Monday, April 20, 2015

april discipline: wake up before the sun, 5 days a week

song pair: Everyday by Dave Matthews

hello and good mornings! yes i meant the plural. my mornings have been so good. i am happy to report i have been fiercely loyal to this discipline, up before the sun. there was only one weekday when my alarm clock jingled...i rolled over...snuggled southern gent...and fell back to sleep.

not every morning has been easy. some mornings i perch up, contemplate a bit (imagine the devil and angel on each shoulder) and ultimately embrace the day. i think of you guys, i really do. i know acting in a trustworthy manner will increase my oxytocin. you didn't realize you were improving my life, did you?
i have felt wonderful with this early-to-rise lifestyle. i am more productive. i am paying attention to small details and i feel more energized. i wasn't a slacker previously, things always get done in my world...just sometimes in a rushed manner. those hours open more time to slowly water plants, throw in laundry, make lists, create a southern gent smoothie. all that domestic stuff that doesn't come naturally.
the biggest reward has been for my dogs. sounds silly unless you are an avid dog person like me. those extra hours free up the chance to see things more clearly, including their wrinkly faces. i have been cleaning their face folds and soft little ears. our english bulldog, Rocky, has a sensitive eye that is often in need of a wet tissue. he has been healthier because of this change.
it's just a peaceful part of the day for me now. quietly seizing the day.

prior to this discipline i thought i was slowly easing into each day, but really i was just sleeping as long as i could before it was time to wake up and hop right into the shower. i would butter my toast, prepare a sack lunch, kiss my three favorite guys {southern gent and the dogs} and head out the door. the next time i would emerge would be 8:30pm. at that point i was too fatigued to even notice face wrinkles, mine or anyone else's. now that summer is here, i have my partner-in-life back to share duties. life is looking brighter people!

speaking of dogs and brightening lives, remember when i did my photo shoot as an extra oomph to get Marty into my office?  today we are on week 6 of Marty Mondays and they are going swimmingly. if you have ever met my sidekick you know he has the most delightful little personality. i adopted him in 2008 as a rescue. he was 1.5 years old. whoever had him before me treated him like gold. i don't think he has ever known evil. he came to me well trained and oh-so-loving. i don't take credit for the great dog he is, but i am so fortunate he is ours. he isn't the type of soul who should be locked in a house all day. he needs to see the world and impact lives. marty comforts clients, makes clients smile and adds a wonderful energy to the room. he leaves a footprint everywhere he goes.

here is a little photo montage of his first few weeks as a therapy dog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

cortisol & oxytocin

song pair: Never Say Never by The Fray

stress happens. even when it's productive stress, it can negatively impact our systems. the good news is we have a great deal of control over offsetting stress in our lives.

cortisol is a stress hormone that pulses through our bodies when we are experiencing stress. this steroid hormone is produced in the adrenal gland and can be erosive and toxic. cortisol underlies disease and illness. we all experience stress. an effective way to annul cortisol is production of the hormone oxytocin.

oxytocin counteracts cortisol. it is naturally produced in the hypothalamus and stored in the pituitary gland. thankfully, there are activities we can engage in to trigger an excess of oxytocin in our bodies. when oxytocin is secreted into our brain, a sense of relief and hope is instilled.

below are a few examples of activities we each can turn to when we need to battle everyday stressers on this wild ride called life:

  • self-compassion statements "I am strong and determined."
  • embracing a loved one (10 seconds of sustained touch from someone: massage, hugs, rubbing neck/back, stroking hair). 
  • positive social media, kind and supportive posts & comments
  • laughter
  • generosity
  • seeking an adventure
  • walking outside in the sun
  • talking to a friend for 15 minutes
  • behaving in a trustworthy manner
  • listening to soothing music
  • slow, deep breathing
  • eating eggs, bananas, and/or black pepper
  • eating a meal with loved ones
  • nurturing your pets

Let's all generate more oxytocin into our systems!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

hair update: the evolution of my mane

song pair: FourFive Seconds by Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney

you may have noticed my ever evolving hair. it has been a humbling journey. when one decides to do things differently they don't always account for error. i actively try not to regret the risk. people alter their hair everyday. i have been bleaching mine for more than a decade. i wanted a change. i just didn't know the complexity of the change.

attempt # 1, i requested brown hair. 

when auburn hair emerged, i tentatively embraced it.
a few weeks later, the color became a strange I returned back to the salon.

the stylist layered it with darker color, hoping it would cover the emerging hue. it worked for awhile, until it began happening again. look closely at the image below. the first layer at the top. it was discolored where i had breakage or split ends, where my hair was least healthy. the PH balance of my locks were impacted by the years of bleach. the purple/blue spectrum was surfacing.   

the color layering continued, 4 times. it was always a lovely product initially, but inevitably began changing tints in the less healthy areas. 

after four stints in the salon chair and a friend commenting that my hair looked black, i ultimately i made the decision to change direction. 
insanity = doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. 
things were only temporarily improving and i needed a plan. vanity was getting the best of me. 

a friend recommended a stylist {who i love!} she is concentrating first and foremost on the vitality of my hair, not just veiling imperfection. 
we started with a good chop. i will have deep conditioning treatments for six weeks before she will assess the color. she believes my hair was previously two shades lighter than it should have been and is currently two shades darker, relative to my skin tone. i couldn't agree more. 

i am feeling hopeful with this new plan in place, and trying to giggle at myself along the way. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

april discipline: wake up before the sun, 5 days a week

song pair: Here Comes the Sun by George Harrison

i am happy to report the april discipline {wake up before the sun, 5 days/week} has started strong. i don't plan to take a photo everyday, but the first two days i couldn't resist. the image quality is below average, the feeling of accomplishment is above average. 

day 1 

day 2

i can absolutely attest to the extra two to three hours being instrumental in each day. i felt less rushed, more productive and quite fulfilled. each day i grabbed my oversized bathrobe and headed for the screened porch. with me came a buttered english muffin. the birds are singing loudly as the day begins. i have utilized these mornings as a time of reflection. the weekend was a nice break, monday morning starts this healthy habit all over again. i am ready!

here is a sneak peek at Easter weekend:

southern gent and i ventured downtown for First Friday

saturday, mom & i made our traditional easter basket cake

almost five years into our marriage, i continue to learn fascinating things about southern gent. he is my multifaceted husband. a couple years ago i learned he could juggle. recently i found out he is a pac-man master. mom & i surprised him with a cake to commemorate this expertise. i find him endlessly endearing.   

easter lunch was a delicious collection {from chef dad} of salmon, vegetables, deviled eggs and potato salad. we always toast with a specialty drink, this year it was a moscow mule. the copper mug and homemade ginger beer are what make it extra special. 

cheers to Easter, gratitude and togetherness!

2014 easter post

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

monthly discipline: april

song pair: awake my soul by mumford and sons

january: doing things differently herehere and here.
february: just make it hereherehere and here.     
march: mostly vegan here, here, herehere and here.

am i  are you ready for it?
april: wake up before the sun five days a week

sleep has played different roles in my life, throughout my life. as a young child i resisted sleep. i wouldn't nap for fear of missing something. i was too curious to spend a few hours checked out. i still don't nap. 

as a figure skater, in adolescence, ice time was early. on weekends i woke up at dawn. though it wasn't always easy, i evolved into a morning person. my parents often made hot breakfasts, which helped wake up to the day. 

college years involved late nights and lots of sleep. i didn't schedule early classes. 

i got into a good rhythm once my working years began. my first real job was a traditional 9-5. my sleep schedule became more normalized.

in graduate school i worked at a jazz club late into the night and woke up for an internship very early in the morning. it wasn't uncommon to fall asleep at 1am and wake at 6am. this is when my life as a morning person reemerged. i was walking through life in a bit of a daze, but there was a goal in mind. i understood the importance of sacrifice for a greater good. 

my post graduate position was as the mental health coordinator at a correctional facility. i worked four 10 hour days. 6am-4pm. i was up way before the sun. those were very productive days. 

fast forward to today. i wake about 9/9:30 everyday. my southern gent and i have nontraditional schedules. it has always been a goal to not depend on an alarm clock. i find them jarring and awful. to ease into my day is a dream. some would have a hard time believing i am a work-a-holic. i am, my day just starts and ends much later than yours. southern gent works very late hours and often travels. a typical day for him ends between 10pm-2am. my weekdays end at 8:30pm. on the nights we are both home, we eat dinner around 9pm. 

though this schedule works magically for us, i am willing to deviate in april. one part of me says sleep-as-much-as-you-can. the other part says wake-up-early-and-be-even-more-productive.

experts say sleep plays an important role in brain function. i still plan to sleep well, i will simply have to adjust my dinner and bed times. to some of you, waking before the sun is a daily necessity. for me, i hope to find it enlightening. by the time some of you have read this, i will have watched the sun rise.

i have this hanging in my home office. you can have it too. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

march discipline: mostly vegan interview x 2

song pair: brighter than the sun by colbie caillat

Hello Friends! today i have the pleasure of introducing my adorable friend Kate! Kate has an incredibly joy-filled spirit. she is warm and welcoming and has the best neighborhood parties gatherings! she balances life as a working mom, running her own small business. she's kind of a big deal
the root of Kate's nutritional focus has a unique origin which led to specific disciplines and ultimately the benefit of more mindful eating.  

What is your family composition?

My family includes my husband, Nick, my seven year old son, Jack, and my almost 4 year old daughter, Eleanor. We are in the process of adopting another baby ( and hopeful that we will be matched with our birth mom soon. Also, we are super tight with my mom, Martha, and she is definitely a member of our crew. As for family members with tails, we have a mixed breed rescue named Ernest and mom recently adopted a small beagle named Fred.

How would you describe what you provide in your home kitchen?

I love to cook and try to make at least two meals around Sunday/Monday that we can enjoy during the hectic work-week. We eat some meat and fish, but I try to incorporate tons of fruits and vegetables into our meals. Like Virginia, we try to avoid processed foods as much as possible.

We had to eliminate all soy and dairy from Eleanor’s diet this year. I really try to cook meals that are soy and dairy free for the whole family so that Eleanor doesn’t feel isolated or excluded from the family meals. Since the rest of us are able to consume dairy (cheese! butter!) I have add-ins of dairy products like cheese on the table available for individual use.

What led you to this approach?

Eleanor was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) this year. Essentially, she has two main food allergies (soy and dairy) which cause her esophagus to swell and caused her to choke and vomit almost daily. Also, she was developing aversions to foods because it was painful for her to eat. She has had to undergo an upper endoscopy every 6 weeks for the past few months so that we could identify her allergens. First, we eliminated all soy and dairy and she went into remission. Yay! Next, we re-introduced soy-only which unfortunately was deemed to be a culprit, too. We have gotten phenomenal treatment and care from the fabulous folks at UNC (thanks Dr. Mir and Krisi Brackett!) and Eleanor is doing really well now. She is required to consume feeding tube formula, but we are fortunate that she can drink it orally and doesn’t require the actual feeding tube. To learn more about EoE-feel free to click the link below for more information.

Is there a product you (or a family member) struggles to resist?
For Eleanor-cupcakes are a must have! These sweet confections have been her favorite aspect of any celebration since she enjoyed her first delicious bite of frosted cake. This one has been tough to find an alternative for her.

(Her first experience with cupcakes!)

Soy is used as a substitute for dairy in many bakeries-I can’t even special order soy and dairy free cupcakes at Whole Foods. Luckily, we were able to find Noreen Fitzmaurice and her wonderful bakery-The Celiac Cakery. We purchase and freeze tons and tons of Noreen’s delicious soy and dairy free cupcakes for Nora to enjoy at birthday parties and celebrations at school.

Do you find restaurant menus difficult to navigate?

We love to eat out and finding soy and dairy free alternatives for Eleanor has been a challenge. First, soy is in everything including but not limited to some ketchups, some vegetable broths, crackers and chewing gum. Second, some servers at restaurants do not understand that Eleanor has an allergy since food preferences like gluten-free diets are so popular. This can lead to issues with cross-contamination and other issues that make it challenging to eat out. To overcome this obstacle, we are identifying local places that are accommodating and have options for Eleanor to have a few choices when we dine out.

How do you choose to entertain with food?

We love to entertain friends and family. When we host people at home, I try to make all the kid foods soy and dairy free so that Eleanor can eat what the others are enjoying.

How is your family’s overall health?

We try to stay fit and healthy as a family. We strive to stay active and enjoy having fun outside and enjoying the beautiful weather we typically have in Raleigh. I am striving to have all the food in our house soy free, but it is a challenge. Soy is ubiquitous-it is everywhere! So, for now, we maintain a sort of kosher kitchen where we keep Eleanor’s soy and dairy free foods labelled separately in the fridge, freezer and pantry. That way, babysitters and visitors can easily decipher what foods are safe for Eleanor to eat.

What is your favorite cruelty free brand?

I shop at Whole Foods every week because they have the widest variety of options for Eleanor. I like their cruelty free standards for chicken and fish. I think that WF does a nice job providing information for their consumers to evaluate and determine what works for them.

Please share a favorite cruelty free recipe:

This one is tough for me because I use recipes as a general guideline. I like to make a variation of a vegetable and pasta dish that we enjoy at least once a week. Sometimes I add chicken or fish-sometimes I add tons of veggie or chicken stock to convert it into a brothy soup.

I generally start with a mirepoix mix that I buy at the store and helps me to save time while cooking during the week.

I add whatever vegetables are seasonally fresh-right now its shallots, zucchini, yellow squash, arugula, spinach, mushrooms etc. I brown the vegetables on the stovetop-adding wine and/or stock to deglaze and make a quick pan sauce. For plating, I put fresh spinach/arugula/finely cut kale or some other green in the base of each bowl and add hot pasta and the vegetables on top. Eleanor gets Daiya pea-protein “cheese” for her bowl and the rest of us grate fresh parmesan on ours. I always buy a large bunch of organic Italian flat leaf parsley at the beginning of each week. I clean it and grind it in my food processor (stems and all) and use the little bits (probably 1/4 cup) while cooking and on the plates after to add a fresh flavor to the dish. Sometimes I squeeze fresh lemon on top for something different. 

Below is a link to a “real” recipe for folks that might prefer something more structured. This salad is soy and diary free and looks fun for spring!

*One piece of advice for someone interested in more mindful nutrition*

Kate: For folks making a change as a result of food allergies, I recommend heading to local grocery stores to process what options are available. When Eleanor was first diagnosed, the change in our diet was very daunting. I spent a few hours at Whole Foods, Trader Joes and our local Harris Teeter reading labels until I was bleary eyed. Next, I bought everything that she was allowed to eat and then let her taste test to identify her favorites. Once we found some winners, I was able to isolate the brands (Daiya cheese! Enjoy Life cookies!) and buy some of them online to make it more convenient. We took it one step at a time until we built up a nice selection of foods she enjoys that are safe for her to eat. In the end, our family has definitely benefited from eating foods that are less processed and are healthier in general. This benefit has been the silver lining. 

Virginia: 1) start small, with 2 or 3 meals a week and build on that 2) read The China Study, I read it 7 years ago and it rocked my world. I got it at a yard sale in Tahoe, never thought it would be so influential in my life, it really solidified the importance of eliminating animal protein from my diet. 3) challenge yourself!! Go grocery shopping and say, "this week I'm going to not buy milk but buy almond milk instead and see how that is for me?" Or "I'm not buying chicken, I'm buying tofu instead" 4) plan ahead!!! I can't stress that enough!! Plan your vegan meals ahead of time so you know what to buy and how to prepare it!!

Wow. thank you ladies. you two challenge me to take life to the next level. 
thank you for sharing your expertise! i am proud to call you both a friend. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

charleston fashion week

song pair: Supermodel (You Better Work) by Rupaul

as i eluded to a couple weeks ago, i surprised my niece emily with a one night trip to Charleston during fashion week. she was the perfect little travel companion. we had an incredible time living the city life for 24 hours. we parked our car and uber'd all over town. uber was a new concept to her. though she was a bit apprehensive at first, she quickly settled into the idea of getting into a strangers car and safely reaching our destination.

our first stop was a blow dry bar. we needed our hair to be 'on fleek' {teenage lingo} for dinner and the runway show later that evening.

once our loose curls were in place, we wandered the city. we bounced in a few different shops and sipped hot chocolates once the wind picked up. it was a gorgeous day and the flowers were in perfect bloom. the city was in a true buzz. i was elated to be spending the day with emily, my cheeks were sore from the smiles.

sushi has become our thing. whenever i ask Em what she's craving, she inevitably proclaims SUSHI! 

her other obsession is shirley temples. she may have had five. 

once we polished all four sushi rolls, we skedaddled over to the festivities. you would have thought you were in NYC. it is so tough to capture the experience in photos. please take a few minutes and watch this promotional youtube video. it's from 2014, but exactly what we experienced. it was epic. 

the catwalk

benefit make up bar

one of my favorite designers. lots of shopping in the lounge. 

truly an unforgettable night. after the runway show, we had gelato and found a candy store. it was an i-don't-want-this-day-to-end sort of feeling.  

this 13 year old is a very bright light in my world. i love you Em! 

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