Monday, November 28, 2011

A Simple Holiday

When I was about ten years old, I recall asking a girl in my neighborhood what she got for Christmas.

"A tape recorder and a book," she said.

"And what else?" I asked.

"That's it."

"What about dinner?" I asked. "What did you have for Christmas dinner?"

"My mother cooked chicken, potatoes, peas. Apple pie for dessert." she replied.

"That's it?" I was in shock.

I went home and cried my eyes out. "She must be very poor." I told my mom. "She only got two gifts for Christmas. Who only gets two gifts? And for dinner-- a chicken? One pie?"

I didn't know this girl very well. She was older than me.  I knew where she lived because we traveled to school on the same bus. I was so upset over her meager Christmas, that nothing would bring me peace. We had to do something for her and her family. What if they didn't have enough food to eat? Or lights and heat? I cried and cried until my mother finally told me to get in the car and show her where this poor family lived. A few minutes later we parked in front a well kept, two-story home. The house was tastefully decorated with Christmas lights.  A plastic Frosty-the-Snowman stood guard on the front lawn, broom in hand.  Two nice cars were parked in the paved driveway.

 "Are you sure this is it?" my mom asked.

I nodded. "This is the house she comes out of every morning to catch the bus."

My mom smiled. "Honey, this looks like a very nice, comfortable home. The lights are on inside, so they have electricity. I believe this family is okay."

"But they had such an awful Christmas!" I cried. "You have to go knock on the door. They might be starving!"

My mother refused. "This is a very close community," she said. "We would know if there was a poor and starving family in this neighborhood. Maybe they're just happier with a simple Christmas."

"Or maybe her parents don't really love her," I mumbled to myself as we drove away.

It's so funny now when I look back on that experience and how I measured love and affluence with lots Christmas gifts and tables overflowing with food.

My parents didn't often buy toys or gifts for me and my brother but at Christmas-time, they pulled out all the stops! Each year the gifts got better and better and the piles of beautifully wrapped boxes grew bigger and bigger. My mother shopped, wrapped, and cooked. She cooked up a storm for weeks before the big day: lasagna, turkey, fish, potatoes, vegetables, cookies, cake, pies. It's a wonder our table didn't collapse with all that food. And every Christmas, she was exhausted, aggravated, and in a sour mood. This is the way it was with just about all my friends and family. And as kids, we couldn't figure out why our mothers were not as thrilled as we were about the holidays.

I didn't figure it out until I grew up. This was when I realized what really is involved in pulling off a Happy Holiday.  I dragged myself through store after store, spending ridiculous amounts of money on gifts. Every year the gifts got bigger and better and the piles of presents beneath the tree grew higher and higher. I battled crowds, sleet, snow and ice. I decorated. I wrapped. I cooked. I began to despise Christmas. I didn't want it to come and when it did, I wanted it to end. Christmas was just one big chore and the responsibility of making it happen rested on me. I hated who I became during the holidays- a nagging, unhappy, tired person. I was making everyone around me miserable and robbing them of the joy of the season.

Over the years, I've learned to simplify Christmas.  Everything doesn't have to be so elaborate. It's not necessary to go into debt buying dozens and dozens of gifts. One really nice present per person is more than enough. Something from the heart, made with love is perfect. Gifts from the kitchen are alway nice. I've ditched all the expensive wrapping paper, ribbons and bows in exchange for recycled brown paper, raffia, pinecones and a few sprigs of fresh pine. It's not unforgiveable to buy holiday cookies instead of making them from scratch or to serve a spiral ham and packaged dinner rolls for Christmas dinner instead of all that cooking, baking and frying.

Piles of presents beneath the tree and an abundance of food and treats have nothing to do with love or wealth.  If you're wearing yourself out trying to keep up with everything, if you'd rather sleep through the holidays or can't wait for them to be over, if your angry and nagging and less than joyful--you are doing too much. And you probably don't realize it, but you are making everyone around you stressed and miserable as well.  Simplify! Simplify! Simplify! 

"I am a better person when I have less on my plate.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert.

I will never forget my mother's words to me on that day so long ago. "Maybe they're just happier with a simple Christmas."  I am  beginning to think perhaps that particular family had the right idea and were very, very rich indeed.

Simple is always best.  We sometimes have a tendency to over-give and over-do to make up for what we can't give.  And that is more of OURSELVES.

Take a good look at everything on your plate this holiday season and then remove a few of those stressful things- all that shopping, cooking, cleaning. Not necessary! Really. It isn't.  What really matters is your love, time, tenderness. First for yourself and then poured out on others......

And this is my Daily Cyn......

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving From My Table to Yours!

Yes....I am a vegan posting a picture of a turkey. Turkey is a Thanksgiving tradition. And, I happen to love this painting.

My mom cooks a turkey every Thanksgiving.  I won't eat it, but I can't resist opening the oven door several times to take a peek as it's roasting.  The aroma is intoxicating. It smells like home. I snap photos of the finished product as it sits on a big white platter in the center of the dining room table. Every one claps and oohs and aahs. The turkey is glorious. Let the carving begin! The whirring of the electric knife as dad cuts into the bird brings our whole Norman Rockwell experience to a screeching halt.  It looks and sounds more like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's so funny, we all laugh 'til we cry!  Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without dad wielding his electric knife.

I've cooked a turkey only once in my life. Everyone says it was delicious but the experience was so traumatic, I swore to never do it again. I say this now, but someday mom will be gone and someone has to take over. That would be me. Until then, I will continue to contribute my favorite foods to the Thanksgiving table.

So, what am I cooking up for Thanksgiving?

Green Bean Casserole:

Instead of cream of mushroom soup made with milk, I use Vegan Creamy Portabello Mushroom Soup. It comes in a carton, not a can.  I do add the french-fried onions, however. From the can. And I add more than recipe calls for. My son would never forgive me if I omitted them. Green Bean Casserole is his favorite Thanksgiving dish.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes:

I cut up fresh sweet potatoes (skins on), toss them in olive oil, add salt, pepper, a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, and a handful of chopped walnuts. I roast them in the oven and about five minutes before they're done, I drizzle my potatoes with a touch of organic maple syrup. DELICIOUS and so much healthier than those sticky-sweet candied yams.

Butternut Squash Soup:

Time is limited so this year, I am cheating. I don't have the patience to peel, chop, cook and blend butternut squash. I am using Imagine Butternut Squash Soup, heating it up and dumping it into a big soup tureen. I'll doctor it up with freshly ground pepper and parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (sing it with me!). I will toss in homemade croutons and no one will know I didn't make it from scratch. I just have to hide the empty cartons in the bottom of the trash can.

'Nana Pudding:

A luscious dessert. Literally, sin in a bowl!  There is no way to skimp on this dish or make it healthy. I've tried and it just doesn't work. I just have to roll with it. If you're from the South, you know what this is. If not, I'll explain. 'Nana Pudding is layers upon layers of Nilla Wafer cookies, sliced bananas and custard made from eggs, milk, flour, sugar and pure vanilla extract. It's topped with a gorgeous meringue made from egg whites, more sugar and then browned to perfection. It's a big production and a real pain in the ass to prepare. You have to make it early so it has time to set. It's in my fridge right now. This is my father's favorite dessert (he's from the South) and he always begs me to make it.  I always refuse because it's so damn fattening. This year, what Daddy wants, Daddy gets.

In a few hours, our table will be overflowing with an abundance of all our favorite foods. My contributions, the turkey (a veggie burger for me), gravy, two kinds of stuffing (one vegetarian style), homemade mashed potatoes (my sister makes the best), corn pudding (mom's specialty), cranberry relish with oranges and pecans, peas with pearl onions, tossed green salad, homemade biscuits and rolls, apple, pumpkin, pecan and coconut custard pies, cheese cake, my evil banana pudding, sparkling cider, fruit, nuts.......

We will  pray, laugh, sing, cry and eat until we cannot move. We'll disagree about politics and religion. I am the only Democrat in the family and therefore always the victim.  I really don't mind. Someone will try to force-feed me a slice of turkey. Dad will quote scripture and share his favorite stories. Despite our differences, we'll express our love and appreciation for one another. Eventually, the men will collapse into tryptophan-enhanced comas in the livingroom while the women gather in the kitchen for gossip and clean-up. The kids will tear the house apart.

This is my favorite holiday!

I have so much to be thankful for. A wonderful family. My beautiful son. My amazing father who never complains. Even now, as he battles cancer, he remains a tower of strength for his family. Terrific friends--most of whom I've met in the darkest, most un-godly of places.  A roof over my head, money in the bank, and an abundance of food to eat. I am thankful for my health, my determination and drive, my sense of humor and the ability to laugh even in times of sorrow. I am grateful for the gifts God gave me and the pleasure of sharing them with others. For finding love and losing it.  For trials and hard times that make me stronger. For the mistakes I've made and the lessons I've learned. I give thanks for the promise of hope and the faith to believe in the promise of hope. I give thanks to God for His love, mercy and forgiveness. And I am thankful for you, dear readers. You are my inspiration to keep going and to keep sharing my heart.

Enjoy your family, friends and loved ones today.  Cook, eat and indulge in all your favorite foods and treats. Bask in the glory of love, life, and togetherness. Tomorrow, just get right back on the path of healthy eating.

I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

And this is my Daily Cyn......

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

There's an App for That! Five Steps to Converting Life's Problems!

Wouldn't it be totally awesome if we could really do this?

I would love to convert or transfer all my problems. With the a push of button, just send them all to another person. Let them deal with dad's cancer and chemo therapy, my dwindling bank account, my lack of funds, and my rapidly approaching, much dreaded fiftieth birthday.  I'll gladly hand over all that plus the seven pounds I've gained recently because we are all stress-eating over here (my dad is withering away by the minute while the rest of us pack on the pounds) and the sheer panic I feel because this coming January, I am going back to school. I'll probably be the oldest student in the class. I shouldn't be thinking about enhancing or furthering my career at this point. I should be planning my retirement! Let someone else take on the exhaustion, the mood swings, the crying spells, and my sagging ass. My yoga mat is collecting dust because I haven't had the energy to roll it out in months. At my age, if I don't work it, I lose it.  Let's not forget that I haven't been wined and dined, kissed or held by a gentleman in over six months! This explains my chocolate cravings. I am almost freakin' fifty, for God's sake! I should be married or at least settled in a healthy relationship by now, shouldn't I? The older I get, the less of a chance that's gonna happen. Oh! And did I mention menopause? Somebody, take my problems! PLEASE! 

If only there were an APP for that........

 Oh, but there is. Well, it's not a simple as downloading an application on phone, but there are a few ways to 'convert our problems'......

The first step: Stop Thinking About Them!

Dwelling on problems and issues only exacerbates them. They appear more insurmountable in our minds than they actually are in reality. The more we think, the more stressed, aggravated and exhausted we become.  The sure-fire way to stop dwelling our problems: to always remember that someone else has it much worse!

Step Two: Change of Perspective.

Cancer. This is something I can't change no matter how hard I pray or try to wish it away.  So I might as well roll with it, look for the lessons along the way, and be a supportive, loving daughter. Cherish every moment I have with my dad. Menopause? Can't make it go away. It's part of the cycle of life and I am blessed to not suffer from the majority of common symptoms that usually occur with "the change".  I have my healthy, VEGAN diet to thank for that.

As for the things we can change, we just need to change them.. And, perhaps cut ourselves a little slack now and then. Try to see things differently. Deconstruct problems one by one. Tackle and change the things we can. Accept what we can't change. Learn the difference between the two. The good old Serenity Prayer. Works every time.

Step Three: Build a Support System.

I am not the first person in the world to deal with a sick, elderly parent. And I am not the only middle-aged woman going back to school or trying to advance her career. There are plenty of fifty-somethings out there who don't have mates, lovers, or a special someone to snuggle beside at night. Yet they lead happy, fulfilling lives. How do they do it?

There are groups, clubs, organizations, mentors, networking meetings and plenty of loving, caring, supportive people out there ready, willing and able to offer advice and assistance. We can learn how others got through it and came out on the other side successfully. Ask questions. Lean on friends for help and support. That's what friends are for. Make new friends, too. Stick close to positive, encouraging people. Ditch the naysayers and the negative people. We're never alone and now is not the time to be alone. We need to resist the temptation to isolate ourselves during difficult times. Get out and have fun. 

Step Four: Focus on other people.

I said it earlier and I will say it again: someone else always has it much worse! Sometimes I become so consumed, I actually forget those around me who are suffering. I have a house, heat, food in my fridge and my health. Some people aren't so lucky.

When we think about others and their problems, ours become less significant. Volunteering our time, donating to charities, taking a neighbor grocery shopping, participating in causes we believe in, reading to an elderly person, or delivering a container of homemade soup to a sick friend--this is what life should be about. When we give of our time, love and resources, we get so much back in return. When we give when we don't have, we get even more. I am not saying we should give with ulterior motives. It's just a simple law of nature: when we take the focus off ourselves and put it on someone else, things have a tendency to fall into place.  

Number Five: Develop a Spiritual Practice.

I promise not to "get all religious" but who hasn't whispered a prayer to something or someone out there during difficult times? Pray, meditate, do yoga, go to church, listen to music that feeds your soul, read inspirational books like the Bible, The Bhagavad Gita, The Essential Rumi, or just sit in silence in the woods or by the ocean. Set aside time to stop, look, and listen. These are spiritual practices- the time when we turn everything off and tap into something greater: God, Spirit, the Universe. I call it God but what ever it is to you--just do it! A spiritual practice calms us and brings peace. A spiritual practice can help us find solutions our problems, lessons in our trials, even joy in the midst of pain.

In the end, do I really want to give someone else my problems? No. You might be wishing to take mine over yours any day.  I will keep them, thank you very much. And practicing these five steps won't necessarily convert or take away my problems. But they will convert me.

And this is my Daily Cyn.....

Saturday, November 12, 2011



Set it free. Share what you have and it will all come back to beautiful, wonderful, unexpected ways.
And this is my Daily Cyn......