So, after my Baking Bread Memories post, my daughter Meghann, also a writer, insisted I start another blog and talk about my life through the eyes of food. Not wanting to start over with yet another blog, I decided to edit this one and begin the project my daughter asked me to write in this one.
Besides the food refocus, I could not edit out my Bipolar and Diabetic experiences. I really feel my mental illness as well as my diabetes are intertwined with my life of eating; they are inextricably combined.
Long List of Memories
I began a list last night of times in my life where food took more than center stage and already have 29 potential posts!
Come along with me as I jot down memories for my children and entertainment for you readers.
I read and read before ever trying that first loaf. I’m sure I almost memorized the Basic Recipe by the time I poured the first packet of yeast into the bowl of warm water. After a few months, I never had to look at the recipe again; I could feel the different amounts and measurements.
It’s been 30 years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread, yet I can still smell the scent of yeast as it was mixed with the warm water. I tried lots of different sweeteners to “feed” the yeast… sugar, honey… but settled on dark molasses.
When I learned yeast was a living being, it changed how I saw raw dough. I began treating the dough with more purpose and attention. I respected the yeast more, hence also the dough.
I learned that adding flour (I always used whole wheat flour, spring wheat if possible), even to the counter so the dough didn’t stick, wasn’t the best idea, that dough stops being sticky after kneading until you feel like your hands are going to fall off. Then you knead that long once again.
Before learning to respect the dough, I plopped it into any ol’ bowl, even plastic ones. Forgive me! I didn’t know any better! Once I learned more and shifted my attention, I bought 2 enormous glass bowls, specifically for rising dough. Learning to cover the dough with plastic wrap was an epiphany, but I also got myself 2 white cotton dish towels to protect the dough as it rose. I didn’t realize it, but I’d developed a Bread Baking Ritual.
I always had to set some dough aside for the kidlets, so they could knead at the dining room table. I’d sprinkle flour over much of the table and the kids would be busy for an hour, creating their dough shapes, letting them rise and then waiting to eat them after they came out of the oven. Oh, how I wish I had pictures of those times. I can see it clear as day in my mind, though. It’ll have to reside there forever.
When it was time to “punch” the dough down after it rose the first time, I did just that… punch… finding it amusing to watch the dough curl around my fist. After my this-stuff-is-alive realization, I began being gentle pushing the dough down again. I would use my hand like a spatula and slide against the side of the bowl, watching the (gluten) threads stretch then snap back to the mother-dough.
I nudged the dough down before folding it neatly, then covering it with plastic wrap again and placing the white cotton dish towels on top, allowing it to rise (in half the time as the first rise!) once again.
Into the Oven
After the second rise, I hand-spatula’d the dough down once again before separating it with a plastic scraper into the proper sizes for the bread pans. Over the years, I tried a variety of ways to keep the baked bread from sticking to the pan: oil (yuck), Crisco (not bad), but finally settled on Pam spray. I curled the raw dough into the bread pans, covered them with plastic wrap and the dish towels yet again, allowing them their last rise.
I wanted slashes in the top of my bread. It took at least 100 times before I didn’t deflate my dough trying to get a lovely slash in the top. I tried sharp knives, serrated knives, forks… even razor blades… and always struggled with that part of baking. Eventually, I learned to zip the knife through fast, not slow and deep. Just pull the knife quickly. Poking around for pics, I see there are now dozens of tools to make beautiful scores in your bread. But back in the olden days….
My Nose Knows
It was when I began baking bread that I realized I had an interesting cook’s gift; I can tell when baked goods are finished cooking with my nose. I need no timers, there is a distinct scent that wafts around the house and I’m able to get the bread or brownies or pie out of the oven before any burning occurs and without any under-baking.
Out of the Oven
There is no smell so heavenly as fresh baked bread right out of the oven.
It was a red-letter day the first time I tumped a loaf out of its cooking pan without it falling apart. Once the loaves were out, I put them on cookie racks to cool.
As with the slashes, I had to learn how to cut the bread. This was a shorter learning curve, quickly passing on the dinner knife and non-serrated knife. A sharp serrated knife is definitely the way to save your loaf from looking like crumbs. If you have the capability to let the bread cool even just a few minutes, it won’t fall apart as easily as right out of the oven bread.
And then the butter. Ahhhhh, butter. Not margarine… ever! The fresher the butter the better. Slathering it on, watching it melt into puddles on the bumpy surface, air bubbles holding the creamy sweetness aloft, just waiting for your first luscious bite.
Types of Bread
Besides the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I made every day for years, I experimented with other types, rarely finding success.
I could not ever ever ever get Sourdough Bread right. I tried a dozen “full-proof” recipes, believed the promises that grandma’s 100-year old starter would be The One to give me a lovely loaf of sourdough bread. Nope. It never happened. It was worse trying to make starter myself! It reminded me of how I could never keep a plant alive… cultivating living things just was not one of my fortes.
In Laurel’s Bread Book, she waxes poetic about Desem (Day-zum) Bread. It is a massively complicated process that includes burying your small starter loaf in a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour for a few weeks, taking it out for air every few days, taking away some of the dough, replacing it with new flour… on and on. And on. (I have not looked at the recipe in 30 years so I could be telling you something totally false, but this is how it was for me trying to make the Desem Bread.) How I thought I could make Desem when I couldn’t even keep sourdough starter alive was beyond me. But I tried. More than once. Failed every single time.
Where I did find success was in Laurel’s Banana Bread recipe. I started with hers, but quickly altered it to my tastes. For real, you need 6-8 ripe (not over-ripe!) bananas (“the bread will only taste as good as the ingredients”… great life lesson right there.) to make this 85-pound loaf of bread. 6-8. In each loaf. Not kidding.
I usually made 2 loaves; one with raisins and one with nuts. I like raisins, Zack liked the nuts. You can put cranberries in there… cran-raisins, chunks of chocolate, cherries… anything your banana heart desires.
The scent of banana bread in the oven is exquisite. (I could smell when it was done as well. No timers for me!) Eating hot banana bread with gobs of butter… I’m nearly weeping remembering the taste.
Passing It On
All of my kids have made bread. I like to believe I had something to do with offering fearlessness when trying those first few times.
Technology has given us bread makers, but I know I would not use one because of the hypnotic deliciousness of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, watching the second rise, then into the pans for their third rise… all before baking.
Looking from this vantage point, there is something special about the length of time it takes from yeast proofing to butter on hot bread. Lessons in patience, small attentions and watching the making of a staple of life humbles me.
Hmmm… didn’t know I would say so much! Hope the kids enjoy this.
“Be kind to the children, for they are close to the other side.” – unknown
When my father was given 3 months to live when he had the intestinal cancer, everyone had an idea of what he should do. Take this herb! Try chiropractic! I was in the “Call Hospice” camp. But my father had a different plan. Instead, he wanted to do chemotherapy. Those of us in the medical arena of his life, holding the labs in our hands, shook our heads at the futility of that… and it might/probably will make him feel much worse. We did what he wanted anyway.
My dad did 2 sessions of chemo and then said, “Call Hospice.”
His death 2.5 months later was peaceful and gentle. And he was so so loved.
When We Need to Listen
In my life right now are a couple of people who have family or friends with terminal diagnoses. Those around them are rushing to help with all sorts of remedies, diets and even insisting on the “power of positive thinking.”
Instead, perhaps this is a time to ask the dying person what they want, not foist on them what we want.
Being near those that are dying is an amazing honor and privilege. For one thing, it isn’t a sudden, unexpected moment where there are always regrets about things not said or done. When you are at the side of a dying person, you have the opportunity for completion and the giving of your heart in a way you might never have before.
It is not a time for airing grievances that will never be resolved. Not a time for your confessions of guilt (find a Priest for that). It isn’t even a time to just sit keening and crying your eyes out, the dying person trying to comfort you in their time of need.
Holding the Space is a concept I learned in midwifery, but had been doing a long time already with men dying of AIDS decades ago. Holding the Space is sitting quietly, perhaps praying silently, seeing golden light of love surrounding them or just Be-ing with the person heading to the other side (into parenthood/through death/in illness/etc.). Allowing the person to say what they want… rambling speech or exquisite poetry. I like to keep notes, but not at the expense of my complete attention.
One caveat: Take as many pictures as you can… with each person separately, everyone together… take pictures holding the person’s hand… get video of them if they are still talking. I have nothing with my dad’s voice on it and regret that terribly.
Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, but if there was ever a time to be Mindful, it is when with someone in transition. Not worrying about getting to the store, checking your phone or even talking to others in the room about mundane life crap. BE with the person. Give your full attention to them. Watch them. Witness their transition completely.
If you get tired, you rest. No one can be expected to be Mindful or present 100% of the time. Do go for walks outside. Walk the dog. Eat a good meal. Be mindful of your needs, too.
There But for the Grace of God Go I
When I am with someone in this holy place (which does include childbirth, of course), I want to share with them how I hope to be treated during my own transition through death. Not that it is my prescribed way of dying, but simply respectful and kind attention.
My family knows how I want to go. At home. People happy, laughing, music blaring, telling fun stories, remembering all the wondrous things I have done in this life. I also want to be read to. Read to me when I am tired and need to close my eyes for a moment.
But that is me. Not everyone wants the levity part that I have requested.
Perhaps the person you are with wants to smoke again, drink until they are drunk every day, wants to go out to a forest and dig their toes in the dirt one more time. Take them! Even if you have to hire an ambulance service and need to push dirt through their toes while they are on a gurney. Be creative to give the dying their wishes. If they want to watch a favorite movie on a 24-hour loop and it makes you crazy…
…so what?!? Let them!
Talk to your loved one. Ask them what they want and need from you.
Then do it.
An added note: I understand that children dying slowly can be another aspect entirely. I have not lost a child to cancer or another illness or malformation, so cannot speak to it accurately. But, as with everything anyone in the world writes or says:
I was at the Hematologist’s office the other day getting my weekly iron infusion (yeah, have not written about that yet, sorry) and afterward, I ended up waiting 2 hours for the medical transport to come pick me up.
Sitting across from me were 2 kids, a boy about 10 with an iPad and earbuds in, sitting away from, who I found out later, was his grandmother. Next to grandma was a girl who told me she was 6. She looked bored to tears.
After a few minutes, I invited her over to watch videos with me on my phone. Sheepishly, she crossed the space between us, sitting in the chair next to me. I asked her what we should watch. She shrugged. I suggested baby goat videos; they are always great for a laugh.
We spent the next 20 minutes laughing at the baby goat antics, my asking her questions every once in awhile.
“How old are you?”
“When is your birthday?”
It had just passed, so I asked her if she received any gifts and she excitedly told me…
… something I asked her to repeat several times. Confused, I pleadingly looked at Grandma for help.
I was still clueless, so told the little girl I had to Google it to see what that was. She looked at me, incredulous I could possibly have gone one day without this knowledge.
They are teeny-tiny toys… that revolve around… grocery shopping? Marketing groceries to a 6-year old? Good lord.
Oh, and there’s a whole Shopkins series of cartoons, too. My new friend wanted to watch one. I vetoed that.
My head was swimming after the Shopkins talk, so I decided to show her pictures of my grandkids. She liked that, pointing out various things.
I got to my grandson at a fairy birthday party, wearing wings and a crown. I told her who it was and she said, “But, he’s a BOY! Boys can’t be fairies!” I said there he is, so clearly he could be a fairy. She didn’t believe me.
I scrolled further and found the one with my grandson covered in mud and said, “See? He can be a fairy and covered in mud. Everyone gets to do that if they want to.”
(That turned out to be the kernel I’d hoped I could impart on her young mind.)
Soon after, grandma was called back and the little girl had to go with her (my ride should have been there at any moment anyway) and she ran to go through the door.
But not before she turned around and waved one last time.
The last 2 weeks have sucked even worse than when I wrote on July 13, 2017. Tears. Tears. Never-ending tears. The suicidal ideation is coming more often and is more vivid than when I started the Paxil. And the damn hallucinations are back.
Almost all of my time is in bed, either curled in pain (another post), staring at the ceiling or sleeping. I leave I Love Lucy on in the background. Sometimes Friends. I’m listening to Mists of Avalon (a book I love), but when I listen in bed, I fall right to sleep. I’ve replayed Chapter 6 four times already.
An Odd Sorta Depression
When looking for images about depression lying, I came across several pieces like this one below:
Not sure if I’m just more familiar with my depression than when I was younger or if it has really shifted, but I do not hear the lies the girl in the image does… nothing negative about my body, how alone I am in the world, how fat/ugly/sick I am. I did when I was younger, but not anymore.
I just feel sad. An overwhelming sadness. A pall of melancholia that separates me from the rest of you. I cannot even touch what I am sad about except for the endless distress I have about our country because of 45. But this joylessness is deeper than the fear-for-our-lives kind. I feel like I’m under the thick glass of my Nana’s cake pedestal, so close to others, but unable to penetrate the barrier of dreariness to make a connection.
The psych doc upped the Paxil to 30mg after 2 weeks on 20mg. He said he still might have to increase it when I see him in 2 weeks. For fuck’s sake, can’t this stuff take effect already? I hate this waiting part.
I have weaned off the Cymbalta. Is that the reason for this huge dip? Who knows anymore. He wanted to increase my Risperdal, but I refused; the eating is out of control with more Risperdal… can’t abide by that.
An aside: I despise the new packaging that seems to be taking over the medication world. I am not stupid, can follow directions, but they are incredibly difficult for me to get into. I’ve asked the Pharmacy to open them for me and then I rip the inner blister pack out, throwing the outer box away. If you haven’t see them, let me introduce you.
I’ve had lots of suicidal thoughts. My cub stayed with me one night when they were especially bad, reminding me every few minutes that Depression is a Liar. Hearing that, knowing it for certain, is what kept (keeps) me going. Hearing that so-and-so loves me doesn’t do much for my mindset because I rationalize that away easily. Depression Lies, however, works wonders.
The thoughts of suicide are so enticing. They call to me seductively as if they were sirens on the ocean’s rocks.
“A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. People who take their lives don’t want to die—they just want to stop hurting.”
When I had my first serious clinical depression in my late teens, I didn’t understand the “wanting the pain to stop” aspect and teetered really close to the edge of death.
As I got older and had some decent therapy, I was able to verbalize the inner turmoil and excruciating emotional pain that was drawing me towards dying. Understanding that I didn’t really want to die, but just to stop hurting… a pain that went so deep as to injure my soul… I was able to cling to those brief seconds of “medication will help remove the pain… hang on a little bit longer.”
Medication and therapy have not failed me yet.
Work has been nearly impossible the way I feel. I can do one call, then need 2 hours off to regroup. The calls are easy, mostly with regulars, but the energy expenditure exhausts me. Even writing this post has taken 4 days so far. Ugh. I need to be able to work!
Okay, I need to get this out to you all. It is not a cry for help, I promise. I will not hurt myself, have no plans to. It’s just those random thoughts that flow through my mind… sometimes like heavy cinder blocks and others like wafting vapors. As long as they continue moving on the conveyor belt, I think I’m okay and headed towards healing.
My beautiful cub, as you read through this and the articles I’ve shared, one of the most important things is to breathe and let go of any stress/tension you feel building because of the instructions. You do not… WILL not… be doing everything at once, so allowing yourself grace for the learning and ongoing practice (the Be-ing) of Mindfulness is really good for your spirit. Even I work at Mindfulness. Even Buddhist Monks practice (the act of learning a new skill) Mindfulness. There is no “end” to show you have completed the task for the rest of your life, no test at some tangible end. It is an ongoing experience like breathing. Seeing it as the waves in the ocean can help a lot… they come and go, unbidden, but in a rhythm that does not cease.
So it is with Mindfulness.
There are several avenues to Mindfulness. It seems each teacher has a different way of explaining how to do it. What ends up happening is we take bits and pieces from the ones that resonate, creating our own unique style. If one person’s description makes no sense, look at the next and see if that adds to your own need for information.
The Path to Mindfulness…
There is no Mindfulness without Meditation,
nor is there Meditation without Mindfulness.
Even as I said there is no end goal, there are pieces that are required (and that word can be stressful, but you will see in a moment it does not need to be). I could have put any number of these pieces together in another order, but it makes no difference as I explain because they super-impose themselves onto each other. So, in no particular order:
The “Goal” of Meditation (the Definition of Mindfulness)
The purpose of a (Stillness) Meditation session, one path into Mindfulness, is to empty one’s mind, bringing your thoughts directly to your breathing. Sounds like such a simple concept, but takes a lifetime of practice that never ends (like the ocean’s waves).
It is this attention to breath that we do in our private Meditation sessions, that we also do when we are walking down the street, when someone annoys the crap out of us, when we are scared or anxious or angry. Or when we are changing a diaper, showering ourselves or sitting and reading a book.
While it can seem like its own activity at first, taking a lot of concentration while ignoring the actual life activity at hand, it quickly becomes a soft hum in the background of our waking lives.
Even doing it (as we learn) for a very short time gives immense relief from difficulties going on around us. It brings us back to “our Center”; that which is Divine in us all. For you, that might be Allah.
Note: As you read, you will see there are a variety of types of Meditation. Typically, new folks concentrate on Mindfulness Meditation and Stillness Meditation… mostly those two combined. There is another you might find helpful that I love, and that is Guided Meditation. When I struggle with doing a solo practice, Guided Meditation often helps me to let go of the pain. There are an endless supply of Free Guided Meditations both in regular Google searches or on YouTube, Amazon Music, in Amazon Prime (tv) and Netflix. Do not think too hard on the other kinds of Meditation at the moment, just the 3 I mentioned above.
Non-Judgment is a main cornerstone of Mindfulness. Being in a high stress profession, I am sure you have a certain definition in your mind about what non-judgment entails. With Meditation, it takes on a broader meaning.
As you Meditate (which I will elaborate on in a moment), you’ll find your head filled with thoughts. THIS IS NORMAL! We all have our heads just stuffed full of thoughts, feelings and plans. Do not ever ever ever berate yourself for having random thoughts floating through your mind as you learn, try and practice meditation. We all have them! Forever. There is never a time thoughts are not flowing through our heads. Not even for the most practiced of Monks, ALL of us have this experience when Meditating.
Especially in the beginning, people can get very frustrated with this phenomenon, this “intrusion” of thoughts, disturbing our practice of Meditation.
The opposite, however, is true; without the thoughts, one would not have the Meditation to practice. Recognizing them is exactly what is supposed to happen! The moment you recognize a stray thought, that is the exact moment you have become Mindful. It might only last that second, but you have, for that fleeting moment, been Mindful. So beautiful!
When you recognize the random thought in your mind, instead of seeing them as annoying or terribly distracting, it serves us much more to… see the thought/feeling… say hello to it… even hold it for a moment if you need to… and then set it free to float away once again. I see the thoughts as clouds or soap bubbles floating around, some coming closer, others stay far away. As they come into my direct attention, those are the ones I admire, then release, returning to my breath.
You will, as all of us have, sometimes spend your entire Meditation session in thought. Thinking, planning, saying, “When is this over!?” to yourself. I encourage just shaking your head and laughing about how intrusive your thoughts have been and try again in a awhile.
It is the ebb and flow of thoughts, their presentation, your recognition, then their release, moving back to breath, that is the very definition of Mindfulness Meditation.
Time to Practice
You will read in most places that your Meditation should be at least 20 minutes long. 20 minutes can seem extremely daunting at first, so just shoot for 2-3 minutes and gradually, at your own pace, work your way up to 20 minutes. It could take a year to get there. Who cares!? This is your walk, no one else’s.
At least once each day, you will set aside a minimum of 10 minutes, even if you are only doing 3 minutes, setting the scene in your body and mind walks you towards the actual breathing. Those minutes are without the tv on, without answering your phone and hoping you have no one knocking at the door. If there are interruptions you have no control over, just start again when you can. No judgment, no getting angry at the interruption or person who knocked. A gentle thought of love towards them moves your practice forward.
Making time for Meditation can seem daunting at first, but if you are able to recognize the ritual as a great few minutes of Self-Love, you will soon grow to welcome the time apart from your harried life.
Timing Your Session
I’ve found several wonderful free apps for Meditation Timers. Most are bells, chimes or gongs, but there are some with music as well. Googling “Meditation Timers” brings up many choices. I have one on my computer and one on my phone.
An amusing, pretty universal, action seems to happen, especially as we are learning our way around these practices. We all seem to be intensely curious about 1) how long we have been doing the Mindfulness (thereby dragging us right out of it!) and 2) how much more time we have before we are finished. Time either flies or is interminably long. While non-judgment is important, do your best to recognize the urge to open your eyes to see the time as one of those stray and passing thoughts. This does get easier with time.
I found removing my watch and turning the clock around helpful at first, depending only on the timer. Otherwise I was half inside and half with one eye on the clock. Not so peaceful.
Where Are the Benefits Already?
In the beginning, many, many, if not most, of us find great resistance to practicing Meditation. We often look for any distraction we can find to avoid it. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NORMAL and, I believe, a required part of the process.
Recognizing the resistance, chuckling to yourself, then doing the Meditation, is an enormous success and one to be very proud of. Each time you cross this hurdle, you remove some of the future struggle towards practicing.
Just like there is no end to practicing, no end to the intrusion of thoughts, so too is there no delineation between practicing and Mindfulness having an effect on your behavior and life. The first time you sit quietly, breathing, you have already created a monumental shift in your Universe. There may be moments of recognition (“Oh! I breathed instead of wanting to throw a book at the wall!”), but more often, the effects are subtle and cumulative. One day, you will realize things have shifted and you will probably think, “Wow! When did that happen?”
It happened when you sat quietly that first day. It’s happening this very second as you read through what I have written!
I will share a couple of articles about HOW to actually do the breathing and practice Meditation. Those are the technical parts. I wanted to share with you my own learning curve specifically so you could see what the possibilities were, but mostly, that this is an amorphous experience and to not expect any concrete outcome. Ah, but those things along with monumental changes in your life.
Does this make sense? I would be shocked if any of it did!
I love you so very much. Have fun with your new activity, your new thoughts, your changes in behavior and allow utter confusion to wash over you at times. It is absolutely normal… you are absolutely normal… well, actually, I think you are absolutely amazing!
If you ever have questions or want to share your thoughts or experiences, feel free to talk or write to me.
I feel like cutting my tongue out. I swear someone is using a course-grit sandpaper, rubbing it over and over and over, while I sleep.
What’s sucky, too, is the Tardive Dyskinesia is doing overtime even while I am awake. Unless I am purposefully monitoring my tongue and jaw action, my tongue is scraping across my molars or my front teeth. Continuously.
Thank the Universe no one is noticing (probably because I am in the freakin’ house!), but even working on the phone, talking sexy, no one has noticed a difference. After a call longer than 30 minutes though, my jaw and tongue are sore (muscle sore) from trying to do two things at once: trying to keep getting the guy off and try not to make it sound like I am licking the phone. (Whereas upon reflection, that might not be such a bad idea.)
I am lost over what to do about the TD. I would need to cut down or quit the Wellbutrin and I feel so, so much better on it. The prospect of stopping it terrifies me. (And the TD might not go away after stopping the medication anyway!) I see the Psych in a week and will talk to him about it, but the decision is 100% mine about what to do: stay on it OR go off of it and try yet another medication that might cause TD even worse, and possibly permanent symptoms, than this.