Leaning Towards the Light

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A friend of mine the other day was telling me that she “should” be taking advantage of these free yoga classes offered in her neighboring town.  This was in conjunction of feeling like low-carbs “works best for her,” and p.s. she hates the way that she looks and feels.

It got me to thinking about the ways in which I could relate—to all of it.  To feeling like I always “should” be doing more, I should be eating “low-carb,” (Carbs = bad, right?!), I should be going to yoga, I should be juicing every day.  We’ve talked a lot here on the blog and face-to-face about taking some of the pressure off and just trying to soak ourselves in compassion and love every day for what we are doing. 

But it doesn’t really work that way, does it?  Just telling ourselves to be nicer and that somehow we’ll “do it tomorrow.” It’s not really working well for me, and I bet it isn’t for you, either.  Why?  Because we need to really gather some clarity on what we exactly we want, why we want it, and what’s getting in the way.

When I dug deeper with my friend, we found out some useful stuff.  She was so afraid of “looking silly” and having the teacher come up to her repeatedly and correct her, that she had been making excuses for months not to go to the classes.  I mentioned that yoga just isn’t for everybody, but she actually seemed pretty adamant that she thought the stretching and breathing would be really good for her.  She just needed to get over the psychological part of it.  (This is exactly why I started taking private yoga classes, truth be told.  When I wanted to go to my first group class again after years of not going, I didn’t want to look like an idiot.  Boom!  I’m found out).

We all have something holding us back, don’t we?  Our egos or past experiences of feeling like we “failed” at something or were embarrassed or shamed. These experiences stay with us, and can shape us into the people that we are today.  But now that I have started doing the work, I am slowly (verrry slowly) realizing that these are what we call “limiting beliefs.”  If we believe that we can’t do something, then we can’t.  And don’t.

I spent a long time talking with my friend about how she was feeling.  I tried to offer her compassion and support.  I made sure she knew that just because I was offering up some suggestions does not mean– in any way– that I get it perfectly; that I’m not certified in anything except for some major life experiences.  I still struggle almost every day to find balance between taking care of myself and being kind to myself; wondering if I’m going to allow myself to feel guilt (yes, I used the word “allow”) for something that I may or may not eat or drink.  But with the self-compassion and the work on shifting the perception of how I see myself, I find my heart bubbling over to talk with others about how they see themselves.  Are they happy?  Are they finding their joy?  What’s blocking them, if not?  What’s blocking me?  I’ve started journaling at night and putting things onto paper that I would be mortified to actually say out loud.  I’ve been connecting with the real fears—the ones that make my body ache, the ones that I try to disconnect from so that I don’t fall apart.  Gabby Bernstein says to “recognize, record, and release.”  I can feel the fear, and I know that this is part of my journey to living more authentically, but I always look forward to the moment after it passes through my body when I can then let it go.  It may not happen right away because guess what?  I’m human, and this is all totally new for me.  What I believe is that by shifting not just perceptions, but the perceptions that I have about myself, I can create a whole new abundance of happiness.  But as Wayne Dyer says, ”
“You’ll see it when you believe it.”  Goosebumps, right?

I asked my friend what would happen if she stopped focusing on counting calories or carbs, stopped zeroing in on the parts of her body that she dislikes, or completely forgot the number on the scale.  What if, I asked, she simply thinks about what makes her feel good, and what makes her feel icky?  I over ate a couple of weeks ago while on our staycation, and immediately I knew what I had done.  I didn’t just feel mentally awful, I felt physically awful.  Stuffed to the gills, it ruined the experience of good-tasting food. It was as if I had forgotten that whatever I was eating (veggie burger and sweet potato fries, yum) could be on my plate another day, if I so choose, because I don’t choose the road of deprivation.  That day, it all went out the window, and I realized that my body just isn’t used to eating that much anymore.  So what if my friend stopped looking at the amount of calories or carbs in something, stopped shaming herself because she doesn’t go to a nearby yoga class, and instead thought, “What would make my body really happy, not just now, but an hour from now?  2 hours from now?”  Less processed ingredients.  More fresh.  Giving my palette something new to try.  Maybe doing something physical for a few minutes. That kind of thing.  It’s taken me years and years (and years) to be able to say that I am truly working on what I just said.  That part of me living authentically is to tell you what my journey is like, honestly, in the hopes that maybe it can help you on yours.

We’re “supposed to” (there are those words again) live “in-the-moment,” which I love to strive for.  But here’s an exception:  When deciding what to put into our bodies, let’s think about not just how it’s going to feel in the present moment, but how it will feel afterwards as well.  And while we’re at it, why don’t we do the same for our minds?  It may feel noteworthy to tell myself that the scar on my left eyelid will always be noticed, that the joke that I told at work was not a winner, that I said something stupid to my friend the other day. Somehow, I’m so used to reminding myself all the ways in which I’ve screwed up, but what if I thought– no what if I believed-– (which I’m really starting to) that being kind to myself was good for my health?

My therapist has been helping me to understand that all of the things that I’ve been doing to feel good like drinking green juice and lifting weights and cooking is wonderful.  And yet if when the sun sets at the end of the day and I haven’t had juice that morning or didn’t work out or couldn’t find the time to meditate, but I feel great, that’s all that really matters. When I say goodnight to SHL at the end of the day if I feel joyous, healthy, at peace and filled with love, let’s not forget about the significance of that.

My friend just called to tell me that she’s going to her yoga class this weekend.  And whether or not she does, the most important thing will be how she feels about herself.   My hope for her, yoga or no yoga, is that she feels joyful and healthy.  Because that is our birthright, my friends.  And I will continue to remind you (and myself) of that, as we lean towards the light.

A Memorable Meal

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Those of you who have seen me or spoken with me lately pretty much know that I just can’t stop talking about all things mind, body, and spirit.  Yes I love talking about the differences between juicing and blending and like hawking people to come to yoga classes with me or speaking about the benefits of meditation.  But sometimes even more than that, I adore engaging in conversations about self-love, self-compassion, and my newfound understanding (or beginning of an understanding) about just how much the limiting beliefs that we have of ourselves can affect not just the ways in which we view our challenges, but our opportunities as well.  I’ve only just scratched the surface here, but I get goosebumps when I think about expanding the love that I have for myself and arising to meet challenges with a new way of thinking.

Thankfully for me, my parent’s have been very patient with me as I spout off all kinds of interesting tidbits about how good celery is for us (playing it fast and loose with the word “interesting” perhaps!), and how when I changed a limiting belief about myself, a new occasion arose for me to actually pursue my passion of writing at my job!

Having decided that my excitement at the new things that I am learning are so much more fun when they are shared, I invited my parent’s over for lunch. I was the most excited to show them the workings of the juicer that they got me for Chanukkah this year.  They eat a lot of fruits and veggies, but they’ve never had a green juice before!  I took a great deal of care in planning out the whole lunch menu. I did some oldies but goodies (for me, they had never tried these things before) and even found a new recipe too, which of course I’ll share!

I asked that my parent’s arrive at my house with an empty stomach, since juice is best digested that way. We did spinach, cucumbers, carrots, celery, apples and lemon and since it was their first time drinking fruits and veggies this way and the celery tasted a little strong, we also threw in some strawberries at the end, which gave it a great sweet taste. They loved it!

Green Juice

After we’d had a little bit of time to digest the juice, I dug in making zucchini noodles with pesto. I’m sure that there are lots of ways to make this and I’m a beginner when it comes to cooking. Sean made a great batch of pesto (remember I said that there are tons of ways to make it? Well this time he used arugula and hazelnuts– yummy!) and after I sprialized a whole bunch of (organic) zucchini, I threw it into a pan with olive oil and salt and pepper, then scooped some of the pesto into the pan and stirred it in until warm, then served. On the side I made a new recipe (my Mom has never been the biggest quinoa fan, but I think that’s because when she’s had it in the past it was never seasoned very well) called a Caprese Quinoa Bake. I found it on Pinterest when I put “quinoa” into the search button. It’s on Pop Sugar’s website (www.popsugar.com), and you can find the recipe here: http://www.popsugar.com/food/Caprese-Quinoa-Bake-Recipe-35253600.  (I’ll also add it to the Recipes for Health and Wellness page as well).  The quinoa really takes on the flavor of whatever you bake it with; in this case mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, shallots, and garlic!  (I just used a little bit less cheese than they called for).  My ‘rents loved it so much that my Mom even asked me for the recipe!

Caprese quinoa bake

Afterwards, I made them the vegan cinnamon roll-smoothie that you all know I love so much (http://food-mouth.com/2014/07/18/cinnamon-roll-smoothie-vegan/).  They went nuts for it!  What’s not to love?  Oatmeal, almond butter, almond milk, cinnamon, frozen bananas, cocao nibs… I could go on…

I also sent them home with another new recipe.  This one for no-bake energy bites.  These are perfect for a quick snack, a sweet dessert, or even a little bit of energy before a workout!  When I’m looking for just a hint of sweetness, I find that I’m gravitating a lot towards recipes with similar ingredients… Oatmeal, peanut butter, shredded unsweetened coconut, chia seeds… The only “problem” is that these do have honey in them, so I just have to stop myself at 1 or 2!  The recipe is courtesy of Gimme Some Oven’s website, www.gimmesomeoven.com, and the recipe is found here: http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/no-bake-energy-bites/.

Eating yummy and healthy food is awesome, but enjoying it with the people who you love is really what makes a memorable meal.  Bon Appetit!! xo

 

 

Mr. J

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My connections nourish me. Last night I had dinner with my high school English teacher, Mr. J. (Though I call him by his first name now, which is so weird). He was the one who really inspired me to be an English literature major in college. A fantastic teacher who was at my high school for 40 years (he just finally retired a few years ago), he taught Shakespeare, AP English, and art history. An avid lover of music, literature, and art, when he retired and decided to spend at least half of the year at his apartment in Arezzo Italy, he gave about 2,000 books away, and thousands of CD’s away to my high school as well. (He still has bookshelves upon bookshelves of books and music alive and well in both of his apartments. In fact, he told me last night that he has so many CD’s that he literally listens to a new one each night!). He loves martinis and ethnic food and he travels throughout the Italian islands and here in the States to go to museums and concerts. He was tough in high school– incredibly supportive, but tough. You wouldn’t get an A in his class unless you really deserved it, which just made it all the more sweet when you did get one! And he always showed up for all of my stage productions, whether it was Godspell or a student-directed play. He’s said to me throughout the years, “You were one of three at the time who could truly become another person.” Nine years ago, the summer after I was diagnosed with cancer, I decided that I needed a change of scenery and hopped a plane to Italy by myself. Mr. J invited me to stay with him in Arezzo and gave me (of course) just a superb tour of the city in Tuscany. We went to churches and museums and ate bruschetta (pronounced “Broo-sketta” I learned) and drank coffee in the little cafe’s. At night after dinner we would take long walks where Italians would line the streets chatting with their neighbors, friends and family after their nightly meal. After a few days he put me on a train and on to Cortona and Florence by myself I went.

I love keeping in touch with people who have been a gift in my life. Whether it’s Mr. J or Dr. N (my eye doctor who diagnosed me with ocular melanoma and was then at my wedding), I believe that just because somebody isn’t my age, doesn’t mean that they don’t have wonderful things to offer me (and hopefully vice versa). Some people say that they just have “too many friends,” and although I know that I have oodles of friends and love in my life, my heart is always open to more.

Jack and Sam

Speaking of heart, I have started reading Gabrielle Bernstein’s book “May Cause Miracles” this week, and it has begun to open my eyes up to the role that love, forgiveness, and gratitude can truly play in our lives. I’ve been enjoying beginning my days with her affirmations and meditations, and then ending the day journaling.

In a couple of weeks I am going to hear Gabby and… Wait for it… Kris Carr (!!!!) speak. “Crazy Sexy Miracles” here I come! I can’t wait to report back to you all about what it’s like to be in the same room with them (at the same time!). xoxo.

The Juiciness of Life

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Though I am just a beginner in my own health, wellness, and spiritual path, I hope that what I can share with the world– not just those living with a chronic disease– can be meaningful.  My heroine Kris Carr brings me light and wisdom every single day, and though she made her own documentary when she was first diagnosed, thankfully she is 10 + years from that and her journey now I think is probably very different from when she first heard the words “You have cancer.”  I love reading about her health and wellness path and her practical advice and recommendations (and I literally don’t know what I would do without her), but I also enjoy giving my own voice a place to breathe.  I wonder if I can be the voice for those who are at step one, just like I am.  Those who are just waking up to the idea that making a shift in their life for the “better” is possible (i.e. becoming happier and healthier).

It’s been incredibly awesome to get feedback on my blog from people who aren’t necessarily living with cancer.  This speaks to me, loud and clear.  I hear you saying that what I write about is universal.  That loving who we are just as we are, finding happiness within, taking care of ourselves and finding (non-superficial) gratitude in the every day are things that speak to everybody, not just those living with cancer. Maybe we’re not so different after all, you and me.

There are lessons to be learned, for all of us, not just in the heartbreak of illness, but in prevention as well.

Which can mean preventing disease, but can perhaps also mean preventing unhappiness as well.  And in recognizing (and appreciating) that at any time, any day, we have the power to change something in our very own lives.  We see “random acts” of unkindness by both mother nature and human beings, we see and feel life and death and sometimes, the world feels like it’s just spinning out of control.  I can read the paper or listen to the news and wonder if we’ll ever figure out global warming or stop gun violence.  But as much as I pray for peace and humanity in the world, what I choose to focus on is what I can control, things like my own thoughts (though they very often seem out of control, ridden with guilt, fear, and anxiety).  What I put into my body.  What I think about myself.  Who I surround myself with.  It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer that it finally hit me that this is the real deal.  I can never “do-over” today.

One change that I’ve made for the better in my life is juicing.  (Didn’t mean to make it sound so dramatic– I went from gun control to kale– but when you feel something shift inside of yourself for the better, how can you keep it to yourself?)  Do I do this perfectly?  No.  Do I do it every single day, without fail?  Nope.  (As I write this post I am eating a bowl of homemade granola with chia seeds and almond milk). Does this mean that I am vegan or will have juice for breakfast, lunch, or dinners?  No and no. At least not today. I’m not trying to be anybody that I’m not.  I’m just showing you the beginning of my own personal journey and hope that– cancer or not– something about it resonates with you.

Somebody recently asked me how I chose my juicer, and it prompted me to think about writing this piece. Just a month or so ago I was where you may be right now:  Wanting to juice at home, but feeling completely overwhelmed with where to start when thinking about purchasing a juicer.  My story goes something like this: Girl hears about juicing, but can’t imagine ever drinking so many vegetables for breakfast.  Girl becomes intrigued because she reads about all of the amazing health benefits of juicing, and is interested in making a shift in her own life for the better.  Girl continues to read about it, then reads some more… but it still seems so completely overwhelming.  She wonders: To juice or to blend?  Which is better?  Can she really drink spinach at 8am?  What product will be the best for her own particular health needs? Girl does research.  Girl slowly begins to understand the differences.  Girl decides that juicing will be best for her on a consistent basis (will still blend sometimes).  Girl purchases Kris Carr’s e-guide to smoothies and juices and reads her Juicer Smackdown (keep reading for the links to those pages), plus looks into Joe Cross’s Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead story and advice (a recommendation from somebody on Kris Carr’s Facebook page; check it out here: (http://www.rebootwithjoe.com/).  Girl reads online reviews of juicers and talks to others who have them and friends of friends who have them.

And here we are.

Now clearly I am still way way a beginner, so there is a lot that I still don’t know (and if you had told me a year ago that I would turn off the TV before bed and instead read books about juicing I would have thought that you were crazy)– but I hope that these tips can help you to find some clarity if you want to juice (or blend), but you’re not quite sure where to start:

1) Figure out the difference between juicing and blending, and then decide which is best for you. 

I was so confused when I first started out.  I put a couple of things into a blender and thought that I was making a green juice!  In reality, I was really making a smoothie. The difference is that a juicer removes the pulp, which is where most of the fiber is found.  While fiber is really good for you, if you’re getting it in other areas of your diet, it may actually be beneficial to separate the (insoluble) fiber from the juice, and just let all of those glorious antioxidants cruise right into your blood stream, which they can more easily do without the insoluble fiber.  The soluble fiber that juice does still contain has amazing health benefit of its own, like reducing the risk of certain kinds of cancers, lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, and enhancing weight control (I’m clearly not a doctor, but this is what I’ve read). So yes, juicing rocks, but if you feel as though you get lots and lots of good brightly colored fruits and veggies onto your plate every day and you already feel high-energy, then blending is a great option.  Smoothies can make you feel full longer and you can throw things in that you can’t in a juicer, like bananas and avocados.

Juicing, however, serves a different purpose.  It’s a more direct way to get those nutrients in without having to digest the full plants through our digestive tracts.  You really can’t eat as much raw produce (or drink as much in a smoothie) as you can incorporate into a juice.  So for somebody like me who wants at least 5-10 servings of fruits and veggies a day (closer to 10 is the goal), rather than trying to chew that amount (holy cow!), I choose to drink it instead.  (Just to give you an example, when I make a juice just for myself I usually put it about 2 large handfuls of spinach, 2-3 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 2 whole cucumbers, 1 apple, half a lemon, and sometimes I’ll even throw in some berries or an orange if I feel like I’m coming down with a cold.  That’s a lot of fruits and veggies right there!  And this doesn’t even include the other foods that I’m eating during the day like salads for lunch or dinners with tomatoes, zucchini, and broccoli!).

2) Once you’ve decided if you want to juice or blend, figure out which product is best for you.

We just have a regular Cuisinart blender, and it’s great for smoothies.  We do have to chop things up into pretty small pieces, but the clean-up is generally easy, and we can make a meal out of it if we want (like the cinnamon-roll vegan smoothie for breakfast.  See my “Recipes for Health and Happiness” page for that delish recipe).  My understanding is that the Vitamix and the Blendtec are the gold-standard of blenders, if you want to go that route and you’re into making not just smoothies but also salad dressings, soups, nut milks, etc.  I know that Pressed Juiciery (https://www.pressedjuicery.com/) also recommends the Ninja Kitchen System or Breville’s Hemisphere blender, which are a little bit less expensive as well.

I love having a blender (and SHL loves it when he makes smoothies with yogurt), but I also knew that if I was serious about getting in a huge amount of fruits and veggies every day in an easy way, that a juicer would be the way to go.  Another key component that drew me to the juicer was that I read that not having to digest all of that insoluble fiber can give the body more time to rest, and for somebody with cancer, I figured the more time that I could give my body to repair and heal, the better.

Having said that, there are a gazillion juicers out there.  It took me weeks to sort through which one I finally wanted to get.  One thing that greatly helped me was Kris Carr’s e-guide to smoothies and juices.  Because I really trust her and she’s a cancer thriver, I felt really good about reading her pearls of wisdom and then taking it from there.

Now I paid a few bucks for her wisdom (called Crazy Sexy Juice and Smoothies E-Guide), which is packed with lots of plant-knowledge and tips on “super foods,” as well as ideas on how to extend the life of your produce, stay within budget, and of course juicers and blenders are rated using her easy-to-read charts.  But since I paid for it, I don’t feel right giving all of her secrets away!  After all, we gotta support Kris in her health and wellness business, so that she can then continue to support all of us.  So if you’re interested in her 80 page head-to-toe juice and smoothie guide (and I do highly recommend it), you can purchase it here: http://kriscarr.com/products/crazy-sexy-juices-succulent-smoothies/.

However…

You’re going to love me for sharing this with you, from Kris Carr’s blog (free! Weee!).

This, my friends, is the “Juicer Smackdown.”  And it helped me a lot.  Like, a lot a lot.

http://kriscarr.com/blog-video/best-juicer-buying-guide/

She breaks down what you need to know about the different types of juicers, such as the Centrifugal, Masticating, and the Twin Gear Juicers.  She rates these juicers by yield, usability, and clean-up.  It helped me to narrow down exactly what kind of juicer I wanted.  She does a lot of the work for us by doing her own research and reading unbiased reviews on blogs, Amazon, etc.

Here are some things to think about:

Do you care about if the juicer is loud or not?  (I didn’t).

Do you want a quick clean-up, or are you OK with spending longer in the kitchen?  (I wanted a very quick clean-up so that I could easily juice before work in the morning).

How much do you want to spend?  (I would have loved the Hydraulic Press, sure, but was I willing to spend $1,000 on a juicer?!  Nope!).

How about the shelf life of the juice?  Do you want to be able to make a big batch and be able to drink it the next day?  (Mine I’m told has a short shelf-life; but there have been times that I haven’t been able to drink it all on the way to work and then have gotten busy.  When I’ve come back to it 3 or so hours later, it’s still been fine.  But I haven’t tried much longer than that.  Some day I may make extra and store it in the fridge and see how long I can make it last, but here’s a tip:  To get the most out of your juice, fill up a mason jar to the top and cover it tightly so as to seal out as much oxygen as possible).

What kind of space do you have in your kitchen for a juicer?  (I’m grateful that now that we have bought a house, we have lots of counter space for ours.  Plus it just makes me happy to walk into the kitchen and see it there waiting for me).

After reading Kris’s juicer smackdown and also info on Joe Cross’s website (Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead), I decided that a centrifugal juicer was the way for me to go.  It was in my price-range, has an extra wide feed tube so most fruits and veggies can go in without any cutting (that in itself is amazing!), has different speeds depending upon hard or soft fruits and veggies, yields a good amount of juice, and is super-easy to clean-up (I was looking for “no muss, no fuss,” if you couldn’t already tell) . So having said that, what kind of juicer did I finally decide to go with??!… Drum roll, please…!

I picked the Breville Juice Fountain Multi-Speed, and so far, I just couldn’t be happier with it!  (I got mine at Williams Sonoma).

3) Do your own research. Hit up Google for your questions, ask friends, go to the bookstore, or post on Facebook and get unbiased feedback on what others have to say about their own juicers, and why they chose them specifically.  Read consumer reports or consider going into high-end stores or juice bars where they can tell you the pros and cons of the juicers that they sell or recommend.

I found this after I had already bought my juicer, but check out Food Matters (http://foodmatters.tv/) for some great resources, including their juicer buying guide as well, found here: http://foodmatters.tv/juicer-buying-guide.

Still not convinced that juicing is for you?  Check out these books that I have been devouring almost as much as my juice:

The Everything Juicing Book– All you need to create delicious juices for optimum health, by Carole Jacobs, and Chef Patrice Johnson (with Nicole Cormier).  I enjoy the easy-to-read lingo along with the way that they divide the bulk of their recipes up– everything from cancer to jet lag to fighting infections to boosting your immune system to motion sickness to staving off the cold/flu to better circulation!

Juice– Recipes for juicing, cleansing, and living well, by Carly de Castro, Hedo Gores, and Hayden Slater (Founders of Pressed Juicery).  I dig how easy they make their recipes sound, along with tips for using your pulp after juicing and how and when to cleanse using juice.

No matter what you decide, the fact that you’re even reading about juices and smoothies just oozes good health and love for yourself.  If you can start there, everything else will fall into place.

From my beginner kitchen to yours,

Sam xoxo

 

 

 

Go On, Lick the Bowl!

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My Mom always taught me that when entertaining, you should have the kitchen spotless by the time your guests arrive.  No dishes in the sink, no crumbs on the counters, no stickiness on the floor.  It should look effortless, not to mention the fact that you don’t want to be standing in the kitchen preparing or cleaning up when your friends and family are over—you want to be out in the dining or living room with them, enjoying yourself!

I totally agree with this “rule,” (and those that know my Mom appreciate that she can throw a party with the best of ’em) but sometimes, when it’s just me cooking or baking (or me with SHL), it’s no holds-barred.  I mean, I get down and dirty in the kitchen.  I spill, I splatter, I douse myself with water or oil or whatever is that I’m cooking with.  I open things and then leave them unattended, I pile things into the sink, I cram things back into the fridge without much regard for organization.  Sometimes (not all the time) I love to just get a little bit messy!

This is what a house should look like—at least, when nobody is coming over, anyway.  Gifts on the counter, the cutting board perfectly scattered with cut-up veggies, the pots and pans on the stove… This was me recently making the mac ‘n cheese and the bakeapple pie, and it occurred to me to take a picture of it because I looked at the chaos in my kitchen and thought “this is home.”  Our house was warm with the oven on, the smell of goodies like turkey bacon and melty cheese welcoming SHL home, presents and ribbons and cards from his birthday and holiday gifts from his students completely strewn across our kitchen counter.  (My Mom would probably be horrified that I’m about to show you what my kitchen actually looked like on that day!). But here goes anyway:

Messy but lovely kitchen

And then it occurred to me:  Organization and tidiness can be so important to feeling like you have the space to be able to stay on top of things, to not feel cluttered in your mind, to keep things sane, if you will.  I love when my linen closets are organized, my bills are filed away, and my clothes are hung up neatly in my closet.    Most of the time I strive towards being this person—orderly, methodical, and structured (I don’t always achieve it; I can never remember where I put the lawn care bill and every month I say that I’ll put it back in the same place, but then I never do, can you relate?), but on this day, making this special birthday meal for SHL, it felt absolutely wonderful to cook and bake with reckless abandonment.

I think that for most of us who live with cancer, we feel the need to control what we can, since so much of our lives feels so out of our control.  Keeping things systemized helps.  But in those little places where we can shed our protective gear, where we can, for just a moment, not think about cancer or the uncertainty of the future, it feels amazing to lose yourself in a project where your house smells like cinnamon and your cats lay at your feet.  I never knew that cooking or baking could be so therapeutic, but I feel like it has been helping me on my journey towards greater health and happiness.  I love cooking/baking for SHL, but I also am finding real pleasure in cooking for myself, as well.  There is great power in taking care of ourselves.  Whether you are living with a chronic disease or not, I encourage you to think about the ways in which you take care of yourself.  Are unhealthy boundaries in your life taking up too much negative space in your brain?  Do you eat sugar, feel a rush, and then crash?  Are you happy with how you spend your down time?  I don’t get it right every day, but when I do, I know it.  When I do it, it feels like how every day should be.  And I intend to work towards getting it right more often than I get it wrong.  After all:

 

You only live once, lick the bowl

Go on, lick the bowl!  xo.

Dreaming Big and Loving Life

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For those of us who live in the colder parts of the country, we’re used to hibernating during winter, right?  I must say, every year when the colder weather hits, SHL and I hunker down at home and really get into our TV shows!  While my friends down in Miami are boating and going in the hot-tub, when it’s below zero here (like today), sometimes it’s comforting to just come home and get lost in a show.

I’ve never been a huge American Idol fan, but after catching a few minutes tonight, here are my top 3 reasons to turn on your TV right now and watch it:

1) It’s inspiring to watch people reach for the stars (why shouldn’t they?).  So many musicians, especially young ones, are auditioning for a dream.  We as the audience know that there are only a certain number of “golden tickets” to Hollywood each season, but seeing people with ambition chasing that spark is awe-inspiring. It makes me think about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and believing that even with just 5 golden tickets stuck in candy bars out there, you can tear open a wrapper and find one. It makes me think about faith, resilience, and passion. And even the ones who can’t sing– You’ve got to hand it to ’em for trying.  Would you go on national TV and sing?  Yeah, me either.

2) It’ll make you cry, and that’s not always a bad thing.  I’ve seen AI before, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever watched one whole season from start to finish.  I always get lost or bored somewhere in between; it just never seems to hold my attention anymore.  But tonight I found myself on the couch looking for some mindless TV, and while channel surfing I figured that I would have it on in the background while I flipped through magazines or texted with my friends.  But then they brought out a 25 year-old who has a little bit of a southern twang (and country music is so not my thing)– and he just blew me away with his soft and gentle vibrato.  It wasn’t country music, it wasn’t rock, it was just him. Doin’ his thing.  Strumming his guitar with total confidence (but yet humble at the same time), and singing a cover of the Creedance Clearwater Revival version of Proud Mary. He also told JLo that he loved Selena and then the two of them started an impromptu duet from the movie in which she starred in the 90’s.  Why the tears, you’re probably wondering?  This young man is blind.  He has never been able to see.  He’s never been able to read music, or read a crowd.  When you think you have an obstacle in your life, think of him.  Whether you’re scared to drive on the highway or give a big presentation at work or put yourself out on a limb in a social situation, just think about this brave 25 year-old guy who probably would tell me that he’s not being brave at all, he’s just living his life. Bravo.

3) Some parents do care.  I guess I can be jaded because I read the news and I’m a social worker, and I see all of the– sorry to say it– crappy parents out there.  So many awful stories of people where you wonder, “Why in the world did they ever have children in the first place?”  But American Idol is actually one of those shows where a great deal of the time, parents are there to support their children.  They scream louder than them when their kids (no matter their age) come out of the audition room with that golden ticket in their hand.  And they cry harder than their kids if they come out empty-handed.  It’s a nice change of pace and a good reminder that there are wonderful, decent, supportive parents out there, who will stand behind their children and their dreams.

Watching American Idol tonight makes me want to reach for the stars.  It makes me want to write a book and go to Thailand and run a marathon.  It’s not really about watching people audition for a singing show, is it?  It’s about what it represents–and how we can gain strength and perspective from watching other people live out their dreams (whether they get to Hollywood or not, I believe that there can be a great deal of satisfaction in acknowledging the courage that it takes just to try something new and scary).  But it’s not just about watching other people shoot for the starts– it’s about you chasing your own dreams as well.  It’s about finding whatever your golden ticket is– whatever “it” is– and going for it.  It’s about dreaming big and loving life.

In Sickness and in Health

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In the spirit of being authentic (how come nobody else is writing about this s***?), the holidays are not just a tough time because of family stress and money.  For me, the holidays are about the oh-so-popular holiday cards.  I seem to get at least one in the mail every day between December 15th-January 15th, and each one makes me wince just a little bit.  I know that it’s not PC to say, I know that it’s not going to go over so well, that I’ll seem angry or bitter (perish the thought), but here I am shouting from the rooftops about how we can only get in touch with true happiness when we live authentically.  So when I write about where I find joy or my travels or recipes or being with friends and family, that’s all totally legit.  But understand, not all days are like that.  There are some days when I just want to pull the covers up over my head, and pretend that I don’t have cancer.

I gratefully enjoy the days where the “C” word doesn’t pop up that much in my head.  Of course it filters through my brain in one way or another every single day, but thankfully, some days I can skate by with being focused on work or fun or both, with only a few flickers of remembrance (anything can trigger it, from a word that somebody says to a smell to a commercial on TV, and then it’s like being re-traumatized all over again. Anytime I hear the words of the former hospital who misdiagnosed me or I see a commercial where a mother is giving away her daughter the bride or I drive past a funeral home).  And it all just comes rushing back to me– I like to think that we’re the same.  That I’m on the same path as everybody else.  But the truth is, what others have are children, and not cancer.  I know that we’re not supposed to talk about it.  I know that people just want cheery, inspirational, motivational, rah rah rah… (Or is that simply what I think is tolerable?).  But that’s not my authentic self in this very moment.  And if I can’t share who I really am with you, and with the world, then how can I be dispensing advice or building momentum for health and wellness?  It is because I am trying to get in touch with the painful truth that perhaps then I can heal.  Perhaps then I can continue to g-d willing create a healthy soul that can kick cancer’s ass.  Perhaps then I can invite others to be real.  Genuine.  Can we say what really scares us and open up to one another and be there for each other, in sickness and in health?

I’m still trying to figure out what my life will look like, one day at a time, but the holidays are a tough time to be able to do that when so much of the focus are on holiday cards plastered with grinning and beautiful children and Facebook posts and TV ads where children hop around with their toys and eat cookies underneath their Christmas trees.  I love my friends and I adore their children, but little reminders of how different my life is from theirs are also so, so hard to bear.

That is my truth.  For now.  And I carry it with me wherever I go.  It doesn’t mean that at times I’m not authentically happy.  It doesn’t mean that my life isn’t joyous or wondrous.  But my truth has never looked so different, and I have never felt it as much as I do now.

What (Sweet) Treats Lie Ahead

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Between making the homemade mac ‘n cheese and bakeapple pie for SHL’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, and trying out some new (healthier) recipes for myself, my brain has been trying to stay focused on fueling my body as well as possible during this holiday season.

Throughout the past 6 months I have become a curious person about food.  What will this new food taste like?  What if I put these 2 (or 3) foods together?  I never liked x before, but maybe if I tried it this way I just may (hence the post a few months ago about broccoli).  I’m constantly tweaking and picking and cutting and peeling and sifting through recipe books.  The biggest challenge isn’t necessarily that I don’t know the difference between dicing and julienning, but more in finding the time to cook.  And I was always a skeptic:  Spinach, in a juicer?  Yuck.  But I can tell you that I’m slowly beginning to convert… (especially when you throw in an apple and half a lemon, yum!). I’m new to juicing, but sometimes I even wake up craving it!

A couple of weeks ago, on a particularly cold Sunday, I decided to make a one-pot hearty dish (in the world of cooking it doesn’t get better than just having 1 pot to clean, does it?).  I like to cook most Sundays b/c SHL often works long hours on that day, so it’s nice for him to come home and have dinner with me at a decent hour.

A lot of people ask me where I get my recipes from, which I why I created the “Recipes for Health and Happiness,” page, so that you can find them all in one place. I’m certainly a beginner, but I’ve been able to find some great stuff both online and in cookbooks that I already owned (plus the purchase of 2 more; Tara Stiles Make Your Own Rules Diet (which isn’t really a diet) and Kris Carr’s Crazy, Sexy, Kitchen).

This one-pot recipe that I made is actually from Pinterest, another excellent place to find amazing and healthy recipes (or non-healthy recipes) right at your fingertips.  This one is called “One-pot cheesy turkey taco chili mac” and it’s from Skinny Taste’s website, found here: www.skinnytaste.com.  The recipe, as you can see from the title, contains some of my very most favorite things.  Turkey tacos?  Good.  Chili?  Good.  Mac ‘n cheese?  Good.  But not wanting a lot of white pasta or cheese, I browsed through the recipe to see what it was all about.  While I don’t eat meat a whole lot any more, I will eat some ground lean turkey on occasion, so this was fine.  It also called for veggies like peppers, onions, and garlic, three of my faves, and the spices I knew SHL would be into like chili powder, paprika, cumin, and garlic powder.  It calls for rotel tomatoes with chilies and tomato sauce, but I just used one small can of diced tomatoes with jalapenos and cilantro, and it was fantastic.  Also in it are refried beans and red beans (because you know that I barely ever cook without adding in some beans these days!), along with some organic chicken stock, and water.  Towards the end of the meal you throw in some whole wheat pasta, and when it’s ready, you can top the dish with some shredded cheese (I did this the first night, but then for leftovers ate it without the cheese, and it was just as delicious.  I recommend taking a block of cheese and shredding it, rather than buying it in a bag from the store when they add who knows what into it).  I know that cilantro is a hot topic for many—you either love it or hate it (a genetic thing I recently found out), but we love it, so in went the chopped up cilantro and then some scallions as well!  It is so hearty and so good!  Find the recipe here: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2014/12/one-pot-cheesy-turkey-taco-chili-mac.html?showComment=1417723089438#c484412469678559557.  (I will also post this on the “Recipes for Health and Happiness” page as well!).

The other night I was truly craving dessert.  I have been a lot lately, perhaps because it was the holidays and every day when I arrived to work there seemed to be a new sweet treat in our kitchen that I had to avert my eyes to!  Now don’t get me wrong:  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again– There is nothing wrong with dessert!  Taste!  Live!  Enjoy!  But for somebody with cancer, it’s been important for me to find new and healthier ways to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I had read in the Make your Own Rules Diet that you can make some banana “soft serve ice cream” just by putting a couple of frozen bananas and some cocoa powder into a blender on the “dessert speed,” but my blender doesn’t have that speed and so without a liquid, that was going nowhere fast. Then I got another idea.  I took my frozen bananas and threw them into the blender with some cacao powder (I like it better than cocoa powder because it has no sugar, it’s full of antioxidants, and it still tastes great and satisfies that chocolate craving), and then added some almond milk.  But you know what else is great with chocolate?  Almond butter!  So in went that (you could also easily add peanut or cashew butter or any other kind of nut butter that you may have in the house). Then lately I’ve been on a coconut kick, so I added in some shredded unsweetened coconut, blended on high, scraped down the bowl, and then blended again. OK, so it’s not rocket science, but what resulted was a beautiful milkshake like concoction!  Without all of the sugar!  It was so delish that I had to share with SHL, but are wives for?

I also recently experimented with some other new sweet recipes as well.  I tried making a dark chocolate and cranberry biscotti from Pinch of Yum (www.pinchofyum.com), but when I took the loaf out of the oven (and let it cool just a little bit) and tried cutting it, it completely fell apart!  What I was left with was a bunch of crumbly bits of biscotti with a dark chocolate drizzle.  So when life gives you lemons, put your crumbly biscotti into a bowl of almond milk and yum!  Using whole wheat pastry flour, fresh cranberries, dark chocolate and pecans, it was the perfect little sweet treat (despite the fact that it was in no way or shape like biscotti), and then after a nibble (or a slurp I should say), we threw the rest into the freezer for another time.  If you’re interested and think that you can get it to actually look like biscotti (I bet you can!), check out the recipe found here: http://pinchofyum.com/cranberry-dark-chocolate-biscotti.

I also tried making brownies from the website Top With Cinnamon (www.topwithcinnamon.com) which I found on Pinterest.  They were made with coconut flour, less butter, and honey instead of sugar.  They turned out a little dry, but the taste wasn’t bad.  This is another example of where a nice cup of almond milk comes in handy!  A little “dunk-dunk” after dinner treat! http://www.topwithcinnamon.com/2014/04/flourless-browned-butter-brownies-gluten-free-grain-free.html.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I am well aware that sweets are still, well, sweet.  I could give you the recipe for a vegan carrot cake but quite honestly, if I’m not going to eat it (and I tried), then I’m probably not going to share it with you (unless you make specific requests!).  These dessert recipes that I’ve mentioned are great, but some of them do still have butter, chocolate, honey, and eggs (gasp!). I’m not vegan, I’m not even vegetarian (yet).  Wink wink.  But think about all of the healthy changes that we can make together; from an ice cream sundae to a delicious milkshake of frozen bananas, cocao powder, and almond milk.  Will we never have the ice cream sundae again? Of course not!  But isn’t it fun to experiment and see what other goodies we can come up?

When we spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which we can take better care of ourselves, it helps to have a little fun with it.  There are days when I wish I had a personal chef who could tell me exactly what to eat, and could make it for me, but since I haven’t won the lottery (yet), I will continue looking for recipes, cooking, baking and taste-testing!  You never know what direction life is going to take you, but follow your heart (and your stomach), and you may just be surprised at what sweet (but good-for-you) treats lie ahead.