Last week we went to Austin, Texas for a mid-winter vacation and a reprieve from the dark gloom of the Northwest (see SAD). I decided to apply elements of wellness coaching to the trip, and Josh (so graciously) was totally game. During our planning, we brainstormed ideas and expectations we had about the trip, and I wrote up a Vision Document. This includes a 'vision statement' (the big picture) and 'intended outcomes' (how we'll achieve it). When we got back, we read it over and rated our success on a 10-point scale.
It was an energizing, unique, fresh and inspiring trip. We explored a new city, checked out the live music, ate great Mexican food, learned to dance the Texas 2-step, visited Canyon Lake (pictured) and bathed in some sunshine! I also decided that margaritas count as my fruit servings for the day :) We agreed that the vision document was a nice way to organize thought and intention, and was the backbone of our trip planning process.
For my self-care, I received a massage and dropped in on a yoga class. For exercise, we walked 8 miles through the South Congress neighborhood on Tuesday, 12 miles through downtown on Saturday, and had two nights of Texas 2-stepping. At Canyon Lake we rested, watched the deer, and did some wine tasting and pizza delivery. Back in Austin, we saw 7 live bands, including Dale Watson (an Austin icon). Josh met one of his philosopher idols, Matt Dillahunty, and got to geek out at the taping of one of his favorite podcasts. He also came in $52 under budget. We were able to strike a nice balance between rest and activity. Sure we had our tired moments, and some places we wanted to visit were closed, but flexibility and unpredictability were both part of the plan.
Our vision document is posted below. Words we'd like to add after the fact are 'music, dance, exploring, tacos' :)
What would your ideal vacation vision be?
Vision Statement & Intended Outcomes for Josh and Laura in Austin
We are energized by a fresh, unique and inspiring vacation.
We have a plan to reference, but allows for improvisation. Priorities to visit: Barton Springs, Canyon Lake, Continental club, Laura’s massage, and the taping of the Aetheist Experience podcast.
We keep expectations in check, being willing to have a good attitude if things aren’t optimal. Sub-optimal circumstances are part of the plan.
We remain open-minded and flexible. We can laugh at obstacles and enjoy the journey.
We treat ourselves (and each other) with gentleness while being in a new place and learning how to get around.
We walk daily.
We feel free to drink but not overindulge daily.
We are free and open with money, trusting our instincts to not overspend. Know that we can have a fancy night out if we want! Josh has a cash budget of $100/day.
Well, 5 days into a new food trial, and feeling fine. Jury's still out on the chicken experiment. I liked it one day, and then wasn't thrilled with it as leftovers. I had to smother it in sauce and convince myself it was tofu. My winning recipe finds are below.(If you're a food photographer, please don't laugh at me.)
Simple protein salad:
roasted butternut squash (450 oven, coconut oil, salt, 20mins YUM)
easy balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic, dijon, salt, pepper)
Simple protein salad in a jar:
Same salad as above, added some more chopped fresh veggies (cukes, carrots, snow peas, sprouts) and put it in a jar for easy lunches!
Thai Chicken with Spicy 'Peanut' Sauce
The sauce was really delicious... and it looked beautiful! Luckily Ballard Market sells spiralized zucchini, because a spiralizer I have not.
Kale and Egg Quiche with Sweet Potato 'Crust'
Turned a breakfast recipe into dinner, because why not?
This was phenomenal! A bit of miso adds a robust flavor to the eggs and veggies. The sweet potato crust was easy and delicious! It came out more like a casserole, but who cares?
Today I bought chicken for the first time in 17 years. Since age 18, I've been a self-proclaimed vegetarian, not strict like animal-rights activist, but just didn't really enjoy looking at raw meat, and felt better in my soul eating a plant-based diet. In massage school, I added fish for more protein and variety. I've had a bite of steak here and there... mostly I find the amount of chewing required annoying.
Lately I've been thinking about the patterns and routines that we find ourselves in either intentionally or unintentionally. No one told me to stop eating meat, I just decided to do it. I've considered and re-considered many times the decision, and just kept deciding not to do it. But when I really think back on my life, I remember a distinct drop-off of my energy levels right around the time I stopped eating meat.
So I've started reading up on high protein food programs that are becoming more popular like Whole 30 and paleo. For a long time, low fat was the craze, and now it turns out that low fat often means high sugar... and sugar is shown to be linked to all sorts of chronic diseases like diabetes, liver and heart disease. In fact, many 'diets' (and I use that word to mean 'food program', not 'weight loss' program) are cutting down on carbohydrates, and adding in more healthy fats and proteins. I notice that when I think of the word 'protein', my mouth starts to salivate. I don't personally jive with a lot of what Whole 30 preaches (strict rules, a whole list of 'do nots'), but I am intrigued by the thought of shaking up the routine I'm in (high ice cream, thoughtless meals, quick food, and I think I've cleared out the bulk chocolate almond bark supply at Whole Foods). One thing Whole 30 states matter-of-factly is that they just believe people should eat animal protein.
While I can't say I'm trying out Whole 30 (I'm not), I can chose what I like from different sources and come up with a personalized plan that works for ME. One thing I'm becoming better at through wellness coaching is just trying something out for a week at a time. I have vast spans of weeks ahead of me, why not take one week to shake things up? Also, I love trying out new recipes, and this is great way to narrow down the paradox of choice on the internet.
So far these are my roadmaps: breakfast recipes and dinner recipes.
That said, I had a sad moment in my heart when I walked over to the meat aisle. I picked up a chicken package, read the back, and felt a little at ease knowing that the company is 'certified organic, free range, and certified humane'. I really hope those chickens had a good life... I'm sure they would love knowing they had 3 minutes of fame in a blog post! This post is for you, chickens, thank you!
This year my sister Sarah told me about a course offered at UW called 'Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives'; and for a January resolution, she decided to interact more mindfully with her phone-- before turning over the phone to check it, she will take a breath.
This class and resolution encouraged me reflect upon how I interact with technology as I'm sure many of you do as you go through your day linked to devices, accounts, media, texts and emails. In one sense, it's pretty amazing that we have these tiny computers we carry everywhere... we have all the information we could ever want or need RIGHT there with us at all times. We can chat and connect with almost anyone immediately. We are NEVER ALONE... dun, dun dunnnnn.
The flip side of this marvelous ability to connect is that we are not often alone with our thoughts either, and rarely do we sit there and just do nothing. Have you noticed this in your life? Do you ever find yourself scrolling and scrolling and thinking, 'I don't really want to be doing this right now'? If you're like me, you may have a love-hate relationship with your devices.
One way to turn this relationship into a more functional one is to start by noticing those moments, and noticing your reactions to your interactions. When you are scrolling or reading, notice the feelings and emotions that arise, label them, and address them. Are you reading something, becoming mad, and then just getting madder as you go? Do you become tense or start holding your breath? What other options are available to you in that moment? And before the urge to read or check something even arises, what options are available to you? Do you stop and notice the urge and then check? Do you stop and notice the urge, and then decide not to check? What new pathway could exist for you in that potent moment? If you ever feel like your device is controlling you, take a step back and see if you can remind yourself where your power resides.
You may even find that taking a 'technology fast' suits you. How long would you like to be unplugged from your devices? What would feel refreshing? What do you have to lose or gain from disengaging? I'd love to hear what you come up with.
Those of you who know me, know that I freaking LOVE ice cream. In fact, I never limit my intake, and I rarely let the freezer get below 3 cartons at at time. I don't even consider it a weakness or a vice. It's just who I am!
I have at times decided to try different warm, cooked desserts, and have found some great blogs with delicious healthy dessert recipes, but no matter what, this girl needs dessert after dinner.
My new naturopathic doctor specializes in ayurvedic medicine (some of you may have heard it called the 'science of yoga'). One of the things ayurvedic practitioners look at is your 'constitution', or your combination of attributes, tendencies and traits. Since each individual has a different combination of these, the medicine required for you is more individualized based on your constitution, and it may vary seasonally. My constitution is one that actually doesn't do well with cold or raw foods (especially during the cold months), and my doctor recommended ocassionally replacing my bowl(s) of ice cream with some rich hot chocolate. Here's a recipe I found that has been blowing my mind!
Coconut milk is rich in flavor, and packed full of nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. And we all know that dark chocolate is full of flavenols and antioxidants, right? You can't go wrong with this combination. And it's dairy-free.
Coconut Milk Hot Chocolate
1 can coconut milk (light or regular)
1/2 bar of dark chocolate (at least 65%!)
1 t vanilla extract
Optional: extra chocolate, coconut whipped topping
Empty the can of coconut milk into a small saucepan, add the chocolate and vanilla. Stir over medium-high heat until the chocolate is melted. Pour into mugs, top with whipped topping, and serve hot!
Last time I added some extra Hershey's syrup to make that chocolate flavor even richer (ssshhhhh). We found that full-fat coconut milk is so rich, it feels like drinking a mug of creamy chocolate half and half. I may try light next time... will report back findings.
This week I have been thinking a lot about the nature of grief and suffering. I see it all around me, in me, and pervading the consciousness of our world. I've been reading a book by a Buddhist nun Pema Chodron called "When Things Fall Apart". I am not a Buddhist, but I have found the teachings to make more sense to me than any other philosophy or religion, and as a non-theistic religion, the teachings apply to our human experience versus a spiritual realm and much like Yoga, can aptly be applied in anyone's life.
As I move through emotions such as sadness and grief, I notice not only thoughts pervading my consciousness, but also specific feelings in my body... constriction in the chest, tension in my neck, tightness in my gut, clenching of my jaw. For this, I rely on self-care techniques such as deep breathing or kapalabhati breath (breath of fire), I've done a heart strengthening kundalini practice, and received acupuncture to help with the subtle tensions of my body. Self-care, self-care, self-care. It also helps to name the emotion, name the physical sensation, and sit with it, instead of constantly fighting against it.
As I work with the subtle body, I find the words of Pema Chodron help align some of the disconnect and discontent. As things as you know them break down around you, see if this phrase rings a truth, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found in us." You may start to notice little deaths in each moment-- the sun sets at the end of each day, the bottom of your delicious cup of coffee, the close of a delightful hug, your child waving as she gets on a school bus and out of your sight, you see that each petit mort, little death, prepares you for the bigger losses-- ultimately your own mortality.
So often the temptation is to cover up, draw away, or escape from the suffering that comes from each little loss-- reaching for a pill, a distraction, anything to take our minds off the feeling of pain and loss. Yet, "thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly." Our suffering is based on the misconception that things last, that they are permanent (the 'good' and the 'bad'). Yet everything is subject to change and alteration, "decay is inherent in all component things". And more importantly, our suffering is a direct reaction to the belief that things are permanent and unchanging. Suffering is "inevitable" for humans as long as we cling to the belief that things last, and "that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security".
So my challenge recently has been to sit with feelings of grief and sadness, open myself up to the changing nature of all things, and be gentle. Use a light touch, notice the range of emotions that come and go... over seconds, minutes, days. A feeling, thought or emotion crosses across your experience like clouds in the sky, ever changing and impermanent. As I open up to the experience, I no longer cling to the feeling or thought, knowing that it, too shall pass. As I move through anger, sadness, denial, acceptance (in a circular, not linear way), I see each moment as a way to be a friend to myself. "Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." I know that when the joy comes after the grief is passed, that it, too, is not permanent. All things arise and disappear, and that is the nature of reality. All we have for CERTAIN is the present moment.
The cherry blossom falls after its short beautiful bloom.
It floats gently down to earth. Its life is over, but the limitedness of its existence is one of the biggest reasons the blossom is so gorgeous. If we knew that the blossom would last forever, it wouldn't have the same poignant beauty, and we'd take it for granted. - Leo Babauta
Last Sunday I celebrated the end of my cleanse with what I jokingly call a 'retox'. I bought a delicious bottle of Indian Wells Red Blend from Chateau St Michelle. I swear it's the most delicious red wine you can get for under $20! I am not a connoisseur, but I can usually discern a great wine from a not-so-great wine.
I'm writing about wine today because I feel drawn to discuss finding a good balance in life. We probably all know people who are 'extremists'... who tend towards an all-or-nothing approach. Someone who decides they love running and they do it every day rain or shine through injury and illness. Maybe they find a game they like and it's a daily event, at the exclusion of all social activity, or they go raw vegan and never turn back. And then there are the people who get fed up with Facebook, make a big announcement that they're leaving... but usually a few months later they quietly creep back on (I knew they would!). Some people thrive in that extreme environment.
For me, and probably for most of us, there is a middle ground, a delicate balance between effort and ease-- like in a standing yoga pose where you ground down to reach up, you find a strong base, you stretch your spine up, and then relax your shoulders and face, unclench your jaw. You let go of tension in order to move forward.
Some clients worry about telling me that they like to drink wine at the end of their day. It usually makes me laugh a little... the misconception that 'wellness' or 'health' means never drinking or having a treat. I find great joy in sharing the theory that 'healthy lifestyle' allows for treats, it allows for letting go, it means you thrive in a healthy balance. A good rule for me is the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time I know I am making choices that fully support my physical health and wellbeing. This allows for 20% of 'flex spending'... maybe a treat I wouldn't normally choose, maybe a nap instead of a walk, maybe a TV show when I 'should' be reading. These treats allow for balance in mind and soul, and take the strain off of an extreme approach. It also keeps you from beating yourself up when you make what may be conceived as a less-than-perfect choice.
In a great book "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind", the author explains "to give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him". To me this means, allow yourself to roam around in a zone where there is room to play and enjoy your life, knowing that you will not be lost. The tighter you hold on to control, the more suffering you instigate. The more you keep yourself from your desires in a strict, stuck way, the more the desires and cravings will control you.
So... I open up a delicious bottle of red, I aerate it into my glass, I swirl and smell it, I enjoy a first sip. I taste the flavors balanced and symphonic in my mouth. I feel my life is balanced and in harmony.
I went down to Pike Place on Sunday and bought the MOST DELICIOUS smoked king salmon from City Fish. If you're eating meat/poultry/fish on your cleanse, go for organic, grass-fed, free-range, etc (avoid the factory-farmed meats that have been fed hormones and antibiotics). Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is the best fish.
This week I'm making two delicious dishes to munch on for lunches and dinners:
Green Noodles and Chickpea Tagine. Recipes below.
Green Noodles (Adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)
Makes 4 servings
1 T minced garlic
1 1/2 T fresh ginger, grated
1 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed
1 t turmeric
1/2 t salt
1 t vegetable or coconut oil
15oz can coconut milk
1/4 cup water
2 T honey
2 T lime juice
Sauce: Puree ingredients above in a blender, then transfer to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 15 minutes.
1 box spinach or 1 bunch kale
1 T minced garlic
1-2 T olive or coconut oil
3 T Braggs liquid aminos (or other gluten-free soy sauce alternative)
2 T water
6 cups broccoli, cut small
4-6 servings brown rice noodles (not the pad thai kind, but a spaghetti-size noodle)
avocado, for garnish
Chickpea Tagine (Yoga Journal) Makes 4 servings
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 T)
2 14.5-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
¼ cup dried currants or raisins
1 t each ground turmeric, cinnamon, cumin
¼ t cayenne pepper
2 t honey
finely chopped parsley, for garnish
I serve mine over a brown rice, mung bean mix. To prepare this, soak about 1/4 cup mung beans (4 hrs - overnight). Rinse soaked beans and add enough brown rice to equal 1 cup. Put rice/mung beans into a small sauce pan and cover with 2 cups vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook 45-50 minutes.
I know that 'cleanse' can be a buzzword, so bear with me... when I talk about a seasonal cleanse, I mean a very low-key elimination diet based on cutting out foods that tend to cause inflammation or that people tend to be sensitive to, and replacing them with healthy, whole foods. I take some supplements for liver support and antioxidants. I can't speak to the juice fasts or intense cleanses that some people choose to do because I've never tried (and probably never will) do something that extreme. My fall and spring cleanses are a way to clear out any junk that has built up in my liver or digestive tract from eating processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, sugars, preservatives in pre-packaged foods, etc. Our livers work so hard... sometimes they need a break!
I learned about this type of cleanse from Dr. Deborah Epstein, a naturopath who specializes in digestive health. She recommends about 10-14 days twice per year of the elimination diet. She also makes her own rad liver cleanse supplement and herbal tea. (Disclaimer: If you have more serious digestive or health issues, this may not be for you. It's also great to get guidance from a doctor if you are thinking of trying a cleanse.)
I usually look forward to my cleanse time. For one, I have an excuse to say no to all the parties and bar-hopping I've been invited to (yes, I'm an introvert), and for two, I love actively pursuing new and delicious recipes. So many doors open up when I get away from my lazy-food lifestyle. I am usually in awe of the delicious flavors and creative foods that I can eat when I start looking for 'cleanse-friendly' food. In my normal life, I forget about coconut oil, tahini, cashew cream, mung beans, coconut milk, shredded beets, fennel, chia seeds (... OK, maybe that list doesn't sound delicious... but seriously, I'll share some delicious recipes). I even found a replacement chocolate bar recipe!
Chocolate Bar (cleanse-friendly)
Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie.
1/4 cup carob or cocoa powder
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 T honey
Optional: shredded coconut, dried fruit, nuts
Mix ingredients together in a bowl, spoon into a sandwich-size ziploc baggie. Smoosh flat, and freeze until solid... doesn't take long! YUM!
The elimination diet involves cutting out the following foods: processed foods, refined grains and sugars (ie white rice), alcohol, caffeine, gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts, and factory-farmed meats. Though this may seem intimidating, there is SO MUCH flavorful and filling food that is outside of this list. There is no limit on the amount of food during a cleanse, you shouldn't feel hungry, snack as much as you want. I find that I stay fuller longer and feel more satiated when I'm eating delicious (and fibrous) cleanse food vs the processed, packaged alternatives.
This morning I started the day with delicious refrigerator oatmeal adapted from Oh She Glows.
1/3-1/2 cup organic oats (steel-cut is best)
1/2 cup organic (unsweetened) almond milk (other non-dairy milks are fine here... just look out for additives)
1 T chia seeds
1/4 t cinnamon
1-2 t honey
1/2 t vanilla extract
Toppings: fresh berries, pecans, pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut, banana, or whatever strikes you
Mix all ingredients in a small mason jar or tupperware (I use a little magic bullet container). Shake. Refrigerate overnight. The next morning, adjust the milk and honey and top with toppings.
This is so delicious and satisfying! I drink a cup of green or green chai tea sweetened with honey or stevia (a little caffeine in green tea is OK because it's so full of healthy antioxidants!) and I am good to go until my mid-morning snack of bananas and almond butter :)
I'll post more recipes this week. Happy fall!
For my first substantive post I'd like to address the shift into fall in Seattle. Aside from the excitement I feel about crisp fall weather, I also have a looming sense of dread about the upcoming dark, damp months. Here's what I've come up with to deal with it. It's not rocket science, but there are things that help me to ease the pain of a long, dark winter. What works for you?
1- Self-care: Self-care to me means massages, yoga, healthy food, acupuncture, chiropractic care, exercise, hydrotherapy, laughter and sleep. When you care for yourself, you feel better and you will treat those around you better. If you have a block against treating yourself, get over it! You will seriously be a better, kinder, happier, healthier person if you take care of yourself.
2- Get outside: It can be hard when it's damp and dark, but even a walk around the block can help a tired, sour self. Fresh air, circulation, whatever light is out... these can all increase your mood and energy. Even better if you can go out for a day hike or head to a sunnier place (like east of the mountains) for a bit of light and fresh air.
3- Light: Buy a happy light. Use it for at least 10 minutes in the morning. This stimulates your brain to wake up and helps fight fatigue. It can boost your mood and energy. You can even take it to a desk job and turn it on the afternoon when you feel the afternoon doldrums sink in. Here's what I have.
4- Honor the highs and lows: Sometimes we fight how we really feel. It's normal to have times when you feel more lethargic or sad than others. This is part of the beauty of the human experience... the full range of emotions. When we try desperately to combat it, we just create a struggle for ourselves. I think of the struggle as adding an extra layer of suffering onto something that already feels like suffering. If you feel down, take a moment and let yourself feel it. Honor it. Know that it's normal and OK. It will pass. Breathe, rest, relax, do self-care, and be OK.
5- Check your attitude: If you're anything like me, you love to get melodramatic about the winters here. Yes, we don't often get much daylight, but there is plenty to celebrate about our PNW in the cooler months. Many places have bitter dry cold snowy winters, but it's so lush and green here. We get off easy. When you start feeling gloomy, it can be nice to breathe in the fresh damp earth smell of the winters and embrace the cold darkness by snuggling in a letting it wrap you up like a hug.
6- Get out of town: I was going to say, 'If all else fails, get out of town.' But go ahead and do it even if the other things are working! Taking a trip somewhere in Jan/Feb/March is a great way to refresh yourself, see a little more daylight, and get away from the collective gloom that is upon us here. Last year I went to the Big Island... I thought it was so funny that they gave us mai tai's on the way over, but nothing on the way back. I'm going to suggest they give you a shot of espresso and a wellbutrin for flights into Seattle :)
Happy fall, everyone! Have a warm, caffeinated beverage, get a massage, and go to bed early.
I am a lifetime learner and researcher in happy, healthy, fun living.