Remembering a Snowy Chicago Christmas

One of my favorite places in the world to be is on State Street in Chicago at Christmastime. I lived on the other side of Lake Michigan in St. Joseph MI for three years. I could drive 35 minutes to the train station in Michigan City IN and take the Southshore into downtown Chicago for $7 each way. When I first arrived in Michigan, I was engaged to a guy I met in Seattle, but the relationship didn’t survive the move. Our coupling ended right before the snow arrived, and this Southern gal was at a loss for what to do in a really long Michigan winter. It seemed that all of the decisions of my life had shipwrecked me in a place with weather I couldn’t fathom and Yankees I didn’t understand. The answer, it seemed to me, was to throw myself into the best things the area had to offer, and Chicago – I had heard – was a great place to visit.

I traveled initially with friends on a day trip, but I finally got courageous enough to head out on my own for a weekend. I had decided I could wait around to meet a man in the small rural town to escort me, or I could suck it up and be adventurous like a grown-up city girl. I booked a hotel room at the Renaissance with my Marriott points, packed a small rolling bag and checked the train schedule. I learned pretty quickly that people wanted to be on their own on the train, so I people-watched and sat in silence while I watched the Indiana wetlands roll by. It wasn’t long until the Chicago skyline filled the window.

Photo courtesy of Imo Ink

State Street Photo courtesy of Imo Ink

I had so much fun exploring the city and eating at all of the great restaurants that I’d make the trip back many times, but my favorite trip was around Christmas that year. My boss fixed me up with a guy she knew, and he suggested that we head into Chicago for last-minute Christmas shopping. I had been to New York at Christmastime, and I thought it was a wonderful romantic second date. I could see us walking hand in hand down Michigan Avenue with packages on every appendage. Surely there would be skating and Christmas music along the way.

I had to learn to dress for the cold. It didn’t take long to swap out skirts for pants and long johns after a strong Michigan wind blew my skirt up at the front door of the office. I had no idea that cold like that even existed. My bones shivered when that wind hit my skin. But, I was determined to learn how to live here. So, I was prepared with my hats, gloves, snow boots, scarves and long johns. Bring it on! I thought to myself. Well … as the date got closer, I noticed there was a blizzard in the forecast on the day of our date. I was really disappointed because this was the only time we could go, and surely we could not go out into the wintery equivalent of a hurricane. He called the night before, and I said I was disappointed that the weather had messed up our outing. “Oh, we can still go,” he laughed. “In a blizzard”, I asked. “Are you sure?” I’m not sure if he wanted to impress me with his Yankee winter skills, or if he was serious, but he assured me that we would indeed go Christmas shopping in Chicago in a blizzard.

The snow started earlier that day in earnest. The highest snow drifts this Louisiana gal had ever seen were already piling up on the road as we drove to the train station. He was going to drive, but he said we should ride the train due to the weather. I could imagine the two of us alone on the train headed into the station while weary conductors were anxiously waiting for the weather shutdown. But, no …. the train was full. I thought to myself that these people are surely crazy. Maybe the winter freezes up brain tissue and the thaw renders it practically useless. Southerners would never go shopping in a hurricane. And we wouldn’t get in a car if there was a snowflake anywhere within 150 miles.

We arrived at Randolph station in Chicago, and, sure enough, Michigan Avenue was abuzz. Wall-to-wall people were bundled up and trudging through the wintry mess on the ground created by massive snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. We had dinner, shopped for candy and went to Marshall Field’s over on State Street. It’s now Macy’s, but Marshall Fields is a fabulous old department store with a wonderful tradition. They decorate their windows with some kind of holiday story every single year. I’m not even going to try to describe it because you have to see it to believe it, but I got my first taste of what would be a yearly journey for me to see what story Marshall Fields’ windows would tell.

Marshall Field’s Christmas Montage

Families with children bundled together looked in the windows and followed the plot. I imagined that these same parents had done this with their parents as little kids. The windows have been decorated since the 1870s, so it is indeed a fabulous old tradition. I was thrilled that Macy’s kept it when they took over. My hands and toes frozen through my wintry clothes, we walked all over State Street and Michigan Avenue in the blowing snow and freezing temperatures. When we were done, we rode the train back to Indiana. The car was literally buried in snow at the station, and I was worried sick that we would not be able to get it out or be able to drive home. I did bite my nails a few times in the slip-sliding drive home, but he got me home safely. I’ll forever have that Christmas memory of shopping in the Windy City in the middle of a blizzard.

I made a point to go there every year when I lived there between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was always cold, and I can remember bundling up so that only my eyes were showing. My eyelashes would freeze from the water in my eyes. I  ventured out on my own or with my husband when we married. The tradition was to go to State Street, Marshall Field’s and Michigan Avenue. I always asked for that trip in lieu of presents because I knew that memories are better than stuff. I just sold my wedding ring – as beautiful as it was- this week, but I’ll have those memories forever. I know right now the wind is blowing. There are families standing outside Macy’s looking in the windows. The Christkindlmarket is filled with people shopping for German foods and products. The ice-skating rink is packed with skaters whirling around in the night air. Michigan Avenue is teeming with shoppers. I’ll bet there’s a line at Garrett’s for popcorn, and my favorite Starbucks’ entrance is filthy with muck and slush brought in on snow boots.

Brrrrrrrr …. I think I need some hot chocolate. My fingers and toes are already freezing. I guess I could always turn down the AC. :)

Sunday Night Check-In: It’s Christmas, Y’all …. NOLA-Style

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I had a Louisiana Christmas blog post created in my head earlier this afternoon. I drove out to my sister’s house for a short visit this afternoon. I got held up by an out-of-control redneck Christmas parade, and it took over 3 hours to make the usually 1 hour and 45 minute drive. I wrote the blog in my head on the way home. I was inspired by Christmas customs all over Louisiana. But the blog is going to have to wait. I’m beat.

My weekend consisted of a late-night attempt to set up a garage sale with my sister-in-law Friday night, and I had to get up early Saturday for the sale. Last night, I drove over to New Orleans to do Christmas New Orleans-style in City Park. I’ll tell you more about it later, but we had a blast dining in the French Quarter, riding the trolley to the park and seeing the lights. I didn’t get home until 1 AM. My body clock woke me up after five hours of sleep, so I was tired from the starting gun this morning.  I cleaned my house and departed on my Cottonport journey. Too little sleep and too much partying have me feeling like I got run over by a reindeer.

I was determined to cook something healthy for dinner, so I made some quinoa topped with white beans, poblano peppers, brussels sprouts and sliced zucchini. Hopefully it will be what the doctor ordered. I bought grapefruit and sweet potatoes on the way home from Cottonport, and I plan to get lots of Vitamins C and A this week. It feels great to be in a clean house with most of my clothes washed and a pot full of nutritious food ready for Monday. It’s going to feel even better to get in the bed early and hopefully fall into a deep sleep.

Y’all have a good week. Enjoy some of my Christmas celebration this weekend by checking out the Celebration in the Oaks at City Park in New Orleans. It was lovely. Hopefully my sense of humor will return after a good night’s sleep.

Even the walk to the event was beautiful. These lighted swans reflected off the water caught my attention.

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And this ship floating on the black lake…..

And this ship floating on the black lake.

But my favorite part was this beautiful old Live Oak tree bedecked in white lights with large ‘dripping’ white drops falling on our heads. It was magical.

The Cajun Twas the Night Before Christmas was lovely with its alligator-driven sleigh. The poem was read while the lighted scenes created the story.

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 I loved the train garden. Beautiful little scenes with running trains could have entertained me for hours.

 

It was just beautiful ….. Merry Christmas, Y’all. Get your shopping done so you can just enjoy the festivities whether its a redneck Christmas parade, a winter lights’ display or your own special tradition. It only comes once a year.

 

Dancing Without the White Stuff: Sugar

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Photo Courtesy of rodalenews.com

 

So, I’ve been off almost all added sugars for almost 11 days. This withdrawal has been minimal in intensity to the caffeine withdrawal I had 6 months or so ago. Of course, I had cut out a lot of sugars last year, so my sugar intake was not at a historical high. But, I still drank honey in my tea, added cane syrup to my oatmeal and ate pastries and sweets frequently. For the past 12 days, I’ve followed this basic rule about sugars: If sugar – and there are many, many names for it – is first, second or third on an ingredient list, I don’t eat it. I’m not eliminating flours or natural sugars although I don’t eat a lot of that stuff anymore anyway. A couple of days I was really grumpy, but I had only a few headaches early on. Now, I basically just feel much better.

The good news is that it has greatly reduced my anxiety. Most days, I’ve felt anxiety-free, and I’ve found myself becoming much more positive about life and any upcoming changes that might occur. I can think about things that once sent me down a rabbit-hole of worry, and I don’t feel compelled to worry about them at all. I knew my anxiety was much more physically than mentally driven, and I appear to have been right. There can be physical reasons that cause an anxiety-related mind freak out.

Late last week, I bought some whole milk and decaffeinated coffee so I could have lattes for a treat. I can’t have my eggnog latte because of the sugar, and I wanted a substitute. I drank them for three days – one in the morning and one at night. My anxiety came raging back on Friday evening and didn’t level out until Monday morning. I had already been wondering if the decaffeinated coffee had just enough caffeine to exacerbate my anxiety. I’m still not sure if the coffee caused it or the milk, but as soon as I started drinking herbal tea all day again, my anxiety disappeared like a dissipating thunderstorm. Hmmm …. more exploration to come on that. But I’m sold on the limited sugar lifestyle. I just have to stick with it. That’s the hard part.

I had decided on Wednesday that I was going to have an Eggnog Latte. After all, I’m not totally off sugar, and I haven’t had a treat at all during this time. I drove over to Starbucks, and I stopped before I got out of the car. I thought about last weekend’s anxiety, and the way my sleep was disrupted for 3 nights. I thought about how creamy the latte would be and could taste it playing on my tongue. I wondered if a tall would satisfy me and if it would do less damage if, in fact, any damage would be done at all. I wondered if just this one was enough to set me off again. I sat in the car for about 10 minutes contemplating my sweet dilemma. I finally started the car and drove off. I made a decision that my anxiety-free day was more important than a short kiss of milky sweetness. I don’t know if I will always end up with that decision, but I made that decision once. That was an improvement.

This morning we had a preventative health check at work. My blood pressure has historically been very low. It’s one of the gifts of being a long distance runner. In the last year, it had crept up to about 120/80. It was still normal, but I was beginning to wonder if it would start continually climbing. This morning’s reading was more typical of my history. It was 99/63, and I asked the nurse if quitting sugar would make it drop like that. “They say it will,” she said. I’ve also dropped several pounds even though I’ve been eating whatever I want that doesn’t have sugar in it. If the numbers have it right, this is a good choice for me. Only time will tell if it’s a permanent change or maybe just a sigh of relief from an over-taxed metabolic system.

I am sleeping great. When I was young, I never wanted to sleep. I’d go out all night and head to an 8 AM class with no sleep at all. Sleep seemed to be a distraction to an otherwise fun young lifestyle. Now, when someone asks how I am, I often mention my great sleep or lack of sleep as the main reason I feel good or bad. Good sleep is a game-changer. I added a snack of either sweet potato or oatmeal with almond butter right before I go to bed, and I’ve been sleeping great. As my taste buds change, that little snack is already starting to taste like dessert. If it weren’t for the sleep issue, I don’t know if I’d gone down this road … or the caffeine-free road. Right now, I’m loving it, and I don’t really miss the sweet stuff at all. Bye, bye Sugar. I have enjoyed our time together, but you just don’t do it for me anymore. My priorities have changed.

Y’all have a good weekend!

Where’s the Line on Having Emotional Needs?

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A friend of mine is struggling with getting her needs met in her significant other relationship, and she’s really having a hard time knowing what’s hers and what’s his. When she first brought it up, I cringed inside because I could never find the balance either. I could never understand where those blurry lines crossed in romantic relationships. I tried like hell. I tried not to have needs. I tried to get my needs met elsewhere. I tried forcing my needs down their throats. Nothing ever worked. I always ended up wondering why I was in a romantic relationship if my needs were unimportant. I think romantic relationships tend to be more geared to meeting a man’s needs than a woman’s. I’m reminded of it every time I have a conversation like this, and it comes up frequently. We gals have needs that don’t seem to easily get met in opposite-sex relationships.

My girlfriends’ significant others generally like for their partner to talk to me. Along the way, I’ve picked up a lot of insight on relationships because I was so over-performing in the ones I was in. If there was a problem, I took it on myself to fix it. If he had a problem, I took it on myself to fix it. So, when I am asked for opinions, I often end up enlightening my friends in a way that is advantageous to the partner. It’s easier to see both sides when it’s not my relationship. One of my friends’ boyfriends asks her to call me when she’s struggling with something in their relationship. I think it’s kind of funny because I’m the most ill-equipped person I know to give any kind of feedback on romantic relationships. It is not my strong suit.

In my relationships, I’ve always had to meet my own needs if they got met at all. In most cases, if I was hurting or sad, my feelings were minimized or ignored. The only option I had was to be angry. I had nowhere to go with my vulnerability. Compassion has never been present in any of my relationships. So, I’ve become very independent. It also may be a knee-jerk pendulum swing from being co-dependent. I have no idea. When I’ve asked for dating feedback, some men say I’m too independent. “A man wants to be needed,” they say. It confuses me because I’ve found that as soon as I have a need, I am seen as too needy. I’ve also had men tell me I was too needy. Now, if you look at my life, I am not needy by any stretch of the imagination. But, I do have needs. And I’m tired of apologizing for them or enduring disrespectful treatment because I dare to express a need. Whatever happened to compassion, common courtesy, compromise or caring? There’s 4 C’s I’d like to see resurface.

I have my issues. I have a tendency to feel unlovable when I get triggered. It’s pretty normal considering the experiences I’ve had. When I’ve shown up with an emotional need, I have been made to feel inadequate or irrational. So, I have a really intense fear of being needy. I hide it by over-compensating in most areas of my life. But I can’t be authentic if I pretend that I don’t have needs. I do. My girlfriends support me for most things, and I hope to continue that track so that I don’t overburden any future significant other. I know that men don’t have the same emotional make-up that women do, and it is harder for them to bring that to the table. But, I can’t for the life of me figure out the balance in my own relationships with men.

One guy I dated in Memphis told me that I was too needy. It really upset me because I was just starting to date again, and I was trying really hard NOT to be needy. But, how do you balance interest and being independent. And all of the feedback I was getting was I wasn’t needy enough. I talked to my sponsor about it, and she replied, “What’s wrong with being needy?” It never dawned on me that maybe it was okay to be needy sometimes. I’d always had the wind knocked out of me if I showed any sign of neediness even for simple things. I have this question percolating all the time about what is an ‘acceptable’ need? I don’t have any answers. It’s all questions here.

Romantic relationships confuse the hell out of me. I’m an educated woman who is talented and successful in my chosen field. I am an expert in nutrition, health and emotional well-being. I’m not afraid to ask for help or to be coached. I’ve saved for my own retirement, bought 3 homes on my own, moved across country multiple times and run 3 marathons. I am not afraid to try new things. I’m not afraid to re-invent myself. But, I can tell you that I am really afraid of getting into another romantic relationship. I don’t understand them. I fail miserably. I’m either completely relationally stupid when it comes to men, or I make horrible choices. Everyone promised that once I got healthier, I would attract better men. It feels like a vicious lie. In some cases, I’d like to go back to sleep and not know what is healthy and what is not. All I know is that for me, relationships equal a great deal of sadness and pain. I feel like a relationship moron.

Sunday Night Check-In: Connected

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For my Northern buddies, we’re still in bloom here. I got a sunburn on Saturday standing out in the sun in my tank top. Go figure.

I’m going to need some time to process the events of this weekend. Although I had nothing planned going into the weekend, my days opened up to a steady stream of impromptu gatherings that were much more satisfying than any I could have scheduled. I spent some time with my brother’s family on Saturday at a hometown gathering and had coffee with my friend Beth. I didn’t sleep well Friday night, and I needed some positive energy to keep me awake. I came home and took care of myself with a healthy meal and a re-run of Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. It was a relaxing day, and I slept great last night.

This morning I woke up a bit down which I’ll contribute to my ongoing sugar withdrawal. It’s only been a week as of tonight, so I’m sure it will take awhile to get back up to normal operating procedure. I took care of a bunch of chores that needed to be done, blogged and washed my hair for the first time in three days. Then, Beth called and wanted to meet again. I thought it would be great for my mood to connect with a friend and it was such a treat to double-dip with her on a weekend. We always go to places in our conversations that touch me deeply and challenge me to be more authentic. I come away feeling energized and supported. Today was no different with a planned one-hour meeting stretching into almost 3 hours. I’m sure any guy would have been ready to claw his eyes out if he’d been having to tune into that. I think we both cried at least once which is a true measure of a great conversation.

I walked home from the dog-friendly coffee shop at the end of my road in the beautiful sunny 60ish degree weather. It was lovely. As I walked in the door another friend called and we talked about nutrition. I hung up just in time to head over to a prayer circle at The Red Shoes. I got a direct answer from God during the meeting that flooded the roots of my deepest fears with a watery rush of comfort and relief. It will take me awhile to process what I heard, but I already feel so supported by the Universe in the events and the conversations of this weekend.

I am so energized and blessed by my relationships with my girlfriends and even the women who are peripherally in my life. I feel sad for women who devote their entire relational time to relationships with men and children. They don’t realize what a gift they are missing in not cultivating relationships – real, authentic relationships – with other women. They also don’t realize that they are depriving the world of their wisdom, and it is so needed. All over this world, women are silenced in so many ways. Many never develop their voice, and it is lost forever. In the past 7 years since my divorce, I have learned that it is in my relationships with women that I touch the deepest parts of myself. I’ll never take them for granted again.

I managed to stay with my ‘no added sugar’ plan this weekend. I’ve been dropping pounds like melted butter, and I wasn’t even looking to lose weight. I look forward to feeling better. I didn’t clean my house this weekend nor did I go to Trader Joe’s for supplies. I’m not ready for the week ahead, but I’ll figure it out. I’m shutting this down early tonight in the hopes of getting a good night’s sleep. My Reindeer Games fizzled about Friday, but I did really well until then. There’s a new Games starting in a week or so, so I’ll have another opportunity. My calendar is marked to attend the High Intensity Interval Training Class tomorrow night and to walk 30 minutes in the morning. I’ve been a slug all weekend. I’m ready to move.

Y’all have a good week now. And for all of you women who have been missing your girlfriends, why don’t you schedule something with one of them soon? You’ll both be the better for it.

The Act of Letting Go

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This morning I’m posting a listing for my diamond ring on eBay and am a bit reflective about how that ring was created. The cocktail ring is comprised of two diamonds in a white gold design. I’ve often been complimented on it. It is unique, and the two diamonds sit a bit of a distance apart in a swirly elongated pattern. I had it custom-made after my second divorce. I wanted a unique and modern piece to showcase that beautiful diamond. But the jeweler noticed my diamond necklace which was made from the diamond in my first wedding band and offered that it would be even lovelier with two. I took their advice, and the one-of-a-kind ring was created.

I didn’t think I would ever want to part with this ring. It is symbolic of a huge piece of my story. I invested in my marriages, and I worked really hard to make them last. My first husband and I  got married when I was 23, and we decided to just have wedding bands. After we were married 7 years, he came home one day and said he was going to get some jewelry cleaned, and he thought I might want my rings cleaned. I thought it was odd because he never really did stuff like that, but I went along with it. The next day he brought it home and put it on the dresser. I didn’t notice until later when I picked it up how shiny it had become. It was a really lovely gesture. I had the diamond made into a pendant after our divorce. It was my first diamond, and it was very special.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy second husband purchased the second diamond at a small, local jewelry store in Southwest Michigan called McCoy Brothers Jewelers. It was recommended to me by several local people. The two men who ran it were gemologists and were throwbacks from the 60s. You had to call to see if they were open because they didn’t keep regular business hours. If they wanted to close, they closed. They made their own jewelry and did not accept credit. If you wanted their jewelry, you paid cash only or put it on lay-away. But, their jewelry is stunning. As I got to know them, I realized that their jewelry hobby supported their main hobby which was traveling all over the world collecting unusual stones and rocks. They had an entire room in the back with stones from the most amazing places. They were so cool, and the ring was absolutely beautiful. The band was formed to look like a ribbon with the solitaire sitting right on top. It sat in a my jewelry box for a year before I had the heart to do something with it.

Over the years, my friends have sold their wedding bands and diamonds. It’s such a personal decision whether or not to keep it. With both of mine, it took me a while to decide. I have been noodling this decision on whether or not to sell it for about 6 months. The reality is that the sentimental value has now worn off for me. I saw the new ring as a symbol of creating something new and unusual from my history. I’ve thought of it as a wedding ring for myself. I’ve since bought my own diamond earrings and given the ones my ex gave me to his daughter as a graduation gift. I wanted her to have them since they originated from her father. I am sentimental. I hang on to things long after they have lost their usefulness because of their symbolism.

I am in a time of transition. I’m not sure where I’m headed, but I know that something inside of me has already transformed. The outside ingredients of my life will in time fit that new picture. This move here has given me cause to re-think the way I live my life, and with the internal changes that are happening in my heart, I know that I want a different kind of life. I am in an exploration mode, and I’m beginning to enter a disassembling mode. I can feel the letting go happening in a number of areas. I’m letting go of people that don’t work for me anymore, and I’m seeking new spirits for playmates. I’m cleaning out closets and getting rid of things that no longer serve me. I’m cleaning out my diet and letting go of habits that slow me down. And, all of a sudden, I have become drawn to closing the chapter of my life that has long been over. It’s time that those diamonds move on to light up another beautiful face. They served well for me. They were physical evidence and sparkly celebration of bridging that chasm between who I was and the person I came to be. May God bless their journey into their next heart. Oh yeah… and may that journey be worth a lot of money for me! :)

P.S. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ll tell where you where to locate it for your Christmas shopping list!

Perseverance Pays Off: Exercise, Saving and Following Instructions

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Today was a happy day. My financial planner – my brother Terry – stopped by for our annual meeting. Of course, this was our first annual meeting since he is my new financial planner. Anyway, I was not looking forward to the bad news that I was going to starve to death if I lived too long. He actually gave me the good news that somehow I had done ‘very well’ in saving for my own retirement despite two divorces, 7 house sales and 13 moves. I have no clue how I did it. I had no plan. All I know is I started in my late 20s throwing back a little here and there, and now I’m better off than I thought I would be. Even though I won’t be rich, and I’ll have to work until I’m 65 or 67, I will be okay. I am very relieved. I even cried at my kitchen table at the huge sense of relief. I still have a few things I have to do in the future like praying that the stock market doesn’t crash and dash all of my mediocre dreams of living on vegetables and eggs until I’m 125. I also have to pray that I can get out of working for the State of Louisiana before the GPO/WEP law steals all of my hard-earned social security. But, at any rate, for the moment the crisis has subsided.

Yesterday, I went to get my diamond ring appraised. I had good news there, too. The best news was that my fitness routine has paid off and kept me from tumbling down a staircase into an early grave or, even worse, 35 years on life support. My left pump’s heel got caught on the hem of my long skirt, and I fell forward and lost my balance. Actually it was more than my balance. I was almost in mid-air with my feet totally off the steps when my quick reflexes and strong arms grabbed the stair railing. Because of all of those biceps curls and core work, I was able to pull myself up to keep from falling. It scared the hell out of me. When I got back upright, I still couldn’t get the damn heel out of the hem. I thought I was going to fall again. When all was said and done, I looked around to make sure nobody saw me, and I got in the car. I was shaking. It was a very close call.

Image from explodingdog.com

Image from explodingdog.com

In the last two weeks, work has turned into quite a pleasant place, and all of the last year feels like it was a bad dream. I am so very grateful. My anxiety seems to have subsided, and my sugar withdrawal seems to have been short-lived. I’m on track to make my Reindeer Games goal, and, thankfully, this is the last week. I can go back to being a slug when I want to be without feeling like a reindeer failure. But, after my near miss yesterday, I’ll probably keep up the workouts. I’d hate to be lying in a cast somewhere tonight wishing I’d kept up with my exercise.

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I’d just like to thank Corporate America for paying me too much money for a long enough time that even I could save a few dollars to sustain me for the end of my stay here on planet earth. As an ENFP, I have no clue about money, but I did as I was told. Everybody older than me kept telling me to always put money in my 401K and never take it out. I erred once when I let a husband withdraw some money to pay off some bills. I’ll never do that again. Live and learn. And for all of you giving out advice to young women, please tell them that getting married is NOT a retirement plan. Teach them to manage their money and take care of themselves. I know too many women suffering right now because they outsourced that very important job. In a way, it’s like doing their exercises, so they are strong enough to pull themselves out of a free-fall down a flight of stairs. You’re a lucky gal if you can do it.

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A friend of mine just sent me a text to listen to this song. It seems appropriate for the moment. Thank you, Friend.  As always, you make me smile.

I’ll leave you with this thought, and I hope you’ll enjoy Friday as much as I plan to tomorrow. I have no idea what will transpire, but I know it’s jeans day, I’m going to retire someday, and I don’t mind heading over to the office. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

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Happy, Healthy Cows Make Happy, Healthy Meat

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So the conversation continues on my blog post yesterday. My coach Jessica piped in and said that they have discovered that dairy cows under stress have an unhealthy kind of fat, and it is located in different places than the fat in happy, stress-free cows. I tried to Google to get more information, and I discovered several articles about how to humanely slaughter pigs and cows so that the meat is not damaged. Apparently, when an animal is stressed – even if it’s just right before it dies, cortisol is released which causes their muscles to tense. The muscles stay tense making the meat tough. And, in animals that are kept in unnatural conditions, the meat quality is so poor that it is sold only to secondary markets. There are all kinds of efforts being made to make the journey to the slaughterhouse more relaxing for our livestock. You can read more here.

 

I will only eat grass-fed beef from now on, you hear me!!!

I will only eat grass-fed beef from now on, you hear me!!!

Awhile back, my brother Terry and I went to the Farmer’s Market here in Baton Rouge. Cajun Grain rice farmers had a booth, and we both bought some of their Brown Cracked Rice (dubbed Grits). I love it so much better than corn grits. They are creamy and rich and, of course, have the nutrient profile of brown rice instead of genetically-modified corn. This weekend Laura asked me if I had ever visited their website. She laughed and said they take their rice seriously. She read that they sing to their rice. We all got a big laugh out of it, but really, aren’t you supposed to talk to your plants for them to grow. I went to their website tonight, and I couldn’t find the ‘singing’ stuff, but they do take their rice seriously, and they are starting to get some pretty stellar results. I’m hankering to go out to Kinder, LA now and have lunch at their restaurant, InnerG, and take a look at their operation. They have proven that you can grow crops in insect-infested Louisiana with natural methods. It took awhile to get there, but once their soil and plants were healthy, the eco-system battles the unwanted weeds and pests. You can read more on their website.

I don’t always know why living a gentler life makes everything better, I just believe it does. You can call it ‘you reap what you sow’ or karma or ‘you are what you eat’ or whatever you want. I just know that when people are proud of what they produce and take care of their animals and gardens, the harvest tastes better and looks healthier. I have always felt a spiritual connection to my food. It’s why I love farmer’s markets. Food is just something to eat when it’s made by machines or faceless, heartless corporations bowing to stockholders. But, when I’ve talked with the farmer about how they grow it, and I have a laugh or two with them, I bring that image and connection home with me. When I cook it, I know exactly who handled it and where it was grown. The ritual somehow connects me to the earth, God, the elements that nurtured it and the hands that labored to pick it for me. It brings me back to my childhood where my Pawpaw grew our food, and we picked and shucked and shelled it. It was a family affair. All of that feeds my spirit not just my gut.

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Tonight I bought some Grass-Fed Dairy Products!

 

I asked Jessica to give me some more information on the differences between beef that is humanely raised on farms where they are fed grass. She found some images. She said the difference in quality and nutrient profile of chickens is the same. Their eggs are more nutritious and more colorful. I know I love to buy farm eggs. I never know if they taste better, or I just think they do, but I love them. You can review this information and make your own decisions, but I really feel like my body deserves the healthiest food I can afford. I know these grass-fed meats and dairy are expensive, but I honestly don’t get as hungry when I eat them. I eat a lot less. I can buy a rib-eye and make 3 meals off it. The recommended serving size is 3-6 oz. Why are we eating 16 oz. anyway? Most of us do nothing but sit on our butts all day. It’s not like we need the fuel. I’d rather eat appropriate portions than stuff myself with bad quality and sub-standard tasting food.

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Grass-fed beef on the left … of course.

 

I asked a friend of mine who raises cattle for food if he knew about the stress connection and tougher meat. He didn’t, but we have often talked about how horrible the meat in grocery stores is today. He’s used to eating his own homegrown beef, and when he buys storebought, there is no comparison in the taste. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of having cows, we never know anything different. I asked him if he sings to his cows like the Cajun Grain people sing to their rice. “No,” he said, “But I do talk to them and pet them.” I imagine that would make a cow feel good. I hope he says thank you, too. We often forget that these animals give their lives for us to have food. And, if it’s a spiritual thing to grow someone’s vegetables, it’s even more of a beautiful thing to give your life for their sustenance. That meat wasn’t grown from a styro-foam package. It was blood and bone and heart. And, I really want to know that it was happy …. for it’s own sake and my own.

Comparison of Grass-Fed Beef and Grain-Fed Beef

Grass-Fed Beef Information

 

 

Feed Me Something Good, Please

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Photo found on oberholtzer-creative.com

I’m learning a few things that I did not know in my quest to see how my anxiety issues are related to my sugar consumption. It seems that the low fat craze of many years back was supposed to help with heart disease, but, in fact, heart disease has increased since then. The theory is that the worse culprit is sugar, and we replaced fat with sugar. It’s so confusing. I’ve been a little confused after several of my friends have started to eat Paleo-style, and it allows a lot of healthy fats. The Paleo diet also encourages consuming whole milk products and real butter. While I love the idea, I’ve wondered what happened to the nutritional propoganda that said we need to limit fat. It looks like we may be headed for another change.

The recommendations for a long time have been that we should drink skim or low-fat milk products in order to cut back on fat. But, according to my expert yesterday and some other nutritional information that I’m reading, whole milk products are better for you. The reasoning is that when you remove the fat in milk products, the nutritional make-up of the milk product becomes simply …. Are you ready for this? …. sugar. So, drinking a cup of skim milk is like drinking a cup of sugar. It, of course, sets the body off on a course of producing insulin to counteract blood sugar. The blood sugar drops, and we need to have sugar – of any form- again. Regardless of what we think about milk, our body sees skim or low-fat milk as sugar and reacts in the same way. I know I’m looking forward to my new legal treat, a whole milk decaf latte.

Wide angle tight shot of a curious dairy cow.

As I’m reading blogs and information on the impacts of sugar and the idiocy of the food industry in including sugar in every food we eat, I’m getting more than a little angry with our food supply. For instance, Robert Lustig says that Coke is a prime cause of the obesity epidemic. A 20-oz Coke has 75 mg of sodium in it. In order to cover up the taste of the salt, they have to add 65 g of sugar. For a comparison, 65 g of sugar is equal to 16.25 teaspoons of the white stuff. The recommended limit is 4-6 teaspoons a day. What does the salt do? It makes you thirsty so you drink more. What does the sugar do to your body? It keeps you coming back after an hour or two for more. If the sugar doesn’t hook you in for another hit, the caffeine will. Why were we up in arms over the added nicotine in cigarettes if we don’t get up in arms about the same thing happening with our food? MRIs done on people show that sugar lights up the brain in the same pleasure centers as cocaine. Oh yeah… know where the name Coke came from?

I read a book many years ago in preparation for a yoga conference about our food industry. I put it down because I refused to read alarmist stuff about our food. I did not want to be afraid of it. I wanted to read balanced information that I could trust. Now I’m beginning to think that more of it was true than I wanted to admit. I’ve already stopped eating meat because of the poor quality and taste. If I buy it, I’ll buy locally sourced and humanely-raised meat products. My theory is that if an animal is mistreated or fed junk, I take that energy into my body. I want the food energy of humanely treated and processed animals in my body if I eat any at all.

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Local Farm-raised chicken, organic kale and Opelousas sweet potatoes with Kerrygold grass-fed butter

What makes me most sad is to see people I know and love caught up in metabolic disorders caused by food. I know people that are overweight, but they are still healthy. But, I know lots of people who are what I call ‘puffed up’. They are ‘puffed up’ due to the salt, sugar, hormones and processed crap that is put into our food. Worse, they are hooked on it, and they will never get healthy until they break the cycle. I imagine that for most there will be a steady decline into poor health, more medicines and then all kinds of huge interventions to keep them alive…. if you can call that being alive. It just seems wrong to me. I can’t even stand to go into mainstream grocery stores anymore and look at the non-food items masquerading as food. It breaks my heart to see people fill their carts with things that offer nothing more than junk.

For me, since I’ve started eating more locally grown, organic and/or ‘clean’ food, I’ve felt more alive. I’ve started to want more for my life than sitting in a cubicle all day and being force-fed bullsh*t. Activity feels more normal than being sedentary. Feeling good has become an obsession and is becoming more and more of a reality. I don’t feel deprived. I actually feel really lucky. If I get sick, I get sick because there’s something wrong with me not because I’ve been torturing myself with junk food. It rules out a whole lot of health care issues. I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired. So, I’m going to enjoy my decaf whole milk latte and hold the skinny stuff. I may even get some whole milk yogurt for my fruit. It’ll be creamy decadence to replace the sweet taste of sugar. It might be a great trade-off – especially if I can meet the cows who provided the milk.

Am I Fueling my Anxiety with Sugar?

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So, last Sunday night I had another panic attack (not last night). It was so irritating because I’d been doing all the things that were working. And still …. I had ramped-up anxiety and heart palpitations. My head was swimming in fear. All of this happened right before I went to bed. I finally managed to go to sleep about midnight, but Monday I was really mad. “I am so sick of this sh*t,” I angrily texted Jessica.

I thought about my day on Sunday, and there was only one thing that I could think of that could have ramped my anxiety up that way. I have often been told that people who struggle with anxiety and depression should not eat sugar. I had come home from my walk at Tickfaw State Park and eaten an ice cream sandwich and a handful of chocolate-covered almonds on an empty stomach. I wondered if the sugar crash caused that anxiety attack. So, I made a point to experiment last week and track my experience. Sure enough, on days when I didn’t eat any sugar, I felt relaxed and calm. I would think about the same problems that I obsess over when I’m anxious, and I really didn’t care. I felt no fear about them at all. On Thursday, I ate a lot of dessert after Thanksgiving dinner, and I woke up in the middle of the night obsessing. Dammit!!! I don’t want sugar to be the bad guy.

So I spent the next 3 days watching my sugar intake. I felt great again. I had absolutely no anxiety. Last night, I decided to try a little experiment after dinner. On a full stomach, I decided to eat some cane syrup on some cornbread. Altogether, it was about 24 g of sugar. About an hour after I ate, I took Ashok out, and I realized I was starting to get fearful. In my heart, I felt this tightness in my chest, and my fear started to rise. I remembered that I had eaten the sugar.

This morning I watched a video by Robert Lustig on the toxicity of sugar. He makes the point that sugar has become a public health threat. He says that the issues we have with health care are caused by the high cost of treating metabolic diseases that are created by our insane intake of sugar. We absolutely cannot afford the medical care needed to battle these diseases. And he says – for a number of reasons – that these issues are created by our food supply and NOT because people won’t take responsibility for themselves. I’ll let you watch it because I’m sure I can’t explain it, but it makes sense to me. What’s scary is that a large subset of ‘healthy’ people also have these metabolic problems, but they don’t know it.

I called a friend of mine who cut out sugar and flour 17 months ago. I told her about my theory that sugar is increasing my anxiety. I don’t really think it causes it, but I think it ramps it up beyond manageability. She said she believes it. She has lost 94 pounds, and she’s never felt better. She went on further to say that she doesn’t regret her lifestyle change at all. In fact, she feels like she’s making an amends to her body for the hell she’s put it through over the course of her lifetime. I wonder how much damage I’ve done to my body with sugar. For years, I can remember binging on sugar when I was depressed. Maybe it would be a nice thing for me to do at this age to start giving some respect to my body that has gotten me through so much.

I know that today I had no roller coaster ride from the sugar highs and sugar lows. I had no anxiety. I felt relaxed. I was hungry only at mealtimes. My cravings for food in general were reduced. By the time I left for my workout at 6:30 PM, I still felt energized. I’m usually worn out by that time of day and have to force myself to go to the gym. I am sleeping like a dead person even without my herbs. I had some withdrawal symptoms last week. I had a mild headache, and yesterday I took a nap because I was tired. But, today I felt great. I remember the freedom I felt when I cut out caffeine. I didn’t even know I was feeling bad until I felt better.

So, I’ve been caffeine-free for about 6 months and now I’m working on the really hard one – sugar. I’m not sure I’m going to cut it out totally, but I’m going to limit it to the 6 teaspoons a day that is recommended for women. I’m sure this will be a process. But, I meant it when I told Jessica that I was sick of being anxious. Right now, I am highly motivated to feel relaxed and good as often as possible. As far as I’m concerned nothing tastes as good as feeling great feels. I felt better when I quit smoking. I felt better when I kicked alcohol. I felt amazing when I kicked caffeine. I am banking on feeling better when I kick the sugar habit. They are all addictions. I like my freedom. I don’t want to be a hostage to any addiction anymore. I think I’m worth that. More to come … this will be a process.

Resources I found:

Institute for Responsible Nutrition

Lustig’s Famous Lecture on Sugar: The Bitter Truth