I was at a meeting tonight where the conversation slid off topic (as is apt to happen in meetings) and onto the much more interesting topic of the little things we do each day to take care of ourselves. One colleague shyly admitted that each day she writes an inspirational quote on an index card and carries it in her pocket. Throughout the day she'll read it when she has the odd free moment (waiting on hold, waiting for her computer to boot up, waiting in line...there appears to be a bit of a pattern here). She also makes a point of reading that day's card right before she sets out on her daily walk (another bit of self-care). Throughout the walk she thinks about the quote and how/if it can be applied to her life.
It took a bit of coaxing, but we convinced her to share today's quote.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” - Theodore Roosevelt
We all sat in silence. That one quote could put the whole self-help book industry out of business.
If you have a quote that's important to you or provides you with inspiration, I hope you'll take a moment to share it in the comments.
A pumpkin I made during a recent glass blowing class.
I am always on the lookout for something quick and healthy that I can grab as I'm headed out the door. This is especially true for evening walks. When I get home from work each day I tell myself, I'll just have a little dinner and then go for a walk. By the time I've made my dinner and sat down to eat it, my body has slipped from the motion of daytime life, to a lazy, nearly inert evening state. Absolutely no part of me wants to go out for a walk.
This is where the Playground Granola Bar rides in to save the day. I can walk in the door, grab a couple of these and head straight back out for a walk. They're filling enough that I'm OK with postponing dinner a little while, and healthy enough that I don't feel like I'm eating desert.
These bars are hearty and chewy. The recipe as originally written (see above link) is full of ingredients I typically have on hand, so I don't have to plan ahead to make them. And best of all, as many people have noted in the recipe's comments, the possibilities for customization are endless.
The first time I made them, I tweeked the fat and sugar content to make them a bit healthier. I replaced half the vegetable oil with unsweetened, plain apple sauce, a trick that a friend's mother taught me way back in elementary school. I also cut the amount of brown sugar in half. That batch tasted so good that I've gotten more adventuresome in my adjustments. My latest version is an ode to the flavors of fall.
Autumn Granola Bars
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup bran flour
handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips/chopped baking chocolate
1/4 cup honey (or more honestly, whatever comes out before I'm tired of holding the bottle upside down while squeezing)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup apple sauce
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9 x 13" pan (I usually use a 9" cake pan because it's what I have)
In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients.
Make a hole in the center and add the wet ingredients.
Mix thoroughly. The dough will become quite thick, so you may want to use your hands for this. I've found a wide spatula makes a good stirring tool and helps to capture any flour at the bottom of the bowl.
Spread into the pan.
Bake 30-35 minutes until golden. Allow to cool. The original recipe recommends cutting the bars before they've completely cooled. I've never found this necessary, but that may be due to the extra moisture I've added through the apple sauce and pumpkin puree.
I usually store half of mine in the refrigerator and freeze the other half.
Bowl courtesy of my grandmother's collection. Squash from The Food Project (see sidebar)
There's something about the change from summer to autumn that is more ominous and thought consuming than any other seasonal change in the year. The change from winter into spring is more dramatic, but by the time those first green sprouts sparkle like emeralds in the snow, we're ready to get down on our hands and knees to kiss them. We run headlong toward spring.
I'd been fighting this dread for about a week, when a wonderfully freeing, and as is so often the case, incredibly obvious thought occurred to me. Whether I grumble and obsess, or smile and accept it, summer will end, autumn will come and the days will grow ever and ever shorter. Why waste engergy dreading it? How could that energy be better spent?
Accepting Autumn - a To Do List
Return my mind (and hands) to the cozier crafts of knitting, quilting and crochet. Done
Wipe the dust from my recipe books and dream of the baking and braising to come. Done
Remember all the outdoor activities that I put on hold through the soporific heat of summer. Done
Make friends with the darkness In progress
This last one may be the most crucial. The loss of daylight, is really the only thing I dread about the change from summer to autumn. I love the cooler weather, the dryer air, needing a sweater in the evening, and eventually, waking to silvery, frosted grass. If sunset could just continue to happen after dinner, rather than before, it would be the perfect season.
Since I don't see the tilt of the Earth changing to satisfy my preferences, I've started taking my walks after dark in preparation. Taking a walk on a soft, summer night is a pleasure. My theory is, that if I can create enough good associations with walking in the dark now, maybe when I have little other choice I will see it as a good thing. If not, at least I'll be accustomed to it, which is better than where I was a week ago.
My preparations for autumn may not be as tangible as stacking firewood or canning tomatoes, but they're what I needed to help me enjoy summer's passing.
I've been curious about meditation since I was in high school. From time to time I've sought through books and video how-to's to learn how to do it. I've focused on my breath, imagining it filling and then emptying from every part of me. I've slowed my breath to the point of getting a little light headed, and wondered how this could possibly be relaxing. I've made lists of potential mantras, have tried sitting, lying down, even lying down with my feet raised above my head and in the end concluded that it simply wasn't for me. I could not meditate and that was OK.
In the last fewmonths, I've been surprised several times to hear some of my favorite activities called "the new yoga" for their ability to induce meditation. This came up again and again in Tom Ashbrook's On Point episode on the resurgence of knitting. When knitters talk about losing track of time and feeling like their mind has been set free from their body, I know just what they mean. The same thing has happened when I'm out on a walk. Once I'm warmed up, my legs and arms find their rhythm and suddenly I realize I'm several miles from where I was the last time I took notice of my surroundings. I've often thought this was an example of flow, but maybe I was wrong and it's actually meditation. My previous attempts had convinced me that meditation was something that required an exhaustive struggle to tame the mind. If meditation can be achieved through fun activities, that's like finding out that dark chocolate is actually good for you (in moderation of course, but still, that's something).
I tried to research the difference between flow and meditation and found myself more confused than ever. One source said that one is a state of mind and the other is an activity. I found flow described as something that happens during meditation and distinctions being made between flow and mindfulness. I finally decided that correctly naming the experience wasn't relevant to my enjoyment of it, and stopped the search.
However, before I gave up, I stumbled on a review of a study on the calming effects of yoga (specifically in relation to anxiety and depression). Susan Seligson of Bostonia Magazine (Spring 2011) did a great job summarizing the study for the non-psychologists of the world, so I'd like to share her introduction here.
"Even the most mainstream psychiatrists might agree that yoga is like chicken soup - it can't hurt. But researcher Chris Streeter has gone a step further toward validating yoga's potential to help treat depression and anxiety. In a recent study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine...[Streeter and colleagues] scanned the brains of yoga practitioners and found that compared with that age-old stress reliever, walking, yoga brings a greater improvement in mood and decrease in anxiety" (Seligson 9).
Did you notice what activity the researchers chose for their control group? Our good friend "that age-old stress reliever, walking" (Seligson 9). The researchers had previously found that GABA levels of yoga practitioners were higher than in a reading control group. This is really interesting because low GABA levels are found in people with anxiety and mood disorders (including depression). In this study they wanted to check if it was physical activity or yoga specifically that was responsible for the change in GABA levels (Streeter et al. 1146).
One of the many things I found interesting about this, was that the researchers actually had the means to ensure that the activity both groups (yoga and walkers) experienced was equal. They used a list of metabolic equivalents (METs) created by the American College of Sports Medicine to determine the physcail demands of each activity. It makes sense that such a thing would exist, but it's so outside my realm of knowledge that I found its existence surprising. Based on this system, they knew that one hour of the specified type of yoga was equal in to one hour of walking at 2.5 MPH on a flat plane (Streeter et al. 1146). To ensure the equivalence, I assume the walkers were on treadmills, which instantly takes away the joy of walking in my opinion. It is however, a sure way to know that the walkers' mood is purely related to the mechanics of walking and not what they're seeing and feeling along the way.
Which brings me to how Chris Streeter addressed the question of whether or not their study was saying that yoga was better than walking. Streeter replied "In this study, in this population, walking didn't prove to be as beneficial to mood as yoga. It doesn't mean that yoga is better than walking, in other populations and other situations" (Seligson 9). I'd be curious to know what the GABA levels of someone who has been out walking in the heady early days of spring would be. How would those results compare with the treadmill walkers (and yoga practitioners)? Is it the action of bone, muscle and sinnew or the sights and sounds that make walking so enjoyable? It wouldn't be a scientifically accurate comparison, but it would certainly be interesting.
If you'd like to know more about flow, watch this entertaining and informative talk given by the creater of the term. This video comes from Ted.com, where you can find talks given by "the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers" (Ted.com)
Seligson, Susan. "Your Brain on Yoga: Calmer, More Content." Bostonia Winter-Spring 2011:Print
Streeter, Chris et al. "Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study." Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 16.11 (2010): 1145-1152. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.
"On Point" with Tom Ashbrook just did a great show on the winter blues and our emotional calendars. You can listen to it at http://www.onpointradio.org/2011/01/emotional-calendars The part I found most interesting is how even people who live in sunny locations can be affected.