Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Picking My Life Back Up One Step at a Time

Unknowns. Leaving without Goodbyes. Cancelled Work. Isolation. Empty Shelves. Rationing. Depression. Parenting. Practicing. Moving Forward.

Corona virus (COVID-19) has left its mark on my house, as it has for millions of households around the world. I attended my last live performance right before our state was to go in a quasi-isolation, schools and universities closed. Life upended. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students, one of whom this semester was our last together. We picked up and left, Skype our only means of seeing each other and teaching. I was devastated. I love my job, and I love my students. This was a tough transition for me, not only for its abruptness, but also for the lack of live human interaction, of laughing, playing together, just being. And when all my performance work was cancelled and my lost income mounting, I only too easily slipped into a world of dark cloudy days, wondering when (if?) the fog and dreariness would lift. Was I facing depression?

Parenting during this time of strain and uncertainty has also taken its toll. The strain of seeing empty grocery shelves and wondering how long food will be this scarce and having to ration food in the house is real and unnerving. The realization of lost income is scary. And when parents are stressed, kids can feel it. They get stressed too. During times like these, “cabin fever” also takes on a whole new meaning. They are even advised not to go on playgrounds! Kids act out when they are stressed. I felt like my neat little world was unraveling!

I had to take action. I had to pick up the pieces of what work was left to me, my teaching, and I had to get control over my own emotions, so I can still be the teacher and the parent that I want to be. If for no other reason, than to model how to be for my children in times of global stress. I made myself keep practicing. Knowing the positive effects of endorphins and sunshine, I forced myself to keep exercising and to get outside in my yard as much as possible. I have my kids go outside as much as possible. When they ask to play in the rain, I let them play in rain. Why not? Outside time is crucial for mental and physical well-being, and they need to get that extra energy out. The forced isolation has also given us plenty of opportunities (more than plenty!) to teach my children how to communicate effectively and politely to each other — how to best solve differences with each other. And you know what? It’s working. We have far fewer arguments as they are learning to compromise and solve problems together. The next thing we are working on pitching in a bit more around the house, since we are all always home and all contributing to the mess. We’re getting there… baby steps. As we have been through a few successful days of online teaching and gaining some control of our schedules back, I feel less uneasy and unsure, and the children are more themselves again.

I feel like I went through a kind of grief cycle. I was paying attention to the news, of course, and naturally I knew it would eventually effect us in the U.S. at some point, but the magnitude and the scope of the pandemic was overwhelming. I wanted to fight against having to leave the university, but there was no choice. I wanted to fight against home-schooling while schools are closed, but there was no choice. I wanted to believe that there would still be food on the shelves when I went to the store to pick up some regular groceries, but there was none. (Well, there was still some frozen okra.) I wanted to cry, but what would it help? By putting one foot in front other the other, so to speak, I slowly walked myself out of my slump and got on with life: keeping up with my practicing, keeping up with my exercising, keeping up with teaching to my best ability, keeping up with good parenting. Just as we all do. Just as we all have to. Baby steps.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Practicing

How Meditation Helped Me To Chase Out the Demons Today

I’ve written a few blogs on why I meditate, as well as a great meditation app that I use. I appreciate the practice of meditation more and more each time I end my session and head to bed (read here about why I switched to meditating at night). With a clear head and a fully relaxed, tranquil body, I get to sleep faster and sleep more soundly than I have for years, and I’m so grateful for it!

Today, I was reminded why meditation can help so much with practicing (or whatever your line of work inside or outside the home may be). I started practicing my long tones like I do every morning, but it was a little rough. I had worked out using my favorite HIIT workout YouTube video and then followed that up with some upper body work (whew!), so I was pretty fatigued by the time I had my shower and started practicing. I didn’t think much of it once I took a little break and got some almond butter and some tea in me. But then while I was practicing technique work and still struggling a bit, those destructive inner thoughts started spiraling around in my head. Usually, I don’t even let those thoughts enter, but they found their way in.  It was really hard to concentrate, as you can imagine. And even while I was attempting to chase them away, it didn’t work. I was nearly in tears – oh, how those thoughts are so destructive! But, then it dawned on me: I am not in the “here and now”; I’m in a nonsense land that doesn’t even exist! After I realized what was happening, I was able to stop completely, lower my flute, take a few deep, calming breaths, and clear my head. It felt easy and wonderful – all thought leaving my head like clouds drifting away, and I was free to be me and start fresh again.

I am convinced that it gets easier and easier to clear my head the more I practice meditation. It’s absolutely vital in stressful situations (like a performance) to be able to put myself in the “here and now” and focus on what I need to do and be my best.

So, when you have days where you are fatigued or your body is tired and you inadvertently let those nasty (and probably untrue) thoughts pervade your mind, you can stop, breathe, and let them float away. Start meditating tonight, and practice clearing your mind, chase the demons away, and put yourself back into alignment with your true self.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

Carb-heavy vs. Low-carb, Plant-heavy: Does it make a difference in how I feel?

The holiday season for us is a time for family gatherings, games, fun, and food. Lots of carb-heavy food. You know what I mean: mashed potatoes, casseroles, bread stuffing, and, of course, dessert. I will admit, after Thanksgiving I tend to just throw up my hands and eat whatever I have on-hand, which is usually leftovers of the rich, heavy nosh, or whatever simply sounds good. You probably don’t have to guess what sounds good on cloudy, chilly late-autumn, early-winter days: comfort food! After all, I felt like I earned it. I spent the whole year exercising regularly, eating incredibly healthy, and maintaining my healthy weight and slim figure. So, yes, I indulged. Every day. And here’s what I learned: except for that first day, it wasn’t as much fun and liberating as I thought it would be.  Hear me out.

As the leftovers started pouring into the house after our first couple rounds of family Thanksgivings and the days were getting cold, the thought of my kale smoothies and salads stopped sounding appetizing (ok, kale smoothies don’t always sound appetizing. I get it!). I just went with the flow and ate what I wanted. But after a week or more of that, my body started feeling out-of-sorts. I felt weighed down, with less energy. Honestly, my body felt compromised. The sugar from the desserts was giving me headaches! While it was interesting, at first, to change up my diet, my body wasn’t having it. I started craving fresh, green food again, so I went out and bought lettuce and some greens from the farmers market. Since Christmas and New Year’s Eve/Day was coming, along with all of the parties and more extended family dinners that go with it, I decided to try to eat more salads on the off days. While it helped to ward off some of the extra weight I knew I was going to gain, it wasn’t enough to help me feel like myself again, especially given the heavy but delicious holiday meals I was all too happy to indulge myself with the next day.

Fast-forward to the second week of January. I am back into my regular healthy eating and working routine, I feel great again! I previously posted about my lower-carb diet (here), and now I realize why it works so well for me. I just feel light and healthy. I can really feel the nutrients from my fresh veggies and lean veggie proteins doing their work nourishing my body, and, in turn, my workouts are more effective, and I feel sharper and happier. While I am a firm believer in moderating one’s diet and “treating” yourself occasionally, I am more fully convinced that a veg-heavy, lower-carb diet is a great way to nourish the body and live healthier and happier! And, by making this a part of my lifestyle, I am showing my children healthy eating habits, as well. No, they aren’t convinced about kale yet (they’ll get there!), but they do eat their veggies now and, therefore, stand a greater chance of enjoying healthy eating into adulthood. While I didn’t set out to do a carb-heavy vs. low-carb, plant-based diet challenge intentionally, I am so glad I did! It was definitely an eye-opener. So, eat your veggies. Your body and your children will thank you for it!

Posted in Health and Fitness

My Low(er) Carb, Plant-Based Lifestyle

Hey, everyone! Welcome to 2020. A new year; a new you, right? Maybe. For some of us, we may have fairly lofty new-year resolutions, and that’s great! For others of us, me included, we just want to keep improving on our current lifestyle, and that’s also fine, especially if we are happy where we are.

So, I have been vegetarian for 16 1/2 years now, and I love it! Yes, I do miss my mother and my grandmother’s traditional cooking, to be sure. But once I started seeing the effects of going plant-based and noticed how much happier my body seemed, I never looked back. Another happy side-effect of going veg is that my cooking is on a whole new colorful and creative level. It really became a source of inspiration for me, and I relished the change!

Another big change that I did make a few years is lowering my carbohydrates. I never really felt like I needed to go full keto with it, but I did want to reduce my dependence on grains for my energy, and instead focus on proteins for that need. The first two weeks of that change was really difficult, but after my body adjusted to it, I started feeling even better. I felt like my blood sugar was more stable during the day, and my muscle tone improved more quickly with my workouts. I am so much happier with how I feel. But I want to emphasize the low(ER) part of my lower-carb lifestyle. As vegetarians, some of our main sources of protein are also sources of complex carbohydrates — beans, quinoa, lentils — and I don’t want to exclude these from my diet. What this lifestyle has taught me to do is to be creative with incorporating more nuts and tofu into my diet, as well as eggs. More creative fun in the kitchen, right? So, if you are looking for a way to be more plant-based and to reduce your carb intake, I can tell you that (if you stick with it) you will love the results!

Below is a typical day of meals for me:

Morning: Eggs. Always.
Snack (if I worked out that morning, skip otherwise): Protein smoothie
Lunch: Kale smoothie if home, kale or romaine salad topped with protein, if not
Snack: Avocado half, hard-boiled egg, cheese, apple, nut butter, or nut mix (or any two of these)
Dinner: Protein, 2 veggie sides

So, it’s really that easy and accessible! The key is getting enough protein so you feel satisfied, and definitely replace your drinks (other than your tea or coffee) with water or seltzer water. I have really enjoyed this lifestyle, and I hope you do, too!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Working Parent

Why I’m Switching to Nighttime Meditation

I really love sleep. That blissful drifting to dreamland and waking up renewed… I do love it when I can get it. Yes, I blogged several months ago about how I defeated the insomnia demon. And I really thought I had! I blissfully slept reliably for 7-8 hours each night for weeks on end, after struggling and struggling with too little sleep. However, I have let the busyness of my life and my children’s school and athletic life take over. Does this sound familiar? And, of course, what is the result? For me, it’s increased stress, disorganization, and dropped routines — not my children’s routines, mind you, but my own. Sadly, the first thing I dropped was mindfulness practice. Big mistake!

The benefits of mindfulness are vast. A quick google search will bring up a whole host of articles to read, of course, and I’ve blogged about my experience here. What were the natural results of dropping the practice for weeks on end? Loss of concentration, loss of mindful control, and, most significantly, loss of sleep. It took me a while to realize what was happening. It wasn’t until my son accidentally dropped and broke my phone, and I was retrieving all of my apps for my “new” (to me) phone that I realized I hadn’t opened my Calm app in quite a while. Then it hit me: I hadn’t been practicing mindfulness.

So, a few nights ago, I had decided to switch from meditating in the afternoon, when I am just too busy either teaching, practicing, or being a mom, to meditating just before I go to bed. That small change has made such a difference in my sleep, and I love it! It has helped my mind to wind down significantly. Since I have nowhere else to go but my bed and my children are silently asleep in their beds, my thoughts don’t start to drift to where I have to be next or what I have to do later, so I have a much easier time clearing my racing head as I lay down. Just after 10-12 minutes of peaceful, quiet meditation, I am more relaxed, my breathing is slower, and I am better prepared to fall asleep. In fact, I would say it is so much more effective, for me, just before bed than in the middle of the day. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly benefits to pausing in the middle of the day to unload and rest yourself, but those benefits simply won’t present themselves for you if you forget or your phone decides not to remind you that day. So, if you are someone who does practice mindfulness during the day or even someone who is new to meditation, give it a try at night and see what you think. Clear those racing thoughts and sleep better!

Posted in Health and Fitness

How I am Making a Greener Home, Little by Little

By now, most of us are at least minimally aware of the need to reduce chemicals and pollutants in our home and environment to keep us safe and healthy. Any easy Google search can provide a host of information about the dangers of constant interactions and exposure with pesticides, contaminants, even preservatives and artificial additives in our food. They do real harm to our bodies and to the environment. Thankfully, there are easy steps we can take to avoid keeping harmful products, both edibles and non-edibles, in our home, giving us a cleaner, greener place to live. Below are just a few of the relatively easy measures I have taken to work to get my home more environmentally friendly.

  1. Buy Local and Organic (when I can). One of the easiest first steps I took was to stay up-to-date on the “dirty dozen” list of the most contaminated produce, and to buy these foods organic as much as possible. Yes, they are a bit pricier, but any reduction in pesticide exposure goes a long way towards keeping your body healthier. I also try to buy most of my produce locally at the farmer’s market. Many of these vendors use organic methods anyway, because not only are they selling what they grow, they are eating what they grow. They know exactly what they are putting on their crops, and typically, they want it to be as clean as possible for their own families. You can always ask what they use on their crops before you buy, so that way you know exactly what has been used on your food. You can’t necessarily do that in a grocery store!
  2. Buy Plant-Based Cleaners or Use Natural Cleaners. Another painless step is to try some plant-based, perfume-free cleaners. These usually come with mixed results, to be sure, but there are natural ways you can boost their cleaning power. Personally, I like most Seventh Generation products. I boost the laundry detergent with Borax (natural based) and dish cleaner with lemon oil. Using white vinegar to clean my kitchen and bathrooms is by far the most inexpensive and natural way to kill germs that I’ve come across (I mix vinegar with a few drops of 7th Generation dish soap and put in a spray bottle). I’ve also recently purchased a steam mop to sanitize the floors using steam heat from distilled water. Again, you can Google search the best plant-based and natural cleaners and find what works best for your needs.
  3. Use Silicone Reusable Bags. I have finally purchased a decent-sized set of reusable Ziploc-style storage bags, and I am so excited about them! I was appalled when seeing news stories describing the billions of microplastic particles in our oceans. I was even more upset by studies indicating that we are consuming nearly the weight of a credit card worth of plastic every week! I absolutely wanted to stop contributing to this senseless waste, and I finally took the first step in doing just that.
  4. Recycle. I am really excited to be at a point where we recycle more than we throw away! We are lucky to have a system where our recycling gets picked up at the curb, but it didn’t always used to be this way. I completely understand the hassle it can be to have to drop it off. If you find yourself in a community that does not offer curbside pick-up, please do try to make the effort to collect it and take it to a facility. That extra effort saves so much waste! Also, please be aware that most grocery stores and Wal-Mart have bins to place your plastic bags in for recycling. Those plastic bags that wind up in our oceans look like jellyfish (read: food!) to most sea creatures.
  5. Educate your Children. We talk to our children about why we do the above for our home and the environment. By teaching our children the importance of protecting and preserving our planet, we instill a powerful value that will ensure they continue the effort. It’s the quality of their future that we are working so hard to protect, and education is key to achieving that end.

Are there more steps I can take to have a cleaner, greener home? Absolutely. I’m certainly not perfect at it. For example, I would like to have less paper towel waste and use less water and use it more efficiently, though we do have all energy-efficient appliances. We do own a great Prius, and we hope to trade in our other vehicle for an all-electric version in the next few years. So, eventually I will get to where I think we need to be. Every little reduction in waste, chemical exposure, and additive exposure goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy body and a healthier home. Why not just try one step at a time? Your future self will thank you!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

Hiding Vegetables!

When introducing vegetables to my tiny children, I had convinced myself that surely they would love veggies as much as I do, which admittedly, is a tall order! I was sure that if I introduced them about the same time as baby cereal and keep trying and trying, that they would learn to love and appreciate the subtle flavors each luscious legume had to offer. Well, it didn’t turn out quite that easy. Like with most babies and toddlers, it was a struggle, but I was determined not to give up. And I didn’t.

I can’t remember exactly when, but I remember seeing Jessica Seinfeld on Oprah talking about her new publication, Deceptively Delicious. It’s a brilliant book about adding vegetable purees into kid-friendly foods, along with continuing to serve veggies as a side, of course. I remember taking it to heart and keeping my freezer full of purees. Well, as my third baby arrived and I started getting work, I let the practice fall by the wayside. In fact, I hardly opened the book in the last several years, as I added more and more cookbooks to my collection.

A few days ago, as I was preparing to make my children’s favorite vegan, whole-grain chocolate muffins, it dawned on me to try to add some raw organic baby spinach into my food processor, along with the banana to puree for the batter. I had remembered that chocolate hides spinach incredibly well, as long as the end product cools completely. So, I tried it. Magic! The kids had no idea, and my middle guy even told me that they were the best muffins I’ve ever made! While my kids really do eat their veggies most of the time, it got me thinking about ways to make more of their favorite foods even healthier. After all, every little bit counts!

So, I think I’m going to try to do more like this. I know that carrot hides well, too, and zucchini is great in baked goods, of course! I almost always have some chopped vegetables in my pasta sauce. It could be fun to explore what else I can do just to add a few more nutrients into their foods. We all want our kids to be healthy, with bright eyes, beautiful skin, and positive energy from wholesome foods, why not have fun experimenting with ways to include more vital nutrients into their diet? The key, though, is to keep having them try vegetables that aren’t hidden. 😉