Still Shuffling, but is it Self-Care?

imagesYou might be thinking, “How’s the shuffling going?”

Not bad. Thanks for asking.

Our cat Bruce rises with the birds. These days that’s around 5AM. And if Bruce is up, I’m up. I’ve no complaints. To be truthful, it’s quite nice. At 5AM it’s dark and peaceful but there’s evidence of a patient dawn waiting to break on the horizon. The birds are stretching their wings and calling good morning to one another across the leafy branches but haven’t yet attacked the feeder on our porch. There’s a calm to this time of day that I love.

Around 6:15 I’ll head out for the shuffle. I’ll be honest, until my bones are warm it’s not far removed from plain misery. But after that, after I fall into the rhythm it’s…well…it alternates between misery and torment. Let’s be honest here – if you know me you know I’m not a gazelle. This is a real, fourteen minute shuffle I’m talking about. I’m moving fast enough for my steps to no longer qualify as brisk walking but too slow to be considered running. In fact, calling it jogging is generous. So why would I subject myself to misery and torment so early in the morning? Good question. 

Because it makes me feel good. That’s right. It feels good. I love the challenge, the fresh air, the improvement I can see from day to day. On my first shuffle about six weeks ago I made it one length of a block. What is that? Three hundred feet? And now I can shuffle a full mile before taking a walking break. My morning shuffle is a gift I give my body. It’s a gift I give my psyche.

But I wonder. Is my shuffle self-care? It depends. If by self-care we mean taking time to keep the body healthy and the heart ticking then yes, it’s self-care. If by self-care we mean engaging in an activity from which we derive some pleasure then yes, it’s self-care. But what if by self-care we mean taking time to find solace in the waking dawn?

In that case, listening to the birds sing at 5AM wins every time.

What does self-care mean to you? A warm bath? A long walk? A glass of merlot? More than ever, dedicating some time to self-care each day is important. It’s not selfish nor is it self-indulgent. It’s necessary. Especially now. The way our world has changed in just eight weeks is giving rise to a second pandemic of mental health issues. So, yes, self-care is necessary.

How will you define self-care and how will you bring it into your life?


Shuffling My Way Through the Pandemic

UnknownA ten kilometer fun run sponsored by Palo Alto Parks and Recreation in late spring 1986. An easy run that takes a sea of colorful souls from the smooth macadam near the golf course and the city’s single runway airport through Byxbee Park to the gravel packed levees that criss cross the Baylands on the Adobe Creek Trail. It’s a blindingly bright, still morning edging from warm toward hot and the tidewaters are retreating. There is the sharp stench of sulphur produced by bacteria digesting dead phytoplankton. In other words, on the day of this 10K, it stinks.

The uneven surface of the gravel levee slows my pace and the morning sun’s reflection on the water pierces my eyes like shards of glass. But I continue to force myself forward even as the runners overtaking me make me feel as if I’m not moving at all.

And then I stop. My body is like a horse refusing to move any further forward. I rest for a moment and consider my options. And then I begin to walk. The walk becomes a slow jog and then returns to walking as soon as my body realizes what my brain is trying to make it do. This back and forth between my brain and my body continues until I see the 10K Fun Run banner indicating the finish line. I shuffle across, collect my tee shirt, and, conceding there was nothing fun about this run at all, go home.

After that 10K my running schedule became erratic. I loved running but it was clear I needed a brief hiatus. It wasn’t my intent but my hiatus lasted twenty years, give or take a few. Running became, for me, like an old romance. There were wonderful memories but painful ones, too. Over the years I often asked myself, “I wonder what it would feel like to run again?”

I can tell you. It sorta kinda feels awful. But I expect that to change.

My bookclub chose for it’s May reading pleasure Kelly McGonigal’s latest book, The Joy of Movement. And recently the New York Times reported that there’s been an uptick in folks strapping on their old running shoes.

Armed with a nearly new pair of Hoka’s I decided to be one of those folks. It hasn’t been easy. Or pretty.

There have been years when I’ve not been particularly kind to my body but I’m in good health (knock on wood) with no heart, bone or blood pressure issues. With that in mind, and knowing my return to road running would be slower than the opening scene from Chariots of Fire (cue Vangelis) I didn’t feel the need to ask for a doctor’s approval. Instead I checked in with my favorite senior marathon runner and took additional advice from Juan Vigil’s book Seniors on the Run: Extending Your Life One Step at a Time.  Then I hit the streets.

On Day One I shuffle the length of one whole block. Four hundred feet if I’m lucky. And then I walk for two. I time my four hundred foot shuffles for when neighbors can’t see me. I know the exercise won’t kill me but it is quite possible I’ll die of embarrassment.

Seven days later and I’m no longer embarrassed by my shuffle nor am I embarrassed by my fifteen-minute-mile pace. I’m not looking for speed and I don’t intend to break any records. I’m shuffling to become reacquainted with a part of me that I miss. I’m shuffling because I never forgot how good running made me feel. Especially in the cool mornings with the smell of jasmine in the fresh dawn air. I’m shuffling because Kelly’s right. It’s joyful.

Besides, it’s never too late to begin again.


La-La-Latke Land

Despite my mother’s insistence, and the evidence I found in her belongings, 23 and Me insists I’ve not a drop of Jewish blood. In other words, it’s highly probable that I don’t have the DNA to make a good latke. I tried anyway.

I had a few things going against me. Some my own doing.

  1. They needed to be vegan.
  2. Rather than using two potatoes I decided to use one potato and one white-fleshed yam.
  3. I was of the opinion that latkes were nothing more than Jewish hash browns. What could go wrong?

It turns out, quite a bit can go wrong.

If vegan latkes means no eggs to bind them what will keep them from falling apart? The choices are varied: chia seed, flax powder or aquafaba. Ben’s brilliant sister – who knows her way around the kitchen – squeezed the water from her shredded potato, allowed it to settle, and then used the starch at the bottom of the bowl plus one half of a banana to bind. My sad choice? Flour. In my defense I was referencing a recipe I found online. I said to myself, “That’s odd” but pulled the organic flour from the back of my kitchen cabinet anyway. A more skilled cook might have gotten away with it. Me? Not so much.

It was going well at first. I grated my tubers (the joke goes latkes are “Grate, Grate, Great!”) and spooned the results into a milk bag to press out as much liquid as possible. I returned the dried lump of spud and yam (spam?) back to a bowl and added half of a finely chopped shallot, a bit of baking powder, a splash of plant milk, salt and pepper and, of course, the flour. I can’t provide precise measurements for two reasons:

  1. I don’t have precise measurements.
  2. I referenced the online recipe. I didn’t exactly follow it.

Over-confidence got the better of me. When I could turn my batter into little patties I thought to myself, “I’ve got this.” When I put two test latkes on a slightly oiled griddle and watched them  turn golden brown I smiled. But something wasn’t quite right. Instead of my latkes looking like this:

After they were fried they looked like this:

Although Ben insisted that all latkes are different and some even look like mine, I didn’t believe him primarily because I could serve the darling man baked brown paper bag and he’d insist it was the best brown paper bag he ever ate. 

While they were somewhat crunchy on the outside, they had the consistency of grade school paste on the inside. Next year? This Gentile is sticking to hash browns.


Phase II: I Forgot to Flush

As a child I could count on one thing. When my mom put a plate of food in front of me at dinner time, next to the plate I’d find a calcium tablet, a vitamin A capsule and a One-a-Day. Ive been an on-again/off-again supplement taker ever since. Ever the optimist, I always hope my diet provides all the nutrition I need, making supplementation unnecessary. Ever the realist, I know there are times when my diet fails me…or maybe I fail my diet. Either way, there are times when I feel I need a little help. Sometimes I’ll add a good vitamin/mineral supplement to my morning routine, sometimes I throw in a cal/mag (calcium and magnesium) for good measure. Sometimes I do nothing and hope for the best.

Since beginning Phase I of NaturalStart’s Detox, Flush and Reboot I’ve been taking a combination of supplements all designed to prepare my body for Phase II. These include a great B complex, Omega oils and an assortment of herbs all chosen for their purported ability to support my immune system and the health of my liver. And, as reported, I feel great. Even last week, when I burned through the latest virus making the rounds, my body handled it better than dear Ben’s, who languished in bed for two days.

But I stopped taking some of the supplements because I realized that I’m not ready for Phase II – the liver flush.  Phase I did for me more than I thought it would – or could. I’ll share some of my positive results in a later post.

In the meantime, what about this ‘flush’? I attempted to find the origins of this traditional remedy. While their are dozens of different recipes none of the websites I looked at could offer a precise history. My guess is that it began as a simple and far easier folk remedy: two teaspoons of olive oil in the morning with a little lemon juice – basically a simple vinegarette – for the health of the liver (those folks in the Mediterranean know what they’re doing). That slowly morphed into week-long prep involving juice fasting, epsom salts and enough vinegarette to dress a very, very large salad.

At NaturalStart the flush is preceded by a thorough exam by naturopath Dr. Diane Fong. This exam includes Applied Kinesiology, or ‘muscle testing’, which proponents believe can help practitioners determine allergies and weaknesses in our bodies’ systems. 

The flush is recommended as a method of removing toxins and stones from the liver and the gallbladder. The process is extreme and has it’s naysayers. That being said, the individuals I’ve spoken to who have completed the process report great results. For two of them, taking a quarterly liver flush keeps their eczema under control.

When I was invited to participate in Detox, Flush and Reboot I said ‘yes’ because i was curious. I wanted my opinion on formerly ‘fringe’ practices that are becoming more and more mainstream to be based on experience rather than hearsay. But, for now, at least, I’m pushing the ‘pause’ button. I’ll be honest – there’s a part of me that really, really, REALLY doesn’t want to drink a half cup of olive oil. Despite the positive results I’ve witnessed in others I still question whether or not it’s healthy for me. Besides – all the other parts of me are building the good habits set in motion by the start of the program.

That’s what a ‘detox’ is supposed to do, isn’t it? Embarking on a journey like this automatically makes you mindful if the choices you make. It highlights your ‘bad’ habits while forging positive ones.

Everything I hoped for – increased vitality, clearer skin and less bloating – have happened. All I need to do now is to stop thinking about the changes I’ve made as part of a finite program. These changes – I hope – are changes I’ve made for life.


Pressing Pause: The Joy of Hot Water and Lemon Water

Let’s just say I’m holding steady. My schedule won’t allow me to ease into phase two for another week, which is fine by me.

Each day I’m surprised. I’m surprised by how easy I’ve found this process. I’m surprised by how well I feel. I’m surprised by how my response to day-to-day stress seems to have shifted toward something resembling calm. Ever the skeptical inquirer, however, I continue to question.

How could a few shifts in my diet, coupled with a supplement regime, produce results in just a few weeks? Besides, didn’t I cheat once or twice (or thrice)?

The point of the practice, I suppose, is to create the conditions by which I am consistently mindful of what I am putting into my body. That means being mindful not only when I’m making good choices but being mindful even when my choices are less than helpful. It also means cultivating good habits – like beginning the day with a mug of hot water and lemon juice.

But mornings can be hectic in my household and the simple act of boiling the kettle, pouring hot water into a mug and then adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice squeezing the lemon into it can fall down the list of priorities when there are showers to take, a litter box to clean and emails to answer.

My solution is to set myself up for a good morning the night before. Before bed I fill my forty ounce Mira thermos with hot water, the juice from one whole lemon and – as suggested by NaturalStart’s Detox, Flush and Reboot program – a little pinch of cayenne pepper. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of grated fresh ginger, too. In the morning my hot lemon water is ready for me. I drink a large glass when I wake and sip the rest throughput the day.

But why? Why is this is healthy habit? An internet search will offer a list of reasons, some more dubious than others. I found a balanced explanation on Wellness Mama but I’ll be honest- I don’t really need a list of benefits that may or may not be true. I can report that I’ve noticed an improvement in my skin tone. It’s possible the dark circles under my eyes aren’t so obvious. But mostly it just feels good to begin my day with a glass of lemon water. I don’t really need any other reason to keep this healthy habit.


Day XIII, Week II, Phase I: I Feel Good

I feel good. And it’s not a lingering sugar high from the emotional ice cream binge I enjoyed a few days ago. I just feel – good.

Two weeks in and the tweaks I’ve made to my wellness routine are beginning to pay dividends.

It’s safe to say my routine needed some major tweaking. I’d begun to lose my way and was beginning to feel too much like a hamster running on an out-of-control wheel.  

My optimal diet is not too far removed from the suggested diet plan from NaturalStart Medicine’s Detox, Flush, Reboot program: fresh, organic, locally sourced vegetables and fruit, whole grains, avoiding (with the goal of eliminating) sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy and gluten. Chicken and fish for omnivores. I’m not restricting my calories because my primary reason for being part of this program is not weight loss. Because I’m making healthier choices, however, I won’t complain if I drop a few pounds.

When did I stop making healthy choices? When did convenience become my default mode? Over the past few months I’ve found myself unable to gain traction at work. I blame my Bullet Journal. Any organizational tool that allows me to create a list of projects that I want to complete within a specific period of time dooms me to failure. I simply can’t keep up with the expectations I create for myself. Preoccupied with keeping pace with my to-do list I began to rely too much on avocado toast, frozen veggie burritos, and Friday night pizza for sustenance. I began to self-medicate with a glass (or two) of wine on most evenings. Pulling myself out of bed at 5:30 AM and immediately sitting behind a screen was still not enough to keep pace with the demands I placed on my life.

A ‘detox’ only works if we follow the guidelines. And, of course, that’s why they can be a very effective way to modify unhealthy behaviors.

And that’s why I feel good. To the best of my ability I’ve made thoughtful, considered choices about what to put in my body. It shouldn’t surprise me and yet it does – fourteen days in and healthy, nutritionally dense foods have returned to me the vitality I thought I’d lost.

I’m starting Week III on Monday. If I stick to my schedule I’ll be moving into Phase II of the program –  the ‘flush’ phase. But I’ve not decided yet if that’s what I want to do. I may hang out in Phase I for one more week. I’d like a full week with no wistful cravings for pizza. I’d like a week where I don’t automatically stuff my emotions with ice cream.

Plus, I think it’s important to be psychologically prepared for the flush and I’m not quite certain I’m there yet… 


Day VIII, Week II, Phase I: Oops, I Did it Again

I’m an emotional eater. Always have been. What does that mean? It means when something comes along to jangle my equilibrium – a quiet disagreement, a perceived slight, difficulties at work or even just the voice in my head chipping away at my self-esteem – I eat.

And believe me, I’m not stuffing my face with kale salad. Nope. Remember, sugar is my nemesis.

I reach for ice cream.

I knew there was a half eaten pint of Talenti gelato in our freezer and with a little foresight I would have either finished it or thrown it away before the start of this reboot journey. But I didn’t. You can figure out the rest of the story.

“I’ll just have a spoonful,” I said to myself. Three spoonfuls later I said, “Just one more.” Thankfully, Ben was home and pried the carton from my cold, curled fingers before I could inflict any more self-harm. He and I both knew a few spoonfuls of creamy chocolate goodness wouldn’t derail the progress of my detox/flush/reboot journey. The guilt scheduled to arrive the moment that last spoonful hit my gullet would be my undoing.

What do we do when our best intentions take a back seat to our reflexive instincts?

One of the gifts that a yoga practice offers is self-regulation. Yoga teaches us to have a measured response – the ability to dial down the strong reactions we might have to external events. In other words, instead of reaching for the ice cream I might have reached for the meditation cushion.

But sometimes self-regulation defaults to stress-induced tantrum and before I know it I’m a sticky chocolate mess. When that happens – it’s time to practice forgiveness. When forgiveness opens my heart I remind myself that one of the gifts of this program is the opportunity to look at the small choices we all make each day. Approaching each choice with presence and mindfulness and – sometimes – a little bit of forgiveness is an act of healing.


Day VII, Phase I, Week I: Friday Pizza Night

There’s a Friday night tradition at our house. Friday night is Pizza and Beer Night. There’s nothing better than a medium sized Half-Vegetarian/Half-Mushroom lover from the Palo Alto Pizza Company washed down with with a bottle (or two) of a nice IPA.

As you might imagine, this past Friday was a challenge.

I pulled out bowls of leftovers from the fridge. On my counter sat a sad collection of black beans, roasted sweet potato and mustard greens. Even the chickpea crepes looked uninviting. It was Pizza Night and my taste buds were not prepared to water for anything less.

Ben (who’s been riding shotgun on this detox/flush/reboot adventure) and I looked at our options. We could “cheat” and have the pizza and beer. We could cobble together a meal from our leftovers. Or we could find a compromise.

We found a compromise. We ordered a cheese-free vegetarian with a gluten free crust (it’s dangerous when the best traditional pizza in town is right across the street). Believe or not, it was good. I’m as surprised as you. Somehow it managed to hit all the right pizza notes. I didn’t even miss the beer – at least not that much.  

There are, however, better ways to get a gluten-free vegan pizza. One of my favorites is making my own pizza dough with Bob’s Red Mill mix. I add a basic tomato paste, sliced veggies and Miyoko’s Vegan mozzarella. It takes time but is worth the wait.

But as I move into Week II even dreams of gluten free pizza will have to be put on hold as I think more about portion control and keeping a sparkling clean diet. That means more fresh, raw veggies, organic grains, nuts and seeds. It’s a mindfulness practice that has me considering where my food is sourced, how it’s prepared and the nutrient density of each morsel. I want the biggest nutritional bang for my buck that I can get.

When we think about it, any program that asks us to adjust our diet and lifestyle is a mindfulness practice. 

Seven days in and I’m feeling good. The most difficult part (besides the thought of a pizza-less Friday) are the supplements. But more on that later.


Day III, Week I, Phase I: My Nemesis Sugar

If reports are true, Dr. Evil and his cat have nothing on the sugar industry. Last week I read it was the sugar industry that gaslighted us into believing all fat was bad. And, as a woman who struggles with weight and comes from a family of women who struggle with weight, I believed the conspiracy. I turned my back on fats but didn’t dare pass a jar of jelly beans without grabbing a handful. There were commercials, paid for by C & H, touting sugar as a fat-free, natural alternative to cyclamates, aspartame and saccharine. 

Saccharine. Just typing that word brings back memories of the small plastic bottle of little white saccharine tablets my mom carried in her purse when I was a kid, in the event we stopped at Woolworth’s. This was when we still thought it might cause bladder cancer but my mom didn’t care. She wasn’t going down without a fight and battled our predisposition for weight gain valiantly. Her order at Woolworth’s was a tuna melt and a cup of black coffee into which she’d drop her two white pearls of artificial sugar. I’d have my favorite: peanut butter and banana pie. To this day she still drinks Diet Coke or maybe Tab if she can find it. And if you offered me a slice, I’d still eat the peanut butter and banana cream pie.

In my commitment to the six-week Detox, Flush & Reboot program I’m determined to remove added sugar from my diet. But there’s a problem.

Sugar is addicting.

I went to my favorite resource, Dummies, to find out why. It turns out that sugar stimulates a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in charge of the pleasure centers in our brain. In other words, sugar makes us feel good. And we all want to feel good, right? 

Unfortunately, after awhile we become sensitized to sugar and need to consume more to reach the same level of pleasure. To make matters worse, as our dopamine receptors become more desensitized our prefrontal cortex begins to slow down. That’s the part of our brain that helps us make rational decisions…(which may explain why I wore striped socks with sandals paired with a plaid flannel shirt and rolled up jeans on Tuesday.)  

So what’s a sugar addict to do? I know all the obvious places sugar lurks, like the Bowls of Temptation at Samyama – the glass bowls filled with ginger chews or Starbursts. So I need to find strength and discipline. Ok. I can do that for six weeks.

But sugar is stealth. It turns up in the weirdest places. Like catsup. Or the soy creamer I’ve been using for the past month. Plus it uses aliases, like sucrose, fructose and glucose.

Then there are the other sugars, like honey and maple syrup and even agave syrup. Don’t be fooled. Under that hippie exterior lurks the same old sugar.  Don’t forget, a sugar by any other name tastes just as sweet…and is just as addicting.

I don’t think it’s wise for me to go cold turkey. I’ll begin by finishing the soy creamer and then switching to unsweetened. I’ll close my eyes when I pass the bowl of Starbursts. I’ll remain mindful – considering my choices and doing the best to make the right one.

Wish me luck.


Day I, Phase I, Week I

What I hate about the word ‘detox’, as in ‘doing a detox’, is that it implies we’ve done something wrong – that we’ve deliberately filled our bodies with impurities. But if we make reasonable decisions regarding our health and wellness then our organs of elimination – the liver, skin, kidneys, lungs and intestines – do a great job of filtering impurities and protecting us from environmental dangers.

And so you will never hear me say, “I’m doing a detox.” You might, however, hear me say, “I’m rebooting.”

I’m rebooting.

It all began last Friday when I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Diane Fong and Adrienne Chhoeuy. Dr. Fong is a Naturopathic Doctor and Medical Director of NaturalStart Medicine. Adrienne is the team’s colon hydrotherapist and lymph drainage expert. Despite my initial skepticism, I was won over by their enthusiasm and expertise. The team at NaturalStart believe that a ‘detox’ is more than changing your diet and drinking more water. A reboot has to incorporate a mind/body component that speaks to our spiritual imbalances and the energetic blocks we encounter as we move through life.   

At the end of the meeting I was invited to participate in their six-week Detox, Flush & Reboot program. Curious by nature and in desperate need of something – anything – to help me regain my enthusiasm for life I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’.

This past Saturday I joined fifteen other participants. We squeezed into the light filled lobby of NaturalStart and for the next few hours reviewed the program, gathered our supplements, enjoyed delicious green juice courtesy of Pure Juice Organics and were given a functional health assessment by Dr. Fong.

And so it begins. For the next six weeks I’ll be working with my diet, choosing fresh vegetables and whole grains while reducing gluten and caffeine and eliminating sugar and alcohol. I’ll reduce my screen time and spend more time practicing the mindfulness I try so hard to teach.

There’s more to this reboot than diet and exercise and as the weeks go by I’ll do my best to share the experiences with you. I’ll share some great recipes, too. All while wearing tis gorgeous new accessory: