The first step was to stop saying, “Stupid, stupid, STUPID, Beth. How could you be so STUPID?” to myself in the car on the way home from work. It didn’t matter, really, what I’d done during the day; I’d slide onto the cloth seats of my Pontiac in the late afternoon and berate myself, like clockwork, sure I’d done something unforgivably foolish or said something truly humiliating.
There was nothing special about the day I stopped. Nothing that triggered the change of heart, necessarily. Why do “ah ha” moments come when they do? Is it the inability to take more? Divine intervention? Some sort of profound evolutionary force that insists we improve? The little, unrelenting voice of my mother, who would never let someone else talk to me the way I talked to myself? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a combination. But for whatever reason, it occurred to me I had a choice about subjecting myself to verbal self-abuse. And I decided to stop.
That was the day I began to treat myself way I treat my friends. With kindness. With empathy. With grace. I mean, yes — also with the occasional “OK, you really need to knock that shit off, sister” — but always with compassion.
It’s been a process, friends. Not gonna lie. And it’s taken a very substantial amount of practice to move the needle from being a real a-hole to being someone I, by and large, like hanging out with. But I’m Doing the Work, which is what’s always required to be a Change Maker, and it’s Making a Difference, like all work does, eventually.
It occurred to me, however, that, while I have forward momentum on Using My Nice Words, I’ve continued to flagellate myself with the whip of of my schedule. It’s been very Mortification of the Flesh around here, moving relentlessly from activity to activity; a Forced March wherein I ignore my figuratively bleeding feet and torn muscles and press on, regardless of my feelings on the matter. And while I don’t regret much of it — I’m not super into regrets — it has come with a price, mostly to my body and my brain.
I’m exhausted a lot. Nearly all the time. And I’m better mentally than I was at this time last year, but like all humans who face chronic mental illness, I’m perpetually on the brink. Forever looking at the precipice. Always trying to keep my footing sure during the gorgeous, treacherous climb that is life. Putting safety measures in place, but also taking risks so I can summit. So I can bear witness to peaks and valleys. So I can participate in the fullness of the journey.
So it occurred to me recently, that, while I have forward momentum on Using My Nice Words, perhaps I could extend similar kindness to my physical self.
Perhaps I could allow myself rest. Not when I’m simply too tired to move. But because it’s kind to offer our weary friends respite. And it’s comforting to read a book on the couch in the middle of the day. Or to serve myself milk and warm cookies.
Perhaps I could feed myself good food. Not to lose weight or begin another regimen — though, again, I don’t regret the times I have — but because I enjoy the preparation of it, and it’s soothing to eat a meal made from scratch.
Perhaps I could treat myself like company. Paying attention to when my glass is empty and refilling it. Using the best towels. Putting something special on the table. Baking and making for no better reason than it brings me joy.
I made myself granola the other day — my favorite, basic, honey granola recipe (included below) that allows for endless additions and easy creativity — and I included nuts, even though my kids don’t like them, just because it sounded good to me.
Thus begins a week-long experiment. Not for my health. Not to “work on my diet.” Not for any reason other than that it sounds fun and delicious and requires me to slow down. For one week only, unless I change my mind, I’m going to eat only things I make from scratch. Nothing processed. Nothing prepackaged. But nothing else excluded, either; all basic ingredients allowed. Milk, butter, sugar, vanilla, oats, veggies, fruits, and more.
I can eat all the bread I want — as long as I make it. And cake and brownies, if I’m willing to put in the time. I can eat pasta from scratch and play with homemade yogurt and whip up omelettes with fresh, local tomatoes. I can eat corn on the cob and green beans, and I can try that Bobby Flay stir-fried kale recipe people seem to like even though it’s made out of kale.
I made meals from scratch all summer with Abby. She was home from college, and when that happens, we run a tiny business making meals for people so she can earn money for books. We call it Bite Me: Occasional Food because it makes us laugh. It’s one of several jobs she holds, and it gives us a way to play in the kitchen, spend time together, and feed our community, and the week we made cinnamon rolls, I remembered how much I love making dough. How zen it is to smell yeast at work. How viscerally pleasing it is to wash my hands in warm water and dry them on my plain, cotton towels, and dip them in a large block softened butter to smear on the dough I just rolled out. I remembered how soft flour and brown sugar feel and the sound of my ancient metal scraper slicing the rolls in rhythm. It made me… happy. And calm. And although my back ached eventually with the work, I could feel the same tension sliding from my mind. It made me wonder why I don’t make more often. Why baking and cooking and creating with food isn’t my yoga or my prayer.
So this week it will be.
I like Pringles and Oreos as much as the next girl. But it’s funny how I never choose them over home fries and eggs or my mom’s oatmeal cinnamon chocolate chip cookies. So I thought maybe, for this week only, I’d make sure the treats I like best are the treats actually available to me.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
EASY HOMEMADE GRANOLA
6 cups (540 grams) rolled oats
2/3 cup (160 ml) vegetable oil (I use canola)
1 cup (340 grams) honey
2 teaspoons (10 grams) salt (or 1 teaspoon… or zero… entirely your choice)
Optional Mix-Ins BEFORE Baking:
1 tablespoon (13 grams) vanilla (you can also use bourbon or rum… YUM!)
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cinnamon
1-3 cups (100-300 grams) nuts (I used 1 cup each almonds, walnuts, and pecans)
2 tablespoons (30 grams) seeds (I love pepitas, aka hulled pumpkin seeds, and flax)
1 cup (75 grams) coconut flakes
1-2 tablespoons (8-16 grams) grains like millet or wheat germ
2 tablespoons (16 grams) cocoa powder
Optional Mix-Ins AFTER Baking:
1-3 cups (150 grams) dried fruit
Directions: Combine ingredients and optional mix-ins (except dried fruit). Pour mixture onto a large, parchment paper or foil lined baking pan, and spread it evenly. Bake at 275F (135C) for 30 minutes. Stir (to avoid edges browning too much). Repeat, stirring every 30 minutes for a total of 2 hours. Stir a final time, turn off oven, and leave granola in the cooling oven for 2-3 hours. Remove from oven and finish cooling. Add dried fruit if desired. Break into pieces and store in an airtight bag or container.
Oh my gosh, do y’all know about Molina Vanilla??
You can order from Amazon this REAL VANILLA that TASTES AMAZING for a fraction of the cost of vanilla at the grocery store. Highly recommend!
Off to eat! More soon.