Space to breathe

Two friends contemplate the awe that is Mt. Hood

I love the expression “breathing room.” It’s about making space for yourself expressed as a fundamental human need: breathing.

When we are overworked or overwhelmed, we instinctively try to create space in our lives to “catch our breath” (another great expression!) before we continue on.

I just finished Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by writer and therapist Lori Gottlieb. It’s a page-turning account of her life as a therapist and as a client. This is an excellent book for therapists, coaches, social workers, and all other humans.

I thought I knew what therapy was — just like I felt that I knew what coaching was before completing a coach training program. There’s a prevailing belief even among those in the know than therapy is about fixing you. But it’s not that at all.

Therapy and its cousin coaching are about giving you breathing room, the space to consider your life and the stories that you have created to make meaning of your existence. People seek therapy and coaching because they need to move to a new place in their lives, and they need a guide, someone familiar with the terrain who can support them on this journey to the unknown.

There’s a great piece by Heather Plett on “Holding Space,” a concept familiar to many coaches, but unfamiliar and downright foreign to others. The simplest explanation is to allow people to occupy a space without judgment or opinion. You just let them be who they are at that moment. This breathing room enables people to unlock everything that has been closed up tight, to relax, to consider other possibilities, to reconsider their stories, to accept their innate worth.

One of the most beautiful expressions of this is in Taylor Swift’s song Lover:

“And at every table, I’ll save you a seat.”

I tear up every time that I hear that line. It’s the ultimate expression of love and belonging. It’s holding space.

If you want to learn about therapy and how to create breathing room in your life, I encourage you to read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. To find a therapist in your area, visit the Psychology Today website.

If you want to learn about coaching, check out this article from Positive Psychology: 30 Proven Benefits of Life Coaching & Mentoring.

You can also reach out to me or any coach to learn more. There are multiple directories of coaching practitioners online, and most coaches offer a free 30-minute introductory or discovery call.

Take the next step. Let someone hold space for you and give you room to breathe.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

When life gives you cucumbers…

Cucumber photo by Deviyahya on Unsplash

We joined a CSA this year (Community Supported Agriculture). We bought two shares from Helsing Junction Farms in Washington: a mini share and a snack share. It’s actually too much, even for two vegetarians who are trying to eat more vegetables and fruits, but we weren’t sure what to expect. 

We pick up our shares once a week. The pick-up spot is just down the street, which is super convenient and really was a deciding factor since, for the most part, we live far away from everything. Our shares are packed in a small box. We transfer everything to bags and then flatten the boxes, part of CSA etiquette.

We have had blueberries, cherries, peaches, apples, arugula, kale, chard, lettuce, green beans, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, radishes, fennel, herbs, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and more. Every week is a little different, but greens and green beans are a recurring item. The other thing that we have had a lot of is cucumbers, and more than one variety. I love cucumbers, and last year I grew a variety called Mideast Peace by Adaptive Seeds based in Sweet Home, Oregon. I have never had success with cucumbers, so I thought this was a long shot. But I liked the name and the description. Wow. These cucumbers are perfect. 

My only complaint is that I didn’t grow enough plants, so this year, I doubled the number of plants, and I bought a couple of lemon cucumber plants. As you might expect, lemon cucumbers are about the size and color of a lemon. They are also yummy, and one is the perfect size for two people. Sliced into wedges and sprinkled with Coffee BBQ Rub from Trader Joe’s, lemon cucumbers made a great appetizer. 

Well, to borrow a line from that American classic, Airplane, I picked the wrong week to expand my cucumber bed. SO MANY CUCUMBERS. We might typically buy one cucumber a week from the store and use it on salads. Between the CSA and our own garden, some weeks we have had 6-8 or more. Cucumbers aren’t something you freeze or cook. Like our crazy tomato harvest, we started eating them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

We ate them with hummus. We made cucumber peanut salad and cucumber raita. This week we tried a creamy cucumber salad. And still, there was a stack of cucumbers on the counter and a second bunch of dill staring us down. So we considered refrigerator pickles. I’ve heard of these but never tried them. I used this recipe from A Spicy Perspective as a starting point. I didn’t have any pickle jars, so I used a 6-cup rectangular glass container with a snap-on lid, and I went crazy and tripled the recipe. I skipped the mustard seeds simply because I didn’t have any on hand and I added 2 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning. I was heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes, added fresh jalapeno rings, and went light on the onion (I used red onion). I used a combination of cucumbers, some small, some large, about 8 or 9, I think. The recipe says to wait 24 hours, but I cheated and had some with a grilled cheese sandwich at around the 18-hour mark. These are darn good. Spicy (hello, red pepper flakes!) but so tasty. How have I lived this long without making refrigerator pickles? Now we want to try to pickle other things! Watch out world! 

Yummy homemade cucumbers on a plate
Old Bay Pickles, whaaaaaat?

I was worried that the brine wasn’t quite enough to cover the cucumbers, but I think that it pulled some water from the cukes and worked out perfectly.  

Being part of a CSA has reminded me of the importance of staying connected to our food supply and what might be lost without small farms. I realized anew how much food is worth and that low-cost food might have a hidden price tag. When you can see and name the people who grow your food, it changes how you feel about it. Buying direct from a farmer is more personal than picking up your vegetables at a big box store. And when you have a front-row seat to growing conditions, logistics, and harvest mishaps, it creates tremendous empathy for farmers and gratitude for the food in general. 

CSAs offer some unusual varieties that push even experienced vegetable eaters like ourselves into new territory. Fresh fava beans? Check. Roma beans? Figured out after one failed attempt. Maybe I accidentally made a smoothie with arugula, but it was still edible. We have also become more nimble with our food stores and better at being creative with what we have. I can’t tell you how many new recipes we tried this summer to use the stockpile of beans, to figure out fennel, to eat up the greens, and to conquer the cucumbers. It pushed us to a new place, and that’s good. It gave our growth mindset a serious workout. I think we all need that. Next up: we plan to pull out the spiralizer* and make Chilled Lemon-Dill Cucumber Noodles from kitchn.

So when life hands you cucumbers — you know what to do.

*If you are wondering if spiralizers are a useful gadget, we have this one, and we use it all the time for zucchini noodles, AKA, zoodles. (I especially like the safety features.) 

Photo by Deviyahya on Unsplash

Get out your seam ripper

Mistakes happen--that's why I own 8 seam ripperspper.

I recently worked on a quilt project, four placemats for my dad. The fabrics were selected to reflect his experience as a Boy Scout. He was an Eagle Scout, and he worked at a scout camp. One of his duties was to care for a fox on loan from the local zoo. Foxy made a big impression on my dad, so, of course, he had to be part of the quilt. 

I used a quilt-as-you-go technique for these mini quilts with two-inch strips set on a 45-degree angle. To keep the pieces straight, I start in the middle and sew to one corner, and then I flip the quilt over and sew from the middle to the opposite corner. I learned the hard way that starting from one side can result in some distortion. 🙁 

These went together pretty fast, and the strips covered the batting and the backing fabric almost perfectly. I trimmed the quilts to neat rectangles and then sewed the binding together. For the first time ever, I sewed all the mitered seams correctly without having to redo them! Yes!

Then I started sewing on the binding. This is where I first goofed up. I join the edges of the binding in a mitered seam but miscalculated the overlap, so the binding didn’t match up. Then I noticed an even bigger goof-up: the foxes were upside down.

The backing fabric features the Boy Scout Oath with a definite top to the material, and the eagle fabric was laid out in a particular way as well. When I flipped the quilts to sew from the middle to the left, I flipped the foxes, so they were right side up as I was sewing them. Alas, this rendered them upside down in the finished quilt! Things like this happen to everyone, even experienced sewers, but it’s not fun. 

At this point, I just had to get up and walk away. 

In the past, this is where I might have abandoned the project. I am sorry to admit that I have been short on grit more than once in my life. But it’s something I have been working on, so the next day I returned to the sewing room to assess the situation. Luckily, the fox fabric is the second strip from the edge so I would only need to remove two pieces. I had plenty of material and even had extra strips cut. I decided to try removing the binding only from the affected corner. I wasn’t sure if this would work but decided it was worth a try. 

I pulled out my seam ripper. Actually, I probably have eight seam rippers. It’s a small but indispensable sewing gadget prone to being misplaced. So, I have purchased multiple seam rippers over the years. My Clover 463 seam ripper is probably my favorite. Seam rippers are ingenious tools and helpful for all kinds of sewing and non-sewing related tasks.

I made my corrections in stages, so it wasn’t as frustrating to undo the work that I thought was done. I removed the binding first and then came back twice to remove the two corner pieces. Luckily my first quilt was correct. I always do one as a strip guide when making multiples of the same style. It didn’t work perfectly as a guide, but as I said, these things happen in spite of the precautions that we take to ensure a good outcome.

I ultimately sewed on the new corner strips, trimmed the quilts and sewed on the binding. I hand sew the binding in place as the last step, and I am happy to report that they turned out great. 

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process. It helps to have tools in your toolbox to recover from errors and other setbacks, gadgets like my trusty seam ripper.

What are some other tools that can help you handle setbacks?

Mistakes are also an inevitable part of life–not just creative work. It’s a great idea to get good at failing: Acknowledge and label your feelings, don’t label yourself as a failure, and cultivate a sense of humor. Most importantly, remember that failure is an event, not a personality trait. 

Fall down seven times, get up eight. You’ve got this.

All roads lead to you

Two paths in the woods

I have always loved Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Like most people, I initially misunderstood its meaning. I truly believed that taking the road that I thought to be the one less traveled would make all the difference.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

But now I understand that it doesn’t matter what path you take because they are all about the same. Humans love to create meaning, even where there is none. 

So, the path is not important. Moving forward is. Your mindset is.

So just take the next step.

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

The smallest possible step

Trainers on, going up the steps.

When faced with a project, there is excitement, anticipation, and … dread. We like to do new things, and we get excited about the outcomes: the book, the painting, the new app, the new landscaping, an organized house, a degree. But then it hits us. The work, the long days and nights, giving up free time. Suddenly we are world-class procrastinators looking everywhere but the task at hand. 

So what can we do? 

The secret is breaking the task down into the smallest possible steps. Something that won’t trigger the dread, or the fight or flight feeling. Something that just barely registers as work. You do that, and then you take the first step. And then, you take the next step.

The Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” reminds us that every great journey must begin with the first step. 

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Just Start

Coffee is a great way to begin.

Every time that I start a project, I doubt myself. I look at projects that I have finished and try to deconstruct them. How did I do it? How did it all fit together? I ask myself these questions as if I had not been in the room during the making. It’s sometimes tempting to copy my past work. I can see it turned out well, it seems safer to repeat myself.

I never do this, but I think about it every single time I sit down to make something new.

It doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes as I approach the finish line, I hate the project. Sometimes I put it away for a while. Sometimes a long while.

But a funny thing happens when I pull it out. It’s not so bad, I think. Sometimes I think, “This is damn good.” And yes, I even think about copying work that I once soundly rejected.

Seeing this pattern, I now know to watch for it. I say to my doubting self, “Trust the process” and “Be okay with failing.”

I try to laugh at the temptation to reverse engineer my own work.

And then I say: “Just start.”

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash