Dying Well

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Movies and mythic journeys always talk about “dying well”. When you think about dying well in this instance it usually involves something heroic or being remembered for an altruistic life. Extraordinary experiences of profound impact on others or the world in general are usually what get written down in books or played out on screens. Immortalized character traits that set the bar high for all of us left living to aspire to.

In the Mayan culture a human would  volunteer to be sacrificed to the God’s because it assured them a place in heaven. To be sacrificed was “dying well” to the Mayans. The human sacrifice was thrown into a cenote, a deep dark cave with an underground river and if the bound human sacrifice survived the 60 foot fall, after a period of time they were brought back up and asked what the God’s told them while in the cenote.

In my experience sitting with people that are dying, people die the way they lived. Those memorable heroic moments that happened maybe once and that everyone always associates with the person…yeah, that isn’t what the dying are sorting through in the end. The end brings what one spends the majority of their time and energy on. If it was being fearful, then it is fear gripping you in the end. If it was regret, then it is regret that wafts over you and spills out of your eyes and soul. Our one defining moment is death and it is at this time that our truest spirit is expressed. Not the many faces we live and use daily in life. Those are only needed by the living. Death being the equalizer that it is, brings us to ground zero where our base energy lies…that which fuels our thoughts, desires, needs, and propels us into action. It rarely is altruistic and even rarer is heroic, at least not in historical or Hollywood terms. It is instead that day in and day out, moment to moment, small hum of energy that is not noticed by anyone but you most of the time. That lingering tug at your consciousness as you are falling asleep at night..there, that is what surfaces in the end, like it has been waiting and trying to get you to acknowledge it for a long, long time.

It makes you think about the way you live now. At this moment. If you spew anger and hatred towards your family, if you judge people, if you are jealous or resentful, if you love and respect others, show compassion, are generous… whatever you spend the most time and energy on is what will be staring back at you from the mirror placed before you in the end. And that mirror comes to us all.

And of course no one knows what happens after death, what if we continue on in some other existence based on these very characteristics that we lived in this life? What if this life is step one and our actions in it determines step two? Would you change the way you live your life now to “die well”?

Blueberry Waffle Me Baby

I love waffles. I have worn out waffle makers. Since I began eating a whole food plant based diet, I have cut way back on flour based products. One because they are processed and therefore far from a whole food and two because flour wreaks havoc on my blood sugar. So eating a waffle has become a once in awhile food that I know will always make me feel really crappy afterwards. Well, recently I decided that I was gonna have my waffle and eat it too! I decided that I was going to nail down the waffle recipe that I could eat and enjoy without feeling horrible afterwards. There are consistently three foods that I will eat that make my body sorry that I ate them: waffles, ice cream and pizza. I will find recipes for all three that are delicious, satisfying and make my body say, “hell yea!”.

So let’s talk flours. I have been substituting different flours for white/wheat flour for over a year now in different cake, cookies, pies and desserts. I tried amaranth, almond, coconut, oat, and rice. If you read any recipe that calls for substitute flours, you will know what a pain it is to try and substitute white/wheat flour for other flours. You have to use a combination of at least three different substitute flours and add in ingredients like xanthan gum or guar gum to make up for the lack of gluten. Perhaps it is my lack of interest in working this out but it was too complicated for me and I never found the right combination for tasty edible food. Either it was a texture issue or it didn’t rise or it didn’t taste right.

I was perusing waffle recipes the other night and stumbled across a simple recipe on one of my favorite sites that called for regular white flour but in the reviews, which I always read, a reviewer had substituted spelt flour. I immediately researched spelt flour and found out that it has gluten in it and can be substituted 1:1 for white/wheat flour. What?! No way. Yes way. I bought some.

Last night I threw together the waffle recipe. It is a dry mix I keep in a mason jar and just add water to it.

1 1/4 cups spelt flour

1tsp coconut sugar or any other non-white sugar

2tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1tsp cinnamon

Blueberry Spelt Waffles

This morning I made blueberry spelt waffles with coconut butter and real maple syrup. I had a mouth-gasm. It was amazing. The waffle was fluffy, chewy , with a slightly sweet nutty flavor. I put the blueberries in the mix and grill in the waffle iron, instead of on top. Coconut butter is just shredded unsweetened coconut spun in the food processor until it becomes butter texture and I use it like butter. So my search for the perfect waffle recipe is over. My body loves this one. Now on to find a pizza cheese that satisfies! I will let you know how my spelt pizza crust comes out.

What Do You Eat?

Meat lovers

Potatoes, onions, sundried tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, morningstar farms breakfast links, marjoram, salt, pepper and fried in coconut oil.

This was breakfast this morning. I call it “Meat” Lovers meal because it has lots of texture, and grinding and chewing involved. EXTREMELY satisfying when you just have to masticate. Three months ago I switched from eating a vegetarian diet to eating a whole food plant based diet. To put it simply it is a diet that is based on eating all whole foods and all plants. Processed food out and dairy out. This has been the BEST experience of my life and my body loves me for it. In fact, my skin, hair, nails, asthma, allergies (well my allergies hate it, cause they were eliminated), bones, muscles, memory, stamina etc., etc., LOVE me for eating this food.

A lot of things begin to happen when you change your diet, any diet but two big things that changed for me had to do with digestion. Digestion is where the money is people. If your digestion is not working well, it doesn’t matter what you eat. Digestion is where all the nutrients get taken to the rest of the body and the yucky stuff discarded. There is a lot of information out there on this and I wish I had time to recount it all here but I don’t. What I will tell you is where I began.

Mind you I have to tell you that I grew up hating vegetables and water and ate macaroni, potatoes and hamburgers. Then I also continued to eat all carbs and processed foods as a young adult. Drinking a V-8 or eating some canned corn was my definition of eating vegetables. I began eating fresh vegetables by cooking vegetable soup. I love soup and I bought some really good broth like knorr’s vegetable broth and I made really good soup that had vegetables in chopped really small so the taste was not too noticeable. I ate it everyday. I batch cooked it on Sundays for the whole week. Whenever I needed something fast to eat, instead of reaching for the frozen bean and cheese burrito I had a bowl of soup. When that didn’t satisfy, I made stir fry with brown rice. So something amazing happened with my digestion. Increased vegetables and taking a daily probiotic, my fiber was increased and my body was no longer starving for nutrients that are not present in processed food, I began to really feel alive. Feed your body living food and you will feel alive. The two big things that changed for me was nutrient absorption and elimination. If these two things are taking place in your digestion then you are golden if not you are starving and stagnant at the same time. A clogged up system is no fun. You don’t feel like part of the cycle of life that is for sure. Nothing cycling through you except when forced. We were made for greater things than that image presents.

I do still feel the need to masticate and 95% of my diet is whole food plant based the other 5% is whatever in the hell I feel like eating. I NEVER deprive myself of anything I want to eat. Sometimes I have pizza laden with cheese or a donut or my big love, Denali Extreme Fudge Ice Cream. I used to eat something in the 5% everyday, after awhile you eat it less and less as you reap the consequences. It just loses it’s special feeling. But the key is to keep a balance, our lives and bodies need a balanced existence between “good” and “bad” too much “good” can be just as detrimental as too much “bad”.

Fruit lovers

This was breakfast yesterday morning when I wanted the comforting numminess of hot oatmeal. I threw in some strawberries and blueberries and eating a bowl of grain loaded carbs became healthy. See what I did?

People ask me regularly, “what do you eat?” and in the beginning of the change I had my moments where I thought I would starve for lack of options. It gets better and easier. Make your old standby, mine was soup. When that gets old, make another old standby, my second one now is a wonderful black bean quinoa loaf, I always have one in the fridge for a quick protein. When you bump up against cravings, ask your body what it wants and then listen. My body regularly tells me when it needs protein, fat and carbs. Some days I eat sprouted whole wheat bread four times and other days I eat nothing but sweet potatoes. I eat according to my body and I feel terrific. By the way, oven roasted sweet potatoes mixed with coconut oil, marjoram and salt is better than candy!!

Some of the many benefits: rosacea disappeared, allergies disappeared (no longer take allergy med), asthma symptoms under control, skin blemish free, weight began dropping, skin tone improved, tons of energy, memory fog gone, vision improved, all joint aches gone, bloated abdomen gone, water retention gone, mood improved, hypothyroidism gone. I am medication free. All previous sensitivities to my environment are gone. My body has reached homeostasis and can react to environmental toxins normally and repel them.

Not going to lie, it is hard to make changes to your diet. Our diets are so wrapped up with emotions and memory and we eat for so many reasons and it is so personal. There will be times that you give up and eat whatever you want but that is okay, when you are ready then get back to eating what makes you feel good. I never think of those times as failures they are the 5% when I eat whatever I want and that makes it that much easier to not ever give up eating what makes me feel good.

Up next…Water our very foundation and eliminating chlorine!

 

 

Your mileage may vary

This is a great message for all…young, old or in-between! Go for the dream! Always go for the dream, everything else will work itself out.

Piaggia Del Giuggiolo

Libba Bray

Recently, I received a post that really got under my skin. It’s from Fiona (Hi, Fiona). I started to dash off a reply and then I thought that it required a much longer, more considered answer. With her permission, I’m reprinting her original comment below followed by my response. My response is lengthy; I apologize. But it is from the heart.

“I’m in a bit of a dilemma and I made a deal with my father that I would get advice from three people: my high school counselor, my voice coach, and an author. I want to go into the fine arts: writing, singing, composing. My father wants me to go to Columbia, Yale, or Harvard. I’d be fine with these but I want to go to a smaller school and then study abroad for at least two years. “It’s my life and this is a decision that will alter…

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No Memorial Service For Me

I recently lost my gram. This beautiful woman was such a vital part of me and was inextricable from my life. I feel as if a part of me has died with her. I was blessed to have been by her bed days before she left us to hold her hand and tell her that everything would be okay and that I loved her. To which she replied very lucid, “I love you too, I really do.”

I attended her memorial service to be there for my mom. She was the sole caretaker for the last years of gram’s life, while the rest of the family were off living their lives or too busy to care for the dying. At the end mom couldn’t even leave the house to go to the store or get the mail and yet the family still did not call or come to help. It was a great burden and took a toll on my moms health.

Mom and I did not want a memorial service for gram. Gram would have hated it. Another family member who is very much about the “show” insisted. That is what a memorial service is, a “show” for those who need to pat each other on the back and reassure each other that they were important to the deceased. Those who stand up and read a poem to the deceased while choking back tears, but hadn’t seen the deceased in years. Or the person who recounts a childhood memory and claims to be the deceased’s favorite but hadn’t seen or talked to the deceased in a decade. Who are these people to stand and speak out about a person that they had not loved or respected enough to come or call in years? Yet they have the gall to stand and speak as if they were a part of this persons life.

The whole service turned my stomach. I left before it was over. At the graveside I had had enough of the posers. They could continue their small patting of the backs and crooning over their very distant memories as they attempted to convince themselves that they showed the deceased love, comfort, concern and basic respect.

Memorial services are for this very type of activity. A funeral service ritual came about out of the necessity to transport bodies long distances after WWII, when the body needed to be preserved at a funeral home and a service held later at the deceased’s hometown. The booming and lucrative funeral service industry was born. Now it is big business to capitalize on people’s guilt. People that were not there for the deceased can assuage their guilt with the best and most luxurious coffin, service and buffet meal after while they read poems, recite memories from decades ago and make themselves feel better about neglecting to cherish a relationship with an aging person that was inconvenient for their life.

I do not want a memorial service. If you want to express your love for me, do it while I am alive. When I leave, those that were there in the end will have a party and drink my favorite wine, telling stories of our mutual adventures together. When I leave my body, cremate me and spread my ashes in my chosen places. No headstone, no grave. I will live on in the hearts and memories of those that loved me and showed up until the end. No posers allowed.

To my gram:

We said our words in person and there was no need for me to pretend that we were important to each other. We were together till your end and I will carry you in my heart till my end.

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“Pretty Good but not Great”

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That is my favorite line from the movie Julie and Julia. Julia is standing before a full length mirror with her sister checking their appearance before joining a party in her living room and she says this line. I just thought it perfect and endearing. They were both satisfied and happy with pretty good. That seems to be an elusive place we all strive to find. Content, full enough, satisfied, happy with where we are, happy with who we are…all immeasurable except by our own yardsticks.

It is a concept I grapple with often. Especially coming up on my 50th birthday in a few months. I always thought by 50 I would be settled in that place but instead I see my life more in flux and transient than ever. I do feel more satisfied with who I am and there is contentment in that. I suppose contributing to the unease of turning half a century is the fact that I feel I haven’t made any significant contribution to the world, aside from my beautiful offspring. They will always be my greatest gift to you all. Or I suppose specifically it is that I haven’t found my niche. Rather I have found several and they shift and change often. I always equated success to finding a niche and staying put for many, many years. Well, I haven’t done that. But I have enjoyed what I have done and where I may go in the future. I feel a bit torn between settling down in one place and not ever settling down but instead  taking off. When I told my son I would like to start building my own cob house and grounds, he said, “Really, you’re done, going to settle down now?” I just kind of blinked at him speechless. I hadn’t until that moment known he thought me unsettled. I digress.

I began this entry about being satisfied with yourself. What you look like, who you are, where you are in life. I am pretty happy with all of those. Sure there are things I want to improve upon  but that will never completely go away.  I changed up my diet lately and am eating healthier which has made a huge improvement in my allergies, asthma and overall energy level. I eliminated gluten and sugar, cut way back on dairy and grains. I have been researching recipes and cooking a lot. Every meal takes longer to prepare and cook. I cook staples like vegetable soup and black bean loaf ahead of time to have on hand for fast food. I just baked up a batch of brown rice muffins with apple butter in them. They are yummy. You can find the recipe here.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but I continually am, it wasn’t until I went to the source, our water and eliminated toxins that are added in to our water supply that I began to see so much improvement in my health. My skin cleared up, my asthma wasn’t triggered during each shower, my hair stopped falling out. All due to the massive amounts of chlorine added to our water that I eliminated with good filters.

These two areas are the most significant: water and diet. It really changes the way you think about your health. Turning 50 and still being able to climb hills in Greece, steps in Italy, castles in Germany and next up, streets in the U.K., is really important to me and I plan to continue doing it for another 50 years.

Roma

“Rome was mud and smoky skies; the rank smell of the Tiber and the exotically spiced cooking fires of a hundred different nationalities. Rome was white marble and gilding and heady perfumes; the blare of trumpets and the shrieking of market-women and the eternal, sub-aural hum of more people, speaking more languages than Gaius had ever imagined existed, crammed together on seven hills whose contours had long ago disappeared beneath this encrustation of humanity. Rome was the pulsing heart of the world.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Forest House

The Times They are a Changing…Still and Forever

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If I had to define my belief system at this moment it would be ” a follower of signs from the Universe.”  Now, in the next moment the definition may be completely different. I feel most at ease and peaceful when my sight is open to the synchronistic revelations that appear all around me everyday but on many days I am too preoccupied with mundania to “see”. I feel at my most optimal, creatively, at these open time periods. I can make sense of my path up until now, I can look back with more clarity than I had going forward at the time, I can see how all the minute pieces of passionate discovery fit together and add to the layers of generation. This morning I had a window of this blissful, purposeful time and found quite a few bending moments while following threads of knowledge, one tidbit leading to another, leading to another, leading to another.

This link is to a lecture by Marija Gimbutas. It is quite long at 1 hour and 42 minutes but I can tell you I was mesmerized the entire time. I had several revelations and made even more connections while watching. Professor Gimbutas is a weaver most definitely. I believe that the collective “we” are heading back to the Paleolithic period in terms of returning to the earth. We have been traveling through the sky far too long and have forgotten our roots that come from the earth. Gimbutas discusses in the lecture the pre-Kurgan invasion of the horse riders and the patriarchal (Sky God) beliefs. Sustenance for all came from the earth, agricultural and arts were an extension of spiritual practice all tied into reverence of the Goddess. There was no war, no violence. It was an “earth loving, art loving culture”. I can see a huge movement back to this time when we ate local, grew our own food or bartered for it, goods and services were not transported long distance. The earth was given thanks for it’s sustenance and it was cared for as a reciprocal practice of give and take in the circle of life. The balance was in the regeneration from life to death and back to life. Sustainable practices were not a catch phrase, it was a natural way of living off the earth.

We have become too much in our minds and technology has created mini-Gods of our brains that we worship above all else. Learn to make it easier, better, cheaper, faster…man-made is where it’s at! We are our own God. We can create it all. No need for a reciprocal connection with the natural world. Plastic does not die, it can never be a part of the regenerative cycle.  The disruption in Paleolithic times when those first horse riders rode in and decided that hunting by men was better than agriculture by both men and women was the turning point. It is apparent where this has taken us. Now the natural world is taking us back home. Through climate change, extinction and global eco disasters we are being told “No More”. The return to the old ways is upon us and I for one am looking forward to the changes and getting back to the basics that feel stable and life affirming.

Five Generations of Women in my Family

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I organized a photo shoot over a year ago with five generations of women in my family. We all went to my gram’s house and stayed overnight in order to capture a full day of photos. I assembled a back drop against the living room wall and brought a suitcase full of props and ideas. I was one of the five generations so I used a remote when I was in the photos. My granddaughter was only a little over a year old and it was a long day for her…well for all of us. You see when you get five generations of women in one room for an entire day, well more unspoken communication happens than spoken and the dynamics that play out between all is a constantly changing wave of emotionally charged energy. The shoot didn’t turn out at all like I wanted it too. My mom couldn’t stop moving and most of the shots of her are blurred and she wouldn’t look at the camera unless I told her to. My daughter was trying her best to corral a toddler. The toddler got bored, restless, tired and wanted “booby”.  My gram was in the beginning stage of Alzheimer’s and needed a lot of direction. I wore shorts and you can see me holding the remote in many shots. It was a rough day and we got tired and cranky but we got through it. I thought about doing another shoot in hopes of coming closer to my ideal goals for the shoot but I never want to do that shoot again…ever.

I finally after months of staring at these photos, trying to edit out the parts I don’t like, thinking I would re-shoot myself now out of context of the previous shoot and various other avoidance behaviors, have decided that this photo shoot shows these women and me exactly the way we are…a chaotic mess of interwoven complex energies that are reflected in the photos. I threw up my hands and picked out the images that show the story of that shoot. You can view them here.

Sofia to Thessaloniki

My son joined me in Sofia, Bulgaria in early March and we were at the apartment for about a week before we left the snow behind us and went on to sunny Greece. Here are a few pics taken in Sofia.

Sofia
A building on our street next to our apartment building
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.

I was so very happy to finally be on the train and headed to Thessaloniki, Greece. We had a train compartment all to ourselves and we were very comfortable for our trip through what looked to be Siberia out our windows. Arrived after dark in Thessaloniki to an empty taxi stand and deserted street but eventually a taxi pulled up to drop people off and we flagged him down. Our hotel was in a great area with plenty of places to walk to and no taxi needed to just wander around and reach the cafes and waterfront.

Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece
Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece

We immediately set out for a restaurant since we hadn’t eaten in awhile. We were directed by the desk clerk to a local buffet style cafe that looked to be just closing and had no customers but the man greeted us enthusiastically and welcomed us to come in which we have come to learn is the Greek way. Instead of menu he told us our options and we both chose the soup. Nothing like a great big hot bowl of soup after a long trip. The waiter brought out a plate of big thick slices of homemade bread to soak up the soup. Of course we had wine with dinner and at this point we hadn’t yet learned that it is pretty much served automatically like water in Greece. We were pretty happy. And it is in those few moments that come here and there and often without warning that you learn to cherish the adventures of traveling. Alas I have no photos from the place as we were too busy enjoying the experience. In the above photo you can see the outside seating for the restaurant where we had a great first meal and incredible hospitality.

Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.                               

After a good nights sleep we ventured out to an outdoor cafe stand a couple blocks from our hotel. My daughter and I ate at these throughout our backpacking trip in 2005. They are a chain in Greece and sell pizza, sandwiches, drinks and cappucinos. We had a cappucino and pizza for breakfast, which is perfect if you ask me. The sun was already shining and it was glorious to be in the Mediterranean. We set out for the waterfront and along the way passed many churches and ruins of some awe inspiring gazing.

Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .

My son was a little uncomfortable at the open stares his way but I tried to explain that he looked pretty different and was wearing many labels on his clothing. Meaning that the looks were probably just looks of interest and wonder. I personally think his style is eclectic and stands out even in the U.S.! Open staring in many other countries like Greece and Italy, the two that I know of, where staring does not carry the same meaning and is not rude or mean hostility, like it often does in the U.S. We generally experienced a great deal of interest and hospitality while in Thessaloniki. This is just one of the many reasons I love traveling in Greece.

Here are some more photos of Thessaloniki, they have quite the cafe culture there and we enjoyed hopping from one cafe to another for a bit while there.

A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
Interesting things to read everywhere.
Interesting things to read everywhere.

We took a taxi out to an indoor skate park on the outskirts of Thessaloniki for my son to meet the owners and skate the park for a bit. My son is a pro-am skate boarder and so is always promoting his team, Lib Tech while he is out traveling. He was over run by roller bladers at this particular park though and we didn’t stay long.

As soon as I get my photos organized I will upload more. After returning a little over three months ago I am just now beginning to feel like I am rested. This trip took a lot out of me in so many ways. It was so worth it though! I fell in love with Greece all over again. I will return to my beloved Greece.