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Here and Now

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This time of year is always pretty reflective and contemplative for me. I seem to need lots of quiet time (well, as much as is really possible during the chaos of the holiday season) to assess where I am as the year comes to an end and where I would like to go in the new year. Have I done the things I said I would do? Am I closer to becoming the best possible version of myself? What big lessons has God tried to teach me this year (and did I actually learn them)?

Hindsight really is 20/20. I cannot say that I am completely through the woods yet, but I am beginning to see the lessons I was meant to learn throughout the trials of this year. I can definitely already say that I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and that is enough for now. I certainly couldn’t have said that last month with a straight face. Okay, here is the big lesson of 2008, as I see it now: Live here and now, appreciate all of the little things in life, yesterday is gone and tomorrow has not yet come.

Most of my life has been characterized by a longing for a brighter future. I grew up in a home with too little money and way too many fights. I always knew that a better life was out there for me, so I strived to get there. Good grades = good college = good job + good husband = good family = good life so move full steam ahead and you will be to your “good life” in no time! The equation began unraveling some time ago, but the focus on the future seemed to be permanently hardwired. There are certainly good traits that come with this thinking and acting. I have been told by many that I am a visionary, a leader, and a pioneer. These all are linked to paving the way towards a brighter future and I am honored that people associate these words with me. There is a problem, though, when an individual cannot look down from the horizon to her own footsteps, stop and enjoy the scenery, and partake in the journey of life. My wise friend Julian’s motto is: “You find your way one step at a time.” He has been gently hammering this into me most of the year, and I am finally accepting it as okay, and even necessary, though I secretly still dream that I can get “there” without the drama, the pain, and the disappointment. But then it wouldn’t be a journey, it would just be the end, and we all know what happens at the end.

There are a couple things that I would like to share with you that have helped me to live more in the here and now. If any of this sounds remotely familiar to you, I hope that you can glean from it.

Learn to really enjoy mealtime. This may not sound like a revelation coming from me who finds a great deal of pleasure in eating and the process of creating good food, but I must admit that my habit has been to eat many of my meals in the car as I am rushing to get somewhere. The funny thing is that these are oftentimes really good meals that took me up to an hour to make, but ran out of time before I got to eat them and lost much of the enjoyment as I took bites between shifting gears. Silly girl!

Writing recipes and photographing my food has definitely helped me to make mealtime more of a ritual. If I have an idea for a recipe that I want to try, I take the time to document the ingredients and procedure, then present it in a nice dish. Once I have this beautiful food in front of me it’s pretty hard to justify eating it in front of the TV or behind the steering wheel. There are so many good associations with good food: the smell, the texture, the various flavors, the memories of eating similar dishes, etc. I also love the social aspect of eating. Many of my most delicious meals were eaten with family and friends, prepared together over a glass of wine, and afforded me the opportunity to catch up and connect. Even when I was a kid and times were tough, my mom made sure we had great meals, so mealtime was usually a happy time.

People always ask me how I learned to cook and why I became a chef. The answer is as simple as this: I enjoy the process of making a meal, when things don’t turn out, I learn and correct next time. Enjoying the process is paramount to me. Most overworked moms get to the end of a day wiped out with no energy or love to put into a meal. They either throw something together or resent the whole thing. I am not married and I don’t have children, but I really hope that I will still make the time to prepare meals and enjoy the process once I do. I think we do make time for the things we value most.

Also, if you can get your kids involved in cooking at an early age, you won’t regret it. They are much more likely to eat healthy food if they helped make it, and they will be able to start taking turns making meals as early as eleven or twelve (that was me). Most of my family functions revolve around the kitchen. The result is that we are all good cooks and many of us do or have cooked for a living in the past.

Learning to slow down while I eat has also been a challenge. I move fast, talk fast, think really, really fast, and usually need to get somewhere or do something, so eating fast comes with the package. I am getting better since I learned some valuable information. First, it takes time for your stomach to catch up with your brain, so if you are eating fast you are much more likely to overeat because your stomach must issue the notice to your brain that it is full. Also, your saliva has lots of digestive enzymes in it, so the more you chew, the more the food will be broken down (not to mention the fact that when your teeth do more work, your stomach has to do less).

Go outside. I am very blessed. I live in one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever been. The beach is a ten minute walk or one minute drive, the mountains are just about the same. Not everyone is so fortunate, but surely there is a park or trail that you can find to slow down and enjoy things like … birds. I have been totally cracking myself up lately because I have found that I really like watching birds. Not like I am trying to identify them or looking through binoculars, but I was out for a run today and this beautiful bluebird pretty much put me into a trance. It was so cool!

Be more thankful. I mentioned Five Daily Gratitudes yesterday, which is a way to be reminded to be thankful for the little things in life. However you do it, it is so important to focus on what is good and right in your life rather than what is lacking. The perfectionist that I can be spent a good part of 2008 being frustrated about finances and the business, and surely missed many lovely and wonderful opportunities to be thankful for my friends, my health, my beautiful home, work that I enjoy, my beautiful surroundings, etc. … I hope I learned my lesson there.

Rejoice in the little things. My friend just told me about this really cool photoblog called 3191. It is about the beauty in the moments and images we usually glaze over. Life is a series of little moments, many of which can be seen as significant or mundane; it’s really a matter of perspective.


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