WE’RE BURNING UP!

IMG_3619Slow Burn by Too Rude (click to play song)

Fires are burning wild… not in the parched California hills but in our overworked, undernourished bodies. Inflammation is rampant. A body riddled with accidents and sports injuries. A shoulder “frozen” after rotator cuff surgery. Stress wrecking havoc on moods, skin and digestion. Hormones fluctuating like crazy. Knees and hips tweaking out after being contorted behind a desk too long or perhaps from simply – dare I say it – aging. All this, in my health-conscious family alone. I can only imagine what’s aflame in the rest of humanity.

So much is made about inflammation, but really – what is it? Used properly, inflammation is a good thing – the body’s immune system jumping to action under attack. When an injury occurs or an infection sets in, the immune system sends out white blood cells to help trigger the healing process. When faced with emotional or psychological stress, adrenal glands kick in cortisol – the fight-or-flight hormone – to help dilate the blood vessels, forcing blood to the organs and tissues for battle. That’s Acute Inflammation, which is perfectly natural and quite helpful. You can see the visible signs of swelling and redness along with feeling the ache and congestion. But when our immune system and adrenals are in overdrive, the result is Chronic Inflammation, like the motor’s ON switch just won’t flip off, burning out the engine. These symptoms are less visible and can be difficult to identify as inflammation. Often it feels like a general malaise, while sometimes it’s the feeling that we’ve been hit by a Mack truck.

Chronic is when the inflammation sets up shop in the body and jams the healing mechanisms. Medical studies have proven that uncontrolled inflammation is a major factor in heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and arthritis. It just may be the root of all bodily evils, and it seems like every fiendish spark fuels the fire. Stress and exhaustion, injury and overuse, infections and viruses, unhealthy diet and eating habits, lack of exercise and obesity, food allergies, hormone imbalances, environmental toxins… life on earth is fraught with burning perils.

So what can we do to extinguish the smoldering wildfires in our bodies?

  • Run like hell from the devil! White may look angelic, but in the food world it’s pure evil. Don’t stoke the flames with sugar, salt and refined grains like white bread, white rice and white pasta.
  • Create healthy eating habits: fuel your body with proper nutrients, add supplements when needed, and don’t skip meals. If we deprive ourselves of nourishing calories, our bodies go into survival mode – too weak to battle the fires.
  • Follow this flame-fighting pyramid diet fanatically when in chronic mode and casually when the burn cools:

TREATS

Red Wine

Dark Chocolate

SUPPLEMENTS

Omega 3,

Fish Oil, Probiotics,

Magnesium, Vitamin E

HERBS & SPICES

Turmeric, Curry, Garlic

Ginger, Cinnamon, Parsley

Rosemary, Green Tea with Local

Honey

FISH & SEAFOOD

Wild Alaskan Salmon

Tuna, Oysters, Sardines (try

the canned ones with flavored

marinades – they go down a little easier)

PROTEIN

Skinless Poultry, Omega-3 Eggs, Tofu, Almond Milk

Greek Yogurt, Kefir

ESSENTIAL FATS (yes, really)

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Red Palm Oil, Flaxseed, Avocados

Nuts

BEANS & LEGUMES

Any and all, especially organic

WHOLE & CRACKED GRAINS

Steelcut Oatmeal, Quinoa, Bulgur Wheat, Brown and Wild Rice

FRUITS

Every Kind of Berries, Apples, Grapefruit

VEGETABLES

Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Beets, Onions, Sweet Potatoes, Shitake and Maitaki Mushrooms

[Minimize these arsonists during intense inflammation:  alcohol, caffeine, dairy products, red meat, and “nightshade” veggies like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and white potatoes.]

  • Drink a cup of hot lemon water with a spoonful of local honey first thing in the morning. It helps to balance the bacteria in the digestive tract, staves off allergies, and contains antimicrobial properties to banish bad germs as well as ascorbic acid to boost the immune function. Ok, then you can follow it up with that cup of coffee so necessary for mental clarity and sanity.
  • Minimize exposure to toxic chemicals and harmful synthetics – embrace eco-friendly cleaning products, natural fibers, and organic anything.
  • Floss every day. Neglected gums equal inflammations waiting to ignite.
  • Exercise regularly. Walking is free and easy to do… the only excusable opt-out is slogging through a frigid Chicago winter… those bodies are working hard enough just to stay warm.
  • Coach Tony’s tried-and-true policy: ice those injuries (although admittedly I’m a chilly wimp who rarely follows this advice).
  • Refrain from popping excessive ibuprofen. It masks the inflammation, disabling the body’s natural abilities to heal. It also kills our detoxifying livers.
  • Douse the flames with plenty of water and Emergen-C – my answer to every physical ill.
  • Find shelter in the firestorm with yoga and meditation – my answer to everything.

It seems counter-intuitive to add heat to a fire, but one of the best ways to fight inflammation is with warm foods and hot soup. Tony makes the meanest flame-busting porridge with steelcut oatmeal, ground flaxseed, a handful of walnuts, a handful of blueberries and a good dousing of kefir… just about the coolest morning ritual a guy could have. And to follow that up, these are two of my favorite Anti-Inflammatory Soups:

COCONUT CURRY SOUP 

4 c. water

3 c. spinach leaves

1/2 lb. snow peas, trimmed and halved

1 – 5  3/4 oz. package Pad Thai noodles

1 T. olive or red palm oil

1/4 c. thinly sliced shallots

8 oz. shitake mushrooms

1  1/2 t. curry powder

1/2 t. ground turmeric

1/2 t. ground coriander

2 t. red curry paste

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 – 10 c. chicken broth

1 – 13.5 oz. can light coconut milk

2  1/2 c. shredded cooked chicken breast (optional 1/2 lb. cooked shrimp, tails removed, or extra-firm tofu, cut into chunks and sautéd)

1/2 c. chopped green onions

2 T. stevia (sugar substitute)

2 T. fish sauce

1/2 c. chopped cilantro

1/4 t. crushed red peppers

7 lime wedges

Boil water in a large saucepan. Add spinach and peas – cook for 30 seconds. Remove veggies from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl. Add noodles to water – cook 3 minutes. Drain and add noodles to veggies in bowl.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the shallots and shrooms for a few minutes. Add the next few ingredients through the garlic – sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add coconut milk, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add chicken (and shrimp/tofu if using), onions, stevia and fish sauce – cook for 2 minutes. Add noodle mixture; stir in cilantro and chili flakes. Serve with lime wedges.

TURMERIC SOUP

2 -3 T. olive oil

1 onion, chopped

8 oz. shitake mushrooms

5 garlic cloves, minced

Heat oil and sauté onion, shrooms and garlic.

4 carrots, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

salt and pepper

Add carrots, celery and salt & pepper – sauté until soft.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

12 – 16 c. chicken broth

2 – 3 T. turmeric

1 c. wild rice

Add chicken, broth, turmeric and rice – cook according to rice package directions.

1/4 c. chopped parsley

4 c. spinach leaves

Add parsley and spinach just before serving.

IMG_2178In reverberating validation, this cool placard literally leapt onto my lap as I was finishing my reflections on inflammation. During a recent visit to Denver – one of the great foodie cities – my daughter took us to lunch at True Food Kitchen where they serve up scrumptious, organic, über-healthy creations. Propped against a wall of aspen tree trunks, this sign at our table put an exclamation mark on everything I’ve been spouting off about here. Amazing when you put something out to the universe – the good and the bad – it all comes back at you.

Cool the burn, stay hydrated,

 and chillax, my hot-blooded friends.

THE CURE: A SHOWER, A LIST, AND A BOWL OF CEREAL

“Or in the night, imagining some fear

How easy is a bush supposed a bear!”

~ A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

Lion at NIght

Journey to Peace – from Liquid Mind

It began as a typical night in Dreamland: I cozied up in bed at 11 pm and drifted through my book until my eyes sailed off to the Land of Nod. My dreamy ship wrecked at 2:30 am as Bella barked at some imaginary bushy bear, rousting me to the shores of Wide Awake. As I struggled to push off back to Nod, my mind seized upon an encounter that evening, my latest faux pas. I had passed by a group of acquaintances seated at a table in a restaurant, stopping to say hello. I proceeded to introduce them to my companion, calling one of them by the wrong name. Choke. I quickly tried to cover my gaffe with a humorous story about another recent foot-in-mouth episode, which prompted good-natured laughs from my acquaintances. I glided off, mollified that my witty repartee smoothly deflected my slip. But in the murky nighttime hours, I replayed the scene and viewed myself as forgetful and shallow. Not only did I bloop the greetings, but I neglected to show any interest in their lives. That frivolous little incident became a fierce bear of a blunder in the middle of the night. I finally shook that off, only to find my whirring little mind plotting the week’s activities, hoping I would remember the trivial details in the morning. From there I got tangled up in a bramble of worries… my friend’s daughter is being stalked in her peaceful little college town… pray she’s safe… how safe is my own daughter walking around at night in the big city suburbs… and what about my son in homicide-ridden Chicago…? The night-prowling grizzlies transformed into wooly mammoths before my unblinking eyes in the shadows of my bedroom, and I finally escaped to the well-lit safety of my kitchen for a bowl of Special K to chase away those bears.

Dreams and nightmares collide in the deepest hour of the night, conjuring up the most dreadful beast of all – a sleepless night. Every faux pas rewinds on a continual loop, taunting us with what we could have, should have, said and done. Fears, worries and sorrows take on looming lives of their own in the dark of a sleepless night. Little wonder that sleep deprivation is used as a form of prisoner torture.  A body can survive for about fourteen days without food, but keep it awake for ten days and it will perish. Without sleep, you may yearn for your body to perish as depression kicks in. Pure torment.  If misery loves company, this is one big cellblock.  Millions of us, an estimated 70 million it is reported, find ourselves wallowing in our own little nighttime prison cell.  Every out-of-work or overworked employee, stressed-out student, fretful billpayer, strung-out entrepreneur, lovesick romantic, pain-ridden sufferer, hormonal victim, grief-struck mourner, tired new parent or parent-of-teens knows full well the angst. Wake up and rejoice if you are not a part of this pitiful mass of humanity twisting and turning in our beds.

So what are we sleepless writhers to do? First and foremost, we must recognize the value of a good night’s slumber. For years I prided myself on my ability to energize with just five hours of sleep night after night. So tough and resilient, so I thought. There were simply far too many must-do’s on my list to waste precious time sleeping.  Ignorantly, I was deluding myself that I could accomplish it all in those extra three hours of wakefulness. It took me decades to figure out that my productivity of sixteen hours on a full night’s sleep far outweighed the inefficiency of my nineteen-hour days. Rather than avoiding sleep as a waste of valuable time, I have learned to cherish it as a well-deserved luxury and a necessity to an active, healthy lifestyle. Besides, life is just lovelier with deep and dreamy hibernation, each and every night.

Much has been made about the detriments of sleep deprivation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. We should all know by now that lack of sleep causes:

~ Motor vehicle accidents because of the inability to concentrate and diminished motor skills

~ Workplace disasters due to poor decision-making and difficulties handling stress

~ Relationship troubles on account of a lack of libido, impatience, and mood swings

~ A multitude of health problems including depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and immune deficiencies

So now let’s make something about the amazing science of sleep. As medical expert Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago said, “Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body. We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.”

~ The brain recharges and reorganizes itself during sleep, which is critical for learning and memory.

~ The body conserves energy and releases vital hormones during sleep that enables cells to repair themselves, encourages growth, and provides optimal functioning of organs.

~ In resting mode, the body releases chemicals like seratonin to curb depression, as well as hormones like ghrelin & leptin which regulate appetite and melatonin which suppresses the growth of tumors.

~ Sleep decreases a body’s stress hormones which helps prevent heart disease, and it lowers inflammation which boosts the body’s major restorative functions.

Enough said, but saying doesn’t necessarily make it so. How then to make elusive sleep happen?

A bowl of cereal

A rambling list

A dark shower

There you have it – my secret to a peaceful night’s sleep. Oh, we can talk about the magic of fuzzy socks & eye masks, meditation tapes & sleep music, herbal cocktails with lavender & chamomile, and supplements like melatonin & magnesium. We can reiterate the do’s and don’ts, like avoiding large meals & caffeine & alcohol before bed, following a bedtime ritual, shunning the techno overload of blue light before bedtime, and exercising during the day but not close to bedtime, unless of course it’s the amorous sort of exercise.  Those are all tricks to falling asleep. But when the cursed middle-of-the-night insomnia attacks, there is only one panacea that is tried-and-true in my life.

Cereal, list, shower – in that order, post haste. You must not waste time flopping around the mattress trying to fall back to sleep – that only adds to the aggravation. Get up, don a comfy robe and fuzzy socks, creep to the kitchen, turn on a dim light, and fix yourself a bowl of cereal. My choice is always Special K with almond milk and sliced bananas, but it wasn’t until recently that  I learned why the cereal thing is so effective. Dairy foods – along with bananas, nuts, seeds, honey, and eggs – help your body to release tryptophan, which we all know is a sleep inducer. Moreover, carbohydrates – like cereal and bread – complement the benefits of dairy by enhancing the production of tryptophan. Eureka! – what a validating factoid that explains the unconscious wisdom of my midnight compulsion.

While you’re lounging by candlelight with a bellyful of sleep nutrients, make an extensive list of all your worries and to-do’s. Just get it all out. My daughters have called me late-night from college more than a few times when everything seemed so miserable and hopeless, those little shrubs growing into monstrous saguaro cacti, spiny arms grappling with my girls. I finally sent them “Worry Journals” with the order to write down all those dark-induced, sleep-depriving stresses. Seeing everything spread out on paper may make it all seem manageable or perhaps even trivial, but at the very least it’s a way to vent the angst and morph those terrifying bears into pesky little rodents.

Once you have filled up your belly and dumped out your head, slink to the bathroom and take a warm shower in the dark, preferably with lavender soap and a loofa. Slather on lavender lotion, and immediately curl up in bed. Blissful slumber will surely follow. And if all else fails, just think of those millions of other tired souls out there making the same sleep-starved wish upon the same bright star… and feel like an essential part of the collective whole. Everything will feel lighter in the morning, I promise. Sweet dreams, darlings!

Daytime Lion

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” 

~ Irish Proverb

 

THE JOY OF (MINDFUL) COOKING

Heart Still/Beating by Ottmar Liebert

How many times have you slopped a meal on the table to feed yourself or your family? I can’t even begin to count the evenings I have mindlessly thrown together a mediocre dinner, especially back in the thick of my whirlwind motherhood days. Juggling all of life’s nitty-gritties leaves precious little time to prepare gourmet productions, even for the Julias and Marthas of the world. I don’t have any excuses now – my time is relatively my own – and yet I still find myself half-heartedly fixing ho-hum meals on occasion. As someone who loves to cook and appreciates the value of an organic healthy meal, I understand the tremendous difference between feeding and nourishing, like surviving versus thriving. You can have the healthiest ingredients at hand, but if you’re not IN the cooking moment, it may be all for naught. A mindful presence makes all the difference.

Last Tuesday evening was a jamjob in the Haertl household. Obama and Romney were engaged in a presidential debate, the Tigers were up against the Yankees in Game 3 of the playoffs, our daughter in Shanghai was planning to skype us, and our other daughter wanted to discuss her future plans. “Uh oh, I don’t want to miss a minute of the action. Dinner prep better be quick,” I thought, well ahead of time. Broccoli – Leeks – Baby Bella Mushrooms – New Potatoes – Jalapeno Chicken Sausage Stir Fry sounded like the Perfect Easy Quick Fix. How could that go wrong? Mindless cooking, that’s how. Taking a shortcut, I just threw the pre-cooked sausage pieces in with the veggies instead of sautéing them beforehand to get them all browned and crispy. Oh, and I might have taken my eye off the ball and overcooked the veggies too. Mush, declared my husband.

Now let’s get one thing straight – Tony is NOT a food snob. In fact, he has gamely humored me by eating a lot of my bad cooking experiments, always appreciative of the effort. The guy was raised on chipped beef on toast and Campbell’s Mushroom Soup Tater Tots Goulash. No offense to my beloved mother-in-law since she was feeding four boys on an educator’s salary during the Casserole Generation. You’ve got to admire her plucky creativity on a shoestring budget. So when Tony dubbed my Stir Fry Mush NOT A KEEPER, I got a little miffed. I picked out all of the sausage pieces and threw them in the frying pan to sauté them after-the-fact. In the middle of my huffy sauté, Haley got a phone call telling her that the house she was taking care of had a water main break and that there was a geyser gushing in front of the house. Without a moment’s hesitation, she and I raced off to the home to check on it – but not before I put Tony in charge of the sausage sauté.  You can guess what happened. After averting the water disaster, Haley and I returned home to the smell of intensely burned sausage. Yup – Sammi skyped, Tony got caught up in their conversation, and he forgot all about the sausage. Burned it to a smoking crisp. Talk about mindless cooking – Mushy Stir Fry became Charred Sausage Supreme served with a side of frayed nerves and grumpy demeanors.

Autumn is my favorite time of year, but I understand why it can be depressing. Daylight is waning, storm clouds are gathering, a chill is in the air, and people are sensing the impending climate gloom. The perfect antidote to the onset of fall weather is to light the home fires and eat happy foods… mindfully. Happy foods are not like the old Burger King Happy Meals that I regrettably fed my kids years ago, nor are they double hot fudge banana split ice cream sundaes with maraschino cherries on top. They are bona fide scientifically-proven foods that trigger our bodies’ production of the feel-good hormone: SEROTONIN. Entire books are written about this all-natural better-than-a-wonder-drug substance. “The Serotonin Power Diet” by Judith Wurtman, Ph.D and “What To Eat” by Joanna Blythman are two enlightening food reference books about the science and psychology of eating. In an interview with “The Economist” magazine, Blythman said, “When I talk about ‘ideological eaters’ I’m referring to the tendency to become too cerebral about food, over-riding our common sense and gut instincts. Ideological eaters buy foods with their heads, not their stomachs. They become obsessed with something or other, such as eating mountains of a supposed superfood, or avoiding meat to save the planet, or counting calories in the mistaken idea that they will lose weight. My book encourages people to think about what they put in their mouths, but never to lose a life-enhancing love of eating and cooking.” That statement alone makes me happy because cooking and eating are truly two of my fondest life pleasures.

Here are some powerful Happy Foods that help to ward off depression and regulate moods, according to my wise holistic doctor:

Turkey (the power of tryptophan)

Goat cheese

Potatoes, especially sweet potatoes

Asparagus

Avocados

Dried Cherries

Pumpkin Seeds

Oatmeal

Coming off of that frenzied mushy charred stir fry night, we were all a little grouchy, even my Mr. Upbeat. We all love autumn, so perhaps we were getting impatient with the Indian summer that continued to linger. After two days of the blues, I did my own little food experiment. I cooked the following recipe for dinner, and wa-la, like magic we were all back to our contented selves. Try it for yourself…

Happy Turkey 

1 large thinly sliced leek

1 c. ruby port or red wine

3/4 c. dried cherries

3/4 c. pitted kalamata olives

Juice of 1 orange (about 1/3 c.)

1 t. paprika

1 t. crushed red pepper

4 fresh thyme sprigs

1 cinnamon stick

3 ½ lbs. turkey thighs, skinned

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 T. ground cumin

toasted pumpkin seeds

Heat oven to 375. Combine the first nine ingredients in a large casserole dish. Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Sprinkle with a little salt and place in the dish, spooning some of the sauce over the turkey. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 1 hour; then bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds on top before serving. (Note: To avoid the evening cooking fuss, cook this in a slow cooker on low for 6 hours.)

 

I always seem to be in a marvelous mood when I’m in Boulder, Colorado. Of course that has a great deal to do with the fact that I was happy to see my daughter while she was attending college there. And the fact that Boulder is such a rockin’ awesome town contributes a lot to the happiness quotient. But I attribute some of my Boulder happiness to the Breakfast Muesli at one of my all-time favorite hotels, The St. Julien. I searched far and wide for a recipe that turned out to be even better than The St. Julien’s version and makes me just as happy…

Müesli Bliss

 2 c. regular oats

1/2 c. dried cherries or cranberries

1/3 c. wheat germ

1/3 c. ground flaxseed

1/3 c. maple syrup

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. vanilla extract

3 c. low-fat milk

3 c. plain fat-free yogurt

3 T. slivered almonds, toasted

3 T. chopped pecans, toasted

3 T. pumpkin seeds, toasted

Blueberries & blackberries

1 apple, chopped

Chopped dates 

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a large bowl; pour milk over mixture, stirring to combine. Cover and chill 3 hours or overnight. Mix in the yogurt. Top each serving with nuts and fruit. (Note: This mixture lasts for days in the fridge.)

 

There is no doubt that good food nourishes the body, and just as importantly, mindful cooking nourishes the soul. Some of my favorite moments in life have been in the kitchen. It’s all about the atmosphere, the passion, the energy, and the intention in the heart-of-the-home that make not only the meal but the cooking experience so richly satisfying, like a well-orchestrated dance. Put on a little Ottmar Liebert flamenco music, and tango away in the kitchen. Oh, and keep a bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds on the counter for snacking… you can’t overdose on happiness, can you?

RECALIBRATION

Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips by Bruce Springsteen (click to play)

Oh boy, I got me some explainin’ to do. After lobbing out the Circle the Wagons post with my drastic list of No’s, I rolled off on a long roadtrip and left y’all hanging and wondering what the heck is going on. Too many people have been asking questions and it’s been far too long, so let’s straighten things out quickly… no serious health issues, no financial crisis, no drastic life changes… and for that I am ever so grateful. But a Recalibration is definitely in order with the recognition that if you don’t have your health, it’s difficult to enjoy anything else. Some people like to put their head in the sand when things get dicey, imagining that everything is hunky-dory. Perhaps I’ve got a bad combination of hypochondria, perfectionism and curiosity, but even a clean bill of health tweaks me. I tend to over-analyze things, so just because the doctor said there is nothing more to do now that the melanoma has been removed, I don’t buy it. What triggered it so suddenly after fifty one years? And what’s to keep it from resurfacing? We all have those dreaded free radical cells lurking in our body, but they only cause trouble when things like toxins, stress, and hormonal changes set them off. So what can we do to keep those rogue cells from rearing their ugly little heads? Ever the nerdy diligent student, you can bet I’ve been doing my homework and researching the concept of Functional Medicine.

The first thing I did was jump on the internet, which is a really bad idea! Doom and gloom from questionable sources can be a misleading downer – that’s where my god-awful No List came from. So the very next thing I did was call my trusted holistic doctor in Newport Beach who thankfully modified those No’s. Moderation is like a yellow stoplight – it’s being educated enough to make conscious decisions to heed the red lights but gun it through a green when the coast is clear. No alcohol? No way. But I’ve discovered that I can enjoy savoring one nice glass of red wine just as much as glugging through three glasses of Chardonnay. No sugar? No problem, but I’m still going to share a special dessert once in a while. No massages? Well, until my body regains its balance, it’s a good idea to avoid deep tissue, lymphatic work that can stir up those free radicals. The same goes for steam rooms and hot tubs – the damp heat creates unfavorable conditions for a body out of whack. However, dry saunas are great and infrared saunas are even better, so I’ll be hanging out in those for a while instead. No sunshine? I could never give that up! So on goes the sunscreen, hats, and more clothes. No air travel? Fat chance, especially when all my kids live out of state. But I will go detox in an infrared sauna after getting a big fat radiation dose flying high in an airplane. In addition to moderation lifestyle advice, my holistic doctor recommended turmeric/curry, shiitake and maitake mushrooms, garlic, green tea, and sea vegetables among other weird organic foods and supplements to clear out the toxins. I’m so on it, and this Recalibration has been surprisingly easy with an open frame of mind.

After consulting with my Dr. Larisa, I began reading voraciously. The two most influential books were Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr and Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan Schreiber, M.D., PhD. Crazy Sexy was written by a kick-ass “wellness warrior” who drastically changed her life after a stage 4 diagnosis of liver cancer at age thirty one. I personally hate diets and diet books, but this is way more than that. It’s a revolution in lifestyle and thinking, and if nothing else it will definitely give you some intriguing things to contemplate and make changing your habits an exciting prospect instead of a daunting challenge. With her philosophy of “Whole Foods is my pharmacy”, she does a great job of building the case for healthy eating, healthy life. Plus I love her irreverent, quirky sense of humor. Anticancer was written by a renowned medical doctor trained in western medicine who embraced holistic, functional medicine after being diagnosed with brain cancer fifteen years ago. In a nutshell, he talks about finding “harmony in this simple quartet: detoxification of carcinogenic substances, an anti-cancer diet, adequate physical activity, and a search for emotional peace.” It’s a well-researched slam on western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry that offers a drug for every symptom instead of treating the body as one integrated system, and I guarantee that you will at least recognize if not embrace Functional Medicine as a vital piece of our individual and collective health.

As part of my research and in friendship solidarity, I went to a lecture given by my friend Sheila Eckel, the nutritionist who I credit for “curing” me of my sugar addiction eighteen months ago. This lecture covered the subject of toxicity, and it was not only enlightening but also reinforced everything I have been learning about holistic health. She touched on the prevalence of toxic substances in the most benign everyday things like mouthwash, makeup, perfume, dryer sheets, our tap water, cans of food, prescription drugs, and anything plastic. Yuk – it made me want to go live on an Amish farm. However, she also offered up hope and some easy solutions to help us simplify our lives, live organically, and create our own pure, strong bodies.

My superhero scar was the catalyst for my lifestyle changes, but I implore you… don’t wait for your own life-altering catalyst. I challenge you to start by changing just one thing in your life:

~ Drink a glass of warm lemon water first thing in the morning to rev up your digestive system, which by the way is the heart & soul of your immune system.

~ Say goodbye to soda.

~ Drink half of your body weight in filtered water each day.

~ Save money on your healthcare by shopping at Whole Foods and avoiding processed foods.

~ Eat three platefuls of organic greens every day.

~ Use headphones when you talk on the cell phone – there must be a reason for all the research being done on the possible harmful effects of cell phones. Incidentally, my melanoma was right near where I hold my cell phone for far too many minutes every day… hmm.

~ Get rid of all the plastic bottles, glasses, and dishes in your house.

~ Read Crazy Sexy Diet or Anticancer.

~ Go organic in your bathroom with soaps, lotions, deodorant, and toothpaste.

~ Pay a visit to a holistic medicine practitioner. Among other amazing benefits, they may be able to help you ween off some of those harmful pharm meds. I’ve got a couple of great recommendations if you’re interested.

~ Invest in a Vitamix. Some of my girlfriends who survived breast cancer swore by their Vitamixes, and now I know why. It is like the Rolls Royce Humvee of blenders, and it not only makes fabulous smoothies and margaritas – it even makes hot soups effortlessly. I’m having a blast concocting all sorts of wicked yummy green mocktails with it.

So tell me, what new thing are YOU going to do to treat your body like the divine temple that it is?

CIRCLE THE WAGONS ~ CHANGE OR BUST


Changes – David Bowie (click to play)

When Tony hollers “Circle the Wagons”, I always cringe because I know that changes are a-comin’. He picked up that phrase in his early days on Wall Street when the head of trading would say it as a response to the market going crazy. Circle the Wagons has become one of our household mottos: it’s our signal to hold up and re-group to adapt to changing conditions, usually economic. We laugh about it, but I’m never happy to hear that phrase because it often puts a crimp in the existing contentment.

The seeds of change are planted on the day we are born as one of the few certainties in life. The harvests we reap are the transformations that we go through in the course of our lives. Whether we purposefully and willingly take on change or have change thrust upon us due to circumstances beyond our control, it is as inevitable as death itself. We must change or bust. Andy Warhol said, “They say that time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself.” Actually Andy, it’s a little of both. Things around us are constantly changing, and its up to us to adapt ourselves to those changes. It’s not necessarily survival of the fittest, but rather survival of the most adaptable.

Why are people afraid of change, and why are we so resistant to such a natural part of living? The key to change is to let go of the fear and embrace the unknown. Times of transition open us up to new and wonderful possibilities, like the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis. How boring would life be if everything stayed the same? Life is fluid and constant motion, and we need to move and groove along with the waves or be sucked under the changing tides.

Our planet is undergoing major transformations that have been brought on mainly through our own actions. And now it’s up to us to change our way of doing things to not only adapt to those changes but also to reverse them. Sustainability is a very big key to our long-term survival, and there are so many ways that we can each contribute to that goal. Install a tankless water heater, convert to solar power, drive a hybrid car, be a locavore eating locally-grown organic produce. We went wine tasting at Benziger Winery in Sonoma last weekend and were fascinated with their biodynamic agriculture. It goes beyond organic farming as a holistic approach to creating a balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility from within the farm (or vineyard) itself, and herein lies the future of our planet’s restoration.

On a personal level, I’m working to restore the balanced vitality of my body since I can’t shake the feeling that I dodged a melanoma bullet with my Harry Potter scar. Of course I’m counting my blessings and feeling very grateful for an early and clear diagnosis. But rather than sitting back and breathing a sigh of relief, I am learning about all the things I should change in my lifestyle to keep cancer cells at bay. For as open as I am to change, I must admit that I’m dragging my heels a bit on this one. No alcohol, no sugar, no fat, no massages, no steam rooms and jacuzzis, no sunshine, no air travel… this No List feels more like a death sentence than melanoma does. I don’t wanna circle the dang wagons… I’d rather go bust! Whoa there little filly… I must remind myself that the anticipated dread is usually far worse than the reality. The more I learn about the things we can do to keep those free radical cells from wrecking havoc in our bodies, the more I welcome this lifestyle change. So circle your wagon back in a week and we’ll delve into the anticancer metamorphosis that we should all embrace. Turn and face the strain… ch-ch-changes.

SCARS OF LIFE

Beach Baby by The First Class (click to play)

Sins of my sunny youth
caught me at last
Baby oil bakes, beach baby romps, boating poolside floats

It was a playful game of tag
that I was bound to lose
Shocking as it was, it really came as no surprise

Blue-eyed blonds frolicking in the sun
for fifty years
must surely pay the price

Golden hair, brown as a bear, peeling freckled sunburned nose
all endless summer, every glorious summer
More sun-filled fun-filled days

than I can count or clearly deserve
So pay did I
with a gnarly Harry Potter scar

The fickle sun gods should be beaming
but there is no guarantee
their sun worship greed may demand more

somewhere down the sunlit road
Sunscreen fanatics, paranoid vigilantes, proactive bugaboos
win the game of tag and life

Scars of our youth, scars of our lives
Life scars and robs us of our youth
Far better to sacrifice youth and pay with scars

than sacrifice life and pay with death
For there is character and truth
in scars

Power in rockin hats, rockin bangs
rockin Harry Potter scars with dignity and gratitude
for life

Sporting a bad sunburn from a day on the slopes, I just couldn’t pass up a trip to Palm Springs back in the day

Yes, the dreaded melanoma diagnosis came as suddenly as the innocuous mark above my left eyebrow. I’ve been half-joking for many years now that the sun follies of my life – in the Arizona desert, the California beaches, and frankly anywhere in the world that I found a patch of sunlight – were inevitably going to exact a toll. There is nothing like the warmth of the sun shining down on your face to melt your heart and soul, and I have spent many of the most marvelous times of my life in the glow of the sun, happy times that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

Grabbing a patch of sun in the snow, oh so long ago

Of course now we know the dangers of sun worship, but for the first twenty years of my life the only protection we knew of was zinc oxide, the neon-white gooey goop that lifeguards smeared on their noses. No self-respecting sun goddess would be caught dead with that oozing on her face, no sir. But always the vigilante, I was that odd teenager who would come home from a day of scorching at the lake and pour on the olive oil, that miraculous Italian cure-all.  It may have saved me from turning into a wrinkly, leathery lizard, but it couldn’t save me from every peril. We are all the wiser now about sun protection, and we have all been warned ad nauseum about the deadly effects of over-exposure. I’m a realist and have been ultra-paranoid and uber-proactive about my skin check-ups for the past twenty years – I didn’t really need proof that I am not invincible. But need it or not, I certainly have that proof now in the form of a nice-n-gnarly super-cool zigzag Harry Potter scar that I have already grown to love because it probably saved my life. And as my incredibly supportive husband and three wise old children pointed out, scars add character and show that we have truly lived life. Ok then, I will happily, gratefully welcome that scar, especially since it certainly beats the alternative.

Reveling in one of my favorite sun days on the Red Sea

So here are my Five Mandates handed down by the sun gods that I want you all to take to heart:

~ Be a cautious lover of the outdoors. Don’t leave the house without sunscreen, and slather it liberally… the sun is not to be taken lightly!

~ Be observant and persnickety about your body, inside and out. If something doesn’t seem quite right, it probably isn’t!

~ Be a pesky, proactive patient. At the risk of driving your doctor crazy, get frequent checkups and be your own best advocate by asking as many questions as it takes to resolve the issue! 

~ Be intuitive. Listen to that quiet little voice inside of you and trust your gut instinct, which is usually wiser than our stubborn brain. Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand… ignorance is not bliss and just might be the difference between life and death!

~ Be well, be happy, and rock those scars of life!

THE HAPPINESS FOOD RULES MINDFIRE PROJECT

05 Bari Improv (Kaki King from “August Rush” soundtrack)

Oops ~ I fudged, unintentionally of course. As I was going through the annual exercise of purging last year’s files and reorganizing for 2012, I discovered a list tucked away in a dark file. It wasn’t a set of New Year’s resolutions per se. It was more like a list of 44 To-Do’s, my how-to-live guidelines as I embarked on my journey as an empty nester back in October 2010. This list was posted at my desk for months, but eventually it ended up in a drawer along with my best intentions. Actually, after subconsciously seeing those 44 To-Do’s every day for months, it must have sunk in just a bit. Scanning the list when I ran across it yesterday, I realized that I was still trying to live most of those guidelines, more or less. Therein lies the power of subliminal messages!

During the holidays, I fell behind on (at least) three of those To-Do’s: “Find purpose and inspiration”, “Learn something new every day”, and “Read 2 books every month”. Searching for inspiration and something to read last week, I dug through my to-be-read pile.  Like most avid book worms, I have a never-ending pile of books waiting for my attention.  Somehow not 1 or 2 but 3 powerful little gems budged their way to the top of the pile. I couldn’t decided which one to tackle, so I’ve been juggling all three at once.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Food Rules by Michael Pollan, and Mindfire by Scott Berkun sound like a mishmash of new age gobbletygoop, but they actually play off of each other quite nicely. The Happiness Food Rules Mindfire Project is an intriguing synergy of inspiration. It’s more than just reading… it’s a integrative, communal experience. The HFRMP discusses confusing subjects and makes them feel manageable.

Mindfire is a collection of essays that tweak our minds. I’m a curious seeker who loves learning, but I’m surely no intellectual… keep it simple has always been my motto. So I was excited to read Berkun’s essay entitled “There Are Two Types of People: Complexifiers and Simplifiers.”  Thank goodness I’m not a simpleton — I’m a simplifier! As the subtitle of this book indicates, it takes “Big Ideas For Curious Minds” and addresses them in clear, enlightening prose that makes you feel like you can conquer the world. Some of my favorite pieces are The Cult of Busy, On God and Integrity, How to Make a Difference, Creative Thinking Hacks, and Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas. Great food for thought.

Speaking of food, Food Rules IS An Eater’s Manual. No biochemistry, food science, nutritional lingo here – just plain and simple rules to help us eat mindfully for health. Pollan admits that he could have written the book with just seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He points out that it all boils down to the simple fact that Western diets cause dramatically more health diseases than traditional diets containing no processed food. Simplifying nutrition is not only healthy but it saves money. Processed Western food is more expensive to create, leads to higher health care costs and pharmaceutical expenses, and makes more money for the media. More money for everyone at the expense of the eaters, which by the way are all of us. The illustrator of this book summed it up when she said that it “describes a sane and happy world of eating.”

Speaking of happy, The Happiness Project is a fun-loving romp on the road to a life well-lived. Rubin tackles a LOT of goals and aspirations, but she breaks it down into bite-size pieces month-by-month. I personally don’t want to have to work that hard at being happy, although I can see where this methodical process would be very effective. It takes away some of the spontaneity of life, but it does lay out a definitive path to achieve our desires. If you like board games or you’re a studious list-maker, you will love the happinessprojecttoolbox.com. I can’t decide if this book simplifies or complexifies the subject of happiness, but it’s certainly a heartwarming, inspiring journey that makes you feel like happiness is well within your reach.

I don’t usually recommend reading three books simultaneously, but in this case, it definitely provides mindfiring food for the happy spirit. It’ll tease your brain, energize your body, and tickle your soul!

Previous Older Entries