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.

The Times They are a Changing…Still and Forever

mothergoddessearth

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.

Journeying Through the Underworld

I have been in bed sick for the last week. Welcome to Sofia! It was bound to happen at some point and glad it is now out of the way. When I am sick, I am out and down for the count. No walking around, or passing myself off as well. I envy those that can…and think they have super powers. Sickness overcomes my body, mind and spirit. I travel in and out of consciousness and feel on the verge between the two worlds. Often I succumb and dive down deep to the underworld where things are dark, shadows take shape and speak secrets. I have done this as far back as I have memory. As a child, I remember one Easter being so sick that I hallucinated several Peter Rabbit’s jumping out of my closet and hopping around my room. This time around in Sofia, as I lay on my couch/bed staring at my map wall..I noticed that the land mass of Europe, from where France meets Spain and all the way East past Romania, it looks like the shape of a wolf. Take a look.

wolfSee the nose pressed up against Spain, the ears standing up, Italy is the front leg and Greece is another leg. Okay, my map is clearer or maybe it is like seeing shapes in clouds and just helps us organize and order our world. Which is what I am in the midst of doing here in Sofia. I am trying to order my new world. For instance I studied a few words in Bulgarian; Da-yes, Ne-no, Blagodaria-thank you, Molya-please. The important ones, or so I thought! I should have studied how to call a taxi and give addresses in Bulgarian. In response to my Blagodaria…Merci! I was told it is easier to say and so it has been adopted. I finally stopped pointing at streets for the taxi’s and use my full hand to indicate direction. Pointing with one finger is rude here. I still have not mastered the head shaking side to side to indicate yes or Da. It is opposite what it is in the States. I say Da and shake my head up and down to which the taxi driver looks at me perplexed. And when I give a driver the address and he nods side to side, I repeat the address until I finally realize that he is saying yes or Da. Strange how one simple gesture carries so much weight in meaning and I didn’t even realize it. Well, this is what traveling to foreign cultures is all about. I try to remember that as I wait outside the grocery store for a taxi that isn’t coming because I gave the wrong address. I compare my journey to the recent stay in Italy and know that it gets better and easier to communicate and get around …just about the time it is time to leave. I find myself trying to rush the process, so I can be comfortable and not feel I am missing anything. The truth is, I am not missing anything, I am experiencing it all, each moment I am here. I just experienced being sick in Sofia, the sunrise this morning, the making of the coffee, the sounds of the twin 4 yr olds next door going off to school. I don’t look back on Italy and feel I missed anything, even though at the end I didn’t want to leave. I know it will be the same here. Until that time, Sofia will be my belly of the wolf.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria draped in white
Sofia, Bulgaria draped in white

A big title for a small post. I have been in Sofia now for 12 days, 10 of those days were spent in a jet lag fog and briefings at the embassy were probably lost on me. Let’s hope not the important ones! I am an introvert by nature and whenever I need to adjust to new places or ideas or comfort levels, I draw inwards. So, my number one priority when I know I will be adjusting is to find a rental space that is private, secure, and comfortable. My apartment in Bulgaria is all that and more. I hit the motherload here and it has seen me through my adjustment period very well. It has a wonderful shower complete with rain showerhead, heated towel rack and heated floor. A balcony, microwave, TV with cable and many shows in English, lots of light, comfortable mattresses and pillows, chocolate, good cookware, an espresso maker and more…

I sit here now on a Sunday morning feeling a bit guilty that it is my second weekend here and I haven’t ventured out further than to the grocery store and the embassy and back. I am sure the owners of the apartment, who live downstairs and have invited me out more than once are wondering what is wrong with me. I have to do this on my schedule and I have plenty of time to see Sofia and the rest of Bulgaria. So yeah, I just got over jet lag and now I am taking a beat to gather my thoughts and organize a plan. Sofia is covered in a mass of white snow and it is beautiful to see from my windows. Not sure I want to be out in it however. Except for maybe a walk in the park across the street later.

While I am nesting I am reading about Bulgaria’s history and trying to get facts and names to stick in my mind. Some of the plans I had about my research are changing as new information comes into play here in Bulgaria. A new layer of understanding trumps the old distant one gathered in bits and pieces online. Even the online material content available is different when viewing from Bulgaria and the embassy than back home in the states. All previous assumptions or knowledge are in suspended disbelief…pending further research. This process is exciting to me. Diving in deeper water and getting to know information that cannot be found anywhere but by being here in Bulgaria. This is why I came. Now to do the information justice by recording it and accurately disseminating it to the interested parties. I can only hope to brush the surface and give my slanted opinion mixed with some historical facts, sprinkled with interesting photos.

The Medieval Manuscript class that I am taking, half in class before I came and now online is curating an exhibition for an intact manuscript at the Millar library on PSU campus. This new (to me) view on the curatorial comes at an advantageous time for me. The focus is helping shape my direction on the research and photos I will be taking in Bulgaria. My work at the embassy will be focused on the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and the work it has done in the past and present. We will be returning to the sites and photographing them. An exhibition could be forthcoming and perhaps parlayed into my independent research on the monasteries here in Bulgaria as some of the AFCP sites are monasteries.  So working out puzzle pieces and seeing where and how they fit together is what is happening. Along with this is my own personal take on Bulgaria and what it means to me.  Right now Bulgaria is just starting to show her self to me beyond the facts and so we shall see…with new eyes, we shall see.

I Believe in Me!

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Face Time  Charolette Stoehr  One of my first and not complete

I have a campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds for living/travel expenses for studying abroad in Italy. Just to give a little break down of what it costs to do this…

Airfare/travel 2600

housing 2500

classes/program fees 11,000

food/misc. 3000

It is quite the undertaking! I applied and received a Gilman Scholarship and a Kawase Scholarship that covers 5000 of this cost. The rest is all covered by loans, donations and hard work.

You may be asking at this point…why do it? Why not take the less expensive route and stay here to take the same classes? It wouldn’t be the same classes. To sit in the Uffizzi Gallery and study Bacchus by Caravaggio just isn’t the same as looking at it on  the projection screen. The classes and study are the main focus for me but there is so much more that will take place. Call it throwing open a door and stepping through it if you like. The changes have already begun to take place. I have experienced an incredible feeling of weight being lifted from me as I have taken each step in this journey. Packing up my things has been really liberating. I feel unattached and lighter for it. This encourages my mind to soar with the possibilities that are available in life and I can see with new eyes that limitations are illusions. I have begun to give stuff away, stuff I have held onto for way too long. Who needs a glittery heart shaped doohickey that goes in a vase of flowers?

It feels right for me to attach myself to myself and say “wherever I am is where my home is.” For now anyway. I make no promises about the future and that is liberating as well. The shifting of thought patterns and the stepping outside of my comfort zone is uncomfortable but I do it. I just do it uncomfortable. Because the feeling of enormous happiness and pleasure I get from the knowledge that I am growing, moving and changing my small part of the universe is enough.  These effects may change whoever I come in contact with and that will only increase the pleasure from this journey.

It would be so much less expensive and easier, I might add, to stay where I am and go to school but that isn’t where growth happens; staying where you are.

I am incredibly blessed to have this opportunity and instead of turning it down in favor of the easy way or the less expensive, I dare to entertain the idea that I can do this and that I can see myself in Italy sitting in the museum drawing, painting and learning how to speak a foreign language. I can see myself sharing my experiences with a classroom in NYC. I can see myself sharing this journey with everyone. I believe in myself.

I am asking you to believe in me as well. The new perks I have added to my indiegogo campaign (link posted in right side bar) are drawings that I will do in class in Italy. There will be many sketches, drawings and paintings. I offer them up to you for your support.

Thanks so much!