Is your life stale?

Visiting us, our son, a chef, searched our fridge for “a little something.” He flashed me a horrified look and insisted, “Come ’ere. Look at this.”

“What?” I asked.

Susan Lebel Young, a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, is the author of three books, one of which is “Food Fix: Ancient nourishment For Modern Hungers.” Learn more at or email

“Mom, how old is this tomato-bean casserole-y thing?”

“We had that chili two days ago.”

He spooned out a mouthful. “Not very spicy. Did you season it?”


He resumed the quizzing: “And these limp vegetables?”

“Stir fry,” I told him. “Last night.”

He picked out an onion, “Kinda bland. Needs fresh herbs.”

He smelled everything. No suspicious odors, so I wondered about the alarm in his face.

“Mom, everything is stale, old, nothing alive. What’s your plan here? Microwave these scraps for the next week? Live off leftovers?”

No doubt set in my culinary ways, I asked, “Doesn’t everyone do that?”


“Mom, where’s the fresh food? You’ve been telling me that you feel drained, that your life feels stale; same-old, same-old. If you want to feel more alive, with more energy, you can’t just recycle old crap.” (He might have used a beefier word than crap.)

“Maybe feeling bored is COVID, isolation, quarantining – all that?”

“Mother,” (you know when your grown kids call you “mother” they will speak some truth you may not want to hear) “you need new recipes.”

We laughed. It’s funny, right?

“Mom, you’ve whipped up these same dishes since I was a kid. And, Mother, I mean new recipes in the biggest sense, not only about food.”

Bingo. In seeking alive and energy, to add years to my life, I’ve repeated same-old, same-old. The same walk on the same flat rural roads. The same basic vegan food. The same brain-enhancing puzzles. The same meditation: feel the breath, feel the breath again. Bedtime nightly at 10, up daily before 6.


But my son cooked up an ah-ha moment: It’s not only that I need more oregano in my lasagna, it’s that I need more flavor in my days. I need/we need not only to add years to our life but – to be happy, even healthy – I/we need to add life to our years. (I can’t take credit for that clever phrase. People smarter than me have used it for decades.)

How do we repeat the same crucial rituals for health, how do we get through the day without the boredom of same-old? Maybe the choice is not binary: Either I grit my teeth and bear the here-we-go-again ho-hum or I give up fill-in-the-blank. Either read the same old paper or ditch the news. Maybe the response to the question of how to avoid life’s certain burnout (is it certain?) has something to do with flavoring, with life-spice. Hike the hills on city streets. Call a high school pal. Go to a new bookstore. Change the TV channel; watch the sunset instead, or dust off the board games.

Here’s a binary choice: Write the same thoughts and feelings yet again in the same journal with the same pen at the same desk for the same 20 minutes at 9:30 a.m. daily or stop writing. Here’s a flavor-enhanced recipe: Sprinkle in brightly colored pens, mix in sparkly journals, let the writing simmer less or more at dawn or dusk, write laying down and outside, or take a writing class. Or, to escape same-old, take another kind of class. Can we risk adding a pinch of, you know, a little something?

Maybe the antidote to same-old is to shake life up, freshen routines, stir things around. As my son says, “You can’t leave your bland, stale life, but you can sweeten it … Mother.”

Wisdom from a pastry chef.

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