Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Acceptance

Life doesn't always go as planned.  Good things happen, things fall apart and the renewal process starts all over again.  I see this in life and inside of me.  Therefore, when I take on all things Ayurveda this month, I realize it is an imperfect process.  I practice conscious eating, but some nights I just have to snack standing up in my kitchen on cheddar cheese slices, snap peas and cashews.  It just happens, and I'm ok with that.  When I write about the neti pot and how great it is, the next day I'll choke and cough and curse the bloody little kettle.  That's how life goes.  The body brush may scratch me, the new Ayurveda recipe may taste like crap or the whole thing may feel like a waste of time.  But other days things will flow, I'll run in the pouring rain and love every second of this imperfect, silly and honest life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dry Body Brushing

Dr. Adolfo recommended dry body brushing as a way to help eliminate toxins, refresh the skin and improve blood circulation.  When I hear about many natural, subtle health techniques, I ask myself, "Does this really do anything?"  Or perhaps, "How effective is this method?"  Well, I've learned that if I relax and enjoy the process, I benefit from small daily improvements.  In the West we often want immediate and dramatic results in order to prove effectiveness, but Ayurveda is centered on preventative health. 

Using a natural bristle brush with a long handle, I brush the skin in long strokes towards the liver (low right side of waistline).  Starting with the arms, I create a path and imagine "dumping" any toxins off for cleansing at my liver.  Then I brush legs and waistline, making sure to pass the lymph nodes.  Like many alternative health treatments, visualization and personal "buy-in" seem to be crucial in this subtle technique.

An article at Examiner.com states that, "Body brushing only takes about five minutes prior to showing or bathing. This process does several things:
1. stimulates the sebaceous glands which encourages natural moisturizing of your skin
2. removes the top layer of dead cells which leads to significant exfoliation and softer, silkier skin
3. improves circulation and increases blood flow to the surface of the body
4. activates the entire lymphatic system
5. aids in the detoxification of the body
6. encourages new cell growth
7. controls and prevents cellulite."

An article in the Yoga Journal reminds me that "In modern Western terms, we might call this a symbolic cleansing, or note that mindfully carrying out a physical process, like body care, can have a meditative effect," she says. Simply put, the benefits are more than skin deep."  One reason Ayurveda appeals to me is because it includes many spa-type beauty and health treatments.  Who wouldn't love that?  Here's a short video I found about body brushing from a spa in Colorado:  http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1296214/dry_brushing_healthy_body_treatment_in_basalt_colorado/

I hope to take full advantage of as many Ayurvedic treatments as possible this month!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Neti pot

Do you like sticking things up your nose?  Do you enjoy clear breathing passages?  Well then the Neti Pot is for you!  I started using the little blue pot and salt packets a few months ago in hopes of relieving my stuffy nose and respitory congestion. 

It was rough going at first, but now I have the technique down.  The trick is to tilt your head to the side so that the warm salt water can run up one nostril and out the other.  You must breathe through your mouth while this "nasal irrigation" occurs.  When you blow your nose afterwards, things clear out and positive results are instantaneous.  Sometimes, however, your nasal passages can be so severly blocked that no water will flow, and then you're out of luck until a later time when water can flow. 

The Neti Pot is an Ayurvedic remedy that was recommended by my Western and Eastern doctors.  Not many natural techniques have been embraced so universally.  Many ear, nose, and throat surgeons recommend nasal irrigation with a Neti pot or other method for their patients who've undergone sinus surgery, to clear away crusting in the nasal passages. Many patients with sinus symptoms from bacterial infections, allergies, and environmental irritants also have begun to regularly use the Neti pot or other nasal irrigation devices, claiming that these devices alleviate congestion, facial pain and pressure, and reduce the need for antibiotics and nasal sprays. Research backs up these claims, finding that nasal irrigation can be an effective way to relieve sinus symptoms when used along with standard sinus treatments. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/sinus-pain-pressure-9/neti-pots

Recently I heard that a behavior becomes a habit after 21 days. I've incorporated the Neti Pot in my morning routine before my shower. It only takes a few minutes now that I've mastered the technique.  I'm hoping to make many Ayurvedic practices part of my normal routine and enhance my health overall.





Sunday, December 5, 2010

Indian flavor

I love Indian food.  Since Ayurveda originated in India, it only makes sense to experiment with Indian foods this month.  I started with Trader Joe's Curry Simmer Sauce.

I followed the instructions on the jar: add 1 cup water and cook 1-inch pieces of chicken for about 15 minutes.  Part way through I added onion and red bell pepper for extra veggie goodness.  I served this mixure over a brown rice medley and was pleasantly surprised with the results.  Delicious!  I'm going to consider this first attempt a success.

I'm envisioning local spice stores or perhaps an Indian cooking class in my future.  A quick internet search revealed an Indian chef that gives classes out of her kitchen in Bellevue.  Her name is Karuna, and I must meet her.  Ready, go!

My Ayurveda Resource

This month my primary resource for help with Ayurveda is the Kerala Ayurveda Academy in Wallingford, especially my doctor, Teri Adolfo.  I dream of someday enrolling in their training program to become an Ayurveda Wellness Practitioner.  The opportunity to travel and study abroad in India appeals to me on many levels.  I consider this month exploratory research.

Conscious Social Eating

This week I've really been thinking about eating with awareness.  Since I live alone, it is easy to sit at my table, enjoy my meal and relax for a few minutes like the guidelines suggest.  However, I often eat with friends or in social environments.  For example, yesterday when the Huskies crushed the baby Cougs (Go Dawgs!) I munched on game snacks like cheese, veggies and dip, crackers, chips, etc.  When the food doesn't take the shape of a meal (i.e. single portion on a plate), it's hard to gauge how much to eat.  Additionally, when it's displayed and out for hours at a time, grazing becomes the norm.  It's hard to be aware of every bite in that environment.

Also this week, I attended an incredible event called the Tom Douglas Cookbook Social at the Palace Ballroom.  That evening was heaven.  Local authors came together to create delicious samples from their cookbooks.  My friend, Kiara, and I savored the fried chicken with champagne, dungeness crab bites with avocado and other tasty treats.  A few minutes into the event, after sipping pumpkin soup and tempeh with pineapple, she wondered if she was full or not.  Sometimes it's hard to tell.  The Ayurveda guideline of eating until 2/3 full can be tricky when you can't feel your stomach signals in a fun and festive environment.

A huge highlight of the Cookbook Social was meeting Shauna, the Gluten-Free Girl.  During my gluten-free month, I ate up her book and even emailed her to tell her how much I loved it.  At that time I received an automatic message that she was unable to respond to all of her messages.  Sad face.  However, meeting her in person was inspiring and exciting.  I was able to taste her food from her new cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef.  It definitely felt like a celebrity sighting.


As I plunge into the holidays and eating at social gatherings, I am going to try to stay aware and stay conscious in order to move forward with this ayurveda month.  No matter what happens, I know I love food, love my body and want to enjoy the best that this season has to offer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Month Nine: All Things Ayurveda

The month of December will be dedicated to exploring Ayurveda.  I was introduced to Ayurveda during my yoga teacher training and have always been intrigued by the health and beauty benefits.  I originally thought of it as "the food branch" of yoga.  Since then I've learned that the word Ayurveda comes from ancient Indian Sanskrit and means the "science of life."  That's definitely something worth exploring.

My cookbook, Ayurveda: Inspired Cooking for your Individual Well Being, states that "this complete knowledge of life is a timeless reality, namely the laws of nature, which have been in effect everywhere since the beginning of creation."  Eating based on the seasons, current health conditions and individual dosha type seems like a smart way to live.

This month I'm going to start with some guidelines for eating with awareness.  They claim to improve digestion and ensure that I'm gaining maximum nourishment from my food. 

1. Eat in a quiet, settled and comfortable environment.
2. Eat only when you feel hungry.
3. Do not eat when you're upset.
4. Always sit down to eat.
5. Eat at a comfortable pace; stay conscious of the process.
6. Don't overeat; leave 1/3 of your stomach empty to aid digestion.
7. Eat freshly prepared foods.  Lightly cooked foods are preferable to raw or over-cooked foods.
8. Favor fruits, vegetables and grains, warm milk, almonds.
9. Include all 6 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent) at every meal.
10. Sit quietly for a few minutes after finishing your meal.

These guidelines make sense to me.  However, they may not be easy to follow at all times.  Immediately I think about my rushed lunch break between teaching classes, but I guess that's part of the challenge.  I'm ready to increase my awareness and see what happens.  The idea of 6 important tastes is something I don't normally encounter in Western food ideologies.  I'm curious to experiment with these ideas in my cooking and eating.  Wish me luck as I slow down and (hopefully) absorb more.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Month Eight: Blog-Free

Hello dear blog.  It's been awhile.  The last few months I've been experimenting with time, love, work and all kinds of other craziness.  So I'm going to retroactively declare that my experiment was to go blog-free.  Kind of a cop-out, I know.  But now I'm back and ready to move forward. 
Here are a few things I've learned or relearned during my Blog-Free month(s).

1. I love to experiment and try new things all the time.
2. I dislike making changes in my life just to please other people, especially when they are not my idea(s).
3. I am passionate about writing (journal, blog, projects, cards, etc), and it helps me process all kinds of situations.
4. More people follow my blog than I realized.  (Thank you!)
5. My blog gives me an excuse and a reason to learn and research new topics.

I also realized that I want to know more about who is reading my blog.  Blogger/blogspot doesn't have a feature for that.  If you have ever wanted to leave a comment and didn't, I encourage you to comment now!  You will make me one happy little blogger.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Month Seven: Cell Phone Free

Let me be very up-front.  This experiment was only possible because I was travelling for the entire month and out of my normally cell phone-dependent life. Let me also express how lucky I know I am to be a teacher and have the opportunity to travel anywhere for an entire month.  I was so disconnected from my typical life that I couldn't remember little things like my social security number nor computer password when I got home.  It truly is a luxury to be able to forget and disconnect for awhile.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm big in Europe

This experiment has officially changed continents.  For the next 6 weeks I will experimenting with truth in France, Spain and who-knows-where-else.  I packed one small suitcase and a carry-on backpack.  I'm starting my trip with 5 dresses, one skirt and a bunch of underwear.  I have zero cell phones, hair dryers, straighteners, ipods nor close-toed shoes.  I brought one rain jacket and hope to never use it.  Wish me luck as I flit about Paris in dresses eating cheese for dessert and croissant for breakfast.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

This weather isn't helping

I thought this was supposed to be June!  Everyone is crying out about the terrible, grey, wet weather. 

While they bellyache, I scan my closet for my turtleneck sweater dress and leggings.  Add a scarf and some galoshes, and I'm good to go.  Sheesh.  This month I had envisioned frolicking in light cotton dresses around beautiful parks with fountains bubbling in the background.  Instead I hear the swish of rain water under tires and drops pattering on the roof.  Despite the dreary weather, I did take my dog for a nice long walk in my sweater dress...with grey sweatpants underneath, an old fleece jacket and hiking boots.  Wow, what a look that must have been!  It's a good thing I don't know any of my parents' neighbors or I might have considering feeling embarrassed about my crazy outfit.  Just call me the kooky dress lady from now on.

photo courtesy of David J. Nightingale

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No Dresses at Field Day!

Today my fifth grade students tasted the glory of their favorite school day all year: Field Day.  They each got dressed this morning fantasizing about sport centers, the playground waterslide, face painting and the snowcone station. 

Meanwhile, their teacher scoured her closet, searching for an appropriate skirt or dress for the occasion.  I have one jean skirt, but it's long and would be incredibly awkward with tennis shoes.  I dreamed of a sporty tennis dress, but realized that would be way to short for a teacher.  I perused my collection of leggings as a way to add coverage.  In the end, I admitted defeat and wore jeans and a school t-shirt for Field Day.  It is my first challenge, and I wimped out.

The whole experience reminded me of my childhood.  After two boys, my mom was thrilled to finally have a girl.  She proceeded to buy all of the pink, purple and lace she could find.  I remember watching the lace get torn and pulled off a pretty red dress as I pedaled along on a tricycle at daycare.  I remember complaining that my dresses flipped up when I twirled upside down on the bars in first grade.  I also remember rebelling and outlawing all pink and purple from my closet after getting teased by a classmate in fourth grade.  So here I am again, complaining about my dress (or lack thereof) on the playground.  Better luck next time, Senorita Nicole. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Month 6: Pants Free


Don't get the wrong idea...I will be clothed.  In celebration of the upcoming summer season, I will be wearing all skirts and dresses all the time.  While in my house, I am allowed to wear pajamas and other comfy clothes.  But every time I leave the safety of my condo, I will be sporting some sort of feminine attire.  I am eager to feel my reaction to this extra effort and elevated fashion demand.  I don't own many casual dresses (yet), so it will be a month of dressing more fancy and formal than usual.  I'm ready to bare my legs, strap on some sandals and see how this experiment unfolds.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Appreciation

"Man, I'm glad I'm not actually allergic to gluten!"  This statement has popped out of my mouth more than once during this experiment.  The truth is that living gluten-free is difficult.  It's emotional, challenging and at times, very frustrating. 

A good friend of mine has celiacs disease.  She generously let me interview her for an insider's perspective.  Before this experiment, I knew that she had to maintain an unusual diet, but I didn't know much about it.  Now when she talks about her experience, I have a very real point of reference.  She and I studied abroad together in 2002, and I remember the first signs that something was wrong when she would get sick (stomach aches, bloating), sleepy and grumpy after eating or trying to enjoy a couple beers.  She reminded me of one trip to Florence, Italy, when we ate pasta all day and then went to a crazy disco with racy japanamation, greasy Italian dudes and vats of nutella loaded with breadsticks.  Obviously, that wasn't her favorite day of the trip.  As she leaned on me during the bus trip home, neither of us realized what was going on in her body, specifically her small intestine.

Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. If you have celiac disease and eat foods containing gluten, an immune reaction occurs in your small intestine, causing damage to the surface of your small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.  Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment. This can lead to other illnesses and stunted growth in children.  For more information check out: http://www.celiac.com/

My friend told me that traveling is the hardest part for her.  During a recent trip to Russia, she ate a few pieces of salami for breakfast due to lack of other safe options.  She was sick for the rest of the trip.  The smallest traces of gluten matter.  I mentioned receiving a salad at a restaurant with croutons.  I pushed them to the side and kept eating, but someone with celiac would have had to send the plate back.  She asked me to mention to just be nice.  People with celiac disease often feel uncomfortable having to deny foods or constantly explain.  They're not trying to be picky.  They just have to take care of themselves.  It's not worth the alternative.

This weekend I attended a Sounders game at Quest Field.  I hadn't had time to prepare dinner beforehand, so I had to find something at the stadium.  Big mistake.  My choices included pizza, pretzels, nachos, hot dogs.  It was not looking good.  Finally, I saw a rice bowl option with beef.  I ordered it thinking that I would just skip the soy sauce.  It was pre-prepared, so the meal was already swimming in sauce.  I had the luxury of just shrugging my shoulders and eating it anyway.  Someone with celiac disease could not have done the same thing.  It would have meant possible stomach cramping, diarrhea, bloating and a host of other symptoms for days.  I feel so grateful just to be able to eat.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Permission

This week I have given myself permission to eat.  In the constant quest to save money, be thin and require little, I hadn't been allowing myself the resources necessary to really cook and thrive gluten-free.  This week I abandoned my strict food budget and let myself go to the grocery store twice and stock up on new foods including a beautiful, juicy steak.  After tasting a sample of this tender meat at the store and listening to the simple cooking instructions (about 7 minutes on each side, top with a little balsamic vinegar), I walked home dreaming of the herby, fragrant steak with asparagus on the side. 

It was truly divine.  Smoking up the kitchen, throwing myself at my 1925 heavy window to slide it open and sitting down to savor each satisfying morsel made me appreciate the many foods yet to cook and enjoy.  From here on out, I give myself permission to cook, spend money on high quality foods and enjoy each bite I put in my body.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Allergy Confessions

Since starting my Experiments with Truth, I've noticed an interesting phenomenon. When I explain my monthly challenge to friends and acquaintances, they open up about their own personal challenges with food, allergies, lifestyle habits or addictions. For example, one friend told me all about his history with stomach aches and fatigue. It turns out he is allergic to gluten and yeast. Many people live with undiagnosed cases of food allergies that cause all kinds of annoying and inconvenient symptoms. This friend said, "It (eating gluten free) has affected my life for the better, but it is a pain in the ass!!! I love to eat and now I have to plan out (my meals) in advance."  Some of his favorite foods include corn tacos, stir fry, pho', breakfast foods, steak chicken and pork.

At that same wedding last weekend, I saw a friend from college that I hadn't seen for years.  She is vibrant and glowing in a healthy way I had never seen.  It turns out that when I knew her in college, she was living with an undiagnosed food allergy.  Her body has a hard time processing the skins of most fruits and vegetables.  She told me that she never really felt like herself during the majority of college.  She gained weight and credited it to the "freshman 15," however the real culprit was a digestive allergy.  When her doctors finally figured out the problem, it seems like her whole life changed.  I was thrilled to tell her how healthy and alive she looks now!

My gluten-free co-experimenter, Maria, and I went back to Flying Apron Bakery this week for some filling and delicious treats.  Immediately, I noticed a change in her.  Her skin was glowing!  She normally suffers from mild acne, but that day her skin was clear and beautiful.  She and I were both happy to report more regular digestion and less bloating in these first couple weeks of the experiment.  We shared tips and meals that have been working for us.  She raved about her green breakfast smoothie and shared this recipe from the famous Dr. Oz.

This "green drink" is high in fiber, low-calorie and rich in vitamins.
Ingredients
2 cups spinach
2 cups cucumber
1 head of celery
1/2 inch or teaspoon ginger root
1 bunch parsley
2 apples
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions
Combine all ingredients in a blender. This makes approximately 28-30 ounces, or 3-4 servings.

  

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sent to bed without dinner

I'm still getting the hang of this.  Apparently eating gluten-free sometimes means not eating what's offered.  At a friend's wedding this weekend, the combo of sun, not eating and cocktail hour equalled an early bedtime for me.  I woke up at 4:39am to realize in horror that I missed the majority of the wedding reception including most of dinner and the dancing.  My body needs more fuel and more sustenance.  By passing up the bready, pastry appetizers, I ended up consuming more champagne than actual food. 


Luckily a caring friend walked me back to my room and put me safely to bed before any embarrassing events occurred.  I thought I was being responsible by eating a big gluten-free meal before the wedding.  That same caring friend is allergic to dairy, so she has been trained to eat her own safe food before weddings.  Together, with our real and imagined allergies, we chowed down on big plates of brown rice and veggies minus the teriyaki sauce (contains soy sauce).  Apparently, that wasn't enough to counteract my enthusiastic drinking.

I want to learn from this experience.  Eliminating gluten from my diet changes how my body reacts to substances like alcohol.  I have to be careful as my own experiment specimen.  I am attending another wedding this Saturday, so I will use that opportunity as my own personal "re-do" and take proactive steps to stay healthy and thrive gluten-free.

I've been glutenized

Today was a gluten-full day.  I admit it.  I felt low on options and low on variety.  My favorite nutty, apricot dessert bread was offered at the lunch table.  When I found out that it had been lightly dusted with flour, for some reason I chose to eat it anyway.  My boring lunch of broiled asparagus and mixed nuts was just not enough.  I need to get cooking and preparing filling and satisfying meals.  Trying to slide by on less just isn't working.

Also today I ate two pieces of pizza at my monthly union dinner meeting.  I had all of the best intentions to eat the veggies and dips from the separate tray, but when those tempting and fragrant pizza boxes came rolling in, I succumbed to my hunger.  The truth is that it felt good.  A full, warm, cozy feeling spread through my body.  That feeling was accompanied by his friends, sleepy and sluggish.


Feeling full is a welcome relief.  The quest to feel full without eating gluten led me across town to a big gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan calzone at the Flying Apron Bakery.  It really did the trick.  The crunchy crust and warm melody of vegetables mingled in my stomach. That same day I bought the gluten-free girl cookbook and delved in, relishing every clever story and mouth-watering recipe.  I love the way Shauna looks on the cover, armed with two satsumas behind her back.  She's armed and ready to cook around that gluten allergy and create delicious meals that love her back.

After this temporary pitfall, I am ready to renew my gluten-free resolution.  Finding healthy ways to get full and feel nourished are my goals for the next 3 weeks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is THAT?

This weekend presented some interesting new gluten-free challenges.  Avoiding beer on a roof-top deck, passing up chips and pretzels on a boat and thowing a baby shower without cookies, cupcakes or pastries sparked a lot of social conversation about gluten.  At one point a friend pointed out that my challenge looks a lot like a complex-carb free diet (Not a terrible thing right before the summer season).  But today I'm going out in search of crunchy and satisfying gluten free treats.  I can not only munch on fruit and nuts for an entire month!

On Saturday I stopped at the gas station to pick up a few snacks before heading out on the water.  The only thing I could find was a small bag of almonds and a bottle of water.  Chips and crackers contain wheat.  The candy bars contained a strange, off-limits ingredient called soy lecithin.  It got me thinking....what the heck is that?

Soy lecithin a substance that is extracted from soybeans using a solvent such as hexane, and it’s a by-product of soybean oil.  It is an additive found in many everyday foods, but it’s normally used in such small amounts that it rarely exceeds more than 1 percent of the weight of any food product. It works as an emulsifier in candy bars, keeping the cocoa and cocoa butter from separating. Soy lecithin also can be used in baking to make the dough less sticky and help it rise. It works as a so-called wetting agent, too, making cake mixes easier to spread into a pan when liquid is added.

Despite this new information, I still don't know how wheat, barley nor rye fit into that answer.  What makes it contain gluten?

When a chocolate craving hit last night, I scanned at my chocolate stash and everything contained soy lecithin!  So I marched my butt to the store about bought a beautiful bar of organic dark chocolate.  My eyes feasted on the pure and simple ingredient list.  Chocolate has never tasted so good.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Where are you hiding, you little gluten you?

I knew that this month would be tricky.  Gluten is one of those sneaky ingredients that find its way into everything.  Knowing this, I started researching where this little trickster may be hiding.  I found out that mass-processed meats are often made with gluten, to fill out the salami or make the turkey seem plumper. Gross. 
The Gluten Free Girl also taught me that, "Anything packaged that comes in individual pieces--candy, frozen foods, corn tortillas; french fries; the cashews I ate the other night--could be dusted in flour just before being stuffed in the package. Why? Because we live in America, and we like everything to look pretty. Goodness forbid that two pieces of chocolate stick together."

Here are a few other things that contain gluten:
--modified food starch
--MSG
--lecithins
--textured vegetable protein (think veggie burgers, or any fake meat)
--emulsifiers
--soy sauce (most of it contains wheat; you have to use wheat-free tamari instead)
--prescription and over-the-counter drugs, even some vitamins

With this new knowledge, I realized that my yummy little calcium and vitamin D chews are off limits.  They contain glycerin, corn starch and soy lecithin.  It makes me wonder why I started taking them in the first place.  If only it were more sunny in Seattle...then I could get my vitamin D the old fashioned way.
Even though I ate two of these chocolate calcium chews yesterday, I don't consider them a mistake nor or a cheat.  I know that my gluten learning curve will be steep these first few days.  I'm just happy to be sticking to my experiment this well.  It's been two days of wholesome oatmeal, fruits, delicious thai food with brown rice, colorful salads and nuts.  I even was able to eat some flan and chocolate at a work dessert party last night.  More discoveries yet to come!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Month Five: Gluten-Free

The inspiration is strong.  Before I write another word about my new gluten-free journey, I have to pay tribute to this writer.  http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com/  Her name is Shauna James Ahern, and she is my gluten girl hero.  I expect that her blog (and probably cookbook) will be my bible this month.  To read about her diagnosis with celiac disease and resulting lifestyle inspires me to take this experiment seriously and really go for it!


To live gluten free means letting go of wheat, barley, rye and triticale.  That sounds innocent enough.  What that really means is no typical bread, pasta, pizza, crackers, cereal, pies, cakes, etc.  There are gluten free alternatives for most (if not all) of these foods.  I'm really lucky to live in Seattle.  We are so granola and crunchy, I know it will be easy to find baked goods and snacks that I love.  Immediately I think of Chaco Canyon Cafe and the Flying Apron Bakery.


I am feeling so optimistic and motivated.  This experiment is providing me an excuse to try a lifestyle that has always intrigued me.  I will get to sample delicious and strange new products, cook healthy recipes and most likely feel better.  I'm doing this for me, for my dad and for anyone that is stuck in a rut and wants to get out.  Here we go!

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Inspiration is Contagious

As I prepare to start my 5th experiment, it seems that my enthusiasm is contagious.  Two friends have decided to challenge themselves with experiments like mine.  It's pretty amazing to see how my efforts are inspiring others to try new things and rethink their lifestyles.

One friend gave up shopping for 30 days.  She picked an experiment that is most relevant for her since she often shops online purchasing make-up, shoes and clothes.  See my last blog entry for an example of her passion for clothes and designers.  Her perspective on this challenge has already been interesting and entertaining.  Her recent facebook status said, "Day 6 of the "No Shopping for 30 Days" challenge....Still no voice and cramps. All withdrawl symptoms!"  I'm curious to find out her biggest temptations and how she conquers them.

Another friend is getting ready to join me tomorrow during my gluten-free month.  She has had severe stomach problems for years and is using this opportunity to do something positive for her health.  She's already been sharing her tips.  She filled me in that corn tortillas are gluten free.  That sounds like a good start to me!

I'm eager to explore this new dietary challenge.  I'm hopeful that I will feel healthy and light and even more energetic.  My dad recently got diagnosed with a gluten allergy, so I'm also excited to support him in his experimentation with delicious wheat-free options.  It's going to be a good month.  Plus I'll look great in my heels as I do it!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"I want to marry these!"

This week I conducted my first in-depth investigative interview.  A friend in the fashion/beauty industry gave me her fascinating perspective on heels, height and Seattle fashion culture. 

My shoe education came in one phrase: Christian Louboutin.  She showed me her most treasured pair of shoes: 5-inch black Louboutins. 

"These are your babies then," I noted.  "I want to marry these!" she exclaimed.  The gorgeous pair of heels came with their own lush red carrying case, heel reinforcements and signature red bottoms.  I soon learned of the Louboutin phenomenon when she showed me all kinds of celebrities strutting these hot heels.  She went on to tell me how even in the Sex and the City 2 movie, Carrie Bradshaw has moved away from Manolo Blahniks and is embracing the glamorous and ultra-feminine Christian Louboutins.  Jennifer Lopez dedicated her new single, "Throwing on my Louboutins," to these red-bottomed glamour symbols.  Check out this live performance with huge Louboutin shoe/bed:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=un_t42NMJnE


During our interview we mostly talked about the feeling of wearing heels.  To her, wearing flats is synonymous to shlepping around the house, scrubbed out and tired.  The second you put on a pair of sexy heels, posture changes, body lifts and tightens and that aura of sex appeal envelopes us.  From frumpy to fierce.

As mentioned in my last post, I've been exploring the idea of "height privilege."  The concept of a sexy shoe size also came up.  The ideal shoe size is 5.5 or 6.  Most stores display these small shoes sizes just like they display size 0 or size 2 clothing on their mannequins.  It looks dainty and feminine and often unattainable.  My friend often acts at the shoe preview for her girlfriends because she can grab any shoe off the display and give an instant fashion show.  Not having to call a salesperson, nor wait while they fetch your size nor worry about hiding large feet...these things may lead me to name a type of shoe size privilege.  As a 5'3'' woman with size 9 feet, I sometimes wonder where nature went wrong.  I will never be able to grab the shoe off the display except to dangle it off my big toe.

This interview inspired me to expand my blog research.  I'm eager to learn more and dive into the many resources available all around me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Height Privilege

My initial intention when starting this blog was to understand different perspectives.  This month I've learned a lot about my tall girlfriends and their experiences growing up.  As we grow into ourselves, we learn to accept and love the many aspects of our being.  For many tall girls, height is something they've come to embrace, but it hasn't always been easy.

For example, one girlfriend remembers dating a shorter guy.  She said, "I always felt huge and not very feminine when I was with him. I felt more self conscious about my weight and awkward when we were out in public. Not only did it make me uncomfortable, but other guys would comment that I should be with a taller guy and ask what was I doing with such a little guy. When I was dating a shorter guy, I noticed myself rarely wearing heels and always searching for cute flats. I don't like wearing flats when I get dressed up. There is just something about putting on a pair of heels that made me feel more sexy and like a woman. I would only date guys over 6' once I got a little older."  I can relate to this friend's experience.  I believe most women want to feel delicate and protected when with their man. If he is shorter or thinner, it can be difficult to accept.


She went on to say, "When I was younger I hated being so tall. I felt like every guy I met was 5'10 and below, and all I wanted was to be short and petite. I was so self-conscious of my body image. I hated my height because being so tall meant you weighed more than most of your friends. I wore bigger clothing sizes and I could never find jeans that were long enough for me. I have a 34.5 inch inseem and in high school that was non-existent. Sleeves were always too short, and they never had my shoe size at the department stores. It wasn't until my freshman year in college when my mom bought me my first pair of Sevens that I actually liked the way they looked on me. I didn't have to pull them down so low and wear the crouch of the jeans at mid-thigh because they actually touched the ground being around my waist."


A few friends mentioned that strangers will comment on their height.  Sometimes this interactions are welcome; other times they feel intrusive. 

Many friends mentioned wearing flats when they are around shorter people so that they don't come across as overbearing.  One friend wrote, I will take the height of who I'm going out with into consideration sometimes. Like when I would go out with the boys, they were all shorter than me to begin with, so I wouldn't wear heels. Mainly so I won't tower over them."  I've come to realize that as a shorter woman, I experience a type of social "height privilege."  I am almost never taller than the guys I want to date.  I never have to base my shoe decisions on the people around me.  I automatically wear a smaller clothing size because my proportions are more compact.  My absence of worry makes me lucky in this way.  I'd never realized that before and now appreciate some of the social benefits of being shorter.


However, height can have it's advantages.  One tall girlfriend said, "it (my height) is an advantage at work, I believe I am taken more seriously when in meetings with men and women who are older or more experienced than me."  Additionally, tall women stand out.  "At my age, now I love being tall! When I walk in to a room people always seem to notice you, and it sets you aside from other girls, There aren't a ton of tall girls out there. I think being tall has helped me in many ways, for instance getting a job, invited to parties, making friends, getting guys attention, playing sports."  One tall male friend told me that taller women are easier to talk to in many social situations like bars and clubs.  For him, being able to see eye to eye with a woman is comfortable.  He finds it easier to hear and relate to these woman, instead of bending down to chat with shorter girls.  So there you have it...the tall and the short of the matter.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The "Up" Side of Heels

This month I have mostly been posting anti-heel writing, mainly to make myself feel more comfortable with the sacrifice.  Recently, I surveyed a few tall girlfriends that love to wear heels.  One mentioned that she could not go an entire month without wearing heels.  When I asked why, she replied, "At a really young age my mom engrained in my head that heels made my legs look longer and more beautiful, so I started to wear them in 6th grade. By college I started to pretty much wear them full time. I think I only own (outside of my tennis shoes and uggs) two pairs of flats, and I own about 50 pairs of shoes at least......"  She mentioned that shoes can make an outfit and that heels make the look more sexy.  I have to agree.  I love the way heels make my legs look and the way they make me feel...sexy, feminine and sophisticated.  Growing up, most women tried on their mother's heels and clomped around the house.  Learning to walk in heels is a rite of passage into womanhood.

Two friends described the ability to wear heels as almost a "right," and are looking for guys that fit into their current "tall" lifestyle.  One girlfriend wrote, "I love wearing heels, I feel weird out without them on. I used to be self conscious until I came to the realization in college that I should be able to wear the same shoes as everyone else...In dating, I think it (my height) can be a disadvantage, only because it limits the odds of finding someone who is okay with someone who is 5'10" and wears heels out. I am also on the shyer side, which can add to the "standoffish" and imtimidating factor."  While researching, I came across an article called, Why Tall Women Should Wear Heels. It declares, "If you're six feet, then you have a God-given right and Constitutional right to wear high heels; do not let other people take away your rights to feel feminine and stand tall and proud."  My same yoga teacher that discourages me to wear high heels, encourages tall women to stand up straight and "be tall and beautiful."  The effects of slouching may be worse than the effects of wearing high heels.  The message is the same no matter your height: stand up straight and be your beautiful self.


The truth is that heels are part of our culture.  They are accepted and often expected in many situations.  As I continue along this month's experiment, I learn more and more about their impact on our lives.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Heels and Health

Do high heels affect our overall health?  My yoga teacher mentioned the added pressure on our knees and backs, thus affecting our alignment and posture.  Wearing heels does provide an appealing booty-lift, but that comes with an exaggerated lower back curve.  She told me, "I was cute enough without the heels," and that made a big impact on me.  Seeing a role model give up heels and embrace a more grounded stance definitely inspires me.  I'm seeing that you can absolutely be sexy and appealing without the high heels.
One article states that "high heels can contribute to the development of a variety of conditions from corns and calluses to hammertoes, arthritis, chronic knee pain, sprained ankles and back problems."


Brenden Brown is a podiatrist who sees about 500 women every year with problems caused by wearing heels.  He says that damage can be inflicted by high heels over a period of one day or 40 years. Each person is different and the effects of wearing heels will differ on everybody.

He says the reason high heel wearers suffer back pain is your body's centre of gravity is thrust forward. High heels cause the forefoot to overwhelm the joints and the toes. Osteoarthritis can also be caused by high heels because the soft tissue overcompensates when under strain. For more on that article check out:
http://health.ninemsn.com.au/whatsgoodforyou/theshow/694324/are-high-heels-bad-for-your-health

Additionally, the cost of heels goes beyond the cash register.  One study states that "the damage done to women’s feet from wearing high heels has been estimated to cost the National Health Service a huge £29 million a year in treatment -which included removing bunions and straightening toes."  When it comes to food, alcohol, caffeine, heels...it's interesting how we pay money to hurt ourselves.




As predicted, this month has been an easy challenge.  Last weekend I went on a trip and only packed flat shoes and boots.  With limited options, the heel temptation was completely removed.  The truth is that heels are not all that seductive to me anyway.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Our Obsession with Height

After some initial research, I've found a few interesting articles and resources about height.  On an eharmony dating discussion wall, one man asks why American women are so obsessed with height.  I particularly enjoyed one man's analysis of the phrase, "tall, dark and handsome," and what that really means to women.  No women responded to the question.  Check out the responses:
http://advice.eharmony.com/boards/dating-advice/about-you/24640-why-women-obsessed-height.html

I also found an average height calculator.  It turns out that at 5' 3" I am 3.5 centimeters below the average height for a Caucasion woman.  That number surprises me because no one wants to think of themselves as "below" on any type of test.  It makes me wonder if that's an international average or American average.  Hmmmm.  Since I just realized that this same site has an average penis size and girth calculator, now I don't feel so bad.

This enlightening article tells me that I make less money and have fewer dates than my taller counterparts.  It also says I have a higher risk of suffering from dementia.  What the heck?  It does shine one tiny ray of hope for us smaller women.  We have a lower risk of hip fractures.  Why?....less distance to fall.  Oh geez.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=no-tall-tale-height-matters


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Clear Vision

This experiment is different from previous months in one crucial way.  I only have to make a shoe-based decision once (maybe twice) a day.  Additionally, alcohol is never involved in that decision.  Don't get me wrong, I have dressed-drunk in my life...but these days that's a less common occurrence.  Therefore, I have a much higher likelihood of succeeding this month with no slip-ups.  That's an exciting thought since I haven't had a 100% success rate yet.  Unlike food or drink decisions that happen many times a day under a variety of circumstances, getting dressed happens much less often and in only limited places.  The evidence will be on my feet and available for all to see.  That extra accountability is motivating.  Yes, this will be the month of experiment victory!

Give an Inch

At the beginning of each experiment, I have to outline the rules.  It has become clear that completely flat shoes are rare.  Therefore, I am allowing shoes with a one-inch heel or less.  Even my "flat" leather boots have a tiny little wedge.  The shoes I wore on Friday had a teensy kitten heel.  For my male (or fashion-unconscious) readers, that looks like this...
It felt pretty good to wear flat shoes all night.  I walked, stood and danced the night away with no feet or back pain.  In a way, it also felt honest.  Honest about who I really am.  All 5 feet 3 inches of me.  As women, we have all kinds of little tricks to enhance our appearances.  Whether it's the hair highlights or extensions, make-up, fake eyelashes, slimming clothes tactics, teeth whitening or more invasive beauty techniques, we usually try to present our best face by whatever means necessary.  There's nothing wrong with these beauty choices, but they do sometimes feel like tricks.  We withhold or diminish the person beneath the fa├žade.  Only a handful of people get to see us with the trickster shell removed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Month 4: No High Heels

From April 12- May 11th, I will be sporting only flat shoes.  This may sound trivial, but I'm curious to see how this small change affects my life.  As a woman, high heels are a symbol of femininity, elegance and sex appeal.  To "lower myself" to flats will take away one aspect of being a woman.

I suspect that this month I will question aspects of gender identity and expression.  There are so many ways to be a woman, I'm eager to explore my own constructs.

My first challenge will be this Friday.  I'm celebrating my birthday at a Moroccan restaurant with friends and then going out dancing.  Birthdays and other special events usually require high heeled shoes.  By dressing up with heels, a woman can communicate that the event is important enough to suffer a little discomfort...it matters enough to her to look good.

In English, we use all kinds of language that demonstrates the importance of height and stature.  For example:
  • Dress up
  • Rise to the occasion
  • Keep your head up
  • Things are looking up
  • Up the food chain
  • Up the corporate ladder
  • A head above the rest
The list can go on and on.  I know that height is an important issue for men and within the dating world.  This month, I'd like to see how much height and heels really matter.

Once the Month is Over

I've officially started the next experiment, yet I find myself still caffeine-free.  Monday, the first day I was "allowed" to drink caffeine again, I drank tea on the way to work.  A regular cup of coffee has lost some its appeal.  I still have decaf coffee grounds at home and will continue to brew decaf in the mornings.  I don't know when/if/why I would switch back to regular at this point.  Now that it's not forbidden, the temptation is gone.  I can swing by the coffee shop and pick up a cup o' joe anytime I want, so I've chosen not to do it.  Isn't that how temptation always works?

Part of me is scared to get addicted to caffeine again, even though I didn't have any severe symptoms before.  The experiment gave me an excuse to try something different, and I'm liking the change.  I've learned that caffeine reduces the amount of calcium and vitamin D that our bodies can absorb, thus lowering bone density.  Since I have/had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, I need to do all I can to promote my bone health.  If that means giving up some coffee, I am now prepared for that challenge.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm disqualified

Dear Blog,

I'm sorry to inform you that I disqualify myself from the Chocolate Challenge as part of caffeine-free month.  Too many sneaks and treats necessitate a chocolate re-do.  A bite of an Easter chocolate egg, a handful of chocolate-covered almonds and a brownie gift from a student led to my decline.  After admitting complete defeat yesterday morning, I splurged on a chocolate cupcake and delicious dark chocolate squares.  Oh, the forbidden fruit is so sweet!  I'm sorry to disappoint you, Blog.  I promise to make it up to you at a later time.  One month the Chocolate Challenge will be on for real.  This time I admit defeat!

Sincerely,
your honest chocoholic,
Nicole

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's not so bad.

Although habits do die hard, I'm finding that this experiment is getting easier with time.  My decaf morning coffee suits me just fine.  I haven't felt tired or grumpy at all.  Sometimes I reach for caffeine when I need a boost, but usually it's out of boredom.  A trip to the staff room for a cup of mediocre coffee is an excuse to socialize and get out of my classroom.  "Grown-up time" isn't just something that mothers seek out; it's a teacher thing, too.

Chocolate, on the other hand, is something that I crave.  Usually right after lunch or dinner, I want a little sweet treat.  The other night I walked down to Top Pot Doughnuts and ordered a pink vanilla cake and a decaf coffee. 

This is something I would normally never do.  I would always pick the rich, goopy, chocolatey one.  But I have to admit that my little pink princess donut was pretty delicious, too.  I remind myself that it's good to try new things, even if they're not the things that you like the best.

Now I wonder if I will switch back to caffeinated coffee once this experiment is over.  It does taste a little better.  But why add a drug to my daily life that I'm fine without?  When I've been out lately, I've been ordering vodka tonics instead of my usual rum and Diet Cokes.  That seems like a "healthy" switch, too.  I could continue to live without all of the caffeine and aspartame/saccharin.  Don't even ask me what's in the Red Bull vodkas.  And definitely don't ask me when the alcohol-free month begins...

I've kept some parts of each experiment so far.  For example, I use vegetable broth instead of bouillon cubes in soups (see vegetarian month).  I've also been less drawn to buying new things, instead finding cute used items or pieces already in my closet (see shopping month).  What pieces of this month will I keep with me?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I don't go to church; I blog.

Another day, another confession.  I may not confess my sins every Sunday at church, but this blog is definitely keeping me accountable. 

Yes, I ate chocolate on Thursday.  Every month I have a union meeting over dinner.  The dinner is usually followed by a few pieces of chocolate supplied in small bowls on each table.  While listening to a budget cut discussion, I absentmindedly grabbed a couple pieces of dark chocolate.  Only afterwards did I turn to my friend and say, "Oh no!  That's chocolate!"  Habits die hard.

How often to we snack (or gorge?) without thinking about what we're eating?  It feels like my body occasionally operates on auto-pilot.  Cultivating awareness is challenging.  My experiments with truth are mostly motivating me to fess up when I slip up.  So here I am...I confess!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Chocolate Challenge

I admit it.  I've been in a state of denial.  This whole time I've know that chocolate contains caffeine, but haven't wanted to sacrifice this beloved luxury.  I'm ready to amp up this experiment and exclude the many types of chocolatey goodness.  Anyone that knows me knows that I adore chocolate.  I keep a constant stash at home and usually at work, too.  While writing my last blog entry last night, I was sipping on a rich hot chocolate and feeling like a hypocrite.  I'm here to confess and recommit.  This month just got a whole lot harder.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What does that REALLY mean?

When I describe my experiments and my blog, I encounter a variety of reactions.  When I mentioned my morning decaf coffee, a friend replied, "What's the point of that?"  I completely understand this perspective.  Without the caffeine, coffee seems naked.  I guess now it's just a vehicle for the cream and sugar.  There's also something comforting about my warm travel mug keeping me cozy on the early commute to work.
I'm not a big soda drinker, so that part isn't difficult.  At this point, I'm a little unsure which teas have caffeine and which ones don't.  My local barrista told me that my beloved chai tea has caffeine.  Sad face here. 

I read on a box of green tea recently that it's "naturally decaffeinated."

 I'd always thought that green tea had caffeine and heard about it's metabolism-boosting effects.  After some research I've confirmed that green tea does, in fact, contain caffeine.  Now my marketing friends, how can a box claim that it's "naturally decaffeinated?"  What are the rules there?  How can I stay true to my experiment while constantly being led astray by misleading marketing?  Hmmmmm?  It turns out that products processed with ethyl acetate are referred to as "naturally decaffeinated" because ethyl acetate is a chemical found naturally in many fruits.  But that process doesn't sound all that "natural" to me.

If nothing else, these experiments get me to ask questions that normally wouldn't cross my radar.  All the little things we take for granted and just accept can be pretty surprising when we stop to take a good look.  I plunge onward with this experiment with a new awareness and interest in all the little details...

Viva Las Vegas!


The second day of this experiment was spent entirely in Las Vegas.  Sin City is not the best place to keep any kind of resolution.  After ordering decaf coffee with lunch, passing Diet Coke for tonic mixers, I succumbed to temptation.  The "forbidden factor" I experienced during my month of vegetarianism popped up again in a different form.  After some drinks, Red Bull just became ridiculously appealing.  I never drink Red Bull when I'm sober.  But when out, dancing, around friends, it seems like a magical all-night potion.  Long story short, I cheated.

There is one bright side to being caffeine-free in Las Vegas...Your brain is so fried from the alcohol, you don't really notice any caffeine withdrawl effects.  That blurry headache would be there regardless.  Bloody Marys were my treatment of choice.  The honest truth is that I don't regret my slip-ups....they make the stories, make life exciting.  I rather try and fail than stay on the sidelines.  Perfection is overrated.