Wish it. Will it. Do it.

“…you will sooner or later experience something almost magical: the moment when your mind, led by your sense of yearning, embraces the next step toward the best life you are capable of living. This is the moment when desire stops being just a story about what might happen and becomes a template of what will happen; the moment when “I wish” becomes “I will.”
          — Martha Beck “The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life”
 

Earlier this week, I read a post over at “-200”, which made me cry. The post, titled “A life for my birthday”, shares Ben’s story of living in the depths of despair before deciding that instead of taking his own life, he would take action in his own life. I was moved by Ben’s honesty and depth of feeling, and by the fact that I recognized  Ben’s story as my own: different in particulars (of course), but very similar in essentials. (Thanks to April Hageman for sharing Ben’s blog with me!)

I can’t point to one moment. But I can point to a series of moments – and some very powerful experiences of intervention and grace – which led me to that magical point where “I wish” became “I will”…

…I will lose weight…

…I will make exercise a habit…

…I will learn how to eat healthy, whole, nourishing food…

…I will LIVE my life, not just wait it out.

The thing I didn’t realize, that I am still striving to learn in a visceral way every day, is that this particular magic will spur a person on to wishes they didn’t dare allow themselves before. And you’ll want to take these new desires and turn them into action too.

Wishful thinking. I know only too well the ways it can be a trap – it kept me sedentary and daydreaming my way through life for decades.

But wishful thinking can also be a catalyst once you’ve learned the trick of turning that desire into intention, and intention into action. Like all tricks worth knowing, you will have to talk yourself through it again and again (because practice is the only thing that perfects the technique). There are three simple steps:

1. Wish it.

2. Will it.

3. Do it.

Simple, I say. But not usually easy.

Joyful, but sometimes also painful.

Magic — as in “unfolding in wonder and awe”, not as in wand-waving incantations and instantaneous transfiguration. Practical, hard-won, life-changing magic. If Ben and I can do it, so can you.

Let your desire become intention.

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A Valentine from Me to You: You’re Not Alone

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine…

—Steve Winwood and Will Jennings

When I was a child, then a teenager… even into the decades of my twenties and thirties…I never questioned that my life would be like most everyone else’s. I would meet someone, fall in love, get married, have a family. As I got older and it wasn’t happening, I told everyone that was a-okay with me. I didn’t want it. So what if it was a lie? I shrugged it off and didn’t dwell on it.

By my early forties, I’d told the lie enough times that I was comfortable with it. Besides, at that point I’d gained enough weight that mostly people didn’t ask me about it anymore – whether I was seeing anyone, or wished I was, became a moot point. We all knew no one wanted someone like me. We didn’t talk about it. Ever.

Later in that decade, when I decided to change my life, to come out of my lie-induced trance, amid all of the incredibly beautiful, powerful and positive experiences came this realization: my supposed “okay-ness” with being alone was the biggest crock I’d ever sold myself.

Around that time, at a wedding, one of the bible readings opened up a pit of anger so vast I almost couldn’t contain my ire and join in the celebration. The reading didn’t beat around the bush – I thought they were the most cruel verses I’d ever heard. From Ecclesiastes 4:9:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

I stayed in that pit of anger for a long time, unable to claw my way out. At or to whom could I direct my wrath? I was just learning not to despise myself and that felt good enough that I didn’t want to turn my rage inward. So I directed it at the only other entity I could think of: God. And let me tell you, I am certain it was no coincidence that, during this time period, everywhere I turned people in my life were vociferously thanking God for the amazing partners He gifted them with. How that pissed me off, and fueled the fire I was burning up in!

At some indefinable moment, my angry defiance gave way to angry tears. I cried until the pit I was in filled with my own salty water. Suddenly, instead of being trapped in a pit I found myself swimming in an ocean of grief. After literal decades of choosing not to feel anything deeply, I felt every second of my mourning over what had never come to be. It wasn’t merely that I had no significant other at that moment, lots of people share that predicament. It was the fact that I have never had that. Never been cherished, wanted in a mature romantic relationship. Its a bit harder to find people who share that life experience – in part because who wants to admit that out loud? It feels defective. Deficient. I astonished myself with the number of tears I was capable of crying. I surprised (and frightened) my friends; seriously, we would look at one another in astonishment when yet another crying jag would take me in the middle of a seemingly innocuous moment. I was SAD. SAD. SAD.

One day, my feet touched bottom. On an emotional level, I was still doing that sniffly, hiccupy thing you do after a long hard cry, but I had come to the shore of that particular ocean. I wasn’t laughing it off, by any means, but I wasn’t in danger of flooding the midwest any longer.

Here’s the thing: even in the middle of my deepest anger and my soggiest grief, I was happy in a way I had never been before as an adult. Some days were downright joyful. Let me say that again so we all can feel the magnitude of what I’m saying here: some days, when I was angry beyond my ability to articulate it, or when I was so sorrowful I sat through dull work meetings trying not to cry, I was AT THE SAME MOMENT happy and sure of my own well-being.

How was that possible?

How is the reason I am rehashing all of this in a post on Valentine’s Day. In the three+ years I’ve been posting to this blog, I’ve discovered that the more honestly I share my true experiences, the more likely it is that someone – reading what I’ve written – will recognize him- or her- self in my story. So I feel confident that you’re out there. You know who you are – the person feeling so desperately alone. Unworthy. Defective. I want you, whoever you are, to know you don’t have to feel that way. Or at least, that isn’t the whole picture of who you are, or what your life can be.

First, it was possible to be both enraged and joyful because the more I opened myself to others, sharing my triumphs, failures, angers, and even my grief…the more others were willing to offer me love, friendship, and support. Incredible, amazing people in my life were able to understand that I was experiencing something profound. They couldn’t experience it themselves, not being me, but they could walk through it with me – and they did.

Second, it was possible to be both deeply sad and happy at the same time because the sadness was residual – left over from the past. Oprah (and therapists everywhere) always says that if you don’t let yourself feel it now, you’ll feel it later. With interest. So whatever you’re feeling, let it be felt. I ate to cover up my feelings, and while it seemed comforting at the time, it made things infinitely worse. I’ll take angry, crying, healthy and happy Jenion over my old dangerously overweight and sleepwalking self any day.

I came, eventually, to the shore of my ocean of grief with this realization: when you focus on what you don’t have, you will always feel deprived – even if you are surrounded by riches. And I am surrounded by blessings. When you focus on what you don’t have, you devalue not only the gifts you do have, but the givers of those gifts: the people who do care, who are there. And that includes my nemesis, God. This realization has recently allowed me to make my first, tentative, overtures of friendship toward God again. Don’t get me wrong. I still blame God. I am just learning to grudgingly accept that I don’t know everything God knows (including the big picture of my life).

In all of this I see the workings of a higher love, and it fills me with gratitude. That it would be possible to change my life never occurred to me until it started happening. That I could discover it possible to be happy with myself – even though I might wish some parts of my life were different – was a revelation to me. I know that since it was possible for me, it is possible for others, too. Possible for you.

There must be higher love, as the song says. Without it, life is wasted time. Look inside your heart and…stop wasting time. You may have to do work with yourself that is truly hard. And you may have to deal with feelings you buried in the past. But while romantic love, married love, is a beautiful thing – it isn’t the only thing. You are more than your relationship status, so much more! And you are not alone, no matter how utterly single you are this Valentine’s Day. In fact, you are loved.

Getting My “Gangnam” On

You’ll have to take my word for it, mostly because I wasn’t willing to pay for the $60 upgrade in order to upload my own video (even in HD) to this blog. But it really does exist: video of me, kicking it “Gangnam Style”. And here’s how it happened:

After a long and mentally exhausting day at the office, I got in my car and thought about all of the things I should spend my evening accomplishing. But I was tired and somewhat demoralized, so I decided I needed a “buffer” experience – something between the office and my house that would allow me to shift mental and emotional gears before going home to “be productive”. As has often happened over the years, my car seemed to steer itself in the direction of the Dennis family. When I arrived, Wendy answered the door in her pajamas (it was approximately 6:00 p.m.), having just arrived herself after an 8-hour day in a graduate school classroom.

We made romaine, cucumber and feta salads with a spicy side of wasabi peas, and talked about our days. Wendy had lots to share about treating patients with anxiety and depression – and how all those “shoulds” we put on ourselves can take things from bad to worse. Then, after discussing a particularly gruesome crush injury she treated at her clinical site, Wendy moved on to a topic even more painful (from her perspective): her youngest daughter’s first Show Choir performance.

Wendy is a practical, concrete, achievement-oriented person. Plays, musicals, show choir performances…not really her thing. She told me she was sitting in the audience wishing it was over – approximately 10 seconds into the first song, mind you – when her eye was drawn to one girl in particular. This middle-schooler was so animated and so clearly in the moment, no inhibitions holding her back, that her demeanor and palpable happiness changed Wendy’s entire perspective on the show. Suddenly, Wendy’s consciousness of the moment shifted from harried distraction and lack of enthusiasm to one of communion, of shared joy.

Wendy’s Show Choir “A-Ha” got me thinking about what kinds of experiences we can intentionally create in order to bring about a shift in perspective when we need one. Obviously, Wendy’s shift came as the result of a serendipitous moment rather than a specific plan, but we can’t count on serendipity occurring each time our internal tank is on low. If we did, we’d surely find ourselves stranded somewhere emotionally far from where we wish we were. Here are a few suggestions for quick energy reboots or perspective shifters:

Crank up the Music:

Music is powerful as a mood enhancer. If you don’t believe so, just try to watch a feature film, or complete a difficult workout, without a soundtrack. We’ve all used music to get jazzed up, to relax, to set a mood. Unfortunately, we often only think of doing this for specific or special occasions. But it works for the every day situations, too!

Move It, Move It:

Working in an office setting means I do a lot of sitting. At my desk, in meetings, at lunch in the cafeteria. When I leave work, sometimes it feels like all I want to do is go home and crash – meaning sit some more, just in a new location. Movement of any kind, from rigorous exercise to yoga to a stroll through the neighborhood, can really rev things up. In particular, I’ve found that moving my body outdoors actually gets my sluggish brain going, too.

Find the Horizon:

There are days when I start to feel closed in, as if my life has shrunk to a small box that includes work, stress, and all the “should” messages I give myself. That’s a pretty cramped feeling. I’ve found that a simple drive west, out of the city far enough that fields give way to an actual horizon line, opens up the box and I can breathe deeply again. Obviously, this works best during daylight hours – but the evenings in February are lengthening, and a quick escape after work is becoming more possible.

Reach Out:

Find people who allow you to break free from the energy-sappers of your day. These people can be your chosen family (like the Dennis’ are for me) or they can be a book club, people you encounter while volunteering, occasionally I’ve even found myself re-enegized by a talk with the guy behind the Hy-Vee meat counter. The point is, reach out to other people and think about, talk about, laugh about something new.

Which brings me back to the whole video of me dancing “Gangnam Style”. As I was leaving the Dennis’ home, we were talking about what I would post on my blog this week. And, as silly conversations have a way of doing, our discussion veered wildly until we were all laughing at the idea that I would simply post a video of myself doing the pony dance from the Psy video. I knew that neither Wendy nor her daughters (Katie and Dani were part of this conversation) believed I would do such a thing: which made me want desperately to do it. So, when I arrived home, I found an instructional video which took me through the dance, step by step (I only learned the gallop and lasso-ing movements). I practiced for about five minutes, then hit record on my computer. The position of the camera was such that it only captured my dance from the waist up. Still, I collapsed with laughter when I watched the recorded results, especially my facial expressions as I galloped and lassoed!

Was this what I had planned for my “productive” evening? Not at all. But it was the kind of productivity I needed – it produced relaxation, laughter, and shared joy. A perfect reboot for me!

And, while you’ve likely all seen this video, here’s a little something to ease your disappointment at not seeing my version of “Gangnam”:

Taking a Flying Leap

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“You remember the old Roadrunner cartoons, where the coyote would run off a cliff and keep going, until he looked down and happened to notice he was running on nothing but thin air?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” he says. “I always used to wonder what would have happened if he’d never looked down. Would the air have stayed solid under his feet until he reached the other side? I think it would have, and I think we’re all like that. We start heading out across this canyon, looking straight ahead at the thing that matters, but something, some fear or insecurity, makes us look down. And we see we’re walking on air, and we panic, and turn around and scramble like hell to get back to solid ground. And if we just wouldn’t look down, we could make it to the other side…”

–Jonathan Tropper,The Book of Joe

I was sitting at my dining room table, trying to decide what to share in today’s post. My recent reflections have been, indeed, reflections of my state of mind – serious, heavy, full of the weighty feel of winter. I was attempting to think of something to say today that would lighten the mood a bit, but I was coming up empty-handed.

Then, I happened to look up and see the little painting (in the photo above) that my sister, Gwen, gave me for Christmas. When I got home from the holidays in New Mexico, I put the painting in the little niche in my dining room, where it resides with angels and saints, a diminutive ceramic creche, a glass charm against the evil eye. And I promptly stopped noticing it until now.

The woman silhouetted in the painting is leaping – with abandon and joy, it seems — across a chasm. She is looking ahead, at her goal, not down at what is or is not currently beneath her feet. Does she know, I wonder, what lies ahead? I doubt it – it seems clear that this is a leap of faith. Faith that she’ll land safely on the other side. Faith that the choice to leap was the right one. Faith that the time for leaping had arrived. And faith that, whatever awaits on the far side of the chasm, will be worth facing and taking the leap.

Faith is what I’ve been forgetting to cultivate in this dark winter. And in so doing, a joyful spirit is what I’ve imprisoned in anxiety and fear. The overwhelming to-do list I’ve written with my obsessive thinking lacks both faith and joy – I have been thinking of everything as something I have to do (even time with loved ones has been relegated to the status of “onerous chores”) rather than as something I choose to do – or better, as something I am privileged to do.

I am reminded of what Brene Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection about resilience: “Feelings of hopelessness, fear, blame, pain, discomfort, vulnerability, and disconnection sabotage resilience. The only experience that seems broad and fierce enough to combat a list like that is the belief that we’re all in this together and that something greater than us has the capacity to bring love and compassion into our lives.” (my emphasis)

So here’s to cultivating resilience: to leaping forward without looking down, to releasing a joyful spirit from the gloom of winter, to celebrating connection, and to actively practicing faith.

Becoming One With the Light: The Candle of Joy

Note: I have been writing, in December, on the themes of the Advent wreath. This week’s theme: The Candle of Joy. I out-ran a blizzard last night in order not to miss one day of my holiday time with my family – causing my departure from home early, with many things undone – including my weekly weigh-in and this week’s photo of the Candle of Joy. In a few hours, I will be with my parents and this candle will be burning brightly in my heart. I hope you don’t mind this trade-off!

It should be easy to write about joy. At least, that is what one immediately thinks. After all, we know what brings us joy: family, love, laughter, right livelihood.  And we can certainly write about those things. However, joy, the thing itself, is a bit slippery as writing topics go. At least, as this week has progressed I have found it difficult to write anything true or meaningful about joy. Why is that?

First, it seems that everything I’ve tried to say has been impossible to express without sounding hokey (at best) or insincere (at worst). It is much easier to write believable prose about despair or death or darkness, in part because we often feel the impetus to express these difficult extremes carefully, so that others can understand the exact shade or quality of our emotion. When it comes to joy, we assume everyone experiences it similarly. It is like the Tolstoy quote: “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Our darkness is unique, our light is universal – or so it can feel when we try to capture it in words.

Second, joy is not the same as mere happiness (not to dis happiness, which is awesome!). Joy is something at once deeper and more profound than happiness, it seems to me. One of my all-time favorite movie scenes captures this beautifully. In “Immortal Beloved“, a deaf Beethoven (played by Gary Oldman) stands on stage during a performance of his “Ode to Joy”. As he watches the orchestra play, hearing the music he wrote only in his imagination, Beethoven thinks back to the night which inspired this particular musical masterpiece. He is a boy who has escaped, for one night, his abusive father. He has run into the woods, and come to a pond. The boy gets into the water and begins to float on his back, staring up at the milkyway, which is reflected in the water around him. The boy, the water, the stars: they merge into one. The boy becomes one more shining point of light within the night sky; one tiny but essential part of the cosmos. And in this moment of union and communion with all of creation – JOY.

That, friends, is what I have been unable to express this week. Joy, as opposed to happiness or love or other good-to-great feelings, is experienced in such moments of one-ness with all of creation. There is much written about making deep joy sustainable through spiritual practice. Who am I to claim whether that is possible or not? I only know that I haven’t achieved that level of dharma or mystic union or Godliness in my own life. I have had moments, crystalline in their beauty and etched eternally on my heart, when joy has surprised and humbled me. The promise of Advent is that such joy is available to us all – as a gift. We have only to open our hearts and allow ourselves to receive it.

50 About 50: Caring Less and Caring More

Today is a good day to post two of the 50 About 50 lists I started last week. As you will recall, these posts are leading up to my 50th birthday on Thursday, July 28. Because of the double list, today’s post runs a bit long. I hope you enjoy it anyway. As always, please feel free to respond with comments or your own items for the lists!

10 Things I Find Myself Caring Less About

1. What Others Think

Its a little strange to immediately contradict myself, but I DO care what others think. I will always be interested in how people think, why they’ve reached the conclusions they have. I am happy to reflect on the ways their thinking might illuminate mine. That said, in my younger years I tended to be unduly influenced by others. My own thoughts were like feathers easily blown in a new direction by another’s, more forcefully, declaimed idea. Now, I find I am able to continue in my own direction while remaining open to course corrections based on new information.

2. What Others Think About Me

Finally, I have reached the point in life where I am no longer incapacitated by concerns about what others think about me. Do I care? Yes, sometimes about some things. Mostly, though, I am happy to be the person I am.

3. So-called “Rules”

For most of my life, I have been an inveterate rule-follower. Breaking a rule, even one which might arguably exist only inside my own head,  just felt wrong. Often, even contemplating breaking the rule would induce hyperventilation. Social conventions and mores (such as waiting for an explicit invitation, saying the polite if untrue thing, etc.) still have a certain hold on me. More and more, though, I find that part of living and maturing is learning when to break out – and break a few rules.

4. Weeds, among other “unsightly” things

People say not to compare apples to oranges, because they are two different things.  Well, I was listening to a scientist on NPR one day, who said we needed to change that idiom. At the cellular level, he said, apples and oranges are the same thing! Weeds, flowers, hostas…at the cellular level aren’t they really all the same? I put my energy into the things that matter to me. I don’t waste a lot of energy on the “weeds” in life (or my flower beds) anymore.

5. Cognitive Structure

Things need to make sense, have order, structure, be inherently fair. Or so I once thought. I’m (mostly) through with trying to tidy up all of my beliefs, my thoughts, my emotions into a neat package. The world is wide and full of wondrous things. Its not my brain’s job to rearrange the furniture of the universe. See, accept, wonder, be in awe –  this may be enough responsibility for one human brain.

6. Being in Fashion

Fashions come and go. What looks good on me mostly remains the same.

7. Noise

Dear Mom: on this point, as on so many others, I concede that you were right all along. Sometimes I go whole days without voluntarily creating extra noise (radio, Pandora, television, etc.) in my house. Sometimes, silence is too precious to squander.

8. Television

Like most of America, I enjoyed The Voice when it began airing this spring. But I could miss it if something better – a social event, a good book, a workout, or a quiet summer evening – came along. I refuse to miss more life because “my show” is on television.

9. Body Hair

I don’t understand the current obsession with hairlessness. Yes, I pluck the stray black wires that periodically grow out of my chin. I have my hair stylist wax both my eyebrows and upper lip. But if I forget these things, I don’t run screaming from the mirror yelling words like, “Gross!”  Body hair is just body hair – it IS nature, not an affront to nature.

10. What Ifs/Fear-Based Scenarios

I’d like to say I’m over these completely, but that would be a lie. However, I no longer frighten myself at night wondering what I would do if a rapist crashed through my window in the wee hours. I don’t tell myself a lot of scary stories that begin with the words, “What if…”, just as I am about to embark on a new activity or adventure. What I’ve discovered is that these thoughts act like a prophylactic, preventing a life pregnant with possibilities. In order to live fully, I’ve needed to cut way back on scaring myself with stories of doom.

10 Things I Find Myself Caring More About

1. Beauty

The experience of beauty opens the heart: to perception, clarity, healing. The human heart craves beauty, though we don’t often credit it as a need. In a poem published in 1911, James Oppenheim wrote of women seeking justice, crying out for bread but also for roses – and it is such an appropriate juxtaposition. The staff of life (bread) and the stuff of life (beauty=roses).

2. Health and Vigor

Things you take for granted in your youth, for $200, Alex!

3. Other People’s Children

My nephews, neices, godchildren and the many other children who feel like my neices and nephews. But also, the young adults I have had the pleasure to know and work with in my career in Student Affairs. When I was a young adult myself, I thought I would be “the fun aunt”, that I would have a lot of good advice to impart to my students. Time has shown that the reverse is true – other people’s children have enriched my life, have taught me so many lessons about life, love, and the importance of not taking the teachable moment too far. Thank you to the parents for sharing their children’s lives with me. And to the OPCs themselves: each of you remains in my heart.

4. Animals (and other species)

I am not a pet person. But I am learning to love and appreciate what animals and other species bring to the world around us, and I am learning to care deeply about their continued existence on our planet.

5. Wisdom

I used to pray for wisdom, as a teen. I always felt so stupid, I thought that if I was gifted with wisdom, I would suddenly feel more confident. What I am discovering as I age is that wisdom isn’t about feeling self-confident. It is about caring enough to self-reflect as a means of continuing to develop and grow into the person I was meant to be.

6. Trying New Things

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, that’s only true if the dog doesn’t want to do anything new. And I DO!

7. Honesty/Truth

Its probably not a good thing to admit, in writing, that I am a really good liar. Further, if I am being truly honest, I must admit that I have lied purposefully and often, and not only to myself. But here’s the rub: every time I deny the truth, or “pretty it up” in some way, I deny my own self. This cuts to the heart of why honesty is a virtue and so closely aligned with the concept of integrity. No integrated whole can wantonly deny its own parts. The older I get, the more life experience I accummulate, the more important honesty becomes as a personal value.

8. Compassion/Mercy

I am, and have always been, a really good reader. I can put myself square into a character’s psyche and emotional make-up with little effort. I used to think this was a sign that I excelled at compassion and empathy. Really, that was just fiction. True compassion, true mercy, requires a willingness to enter fully, as myself, into another person’s messy life.  I am just learning the depth of character true compassion requires. I hope, someday, to embody it myself.

9. Unconditional Love

“Human beings, like plants, grow in the soil of acceptance, not in the atmosphere of rejection” said John Powell, in his book titled Unconditional Love. I read the book my freshman year of college, as did many of my friends, and we bandied around the concept quite a lot. I can remember saying to people (wince), “I love you. Unconditionally.”  What a crock! At 19, I hadn’t the vaguest clue what that meant, and no pop-psych book was going to enlighten me. I had to learn what it means the old fashioned way – by torturing myself and others, by saying hurtful things and tearfully rescinding them, by seeing the worst in myself or another and then – joyfully – discovering that I still felt love. This loving unconditionally is no easy thing. I believe it is worth the effort to practice, though, in the hope of someday being really and truly good at it.

10. This Moment

I not only care more about this one, I am in love with this one! I used to live in the past or the future, anywhere but the here and now. When and how that changed is the story I’ve been telling in this blog. One of the best things about my life now is that I am living it right here, in this moment – and I am so grateful for the present.

50 about 50: On Food

If you have been reading this blog, or following me on Facebook, you have to know that I will be turning 50 at the end of this month. While I have made it a point to celebrate and enjoy my birthdays the past few years, I am not typically one to navel-gaze about each passing year (oh, I navel-gaze with the best of them, just not about that, generally speaking!). However, 50 feels different, in many ways. I can’t help thinking it is still too young to be the gateway to old age, but there is no denying that it is likely to be the metaphorical entrance into the second act of my life. In plays, the first act is usually longer than the second, and youth seems endless. Act I is followed by an intermission, kind of a rest period, which might be an apt description for your late 40s. Not quite your youth, but also not quite your elder years. Then: curtains up, Act II.

As I approach my birthday, I am taking-stock, thinking carefully about my life thus far and about the life I hope to live in the coming years. As a result, each Thursday blog post in July will be part of my “50 about 50” list. It won’t be a continuous list, but several lists. I have given thought as to how to organize these lists, how to share the discoveries I have made along the way, the seredipitous moments and the surprises that have contributed to who I am and what I value today. There are only 4 Thursdays in July, so one post will include a bonus list! To get started:

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Food

1.  Your tastes change over the course of a lifetime.

Ok, I’ve never been a picky eater, ask anyone. However, for many years of my life I lived without the joy of avocados. I tried them as a youngster, and did not care for them. By the time I got around to trying them again, they tasted like ambrosia. And that’s just the tip of the asparagus spear – there are many other foods that I have come to enjoy over time that I did not care for earlier in my life. It pays to be open to trying again. And sometimes again.

2.  What we know about foods and their nutritional value and physiological effects changes periodically.

So don’t completely give up anything you enjoy based on a current news report. Moderation in everything, as my former roommate Michelle Fouts was fond of saying.

3.  Food is a social justice issue.

For most of my life, I never thought about this. But even a few statistics can change your view on this if you really take them in. For example, in the U.S. in 2009, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (21.3 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.6 percent) or single men (27.8 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (24.9 percent) and Hispanic households (26.9 percent). In 2009, 7.8 percent of seniors living alone (884,000 households) were food insecure. (Statistics courtesy of Feeding America) And it goes deeper than the number of people who experience hunger. The social justice issues surrounding food also include issues related to obesity, alarming increases in diabetes, the unequal access to healthy, fresh food experienced by those in economically disadvantaged communities.

4. “Food addiction” as a term is an oxymoron.

We are all addicted to food. Can’t live without it. Figuring out how to live WITH it is the important thing!

5. Oatmeal is my delicious friend.

My folks weren’t oatmeal eaters. The first time I was served oatmeal was at Camp Little Cloud when I was approximately 9. It was a gelatinous pile of what tasted like salty paste. No way! This morning, I had instant oatmeal, maple flavored, with one tablespoon of creamy, all natural peanut butter. The first spoonful elicited an audible sound of delight from deep in my throat. Almost a purr really. In the past four years, I’ve made up for the dearth of oatmeal in my early life by eating it multiple times each week. It never lets me down. When Starbucks started selling oatmeal, and fittingly named theirs “Perfect Oatmeal”, it was a happy day in Jen-land.

5. Food is a sustainability concern.

Locavore. Organic. Community Supported Agriculture. Slow Food Movement. We’ve all heard these words. It is impossible to maintain a laissez-faire stance once one begins to educate oneself about the issues. Read Michael Pollan, watch a couple of the excellent documentary films that have been produced, attend your local farmer’s market. It isn’t even difficult anymore (for those of us lucky enough to have the resources) to become aware of and begin to change our choices in accordance with a more loving stance toward our earth. I have only taken a few tentative steps, but hope to continue further down this path.

6. Not enough poetry has been written about kale.

Or really, about any of the lesser greens, root vegetables, or legumes that middle-America gave up on in favor of Chef Boyardee and Hot Pockets. Discovering these oldies but goodies has totally enriched my diet. They may not be the most beautiful, but they are arguably some of the most soulful foods going.

8. Food can, and in my opinion should, be a total sensual experience.

Mike and I made dinner one night over the Memorial Day weekend. He asked me how I managed, with such delicious leftovers in the house, to avoid bingeing on them until they were gone. I took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh scents of ginger,thyme, hand-grated nutmeg and toasted coconut flakes. I looked at the profusion of bright colors in the salad bowl and on our plates. I thought about the variety of textures in the food we were about to eat. And the answer was easy – when your food satisfies all your senses, it also satifies your hunger at a very deep level. Whenever possible, meals should be sensually fulfilling experiences. There’s no need to overeat or binge when every sense is replete.

9. Cooking for (or with) and feeding loved ones is one of life’s greatest joys.

Unless you have to do it every day. In which case it is a drudgery. I discovered the joy part back in the late 80s when I first learned to bake bread. My two roommates, the Michelles, would come home and immediately devour the first loaf while I enjoyed their delight. It continues to be one of my favorite ways to express my love for others. The drudgery part, I’ve heard from nearly every mother/wife I know.

10. I like food. Food’s my favorite.

Enough said.