Food 4 Thought

When Hope Sinks

I grew up hearing all the traditional fairy tales. Princess in distress awaits the prince to rescue her from a tortured life. Hope and belief in the seemingly impossible prevail and love reigns supreme. Now, my lived reality was quite different. I grew up with fiercely independent women as role models, who awaited no one to rescue them. In fact, they may well have shot prince charming had he dared come knocking, just for having the gall to think his presence was needed. And yet, a part of me really liked the idea that someone else could sweep in and fix everything, happy endings are so alluring. Of course, I didn’t realize I was holding on to that illusion, but I most certainly was.

I was a firm believer that hope floats. I thought, if we believe, long enough and hard enough, our energy, enthusiasm and corresponding actions will turn those hopes to reality. Some call this optimistic, others call it delusional. Take your pick. My adult revelation around hope is that, much like everything else, there are no absolutes, it’s not black and white. Certainly, hope can be powerful and beautiful and inspiring, but every coin has a flip side, and that other side is that hope can also sink.

I thought I had my prince charming, my plotting and planning to get my happy ending were all in line, I was on my way, the path was clear, it was all within reach. But then one day it became clear that prince charming is human after all, and unlike the fairy tales, he’s got some issues to work out, and low and behold he’s not even into this fairy tale, and doesn’t much like how this story is unraveling at all.

Hope and love can be so very powerful, verging on insanity to an outsider. In truth, I think a little insanity helps us get through the rough parts, so I held on tight to the dream. I saw the prince sail off to distant lands in search of well, I’m not sure what, but I was certain he’d find it and return renewed OR not find it and return repentant, either way it would all work out.

And so, hope kept me afloat for quite some time. And then suddenly it started sinking faster than a bolder heading straight to the bottom of the ocean floor. But still I held on, holding my breath, thinking perhaps someone will rescue me. And I waited, and waited… Until finally it dawned on me that although hope had been a saving grace, it was now just a weight, holding me down. There was no one to wait for, in fact, no one was coming. All I had to do was let go. So simple, and yet so painful because it required the acknowledgment of a very unwelcome end. A death, so to speak, an end of hope and belief in others and the arduous task of repositioning those hopes onto myself.

So I let go. I haven’t reached the surface, but it’s within reach. The beginning of a new chapter is bittersweet, it’s one that has to begin where the last one left off, so I move forward knowing full well that the fairy tale was a sham and that the real hero has to save herself.

Now I turn this lesson to you dear reader. Does your hope float, or is it brining you down?

Food 4 Thought, Parenting

Commentary: Does Parental Empathy Have a Cost?

I am intrigued by a research study finding that empathetic parents of adolescents were psychologically strong but paying a price physically; while the adolescents were doing well on both fronts. This is getting some attention in the media as news, but is it really new information?

The study says, “responding empathically often necessitates transcending one’s own point of view and being nonreactive to whatever is encountered…To accomplish this, parents may suppress their own feelings in order to help their children feel safe or understood…Emotional suppression is known to increase physiological responses to stressors.”

Yes, I agree completely! Let’s make these abstract concepts more real with a very personal and concrete example. My 4-year old is seriously upset because the ballet slippers she so desperately wants are not available in her size. We’ve been down this road before, and it could get ugly. The whining is picking up speed, appeals to logic are going unheard. Freeze frame, here I give you a rare uncensored glimpse of what actually goes on in my mind… ”Noooooo, not again, what the f***! They are just slippers, she doesn’t appreciate all that she has, who cares about slippers anyway… bribe her, threaten punishment, walk away, no then she’ll run after you screaming, aaahhhhhh…”

Some iteration of this flashes through in a matter of seconds, I won’t lie sometimes some of this comes out, but if I can pull it together, I won’t say any of that because the truth is it’s all useless. Instead I’ll kneel down and say, “Hey, let’s talk for a sec, you’ve been really good about waiting for your slippers and I know you were so excited about it, it’s terrible they don’t have your size and now you have to wait more. I can see you’re upset and frustrated, what can we do?” And hope with all my might, something comes out of her mouth that I can work with.

Why go through all this emotional censoring? Simple, I know that when I am upset, angry, sad or frustrated, the very last thing I want is someone else getting pissy with me because I feel the way I feel. That just makes it exponentially worse. What’s helpful is someone who can hold the space for my feelings until I’m able to work through them. It’s no different with kids or adolescents; they just need a little more guidance in the process.

Here is the kicker – it is 100 times easier to say exactly what I feel, exert parental force, and unleash my own frustration to harness the situation by any means. It takes tremendous will power, practice and inner-strength to not react and be thoughtful about what I say and do, giving my best shot at empathy. The irony is that I am more emotionally exhausted when I hold it together and remain externally calm and collected than when I let out my own adult tantrum to rival and squelch that of any child’s.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that being (or striving to be) an empathetic parent is akin to living with chronic stress – it takes a toll on the body, even if psychologically I am riding high.

This all brings home a very powerful point, and something I’ve been struggling with. The more you care for others, the more you must invest in and make space for yourself. Being emotionally supportive of others is rewarding, but there is a cost to suppressing your own feelings (regardless of what they are). There is a two-fold balancing force, 1. acknowledging and processing your own feelings AND 2. doing things that re-energize you. Otherwise, the sad truth is that the constant care of others with no equal self-care will only end in burn out, sooner or later, inside or outside.

Takeaway (as much for you as for me) – if you want to be good to your kids, take care of yourself. Like they tell you on the plane, put your oxygen mask on first and then help the kid next to you. Because frankly, you’re useless if you’ve conked out.

Lastly, I believe something critical is left out of the research because it is a long-term implication – the impact and importance of modeling. Kids are their parent’s constant reflection. Modeling, or teaching by doing, is a force to be reckoned with. Give the kids short and abrupt NO’s and that is what you will get in return. The things kids do most consistently is what they see done around them. Some of these behaviors are easy to catch and parents can adjust accordingly. Yet, there are behaviors that won’t be as obvious until the kids get to be adults themselves – like self-care. To bring it all full-circle, empathetic parents who are not invested in their own self-care are by default neglecting to teach their children the importance of caring for themselves as future adults.

So while mastering the empathy bit may be the obvious work for many of us parents, perhaps the even greater challenge is to model healthy self-care by putting the mask on first.

Food 4 Thought, Uncategorized

Unintended consequences and the power of waiting – A story about a duck and a shovel

Not too long ago, on a beautiful sunny day, I found a family of ducks taking a leisurely swim in my pool. This is a bad situation on many levels, I thought. First, chlorinated pool water – not good, and second,  the baby ducks are so small they probably can’t get out on their own. I felt a pang of urgency to help them move on to better ground (or water).

There was nothing of obvious use in this peculiar situation and I went for the only thing available – a shovel. My grand plan was to gently slide the shovel underwater and use it as a mock stepping stone for when the ducklings tried to exit the pool. If I’m gentle and quiet, I thought, maybe they won’t even notice. Hah! Notice they did, Momma duck saw my arrival with shovel in hand as nothing short of a predatory heist to steal and eat her babies (a logical conclusion, I have to admit).

At first I just stood close enough to see if my presence would encourage their departure, and it did, sortof. Mother duck hurried out of the pool only to have unfold precisely what I feared. All of the ducklings except one made it out. The little guy was clearly unable to get himself out. I attempted my underwater shovel maneuver, which threw momma duck into a frenzy, producing a horrible tangle of wings, arms, quacks and screams, that very successfully got everyone’s feathers in a ruffle, including mine. To top it all off, the baby duck was still in the pool AND as a final defensive maneuver to protect her lone duckling, Momma duck had dutifully flung herself back in the water only to have all the ducklings follow her back in again.

Ok, I thought, time to reassess this marvelous plan. I backed off a bit to help lower the tension and anxiety. Momma duck exited one more time along with all but the one – again. This time, I waited; really not wanting to make matters worse and just not sure how to help. It was hard to watch the duckling struggle and momma duck, herself helpless, no doubt felt the same. Yet, after a few heart wrenching minutes  (really felt like hours but the clock said otherwise) the baby duck managed to get himself out and the whole crew waddled off, quite indignant.

Aside from an unusual story, many lessons can be had here, what I choose to take away is this:

Do what you can and if it’s not working, step back, not just to reassess but to watch the ripple effects of your actions unfold.

The true fruits of your labor may be in the unintended consequences. There are some things that are not in your hands to do, but you might be able to nudge, open a door, set things in motion, or terrify a duckling, all important pieces of the puzzle, even if it’s not the piece you thought you had in hand.

Is there any area in your life where it might be useful to take a breather and see what unfolds?

Food 4 Thought

The lie we must believe to start anything, and the challenge that follows…

At the start of any idea is a mix of inspiration, hope, excitement and a great deal of ignorance. Ignorance about how simple it will be, how exactly it will turn into reality and all it will take to get there. The whole jumble of feelings are necessary to take that leap of faith into doing and starting.

The lie is this, we tell ourselves at the start of any project, this is the hardest part, if I can get through the beginning, I’m golden. And then, somehow, we make it to the middle and we think, the beginning was cake, now I’m getting into it and it’s really hard. Then we make it to the finish and momentarily relish the achievement, the process, the thing we’ve made and all too soon, we wonder, how would this work if I did it better, tweaked this, or are faced with the start of phase 2 – more uncharted territory!

My point – all the parts are hard and challenging, that’s the nature of doing work worth doing.

That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable or even fun, but it’s not easy. And yet, that’s not such a bad thing, we shy away from hard but that’s when we learn the most, stretch our limits, grow and get to know what we’re really made of. I’ve decided my goal is to stop running away from the discomfort and embrace it, desensitize myself to it. Hard never stops being hard, but I can learn to enjoy the ride.

In this vein, I’m choosing for myself a writing challenge. I’m sharing here because I’m much better at keeping promises I’ve announced to others than I am to myself (aren’t we all?). Here it is…

Goal:

Write a post (short or long) once a week for 3-months, on this blog or the Fertile Earth Comm-Post Blog.

Purpose:

Making a habit out of creating…because I choose to create more than I consume (HT Ken, for the video that inspired this epiphany). The only way I know to do this is through practice. The most successful people tell us repeatedly, you can’t wait for motivation to come knocking. In the words of the great Greg Faxon: “If the car is stalled out, you gotta get out of the car and push baby!”

Sharing, not hoarding…yes, I’ll admit it, I’m an information hoarder in recovery, but my recovery does not mean learning less (blasphemy!) on the contrary it involves taking it a step further and sharing. I love to research and know more and more on all sorts of random things from theories on parenting styles, to what the millipedes in my compost eat to what the carbon to nitrogen ratio of coconut coir is (btw still looking for the answer to this one!). In any case, I love to know, but it’s selfish and wasteful not to share all the goodies I collect on my journey, so sharing it is.

That’s it, that’s my challenge, to get in the habit of starting and creating and get comfortable sitting in the hardest part – cause that’s where the good stuff happens!

What might you be avoiding because the start is the hardest part? What does leaning into that challenge look like?

With Love,

Melissa

PS – And just like that I managed to get my first post out by writing about my first post! Kinda feels like cheating…

FIY - Fix-it-Yourself, Food 4 Thought

Tinker, Repair, Grow

The guts & glory of my NutriBullet!

The guts & glory of my NutriBullet!

I performed surgery on my NutriBullet today.

We both survived to tell the tale.

In this year of introspection, seeking balance and direction, I’ve come to realize there are areas I’m fearless in – the kitchen is definitely one, and others the mere thought of, paralyzes me – read career planning. My thinking is to tease apart my approach in areas I don’t think twice about and try applying those strategies to areas that need work. So here goes the story of the NutriBullet operation…

The Nutribullet and I were in excellent standing, I put in all sorts of stuff that I or my kids find unpalatable, and it produced liquidy goodness. All was well with the world, until it started jamming. I had to convince, pry, and press to get it to start and then it didn’t always want to stop either. I knew the problem – spilled food had seeped inside and was making the “on” levers jam. After many trials involving knives, scissors, spoons and hammers, (yes, I’m persistent) I was certain at any moment I would finish the poor appliance for good.

First encounter upon unscrewing the base.

First encounter upon unscrewing the base.

Today for no apparent reason, other than not wanting to do the 100 far more important things I should’ve done – I decided to take that baby apart. I got a little inspiration from a quick Google search, pulled out my handy screw driver, unplugged the NutriBullet, and got to work.

Don’t get the wrong idea here, I’ve never taken apart an appliance. Putting together furniture with detailed instructions, 2 hour Lego projects – sure, but appliances I do not count in my skill set. Why this particular appliance seemed un-intimidating, I don’t know, perhaps I just didn’t give myself the time to think about it.

There were multiple layers, wires, screws, blades, etc, I won’t lie, there were moments when I thought – this won’t end well. But I pushed forward, I liked dismantling this thing – I felt I was side stepping conventional wisdom that only a specialized NutriBullet repair person could handle this task – a person that would certainly tell me I’d be better off buying a new one. But I’ll leave that thought for another day…

The cause of it all - the sticky lever!

The cause of it all – the sticky lever!

Anyhow, I kept unscrewing, taking pictures as I went so I’d know how to reassemble it. I found the sticky culprits, cleaned them, and set about doing it all again in reverse. If you’ve dug a hole in the ground and tried to refill it with the same dirt you removed, you know it never fits back exactly the same way. Well, those wires, are not unlike dirt. So, I reassembled it a couple times, we wrestled a little, but I made it work. When all was said and done, it took 1 hour to complete my project, and that time exactly to reignite the feeling that I could do anything I set my mind to.

Reflection

When it comes to tackling something new or even a problem in the arena of my kitchen, fixing household items, or even internet stuff like this website, my approach is generally – I’m not sure how to do this, I’ll look it up and figure it out. I don’t usually have time to overthink it, which is good because otherwise I could research enough to write a book on any subject. In the end, I just do it, I assume the cost of failure is not so high and I get to it.

When it comes to work, a career, my thinking is the complete opposite, so it comes as no surprise that my actions are the opposite – paralysis, death by fear. The pressure is on to do it well, do it right, make money, be successful, change the world, and on and on. Yes, I know this is illogical, I know to think in terms of small projects, to explore, experiment, try different things, dance with the fear, and so on. I know many things, but the feelings are harder to sway, they don’t listen to reason.

I don’t have a happy message here, I’m still working through this one…

Bullet WorkingBut, if I left you wondering about the most important questions of all, did it work after all that? Of course, it worked like new. Here it is making my favorite blueberry, spinach, banana, peanut butter smoothie.

PS – After taking on my little project, I came across this article, on how tinkering with our own property is well on its way to being illegal. Food for thought or action…

 

Composting, Sustainability

Composting Call – Opportunity Knocks!

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.40.41 PMSometimes, opportunity comes knocking – or appears in your inbox. The key is to recognize it, open the door, and get to work!

This arrived in my inbox and I am elated – the knock is loud and clear. Let me explain…

Recently, I’m focusing on my true love in the world of waste and recycling – composting! Specifically I’m thinking about the compost infrastructure in South Florida, wondering what it looks like, what’s working, what’s not, and what it could be.

Why?  Simple, I’m moving back to Miami, and composting (the recycling of organic materials like food waste and plant matter into nutrient rich humus that feeds the soil) is the foundation of a healthy society.

The basics: Happy soil = Happy food = Healthy people.

In my internal musings, I decided to actively pursue projects related to composting in South Florida. My first step toward this end is to become an expert in existing resources and systems.

My project is to map the current South Florida composting infrastructure at a macro-level. This includes a semi-formal document and simple, captivating visuals.

Seeing the email from the U.S. Composting Council, inviting submissions for next year’s conference, I immediately recognized an opportunity to share my project, and it came with the added perk of an external deadline (in contrast to a self-imposed, and impossible to enforce, personal deadline) – perfect!

I am a firm believer in the power of community, consumer demand, and education through positive experiences. Ultimately, I plan to leverage this power to grow the composting industry, benefiting zero waste efforts, soil health, community health, and local economic prosperity and resilience. But it all starts with an understanding of what currently exists.

I invite anyone interested in collaborating on this project to contact me!

 

Food 4 Thought

Writing on the Wall

No small project

Over the past 9 months, I drove by these words nearly every day, read them, and kept on driving. You could say, the writing was on the wall. Some days you see it, and some days you don’t. Today, I walked by, took a picture, played with some photo editing and decided it was time to make it my own (red is mine).

Parenting, Urban Making

The Making of Dragon Eggs

Or giant papier-mâché Easter eggs…

Rounded corner dragon eggsThis project is simple and low-maintenance – perfect for my 3 & 5 year-old children, and is easily adjustable for younger and older kids. These eggs are easily fancied up, with a smoother finish, stenciled-on shapes, dots, stripes etc. My goal was simply to have an activity for the kids with a final project that was 90% their doing – check. I also like projects that don’t entail waste – this one is great in that department except one piece that I’d love to find a way around, just haven’t figured it out yet.

Below are the supplies list, instructions, and a short personal reflection…

Supplies

  • small balloons – the one non-eco-friendly element 🙁
  • newspaper – any thin paper, like tissue paper will work
  • all purpose flour – or whatever you have, except whole wheat, I’ve read it can be problematic
  • warm water
  • any paint – we used good tempera, love that it washes or rinses off quick and easy
  • paint brushes – the art kind, not paint the walls kind
  • a decent amount of rags or kitchen towels and water for clean-up

Here’s the How To…

  1. Paper Shredding – dig out some newspaper from the recycle bin and tear them into strips. Try to go with the grain and teach the kids which way this is – otherwise the pieces can become miniscule. Tear these long strips in half a couple times. For reference you’re trying for pieces of paper about the size of the child’s hand, too much larger and it becomes hard to work with.
  2. Foundation – blow up the balloons to the size and shape your little ones like. I saved my lungs by using our bike tire pump. If I’d been able to find the balloon pump, that would have been handy too.
  3. Prep the Paste – the golden recipe is just good old flour and warm water. For 10 medium-sized eggs, we used around 3 cups of flour and a bit more water than that. Pour a little warm water into the flour, stir, pour more water, stir…until you reach a consistency you like. I prefer a little on the thicker side, something along the lines of a creamy soup. At first everyone wants to mix, however this quickly loses its appeal. Now is the time to pull out the immersion blender and voilá, everyone’s back to work AND those pesky lumps are gone. Any small blender|agitator will do, but good old stirring works too!
  4. IMG_0648Dressing the eggs – at this point the idea is to get the paper and balloon wet with paste and sticking together with the paper ultimately coating and fully covering the ballon. There are many ways to accomplish this, I savored the thought of dainty paint brushes delicately applying the paste to the paper and then to the balloon – that’s not how it went down in my house. Fingers and scooped hands were the preferred method of applying the nice warm goopy stuff to the paper and eventually to the balloon. IF possible leave the knot of the balloon exposed and conserve a little paste for patching up holes later on.
  5. Drying – at least overnight, if the little ones were especially liberal with the paste, possibly more. It helps to turn the eggs at least once.
  6. Removing the balloon – when they are dry, they are considerably harder than when you started. Give the balloon knot a gentle tug and pierce it – it will make a fun crackling and hissing sound as the air is released and it separates from the “egg shell.” Hang on to the knot and very gently wiggle it out of the hole. If your knot was covered, take your best guess at where it is and with good scissors perform a small operation to expose it. Add a piece of the shredded paper and paste to cover the hole and let dry. There was no patience for more drying in my home, the holes stayed so the egg’s inhabitants could find their way out.
  7. IMG_0658Painting, finally! This one is self-explanatory. One of my favorite parts about using paint is that we have only the basic colors – black, white, red, blue and yellow. I always ask what color they want to paint with and they invariably name a color that we’ll need to make. It’s their job to try and make that color. They get some interesting mixes, but I think it’s a fun and valuable lesson.
  8. Let the paint dry and your dragon | dinosaur | ostrich | giant Easter eggs are ready for play!

Children learn pretty quickly that these are not intended for throwing or rough play, but similar to the old fashioned real eggs that get painted in school, these are meant to be cared for and are best suited for a lively game of hide and seek.

If these are used for an Easter egg hunt many kids are accustomed to the plastic eggs with something inside and may be disappointed that these are not carrying any goodies. However, having made them and knowing there is nothing to open, my little one, had no such expectation and were equally satisfied with the eggs they found – big or small – painted or treat filled.

Sustainability Note – Once these eggs get their fair wear (and we do hide them for months), I can happily toss them into my compost bin. The balloon base is the only thorn in my side.

Reflections…

This is a skill development project as much for my kids as it is for me. While they are practicing manual dexterity, learning about the glue properties of flour and water and how it feels on your skin, figuring out how to make colors, and generally having fun – I am building my ability to let them make their own art without hovering, fixing, or micro-managing along the way.

polaroid dragon eggsMany of the balloons were not completely covered in paste and paper, and later many were not completely coated in paint. Though at first I tried in vain to point this out in hopes one of the two workers would fix it, no one cared but me, and that was my lesson. We were not trying to make Fabergé eggs, yet I desperately wanted the paper to lay flat, for them to use less paste, for the whole ballon to be equally covered and on and on. Eventually, I let go and focused on my own egg where I could happily apply all my compulsions, and then eventually that didn’t need to be perfect either. Take-away message: remember what you are really trying to do – create a fun, learning, shared experience. 

Inspiration came from…Not MarthaJumbo Paper Mache Eggs, and Ultimate Paper Maché.

 

 

Food 4 Thought, Sustainability

Success of our future…

The success of our future hinges on our our ability to maintain one hand firmly planted on the ground – aware, respectful, and working with the earth that sustains us; and the other hand reaching for the stars – for improvement, ability and innovation.

If this resonates with you, how can we make this a reality?