environmental, Integrative wellness, me time, nutrition, stress

The 10 List – Meals Made Easier

How many of you don’t mind cooking meals but absolutely hate coming up with ideas of what to cook each day? If you are like me, this is the worst part of providing meals. My husband is no help in this area either. I ask “What sounds good for dinners this week?,” and his usual response is “I don’t care, whatever you want.”  Not helpful.

I read an article recently that stated that most of us eat the same ten meals over and over. Thinking back to what we eat each day, I realized that is probably true. But, if I am sitting down to do my weekly meal planning, or walking through the grocery store trying to come up with what to have for dinner that night, I find myself at a total loss for ideas. Either I can’t think of anything at that moment, or nothing sounds good. I can walk around a store for half an hour hoping something catches my eye. I get frustrated at the waste of time.

Realizing that we eat these same meals over and over, but that at any one time when I most need the information I can’t come up with a single one gave me an idea. I decided to make a physical list of our most common meals. I keep this list in two places. One is on the front of the refrigerator; the other is on my phone.

My list includes four to five easy, fast, healthy meals that I can put together when I get home from work with little or no effort. Three or four that are a bit more time-consuming for nights when I have more time, and the last two are a bit fancier, maybe for a lovely weekend meal with friends.

Having this list does not mean that these are the only meals I cook. If I happen to think of something else that sounds good, or come across a recipe that I find interesting and want to try, or on the rare occasion when my husband had an idea about what to have for dinner, I will undoubtedly deviate. I will modify the list at times. We may get tired of a particular meal. Maybe something we have tried recently makes a big splash. My summer list may have more fresh vegetables and salads. My winter list more soups and stews. I may put more of the easy meals on in the seasons when our weather is such that we can spend more time biking. Winter has more comfort foods. Summer more cold dishes.

Your list may have more or less than ten. You can structure it however you want. Maybe all your meals are easy and fast. Perhaps you and your family’s evenings are always filled with activities that don’t allow you time to prepare much, but you want to have better options than pre-packaged microwave blah. You may have all the time in the world to cook meals, but just have trouble thinking of what to prepare. The trick here is not the list itself, but having the list available to you when you need it; when planning your weekly meals before going to the store or when at the grocery store and trying to come with a dinner that fits your needs that night.

Sometimes it is the little things that add up to bring us down. Finding ways to make these little things just a bit easier is vital. When our minds get bogged down in trying to figure out the minute details of everyday sustainability, we have no space left for the things that matter. Every hour spent in planning meals or at the grocery store is time lost from doing the things we love. I would much rather use that space and time for the big stuff, or the fun stuff, or the comforting stuff. We all have to take care of the mundane. We just don’t need the mundane to take over us.

environmental, Integrative wellness, rest, spiritual, stillness

Paradise Is What You Make Of It

What does paradise mean to you? Where would your paradise be? A few days ago a friend texted me on a particularly windy day that “the wind may catch me under the ears and move me to paradise.” I cautioned her to be careful; paradise is not always what it seems.

A few years ago I took a break during a rough time in my life. I went on a yoga retreat to a place in Mexico called Yelapa. The retreat was wonderful. We practiced yoga every morning and evening on an outside terrace that overlooked the small town and its beautiful bay. The sky was always a dramatic blue. As we lay on our backs during the ending Shavasana, large frigate birds circled overhead. The trees that rimmed one side of the terrace buzzed with the wildlife that lived within. The bougainvillea draped dramatically over the railing; it’s deep pink contrasting radiantly with the blue of the sky.

After morning yoga ended, we gathered for breakfast on an open portico. Homemade corn tortillas, fresh eggs, avocado, and tomatoes played starring roles most mornings. The middle of the day was filled with hikes, exploring the small town, relaxing on the beach, and late afternoon naps. A few of us even had a Watsu massage with an expat American who had lived there for many years.

On one of the days, the leader of the group arranged for a local boater to take as many of us who wanted to go to another small beach further along the shore. There were a small village and a few residents, but the beach was mostly deserted and was reported to be a great snorkeling site. About five of us decided to go. What could be better than spending an afternoon lazily laying on a beach, or playing in the surf and snorkeling? We landed on the beach during exceptionally high tide, the waves crashing on shore made navigating the boat in difficult. We decided that we would keep the vessel away from the shore and swim in, ferrying our gear and a cooler we had brought with food and beverage along our human chain. We managed to keep everything high and dry as we all crash-landed into the sand. We made a collective decision that snorkeling was not on the menu for the day. Instead, we set up towels and blankets on the beach and settled in for the afternoon. A local man drilled a couple of coconuts for us to sip on. A gentle breeze blew through our hair as we watched the ocean waves. As the palm trees bent in mild submission, we began to talk of paradise.

Behind us was a large house, surrounded by a low wall, made of round glass blocks and concrete. From our vantage point, it looked like a grand palace. The house rose to two levels. Soon two women emerged from the gate and made their way toward us. We talked for a bit. The woman who owned the house was an American, probably in her early fifties. She and her husband had worked hard and saved to be able to retire early to move to this area and build the house of their dreams. The other woman was a Canadian who had a house a few miles away. With them was a small dog who frolicked at their feet as they talked. We could tell by their actions that they were half smashed, but a little alcohol on a sunny afternoon in paradise with friends is no big deal. As they wandered off down the beach, they told us to feel free to go up and see the place.

We eagerly took her up on the offer. We all dreamed of living in paradise as well someday and wanted to see what we could expect. When we got to the gate, her husband was there in his underwear. He politely excused himself to put on some pants and just like his wife, told us we could wander around the house and property. He then staggered away. The lower level of the house was the kitchen. The upper level consisted of the master bedroom, and maybe some other bedrooms for guests. The house was round, and the side facing the ocean was open on both levels. The walls of the house were made of the same glass blocks and concrete as the surrounding wall. The opening was about a third of the radius and a stone patio extended from the kitchen, which seemed to functions as the primary gathering area. In the working part of the kitchen was a rounded countertop. An elevated bar with stools on the outside was adjacent to the countertop. The first thing we noticed as we walked inside was that the countertop and bar were completely covered. Half-eaten bags of chips, cookies and other packaged foods spilled onto the counter.  There was no fresh food in sight; no fruits, no vegetables. At least thirty bottles of every kind of liquor and wine available littered the space, some empty, some half full, all opened.

We declined from visiting the upstairs, fearful of running into the man in his underwear again. Instead, we wandered along the garden path the extended from the patio. It meandered along another low stone wall and to a couple of guest houses and a bathroom with an open shower. Again all constructed of the same materials. As we got to the end of the wall, I noticed that it was about a ten inches thick, and that the opposite side was made up of small round holes. It slowly dawned on me that these were not glass blocks. Every wall consisted of liquor bottles set in concrete. Thousands of liquor bottles. How much liquor must they have had to consume to build their paradise? I spun around in total disbelief as the realization of that set in. The sight we had encountered in the kitchen was not a once in a while activity with friends. It was their daily life in paradise.

We left the property and returned to our little spot on the beach. The two women were still playing with the small dog further down. We watched as a pack of larger dogs descended upon them and attacked the smaller dog. We rushed to help them fight them off. One of the women jumped into the middle of them and grabbed the little dog, but in the fray was bitten herself. A man came out of the brush behind us with a stick to drive them away. She saved the small dog, the others ran off, and the women staggered back to the house crying and bleeding. We had seen and even petted the pack of larger dogs since we arrived. We learned from the man who came to help that these dogs were mostly pets who had been abandoned by their owners and had learned how to survive on their own. Most of the time they were harmless but would attack and kill anything they could for food. The women seemed to know the dogs as well, one of them pleading as she passed us that she didn’t want to see them hurt and that she was sure they didn’t mean to hurt her. I couldn’t understand why, if they knew them so well, they had decided to take the smaller dog with them to the beach? They surely knew their habit of attacking and killing small animals. Our group was left sickened by the event.

We left the beach shortly after. Getting off was no easier than getting on. I returned to Yelapa that day with a new understanding of paradise. For the most part, aside from that one afternoon, I loved my time there. The beautiful days, the yoga, the hikes, the downtime, the food, the friendships I found, the quiet, the time for reflection all created a paradise in my mind. But, I realized in that one afternoon that my life at home was mostly a life I loved. I couldn’t live my days without structure, without purpose, without community. I wondered if the people we met that day had pictured their life in paradise playing out as it was. I wondered if they were happy. I couldn’t see the happiness there. It was not visible to me. I couldn’t feel it either.

Even now, years later, when I start to become weighed down in the messiness of everyday life, I think back to that day. It helps me appreciate what I have. It helps me clarify what I need. Visiting paradise is a powerful and necessary diversion. Living in paradise may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Integrative wellness, Menopause and Beyond, Perimenopausal

The Story Of The Inukshuk

On our wedding day my new husband and I opened a gift from his Canadian friends. Inside was a beautiful human figure made of stacked pieces of amethyst. The card indicated that the figure was called an Inukshuk. Having never encountered one before, I looked it up to see what it represented.

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My research led me to understand that Inukshuks are from the Inuits. They were erected as guideposts to give direction to the nomadic tribes of the harsh Arctic region. The stone markers were massive, created with the cooperation of the entire group. Their presence made the way easier and safer for those who followed.

Each stone of the Inukshuk is separate. But each stone cannot work on its own. Each needs the support of the one above and below to function in entirety. This support is achieved through balance. Perfect balance makes the structure secure. Removing one stone will topple the entire structure. Shaving an edge off one stone, or choosing one that does not fit well with the others, being too big or too small, will create instability. This instability will cause failure of the structure, even if the fault is not immediate. Eventually, it will fall, destroyed by the slightest wind or the weakest vibration.  But, when everything is in balance, the whole of it works wonderfully.

I think this is the perfect metaphor for our health and our lives. No one element alone will ensure we are well. The many aspects that must work together are in constant flux, and we need to remember to balance them so we can keep ourselves upright and stable. Our physical, environmental, financial, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual beings all need attention. Our bodies need proper nutrition, movement, and rest. Our minds need stillness and stimulation. Our souls need nature, and light, and imagery, and faith.

Putting all of these aspects together would be manageable in a perfect world, without any influence from outside sources. If we each had all the resources we needed at our disposal at all times, we would all live happy, carefree lives. We would also all be pretty dull beings. No one wants to live that way, even if we could. We love the forces around us. The subtle winds, the babbling creeks, the steady vibrations of life’s ebb and flow. So, we need to learn to live with the resources we have and learn to put them to their best uses. We must become versed in how to give and take, how we can support one element with another when one becomes depleted. If the winds are like hurricanes, or the rivers swell to flood stage, or the vibrations become earthquakes how do we steady and steel ourselves against the forces? How do we, like the Inukshuk, use every stone to balance and form integrity. How do we remain upright and robust?

We must remember what each stone represents, but also how they all work together. If we want to lose weight, we cannot focus only on what we eat. How we move, and how and when we rest, where and with whom we spend our time, how we feed our brain, our soul, how comfortable we are with our finances, what we worry about how often we are kind to ourselves all play significant roles in how our bodies use and store our food. If we feel our memory and brain functions are decreasing, it will do us no good to use brain-teasing exercises exclusively. If our bodies are weakening, just lifting weights won’t do the trick. These things may help short term, but to create lasting improvements, we must examine all the stones. We have to find our strength in the whole.

This is what integrative medicine is all about. We use our strengths to bolster our weaknesses. We look at the whole of our beings. We find where we need to focus our attention to become the whole person we want to be. It might not be where we first thought. The process is slow, as the building of an Inukshuk surly is as well. The process is just as much about our perspective and attitude as about our action. The engineers of the massive structures didn’t just gather a bunch of stones as quickly as they could. They gave much thought and energy to finding the right stones. They examined them in detail to see which one would fit best in each position. They did all this before moving a single stone. If one didn’t work as expected, they might have had to reassess, move things around, or discard and find another. The conceptual phase guided the action phase of the building. They used their knowledge, gained through evidence-based study, what had worked in the past, and what had not. This is also how we must address our health. We can’t leave success to chance. We must research, study, and find actual evidence-based solutions. Then we can take the actions necessary to get the results we want and need.

The guiding symbol of the Inukshuk also serves to remind us that we are not alone in our journey. Others have passed this way before. There is no shame in leaning on another’s knowledge. Those researchers have left their monuments along our paths to help us navigate our health. Their interest is in improving our lives. Finding that path and staying on it can sometimes be difficult. Those outside forces sometimes cause us to lose our way. Life can cause us to lose our way. Finding support can help us see with clarity. Learning how to use that support can keep us moving forward. That is the role of an integrative medicine health coach; helping you to find the tools, resources, knowledge, strength, guidance, and passion for feeling right. To possess the knowledge to head off or manage the chronic, debilitating diseases that have so overwhelmed our society. You can conquer. You can find community. You can find the support that you need. The path is in front of you, and there have been monuments erected to navigate it easily.

As I began my health journey, I thought of how I would build an Inukshuk to represent it. What stones I would use, and how I would place them. I set the stones serving the physical and environmental elements as the feet, the base of all my needs. These two aspects hold the weight of the rest of the structure. The domains that relate to those, nutrition, movement, and rest on the physical side; stillness, me time, and nature on the environmental, became the legs. Financial and emotional elements felt right in the belly region. In the gut. The spiritual stone landed naturally in the heart. And stress in the chest, because that is where I mostly feel my stress. The arms reaching out to friends, family, support, community, to hold and be held was where the social stone worked best. And the head became the intellectual stone, where knowledge and education and curiosity exist. I now use this image as my talisman. It reminds me to stay healthy. It encourages me to return to the basics when I find myself straying off my path. It points the way forward.