About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

Life Well Lived

How do I measure my life?

I saw a documentary a few weeks ago at the California Independent Film Festival called Lives Well Lived. The filmmaker, Sky Bergman, was inspired by her 99-year-old grandmother lifting weights at the gym. As she shot some video footage, she spontaneously asked Grandma to share words of wisdom; later, editing her short video to share with family, she realized she had a project. Bergman set off on a five-year quest to collect the wisdom of 40 people between ages 75 and 100. This film is the result.

I felt awed by their lived history: the Japanese internment camps, Krystal Nacht, the KinderPassage train, extreme poverty, losing parents and spouses. They worked hard, kept their spirits up, followed their passions, made their lives successful.

What struck me most was how positive, happy, they were despite the unbelievable hardships they had faced. They didn’t let circumstances level them; they showed no symptoms of trauma; they had grit and kept going.

They talked about staying in the present, living fully, expecting something wonderful to happen every day—holding on in faith that, though sometimes the wonderful is delayed, it will happen. A few mentioned 50 as a turning point, and never growing too old to try something new. That age is an irrelevant number. They encouraged younger people to stop worrying: the past is over and the future is coming no matter what, so enjoy right now. One said, “Work a little less, spend a little less. Enjoy life a little more!”

Recently I came across this article by Darius Foroux about how to measure success. So many people measure success by their bank accounts and investments, their houses and cars, their exotic vacations. From his extensive reading by foremost experts in business, management, personal development, and health, Foroux found something surprising: the most successful people measure success by their energy, work, and relationships.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound so surprising. If you have sufficient energy, you work harder and have more to invest in relationships. Yes, and that’s not all.

Energy: how do I feel? If I want to feel better, the equation is pretty simple: eat healthy and exercise. Do this most days, if not every day.

Work: what else can I learn? It’s not about a paycheck as much as engagement and curiosity. Since I am in a work transition period, this one particularly resonates with me.

Relationships: how am I giving to the most important people in my life? I can’t control how others do or don’t regard me, but I can control how much I invest in my people.

Control is a key word. For the most part, I control how I feel in my body, mind and soul; what I will do about those things that pique my curiosity; and how I choose to offer myself in relationship. Hopefully some of that will also pay off in a paycheck, but there’s more to life than money.

And still, gentleness, grace, and gratitude in all things. As SARK reminds us, healing and growth often happen not in forward motion but in spirals, in layers. Sometimes we loop back a time or three before we develop the strength to conquer the next hurdle.

And that’s just fine. I’d like to imagine I’ll still be hitting the gym when I’m 99, but for now I’ll remember: the past is over, the future is coming, so I’ll enjoy this moment.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Meatless Monday: Instant Pot Pasta e Fagioli Soup (vegan!)

It cooled off just enough last week to eat soup again. Notice I didn’t say “to cook soup,” because IP cooking means I don’t have to stand and stir a hot pot. It’s one of my favorite things about the IP: I can quickly make yummy veggies and soups that would require more time on the stove top and heat up the house. For this very reason, my husband makes globe artichokes in the IP almost every week; it’s fast and fail-proof!

When we first bought the IP, I left it in the box in the garage for a solid nine months. I’d read enough to expect it to sound like R2D2, and anything with too many buttons makes me nervous. When I finally decided an appliance would not best me, I made my husband watch a YouTube video with me and then together we did the water test to make sure it sealed correctly.

That was so long ago I don’t remember what we actually cooked. It may have been a red lentil curry. Whatever it was, it was easy enough to try again. And again and again…

For this soup, like a lot of my recipes, I started with online inspiration, combing recipes for similarities and differences. I consulted my IP go-to guide, Vegan Under Pressure*, for cooking times (the authority for cooking beans, both dried and canned). And then I experimented. As the weather continues to cool and I will continue to make soups both in the IP and on the stove top, this recipe will be in my regular rotation.

If you don’t have an IP, of course you can make this on the stove top. Everything should be about the same with two exceptions: you’ll need to adjust cooking times; and you can cook the pasta right in the pot.

This soup can also be really flexible. Don’t have cannellini beans? Add another can of kidney beans or more/different diced veggies. Kids not fans of zucchini? Add chopped greens at the end of cooking. (Personally, I peel the zucchini and the kids don’t know it’s there). You can use veggie crumbles instead of sausage, or leave the “meat” products out altogether. I’m all for playing with recipes!

Instant Pot Pasta e Fagioli Soup
Serves 6-8

1 large yellow or white onion, diced
3 Field Roast sausage links, diced (I used 2 Italian & 1 chipotle)
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
6 c low sodium veggie broth (Better Than Bouillon)
3 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or 1 tsp each dried basil, thyme, and oregano)
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional if using chipotle sausage)
1 15 oz undrained can diced tomatoes (if you use fresh tomatoes, add 1/3-1/2 c additional water/broth)
1 15 oz can tomato sauce (or prepared marinara sauce)
Diced veggies – celery (3 ribs), carrots (3-4 peeled), and zucchini (2 small)
1 14.5 oz can each garbanzo, kidney and cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
1.5 cup ditalini pasta or elbow macaroni cooked separately, 8-10 minutes

On “saute” setting, stir onions and sausage for 5 minutes; add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes longer. Add broth, seasonings, tomatoes and sauce, veggies and beans, and stir to combine.

Lock the lid in place. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. Allow the pot to sit for 3-4 minutes and then turn the release valve for a “quick release.”

If pressed for time, dump everything in and cook on high pressure for 12 minutes. Allow the pot to sit for 3-4 minutes and then turn the release valve for a “quick release.”

Stir in pasta and adjust seasonings. Mangia!

 

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. But seriously, if you have an IP and you like to cook veggies, this book is so worth the purchase.

33 Ways to De-Funk Your Day

If you’re anything like me, occasionally you find yourself in a funk. Not a physical, I-need-a-shower kinda funk; and not a Play that Funky Music, White Boy getcha movin’ kinda funk. Just an I’m in a funk kind of way. Here are some ideas for dealing with it:

  1. Practice gratitude: make a list of 3-10 things right now for which you can be grateful.
  2. Go for a walk; invite some humans &/or dogs along.
  3. Feed yourself. Honestly, sometimes your mood has everything to do with hunger.
  4. Drink a large glass of water. Repeat.
  5. Take deep breaths.
  6. Stretch.
  7. Pray.
  8. Phone a friend; bonus points if it’s a) your bestie or b) someone you haven’t talked with recently.
  9. Take a nap.
  10. Get alone somewhere.
  11. Write out all the feels; don’t think, just let the ink flow.
  12. Pet an animal.
  13. Work out hard: sweat the bad feels out to let the good feels in.
  14. Play your sport. If you don’t have a regular sport, gather some friends for a quick game of whatever suits you. Dodgeball is fun.
  15. Laugh! Watch YouTubes of laughing babies or silly animals, or late night TV, or just laugh at your own silliness.
  16. Try a new perspective. Sit upside down on the couch. Or rearrange the furniture.
  17. Smell a rose, preferably homegrown. Inhale down to your toes.
  18. Read a good book or flip through a magazine.
  19. Listen to music. Or make music if that’s your thing.
  20. Cook your favorite food. Share it with someone.
  21. Serve someone. Take cookies to a neighbor you don’t know well and have a quick chat. Or find out what a shelter organization (homeless, immigrant, old age or hospice) needs and do something for them.
  22. Put on some music and dance. Lose yourself in the music and the movement.
  23. Go for a swing on an actual swing.
  24. Enter another world: if your world isn’t working, find one that does in a book or a movie or a TV show or in your imagination…write your own new world!
  25. Take yourself on a field trip to a zoo or a museum.
  26. Learn something. Indulge your curiosity.
  27. Play a game with others. My favorites: Chinese checkers, UNO, Spot It, HuggerMugger, Taboo. Others like: Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Mexican Train (Dominoes), Hand and Foot, Cards Against Humanity (caution: lewd humor). If you can’t decide on a game, do a puzzle.
  28. Do something daring. Try a new-to-you adventure activity; register for a class; turn the shower on COLD and dare yourself to jump in.
  29. Travel: there’s nothing like it, even if your travels only take you to the next town. Imagine yourself a tourist and see your own locality with new eyes.
  30. Make something. Anything. Take something old and make it new. Take things apart and put them together differently. Play with the art supplies of your childhood: crayons, colored pencils, markers, any paint supplies, play-doh or clay. Don’t worry about what things look like, just enjoy the creative process.
  31. Knock some things off your to-do list. Start with the most annoying task and get it done already.
  32. Discern the reason behind your funk and do something about it.
  33. Find your happy place! For me, that’s the beach. The ebb and flow, the salty smell, the sand between my toes and the occasional unexpected brisk wave catching my ankles, gulls’ crying, the crisp air on my face as I hug my sweater closer… all of it has a cumulative effect that dissolves my funk into a bad memory.

Better yet, employ a combination of ideas, something like: pack a snack and invite a friend and dogs on a hike. Or take yourself on a field trip, find a quiet outdoor spot, and spend a few minutes writing in a journal. I’d love to hear your de-funk-ing ideas!

Ginger for Breakfast: 3 Recipes Fueling My Mornings

I ❤ ginger! Fan-fave cinnamon is great, but ginger is my jam. It’s peppery-delicious, versatile all day long, and so good for you. Here are three breakfast-inspired ginger-infused recipes I’ve been making on repeat.

Ginger-Lemon Shots
Yes, you can buy ginger shots at Jamba Juice, Whole Foods, even at farmer’s markets (which is where I first discovered them, and I don’t mind supporting a female entrepreneur). But making them at home is easy and much less expensive. I bought a clam shell of organic ginger at Costco and picked lemons from my tree. If you use organic ginger and lemons you don’t even need to peel them. I use a juicer (so old they don’t make it anymore, so I can’t endorse a brand) and start with ginger cut into pieces, then finish with halved lemons. Grating ginger by hand is a pain, so either a juicer or a blender is the way to go; if you use a blender, though, you’ll want to peel the lemons and perhaps also the ginger. I added a little water and the teensiest drizzle of maple syrup, put the concoction in clean spice jars, and stored three days worth in the fridge. Shake it up before sipping.

Chia Pudding
I use almond milk, vanilla, and a slight drizzle of maple syrup, and add a few dashes of ground ginger and turmeric (sub cinnamon, cardamom and cloves for a chai flavor). I put it in a glass jar and shake it up hard, then give it a stir about five minutes later to break up any clumps. So easy I can prep it just before bed while I’m setting the coffee maker, and I won’t even have to think about breakfast in the morning. Sometimes I add fruit, other times I just dig in. BTW, 1/4 c of chia + 1 c of non-dairy milk makes two breakfast servings, so put it in two individual jars or one larger container. Or make a big batch and eat throughout the week.

Granola
The ginger shots and chia pudding are mine all mine, but the whole fam chows down on this recipe for breakfast, lunch, and snack. The kids can hardly wait until it’s cooled. I make it a little different each time, changing up the nuts, adding or not adding dried fruit. The always-adds are equal amounts of ground ginger and cinnamon and unsweetened coconut flakes. The family likes to eat it by the handful (it’s great for lunch boxes, too); I like it with some fresh fruit and a little almond milk.

Bon Apetit!

 

Cover image by Ajale from Pixabay

Summer Reading 2019

Hey, Friends, I just signed up as an Amazon Associate and I will earn from qualifying purchases. So go ahead, click the titles linked to Amazon, and purchase, please! All reviews continue to be my own.

Notes on the recent round-up…

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reads like a novel and cut me to the quick. So much insight! Since I read carefully and took notes, I don’t need to see a therapist anymore (hah! We ALL need to see a therapist…).

“…change and loss travel together.” (6)

“You’re going to have to feel pain–everyone feels pain at times–but you don’t have to suffer so much. You’re not choosing the pain, but you’re choosing the suffering” (62)
“…if I’m clinging to the suffering so tightly, I must be getting something out of it. It must be serving some purpose for me.” (63)

“Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map. Don’t be afraid of the truth.” (65)

“When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it. And having the future taken away is the mother of all plot twists. But if we spend the present trying to fix the past or control the future, we remain stuck in place, in perpetual regret…. But if I live in the present, I’ll have to accept the loss of my future.” (66-67)

“…we talk to ourselves more than we’ll talk to any other person over the course of our lives but that our words aren’t always kind or true or helpful–or even respectful. Most of what we say to ourselves we’d never say to people we love or care about, like our friends or children….pay close attention to those voices in our heads so that we can learn a better way to communicate with ourselves.” (404-405)

“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and experience something before its meaning becomes apparent.” (407)

Every Last WordEvery Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book paints
a loving portrait
of an adolescent
struggling with, dealing
with, living with
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It contains everything
I enjoy about
Young Adult Lit:
well-developed characters,
an important issue
handled with gentleness,
surprises and creativity.

Little Do We KnowLittle Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book tackles a lot of big issues–friendship, teen romance, child-parent relationships, life transitions, dis/loyalty, faith and abuse–and mostly does it well. It cut a little too close to home for me in certain regards which made it somewhat uncomfortable reading.

KitchenKitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
FREE Kindle edition for Amazon Prime members!

How is it I’d never heard of this book? It’s SO beautiful! To sum it up in a word, this book is about *embodiment.* Characters grieve for their loved ones who have passed from physical life, and find their way back to life and each other through the physical comforts of preparing and eating delicious food. The writing is at once spare and exquisite. She says so much in so few pages. My copy also included her prize-winning novella, Moonlight Shadow. I cried at the end of both.

Some of these quotes I included because of their imagery, others for their characterization or philosophy:

“Suspended in the dim light before the window overlooking the magnificent tenth-floor view, the plants breathed softly, resting.” (16)

“The conversation we just had was like a glimpse of stars through a chink in a cloudy sky–perhaps, over time, talks like this would lead to love.” (30)

“To the extent that I had come to understand that despair does not necessarily result in annihilation, that one can go on as usual in spite of it, I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities?” (56)

“Why do I love everything that has to do with kitchens so much? It’s strange. Perhaps because to me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul. As I stood there, I seemed to be making a new start; something was coming back.” (56)

“…although I couldn’t have put it into words, I came to understand something. If I try to say what it is now, it’s very simple: I realized that the world did not exist for my benefit. It followed that the ratio of pleasant and unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn’t up to me. It was clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness.” (81)

“I knew it: the glittering crystal of all the good times we’d had, which had been sleeping in the depths of memory, was awakening and would keep us going. Like a blast of fresh wind, the richly perfumed breath of those days returned to my soul.” (100)

Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday PlacesGlory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places by Kaitlin B. Curtice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curtice takes life’s simple moments and reveals their glory for those who have eyes to see. Sometimes the pace feels oh-so-slow, but I stuck with it, reading slowly over weeks as a way of remembering that my life, too, has glory written all over it. My favorite story came right at the end, #49: Hijab. Its beauty of connection had me in tears.

Speak.
Speak of the world to us.
You are the wildest and holiest experience.
You are the greatest adventure.
You are the best miracle-maker.
You are the trust lover.
Your voice echoes inside of us,
digs its way into our bones and veins,
our senses and brains,
into the most hollow corners,
into the darkest spaces.
Oh, you fill us.
Fill us again and again,
in every experience, glory abounding.
Amen. (32)

“…when we can’t see what’s ahead, a path is cleared, and we are no longer afraid, for glory lines the path at our feet, benedictions abounding.” (118)

O God of Mystery,
If I have tried to place you into a box,
break it.
No mold can hold you. (167)

“What matters and what is dust in the wind? Do our little moments of joy or pleasure, our pings of grief and stress, mean anything…?
Absolutely. Our moments matter because our humanity matters, and if we can’t find it in the chocolate aisle or by the assorted rice in the middle of our local marketplace, we will have a hard time finding it anywhere.” (180)

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane Austen meets Bridget Jones set in contemporary Los Angeles… Love! I plowed through this smart, chock-full of book and pop culture references, laugh out loud funny book.

“She refueled during the day by grabbing moments of solitude and sometimes felt her life was a long-distance swim between islands of silence. She liked people–she really did–she just needed to take them in homeopathic doses; a little of the poison was the cure.” (17)

“Oh my God, she thought, it’s hard to be human sometimes, with the pressure to be civilized lying only very thinly over the brain of a nervous little mammal. Maybe other people’s layer of civilization was thicker than hers; hers was like a peel-off face mask after it had been peeled.” (29)

“Moms of a certain age know dozens and dozens of people through various channels, so they have to perform this human equivalent of canine butt sniffing all the goddamned time.” (37)

“Reading isn’t the only thing in the world, Nina.”
“It’s one of only five perfect things in the world.”
“And the other four are?”
“Cats, dogs, Honeycrisp apples, and coffee.”
“Nothing else?”
“Sure, there are other things, even good things, but those five are perfect.”
“In your opinion.”
“Yes, of course in my opinion. Everyone has a different five perfect things.” (180)

Silence: In the Age of NoiseSilence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“We live in the age of noise. Silence is almost extinct.” (37)

This short tome, simply and beautifully written, accessibly addresses an important and oft-overlooked topic: silence. The author is a fascinating subject in his own right, and his pursuit of silence is inspiring. He weaves in wilderness exploration, ancient and modern philosophers, innovators and entrepreneurs, poets and writers, musicians and performance artists to help us grasp the necessity of silence in our noisy age.

“Wonder is the very engine of life.” (2)

“Nature spoke to me in the guise of silence. The quieter I became, the more I heard.” (14)

“The silence around us may contain a lot, but the most interesting kind of silence is the one that lies within. A silence which each of us must create. I no longer try to create absolute silence around me. The silence that I am after is the silence within.” (25)

“…[silence is] about getting inside what you are doing. Experiencing rather than ovethinking. Allowing each moment to be big enough.” (51)

“To listen is to search for new opportunities, to seek fresh challenges. The most important book you can read is the one about yourself. It is open.” (125)

Women in SunlightWomen in Sunlight by Frances Mayes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slow, dreamlike descriptions of beautiful Italy. Too many characters (all the town folk), and sometimes the narrator changes without notice- I read paragraphs several times to understand who was speaking. Good book, but it won’t send me searching for other books by Mayes.

“I’ll puzzle out my own story, mapping constellations. Wish I may, wish I might.” (17)

“That’s travel: time expands and compresses in unexpected ways.” (201)

Starting Over

My son flubbed another school band audition, even though he played well in the practice room just before. Nerves. Before bedtime, I told him the story of why I quit playing the piano:

The last time I performed on the piano was a lovely spring day in April 1988. Fifty or so music professors, music majors, and assorted music lovers gathered in the small, old chapel at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where I was a freshman majoring in English Literature and Communication Studies.

Having played piano since the age of five, I continued lessons in college to keep music in my life. I’d enjoyed a companionable relationship with my home piano teacher who watched me grow up under her tutelage. I didn’t jive with this music professor, however; I was Grieg and Chopin (romantics) and she was Bach (mathematics); I was pop and she was do re mi.

Since I played well enough for a non-major, she put me in the spring recital playing, you guessed it, a Bach piece. I worked through my initial disdain, eventually moved the music into my heart, and the afternoon of the recital I played it perfectly.

In the practice rooms. Not in recital.

The nerves of playing for a room of professionals and professionals-to-be broke me down. I lost my place and then my mind. My roommate, an organ major, ran my sheet music to me; she sat on the bench and held her finger to my place in the piece. I never regained my composure.

That was the end of that.

At the time I operated as a fully-entrenched perfectionist and I wouldn’t do something I couldn’t do perfectly. Clearly, my failure indicated that I should not be a musician (despite my years of devotion and joy), so I let it go. I poured myself into classes and friends and moved on. Occasionally I dabbled with a song or two, just for fun. Until enough time  passed and knowledge eroded that it wasn’t fun. I tried giving my younger son lessons until he decided he’d rather play on his own.

I let go of something I loved because I caved under pressure. It makes me sad.

Long ago my mom told me that she wouldn’t be surprised to someday find a grand piano in my home but no furniture, that art meant more to me than practicality. Accurate. We’ve hauled my upright piano up and down the state of California—from San Diego to Ventura and back, then to NorCal. All the while it has sat against a wall, collecting dust, beautiful…and sadly, unconsciously, a symbol of my failure.

My son plays it more than I do. He can’t read piano music; he plays by ear. For his sake, I’m glad we still have it. Last night, I shared my experience to encourage him to keep going. Not that his pursuit of music was ever in doubt, but I wanted him to know that I regret having given it up. That a botched audition or performance doesn’t define you. That he can be stronger in spirit than I was, and music will take him farther than it took me.

With the house all to myself today, maybe this recovering perfectionist will toodle around on the piano… And how interesting that I found this piece to bring me back to my love!

 

Cover photo credit: Image by PublicDomainArchive from Pixabay

Free to Fail

My younger son is a musician. He’s played trumpet for six years and picked up the tuba a year ago. As a high school sophomore, he registered for two music classes: Jazz and Symphonic Bands. Music is his happy place, the band room his safety zone.

His private instructor also works at the school; he asked to chat. Apparently, my kiddo did not do well on his jazz audition. But his instructor wanted me to know all the ways I could encourage him:

He did better on the harder of two pieces.
He persevered when he lost his place.
When he finished, the whole room broke out in applause rather than their normal toe tapping, understanding the struggle and the grit.
He did not have the worst audition in the group.
This was the hardest piece of music he will encounter all year,
and now auditions are over until next year.

No accident that I’ve been reading about creative risks and failure and how to go on when you feel discouraged.

Thing is, he knew the audition had been a mess, but he didn’t let it flatten him; he let it go. I reminded him that everyone will blow it from time to time, everyone fails, but that creates an opportunity for growth. And that artists may fail even more so because artists have to take risks, the nature of the creative game. I told him that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly so that you can get better. That everyone is a beginner, and even with experience, we face many, many, many beginnings (like, every new piece of music).

Yes, he agreed. Wise kid. How does he know all this when I’m still learning?

Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Circle of Quiet about receiving a rejection letter on her fortieth birthday. She put the cover on her typewriter in a dramatic gesture to mark the end of her writing career; she walked circles around her writing room, sobbing, until she realized that already in her head she was writing a story about failure. She uncovered her typewriter and got back to work.

Failure requires a response of swift, gracious action. Instead of asking the pityingly poor question, “Why me?” we ask, “What next?” For my son, next meant more music, Symphonic Band, followed by geometry. He kept his head up and kept moving. For Madeleine, it was making the decision to keep pecking away at her typewriter. We do the next right thing, however small and seemingly insignificant.

The creative road can be scary, but we keep walking, step by step. We speak kindly to ourselves, not berating ourselves for failure but commending ourselves for the courage to risk. We may feel sore, like sore muscles after a hard workout, but we persist, assuring ourselves that as we keep at it those creative muscles will also grow stronger.

The next morning as I dropped my son off at the band room, I asked how he was feeling; I knew that morning’s class involved sight reading, not his strength. He said he felt fine, and he was. Having gotten through one difficult scene in the band room, he knew he could do it again. And this time, it was even easier. Next time will be easier still. He’s getting stronger.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay