Whole for the Holidays Part 3

WholeHolidaysHere we are. The final countdown. If you’re still checking in on this series, you are one of a special crew. You may not even admit it, but at least a little Bah Humbug is in there. And you know what? It’s okay. You can have that. Just grab it. Claim that Bah Humbug and love it. You are allowed to be whoever you are, even when the rest of the world is telling you to be different. Eh, maybe you’re not a Bah Humbugger, but one of those folks who have one of us Bah Humbuggers in your life (bless you) and want to know if anything will actually make us tick in December…

We’ve been having a little chat about the dark side of the holidays (yes, blatant and completely unsponsored Star Wars reference) and have covered a WHOLE lot of territory – expectations, history, but there is one last bit. One last eensy, teensy bit.

What’s left? Fear. Ugh. Fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of being inadequate. Fear of having changed too much or not having changed enough. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of not being appreciated or wanted. Fear that the whole day won’t be good. I have a couple of thoughts about this whole fear thing, specifically in relation to the holiday gathering scene. Most of those thoughts can be summed up with a very just pre-adolescent retort: “So what?” So what if someone judges us? So what? It doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong. It’s theirs. That judgment is theirs. Let them stew in it, right there with those stewed tomatoes (no I’m not serving them as they are a part of the food nostalgia that I did not care for).

FearSO many of the rest of these fears are all about paying a lot more attention to what’s going on in someone else’s head and heart than what’s in your own. So what if they think that? So what? Let them think whatever they want and you go back to thinking what you think – you remember all that jazz about setting realistic expectations and trusting others to do the same. Think that thought. Think the thought that you WOULD be thinking if you weren’t so afraid of messing it all up. How about this thought: what if it turned out that being you was absolutely perfectly enough? Sit with that for just a minute. You are enough. How would the day be different if you believed you are enough? How much easier would it be to let go of the expectations, let go of the history, and let go of your fear if you just thought you are enough.

What kind of holiday are you ready to have now? Is it possible to redefine it? To reshape it? To potentially even experience it as a holiday – a break – a respite. A nice deep breath in the middle of the dark part of the year. No expectations, no history, no fear. Just a respite. For you too, because yes you do deserve it you amazing thing. Go be you. Go rock that holiday.

But wait, Little Sis, you didn’t talk about food, like how to not completely blow it out at the holiday table… You’re right I didn’t. If you need to blow it out at the holiday table, be my guest (well, not literally, at least not without calling). If you want some help to not blow it out, please check out our holiday eating tips designed to help you maintain any recently gained momentum or just to not roll away in a food induced coma at the end of the whole thing. And if you do roll away in a food induced coma, I promise we won’t judge you even if you’d say so what if we did. 😉


Whole for the Holidays Part 2

WholeHolidaysWe’ve been taking a look at the darker side of holidays, those pesky feelings that sometimes get in the way of the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

In our last installment, we took a long look at the role expectations play in setting us up for Humbuggery. Expectations are part of a nasty trifecta that make our holiday a lot of emotional work.

The second of that crew is history.

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Kinder Exercise – Feel the Nice Burn

NiceBurnSo there’s a nice burn as opposed to a mean burn?  Campfires can be a nice burn, a sip of Irish coffee is a nice burn but muscles burning mid-workout is kind of a mixed bag.  It hurts, but the burn is an indicator that you are working hard and building some new muscle.  Lately, however the burn associated with exercising has been cerebral rather than muscular.  More precisely I have been recognizing some negative vibes in my life that are a result of my workout activities.  And I am guessing that this negativity affects some of you, even if you do not exercise regularly.

Yikes!  What is all this about negativity?  Working out is supposed to be good for you.

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Silence – An Absence that is Part of Wholeness

Silence.  Silence!  SilenceBabySteps.pptx

Absence of noise.  A place.  A state of being.  A chance to listen.  Silence.

Not sure what to say next because I’m not supposed to be talking.  Apparently I’m supposed to be quiet right now.

Not an easy task for me.  Just ask Little Sis…. or Carni-Mom.  Plus I am supposed to be contributing to our Well-Being series.  So I get to proceed – as usual  🙂 talking about silence.

Beyond my own ability to keep my mouth shut, and my enthusiasm bridled, there is the relative difficulty we all face of establishing quiet around ourselves even with our mouths shut.  We are surrounded by devices and machines and tasks and people and news and entertainment and alarms and warnings and intentions and plans and much human noise.  Yet, amidst all of this noise, most of us would agree that silence is powerful.  Isn’t that a bit telling?  Silence is something powerful that we often decrease or even eliminate from our lives.  Perhaps a year of wellness warrants taking a closer look at silence and what we can get from silence.

Sometimes silence is scary.  We associate it with apocalypse.  Perhaps it is more truly associated with a chink in our civilized armor.  Perhaps we don’t want time to think about more than our devices, schedules, tasks, entertainment and distraction, because if we do we might be faced with some questions about our own priorities, or our own power, or our own disappointments.  Perhaps our ‘conquest’ of the natural world is only complete if we are removed from the natural world.  How is it that we acknowledge this power and can acknowledge that it is a good thing, (think ‘peace and quiet’) but are for some reason losing, or even avoiding silence.

Silence is one of those things, like a dark night sky, or fear of predators, or for many people the ability to provide one’s own basic needs, that for good or ill we lose with modern civilization.  It is power that can weigh like an anvil, or beckon like a boat at the end of a dock on a peaceful lake.  Silence allows expansion.  It is a starting place.  A void.  There are places that silence can take us.  Perhaps journeys that feed our imaginations, our spiritual musings or longings or feed insights that can help us grow, prioritize and appreciate all of the blessings in our lives require a clear canvas on which to unfold?

True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.  ~William Penn

Where to start such a journey?  In order to appreciate or benefit from silence, we must find it, make it, accept it, allow it and work with it.  As is our wont over here at the Pantry, baby steps come to mind in any endeavor of change or exploration that seems difficult or even impossible.

Start by thinking about the sources of noise that block out natural noises in your life.
Is there a TV, radio or other device that makes noise always on at your house or in your car?  Does it ever get turned off?  Can you set a time each day when the devices will be silenced?  It doesn’t have to be a big deal of everyone being very quiet.  It could just be a time without music, TV, news or other outside noise.

An inability to stay quiet is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind.  ~Walter Bagehot

Being quiet is indeed not easy which is why I suggest just establishing a few times with less noise as a starter.  You might be surprised by what you notice or even think about with less noisy stimulation going on.

You might also like to try some true quiet time when there is an intention of not making noise.
We will sometimes sit as a family and meditate.  Other times we will simply be quiet for a number of minutes, close eyes and mouths and pay attention to what we are hearing, smelling, and feeling.  We often discuss what we noticed when done, and also do this outside to notice smells, sounds and feelings outside.  This was especially hard for our son at first, but he has become quite good at it and can now also be still and meditate.  If you’d like some ideas for family meditation, we have enjoyed these 2 books:

Product Details

This one being particularly good for young children.  The next one works for all ages, especially if you are willing to just replace the words ‘child’ or ‘children’ with people / family members, etc.

Product Details

Silence is the true friend that never betrays.  ~Confucius

Once there is some silence in your life, I believe it then becomes easier to choose noise more wisely.  One can decide to actually listen to music OR to have it be a soundtrack in the background OR not have it at all.  Well-being, or being well is not an accident but a result of our choices and our reactions to the things we can not control.  Silence and meditation are wonderful ways of increasing self awareness, mindfulness, stress-reduction and peace.

Silence is a source of great strength.  ~Lao Tzu

Be well.

(Quotes were all found at http://www.quotegarden.com/silence.html)

Triple Dose of Well-Being

Do you remember Venn diagrams?  Those pesky overlapping circles in which you had to place sets of things that had some but not all things in common depending on wherein lay their similarity?  I have been using a Venn diagram to discuss well-being with patients who are in recovery from substance abuse and I have found the concept to be helpful to myself as well as I consider my own wellness and well-being.  I would like to share it with you as part of our new series that explores aspects of well-being and nourishment beyond the very important attitude towards well-being represented by what we eat.

It is not everyday that you get to use the term ‘triumverate,’ but now you know how many circles are in my Venn Dance.  In fact it is 3 circles that you will recognize.  Body, mind and spirit as a group have been used so lightly and frequently that I hesitated to use the terms with patients as a way to organize well-being efforts, but after making some attempt to define the 3 umvirates (???) in terms of function, I found the whole approach less banal and more helpful.

Why do so many things come up with 3 parts or portions? Past-present-future; red-blue-yellow; rock-paper-scissors; Harry – Ron – Hermione; and there is this wonderful meditation on 3 from the fine people from Schoolhouse Rock:

3 is a Magic Number

On a more serious note, the number 3 has significance in all of the world’s major religions.  It seems to come down to balance.  Systems divided into even numbers of participants, parts or factors have the potential for the creation of sides and 2 teams.  Either/Or, This or That, Black or White are notoriously narrow views of the world!  Three is the smallest odd whole number that is greater than one, and therefore represents  a simple array of pieces that can not gang up but have to work together in order to work.  If one leg of the stool is shorter than the others (or longer) it will provide a short sit.  And life is not really a short sit.  This is lucky for me as I seem to require repeat lessons on some basics of living despite having received a myriad of blessings.  Bring on the second chances…… please and I’ll try to keep my stool balanced so I make it through all of the lessons.

So back to body, mind and spirit.  Basically the approach was to think of oneself as the center of the Venn Diagram of 3 circles representing body, mind and spirit.  All body, All mind or All spirit tend to lead to problems.  Thinking about the 3 realms in terms of functionality helped me think about why it was important to sustain them.  You may not agree with the functions, and of course there is overlap (being a Venn Dance after all)…..

I am so thankful for my Body which provides
transportation & sensation

I am so thankful for my Mind which provides
instruction & construction

I am so thankful for my Spirit which provides
identification and perpetuation

So I challenge my patients, myself, and you, to draw yourself a diagram and think of a few Baby Steps for each realm of your life.


Body, mind and spirit – all that function and all that you working together to create world view – perspective – character – approach – life.  A unique human tale.

Here’s to taking Baby Steps to Wholeness and Well-Being and celebrating life in 2015.

If you need help with the Baby Steps to Better Health concept, please check out our book.


The Power of the Family Meal

Well-BeingThe Sis sisters have long been advocates of the family dinner, and no I’m not referring to the meal that adds biscuits and mashed potatoes to your bucket of chicken. We believe there are benefits to the family eating dinner (more or less the same dinner) at the same time, at the same table, preferably not from the same plate – but to each his own (ha!). It turns out that science supports the benefits (or at least the correlation with good things) of eating dinner together. Anne Fishel, a psychology professor at Harvard, very eloquently describes these benefits and correlations and offers some insight into why they just might be a little more than correlation here. Fishel feels so strongly about the power of family dinner that she often tells therapy clients that they’d be better off eating dinner with their families than talking with her for an hour. Wow. So, what’s so great about it anyway?

The benefits that Ms. Fishel highlights in her article are largely those experienced by the children in a family. I’ll sum them up for you and then reflect a little on what I think the implied benefits for parents, spouses, and folks who choose to live by themselves might also be in thinking about dinner as a sacred time.

For kids. Family dinners seem to hold benefits for children of all ages. The youngest children increase their vocabulary faster, which in turn makes them more proficient and earlier readers. School aged children who eat family meals tend to perform better in all academic measures. Teens who eat family dinners get better grades than those who do not. Teens who eat dinner en famille are also less likely to engage in high risk behaviors than their peers, less likely to be depressed, and more likely to have a positive outlook about the future. All children who eat family dinners tend to eat more healthfully and experience fewer chronic health problems (such as asthma and obesity).

Okay, so if you have children, I’ve got you… I mean, right? So all you need to do is just eat together. Simple… Yeah, simple. I confess that for me right now, this one is pretty simple. My kids are 8. The only activities and play dates they are involved in are the ones I set up for them. I have pretty good control over what they are doing when and being sure they will be home in time for dinner, or making dinner work around the occasional thing so we can all still eat together. I am well aware that this trick can get a lot harder as they get older.

SacredDinnerGiven that reality, I think it’s important to note that the article doesn’t say that everyone must have every dinner with the family to experience benefits. Nor does it say everyone in the family should stop doing everything they care about outside the home immediately so all meals can be consumed together. Eating dinner as a family might be a great thing to baby step up on. If it never happens, maybe a commitment to once a week would be a great place to start. If it happens three times a week, maybe there’s a way to add a fourth. Checking our reality, making some adjustments, asking everyone to shift a little creates a space and in this space we can find a sacred moment or two to create and savor some nourishment. (She said it agin: “sacred.” Why does she keep saying that?”)

So here’s where it seems to me that the benefits that those researchers are finding for kids who eat family meals might be a little more broadly understood as benefits for anyone who treats their meal as a sacred time. Researchers talk about the family meal as a time to set aside the hustle bustle of the day, to interact with people whose experiences are both different and shared, to reflect on and share our individual experiences, to become grounded and relaxed, to gain perspective before we enter the next phase of whatever it is we’re doing. Now I’m not a scientist, but I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that children aren’t the only ones who could use a little of that kind of dinner. Part of the beauty of family dinner, or couple dinner, or individual dinner without a laptop, is our insistence on it, our creation of that space for a sacred hour that allows us to distance ourselves from all that is outside and to check in with all that is inside.

Well-BeingIt is only through our insistence that the sacred space is both created and maintained. It is with our insistence that we honor ourselves and the need for a time that is not shared with the television, with advertisers, or with our employers. It is with our insistence that we say that we as individuals and as groups are important enough to nourish fully, to occupy a sacred space, and reap the benefits therein. As my own children age and our family schedules shift, I hope to continue to insist on this sacred event, even at the expense of the occasional activity, at the expense of the occasional professional opportunity, and at the expense of convenience. I hope to continue to find that the benefits outweigh the sacrifice and to feel the nourishment that we create together.

2015: A Year of Well-Being

A couple of days ago our minister asked: “What would it look like for 2015 to be a ‘Year of Well-Being?” Standing here at the beginning of the year and having the maturity to look back at those that have passed allows us a moment to reflect and set an intention for the days to come. What kind of year will it be? Many things will happen that are beyond our control, but there are many conscious choices that we make each and every day that have a big impact on how we could accurately describe that year when we get to December 2015. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’d need to do to make 2015 a “Year of Well-Being.”

Clearly you know that the way that we eat is part of my attempt at ensuring well-being in our household, but in my zeal for healthful food, I confess that other aspects of well being are prone to slippage in some cases and downright neglect in others. I cannot eat my way to anything greater than relative well-being; I am more well than if I kept everything else the same and ate crap. Relative well-being achieved. However, having just come through the public incubation system month of plague and scourge, I have to consider deeply if I could make some other choices to great impact.

Apparently even fabulously successful people neglect their well-being, and Arianna Huffington has written a book about how her very successful and hardworking lifestyle led her to actual physical collapse in 2007. It would seem that less than 6 hours of sleep a night and 18 hour work days every day does NOT do the body good. Her doctors concluded that she had actually collapsed because of sleep deprivation. Ms. Huffington describes her journey back to a sane place of wellness in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In the book, Ms. Huffington works diligently to rethink the way that we define success and to enrich the meaning of well-being to raise the bar for a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and deeply connected. Before any of those deeply fulfilling things can happen with any regularity, however, one must not be on the verge of physical collapse. Ms. Huffington recommends three key steps toward increasing your physical well-being so that you can get on with the business of enriching your life.

First step: sleep. I don’t know about any of you, but I could stop reading or listening right here. This is the one that has my (and Mr. Little Sis’) name all over it. Most adults need from 7-9 hours of sleep (bear in mind that these are averages, so some people need more; those who think they need much much less are likely fooling themselves). the amount you need fluctuates with age, so maybe you (and by you I mean I) could get less when you were 22…

Mr. Little Sis and I tend to go in cycles where we get 7.5 for a while (when we’ve recognized that we’re zombies) and then slide slowly back toward getting less than 7 for nights or even weeks at a time. And we slowly get REALLY tired. Know what it’s hard to do when you’re REALLY tired? Assess the amount of sleep you’re getting and make good decisions about what to cut so you can get more. It’s also really hard to work efficiently and effectively so you can accomplish what you need to in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also hard to decide what to put in your child’s lunch before you’ve had caffeine. Let’s face it, sleep deprivation makes pretty much everything we want to do more difficult and more time consuming. So why do we fail to go to sleep?

I can’t tell you why YOU do it, but I can tell you why we do it.  After the children go to bed I enjoy the peace… I also have tasks that I save for night time like packing part of the kids’ lunch (to eliminate some of the pre-caffeine decisions), physical therapy exercises, blog work, knitting, bill paying, and occasionally when I really lose track during the day, putting laundry away (the ultimate self-punishment = leaving clean clothes on the bed to discover at bedtime). I also have the long standing habit of reading a little before I turn out the light and actually go to sleep. I’m laughing while I write this because that really is quite a lot. No wonder I have trouble going to bed at a reasonable hour. I do often turn on the TV while working on some of these things and with the exception of knitting, I’m sure this serves to slow me down as well. Mr. Little Sis fails to go to sleep because most of his life is online. His work is remote from a home office (translation: there is no end to the work day) and he blogs from home for an international audience that is very interactive (translation: there is no end to blog day). We have both set ourselves up for less sleep than two adults, particularly two adults with elementary school children, need to make sense of the world and feel reasonably well. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of physical collapse, I’m guessing there’s a lot of steps between that and feeling rested. We could definitely get more sleep.

Second step: more exercise. There are a ridiculous number of studies that attest to the fact that exercise improves not only our actual physical health, but our sense of well being. Exercise lightens our spirits, makes us feel better physically, and promotes SLEEP. While we may be wiped out after working all day, many of our occupations don’t tax the body. The mind is weary; the body is not sure why we’re sitting still so much.

Like my sleep, I tend to be somewhat cyclic with my exercise habits, although having a large dog has put me in the position of doing some walking every day and addressing muscular and skeletal issues has me on a physical therapy regimen that ensures I’ll be doing something with my muscles many days of the week. Still, I know when I’ve slipped. I can tell when I’ve stopped working just a little harder. I can feel my spirit sinking (along with my posterior). I catch myself, add a little (longer faster dog walk), and then usually feel well enough to add a little more (actually working out). Why the cycles? Who knows. Doesn’t seem to take much to interrupt my exercise routine. Sickness, family emergencies, pretty much anything that changes the timing during my day will unhinge my workout scene for weeks or more.

Third step: meditation. Yeah, ohmmm. I’m not gonna lie. I have never successfully meditated. I’ve tried a bunch of times. The times that felt better usually felt better because I fell asleep. Pretty clear I need to spend some time on getting more sleep before I can even hope to successfully meditate. If YOU get enough sleep and are interested in the benefits of meditation, this page has a number of links that will help you get started.

Well-BeingWhere does that leave me? I’m not really much for resolutions, mostly because I used to make them about weight loss all the time and it was part of the cycle of dumb diets and bad results (see our thoughts on a real food resolution). I prefer to think of setting an intention for the new year, a focal point, a turning of my consciousness and attention. It’s pretty clear to me that if 2015 is to be a year of well-being for me, I need to get serious about getting more sleep. I’ve been working toward that and am now realizing how tired I actually am. As I continue to increase my amount of sleep in search of the number that actually makes me feel rested, I’m hoping my motivation to be a little more consistent with exercise will also increase. But I’m not even going to worry about that too much just now. I’m going to sleep. And it will be good. What will 2015 be for you? If 2015 as a year of well-being is about food for you, maybe our E-Book Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals can help. If it’s not about food, maybe it’s time to sleep. It will be good. Be well friends.