by as much as a half, as there's plenty of liquid to come!

When carrots and potatoes are tender, let cool to touch, release from steam bag, then dice and add to vegies in broth. (Greg loves corn, so I also added about 1/2 cup frozen baby white and yellow corn at this point. Totally optional.) Continue to simmer and then...

Add 4 small cans chopped clams, with juice. (6.5 oz each, I used Snow's brand.)

Heat through, gently. (Clams can get tough with too much simmering.)

To this add 1 pint heavy cream. You may also want to add a little sherry or dash of white wine. Some recipes even call for a tad of scotch.

Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. I like a little heat so I used a dash of Tony's cajun seasoning as well (or dash of cayenne or Tabasco would also work). If you like a hint of sweetness, a little pinch of sugar is nice. Finally, remove bay leaf.

Serve with a nice crusty bread and salad or fresh fruit slices.

Monday, October 18, 2010

3 Minute Chocolate Cake in a Mug: "The Most Dangerous Cake in the World"

Sometimes dubbed "The Most Dangerous Cake in the World" this recipe has made its way from email inbox to inbox, satisfying cravings for "something chocolate" in no time, with ingredients most of us have on hand.

I made this today with my grandsons, who thought it was mighty cool! And this Nonny was duly impressed as well. Makes enough for two servings, and best served warm with vanilla ice cream!

Chocolate Cake in a Mug

1 large coffee mug

4 tbls. flour (plain..not self -rising)

4 tbls. sugar

2 tbls. cocoa

1/8 t. baking powder

1/8 t. salt

1 egg

3 tbls. milk (may substitute strong coffee instead for mocha flavor)

3 tbls.oil

2 tbls. chocolate chips (optional)1

1 tbls. chopped pecans

small splash of vanilla

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.

Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.

Add the chocolate chips and/or nuts (if using) and vanilla, and mix again.

Put the mug in the microwave and cook for around 2 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave, you may want to cook it for a little less or a little longer but it is best not over cooked)

Remove from mug and share 1/2 with a friend, husband, child or grandchild - if you are in a sharing frame of mind:) A dollop of vanilla ice cream makes it extra special. A squiggle of chocolate syrup on top of that, makes it decadent.

Play Dough: Recipe to Amaze & Entertain the Kids & Grandkids!

(Two of our grandsons, Nate and Titus, happily making their own creations and Poppy & Nonny's house.)

Make this recipe in a jiffy, and you will never buy commercial stiff, smelly, easily-dried out play dough again.

This dough stays soft in a Ziploc bag for months and months. It also handles being left out of the bag, without drying out.

Nate & Titus, age 4 and 2, played with it for 3 hours today! So you get an awful lot of playtime creative bang for your buck. I bought a big bag of plastic cookie cutters at an antique store for $2.00 and then gave the boys plastic knives, forks and spoons and a rolling pin. Nate normally has a hard time staying interested in any one toy for long, but play dough fun allowed his creative mind to go wild.

(Nate, wearing his Batman costume while rolling out play dough. Super Heroes cook too!)

In addition, its fun to watch how quickly it comes together on the stove, which can impress the kids.

Best Ever Play-Dough


1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Food coloring by drops

Begin by mixing the salt and flour together, then add the rest of the ingredients.
Cook and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat. (Easiest if you use a nonstick Teflon-type pan, and I prefer to use a big soup pan because it comes together faster.) It will get thicker, and look lumpy. Turn heat down a bit at this point but keep stirring until it turns in to one big smooth round ball of dough, following the spoon around the pan. Cook until you can touch it (carefully, obviously it is hot!) without it sticking to your finger.

Immediately turn out dough onto cool counter. When cool to touch, knead it a bit and then, it is ready to go. Keep in Ziploc bag (with air squished out of it) when not in use.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

LaRae's Harvest Butternut Soup

I just finished two bowls of a delicious butternut soup, full of flavor, creaminess and a touch of sweet from the squash and apple. It tasted like an autumn harvest in a bowl. Looking at the ingredients, it is also chocked full of nutrition and fabulous fiber. Finally, it is also vegetarian friendly and if you sub almond, soy or coconut milk for the half and half, it could easily be vegan.

I owe a big thanks to LaRae Weikert, for this recipe, who not only has good taste in food, but is one of my favorite editors and one of my most beloved, interesting and kind friends. Whenever we visit my husband's hometown of Eugene, Oregon, I love to meet with the 3 Amigos, all editors or writers: Carolyn McCready, Hope Lyda, and LaRae. I can count on those gals to pick a yummy restaurant and dive into interesting, honest, deep conversations with plenty of laughter on the side.

I titled LaRae's recipe, "Harvest Butternut Soup" as a nod to the publishing company (Harvest House) that these three beautiful women have worked with many years, and who published 9 of my books. Harvest House has been, far and away, my all time favorite publisher to work with and these three women have a lot to do with that.

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
1 apple chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Combine the squash (I roasted the squash in the oven for about 30 mins. and then added it to the vegetables and apple), celery, carrot, onion, and apple with the broth in a sauce pan. Cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Slightly cool the mixture before processing in blender or Cuisinart until pureed. Add enough half-and-half to make the soup creamy. (Becky's note: check seasonings to see if you may need to add a little sea salt or pepper.) Add a little nutmeg for flavor. Cook in a sauce pan over medium heat just until heated through.

Becky's Notes:
I topped my soup with a few buttered croutons, as you see in the picture above, but was thinking it would also be delicious topped with a teaspoon of roasted pumpkin seeds or pinenuts and perhaps a small dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Tip: If you are in a hurry, these steaming bags are real time-savers.

I used one to cook the butternut squash, another to cook the carrots and apple (I left the peel on, just removed seeds). It only takes 3 minutes in the microwave. While these vegies were cooking, I sauteed the onions and celery in a tiny bit of olive oil. Then continued cooking as directed above.

Another time-saver is to use frozen butternut squash, which usually works very well in soups.

What My Friend's Cancer is Teaching Me: Newly Updated, Julie's Pathology Report!

(Me and Julie, all dressed up for her radiation appointment. She's beautiful here, but when she's finished with steroids, her cheeks will be shrinking back to normal again. )

About two years ago, thanks to facebook, I was privileged to get back in touch with a dear friend from my youth, Julie Garvin Luce. It had been 30 years since we'd seen each other but the years faded into nothing as we slipped so easily back into friendship, only deeper and wiser from the joys and heartaches of the years that had passed. I had survived a painful divorce, Julie had survived debilitating chronic illnesses. But what we had in common was our dogged determination to find lessons in loss and to grab joy with both hands wherever it could be found, the way a drowning person grabs a life-preserver. That and our faith that God was never absent from us, even in the darkest days. We saw each other several more times and caught up with long phone calls as well.

Then, Julie went through another huge trial: a divorce after her longterm marriage. While she was still in the earliest days of recovery from that ordeal, I received a phone call saying, "Becky I wanted to call you and tell you I love you and all is well. But I am going into surgery for a brain tumor they just found today, and just in case I am unable to talk to you again, I want to thank you for your friendship and all it has meant to me."

Julie went through that surgery and to the absolute shock and surprise of the medical staff, came through it with flying colors. There were some rollercoastering times following this, however... a seizure that did affect her speech, ability walk, swallow,and read.The doctors could not get all of the tumor but as Julie explained it, it was the size of a lime and they got all but the "rind." With Julie's joyful outlook and unwavering faith and great medical, friend and family support, she learned to walk, talk and read and eat normally again in just two short months.

Julie just finished 7 weeks of chemo and radiation. I was privileged to fly to be with her in California a couple of weeks ago, and while we were eating a simple stew dinner she said, "I am the happiest I've ever been right now." And when I asked why, she smiled and said, "Because I don't have to try so hard, I can just live."

Before I left for Colorado, she crossed another huge milestone and drove herself to her treatments: the first time behind the wheel since she had surgery in July.

There seems to be a certain clarity that comes to those faced with their own mortality via a potentially terminal diagnosis. My daughter's pastor, Matt Chandler, was also diagnosed with a brain tumor this year and in a recent interview he said, "The reality is that I could die in the next couple of years or I could live another 20, and that’s exactly where everybody is. I just get to live on the cliff without all the fog. Most people live on the cliff with a bunch of fog, unaware that today could be their last."

Julie has her first appointment with the doctor to hear the results of the chemo and radiation on October 20. (And if you are the praying sort, I know she would appreciate prayers on that day.) I truly believe that the results will be startling and positive, simply because Julie's been amazing the doctors from day one. But no matter the results, Julie will choose joy and live every day of her life with gratitude, the same way she lived it before the cancer.

What if, without a serious diagnosis, we could learn from Matt and Julie and live with less fog, see more clearly what mattered? And what if, we stopped trying so hard and just decided to live? What would that look like in your life, and mine, today?

Happy Postscript Added to This Blog Post, October 21, 2010

Good News!!!! The tumor is gone! Today at UCLA Nuero-Oncology they had all three of my brainscans up next to each other on these special monitors. It was amazing to see the stages of my brain cancer recovery right on front of my own eyes!

Here's what it looked like:
Scan #1....(7/27/10) pre-operation MRI showing my huge, lime-sized tumor in my brain.
Scan #2....(7/29/10) post-op MRI shows empty cavity where tumor had been thick piece of tumor "rind" left.
Scan #3...(10/18/10) the post treatment MRI shows the cavity completely filled in except for a pea-sized indention surrounded by a tiny scar.

As a preventive measure, I start the maintenance "standard of care" tomorrow. Chemotherapy, in pill form, at home for 5 days then off for 22 days...then 5 days on 22 continue for one year. I'll have labs and scans throughout the year.

So please keep praying! I guess God is still in the business of miracles!!

Lotsa Love to all,

Also, as a result of Kristi's comment below, Julie has joined up with the Tribe to help cover her medical bills. Such a fun easy way to show some tangible love. Thank you, Kristi! Most of you know the statistics of a woman's income following a divorce... in Julie's case, not only did her income drop to nothing, but she was unable to work having to put every but of her flagging energy into Survival Mode to beat this tumor.

Hello friends & family,

So many of you have ask for ways to financially support me as my medical costs rise and I am unable to work. This week a friend shared with me a creative way to do just that through the Human Tribe Project. This organization was created to help cancer patients bridge the gap between insurance coverage and real costs. As in my case despite having insurance, many cancer patients incur large debts as they undergo treatment.

At the Human Tribe Project, they sell really cool, custom dog tag, jewelry that can be purchased for as little as $20. 100% of the money is given directly to pay a bill or cover a medical expensefor me. The Tribe Tags include three charms: a Human Tribe Project tag, a Tribe Print charm symbolizing the common thread that connects us all, and a personalized charm bearing my initial, "J". They can be worn as a sixteen inch or eighteen and a half inch necklace or carried on a two and a half inch key chain. Tags are sold in the Tribe Tag Store on my Human Tribe Page.

*Nickel Plated Steel Tribe Tags sell for $20, $15 of which is given directly to me as a tax-free gift.

*Sterling Silver Tribe Tags sell for $100, $75 of which is given directly to me as a tax-free gift.

If you'd like to purchase Julie's Tribe Tag go to You'll have to register as a member as you did here on my Caring Bridge site.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Caramelized Scallops

Today I had a headache and needed something nutritious and delicious I could make in no time. No groceries in the house so to the seafood counter at Whole Foods I went.

I picked out 10 large beautiful wild caught scallops and drove home trying not to look at the price tag. ($20.00!!! But, these are gourmet quality... best scallops ever.)

I washed them gently with fresh water, and patted them completely dry with paper towels. Light dusting of sea salt and light sprinkle of sugar on top.

In a large skillet I put a squiggle of olive oil, a smashed garlic clove (to flavor oil, remove later) and a pat of butter and heated until screaming hot. Put scallops on, seasoned side down (try not to pack them next to each other) and while they are getting a gorgeous caramel brown, sprinkle the other side with sea salt and light sprinkle of sugar. Cook only until both sides are a deep beautiful brown and remove, drain excess oil if needed, on a paper towel.

Tonight I served them over large ribbon noodles tossed with a little bit of butter and olive oil and Parmesan cheese. (Though this pic above was taken on another occasion when I used angel hair pasta.) Serve in a nice wide pasta bowl with a generous slice of lemon. The fresh squeezed lemon is key.

A quick Ceasar salad (the easiest salad in the world if you use a good bought Ceaser dressing) and dinner was served. Greg and I nearly purred with contentment.

Sometimes the simplest dishes with quality ingredients really are the best and easiest. And worth every penny on special occasions like anniversary's, or a bad headache.

Today's Joy Snack: The Resting Cure

(My husband Greg and our 3 year old grandson Georgie, resting in the sun on an Oregan beach this summer)

I have been reading a wonderful book, Seeking Peace, the latest by best-selling author Mary Pipher. In many places I felt as though she must have been reading my life, my mind. Like me, Mary's brain tends toward overwhelm if not given lots of solitude, sunshine, books, quiet time and rest to balance the social, out-pouring part of her life. We, whose chemical make-ups lean toward anxiety, ignore these needs at our own peril. Meltdowns can occur with too much traveling, social interaction, information overload, stress, performance, over-scheduled days.

Mary called the time of her recovery from ten years of too much doing, the "resting cure." I love that. Here's some of what she did to reclaim her life.

"My initial act was to construct a gentler schedule for my life."

"I greatly reduced the amount of information I received from the outside world." This including reading any books about world disasters and substituting light novels and mysteries.

"I limited my encounters with people."

"I erased my calender engagments until I had three months of 'white space' in my future."

"I asked my doctor for antidepressents" (after resting,excercising and reading failed to help her mind calm enough to sleep)

"I finished with self-improvement projects I had launched my whole life.. I wanted to create a mental environment in which I viewed myself as someone who deserved to be understood and cherished, rather than criticized and improved."

"I spent hours with my old Siamese cat, Woody. I bought myself fresh flowers and herbal teas. I made pozole and chicken curry . To cool down my agitated brain, I played solitaire and listened to classical music. Dressed in sweat pants, T-shirts and thick warm socks, I watched the snowfall and the winter birds."

I do not know about you, but this sounds pretty much like paradise to me. I'm a person who loves people, but I probably prefer 60 percent of my time in solititude or with my husband, and 40 percent with people. I try to make sure we have two days of quiet before a day of socializing, as busy as our lives are with loving, caring for and entertaining people. This past summer, in June, I was close to meltdown from over-travel and people, my body felt sick and tired to its core. Greg gave me the gift of an entire unscheduled summer at home and to guilt-free ability say "no" to anything I wasn't up to doing. It was the best gift I've ever received, I think.

The following is an excerpt from a devotional God Calling, a page I have copied and shared with others in need of a good old-fashioned resting cure: to allow God, nature, and a simpler life to re-boot weary brains. Basking in the sunshine, like a happy lizard, is also curative for me, so I loved the references to sun in this piece.

May it be a blessing to you, as it has been to me.

August 17, Nature Laughs

I come, I come. You need Me. Live much out here. My sunshine, My glorious air, My Presence, My teaching.

Would they not make holiday anywhere for you. Sunshine helps to make glad the heart of man. It is the laughter of Nature.

Live much outside. My medicines are sun and air, trust and faith. Trust is the spirit sun, your being enwrapped by the Divine Spirit.

Faith is the soul's breathing in of the Divine Spirit. Mind, soul, and body need helping. Welcome My treatment for you both. Drawing near to Me.

Nature is often My nurse for tired souls and weary bodies. Let her have her way with you both.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Joy Snack for Today: With You, My Heart is at Home

Sometimes "home" is a place, sometimes it is a person. When I am with my husband, wrapped in his arms, no matter where we are... it is home for me. Who is your home? Who are you "home" to? What a gift it is to provide a place -- be it a therapist's office, a porch swing, a kitchen table, or a comfy couch -- where others can exhale, put their feet up, relax and simply be who they are in your welcoming, accepting presence.

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
Maya Angelou

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away." ~ George Eliott

"I found it shelter to speak to you." Emily Dickenson

A beloved hymn begins with the phrase, "Abide with me" and I've always loved this image. Abide means "to settle down and make yourself home with" someone. It is the joy of God to do this with us, the joy of humans to remember He's here, very near.

"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you." Jesus (John 15:4, The Message)

Joy Snacks: Quick Quotes & Quips for Today

(Joy Shot: Flowers sent to us by dear friend & fabulous therapist, Michele Weiner-Davis. Her friendship has been one of life's beautiful surprises.)

As you may have noticed, I've enjoyed posting recipes to this blog... but life's current busyness has left me feeling like a deer in the headlights when it comes to posting blogs about joy and the brain, a subject I love but have limited time to write about.

Today I realized, "What I love reading the most in my own inbox, and on facebook/twitter is quotes." In all honesty, I don't have time to read all the blogs I subscribe to, much less write them. Sound familiar?

However, I love to collect, digest and share snack-sized thoughts that make me ponder, focus on the good or on God, or chuckle aloud.

Soooooo...though I'll reserve the right to wax wordy on occasion, what I'd like to do between posting yummy recipes is post a random sampling of quotes to lift the heart. Sort of Super Brief Therapy, coming to your inbox with more regularity.

Here's today's Joy Snacks for Your Brain:

The surest way to find God is to go out to others: to love them, to accept them wherever they are, to care for them, to be patient with them. God is found both by the person who loves and by the person who is loved.
John Powell

Fast way to calm the brain? Train it to be here now. Ruminating over the past or fears of the future puts our brains in default mode of Anxious/Depressed loop.The cure: look around you,find something beautiful,touch or focus on it, be grateful, breathe. Be fully present now.Buddhists call this mindfulness.Jesus taught it in his "consider the lilies" sermonette. Whatever you call it, brain science shows it works. ~ Becky Johnson

And finally, your health tip of the day, from a series of cute cartoons sent to me by my beloved Aunt Ann: "If you put a crouton on top of your ice cream sundae instead of a cherry, it counts as a salad."

Or, heck, just keep the cherry on top and eat that ice cream with mindfulness and joy, because life, after all, is too short not to eat ice cream occasionally:)

For as Thornton Wilder wrote, "My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate."

May your day be filled to the brim with love, calm and joy!



Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pumpkin Pie with Hazelnut Cream, Caramel & Toasted Pecans

Want to take a simple Thanksgiving pumpkin pie to a whole new (eyes rolled heavenward) level?

Try it with a generous dollop of hazelnut whipped cream, a squiggle of caramel and toasted pecans. I did just that tonight and two men returned their plates to the kitchen but said, "Don't wash this. I am just waiting for there to be more room in my stomach so I can have another piece."

My favorite fool proof, childishly easy recipe for pumpkin pie is as follows. (And I always make two; one is never enough!)

Preheat oven to 425

1 16 oz can pureed pumpkin
1 can Eagle Brand (or other) sweetened condensed milk
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. powdered ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
2 eggs

Mix by hand until smooth with a wire whisk.

Poor into unbaked pie shell (I use Pillsbury refrigerated crusts) and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Then lower temp to 350 and bake another 20 - 30 minutes or until pie is set in the middle. While pie is cooking, toast about 1/2 cut of broken pecan pieces on a warm skillet on top of the oven. Watch closely, they burn quickly. (Ask me how I know:)

Top each pie slice with a generous dollop of freshly whipped hazelnut flavored cream (I prefer regular whipping cream to heavy whipping cream. It takes a little longer to whip but it never gets too stiff or butter-like.)
Sweeten cream, once it is whipped, with 1 T. hazelnut flavored agave nectar and powdered sugar (add 1 T. at a time until desired sweetness). I prefer using powdered sugar to granulated sugar in whipped cream because it helps the cream "hold its shape" and doesn't break down in the fridge should you have any leftovers.

Then drizzle whipping cream a heaping Tablespoon of commercial bottled caramel sauce and finally top with toasted pecans. Don't skip the toasting of the pecans as this really makes a huge difference.

Savory Autumn Beef Stew for a Crowd

This stew is rich and meaty, with slightly sweet and spicy tones. Perfect to serve a bunch for any Autumn or Halloween night party!

Into a large Reynold's oven bag (placed in a large pyrex pan) put:

3 lbs beef for stew (should already be cut in cubes -- Sam's sells theirs in 3 lb sizes)
Sprinkle meat with 1 T. Grill seasoning (or salt & pepper generously)
5 cloves garlic peeled & presses or diced
1 28 oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen Organic)
2 1/2 cups water
1 envelope Lipton onion soup

Squish ingredients around then tie up bag and roast for 3 hours at 350.

Take out of oven & let cool slightly, then carefully poor contents of oven bag into a large soup or stock pot. (Should be able to hold at least 1 and 1/2 gal of liquid)

Add to pot:

1 32 oz box of organic beef broth
1/2 c. catsup
1 bay leaf
1 t. paprika
1 T. brown sugar

Check seasonings at this point and salt and pepper to taste

Simmer very low uncovered for 1 more hour or until stew meat is as tender as you like it.

While stew is simmering, put 4 potatoes in oven to bake. When nearly fork tender and slightly cool, peel and dice the cooked potatoes, add to stew.

In microwave oven (using Steamer bags) cook 5-7 whole peeled carrots for 3 minutes or until done. Let cool, then slice and add to stew.

(The reason for pre-cooking potatoes and carrots before adding to the stew is they tend to turn to mush otherwise. This way the vegies hold their shape and I just think they taste better... fresher!)

Finally add:

1 lb frozen corn (I prefer baby white and gold corn)
1/2 lb frozen peas
(prefer baby peas)

Simmer until vegies are heated through.

To thicken stew, if you like, remove a ladle of broth, put in a small bowl, add flour one T. at a time until you've got a thick paste (about as thick as typical cornmeal batter). Add this mixture back into the stew, 1 T. at a time, stirring as it simmers until stew is thickness you like. Remember it will also thicken up a bit as it cools, so err on the side of a thinner gravy.

Serve with hot corn muffins, and if you like, a dollop of sour cream.

Serves 12.