Slow Cooking A Life



At age seventy-two, I’ve suddenly realized that having a happy life and living authentically, is like slow-cooking. It’s about allowing myself to gather the ingredients for a recipe and letting it simmer on the back of the stove on the lowest flame possible. When my mother taught me to make her heavenly, cure-all chicken soup, she said, “Put all the ingredients in the stock pot, bring it to a raging boil, then turn the heat down until it’s just smiling.” What she meant was that it needed to cook very slowly. There would be no bubbling; only a slight shimmer on the surface of the liquid, and then you let it sit like that all day, while you went about your business.

In 2008, I finally accepted the fact that I was struggling with PTSD. It made sense because of my history of being abused as a child, and spending most of my adult years suffering from depression and extreme anxiety. Not wanting to spend the rest of my life being unhappy, I decided to seek help and quit blaming my pain on everyone else around me. Taking full responsibility for who I am and what I put out into the world was/is my goal. After three years of therapy with a psychologist whose specialty was dealing with trauma, I was well on my way to becoming whole and finding ways to deal with life on my own terms. This is how I did it:

I imagined my life as huge layer cake with too many dense layers to count. The layers themselves never had distinctive flavors. They were simply made up of different parts of my life, including what I do on a daily basis; the getting up, going to work, and then to bed kind of things, that go on day after day, like paying the bills, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and putting up with the dog across the street that barks all night.

In between each layer I hid the nitty-gritty stuff; my raw emotions, unhappiness, anger, losses, my victimhood, shame, boredom, laziness, fear, depression, and lack of hope. But mixed in with all that bitterness were tiny bits of something rather pleasing that I couldn’t identify. It was like a distant voice telling me to wake up and smell the roses. On occasion it sang to me and presented me with visions of huge bouquets of freshly picked tulips and daffodils.

Tired of that same old, same old, wanting to hear more music, and be given magnificent bouquets of flowers, I set out to bake a new cake for myself. I wanted the layers to be lighter and flavorful. Almond, dark chocolate, honey, or vanilla were just a few possibilities. I imagined it’s butter cream frosting sprinkled with red and pink rose pedals, and dusted with finely shredded coconut. In between the layers I envisioned things like fresh strawberries, chocolate ganache, marzipan, pineapple, and a host of other delicacies that would make life sweeter and a happier place to be.

The first thing I did was sit down outside in the sun and allow myself to stare into space. I tried to envision where I could find some of the necessary ingredients for this new cake. Instead, I found my eyes closing as I listened to a light breeze whispering through the pines. A mockingbird called out, trying out its own version of meowing as it flitted through the yard, teasing Lilli, the cat. I dozed off and woke feeling deliciously peaceful.

After several days of returning to the same spot, hoping to discover the place where I could find those seemingly unattainable ingredients, I realized I had found the most important one. By allowing myself to relax, empty my mind, and feel the warmth of the sun all over my body, I felt calmer, and happier. Over time, I found I could repeat the experience, even stuck inside on cold, rainy, or snowy days. The burdens I’d been carrying grew lighter.

Instead of feeling constantly rushed by what I thought I needed to be doing, I took to saying, “NO,” when asked to do things that overwhelmed me. I refused to be rushed into making snap decisions, or driving like a maniac to get to the theatre, movies, or appointments on time. It was hard. Everyone around me was on speed. Used to taking care of everyone else’s wishes but my own, I often slipped backwards into old patterns, feeling further abused. I blamed my slip ups on everyone else, while kicking myself in the butt for being stupid. But with practice, it got better.

I instead of filling my journal with rants about life and a litany of mundane things I’d done each day, I began adding notes about things I was grateful for, including those wonderful “light bulb moments,” that suddenly began appearing on a regular basis. From there I started several blogs where I published poems I’d written, and longer pieces about the natural world.

When the idea of writing a book came to me, this current blog, was my starting point. I posted family stories here and as the idea of writing a memoir became real, it’s where I continuesharing my stories and exploring my journey as I continue to heal.

Through writing about one small part of my life in, Me, Myself, and Mom, I see my life and those within it through new eyes. It’s all been sitting in the stock pot on the back burner of the stove, taking its sweet old time. And after a very long bake, is the best cake I’ve ever baked. It too has taken time. There is no instant gratification doing it my way, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been before. And life is sweet enough that I’ve given up sugar and gluten as another way to stay healthy.

Is your life boiling away into thin air, or is it on the back burner, smiling as it slowly cooks?


IMG_1643It’s June. Half the year is shot. I was glad to see winter melt into spring, but the worst of Virginia weather is before us with its heat and humidity. Summer is not my favorite time of year here.  Spring and the fall are my favorite seasons at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  On the best of days the temperature is just right, somewhere in the mid-seventies. There’s usually a nice breeze and lots of sunshine. Often afternoon showers water my garden for me.

I rise early, walk the dogs, then I leave the dogs behind and go on what I call a “Hood Hike.”  I pick up my speed and get my heart pumping, rather than lollygagging around every shrub and blade of grass, so that Max and Sam can read the doggie newspaper.

There are lots of hills in the neighborhood. They work just about every muscle in my lower body.  A former neighbor named the worst one, “Killer Hill.” I don’t even like driving up it.  It feels like I’m shooting for the moon.  But it’s rather short and sweet and I try to do it a couple of times a week to really get my heart going. I’ve seen several people run up, but I’d rather die.

This past winter on one of our worst snow days, the kids in the area built moguls on that snowy incline, sliding down on sleds and trays over, and through their hand-made obstacle course. Parents stood at either end guarding the route so that nobody would get hit by a car.  Most of us never use that hill under those conditions anyway. It’s too steep and would be impossible to navigate unless you have four-wheel drive.

With warmer temperatures just days away, I’m beginning to plan my summer exercise strategy.  On hot days I’ll get up even earlier to walk.  But if I can’t get myself out of bed, I’ll use my old cross-trainer in my air-conditioned studio.  I could also walk at dusk, but sometimes it’s even too hot then.

For a few years now I’ve often spent hot days cooling off in my neighbors pool. But they’re filling it in now.  I don’t blame them a bit.  It’s a lot of work to keep a pool clean. They also have two young grandchildren who visit frequently.  Those kids would need to wear life preservers all the time to keep the adults from stressing out. However, there is a very nice city pool nearby that I’ll probably start going to during lap time, when there are no kids making waves.

Exercising my mind, I’ll spend several hours each day sitting at my computer as I rewrite my memoir.  I have already gotten started and am having lots of fun with it. I enjoy this part of the process even more than writing the first draft.  Now I have all the puzzle pieces before me. All I have to do is put them back together again in a new way.  It’s like working on one of those huge, complicated jig-saw puzzles you open up when you visit the seashore during the late fall or early winter and the wind is howling. It’s too cold to walk on the beach and you don’t feel like reading.

It is easier said than done, of course. There is always lots of frustration included in the fun.  But when the puzzle is finally put together in just the right way, it spells out masterpiece.

What do you do to  exercise your body and brain during the heat of summer?


Changing The World, One Person At A Time!

DSC01663It’s spring! Here in Virginia, bird song fills the air and everything is in bloom.  This is one of those years when the dogwood, redbud, and fruit trees are all blooming at the same time. The brilliant greens of spring  are amazing and I notice each morning how the leaves on the trees around me have grown larger.  My strawberries are blooming. I’m looking forward to having them with my yogurt for breakfast.

Spring is always a time of hope and I’ve been filled with a wonderful sense of wellbeing and gratefulness for all that has been gifted to me. I’m especially grateful to my daughter, Lisa, who got me started on getting rid of the large amounts of sugar I was unwittingly consuming on a daily basis.  I knew I was addicted to sugar, and had been trying  to stop using it, but it wasn’t until Lisa started on the 21 Day Sugar Detox that I got serious.

I am personally watching many of those around me changing and making their way to a more healthy lifestyle.

My husband, whom I never thought would give up his carbs, joined me on this sugar-free road and has lost 17 pounds since we started.  He had blood work done last week just to check his blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  We were blown away by the results. His blood sugar levels are the lowest they’ve ever been and his cholesterol levels are also down.  He feels great, has more energy, and he isn’t as forgetful as he used to be.  AND, he has halved his blood pressure meds and his doctor said he might have to halve it again.

But there’s more.  My housekeeper and friend, Bobbie, saw my 21 Day Sugar Detox book in the kitchen one morning and asked about it.  She went out and bought the book that afternoon. A few days later, she had her family doing the detox.

She in turn told her sisters about it and they are giving it a try.  One of them told some of her friends at work about it and now all of them detoxing.  That’s just a small part of the big picture.  I know we’re not alone and that there are many more people out there who now realize that sugar, which is much more addictive than cocaine, is public health enemy number one.  Let’s keep it going!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bring peace to the world in the same way?

Before, After, And A New Challenge



Now that I’ve gotten myself through the renovation, it’s time for another challenge.  Yes, it’s done except for one drawer that should be delivered today if the road conditions are okay after yesterday’s five inches of snow.  As you can see I’ve attached before and after pics of the master bath. The new tub  is fabulous for a nice soak on cold winter days. While I like to read or listen to books on tape as I soak, Bill plays his harmonica filling the house with wonderful, bluesy music.

While all of the hammering, sawing, and chaos was happening, I found myself diving for comfort food to sooth my nerves.  Since I’m gluten free and avoiding most grains, there were no cakes, cookies, and and I had no kitchen to make my usual treats made with almond flour. So I packed in the dark chocolate bars, ate things like ice cream when we went out to eat, which I usually refrain from, and generally experienced almost constant sugar cravings and crashes.



Yes, I’m a sugarholic. Like a good portion of the rest of us in this country, I love sweets.  Once I’m on a sugar kick there is no stopping me.  If I bring home a pint of ice-cream it probably wouldn’t make it until day two.  If there is a chocolate bar sitting somewhere in the vicinity it won’t last long either. Anything that is sweet is my comfort. Especially when I’m stressed.

The rest of my diet is great.  I long ago gave up soda, chips, most processed foods. I haven’t bought a bag of refined sugar sugar in years, using honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup for cooking. But sugar is sugar. I eat small portions of meat and lots of fresh vegetables and fruit.  Berries are the best, along with clementines, and in the summer peaches, cherries and grapes.  All organic if possible.   I’ve tried being vegetarian, but found I need animal protein to keep my energy up and my immune system in good shape.

Last week I had a hard day when there was nothing sweet in the house to munch on.   I was craving sugar all day long. I was jittery, anxious, and couldn’t concentrate.  I’ve been through it before and the only thing that can fix it is to omit sugar from my diet and be very patient, because it takes time to get over the hump. I made a promise to myself to stop buying the ice-cream, dark chocolate bars, and anything else that would continue to keep me needing a fix. I piled on the fruit instead. Apples, grapefruit, bananas, berries, fresh or dried. I felt better but was still craving anything that would deliver a dose of sugar quickly.

Over two weeks ago my daughter, Lisa, who suffers from the same addiction to sugar, decided to go on a 21 day sugar detox program. I’ve been following her progress and been impressed with how she is doing.  She has just under a week left to go and I’m looking forward to seeing what she will do once she is done.  Will her need for sugar come back if she adds a piece of chocolate back in once in a while?  Or will she continue to keep tabs on herself and continue to live without the cravings?

I don’t know the answer to that, but she is has so inspired me that I’ve decided to give it a try myself.  This coming Sunday will be day number one for me.  I have a dinner party and a lunch to get through this week with friends, but once day one rolls around, that’s it for sugar for the next 21 days. In the meantime I’m testing recipes for snacks that I can have and cutting back on the amount of sweet stuff now to prepare myself.  I haven’t bought a bar of chocolate in week and haven’t had ice-cream in a while.  I just made a batch of Banola, from the recipes that go along with the program. It’s good and very satisfying.  It’s granola made with a variety of nuts, seeds, cinnamon, vanilla, and just barely ripe bananas as a sweetener. There are no grains or sugar in it. I’ll eat it out of the jar for a snack or add it to plain yogurt at breakfast with some cut up green apple.  Last night we tried the Shrimp Pad Thai with zucchini noodles. So delicious. Those added to my own stash of grain and sugar free recipes should keep me happy for the next three weeks.

I think the hardest part for me will be giving up all of the fruit I’ve been eating. Green apples, green-tipped bananas and grapefruit are the only fruits I’m allowed to have during the detox period. But I’ve found that most anything worth doing isn’t terribly easy at first.  It’s just another thing to try to keep myself healthy and feeling good.

Wish me luck!  I’ll be posting posting on my Facebook page about my progress from time to time. I’m looking forward to seeing how I do after the 21 days are up.

Oh, my writing is coming along well.  I’ll be going to a writing conference in May and hope to have a manuscript to bring along for critique.

A Sure-To-Cure Remedy

Herbs for Medicine

Herbs for Medicine

Here we are in the middle of November. Thanksgiving is just a few short weeks away and the big December gift day will follow on it’s heels.  Not being one who enjoys shopping for things that I imagine other people will like and then find them  never used once given, I’ve turned to other ways of giving.  I’m one of those health nuts who believe that food is medicine and that what is on most dinner plates and in many medicine cabinets these days is the cause of our dis-ease. This is the time of year I head to the kitchen to prepare a few gifts that a number of family members especially ask for and that actually work.

One of my favorite thing to make is what I call Sure-To-Cure Elderberry Elixir, originally known as Kiva’s Ultimate Elder Mother Elixir. I found the recipe on-line a number of years ago when I was studying and learning to use medicinal herbs. This one is a cure-all for colds and flu and I regretted not having some with me on my trip to London.  When I have plenty on hand I find myself taking a swig every day or so even when I’m feeling good, just to keep the bugs away. And it’s yummy on vanilla icecream as well.

I’m getting ready to order a few of the ingredients I’m out of  for this year’s gift giving.  I order most of my dried herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs, out in Oregon.  They have good prices and just about any herb you can imagine. They also carry premixed teas, and bottles for your herbal concoctions.

This tasty remedy is simple to make and oh, so appreciated when received as a gift.  Here is the recipe if you’d like to make some for yourself:

1 cup dried Elderberries
1/2 cup dried Elderflowers
1/4 cup fresh Rosehips or 2 Tbsp. dried
3 Tbsp. fresh ginger chopped or grated
1 Tbsp. Fresh orange zest or dried chunks
pinch of Osha (optional, dried or fresh)
A small handful of wild licorice
Raw honey
Brandy, dark rum or good whiskey

Mix all of the herbs together and place in a one quart jar.  Cover herbs with honey until all are fully coated.  Then fill the jar with the booze.  Let it sit for four to six weeks. I turn it occasionally to keep it mixed well.  Strain through several layers of cheesecloth and bottle it up.

For best results, 1/2 to 1 dropperful every couple of hours until cold/flu symptoms disappear.

Please note that the photo in the header of this blog and my website is of a small elderberry shrub that grew in my garden at the last place we lived before moving here.  I have started growing one here but it hasn’t yet produced berries.

The weatherman predicted snow showers for today.  So far only gray skies and a biting wind out of the north.  Brrrr!