KJ’s Homemade Chicken Broth

I fancy myself a pretty good cook and I am definitely a soup lover. That said, can you believe that I have never – had never, as of yesterday – made my own chicken broth?

And now that I have, I fear it’s like getting your first Mac – there is no going back. Though I must admit that it was a little disconcerting putting a whole chicken (or a fryer, I believe they’re called) into a pot of soon-to-be-boiling water.

That said, I made chicken broth. It was a bit of a hassle, but it really added a nice dimension to my soups. I started off with a couple of recipes on-line and then turned it into one of my own.

KJ’s Homemade Chicken Broth

1 fryer (all the inner bits cleaned out if he/she didn’t come that way)
7 to 10 cups of water
3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
4 carrots, sliced
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 inch fresh ginger, grated

Sea Salt and Black Pepper, to taste.

  1. Wash the chicken, inside out.
  2. Put said chicken into a large soup pot (and try to ignore how much it feels like an infant resting in your hand).
  3. Put in 7 to 10 cups, enough to cover the chicken.
  4. Bring water to boil, then let simmer for 1 hour.
  5. Pull the chicken out and let cool (the meat should be well over 169 degrees at this point – more like 200, but it can’t hurt to check for safety).
  6. Add the rest of the ingredients to the water.
  7. Remove the skin from the chicken and the meat from the bones. Put the skin and the bones back into the pot and put the meat in the fridge for snacks, lunches, salads, etc.).
  8. Bring the broth-to-be back up to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for 3 to 4 hours.
  9. Pull all of the solids out of the broth; easiest to use a slotted spoon and then pour through a sieve.
  10. Store broth in Ball jars in the fridge. (A film of fat will form on the broth as it cools; you just skim that off before using).

I’ll be the first to admit that is seems like a lot of work for broth – but, boy, did it ever make my soup delicious, giving it a rich undertone that I’ve never been able to get with prepared broth.

Besides that, it made the house smell great and I have lunches for four days in the left over meat (or, most likely, my husband will as I’ll be busy eating the soup).

Indian-Spiced Roasted Squash Soup

I am in experimentation mode, trying to determine what soup – if any – we’re going to have at Thanksgiving. Soup has always been my thing and having soup at a big meal is one way to make sure that I don’t overeat.

This one, which appeared in the November 2011 edition of Cooking Light, is definitely a contender!

Indian Spiced Roasted Squash Soup

1 cup chopped yellow onion
8 ounces carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 (1-pound) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 (8-ounce) acorn squash (or whatever you happen to have on hand)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon of ground red pepper (cayenne)
14 ounces of chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt

Optional:
6 tablespoons of Greek Yogurt
6 teaspoons honey

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Arrange the first five ingredients on a jelly roll (or a roaster pan). Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper. Toss. Roast at 500 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender, turning once. Cool for 10 minutes. Peel acorn squash; discard skin.
  3. Combine vegetable mixture, 2 cups of water, curry powder. garam masala, and red pepper in a food processor (or high speed blender); pulse to desired consistency. Scrape mixture into large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in broth; bring to boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and stir in salt.
  4. Combine honey and yogurt, stirring well. Serve with soup

Calories (more or less, since I used real chicken broth instead of the canned fat free version they originally called for): 143, Fat: 3.1 g, Protein: 4.8 g, Carbohydrate: 27g, Fiber: 4.4 g.

Notes: Make sure you cook it for that 10 minutes to thicken it up, or if you’re pressed for time, use less broth.

Winterizing My Favorite Summer Soup: Recipe

All summer long, I have been eating this deliciously simple cauliflower and carrot soup. It’s pretty (a beautiful warm yellow), it’s tasty, it’s light, and it works as lunch with a couple slices of gluten free toast, it works with dinner, and it works as a snack.

The only problem is that it’s not that substantial – and where I live, it’s getting dark early and it’s getting cold. And when it’s dark and cold, I want something that’s really going to stick.

The original recipe is courtesy of Body Ecology. Or at least that’s where the idea came from, it’s been so long that I can’t remember what the actual recipe called for (a trait that I fear I picked up from my Grandmother Lively). Regardless, here’s how I make it:

Carrot Cauliflower Soup

2 cups of onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of coconut oil
2 tablespoons (or more) of dried Tarragon
1 head of cauliflower, chopped
2 or 3 cups of carrots (depending on how big the cauliflower is)
Water
Sea salt
A.Vogle Trocomare Organic Spicy Seasoning

In a large soup pan, saute the onions and the tarragon until onions are translucent. Add the cauliflower and the carrots. Add enough water to cover the veggies, bring to a boil and then simmer until veggies are tender (which tends to be about 20-30 minutes).

Blend up the entire mixture in a high speed blender (you’ll have to do that in batches).

Return entire mixture to pot, then season to taste.

I like the Vogle seasoning salt, but I’ve also used curry or cumin when I didn’t have enough. It might take more than you think, but start small and just keep tasting it. You can always add more later, at the table.

Because I was trying to make the soup more substantial (and I had a ton of stuff from the CSA that was just going to go to waste if I didn’t do something quick), I decided to start adding stuff, namely 1 rutabaga, peeled and cubed and 1/2 celeriac bulb, peeled and cubed.

It was delicious – really stellar and super filling. This is definitely going to be my new normal, at least until spring rolls around!

Indeed, it was so filling that I was able to drop the gluten-free toast at lunch and still be completely satisfied.

Getting Creative with the Winter CSA: Recipe

I know that you’re not supposed to waste food, but I admit that last year I let several squash go bad. For months, I’d glance over at the literal mountain on the counter and then let my eyes slide away, until, eventually, the hard walls of the butternut, acorn, and buttercup would dissolve in the pile of goo. (I’m not an idiot – I actually did manage to do something with the delicata. Something that often involved a little touch of coconut oil, black pepper, cumin, and a broiler – but I digress).

This year, I was determined not to let that happen. I mean, isn’t there one dietary theory (more than one, actually) that says that you should be eating with the seasons? In my ongoing quest for health – particularly thyroid health – I decided to go for it. And, so far, I’ve been amazed.

My first attempt was just to bake some acorn squash and delicata. Well, I forgot about it and overcooked it – the delicata was literally black! At least on the outside! On the inside, it was like pudding.

Because I’m good friends with a number of health coaches who are always touting the importance of enjoying your food with all of your senses (and, heck, the busiest post on the blog is about Never Eating While Standing), I am embarrassed to say that I ate the entire thing standing at the counter.

Because even though the outside was ruined, the inside was like pudding. It was unbelievably good. Hence my new fascination with squash.

Last week, I started with a simple mash.

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
4 carrots, scrubbed and sliced
1 parsnip, scrubbed and sliced
1 rutabaga, peeled and cubed
1/2 celeriac, peeled and cubed (did you know that celeriac is 122 days in the ground?! Now every time I see one, I think: wow, that’s like, one trimester!)

I tossed all of these in a little olive oil and roasted them until tender.

I then tossed the whole thing in the high speed blender and viola! It was perfect.

Creamy, sweet and super easy.

Notably, I didn’t season it. Why?

  1. It was good plain (or with a little touch of coconut oil).
  2. If I wanted a dessert, all it needed was a little cinnamon and may (only if I was feeling particularly decadent) a drop or two of maple syrup.
  3. If I wanted a side (or a savory, as the Brits would call it), all it needed was a bit of sea salt and dash of cumin.

Total win.

So if you’re sitting on a pile of squash, don’t despair or feel the guilt of tossing it. Just get a little creative and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Either way, it’s just a number

I continue my new found relationship with my calorie counter and my scale.

Yesterday: another 45 minutes of cardio before breakfast and coming in about 800 calories below my allotted daily budget.

This morning, I got up, peed and then stepped on the scale: down .4 pounds.

A traitorous feeling of joy leapt through me.

And then I thought: Wait a minute. If the 1.8 pound weigh gain was not you, then this is not you either. You don’t get to discount the bad and claim the good (though, as a social psychologist, I know that’s how most people hang).

So, I looked down at the number, stepped off the scale and put it into my calorie tracker, to the following notification: You’ll reach your goal of losing 28.2 lbs. on Dec 11, 2012.

One can only hope.

Data, not an indictment

So yesterday I decided that the game was up.

I was going to re-establish a relationship with my scale (a daily one that requires at least a single moment of one-on-one time) and with my handy dandy calorie counter (LoseIt).

Mainly, I decided to do this to establish a little accountability.

What I didn’t expect to find was compassion.

Calorie counting, day one: without changing a lot about the way I eat, I rang in at right about 1600 calores. The big difference though was that I actually did about 45 minutes of cardio for the first time in weeks (this put me at about 800 calories below my budget for losing a pound a week).

I got up this morning and stepped on the scale.

Up. And not a little up, but a lot up. Up 1.8 pounds to be exact.

Normally I would have been really upset; and ironically I wasn’t as upset as I was yesterday.

Instead, I was amused – if not a little resigned.

Obviously, I did nothing in a 24 hour period that should have caused that big of a weight gain (even if it is just water). So, that was obviously her – my body, doing her own thing.

I didn’t get mad; I didn’t burst into tears.

In fact, I smiled indulgently (if not a little maniacally).

There was something freeing about that unexplained and unexpected weight gain. I simply logged it, noticed the spike, and read the notification. “You gained 1.8 pounds. You’ll reach your goal of losing 28.2 lbs. on Dec 11, 2012.” Though December 11, 2012 may seem like a long time for someone who went from a size 4 to a size 10 in less than three months, what I really thought was: Promise?

I’m curious (if not a little apprehensive what tomorrow will bring) and this way, by facing it instead of merely crying about it and pretending it’s not happening, I’ll know. And I’ll have plenty of data for my endocrinologist for the next time he asks how everything is going.

So Ends the Experiment

For years I have been listening to people talk about intuitive eating and the dangers of calorie counting.

I’ve tried it before and I’ve just finished trying it, again. Both times were an abysmal failure.

I just had to step on a scale for the first time in a year (because of some not routine medical tests) and for the first time in nearly five [years] I am once again, overweight. I am now bigger than I was before all of this started. I am now bigger than the first time when I met my husband – the time that I told him that I was really going to transform my body before I hit 40.

I was 36. I am now 42.

The experiment failed.

I’m not saying that intuitive eating doesn’t work – but it doesn’t work for me.

Maybe it’s the stress. Maybe it’s the whacked out thyroid. Maybe it’s the overactive immune system. Maybe I was just fooling myself when I thought that I knew what my body wanted, when it was hungry, etc. Who knows?

Regardless, I do know one thing – I’m allowing it to affect every aspect of my life, from my work to my relationships. All of the cognitive therapy that I’ve been doing so that I can love my body from the inside out? Well, despite the immense talent of my coach, it folds in the face of the illuminated number on a silver scale. It folds in the face of the double digit clothing that I can barely fit into. It folds every time that someone touches any part of my body that roils underneath the slightest bit of pressure.

So, intuitive or not, it’s time for a little accountability.

If I can’t be truly in touch with my body then I at least need to know what’s going on so that I am not just sitting around weighting (every pun, intended. Do you believe that that was actually a Freudian slip? It was – really) to find the right combination of seaweed, protein, whole grains that just so happen to be gluten-free, etc., that is going to unlock all of the nutritional and weight loss secrets of the universe.

In other words, I am going to revert back to calories in/calories out.

Now, I can hear the groan from my friends – at least a thousand of whom are graduates from one of the best schools of integrative nutrition in the country. But I know that all calories are not equal, so you don’t have to worry that I think that a 800+ calorie bomb from McDonald’s will have the same nutritional value as 2 of my green smoothies (even without all of the cruciferous vegetables that contain goitrogens that suppress thyroid function). But at least this way I will know – that I’ll know that it’s not something that I’m just fooling myself about. I remember the autumn that I gained 10 pounds eating “healthy cookies….” Could it be?

Because if it really is me – then maybe I can learn to do something else. But if it isn’t me (and it really is her, my body who is suffering under the unmitigated stress of my life) then, maybe, I can learn to forgive myself and my body and allow myself to connect not only with her – but also emotionally, mentally, and physically with those other people in my life who really don’t seem to mind if I weigh 140 or 170 pounds.

Seriously, as I even write the number, tears come to my eyes and the thought, unbidden, how could this have happened to me? How did I let it happen?

The Last Meal: Changing the Diet Up Yet Again

If I had a dollar for every time that I’ve radically changed the way I eat….

It’s been a rough few months on the body-love front. I have no idea what I weigh, but very few things in my closet actually fit.

A couple of things are going on:

My thyroid crashed (again).

I’m not doing the things I need to do to take care of myself (meaning less yoga, less hooping).

I’m not getting enough sleep.

I’m not getting enough exercise (see above).

And I’m not loving myself in any way shape or form – sorry coach!

The one thing that I was doing, however, was eating cleanly. In fact, it’s not a exaggeration to say that this is the cleanest that I’ve eaten, ever. I had hoped that would be enough.

Yet I keep getting bigger and bigger and more recently PMS is now pre-, present-, and post-. Bloating, mood swings, and boobs from hell. Two days ago, the cloth of my blouse was nearly unbearable; the poor things hurt to the touch – which also cuts down on any desire intimacy or closeness of any form.

I had a call with a holistic health care person and he mentioned something about food and thyroid suppression and, more importantly, the foods that suppress the thyroid – the number one culprits being sweet potatoes (yams), brussel sprouts, raw spinach, raw kale, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. You might not know this, but 90% of everything that I eat (other than hemp and other forms of protein powders) is comprised of yams, brussel sprouts, raw spinach, raw kale, turnips, cauliflower, and broccoli.

You know, it never ceases to amaze me how the body becomes addicted to the very things that are bad for it.

Last night, I had my last meal: brussels, broccoli, carrot and cauliflower soup, and a little mini-green smoothie with spinach and kale. Before I began, I just looked at it, letting the anticipation build. Then I enjoyed every single solitary bite. I swear, you would have thought I was eating cheesecake! I even lit candles.

Somehow this latest dietary transition seems more difficult than previous ones, and I’m not sure why. There are obviously straightforward substitutions. Collards or chard for kale, green beans for broccoli, asparagus for brussel sprouts, and romaine and red leaf lettuce for spinach. And I’m sure that I can find a nice butternut squash soup recipe to replace my carrot and cauliflower, but it’s not going to be the same.

I keep reminding myself, food is food. It’s not for pleasure. It doesn’t matter that you’re being asked to give up your favorite foods, yet again. Because, when I think about it, this last batch of favorites became favorites when the last batch went away.

So what can you eat when you want to help nourish your thyroid? Well, the list is short and there’s nothing on it that’s particularly appealing. But appealing or not, it’s what I’ve got and I’m sure that however unappealing it may seem, I will learn to love again.

Because, to paraphrase Tony Robbins, nothing tastes as good as feeling good feels.

Stay tuned for thyroid nourishing recipes (sans sweet potatoes (yams), brussel sprouts, raw spinach, raw kale, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, etc). Wish me luck!

It’s that time of year again…or is it?

(…well, actually it’s about three months too soon, given where I live, but it is what it is.)

It’s been 80 degrees the last three days and that really means no more living in layers. It’s time to set the sweaters, the fleece, the long sleeved shirts, the tights, the wool socks, and, yes, even the jeans aaide and to move on to lighter and brighter options.

With some trepidation, I pulled out my spring/summer clothes (summer in my neck of the woods rarely surpasses 70, mind you) and started trying things on. Unfortunately, and was as suspected, there were more things in the “discard” pile (or the “maybe in a few weeks” pile) than there were in the “eligible candidates for office wear” pile.

Even the casual pants and shorts were too tight here or pulled funny there. (Though, in the moment, there was nothing funny about it.)

I pulled out my Prana shorts that I bought two years ago in Santa Monica (the ones that, at the time, were too big and my then partner, now husband, would tease me for walking around about to drop my britches).

They barely fit.

Skirts that were loose fit, but only with a bulge that seemed to only be highlighted in t-shirts or tops that looked like (but probably hadn’t) been shrunk in the wash.

Well, fuck.

I knew that my body wasn’t the same as she had been the year that I bought most of those clothes – you know, the one where I went on fasts and cleanses like they were going out of style. 10 days of limeade here, followed by a liver detox cleanse, followed by no sugar (no matter what the form).

I knew that my body wasn’t the same even as she was right before my thyroid crashed the year before last or even as was five months ago before said thyroid had crashed yet again. And I can honestly say that I would be okay with that, if only I had clothes that fit instead of clothes that made me look a walking kielbasa.

As I stood in the mirror, I could literally feel my state starting to crumble – to take that first and all too familiar step down the slippery slope of hell (that would be self-judgment, self-hatred, self-disgust, self-pity…you get the picture). But then I just decided: enough is enough.

This is where you are, right now.

If you don’t have clothes that fit, go get some.

If you happen to see a bag of chocolate somewhere today, just keep walking. It has nothing to do with you and it will not make you feel better nor will it make your clothes fit better.

I reminded myself that just last night I had looked in that same mirror, naked, and was struck by how sexy I looked with my curves and womanly proportions.

I remember joking, in a loving way (as opposed to the self-deprecating way that I had done in the past), that if I had been born a hundred years earlier, I would have been a goddess and that all of those women whose bodies that I covet would have been looking at me with awe and admiration.

What’s a little time travel between a woman and her body? What’s a little social construction of reality among friends.

My clothes don’t fit. Period.

Yes, part of me is saddened by that.

Yes, part of me is annoyed.

Yes, part of me wished that I had faced this sooner so that I wouldn’t feel so up against the wall right before I have to go stand in a room in front of 40 20-somethings twice a day, three times a week.

But for the most part, I’m actually okay with it. I’m not thrilled, but I am okay.

Because regardless of the size, I’m still the same woman I was 24 hours ago.

Heck, I’m the same woman I was 2 years ago who walked down the streets of Santa Monica in a pair of size 2 jeans.

Just as I am the same woman I was when I was 16 and weighed 232.5 pounds.

I may have learned a lot more, I may have grown as a person, but the essence, the beauty, and the creativity is the same.

And all of me would do well to remember that.

Be Careful What You Wish For

A few weeks ago, I realized that whatever changes I had made in my diet (namely the introduction of yams, peanut butter, caffeinated black tea, and rice protein powder). Unfortunately I have found the culprit.

I think I knew it already, but I just wasn’t ready to admit it.

It was the peanut butter.

Each time I added it back in (even at a tablespoon a day), the symptoms would come back: gassy, bloated, uncomfortable, with cravings (for more than a tablespoon of the same) out the wazoo.

Heart breaking.

As I railed, “How could this be happening?! Other people eat peanut butter and they’re find, etc.”

And then I remember saying, “I wish I could just develop an allergy to peanut butter – then it would be just like it is with gluten. Nothing could tempt me to eat gluten…..”

Well, it’s not as bad as it is with gluten, but I haven’t been tempted either so I guess I got what I asked for. Maybe I’ve finally gotten a hold of that manifestation thing after all.

I think maybe next time I’ll ask for money! 😉

The mind versus the body…..

All this time, I thought that it was my body that liked the hula hooping….

That may have been the case initially, but this morning it was definitely the other way around.

Whenever I wake up these days, I ask myself: What would you like to do today? Or, to be more verbatim about it, “What do we want to do today?”

Today, the first answer that surfaced was, “Cardio!”

Really?

I mean, I remember not too long ago telling Michael J that my goal for the year was to avoid traditional cardio at all costs – just to see what happens. But then I took a deep breath and thought, “Why not?” And, believe it or not, my body actually perked up! I instantly felt more awake, more excited, more up! (Or to quote an earlier post: turned in, tapped in, turned on).

So I head downstairs, hit the bathroom, get a drink and start to clear off the Nordic Track (aka the hula hoop rack) and I realize that something doesn’t feel right.

Oh yeah, doing cardio requires changing clothes.

It also means putting on shoes.

All of a sudden a little voice pops up, “What a hassle. Are we really going to do this?” And the whining continues as I look for said shoes, first on the main floor, then on the first floor, and then on the third floor. The litany of complaints continue as I remember that I forgot to grab my actual work out clothes while I was there (“What a waste of time. I thought we weren’t going to do this anymore? What if this makes your leg all sticky again? Cardio means sweating; you realize that don’t you? Do you even remember the last time you’ve sweated while exercising, which means there goes yet another 30 minutes gone while you have to get undressed, shower, get dressed again. Oh yeah, and when do we have time to do laundry? We need to be working on the book.”)

Seriously, it was like a broken record. And I realized, with a bit of a laugh, that was the mind – in action. Because the body likes to sweat and could care less about things like laundry, the book, or whatever else that the mind brought up. Well, with the exception of the non-sticky leg, so we (the three of us) compromised and did about an hour of cardio and 20 minutes of yoga. And you know what, it felt awesome.

So, what does this mean going forward? It may mean a little more cardio or it may not (but it probably will). It means being more in touch with what I really want to do – about what will serve me – without getting into the rut of what I think I want or, even worse, what I think I need. It does not mean, however, that I am going to return to my crazy cardio/punishing ways. But it may get added back in, with balance.

So instead of rotating between hooping and yoga and (recently) samba, it looks like there is another contender. And it makes sense, if you think about it. Because even though I’m having a great time sculpting the core and lengthening the muscles, that’s no reason – none whatsoever – to not love on the heart, the lungs, and all of the other systems that keep me alive without any thought or effort on my part whatsoever.

Of course, my mind immediately flew into scarcity – but if you start doing cardio, when are you going to hula hoop? What’s going to happen to your yoga practice?

Relax, Grasshopper.

There’s more than an hour in a day and more than one day in a week…. I’m sure we’ll find the time, and be better off for it.

Gratitude

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am exploring the concept of gratitude.

On the one hand, that makes a lot of sense, because that’s how I make my living – studying emotions. But to tell you the truth, I hadn’t ever really thought too much about gratitude. That’s not to say that I was never grateful or, heavens forbid, ungrateful, but gratitude – in and of itself – just wasn’t something that I ever thought a lot about.

Recently, however, gratitude has been popping out all over the place. I get emails about gratitude. I have coaches who talk endlessly about gratitude. And just the other day, I turned my iPod on shuffle and up popped a segment of some random Eben Pagan program that was talking about, you guessed it, gratitude. Heck, for the last six or so weeks, even before all of this prodding started, I had set up a mastermind with my friend, where we start of by saying something that we’re grateful for! And just lately, on the advice of all those coaches, I have started keeping a daily list of 10 things for which I am grateful.

So what is gratitude?

According to Dictionary.com, gratitude (pronouned grat-i-tood), “is the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.”

Unfortunately, thankful refers to the feeling or expressing of gratitude, so things are beginning to get a bit circular, but I would imagine that you get the idea.

As is the same for most North Americans of European descent (or those that celebrate Thanksgiving in any meaningful way), I am more familiar with the term thankful – as in what are you most thankful for, as recited annually around the dinner table in front of friends and family. It is on those moments that we learn that we should be thankful for the good things in our lives. Very rarely do you hear anyone express their thanks for their problems, their miseries, their trials, their tribulations, or, last but certainly not least, their seeming failures.

Seriously, how many times (either as a child or as an adult) have you ever seen or heard someone actually give thanks for a divorce, a job loss, a tumor, or a death of a loved one? Especially in the moment in which it is happening? Despite all of the platitudes that we have also grown up with: “Every cloud has a silver lining…”, “whenever a door closes, a window opens…”, etc. And when we do hear it – usually decades after the fact – when someone actually says, “losing my job/getting cancer/losing my leg was the best thing that ever happened to me…” we generally have a hard time believing it. No matter how sincere they seem.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to have that kind of acceptance, that kind of gratitude in the moment?

Is that even possible?

I think it is possible, for some people. Indeed, there seems to be a upsurge of what some people are calling, “Radical Gratitude.”

I first saw this phrase in an email; it was one of those daily motivational things that seem to explode out of my inbox.

I’m paraphrasing here, but it said something like, “It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in your life, but not so easy to be grateful for the things that you don’t like. Pick one thing about your life (or your body) that you don’t like and find the gratitude. Find one thing about this that you absolutely love.”

That was it. No instruction. Just pick the one thing about yourself that you hate, and express gratitude for it.

You know, I tried standing in from the mirror and expressing gratitude for something – anything – that I didn’t like. I’m sure I came up with something, but I didn’t feel it. I would have laughed it off as some silly self-help thing, but the idea kept niggling. Eventually, I realized that I was grateful – really and truly – that I had a bad knee, because it reminds me (by locking up when I don’t) to tap into and take care of my physical body.

It was amazing how good it felt to stop hating my knee.

The very next day, I heard the Eben segment on gratitude. Being Eben, he put his discussion of gratitude in a much more elaborated framework:

1. Why – Why is gratitude important?
2. What – What is gratitude?
3. How – How do you experience gratitude?
4. What if? – What three steps can you do right now to start experiencing more gratitude in your life on a daily basis?

Simply put, gratitude is important because it has the ability to pull us out of almost any negative emotion state. If you can learn to find the gratitude in an authentic way, you can manage your emotional state, no matter now negative or overwhelming that state may me. In this regard, Eben (and other within the self-development genre, industry – whatever one chooses to call it) refers to gratitude as being the “crown jewel” of all other emotions.

What is gratitude? Well, as stated above, gratitude is the experience or expression of thankfulness; it is also a powerful emotion management/emotional regulation strategy. According to Eben, as well as many sociological accounts, gratitude is a tertiary or higher order emotion. In other words, it’s not one that is hard-wired into us via biology; it’s not something that simply occurs, such as fear, anger, disgust, happiness, and joy or is somehow linked to our evolutionary survival. Instead, gratitude is something that we learn – we learn to be grateful for certain things. Gratitude is constructed via the stories that we tell ourselves about the events that are happening to us, especially those events that result in basic emotions (fear, anger, disgust, happiness, or joy) or the secondary emotions (such as jealousy, anxiety, excitement, depression, envy, guilt, or shame).

So, how do you do it? First, you acknowledge that whatever is happening is happening or, if the event happened in the past, that whatever happened has happened. There’s absolutely no point trying to change reality. It is possible to change what happens in the future, but it’s pointless to try to change what’s happening right now or what’s happened in the past. It happened or it is happening. Accept it. Second, ask yourself: “What can I learn from what is happening right now or what has happened in the past? Third, taking that information into account, what can I do moving forward to improve my situation?

Now, Eben, being Eben, takes this to the logical extreme (that is, the death of a loved one) to illustrate that you don’t need to be happy that it happened in order to find gratitude. A loved one died. You realize that life is short and there are no guarantees other than your own death, whenever that may be. You start living your life on purpose so that you can accomplish as much as you can in the time that you are allowed. You’re not happy that your loved one died, but you are grateful that you had the insight regarding your own situation early enough to do something about it moving forward.

Finally, look for challenging things in your life which you had been wishing hadn’t happened (or wasn’t currently happening) and find the gratitude.

I must admit that I wasn’t actively following through on this. However, I was thinking about it a lot and I was keeping my gratitude list. You know, the one I mentioned before that had to include 5 body-centric things? Well, things were slipping on there that I have been railing against lately – my core, which might be bigger than I’d like but nonetheless keeps me upright; my bum knee, which keeps me mindful; my autoimmune system that is working really hard (one could say too hard) to keep all of the things that are not me from becoming me….. I’m sure you’re getting the idea. And I was feeling the gratitude, but I was having to reach for it. It felt authentic, but it didn’t feel easy.

This morning, however, after I finished a 45 minute yoga session (which was much easier than it had been the last three times I’d done it) and I just sat there on the floor in awe of how much more balance I have in my life, how much more I enjoy the exercise I do, how much more balance I have in my body, and (yes, I am shallow) how nice my shoulders looked in the reflection of the window pane against the dark New England morning. And then I asked myself, How did I get here? What happened to that stressed out woman who was always in the office by 8:00, usually after having completed a grueling 1 to 2 hour cardio workout, who was stiff, and tended to have difficulty walking in the morning because of her super tight hamstrings? What happened to that woman who used to breathe shallowly, if at all? What happened to that woman who gulped her food down in a hurry without ever tasting it? What happened to that woman who would have thought you had lost your mind if you’d told her she wouldn’t set foot in a gym in over a year, never miss it, and spend hours on end dancing in her living room or on a yoga mat? What happened to her? Not that I miss her or anything, because, you know what, she was pretty uptight and really not that much fun to be around. More to the point, she didn’t love herself, which made it pretty hard for anyone else to love her either.

What happened? Because whatever it was, in that moment, I was truly grateful.

And then I remembered.

My thyroid happened. Or, rather, my thyroid stopped happening.

Did that mean that I was grateful for my hypothyroidism? That there was something that had happened as a result of that malfunction that had actually changed my life for the better? I certainly wasn’t happy that it had happened, but was I grateful for the changes that occurred as a result? And even more important, would I have changed myself if the hypothyroidism hadn’t occurred?

I took out a pen and paper and wrote the following sentence: I am grateful for my hypothyroidism, because it’s changed the way that I relate to my mind, my body, and the world.

I sat with that. It felt true. I breathed into it. It still felt true. I sit here at my desk and read it again and I know in my heart of hearts, it is true.

I’ve found the gratitude (or perhaps I should say, the gratitude found me). Regardless, I am grateful and with that, I am at peace, perhaps for the first time since I realized that sleeping on the couch for five days in a row, crying jags, delusions, and depression weren’t my typical summertime MO.

I am grateful for the life I have now; therefore, I am grateful for the things that got me here.

Perhaps Eben is right; gratitude is the crown jewel of emotions (and one hell of a strategy). Now if I could only move my lag time to real-time.

My ten things:
1. My hypothyroidism
2. My job
3. My ability to communicate with others
4. Waking up in a warm bed next to a man who loves me and who is loved by me.
5. My thumb
6. My liver
7. My pancreas
8. My tongue
9. That I grew up as an overweight child
10. My ample behind (which cushioned me this morning when I fell on the ice).

What are you grateful for?

Tuned out, tapped out, turned off

At some point last year, a friend of mine loaned me a copy of one of the Esther and Jerry Hick’s recordings regarding the law of attraction.

I’ve never been able to get my head fully around that to tell you the truth, despite the fact that I know quite a few people who not only swear by it, but who are also living their dreams.

Even though I haven’t quite “got” it, there is one thing that stuck with me.

At one point, Esther made some comment about being, “Tuned in, tapped in, and turned on.” She was essentially encouraging people to tune in, tap into, and get turned on by the universal energy, etc, etc.

When I returned from New York recently, that phrase really resonated with me, particularly as it related to my body. I felt totally tuned in, tapped in, and turned on. I was really present with my body and totally with it. I was loving my life, loving my body, and especially my tummy that was getting – like magic – thinner and thinner.

Essentially, I was living in pleasure. I ate with pleasure. I moved my body with pleasure. It was awesome and beautiful and, or so I had assumed, easy.

However, something changed once I returned from the holidays.

I started leading with my mind, instead of my body or even my spirit. I started doing what I thought I should be doing, what I “knew” (intellectually) would work. I wasn’t listening to my body – not at all. And I certainly wasn’t enjoying myself and allowing myself to experience a range of pleasurable experiences. In fact, even the things that had been pleasurable before, all of a sudden seemed rote.

And here it is (January 12) and just two days ago, I was in such a place of self-hatred that I barely recognized myself. I also had a ton of new digestive issues (that in the name of delicacy should remain unnamed) that hadn’t been there before. I had dislocated my knee while doing yoga. And I was spilling out of jeans that were a size bigger than the one’s I’d worn home from the holidays. To quote one of Michael J’s favorite modern composers: “WTF?!”

What the heck had happened?

It’s simple: I was no longer tuned in, tapped in, or turned on.

I was no longer listening to my body; instead, I was once again waging war. How quickly we revert to old patterns.

So in an effort to get back to tuned in, tapped in, and turned on (as opposed to tuned out, tapped out, and turned off), I am embarking on a number of experiments or, given that my body and I are one being, we are embarking on a series of experiments.

Although I (have you ever noticed how the the “I” almost always refers to the brain?) will be setting them up, she (as opposed to it) will be the one to decide if it’s a success. It will be up to me (aka “I”) to listen and to make adjustments accordingly.

Experiment One: Elimination

Well, as it turns out, I had added 4 new things into my diet since November:

1) black tea (on a more than daily basis),
2) yams (on a daily basis),
3) peanut butter (also on a daily basis, even though I have a sneaking suspicion that I have an allergy), and
4) a rice protein based shake mix (also on more than a daily basis, despite that one of my health coach friends told me months ago that people with Celiac’s or other forms of wheat/gluten intolerance should stay away from rice [go figure]).

Over the last three days I have removed all of these things from my diet and, lo and behold, I feel ridiculously better. Of course, I had to go through the “Woe is me, etc., etc.” phase, because, seriously? Yams? But bottom line, my body doesn’t like something on that list. I’m going to give a couple of weeks, then I’ll start adding things in one by one (though I’ll probably skip the rice protein, because I know for a fact that my body loves hemp powder and if the other things don’t automatically kick start indigestion, bloating, and general discomfort – isn’t it amazing how you don’t even realize quite how bad you feel until you begin to feel better – it’s really not worth the risk).

Experiment Number Two: Radical Self Love

To this end, I have dusted off some of my old handy dandy coaching tools that I have collected over the years. Just after 10 morning rituals, I’m already feeling a shift. But just to knock it up a notch – especially to repair the damage done to my relationship with my tummy (my tummy that I love because it allows me to hula hoop, process food for energy, walk upright, etc), I bought an info-product to learn Samba. The main lesson is literally called, “Thirty Days to Shake Your Booty.” Well, I’ve done it once, at least the first 15 minute section on macro movements.

Who knew Samba was really a combination of belly dancing and hoop dance?

According to the instructor (who I came across on the recommendation of Jenna LaFlamme, my pleasure guru), dancing is one way to get from stress to pleasure. It’s a way to love your body as it is, to appreciate your body despite its limitations, and to turn your body into a fat burning machine that will not only help you look better, but also younger, and more energized. Sounds pretty good, right? Sort of.

Normally I find dancing stressful, but I am going into this with an open mind. So far so good, because even though I didn’t “get it” right out of the gate, I still had fun. And I can tell after just 15 minutes, I’ll be feeling this in the morning. The class also came with a beautifully laid out 27ish page ebook with daily rituals to practice self love that will catapult us into “body joy.” I haven’t digested all of the material yet, but once I do….

So here I am, starting over yet again – but with a shorter turn around time than ever, for which I am grateful. Speaking of, one of the samba instructor’s recommendations is to start a daily gratitude list stating ten things for which you are grateful, five of which must involve your body. This is one of those things that I have read about over and over and never done (that and creating a vision board!) But, for the sake of experimentation and of getting tuned, in tapped in, and turned on as quickly as possible, here it goes:

Day 1:

1. I am grateful for Michael J, because he is
2. I am grateful for my hands, which allow me to communicate my thoughts to the world
3. I am grateful for my feet, which allow me to move easily from one location to another
4. I am grateful for my lungs, which allow me to breathe and to connect viscerally with my environment
5. I am grateful for my bad knee, because it reminds me to be mindful with my body
6. I am grateful for my hair, because I’m vain and it keeps me warm
7. I am grateful for my family, for raising me
8. I am grateful that I have access to clean water, good food, and clean air
9. I am grateful that I am resilient
10. I am grateful for the time that I have to work on things that I love, including myself.

I won’t post these everyday, but it’s worth thinking about.

And, just out of curiosity, what are some of the things for which you are most grateful?

Making a good thing even better

Do you remember when you were a kid and you’re favorite thing in the world was making that ridiculous slurpy sound that comes when you’re trying – literally – to suck the bottom of a cup through a straw to make sure that you’ve got the last bit of milkshake out? Or was that just me, given that the whole world is merely a projection of our interior stories? Regardless….

For what ever reason, those days have been long gone for me. Maybe it was the late in life milk allergy (actually, I was allergic early in life too, but was so out of touch with my body during my childhood and teen years that I stopped noticing). Or maybe it was because somewhere I read something that suggested that it really wasn’t a good idea to be swallowing something that had just passed through a tube or cheap, industrial plastic. Maybe it was the straws that I grew up on as a kid were actually kind of beat (to paraphrase Michael J). Or maybe I just decided that I was too old for such silly noises while I ate or that my father – who is very big on inter-state rivalries – wasn’t around to tell me: “You know, in Arkansas, that means you’re done.”

So, even though I have green smoothies (or sometimes not green smoothies) every day, if not more, I did it sans straws. Instead, I used a spoon and felt very much the responsible adult. And life was good – or so I thought.

Then, lo and behold, Michael J bought me a Christmas present and it was, as you’ve probably guessed, a straw.

But not just any old cheap plastic straw that’s too narrow to use for anything other than soda and collapses under the slightest bit of suction. Oh no. A beautiful glass straw (complete with a life-time guarantee, since I have been known to be “hard on things”) that is plenty broad and has a nice beautiful bend.

I love it. It truly is a piece of functional art.

Moreover, and against all predictions to the contrary, it slows me down. No longer do I gulp my smoothies down with a spoon. I sip it. And occasionally I’ll pull the straw out and suck the smoothie out. And sometimes, though not in front of guests, I find myself practically fellat-ing the thing as I suck the outside of the straw clean before dipping it back into the class. Playing with my food? You ask.

To quote one of the great luminaries of our time (NOT!): “You betcha.”

Recently, I attended a two day pleasure camp with Pleasure Revolutionary, Jena La Flamme. Three of the big takeaways around food were 1) slow down, 2) eat with pleasure, 3) breathe. (There are many others, mind you, but you’ll have to join her for a week in Rhinebeck, NY this summer to find out more ;).

Over the holidays, I must admit, that I had sort of lost sight of these relatively simple guiding principles. Indeed, there were many times over the break that I realized that I was not eating with pleasure (but rather, for pleasure), I was not breathing, and I was certainly not slow. When I returned home, I was dismayed to find that my waist had ballooned to pre-program proportions. And as I lamented all this to Michael J. he said, why don’t you just start doing the pleasure principles again.

“I don’t know how!” I practically wailed (and most certainly whined).

He looked at me funny. “Don’t you just have to slow down and breathe?”

And them, almost like magic, he handed me my Christmas present….

Some things are luck. Some things are serendipitous. Others, really are close to magic.

Somehow, my glass straw, pulled me back from the brink and back into pleasure.

I’ve slowed down. I’ve remembered to breath. And most of all, I am enjoying my food – even that which is not accessible to said straw.

I love my straw. It’s awesome. It makes me laugh and makes me feel like a little kid. There truly is something delightful about that ridiculous noise, not to mention the act of getting every little bit out of the bottom of my glass.

New Year’s Intentions

Before I go pawing back through my posts to see if I have ever written a post of New Year’s Resolutions (which, this right here tells you how effective they are!) I am going to set what can best be described as intentions.

So what’s the difference, you say? Well, according to dictionary.com, not much:

res·o·lu·tion
   [rez-uh-loo-shuhn]
noun
1. a formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature,
a club, or other group. Compare concurrent resolution, joint resolution.

2. a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something.

3. the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.

4. the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.

5. the act or process of resolving or separating into constituent or elementary parts.

in·ten·tion
   [in-ten-shuhn]
noun
1. an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result.

2. the end or object intended; purpose.

3. intentions,
a. purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct: a bungler with good intentions.
b. purpose or attitude with respect to marriage: Our friends are beginning to ask what our intentions are.

4. the act or fact of intending.

So why would I prefer the word intention, when, in some ways, intention seems more slippery than resolution. I mean, nowhere in the definition of intention – any of them – do you find the words “firm,” “determined” or “resolute.” If I were serious about what I intend, shouldn’t I be determined, resolute, and of firm mind? Yes. And, well, no. Because when making changes in behavior, sometimes being determined, resolute and firm can be stifling, whereas allowing yourself a little wiggle room now and then is a good thing.

So here’s why – this year – I am setting intentions, instead of resolutions.

1. At this point in our history (I started to say evolutionary history, just to freak out my sociologist friends), our relationships with resolutions – particularly New Year’s Resolutions – is somewhat of a joke. We make them, almost with the intention to break them. Such a tradition doesn’t exist for intentions (neither do the neural pathways that support such behavior).

2. Also, if you break a resolution, game over. However, if you don’t get around to doing what you intended to do, the consequences don’t seem to severe. Indeed, it’s more like, when you intend to call your mother. You may not get around to it today, but there’s always tomorrow or the next day. This may seem minor, but this is actually a huge difference. Most people head into their resolutions with firmness and commitment, but once they break it (or them, since oftentimes resolutions are related) they forget about them. With intentions, you are always intending. You don’t do it today, yet the intent remains. And just that reminder – that intention – may be just what you need to keep you on track (albeit not necessarily on the straight and narrow) for a longer period of time. Of course, the possibility does exist that you’ll never get started, but to the degree that you remain conscious of your intention, our behavior should change, even with minimal effort on your part.

3) Resolutions are to all or nothing. Even the well worn phrase, “breaking resolutions,” suggests that resolutions are fragile and impermanent. With intentions, however, we don’t just make them, we “set” them. Now granted, we do set things that are impermanent, such as a table or an alarm, but we also set things that are considerably more permanent, like cement, as in when laying the foundation for a house or a home. Again, I know that these minor details may seem silly and irrelevant – I get that. However, sociologists, cognitive behavioral therapists, and sociolinguists – not to mention politicians, preachers, and marketers – have known for decades that words structure our reality, our emotions, and, no pun intended, our resolve.

So what are my intentions this year, 2012?

1. To start applying all of the me-tools that I have learned over the last two years.

2. To be present – when engaging with my husband, my family, my friends, my finances, my work, my body, my food,
myself….

3. To live in balance.

4. To produce more than I take in.

5. To pursue pleasure in all realms.

6. To love more (myself included).

7. And to laugh often.

Happy New Years.

May your 2012 bring you every wonderful thing that you can possibly imagine and more….

The “K” List

No, I am not pretentious enough to pretend to be Oprah (or be even anywhere that cool), but I will steal a good idea when I see it.

I do a lot of shopping and a lot of self-experimentation.

Here a list of my favorite things, all in one place, in no particular order.

1. GT’s Kombucha (Multi-green) – I think that this is the second year running (or would have been if I had put this list together last year) for the green stuff. Super healthy, tasty, and has become my go-to drink when I need a snack, especially when traveling to someplace where I know that almost everyone else will be drinking alcohol.

2. Q Tonic – I just found this stuff. Delicious. Tonic water with just a little agave nectar, bitters, quinine, and maybe one other ingredient. I drank this all the way through the holidays in place of wine and margaritas and was absolutely content. Bitters is not only an appetite suppressant, it cuts sugar cravings, stimulates digestion, and the creation of bile (which, believe it or not, is a good thing!) There’s apparently a ginger version that I may get for Michael J, since he’s the ginger guy in the family.

3. EOS lip balm – A non-food or libation. I love the container; it’s easy to hang onto (i.e., not easily lost in a purse or bag) and it’s great for lips. It’s “mostly” natural, but I wouldn’t look to close if the on-line reviews are anything to go by. Regardless, I’m willing to risk it. I also like their purse-size hand and body lotion. More to the point, it’s all under $10 and available at local drug stores.

4. Forbidden Rice – Michael J and I started eating this on the recommendation of a friend and we haven’t looked back since. Reasonably priced ($3.99 per bag), it has a ton of fiber and protein and can, in some rights, be considered a complete meal. Super nutty. Micheal J makes it up in batches and eats it as an afternoon snack. Chewy, fragrant, filling, and delicious. What more could you ask for? Oh yeah, a handy dandy rice cooker helps.

5. Hula Hoops – I must say, when my Aunt Linda told me that she was buying a hula hoop for exercise, I was skeptical. I bought my first one in May and it was pretty dismal, but after a week…. Now I have four – yes four – hula hoops hanging on the hoop rack (a/k/a the Nordic track). Fun, great exercise, and a killer ab work out. There is a lot to say about the hoop, but we’ll suffice, for the time being, with these two words: get one!

6. YogaGlo – Boy, do I wish YogaGlo had an affiliate program. I have single-handedly convinced 6 people to sign up for this membership site. It’s basically live yoga classes streamed from a yoga studio in Santa Monica, CA. They have a ton of teachers, a ton of archived classes, and 6 or 7 different types of yoga. The classes run anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours and you can search for specific things, like Yoga for Insomnia, Travel Yoga, Hip-Openers, Supporting the Immune System, etc. I used to hate yoga, but ever since I found YogaGlo, I have done it regularly since early August. How regularly, you ask? Tomorrow will be my 38th consecutive day.

7. Etsy – A website that gives you access to artist for the purpose of buying unique handcrafted goods. Etsy has been around for a while, but it’s new to me. I love looking at all the cool stuff and I bought my wedding jewelry there. Reasonably priced and much more interesting stuff that you’re likely to find anywhere else.

8. Amazon – Yes, a conglomerate! But I live in a relatively small area (we have a general store, a post office, and a volunteer fire department; all roads but the state highway are dirt). Needless to say, I get a lot of my stuff via post. I have a huge list at Amazon that I get through their subscribe and save program – which means they deliver to you regularly. Some things come automatically once a month, some things every two months, three months, six months, etc. Not only do I not have to think about it, it comes with free postage and a 15% discount. For a while there, I was getting packages every day, but I eventually figured out that I could change the delivery date so now everything comes in one ginormous box.

9. Avocados – What’s to say? I had sort of gone off avocados for awhile, but they’re back. I’ve found that if I put a half of an avocado in my morning smoothie, the day goes a lot better for me food-wise. I guess my holistic nutrition coach wasn’t lying when she told me to eat more fat.

10. Garnet Yams – These gems are well named. Delicious, good for you; they travel well, and they are equally good with black beans and sauteed kale or in a cinnamon/vanilla spice hemp smoothie. I’ve recently learned that slicing them up and steaming them makes them even better for your blood sugar than baking. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s on my other list.

11. Kale – I could eat kale damn every day. Enough said.

12. Smart Wool Socks – I used to think that wool was for little old British men or grumpy academics. Having moved to the far north, I have reassessed my opinion. And not only is wool for everyone, it’s for every day. I’m not sure what the makers did to these socks, but I wear them winter, spring, summer, and fall. And, believe it or not, they don’t absorb odor like most socks do. Seriously, you can wear these puppies, with boots, and they never stink. And they don’t make your feet sweat. Now, it’s true that I wear lighter ones in the summer than I do in the fall/winter, but that’s not the point. It’s still wool. They are pricey at $16-$24 a pair. I found a semi-decent replacement (not 100% wool, obviously) for $8 at Target. These aren’t as good, but they’re 1/3 the price.

13. Reiki – Pronounced Ray-Key, Reiki refers to both universal energy and the act of transmitting the energy from one person to another; in other words, it’s both the medicine and the delivery system. I had received Reiki a couple of times – I found it to be super relaxing. I decided to get the first Reiki attunement earlier this year and it’s been amazing. I do self-Reiki regularly and I will do it on anyone who’s open to it. I did Reiki on my 70 year old father this holiday season and it was awesome. I love giving it as much as I do getting it. I’ll have more to say on this in future posts as I continue the attunement process.

14. Female Pop Divas – It started when Amy Winehouse died. I realized that all I knew about this woman was that she had been a train wreck waiting to happen. So, probably like a lot of other gawkers, I downloaded her album, Back to Black the day after she died. And like I’d imagine anyone who didn’t know who she was, I was blown away – not only by the voice, but by the depth of the lyrics, and the ridiculousness of her destruction. However, there is only so much Amy Winehouse one can listen to and stay sane (besides, there’s not that much of it). Then onto Florence and the Machine, followed by Adele. I’m not sure what it is about these women that speak to me so much, but there it is. Oh, and let’s not forget my newly found near obsession with Tori Amos….

15. Ugg Boots – Yes, I have Uggs. But can I at least say that they’re not the super trendy boots that the college kids wear even though they’re not waterproof, have no arch support, and little traction? These are the “Not Your Granddaughter’s Uggs” version. They are waterproof and have vibram soles. I’m not sloshing or sliding anywhere in these boats. And they’re super toasty!

16. Convertible Mittens – These aren’t the ones I have, but you get the idea. Super warm, because of the hand-heat, but with flexibility because you can flip open the top and use your fingers to pick things up. And, at least in mine, there is a slit in the thumb so you can poke your thumb out. But the best thing is that when I got for a walk around the pond, my hands get hot, but not hot enough to take the gloves off. So, I can ventilate. And mine are multicolored and cheerful, which make them a perfect accessory during the darkest time of the year.

17. My high speed blender – Still getting multiple uses a day, I literally don’t think I could live my life the way I know it if Michael J hadn’t bought my that Blendtec that fateful day so long ago….

18. Not a Paper Cup Tumbler – an insulated ceramic cup with a silicon lid; perfect for my morning cup of tea on the road. Mine doesn’t have a horse on it, but that’s the only one I could find on-line. I got mine at TJ Maxx for $4.99!

19. Dagoba Chocolate Bars – It always makes me snicker when I see their New Moon and Eclipse bars in the grocery stores…. Regardless, my favorite, hands down is the Xocolatl. I don’t have it often, but when I do, it’s always worth it.

20. And last, but certainly not least, Michael J. (And not just because he keep me stocked in Kombucha, supports my hula hooping, applauds my near egregious use of YogaGlo, doesn’t freak out when he finds avocados ripening in the cabinet next to his amazon-acquired smoothie ingredients, and buys my high speed blenders, but simply because he is).

I’m sure there are others, but that’s probably enough for now.

KJ’s Should Be Famous Guacamole

I’m not sure why I stopped making this. When I mentioned that to my beloved, he said: “Maybe because I don’t eat guacamole?”

Given that that means twice as much for me, I really don’t know why I stopped.

I whipped this out over the holidays and it literally flew off the table. So for posterity’s sake, lest I forget again:

KJ’s Should Be Famous Guacamole

4 ripe avocados
2 small vine ripened tomatoes, diced
1/2 a bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
the juice of 1 lime
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, to taste
dash of cayenne
sea salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together and serve.

To make the mixing easier, I tend to mash the avocados using a potato masher before adding the rest of the ingredients.

Serve with blue corn tortilla chips (or hemp tortilla chips from the same company if you can find them).

Though spoons, fingers, and celery sticks seem to work just as well!

Surviving the Holidays (for the most part, intact)

Every year I dread the holidays.

It’s not the busyness or the hassle of traveling. It’s not the weird family dynamics (I actually enjoy spending time with my family). It’s not the increasing credit card balance or the last minute wrapping. It’s not the panicked trips to the store searching frantically for tape or thyme (not to mention, t-i-m-e).

It’s really all about the food.

Christmas at my parents house is like a minefield. There is literally sugar in every room in the house (save the bathrooms).

Seriously, it’s everywhere. My father’s bark covered pretzels, Ritz crackers, saltines, and mixed nuts. Cookies and chocolate. And then once my relatives arrived, the pie parade: coconut cream (to die for), my Aunt Mary’s chocolate pie (should be illegal, especially since she uses corn starch in the filling for us gluten-free folk), my cousin Megan’s pumpkin pie, and my cousin Matthew’s pecan pie (which I am pretty sure is illegal in a few states). Then there’s the bourbon balls the neighbors brought….

Did I mention that we also had a 60th surprise birthday party on the 23rd? So that also meant we had an extra dark chocolate sheet cake floating around and a ton of Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato. Seriously, this stuff was insane and was worth the three hours of misery that followed (can any one say lactose intolerant?) A lesser ice cream wouldn’t have been, but this – most definitely.

Regardless, despite all of the potential minefields (including several bottles of wine and about three different batches of my sister’s world-famous margaritas), I actually made it through relatively unscathed – that one brutal stomach ache aside.

So, how did I do it?

1) I thanked the powers that be that I have a wicked gluten-intolerance, because that knocked out a whole lot of options. I remember Anthony Robbins saying something about, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels,” but I think a more personally motivating mantra is this: “Nothing – and I mean nothing – tastes as good as gluten-free feels.” (If only I could find something similar for sugar!)

2) I planned ahead. Knowing that we were going to be doing a party spread (in addition to the holidays), I ordered gluten-free options from what Jena la Flamme assures me is the best gluten-free bakery in the country (and I must say, I agree), where I ordered some awesome baguettes, some cupcakes, and a pumpkin bread (which, damn the bad luck, is still sitting uneaten in my mother’s fridge!)

3) I tried new things and substituted, substituted, substituted. My newest finds are Q Tonic Water (which I drank in place of wine and margaritas) and hemp tortilla chips, which have a lot more protein than corn chips and are, thus, more filling.

4) I pulled out my old favorites, meaning that I baked garnet yams, ate my normal sauteed kale, and even whipped up three – count them three – batches of my incredible guacamole (Notice the correspondence between the number of batches of guac and margaritas?)

5) I packed my yoga mat (and did yoga twice a day while I was there) and my hula hoop. Although my parents don’t have a great indoor space to hoop and their yard/driveway is slanted, I still got in a little hooping every day.

6) I set an intention going in – to wear the same skinny jeans going out that I wore going in (I should have specified comfort level, but there’s always next year).

7) I remembered that all things are transitory. I’ve realized that I have this belief that when I gain weight – in any amount – that it’s never going away. I tend to get really down on myself and start doing crazy restrictive things with my diet. This time I remembered that things change. My waist got bigger, that means that it can get smaller. It was only four days. (And sure enough, just after two days of being back at my home and doing my normal thing, my waist is looking a lot more familiar to me). What is that saying: change is the only constant? It’s a good thing to remember.

Now, that’s not to say that things went flawlessly or that things are completely back to where they were before I left for the holidays.

I’m just now beginning to pull myself out of the “sugar skid.”

Sugar is my crack; there’s no doubt about it.

Normally sugar doesn’t bother me, because I don’t eat it – like, ever. I don’t even eat fruit. Because as soon as I do, it’s like I’m an addict. In fact, I was speaking with a dear friend of mine who works with seriously addicted people and she asked me to describe – in great detail – what it feels like and what happens to me when I eat sugar. I was telling her and she was nodding.

Her response? “It seems like the sugar is triggering a dopamine response in you, much like drugs or alcohol do for many of my clients.”

Lovely.

I got home on Tuesday around 1:00 a.m., after having polished off the last of the Byerly’s dark chocolate salted sea caramels that my father had so lovingly packed in my bag.

Wednesday, I found the bark covered pecans in my suitcase, which my father had made specifically for me (since I can’t – thank goodness – eat his other creations). I ate them slowly and savored each one.

Thursday, I found the contents of my stocking that my mother had so carefully packed up for me and stowed away in the pocket of my backpack. I had one Ghiradelli Square – Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt (which was but a pale comparison of the aforementioned Byerly’s caramel, by the way). I also had an apple.

Today (Friday), who knows? I don’t feel totally out of control when I think about sugar – but part of that’s because we don’t have any in the house. Well, Michael J has some raw honey, but that’s even too sweet for me.

When my dad taught my sister and I to drive, he’d take us out to snow covered parking lots, tell us to go really fast and hit the brakes. Lesson: learn to turn into the skid and stay in control of the wheel.

In some ways, this holiday season brought back a lot of those memories.

Was I out of control around sugar?

Maybe.

But because I headed into it with foresight, planning, and flexibility I feel like it was/is going to be a quick recovery. And who knows, I may be better in the long run for the slippage. Because next time it happens, I’ll know even better what to do.

Happy Holidays!!!

Ah, even more ways and reasons to eat yams….

I’m consistently blown away by how good the Whole Foods website is.

For instance, check out their page on yams.

I’ll be curious to do the slice and steam prep they recommend for maximum health benefits (including blood sugar regulation), but it’s doubtful that I will ever give up my favorite: Candied Yams Without the Candy.

Although I had originally pitched this as a dessert, I’ve recently paired it with black beans, a little bit of forbidden rice (for texture more than anything else though it too is ridiculously good and good for you) and, last but certainly not least, my favorite kale recipe.

I put it all together on a beautiful multicolored, hand-thrown plate/bowl (7″) and I’m good to go. Not only is it super satisfying, it’s also beautiful with the gem-like colors: emerald, not quite ruby, and onyx. Seriously it’s almost as visually appealing as it is delicious.

You’re seeking the path of what?!

I was sitting in a bakery/coffee house in Jaffrey, N.H., but I felt like I was sitting outside of an catch-as-catch-can Ashram just outside of Iowa City….

It was the second day of my Reiki I class and instead of sitting alone, hoarding the only free wifi in town like I’d done the day before, I pulled up a seat with my classmates. And, instead of sticking with the women I had bonded with the day before, I found myself at a small table with the two men – to neither of whom, I had spoken a word.

Given that I’ve never been one for small talk (not to mention the 2:7 male-female ratio in the class), I jumped right in.

“So,” I say to the guy sitting across from me who I know is a Physician’s Assistant, but who is reluctant about telling anyone at work that he’s doing Reiki, “how did you get here?”

In retrospect, I see that that could be seen as a weird question. Maybe a better question would have been, “Why are you here?” or, better yet, “Why did you decide to enroll in a class that you’re too embarrassed about to tell your colleagues?”

Though perhaps, given his response, it wouldn’t have mattered: “I’m seeking the path of enlightenment.”

I swear, where’s your pocket McKenna when you need it?

I blinked.

“Excuse me?” I prompted gently.

He repeated his answer, very earnest. He’s a very earnest young man, I’ll give him that much.

I shook my head slightly and took a bite of what has to be one of the most micro-managed, yet lovingly assembled, chef salads in the planet. Not only did I ask for it without dressing, I also had them hold the cheese, the ham, the red onions, and the croutons and, if they didn’t mind, add extra spinach and turkey.

It was essentially romaine, spinach, a ton of turkey, and an avocado that I had picked at the grocery store that morning before class, a handful of raw cashews, and some fresh lemon. All things considered, it was amazingly satisfying. (Although this may seem like a digression, at that moment all I could do was study the content and quality of my salad.)

“I don’t mean to be harsh or anything,” I began. And the thing is, I didn’t. I really didn’t and I still don’t. “But what does that even mean?”

Our table-mate choked around his tuna melt and immediately goes for the cookie, suggesting that he, like most people I know, reach for sugar when the going gets tough.

It was his turn to blink. “I’m not really sure.”

I nodded encouragingly. “But you’ll know when you get there?”

He smiled as he bit into his dill spear. “Exactly.”

You know, I could have stopped there and maybe I should have. But I didn’t.

“But what does it mean? What are you actually doing in order to get there – other than this…” I waved my hand between the two tables… “of course.”

“Well, I eat healthy.” He hesitated. “I meditate a lot. I’m learning Reiki.”

I kept nodding, because at this point, I could have been talking to myself or at least half of my friends.

“Oh,” he added after a bit of thought. “I do a lot of yoga. I find that I get a lot out of yoga.”

I take a quick mental note of how I spend my days, these days: check, check, check, and, well, check.

Does that mean that I, too, am on a path of enlightenment or is simply that my daily activities resemble his quest for a spiritual plane that is currently more lofty than the one in which he currently finds himself?

Then I had a crazy thought: ‘What if that is the path and I just happen to have stumbled on it accidentally?’ Even as I speared a particularly luscious piece of avocado, I decided that that was ludicrous. But the question remained – well actually a couple of questions remained:

1) What is enlightenment?

2) Can we all have different paths?

And, perhaps, the most troubling:

3) Why is it that I am doing what I’m doing?

I don’t have answers for these questions. In fact, I’m not sure that I need answers to these questions. But even if I did (need answers, that is) they would be beyond the scope of any particular blog post.

So, instead of tackling that today, I’m going to dig out Mr. McKenna (and maybe even my tarot cards [I bet you think I’m kidding]) and give it some thought. Who knows, I might even meditate on it.

When I figure something out – or maybe even before then – you’ll be the first to know.