There will be pie, oh yes, there will be pie

It’s decorative gourd season! This is the time of year that we adorn our homes and places of work and play with pumpkins, squash and gourds of all shapes and colors. At home we love to get them in our CSA box and my 3 year old son Miles demanded we buy more at the farmers market because they had longer and curlier stems. I look around at our decoration and I’m glad that it’s not made of plastic or toxic materials. But they are also edible… and we are literally just watching them slowly decompose. Meanwhile my grocery list includes canned pumpkin in order to make a pie… but wait… I slowly look over at the pumpkins on our table, then I look at my grocery list… look at the pumpkins… look at list… pumpkin… list… pumpkin… list… 

This summer Miles picked out a book called “Halloween Pie” - we’ve been reading it for months and Miles has been eagerly awaiting the time to make his own Halloween pie. The book also includes a simple recipe which we’ve read each time we read the story. I told Miles that as soon as we get a pumpkin in our CSA box, we will make a Halloween pie. (mind you I’ve never made a pie in my life). In early September the day arrived… sort of. Each Thursday we open our CSA box of beautifully grown vegetables put together by Angelic Organics. Miles always helps but this time he was on a mission, he tore through the kale and peppers and saw at the bottom, what he thought was a big orange pumpkin. It actually turned out to be a Red Kuri Squash (a variety i’ve never heard of or tried). But this kid had been searching the CSA boxes for weeks, there was no way we were not making a pie out of this thing. I did some quick research on the Red Kuri Squash and luckily found out that they are sweet, creamy and cook just like any other squash. It was game on. Enthusiastically I threw my hands in the air and exclaimed “Tomorrow we will make Halloween pie!” and I got the inevitable 3yr old response “Nooooooooo! Nowwwwwwww!” 

After a bit of explaining Miles went to sleep dreaming of becoming a baker and I went to the kitchen to start the first step - roasting the squash. I baked it for about 45 mins with some cinnamon and once done and cooled I tossed it in the fridge. I also did a quick scan of the recipe because we didn’t have half of what the recipe called for. Before going to bed I pulled various ingredients and substitutes from the cabinets and made sure we would be able to make do (most people would make the quick trip to the store to pick up the remaining ingredients) But, I simply loath “quick” trips to the store - maybe I”m just daring myself to be more resourceful but we always figure it out with what we’ve got and in this instance it proved to be an enhancement. In the end I swapped dairy for coconut cream and altered the spicier flavors clove and ginger for nutmeg and extra cinnamon. I also swapped granulated sugar for honey. 

I believe it was about 6:30 am when I went to get Miles in his room and he looked at me and whispered “I’m ready to make Halloween pie”. The first and most arduous order of business was actually mashing the squash. We only needed 1/2 of the roasted squash to get 2 cups for the pie. I peeled the skin, cut it into chunks and put it in a big stainless steel bowl and gave Miles a potato masher. For the next few hours we took turns squashing, mashing, stirring and tasting. This was basically woven into our whole morning. As we read books, played and walked in our backyard we smashed the squash. Yes, we could have very easily just put int in the food processor - but I wanted this to be an actual activity that Miles is engaged in. I also wanted to know what it was like for my grandmother when she was a kid on the farm because of course back then, everything was by hand. I ended up with strange bruises on my palms and fingertips along with a deep appreciation for the level of convenience a food processor offers. But I can’t deny that my hands and forearms are stronger for it!  With that part done we had about an hour before Miles’ naptime so we prepared the rest of the ingredients. The pie crust required very little work and no eggs, so I bravely allowed Miles to do this part on his own. Basically we measured out some flour, oil, salt and sugar, put it all in the pie pan and he mixed it with his hands and pressed it down - with me as his guide on the side. Once the crust was ready we simply hand stirred all the ingredients for the pie filling and poured it into the unbaked crust. Next comes nap time, again including a conversation about the process and time of baking the pie and eventually he went to sleep dreaming of devouring Halloween pie. 

Below are some pics of our baking adventure

As soon as I got Miles asleep I put the pie in the oven - it requires 15 mins at 425 and another 45 mins at 350. I tend to fill the crust to the brim so I think the latter took closer to 1 hour but I checked every 10 mins or so after the 45 was up. Once the crust was golden and the filling set I removed the pie from the oven to cool. The smell filled the entire house with its spicy sweetness. It felt warm, inviting and cozy. About an hour after the pie was out I got Miles up from his nap and again, a smile spread across his face and he whispered “I’m ready to eat Halloween pie!” So before we went to the kitchen we read his book once more and that lucky kid got to have a warm slice of pie for lunch! I’m not really one to give my kid lots of sugar or treats for lunch but because he had worked so hard to make it, I felt he had earned the honor of eating the first slice. Also the recipe has very little sugar - in fact there was no refined sugar - only 1/2 cup of honey. The coconut and squash are a lovely combination that provide natural sweetness. I felt ZERO remorse about giving it to him and he was beside himself with excitement. And over the course of a week homemade Halloween pie was eaten, shared with guests and even inspired some new variations on meals - such as “Halloween pie oatmeal”.

For about a week the Red Kuri squash was finding its way into a lot of dishes. I made muffins and pancakes with some pie filling that was leftover. Because we only used 1/2 the squash for pie I use the other half to make a savory, spicy peanut dip that also made an awesome sauce for noodles. It really amazed me how quickly the squash would make its way into what we were eating - the key for us was to use it sparingly so we didn’t get sick of it. And each time we ate some Miles would inevitably ask if it was the squash from the Halloween pie. He got so excited to know that his involvement was integral and he was a part of each and every dish we made. I shared pictures and the recipe with my grandmother who was happy and impressed - I felt so good about all the things this squash helped us do, eat and share. It was so great we ended up making another pie (with an actual pumpkin) and this one we made to bring to a friends house. What blew my mind was Miles’ willingness to go through all the effort again and not get to eat it immediately, he held out an entire day and a half and proudly stated that we had made this pie to share. I’m sure we will be making more pies this fall and Miles will get to bring them to share at our family gatherings, knowing that he got to bring something to the table this year.

Recipe

Filling
2 cups of pumpkin/squash
1 3/4 cup creamed coconut
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 9” unbaked pie crust

Crust
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1/8 cup bacon fat
1/3 cup coconut oil
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp milk or dairy substitute

Directions
• Heat the oven to 425 degrees
• Beat the eggs lightly, adding the other ingredients while beating the mixture
• Pour into the pie crust
• Bake for 15 mins, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees
• Continue to bake for another 45 mins, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean
• Allow your Halloween pie to cool before serving


* The base for this recipe was found in the book “Halloween Pie”.


Healthy Politics

Clearly we are currently in a time of much political turmoil. From environment to school, health, gun control, global affairs, economy… there isn’t a topic undebatable. And these debates have taken all sorts of forms in all sorts of venues with all sorts of people. And no, this isn’t anything new. Political debate has a long and healthy history. But with the most recent election I’ve noticed and experienced situations that don’t seem to be healthy or productive. I’ve heard many stories of friends and even family members ceasing communication due to who voted for who and for strong viewpoints over touchy topics. I am no stranger to strong opinions and certainly have many of my own. But to close communication due to disagreement is to close the door to potential solutions. And in many cases we now judge others on their political stance and simply close the door on even getting to know people b/c of their values. But what we need now is understanding and camaraderie. We are in an environment that is so easily divided that it’s best to take a step back from time to time and realign with what our commonalties are rather than our differences. Below I am going to break down a few ways to keep clear and open communication going and some of it may surprise you… 

Communication 

First I’d like to look at some basics of communication. As a health coach one of the main aspects of my education was about being a better listener. It is amazing how few people listen during a conversation - if you start to observe yourself you may find that this area could use some improvement, check out tips here. To actively listen is to stop thinking of what your response will be and to close out the chatter in your mind. When you hear what someone says, reiterate it back to them to ensure you’re understanding (this also gives the talker a chance to clarify). Rather than coming back with an immediate rebuttal, ask a question. Asking questions is another way to get further clarification and insight. And I’m not talking about belittling questions like “Well, what do you expect to happen after…” genuine, maybe even personal questions to get a deeper understanding of what the communicator is trying to get across. And when it comes time to speak your piece be authentic, speak from your knowledge and personal experience. Try to avoid hypothetical statements that create divisions i.e. “Well, if we did that, then this horrible thing would certainly happen…” Rather than focusing on where we have differences, we can cultivate trust in one another by finding common ground. Maybe you believe we should totally revamp healthcare and maybe I believe we need to make some adjustments to the current system. As we discuss we find that we both have family members who have dealt with cancer and we want a future where they can be cared for properly and without further stress on the patient. At this point can further discuss the details of how to best care for those who are suffering and what our roles could be. We now find ourselves in a place of truly relating to one another and sharing intimate details of our experiences. Our strength lies in our shared values not in the details of how to get there. 

Neighbors and community 

How well do you know those people who occupy space next to you? Do you stop to chat or ask to borrow something from time to time? Getting to know and work with the people who live in your immediate surroundings is the first step to creating a genuine community. If we take the time to get to know people for who they are we may have more understanding if a political sign shows up in their yard one day, rather than immediately labeling them “the crazies next door”. Whether you love, don’t get along with or don’t know your neighbors, I urge you to invite them over for a meal. Or even consider organizing a regular neighborhood potluck to include more people. Here is an awesome outline of how to get one started. This small effort could end up leading to a better relationship, block, or even town. Historically community provided all that was needed through shared efforts. But today we just happen to live next to people who we may or may not associate with. Let’s change that. Read about a great example of how community members in Florida donated items to their local library for others to check out for free. If we live in a space where people are friendly, honest and look out for one another our homes and inhabitants won’t be reduced down to blue, red or green. 

Buy less, do more 

Have you ever stopped to think how many of your values are attached to your valuables? This may not be a direct connection, but making lots of money is a goal for many people. If we need to have certain laws and policies in order to allow us to make as much money as possible then those laws and policies are supporting the accumulation of valuables. I feel that I should include a disclaimer that I don’t believe making money is wrong and responsible savings and investments are important. But there is a point when responsibility is satisfied, excess is achieved and yet we still want more. The funny thing is that when you take a step away from tv, tablets, and phones you find that you want far less. Convenience or impulse purchases have become an automated response to difficult emotions that arise in us. How often do you feel exhausted and buy a pre-made meal or some sort of treat because it was a bad day? It’s such an easy thing to do, I myself do it often. But what if we didn’t have the means to buy something every time we felt challenged? It is a humbling experience to halt convenience purchases - to know that an item will not bring me peace. (even when my brain is telling me over and over that it will) When we mindlessly purchase items or services we can be blissfully unaware of all the effort, labor and resources that go into that one little bags of chips, bracelet or cup of coffee. This is an amazing time of DIY culture. In the past it’s just the way it was, if you didn’t do it on your own, no one else would. But now it’s a whole “thing” to do it yourself. There are plenty of purchases we make that could be accomplished on our own with a little effort. Learn to fix a broken item at home, make your own chips from stale tortillas or brew some fancy coffee at home and experiment with adding flavors. The more we learn to do, the more we can relate to the people who do that work for a living. It also gives us more opportunities to ask neighbors for advice or help - we can share, trade or gift our excess. By not buying every single thing we want we are reminded of what it is that we take for granted and how seemingly easy things can actually be a challenge. My family is experimenting with no energy days, basically we chose 1 day a month and for 24 hours we use no energy at all. This is a fun experiment and isn’t nearly as tough as I thought it was going to be, until I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night… suddenly flipping a switch in the pitch dark became an amazing luxury. 

Eat, sleep and fuck well 

Yep, pretty self explanatory. Have you every heard the terms “hangry”, “sleep deprived” or “sexually-frustrated”? Check out the links to read about the effects these conditions have on you. Basically, these are 3 ways to ensure that your conversations will not be very productive. When we are not well fed in these areas we are malnourished and exhausted. To have an open and expansive mind frame we need a good nights rest, one that leaves us feeling optimistic and innovative when we wake. Diet is also a big factor here, foods hold energy that you consume. Eating fresh, vibrant, cared for fruits, veggies and meats opposed to greasy, chemical and sugar laden, nutrient deficient foods will create two very different you(s). And your words and actions will reflect your choices. And lastly, sex. If we could eliminate sexual repression and the avoidance of dealing with sexual trauma maybe we could achieve world peace. We all owe it to ourselves to be honest, open and to explore our needs. You can take a quiz to learn more about yourself and/or your partner here with the Erotic Blueprint Quiz by Jaiya. Gender and sexuality are HUGE topics today - maybe this is a calling to stop debating over others actions and begin to explore our own more deeply. Enjoy your life and live it. I believe in 90/10. 90% discipline and 10% do what you want. Being overly rigid never helped anyone, let loose and break your own rules sometimes. 

In closing I would like to say that this post (like all others) comes from a place of interest, curiosity, observation and experience. This is a culmination of actions that I myself take to help find balance in turmoil. I believe the strength is with all of us - continued communication and learning from one another is how we will evolve. So lets remember 

• Get to know people rather than their political stance 

• Live in a way that reminds you daily of how abundant your life is and be grateful 

• Help each other - family, friends and strangers alike 

• Live vibrantly - explore, question, appreciate, expand 

And remember to simply be interested in who and what is around you. Shut out limitations and open yourself to all the possibilities. If you have not heard of the popular documentary in which a black man befriends members of the KKK - check out Accidental Courtesy and watch an amazing example of how we can meet in the middle. Please share your comments, experiences and stories below.


My summer off - a personal leave of absence

This summer I took a 3-month personal leave from my 9-5 desk job as a graphic designer. This was an unplanned break, however it became increasingly necessary for my sanity. It was a leap I took despite no promise of a job when I return, especially during a rather turbulent atmosphere in the work place. I was nervous and thought over and over about the ramifications of taking the time off, but it hit a point for me that it was no longer an option not to. And I am so incredibly glad I did, for some expected as well as unexpected reasons. Here is an account of my personal leave of absence and how it effected me and my family. 

My choice to ask for leave came at a time that was incredibly trying at work as well as at home. Aside from spending time with my son, I felt that I was dreading pretty much every other aspect of my day. I didn’t feel I had any control over my life, I simply had one obligation after the next. And as the saying goes “when it rains, it pours”, a family member of mine got sick, one in particular who watches my son on a weekly basis and needed to take time to rest. I found myself trying to work from home while watching a 2-year old and not being able to help my family as much as I wanted. It was like I was drowning in a series of events that would continue to knock me down, each time wearing me out a little more and rendering me even less prepared to take on the next calamity. The little energy I had was replaced by caffeine and sugar, which only deepened my anxiety and depression. And I found myself spending money like crazy; clothes, food, events, anything to try and escape the pressure I was feeling. It got to a point where I had lost enthusiasm for most of the aspects of my life and that was not a place I wanted to be. 

I would often talk about wanting to leave my job, but rarely did it have much to do with the actual job. Yes, there were aspects of my job I didn’t love, but the reality was that what I was having a problem with was being stretched too thin, in too many directions. I hated that when I was working from home my son knew that I had to choose the computer over exploring with him. I loathed only having 2-days a week to cram in time with family, friends, and myself. To be honest, I resented the fact that I was sitting behind a desk 8-hours a day and not spending the majority of my time in nature, which I believe is a key to human health. And millions of people feel the exact same way. But, like me, millions of people also feel lucky to simply have a job, let alone one that has benefits and offers some level of autonomy. It’s a Catch 22 - I both appreciated and resented my job. It was getting to the point that I would fantasize about quitting, as if it was going to fix all the other problems in my life. Which I knew was not close to true, but I definitely needed some time to prioritize. So out of sheer desperation I decided to ask for a 3-month personal leave of absence. 

“And I said, I don’t care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I’m, I’m quitting, I’m going to quit.” - Milton Waddams, Office Space

The respect I have for my job rose as soon as I was granted the time off. The fact that I was able to do this blew my mind. The opportunity was also directly related to having a manager I could talk to honestly and directly. I was able to tell her exactly what was going on for me, no excuses, no lies. My manager alone made it worth asking for time off rather than just quitting. The time off was completely unpaid, I kept my benefits but paid out of pocket and I was without job protection. In our country this opportunity is a rarity, and I realized that by the overwhelming response of applause. I felt as if I had thrown in the towel and was breaking down. But as it turned out people responded with comments like “You’re so brave. I’m so happy for you” or “Is that a benefit your job offers?”. An amazing example is that our very busy neighbor who is a full-time nurse and going to school decided to take time off as well! I’ve gotten to know her more over these past 3-months than in the past year. We finally got the opportunity to simply stand in the driveway and chat while watching our sons played basketball. It is such a simple joy to have a conversation rather than waving a rushed “hi/good-bye” while running to and from duties. 

There were many subtle benefits I’ve come to realize during my time off. In the beginning I had many lofty goals of what I was going to get done during my time off. This included a complete redecoration our home, taking Miles to every museum, park and nature preserve in our area and revise my entire daily routine to include all the things I wish I was doing… basically unrealistic goals. But I did like have ideas about what I wanted to spend my regained energy on. My #1 goal was to simply enjoy uninterrupted time with Miles, at 2.5 he’s in between clinging to me and being independent. Watching him grow-up while I can still be available to him has been an absolute gift. With Miles at my side I probably got 1 small task done per day. I did things like reorganize a messy drawer that had been driving me nuts, sorting clothes to give to Goodwill and cleaning out Miles’ old toys - little nagging things that I didn’t want taking up space in my brain anymore. At times I would think “did I take time off of work to clean out my junk drawers?” But after a few weeks of taking care of these menial tasks I noticed that I was beginning to feel clarity, the tension was diffusing. And in those free spaces I found time for expansion. Below is a breakdown of where I saw the most change and felt genuinely renewed. 

Creativity 

Journaling was something I used to hold near and dear but I let it drop over the last few years. In an effort to rebuild the habit I began writing my thoughts on various topics related to health and lifestyle. After a while this blog was born. I committed to writing 1 post per week and to create the habit of writing when I was inspired. This really was my first leap toward getting my head totally out of an office and into what I truly value. Artistic projects were another big goal for my summer. After having our son, free-time for art became quite hard to find for both my husband and myself. I strongly believe in working with your hands is an important aspect of health, when I don’t “get my hands dirty” I feel a lack. My husband Carey and I began to talk about collaboration projects. We recently both read Just Kids by Patti Smith (if you haven’t read it i highly recommend it) and the desire to make art became even more intense. I love to collage and Carey is a photographer, so we ended up working together on an awesome collage that is now hanging on our wall. It ended up being a lot fun since we only worked on it at night after Miles had gone to bed. It was a little bit of a reminder how art was such a main driver in our lives when we were young. Another one of my favorite ways to make art is through jewelry design. But there are a lot of things that need to fall into place for me to have the time/energy to dedicate to jewelry design. As it turns out my sister-in-law got engaged and I found the perfect opportunity to get involved by offering to make her a special piece for her wedding day. Sometimes when I really really want to do something, the motivation I need is someone to do it for. 

Health 

All we need to do to get healthy is to stop working. HA! If only it were that easy. But in all seriousness, I saw some amazing health benefits by taking time off work. Starting the morning with a clear head I was able to organize my day in a way that prioritized my families heath. First and foremost we always try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Whether we are bike riding, walking to the park or having a picnic - fresh air is a priority. I spent much of my day in yoga pants and you know what… I actually did yoga. I was able to jump into a full on routine any moment I felt the inspiration and if I didn’t really have a large block of time I would do 10-20 min sessions throughout the day. This was also great when taking Miles to the park, I played on the jungle gym just as much as he did - I even tried a few favorite monkey bar moves from my childhood and I didn’t break anything! Dinner prep often began around lunchtime so I was also spreading this task over long periods of time, which allowed me to move around as needed. Home cooking is one of the best ways to guarantee the quality of your food. The irony is that I didn’t really cook anything all that fancy, but I was able to clearly think about what we had and start the process before everyone was already hangry. When cooking fresh food there can be a considerable amount of prep work and it was glorious to not rush through chopping food and nearly cutting a finger off along with it. And this way I could also get Miles involved. He loves to cook with me and when I’m calm, it’s a fun endeavor. And as if all of this wasn’t enough - the increased intake of fresh air, exercise and home cooking improved my sleeplessness. I no longer woke at 3 am stressed and unable to go back to sleep. All of these behaviors worked together resulting in me feeling much better in general and resulted in having the ability to deal with daily challengers easier. When you have the time to take care of yourself properly, the annoyances of life are just that, they can be brushed off with little thought. 

Money 

Weird that not working would result in a better money situation, right? But wow, I was spending a lot of money just because I was going to work. One of the big drivers for me being ok going to and office was the prospect of breakfast, lunch and coffee. I was fine with spending over $25 a day just to have the food I wanted to eat, and it was marginal at best. I won’t name names, but the burritos, sandwiches and quiches that would drive my day do not feel anywhere near worth the money in hindsight. Plus, I know that if i cook, my food tastes way better. Convenience was king. That’s what it all was, for convenience. I would spend money on things b/c I didn’t feel like I had the energy to do it myself. But when you really take a moment to look at how much money you spend on a monthly basis just for convenience it is staggering. Katy Bowman addresses the issue of convenience spending and how it effects our lives as well as the planet in her book Movement Matters. And last but not least, shoppertainment. Bored at lunchtime? New outfit! Need to order 1 thing on amazon? Oh I forgot those 50 other things I needed. Unsure how to deal with dissatisfaction at work? Buying something will help, right? Nope! I have spent 10% of what I normally would in 3 months and this wasn’t with much effort, it was an unintended consequence. 

Relationships 

As mentioned earlier, I was able to get to know my neighbor b/c for once we found ourselves with some time to just chat and get to know each other. This held true for a lot of other relationships in my life. I was able to attend my brother’s graduation ceremony from the University of Chicago. This event was held at 10 am on a friday, and I live about 2 hours from the location with a child in tow. Normally this would be out of the question, but I felt so good to be able to be there to see my brother graduate, and that his nephew got to be there to applaud him. Just being present and calm is something I have really learned to appreciate. For once I was able to confidently bring dishes or offer a helping hand at the parties we were invited to. I didn’t need to scramble last minute to bring something to the table. I have an abundance of fresh food and I love sharing it. In fact having an overflowing CSA box means that I am going to be bringing something fresh and delicious to any event and that makes me feel like a rockstar! And this means I actually had the capacity to attend events such as housewarmings and birthdays. I could also meet up with friends or family for a casual get together, and our family showed up early and stayed the full duration of events. I’ve even been inspired to create some community events such as Saturday Yard Yoga in our backyard and I have plans to create monthly community potluck dinners as well… more to come on that in the future. 

I went back to work this Monday and I can’t say that I was excited in the least bit. But believe it or not I’ve grown a lot over these past 3-months. I’ve refocused and gained a clearer picture of my future and what I want it to look like. I know that surely not all, but many of these habits I’ve formed can and will continue to stay with me as I return to work. The positive habits that help support me in my home-life will also help me in my 9-5 atmosphere as well. I can continue to cook well at home, bring fresh food to work, save $ by not buying food and caffeine, stay rested and I can also be a better desk neighbor and coworker by caring for myself with these beneficial behaviors. Because in the end, caring for myself makes me much more pleasant to be around. As I evolve back into my working life I plan to continue this path and put my growth into action. Wish me luck! 

Please add your thoughts and comments below. Have you taken some time off of work or school to simply reset yourself?