A book a day…

I was inspired by a meme to get my toddler son twenty-four books – one a day for the first twenty-four days of December, a kind of library advent celebration that we can enjoy together, minus the candles, though hey, candles sound fun and we might just do that too.  And then, having re-posted the meme, other people said they wanted to do the same, and now EVERYONE IS DOING IT AND SO SHOULD YOU!  Even grownups.  Though, granted, not all grownups have enough time to read twenty-four books in the prelude to the holiday, but maybe you need to realign your priorities.

Just saying.

Anyway, I’m here to encourage you to play this game too, and challenge you to give at least a few (if not twenty-four) books as gifts.  Some inspiration, in case you needed any:

Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess is one of my favorite kid books of all time, and it’s also one of my favorite books, period.  Yes, it’s a board book.  If you’re under-one, you can literally devour it, and if you’re over one, you can savor the delightful (feminist!) story.

Plot spoiler: the princess heroically rescues the prince, then discovers he is a materialistic knob and decides not to marry him.

For more rollicking fun, I recommend:

Michael Rosen’s We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, which does not actually involve harming any bears, is wildly fun to read, though I admit it won’t calm anyone down enough to go to sleep.

For sleepytime, there is always the classic Good Night Moon, or if those pages have been turned so many times they’re falling out (or have been torn out by a parent weary of turning those same pages so many times), you might enjoy the more realistic I Just Want To Say Goodnight.

And for the garden-lovers:

/

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is my favorite book for nature-minded kids, and it has helped turn my tot (who is naturally very dirt-loving) into a botanist-minded dirt- and bug-lover.

And finally, for a slightly-older (or more patient) reader, I recommend George Saunders’ The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip.

/

The plot is sublime, and the message is clear: we’re all in this together, for better or worse, and it’s not fun for one of us if the rest of us are miserable.

And with that, I bid you adieu, and wish you the happiest of book-shopping, and though I’ve offered handy links above, if you can, please do visit a real, in-person bookshop.

Do you have any book recommendations for young readers?  If so, please leave a comment so we can add your favorites to our list!

Happy reading, friends!

Hiking 101

As a child, I have fond memories of disappearing with a backpack filled with essentials – water, a blanket, a book, and a snack.  I’d make a little nest in the grass and read in the shade of the shelter-belt of trees surrounding my family’s farm.  It was magical – the sound of the birds, the sunlight filtering through the leaves, the absence of my mother asking me to wash dishes.  (Sorry, mom!)

I loved those days, so it’s somewhat surprising that I never got into hiking until much later – four years ago, to be precise.  It was the mountains that convinced me to be a hiker – the only way to get on top of these mountains is on foot, so I set off to see what I could see, and in the process, I fell in love.  Not with the mountaintops, mind you.  I can’t say the summit commands my attention for all that long.  Rather, fell for the journey.  I love the birds and the bugs, the sunlight filtering through the leaves.  I suppose, in some way, I love that it takes me back to those summer days of my youth, escaping the dirty dishes.

If you’ve never been on a hike, it can, at first, seem a little daunting, especially if you haven’t done much of it before, and even more so if you’re doing it with little kids.

So, here I’ll offer some tips to make it easier.  Hiking is, in my view, one of the best, most accessible forms of active leisure (some might call it “exercise,” but I think that takes some of the fun out of it.)  So many recreational activities have high “entry” costs – mountain biking, for instance, will set you back gobs of money, just to get on a bike.  (That’s not to mention the helmet, the shoes, the weird spandexy clothes, the extra mechanical gear, repair costs, etc.)  To hike, you just head into the woods.  That’s it!

But… to make it a more enjoyable experience, it pays to do a little prep work and gather a few useful supplies.  Let’s start with the basics.

First, a backpack.  I have a few packs but the one I use the most is the smallest and least expensive – a very simple, ultra-light pack I bought off of Amazon four years ago (and it’s still going strong).

Another essential is a pair of good shoes.  Yes, you could hike barefoot – or in flipflops, like I have – but I really recommend good shoes.  I saw a child wearing cowboy boots (!!!) on a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains one time, and my heart broke for that kid.  Seriously:  Don’t wear anything with a heel or uncomfortable straps.  And don’t take your kid into the woods wearing cowboy boots!  Any pair of athletic shoes will do fine, so long as you are comfortable in them.  I prefer Keen hiking boots, but that’s just my preference.  Pick what works for you.

Also incredibly important:  Water.  Of all the hiking gear, I’d say decent shoes and enough water are the two most important factors that will make your hike a pleasant experience.  I recommend at least one cup of water per person, per mile.  So, for a two mile hike for two people, a quart of water will suffice.  If it’s hot out, or you’re a thirsty person, pack extra water.  I never thought I’d be the kind of person who bought a special bottle to put water in, but after tiring of the sound of water sloshing in a bottle in my bag, I finally broke down and bought a couple of these collapsible bottles.  I love them, and now I don’t know what took me so long to buy them.  Do not plan to drink water from streams, unless you have some kind of filter.  (For a day hike, you really don’t need a filter – it’s easiest to just take a couple of liters of water and not have to mess with it.  For longer, multi-day hikes, (about which I plan to write a post…) a filter is essential.

Appropriate attire is also important.  By this I mostly mean:  don’t wear jeans.  Jeans just aren’t good hiking attire.  The cotton will wick moisture out of the air, and jeans aren’t sufficiently flexible to let your legs move as you climb.  Other than a prohibition on jeans, anything will do.  I love hiking in merino wool dresses, which a lot of people find ridiculous, but it works great for me.

See?  Dresses are just fine for hiking!  And tree climbing!  Merino wool is a favorite fabric of mine because of how well it works in both cold and warm weather.  It keeps me warm in cool weather, and keeps me cool in hot weather.  It also doesn’t hold odors like synthetic or cotton clothes do, so even after I get all sweaty hiking, I don’t feel gross.  (Downside:  Merino sheep must subsist on a diet of platinum and gold, because their wool is crazy expensive.)

Check the weather before you go, and see if rain gear is needed.  If so, pack it.  Even if it’s not needed, pack it.  (At least pack an ultralight poncho.)  A lot of people dislike hiking in the rain, but I’ve done a lot of it and find it incredibly pleasant.  For one, no one else hikes in the rain, so you get to have the woods to yourself.  And besides that, the sound of the rain, the lushness of the wet forest, the fresh smells, the softness of the ground under your feet… it’s all just pretty heavenly.

Other necessary items:  Sunglasses, hat, ponytail band, a map of the trail, and tissues (for when nature calls while you’re out in nature).

You may say:  I don’t need a map.  I’ve got my phone!  But trust me… the odds that your phone’s GPS will work when you most need it (whilst lost in the woods as sunset looms) are not good at all.  Print out a map of the trail before you go.  Or, at the very least, take a photo of the map of the trail that’s on the sign at the trailhead.  You may be thinking… “I’ll remember which way to go!”  No, you won’t.  You’ll get to a sign post and think… “Which way do I go?  What color blazes am I looking for?  Where am I?  WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN TO THAT WISE WOMAN ON THE INTERNETS??????!!!!”  Pack a map.  You will not regret it.

A final necessary item:  Food!  I tend to over-pack food, but I think that’s just fine, and I’ve never had a hiking partner complain about it.  Most hikers seem content with a snack bar, but those never appeal to me when I’m in the woods.  A fellow hiker pointed out yesterday:  maybe it’s the greater connection to the earth that makes me crave “real” food.  And she may be right!  My favorite hiking snacks are apples, oranges, pears, grapes, nuts and seeds, dried fruit (mangoes and figs especially), homemade bread, nice cheese, olives, and dark chocolate.  A favorite picnic food is kale and quinoa salad, which tastes great at room/forest temperature.

Items you may wish to pack, but which aren’t always necessary:

flashlight or headlamp
space blanket or emergency sleeping bag
rag or small towel (I prefer microfiber)
small bag for collecting trash (including tissues – yes, they’re biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean other people want to look at them)
plastic grocery bag (makes a handy and free dry seat when the ground is soggy and wet)

I also keep a first aid kit in my backpack.  Mine contains:

an assortment of bandages
ointment (both an antibiotic ointment and a plant-based healing cream called Goop)
pain reliever for sprains or bruises
anti-diarrheal
small bar of soap (washing an insect bite is the best way to remove the sting)
insect repellent (I use products containing lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which the CDC lists as an approved ingredient.
anti-itch cream (I use a homemade one with plantain-infused oil)
mineral-based sunscreen (look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredients)

To keep the first aid kit small, I put all these things in tiny containers and medicine-sized baggies.  If the kit is small, it stays in my bag.  If it’s too big, I inevitably leave it behind, which does me no good.

Other optional things to pack:

If you have a little one (not yet potty trained), don’t forget diapers and wipes.  A kid-carrier is great, though I tend to let my toddler hike rather than carry him.  (Of course, I’ll carry him if he’s tired and asks me to carry him, but in general, he’s a great hiker and his own little legs carry him for miles!)

Nature guides, little books to help you identify trees, plants, mushrooms, animal tracks, etc., can be very fun and useful on a hike.  Yes, there are apps that do this, but they tend not to work when you’re in the deep woods.

A hammock can be really nice if you want to take a mid-hike nap.

And for a picnic, having a twin-size sheet (thin polyester is lightweight and will pack down very small) is great.

The last – but maybe the most important – thing to take with you is a sense of adventure.

See you in the woods!

 

Why “Upstream”?

A client asked me, “Why’d you name your practice Upstream Health and Healing?  It makes your program sound hard, like we’re swimming upstream.”

That’s a valid question.  Indeed, for many of us, our journey to greater health may, at times, feel like we’re swimming upstream, but that’s not what the name is referencing.  Rather: our health is like that of a stream.  If I walk out to my section of the stream and there’s slimy algae growing on the rocks, and the fish are dead or missing, and there’s bits of flotsam and jetsam lining the banks, and the whole thing just seems… nasty… well, there’s only so much I can do right here, where I am.  I can pick up the trash, tidy things up, but how do I address the algae?  If I re-stock the fish, will they survive?  Probably not.

(You know where this is going.)

To really fix things, you have to go upstream.  You need to hike in the woods a while, heading for the source of the problem.  Is there a confinement hog operation upstream, diverting its waste into my waterway?  If so, the fix is not just cleaning up my section of the stream.  It may mean nicely asking my neighbors to build a lagoon.  If they refuse, it may mean petitioning for stronger regulations on the hog farm.  Worst case scenario:  if my environment is toxic and I can’t find any way to fix it, I may need to move and find a cleaner stream.

This is all largely metaphoric, unless you have an actual hog farm upstream from you, in which case, you may actually want to move.

The point is:  we can mask symptoms with pills and potions, but unless we go looking with curiosity and open mind to see what’s truly causing our symptoms, and unless we set about treating the actual causes, not just the symptoms, we’re always going to be sitting by our section of the stream, griping about the moss or the fish (or the lack of fish).  And you can do this, if you wish.  Lots of people do.  Just hang out at an old-time cafe, and you’ll see and hear lots of this.

But you needn’t live like that.

As Robert Frost wrote in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,”

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

We all have miles to go on our journey toward greater health and well-being, and it’s often upstream and uphill, if we really want to fix things.  But the hike is lovely, and you needn’t go alone.  If you’d like a guide on your journey, a caring companion to help you along the way, please contact me and schedule a free consultation.

My hiking boots are already in the car.

My path to health, wellness, and a happy vagina

When I meet fellow health explorers – the people who don’t think it’s weird that I make my own skin care products, or brew kombucha, or abhor lawn chemicals – I often ask them, “So what made you this way? Were your parents hippies? Did you have some kind of transformative experience that led you down this veritable rabbit hole of health and wellness?”

(It’s not actually a hole – it’s a magical tunnel, a passageway to an alternate, technicolored reality.)

The answers I get vary. One friend was, in fact, raised by hippies, homeschooled in the middle of nowhere, denied all the usual perks of childhood – he enjoyed no soda, no candy, no tv, little or no technology. (He turned out great.) Another friend said that it was a game of adult hide-and-seek and his inability to run as fast as he thought he should be able to. Yet another, a conservative rancher in the midwest, said it had a lot to do with his quest to have sex with hippie chicks.

I appreciate honesty. Also, the wish to bed hippie chicks seems like a laudable goal for a rancher.

For me, my health journey began in starts and fits. I wasn’t raised by hippies. Nay, I was raised by parents who’d never heard of the idea that sugar might not be the best thing to eat. (In their defense, it was a time when all the health gurus were busy excoriating fat, not sugar.) I was not what you’d call a healthy child. I had strange food tastes, including a sugar addiction, an obsession with butter (which remains to this day) and a peculiar interest in eating dessicated instant coffee granules. I was sick many times a year, catching every cold that went around, suffering through weeks-long sinus infections, and enduring all kinds of stomach upset.

So what happened, then?

First, as I was embarking on my legal career, working too many hours, drinking too much, not sleeping enough, and generally living a non-virtuous life, I had a wake-up call. My boyfriend at the time was 26, three years younger than me, and he was battling stomach cancer. And I thought: Life is short. Sometimes, it’s REALLY short. Why am I living my life in such a way that I hate waking up in the morning?

The next morning, I woke up, went to work, and wrote my letter of resignation. I gave it to my secretary, who hugged me and cried – tears of joy, delight that I was going to get out while I was still alive, still (relatively) healthy and happy.

I got a second wake-up call a year or so later, when I found myself beset with terrible pain – in my vagina, of all places. I went to the doctor, and she ran a slew of tests, all of which came back negative. I was fine – other than the awful pain. So she examined me again, and then announced gravely that she had to go do some research. She left for a very long time, and I sat in the examination room, worrying. When she finally returned, she held a large stack of paper, computer printouts. She announced in a serious tone: “You have lichen sclerosis.”

I thought lichen was a type of moss. Surely, there was no moss growing in my vagina. So I asked her what that was, and she explained that it’s a flesh eating disorder and that if I didn’t treat it, I would end up with no labia whatsoever.

FLESH EATING WHAT???????

The doctor gave me the stack of printouts, so I could take them home and read all about my new friend, the vulva-eater, and she also prescribed a steroid cream that was supposedly going to save my labia from extinction. I left, feeling not at all at ease.

I tried the cream, and the pain it caused was worse than the original pain.

So I quit the cream. And I made another appointment with a different doctor who examined me, and, quickly dropping the sheet, gave me a sympathetic look.

“You don’t have lichen sclerosis.”

PHEW!!!

He went on. “This is going to sound weird…” (Trust me, doc, after someone tells you that your vulva is being eaten to extinction, nothing sounds that weird.) “…but your vagina is just really irritated. It’s angry. Stop shaving, stop using any bubble baths or scented soaps, and change your laundry detergent.” He explained that recent regulatory changes had banned a particular chemical from laundry soaps, and that the new formulations were causing a lot of similar irritation in other women.

That all made great sense. It also didn’t seem weird, in the least.

So, I went home and followed his prescription, started reading labels, started seeking out non-toxic care products with only gentle, safe ingredients. Within a day or two, all the pain was gone. It never returned. I shredded the lichen sclerosis literature and used it as bedding in the chicken coop.

The memory of that experience, though, has stayed with me, and just the thought of the pain I experienced has made me never, ever want to have scented or chemical-laden personal care or cleaning products around me. I cringe at the acrid floral stench of Tide laundry detergent. I unplug any “air fresheners” I encounter. I buy goat milk soap from a hippie homeschooling family. I make my own laundry soap. I make herb-infused oils and from them craft decadent lotions and balms. I use vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils to clean my home. I even make my own toothpaste.

My skin is happy, my house is clean, and perhaps most importantly, my vagina exists in a state of perpetual bliss.

Moreover, living this way hasn’t been a hardship in any way – it has only made my life richer and better. And so I wonder – why do so many people use so many toxic products? And perhaps more importantly, why do so many people consume things that contain artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, and all that crap? For many people, I think it’s that they haven’t made the connection between eating those crap-filled foods (or using those crap-filled products) and feeling like crap. So I guess, here I am, encouraging you to recognize this, if you haven’t already done so.

Just try it for a month: cut out the crap, and replace it with healthier options. Shop at the farmers’ market. Eat fresh, local food, and see how you feel. You don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of new products. But as you run out of things, be mindful, read labels, and seek out healthier versions.  Lots of small, gradual changes add up to big transformation.

So, cheers, friends! To health and wellness and happy vaginas.

Have you had a health transformation? If so, do share!