Self-Care Challenge (Day 5): Baking Whole Grain Bread

Wheat

It’s hard not to melt into a smile with the aroma of freshly baking bread in the air.

Bread has been a food staple for cultures around the globe throughout history, and tradition of breaking bread is a symbol of sharing and connecting. But in our increasingly busy culture, few of us take the time to bake bread from scratch anymore. It’s much easier to pick up a loaf just about anywhere.

Over the years bread and other “carbs” have gotten a lot of bad press, partly because so many of today’s options are laden with sugar and refined flours. But whole grains provide a significant source of fiber, trace minerals, and B vitamins, the latter being involved in a number of complex enzymatic and metabolic pathways.

Whole grain kernels have three primary components:

Bran: The outer coating, which is high in fiber and B vitamins.

Endosperm: The middle layer, which contains carbohydrate, a small amount of protein, and a few trace minerals. (This is also the primary component of white flour.)

Germ: The center layer, which is high in Vitamin E, minerals and other phytochemicals.

The refining process typically removes the bran and germ, the components that have a tendency to go rancid more quickly. This extends their shelf-life (and profit margins), but it also removes many key nutrients, requiring them to be added back, a process called enrichment. Sometimes manufacturers add nutrients that were never there to begin with; that process is called fortification.

My self-care endeavor for the day was not only to bake a loaf of homemade, whole grain bread, but also to grind my own grain. Doing so just before use retains a higher portion of nutrients, compared to a bag of flour, which loses nutrients over time as it sits on the shelf.

Grain mills can be expensive and difficult to maintain – that’s why I fell in love with my Vitamix (Amazon Associate Link). While it’s not exactly a cheap option either, it has more than paid for itself in the first year of ownership. I’m not the only one who feels that way either. Prior to my purchase, I heard similar sentiments from folks who have owned one for 20 or 30 years. I’ve used traditional hand-cranked grain mills too, but they take a LOT of time and elbow grease. My Vitamix can process whole wheat berries into a fine flour in just one minute.

For the same reason, I’m a big fan of bread machines. Not only do they save me time, but cleanup is negligible. You mix a couple of things together, toss them into the machine, push a couple of buttons, and in about 3 hours you have a loaf of bread.

I love to try new recipes, so I tested out a new one for this experiment. As much as I wish I could say that the finished product was amazing, it was anything but. In fact, what’s the exact opposite of delicious? Yeah, it was that.

Even though it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, I’ll continue to try new recipes until I find one that I like. Life is like that sometimes. We don’t always get the results we were looking for on the first try. We have to continue to explore new ways of doing things, and sometimes we have to fail to learn.

Instead of wallowing in my disappointment, I decided to apply the lemonade principle: What do you do when life hands you flavorless bread? You make seasoned croutons.

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Book Club Discussion: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

What a great night of discussion to kick off the 2015 Living Upp Book Club!

Our Meetup group met for the first time last night to discuss Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

If you couldn’t make it, don’t fret! You can join the discussion and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

I think it’s safe to say that all of us will aspire to be perfect at something over the course of our lives. Life is competitive that way. We compete with ourselves as much as we compete with others. Likewise, we pursue our personal and professional goals while concurrently working to meet the expectations of our families, friends, employers and communities as well. But at some point, we realize that the pursuit of perfection is futile – and quite exhausting really.

We learned from Brene’s writings that being enough is the key to wholehearted living.

Throughout the evening, each of us revealed our own experiences and vulnerabilities, along with some of the aspects of the book that spoke to us personally. Below, I’ve done my best to capture some of the prominent themes that surfaced. (For those of you who attended in-person, I would be grateful if you would correct any errors or add other ideas that I may have missed in the comments below.)

Self-Love

We began our discussion agreeing that even though we’ve all been taught to care for others first, we cannot do it as effectively if we aren’t caring for ourselves. One analogy was the fact that even airline safety protocols instruct us to first put oxygen masks on ourselves before assisting others. Practicing self-love allows us to not only be more physically able to serve others, but it also enables us to be good role models for our children.

The concept of resiliency came up several times when discussing the importance of being able to bounce back from negative feedback and experiences. That is most certainly a form of self-love. One attendee shared that she believes challenges come to her to balance her. Embracing those difficult experiences has helped her accept that life isn’t perfect. Another member described her approach to resiliency as a mind-set of being “excited to see what happens next” rather than being tied to outcomes. In addition, forgiving ourselves when we fall short of expectations – whether internal or external – is also an example of practicing self-love.

Authenticity

We discussed the notion that we all have inner and outer selves, which we express differently depending on the circumstances. Admittedly this can be difficult, especially if our inner selves don’t match the situation. For example, if you felt like wearing pajamas to dinner (expressing your inner self), you may not be able to dine in certain restaurants. Similarly, we discussed how others perceive us versus how we would like others to perceive us. Having the courage to live authentically is easier said than done, but giving ourselves permission to be who we are is a great first step toward living wholeheartedly.

External Pressures

We spent a lot of time talking about this one.

In many ways, societal norms have established a multitude of shoulds for us. I once heard someone refer to this as “shoulding on yourself.” I mean, that’s what it feels like, right? One example Brené presented in her book was the expectation that good parents should pick up their children on time without exception. The reality is that we all mess up sometimes. External standards bleed into other areas of life as well, including how clean our homes should be. We talked about the difference between meeting the accepted standards of “clean” and being okay with saying, “My house is as clean as I want it to be.” It’s ironic that we often compare ourselves to the Jones’ even though we know they are as flawed as we are. Since perfection doesn’t exist, the Jones’ are simply living a façade of perfection. And that means we are pursuing a façade as well.

Religion can be a source of high expectations too. The Christian faith, for instance, holds Christ to be the standard of perfection, so emulating Christ-like qualities often leads to the pursuit of near-perfection.

If you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model, it might seem that our pursuit of perfection could be related to our innate need to feel safe. Maybe we believe, wrongly or not, that if we do all the right things perfectly, then we will avoid experiencing pain and suffering. (If only that were true.) We agreed that even if perfection was attainable, it wouldn’t guarantee that we would escape life’s disappointments.

Finally, we explored how external pressures differ among cultures. In Blue Zone areas, where life expectencies are longest, there seem to be fewer societal expectations around perfection. Interesting to say the least.

Potential

The concept of being enough was definitely a central theme of the night. How does one define enough anyway? And how exactly do you achieve enough? Those of us who are goal-driven have a tendency to want to measure or quantify many aspects of our lives. For example, if we view our progress as being at only 80% of our full potential, are we merely self-imposing unnecessary pressures? Is 80% sufficient? Is it enough? One member explained that she reaches her enough when she feels tired. That is her measure of satisfaction that she has done enough. Furthermore, who exactly defines our potential? That question prompted a great deal of discussion. We finally decided that potential is ultimately an inside job. We can cheer and encourage those we love to use their gifts and achieve milestones, but we cannot define their enough. All of us must decide for ourselves how we want to live – and what is enough for us. We did acknowledge that sometimes it’s frustrating or disappointing to see others not realizing what we see as their full potential. Should parents pass along their wisdom in the form of external pressure – or allow their children to have their own journey? We left that topic deciding that potential is synonymous with growth, not necessarily an end point that can be defined.

False Peaks

And what happens when we do manage to successfully reach those near-perfect milestones or goals? More often than not, the bar gets raised higher. Perfection gets pushed just beyond our reach again, and we continue to pursue false peaks. Essentially, each summit reveals another in the distance and the pursuit never ends. Finding satisfaction in our definition of enough puts and end to that game.

Play

In her book, Brené  described her discovery of the importance of play. That intentional process of letting go and tapping into the creative side of our brain is therapeutic and necessary to live wholeheartedly.

As a group, these were our takeaways:

  • “I want to have more honest conversations.”
  • “I’ve learned how to say ‘it’s okay’ to my kids and that pain is okay.”
  • “I understand that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes.”
  • “I’ve learned to let go of anxiety and embrace fun.”
  • “Breathe. Relax. Enjoy.” (That sounds like a great personal mantra!)

Brené does a great job convincing us that it’s perfectly okay, healthy even, to embrace our imperfections. Being “okay” with ourselves and how we choose to do things is liberating. I learned so much from the others in the group, and I’m already looking forward to next month’s meetup!

What were your impressions of the book? Please share your thoughts…we’d love to learn from your perspective as well.

 

6 Reasons I’m Glad I Started Practicing Yoga

rock cairn

Sure, I’ve taken a yoga class or two over the years, but I’ve never really felt like I knew what I was doing. It was more like I was playing solo Twister while peering through my armpit at the instructor trying to see which appendage I should move next. I always felt like I was missing the whole point.

That’s why in January of this year I decided to take a beginner’s yoga class. It seemed logical to start from the beginning and to pretend I knew nothing at all (which wasn’t hard to do since I didn’t). I chose a 6-week class series taught at a local studio here in Issaquah, Village Green Yoga. (I highly recommend them if you live in the area.)

I instantly knew I’d made the right decision when I met our instructor, Jean. She made us feel welcome the moment we walked through the door. She was patient, encouraging us to push ourselves – but also to stop if and when we felt discomfort. She also offered suggestions for modifications when we discovered that our bodies didn’t quite move the way we’d hoped. Probably the most inspiring thing for me was that she, like the rest of us, was imperfect. And she wasn’t afraid to say so. She recognized that she had limitations too, and that all of us were in it together – simply doing our best. It was such a great lesson in self-compassion.

Since there were 6 classes, I thought it would be symbolic to highlight 6 reasons that yoga has been a positive experience in self-love for me.

1. It’s helping me get to know my body. Having lived with myself for nearly 38 years now, you would think that I knew myself pretty well already. But I was utterly shocked to find out that there’s still quite a bit I don’t know about myself. For example, who knew I was so lop-sided?! Seriously. I don’t bend the same way on both sides. One foot flops further to the side when I lie on my back. My right leg goes to sleep when I sit in the sukhasana pose (cross-legged) too long. The other significant thing that I learned is that I can no longer move in some ways that used to. (Bummer.) Despite these discoveries, even after just 6 short weeks, it seemed I was able to do more than I could that first week. Success!

2. It’s teaching me how to breathe correctly. Breathing is something all of us do, but I’d argue that we don’t all do it well. I’ve always struggled with finding the right breathing rhythm while doing things that are physically demanding. I tend to hold my breath. No matter if I’m strength training or running, I sometimes just forget to breathe. And by the time I remember to, I’m huffing and puffing and feeling frustrated. I know that sounds silly, but I think it’s because I take everything so seriously. I concentrate so hard that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Yoga has taught me to find a sort of flow in my breathing, and that is what sets the pace for everything else.

3. It’s calming. I don’t slow down often, but yoga requires me to. The postures are relaxing and invigorating at the same time, and I can see how people become hooked on that sensation.

4. It’s challenging. It is somewhat ironic that most people tend to avoid things that are challenging – especially for things we do with our free time. But there’s something special about the way you feel when you nail a pose – or realize that you did it better than you did last time.

5. It prompts other healthy behaviors. Yoga makes me crave other healthy experiences. Healthy food, healthy relationships, healthy finances, positive thinking and gratitude come to mind. That is the kind of mind-set I leave with after every class. What a great source of motivation!

6. I understand  more clearly now that I am, and will always be, a work in progress. Ah yes, back to the idea of imperfection again. Yoga has a way of making imperfection okay – normal even. It’s an acceptance of reality. Pretenses and perfectionism must be checked at the door because yoga encompasses the idea that self-acceptance and acceptance of others is core to our being, and to finding happiness.

What have been your personal takeaways from yoga?

 

 

What Perfection Isn’t

When I started my career 15 years ago, I was the prototypical clinical dietitian. I followed all the rules. Diet recommendations were dictated by protocols, precise mathematical calculations and solid scientific research.

As a consultant for several long-term care facilities, my job was to ensure that residents were being offered diets that not only supported their health, but in many cases improved it. Chronic medical conditions often made this challenging, though, since many of those conditions required dietary restrictions.

I remember one resident in particular. She was undergoing dialysis treatment and was also not eating well. After carefully studying her lab values, I constructed what I thought to be the perfect diet. It consisted of a laundry list of foods that she could not eat. If it was high in potassium, forget it. High in phosphorus? No way. I cannot even remember how many restrictions I had listed, but I’m sure as I wrote the list my expression looked much like Ralphie’s as he wrote his letter to Santa…intent! I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle (with a compass in the stock)!

I confidently faxed over my my recommendations to the physician, satisfied that I had just executed the most evidence-based recommendation possible. It was perfect! Of course it would be approved. I had thought of everything!

I was crushed when the fax was returned with the words, “What’s left sawdust?” scrawled across the top. (Clearly not approved.)

That physician knew something that I hadn’t quite grasped yet. I realized at that moment, thankfully early on in my career, that good medical care is not about know-it-all providers dictating our behaviors. Good medical care also considers what makes life enjoyable. It understands that what’s right isn’t always perfect, and what’s perfect isn’t always right. It takes into account the things that make us human as well as what science tells us is the best treatment option.

Perfection isn’t real, it’s an illusion. In fact, perfection is nothing more than what each of us feels is perfect for us. It’s defined by us, the beholder.

It’s unlikely that I’ll forget this lesson, since every time I see sawdust I’m reminded.

The Beauty of Imperfection: Lessons From a Corks and Canvas Event

trees and water painting

I am not that artistic.

I mean, I occasionally doodle and I once taught myself to crochet by watching You Tube videos. I may have glossed over a few key instructions because my afghans are shaped more like trapezoids than rectangles to this day. Even so, they are equally warm in all shapes, and I’ve yet to see anyone pull out a measuring tape before snuggling in – least of all my mini dachshund, Zoey.

Before the corks and canvas event at Vino Bella, I had never painted anything – well, unless you count paint-by-number anyway. Despite having exactly none of Picasso or Thomas Kinkade’s talents, I was able to laugh myself through it and not take the project too seriously.

If you’ve never been to an art event like this, you simply must go!

Artistic ability was not at all a prerequisite. I’m pretty sure that even if I had decided to put a red paint smudge in the middle of my canvas and call it done, it would still have been fun. I think everyone had the same primary objective: to have a great time sipping wine and seeing what might happen on our canvas over the course of the night.

Some painters were silent, intent on their technique. Others just laughed hysterically and poked fun at themselves along the way. And some even went rogue, doing the unthinkable: choosing unconventional colors, going portrait instead of landscape. At least one person even painted on the diagonal – quite the maverick!

Every now and then, I would take a break and look around the room to see how everyone else’s project was coming along, and I couldn’t help but smile as I overheard some common revelations:

1. “I’ve ruined it!”
2. “It’s outlandish!”
3. “Oh, that’s waaaay too much red!”
4. “I can’t decide if I’ve ruined it or fixed it.”
5. “Alright…I guess I’m done.”

Why are we so hard on ourselves? In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a painting after all. And yet you would think by listening to some of these comments that there were lives at stake.

What did surprise me a little, though, was that I heard more words of encouragement than criticism. Every painter seemed to have a mini cheering committee. Complete strangers were complimenting their table mates as if they were old friends. In fact, the only criticisms I heard at all were self-criticisms. (Quite telling, isn’t it?)

The truth is, all of the paintings were masterpieces. I couldn’t help but smile as I walked around to see the final products. They were amazing – each and every one! It was fascinating to see all of the different interpretations of the very same prototype.

Toward the end of the evening, I admit that I started to feel anxious. How could they be cleaning up already? I still had so many touch-ups and adjustments to make! I quickly realized this was a good thing. Had I been left to my own timeline, I would have spend at least another hour tweaking the tree branches and rocks. But fortunately, the event was time-bound and I was forced to finish, ready or not.

Indeed, this was yet another lesson in imperfection for me. If you struggle with keeping your perfectionist tendencies in check too, an event like this might be just what you need. I bet you’ll be surprised to see  just how beautiful imperfection can be.

 

Trusting the Journey

a road that runs between two small hills

“Trust the journey,” they say. Sure. As a type-A, list-making, ultra-planner it’s difficult for me to even wrap my head around what that means. But I am trying.

My first week being unemployed has been busier than many of my typical work-weeks. I took a yoga class, had a pedicure, got a new library card, met with my CPA, had a massage and facial, wrote letters to friends and family, started a meetup group to host a new book club, planned a trip to Florida to visit family, spent some time with my highly-entertaining chickens, met my husband for lunch, created a 12-month blog calendar, launched a website and registered a business with the Secretary of State. Not bad considering it’s only Friday morning.

The biggest takeaway so far has been that I need to learn to embrace my imperfections and stop trying so hard to fix them all the time. I’ve tweaked and re-tweaked every sentence that I’ve written, and I’m certain there are still errors. I just had to finally admit to myself that I don’t have it all figured out – and for the first time in my life I’m okay with that. I’m ready to trust this journey. And I’m ready to enjoy the unexpected blessings that I am sure to encounter along the way.

Earlier this week I was chatting with a woman who was getting a pedicure in the chair next to me. I somehow found myself telling her about my sabbatical, and about my desire to help others find the courage to create more meaning in their lives. Our conversation quickly shifted to team-building and the benefits of having offsite retreats. The event planner in me lit up like a Christmas tree as she described some of the offsite retreats she has organized for her team in the past. Why aren’t more teams doing this sort of thing if it has such a positive impact? (I’ll have to add that to my list of things to think about.)

Likewise, a stranger approached me in a coffee shop after over-hearing my conversation with my CPA. He wanted to know more about my business concept and what I was planning to do. He began sharing his own personal journey as a business owner, and marveled at how he ended up where he is today. Life is so unpredictable and inspiring. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we spent more time discussing ideas and life lessons rather than using our energy to gossip and complain? (Let’s find out.)

I later found myself telling yet another stranger about my life redesign project and her words were exactly what I needed to hear. “I can’t understand why more people aren’t experiencing the joy of living in the moment,” she said.

And the irony continues as this morning there was a great article on MindBodyGreen describing What Happy People Do Differently To Achieve Their Goals. It was a pleasant reminder to not take life too seriously. While I know it’s important to have goals, I also know that being too tied to outcomes is almost certain to bring disappointment. There are lessons to be learned from both successes and failures. So, technically failures aren’t really failures then.

Onward and uppward! (What, too much?)