Please, Have a Cookie

It has been awhile since I have felt like writing and it has been even longer since I have had the time. I have been busy with all the same things as everyone else, but I have also felt the weight of grief weighing on my mind, muscles and emotions. How have I been coping? Baking. It sounds strange and a little naive, I know. Very few things make sense in my world right now, but recipes do. Buy the ingredients, measure them out, combine them in the right order, pop them in the oven and everything turns out as promised. No surprises. Just what I wanted. Comfort.

I have been doing a lot of baking with my daughter. She is only two so there is a limit to what she can do and to how much I can stand her “help”. Let’s see…here is a list of what I have baked since my last post:

– Chocolate sour cream cupcakes with cream cheese icing and dark chocolate candy topping
– Almond turtles
– Chocolate whisky cookies
– M&M peanut butter cookies
– After Eight Mint and dark chocolate brownies
– Sour cream sugar cookies toped with cream cheese icing and sprinkles
– Hot cocoa mix popcorn
– Chocolate Rolo Nutella Cookies
– Nutella chocolate chip cookie bars
– Dark chocolate pretzel and caramel bark
– Gingerbread muffins
– Banana bread muffins

Have I missed anything? Most of these were given away as gift boxes. My husband and I have also surprised our co-workers with homemade treats. If anyone asked, “If there is anything I can do to help with your loss,” I would say, “Please have a cookie.”

20131225-220431.jpg

20131225-220448.jpg

20131225-220752.jpg

Advertisements

Meditation Challenge Drop-out

Image

I have a confession to make. I quit my meditation challenge. A week ago. I really do not know why except to say that, if I am avoiding meditation, it probably means I need to do more of it.

And the meditations led by Deepak and Oprah as part of their 21-Day Meditation Challenge were so nice to listen to. As a women that grew up just two hours south of Oprah’s studios in Chicago, I basically grew up with her (for better or worse). It is nice to hear her voice and her affirmations. Unfortunately, the meditations only stay posted online for five days.

Perhaps I am being too hard on myself. I have done moving meditation. Mummy Flying Solo made me realize that long walks, yoga and to some extent baking and vacuuming are forms of meditation for me. They eacj relax me and still my mind in some respects more than typical meditation can. In preparation for a team event I hosted at work, for instance, I vacuumed a huge office space. It was quiet. I was alone. The lights were dimmed. All I thought about was lining up my next sweep with the last. Repeat. Repeat. It completely cleared my mind and was not a half bad workout, incidentally.

Mowing a lawn would probably do the same for me…if we had a lawn. I am not about to become a cleaning lady or a landscaper. A big part of the charm is these activities is that I do them rarely. Perhaps I am just kidding myself; trying to avoid the fact that I did not follow through on my meditation challenge.

Another challenge? Not for now. In six weeks I start taking Dutch language courses on Thursday evenings so I am going to relax until then.

My New Buddy

Image

This summer, I am getting more fit and trying to drop a few pounds. I am working out 3 days per week and make it a priority to get moving more every day. I am gradually getting more toned, but the pounds are not budging.

To stay motivated, I listen to Jillian Michaels’ podcast and read a few fitness blogs – mainly Roni’s Weigh. Jillian and her guests are really motivating and tell it like it is. I finally took her advice and am getting serious about monitoring my calories in and out. I am sure I eat more than I think and burn off less than I give myself credit for. She also gives great tips on going organic as well as the latest kit out there to keep exercise easy and interesting.

I am not a gadget girl, but the fitness tools out there have sure come a long way in the past few years. In the past, I quickly got bored of using an online calculator to guesstimate my workouts and keep a food diary. But I have heard some good things about Fitbit and the MyFitnessPal app so I am giving them a try.

On a whim, I ordered the Fitbit Flex today from Amazon. I can’t wait for it to arrive! I went with the Fitbit Flex because it looks like nothing more than a thick rubber band to wear on my wrist. I can see myself wearing to work and no one noticing it. Reviews say it is not as completely reliable as the monitors you clip to your belt or bra, but I see myself sticking more with something I can keep on my wrist than something I have clipped to my clothes. I would rather get regular use out of a wrist band type tracker than forget to use or lose a belt clip version. And, besides, I am not an Olympic athlete. How precise does it really have to be?

I logged my first day with MyFitnessPal today. It has a great feature of being able to enter in a recipe and it will calculate the calories, protein, fat, etc. per serving. I just entered in the ingredients from my recipe for zucchini bread and save it to my profile. Since I eat it every morning, I just select one portion of zucchini bread from my recipes and I am done.

Another great feature for me is that I selected the country I am living in and the database actually has most of the foods from my local grocery store here in The Netherlands. They have the brands of food we eat in both their English and Dutch names. That will save me SO much time in updating my food diary.

Until my Fitbit arrives, I am estimating my exercise on MyFitnessPal. When I do that, it automatically calculate how many calories I will burn and, as a result, adjusts how many calories I can eat to reach my goal of losing a pound per week. This may be old news to most of you, but I have not tried tracking my calories and exercise online in over five years and a lot has changed (for the better) since then.

As expected, the tool opened my eyes to how much I am overeating (about 250 calories today). It also motivated me to get out for a short walk over lunch and after work.

30 Day Meditation Challenge: Day 16

Core Power Yoga Sculpt by soaring bird
Core Power Yoga Sculpt by soaring bird

Method:

Simply Being App – 15 minutes, guided meditation, music

Thoughts:

Today I did a 15-minute guided meditation after trying out a new yoga dvd, Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown. Michaels really packs a workout into just 30 minutes. I found the workout more intense than the hour long Les Mills Body Balance class I take at our local fitness club. Yoga Meltdown is more of a cardio workout than a relaxation practice, but I am finding it easier to meditate if I have just done something physically active. The focusing required for keeping up with the movements in a class (or on a dvd) sweeps clean my thoughts. It is then easier for me to get in to a meditative mindset.

Meditation is the most difficult for me if I have just been sedentary in front of a computer or television. I found that out during this past week. Meditation has been difficult the past few days. My thoughts were really whirling at times. I spent a lot of time consciously bringing my focus back to my breath. It reminded me of chasing down my toddler over and over again when she does not want to get dressed.

I also signed-up for another meditation challenge beginning on August 5th. Oprah and Deepak Chopra are leading a 21-Day Challenge through Oprah’s Lifeclass Series & The Chopra Center. It has been a few years since I followed a program of Oprah’s like this. This topic, though, is timed perfectly with my current interests so why not give it a try? It is online and free.

30 Day Meditation Challenge: Day 9

Image

Method: Simply Being App

– Raining sound, 10 minutes, guided by app, laying down in a starfish position

Thoughts

I just finished today’s meditation. I found it relaxing, but in a completely different way than the other days. Today’s meditation felt like a processing session. I had two friends over for dinner last night. I had not seen these friends in some time. We were also all without our toddlers and husbands so we were really able to talk.

I mention this only because I spend the next day(s) replaying events like that in my head. Sometimes it is to replay advice or anecdotes they have said that made me laugh or re-assured me. Mostly, though, I am evaluating myself – what I said, how I reacted. “Did I talk too much? Did I respond well? What did I forget to ask? What did I wish I would not have said?”

Am I the only person that does this? When I really value a person’s opinion and our relationship, I tend to be hyper-analytical of myself after an interaction. I used to be that way during conversations and, if left unchecked, can still get caught up in that, but now I try to make a conscious effort to stay present. I try to focus on what is immediately in front of me – the words coming out of my friends’ mouths; the food I am eating; the drink I am drinking; the birds chirping outside; the green leaves of the plants in our sunroom where we ate dinner.

So…all of these thoughts were whirling around during my mediation. I finally just told myself, “Okay. This is the space and the time to process all these thoughts. Process it. Let it whirl. Then we are done. After this 10 minutes, we are moving on with our day.” Let’s see if it works.

Lastly, not digging the rain sound on this app. It sounds kinda like a crackling fire to me. Not relaxing for me.

Image

30 Day Meditation Challenge: Day 5

Image

Technique

10 minute guided meditation with Simply Being app – listened to flowing water

Thoughts

It is definitely getting easier. When the woman guiding my meditation said that my ten minutes was over, my first thought was, “Wow! Already?!”

I also like the running water sound over the ocean sound I tried last time. Go figure. Maybe I am less prone to think about the beach vacation I wish I were on if I listen to just plain old running water.

Other Stuff

Breakfasts

This week I have also made an effort to swap out my morning grande iced Americano & milk with iced sun tea. It has saved me EUR 3.10 per day and made me far less jumpy in the morning. I really enjoy the kick start of the Americano (and it’s 3 shots of espresso), but, hours later when my heart was still racing and I had an unquenchable thirst, I did not feel so great. I also noticed that, mid-afternoon, when the Americano finally wore off, I’d have a huge energy dip. It seemed to make my energy high’s higher and the low’s lower.

I am LOVING my homemade zucchini bread this week. I have been making Smitten Kitchen’s zucchini bread the last several weeks. I alternate the zucchini with shredded carrots sometimes too. I have made some substitutions that really hit the spot.

Substitutions

  • Skip the vanilla extract
  • Substitute half of the oil for a little more than 1/4 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
  • Use 3 teaspoons cinnamon & 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • Use the biggest round springform pan I can fine.

Listening To

Cannot get enough of Brene Brown’s seminar, “The Power of Vulnerability“. I first heard about her 2010 TED Talk and then again recently Tracy from Shutterbean was raving about Brown’s latest book to Joy the Baker on their podcast. I went to Audible.com and downloaded the longest thing I could find that Audible was offering featuring Brown (gotta get the most bang for my buck, right?!)

All I can say is- Get it, Download it, Listen to it. Brown is a great presenter even if you are only listening to her recorded. She is motivating, insightful, funny, and most of all down-to-earth. For every pitfall she tells you how to avoid, she has at least one funny true story of her own struggles.

Favorite take-away so far: Treating shame like a Gremlin.

Do you remember that movie? When you would expose those evil little monsters to the light, they would dissolve. The same goes with shame. When you name what is shaming you (to a trusted empathizer) it immediately dissolves most of the shames power over you.

Book Review: Blessings

"Blessing" Book Cover
“Blessing” Book Cover

I just finished listening to “Blessings” by Anna Quindlen. It is gut wrenchingly good. The writing has that balance that is so difficult to find today. It is so well crafted and thoughtful yet still accessible. It is a story so well written that, in the twists and turns, I had to remind myself that this was only fiction.

“Blessings” is a store about a newborn baby abandoned at the driveway of a wealthy estate owned by the Blessing Family. The caretaker, a man in his twenties, finds the newborn wrapped in a soiled flannel shirt in a flimsy cardboard box. The baby is still so new to the world that she has the stub of her umbilical cord – tied off by the barrette of her estranged mother. The man just out of prison with barely a father to speak of for himself, raises the baby as his own.

Quindlen writes about the early days of parenting as only a parent can. She accurately yet poetically describes those frantic days of trying  to understand an infant that cries for no clear reason and seems to want nothing more than to go back to whence she came. You can just picture the smiles of this baby girl and how she clasps this young father’s finger and unfurled the heart a harsh life has locked away. You are proud of the single father like a he is a friend because Quindlen develops each character so nicely.

I think what grabbed my heart the most is how she so accurately touches on what a baby does to the hearts of those around her. Quindlen describes perfectly how a baby seems to open possibility in the minds of those jaded by the world. She makes the young man want more out of life for his daughter and himself. And, for those that feel as if they have outlived their life just as the matriarch of The Blessings thinks, a baby makes you look forward to the future if for nothing more than to watch the little one take her first steps or watch the dawn of recognition in her eyes and smile.

It is beautiful to listen to and filled with enough suspense to keep me listening to it. I found myself keeping my Ipod on as I cleaned up around the house or rode my bike to the office just so I could get in a few more minutes of the story. It is one of those books you do not want to end, but cannot put down. Yes, it is sappy, but I think mothers and grandmothers in particular will like it.

I will not spoil the book for you, but will say that I think any parent will find it heart wrenchingly beautiful and accurate. I found myself hugging E a bit tighter and gazing at her a bit longer. My husband thought I was ridiculous. But if something makes you cherish your life just that much more, why not let yourself get lost in it?