Posted by: susanideus | April 21, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

Accept the pain, cherish the joys, resolve the regrets; then can come the best of benedictions: ‘If I had my life to live over, I’d do it all the same.’  ~Joan McIntosh

A good friend asked me how I was doing on working my way out of the “funk” I wrote about in my last post. Slowly, my friend, but with more hope than I’ve had in a while.

I don’t know that I’ve come to a point of total acceptance about all that’s happened recently. In that most of it is in the past and cannot be changed, there is a sort of acceptance that is inevitable, right? Maybe it’s more the regret that needs to be addressed.

I’ve long believed that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t always know the reason. Despite my belief, it’s a difficult concept for a recovering control freak like myself. I always want the whys AND the solutions. I’m a fixer.

Still, I am getting to the place where I know that holding on to the past, keeping a tight hold on regrets, and trying to maintain absolute control have not worked and that said practices are not healthy. It’s a process but I’m learning.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us. ~Joseph Campbell

I don’t know what lies ahead. I do know that my whole life up until now has brought me to this place. Each twist and turn, each joy and heartache, each dream and yes, each failure–all are threads that make up the tapestry of my life. It won’t look like anyone else’s tapestry. It may not look like anything I envisioned long ago. Still, it is mine and it’s unique, as am I.

Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakably tender hand, placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred others. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

I have good friends and loving family who go with me on this journey we call life and a God who has “an unspeakably tender hand”. Not a bad place to start out from. I know, despite everything, that I am blessed.

Posted by: susanideus | April 17, 2011

Ban the Funk!

For some time now, I’ve been in a writing funk. No inspiration, no enthusiasm, no words put down on paper. Writer’s block? Perhaps, but the funk seemed to spill over into other areas too. Depression? Maybe, but I’ve dealt with that before and it didn’t quite feel the same. The “fibro fog” that goes along with my chronic fibromyalgia? Might be part of it, and yet… No label or self-diagnosis seemed to fit. Until now.

I have been living in the grip of fear, in fact, paralyzed by it. Not the acute terror of imminent danger or death, but nonetheless fear.

Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future. ~Fulton Oursler

The past few years have been tough ones, personally in terms of illness, financial woes, unemployment and so on–and the world at large has been in constant throes of wars and natural disasters.

I’ve never been fond of change and these years have really packed a wallop. So much has turned out differently than I had envisioned. Plans went awry. Some dreams were never realized; some may be gone for good.

Serious back surgery that left me with a still lingering muscular problem and resulting weeks of unpaid leave from work.  Followed not too much later by my husband’s unforseen extended unemployment. Finances crashed. Savings gone. My car repossessed. Nothing that could have been planned; nothing that, in the end, we could have prevented. Certainly nothing we would ever have imagined or dreamed would transpire in our life. Sometimes stuff  just happens. Month after month of stress and worry. Something needed to change.

It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear . . . . It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.  ~Marilyn Ferguson

We made the decision to move back to New Mexico, something I’d wanted for a long time. We visited first, and hubby found a job we thought would be ideal. So good, in fact, that the decision was made for me to retire and go on Social Security. We moved in early June and life seemed good.

Scarcely three months passed when the job went sour. The ownership decided to sell the property in the next year or so, and their priorities changed. Minimum hours except for hubby on salary, no budget to work with, no support from management. Worse, the health insurance we’d counted on turned out to be prohibitively expensive with the changes in the workplace causing changes in coverage. So, for the first time in the 40 plus years we’ve been married, we are uninsured. Truly troubling.

Friends and family members have experienced some truly trying times. Illnesses, deaths, hard times that I know are all a part of living, but some days it just seems like so much to take in, doesn’t it?

I’m also exposed to a lot more news since I no longer work outside my home. Very rarely is the news good–or at least what is reported is not. From shootings to catastrophic storms to wars to earthquakes. I am concerned about what happens in the world and I do care what happens to my fellow humans, but the coverage has been so intense. It has affected me more than I realized.

So much change so quickly. So many plans and dreams wrecked on the shore of reality. I think I finally shut down. I felt defeated and worn down, searching in vain for the lessons life was trying to teach. I began to feel like a victim, a failure, a fraud.

Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.  ~ Unknown

So what to do? I can’t stop change, nor would I really want to. To not change is to not live.

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself.  ~Soren Kierkegaard

Funks are not fun, nor are they funny. I’ve been so stunned by all that’s gone on in my life lately that I found myself unwilling to do anything that involves a risk. So, I ask myself, what in life that is worth doing does not involve risk? Hmmmm……

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. ~Leo F. Buscaglia

I knew I had to make a conscious decision about whether I was going to stay in the funk or venture back out into life. I’ve mentioned that I seem to be experiencing life in sepia tones, devoid of color and just flat. There’s just too much to see in life for that to continue. I’m tired of monotones! I long for color and contrast and definition. I want to once again see beauty and to be grateful for the good and the wondrous there is all around me. Gratitude seems to have drained from my daily life as well. The desert around me is coming to life and I must as well.

Wait, I’m still in the same circumstances and the same crazy world. What makes me think I can make things different? Two of my favorite quotes point me in the right direction:

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.  ~ Maya Angelou
Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength. ~Corrie Ten Boom

Perhaps it is that simple. Change the way I think. I’m the only one who has control over the way I respond to what happens to me. If I have allowed the circumstances of my present to steal away all my joy, the very color from my world, all of my gratitude and my contentment, then I must find a way to regain all of that. I feel like I’m fighting for my existence. Maybe I am. Since change comes hard for me, small steps to start…

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Consciously look for sources of joy and color and pleasure and peace and contentment–all of the things I’ve been missing. Shift my focus outward and bring a smile and small joys to others. (Maybe I’ve been indulging in self-pity as much as experiencing a funk. Hmmm…) Turn off the TV news! Begin once again to practice gratitude daily. It’s easy enough to say “I’m grateful I wasn’t in the tsunami” or “I’m grateful I don’t have the problems of…”, but that’s not it at all. I want to be truly grateful for my life and what’s in it, not in comparison to someone else’s circumstances. I need to be here and now, aware and awake.

The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heart-felt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling.  ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

So it’s forward from here! Ban the funk! Back to living! Maybe along the way, if I’m observant and open, I’ll learn some lessons from all of this–the trials and travails, the craziness in the world, the funk itself, and the fight to get back. Oh yes, and I’ll keep writing.

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Posted by: susanideus | February 4, 2011

Canine Musings

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.  ~Roger Caras

Meet Sir Ryan MacDuff of Alvin, our resident Cairn Terror–uh, terrier. For some time now, I’ve meant to post this picture of my dog, Duffy, doing his best to thwart my writing efforts. (Not that he is the sole reason for my lack of posts recently.) Ever since I got this new little laptop, he revels in  plopping himself right on the keyboard. Several problems. He’s a horrid typist and even if he were not, I’ve yet to teach him to communicate in people speak, He does have quite an expressive language of his own, which while amusing, is something I’m utterly sure is best that I not understand literally.

Now I’m quite certain the little guy can read my thoughts. He is attuned to every mood, every nuance of my voice and knows instinctively how I feel. If I’m having a good day, he’s playful and often wants to take me for a walk. When I’m feeling poorly, he’s content to stay on the bed with me and can go the entire day without asking to go outside. Further, if he know I’m sick, he doesn’t leave my side. He most often is found curled up next to me–hip to hip is his preferred location. Or, if I’m in my recliner, curled up on the arm of the chair. Of course, if I’m otherwise occupied and he’s on his own, he has been been known to sneak to his forbidden place–my pillows! And of course, he gives me the sweetest, most innocent look when I find him there.

Dogs seem to have a way of keeping us honest too. On days when he “knows” I’m feeling OK, but still prefer to lounge in my chair, he calls me on it. It’s then I get THE LOOK–that haughty stare that demands attention and/or action.  Or when I get just a tad bit too absorbed in a book…

Hey, it’s me, your bestest friend here, and I need some of your time–a walk, a treat, a belly rub. Yo, look at me! Ignore me at your own peril!

He’s been known to nudge a book out of my hands. He’ll crawl right up on my chest and look directly into my eyes, daring me to disregard him, but always rewards me with a flurry of soft doggy kisses when I comply with his wishes.

No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich. ~Louis Sabin

My days, my life, have become fuller because of this little furry creature. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. He’s given me so much more than I can ever give him in return, but it doesn’t bother him at all. He’s always ecstatic when I return after even a short absence, making even a dull day brighter. He is the epitome of love enacted. I am blessed that he shares himself with me.

Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of ther universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. ~Roger Caras

Posted by: susanideus | January 9, 2011

Speaking in Purple

When someone asks me why I’m wearing a purple ribbon, I’ll tell them that red and blue make purple and that women united can make a difference against viciousness. ~Mary Sojourner

This is a plea to all my sisters out there in cyberspace. Buy some purple ribbon as soon as possible.

I just read an article by poet and Tucson resident Mary Sojourner that touched me to my core.It spoke sense and calm to a troubled soul.

Ever since yesterday, I’ve been distraught and distracted by the senseless shooting in Tucson in which 6 persons were killed and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was among those 14 others gravely injured. It shook me profoundly that these random acts of violence are becoming more commonplace and they are looked upon by the perpetrators as a justifiable way to call attention to a cause, as a way to right a wrong, real or imagined. Earlier this week, several persons were injured by mail bombs in Maryland. What, a letter listing grievances isn’t sufficient? Guess not.

That’s the point. The rhetoric has become so contentious and vicious that it is commonplace. The extreme has become the mundane. If someone shouts long enough and loud enough, they will be tuned out. Or worse, they will encourage others to shout with them. Shouting to be heard, shoving to get a place at the table–what is accomplished?

We’re not listening. We’re divided by opinion. Opinions on issues that were NEVER meant to be partisan. Does the child of a Republican deserve less to have health insurance than the child of a Democrat? Does a soldier from a red state deserve more support than one from a blue state? Do we ask the political bent of a homeless person before we help them? Preposterous, right? Some issues are human issues, quality of life issues, decency issues.

I’m not really trying to be simplistic here, but the last time I looked, we are all human beings, regardless of political party, belief system, religious philosophy, economic status, or sexual orientation. Of all of the animals on the planet, the human race is the one uniquely equipped with verbal communication.

Verbal, folks, as in talking. What has happened to reasonable discourse, polite conversation, and above all, listening and consideration of that heard?

I worry sometimes that we communicate so much by means other than face-to-face that we have lost the ability to discern intent and mood and innuendo. Cyber-speak can include emoticons but rarely are they used when it counts. It’s difficult sometimes to discern whether a Facebook post or a Tweet is merely sarcastic or deadly serious. And when something “goes viral”, do we always check the source and veracity before we further spread the word? Instant communication can be mesmerizing, can it not?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m online a lot. I love the positive aspects of Facebook–finding old friends, keeping up with the people in my life, and sharing ideas and thoughts I’m drawn to. Rarely is anything totally bad. But like all that is worthy of attention, sometimes moderation and just plain common sense are called for.

I know we’re all looking for answers in this crazy world. It’s been tough going for some years now and we don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel. We have legitimate concerns. There are many decent people out there trying to effect change–and there are also charlatans and charismatic figures and extremists making all kinds of promises and pledges that seem too good to be true. Both have followers and fellow believers. It’s hard to know what to believe when you’re desperate or jobless or discouraged or hungry or broke. But nothing will be solved or fixed or made better as long as the viciousness and name-calling and hate crimes continue. We’ll all end up cowering in corners or lashing out in the most horrible unspeakable ways. It has to stop. We have to stop it.

So, here’s the thing. Sojourner suggests we blend the reds and the blues into purple. We stop thinking in red and blue and we think in terms of humanity. That’s not so hard a concept, is it? To tone down the rhetoric and to begin to listen without the party and political filters in place–and to remember that the person across the aisle (or down the street) is as uniquely human as each of us is.

She wants us, sisters, to wear a purple ribbon, and to share purple ribbons with others. To share our commitment to measured, calm, sensible, studied communication. To listening. To hearing what is said. To working together as fellow human travellers on this troubled earth.

As is often the case, this may seem like a solitary endeavor. But what if we touch each touch just one other person, what if we change one mind, or at the very least, cause one person to really think about what is going on?

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow. ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

Sojourner further suggested that we can use the same cyber system of communication to spread the word about purple. We can do this, sisters. Wear purple. Share purple. Think purple!

It is time again for women to take a lead and it is the same cyber-connections that can be put to vicious use that can spread the message. ~Mary Sojourner
(Purple ribbon image from: )
Posted by: susanideus | November 12, 2010

Veterans’ Day 2010–Lest We Forget

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.  ~Elmer Davis

Earlier today, I published a post celebrating my daughter’s birthday. She’s always proudly shared her birthday, however, with an important holiday–Veterans’ Day, so named in a bill signed by President Eisenhower in 1954. It is celebrated on the date that marked the end of World War I.  In Canada, England and other Commonwealth countries, it’s known as Remembrance Day. By any name, it is a time to stop and ponder on the sacrifices, the courage and the service of veterans everywhere. It is a day to honor the memory of those who have passed on and to honor the commitment of those who serve still. Regardless of the war, police action or skirmish in which they served/are serving, these soldiers command our esteem and our gratitude–whether we agree with the politics or not. Never again should a soldier come home to America to be reviled and spat upon as was my husband and many other Vietnam era vets. Those brave boys did not start the war, nor did many of them even endorse it, but they did their duty. They, and all others, who serve their country deserve honor and respect. Theirs is a debt which can never ever be repaid.

Never has there been a good war or a bad peace. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Three of the most influential men in my life have served in the military–my father, my husband and my father-in-law. To say I am proud of them is not enough by half. I have brothers-in-law and cousins who served, uncles and friends as well. I know young men today just as committed and brave. God bless them–heroes all. (From left to right: Calvin Daniel Myers, Harold Warren Ideus, Warren Lewis Ideus.)

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

On this day, veterans and soldiers are honored in special ceremonies, parades, speeches and the like. But their service and their sacrifice go on always. Let’s never forget that. Keep all those in harm’s way in your prayers–as well as their families and loved ones, who share the burden of sacrifice. For those that have passed on, keep their memories and stories alive so that we never ever forget.

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.  ~José Narosky
Freedom is never free.  ~Author Unknown

(Many thanks to my daughter Becca for the scanned images of our family heroes.)

Posted by: susanideus | November 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Johanna!

Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.  (Elizabeth Stone)

Today is my younger daughter’s birthday–and I received the best gift of all–thirty years of Johanna LaNell Ideus blessing my life! What a genuine pleasure and privilege to watch her grow and mature into the lovely young woman she is today.

Johanna was such a sunny funny little girl. When she learned to laugh, we–her dad and sister and I–would just stand there and listen with glee to that baby belly laugh that was absolutely contagious. And she laughed a lot! Of course, she didn’t talk. I despaired that she ever would. She had a big sister that understood every sound, every uttering that came out of her mouth. Becca was able to get her whatever she “asked” for, so I guess she didn’t feel the need to actually talk. Of course, there also came a day when we thought she’d never stop talking–hehehehehehe!

Johanna came into our lives as an absolutely delightful total surprise, several years after I’d been told by doctors that there would be no more babies. Her big sister was delighted–at least at first. She was never really jealous, but she did get downright irritated sometimes. Like the time Jo came down with chicken pox at about eighteen months, a very light case with maybe 2 or 3 spots, but she gifted big sis with a whopper of a case–head to toe, even in her little ears. That was probably the first time Becca vocalized her despair at having a little sister. Then there was the pest factor. When you’re turning into a teen and have a 5-year old sister that follows you everywhere, well, enough said, right? Both being strong-minded young girls, there were arguments and discussions and fights and arguments…but let an outsider try to impugn one or the other, and they were a solid unit, standing against the world. Deep down, I knew they’d be OK, but believe me when I say there were many days in those middle years when I wondered if they’d ever really be friends. But friends they are–best friends! They are inseparable, even when they are miles apart. I love seeing them together and hearing them together, and I love sharing in their fun. They take me to a lighter side of life and keep me young! Theirs is a beautiful relationship.

Johanna is a good friend. It’s one of the qualities I admire so much in her. She’s loving and caring and generous, she sees the best in people–and inspires the same in others. I’m so proud of all she’s attempted and accomplished in her life, and I know that she will continue to achieve and grow. It’s a privilege to be a part of her life.
Whether we’re cooking together, shopping, driving across Texas on an all-night road trip, discussing a new book, or just relaxing together watching a chick flick, she brings me great joy. I have only to close my eyes and see that giggling happy baby–thanks for the memories Jo!


Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother.  A child is a child.  They get bigger, older, but grown?  What’s that suppose to mean?  In my heart it don’t mean a thing.  ~Toni Morrison, Beloved, 1987


Posted by: susanideus | November 9, 2010

You Need to See This

A special friend of mine, Linda Hoye, has a wonderful new blog/website. Such a talented lady, she has combined her 2 blogs and her writer’s website into one dynamite place. She’s calling it A Slice of Lifewriting. It’s beautifully done and clever and always relevant. You’ll find fond family reminiscences, great storytelling, memoir snippets, encouraging adoption news and so much more. Please go by and visit–and leave a comment for Linda. You’ll be so glad you did!

Best wishes, my friend!

Posted by: susanideus | November 2, 2010

My Heart Hurts

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace, and a soul generated by love.  ~Coretta Scott King

So much talk of bullying. Too many stories of suicide. Taunting, teasing, tearing down. Where does it all come from? Babies don’t come into the world as bullies. It makes me sad and my heart hurts. I have been bullied. Have you?

Is bullying learned through modeling? Probably. Just as abused kids become abusers… Is bullying a response to the way a child is treated? Probably. If a child is made to feel less than, that child may act out in order to feel validated.

From an  anti-bullying site for kids comes this definition:  “bullying is used to describe many different types of behavior ranging from teasing or deliberately leaving an individual out of a social gathering or ignoring them, to serious assaults and abuse.” Being ignored is serious when all you want to do is to fit in and have friends. Teasing, carried to the extreme, as we’ve seen, can have deadly results, as much so as physical abuse.

Look around. Just watch the political commercials. Is there a better example of bully tactics? Have you seen any political debates? Talk about incivility. Where do our youth see good manners modeled? Certainly we do so in our homes, but it’s a big world out there. There are parents displaying bumper stickers touting “My child can beat up your honor student.” With “affirmations” like that from adults, what’s a kid to think?

Anyone is fair game. There’s a great deal of news lately about gender bias, and it’s quite serious. No one should be persecuted for their sexual orientation. But it doesn’t stop there. People are bullied because of their race, their age, their weight, if they are too smart, if they wear glasses,  if they are intellectually challenged, if they wear old tattered clothing, if they are deaf or blind, if they are too short, if they belong to the “wrong” clique or club. The list is endless.

I personally know people who believe that overweight persons and those of color and certain ethnic backgrounds truly possess lower IQ’s. And I do mean believe it, not just tell socially incorrect jokes about it. These ill-informed folks are not confined to one part of the country or to any one social class; they seem to be everywhere. What in the world has happened to common sense, not to mention common courtesies?

This political season has been a travesty. Free speech issues aside. Nothing positive about the ads. It’s tear down, mislead, exaggerate, and make very few positive statements about goals. No one wants to concentrate on their aims and objectives; they’re too busy denigrating their opponents. Can young people watching this in prime time–really any time–come to any conclusion other than “anything goes” if one wants to be elected, to lead, to guide the destinies of others? Do they learn this is the way to make it to the top, to be important? And these are our country’s decision makers, the ones who have power? Such examples! Ack! (I have to wonder how many people are voting because they actually believe some of these ads and admire their standards. We are in such trouble, politically and ethically. What has happened to values? But I digress…a bit.)

Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. And, without comparison,concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning.  ~Brené Brown

Back to bullying. Why bully if one feels good about oneself? Probably wouldn’t happen. So many people want to be what/who they aren’t because they don’t feel confident in being themselves. They compare themselves to others and come up lacking. Bombarded with ads full of rich, thin, successful, way-too-perfect models, it’s no wonder. This is true especially for young people who have no one in their lives to tell them that they are OK, that they are enough, just the way they are. They have no affirmation, so they try to make themselves feel important and powerful–and bullying happens. I’m sure that’s an over-simplification, but I know in my heart that this is the root of it all. Kids aren’t born mean, but neither are they born self-confident. It’s learned behavior, seen modeled in others.

To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are. ~Unknown

What can we do? We can offer affirmation to a world in need. Human beings are unique and wonderful creations born with so much potential. Tell people you appreciate them for their uniqueness, for the traits that make them so. If you have children, grandchildren, god-children, nieces and nephews, special children in your life, tell them over and over again how special and unconditionally loved they are–how matchless and perfect they are, just as they are. Let them know they need not try to be anyone else, that they have no reason to compare themselves to anyone else. They are enough in themselves.

The kindest word in the world is the unkind word, unsaid. ~Source unknown

Second, model civility and courtesy and decency. Not always easy but oh so important if this is a value we want to pass along. On good days, this can be a challenge. On bad days, it’s a necessity. The Golden Rule is not out of date. “Do unto others…” should be a daily practice. If we can make one person’s day better with a smile or a kind word, we have helped change the dynamic of the day.

People gain so much hope when they know they are not experiencing something alone.  ~Joyce Rupp

Next, we must care–be there, be available, create a safe haven, be a good listener. If a child, or anyone who is abused in any way, can come to you with their fears as well as their joys, and know they will be taken seriously, it can be a huge help. No one should have to carry the burden of abuse or bullying on their own. If the situation warrants, find help, report it to someone in authority, be an advocate. Do the right thing. Epidemics can be stopped only with action. Indifference can kill–literally. We have to care.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  ~Elie Wiesel
Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.  ~J.K. Rowling

Lastly, we must not grow discouraged in the face of indifference or in the huge scope of the problem. One by one, we make a difference.  What we do, however insignificant it may seem to us, may impact another life. Lives are precious!

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily difference we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. ~Marion Wright Edelman
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo F. Buscaglia
Posted by: susanideus | October 13, 2010

Failure or Opportunity?

This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook — try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun! ~Julia Child

In my last post, I mentioned what I’d learned along the way on my cooking journey, but I realized I’d forgotten something very important.

To create some spectacularly successful dishes, you have to be willing to experience some not so spectacular failures. That was a very hard lesson for a recovering perfectionist like me. If you want to experiment and be creative, making substitutions, there is always the possibility that the trial will not turn out as expected.

Once I made a batch of banana muffins without adding the sugar–a fact I didn’t recall until they were almost finished baking. When they came out of the oven I sat them on the counter, thinking that when they cooled I’d plop them in the trash. Well, Harold came in, grabbed one and ate it. I expected a sour face, but to my surprise he ate another. Curious now, I tasted one…and it wasn’t bad. Not as sweet as usual or as sweet as I prefer and a bit denser, but definitely edible. The sweetness of the bananas carried it and led to a teachable moment–I greatly reduced the amount of sugar I use in this recipe. As a side note, I’ve not eliminated sugar from my recipes but now use more natural sweeteners like local honey or less refined sugars such as demarara or sucanat. Makes very little difference in most recipes and I prefer the taste. More on this later.

Not all errors turn out so well. Mistaking kosher salt for sugar does not bode well for the taste of the finished product. Trust me on that one. If you are not familiar with herbs and spices, some substitutions can be less than palatable. I’m better now that I was as a novice, but if I’m not sure about the flavor of a particular herb or spice, I research it.  Another caution about spices–those dried ones in little bottles–look to see if there is a shaker top on it before you shake it into your sauce. Experience speaking here. Peppers and hot sauces–try to determine their relative heat index before using copious amounts. Experience again. Painful lesson! They are not all equal. If a sauce calls for cream, milk is not acceptable as a substitute–the sauce separates. As will sour cream if you add it to a sauce that is boiling.Not pretty. Sometimes things just don’t work.

Still, I keep on cooking. Experimentation doesn’t always work, but it does teach. Even unplanned accidents can be instructive.  My learning curve is less steep as I gain more experience. And, I do have a forgiving–and always hungry–hubby. That helps!

As with life. Errors can be viewed as failures, with nothing salvageable coming out of them. Just another dumb mistake, right? Not! Some of my best learning has come from trying to reclaim my mistakes. Maybe it’s that perfectionism thing again–I don’t like to be wrong, so when I am, I try to make it right. If I think a dish is worth serving, I’ll attempt to find a way to pull it off. If I’ve made an error in life that I can correct, I’ll give it a try. On the other hand, not all mistakes can be fixed–sometimes I just have to admit to being human and less than perfect, forgive myself and move on. This is something I still have to practice but it improves with age and experience too. And, some recipes end up in the trash…

Cooking requires confident guesswork and improvisation– experimentation and substitution, dealing with failure and uncertainty in a creative way.  ~Paul Theroux

Now back to those muffins. This is a recipe I’ve had so long I have no recall of its origin. It’s my daughter Johanna’s favorite and a frequent request. I’ve changed it so much over the years, it bears only a faint resemblance to the original. It’s become more healthy, or at least less unhealthy, and if I do say so myself, more flavorful. From white flour to whole grain, from white sugar to a less refined sweetener, more fruit and less fat–even lower sodium sea salt helps. Want to try it? Here’s my latest version:

Mocha Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

1 cup butter, room temp
3/4 cup turbinado or demarara sugar
1 egg
4 or 5 ripe bananas, depending on size
1 tablespoon espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour (can use unbleached all-purpose or regular whole wheat)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate mini-chips

1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2 Blend butter, sugar, egg, banana, espresso,
and vanilla in food processor for 2 minutes. Add flour,
salt, baking powder, and soda, and blend just until flour
disappears. Add chocolate chips and mix in with wooden spoon.
Spoon mixture into 15 to 18 paper-lined muffin cups.
3 Bake for 25 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

My next challenge is to substitute a healthier oil in place of the butter. I may try subbing for some of the fat with unsweetened applesauce, and I’ll add in a tablespoon of flax meal for another healthy boost. In the meantime, enjoy as is, or do your own experimentation. They are scrumptious! Let me know what you think.

Posted by: susanideus | October 6, 2010

Cooking and Life

Cooking is like love.  It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.  ~Harriet van Horne

I am not a trained chef, but I do know about cooking. I’ve done it since I was a child, first because I had to, and then because I found I loved it. Cooking is a creative outlet for me, and a tangible way of expressing love and care.

I’ve always loved trying new recipes. At first, as a novice cook, I used them for instruction. As a new bride, I used them for inspiration and a way to show my always hungry hubby how much I loved him—and to impress him, of course. I gathered quite a collection of cookbooks, which I hauled along on our many moves.

Early on, I followed recipes almost to the letter but that phase didn’t last long—not my style. I found, by trial and error, (and with some spectacular successes and equally spectacular failures) that some dishes could be improvised and tinkered with endlessly. Others, like baked goods, could have substitutions made, but basic formulas and proportions were more vitally important for triumphal cooking feats. Still, even with baking, I began to learn when and where I could change things up, getting to know the “feel” of a good bread dough, the way a biscuit dough should look. In cooking, nothing beats on the job training.

Now, as I find myself with heretofore unavailable blocks of time for cooking and experimenting in the kitchen,  I still love finding new recipes to try. In fact, it’s become somewhat of an obsession—I aim for at least one new recipe a day, Several if I have time. More on that later. I don’t use cookbooks as much in this digital age since I can troll the web for any dish I might want to try—a few keywords in Google and I’m off on a delightful adventure. I’ve discovered favorite food blogs and websites, made friends with the chefs on Food TV Network, and I even get recipes via my phone.

Some things I’ve learned along the way:

♥ Use the best and freshest ingredients and the best tools you can afford at the time. Even if they are not your ideal (all organic, local, grade A, homegrown, brand name, designer label, whatever), the love that goes into cooking makes up for a lot.

♥ Label things. Nothing is worse than thinking it’s sugar and finding out too late that it’s kosher salt.

♥ Check what’s on hand before beginning. Sometimes substitutions can be made but not always. Be willing to be flexible and creative, if the recipe allows. If not, try another dish for now. Knowing the difference is important.

♥ Clean up as you go. This is important, especially if working in a small space. Otherwise messes pile up, stuff hardens and sticks, and it’s not pretty. Actually, a large space is as bad or worse—more surfaces to stack on. Yuk!

♥ Have fun! No martyr complexes in the kitchen. Cooking should be a love affair—stimulating, exciting, passionate, creative, energetic. No matter if the menu is soup and sandwiches–otherwise do fast food.

♥ And, as trite as it sounds, cooking is a lot like life…

For instance, no matter what I do, it turns out best if I have what I need at my disposal, bring my best to the situation, and check to make sure I’m prepared. Sometimes that means making the best of what I have available to me at the time. It’s most efficient if I have my files labeled and I know ahead of time that everything is in place. I don’t want to reach for something I need to find it’s not there, or worse, that it’s not what it says it is. I get my best results if I follow through and finish up what I start, cleaning up all the details as I go along. If I don’t, stuff piles up or falls through the cracks and things aren’t pretty. I need to bring a positive attitude with me. Now life happens, and it’s not always pleasant, but I can control my reaction to even the bad things. Perspective and balance and the willingness to be flexible can ease almost any situation.

You’ll be hearing more from me on the subjects of food and cooking—and life. If I come up with something I particularly like in all of my experimentation, I may even share a recipe or two. As I said, I’m trying something new every day. It’s fun and creative and quite often therapeutic. See you in the kitchen!

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