No one understands me!

“No one understands me!” As adults, we may think that this statement belongs back in the days of junior high. Something blurted from the depths of a tortured adolescent soul before stomping upstairs to the bedroom and slamming the door.  It’s a something that is written a heart-covered pink diary with a miniature lock on the side.diary

Hey, guess what? This thought, “No one understands me?” It still comes up here in the adult world. We go to a social gatherings and someone says something that rubs us the wrong way. We open up and share something and-surprise- there is no “aha!” moment of feeling connected. Instead, we get a funny look. We may feel this way around friends, family, or even our significant others. Then this sad, junior-high voice whispers in our ear “no one understands me.” And it sucks.

What can we do about it? We are adults now. We are so much more mature than we were back then. Stomping? Screaming? Pink diaries?  We swapped those out for Starbucks, online shopping, and Netflix. Maybe even a glass of wine to emphasize our adult-ness.

During those times it may be wise to remember something: the wine, the latte, the Netflix…it’s the same as getting candy thrown at you as a kid. A temporary Band-Aid but not a solution in itself.

Our junior high self wants some attention. And even more desperately than our junior high self craves other people’s attention she wants your attention. Real attention. Consider a time when a close friend or your child reached out when he or she was in pain. It’s okay to offer a treat but that’s in addition to what matters more- to look at him or her eye to eye, deeply listen, and offer love, concern and support.

We can do the same thing for ourselves. When these feelings of loneliness arise, take a few moments and stop. Feel the feelings and breathe with them. It’s okay to feel lonely, awkward, misunderstood, or sad. Name the feelings, sit with them. Doing this is like giving our junior high self a hug. Choosing to be good friends to ourselves can make all the difference in the world.  Feeling listened to, understood, and loved unconditionally just as we are is what our soul thirsts for.  We can offer this nourishment to ourselves at any time we need it. We can choose to be there for ourselves, our whole selves, even the junior high parts that are awkward and sad. Especially for the junior high part that is awkward and sad. Our junior high self is who needs a friend the most. Be there with love.


Real Beauty is Modesty: Part 1

“For women, real beauty is modesty.” This statement is from a book I’m reading.

Hmm. Let’s think about this statement literally.

I think of people I’ve seen who are covered up.  In some Christian denominations, women wear long skirts.  Nuns wear habits, Amish people wear Amish clothing, and Muslim women wear long skirts, sleeves and headscarves.  Modern American women sometimes dress modestly too like wearing a sweater over jeans.

Women who are dressed modestly can certainly still look pretty. Jeans and sweaters can look nice. Some long skirts are colorful and gorgeous. There are ways to intricately tie a hair scarf so it looks just striking as the fanciest hairstyle. Nuns, Amish people, and others who are dressed plainly can still look beautiful since simple dress can really makes a naturally beautiful face stand out.

Now what about people who wear revealing clothing?

I see people walking around in dresses and skirts in various lengths.  I see women at the gym wearing shorts, t shirts and tank tops. Women wear bikinis at the beach. I think many of them look beautiful too.

Do I see people who are not beautiful? Sure.

Reveling does not always equal attractive. Some who are dressed in revealing clothes don’t look so great. Sometimes the style is not the most flattering to that person.  Sometimes I see a woman constantly pulling down their skirt or pulling up their shirt to cover her cleavage and she just looks very uncomfortable rather than attractive. Sometimes it’s freezing out and girls are shivering in short skirts.

And modestly dressed people have the same issues. Sometimes the style not so flattering. A woman may look uncomfortable, stressed out, sick or tired. Having negative feelings will register on our faces and then we do not look as beautiful.

Sometimes we can cover up skin issues or dark circles with makeup, try to dress a certain way, do our hair and force a smile on our faces so we can still try to look nice even when we are not feeling well on the inside. If one does not believe in wearing makeup or showing her hair she would not have the hair/makeup options. However, that type of person also saves on time and the stress of going through these cover-ups and can save her energy to work on whatever her real issues are at that time.

Neither modesty nor showing some skin can guarantee beauty. It seems to me that real beauty depends on being happy, healthy, confident, and at peace on the inside.

Let’s Talk About Donuts

I saw a show on PBS where kids were making necklaces. A little girl said, “I picked these beads because they look like donuts. I like them because I remember going to the donut shop with my dad.” I thought, “Me too!” As a child, I loved going to the donut shop with my dad.

When I was little, my sister, dad, and I went to this donut shop next to my Grandma’s house called Evergreen Donut.  We would pick one donut each and my dad would get coffee. It was family owned we played with the owner’s daughter who shared her Spirograph set with us.

That donut shop is still there to this day.  It’s under new ownership and the new owner’s daughter is about the same age as my two daughters.  Now it’s me taking my kids there and telling them to pick out whatever donut they want.  We all eat our donuts and I drink a coffee while my girls play with the owner’s little girl.

When I was a teenager I read an article that said donuts are the worst food you can eat.  It said, “The word ‘donut’ would make any nutritionist shudder.”  We all know that donuts have sugar, fat, and white flour. After reading that article, I did not touch a donut for years.  I tried to think of ways to make healthy donuts. Something golden, sweet and round with a hole in it but healthy.  Then I realized that’s already a thing-it’s called pineapple rings. Sigh.

I realize that these days there are all kinds of drama around food. Especially for women. People struggle with food addictions and poor nutritional habits. Plus there are food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies. The emotional attachment and relationship with food is what makes eating healthy hard sometimes. I imagined myself as a teenager, when I was most tortured by my food drama, making necklaces with those kids on T.V.

Teenage Allison: “These circular beads remind me of pineapple rings. And these square ones remind me of protein shakes. I don’t know why, but these red ones remind me I should go to the gym.”

Little girl: “The circle ones look more like donuts to me than pineapple.”

Teenage Allison: “Now this whole thing reminds me that I hate myself.”

It appears to me, when we say that a certain food is “bad,” especially when we had wholesome childhood memories of that food, then we reject a part of ourselves. This can be confusing and damaging.

Now I realize that donuts are not something to be feared. I think of Evergreen Donut where a nice family makes donuts fresh everyday with simple ingredients. Going to a donut shop once in a while can be a nice treat for families to do together.  If you go with mindfulness-thinking of your childhood, thinking of the nice family who made the donuts, thinking of being present there with your children as they make their own memories-then that donut will nourish you.

Let drama go and don’t be scared of anything. Not even donuts.

Why I Do Cloth Diapers

My 81 year old Filipino Grandma hangs crinkly and yellowed zip lock bags and latex gloves to drip dry in the garage. She rescues every empty yogurt and takeout container from the recycling bin for indefinite reuse. She only uses napkins, straws, and condiments acquired from fast food places. She yells at us when we try to throw away stale bread saying: “NAKO! If you throw food away you won’t be BLESSED!”

My grandma thinks that I’m too cheap.


I use cloth diapers.

My grandma sees me washing diapers in the garage and asks me why I’m so cheap. I know that when my Grandma was raising my mom disposable diapers were not yet invented. So she must have used cloth diapers. I ask Grandma and she says that she hired someone to wash the cloth diapers for her.

Grandma tells me, “Last time I visited the Philippines I asked about that one who used to wash the diapers. I learned she already died. I asked your mom if she remembered her. She said she did not.”

Grandma then stares at me ominously, frowning. Maybe washing cloth diapers will lead me to a similar fate.

I started using cloth diapers after deciding to live with more mindfulness. My favorite mindfulness writer, Thich Nhat Hahn does not say, “Stop using disposable diapers” but instead says to use them with mindfulness. When you throw one away, think, “I am throwing a diaper away.”

So I tried that. I found that saying, “I am throwing a diaper away” every time you change the baby, minimum 5x a day or so, and it starts to eat at you. Not hard, but rather like a gentle nibbling on the conscience.

“I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

“But I NEED them.” (Guilty feeling).

“I’m busy. And Alisa is already 2 and Amira is 8 months old so it’s not worth starting cloth diapers now. It’s too late.” (Guilty feeling).

Next change. “I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

“I’m busy! I don’t care! I’m sleep deprived. I don’t care about the environment. I’ll stomp through a field of kittens if it would make my like easier.” (Guilty feeling, times 100).

Next change. “I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

This thought pattern would repeat over and over again with each changing.

I learned that when I tried to battle negative energy, like guilt, with more negative energy, anger, the feelings would just get worse and worse. It was exhausting. With the practice of mindfulness one does not fight his or her feelings but instead has to decide to really feel emotions and then work on transforming them.

Next change. “I am throwing a diaper away” (Guilty feeling).

I inhaled and exhaled and focused on the guilty feeling.

I said to myself, “I know I have a bad feeling and it is guilt.”

Inhaled and exhaled and sat with the guilty feeling.

I thought, “I cradle my bad feelings. I cradle my guilt. I cradle my guilt and forgive myself for my unskillfulness in the past. I did not know better and was trying to alleviate my own suffering. Please forgive me and help me to be more skillful in the future.” I felt better.

Then I bought cloth diapers. I put them on both my kids. Alisa, my oldest, was 50% potty-trained at the time and she went to 100% potty trained 2 days. This included nights, naps and going out. My youngest, Amira was 8 months old.

After making the switch, I save so much money and I’m not constantly taking stinky diaper trash out and filling the whole trash with diapers. Most of the time, I hand wash them and hang them up to dry in the sun. But if I’m too busy I use the washing machine and dryer. And if I’m really, really busy I use disposable diapers but with awareness. I think that some cloth diapering, any cloth diapering is better than nothing. Even if you save even one diaper that is 250-500 years you are saving the planet from a disposable diaper sitting in a landfill.

I never thought I would use cloth diapers. Now there is no more bad feeling and instead I can feel good about saving the planet and myself some hard-earned money. When I change, wash, and dry them I do it with awareness and then every action becomes a source of healing to me.




Say Yes

In yoga, the teacher was saying about how we need to “say yes” to yoga and really do our best not just go through the motions and have that “at least I’m here, what else do you want?” attitude. He said say yes to yoga and say yes to everything today.

But we can’t say yes to everything, it’s impossible! For example, if we say yes to sleep that means we have to say no to phone, T.V, computer, work etc. I think the key is not just saying yes to everything but saying yes or no with strength and commitment.

Say yes to sleep and really say yes: drink hot milk, chamomile tea, pray, meditate, take a warm bath, and go to bed early. And really say no to everything else: turn off T.V/computer a few hours before bedtime, silence phone and say goodnight.

It seems to me, life is so much more that “at least I’m here.”  To go beyond, put power behind actions.


I visit my grandma and come home late. I see her sitting in the dark, staring through the window waiting for me, rosary in hand.

Seeing grandma with her rosary late at night reminds me of the spinsters of fate. In Greek,  mythology, three spinsters weave, tie, and cut string. In doing this, they influence the destiny of mankind. Disney’s Hercules has a depiction of these spinsters. The movie shows that when one of the spinsters cut a sting, a human dies on earth.  My Grandma, like one of the spinsters, goes down a string of rosary beads praying for her family and trying to better their fate. I guess I’ll be worried if I ever see her with a pair of scissors.

When I was in Catholic Saturday school, called catechism, our teacher once made us go into to the main church and say an entire rosary out loud. When she announced this in the beginning of class there was an immediate outcry of “The WHOLE thing?!” She hushed our complaints marching us straight over to the church and onto to the kneelers.  Between the incense making my nose run like a faucet (I had bad allergies and asthma as a kid), having only one soggy napkin to try to catch aforementioned running nose from dripping down my mouth and chin, my teacher angrily hissing at me to pay attention and keep up, and the endless, endless Hail Marys, this still stands out in my mind as one of the most miserable experiences of my childhood. It took the entire class time, an excruciating 60 minutes, to get through the rosary. Right now, my nose is starting to run just thinking about it. Ah, the rosary.

The next year I had a different catechism teacher who was wonderful.  For a class project, she had us make our own rosaries. All the girls got light pink see-through beads that could pass for crystal until you touched them and found they were warm and plastic.  At first, everyone in the class was frustrated since the beads were slipping through the knots we had tied to act as spacers. The beads were even slipping past double and triple knots. You see, on the rosary the Hail Mary beads have to be separated from the Our Father beads. That way, you know what prayer you’re on just by touch. It’s like Hail Mary/Our Father braille. With a properly tied and spaced rosary any experienced Catholic, like my grandma, can pray through the entire sequence in the dark.

After catechism, I took the rosary project home and redid it with waxed dental floss.  The wax and thicker string kept the beads in place.  The next week, my teacher brought different, thicker sting for the class but was really proud of me for finishing the project so well on my own.  After everyone fixed their rosaries we all got to take them to the priest who blessed each one with a dab of holy water. I loved that rosary.  My new pink dental-floss rosary helped me get over my first miserable rosary experience. I started praying the rosary on my own.

Remembering all this makes me want to make another rosary for myself and make more to give away to my Catholic friends.  I can make some for my husband and his family too since Muslims also use prayer beads.  Their prayer beads are called a Misbaha or Tesbih.  A Tesbih is made of 99 beads.  Muslims say “Subhan Allah (Glory be to God) recited 33 times followed by followed by “Alhamdu lila” (translation: Praise be to God) then “Allahu Akbar” 33 times (translation: God is the Greatest. Even if there is more beads, this is so much shorter and faster than the Catholic Rosary. Makes me kind of jealous actually. Maybe I’ll make a Tesbih for myself too. Many other religions use prayer beads including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Bahai. I wonder which religion has the least number of beads.

The family connection part of the rosary is major for me. My grandma has been praying the rosary for years.  Like me, she probably learned it from her parents and from growing up in the Catholic Church.  Prayer is something a parent teaches their child and it’s taught usually before bedtime. At least, that is how it happened during my childhood.  I remember my grandma’s black rosary, the statue of Jesus sitting on the shelf in the walk-in closet, and a glow-in-the dark a crucifix hanging on the bedroom wall. During bedtime, these objects would be cast in dark shadows and we would ask what they meant.  We would ask about heaven, God, and all those things we didn’t know and wanted to know before we went to sleep. My grandparents and parents would explain God to me. As Catholics, they used these objects- the cross, the statue, and the rosary- to try to reach my young mind in understanding the great beyond. I imagine it was just like their parents and grandparents explained God to them… and their parents did for them… for generations and generations.

How long have generations in my family been doing this? My family on my mom’s side is Filipino and Catholicism was brought to the Philippines in 1521 so that’s about 500 years, more or less, of my family being Catholic and praying the rosary. Long time. When did the Catholic Church start using the rosary? The rosary itself was started in the 3rd Century.  That is when St. Dominick started the practice after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary who told him to introduce the rosary to the Church.

Some Christians criticize the practice of praying the rosary as being too Mary-centric. After all, its 50 out of 59 beads for Mary. In addition, there are points on the rosary where one is to remember the different biblical stories-called “mysteries” which are significant biblical stories featuring Mary and Jesus. So that makes the rosary even more Mary-centric. Because of the focus on Mary, when Christians separated from the Catholic church during the Protestant Reformation the majority of Christian denominations dropped the rosary practice.  When I started going to Christian Church in High School and asked one of my teachers about the rosary she told me we should not be praying to Mary since she was a human and is not God. Besides, who knows if the Mary sighting that St. Dominick reported is really true.  Critics point out how people during that time had a desire for “goddess worship” since the religions of that time had prominent female goddesses. Mary and the rosary conveniently filled this void. These days, many modern sightings of the Virgin Mary, like Mary’s image found on a piece of toast, are often just hoaxes.

It appears to me that the Catholics’ aim in giving Mary such a prominent role is to show the love a mother has for her child.  No matter if you’re Catholic, Christian, any religion or no religion at all, everyone can understand that titanium-strength bond that is the love between a mother and her child.  It does not matter if the child is God himself, a prophet, or just another human being.  For a mother that child is the most precious being in the world for whom she would lay down her own life. In the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a scene where Jesus is dragging his cross and he stumbles and Mary rushes to comfort him. A flash-back scene is played that shows Jesus as a child falling down and Mary running to comfort him. When mankind can start to imagine this love-the greatest love and bond that we humans can experience- we can then attempt to imagine God’s love for us.

The purpose of the rosary is simple: it is something to feel in your fingers while you pray. The beads of a rosary, or any prayer beads, are something to feel in your hand as you attempt to connect with the divine. Although we can pray or meditate without any objects having something to see and touch can be helpful. The rosary can be a physical tether, or an umbilical cord between heaven and earth. If you Catholic, you can imagine whoever taught you the rosary like your teacher or parent.  Then you can imagine who taught them- their teachers and parents.  This can reach backs for generations and generations and centuries and centuries. Soon we go all the way back to the third century when the rosary was invented. When you touch the beads saying the same prayers that your parents, grandparents, teachers and priests have prayed before knowing that the tactile feeling of bead between your fingers is the same feeling they that had it is as though they are praying with you. Millions of people. Your whole family, past and present, your friends, your church, the saints all connected in a web of rosary beads and string. All us thinking now or having thought long ago of our own lives, of family members, friends and the world and wanting everyone to be safe and well.

This makes me think of people in other religions who use prayer beads. For me, I feel that they are also part of the web when I pray. They also call to God with an open and loving heart. They have that same tactile feeling of beads and string as they meditate on God and wish blessings on their family, friends, neighbors and the world.

Here another rosary story. It is 10 years after making the pink rosary and I am 20 years old.  I am at my grandpa’s funeral.  My uncle concludes the service by leading us in reciting the rosary.  It’s been awhile. I’m grateful for learning how to pray the rosary in Catechism so I can keep up with everyone else. I find the repetition extremely comforting and beautiful.  On that terrible, sad day the rosary perfectly tied everything together: tradition, family, grief, life, death, God and eternity.  Everything was all tied together with rosary beads and string.

The rosary can be a powerful thing.  A powerful thing that can give you much needed strength and comfort at a funeral, at the bedside of a sick loved one, or during any difficult time in your life. The rosary can also just be for those everyday nights.  Those nights when you are waiting by the window for your child, now grow up, to come home.

Cooking with Love…and Machetes

When my grandma cooks, the only cooking utensil she uses is a big knife.  This knife, called a bolo in my Grandma’s native language of Tagalog, is about an inch longer than a butcher knife.  In English, it’s called a machete. I’m used to cooking with lots of equipment and feel like an array of cutting implements is a must.  I like having little knives to cut little things, big knives to cut big things, medium knives to cut medium things and butter knives to butter buttery things. To cook at my grandma’s house I had to bring and buy tons of stuff. For my grandma, there is only the machete.

The machete is not just for the kitchen. Once at seven in the morning, my husband and I awoke because we heard loud thudding coming from the backyard. He went to check and Grandma had climbed an old, rickety, homemade wooden ladder in just her socks and was hacking off branches with her machete.  My husband coaxed her down assuring her that he could take care of the tree trimming and would get started as soon as Home Depot opened. Later that morning, he bought a chain saw, a steel ladder, work goggles, and work gloves and trimmed the trees.

When I visit the next summer and I ask Grandma if the trees are still okay, she says, “Yes, still okay.” Great. But after a pause, she starts talking about the grass. She says that the grass is going to grow as tall as me. Then it will catch fire and burn the house down.  She adds gravely, “I will go and cut it. It can be done. I will go every day and cut little by little.” She’s determined of course to do this with just the machete. I immediately tell my brother to please, please mow the grass this weekend.  I give him instructions about the mower, edger and battery pack. I also remind him to wear googles, gloves, closed-toed shoes, and long pants.

Somehow we have become accustomed to needing so much stuff.  Just with these two simple activities, cooking and yardwork, so much stuff.

Although I’m not really an expert on yardwork let me get something straight: I’m not saying that using the machete for yard work is a better option over modern equipment. A job that will take you a couple hours will take you days with the machete. My grandma is totally fine with that. It gives her something to do and it’s good exercise as long as she doesn’t overdo it. When I say ‘overdoing it’ I mean like is if she is climbing a ladder with just her socks on in the wee hours of the morning or rushing to cut the grass before it apparently catches on fire and kills us all.

I thought of Grandma when I watched the documentary, How to Live to 101, about Okinawan people over 100 years old. Filmmakers asked the old people, called centenarians, what their secrets were for a long life. One of the things the centenarians mentioned was gardening every day. Like Grandma, the centenarians did their gardening with old-school equipment- nothing gas or electric. It was amazing to watch 103-year-old men and women swinging and slinging shovels, tills and hoes like it was nothing.

Pondering the machete, I started to realize that we really don’t need what we think we need. In my own life I’ve been holding on this notion that I would be such an awesome cook if I just had the right stuff. Stuff like: a shelf of beautiful recipe books with glossy close-ups of food, stainless steel appliances, and of course tons and tons of cooking equipment like knives, bowls, gadgets and cookware-all with 5-star reviews. I have this fantasy of owning a Kitchen Aid mixer in this light-blue color that the people at Kitchen Aid have dubbed, “Blue Ice.” In this fantasy I would also have Blue Ice kitchen décor accent pieces. It would all be in a newly renovated kitchen with white cabinets and granite counter tops. I’d make amazing dishes including homemade, fancy cupcakes with different colored frosting and cute decorations.  I’d put the cupcakes in a white ceramic cupcake pedestal with a clear dome lid.  The cupcake pedestal would be sitting beautifully on the granite counter top against the white cabinets with the Kitchen Aid mixer in the background complimenting the Blue Ice décor accents…I could go on forever.

Then reality sets in. Making this fantasy into a reality would take a lot of time.  It would be really expensive!  I would have to spend more time at work to earn money to buy all those things. Renovating the kitchen would be a massive expense and then I would have to spend all that time handing my husband tools while he installs the kitchen (yes, poor me right?).  And then there is all that 5-star equipment which would take more time and money. I would have to dig through reviews on Amazon, look for ads and coupons in the mail, wait for sales, stalk different items at Costco or Target waiting to see if and when they would ever get marked down so I could buy them. Massive amounts of money, energy, and time expended until I could finally settle down and start making those beautiful cupcakes.

To calm myself down, I go back to pondering the machete. Why does my grandma use only the machete? Because the machete is the only thing she needs. That is how she learned to cook. Having these extensive knife sets are not common in the Philippines. Actually, having fancy kitchens with all the expensive equipment, appliances and gadgets that we have in the U.S is certainly not a common thing in other less-affluent countries. Think of the kitchen in countries like the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia.  What about all the kitchens in all those little countries in Africa? Also the less-prosperous countries in Eastern Europe like Bosnia where my husband grew up. However, even without all the stuff we have here, the average person in those countries can still cook and often better than their American counterparts.

I was talking about this with my friend Saida who grew up in Rwanda.

Saida said, “Americans can’t cook! You’re lucky you have a husband who can cook. Miralem can cook because he is a foreigner. Foreigners know how to cook.” Needless to say, Saida and the members of her family that I have met are awesome cooks and so are Miralem and his family.  As for me? Being born and raised in the good old U.S. of A entails that I have a respectable knowledge base of all the American essentials- casseroles, meatloaf, spaghetti, eggs and chili. I also know how to use all the shortcuts like canned/jarred sauces, cream of mushroom soup, McCormick seasoning packets and cake mixes from a box. My most impressive recipes are Filipino foods like fried rice, lumpia, sinigang, arroz caldo, and chicken adobo. American or Filipino, these cuisines take me about an hour or two hour, tops (with the exception of egg rolls which take forever because of the endless rolling and frying). My cooking is nothing compared to Saida or Miralem’s cooking.  They can literally cook for hours, all day long, for a single meal. They do crazy things that only God Himself or Martha Stewart Herself would know.  Things like making mayonnaise, marshmallow or meringue from scratch. Things like adding 12 eggs for a cake, adding raw rice directly to a panful of hot oil, or rolling phyllo dough so thin that it stretches like skin over the entire kitchen table-so thin you can read a newspaper through it. Watching either of them cook is like watching magic. Out of the chaos delicious food appears right before your eyes.

How did they become such good cooks? Well, foremost, they learned from their moms. Saida and Miralem both grew up with stay-at-home moms and learned from their moms probably more than most American-born children learn from their moms.  Moms in other less affluent countries often do not have the same opportunities as women in America. I imagine these moms spend more time at home cooking with their kids while our moms are busy with jobs or activities outside of the home. This was true for my family. My mom worked as a nurse and my mom’s mom, Grandma (when she wasn’t working around the house with her machete), worked as a midwife.  My grandma was busy so only taught my mom basic Filipino cooking which was then passed on to me.  My cooking skills, which I consider pretty basic, are from my mom and grandma and from cookbooks and T.V shows I encountered while growing up in America.

Second of all, Miralem and Saida put in a lot of time. I think they are able to do this because they cook in a very relaxed manner. When Saida calls me over for dinner and I come in around 5 p.m. or so she is like, “Oh, I better get started.” She does not care about trying to have dinner on the table at 7p.m. or having her kids in bed by 9 p.m.  We usually sit down to eat around 10 p.m. talking and laughing the whole time. When I realize the time and apologize thinking that I stayed too late she says, “It’s fine! In Africa friends and neighbors talk all night long. In America, your friends are not really as good as friends because they don’t want to do that.” Cooking with Saida is so fun and relaxing. Miralem cooks like that too, very relaxed and willing to let the food determine the time table. He whips whatever we feel in the mood for with whatever we have in the kitchen.  There is a lot of improvising, he never follows a recipe, and does not get thrown off if he can’t find a particular ingredient.  This relaxed and fun style of cooking reminds me of shows like Racheal Ray or The Barefoot Contesa.  It’s cooking with the flow with a sense of joy and love.

In the past, my way of cooking more resembled the show Hell’s Kitchen. A frenzy of chopping and frying and everybody better get out of my way or else.  However, while cooking there are the natural stopping points when one must wait for something to boil, thicken, or brown. It’s as if the laws of physics are telling us, “Hey, slow down!” These stoppings points used to frustrate me and I would turn up the heat or start on another part of the dish.  Those would be the times that the cooking would go wrong.

Ah, those time when the cooking goes wrong.  The food turns out burnt/over salted/bad for whatever reason and cannot be consumed by another human being. There is no other option but to trash it. Whenever this happened to me, I used to go crazy cursing myself for rushing.  I would think about the wasted time: the hour of cooking, plus the clean-up time, plus the time spent shopping for ingredients.  It was enough to make me want to give up and eat cereal and pizza forever. Because of the often frenzied pace of modern American life, the land where we think, “time is money,” I think many people may fall into this trap. The idea of wasting time is getter more unbearable. I think that as a result, people are cooking less and less. Americans in general do not, or feel they do not have time.

But is it true that we really do not have time or are we just afraid of getting burnt out or frustrated? It seems to me that if you often cook the Hell’s Kitchen way it will burn you out. When one keeps rushing and rushing, the momentum becomes hard to stop and hard to control. I have come to realize that this is not the best way to cook (or to live life either). The better way is to just relax, take your time and breathe. Also, what’s stopping us from laughing, singing, talking and having fun with it? It is true that the relaxed way takes more time. Maybe time is money but time is also your life.

The more I cook the relaxed way-actually stopping to sit with a cup of tea, laugh with a family member, or just sit and be- the more I learn that this way of cooking is more nourishing.  It will nourish the cook long before one even takes the first bite.

I try to remember that mess-ups are a part of life and necessary to get better. I find that cooking from the heart reduces the likelihood of messing up and if one does mess up, those times are less likely to end in shouting or tears. In my life, great stories have started with, “Remember that time we set something on fire?” (Saida and me) and “Remember that time we made that cake that turned to goo in the fridge?” (Miralem and me). I would have missed out on some great memories if we just decided to watch the cooking channel instead.  (Great stories do not start with: “Remember that time we were watching the cooking channel?”)

If you have the desire to be a better cook, it’s worth it to put in the time even if you suck or mess up sometimes. Why? Because there is no magical cooking equipment that will transform someone into a better cook. The single factor that will make one a better cook is something that seems too simple to be true: it’s actually cooking!

Often we avoid doing and instead keep researching, fantasizing, shopping, complaining and worrying. When I fall into this cycle, I try to remember what one of my favorite thinkers, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, said in his book, Being Peace: “So many conditions of happiness are available-more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.”  When one gets the urge to do an inherently positive thing- such as create something, express through art, do something good for others-this is our soul calling. We were put on this earth with these bodies to do something with them. Most of the time we have enough to answer that call today.

Following your dream does not necessarily have to be something dramatic.  If you want to cook, one does not have to move to France to study at a fancy school, get a new kitchen, or buy better and more appliances and gadgets.  What you have right now in your kitchen is good enough. Sometimes we get so hung up on what we don’t have and get obsessed about not having enough time or stuff and then use that as an excuse to do nothing.  The result is getting stuck and endlessly wasting time that we could be spent following our dreams.

Think about what you really want to do. Do you have a big knife?  You have enough to get started. Do it with joy and love.