Beating the Winter Blahs with Nutrition

I like to write while sitting at our kitchen table. From there I can see our neighborhood.

I’ve been in a funk.

Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, but when it does I tend to withdraw from life.  I don’t want to do anything, and I don’t want to see anyone. I just want to be in my own little world and let my subconscious take over.  Given enough space, I find my way back and hopefully no one notices that I took a break from life.

I’ve always considered my little funks as a normal part of a modern, stressful life.  They come, they go.  I don’t make any issues about them and I don’t want any medications for them.   I learned a long time ago that life has little bumps in the road.  Sometimes those bumps bring about a time of reflection or they can send me looking for a quiet room.

My current funk has been building for a few weeks.  I haven’t been able to concentrate at work, sleep hasn’t been restful, and I just want to be left alone to think.  Like in the past, I figured that my current state was just part of the winter blahs.

Yesterday, I finally had my chance to completely withdraw.  Although the sunny day should have turned my attention outside, I wrapped up in a favorite quilt and spent the day on the couch.  Thankfully, my beloved had a stack of papers to grade which would keep him occupied all day.  The teenager was busy with his own agenda.  The only distraction was the dog, who was completely confused as to why he couldn’t charm his way under my quilt.

Time doesn’t allow me the indulgence of watching many movies, so my Netflix queue was filled with blockbusters–which I quickly bypassed.  Instead, I went directly to the documentaries.  I love documentaries.  The more independent the better.  I know they aren’t for most people, but I think indie docs are creative, inspiring, and exploratory.  Just what I needed for my escape.

I was not disappointed.  While watching Food Matters, I learned that my winter funk could be caused by nutrition.  Although we have a great diet filled with veggies, sometimes it’s not enough.   Veggies can’t counteract the daily stresses I place on my already stressed out, overweight body.  Maybe that’s why my funks keep coming back.  They’re linked to chemical imbalance brought on by years of neglect.

I learned that while I’m putting lots of good stuff in now, I’m still exposed to lots of toxins, some by choice and some not by choice.  As the afternoon waned into twilight, a solution became clear.  I must supercharge our diet with foods that are vitamin rich, high in antioxidants, and delicious when uncooked so that we can capture every nutrient.  Every bite has to count.  No more excuses.  Right now, it doesn’t matter if it’s local.  I just need to eat these foods.  And they must be organic.  Non-organic versions will simply add to my toxin problem.  As I wait for these super foods to change my attitude, I’ll eat a couple handfuls of cashews (nature’s little happy pills), sit in the sun, and listen to the Cowboy Junkies.

Want to SuperCharge Your Menu?  Life have you in a funk?  Here some of the top super foods according to WebMD.  Most can be eaten raw or juiced for the most nutritional punch.  Remember that cooking reduces food’s vitamin potential, so find ways you can eat the veggies and fruits raw and the meats gently cooked.

  • Beans
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Oats
  • Oranges
  • Pumpkin
  • Salmon
  • Soy
  • Spinach
  • Tea (green or black)
  • Tomatoes
  • Turkey
  • Walnuts
  • Yogurt
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Hope Springs Eternal, Especially in Basketball

There's no doubt who the sports fan is at our house.

I wonder if Alexander Pope was a sports fan? I think he must have been—or at least he could appreciate that, no matter the situation, man will always hope for the best. In An Essay of a Man, he suggests that inside each of us is the ability (if not the desire) to believe that better things will come.

In every sports fan’s heart, there is a belief that their favorite team is just within reach of some goal. It might be the hope of a 3-point play, the thrill of beating a respected rival, or the joy of a winning season. It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says at the buzzer, for the true fan is already thinking about the potential greatness of the next game. The next goal.

Our whole community has been thinking about the “next game” for weeks. For us, nothing else matters but the upcoming ESPN Bracketbuster game when the Murray State Racers will take on St. Mary’s, with the play-by-play called by none other than Dickie V, baby. As the last undefeated team in the nation, dare I say it was a relief, when the Racers lost their only game? In my humble opinion, nobody could ride that crazy train much longer.  And yet the young men who so proudly wear the blue and gold handled the full court press with maturity and poise.

With each additional win, I offered a silent prayer for them to find the extra strength they would need during their time in the national spotlight. Our community has never had better ambassadors. Smart, articulate, and just this side of humble, these young men have charmed their way onto the front pages of every media outlet, let’s face it, sports writers don’t get places like Murray. They don’t understand that we’re just as excited that the Dairy Queen will open in a few days, as we are about the Racers winning another Ohio Valley Conference.  Conference titles and the Dairy Queen are big deals.  In Murray, March Madness begins with a vanilla cone and a chili dog.

As the sun slowly sinks into the western horizon Saturday afternoon, millions of fans will once again be focused on our Racers and our unshakable Coach Prohm. This one game will show the nation that our Racers are truly Throughbreds– and not one trick ponies. No doubt it will be basketball at its best. We’ll cheer ourselves voiceless for their incredible plays. We’ll be amazed by three point Canaanballs. We’ll find delight in the stylings of an impressive afro.  We will love every minute.

With each tick of the shot clock, we’ll allow ourselves to dream the impossible dream, if only for a moment. Will it matter if we win? Of course not, because hope really does spring eternal. And anything can happen in basketball, baby!

A Valentine’s Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who went to graduate school.  Unfortunately, this meant moving to a place from which she could see the end of the earth.  Now the end of the earth was a bit scary, but so long as she didn’t go too close, she knew she would be safe.

On a cold winter’s night, around the time she first moved to her new land, a friend invited her to visit a group of players.  The players were developing new material to present to the court, and they just didn’t have time for new members.  They were terribly distracted when our heroine and her friend came in, and she felt a bit out of place.  She actually fit right in with her purple hair and combat boots, but I don’t think she realized that right away.

At any rate, I thought she was fantastic.  She was creative and spunky and just a bit sassy.  She was cute as a bug.  At one point, while refilling her coffee cup, I caught her eye.  She smiled, I winked back, and I think that is about the time I fell off the most wonderful cliff I never knew I was on.  Head over heels as it were.  Totally smitten.

Of course, the only thing to do was to ask her out.

“Would you like to grab a cup of coffee?” I asked.

“Not now,” she said.  “I have to go to class and to work tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I said.  “How about another time?”

“We’ll see,” she said.

And I could hardly get her to talk to me for the next seven months.

“Well crap,” I said to myself and to my mother.  “I think the girl is really cute, and there’s the matter of the cliff, and I’d really like to go out with her, but she said ‘no.'”

“Ask her again anyway,” said my mother.

“We’ll see,” I said.

Fast forward a few days.  Not weeks.  Days.  My mother decided to come visit the players and to help distribute refreshments at a performance.  I couldn’t help noticing that she was a bit smug for the entire evening, but I was too busy to really pay much attention.  She spent a lot of time with the girl, who had also come to distribute refreshments.  I noticed them chatting and becoming friendly, but I didn’t think too much about it.  Sometimes, I can be incredibly dense.

By and by, the show ended.  All the patrons left.  The performers prepared to leave.  Finally only my mother, the girl, and I were left.  I wondered if the girl had car trouble or some other problem, but she said that all was well.  She was just waiting for a friend. I decided that there was nothing to lose and that I should ask her out one more time.

“A group of us are going for a late night breakfast after the show,” I said.  “Would you like to come?”

“I would,” she said, “but I’ve already promised to go out with my friend this evening.”  Did I detect just a glimmer of regret?  I certainly felt sad.

“Another evening, then,” I said, and turned to my mother.  “How about you Mom?  Would you like to go with us?”

“Mom?!” said the girl with suddenly beautifully bright and flashing eyes.  She turned to my mother.  “You’re ‘Mom’?” she asked.

And suddenly everything clicked.  My mother’s smugness.  Mary Anne’s surprise.  All the chumming around that I’d noticed all evening.

“Mother,” I said, “what have you done?”

“What you should’ve a long time ago,” she answered.  “I’ve asked her out.  Now you kids go have fun.”

And we did.  We’ve been having fun ever since.  A couple of years later, I did ask her to marry me.  Without my mother’s help, although it did involve a speeding car and a frightening accident.  But that’s another story.

By the way, she said “Yes.”  It was the best thing I’ve ever done.

The Wink that Captured My Heart

I met my beloved husband on a cold January night in 1989. It was my first night in a new town, and I barely knew a soul. I was embarking on a new job, enrolling at a new university, studying a new field, and living in a new town. I wasn’t really sure why I had landed in Murray. It felt that I had stepped backward, landing in the middle of nowhere. Never in my life did I feel so out-of-place. A family friend generously invited me to dinner that first evening. She and her husband had already been incredibly helpful, with their networks of support that had moved mountains convincing me that Murray State was an excellent graduate school. While we ate, she suggested that after dinner we attend a meeting at the community theater. A new program was being developed for local playwrights and she was involved with organizing the first production. It sounded interesting, and besides, I didn’t want to go back to an empty room.

When we arrived, the others had already settled into reading scripts. We quickly found seats, and I tried to settle without further interruption. As I looked around the room, little did I realize that these people would become dear friends. At that point, they were strangers who didn’t appreciate tardiness. The stranger that had arrived in their midst had burgundy, punk-styled hair and was wearing combat boots with a dress. Being theater folk, they were not impressed with my post-modern look. They had seen better.

As the readings continued, my eyes once again wandered around the room in an attempt to understand the natives in my new land. That’s when I found a gentle, smiling face. Much to my surprise, that smile led to a quick wink and quiet chuckle that captured my heart. Later that night, I called my former college roommate and told her that I now knew why I had landed in Murray – because I had just met the man I was going to marry. Of course, it took awhile for our relationship to begin because I ignored Him for nearly seven months. My track record with relationships was notched with crash-and-burns. There was no way I was going to get involved again – graduate school was to be my complete existence, then I was leaving Small Town USA for bigger and brighter lights. But everywhere I went, He was there. I couldn’t avoid Him, as He was friends everyone I met.  It drove me insane.

Then one night I volunteered to work concessions during a production at the community theater. I met a lovely older lady who was completely charming.  We became instant friends. Just before intermission, she suggested that I should meet her son, but I quickly told her that I wasn’t interested in meeting anyone. I was on a path and men were not a part of my plan. As the show was ending and we were cleaning up, she invited me to go with a group of folks from the show to eat a late night breakfast. I accepted and went to collect my things. As I waited outside for her, I watched as all the cars slowly left the parking lot. Then there were only three cars left: mine, hers, and His. I panicked as I heard them walking thru the building, laughing and joking as they turned off lights and locked up. When they came out of the last door together, I must have still had that panicked look on my face because He asked if I was having car trouble. “Oh no,” I said. “I’m waiting for Sandra. She’s asked me to go eat after the show….” He slowly turned to my new friend and said, “Mother, what have you done?” She chuckled and said, “What you should have done already – asked her out!”

The rest is history. I never sought those bigger and brighter lights. For I married my beloved at the place where we had met – Playhouse in the Park. We’ve built a life together that I cherish. It didn’t take long for me to find the charm that is quintessential Murray. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, as I never want to leave this place that is my home.  Happy Valentines Sweetheart – I love you with all my heart.

Growing Pains

We’re in the middle of moving. Things are a complete mess. I can’t find anything and it’s becoming increasingly frustrating trying to straighten everything up again. No, we haven’t moved to a new house. But we’ve moved our blog to a new site. And right now, its worse than moving house because I’m learning new software at the same that I’m organizing. There is a reason why I wasn’t a computer science major! In the end, I know the move will be worth it because it will make things easier for you, our readers. Several of you commented that you couldn’t follow us or post comments at the old site. So the move to WordPress will change all that. We’re also excited that we’ll have more flexibility on the types of things we can include in our posts.

When we started our blog – one month ago – we thought that it would be fun to share a few stories about gardening, cooking, and preserving. And it is! But what we didn’t expect was how you, our reader, would engage with the content. Hundreds of readers stopped by and read our posts. Some of you suggested ideas or offered to help Vince make bread. (I still want to take you up on that!) Most of you have graciously applauded our efforts. In many ways, it’s been overwhelming. For example, I became completely flustered during a Chamber Breakfast when a lovely lady, whom I admire and respect, complimented the blog and recommend to a group at our table (including my boss!) that they check it. I acted like a total dork, simply because her praise meant so much. We’ve learned how incredible and supportive our friends truly are. I cannot thank you enough.

This past weekend, we had dinner with a old friend who spent the evening encouraging and validating our blogging existence. Now this friend has been professionally involved in social media for years. She’s the real deal, not simply a Facebook friend. Over dessert, she challenged us to create a shift change in our readers. A shift change? I only wanted to write about making pickles. Not change the world or influence people. But then she helped me to realize some of our readers might not want to simply read about how I make pickles. They might want to make pickles or even try growing their own cucumbers. I spent the next 24 hours debating our mission statement. At one point I even concluded that I didn’t want to write the blog anymore. That talking about my gardening or canning projects over the water cooler at work was enough. But deep down inside, I knew it wasn’t. The sooner I admitted it, the sooner I could embark on my own shift change.

From the beginning, we’ve admitted we’re not professionals or even experts. Our projects are just as likely to fail as they are to succeed. Thankfully, we know a few experts, and during the next few months, I’m inviting them to come along on our adventures. Maybe we’ll learn a thing or two. If even one reader makes a shift change – like bypasses processed food or visits a farmers market or starts recycling – then a shift change has occurred. All it takes is one person making a single decision. Will it be you? I certainly hope so.

The Lone Carrot

The Lone Carrot freshly harvested
from our garden — in February.

Meet the Lone Carrot.  It was the only one that grew from an entire package of Nantes Scarlet Half Long seeds from the D. Landruth Seed Company.  I planted them as a border around our raised tomato bed last spring.  I found the inspiration for the border from the book Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte.  Maybe our carrot seeds didn’t really love tomatoes.  Perhaps they had a crush on our bell peppers or okra.

We should have been overrun with carrots.  But we weren’t.  We should have been able to harvest carrots within 65-70 days according to the package.  But we didn’t.  Instead we harvested the Lone Carrot seven months after it was planted.   The Lone Carrot only survived because we didn’t know it was there.  My beloved found it a few weeks ago on a trip back from the compost pile.  I was pleasantly surprised when he told me about it, although frankly I thought he didn’t know what he was talking about.  I thought that perhaps he had confused carrot weed (a common weed around here) with carrot foliage.  But he was correct.  We had a healthy carrot growing in our garden — in February.
I harvested the Lone Carrot only because the foliage was dying back.  I figured it was as peak as it was going to get.  I slowly loosened the soil around it then gently pulled it from the earth.  To say that it was one of the most joyful moments of my life would be an insult to the first time I held our bouncing baby boy.  Or the first time he uttered “Mommy.”  Or the first time I watched Big Ed Daniel easily dunk a basket for the Murray State Racers.  Or any other of those milestone moments.  But it did rank right up there.  My beloved didn’t appreciate my harvesting.  He would have left it there just to see how big it might get.  But our Lone Carrot was perfect, and it wasn’t going to get any bigger.
It took us a while to figure out what we were going to do with it.  This wasn’t any ordinary carrot.  It was the Lone Carrot.  We couldn’t simply chunk it into pot roast.  We decided that the Lone Carrot needed a dish that would celebrate its carrot-ness.  It needed to compliment a simple dish so that its flavor could shine.  If we had found two carrots, it would have been easier. But with one carrot, we decided only chicken noodle soup would do.  Besides, after last night’s post about chicken noodle soup, our mouths were watering for more.
Last night, my beloved sliced the Lone Carrot, then ceremoniously stirred it in.  He left a small piece for each of us to taste.  The man is a genius.  After we toasted, we slowly took a bite.  I only wish I knew exactly how to describe the intensity of the flavor.  Never, ever, ever have I tasted a carrot so… rich.  It was the very first time I had ever tasted a homegrown carrot.  My mother didn’t grow carrots.  Neither did my grandmothers.  And we can’t find them at our farmers’ markets.  I have lived my entire life eating limp carrots from the grocery store.  I now know that there is no comparison.
We anxiously waited for the cornbread to brown before we filled our bowls.  The Lone Carrot did not disappoint.  The extra boost of flavor that that single carrot gave to the soup was truly remarkable.  The bouncing baby boy had three helpings for dinner and just came in for another two bowls before heading off to bed.
The Lone Carrot has inspired me to ponder throwing a few seeds in the flower bed along our driveway.  Then forget about them.  Will they sprout?  Can they grow as living mulch?  I don’t see why not.  Their distinctive foliage would be beautiful.  What do we have to lose but a few seeds?  But if it works– then we can delete another item off our grocery list!

Chicken Soup à la Text Message

There are a few things to love about winter.  Snow, for example.  Hikes in a winter wonderland.  The Narnia look of our neighborhood as flakes fall through trees lit by softly glowing streetlamps and a gently silvered moon.  Chicken soup.

Now, I love chicken noodle soup.  I’ve loved it since I was a kid.  But it’s not a dish I know how to make very well.  Mary Anne, on the other hand, makes a delicious chicken noodle soup.  Homemade noodles, fresh vegetables, our own broth, a dash of freshly ground cumin, and I’m a happy fellow.  Add cornbread, and things are just about perfect.

All of this is important because, a few days ago (on a cold gray day much like today), I realized that dinner time was approaching.  Sadly, I didn’t have a clue what was on the menu.  You see, I may do a lot of the cooking at our house, but I’m not great a “winging it.”  Having had both my darling and the bouncing baby boy look at my dinners and say “Oh.  You thought I might eat that?” I’ve learned to check the menu before starting to cook.  A plan is essential — and I didn’t have one.

So I texted my darling (even though it was a weeknight and not really her job to come up with a meal) to ask if she had any preference for dinner.  I got the following slightly grumpy reply.

You can just hear my reaction, can’t you?  In about a half second, it went something like this:

“Wait!  What did I do?”
“Ooh, that sounds good!”
“Wait!  I don’t know how to make that.”

Fortunately, Mary Anne could hear it, too.  So she just went ahead and texted me the recipe.

Being a guy, I consider a recipe to be a roadmap.  You begin at the beginning and follow it to the end.  Mary Anne, on the other hand, is what I call a creative cook.  She never follows a recipe.  Never.  She sees a recipe as just a suggestion.  A hint.  A jumping-off point.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s not a language I speak well, but I could follow what she sent well enough to make soup.  When she got home, she tweaked it using ingredients that weren’t included in her text (like points of interest that I somehow should have known to visit) while I made cornbread.  It worked well.

And that’s one of the things I love about cooking together.  About out life together.  We understand each other’s shorthand.  We get it.