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Bret S. Beall

Seasoned Living
Fall 2009

by Bret S. Beall

Seasoned. Adj. 1: flavorful, zesty, interesting; 2: cured, tempered; 3: improved or enhanced via experience; 4: colloq: of or pertaining to the seasons.

. Noun. Maintaining life in a particular manner or style; vitality.


Through my work and play, I interact with a lot of people from many different backgrounds.  I am saddened when I realize that almost all of them share one quality, irrespective of their individuality:  they seem to be trudging, stumbling, marching through their lives with blinders on, unaware of the world around them.  Because our world is such a spectacular, wonderful place, I find myself on a crusade of sorts to encourage others to become more aware, to live more mindfully, to engage each day with more intention or, as the Buddha stated about himself, to be “awake.”

Writing this column is part of that crusade.  Everything I write, discuss, lecture about or converse about with friends deals at some level with living our lives more mindfully and with more intention.  I have found that the easiest way to begin this journey is to pay more attention to the seasons, and that is the subject of this essay.  I am writing about the seasons of my current home, Chicago, in the Upper Midwest of the United States, but if you live elsewhere, you can adapt the details to your own region as you begin to be more mindful.

Autumn, my favorite season, has arrived.  Most years, I’m really excited about the arrival of autumn because it is when cooler temperatures replace the humidity and heat of summer.  This year, we had a very cool summer, which allowed me to be much more productive than I usually am during the summer.  Most importantly, I’ve had no interruption to my creativity, which excessive heat just sucks right out of me.  I’m grateful, and I’m mindful of the additional opportunities I’ve been provided.

Perhaps what is making me happiest is the arrival of tomato season.  This year, with the cooler summer temperatures, tomato ripening was delayed, and instead of months of enjoying a variety of tomato salads, gazpacho, and BLTs, I had to wait much longer to obtain the peak of the tomato crop.  I took advantage of that peak by buying a peck of local Roma tomatoes and making batches of my multipurpose ragu and roasted ragu for the freezer so that I could enjoy those wonderful tomatoes through the coming year.  By being mindful of the delayed tomato season, I didn’t end up making my ragus with less-than-ripe tomatoes, which would have led to less-than-delicious products.

I’m planning a trip in October to downstate Illinois to take advantage of one of my other favorite things about autumn:  the changing of leaf color.  Of course, one doesn’t have to travel to see the changing of the leaves, IF one is mindful of the foliage around one.  When I take the bus each morning to my clients’ offices downtown, I often read, but I try to keep on eye on the world outside the bus windows, especially the trees and shrubs and flowers; during the autumn, each type of plant changes, and I try to catch the first gold, the first scarlet, the first brilliant yellow.  One reason for traveling downstate is to view the golden fields that flank the highway, and if the weather gets especially chilly, I’ll be able to see the delicate crystals of frost on the grasses in the median and along the embankments. 

It’s one thing to see color change from a distance.  It’s quite another to slow down and stop to see the unique beauty of each autumnal leaf.  Just today I saw several of my favorites, the bicolor leaves, the maples that are green and gold at the same time, or red, maroon and yellow simultaneously, lying on the ground.  They’re breathtaking, and make wonderful additions to my autumnal tablescapes by adding a certain surprise as they peak out from mounds of colorful gourds and squash and “Indian” corn, creating effects that often cause dinner guests to gasp.  Pssst!  Here’s the key to truly successful decorating: just select décor items mindfully and intentionally. 

My autumnal tablescapes are important because I need something beautiful to match the food that I serve guests.  There’s so much wonderful produce this time of year that it is the perfect opportunity to share that bounty with guests.  Autumn is also the time of year when I freeze as much produce as possible from the farmers markets, so that I have the most nutritious and most flavorful ingredients to use throughout the remaining year, while supporting the local economy when it is most important to do so.  Being aware of how one action can have far-reaching effects is an important part of intentional, mindful, seasoned living.

Alas, soon the leaves will dry and fall to the ground, on their way to becoming mulch, as the autumn segues to winter.  Winter has its own abundant charms, again if one takes the time to pay attention and appreciate each for what it is.  One of my very favorite winter scenes regularly occurs right outside my window: wet snow clinging to the barren trees, turning them into arboreal skeletons.  When I’ve ventured outside during such conditions, I’ve noticed that these white tree skeletons form a canopy over my street.  It’s beautiful, and while it is wondrous to me, I sometimes also realize how many people don’t ever notice the beauty of snow on trees as they hustle from one place to another with their heads down.  And if they don’t notice the snowy trees, they certainly don’t notice the frozen bubbles that are sometimes captured as puddles freeze, or the last of the autumnal leaves peaking out from the snow.  I’m further saddened to think they might miss those wintry gray skies that sometimes merge into smoky blue with touches of brown, or the ferocious waves coming off of Lake Michigan to coat the shore with ice.  There’s even the shear bliss of watching frosty dogs joyfully playing in the snow and brisk winter breeze.  These are only a few of the many sensational pleasures of winter that we can enjoy if we are mindful of them.

Winter eventually transitions into spring.  By “transition,” I mean that the temperatures go up, and then the temperatures go down, creating a real seesaw of weather, but it's exciting.  After all, variety is the spice of life.  April showers bring May flowers, but those first snowdrops, scylla and jonquils start to peak through the relict snow of March.  Soon the daffodils and hyacinths erupt from the cool ground and burst into bloom.  These are followed by my favorite flowers, the irises, with their rainbow of colors.  As the days grow longer, the light creates dramatic shadows through the trees whose buds are swelling with flowers and pale green leaves (cut some branches and use them as arrangements at home; you’ll be amazed by their beauty, especially if you add additional arrangements of various spring flowers).  The effects of light and darkness are so amazing in the spring, because unlike winter, the springtime means we are moving from the darkness into the light, and that feels great.  Yes, as the days become longer, there is an overwhelming collective sigh of relief knowing that the warmth is coming to relieve us from the bitter cold.  The birds join in by singing, wooing mates.  Soon, young squirrels are chasing each other around old trees, experiencing the pure pleasure of playing.  Take a moment to watch those squirrels, and remember for yourself how much fun it is step away from the daily grind and just play. 

Spring is an ideal time for gardening, both indoors and out.  If you have indoor plants, spring is the time to take cuttings and root them to either expand your own greenery, or to share with friends so that they have something to remind them of your presence.  If you have outdoor gardens, early spring is the time to start seeds indoors so that you’ll have healthy seedlings to plant outside when we know the weather will stay warm.  I only have a back porch for outdoor planting, so I wait for my local stores to start selling a variety of ornamental plants and herbs to fill my porch boxes and pots.  Every year I try something different, and that is an intentional decision to experiment to see what looks terrific on my porch.  Maybe I’ll buy coleus, or impatiens, or caladiums, or ornamental sweet potato vines, or rosemary, or basil, or sage; these all come in different shapes, colors and textures, so I can mix it up even more.  In fact, by being mindful of the change in light on my north-facing porch due to the removal of a large tree branch by my landlord, I felt empowered to actually grow herbs where they wouldn’t grow before, and I’ve enjoyed fresh flavors as a result. 

Summer brings additional shades of green.  The pale young leaves of spring mature into dark, rich hues.  All of the trees are leafed out, and the shadows create myriad variations on verdant green.  Flowers of every color imaginable punctuate the greens of summer, and you can enjoy them in their natural habitats, or bring them indoors to enhance your home.  Summer is also peak peach season, and there is nothing more delicious and sensual that eating a perfectly ripe local peach, and letting the juices spurt in your mouth and run down your chin.  Or a plum.  Or a nectarine.  Or an apricot.  Or try grilling some of these summer treasures.  Of course, while you are grilling the fruit, you might as well grill some of the other farm-fresh, local produce that is available (like zucchini, and yellow summer squash, and corn on the cob, and whatever else is available at your local farmers market), and invite some friends over for some bruschetta and a grilled veggie pasta, and some homemade vanilla ice cream with grilled fruit.  My mouth is watering as I type this.

Many people take vacations during the summer, but during tough economic times, or anytime, consider taking vacations closer to home, or even AT home, to see just how wonderful your region is.  To celebrate living in Chicago for 20 years, I decided to spend every free moment exploring every opportunity my city had to offer.  I explored architecture, museums, street festivals, gardens, food markets, ethnic restaurants, and sometimes just wandered through Chicago’s many varied neighborhoods to experience the essential flavor of each part of the city.  I had so much fun, and learned so much, that I’ve continued this practice, a bit sheepish that it took me almost 20 years to make this mindful decision.  You can easily do this in your region.

Summer is literally the time to stop and smell the roses, so please do so, before the flowers fade, and we once again return to autumn.

So, how can we truly be mindful of every day?  Above, I’ve described how to incorporate natural décor, local food directly from its producers, gardening, entertaining and travel into your lifestyle to force a certain mindfulness into daily existence.   My good friend, nature/wildlife photographer extraordinaire Carol Freeman, has a career that forces her to be mindful so that she captures the subtleties of nature’s seasonality with intention.  Even if you are not a photographer, you can appreciate Carol’s efforts by checking out her calendars and other beautiful products at http://www.carolfreemanphotography.com/ to help you to live mindfully of the world around you every day.  I know they help me!

As I wrote in the introduction, the observations above are for the greater Chicago region.  If you live elsewhere, start by going through this essay, and replacing the details with specifics of your geographic area.  Then start adding in seasonal features that I haven’t even begun to address.  Maybe the summer is a time when you get out and swim, or cycle, or go boating.   Maybe the winter is when you go ice-skating, or skiing.  Maybe the spring is when you color eggs for Easter or Ostara; try some natural, organic coloring agents to give your eggs a unique tint while being mindful of the effect on the earth.  And if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, your seasons are just opposite mine, so you can twist these observations any way you like.  Just do it mindfully, with intention.

The bottom line?  Live in the moment.  This approach is perfect for seasonal living.  And living seasonally is the first step toward Seasoned Living. 

© Copyright 2008 Bret S. Beall.  All Rights Reserved.

Lifestyle Management and Seasoned Living

Read Past "Seasoned Living" Columns:

Fall 2009- "Being Mindful Everyday"

 Summer/Fall 2008 Celebrate Your Life Every Day

Winter-Spring 2008 - "Your Personal Power Can Save the World"

Spring-Summer 2007 - "Spring Forward and Connect"

Winter 2006-'07 - "The Awe of Autumn and the Wonder of Winter"

Summer-Fall 2006 - "Tis the Season to Be Courageous"

Jan-Apr 2006 - "Life is a Lesson in Every Season"

Oct-Dec 2005 - "Honk if You Love Silence"

July-Sept 2005 - "A Recipe for Balanced Living"

April-June 2005 - "Trash and Treasure"

Jan-Mar 2005 - "Life Reflection: Looking Into Mirrors"

Bret S. Beall
Bret S. Beall, MS, PhD (Cand). As the CEO of GOD-DESS, I help people live fantastic lives with minimal time, effort or money. I have used my rigorous scientific training to synthesize psychology, sensory input, and logic, with global cuisine, décor, lifestyle concepts, indoor gardening and travel for each individual in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-create and easy-to-maintain style. For more information, please visit my website, www.god-dess.com, or call me at 773.508.9208, or email me at bret@god-dess.com.

Let’s start at the beginning, though. I was born in California’s San Francisco Bay area and lived there until I was seven. During this time, my family often took vacations to the seashore and to the redwood forests. There, I first felt the great interconnectedness of all life. At seven, I moved with my family to St. Louis, Missouri, where I continued my environmental interests (including growing houseplants). When I was twelve, we moved to the Ozarks of southern Missouri, where I lived on a farm and witnessed intimately the cycle of birth, life and death. We raised cattle, ducks, geese and rabbits, and I worked on our neighbor’s pig farm; we also grew a variety of produce and I first learned about preparing and preserving food. It was also at this time that I truly began acting on my interests in art, design and esthetics.

I did my undergraduate work in geology at the University of Missouri - Columbia, graduating with general honors and honors in geology; my coursework included a typical array of liberal arts courses (art, philosophy, history) along with the sciences (geology, physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology). By living in an off-campus efficiency, I learned the basics of simple cooking and living. After graduation, I went on to Masters and PhD work in evolutionary paleontology at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; my studies included geology, paleontology, biology, ecology and evolution, all presented within the framework of proper scientific methodology.

Ann Arbor has a terrific Farmer’s Market, which inspired me and helped me to act on my interest in ethnic cuisines and entertaining; this had to be done on a budget (given my graduate student salary) and efficiently (given my graduate student time requirements). I satisfied my artistic inclinations by doing extensive scientific illustration to accompany my original research. Teaching courses and speaking publicly at student seminars, at national and international meetings, and at various clubs and organizational meetings provided a level of excitement I had not experienced previously as I shared the information and data that I had collected. “Sharing” was the key, I realized, and this is when the seeds of GOD-DESS were planted.

I left Ann Arbor for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History to accept a position as Curatorial Coordinator of Mazon Creek Paleontology. My long hours working on both museum responsibilities and my own research required living both time-efficiently and cost-effectively. In a very short period of time, I realized I did not want to spend the rest of my life within the academic world. I had already experienced a high level of international success, praise and recognition, for which I am grateful (including making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, and having Johnny Carson make a joke about my research on The Tonight Show). I eventually left the rarefied world of paleontology. This is when the seeds of GOD-DESS began to sprout and grow.

I spent the next decade in the field of not-for-profit healthcare association management, honing my skills in efficiency maximization, streamlining, prioritization, customer service, budgeting, organization, communication and simplification, and applying the rigors of my scientific training to the needs of my clients. My clients experienced extraordinary growth and profitability.

Although my salary was better than it was in academia, I still practiced my cost-efficient living, including preparing meals at home to eat at work. The hours were often very long, so time-effectiveness and efficiency-management continued to be important, if not vital. I traveled extensively in my various roles (including organizational representative, event organizer, executive manager, and lecturer); often, I tacked on vacation time to cost-effectively explore the various cities and regions that I was fortunate to visit, which further enhanced my travel planning skills. On my own time during this decade, GOD-DESS grew into a fledgling company, relying on the empiricism of my own experiences and my research.

After more than a decade of helping my clients experience almost 900% budgetary growth, 900% membership growth, 400% meeting attendance growth, and enhanced visibility that cannot be quantified, I knew it was time to become my own boss and devote myself 100% to GOD-DESS.

I believe we are always in the right place at the right time. Because of that belief, everything that I do, whether paleontology, or executive healthcare management, or lifestyle counseling, I do well, to the absolute best of my abilities. A lifetime of experience and research has now created GOD-DESS and everything it can do for you. I am grateful.




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