Lessons From Chef’s Table


When people ask what I wanted to be as a kid, I recall my friend and I convincing our science teacher to take us to the canyon near our home to gather rocks and arrowheads. The first thing I ever wanted to be was an archaeologist. I was fascinated with learning how people lived thousands of years ago. Even to this day, when I visit a historical place, I become almost dissociative. I can feel what it was like to live during that time. It’s my version of time travel, I guess.

I was also a big reader of biographies. My mom and I watched a lot of old movies together and I was fascinated with the 30’s and 40’s actors and actresses, so I’d scour the biography section at the library for biographies. I read about Francis Farmer, Carol Lombard, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland, to name a few. I felt like I had been born in the wrong era. Those biographies took me back to a time I never knew. Even today, my personal biography library takes up the most room on my bookshelves. I’ve got bios on everyone from Da Vinci to to Marie Antionette to Julia Child to Laird Hamilton.

The question is why biographies? I’m a notorious loner. I have a hard time connecting with people in real life. I have often said, “I hate people,” but obviously I don’t. In fact, people fascinate me, especially when a biographer gets beyond their personas. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard for me to relate to people. I’m interested in the real story, not the persona you present.

Of course, I can’t judge. I am far from authentic myself. I’ve kept my real Self locked up so deep inside that even I don’t know who I am. I think the reason I’m so interested in biographies is because I’m looking for myself in other people.

I recently began watching The Chef’s Table on Netflix. It’s been out for a while and I love cooking shows, but I thought it was going to be about hoity-toity food and I’m not interested in that. It turns out, though, that the series is more biographies about the chefs themselves. Some are famous chefs, others not as famous, but all are super interesting in their own ways.

I’m a seeker. I have been all my life. I’ve often said my goal in life is to know everything and that includes learning about myself and growing as a person. I look to these chefs and I wonder what makes them so special. Why are they so successful, while I’m struggling? I’ve found some commonalities, which may seem like Duh! to most, but to me, they’re life-altering.

Each chef is compelled to follow their heart first and be true to themselves, above everything else. They are not people-pleasers. Chef Ana Roš said, “I never meant to hurt my parents, but my need to be true to myself and my sense of duty to my parents were fighting a battle. I chose to follow my heart.” And chef Francis Mallman said he felt compelled by “the freedom of believing only in myself and not letting myself be led by anybody.”

All my life, I’ve tried to please everybody and I’ve failed miserably. It didn’t make me happy and I certainly didn’t please anyone. Somehow, I never knew that pleasing myself first was an option.

Almost all of the chefs failed, or at least struggled terribly, when they first started. They questioned whether they should continue or give up. However, almost every time, the failure was a catalyst for the next phase, which ultimately catapulted their careers. They each said that they believed in themselves first and foremost and they loved what they were doing unconditionally. There never really was a question of quitting; they needed that failure and struggle to make them even more sure of themselves and their dreams.

I’ve always viewed failure as an end. I failed. I give up. It got to the point where I was afraid to even try. I believe that’s what’s causing me to procrastinate about doing what I want to do right now. If I fail at something I know I’m good at, if I fail at what I love to do more than anything, then that’s it. It’s all over. I’m afraid of that ultimate failure.

However, I’ve realized that I’ve had a few failures — logos for clients that simply quit responding halfway through, blog posts rejected for my friend’s business with no feedback as to what they didn’t like, posters rejected with no explanation — yet I’m still continuing to do design work and striving to learn more every day. Seems like struggle may be part of the learning process.

Finally, what ultimately came from their struggle was that they had to be true not only to their vision, but to their home. They were cooking French cuisine in Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, even France, but the food had no soul. Only when they returned to the roots of their culture and the food loved by the people of their homelands, were they able to be successful.

Sadly, I’ve never identified with the “culture” of the US. In fact, I don’t feel like we really have a culture. Our food is almost exclusively borrowed and dumbed down from other countries, while we look down our noses at those very cultures. In my opinion, the US is devoid of any real culture, which probably explains why we are so unhappy as a country. We have nothing to bind us together.

Aside from the lack of culture, I’ve never felt like I had a family home either. I grew up in Texas, but we left when I was 17 and we never really settled down anywhere after that. I lived in Omaha for 20 years and never felt at home there. I live in Colorado now, but I don’t feel like this is where I belong. I desperately want to find my home, a place I feel like I belong. I’ve never had that before. My secret desire is to build out a van to live in and travel the country until I find a place that feels like home to me. My definition of hiraeth is being homesick for a place I’ve never been and I am homesick.

Chef’s Table brought that longing to the surface in a big way, but maybe it’s like trying to be a people pleaser. I’m looking for home outside of myself, like I was looking for approval from outside of myself, like I’ve been looking to these biographies to tell me how to live my life, but perhaps it’s as Hermann Hesse said,

“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”

Ultimately, I want to live my life by my own terms and follow my own vision, just as these chefs have, even though right now I don’t know what my vision is because it’s foggy from decades of people pleasing and begging for external validation. If failure is a catalyst for a big shift, then I’m in for a doozy of a shift. I’m ready for it. As chef Enrique Olvera said, “Success is being proud of what you do every day.” I’m ready for some success.


Sliding Into 2019 Like…

noni ryder

2018 was a rough one. I spent the majority of it depressed. I was struggling with my self-worth, as I desperately clung to a job that didn’t value me and not knowing that I had other options. I moved to Colorado for the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, yet I rarely left the house except for work. I was stressed out, underpaid, undervalued, and miserable.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I started paddle boarding (I’ve always been a water lover, despite always having lived in arid or prairie environments most of my life.) I went to New Mexico for Sundance, which always helps readjust my attitude and later, I went back to Iowa for sweat and to see my tiyospaye. And we moved. That was good, but otherwise, I was didn’t move much. I was stuck.

However, all was not lost. The job that has had me down for so long, also gave me the biggest moments of growth. Their inability to see how valuable I am to the business made me finally stand up for myself and proclaim my own value.

I have been sorely underpaid for over a year, which has caused me to go deeper into debt just to make ends meet, so I wrote a email, telling them how valuable I am and asking for a raise.

I waited a month and got no response whatsoever. Finally, I asked for a meeting to discuss my salary and they proceeded to tell me that they couldn’t afford to give me what I had asked for. They made me feel as if I didn’t work hard enough for it anyway, like I was asking for too much. After getting my no, I was ready to be done, but I was asked to submit what I thought my job description was (I’ve never had a job description!) and how I could add more to it to bring in more money to pay my salary. (I’m in landscaping and we work on billable hours.) I was so angry and hurt. Having to prove my worth is the story of my life.

I had grown up believing hard work would speak for itself, but it’s never proven to be true. Those that toot their own horns are the ones that get ahead, whether they deserve it or not. I was tempted not to write that job description, but I did and I didn’t hold back. I told them every little thing I do. If they couldn’t see it, then they were blind and I was out.

I got an email a couple of days later saying that I had done a good job of selling myself. I was shocked. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I’d never done it before. I was proud of myself for tooting my own horn. I got a verbal that they would increase my salary in March, due to that job description, when we start bringing in money. I’m going to ask for a written agreement, so that I will feel safe that they will honor their word.

This is huge for me. I have always looked outside myself for my value. From my parents to professors to employers, I begged them to tell me I was worth something, yet they never did. I see now that no one will value you unless you first value yourself and for the first time in my life, I am beginning to see my own worth.

So, 2018 wasn’t a total bust. It wasn’t fun and I’d prefer not to have another year like it. However, I know that the Universe gives us everything we need to grow. The lessons can be easy or they can be hard. A lot of times, we believe that things aren’t worth it if they’re not hard and I’m definitely one of those people. These lessons have been hard and the changes outwardly subtle, but on the inside, for my Self, the changes have been huge. Here’s to continuing the trend next year.


A Soft Left


Several years ago, my nieces rode the train to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with their mother. I’d never spent Thanksgiving alone. I thought it wouldn’t be any big deal for me. I was used to being alone. However, I got horribly depressed when I thought of all the families gathered at Grandma’s house to spend time together. I went for a long drive, just so I wouldn’t have to sit in my house all alone.

Normally, over the years, families tend to get bigger. Like a tree, the family branches out in all directions and like it or not, they all faithfully get together every year. Our family never did that. Due to death, distance, and divorce, we all drifted away. I still tried to cling to the dream of having a big, tight-knit family, but I’ve had to give up that dream. It wasn’t meant to be.

As I explained in an earlier post, I opted out of Christmas this year. I thought that by ignoring it and not participating in the festivities, I would be happier. And I was, most of the time. I didn’t have to go shopping or go to Christmas parties or wear red and green. However, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day turned out to be much harder than I expected.

Just like that Thanksgiving I spent alone – and even though I chose not to participate in Christmas – I felt abandoned and left out. I stayed up in my room, while my family gathered downstairs to exchange presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas day, I went for a hike by myself, while everyone else gathered at a friend’s house. I could have gone, but since I had so publicly announced my Christmas Opt-Out, I was too stubborn to admit I was wrong.

I read that when people are super controlling – like me – they end up being easily disappointed when things don’t go exactly as expected. I think that’s what’s happened with me and Christmas. I tried to control everything and expected for everything to go a certain way and when it didn’t, I became more and more disappointed. For me, disappointment is experienced as sadness or anger, which is where I live most of the time. I am perpetually disappointed.

As the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. I’ve been trying to do things the “right” way, but it’s always been a struggle for me. I don’t do well in jobs, because I am too easily bored. I also never really wanted to get married, although I don’t necessarily want to be alone. I’m past the age of having kids, even though I thought I wanted them. I’ve never followed one career path long enough to become successful or even make a decent living. And yet, I’m still trying to figure out how to make that same, albeit slightly altered, path work for me, and every day, I become more and more disappointed. I should be able to figure out how to be like everyone else. I should have a family, a husband, a home, and a successful career. What’s wrong with me?

What’s wrong with me is that I’m trying to fit into a mold that wasn’t meant for me. I don’t think I came here to follow the usual path. There’s got to be some outliers, right? Yet, I’m still trying to shove my square peg into the round hole of societal expectations and I’m disappointed when I can’t.

I’ve realized that I’m in a rut. My rut is so deep, it’s more like a slot canyon. I can barely see blue sky overhead and the walls are so smooth, I can’t climb out. 

I need to do something drastic. Something big. I cannot keep doing the same thing over and over and continue to be disappointed and depressed when I get the same result. I also know that I can’t control, or even be in charge of, what that something is. I’ve been in my rut so long that I’m unable to think outside of the rut anymore.

I’ve asked the Universe to help me. At first, I said that I needed to take a hard left, but I’ve lived a life of hard and if I asked for a hard left, the Universe would give me a hard left. So, I’ve edited my request. I’d like to take a soft, gentle, easy left to move me permanently out of my rut and I’m going to hold this intention with an open, non-controlling hand. In order to make a big change, I have to let go of my alleged control and allow the Universe to give me exactly what it knows that I want. No expectations.


Parting With Old Friends

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Stacks upon stacks

I used to have a lot more books than I do now. Over time, I’ve given books to a library in Louisiana, lost most of my fiction collection to a fire in Oklahoma, gave a fairly big collection books on Native American history and fiction to my friend who taught at Little Priest College in Nebraska, and most recently donated some books to the Goodwill before I moved to Colorado. (I apologize to my poor friends who have to carry my still rather sizable collection each time I move.)

One of my books is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. She is the foremost expert in tidying and as a result of the tidying, she helps people minimize as well. I’ve already used her method to tidy my dresser by folding my t-shirts, underwear, and socks to conserve space and getting rid of clothes that I haven’t worn in years or just don’t like. I even got rid of the sentimental clothes I had from my summer in Alaska back in 1989.

Her method is simple. You take all of your items and put them in a pile on the floor. Then you pick up each item and go with your gut. If it “sparks joy” when you touch it, you keep it. If you get a “meh” feeling, it can go. When I went through my clothes, my mind was ready to part with a dress that my parents had gotten me for my birthday many years ago, but when I tried to put it in the to-go pile, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t stop crying. It was the last thing my mother ever gave me. I had no idea my reaction would be that strong.

Today was the day I used Kondo’s method on my books. I piled all my books on my bed and the floor and one by one, I picked them up and  felt for the joy or the meh. I was surprised at the number of books I found that I could part with. Some I started, but never finished. Others I bought and never got around to reading at all and now I’ve lost interest. Some I still think I want to read, so I kept them. The majority of my books now are design and art books. I’m NOT parting with those.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my discarded books. I spent a lot of money on them, so I should probably try to sell them, but that’s a lot of work. I may have a small sale or perhaps just let my friends take what they want. After that, I’ll probably just donate them to the library.

The good thing about giving so many books away is that it frees up room for more books. Don’t judge me.

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I didn’t do too bad, did I? (And doesn’t that shadow look like Scrooge McDuck?)



It’s My Birthday

Lil Stef and rooster

This is my inner child. Actually, it’s the age I envision my inner child to be. I haven’t aged a bit!

She was born December 19, a long time ago. We called that little blue nightgown a Froo Froo. I don’t know why. And I don’t know why I’m holding a rooster either, but I really seemed to like it.

Having a birthday in December, especially when you’re born less than a week before Christmas, one always feels a little cheated. Your birthday gets glossed over with the excuse that “Christmas is coming and we have lots of presents to get for everybody.” After a few years of that, I stopped asking for things, but I never stopped being disappointed.

Despite being the first-born, my birthday never felt special. I don’t remember having any birthday parties past the age of about six and I only “remember” because of photos. Otherwise, it felt like having to celebrate my birthday was a burden to my parents with Christmas so close. And of course, I’d expect presents for Christmas, too, (selfish child) so here’s a pair of gloves. You’ll get the rest of your presents on Christmas.

The only time my parents did anything special for me was right before my mother died. I was out shopping with my mom and I found a dress that I really loved, but it was out of my price range. My parents always told me the things I wanted were too expensive and this dress was no exception. To my utter surprise, they got it for me and for the first time – and sadly, the last – I felt like they made my happiness a priority.

My mom died over twenty years ago, but I still have that dress. It doesn’t fit and it needs some major alterations. When I was KonMari-ing my closet, I considered giving it away, but when I held it in my hands, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t stop crying. That dress was the last thing my mother gave me and the only time my parents got me exactly what I wanted. I won’t try to give it away again.

Since then, I’ve treated my own birthday the same way. Some people throw themselves parties. Some people have friends to celebrate with. Some people will go up to strangers and say, “Hey! It’s my birthday today!” I tried to pretend mine didn’t exist, although I used to get free birthday gifts from certain retailers, so on my birthday, I’d go around and gather my free gifts. I felt more deserving of those gifts than the ones from my family.

My inner child still wants her birthday celebrated though and I’ve now turned into the adult who doesn’t have the time to give it to her. Today, I think I’ll try a little harder. I’ll allow myself to have a cinnamon roll (gluten-free unfortunately). I don’t know what my five year old inner child wants for her birthday, but I’ll do my best to at least try to make her feel like she gets a special day all to herself.




Running Away From Home



“When a child has a dream and a parent says, “It’s not financially feasible; you can’t make a living at that; don’t do it,” we say to the child, run away from home… You must follow your dream. You will never be joyful if you don’t. Your dream may change, but you’ve got to stay after your dreams. You have to.” – Abraham Hicks

Maybe this is why I always wanted to run away from home as a kid. Now, I’m telling my own self those same things – you can’t make money doing that, you’re too old to start over, don’t even try – and it makes me want to run away from home even more. Leave it all behind: the bills, the stuff, even my books. Not my cat though. He’ll have to learn to be a car cat.

Don’t think I don’t think about it every damn day.

Healing My Mothers’ Karma

Never in a million years did I think that I would believe in astrology, yet here I am, writing a post about astrology. I was raised in a Christian household and my parents believed that kind of thing was the work of the devil. I was taught to be afraid of anything supernatural. Jesus was the exception, of course.

My grandparents didn’t have a lot of books around their house. I remember Clan of the Cave Bear and some other popular books of the time and most prominently, a big gold, family Bible with a picture of white Jesus on the front. However, not at all in keeping with who my grandmother portrayed herself to be, she also had a big book of astrology called Sun Signs by Linda Goodman. I poured through that book trying to find out why I was the way I was. I’m a Sagittarius and from the description, one might not peg me as a Sagittarius. I didn’t.

My interest in astrology is purely selfish. I use it to try to figure out what the heck is wrong with me and why I’ve never been happy. When I first got my chart, I started looking into what it all meant and I was pretty dismayed. It seemed to give me a clue into why my life has been so damn hard. It felt as if it were written in the stars and I was screwed.

I’ve got Saturn in my first house, which is the house of the self. Saturn is like my math teacher in grade school, Mrs. Burkett. She didn’t put up with anything from us kids and we were all afraid of her, especially when she flipped down her clip-on sunglasses. We never knew who she was looking at and it was terrifying. She loved us though and everyone loved her, too. Saturn is a stern, but loving teacher. He just wants you to be quiet and do your work.

I’ve also got three different planets – Mars, Venus, and Mercury – in Capricorn in the 12th house. Saturn is the ruler of Capricorn. Dammit! The 12th is the house of the subconscious and all those skeletons you’ve shoved to the back of your closet. Venus is, of course, love. Mars is energy and action. Mercury is communication. I suck at all of those things. Bummer.

I’ve also got the Moon in my 1st house, which makes me sensitive, moody, and unable to hide my emotions. This explains a lot.

As interesting as all of that is, the piece of astrology that has engaged my attention the most is my lunar node placement or the north node. The nodes aren’t planets, but mathematical points that show the relationship between the Sun, Moon, and Earth when you were born. (Here’s how to find out your north node) Basically, the North node is what you came here to learn and the South node is the karma you brought into this life with you.

I’m a Cancer north node/Capricorn south node, which just so happens to be the nodal placement right now. We all experience the same energy when these nodes move around, but when it returns to where it was when you were born, it ends up being some extra strong shit. (If you’re interested at all in this nodal stuff, this YouTube video explains it really well.)

I thought the north/south node was a one-way street. You head toward what you’re here to learn, leaving that karma you brought with you behind. My south node is in Capricorn. Capricorn is masculine and concerned with the material world, like work, career, and reputation. I’ve been so consumed with this part of my life for the longest time, although I’ve completely failed  at it.

On the opposite end of the nodal stick is Cancer. Cancer is feminine, receptive, mothering, nurturing, and creative. So, I thought that I was supposed to quit caring so much about money and career and focus on home, emotion, and family. However, I’m middle-aged, unmarried, no kids of my own, and no money to even think about having my own home. How do I focus on things I don’t have?

It was recently explained to me that the nodes are actually circular rather than straight as an arrow. You don’t move from one to the other, leaving the past behind. The north node is what you use to clear up the karma of the south node. If the south node is the problem, the north node is the solution to that problem, which will then help you clear up the karma you brought with you from earlier in this life or a previous one, so that you can finally move on from the problem.

For instance, my current job has caused me nothing but anguish since I started. It should have been a perfect fit for me, but it’s a Mom and Pop business that is so dysfunctional, I can’t even begin to be able to help (much like my family of origin…hmmm). My go-to solution to things that don’t work is to try harder, give more, do more. No matter how hard I try, it never gets any better. Surely, I’m doing something wrong.

The solution, then, is not to try harder, but to turn my focus away from the job completely. Relax. Do something completely different. Take care of myself and leave them to fend for themselves. If I take my focus off of the problem, it will take care of itself and I will have taken care of myself.

I’ve only recently figured this out. I haven’t tried it yet. Putting myself first is a foreign concept to me, but the other way is definitely not working. Part of the Cancer North node energy is to trust in yourself and your intuition, two things I’ve also never done before. Normally, it’s your mother that teaches you how to be a mother, even to yourself, but I didn’t learn how to nurture myself from my mother. She didn’t learn it from her mother either. I don’t think it’s something that I can’t teach myself and perhaps in doing so, I’ll be able to heal all of my ancestral mothers who probably also suffered in their own ways. It’s worth a shot, right?