Friday, November 25, 2011


"What can I bring for Thanksgiving dinner?" I asked my sister.

"Let's see. An apple pie, a bottle of wine, umm...," she replied.

This was good so far. There's a gourmet market in town that makes delicious pies and wine is easy. So while my sister is home on Thanksgiving day, stuffing a 24 pound turkey, peeling potatoes and chopping vegetables, I'll be on my couch exchanging glances between the newspaper and the Macy's Day Parade. Should I feel guilty? Probably, but I got over that years ago. After all, my sister insists that she loves preparing the Thanksgiving meal, and frankly, I don't. In fact, I don't even like to cook. Over the years hungry children and a distaste for frozen dinners have forced me into this chore, but when given the option, I'd rather let someone else do the work. I mean, isn't that why they have salad bars and those convenient rotisserie chickens in grocery stores today.

So as my sister tried to think of one more item for me to bring, I thought about who might flub up a lip sync on an elaborate float at the parade.

Then it came -- those dreaded words...,"Peg would you mind making the butternut squash?"

"Absolutely not," I said as a jitterbug starting dancing in my gut. How do you turn a hard peach vegetable shaped like a warped trumpet into a velvety orange souffle?

I started asking around about how to make that happen and received all kinds of advice like:

"Go with frozen squash. No one will know the difference."

"Who eats butternut squash, anyway?"

"Order it at that gourmet market in town." Really? At $24.99 for six servings?

"Making squash isn't hard, although cutting it in half is like trying to slice an ice cube and the pulp is so messy."

"Just bake it before mashing. Don't try peeling it. The skin is almost as tough as a pineapple's."

It was clear that butternut squash was the vegetable from Hell. I thought about going with the frozen option. No. Not for Thanksgiving. Maybe order it. I'd need twelve servings = $49.98. Can't do it -- not when I can make it for $10.00 and that extra $40.00 could go to the food pantry. I had only one option -- buck up and prepare the squash into something edible.                  

I suddenly had a revelation. Cooking could quite possibly be a kick back moment. I Googled Cooking and Stress and found volumes. Examples of some of the conclusions are:
  • Chopping vegetables can release stress especially if you use them like a voodoo doll (think of that guy with road rage who followed you down the highway on your way to work the other day, then chop...chop...chop).    
  • Aromatherapy - Here’s a brief breakdown of some common cooking scents and how they can enhance your mood:
    • Energizing/Invigorating: Orange, Rosemary, Lemon.
    • Stress Relief: Lavender, Sage.
    • Sleep Aids: Lavender, Chamomile.
    • Mood Elevators: Mint, Basil.
  • Zen Effect - After you start cooking, you can sometimes reach the Zen state of meditation. You’re in the zone of cutting, grinding, and sauteing. All that matters is the food.
So this past Thanksgiving morning I did what many American do, I cooked. Here's the proof:

Yes. I did cheat. My local grocery store did such a nice job peeling and chopping the butternut squash for me, I wanted to thank them by purchasing it. Plus, I had a good week and didn't feel the need to implement "voodoo" on anyone by stabbing a vegetable.

By the way, people do eat butternut squash at Thanksgiving and the compliments I received for my efforts were wonderful.

Is cooking now my favorite kick back activity? No. But do I get why it is for many people? Yes. And with the right music, the heavenly aromas and a glass full of Chardonnay by my side, I just might engage in culinary endeavors a little more often.

For more on cooking and stress relief click here:

Kick Back Song of the Week:

In honor of delicious food no matter who does the cooking...Frim Fram Sauce sung by Diana Krall --incredible piano and bass solos:

Kick Back Book of the Week:

Melissa Senate mixes love, cooking and magic into an incredible recipe. A fun, heartwarming read! Warning: It will make you very hungry -- delicious descriptions of food.

For more, click here,

A Little Something Extra:

Thanks to my sister and brother-in-law for all of the scrumptious holidays!!! 

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The worldwide web is zipping with messages about blessings this Thanksgiving season. It's great -- all that appreciation being spread around. Even in times of distress, I love the idea of digging deep and pulling out a few reasons to be grateful. H.U. Westermayer pointed out the following...

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." 

Humbling, isn't it?  Think about about the Pilgrims then think about some of the things we gripe about.

I for one had a very fortunate year. I have a home, a job, food on the table, a loving family, friends and peace. I really don't have to search too far for reasons to be thankful. I would, however, like to add something new to my list this Thanksgiving  -- something intangible. Something that if humans didn't have, they would surely perish and if they have, will undoubtedly flourish. What is it? 


What is perseverance? says, "Steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement."

Oswald Chamber says, "Perserverance is more than endurance. It is endurance combined with absolute assurance and certainty that what we are looking for is going to happen." 

Just think about some of your hard times. If you didn't have the will to take the next step on the ladder to a better day, you'd be stuck in a bad place forever. We all have the power to persevere if we choose to -- the power to believe in ourselves. For that I am grateful. In fact, the people who keep going, even when times are tough, are generally the ones who triumph. Just look at what the Pilgrims started -- a country called the United States of America.

The easiest way to make my point is through example. I'm going to target two individuals in the entertainment and technology world. Why? Because this is a kick back blog and everyone who visits my pinpoint on the Blogosphere is looking for ways to check out from the stresses of the real world, to slow down a bit. One of the best ways to do this is through fun. 

As I began researching two giants in the entertainment and technology industry, I realized how much they endured before rising to the top, and even when they fell, they stood tall again. These people had extraordinary talent, but just as important, they had stamina. 

Walt Disney: 
Disney formed his first animation company in Kansas City in 1921. He made a deal with a distribution company in New York, in which he would ship them his cartoons and get paid six months down the road. Flushed with success, he began to experiment with new storytelling techniques, his costs went up and the distributor went bankrupt. He was forced to dissolve his company, could not pay his rent and was surviving by eating dog food. This was just one of many setbacks for Disney. Others included being turned down by a production company for his treasured mouse, Mickey, because a large mouse on a screen would scare women. The Three Little Pigs was rejected because a story with only four characters wouldn't hold people's interest.

Thanks for persevering Mr. Disney. The joy you created will be with us forever.

Walt Disney - The Early Years

Did you really do all that, Mr Disney?

"If I dream it I can do it."  
Walt Disney

Steve Jobs:

At just 30 years old Steve Jobs was successful, wealthy and a global celebrity. And then it all came crashing down. He had revolutionized personal computing and created an iconic brand – only to be forced out of the company he had built into a billion-dollar colossus. "I was out -- and very publicly out," he recalled in a commencement speech at Stanford University. "What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating." He added, "I was a very public failure." (Time Magazine)

Fortunately Steve Jobs rallied after his fall to invent all kinds of fun and useful technology for us.Thank you, Mr. Jobs. The world of computing today would not be even close to what it is if you didn't persevere.
"I want to put a ding in the universe."
Steve Jobs

Although these are big stories about big people all of us go through a difficult period in our life, usually several. Whether we witness our child struggling, lose a loved one, are lonely, broke, disappointed...the list of possible challenges is endless. We could give into the gloom by whining and complaining or we could choose to persevere. Christopher Reeve once said, "I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles."

So this Thanksgiving as I pass around the butternut squash and mashed potatoes, I will not only give thanks for traditional blessings, but for the option of perseverance when times are tough. I will also give a nod to those who persevered to provide me with entertainment -- a realm that takes me away from everyday stress to a faraway place where I can dodge problems and strife.

Kick Back Song of the Week:

For Walt Disney and Steve Jobs, the kick back song of the week is When You Wish Upon a Star sung by Billy Joel. Thank you for seeing that star, reaching for it and grabbing it, no matter how far you had to stretch or how hot it got. Even when it slipped out of your hands, you lassoed it right back and held it even tighter.      

Kick Back Book of the Week:

Talk about perseverance, just read, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. A description from follows:

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, Zamperini, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulled himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

Laura Hillenbrand writes an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

A Little Something Extra:

Steve Jobs
1955 - 2011
Thank you.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


Who would have thought hiking, sitting down to eat an orange or reading a novel during the day would be hard (see previous posts)? I mean I'm not trying to learn how to write in Chinese -- just trying to kick back a little. But it feels strange to slow down -- like I'm being lazy, unambitious. Eating an orange at the table instead of grabbing a few grapes as I sprint from one activity to the next seems wrong. It's almost like a jockey is on my back cracking his whip to get me to race along. I tell him to stop, but his persistent snapping disrupts my tranquility. I guess learning to slow down is just like learning any new skill. It takes time and practice.  

My quest to relax reminded me of a method I used when I was a clinical supervisor at The College of Saint Rose -- Four Stages of Competence developed at Gordon Training International by its employee Noel Burch in the 1970s.[I spoke of these stages when encouraging students studying to become speech-language pathologists as they fumbled through their first few therapy sessions. They are:

Unconscious Competence - This is when we see, hear or know about a skill and decide to try it. It can be anything from learning how to make home made pizza dough to downhill skiing. It looks easy - shouldn't be too hard.  
I think I'll learn to ski.
Conscious Incompetence - This is when you try the skill and discover it's not so easy. You fall ten times skiing down the bunny hill. It fact, you can hardly scoot over to the chairlift on those long, narrow skates. Your pizza dough comes out full of holes and no matter how hard you try to pinch them together, the holes keep coming back. You have to make a decision. Do you keep working at the skill or is it simply not worth it? After all, the Italian place down the street makes an excellent pizza and hanging out at the ski lodge has its perks. If you decide pizza making and skiing are skills you truly want to master, get ready for some work and pain.
Do I really want to do this?

Conscious Competence - This is when you obtain some proficiency at the skill, but you have to think about it. The cookbook is right in front of you as you carefully spread out the pizza dough. If skiing, you dutifully attend the lessons you signed up for and practice, practice, practice.

Slow and Steady

Unconscious Competence - This is when holes are history as you spread out that pizza dough and you glide down the ski slopes, not even realizing how fluid your parallel ski turns have become. 

This is fun! I think I'll try snowboarding.

I have tried both pizza dough making and skiing. The pizza dough thing ended at stage two, conscious incompetence, way too frustrating for me. But I made it all the way to stage four, unconscious competence, with skiing (a long as I don't wander onto double diamonds -- the expert slopes). It was my choice. I didn't care about making the perfect pizza dough, but loved the idea of spending sunny winter days gliding down snowy mountain trails. 

So, do I persist in my mission to slow down, as with skiing, or do I dump the idea like I did with the pizza dough and keep spinning around like the Tasmanian Devil?  

I want to make an intelligent choice so I searched the Internet and found this site: 

According to the Heart of Healing Website the benefits of relaxing include:
  • gives the heart a rest by slowing the heart rate
  • reduces blood pressure
  • slows the rate of breathing, which reduces the need for oxygen
  • increases blood flow to the muscles
  • decreases muscle tension

As a result of relaxation, many people experience –

  • more energy
  • better sleep
  • enhanced immunity
  • increased concentration
  • better problem-solving abilities
  • greater efficiency
  • smoother emotions — less anger, crying, anxiety, frustration
  • less headaches and pain
Okay. My decision is made. I will continue to make time in my day to kick back. Before I know it, I'll be sailing into Unconscious Competence.              

To learn more about the Four Stages of Competence click   here:  

Kick Back Song of the Week:

      Sail Away sung by Enya. Enjoy the journey into peace and serenity.


Kick Back Book of the Week:

Learning to Breathe: My Year Long Quest to Bring Calm to My Life by Priscilla Warner. A spirited New Yorker sets out to find her inner Tibetan monk by meditating every day, aiming to rewire her brain and her body and mend her frayed nerves. On this winding path from panic to peace, with its hairpin emotional curves and breathtaking drops, she also delves into a wide range of spiritual and alternative health practices, some serious and some . . . not so much (taken from book description on

 It's amazing. The simple act of breathing, when focused on, can provide us with so many benefits. Priscilla Warner talks about her book below:

A Little Something Extra:

"Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you."
  ~John De Paola~

Tech Code: 4DP62YN3UYDX

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Feeling anxious about the root canal procedure about to occur in your mouth as you sit stiffly in your dentist's waiting area? Grabbing for that bottle of wine shortly after your daughter comes home from college with a tattoo on her shoulder and a piercing in her tongue? Gearing up to scream as you confront the living room wall that your 3-year-old decorated with Crayola markers. Stop. Breath. Grab a novel. Yes. I did say grab a novel. Within six minutes of reading it your stress level will be reduced by 2/3 according to Mindlab International at the University of Sussex. Reading is more effective at calming frazzled nerves than listening to music or taking a walk.

No wonder I'm feeling a little edgy. Just look at the pile of unread books on my nightstand that I really am going to delve into one of these days:

Despite my literary negligence, I  do love to read -- especially fiction. It's fun to be absorbed by a thriller or romance, travel to a faraway land, meet a character who I truly come to care about or despise. So many fascinating stories at my fingertips yet so little time to read them. A little sad, isn't it? All of those words strung creatively together by a talented writer, unexposed to my eyes, failing to serve their purpose. I do have good intentions, often reaching for the book lucky enough to be on the top of my heap after I crawl into bed, but generally I fall asleep before finishing ten pages. It must have something to do with waking up at 5 a.m. and hustling through the day until I settle down around 10:00 p.m. It's one of those human things -- the need to sleep.

So what can I do about my desire to kick back and read a book that will relax me more than a stroll through a meadow? Possibly, read during the day?


Do I have time?

In my first blog entry, I mentioned that it takes the average adult 18-minutes to read 15 pages of text. Okay. After dinner, around 7:00, curl up on the couch for 18-minutes and read. Sounds appealing. At that rate I could finish 18, 300 page books in one year. By the way, that's way above the national norm. The average American reads 3-to-6 books a year, but watches 35-hours of TV a week. You do the math. Maybe many of us really do have time to kick back with a book.

To learn more about how reading reduces stress click here:

Song of the Week:
I picked a classic story telling song this week, The Harper Valley P.T.A. sung by Jeannie C. Riley. No glitz in this video. Let your imagination create the scene.  Love the hair, Jeannie...  

Book(s) of the Week:
Because the topic of the week is kicking back with a book, I'll pick two, a classic and one from the collection on my nightstand.

First the classic, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Set during the Great Depression, it traces the migration of an Oklahoma Dust Bowl family to California and their subsequent hardships as migrant farm workers. It was published in 1939 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. Read the first line:

To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

I was drawn to Oklahoma in the five seconds it took to read that.

Now for a novel from my nightstand, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. In Jordan's prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband's Mississippi Delta farm—a place she finds foreign and frightening. Click on the image below to hear a little bit more about the book:

A Little Something Extra:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”
Alan Bennett, The History Boys: The Film

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Orange

I love to eat fruit. In fact, the second I hear about a nutritional program that limits my consumption of peaches, blueberries, apples and bananas, I say, "Not for me." Fruit is one of life's gifts. Handy morsels of different sizes, colors, shapes and textures, packed with flavor and nourishment. So easy to grab on the run, quenching hunger and even thirst. Nope. I would never make it one day on the fruit restrictive Atkins or Southbeach diets.

Just last August I was walking down the Ausable Road in Keene Valley, NY after a long hike up Gothics Mountain in the Adirondacks. I had run out of water and would have given up a snowfall in December for a sip of something, anything. Then I remembered I had grapes in my backpack. I pulled out the baggie full of purple delicacies and popped them in my mouth, one by one. As I bit into them, juice spurt out and trickled down my throat -- an absolute moment in heaven.

One fruit that has sadly been edited off my grocery list, however, is the orange. It's too much work. Trying to spear my thumb nails through the thick skin, picking off the excess white strings (pith), biting into the slices then wondering what to do with the seeds in the center and the sticky finger aftermath -- all too much. I forgot to mention how the juice dribbles down my chin and sometimes onto my shirt. It also leaves quite a mess on the kitchen counter. Yes, I gave up that sweet burst of orange zest in my mouth because it took too much time and effort. But, what else did I give up? First this lovely kitchen display:

And the nutrients. An orange has 45mg of vitamin C, 75% of the RDA for adults -- take that colds and flu. It contains lots of other good for us stuff and is low in calories, contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, but is rich in the dietary fiber, pectin, which is very effective in helping persons with excess body weight, lose it. Oranges are also high in antioxidants, which neutralize the effects of free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules in your body, believed to cause aging and some diseases.  I'm sold. The orange is back on my grocery list. Just check out some other benefits of oranges by clicking here:

My kick back activity for the week will be to sit down with an orange each day. Take the time to peel it, put it in a bowl -- maybe one with a floral design -- savor every bite and that incredible aroma. Along with all that, I'll relish the wonders it is doing for my body. By the way, the most popular seedless oranges available in the U.S.A. are the naval and Valencia varieties. One of those will be my choice since I really don't like seeds swimming around my mouth as I try to chew the orange slice then having to spit them out before I swallow. I'll take care of the sticky orange aftermath with applejack liquid soap and warm water -- not such a bad thing.

Kick back and join me for a week, or a lifetime, of eating oranges. Stay young, stay healthy, stay fit. And I bet the extra time it takes to eat this fruit was planned just to get us roadrunners to slow down a little and enjoy the moment.

Kick Back Song of the Week:

While you pamper yourself with an orange experience, enjoy a little music. One of my favorites, Orange Colored Sky by sung by Natalie Cole:

Kick Back Book of the Week:

The Great Citrus Book by Chef Allen Susser has 38 unique recipes that include citrus fruit. It also has lots of fun facts about oranges, lemons and limes. Chef Allen is one of the inventors of New World Cuisine and owner of Chef Allen's Modern Seafood Grill in Miami, FL. Click below to see him demonstrate how to make an orange mojito and orange peppercorn:

A Little Something Extra:

I had to share this recipe for orange lemonade. It makes me want to jump into a hot summer day by a pool with this drink in my hand: