Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Trust the Chef

Sir Ken Robinson writes, “there are two types of people in the world: those who divide people into two groups, and those who don’t.” I, like Brene Brown (I know! Twinsies!), do. I’m aware it’s dualistic and sometimes limiting, but it’s also quick and easy and sometimes a little fun.

So there are those people in the world, who, when they go to a restaurant repeatedly, they order something new. And there are those of us who [do it right and] order the same thing over and over.  When I love something, I keep returning to that satisfaction. Case in point: I’ve only ever had one dish at Macaroni Grill, the Pasta Romano. This was before my body stopped digesting refined white flour, but I told friends that if I were ever to end up on death row and needed to name my final meal, this would be it. (These friends love me, but gave me concerned looks after that statement. What? You haven’t thought about that? I asked.) Now, a quick search of Macaroni Grill’s website tells me that the Pasta Romano is no longer available. Please, a moment of silence. (They didn’t even tell me ahead of time, so that I could get one final taste?! How dare they! What are they, heartless animals?)

Back to the main-ish point: For those of us in the group who re-order over and over, how do you quickly and efficiently order at a new venue, especially when a friend is sharing a captivating story and you’re on limited time? For myself, I look for key words: avocado or the phrase “covered in queso.” I must tell you: this system has yet to fail me.

Yesterday, in an adventure to Northstar Cafe- at which I had previously dined, but I’m by no means a “regular” – I knew I needed food with color (a white potato and a white chicken boob just wouldn’t serve me well) so I limited myself to the salad section, even through there was an entire area of the menu devoted to “wood fired pizzas.” Sometimes I defy my bread-hating body, but yesterday was not that day. Because I’m a rule follower when I believe the rule is for me, I stayed in the salads.

Can we please talk about the Townsfair Salad? I feel like this experience warrants public discussion. Who knew that dates belong in a salad? And, to that point, why didn’t that person tell me? After my bowl arrived, I looked at it and thought, “never would I ever put these things together.” The greens were green – like kale green,  which I typically only intake through juicing because of kale’s inherit rigidity. And it sat in there with cabbage and what I believe to be radicchio, but I’m not up on my forms of leaf chicory. There was some chicken, which could have easily stayed home that day, and there were chickpeas, which are my least favorite of the legumes, but in this bowl they became magnificent.

Also, the nuts. This salad had sustenance. There were at least 3 kinds of nuts, IMHO, but the menu says explicitly almonds. And then there were the stars: avocado, goat cheese, and (the aforementioned) dates. Never in my life have I put all of these things together, especially in the absence of bacon, and expected magic to happen, but this is why I’m not paid by the Northstar Cafe to make menus. Whoever does have this job is: a) doing a better job than the guy at Macaroni Grill, who apparently gets rid of the best work of the last guy, and b) knows secret potions.

This chef also knows that dates and goat cheese behave much like my hilarious friends Randy and Brooke, and when you get them at the same time you can go ahead and just wait for the tears of enjoyment to start rolling down your sore little cheeks. Some things just go together. Goat cheese, by itself, perhaps on a cracker? Meh. But in a bowl of greens, nuts, legumes, and DATES? Let’s just say it was better than my senior prom.

I have watched my children tear apart delightful dishes time and again, or ask to order theirs without an unfavored ingredient. I understand some slight aversions, my own being tomatoes, if they’re not grown in an actual garden and harvested in the last day or so. But I’m now in that group of people who now believes you simply have to trust the chef. It might not be about loving goat cheese, it’s about loving goat cheese in this element. In this dish. Right here. If I had dismissed the Townsfair on the merits of goat cheese, I would’ve missed the magic.

Donald Miller writes in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that when we leave a movie theater and decide that the movie we just saw wasn’t that good, we don’t automatically preclude movies from the realm of enjoyment. We haven’t decided that all movies are bad, just that movie was bad. Similarly, we can’t observe that goat cheese is always bad, but perhaps sometimes it can be overused or cheaply made.

And life, as well, isn’t always of one essence. I think we can trust the chef. There’s a power in the universe that can take lackluster chickpeas, toss them with a dazzling vinaigrette, and by the power of the presence of avocado, suddenly we have hope for the chick pea. The chick pea doesn’t ruin the salad, it gets transformed by the power of the salad coming together in oneness.

Dissected, life can become a bunch of little things we hate. We can spend our energy picking around, pushing aside and avoiding what we normally don’t appreciate. Or we can take a big bite of the whole thing, tossed together. Some elements are our favorite. Some are not. Some are enjoyed more in partnership with other things. But ultimately, it’s good. When you go to a worthwhile restaurant, you can trust the chef.

Just look for the words “avocado” or “covered in queso.”

Lunch lessons

As I double checked the children’s self-packed lunches, I confirmed they had indeed packed vegetables because the bowl seemed pretty full. The girls sheepishly opened theirs back up to add in carrots and tiny bell peppers. Then one of them said, “but mom, other kids make fun of my lunch.”

Sigh.

I knew it would happen. I didn’t get pushy about them packing the hummus they love because I knew it could create a bullseye for teasing. (Let’s be honest about the appearance of hummus.) Our quinoa salads don’t make the cut, and they rarely take vegetable soup as I believed they would as I purchased the thermoses. Our lunches are not exotic.

But they’re also not Doritos, a Moon Pie, a chocolate chip granola bar, and a piece of candy, like the girl sitting next to the eldest daughter. (Can I tell you how handy it is to have one parent who makes appearances in the lunch room? Bird’s eye view of their reality, right there. SO helpful.)

Here’s my conundrum: How do I talk to my kids about the importance of healthy eating without using mechanisms that essentially shame and put fear into those who don’t, especially when it’s not necessarily the child’s fault? 

I can tell my kids about the huge rates of childhood obesity and those indicators for later disease in life. But do I want my kids to go to school and say, “well, you’ll get fat and loose a foot and die” to their friends? That would be an emphatic no to that rhetorical question. Allow me to create a laundry list of reasons why:

  1. I don’t want my kids or other kids scared of food, even tasty treats that don’t serve much of a nutritional purpose.
  2. We have enough eating-based patterns of disordered behavior in the world.
  3. Kids don’t need yet another reason why they’re not good enough.
  4. Much of this has to do with parents.
  5. I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that these parents are doing the best they know how, with the information provided, and the time and resources available to them.
  6. Perhaps other families make decisions based on rubrics unlike our own, and that is fine, too.

So, now how to deal with our situation. I confirmed to my kids, yet again, that mommy shops and prepares food the way she does only out of love, and not because she’s trying to make their life miserable. They know that, but sometimes it needs restated. That was the easy part.

The challenge lies in helping them understand immediate gratification and looking at life through the lens of the long haul, which is hard for adults and seemingly impossible for children. My youngest still only thinks in terms of “yesterday” as the past and “tomorrow” as the future. Their understanding of time is small and slow, so the idea that he will benefit as a 40-year-old man has very little impact on the 9-year-old boy.

I’ve embraced the question, do you want your gratification to be cheap, fast, or good? We can pick two at the most. My children will almost always pick fast. I will almost always pick good. Our society has created freeways toward the cheap and fast, making it an upstream swim toward goodness. And while I maintain there’s a place for cheap and fast, because I’ll lean on those as well, I will riot against the fact that it has become the default setting.

When other people choose cheap and fast, I understand. My life probably looks nothing like theirs. So how do we talk about these kinds of things – what we eat, how we dress, which activities we choose to participate in – without shame?  I want to create space for children to make decisions about their lives that includes the answer “because it’s good.” It’s not cheap, it’s not fast (which can mean that I might not see its effects right away), but it is good.

I don’t want to shame people for making decisions that we don’t. But how do we help our kids grow into people who understand the long view that opting for goodness tends to take?

Why We Mourn Jack

I’ve given more than 24 hours, so spoilers are fair game. The video montages are making their rounds on Facebook, tempting tears at odd hours of the day by walking back through Jack’s relationship with Rebecca and the kids. The writers and creators of this show deserve a standing ovation, not just for making us fall in love with this man (and family), but for doing so in a way that doesn’t provoke us to ask why? We don’t even question why do we love him, or why are our hearts broken over an imaginary fire caused by the safest product on earth?

Jack is a wrong-side-of-the-tracks, hard-childhood kid that didn’t let the pain harden him, so of course, we cheer for him. We’re thrilled he took a turn away from the patterns set before him. And he fell in love with Rebecca – who doesn’t love a love story? He worked hard, saved his pennies, swallowed his pride and even asked for money when he needed it, so we celebrate his fastidiousness.

But if you ask me – and if you’re still reading, then you’re asking – we don’t love Jack because of those things. The turning point in the story, for me, was the episode where he revealed to Rebecca his drinking problem. We saw a side of Jack that revealed imperfections; even ugliness.

Jack was no longer the perfect guy, the perfect husband, the perfect father. But when perfection shattered, we still loved his goodness. He loved his family with all of his imperfect self, which is all we can ever ask. We will search the world over looking for perfect love, only to come up disappointed. The promise was never perfection, only goodness.

In the episode which shows us how he died, Rebecca remarks to Kevin how “your dad never had to try.” Jack was able to give his family love and patience and grace seemingly without effort. Kate and Kevin, in their adulthood of grief, have spent years trying to become someone who would make their father proud, unable to do so because of a deep sense of shame around how he died. They’re tumbled by their imperfection, as if they’re shocked and immobilized by it.

But then we watch Randell and the way he doesn’t numb away Superbowl Sunday. He doesn’t pretend like it’s normal yet he doesn’t allow himself to become dissolved by it. And in his interaction with his daughter, we get a peek at the story behind the story: he tells her how she’s his “#1” and before she was born he was overcome by fear and worry that he wouldn’t be the father that he needed or wanted to be. Our previous knowledge gives us a glimpse at his anxiety, his breakdowns, his interaction with perfection.

He tells his daughter, “when I met you, it was like I didn’t even have to try.”

Cue all the tears.

We know Randell, like his father (both fathers!), isn’t perfect. Randell has struggled with his own demon. That struggle, that fight, left him well aware of his imperfection. From there the struggle goes one of several ways: either covering it up, letting it beat him up, or living with it in the back seat.

Jack and Randell stopped trying to conjure a perfect life into existence by their own perfect doing. Instead, they loved their children and their wives and their families from a deeper source. The cracks in their veneer are what lets the light through, as St. Anne Lamott often quotes.

Those cracks, chips and gashes can become a source of inner contempt as it becomes obvious the image is no longer in perfect condition. Or those broken places are exactly how love flows out more freely.

We don’t love and mourn Jack because he was perfect, but because he was good.  And the reason that This Is Us is causing Kleenax to have such a good year is because after we turn off the DVR, millions of women* are climbing into bed with their own version of a person who doesn’t live up to perfection. Loving Jack despite his shortcomings, offering him forgiveness and cheering him on, celebrating the way he loves his family – these all become practice rounds for us to do it in our own homes, if we choose to see all of what is unfolding. It provokes in us the desire to love from a deeper source rather than spending our energy creating a cover of perfection. We’re free to let the love seep through our own broken edges. And we free our loved ones to do the same.

As Steinback famously wrote: And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.  And may it be so.

 

 

*and men, but let’s be honest about target demographics

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