“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rushing to Reach the Stop Light

Maybe you’ve been involved in this type of situation. You’re driving along when the car behind you pulls out and passes you. They quickly drive by and you’re left in the dust, only to pull up behind them at the next stop light. I’ve noticed that this happens to me quite a bit lately. Maybe it happens to you too, or perhaps you’re the driver with the heavy foot. : ) I have certainly been that driver before, but lately I’ve slowed down, which has taught me a lesson about patience and focusing forward.

The more we try to push or force things or move forward haphazardly, the more resistance we experience and the more roadblocks or distractions we encounter. How frustrating does it feel when we’re in a hurry and we seem to hit all the red lights? And what goes through our minds as we’re impatiently waiting for the light to turn green? I’m going to be late or I need to do this or I should do that, which often leads to a chain reaction of thoughts about the past: Why did I say this? Or why didn’t I do that? And this negative stream of consciousness can have a profound impact on our mood for the rest of the day as well as our attitude, level of motivation and what we act on, how we handle our relationships, and the choices we make. In short, it can influence how our lives unfold their ultimate level of success.

But if we take our time, and consciously focus on what we’re doing, it’s less likely that our stops will feel like roadblocks and less likely that they will lead to diversions and prevent us from moving forward. They simply feel like pauses that make it much easier for us to regain our momentum. You know the classic story about the tortoise and the hare. In a race, the hare speeds along and is repeatedly interrupted and distracted and winds up losing to the tortoise who moves forward at a slow and steady pace. It’s the same in our lives. If we can steadily focus forward without being tempted by unnecessary distractions or moving too quickly, we will be far more effective, than if we operate with a “monkey mind”, darting between one task, idea, or goal to the next. Not only is this ineffective, I’ve found that it drains both mental and physical energy as well. And besides, in the case of our cars, it does a number on the brakes!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vanilla Rooibos Quinoa with Coconut Milk

I recently discovered Tazo’s Vanilla Rooibos tea and since then, it’s been my beverage of choice at Starbuck’s. Just take a look at one of these gorgeous, aromatic little sachets and you’ll understand why. The front of the tin describes it as “A lush and indulgent blend of rooibos, Tahitian vanilla, cinnamon, apples & peaches.” By itself, it’s so flavorful with just the right amount of sweetness that I consider it a treat. Which gave me the idea of using it to make a dessert quinoa. What I do is soak the quinoa in the tea before cooking so that it absorbs some of the flavor slowly while at the same time cutting down on the cooking time. In addition, I soak the quinoa in water first to help remove the enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid that make the seeds less digestible. This is particularly helpful for raw nuts and seeds and a very good idea if you’re eating them raw. It also stimulates the production of enzymes and nutrients in the seeds that are beneficial, since the seeds “think” it’s time to grow. In fact, you can sprout a variety of raw seeds and incorporate them into your diet as a way to boost its nutritional density. Plus, there’s something about watching life emerge from a seed that is fascinating and fun and I encourage you to try it. You can find out here where I explain how to sprout alfalfa seeds, which are best eaten cooked.

Tazo Tea Quinoa

1.5 cups quinoa

2 Tazo Vanilla Rooibos tea bags

1.5 c water

1.5 c coconut milk, divided

½ t sea salt

2 T sucanat or other sweetener

1 t cinnamon

¼ t cloves

1 t vanilla

¼ c shredded, unsweetened coconut

½ c dried fruit (raisins, currants, or apricots)

½ c raw nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc.)

Place the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse, rinse, rinse, to remove outer resin called saponin, which can give the quinoa a bitter taste. In a glass bowl, soak the quinoa in water for about 3 hours (add enough water so that it rises about an inch above the seeds). Soak the nuts as well in a separate bowl of water. If using almonds, soak for at least 8 hours. At least 1 hour before the end of the soaking time, seep the two teabags in 1.5 cups of boiling water. You can make this as strong as you like – I like it on the strong side for this recipe. Let cool. Drain the quinoa, then add the tea, mix well, and soak for an additional hour. Add the quinoa/tea mixture to a medium pot and heat to a boil, then add ½ cup of coconut milk, the sea salt, sucanat, cinnamon, and cloves. Mix well, bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the quinoa is cooked. This should take only about 10 minutes since the quinoa was presoaked. Add the vanilla, coconut, drained nuts, and dried fruit. Add the remaining cup of coconut milk or enough to reach the desired consistency. Mix well and serve.

This quinoa is nutritious enough for breakfast and delicious enough for dessert!

Monday, April 12, 2010

In Someone Else's Shoes

Early last year, I had the privilege of spending a few months as a volunteer in Rwanda working with an organization called Gardens for Health, International. Their goal is to help groups of people with HIV learn how to independently and sustainably grow their own food with the idea that better nutrition will allow their retroviral drugs to be more effective. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend the time in such a beautiful part of Africa and meet so many remarkable people. As rewarding as it was, it was as equally heart wrenching to see the suffering since so many of the sick were also poverty stricken.

While I was there, I was fortunate enough to be staying in a lovely neighborhood and each morning I would walk part of the way to work before hailing a motorcycle taxi. Every morning, I would walk by a beautiful home on a hill and often, the housekeeper would be outside at the bottom of the hill sweeping the dirt from the driveway to the side of the road. Some days, if there had been a heavy rain, I would even see her sweeping the mud from the road in front of the house over to the side as well. It always reminded me of the quote by Mother Teresa: “If everyone swept their own doorstep the whole world would be clean.” Every single time I would walk by, she would wave and flash me a beautiful smile and say hello and good morning in Kinyarwandan: “Mwaramutse”, she would say and I would greet her back.

One day, I came home early and was walking up to the house where I was staying. Just as I reached the driveway, I heard something behind me and realized that the same woman had been following me. I stopped and waited for her to approach and as she did, she began to point to her mouth as if she was hungry. We could not speak to one another but I understood perfectly. As she got closer, I noticed that she was wearing a very-worn, thin, dirty and broken pair of flip-flops and that her feet were incredibly dry and cracked and a bit swollen. I remember thinking how painful they looked. I think she noticed me looking at her feet because she looked down at my shoes. I had only brought two pairs of shoes and a pair of sandals with me to Rwanda. The pair I was wearing was for everyday and they were very comfortable for walking; something that I was doing a lot. I had been wearing them for almost two months and my feet were very happy. I took off one of my shoes and she tried it on. It seemed to fit perfectly and the reaction on her face was as if she had never in her wildest dreams imagined that her foot could feel so good. Before I knew it, I had given her the other shoe. She looked at me as if she didn’t believe I was letting her have my shoes. Seriously, I never intended to give them away and the exchange happened without a second thought on my part. It actually felt a bit surreal at the time. She slipped on the second shoe and then raised her hands and looked towards the sky and with much emotion said thank you and went on reciting some things I did not understand. I smiled and said you’re welcome and gave her a big hug and she continued to get emotional and continued with her hand gestures and to say thank you as she walked away with my shoes. And I climbed the driveway and walked into the house barefoot with a smile on my face.

Later I thought that we don’t think about our feet when they’re comfortable, but their comfort certainly contributes to our overall sense of wellbeing. I thought about what it would be like to have to live out my days without shoes. It would have made my work incredibly difficult while I was in Rwanda. Many people throughout the world will never even get to experience the feeling of a comfortable pair of shoes. Maybe some have no need to, but there are many who do.

My feet weren’t quite as comfortable for the rest of my stay, but it didn’t bother me. I was happy that I put a smile on my friend’s face and made her feet feel good because she had been putting a smile on my face and making me feel good every morning when I passed by. And we both got a taste of what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes…

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trees of Life

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been driving by a Pinchot Sycamore tree that is evidently the largest tree in Connecticut and the largest of its species in New England. It’s certainly no California Redwood but there is no denying that it is massive. Its main limbs stretch out and up beginning near the base resulting in an expansive reach that is wider than it is high. In 1998, it was measured to have a circumference of 26 feet, a height of 95 feet, and a canopy of 140 feet. In fact, standing on the side of the road, it was difficult to get a picture of the entire tree and looking at the pictures I did take of it, they don’t do it justice.

You may be thinking, why are you so interested in this tree? It’s not so much this tree as it is trees in general. This time of the year, the trees are budding. Many of them simply bud their leaves, but there are several varieties such as dogwoods that produce brilliant flowers that are only around for a short time. Between the daffodils and tulips and the flowering trees, it’s a very colorful time of the year around here and one where I’m guessing many people take the time to actually admire the trees. After a short time, though, the flowers drop and the leaves emerge and then the trees are simply filled with green (or red) and they mostly go unnoticed. We don’t realize, though, how valuable these trees are to us all. In fact, when I thought of all the things that trees “do”, I began to appreciate them even more:

1. They produce oxygen – essential for life as we all know;

2. They consume carbon dioxide – critical for the atmosphere and interestingly I read that because of the rise in CO2, plants are actually growing faster. A benefit for them perhaps;

3. They remove toxins from the ground and air;

4. They provide food to all organisms – some produce fruit, some nuts, some seeds, some sweetener, and even the Moringa tree provides a valuable, nutrient-dense leaf that is being used to save lives in India and Africa;

5. They produce shade and have a cooling effect. How wonderful is it to sit under a tree on a hot summer day to rest or read a book?

6. They are home and protection to a vast number of species that include primates, birds, reptiles, bugs, mosses, fungi, and bacteria;

7. They are a source of play – tree houses, tree swings, and hammocks (mostly) would not be without the tree;

8. They stabilize the ground and nourish it.

I’m sure there are things missing from this list. The bottom line for me is that I’m convinced that without trees, we would not exist. In fact, I understand and have a great appreciation for so-called “tree huggers”- those people who are so passionate about trees that they will make a very strong statement by camping out in a tree for sometimes years at a time. So after the flowers fall and the leaves fill in the spaces, I will continue to be grateful for trees – we all should be…

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Personal Touch

The other day, I walked into a fairly large and busy post office to mail a package. I didn’t have a box so I chose one of the boxes available there, filled in the shipping information, then placed the items inside and got in the long line. The gentleman at the counter was busy at work trying to take care of all the customers as efficiently as possible and I could see how organized he was. When I got to the counter, I asked him if he could tape the box for me. He responded by saying, “Sorry, but we’re not allowed to tape boxes anymore, but there’s tape on the display that you can purchase.” I said, “Really?” I was a little surprised, but decided to return with the package because I had a roll of tape at home. The following day went by with me away so the package didn’t get mailed. The next day, with the package still in my car, I forgot my tape and decided that I had no excuse and would buy the tape when I got to the post office. On this particular day, though, I went to a small, mom and pop location that I pass almost everyday. I walked in, took a roll of tape from the display and approached the counter where there was no line. There was a gentleman there that greeted me. I said hello and that I just needed to tape up my box. He said, “Is this the only thing you need to tape? I can do that for you.” I said, “Really?” He grabbed his tape gun and taped up my box. I was very thankful because I understood that he didn’t have to do that for me. When we were finished, we both said goodbye and wished each other a nice day and I walked out with a smile on my face.

I thought about the differences in the two locations. Both are doing the same thing. One is large with lots of traffic where the need for efficiency seemed to be the biggest priority and the gentleman there was doing his job very well. The other is small with less traffic and although the man who served me was no less efficient, he was able to take the time to add a personal touch to his service. I believe in today’s fast-paced society, there is an even greater need for these types of interactions on a daily basis because most of us are absorbed in our own worlds, coasting on autopilot, often even ignoring the people around us. Many of us don’t understand that the smallest of actions for each other can make all the difference in how we feel, and feeling as if we’re making even the slightest difference can have a profound impact on our moods – they do for me, anyway. When I walked out of that little post office, I decided that from now on, I would take my business there. Not because the large location did anything wrong, but because I understand the value of the personal touch, which was definitely right.