How kitchen prep, gardening techniques, and big ideas are related

Thoughtful Kitchen

Soak.  Steep.  Marinate.  No, I’m not talking about nuts, tea, or steak…I’m referring to ideas.  Just as particular foods benefit from those processes to draw out nutrition and flavor, Big Ideas do too.  Although chronic over-thinking can lead to paralysis, some thoughts and plans take time to flesh out.  From life choices and career paths to creative endeavors and business projects, Big Ideas become richer, more finely tuned, and more successful after giving nibbles of inspiration and scraps of thought room to breathe and develop full flavor.  Time to soak into our unconscious, our universal mind which is limitless in its wisdom and creativity if we can trust ourselves enough to hand over the apron and let it whip up a fabulous feast.

Discover how many layers and nuances of flavor your Big Ideas can develop in your mind’s kitchen.

Garden Full of Ideas

There are decisions that call for immediate, instinctive, deep-from-within gut reactions that would become suffocated or pointless from too much analysis or debate.  But when the situation is right, and swift action isn’t of the essence, try treating your Big Ideas as you would a garden, planting seeds of inspiration and allowing them the time and freedom to germinate.

Sometimes the wisps grow as weeds do, furiously and with purpose, to full size.  Other times, seedlings of thought sprout at the rate of a snail, advancing skyward one millimeter at a time until one day (after having forgotten about them all-together) you return to find a sturdy, sizable plant in glorious full bloom.  Big Ideas may need different levels of care as well.  Some need constant attention; adjusting the degree of sun and shade, pruning, pinching, precise watering.  Other ideas do better left alone, as a watchful eye and worry-wort attitude will only suffocate its wild ways and hinder its growth.

How does one gain the wisdom to discern which seeds require which method of gardening?  The answer is neither clear-cut nor consistent.  We must tune in to our inner wisdom, know ourselves and how our unique processes work, and be willing and flexible enough to adjust as knowledge is whispered to us.

How does your garden grow?

Little Words Can Have a Giant Impact

Photo by Sanja Gjenero

One weekend during my middle school years, I invited a few of my girlfriends over for a pool party.  During the festivities, my mother noticed one of my friends appeared to be upset.  When Mom asked her what was wrong, she said she hated her big nose.  My mother told her she had a beautiful Greek nose, and it was perfect.  From then on, my friend never worried about the size of her nose, and grew to love it.  The conversation had lasted only a few minutes, but the impact of my mother’s loving words to my friend have lasted over two decades.

My childhood friend told me this story a few weeks ago, when I announced on Facebook that I was looking forward to visiting my parents.  She wanted me to say hi to my mother, that she was always so sweet to her, and then shared her story.  Although I already knew my mother was a favorite of my adolescent friends, I was touched and proud.  When I relayed the story to Mom, she had no recollection of the exchange, but I could tell it made her feel good to know she had made such a positive impact.

We have countless conversations in our lifetimes with strangers, friends, co-workers, loved ones, people who look up to us…sometimes we never know the impact a few casual words can have on someone. There are comments I’ve received–especially when I was growing up–that have stuck with me, some playing a part in shaping my identity and how I thought of myself.  I’m sure the majority of those instances were of no consequence to the other person, and they would be shocked that I recall their words and the way I felt after I heard them.

The image-boosting conversation between my mom and friend made me think.  I want to be more aware of what I say to others.  Not to analyze everything I say it, but to remember that my words can have a long-lasting positive or negative effect.  Compliments and encouragement should only be sincere and heartfelt.  Criticism or advice should come from a place of friendship and love.  Although contrary to the nursery school rhyme about sticks and stones, I think our words do have power.  Power to heal or hurt, build up or tear down, inspire or discourage.  If I do make an impact, I want it to be a positive one.  How extraordinary it would be to hear I had a permanently positive effect on one’s self-esteem, like my mom had on my friend so many years ago.  Little words can have a giant impact.  So use your words well.

A Magical Weekend

On July 3oth, I traveled to Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, to attend the 34th Annual Summer Writing Conference of The International Women’s Writing Guild.  The lovely IWWG founder, Hannelore Hahn, was a guest speaker at one of our local writing meetups a few months ago.  After hearing her speak and mentioning the purpose and beauty of the conference, I had a feeling I needed to go.  I am so glad that I did.

The conference’s theme is Remember the Magic.  I wasn’t quite sure what “magic” really meant before that weekend.  I totally get it now.  When 300-400 talented, strong, free-thinking women come together to support and celebrate their passion, and the essence of creativity and imagination, magic happens! It’s hard to explain but anyone who was there felt it.  That’s why these women come back year after year–quite a few have joyfully returned for over 30 years!

The name of the quad in which we stayed. Referred to as "VGQ" instead to avoid a big mouthful.

It was a little bizarre being back on a college campus.  My college graduation was long enough ago that it was odd to be a student again, this time looking at the experience through older, wiser eyes.  However, I received my undergrad degree not so long ago for the memory to be covered in a film of brain fog.  I sensed a smidge of déjà vu as I saw similarities between my college campus at Vanderbilt and this one.  Recollections of a past life slowly took shape, like photo images developing in a darkroom.

Since college, I’ve had recurring dreams of being lost on campus and utterly out of the loop.  Not sure what that’s all about.  I have the same petrified and hopeless feeling every time, one that sometimes leaves residual effects when I awaken.  I worry that I’ll fail out of school since I can’t seem to get to any class on time, I have none of the required textbooks, and I’m not able to comprehend any of the material being taught.  Needless to say, I was reminded of those dreams as I attempted to navigate the campus and familiarize myself with foreign surroundings.

One thing I don't miss are dorm beds. Took this on last day...Mom, I promise I made my bed the rest of the time!

Although I only stayed for the weekend–they offered two, five, and seven-day tuition options–I left with an abundance of writing ideas, and my cup runneth over with motivation.  There were over 50 workshops from which to choose.  This is usually a great “problem” to have, but needing to choose only six from the list for the time I would be there was initially stressful.  I needn’t have worried, as I couldn’t have gone wrong with the multitude of quality offerings.  There were three workshops that stood out because of the impact they had on me and how much I learned….

In Using Dreams and Oracles for Divining Your Muse, Paula Scardamalia showed us how dreams can guide, influence, and spark your writing.  If we had had more time, I would have shared that recurring odd-one-out college dream I told you about.  “What happens in the dream circle, stays in the dream circle,” but I can tell you (because it’s about me) that through an intriguing exercise, I discovered my animal guide…the eagle.

The eagle, my animal guide

Poem=Sound=Body, taught by the dynamic and entertaining Marj Hahne, was a helpful poetry workshop in which we explored how use of sound in our poetry can add layers of texture and depth.  My poems tend to be very rich in imagery, but adding elements of sound took them to a new level.

The Mosaic of Creative Nonfiction:  From Journaling to Essay to Memoir was the most rewarding.  That day, Susan Tiberghien covered Personal Essay, a sub-genre of creative nonfiction of which I didn’t have much experience.  During our writing exercises, I realized that this method was the perfect way to write the book simmering in my head for the better part of this year.  On the way home via Amtrak, I wrote three essays.  As of today, less than two weeks later, I’ve written an additional eight!  Not a bad start, right?  I’ve begun working through her book One Year to a Writing Life:  Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft so that I may expand my arsenal of creative expression.

I think you’re getting the picture that it wasn’t difficult to feel inspired on that weekend.  But here are some closing highlights of my short but memorable trip, in ABC’s:

  1. A generous portion of our classes were devoted to writing exercises that stimulated and stirred our creative juices.  The instructors were highly talented and esteemed women who had a wealth of knowledge and encouragement to share.
  2. Brown’s campus is beautiful (I obsessively took pictures of the architecture and quaint-ish streets), the weather was gorgeous too.
  3. Connecting with fascinating women that share a love for and need to write, who support and encourage each other to create from their very core…it’s an undeniably powerful experience.  I felt at home with these word artisans and creative beings who think in another shape and color than the rest of society.

Posing with Louise, one of the wonderful women with whom I bonded at the IWWG's Summer Writing Conference.

I’m determined to hold on to the magic I experienced with these women for as long as I can, until my writing spirit and creative juices are recharged next year.  I’m honored to have been part of the IWWG Summer Writing Conference’s first year at Brown after 30+ years at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.  To me, the move represents a new chapter and direction in the IWWG’s life, and in mine most of all.

Was there a time that you felt intense inspiration and a prolonged period of productive creativity?  I’d love to hear about it!


Experience the Moment on a New Level

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Friday, 2:00 p.m.

I’m on my way to Washington, D.C. for a girls’ weekend/birthday celebration with some cousins and friends.  I didn’t plan on going at first–I had too much to do, my schedule was kinda packed, and I knew I would be in less than optimal shape after a weekend of wine, fine food, and late nights.  All these thoughts flying about in my head were suspended by my heart’s reminder of how infrequently I see this birthday-girl cousin and how I needed a break from work and NYC.  Oh, and it would be fun.  I figured no matter how tired I was as a result of the trip, my heart and soul would be fuller and happier when I arrived home.  I decided to seize the day and booked my bus ticket.  This carpe diem decision got me thinking about a related phrase…

“Savor the moment” (Words Are Food Phrase #3)

This is such a great phrase because it gets you to think about relishing the moment in a different way.  It’s obvious that you can use your sense of sight, smell, and hearing to experience an event.  But to wrap your brain around tasting a non-food moment means a deeper, more satisfying, total body experience that will stay with you long after the moment has faded.

Smell and taste are two of those senses that can instantly bring you back to a moment years or decades ago, flooding you with a sense of déjà vu because you literally feel you’ve had the exact same experience before.  Talk about a strong impact!

While every moment you’d like to remember won’t have that same level of recall, you can make a lasting impression by using every one of your senses, as you might do when dining on an extraordinary meal.  Draw the moment in (taste and smell), focus on each detail (savor flavors and textures), and nail it down to memory (digest).

When you find yourself in a moment you would love to remember, try experiencing it with all your senses.  The more senses you use, the fuller the experience and the more permanent the memory will be.  See it, smell it, hear it, touch it, taste it and…

Savor the Moment


Bite Your Words

Remember the post Eating Your Words on Purpose?  Here is a continuation of the conversation about food-related words.

Words Are Food Phrases #2:  How do you eat an elephant?

I think we all know the answer to this riddle…One bite at a time.  I love this saying because it plunges deeper than the surface answer and uncovers some treasure-worthy advice.  Many goals or problems appear monstrous at first glance–like the giant mammal, the elephant–but once broken down into mini goals or tasks, are revealed as entirely manageable.  If you keep plodding along, step by step, you’ll eventually find yourself at the finish line.  Or the elephant’s tail.  I’m one of those people who tend to experience a state of overwhelm when I look at a really big-picture situation.  I’ve learned that if I concentrate on one little thing at a time, I’m able to get it done, with a lot less stress and self-doubting.

Words Are Food Phrases #3:  Biting off more than you can chew.

I think this relates to the preceding phrase.  Biting off more than you can chew is not something you want to do, according to the traditional use of this idiom.  However, if you nibble away at the massive portion you have in front of you, why not take the biggest serving you can?  Go for it!  We often underestimate what we can handle because we don’t want to disappoint ourselves or someone else.  We don’t want the added stress or risk the possibility of failure.  Innovators, entrepreneurs, and other influential individuals would never have gotten as far, or achieved as much, as they did if they subscribed to the idea of only biting off what they could chew.

Final thoughts

My advice is to take on those elephants and bite off way more than you can chew.  Then calmly take small forkfuls and chew thoroughly to receive all the nourishment possible.  And enjoy the process!

Do you agree with my take on these phrases?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!