Wednesday, May 29, 2013

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips

TIP #4 
Look under things.
















There's a whole world of critters that live under things—
leaves and rocks and logs.


There they tunnel and nest, beyond the reach of all but the
craftiest foe—and most curious friend. 


Whichever you are, you must be quick.
 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

THE ART & SCIENCE OF FOOD – A Memorial Day Salute – PART 2

A HAPPY, THOUGHTFUL MEMORIAL DAY TO ALL!
As we enjoy the first of America's great patriotic, all-consuming,
over- consuming summer holidays, I thought a few words about  the wonders of 

food might be fitting.

It makes me sad to see how many people seem to approach eating as just one more necessary chore. Do you simply consume your food, or do you experience it?

THE GREAT GRILLED CHEESE AND HOT DOG SCAM
When I was a kid, no one ever gave me the choice of whether or not to eat my vegetables. Mom knew what was good for us, and, except for the occasional bootlegged candy bar or soda, we ate and drank what she served. Balanced meals and a sense of food adventure were part of our family culture.


Today, though, I have to marvel at the little co-dependencies I see played out in so many American families. Parents start their enabling by asking their kids what they want to eat. Are you kidding me? Their kids—having picked up the no-vegetables! mantra from friends and/or media—inevitably make poor choices.

Worse yet, some parents don’t even ask; they just assume their kids won’t eat anything that’s really good for them, and then fulfill their own prophecy. This little scam is then reinforced by the kids’ friends and their parents, and restaurants, which assume the only thing a kid’s ever going to want is a grilled cheese or a hot dog. And we wring our hands about the epidemic of childhood obesity!

Parents just assume their kids won’t eat anything that’s really good for them, and then fulfill their own prophecy.

Just today I saw a TV commercial in which a young mother's standing in her kitchen, pondering a sort of holographic version of the nutritional food groups pyramid. She blithely dismisses every item on the chart that's green, saying something like, "No way my kids are gonna eat these things!" The solution she and the sponsor propose: one of those engineered nutritional drinks originally prescribed for kids temporarily unable to eat solid food. So, if you can't beat 'em, fool 'em!

How sad that kids—with lots of help from all the wrong places—are losing touch with real food! For this wonder seeker, the saddest part of this is seeing them robbed of their natural sense of adventure.

Decide for yourself what your kids should eat ... then leave them with just one choice: eat this or starve.

What can we do to reclaim wonder-full eating for our kids and grandkids? Probably the single best approach: turn off the TV. Decide for yourself what your kids should eat—maybe offering a couple of healthy options—and then leave them with just one choice: eat this or starve.

Short of that draconian measure, my daughter has a smart policy with her headstrong four-year-old: the "no thank you" bite. When the little girl balks at eating something, she must eat at least one bite before she's excused from the table. Then there's always the good old dessert come-on. (I knew there was a logical raison d'etre for dessert!)

"As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices: 
take it or leave it." ~ BUDDY HACKETT

Thursday, May 23, 2013

THE ART & SCIENCE OF FOOD – A Memorial Day Salute

Memorial Day's about remembering and celebrating!
A HAPPY, THOUGHTFUL MEMORIAL DAY  
TO ALL!
As we head into the first of America's great patriotic, all-consuming,
over-consuming summer holidays, I thought a few words about  the wonders of food might be fitting.


There's more to appreciating this miraculous world than the arm's-length sort of discovery we so often associate with wonder. Some wonders we eat. The son of a restaurateur, I learned early and well to appreciate good food and to enjoy exploring new tastes.

Before I could even feed myself, my dad had a wonderful little trick for encouraging me to eat. He’d pretend his hand was a mechanical lift and the spoon its bucket. Straight up from the plate it would go. Chug-a-chug-a-chug. At mouth level, it would creak to a stop, shift gears and grind its way toward my mouth. I couldn’t wait to open the hatch and begin processing that load of whatever it was!

By the time I was three, Mom and Dad had convinced me that broccoli was really little leprechaun green trees, and Brussels sprouts, miniature cabbages. For some reason, appealing to my imagination like this was enough to get me to eat them—and I still do. In fact, both broccoli and Brussels sprouts are among my favorite green veggies.

You don’t have to be coerced to enjoy eating. Aside from the obvious (liking the way things taste), there are lots of ways to appreciate food.

EATING AS ART
Aren't the things we eat beautiful?

First there are the visual delights of food. Most of us appreciate a meal more when it’s presented to us in an attractive way. In fact, a significant part of becoming a good cook involves choosing and arranging food elements that complement each other visually on the plate. On the other hand, I’ve eaten things I couldn’t have stomached if I’d allowed myself to look at them very long: oysters come to mind, as do chapulines (fried grasshoppers).

I love a certain breakfast cafĂ© in our neighborhood because they serve their coffee in clear glass mugs. I can pour in my cream and watch the perfect little “thunderheads” that bloom in the rich brown liquid as the cream billows and then settles, still cool, on the bottom.

Most people think putting butterscotch on their ice cream is about a five-second job. I like to take my time, drizzling it as finely as I can before the stream begins to break. This way, I can draw shapes across the creamy white mounds or hold it perfectly still and watch the delicate amber thread stack up in tiny coils.

How about that first bite through the warm, crackly chocolate surface into the cold creamy center of a Dairy Queen chocolate-dipped cone?
Then there’s the tactile aspect of eating. We’re not supposed to play with our food, but tell that to a one- or two-year-old. As adults, maybe we don’t throw our peas or smear our banana on the wall, but we still appreciate the way our food feels. What can beat the wonderful contrast between the tender inside and crispy surface of well-done hash brown potatoes?

Who can say they don’t love the sweet crystalline coolness of a bite of fresh watermelon (not to mention the ageless fun to be had with its seeds). And how about that first bite through the warm, crackly chocolate surface into the cold creamy center of a Dairy Queen chocolate-dipped cone?

EATING AS SCIENCE
There are all kinds of little science experiments you can do with your food and drink. For example, I still love to put my thumb over the end of a soda straw, lift out a column of soda and then lift my thumb to deposit it in my mouth.


I “discovered” surface tension by filling a glass to the very brim with milk and finding that, when I added a little more, it would actually go above the rim before it overflowed. I watched in great wonder the magical, dancing strings of carbon dioxide bubbles that materialize out of nowhere in a glass of beer.

I used to hate oatmeal. Since it was often about the only thing served for breakfast at summer camp, I eventually learned to like it, but not without inventing an element of play. I’d dig out the center of the sticky, steamy mass to form a little pond. Then I’d fill it with milk and sprinkle brown sugar “sand” all around the “shore.” This didn't just make eating oatmeal more fun, it also was a great way to make it cool faster.

Stricter parents might have taught me a lesson about waste by making me eat the vile potion.

Maybe it was inspired by the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with a few loaves and fishes. When I really, really liked something on my plate and knew there’d be no seconds, I decided that, at least theoretically, I could make it last forever. All I had to do is keep taking no more than half of whatever amount remained.

Most of these games were constructive in that they eventually led to my eating something I might otherwise have left on my plate. Others were not so practical, like my chemistry experiments combining a sample of every dish, drink and condiment on the table in a revolting gray-green pool on my plate. Stricter parents might have taught me a lesson about waste by making me eat the vile potion. I like to think that the long-suffering my parents showed was not merely tolerance, but perhaps a bit of wisdom.

"No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention."    CHRISTOPHER MORLEY

Saturday, May 18, 2013

NEITHER HERE NOR THERE – The Wonder of Flow

Beyond flesh and bone, beyond earth, wind and fire, beyond every tangible thing, there is flow. It is the story of life, the story of everything. Everything flows.

For the human animal, it all starts—and, one might say, ends—with blood. That is what we first are; it nourishes our earliest being. If it were the only thing that ever flowed, that would be some miracle indeed.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
Water is the quintessential liquid. We learn about it in utero—how it feels, how it moves, supports, soothes and quiets.

Once we’re out, our relationship with water deepens. We soon become aware that it has to go into our bodies—and come out again. But first, before we appreciate most of its serious qualities, we learn to play with it. We splash it, squirt it, jump into it and blow bubbles in it, among other amusements.

We may catch an occasional glimpse of what an utter miracle this clear, quicksilver stuff really is.

Eventually we’re taught how water’s a vital part of every living thing. We study how it seeps, pours, breaks into drops, and transforms to vapor and ice. We learn, often the hard way, that it can also hurt us, burning, freezing, knocking the wind out of us, drowning us.

If we’re lucky, if we can allow wonder to draw our mind’s eye around its ubiquitousness, we may catch an occasional glimpse of what an utter miracle this clear, quicksilver stuff really is.


HARDLY FLOWING
Water is our model for how other substances, even unlikely ones, sometimes act like liquids. The easy ones are particulates like sand, soil or snow. They may take a bit longer to give in to gravity’s urging, but eventually they do. It’s only because we become so accustomed to seeing these materials as part of solid earth that landslides, mud flows and avalanches so often catch us unawares.

Mt. Rainier is, geologically, a ticking 
time bomb of flow gone wild.

Even whole mountains flow. The immense, seemingly immutable hulk of Washington state’s Mt. Rainier is, geologically, a ticking time bomb of flow gone wild. The mountain’s internal hydrothermal system, acidic chemistry and 26 glaciers have conspired to turn much of it into a stew of rock, ice and mud.

Rainier’s collapse—some say it’s inevitable—could release a volume of material greater than the nearly one cubic mile set loose when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980—enough to pour, 20 or 30 feet deep, all the way, over the city of Tacoma, to Puget Sound.

Not just water and steam, but also heat, can render the hardest substances runny. Hell, here we are, clinging to the eggshell-thin crust of a big ball filled with 2,000- to 9,000-degree liquid rock!

ONE PERSON’S EBB...
Flow is relative. The other day, as news broke of a wildfire sweeping across part
of northern Wisconsin, I was struck by the irony of the opposing flows—even as
a steady current of wind swept smoke and ash eastward, the fire itself crept relentlessly westward.

The pessimist sees time as flowing away—running 
out, as it were; the optimist sees it flowing in.


Which way we go with the flow depends on where we are and where we choose to look. I float in my canoe down the St. Croix. The water next to me tells me I’m standing still, yet the shore insists I’m moving. One person fears being inundated by a looming life challenge; another paddles hard, catches the wave and rides it to a happier shore.

Isn’t that the way it goes in all of Nature and life? One substance, thought or emotion streams in; another flows out to make room. The Army Corps of Engineers builds seawalls and dikes to save a city, only to squeeze the floodwaters out somewhere else. The pessimist will see time as flowing away—running out, as it were; the optimist sees it flowing in.

One way or another, through all the turbulence, through all life's comings and goings, flow is what makes it all end up in balance.

They pour through the conduits of our universal connections...as sure as any river of finding their ultimate equilibrium.

DAMMED IF WE DO
Not all things that flow can be seen, yet we know they’re there by observing their effects on other things. Life, love, moods, spiritual energy, time—all these forces pour through the conduits of our universal connections with one another and with the earth, as sure as any river of finding their ultimate equilibrium.

I think this may be why I’m so enamored of rivers. Their flow reminds me of all flow, assures me that the best I have to offer to this world will be carried downstream, perhaps to slake the thirst of others. On the other hand, anything I need will eventually float down to me—some of it nourishment from the efforts of others; much of it directly from the Source.

Surely one of the great delusions of human existence is that we can stop flow. We can’t. Have you ever dammed the flow of rainwater in a street gutter? You can can create a huge lake, but sooner or later the water finds a way around, over or through even the best of dams. And the greatest joy, of course, is taking the time and place of that breach into your own hands.

Watch with gratitude as it flows 
with us, through us, past us.

Isn't this the way it is with the flows of fortune and failure, of pleasure and pain, of love and loss in our lives?

Let us acknowledge and celebrate the wonder of it all, this force of beauty and goodness that animates paramecium and blue whale alike, moves the smallest particle and the very planets, and connects all of it.

We can stall it, we can divert it, but only for a time. Best to embrace the flow, perhaps find a way to harness a part of it. Draw power from it; give power back to it; find beauty and inspiration in it; and watch with gratitude as it flows with us, through us, past us.

Or buy a canoe.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

A STILL-BECOMING GREEN


The bold strokes of their branches already applied, trees welcome 
the pointillist's dappling, for now but a thin veil of vibrant color.
 

This barely-unfurling, still-becoming green is tender, innocent, 
as yet unspoiled by the unseemly dust and grime of urban summer. 

And oh, for just this moment, how it glows against still-gray bark 
and branch of other, envious trees!

(This reflection was originally posted 5/20/11)

Friday, May 3, 2013

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

TIP #59
Unravel a smell.

 












Smells, like sights and sounds, interweave in the splendid tapestry 
of sensation that surrounds us.

Are you as curious about a smell as you are a sound? Catch the 
tag end of one you don’t recognize; see if you can follow the 
thread to its origin.

(This reflection is an excerpt from my book, Under the Wild Ginger – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder. To learn more and purchase copies of the book, click on the peach-colored box just to the right of the title of this post.)