Introducing Cheryl’s Kitchen

I can’t believe that I have had a blog for almost 8 years and I have NEVER added a recipe or two. What’s up with that? I do love to cook, as long as I have the time. Otherwise I am running around my kitchen like a lunatic, totally frazzled with the age old question repeating itself in my head. Which is, “What’s for dinner?”

The reality that dinner was all on me hit me after I graduated college and moved to Denver when I realized that if I wanted to eat, I had to cook. I’ll never forget the first dinner I cooked for myself. Frozen fish sticks, frozen veggies, and pre-packaged rolls. I thought that was cooking. And I wondered why I was getting fat.

I am a totally self-taught cook, and I learned mostly through trial and error. And there was a whole lot of error along the way.Most mothers teach their daughters how to cook. At least they did during the era that I grew up. But, since my mom had 3 little girls in 4 years, things were a little different in our house. My oldest sister was responsible for helping my dad with the yard work and heavy lifting. My next sister got to do the fun stuff like helping my mom with the cooking, baking, and ironing.

And then there was me. I got to clean the kitchen and the bathroom. By myself. Lucky me. So, where my sisters at least got some parental interaction, I was left alone with my thoughts and a can of cleanser. I guess that’s where my fertile imagination came from.

I bought my first cookbook 40 years ago, and I still have it. Although, when I use it I modify the recipes so much that even the author wouldn’t recognize them. After all, I’ve learned a lot about nutrition as well as cutting corners over the years. I’ve also learned how to lighten the calorie count while maximizing flavor and nutritional value. But please don’t let that scare you. Not all of them are light and healthy, but I assure you that they all are tasty.

I hope you love my kitchen as much as I do. Welcome to Cheryl’s Kitchen!

Don’t Fear the 5-0

A lot of my young friends are getting ready to turn the big 5-0. Meh-heh-heh. I laugh because none of them seem very happy about it. As a matter of fact, some of them even act like it’s the end of the world. As a deliriously happy person over fifty, all I can say to them is “Buck up, Buttercup!”

Turning 50 is NOT the end of the world. As far as I’m concerned, turning 50 was the best thing that ever happened to me. To be honest, my 30s were a bit of a nightmare. My 40s were even worse. There were times I didn’t even think I would make it to 50, and neither did a lot of my friends.

But, for some reason, I figured if I could make it to the big 5-0, maybe things would get better. For once in my life I was right. It was almost like magic happened. I felt like I was finally comfortable in my own skin. The nagging and sabotaging negative self-talk that plagued me all of my adult life finally fell silent. Don’t get me wrong–it still does rear its ugly head every now and again. But at least I recognize it before it gets out of control and I can tell it to kindly shut up and mind its own business. In a loving way, of course.

Once I hit 50, I felt happier, more content, and less stressed over the little things. I learned that it was okay to walk away from “friendships” that weren’t working for me. I learned to like myself more, and to be my own best friend. My 50s were so great that when the big 6-0 came creeping up on me, I ran toward it with arms open wide, ready to embrace whatever came next.

So, if you are turning 50 soon, stop worrying about it. It will give you frown lines, and laugh lines are far more attractive. Besides, the best is yet to come. Embrace it.

What Is Courage?

Out of all of the characters in the Wizard of Oz, my absolute favorite is the Cowardly Lion. Except for Toto, of course. Okay, that makes Lion my absolute second favorite. But, it’s funny how the big, strong Lion was always running away from danger and little Toto was always running towards it. So, which one had courage? In my ninja-driven way of thinking, I have the perfect answer. They both did.

How is that possible? Because, what is the definition of courage? Most people would say it is the absence of fear. But, in reality, it is action in the presence of fear.

We’ve all experienced fear. There are several ways we can respond to it. We can run (flight) like the Lion did by removing himself from the threat to keep himself safe. It’s actually a really smart choice, even though it hardly seems appropriate fro the King of the Forest. Or, we can fight like the fierce warrior Toto did, to defeat his opponents and bring them to their knees. It’s an option for those who truly embody the spirit of a warrior. But when you consider that your chances of being the victor are about 50-50 (at best), it might not be the best choice unless you are cornered.

There is a third option. You can freeze like a deer in the headlights. Absolutely THE worst possible choice you can make. But, it’s not your fault, because it really isn’t a conscious choice. Our brain automatically shifts into our sympathetic nervous system when we are threatened, which is part of our built-in survival mechanism. Unfortunately, when we freeze we haven’t got even a slim chance of surviving an attack.

Taking some self-defense classes, sharpening our awareness and observation skills, practicing avoiding and evading a threatening situation is a great start to prevent against freezing, and learning how to take action in the presence of fear. And that, my friends, is the definition of courage.

Roses in November

I love November. I love the entire fall season, with the weather changing, the leaves turning, the incredible bright blue skies of October. But I have always loved November, and I especially love Thanksgiving.

I grew up in Western Pennsylvania where the winters are brutal, and can sometimes start as early as October. But, 8 years ago, the weather was a completely different story. I ought to know, because I was there.

Both my parents were ill with leukemia. I know. What are the chances? My 2 older sisters and I spent 2010 taking turns “visiting” them for a week to 10 days at a time. They would never accept help if it was offered and would NEVER ask for it, but they were happy to have us “visit.” If we just happened to take them to their treatments, the hospital, the doctors appointments, etc., that was just a pleasant coincidence. (Sigh).

My mom and dad were playing a bizarre game of End-Stage Leukemia poker during that year. You know–I’ll match you an infection and raise you a reaction. Okay, I’ll match that reaction and raise you and ER visit. On and on it went. You get the picture.

In early October, I came home for a “visit.” My dad came out of the house to greet me and to show me my mother’s rose bush. He was so excited, because the bush had started blooming again. In October! My dad was delighted, and told me that my mom was as well. I looked and sure enough, there were a few buds beginning to open. I was thrilled. And then it hit me.

Somewhere deep inside of me, I realized the truth, and what the roses represented. This was it. The end had come. For both of them. We were in the final stretch. Fighting back tears so my father wouldn’t see (thank God for those Maui Jim sunglasses), and keeping my voice neutral, I ooh’d and ahh’d over the roses. But, in reality felt like I was falling off a cliff.

The incredible weather held up all during October and through the first week of November, and her roses bloomed the entire time. She died on November 8th. Her roses bloomed until the snow came and gently covered them, 19 days later, the day my father died. It was 2  days after Thanksgiving.

You might think that I get sad or depressed during November and around Thanksgiving. Nah, I don’t. My parents wouldn’t want that. Besides, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I don’t want to be sad. I’m especially glad that my mom got one last chance to see her roses, which she loved. And grateful that my dad got to see how happy it made her. And I’m really glad that they are together forever, where every day is a day of wine. And roses.

Sharing ninja secrets: Shhhhhh……

As a card carrying ninja, I sure know a lot of ninja secrets. I spent many long, hard hours of training for 14 years in a smelly martial arts dojo with a lot of sweaty men to learn these secrets. I also spent a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort along the way as well. But, every minute and every penny was well worth it and well spent.

It is my heartfelt desire to share some of these secrets with you without violating the code of the Super Secret Society of Ninjas, so here are just a few simple tips that will help you stand, walk, and move like a ninja to help keep you safe every time you step out into the world.

After all, our body language communicates to the world what kind of day we’re having, and even how we feel about ourselves. And people pay attention to it more than you think they do. It makes an immediate (and lasting) first impression. So, we want to make a great impression each and every time we meet someone. Whether it is at a party, a business event, a networking group, or a stranger on the street.

Especially a stranger on the street. Because we don’t want to look like an easy target if he happens to be one of the bad guys. Here are a few simple tips:

1). Stand up straight with your head up. Yes, this means putting your cell phone away.

2). Look people in the eye, including strangers. Especially strangers! No, it’s not rude.

3). Have your hands free at all times, just in case you need them to sweep a flying object or an unwanted and uninvited hand out of the way. Yes, it does happen.

4). Stand with your knees slightly relaxed and one foot slightly in front of the other, just in case you need to make a fast exit.

5). Speaking of exits, always know where the closest exits are every single time you enter a building or enclosed area. Exits aren’t just important in airplanes.

Most of all, stand, walk, and move with confidence. Because that is the way of the ninja!

Flexibility….For Life!

Do you ever feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz? Like you are so stiff and inflexible that you were left out in the cold, damp forest for so long that you can’t move your joints and you’re screaming for your oil can? Or, have you ever tried stretching your tight muscles only to feel even worse afterwards? It’s not just you. There is a physiological reason for it, and it is basically quite simple.

Before I get all geeky about physiology, let me assure you that losing flexibility is NOT a “normal” part of the “aging process.” Who came up with that idea, anyway? If you find out, let me know. I’d like to smack ’em upside the head for spreading stuff like that! The truth is, that we do not have to lose flexibility as we get older. Even more good news is that we have our own internal oil can, which lubricates and nourishes our joints to keep them healthy and mobile during the entire course of our lifetime.

So, how do we access this internal oil can? By gently moving and mobilizing our joints in the full range of motion that they were made to do to help us perform at our best. I’ll use the hip joint as an example. It is a lovely joint that is made to move in a circular manner called circumduction. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to use it as a hinge joint, moving only forward and backward. Sitting, walking, climbing stairs are an example. As a result, the soft tissue that supports that magnificent joint gets tighter and tighter. Oww. So, we stretch.

One of the functions of the soft tissue is to protect the joint. It is rich with nerve endings that talk to the brain and let it know how things are going. When we try and stretch, those nerve endings send signals to the brain that say STOP!! You’re going to damage the joint. The brain replies by saying OK, and tightens up the soft tissue even more to protect the joint. Ooops.

Instead of stretching, try gently mobilizing your hip joint in its socket with gentle, circular movements. Do not force it, just let it relax into the movement. Remember that less is more. really listen to your body and the signals it is sending you. It does take some extra time, and you do have to slow yourself down. But, in the end, it sure is worth it.

For more ideas, check out my podcast    “If  you can’t bend your knees, you can’t do squat.”

Trick-or-Treat and Ninja Tips

I love Halloween. I always have and I always will. But, the world has changed a lot since I was a kid. Maybe it’s just the ninja in me, or being a grown up that makes me more aware of the potential dangers around us, especially when we are in a festive mood and celebrating a holiday.

Here’s wishing you and your family a very fun filled and Happy Halloween, as well as a few ninja safety tips to keep in mind. I know you already know them and practice them, but just putting it out there does make me feel better.

1). Carry a sturdy and high powered flashlight. Not only will this help light your way, you can shine it in the eyes of any undesirable goblin that comes your way. This will temporarily blind them, giving you the chance to get away.

2). Leave the masks at home. No matter how adorable, scary, irresistible, and tempting they may be, they limit your visual field. They are also very distracting to the wearer, and a distracted person makes for an easy target.

3). Make sure you go through your child’s stash of candy at the end of the night of tick-or-treating. I am not suggesting that any of the homes they visit would engage in nefarious activities or hand out candy or other treats that have been tampered with, but you never know where those treats were before they entered your little goblin’s Halloween bag. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Besides, you might use it as an excuse to help yourself to a few treats as well.

Halloween is about having fun and making memories. It’s also about being safe and practicing good safety practices and establishing patterns that will teach your children well and that they can use during their entire lifetime. Boo!

Who Needs A Gym?

Are you one of those people (like me) who absolutely hate the thought of going to a gym but does want to be fit and healthy? The key is to keep moving, and find activities that you absolutely love to do. I personally enjoy taking classes because I enjoy the social interaction, the camaraderie, and having someone that I need to be accountable to. After all, if I were left to my own devices I would sit on the couch all day eating bon bons and wonder why my butt was so big.

However, there are so many things to choose from for physical activity. Notice I said “physical activity” rather than “exercise.” I did that on purpose, because I am a physical therapist who hates exercise and thinks that chocolate is food. Fortunately, I love to move.

Movement is life, and our bodies were made and meant to move. Keeping that in mind, you may want to experiment in a variety of different classes or movement modalities that appeal to you. A few examples are Pilates, Tai Chi, yoga, dance, and/or Feldenkrais, just to name a few. The beauty of studying any of these methods is that they are portable, meaning that you can learn the basic movement techniques and practice them in the privacy of your own home every single day.

However, don’t think that you have to do each and every movement pattern that you learn. Again, I am avoiding the “e” word to take away the pressure. Just do the ones that you enjoy or feel good to you. Just doing them for 5-15 minutes a day will do wonders to strengthen, tone, and condition your entire body. It can be even more effective than going to the gym 3 times a week, because the effects are cumulative.

If you make a habit of setting aside a few minutes every day to simply move, you might be surprised how good you feel. Keep moving, be healthy, and don’t be afraid to enjoy a bit of chocolate every now and again.

Strong Is Sexy: At Every Age

Muscles are a must, because a strong body is a healthy body, and an attractive one as well. There is nothing more appealing than the look of sleek, toned muscles, in every stage of life. But, more important than how a strong body looks, is how a strong body feels.

Strength feels healthy, confident, resilient, and youthful. Besides, it also makes your clothes fit better. Strength is imperative for healthy function, but strong muscles also help us in many other ways as well.

Strong muscles increase our metabolism, help us burn calories, and help us maintain a healthy weight. Notice, I said a “healthy” weight, not some unrealistic or abnormally low weight. Fitness isn’t a size or a number. It’s not about the way you look, but the way you feel. And, strong feels as sexy as hell. That, in itself, is enough to make you want to pick up some weights and get started.

Strong muscles also lead to strong bones. By putting a healthy stress on our muscles to strengthen them, we are also putting a healthy stress on our bones at the same time. When we stress our bones (emphasis is on in a healthy way), we strengthen them. Without getting too nerd-y on you, it’s a physiological phenomena called Wolf’s Law. We can even change the shape of our bones as we strengthen them. How cool is that?

But, what if you hate the thought of weight training? What if you’re like me, and the thought of going to a gym makes you break out in hives? Never fear, you can always strengthen, shape, and tone your entire body in the privacy of your own home. Do I have your attention? Great! Make sure you check in next time for some quick fit tips for strength training at home. Because strong IS sexy, at every age!

 

Breaking Up With My BFF

Breaking up with someone is always awkward, and uncomfortable. But I had the McDaddy of uncomfortable breakups when I had to break up with my BFF of 30 years.

Because, how do you tell someone that you have been best and dearest friends with for 30 years that you haven’t liked them for the past 15 and have been trying to figure out how to break up with them for the past 10? Like I said, it was awkward. So awkward and uncomfortable that I actually had to seek professional help.

My friend and I met in ballet class 30 years earlier and established an unlikely friendship. She was quiet, reserved, shy, and highly intelligent. I was loquacious, demonstrative, outgoing, and just smart enough to get by. For some reason we got along famously.

However, over the years what had begun as a wonderful friendship based on mutual support, respect, and caring somehow turned into one that was demanding, controlling, and manipulative. Our social interactions left me feeling drained, depleted, and even angry. Her arrogant condescension set my teeth on edge. When I tried to limit our “girl time” she became hostile and belligerent. I couldn’t even imagine how she would react if I tried to break up with her.

I slowly tried to interrupt our habitual patterns  by setting clear boundaries and re-establish new patterns in our relationship. After all, we had been friends a long time, and I wanted to salvage our friendship if at all possible. Besides, we had shared our deepest secrets, so we both knew where all the bodies were buried, so to speak. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way.

If you’d like to hear more details right from the horse’s mouth (mine), you can check out my podcast on the subject on The FemiNinja.