Friday, January 18, 2013

On Inspiration

Inspiration is a tricky little bastard.

When it finds me, it sticks on and hitches a ride like some errant burr. When I lose it, it disappears almost completely, like Aaron Burr. Heh. I didn't plan that one, folks. Plus ten points for spontaneity, minus ten for bad punnery.  Nothing gained, nothing lost.  Like my scale this week.

I have a hard time finding inspiration to take care of myself when I'm sick. The process of planning, of staying in motion, of mindfulness doesn't feel difficult when I'm in the groove. It feels nice, even. But when the fog of cold meds and sinus headaches creep in, the machinery I've put in place to help me find balance in my life seems to steer off-course all on its own. All I want is a warm blanket and a bowl of soup delivered to my door.

Luckily, this bug seems to be passing relatively quickly, so by yesterday I was able to assemble a week's worth of lunches in one go. Now, even if my symptoms get in my way, it won't be too hard to grab a healthy midday meal - my Super Jar.

I got the inspiration for this recipe from Trader Joe's ready-made Spinach Super Salad:

It is a very tasty combination of ingredients, and has a great balance of protein and carbs to fuel an afternoon swim or yoga sesson. It is also a little more processed/preserved/pricy than if I made my own version, so thus the Super Jar was born.

From bottom-to-top, this one has three tablespoons of carrot-ginger dressing (recipe from Self magazine, here), quinoa (1/4 cup dry, though it expands considerably after cooking) and 1/4 cup of edamame. It is crazy-tasty, especially with two cups of mixed greens and a handful of dried cranberries. If you want to go crazy, you could add some chickpeas, grated carrot and roasted pepitas like the Trader Joe's salad, but I'm enjoying this as-is.

Jar salads have been popping up all over the internet for the past year, and if you - like me - hadn't read the instructions before, you might think the jar's purpose is for shaking up a salad, like one of those McSalad Shakers that were so trendy ten (twelve? fifteen? Eek, I'm old) years ago. But no, in fact, the purpose of the salad jar is to do the exact opposite - to keep your salad elements separate, so that they stay fresh longer.  The joy of salad jars, for me, is that I can make five days of salad and they'll still be tasty on the fifth day.

There are plenty of guides to jar salad preparation, so you can check out the specifics at those links, and I'll just cover a quick list of tips I've found helpful.
  • I stack mine from bottom-to-top, dressing/heavy grain or beans/heartiest veggie/less hearty veggie/most likely to wilt.  
  • I tend not to include the greens on top - I just plop them in the bottom of the bowl before I dump the salad out.
  • I don't mix the veggies, I only put them in layers so that they can stay as crisp as possible.
  • Nuts and dried fruit should be added in the bowl, not in the jar. I feel the same way about animal protein, but others disagree.
  • The mason jars I use are super-portable and easily storable in the refrigerator, without the troubling effects of BPA in plastic. 
Here's a shot of me dumping my Super Jar into my lunch bowl today:

You'll notice that I'm at the table. It's our new thing in the household. Tom and I gifted each other with new dining chairs for Christmas, and now that they've arrived and we've assembled them, we've committed to eating each meal at the table instead of in front of the TV, as was our habit. It's a way to be more mindful about our meal and help us feel more sated. It's important, as studies have shown that multitasking while eating may be bad for our health. So table-dining it is... and we get to enjoy our new chairs and my recently-started collection vintage tablecloth collection. (My first non-Christmas acquisition, this sunny yellow number with strawberries, is currently on display.)

While I'm taking care of myself, inspiration seems to come more easily. I feel inspired to try new recipes. I feel inspired to stay accountable. I feel especially inspired to write.

At the beginning of the year, Tom and I laid out our writing goals and created a general schedule for 2013. It's jam-packed, but the more we write, the more we... write. It has a snowball effect on us. We have a main project and a supporting project for each month of the year.  Currently, our main project is the mini-musical we're working on with our composer friend Joe, and our supporting project is preparing our horror script to take the main slot next month.

I'm glad that even when I was feeling too sick to string two words together, I was at least inspired to look for visual inspiration for the horror (which is all outlined, and ready to go.)  This week, I worked on a collage of that inspiration, and hoo boy, did it creep me out to assemble it. (You can click it for a larger version.)

 It was fun, though, and really whet my appetite to write the script. I like how creativity whets my appetite more often than food does these days.

May you find inspiration for your own creativity, and for taking care of yourself!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Negative Space

On Wednesday, following a productive morning, an afternoon meeting and a therapy appointment, I took a side trip on my way home to one of the nicer furniture stores I've visited, H. D. Buttercup in Culver City.  It reminded me of a less immense and overwhelming ABC Home (which is a mecca of design in New York City. If you like nesting - particularly window-shop nesting, because it's very expensive - and you haven't been to ABC, you should go.)

Buttercup was advertising a big sale, and since we're in the market (or, rather, just outside the market) for a new couch to replace our dying IKEA Flüptorküglir (or whatever it's really called) I thought I'd check out what they had to offer.

Tom and I are in the process of changing our downstairs neutral shade from brown to gray, so I fell for several of their excellent couches, including this little beauty:

It, as well as everything else they stock, is clearly a well-made investment piece. The sale knocked a hefty chunk off the top, but it was still out of our price range for the moment. As freelancers, we never like to spend much money until the replacements for our current gigs are in place, and even then we tend toward saving over spending.

I knew that we couldn't swing a couch. I pretty much knew it going in. But while texting with Tom, I realized how much I wanted one. My grown-up budgeteer has a louder voice than my childish id, so I left the store couchless, but nevertheless feeling bummed.

Let me paint you a picture. It's 6:30 PM, and I'm an hour from home and I'm about to drive through evening traffic past every fast food joint known to Southern California. I'm hungry from three days of unknowingly logging this week's lentil stew lunch incorrectly. (Someone else had entered the Smitten Kitchen recipe - so delicious, by the way - as four servings, and I had divided it into six meals.) And I'm aching.  Not physically, mind you - not that the previous night's wonderful Curvy Yoga class hadn't worked my body every which way. I'm aching mentally. I'm yearning. 

This, friends, is a perfect storm for throwing me off-course.

But before I took off in the car, I sat on one of those beautiful not-mine couches, and worked on being mindful. I am, as you can probably tell by the very existence of a blog entry, working hard on being mindful.

I sat and considered my situation. I'd like a couch. I don't need a couch to survive. I'm hungry. But I have homemade pumpkin chili awaiting me at home. I don't need to stop and eat some unhealthy "food-like substances," as Michael Pollen calls them, to comfort me because I don't have a couch.

I wondered why the lack of a couch would even relate to food. And then I thought about the concept of "filling a hole." The idea is - figuratively - that everyone has a hole in their heart.

And people try and try and try to fill that hole, with any number of things, healthy or unhealthy. With another person. With spirituality. With the internet. With exercise. With alcohol. With drugs. With sex. With shopping. With gambling. With couches. With food.

But the truth is, no matter what you try to put in that hole, it doesn't ever fully fill. It's just there. What is it? Is it yearning? Passion? Self-esteem? Need?  Perhaps each of us has a different cocktail that makes up our particular negative space. And certainly, that gaping spot in each of us can seem negative, can lead us to negative actions and consequences.

"Negative space," however, is an interesting concept. In design, negative space is a good thing. Refreshing to the eye. If something is too busy, it isn't pleasant when you look at it. Negative space is, in fact, a positive.

Perhaps if we look at the negative space in our hearts that way, we can see the good that can come from yearning. We can take positive action, reap better consequences.  My negative space tells me, when I give it a good hard look, that I want to live better. And to live better, I need to take better care. So I'm working on it, every day.

I hope you'll work on taking care of you, too. 'Til next Friday, my friends.