Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Log Cabin

I've had to find something to do with my hands so I can get off that darn iPad game that has consumed me.  Oh yea, I used to do a lot of this stuff, knitting, crocheting, sewing, quilting.  That's why I had originally named this blog "Mixed Threads."  It's been awhile.  When I was on bed rest, pregnant with my son, I knit up a storm.  Then he was born and I haven't completed a single project except the little pink scarf he recently begged me to make (in the summer!).

My upstairs neighbor recently had a baby girl so I decided to get a project going for the new baby (shhh, don't tell), and I've had log cabins on my mind recently. 

One sister is putting together a memory book and asked for submissions.  I wrote about log cabin quilts.  (I like writing about quilting.  Here's another quilting story that follows a similar history.)  It is a profound memory from childhood and throughout my life.  Following is an edited version.

As a kid, there were many times when our basement playroom was overtaken with quilting stilts with a patchwork top tacked to it.  Often mom would decide that someone needed a quilt.  I honestly don't remember who they went to, or what the reason was behind it.  I'm guessing that it might have been a part of compassionate service at Relief Society, the women's organization from the Mormon Church.  The church may have institutionalized the term, "compassionate service", but it was from my mom that I learned compassion as I saw her frequently in service to others. 

Each of us six kids had our own log cabin style quilt made up of odds and ends, probably worn out clothing or scraps from sewing projects.  These were made and given to us by Mom's grandmother, a woman that I met, but have little memory of.  They were crazy quilts with bright colors and every print imaginable.  I absolutely loved my quilt and memorized every piece of it, including the frayed corners and uneven stitches.  To me my quilt was like Joseph's coat of many colors, only each of us kids had one, no need for jealousies or lion's dens.

The next generation under a quilt fort.

On rainy days, we'd turn the basement into a labyrinth of tunnels and forts made from the quilts.  We'd stay there for hours staging battles between stuffed animals, green army men and barbie dolls.  On sunny days, they were often dragged outside to be used as picnic blankets or put up as makeshift tents.  They came along on many road trips across the country, warming our bodies on chilly nights camping out or huddled together, trying to sleep in the backseat of the car.

At some point, that magnificent quilt was replaced by the one my mother made with a simpler design.  I remember yellow and green calico squares with lace along with matching curtains.  I may have even helped tie that quilt, but I don't have that memory, as all the quilts we've tied have melded into each other.  My childhood bedroom grew up a bit with the new quilt, but not too much.  During high school, I decided it was time for me to make my own quilt.  Often having great plans, but little resolution, my yards of gray, cream and mauve calico eventually moved to the bottom of my storage chest.

The heart quilt along with a rag rug made to match.
When I left home, the quilts stayed - the crazy log cabin quilt, the green and yellow calico and my unfinished project.  I was off to a short stint in college, and then on to a new life in New York City.  I took very few possessions with me, thinking that I'd come back when I settled down to gather those physical memories.  Years passed while I built a life for myself.  I was living in a crummy, cold water flat in the East Village.  My bathtub was in the kitchen and toilet in a closet.  The gates that covered my windows didn't keep out the crack addict who broke in and stole my (not precious) jewelry and tried to make out with my air conditioner.  My fabulous job at that time paid very little and so, like many New Yorkers, I lived from pay check to pay check, just covering the rent, food and subway fare.  I didn't even have the money to put proper curtains on my windows, so I kept my clothes on when in the street side of the house.

At some point (a little to my embarrassment) my father had come to visit, bringing with him my chest full of keepsakes.  In it was some journals, photos, congratulation cards from when I was born, and the unfinished quilt I had attempted in high school.  I was grateful for the fabric, and borrowing my neighbor's sewing machine, I promptly made curtains.  I had saved a bit of wrapping paper that had a quaint design of stitched hearts on a patchwork quilt.  I was still single, and in spite of developing a sharp edge from living in the city, I still liked the romantic girlishness of the design.  From the scraps of my curtains, I set to work, hand sewing hundreds of hearts upon hundreds of squares.  The perfect moveable project to pass the time during my morning commute.

Like many of my grand schemes, I had lost interest in the quilt.  Eventually it went back in the box with the other dusty memories of childhood.

Fast forward several years and I meet my husband to be.  It was only one month into our courtship that my high school reunion came up.  I didn't even like high school, and I was certain that there was no one there looking forward to seeing me.  Nevertheless, he insisted that we go.  I'm pretty certain that he was scheming to meet my family.  One of my best memories from that trip was visiting my grandmother.  She was hard at work on a quilt for my brother.  She was making a log cabin quilt much like the ones I had growing up, only my brother's wife picked out beautifully, coordinated fabrics.  No odds and ends.  I admit, I was a little jealous then.  The fabrics looked gorgeous together (I've always had a hard time with patterns and colors - getting the right combination) and it was turning into a lovely design.  While she worked, I sat beside Grandma as she taught me how to piece together a log cabin.  Sharing that process with her was a part of her love and compassion for her family.  The bit of quilting legacy that begun with her mother (perhaps her mother before), passed to her daughter, had been passed along to me, her granddaughter. 

I was so jazzed up from learning this new skill, that when my sister was getting married, I stitched up a log cabin quilt for her (sorry Thea, my color/pattern coordination never improved much) and her husband.  I made log cabin pillow covers.  I made log cabin wall hangings.  I was a little log cabin crazy, and then phew, I burned out. 

Eventually, I had my own daughter.  I resurrected the sleepy heart quilt project.  It seemed perfect for her, and so I sewed all those hundreds of squares together, tacked it to the quilting stilts and tied it.  She still sleeps with it every night to this day.

My grandmother's log cabin quilt to me with a sleepy Jasper.

After my grandmother had passed away, my mother brought me a beautiful log cabin quilt top that she finished up for me.  Grandma had made it for me before she had died.  I can imaging it tacked to the stilts, propped up by dining chairs as she and others worked around the quilt, sewing a pattern of large crisscrosses that would be cut and tied.  It was beautiful in the way that it suits me and my personality the most.  I could not have purchased a finer selection.  The fabrics were a crazy, mismatched array of odds and ends.  I recognized green and yellow calico scraps from the quilt my mother had made for me in my youth.  There was the candy colored strips from a summer top I had stitched together for camp.  There was scraps from dresses that my mother had stayed up all night sewing before a church dance.  There were bits from worn out clothing.  I hugged the fabric to me, breathing in my youth, surrounding myself with the generations of women who loved to stitch blankets to warm their loved ones.

I finished the edging on the blanket and put it into circulation in my home.  It is sometimes on the kids' beds and sometimes with guests.  I've had to shake off ants and crumbs when bringing it in from a picnic.  And there are times I will wake up to find the playroom turned into a labyrinth of tunnels and forts and my precious log cabin is among them - just as my grandmother remains with me in my memories.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

House Guests

About a month and a half ago, I received a note from a friendly acquaintance.  When my daughter left her Japanese preschool, this young woman tutored her for awhile to maintain her language skills.  She and her family were looking for a place to stay in Chicago and all hotels were booked (Avon walk weekend).  It was urgent.  She had to be out of her current place that day.  I invited her to come stay with me, of course.  It began as a temporary stop until the hotels freed up.  We, my whole family, fell in love with them and begged them to stay on.  It's beautiful how a friendship forms and grows exponentially when you open yourself up for it. 

In the time that she, her husband and her gorgeous 9-month-old girl have stayed with us, I've accomplished more practical things in my home than in the two years I've lived here.  My guestroom that has functioned as garage storage (because we have no storage space like that) has been cleaned out.  Items have been given away, donated or packed neatly in a newly created, neat storage corner (complete with a beautiful screen from Anthropologie).  I ordered a bed, rug, side tables and a comfy chair to create a bedroom worthy of a hotel.  Except for the lack of art work, it's probably the most furnished room in my home.

My friend and her husband cook up a storm.  Fresh, organic and super healthy meals have graced my dining room each evening.  Not necessarily raw, the food we've had has sure pleased my family.  For them, I purchased a grill.  Each night, my husband will spend at least an hour and often more sitting around the table talking politics and business.  In normal times, he wolfs his food down and leaves the dinner table within minutes.  Instead of feeling bitter or jealous, I enjoy his extended company.  I am happy he has someone to banter with on the subjects that would otherwise make my head spin.  It's the curse of marrying a CalTech grad.  Typically I can't keep up.

We watch the Navy Pier fireworks together, every Wednesday and Saturday.  Normally we'd ignore them, but with friends it's something to look forward to.  When the kids are finally in bed (summer hours, whew, will they ever sleep?), we squish together on my tiny couch to watch recorded episodes of True Blood and Spartacus (blood and boobs - necessary for the guys to embrace a series).  I watch the love my friends have for each other and something is kindled in my own marriage.  More kissing, more cuddling, more kindnesses, more forgiveness.

En Garde!

I think back to the moment I responded to that message on Facebook, "Stay with us."  I was nervous.  I hadn't checked in with my husband.  I didn't know what her husband was like.  I hadn't seen her for years.  Would it be okay?  Sometimes all it takes is a tiny leap of faith for something amazing to happen.

Tomorrow they go back home.  I feel that I have another sister, another extension to my family.  They will surely be missed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I'm Going to BlogHer

BlogHer '12
I'm a little tongue tied today.  I booked my hotel and ordered my conference pass.  The rest of the day I've been asking myself, "Why would a little unknown blogger like me want to go to this enormous, crazy conference?"

Well, not so hard to answer.  I love New York like it's my home, because it was my home for a good chunk of my life.  I'm going sans kids so I can get out and play.  George might come along for a night, so... hotel sex, yippee.  My hotel is super close to MoMa - it's been too long.  I get to jog Central Park.  I have people there I'd love to see.  I want to pick up some technical bloggy skills.  I want to grow my blog, or at least figure out if this is something I want to professionalize, or do simply for fun (or both :). 

Why I'm totally freaking out right now?  I'm scared of all those parties - really.  Sitting around taking notes in meetings is totally my speed.  Networking scares the bejesus outta me.  I don't know anyone there.  Yep, still gawky and scared like I was in high school.  My 4-year-old is already crying every night in anticipation of not snuggling with me.  My 12-year-old will probably spend 24 hours a day in front of MineCraft.  I haven't been home for more than two consecutive weeks this summer - I miss home.  I pick up a few extra pounds for every trip I've been on.  Bleh.

Still, I will be there.  This time packing my Vita-Mix.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Green Energy

So having had a hard time staying awake these days, I started this morning green.  I've been reading Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr and she has just the right amount of spunk to get me back on track. 

My juicer, while it can juice tree bark if I wanted it to, is a pain in my big butt to clean.  However, after a vacation of Great Harvest Bread (oh, I'm so glad they don't have a store near me), I needed the cleansing power of a fresh, green juice.  Today, I grabbed what I had on hand.  Celery, cucumber, spinach, wheat grass, green apple, lemon and ginger.  The ginger added the perfect zing.

Thinking green is almost as powerful as drinking green.  Going down, I imagined it cleansing out all the garbage left from an indulgent vacation.  Knowing it is energizing, I imagined and therefore felt greater energy.  Believing in its restorative powers, that kvetching cough at the back of my throat dissipated.  Whether it's real or a placebo, it doesn't matter.  It's a great way to start the day.  Crazy Sexy Kris recommends beginning each day with a green juice or smoothie.  I'm going to try that.

As for that tedious, overpriced juicer, well, it's still sitting by the sink waiting to be cleaned to be ready for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I've been back from Minnesota for two days now, and whoaaa, I can't seem to get myself out of bed.  The day starts fine, but then a nap attack completely wipes me off my feet and then I'm off to my plush, micro-fiber fleece sheets (weird, I know - it's like sleeping in baby blankets) and I've checked out for about two to three hours.  As soon as dinner is over, I'm ready to go at it again.  I wish I could say I think I'm pregnant, but that just doesn't happen for me that way, suddenly and without warning.  Someday I'll write about that, but not this post.

A few years ago, my chin, unfortunately hasn't changed much.
I'm scared to admit this, because all my life I've fought off taking anti-depressants.  Lately, though, I've been on a teensie-tiny dose of Zoloft.  It's supposed to help me through menopause without shrieking so much.  When my mom said how much she loves Zoloft, except it makes her so sleepy, I knew something might be up.

This girl can sleep anywhere, even with a 200 pound mastiff on her lap.

One of my girl friends has been taking St. John's Wort for the same reason.  I may give that a try for a more natural approach.  Besides the sleepiness, I've been feeling great.  It doesn't take me days to wrestle with a simple decision.  I don't explode and berate my kids for no apparent reason.  And I don't spend a week underwater in the blues before my period each month.  I like/love my husband just about all the time and don't completely obsess over a minor infraction.  This is one of those events in life that has made me question just about everything.  Has most of the emotional upheaval in my life been caused by a mere chemical imbalance?  If anger and hate can be quelled by a little pill, what does that say for our better emotions like love, passion, compassion?

Anytime, anywhere.
I've studied these things at length at one time, yet still fought my own diagnoses with depression.  At one time I was on track to tackle a PhD in neuropsychology.  I got side-tracked by a little move to the Midwest, at the time thinking I'd only be here for a year or two.  Well, we stayed.  NY went crazy and I found Chicago to be an excellent place to raise babies.

He can sleep even on a jet boat ride.
I never got back to that Master's/PhD program.  The fact that I even graduated college as an adult seemed miraculous, because coming to Chicago increased my depression, and often times anxiety.  Well, who wasn't anxious after 9/11?  That's what I always told myself, so I did nothing about it.  I also believed that as long as I can get out of bed in the morning, I must not be clinically depressed.  Just when I'd think something was really wrong, I'd snap out of it and enjoy life again.  So I must be okay.

What's cuter than a sleeping puppy?
I've talked to my doctor about this.  Increase in weight bearing exercise and better nutrition might have the same affect as this little pill that I've grown to love.  I'm still working hard in those areas.  In spite of feeling a little sleepy, though, I realize how depression has really affected my life.  Still, not sure I'd put myself in a clinical category.  That's for my doctor to figure out.  For now, it is just such a joy to function without feeling my head wrapped in cotton batting.

PS:  I'm thinking about attending BlogHer in NYC.  Anyone going?  Anyone gone before?  Survival tips?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Vacation Workouts

If sticking to my diet poses a tremendous challenge during vacation, exercise does not.  I'm not a big fan of stuffy, little hotel gyms; however, I don't typically sleep well when I travel and at 7am when the rest of my group is enjoying the ability to sleep in, the gym is the only place to go.  With Pandora in my pocket, I can easily put in an hour or two on the machines without a hitch.  As soon as the sweat breaks, I'm no longer in a stuffy gym, but in that cool, meditative space where my mind is wide open.  I love it.

It is these unfettered days of being in another place where I have no dishes to do, no pets to tend to, no mail to sort, plants to water or floors to sweep.  The early hours and no one is yet upon me with their demands, time is all my own.  My body sings with the exertion and rewards me throughout the day with that extra lift in my step, the little buzz in my brain as the endorphins accelerate my thoughts to give me that greater sense of well being and clarity.

Upon my return home, exercise is quickly demoted to a chore, that thing I need to fit in.  It is often the first thing to go if I wake up in pain, or get to catch up on all that sleep that alluded me when gone, or when my day becomes too busy.  I know that the most successful exercise plan isn't the one with the best trainer or the most awesome yoga class.  It is the plan that isn't a plan - one that can fit in seamlessly.  Bike the kids to school instead of driving.  Walk to the grocery store.  Pass the elevator and climb the stairs.  Park the furthest from the door.  Swim laps when the kids are playing in the pool.  Do those calisthenics or aerobics before getting dressed. 

Here's to treating every day like a vacation day. 

PS:  In case you haven't seen this floating around on Facebook, I'll post it here.  Ever have those days when you don't want to go to the gym, or that awesome yoga class because you think you look awful in gym clothes.  Keep this in mind.  I love this, love this, love this - especially in the hotel gym that places those godawful mirrors directly in front of the treadmills.  So demotivating to see all my fat jiggling like crazy for an hour or two.  I always think of this image.  Keeps me going, loving my body, embracing the jiggles, knowing that I got off that damn couch!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Excuses, Excuses

I wish I could write this post with a position of credibility and strength.  However, here I am on the road again, and not eating well.  There was a moment during the day of packing that I pulled out my Garden Diet menus and a notebook to figure out what food would be practical to pack and eat during a road trip and what foods are realistic to prepare in a hotel room.  I was all ready to plan, then got distracted (parenting, you know) and then took the kids to the pool, never returning to my planned planning session.  In a last ditch attempt to do something healthy, I ran over to my favorite raw restaurant and picked up a few entree's to go.

That was a waste of $60.  While the food may still be good for another day or two, fresh food tastes best fresh.  It just doesn't appeal to me after the first day.  Then it didn't help my cause that I decided to get the kids treats for the road trip that included potato chips, cookie and cracker packs.  Did I really think that I could keep my hands off of them?  And again (I know, I write about this too much without taking much action), why do I feed my kids crap?

At our first family get together we all had Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I had the choice of bringing one of my raw entrees, but I thought, no big deal.  I wasn't very hungry, so I'd just wait until later.  Fail.  (That's my tween talking.)  There's not even a moderately healthy option in that family value pack - just fried grease, salt, and carbs - the worst kind, simple, white carbs stripped of all nutrients possible.

Do you ever feel like you can't make the right choices because everything and/or everyone around you is going against you?  Like, I could really lose weight if my husband didn't come home with a bag of chips and cookies.  If only I didn't have to make the kids their meal, I could really stick to my diet.  I'm so busy, I don't have a minute to prepare all that food?  I'm traveling and there's only fast food restaurants around here.  I'm so tired, I can't stop eating.  I just had a great workout, I can eat anything I want.

Those are many of my excuses.  I have many more, I just don't want to bore you all.  Only two days ago I was planning a post of how to survive travel while eating raw.  Instead, I'm feeling defeated so I'm burdened with all my excuses and looking to whatever I can to blame.  Change is hard.  Getting out of your routine is hard.  But living a life of ill health is even harder.

As I'm thinking about all of this, I know that at any moment I can turn this trip around.  Writing about it helps.  Although I don't know any of my readers except a small handful, writing publicly is a form of making a commitment.  Now, I need to find a decent healthy restaurant around here for lunch, or it's back to the grocery store.  Suggestions, anyone, for some good veggie food in Minnetonka?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Five Steps to an Awesome Morning

Post run sweaty goodness.  95F and it's not even noon.

1.  Kiss or hug someone.  Your lover, your kid, your roommate, your mom, your dog (not your cat, though, you're likely to get your eyes clawed out).  My honey snuck out while I was still sleeping, but I'm lucky, I got a lot of loving goodness from my baby boy.

2.  Drink a tall glass of water.  This pains me, still to this day.  I used to be called a camel when I was a kid.  Drink it anyway.  Your bowels will thank you.

3.  Don't take a shower.  Hop into your workout clothes before anything or anyone can change your mind.  So often I awake confused wondering what I should do first.  Just put on the Lycra.  Your next step will reveal itself.

4.  Go work out.  Because if you don't, hanging out in Lycra all day will look pretty stupid.  If the gym just takes too much time (getting there, getting back), hop out of bed and do a bunch of jumping jacks, pushups and situps.  Remember calisthenics?  Back in the dark ages when elementary schools used to have gym class?  Easy peasy.  Today, in spite of the heat warnings, I hoofed it over to the lake and jogged a few miles and said "good morning" to everyone I passed. 

5.  Eat a healthy breakfast.   Must include a big portion of fresh fruit or vegetables.  Plan it the night before so when your all sweaty from the workout, the decision has already been made, the ingredients ready so it's a no brainer.  Today was a frozen cantaloupe smoothie.  Yum.

Now, go take a shower.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fat Women Shouldn't Wear Bikinis

We're in the full swing of beach and pool season.  Or should I say, the throes?  I cringe every year when the frost melts, the daffodils bloom, and I know I never took off all that fat that I resolved to on New Year's Day.  Ugh, all those unresolved resolutions - weight loss seems to always be at the top.  Before I know it, the kids are dying to go to the pool.  Oy vey.  It vexes me so.  I've got a drawer full of extremely modest swimsuits to hold in my tummy, lift my breasts and cover my butt.  However, there is nothing that a swimsuit can do to hold in, reduce or hide all my body anxieties.  I'm a little better this year.  Something about being on a healthier path has given me a lot of body confidence.  I haven't lost that much weight, and I still dress modestly, but I'm not so freaked out about going to the pool or beach with my kids.  I feel pretty good about my body right now, and I'm happy to spend an afternoon lounging poolside while my kids play with their friends.

Not long ago I felt terrible about my weight.  In spite of hating, really hating being at the pool, I found myself at a local pool with a group of families from my daughter's old school.  They were all skinny and in good shape, even the husbands.  I was trying so hard to just focus on the kids and enjoy how much fun they were having with their friends.  There was a woman in the pool, by herself, just enjoying a corner of sunshine and cool water.  She was big and wearing a bikini.  Oh, did she spark quite a discussion.  She was not even that far from the group as the men declared that she had no business wearing a bikini.  Gross - they didn't want to see all that.  All the wives agreed.  There was a lot of clucking and nodding going on.  Here I was, sitting among them just stunned.  The woman they were trashing was no bigger than I was.  Did they have no idea how offensive they were?  How their words could hurt so much?

Finally I found my voice and offered that I think it was great that she felt so confident in her own skin that she could wear whatever she wanted and still enjoy a beautiful day at the pool.  There was no agreement in that group.  "Yeah, but still."  Still what?

Self Acceptance vs Complacency

I am all for working towards a healthier body.  There is a fine line between self-acceptance and complacency.  Self-acceptance is great at every stage of the game.  To love yourself allows you the ability to do good things for yourself.  Accepting an overweight body (I'm not talking about about that extra 5 pounds we'd all like to lose) to the extent that one no longer cares to make a healthy change, that's complacency.  However, it's so easy to get trapped in those feelings that I don't look good in a swimsuit, therefore, I'm not going to go swimming.  How about,  "I'm so fat and look terrible in my workout clothes, therefore, I can't go to the gym?"  See where I'm going - it takes self love and acceptance of our bodies to go out and do the things that are healthy for us - NO MATTER WHAT SIZE we are.   Our size shouldn't stop us from doing the things we love to do.

Okay, so I'm about her size, but I don't look like that!

Bodies are Beautiful

Now I ask, why do we (people in general) fear seeing other peoples bodies so much?  There is this notion that unless you are fit, sexy and gorgeous, you don't have a right to be seen.  When I was a kid, during my first trip to New York City to visit with my mother, she and I went to the nude beach on Fire Island.  Mom hated wearing a bathing suit, much to my complete embarrassment.  In Minneapolis, that doesn't fly so well.  Once sunbathing topless at Lake Harriet, a poor cyclist ran straight into a tree as he gawked at the unusual sight of a bare chest in the Midwest!  Fire Island, nudity wasn't so strange.  At first, I was mortified.  As a twelve year old, that was a lot to take in.  By the end of the day, it didn't seem so strange.  People walked proudly with all sorts of bodies.  Large, thin, old and wrinkly, flat chests, pot bellies, vericose veins, stretch marks, surgical scars, whatever.  The beach was filled with a very real selection of what humans look like.  And nobody seemed to feel any shame.  As evening drew on, the music came out and people danced, sang, touched and laughed.  I loved it and it was beautiful - the whole scene.

That experience didn't cure me of my own body issues, but it helped in how I perceived others.  I had always been interested in art throughout my life.  In college, not the stuffy Mormon school that I first attended (I dropped out of almost immediately), but later in NYC, I had taken a figurative drawing class.  Every class we had a nude model to draw from.  Some were thin, some were old and wrinkly, some were voluptuous, and one was obese.  As an artist, I found it hard to draw from the classic fit body.  I had seen that body over and over in the media.  It held no interest to me, and frankly, it lacks character.  It was those bodies, normal bodies, like everybody bodies, that had great character and fed me with a challenging figure to recreate with charcoal and paper.

Drawing by Jana Bouc

The day the obese woman came in was exciting.  She disrobed with a flourish, sat down, extended her leg, threw back her shoulders and lifted her chin.  She was all confidence and sexy.  The next day we had a little, thin waif.  Her posture spoke for her insecurity in disrobing.  It was very hard to draw her.  I felt sad.  She had the body that I wanted, yet it seemed she felt as terrible about her body as I did my much larger own.  Throughout the semester, an older gentlemen would come to model.  He was exquisite.  While he had kept his body in excellent shape, he was marked with the wrinkles that was inevitable for his age.  He gave me so much to put on paper.  I finally figured that I knew him.  He and his partner had joined us on one of those trips to Fire Island when I was a kid.  Wow, small world.

Back to the swimming pool.  I say don that bikini, tankini, or whatever bathing suit you feel comfortable in.  Love your curves.  Wear what you love and enjoy yourself.  When that skinny guy with the skinny wife begin clucking about the fat lady in the bikini, know that they must be so insecure in their own bodies that they have to make sour remarks on others.  Don't ever let anyone else tell you how to feel about yourself! 

You are beautiful.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mindful Eating

Sitting in a spa (love Vegas!) the other day recuperating from an excessive workout in a vain attempt to try an undue a week of vacation overeating, I found an article about mindful eating in an old issue of O Magazine.  It caught my attention immediately because my mother has been studying mindfulness meditation and stress reduction with Jon Kabat-Zinn.  She now teaches and leads group meditations.  Side note:  some day I think it would be great to organize a retreat at my vacation property to include a weekend of raw food preparation (and eating), mindfulness meditation, morning yoga and hikes in the dunes and days spent at the beach or simply lounging about the farm.  Maybe next summer.  I wasn't able to find a copy of the article, but it sounds like there has been some recent research to support that mindfulness practices when focused on eating has helped people lose weight without increasing the focus on dieting.

That's really good news, considering that most research related to dieting these days has come to the conclusion that dieting doesn't really work for the long term, that the longer you carry excess weight, the more likely that you won't keep it off.  In fact, it's so unlikely that people can lose the weight and keep it off for the long term, that a national registry has been formed to track the tiny percent of long-term losers (I love that term, and aspire to be among them one day) to study them to find out if they're doing anything that others can mimic.  I had read one story of a long term loser where a woman describes herself as never not dieting.  She still continues to measure her food each day, write down everything that she consumes, workout for 1+ hours everyday, and never takes a break.  That sounds sad, but I suppose that really the ultimate lifestyle change.  I would happily do it, if I can only successfully get into it regularly in the first place.

Back to mindfulness... I am seldom relaxed enough to consider meditation.  Isn't that the greatest reason to consider it?  However, there are times that meditation just happens - mostly as I walk or jog along the lake.  Especially when walking, I don't listen to music and I always walk alone.  Because of my many aches and pains in my knees, feet, and hips, I am very conscious to keep my gait even, hips forward, shoulders down and back and tummy tucked in.  When my thoughts stray, so does my form and I find myself become sluggish almost instantly.  So I focus, a great deal, on all these little muscle groups.  It's just walking, you may say, why such effort.  I believe that is where the mindfulness comes in.  The longer I walk, the more essential it is to be mindful. 

To apply mindfulness to eating, it sounds brilliant, but obvious.  I've read that a mindfulness weight loss group would bring in all sorts of trigger food.  They would consider the properties of each food, like the grains of salt on a peanut, the oiliness, the texture.  Then they would taste it, eating slowly considering even more properties of the food.  Hmmm.  This is something I'd like to look into in greater depth. 

To read more, check out this article at IdeaFit.com

By the way, another session of The Garden Diet's 21-Day Cleanse begins on Monday.  I will be jumping back into it in earnest.  If you join up, you'll see me chatting away in the forum as I try to get back on track again.  It will be a little tricky as I'm going out of town again, but it will be a good time to practice making better choices on the road and while visiting with family and friends.  Wish me luck, or join in to cheer me on.  I'll do the same for you.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What a Wonderful World

This is by far my favorite song, especially Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version.  I only discovered him a year or two ago as I began to use Pandora on my iPhone.  I'm sure I'd heard it before, but never found out who the musician was. 

This man has surely died too young, never reaching his 40th birthday.  He had battled with obesity all his life.  I have mixed feelings when I watch this video that includes a slideshow of his life.  I love his music, so joyful and sweet.  So when I see him, in spite of how large he is, it is easy to love and appreciate his photos.  Oh, how I would have loved to meet him in person.  I'd be thrilled to get a hug from him.  Then I see his childhood photos and my heart just breaks.  Beginning life he was as normal as a child could be, but all too soon, he becomes obese.  If we saw a parent giving a child alcohol, a cigarette or crack, we would all be horrified.  Yet it doesn't seem to phase anyone when parents feed their children into obesity.

My thoughts aren't to put out harsh judgments to parents.  There is enough criticism everywhere you turn, that parents hardly can catch a break.  Then one day we find our children in therapy as they rake their parents over the coals for all their imperfections and blame them for their own shortcomings.  I think more of myself and my own challenges with food.  I diet much more successfully when my kids aren't around, when school is in session and then for dinner I eat by myself and let their dad have dinner for the kids.  And that's because year by year, I allow them more and more unhealthy food.

Just last night, my husband was out of town, so I took the kids out to a restaurant.  Chloe begged for us to try a new place nearby.  It advertises homestyle cooking like your mother used to make, which I really think is code for really fattening, loaded with butter, extreme portions, fat food.  Why is that associated with home?  She had a hamburger, french fries and strawberry shake.  Jasper had a hotdog in a bun that was toasted with loads of butter, french fries and a root beer float.  Me, I had the fish tacos.  Not a terrible choice, but I would have preferred they didn't bread and fry the fish.  The strawberry shake was enough for 2-3 servings.  I had half.  Jasper wouldn't touch the hotdog bun with all that butter on it, so I ate it.  He had only a few sips of his float, so I took it home.  And ate it.  Not a good night.

After getting on the scale this morning, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.  But also thinking a lot about why I would let my kids eat that junk.  My kids seem to be great regulators.  They can eat whatever junk food they have a taste for, but never eat too much.  They stop when their full.  It's the miraculous genetics they were gifted from my husband's side of the family.  I don't think they need to switch to an all raw, vegan diet.  Although I love it for myself, I'm not convinced it is necessary (or possible) for the entire population to eat that way.  I do know that regardless of the fact that my kids aren't fat, they aren't eating very healthy food and these habits might be harder to shake when their 40 and their metabolisms begin to slow.  Or worse, they'll be fighting heart disease, diabetes, cancer, whatever that is associated with poor diets.

For all my struggles in trying to change my diet, I know it will really sink in and become a lifestyle instead of a challenge when I can cross the hurdle of feeding my family better.  That is truly my goal.

It is a wonderful life.  For that, I wish to enjoy as much of it as possible being healthy and sharing the good health of those around me, especially my family.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's for Dessert!?

While my friend and houseguest was whipping up an amazing dinner last night, I was standing around the kitchen feeling useless.  Lately I've been hooked, no that's an understatement, I've been absolutely addicted to playing Zuma on my iPhone.  Me, a grown woman with children, wasting time killing brightly colored balls on a screen.  I'm so embarrassed.  They say the first step to dealing with an addiction is admission.  I've been trying to put it down, so like an ex-smoker having nothing to do with her hands, I was awkwardly standing around the kitchen looking for something to do.


Raw desserts are my specialty.  I've been staying away from them for awhile because they're not exactly low calorie, at all, with all the nuts, oils and agave.  But I thought it was only appropriate to contribute a dessert to a dinner made for me in my home (I have the life - my guests do this for me every night, almost).  I happened to have two young Thai coconuts in the fridge that needed cracking, so I decided on making a coconut vanilla creme to top some fresh berries that I had picked up.

Opening a coconut is a synch when you know what you're doing.  The first time I bought one of these babies I had no idea what I was getting into.  Typically it is found in stores covered entirely by a whitish husk.  It is not edible.  That should be obvious, but it wasn't to me.  It wasn't clear to me how to get inside of it, so I assumed that strange white fiber must actually be the coconut meat.  Yuck!  Start with the pointy part of the husk up - that's the side you'll open.  With a knife, cut off the husk in a circle around the top so it looks like the photo above.  (I know people who can open it with the husk still on, but I haven't mastered that.  I think you need a machete or a huge meat cleaver.  Neither of which I ever thought I'd have a use for in my lifetime.)  

With the back side of a heavy knife, whack the coconut shell on 3-4 sides a few good times.  It will crack in it's own little circle.  I try to make that circle as wide as possible.

Pry open the top.  Be careful because the coconut water will start flowing immediately and you'll want to save every single drop.

The cap of this one popped off with the meat still in tact, so I cut a little hole to pour our the water.

Save the water.  It's so much better than the canned or bottled coconut water.  Once you try this, you'll wince when drinking anything else.  Drink after a tough workout.  It's better than Gatorade or any other sports drink.

Spoon out the meat.  Sometimes this is a synch when the meat is thin and gelatinous.  I think the older the coconut, the more meat and less water it has.  Scrape down the insides with a large spoon and pull out.  I try to remove the darker shell membrane, but I've read that it also has some good nutritional properties and blends into the meat easily.

Put the meat of two coconuts (about two cups) into the Vita Mix.

Slice open a vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the beans.  Smells heavenly.  Add to blender.

Juice lemon or lime.  I prefer lime in this recipe, but I didn't have one last night.  Add two tablespoons of juice to blender.

Add remaining ingredients, 1/4 cup agave, 2 tbsp coconut oil, and 1/4 tsp salt and blend in Vita Mix.  It has to work a bit to get through the coconut meat.  I start low for about a minute and switch to high for 2-3 minutes.

That's it.  Refrigerate until served. 

Then I decided I needed to pour it over more than just a few raspberries so I whipped up a batch of chocolate brownies.  Oops.

Here I put a cup and a half of walnuts in my food processor with about 8 pitted dates, 1/3 cup raw cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Process.  It starts out really chunky, then grainy, then it turns into a big ball of chocolate rolling around the inside of the processor.  Then add a handful of dried cherries and process just enough to chunk them up and distribute within the dough.  Add a bit of water if the dough is too dry for your taste.  You can also add a handful of chopped walnuts to the mix.

I should really state that I have HATED walnuts my entire life.  Still do.  I can't taste them, not one bit in this recipe, which is great because walnuts are one of the few nuts that have an almost perfect ratio of omega 3's to omega 6's.  So in spite of the ridiculously enormous amounts of calories in this recipe, it's still good for you : ) - just eat sparingly. 

Press the dough into a small pan or Tupperware and chill until served.

Cut into squares and serve with a healthy dollop of creme and a bunch of berries.  A small serving is really quite enough - a strange thing for me to say, I know!

Serve and eat with friends.  I'm thinking a glass of red wine will go well with this next time. 

I had to add a photo of my friend cooking for me and the family.  She's got this smile on nearly always and brings so much joy to my kitchen and home.

Here are the recipes in a nutshell:

Brownies from Raw Food Made Easy by Jennifer Cornbleet
1.5 cups walnuts
dash salt
8 pitted medjool dates
1/3 cup cocoa or carob powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp water
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
Blend in food processor.  Press into pan or dish. 

Coconut Vanilla Creme from Everyday Raw by Matthew Kenney
2 cups young coconut meat
1/4 cup agave
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp sea salt
Blend in Vita Mix.  Chill before serving.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Begin Again

Oh dear.  I just returned home from vacation and found I packed on an extra five pounds.  Time to get back to serious business.  There are about as many different approaches to dieting and weight loss as there are people in the world, I am certain.  For years, I believed that I could make a few significant lifestyle changes and I would become lighter and fitter with no need to ever diet.  Changes like exercising daily, cutting out the fast food, eliminating dessert, drink less - all these would surely bring me back to my goal weight for sure.  In practice, that doesn't work for me.  If I actually fulfilled these changes it would improves things quite a bit.  However, I am someone that needs a more specific plan and a solid commitment, the kind of commitment that says, I am on a diet.  A specific food plan helps.  A food plan with daily menus, recipes and shopping lists helps a lot.  And to top it off, dieting with friends, an active support group, and workout buddies is the thing that will keep me on target. 

I have found all of that and more working on The Garden Diet (I know, I sound like a cheesy infomercial - I promise, they aren't paying me a dime) and I am fortunate to have a few friends that already eat raw vegan that provide me with plenty of nearby support.  I'm sure there are many other plans that work the same way only using different food.  I've tried Weight Watchers and did well at times and floundered miserably at times.  I remember a time when I could walk into a meeting a receive a specific menu for the week complete with shopping lists and recipes.  The last time I tried, there were so many choices that I was overwhelmed with putting together my own meal plan that I tripped right out of the gate.  Once I had purchased all their packaged meals and I lost a ton of weight.  That is, until I reached my goal and had to go back to preparing my own food and then I gained every single pound back.  I know their online programs are rich with community support; however, I was lost in the vastness of their web space.  In person today, it's just so hard to make that face to face appearance when juggling parenting, especially in the summer time when the kiddos are home.  Excuses, excuses, I know!  But if it's not convenient and easy for me, if it's not something that I can slip right into my routine without a hitch, it's not going to get done.

At one time I was a twelve step junkie (in a good way, like could the 12 steps be a bad thing, for anybody, really??), and of course there is a twelve step program for food as well.  I'd like to explore that further because it takes into account the emotional and addictive aspect of overeating.  While I shop for my meal plans, prepare recipes and set the stage for better eating, I believe the key to long term success is hidden deep under layers upon protective layers of emotional baggage.  I haven't yet delved into those murky waters - at least not since my twenties when my addictions were of a more extreme nature.  The twelve steps are also very God centered.  That worked for me at one time; however, today I am not a believer, at least in all that.  I know, they say you can pretend God means other things like "good, orderly direction", but at the end of the day, a meeting is peppered with people's stories of faith.  Good for them, indeed.  It just doesn't work for me.  Perhaps they have some secular groups that have been organized.

So today, being five pounds up, I'm jumping right into the middle of Jinjee's 28-day program.  After my morning walk I'm going straight to the grocery store.  Today's menu includes fruit salad, falafels and an almond carob smoothie.  I've made these falafels twice for family and guests and believe me, they are seriously the most delicious recipe on this program.  Everyone (except my kids, of course) loves them.  I'll put up some photos and recipes later.

When trying to follow a diet, one can make a fresh start at anytime.  Had a bad breakfast?  Make a better lunch.  Had a bad day?  Kiss yourself on the shoulder, have a tall glass of cool water, get a good night's sleep and begin again.  Any moment of the day is an opportunity to make a new beginning.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Another Great Kale Salad

One great thing about visiting my in laws is that they eat pretty healthy.  In the past when I've come, I'd open the cupboards or the refrigerator, and although they were bursting with food, I couldn't see anything to eat.  Because it was all whole foods.  Simple, nutritious, essential foods.  Yet, without having a bunch of pre-prepared, pre-packaged foods, I just couldn't see the potential.  This trip I sent myself a bunch of recipes on email to have on hand so I could share them with the family.  I had carefully made my shopping list, and then opened the cupboards to find a raw foodist's dream - she had just about everything from raw cashews (essential) to apple cider vinegar, dried coconut, dates, almonds, and lots of fresh fruits and veggies.  I was in heaven.  We then went to shop at Sprouts for the few remaining items I couldn't find in her stores.  I Love Sprouts.  Please come to Chicago!

For a quick and easy lunch, I whipped up a kale salad that is such a synch and it very satisfying.  I found this from Jinjee over at the garden diet.  One of her extremely cute kids makes it and serves it to the family.  Watch to the end - I nearly fell off my chair when her daughter yells, "Kale Salad" and then a bunch of kids run to the table to fight over the food.  I think if I yell that, my kids would make a bee-line for McDonalds.  We're working on that.

If you can't sit through the five minutes of Jinjee's kids' cuteness, here it is in a nutshell.

Kale Salad
- 1 Bunch Kale
- Olive Oil
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Nutritional Yeast

Wash kale, remove stems and break into pieces.  Set aside the stems for juicing - they are packed with nutrients.  Sprinkle nutritional yeast on to taste.  Toss, eat and enjoy.  I added sliced avocado and tomatoes to make it a full meal.

On a side note, I just had some blood work completed and found that my iron levels are way up - a surprise to me after struggling with anemia most of my life, and surprise that I haven't been eating red meat nor taking supplements.  It's from all those great dark, leafy greens.  My vitamin D levels are outstanding as well.  About a year ago, those levels were critically low.  If you live in the north, or seldom go out in the sun without tons of sunscreen, it's worth it to get yourself tested - low D levels are associated with low energy levels.  Yuck.  My doctor's advice is expose yourself to at least 15 minutes a day of midday sun with no sunscreen.  Good news - get away from that desk and take a walk around lunch time.  You'll gain so much more than just elevated vitamin D levels. 

Now for the bad news, my B12 was super low.  I had wondered about how vegans get this nutrient as it's typically found in meat and dairy products.  I'll go for the supplements in the short term to normalize it, but for the long term, a tablespoon a day of nutritional yeast would give you all the B12 necessary.  No problem!  Lots of good recipes include nutritional yeast and its such a rich, yummy flavor.  Almost like cheddar cheese.

So toss in that nutritional yeast liberally in that Kale Salad.  It makes a hearty, healthy and delicious lunch. 


Friday, July 06, 2012

What My Husband's Kid Sister Taught Me About Love

Aunt Mara with the Kiddos.

I'm on vacation and met up with my beautiful sister-in-law, Mara, from A Blog About Love.  She'd asked if I'd seen any new traffic lately and I said, well, I haven't really been blogging lately.  She had sent some my way from her Babble column.  So... welcome friends of Mara.  Ya'all should be jealous (except that's contrary to what she's all about, really) because I'm here with her and she's just as amazing in person as she is in the blogger world.

Every now and then I start writing a post about how my husband's kid sister, who has been married a  much shorter time than I, has improved my marriage by a lot.  Seriously she has.  Like many married folks who've been doing it for a long time, I had been letting resentments and petty issues bog me down enough to affect my daily interactions with my spouse.  Then Mara started her blog - at first it seemed like this wide open stream of consciousness coming out of her.  Amazing, I thought, but with a little reservation of cynicism.  I've known this woman for about 15 years and I'd never seen her so open and honest with anyone, let alone the general public.  Something really changed in her and she so graciously let it change the world - or the part of the world that reads her blog, at least.

Back to me... bogged down in negativity and resentments.  That's not like me.  In my early twenties I had learned a lot about living in the present and letting go of such bad feelings.  If it was something I couldn't simply let go of, I knew I had work to do.  Make amends.  Seek forgiveness.  Change.  Much of this I learned in the damp, smoky church basements with a bunch of addicts and alcoholics (12 steps, anyone?  I could have been playing Marla Singer in Fight Club).  Those lessons learned I practiced them and lived them until my life wasn't in the vice that brought me crawling into those rooms.  Something about getting better leads to complacency.  Not that I've sunk into the despair of drugs and alcohol again, yet I continue to argue that my food addictions are just as serious to me today as those chemicals were to me years ago.  Complacency leads to forgetfulness.  Soon enough, I had stopped practicing all those good things that taught me to have strong, loving relationships.

There was many times throughout the last few years that I was despairing.  My husband, knowing that I was in pain would ask how he could help.  I'd just cave into myself.  I don't know.  I don't know what's wrong.  I have no idea how to fix it.  It wasn't all bad, and I'm guessing some of the despair is related to hormonal changes.  So when I was feeling that way, every resentment that I'd ever held against my spouse would come up ten fold.

I started reading Mara's blog.  So many of her thoughts resonate with me.  They (her insights) reminded me a lot of what I had learned from the twelve steps.  Then there was the other stuff - all her delightful marriage tips.  At first I was so cynical, like, how could a women divorced and remarried for about a year offer tips on having a great marriage.  Well, you all should read this. When I did, I went to bed that night and made passionate love to my husband.  He was surprised.  The next night, I did the same.  He was really surprised and asked what's going on.  "I've been reading your sister's blog."  He was confused, but didn't ask anymore questions.

She writes, "Speak highly of your spouse.  Don't speak negatively about your spouse to others."  For the most part, this is so, so true.  It's so easy to sit around with a group of women and kvetch about your husbands' shortcomings.  And what does that accomplish?  I've learned, there is no relief, no release in negativity by spouting off and spreading negativity.  In fact, it makes it worse.  Then I start to question him and our relationship.  Crazy - all from a bitchy gossip session.  I do think that if there is serious things going on like abuse, infidelity, excessive drinking, drugging or gambling, you need someone to confide in.  Let that person be someone of high standards whom is trusted and won't hold it against you if you decide to stay with your spouse and try to work things out.  After reading her words, I started catching myself when I was acting less than nobly.  I realized this is very sage advice.

"Keep fit, exercise."  Seriously.  For some time I had held to the notion that we live in a world that expects us all to look like models and anything less is ugly.  I felt militant that I am lovable no matter what my size is.  Well, I am loveable regardless of size, but I may not be attractive.  And I sure don't feel fantastic so why should I expect my spouse to feel great about my neglect in appearance as well?  Diet and exercise became a priority for me.  Not just from Mara's influence, but from the influence of many people at the time.  Diet and exercise is typically the main focus of my blog these days, because it has become the main focus of my life.  In spite of stumbling about quite a bit as I try to make life long changes, I have already reaped tremendous rewards.  I've got a long ways to go to get back to the optimal health and weight that I desire, but already my husband can't keep his hands off me because the small changes are noticeable.  I'm sure much of that is in my energy and attitude in addition to the slight change in my appearance.

The last time I saw Mara was in Utah over the holiday break.  I had been making some changes already, but was really on the crest of doing some serious work.  It was so great to meet up with her now as we are both trying to put out good words to the world.  She with love and relationships.  Me with nutrition and health.  Her blog has been inspiring so many people and it's exciting to hear about all she's experienced with it.  I am so grateful and proud to have her as my sister.