Watch Yourself

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

While the following is not technically a Zen story, it is said to have been told by the Buddha himself. Its message of self-care is one that will resonate, especially with women.

There was once a pair of acrobats. The teacher was a poor widower and the student was a young girl by the name of Meda. These acrobats performed each day on the streets in order to earn enough to eat.

Their act consisted of the teacher balancing a tall bamboo pole on his head while the little girl climbed slowly to the top. Once to the top, she remained there while the teacher walked along the ground.

Both performers had to maintain complete focus and balance in order to prevent any injury from occurring and to complete the performance. One day, the teacher said to the pupil:

‘Listen Meda, I will watch you and you watch me, so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance and prevent an accident. Then we’ll surely earn enough to eat.’

But the little girl was wise. She answered, ‘Dear Master, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourself. To look after oneself means to look after both of us. That way I am sure we will avoid any accidents and earn enough to eat.’


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In Praise of Napping

Today is National Napping Day, a day created by Camille and Dr. William Anthony in 1999 to spotlight the healthy benefits of catching up on quality sleep. Dr. Anthony noted: “We chose this particular Monday because Americans (and Canadians) are more ‘nap-ready’ than usual after losing an hour of sleep to daylight saving time.”

The benefits of napping are many, among them improvements in mental health and working memory (the ability to focus on one task while retaining others in memory) and reduction of coronary mortality. In a recent Greek study, researchers discovered that participants taking daily naps had a 37% less chance of contracting a fatal heart condition.

There is, however, one major disadvantage to napping: A nap is not a permanent solution to reaching daily sleep quotas. Sleep specialist Dr. David Dinges notes: “Naps cannot replace adequate recovery sleep over many days.”

Also, long naps (more than 30 minutes) can result in sleep inertia. As these nappers awaken from deep periods of sleep, they can experience grogginess and disorientation. While these feelings will dissipate within thirty minutes, they can affect performance in high-level tasks.

Afraid of being labeled lazy and slothful, some nappers downplay or conceal this daily practice. Non-nappers hesitate to start the practice, fearing they will develop some form of sleep inertia.

Wherever you are on this continuum, take a few minutes and read about ten high-powered historical figures who celebrated their napping and resulting productivity.

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston regarded a nap between lunch and dinner as essential for maintaining the kind of clear thinking he employed during World War II. In The Gathering Storm, he wrote: “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge took what can be considered one of the most famous naps in English literature. After waking up from a three-hour nap, he stumbled to his desk and penned the poem, “Kubla Khan.” He believed in seizing the thread of a dream immediately upon awakening and then taking action.

Leonardo Da Vinci

While painting the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci slept only hours each night and took 15-minute naps every four hours. He criticized people who slept long hours each evening, commenting that there’s plenty of time to sleep when we die.

Salvador Dali

The founder of the micro-nap or what he called “slumber with a key,” Catalan artist Salvador Dali napped to stimulate his creativity. He started by sitting upright in an armchair, holding a heavy metal key in his hand. He then placed a metal plate upside down underneath the hand holding the key. Once that was in place, he allowed himself to fall asleep. Once that happened, he dropped the key which hit the plate and made a loud noise. All of this occurred within one-quarter of a second, enough time to revive his physical and psychic being.

Thomas Edison

All that Edison could manage was three to four hours of sleep each night. To compensate and inspire creativity, he power napped throughout the day, adopting a variation of Salvador Dali’s method. Edison held a handful of ball bearings that would clatter to the floor and wake him.

Albert Einstein

Einstein claimed that he needed 10 hours of sleep each night and frequent naps throughout the day. Like Salvador Dali, he practiced micro-napping; each nap lasted only seconds and was designed to boost creativity.

John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy enjoyed a one- to two-hour nap each afternoon. Blinds were drawn, and no interruptions were allowed; his staff had strict orders not to disturb him for any reason.

Napoleon

While Napoleon could go for days without lying down for a full night’s sleep, he had the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Right before battle, he would sleep like a baby, oblivious to approaching cannons. After the battle was over, he would sleep for eighteen hours.

Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most influential First Ladies in U.S. history, Mrs. Roosevelt sat on committees and gave speeches. Before each speech or public talk, she would sneak in a nap to refresh her mind and body.

Margaret Thatcher

During her tenure as Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher slept four to five hours each night and had a scheduled one-hour nap each afternoon. No one dared disturb her during that time.

Happy National Napping Day!


Warming Up to Watercress Soup

Diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2006, I make every effort to incorporate thyroid-nourishing foods into my diet.

While I enjoy or can tolerate eating most of the iodine-rich foods, I struggle with watercress. Its pungency doesn't sit well with my fussy taste buds.

While stocking up on spinach and parsley last week, I noticed the watercress. On a whim, I picked up one of the bunches and some sweet potatoes. I experimented and came up with the following recipe.


Ingredients

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons of butter
2 sweet potatoes, chopped
4 cups of chicken/vegetable stock
1.5 cups of watercress
1/4 cup of parsley
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Hemp hearts (optional)

Directions

1. Heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until soft.

2. Add the sweet potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

3. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

4. Add the watercress and parsley. Stir and let the mixture simmer for about one minute or until the greens have wilted.

5. Remove from heat and purée the soup in batches using a hand or immersion blender.

6. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper (to taste).

7. Sprinkle hemp hearts into the individual bowls.

Makes 4 servings, about one cup each.

Buon appetito!


Enjoying Sweet & Savory Asparagus Soup

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that asparagus possessed medicinal qualities, curing everything from toothaches to rheumatism.

While none of these claims have been proven, asparagus contains many essential nutrients, among them potassium, folate, and Vitamins B6 and C.

Last week, I decided to create an asparagus soup that would satisfy my sweet and savory taste buds.


Ingredients

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of asparagus, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 sweet potato, chopped
3 cups of chicken/vegetable broth
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Hemp hearts (optional)

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery until the onions are translucent.

2. Add the asparagus , sweet potato, and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

3. Simmer for about fifteen minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

4. Purée the soup in batches using a hand or immersion blender.

5. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper (to taste).

6. Sprinkle hemp hearts into the individual bowls.

Makes 4 servings, about one cup each.

Buon appetito!


Adding a Touch of Gold to Celery Soup

During chemotherapy, I found myself unable to tolerate a host of foods, among them coffee, meat, fish, cheese, tomatoes, onions, garlic, salad dressings, citrus fruits, and all cooked vegetables.

So, what could I eat?

Plain Eggo waffles without syrup, roasted chicken, white bread, some luncheon meats, white rice, apples, pears, carrots, and celery.

I was especially fond of celery, a preference that has remained in life abc (after breast cancer). I love munching on the stalks and tossing them into casseroles, stuffings, and soups. Almost every soup I make has at least one celery rib.

Last week, I decided to make celery the primary vegetable. While researching celery soups, I discovered that most of them included potatoes or cauliflower. The final results appeared a bit too pale and unappetizing for my taste. I experimented and came up with this golden alternative.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups of fresh celery, chopped
2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup of baby carrots, chopped
Handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped (include stems)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Hemp hearts (optional)

Directions

1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft.

2. Add garlic cloves and cook for a minute before adding celery, stock, carrots, water, and parsley. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

3. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the celery and carrots are soft enough to be puréed.

4. Purée the soup in the pot using an immersion blender. Or remove the soup from the pot and purée in a blender.

5. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper (to taste).

6. Sprinkle hemp hearts into each individual bowl.

Makes 4 servings, about one cup each.

Buon appetito!


Warming Up with Broccoli Soup

A piping hot bowl of soup is my favorite way to incorporate vegetables into my diet. I especially like puréed, low-starch vegetable soups that are quick and easy-to prepare.

Puréed broccoli soup is at the top of my list.

Considered one of the most nutritious vegetables–and often described as a superfood–broccoli is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

This daily bowl of comfort helped me survive (and somewhat thrive) during this past week of frigid temperatures, record snowfalls, and dangerously low windchill factors in Southern Ontario.

On Wednesday, I thought we’d reach a windchill of -40 degrees Celsius. At that point Celsius and Fahrenheit meet…something my well-honed left brain finds fascinating. But only in theory!!

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped (include stems)
4 cups of chopped broccoli (florets and stems)
2 cups of chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 cup water
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Hemp hearts (optional)

Directions

1. Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft.

2. Add garlic and celery. Cook until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.

3. Add parsley and stir for about ten seconds.

4. Add broccoli, broth, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Let the soup simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Test to see that the vegetables are tender.

5. Transfer the soup (in batches) to a blender and purée until smooth. Or you can use an immersion blender.

6. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

7. Optional: Sprinkle hemp hearts into individual bowls.

Makes 4 servings, about one cup each.

Buon appetito!


It’s #BellLetsTalk Day!

In September 2010, Bell Let’s Talk was launched to begin a new conversation about Canada’s mental health. Millions of Canadians, including celebrities, have engaged in open discussions about mental illness, offering new ideas and hope for those who struggle.

Institutions and organizations throughout the country have received new funding for access, care and research from Bell’s Let Talk and from governments and corporations that have joined the cause.

Bell Canada’s total donation to mental health programs now stands at $93,423,628.80, and they are well on their way to donating at least $100 million. Today, Bell Canada will contribute 5¢ for every applicable text, call, tweet, and social media video view.

Remember to use #BellLetsTalk in your online communication.