be here now

The sky dropped nearly a foot of wet, dense snow on us, and now we face the task of digging out.  I wouldn’t have to, really, as the weather will probably warm, and all the snow will disappear on its own.  But I like shoveling snow, and my toddler loves being out in it, so we spent a good portion of our day outside, taking turns wielding the “shubble,” as my tot calls it.

The snow is beautiful.  I lift scoop after scoop, keeping an eye on my boy as he wanders down the yard, half-walking, half-swimming in deep drifts.  He tumbles and squeals.  His hat falls off, and I try to put it back on him.  “I don’t aunt it,” he insists.  I see the neighbor clearing his deck in a t-shirt, so I figure a bare noggin is probably fine, at least for a while.  One by one, my son’s boots get sucked off by the snow, and I pick him up, carrying him back to the house like a sack of potatoes, if potatoes were known for kicking and crying and yelling.  I put him down by the door to brush the chunks of snow off him, and he darts back to the snow, just in socks.

He runs, squealing joyfully, and I follow him, but slowly, as I’m hindered by my jacket’s pocket zipper… as I try to take out my phone and capture some of his glee.  I take a few photos, none of which captures quite how happy this makes him, and then I give up and just watch, taking it all in.  The white-carpeted trees, the crunch beneath my feet, the way the snow muffles all the sounds.

A slushy rain starts falling, and I put the phone away, zip up my pocket, put my mittens back on and go to my son’s side.  He pulls a colorful knitted sock out of the snow, hands it to me, announcing that it is wet.

“Do you ever get cold?” I ask him.

“No,” he insists, looking up at me with one bare foot and one sock-covered foot, standing in a another foot of wet snow.

I pick him up anyway.  He protests loudly as I carry him to the house, this time depositing him inside, determined to keep him there at least long enough to put dry clothes on him.  He fusses for a minute and then relents, helps remove the rest of his wet gear, and heads upstairs for a much-needed nap.  I tuck him in and he slumbers, and I head downstairs to see that more snow is falling, the wind is picking up, and I know we’ll have more to do when he wakes, and know he’ll be delighted by it.

A couple four-wheel-drive trucks have managed to make it down our sleepy little street, but the rest of us with cars are staying put, content to tuck in by the fireplace with a cup of cocoa.

As I sit by the fire, I resist the urge to reach to my phone, and just sit instead, savoring this quiet, snow-filled day.  May each day bring us these moments, when we opt for what is tangibly before us, not on an illuminated screen.  The dumpster fire of politics will burn on with or without my gaze.  The one in my fireplace needs my attention, right here, right now.

Happy winter, friends.  Wishing you peace and love and the best present of all:  presence.

xoxo

a nighttime story

As I put my son to bed, I lie on my side, and he lies next to me on his belly.  I rub his back, tiny gentle circles on either side of his spine.  If my hand stops, he quietly asks, “more?”  So I resume my tiny circles until his breath slows, his fidgeting stops.  Then his weight shifts and he turns onto his side, resting his back against my belly.  His little hand reaches back and finds mine, and he drapes my hand across his belly.  I hold it there, still, as his breathing falls into the same rhythm as mine, our chests rising and falling together.

And in an instant, I am taken back in time to when I was pregnant with him, lying on my side in bed, my hand draped across my burgeoning belly, feeling our bodies connected, our beings so delicately intertwined.  I recall both the excitement and the gratitude I felt for holding him within me, feeling him grow, nurturing him (and me) with healthy food and rest and loving care.

Coming back to the present, I feel him again, the back of his soft warm head nestled against my breastbone.  Our shared breath seems at once like a wave, a tandem rise and fall, and then I remember: we are the ocean, not the wave.  He and I, and all together.

I slip out of his bed, silently, draping the covers over his shoulders, tenderly kissing the top of his head.  Tiptoeing down the stairs, I re-enter the world, pick up my phone, glimpse briefly at the headlines, and sigh.  Fire, terror, finger-pointing, name-calling, gunshots.  Right now it’s easy to forget that sense of connection that binds us all together.   Reading the news, it’s hard not to feel a keen sense of separateness from others.  We’re divided into so many fractious factions, and the reality that we all share this space together, exist in this singular ocean of existence, spinning around our corner of the galaxy on the very same watery sphere, is easy to forget.

So please, if you will:  Remember.  We’re all in this together.  What affects me affects you.  What ails you ails me.  And what lifts one of us up, lifts all of us up.

Lifting you up, sending you love from afar.

bright morning start

Earlier this week, as my toddler and I were peering in the fridge, trying to decide what to have for breakfast, he spied a pomegranate, which he identified as an apple.  I explained that it wasn’t an apple, but that he’d probably like it just as well, if not better, than an apple.

We ate the whole thing.  Actually, he ate 7/8 of it, and I managed to snag a few juicy gemstones that escaped from his grasp.  As I peeled the pomegranate for him, and as he grabbed at it, trying to get it away from me, I realized that the task of peeling it could be lots of fun for him.  And, indeed, it is.  Though a lot of people complain about peeling pomegranates – the consensus is that they’re more fuss than they’re worth – I’d respectfully disagree.  They may, in fact, constitute a net calorie loss, given the effort involved in getting them apart, but there’s nothing wrong with that unless you’re actually starving.  (And I’m betting that no one reading this post is actually starving.)

So if you’ve been averse to the pomegranate in the past, I urge you:  give it another try.  Here’s some tips to help you along:

I find that the best way to get into the fruit without making a gigantic juicy mess is to just barely cut into it.  To do this, position the fruit with it’s crown on the top, and imagine it’s a small red brain.  Then, using a knife, cut to dissect the brain into its two hemispheres – but only cut down about an inch.  Remove the knife and insert the tips of your thumbs into the cut, and gently pull the pomegranate into two pieces  – which will look eerily like a brain, with all its little bumpy compartments.  (See the photo above.)  From here, just gently use your hands to spread the compartments open.  This keeps the cells intact, and you won’t have a big mess.  You can also put half of the pomegranate in the fridge and safe for later, if you don’t want to eat all of it at once.

You might be asking:  why bother?

A few reasons.  First, pomegranate is so delicious.  I asked my son what he was eating, trying to get him to say “pomegranate,” and he bypassed that by announcing, “treats!” It really does feel like treats – a sort of holistic version of nerds or gushers candy.  (Yes, I ate those growing up!  And loved them!  People can change…)

Secondly, because pomegranate is amazing for you.  Per Rebecca Katz’s The Longevity Kitchen, pomegranates are anti-inflammatory and promote heart health.  She writes,

Nitric oxide helps blood vessels relax, making it vital for cardiovascular health, and pomegranates have been shown to pump up levels of nitric oxide in heart cells and also lower systolic blood pressure.  In animal studies, pomegranate extract also helped slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, which could be beneficial for those at risk of metabolic syndrome, which is associated with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.  Pomegranate antioxidant levels are so high that Russian physicians used it to reduce the effects of radiation exposure following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

While that latter bit will hopefully not become relevant to us, it’s safe to say that pomegranates are nothing short of phenomenally good for you.  Dr. Josh Axe goes so far as to claim that pomegranate seeds are a natural aphrodisiac, that they can reduce arthritis and joint pain, fight cancer, lower blood pressure, fight bacterial infections, and improve heart health and memory.

If pomegranate were patent-able, phizer would be All. Over. It.

In sooth, I’ve never been one to choose foods based solely on claims that they are “Healthy.”  I choose foods more like a cat does – Does it smell nice?  Is it delicious?  Can I play with it for a while before I eat it?

(Kidding.  Mostly.)

Back in the 90’s, when low-fat foods were all the rage, I dismissed them and opted for the “unhealthy” full-fat versions of foods – based on the fact that the low-fat foods were uniformly gross tasting and that had terrible texture.  Now we know that the low-fat fad was terrible for us: our bodies need healthy fats to function, and most of the processed low-fat foods were simply re-engineered to cut the fat and replace it with sugar and salt and weird ingredients to try to mimic the texture of actual foodstuffs.

Yuck.

In my coaching practice, I counsel clients to opt for foods that are not just “healthy” or part of any current health fad – but to choose whole, real foods that are delicious and just happen to be amazing for our health.  This is a foreign concept to many people, but I assure you, the crossover between these two categories is immense.

So, as the holidays approach, I want to raise a toast to the delightful pomegranate.  Not just the juice, but the actual fruit, in all its cellular splendor.  May all your senses be delighted.

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.

Brain Gains: Boosting your gray matter, because it matters

Because we can’t see our brains, many of us take them for granted.  While we may fret about our abs or buy countless potions to firm and smooth our skin, many people assume that brain health isn’t really that important, or that it’s limited to concerns about Alzheimer’s.

SPOILER: It’s not.  Brain health matters.  A lot.  And small choices that we make every day make a world of difference in the function and health of our brains.

MYTH: Whether a person gets Alzheimer’s depends on whether the person carries the genetic markers for it.

Not true.

Think of it like this:  Having genes for something is like having a gun in your hand.  It’s unnerving, yes – you know it’s there, and you know the potential for harm.  But how you live your life determines whether the trigger is pulled.

That is, you can have “bad genes,” but having them doesn’t doom you.  In order for those genes to be turned on, you have to flip a number of switches.  Those switches are how you live: what you eat, the quality of your relationships, your physical movement (or lack thereof), your exposure to a clean (or toxic) environment, your sense of purpose or self-worth.

So, for today, let’s focus on five simple “switches” you can employ to help improve your brain (and overall) health.

  1.  EAT WHOLE FOODS.  Not the grocery store, because it would be super awkward to walk up to the building and start gnawing on bricks and mortar.  I mean actual food.  Mostly plants.  Especially leaves.  A bowl of spinach.  Some blueberries.  A carrot.  A bunch of grapes.  A chicken thigh (from a bird that lived a good life).  A handful of walnuts.  Hint:  If you’re not sure if something is actual food, it’s probably not real food.  A useful guideline that Michael Pollan gives for determining whether something is real food is to ask yourself:  “Would my great grandmother recognize this as food?”  (If you’re holding a plastic tube of artificially-colored, sugar-added “yogurt” in your hand when you ask this question, the answer is “NO.”)  Sugar is a known culprit in diminished brain health, and for many people, gluten and dairy have negative consequences, even if they’re not technically gluten or dairy intolerant.  Reducing sugar intake is a no-brainer (har, har) for everyone; and if you struggle with any sort of brain issues (brain fog, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety), it’s worth experimenting with cutting out gluten and dairy to see what happens.  (It doesn’t mean you have to give them up forever – but it’s worth knowing if they cause problems for you.)
  2. MOVE YOUR BODY.  I don’t mean exercise, at least not in the way most people think of exercise.  While I understand that some people actually enjoy going to the gym (this blows my mind), I don’t.  I’d rather get my “exercise” doing real things – gardening, hiking in the woods, picking up a toddler 400 times a day (TWO TICKETS TO THE GUN SHOW, BABY!), and grinding coffee beans using a hand-crank grinder (seriously!  I love this part of my morning!).  If you work at a desk for 40+ hours a week, you may object, claiming this is not possible for you to do.  Some people try to make up for all the sitting by working out at a gym for an hour after work, but… let’s be honest.  That’s not what our bodies were designed for.  So, desk workers, try this:  A few times an hour, stand up.  Sit down.  Stand up.  Sit down.  That’s it.  If you like, stretch your arms over your head, lean them from side to side.  Incorporate some stretches, or don’t.  But don’t stay seated (or standing, idle) for hours at a time.  Your body will thank you.
  3. AVOID TOXINS.  This one is difficult because there are toxins pretty much everywhere.  Did you know that there are tens of thousands of chemicals in household cleaning products that have not been tested for safety?  Or that a company can put a new chemical in a product and on the market without performing ANY safety testing whatsoever?  The only way a product or chemical gets pulled from the market is after it has caused serious harm to lots of people.  Don’t be a guinea pig:  Instead, surround yourself with things that are known to be non-toxic.  For starters:  ditch the smelly, harsh cleaners, and stick to castile soap, vinegar, and baking soda for your cleaning needs.  Or engage in scrupulous label-reading to make sure that your product choices are healthy.  Don’t trust claims on labels that say products are “healthy” or “natural” or that it “helps save wildlife.”  (Dawn dish soap, I’m looking at YOU!)  If you’re not sure what certain ingredients are, there are organizations like the Environmental Working Group that do a lot of the work for you – just scan a label using their app, and it will tell you about the product.  With regard to food, opt for organic when possible, and mind the “Dirty Dozen” recommendations published annually by EWG.  And regarding yard care, learn to love dandelions and nix the chemicals, many of which are known to be neurotoxic.  (Dandelions, on the other hand, are good for you!)  When you come inside, always take your shoes off and leave them at the door.
  4. GET MORE SLEEP.  Lack of restful sleep is a known risk factor for all brain issues.  In short:  our brains have an off switch, and we need to remember to use it.  If you’re one of the many people who think you’re “just fine” on 4-6 hours of sleep, you’re delusional from lack of sleep.  There are a lot of little changes you can try incorporating to get more restful sleep.  Plan for an earlier bedtime.  Even if you wake early, the rest you get in the hours before midnight tends to be the deepest and most rejuvenating sleep.  And the hardest (but most effective) trick for better sleep:  turn the screens off.  Give yourself an 8 p.m. technology bedtime, and put all the devices (including the television) to bed – tuck them in as far from the bedroom as you can.  If you insist you need your phone next to the bed because it’s your alarm clock, quit making excuses and get a real alarm clock.  If possible, put your WiFi router on a timer so that it automatically turns off at 8 p.m. and back on at 8 a.m.  So what to do between 8 and bedtime?  Read a book (not an e-book), play a game, have a conversation, meditate, paint, call someone you love, make love, practice yoga, take a bath, pack a nice lunch for tomorrow, sip chamomile tea.  Do anything… so long as it doesn’t involve staring at a screen!
  5. BE GRATEFUL.  This one is easy, but also easy to forget.  Try making it a part of your morning or bedtime ritual.  Write “What are you grateful for?” on a sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror.  Then, while you’re brushing your teeth, think of three things.  To make it more of a challenge, think of three things you’re grateful for that you hadn’t thought of before.  And to make this practice even more powerful, write down the things you’re grateful for, or even post them to a social networking profile to share with others.

The encouraging news is that even as you age, your brain function can actually improve if you do the things that help your brain and avoid the things that harm your brain.

Have you tried any changes to help nurture your gray matter?  If so, how’d it go?