At Christmas Eve dinner, the topic of addicts and their recovery came up.  It wasn’t out of the blue exactly.  I was with seven people I had not known before they sat down at the table.  We were all participating in a Christmas Eve mini-retreat.  It was hosted at a local religious institution which also houses a substance abuse program.  We had just finished Vespers and were now being treated to a delicious meal that could easily have challenged any restaurant in the area.  Our servers were men from the program.  I would have never known this had one of my dinner companions not made us aware of this fact.  Our server looked not a day over 21, was meticulously dressed in a blue and white striped shirt like all the other servers.  They all also wore some sort of badge around their necks.  I later read that these badges held a picture that was captured of them on their first day of arrival at the clinic.

At hearing that the recovery program housed here was one of the most successful, one of my dinner companions asked what the definition of success was.  I had learned from reading James Frey’s book “A Million Little Pieces” that the best recovery centers only have an 18% success rate – as in 82% of the participants will relapse within the next year.  I mentioned that I had heard this, and another woman at our table confirmed the fact.  As it turns out, she had worked in a recovery program for over 10 years.

“Relapse, though, is part of the recovery,” she explained.  I had never heard that before, and neither had my dinner companions.  She went on to tell us that it is best to let the addicts know this up front, so that when they relapse they acknowledge that it’s part of the process and can hopefully identify it as such, and then choose to try once again to come back out of the hole.

I was later relating this conversation to a friend of mine.  “Relapse is part of the process,” I explained to him.  “You know,” he said, “that can be said of a lot of things we try in life.”  As he has a habit of doing, he stopped me in my tracks.  I’d never thought of it quite like that.  How many things had I attempted to change in my life, succeeding for a little while, only to fail eventually and then beat myself up over it?  But what if I told myself from the beginning, “Relapse is part of the process.”  Wouldn’t it be that much easier to accept my failure as temporary, as part of the process, and then move on?

How an interest grows…

I can’t recall when I first became interested in trying to reduce my environmental impact.  I was a child of the 80’s which is when I first recall learning the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.”  Only recently did I read something where the author mentioned we focus a lot on the “recycle” part, but not so much on the reduction and reusing parts.  How true!

As a Renaissance Soul (as described in Margaret Lobenstine’s book of the same title – see earlier posts), I’ve mentioned before how I find things nearly every day that interest me that I want to pursue – some soon, some later, some just percolate until the time is right.  This environmental consciousness is one of those that has grown over time.

On Sunday, I spent my entire morning in bed reading (an absolutely glorious way to spend a morning, in my opinion).  The book that kept my attention for five nearly continuous hours was “No Impact Man.”  Colin Beaven is a writer in NYC who attempts to live his life in such a way that he has no impact whatsoever on the environment.  He starts by going through his garbage to see what’s in there.  What does he find?  Lots of packaging – for food mostly.  So he stops buying things in packaging.  This means no take-out.  He discovers the Union Square Farmers Market, starts to carry his own glass mason jar for coffee.  I’m not doing the book justice – it’s fascinating.  He eventually shuts the circuit breaker on his apartment and goes without electricity.  Did I mention he has a wife and a toddler doing this project with him as well? (Which brings a lot of humor to the story).

I’ve done little things for a while, but am inspired to do a lot more.  I reuse plastic shopping bags as my garbage bags.  Then, I bought a reusable bag (or inherited a couple) and now my goal is not to get any plastic bags at all.  I have yet to go through the supply I have on hand, but that’s my goal – use what I have, and collect no more.  Do you know when I go to the corner store just to buy milk, they ask me if I want it in a bag?  Seriously?  To carry one half-gallon container of milk?

My bigger transition is to local food.  I haven’t gone full force yet, but I read that we could save a lot of energy if we all had just one meal a week from locally grown food.  So I’m starting there.  This would be easier if I had a garden and knew anything at all about canning, but in due time I’m sure I’ll do both.  (In fact, looking over my mothers’ shoulder the other day while she was flipping through the orange Betty Crocker cookbook, she found an entire section on canning…)

For now, from March to October I shop at the local farmers market (with my reusable bags).  I’m also a fan of CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture).  That’s where you pay money up front to a farm, and each week you go there and pick up from them a share of whatever’s in season.  Forget super market organic – this is the real deal.  Most farms are not “certified” organic as the process is too long and expensive to become certified.  But if you ask, they’ll be happy to tell you their practices – which are usually just as good if not better than those with the label.  Speaking of which, when at the supermarket, where do you find that “certified organic” label?  Yup, on the plastic packaging.  Go figure.

This winter, I took advantage of a “Winter Share”.  The local farms froze some of their summer bounty, and once a month I go pick it up.  This past Saturday I got my first share: green beans, summer squash, tri-color peppers, edamame, diced tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries and fresh pea shoots.  No, I had no idea what to do with pea shoots.  Thankfully, when I picked them up I was asked, “Do you know what to do with these?”  “No idea,” I said.   She explained that they’re great in salads (though I thought this funny as salad greens are not really in season right now), great on sandwiches, and you can also just cook them up in a little oil.  I pulled some out and munched – they taste just like peas (imagine that!).  And last night I experimented – did you know there’s a web site just about pea shoots?  (  I did the Italian thing – fried up some garlic in olive oil – then added an asian flare with some ginger, then tossed them in.  Not too bad.  The garlic was local, but the oil and ginger were not.  I’m working on it though.

And this is the fun of CSA’s.  You get foods that you wouldn’t normally buy because you don’t know what to do with them.  In this case, though, you have a farmer right there that has at least one if not five ideas of how to use your mysterious new produce.

I cooked up the peppers with some pork I bought from a farmer that lives just three miles from me.  Then, with the friend who had graciously accepted my dinner invitation, I savored some fresh blueberries for dessert.

Anyway, if you’re looking to start reducing your impact, I hope you’ve got some ideas:)  Check back for more….

On Pleasure – and it’s effects on others

There are plenty of people out there who don’t exactly know what brings them pleasure (see previous post).  I find sometimes I forget myself.  So I’m taking this opportunity to jot down another thing that brings me pleasure so I can remember when I’m having a down day and wondering how to cheer myself up:  I love cooking for someone else.

Notice I didn’t say simply “I love cooking.”  I mean, I do love cooking – the chopping and dicing,  the measuring, the improvising.  But there’s something different about cooking for someone else.  I love seeing a friend walk through the door with a freer spirit knowing that tonight’s dinner is taken care of – and she didn’t have to pay for it or cook it herself.  My ulterior motive is the smile of enjoyment that creeps across a friend’s face as she takes the first bite, the words of praise and thanks, and the wonderful conversation that can only be had between friends in the comfort of one’s home.

I have an old roommate who once said something along the lines of, “I ate the best when I lived with you.”  It wasn’t because I cooked for her all the time.  It was because, she said, “when I came home, and you were cooking, it motivated me to cook too.”  So the two of us would be in the kitchen making our own dinners having conversation about our day.  Sometimes she’d be cooking when I came home and invite me to partake, sometimes the roles would be reversed.  But that comment was one I took as a compliment – it made me feel wonderful that just by doing what I loved, I could inspire someone else.

Which leads me to my point (and I’ll be honest here – I wasn’t sure what my point WAS when I started this post!).  It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: doing what you love is not only good for you – it can make all those around you happier too:)


For the best story I’ve ever read on this very topic, read this post from Ken Robert’s blog:

On Pleasure

I spent three weeks alone in Europe in January of 2000.  Yes, I did a lot of tourist things – I climbed the Eiffel Tower, skied the Alps, toured the Vatican.  But do you know what the best part of the whole trip was?  The day I decided to take a day off from being a tourist.

I wandered into an English bookstore, purchased a book that I thought I’d enjoy, then found a spot in the sun in a piazza and read – for hours.  Every once in a while, I’d look out into the square and think “I’m in Florence, and here I am doing something I could very well do at home.”   But then I realized this was my trip, and I could do whatever I pleased.  Besides, though I could read for hours in the sun at home, I could not find a square as pretty as this one in which to do it.  (If you know of any great squares in the US like the ones in Europe, pass them on!)

This memory came back to me as I was re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat. Pray. Love. I rarely read the same book twice.  However, in an unusual turn of events, I picked this one up again.  I find it’s one of those books that, depending on where you are in your life, different cords may strike you at each reading.

Last night I fell in love with chapter 21 again.  For those of you that were under a rock when this book came out, the author decides to take a year to pursue pleasure in Italy, prayer in India, and the intersection of both in Indonesia by spending four months in each country.

In chapter 21, she’s in Italy and gets to the heart of what pleasure is – and tries to figure out why it’s so hard for us Americans to simply enjoy life.  She says we’re quite good at finding things to entertain us, but that’s different from finding things that bring us genuine pleasure.

So how did she do it?  She simply asked herself, “What would you enjoy doing today, Liz?  What would bring you pleasure right now?”  And that’s exactly what I did that day in Florence.

I think I’ve done it a lot more since that day, but certainly not as much as I could.  And it was good to be reminded last night of how much joy comes from something so simple as a day in the sun with a good book.

So think about it – what brings you pleasure?  Have you done it lately? If not, please do – for no other reason than “just because”.