Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The season of what?

From a United Way promotion for "Giving Tuesday",
A common set of sensations seems to drape themselves around me at this time of year. I've noticed the pattern for the past decade or so, and more acutely over the past six years. It's a sense of despair, disappointment, disenchantment, and emptiness rolled into a container of grumpiness, stinginess, and guilt. Bells for the Salvation Army are ringing on a multitude of street corners. Non-profits and other charitable entities step up their call for donations. Workplaces put out the plea to co-workers, and retailers urge you to find the best gifts at the best prices at their stores. Coupled with these entreaties to give are holiday parties: RSVPs just when you are about to be buried in student assignments, and requests for a home-baked potluck. Calls to join cookie-baking contests, and to participate in every single imaginable form of holiday cheer. The end result for me is sadness and guilt. I start to feel like a stingy selfish penny pincher, wondering why I am not inclined to give as freely as I do during the rest of the year.

Parsing this out in my brain over the past several days has led me to think that we've developed the wrong ideas about the meaning of Christmas. I don't mean wrong ideas in the sense of holiday commercialization or festivity overload. I also don't mean wrong ideas over whether or not "Christ" is a part of Christmas, or whether it's best to use what appears to be the latest "politically correct" phrases: ie, Happy Hanukkah for those who celebrate it, or Best wishes for whatever you celebrate. What I mean is the constricted space of giving that we've confined to maybe 35 to 40 days, and the resultant pressure that it puts on all of us.

It strikes me as particularly odd that appeals for money, for gifts, for help, for celebrating have been relegated to such a narrow window of time. It also strikes me as a bit incredulous that we as a society would expect that one's capabilities to come through on any of these things would be any different in December than at other times of the year. I still get paid every two weeks -- and my check is no larger in December than it is in July. My bills don't go away. They're still due on what is generally a monthly basis. And in a similar way people who are in need of food, of clothing, of shelter, of assistance with rest or with medical bills don't suddenly lose that need after the season of giving comes to an end.

I give as much as I can of my money, my food, my time, my labor and perhaps most importantly my heart all year long. Why might it not be useful to just continue that pattern in December instead of forcing an intensification of action?

As for celebrating, I enjoy holiday parties -- on a monthly, or maybe bi-monthly basis. Why relegate them all to some time period that vaguely seems to be December 12 through 19, and force me to make choices between two or three parties, getting some work done, and keeping up with my workouts? Wouldn't it be easier and more in the spirit of Christmas (or whatever it is that one wants to call this time period) to sustain the joy of sharing food and fellowship throughout the whole year?

I am human, of course, and I pore through Internet ads, newspaper circulars, and special deals e-mailed to me with longing, perhaps even lust. And in some ways I do hoard up a whole lot of shopping for the last week of November and all of December and some of January in the spirit of snagging the best deals possible on items that are functional and fun. Ladies leather gloves for $6 a pair. I can use those. Running tights or leggings that are winter weight for $5. Bring them on. Snow caps, shovels, roof rakes, tarps, bags of walnuts, tins of roasted cashews -- great items that will not go to waste.

But then I remember. This is the season of "giving". So I should be shopping, not for myself but for others. But which others? Nearly everyone I know -- fortunately -- has what they need, and probably would be perplexed by the sight of me showing up at their doorstep grinning with a gift-wrapped snow cap or red-ribboned blue tarp ($2.99) in hand. And while those are great gifts for my husband and me, I know that we won't treat them as gifts if we buy them for ourselves. We'll regard them as necessities for the farm and our quiet life together in the country.

So what does it mean to have a season of giving? Could we eliminate the season, and just make it a year-round affair? It might glitter less. It might look a little less pretty, and it might not even seem like much of a gift. But perhaps it might be a more worthy, more lasting expression of kindness, generosity, durability, and value if it came not in a flood but in a trickle of sharing throughout the year.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

No special plans

It seems like I've been getting asked the question "do you you have any big plans?" a lot lately. Friends, colleagues, people I meet in casual encounters ask this question in a friendly, non-threatening conversational tone, querying me about my weekends, my Thanksgiving festivities, and perhaps soon about the upcoming holidays. I find myself feeling puzzled by the question and a little perplexed as to how to answer it. I'm puzzled because at age fifty-three I thought I had passed the point where I was supposed to have "big plans" (beyond perhaps retirement). I'm perplexed because, well, I do have some plans, but they don't particularly involve anyone other than my husband and me. We celebrate virtually every holiday that exists in the Hindu, Christian, American, Indian, and sometimes Jewish, Muslim, and Pan-African calendar. We carry out these almost weekly festivities to honor abundance, harvests, social justice, and perhaps most importantly the value we seek to build in ourselves.

We began talking about Thanksgiving sometime in September. Actually, we began talking about Thanksgiving sometime last winter when we argued over whether or not to raise ducks, with the goal of having one of the ducks we raised for a festive Thanksgiving dinner. We are in fact having a duck for Thanksgiving, though it is not one of ours, as the project became one we decided to defer to 2016. (We will do it next year!) But, because we arranged to get the duck from another couple who farms, we were unsure as to whether to have it on the actual Thanksgiving Day or on the Sunday before. This is because we thought the duck might arrive fresh -- not frozen -- and would be best roasted and eaten as soon as we received. So we had initially planned to have it tomorrow night, five days before the great turkey day, until we discovered this morning that the duck was coming to us frozen. That caused an alteration in plans, which made me feel grateful that we had not made any "big plans."

The idea of "big plans" calls up a certain level of anxiety for me. As a child growing up in Indiana with immigrant Indian parents, "big plans" didn't really cohere well with the normative American and Christian festivals. Our family did have a Thanksgiving meal, but because my parents were vegetarian it was always embarrassingly devoid of turkey. We did celebrate Christmas, but because we were Hindu, no midnight Mass or celebration of Jesus being born in a creche was part of our yearly ritual. In my teen years, the absence of celebration mounted because my parents -- as the owners of a small hobby and craft shop -- usually were working around the clock during the holidays to ensure that others would get the gifts and the pleasures to make their festivities lovely and memorable. Ours were mostly about taking a day off, a day of rest.

In young adulthood -- namely my twenties and early thirties -- I compensated by creating "big plans": elaborate dinners, sometimes three or four Thanksgiving dinners that would spill out over the four day weeks; holiday parties and gift lists and card lists that would grow more elaborate each year. These were fun years but ultimately tiring ones. There's only so much grog and eggnog that one can ingest before it seems like too much. As my thirties melted into my forties, I often found myself volunteering to work the holiday shifts at various jobs that I held so that others could be with their families and loved ones. I usually was living by myself in these years. I had friends and I had family but usually no one nearby. I never minded this situation, except when I was reminded of its oddity. Being alone over the holidays was simply not perceived as a normal state of occurrence. Hence, the reminders raised more anxieties for me.

At age forty-two, I got engaged to the man who is now my husband of ten years. We have been together for eleven-plus years, and together we are usually alone. I could choose to believe that this is the result of the two of us being social misfits who have no friends or of being itinerants who moved too many times in the early years of our adult lives to put down the kinds of roots that holidays together seem to demand. I prefer to think of it as being the result of simply enjoying the quiet solitude of being alone together and of being able to use a holiday as a day to celebrate the ordinary without added extravagance. Every day, I like to start the day with coffee and writing. Every day, I like to exercise and spend some time in fresh air. Every day, I like to cook and eat very good food. Every day, I like to meditate a little, relax with my cats, check up on the chickens and goats cavorting in the yard. Every day (stop reading if this sounds insane), I actually do like to work a little bit. A holiday seems like an opportunity to do these daily things without the pressure of being someplace on time (I usually am late); without the obligation of doing it all right (I usually mess up somewhere); and without the sometimes tedious tasks of life like meetings (those necessary aspects of professional life that are, well, frankly things in which we partake more out of necessity than joy). It is an opportunity to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock four times instead of three times -- or perhaps just to turn the alarm off entirely. It is an opportunity to make a possible plan -- like the two hour special Thanksgiving yoga session that looks awfully appealing right now but might not feel so appealing when 7 a.m. rolls around next Thursday -- and not carry it through. It's an opportunity to indulge in laziness without feeling guilt, or an opportunity to work without feeling the pressure of what one "should" be doing.

And so my "big plans" for the holidays are perhaps big in their radical state. They are about nothing -- and everything -- all at once.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Temporary Treats

    Dinner for the past two nights has consisted of delicacies that show up in some North American farmers market stands for brief periods of time in early spring: ramps, fiddlehead ferns, and sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes). These are the kinds of vegetables that rarely show up in food pyramid or other general dietary guideline charts. This is not because they lack nutrition: Both fiddleheads and ramps have high levels of vitamins A and C, while sunchokes deliver high levels of fiber in addition to a fairly robust array of vitamins and minerals. The reason for their obscurity in American nutritional data is their relative absence from commercial markets. While sunchokes like chives are a perennial that spreads, few farmers grow fiddleheads and ramps. These are early spring treats of forest foragers, which means that if you know what to look for, you can obtain them for free.
    I first discovered ramps when I moved to upstate New York about five years ago. Although they are described as a wild leek, I find that their slightly nutty and spicy flavor along with their aromatic scent far exceeds the somewhat bland reliability of a domestically grown leek. Unlike the domestic leeks, recipes encourage use not just of the onion-like root at the base of the ramp but of its long, languid petal-shaped leaves as well. From farmers who sell them, I understand that the task of bringing them to market is somewhat laborious: First, one must locate the ramps, and then one must dig them out -- not from soft, cultivated soil but from a forest floor. They were selling at the farmers market in my town yesterday for about $6 a bunch.
    Fiddleheads also grow in the wild, and were selling yesterday for $8 for a half-pint. On the surface, these prices might seem rather high -- especially for a plant that is not grown but foraged -- but the perspective changes when one considers the work that it takes to get a fiddlehead safely to market and explained well enough to a customer so that it is consumed safely.
    My own experience with fiddleheads has been somewhat mixed. I saw them for the first time at a market in northern India in 1996 and was immediately captivated. My friend and I were renting a small flat for a couple of weeks that had a kitchen so we decided to buy some for dinner. The market vendor told us to peel the raw edges, wash our hands well, and cook the ferns until they changed color, just a few minutes. We followed the instructions assiduously -- or thought that we did -- but had something of a disastrous result. My friend had a reaction to them, and had to be rushed to a local hospital. I went with her and spent the night in her room as she experienced rounds of fever, sweating, and vomiting. We both swore off fiddleheads after that.
    I did try them again around 2009 when I spotted them at a farmers market in Seattle. This time, the instructions for preparing them mainly were about washing my hands after handling them and not eating them raw. They tasted good, but this time I too experienced a bit of an allergic reaction. It didn't hospitalize me, but it was enough to prompt me to treat them and all other wild things with a certain degree of skepticism.
    Moving to New York, buying land that abuts a woods and turning much of that land into a homestead like farm caused me to shift my perspective on fiddleheads once again. Coming off a long winter, with the growing season appearing to be about two or three weeks behind the norm, my husband and I have been craving foods that would evoke the fresh tastes of early spring produce. So when a friend who farms on a much larger scale than we do started talking about fiddleheads my interest was perked. 
    As I procured a bag's worth Saturday, I once again received some fairly detailed instructions on how to handle fiddlehead ferns properly: They should not be red or black when cut, only bright green. If they have a prickly texture, they're past their prime for human consumption. (My thinking is that instructions from other farmers to peel the ferns and to wash your hands after handling them probably were to get ride of the prickliness.) The main sticking point, however, was cleaning them: They should be washed. Their stems should be trimmed to within 1/8 of an inch of the fern head, and all brown papery chaff that tends to protect the foliage should be removed. After this round of prep, the fiddleheads need to be rinsed, then soaked in a bowl of water with lemon juice, then drained dry first in a salad spinner and then with paper towels. And then they should not be eaten raw. They should be cooked for a minimum of five to seven minutes.
    This seemed like an inordinate amount of prep work, but I did it for about half of the bag last night and followed a recipe that called for sauteeing them in butter. They turned out well but seemed a little heavy. So tonight we did it again, this time using just a dollop of olive oil. Combined with the ramps and some roasted turnips in a stir-fry, we had a fabulous flavor explosion. My goal tomorrow is to visit my woods and forage for some of my own.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Explaining one's actions

It seems that lately I devote a great deal of time to trying to understand how I use time. That sometimes seems a little crazy, which leads me to look a little more deeply into the meaning of time. Some of this impetus came from a story that one of the students in a course I teach on Stories and Creative Leadership shared recently. This student identified a core value of leadership as taking the time out to listen to the insights, messages, or other words that people who approached her wanted to say.

    The idea that stopping to listen, that slowing the pace of the day could be a core value of leadership stood out for me. I thought about how so very often the people upon whom we rely the most for important advice that could alter the course of our daily behaviors -- doctors, for instance, but also teachers, repair specialists, and even maybe farmers -- come across as too busy and as in too much of a rush to listen to our concerns. I also found myself training the spotlight back onto the self: What does it mean for me to stop, to take the time out to listen? I realize the importance of this action, and still it is a difficult action for me to adapt.

    Today, in morning pages, I completed an exercise that I had not tried for several years. It is entitled "What do you want?" Here's how it works: Ideally, you start with a blank page in a notebook and you draw a line down the middle, creating two columns. You write the question in the left column, and the very first -- immediate, knee-jerk, no thinking -- response that comes first. Like a lot of free-writing and other stream of consciousness exercises, the idea is to tap what's in the heart, not so much what's in the head. The response might be as simple as "I want a green sweater" or as complex as mine was this morning: "I want to be more organized and systematic in how I work so that I'll be more productive as a writer and scholar and more on top of things as a teacher."

    After "What do you want?", you answer the question, "Why do you want it?" Then, "How are you going to feel when you get what you want?" And then, "What are you going to give up to get what you want?" And, "What will you have lost as a result of gaining what you want?" And, then, once again, "What do you want?"

    Through the exercise, I came to answer the second "What do you want?" as follows: "I want more energizing relationships with people. I think I have a lot of good friends who sometimes drag me down and whom I sometimes drag down. I would like to bring out the best in these relationships so that we are always rejuvenating each other."

    The idea of the exercise is to work through the six questions repeatedly until you reach some sort of a reasonable stopping point. For some people, that point is reached before the six questions are even answered. The first time I did the exercise -- some thirteen years ago -- I went through the cycle of six questions a half-dozen times before the first "what do you want?" (a condo on Diamond Head beach in Honolulu) had evolved into a work plan for sorting through the forty or so tasks, projects, needs, and desires that had comprised my to do and finding a way to get them all done before leaving Honolulu for a week's vacation in the Canadian Rockies. This time, it came mid-way through the second cycle in response to the question "How are you going to get what you want?" -- which I realize is not exactly the question I was supposed to be asking myself, but who's looking? My answer: "I am going to be positive and upbeat myself. I'm going to approach all of my work and all of my play with a sense of good healthy living in mind: How is what I'm going to do today creative? How is it providing a healthy use of my brain and my body? How is it contributing to a greater good?"

    I felt as if that series of litmus test questions could provide a healthy guiding principle for shaping a busy life. Knowing that priorities shift, one might regard one's actions in terms of building relationships that are based on creativity, healthy uses of brain and body, and support for a greater good. Taking the time to listen seems like a viable step in that direction.

    A friend proved the value of such advice just a few hours later. I had brought a self-monitoring blood pressure kit into my office in hopes of finding someone familiar with the kits who could help me understanding how to use it. I had e-mailed a couple of colleagues who work in health care and then thought of another colleague who tends to know quite a bit about self-care. She happened to walk by my office so I asked her if she could help. She had four minutes, so I quickly unpacked the kit and kept my eye on my cell phone clock so as to not make her late. She devoted the full four minutes to showing me how to wrap the cuff properly, where to position it on my arm, and how to do a series of test readings at home -- three at a time was her advice -- to gauge whether I was getting consistent readings. She also encouraged me to do it without a shirt on and at the same time of day every day for a couple of weeks until I was comfortable. Her time was limited, but she helped me a lot, which was something that meant a great deal. So actions built on stopping to listen, stopping help? What might this mean for a life of creativity, good health, and a good society? I suspect that it might mean a lot.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Notes from the laundromat

    It's a Saturday afternoon, and once again, I find myself in the laundromat around the corner from where I work. Coming to the 'mat has evolved over the past year into a weekly ritual that had been taking place -- like regular writing -- on an off-and-on basis for a number of years. The ritual became regularized when our washing machine broke for the third time in a year, this time at the end of the extended warranty that my husband Jim and I had purchased initially. Tired of the regular breakdowns and aware that a longer-term fix to our plumbing so that we could create a more reliable and cleaner space in our house for a washer and dryer hookup would cost more than we immediately had to invest, we decided that we could do without these household conveniences for awhile and make do with the laundromat. The weekly ritual is something that is a bit of a pain, but generally something I look forward to.

    Like a flight on a crowded plane, the laundromat is not exactly a comfortable place. It is cold at times, crowded, and a little stressful to get in and out of. But once here, with the clothes in the washer, it provides the same benefit of a short Albany-to-Chicago O'Hare flight -- a quiet space where no one really interrupts you for an hour or so.

    In the past year, I have used my time at the laundromat to grade papers, to catch up on reading, to make telephone calls, to run errands at nearby stores, and to write. I especially appreciate the brevity of space in between the wash and dry cycle for such quick hit activities.

    I find myself thinking a lot about the gap between scarcity and abundance these days, and how perhaps doing one's clothes in the laundromat might speak to that gap. For instance, the laundromat is perceived in some sectors of our so-called civilized society as a forbidden zone. It's a space where you go if you're desperate -- if you cannot afford a washer or dryer; if you're unfortunate -- your home machine broke; or if you're ill -- you cannot hold enough of a steady job or place in society to merit professional cleaning services. Yet, it seems to me that the laundromat really is none of those things. It is instead one of the few communal gathering spots left in domestic life. Over the past year, I have held conversations about folding, sorting, detergents, hikes, sports activities, politics, and horses.

    Eavesdropping yields even richer insight into the world that exists outside of one's comfort zone. During the "track season" that dominates the summer in Saratoga Springs, the demographic at the 'mat changes dramatically from the predominantly English speakers to Spanish speakers. Larger groups arrive with smaller loads per capita. The music is more lilting and happier, as families make the chore into a festival.

    For now, it is still winter. I suspect that the cold temperatures and ongoing snow are wreaking havoc on many people's home facilities. With a new crowd in the laundromat and myself appearing (for some reason or the other) to know what I am doing, I have found myself becoming a consultant on the merits of different machines, the uses of liquid over powder detergent, and the pros and cons of sorting clothes by weight versus color. For the record, I sort by weight -- and somewhat by type -- socks, I have discovered, can be dried and folded much more efficiently if they are not mixed in with the boxers that my husband wears. Towels and jeans take the longest to dry but are the easiest to fold. Therefore, it is not much of an issue if they dry last; it gives one time to get t-shirts and slacks folded and stacked into baskets -- sorted by sex -- in an orderly manner.

    The other day, I was in the laundromat feeling slightly stressed out. I was behind in my classes, behind in my correspondence with students, and fearing that the onslaught of more work would put me still further behind. As I folded, I overheard two young women talking. They were both students at a local community college, and were conversing about the pros and cons of various instructors. I listened to them talk about unanswered e-mails from their instructors, and felt a sense of empathy -- for them as well as their instructors. And then I heard them speak positively about instructors who gave them great feedback, even if it came belatedly. Somehow, their words felt redemptive for me.

    Writing at the laundromat is also a treat. It is dictated today, for instance, by the rhythm of time. That rhythm is set by the wash-rinse-spin cycle spinning dirt out of my clothes. It also is set by the minutes remaining on the free Internet access -- 30 minutes, total.

    And on that note I shall stop for now.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Green tomatoes

   The story of my fondness for fried green tomatoes does not have a lot of depth: On October 31, 2014, a Wednesday, my husband Jim and I were preparing to do our last farm food and cooking demonstration for the year for our ad hoc group, Two Wooden Spoons, at the Franklin Community Center in downtown Saratoga Springs. We had started these demonstrations a few months earlier with a goal of encouraging clients of the center's food pantry and other services to consider shopping at the local farmers markets. We wanted to invite the food pantry clients to come to the farmers market and would talk to them about how the farmers accepted EBT cards and often would offer special prices on seasonal items.

    While many people see the farmers markets as weekend diversions for the wealthy, Jim and I had a personal stake in promoting the economic value of farmers markets. We discovered their value when we ourselves were on food stamps for a few months in 2007 when I was in between adjunct teaching jobs and he was out of work. The fact that we could buy local produce and meat that was literally fresh from a farm and in quantities that would not spoil before we could consume us had convinced us that farmers markets were not only an enjoyable place to shop but an affordable one, as well. After that summer, we began to make a shift in our lives that would move us toward first buying most of what we ate at farmers markets and eventually growing the food ourselves. Like good evangelists, we wanted to share the message.

    Our approach at the Franklin Community Center was relatively low key. We show up with a featured vegetable, some basic cooking implements, and a few additional staple ingredients (oil, lemon juice, pepper, and sometimes a couple of other spices). We prepare the vegetable in three or four different ways and dish up samples. We then walk up and down the line of clients waiting for services inviting them to sample the food and explain how it was prepared with farm-raised local ingredients.

    In the midst of the project, I also began tending a community garden that had been established on the center's lawn. While the garden had good soil and was relatively protected from the elements, it didn't get the kind of sunshine needed to turn tomatoes red. The good news of this dilemma was that at a time when most other tomato plants in the area had shriveled and died from frost, the Franklin Center's plants were still thriving. The bad news was that the plants were producing large numbers of firm, healthy green tomatoes that refused to ripen to red.

    We were scheduled to take a winter break from our food demonstrations, which will resume this coming Wednesday, February 25. We decided that the last round of cooking should not feature foods grown in our garden or purchased at the farmers market but rather the community action center's garden itself.

    Enter fried green tomatoes.

    I had never made them before. I was pretty sure that I had eaten them, but I couldn't understand their allure. I liked tomatoes well enough when they were ripe, but to me they tasted sour and bitter when green. I couldn't fathom why anyone would bother frying something that was not so good fresh.

    But we had dozens of green tomatoes to dispense with so I looked up a recipe and proceeded to prepare them. I prepared a mixture of cornmeal and black pepper, and beat a couple of eggs. I sliced the tomatoes, dipped them in the egg and rolled them in the cornmeal. I then dropped them into a frying pan sizzling with hot oil and cooked them until the cornmeal exterior started to brown. I removed them from the pan and placed them on a paper towel before preparing the sample cups. On an impulse, I tasted one and nearly melted with joy. The sharp, sour taste of the green tomato raw had mellowed to a soft juicy undertone that perfectly complemented the cornmeal covering around it. The flavor melded crunchy and watery, and sour and sweet into a perfect companionship.

    Throughout the winter, I have thought often of fried green tomatoes and -- because we are fortunate in Saratoga to have a farmer who grows tomatoes hydroponically -- have prepared them more than once. The explosion of flavor continues to amaze me, and I have constantly sought to experiment with new methods of preparation.

    Tonight I tried them a little differently. I had obtained a large number of green tomatoes from the hydroponic Shushan Farms around Christmas. I had kept the tomatoes in the refrigerator to prevent them from turning red and rotting, but by mid-February I knew I had gotten to a point where I needed to use them or lose them. I looked up a recipe for pakora, which is a spicy Indian snack consisting of vegetables dipped in a chickpea batter and deep fried. I prepared the batter with chickpea flour, turmeric, and some crushed red pepper, and submerged my green tomatoes which had been sliced into quarters in it. I heated some oil in a deep frying pan and dropped the pieces of tomato into it. The result once again was an explosion of flavor that I can't wait to reproduce -- again.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Things on the brain


Not sure what's causing the snow to fall, but hey!
I have been silent on all of my blogs for the past several months. The silence was neither intentional nor the the result, really, of something that's often called writer's block. I have been writing, as usual, at least once a day, usually twice a day, and often in three or four stints. What has felt stultifying and has deterred me from blogging has been a sense of rhythmic familiarity. I developed good habits. I settled into rituals. I began to anticipate seasonal events -- like the spring planting, the fall harvest, the frenetic pace of November's National Novel Writing Month, the celebrations of the fall festival season, and the quiet hibernation of winter -- and participated in them with joy. It was fun and enlightening, but there was nothing new to share. So my blogging voice -- remembering its training from the days of journalism -- fell silent. I had thought that I would wait until I had something truly "new" to report on before I began blogging again.

    And well, I still don't feel as if I have anything new to report on. But a new blog established by my friend Pauline Carrico (a former colleague at the college where I teach) convinced me that perhaps it is time to break the silence.

    Pauline's blog is entitled Thoughts on Everything and Nothing. That title led me to think that perhaps for a bit blogging on what's on the brain might be a way to kickstart the habit.

    And, so, it's Friday, February 20, 2015. What's on my brain?

    1. Winter, for sure. I am not fond of cold weather, but to be honest, I am not tired of winter -- yet. I rather like the northeastern New York winters with big dumps of snow, howling winds, and temperatures below zero. Not because I like to venture out in them. I am not the person you will see snow shoeing or cross-country skiing. I like the excuse they give me to slow down and stay in. Lately, I've been thinking of life cycles also as having sets of seasons. Not to get too graphic, but after thirty-nine straight years of monthly menstrual periods, something that my new primary care provider calls "perimenopause" seems to have kicked in. For the moment, that means a seasonal adjustment to my life patterns. My diet is changing, my habits are changing, my body seems to demand more rest. Winter is good time to let those changes sink in and become a normative aspect of life.
    For instance, over the past week, I took over -- perhaps temporarily, perhaps in a more sustained way -- the morning chore of taking fresh water out to the chicken coop at 5 a.m. so that the birds would have unfrozen water to drink as they began to wake up. Realizing that mornings are evolving into incredibly good times for me to get the quiet work of writing, reading student assignments, and prepping for courses done before the day's daily distractions kick in, I've been working to reset my body to fall asleep by 9 p.m. so that I can take advantage of the hours before the 10 a.m. "witching hour" of e-mail deluges, meetings, and appointments. What I have found is that resetting the body clock is really not difficult. My body demands eight hours of sleep, so if I'm up at 5 a.m., it will want to shut down at 9 p.m. What has been challenging has been resetting the rest of my life. For instance, how do you tell a student who works until 8 p.m. and needs to discuss an assignment that it will be very hard to be available at the time that they are?

    2. Overall health and diet. My husband and I decided finally to switch to a different primary care provider after four years of me feeling consistently dissatisfied with the "there's a pill for every ailment" approach that our previous doctor was taking. I did some research and decided to try a doctor with an integrative medical approach. We had our first appointment in late January, and after listening to my list of concerns, she ordered a round of substantial bloodwork, recommended a nutritional supplement for sinus relief, and told me to abstain from dairy products and most sugars for a temporary period of time. After two or three weeks, I can report that I feel better physically, but I am still not sure the regime is attacking the root ailments. I don't feel very hopeful that the bloodwork will reveal anything different, but I am hopeful that this doctor will not just shrug her shoulders and stop.

    3. And finally fitness training, teaching, writing, sleep, and farming. These feel like the biggest activities of my day-to-day life. The elusive search into how to balance them out so they each get the attention they deserve persists. So perhaps that's a theme to develop, as 2015 blogging resumes ...