Always a work in progress

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Hey, everyone, how’s it going? Is October treating you well?

I have just survived about two weeks of $%!# hitting the fan one day after another. At first I was bummed, then I got kind of mad, and then I just starting laughing as consecutive things just went all kinds of wrong. Like most things in life, we really don’t have control over them, and so I settled in to cope and react the best I could.  I had to laugh after a few days, because it was the extreme opposite of being in flow!

This would include being ravenously hungry at a pizza party with no alternatives in sight, pizza being my diet kryptonite. Yes, I ate it, knowing it would kill my energy for the next few days and tempt me with a slippery slope of, “hey, let’s just make this a major cheat day and start over tomorrow.” Luckily I resisted that little devil on my shoulder!

I slowly emerged from the bad karma and started to feel better, in no small part thanks to my new work out routine. Although I have been making huge strides in my health (no pun intended) due to food changes, I’d been slacking in the exercise department. Once upon a time I ran cross country and was in seriously good shape pounding out the miles and having amazing core strength I used to downhill ski every winter. Eventually my joints protested the pounding and I had two kids, which totally destroyed my abs, leaving me functioning but not very strong.

For the past few years I have been walking a lot and doing random bouts of yoga. All good and useful and relatively gentle, which made me feel productive, but still not exactly fit. I finally decided to get serious about exercise and commit to a schedule, which I’ve been doing for about a month now. One weekday and one weekend day I go out in my neighborhood and walk up hills and run the straights and downhills. It only takes me about 30 minutes, but doing it twice a week with the variety of speeds and terrain has been a game changer for me.

My energy has definitely increased, my core feels solid, and I generally just feel more strong and fit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to be on American Ninja Warrior, but for me, at 42, this is damn good!

I also realized that I need my version of cross training, meaning that twice a month I need to do yoga for stretching and range of motion, and add in wellness treats like massage and/or a pedicure – things that help me relax and contribute to my well being from time to time. No, they can never really get the knots out of my back, but I can still enjoy the experience!

And, of course, nothing really works without the food! I’m currently obsessed with Sunfood spirulina chlorella tablets, which were recommended as a detox/ antioxidant/ micronutrient supplement in the book Woman Code Alissa Vitti. Yes, they look like seaweed, but you just swallow them and they do their job. I also regularly eat sardines out of the can – which sends my kids running from the kitchen – but they are a good source of Omega 3s, iodine and calcium, so I’m going to keep eating them. And pretty much everyday I eat healthy fats like eggs and nuts along with my greens and gluten free grains.

I know, it really doesn’t sound that great, but it feels great, like I’m finally filling up with the right fuel after years of eating cheese sticks. (God, I really miss those cheese sticks!)

 

I know there is no one size fits all diet or exercise plan for everyone. I also know that there are times it all goes south, and other times that it hums along beautifully. I can only hope that you, too, can experiment with foods and exercise and find just your right sweet spot. And, if you fall off the wagon, don’t give up, because you can always climb back on tomorrow. Call me if you need to commiserate, you know I’ve been there!

Now tell me, what are your best go to solutions with food and working out?

Bonus question: how do you avoid eating all that Halloween candy?

 

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How’s it flowing?

flow

Of all things, I’ve been pondering the idea of flow recently.

You may ask yourself, how much is there really to think about? You can go with the flow or you can decide not to, right?

While that may be true, it’s not the whole story. There is a theory of flow from psychology that describes the flow state as one of concentration and enjoyment, as in you are so focused on your favorite activity (painting, for example), that you lose track of time.

If you give it some thought, you may come up with some activity that can put you into the flow state, where you seem to be working on instinct and completely focused on one thing. I get that way when I write, and I notice that I kind of zone out when I’m running, too. (When I get into either activity, and I stop procrastinating and thinking about it, the rhythm takes over and it’s very peaceful and enjoyable.)

Of course, when I think about flow on a daily basis, I usually go back to the “go with the flow” concept. And I’ll tell you why that has changed my life for the better.

I am prone to anxiety, and I can worry with the best of them. If I really give in to worry, my mind can spiral so far out of control with dire possibilities, I should get awards for creativity! Of course, worrying and being anxious feels really bad, so I do my best to combat it and keep those crazy negative thoughts away.

What do I worry about besides money, global warming, and gun violence? Usually 99% of my daily worry resolves around time. Will I get the kids to school on time? Will I be late for work? When will I have the time to clean my house/ write my novel/ actually relax? I’m constantly looking at the clock and seeing how much time I have until the next thing, because, honey, there is always the next thing…even if it’s getting to sleep at a reasonable hour so that I can rest before resuming my daily clock watching. (Seriously!)

Here is where the idea of flow (as in going with it) comes in. When my internal alarms start cranking up, I say to myself…”There is enough time for everything, and today I will flow from one thing to the next.” Add in a few deep breaths and a visualization of myself remaining calm all day, and I have the antidote for worry.

Each time the clock watcher starts pacing, I remind myself to just flow with what the day will bring. There are many unknowns, and meeting them calmly will solve more problems than flipping out over the clock. Am I right?

This may seem overly simple, or even kind of silly, but if you try it for real, and make the effort to imagine yourself calm and “flowing along”, it can really help. A day in flow can still be incredibly busy as you move from one task to another, but if you erase the time anxiety, there is so much less stress.

I believe there is a mindfulness component to this, too, which would explain why it’s stress reducing. If you simply go from thing to thing without thinking about it too much or adding a layer of worry, you are more in the moment. There is a task in front of me right now, and I’m going to do it without thinking ahead to the next. Yes, you know the next thing on the schedule exists, but it doesn’t have to ruin what’s happening right now. Your internal clock watcher will still nudge you, and you’ll glance at the clock and think, “I’ve still got time, we’re good.” And if time has run out, you think, “OK, I’ll get back to this tomorrow/ next week/ whenever, and move on to the next,” without having your heart rate shoot up!

Yes, believe it or not, this little bit of mantra, breathing, and positive thinking has helped me immensely. It’s quick and free, so why don’t you give it a try?

One last word about flow. By randomly browsing online today I came across the new(?) sport called Parkour. (I’d seen it in passing online before but never knew what it was.) I’m just reading about it, so I’m no expert. What I get is that it’s both a sport and an art form based on a working through a military style obstacle course. The goal is to surmount your obstacles, perhaps quickly, perhaps gracefully, but in the end you just do it.

It is supposed to be a good workout because you have to do so many different physical motions, and it’s symbolic of being creative about navigating obstacles. One website that I can’t seem to find right now said the name is French and is derived from the word “path”. You literally have to follow the path and flow around obstacles.

Yes, I think it’s a little trippy that I started reading about it today, as I’ve been thinking about writing about flow for a while.

I guess I’ll just take it as a sign and, well, you know…

 

What season inspires you?

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We are in the home stretch of the summer – how is everyone doing?

I feel fortunate to live in Pennsylvania because we get to experience four distinct seasons: a hot summer, cool fall, a snowy winter, and wet spring. Everyone has their favorite, right?

So technically it’s still summer, and the fall doesn’t start for almost another month according to the calendar. I’m going to just call this “late summer”.

Late summer is usually not welcomed by parents of school aged children. There are endless to-do lists for back to school shopping, and there never seems to be any available camps at the end of August which makes it difficult to go to work! And, I think my least favorite thing about the start of school are the forms. Each year we fill out multiple forms with our basic info like name, address, and phone number. How many times can you writing your address out? I mean, the school sent the forms via snail mail (they obviously know where we live!) And I received the tuition bill via email (they’ve got me on file.) So, why do I have to fill out the dang forms again? Imagine the forests that could  be saved by a school database – shocking!

Anyway, I just shared why a lot of people do not like this time of year. Despite these little annoyances, this seems to be my season. I’m not exactly sure why, but I have a few ideas.

  1. We get a few beautiful days with a break in the heat and humidity, lovely signs that a crisp autumn is on the way.
  2. School starts again, and our family returns to a regular schedule. (No more crazy camp and vacation schedules.)

Now, these reasons alone do not really make this a wonderful season, especially given all the stuff I mentioned above. So, you are just going to have to trust me on this.

For some reason, I feel completely alive at this time of year. Maybe I’m looking forward to the change of season, or maybe I’ve always liked the beginning of school…who knows?

What I do know is that I begin to take stock of my life as if through new eyes, and I get some amazing insights on how to improve everything from the disaster that is my living room, to my personal workout routine, to my goals for the year. Light bulbs are sparking on in my mind, and I feel focused again, like I can see the path ahead in a way I couldn’t before.

(Last year I started my auto-immune diet around this time and have had great results.)

It sounds like New Year’s Day, only it hits around the end of August! I really don’t understand it, but I’m taking it and moving forward with positive thoughts in my heart.

Does anyone else ever experience this?

What time of year or season sparks your creativity and purpose?

 

I’m calling it the summer of…

stress

This has been a doozy of a summer for me!

I mentioned in my last post how I had a wonderful trip to Australia in early June. I wish I could have bottled that experience – having time to relax, explore, etc.

Of course, everything after that trip was pretty darn stressful. I had two graduate courses going, and they were no joke. As the weeks went by, somehow the work load for these classes began to just take over everything. It got to the point where I really didn’t want to go into work (for that paycheck) because I had a paper to write or I had to research something.

Each week became a mini crisis as the work piled up and I just ran out of hours in the day. I was staying up late to write, and feeling like hell when I woke up in the morning, as my mind churned over the to-do list endlessly. After a while I developed chronic heartburn! It didn’t matter what I ate or didn’t eat, heart burn wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew it was stress related, but I was too distracted to really deal with it.

Oh, and did I mention that I was frantically searching for an internship for the fall?! I’m working towards a masters degree, and it was time to do an internship. I must know a hundred people in my field, but all my contacts (who tried to help me) came up with crickets. I had visions of my resume being swept down a lonesome street chasing tumble weed. What was going on? I tried to remain calm, knowing that timing was everything, but I was nervous.

In the meantime I was chained to my computer and considering buying stock in Tums. It got to the point that I was so stressed out that I talked to my boss and said I might have to resign. I didn’t have enough time to get it all done, and I didn’t know what my schedule would look like in the fall, because I hadn’t found a bleeping internship yet. When I hit bottom and wanted to cry, something amazing happened.

I told my boss everything – about the classes, the internship search, my time crunch, and my worries about the future. To her credit, she told me that I could work from home and reduce my hours until the classes were finished. Then she asked if she could make some calls on my behalf to help get me an internship! I can’t tell you how much that helped relieve the pressure I was feeling.

Lesson one: talk to people when you need help, and then let them help you!

A few more weeks rolled by, and I was working on my classes like a machine. The one internship I applied to and interviewed for was not getting back to me, so I figured I was up a creek. One night, in desperation, I just googled the heck out of “graduate internship” and actually found one to apply to. I applied at 10 pm, and had a phone call from the school by noon the next day. So this is a reason to rejoice, right? I was so strung out that I had a hard time processing it all. What just happened?!

Lesson two: things “pop” in their own time (so don’t give up!)

I was immensely relieved to have a solid lead, and it did lead to an internship I’ll be starting soon, thank goodness.

I was finally getting somewhere, classes were in the home stretch, work was being flexible, and I had a plan for the fall. It should have been a cake walk at that point, right? Nope. It just so happened that my last two weeks of classes with finals and research papers fell exactly on my family summer beach weeks!

Great, I was finally getting a grip, and it was time to pack up for vacation. I knew there was no way I was going to finish my work surrounded by my extended family at the beach! I decided to stay home for a few days by myself and work like crazy. It wasn’t the end of the world, but there was pressure to get it all done so I didn’t leave my family high and dry. Thankfully my plan worked, and I didn’t miss too much.

By the time I arrived at the beach, I was a mental zombie. What day is it? Where am I supposed to be? Now, the beach has always been my happy place, so as soon I got there, I headed to the beach with my kids. That first day I spent a few hours playing “lifeguard” at the edge of the surf while my kids played in the water. At the end of the day I was shocked to find that I didn’t feel the heartburn anymore. Simply amazing!

Lesson three: go to your happy place (even just in your imagination)

I feel like the summer was about ten years long, and I am sure that the stress probably shortened my life a bit, but I lived to tell about it! Being under stress and needing to perform at my best led me right back to my healthy diet and forced me to get out there and walk to relieve the tension. Now I know going forward that it really helps, and it inspires me to keep it up as long as I can.

Lesson four: when under stress eat super healthy and get lots of exercise.

As you can see, none of these “lessons” is especially ground breaking, but when you are feeling stressed out, it’s easy to forget the basics.

Ask for help

Don’t give up

Go to your happy place

Take care of yourself

Let’s toast to the last days of summer, and hope for a peaceful fall that doesn’t require a Costco sized bottle of Tums!

 

No Opportunity Wasted

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Did you ever feel like life was getting a little too boring? That it’s the same old thing day in and day out? And you feel like you need a change of scenery for a while, or a major life change?

A few years ago I read No Opportunity Wasted by Phil Keoghan, the host of the Amazing Race. I bought the book because I wanted more out of life. I wanted to do more things, travel, and have more meaningful experiences. And I’m not saying my life was bad, it certainly wasn’t, but my heart wanted more.

This book is a good no-nonsense look at the excuses we put in the way of taking those great trips or chasing those dreams. It also gives you food for thought about what you really want to do. Everyone’s version of that beloved thing on their bucket list is different, but it doesn’t make it more or less meaningful. As they say, the heart wants what the heart wants!

Just a little FYI, I think the author is an adrenaline junkie, as his most treasured experiences are very adventurous and off the beaten path. Don’t let that dissuade you. If you’ve ever dreamed of strolling around Paris just to eat really good bread for a week, and your heart lights up at the thought – it counts!

I’m bringing this all up because it relates to my recent trip to Australia. It all started with a meeting at church (if you can believe it!?) A friend told me she just started listening to a new podcast, the Lively Show, and was really enjoying it.

The following week I looked it up out of curiosity and started listening. Right from the beginning I found the podcast hopeful and uplifting. It also happens to be a bit woo-woo and talks a lot about mind over matter things like meditation, setting intentions, and listening to your intuition.

(I haven’t written about it for a while, but I am all about the intuition! It’s a language our bodies use to speak to us that is very useful. It’s the sixth sense when you realize a person makes you uncomfortable for no obvious reason. It’s the feeling of peace when you walk into a room with people who love you. It’s your body saying “yes” or “no” to something crossing your path.)

Anyhoo, I found that listening to these podcasts put me in a really good mood, and each one had at least one good take-away idea worth exploring. For example, setting intentions for the day = good, but meditating each day = maybe I’ll just take a few deep breathes each morning?

Months go by, I feel happier with these things in mind, and calmer, too, as if my positive vibes are doing their work. Eventually Jess Lively, the host, announces a live event to kick off a new set of classes she and her team put together. My brain says, of course it’s in Sydney (where Jess lives), and immediately takes a pass. I continue listening (I’m driving) to the description of the event… Jess says she is making 111 tickets available (she’s into numerology)…I glance over at the clock and it says 1:11 pm. My eyebrows rise and I keep driving. She starts talking about how you can visit Sydney and then also visit New Zealand since it’s so close.  My heart starts racing a little bit, since I went to NZ a few years ago and had the most magical week that I never wanted to leave…

I reach my destination around the time she finishes explaining the event, and my heart skips a beat and feels like it’s going to leap out of my chest. I’m hit with a sense of longing so strong that I burst into hysterical tears because I know I’ll never be able to go. It’s so far, it’s so expensive, and I have kids to take care of…more crying, and then I get myself together and go on with my day.

Later that night, I confess to my husband what happened. He looks at me like maybe I hit my head, but is going to be nice to me anyway. I tell him it makes no sense but I really really want to go on this trip. He says, yes, it’s a little crazy, but let’s talk about it. (Points for him!)

We talk about it on and off over the course of a few weeks. How will I pay for it? What’s needed for the kids? Why do I want to go so bad? We hash it out and re-consider and talk some more. I realize I have some money in savings, and he thinks he can take off to be with the girls. It goes on from there and he finally says, if you feel so strongly about it, you better go.

I tell him I feel like I will be among like-minded people at the event, that I need to escape my day to day for a little while, that I need to explore a bit. He says OK, but that spending a week alone flying internationally doesn’t sound fun to him.

I book the trip and don’t tell anyone but him. I feel sheepish telling people I’m flying to Australia just because. It’s not for work, or school, or a research project. I’m just taking off to go to an event on the other side of the globe because I want to. As the time gets nearer, I need to tell people I’m going, and I really dread the reactions. My parents look puzzled, but say, have fun. That was the worst of it. My co-workers are excited for me, as are my friends! They say things like, way to go, follow your heart, you’re an inspiration. (I can’t tell you how shocked I was to hear these reactions!)

So I get myself on the plane and spend 24+ hours traveling. Luckily I slept most of the long flight across the Pacific, so I feel OK when I land in Sydney. I spend the next four days meeting new friends, exploring Sydney, learning about the interplay of the conscious and subconscious mind, drinking pink lattes and eating lovely healthy Aussie cuisine. I meet a longtime online friend for the first time in person and have a wonderful evening. My last full day I take the bus to Bondi Beach and do the coastal walk. About a mile in I stop to eat in a beach side cafe after observing a rainbow form over the ocean. As I dig into the best avocado toast I’ve ever eaten, it hits me:

I’m eating lunch in a beach side cafe in Australia! I feel a sense of euphoria bubble up as I think over the past few days and how much I’ve enjoyed both being with people and having relaxing time to myself. I think, hey, it’s a miracle I’m sitting here right now!

All of the planning and the worry and the strange sense of longing to follow my heart was worth it. My heart was light in a way that doesn’t happen too often.

I’d like to say that I won a million dollars or made life changing connections while I was there. And, you know, those connections just might be a big deal in the long run, but only time will tell. I will never forget being among other people who thought way-out the way I do sometimes. I’ll never forget hearing other people say they also felt a little embarrassed about flying to Sydney just because it felt right. I’ll never forget how unexpected it was that so many people were rooting for me to go. And, as I look back on this trip and its emotional impact one me, I’ll never regret it one iota.

May YOU, too, follow your heart to its next destination!

 

 

Making the best of it

retrograde

So they say several planets are in retrograde and that lots of things will go wrong…those not into astrology say “BS”. I like to think I can enjoy astrology without having it run my life. On this topic I’ll say, “something actually might be happening” because the past month and a half has been one of constant change and action.

I related a few weeks ago about my ongoing quest to find just the right foods to make my mind and body healthy. It has been complicated, but I’m getting the hang of it. Of course, stress makes me eat more chocolate, but overall, I’m hanging in.

So what else is shaking up my world these days?

I took an amazing trip to Australia to attend a live event with Jess Lively of The Lively Show. This was a big deal in my life for several reasons: I live in Philadelphia, which means it takes 24 hours at least to travel to Sydney; that kind of travel costs a lot of money and I’m not swimming in it; and I was going to leave my kids and husband for a week just because I wanted to.

I could write about this experience till the cows come home. It was intensely life affirming, wacky and wonderful. If you want more details, let me know. All I can say it that it was a big leap, and it was sooo worth it.

So then I came home from watching a rainbow form over the ocean to jet lag from hell, and found myself behind in all my usual stuff: my house looked like bomb had gone off, I was behind in my online graduate classes, and had stacks of things in my “to-do” box in the office. No wonder Americans don’t travel as much as, oh, anyone else in the world. There is always hell to pay when you get back.

It’s become clear that I have over-extended myself by trying to work part time, keep up with these classes that seem more demanding than usual (#$%!), and continue taking care of  myself and this household. There just isn’t enough time so I’m scrambling and it’s stressing me out.

I know it won’t last forever, and my best bet for surviving is sticking to a healthy diet and making time to relax. It’s easier said than done, but I know I’m going to make it.

On that note, I started reading a new book I thought would be inspiring. (You knew I was going to mention books, right?) Well I’m reading Let your life speak by Parker Palmer. He talks about his journey and learning to listen to his heart/ soul/ intuition (whatever you want to call it.) All I can say is that it relaxes me like no other. He’s made mistakes, unconventional career decisions, had people tell him he was crazy, and survived to tell about it quite happily.

It reminds me that whatever life throws at us, and even if we make mistakes, we can still come out the other side in one piece and wiser for the experience.

May we all survive the planets in retrograde and emerge from the experience richer than before!

 

 

Nobody said it would be easy

food

Happy mid June to you all!

We just experienced the new moon again, which reminded me to check in with last month’s intention, and set a new one going forward.

Well, last month was no barrel of laughs, food-wise, anyway. You may remember I decided to re-dedicate myself to my gluten and dairy free diet, as I’d previously fallen off/ torched the wagon. I joyfully climbed back on the wagon and resumed eating my go-to foods like eggs, oatmeal, almonds, salads, fruit, sweet potatoes, chicken, etc.

I thought, channeling Emeril Lagasse , let’s kick it up a notch and go REALLY healthy. I had my trusty food guides, but I wondered if there were any food sensitivities I was unaware of. I’d been eyeing the EverlyWell website for a while, and finally decided to spend the money to test my food sensitivities. It’s a bit pricey, but simple home blood test, and in less than a week, you get a custom report of foods that are a “yes” and those that are a “no” for your body. My impression was that the “no” foods were causing inflammation.

I thought I knew it all, after all, I had been experimenting with foods for a while now. Surely I knew what the results would be…right?

The good news is that no foods gave me a high reaction (yes) and only one food gave me a moderate reaction: brewer’s yeast. You may not be acquainted with brewer’s yeast, but if you drink alcohol, cook with vinegar or consume any fermented foods – it is acquainted with you!

I already knew that I could no longer drink alcohol without feeling awful, and frankly, vinegar regularly gave me heart burn, so this made total sense to me when I read the fine print. People have been pushing kombucha and apple cider vinegar for years as health foods, but I could never tolerate it, and now I knew why. (I’m cringing just thinking about the last time I tried to drink kombucha!)

So I was like, wow, this test is right on, this fits with my experience, yay to the yay. Then I continued reading. Turns out I’m mildly sensitive to eggs, sweet potato, chicken, broccoli, almonds, apples, oats, green beans, oranges, oregano, and baker’s yeast. Before I get to the yeast again – that list consists of things I eat all the time! I’m Italian for goodness sake, how could I have a reaction to oregano?! Thank goodness my grandma isn’t around to hear about that one.

And the yeast, well, that’s the worst part. The fine print says if you are sensitive to both kinds of yeast, as I am, that I likely have the dreaded candida overgrowth in my gut. Lovely.

I’ve just lost many of my staples, am facing a yeast issue, and then it gets even worse. It says I have no reaction to milk (dairy – what?) and gluten (#$%&!?). At this point I just look at the list with dismay – what the bleep does all this mean?!

All of a sudden, I have nothing figured out at all.

I finally realize that the gluten-yeast thing is related. I’ve been feeling great while I avoid gluten foods like bread (made with yeast) and baked goods (made with yeast and/or lots of sugar.) So while gluten on its own may not trigger any symptoms in my body, it’s hard to find foods that include gluten/wheat that don’t also include yeast and/or sugar. How’s that for a chemistry experiment?

OK, my brain starts to fire again, and I kind of get it. But now I have to figure out all different staples to eat on a regular basis. I know you’ll be relieved to know I can continue to eat kale, kelp and lima beans. Woo-hoo, party at my house!

I’m not sure how it happened, but I fell down another darn rabbit hole with food and have to recreate the wheel. I have my trusty list, so I know I’ll figure it all out eventually. It just feels like I’m starting over. Sigh.

Knowledge is power, but also, sometimes, a pain in the butt.

So, you know, send me your best lima bean recipes, please, there has got to be one out there!