Yogaville

If you have ever been tempted to stay at an ashram, then I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Satchidananda Ashram in Yogaville, Virginia. Founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Yogaville is a loving community in the county of Buckingham County.  It is like a gorgeous summer camp for spiritual adults. Sitting on about one thousand acres of land along the James River, it was built to be “heaven on earth” and it is just that.You can choose the way you want to spend your time. My stay consisted of early morning meditation followed by either a yoga class or a gorgeous hike on one of the many trails.
While there, a trip to the LOTUS (Light Of Truth Universal Shrine) is an absolute must. This beautiful building is shaped like a lotus flower with a gold-leaf dome and vaulted ceiling. It is home to ten altars representing Hindu, Shinto,Tao, Buddhist, Islam, Sikh, Native American, African and two unnamed religions. The beauty, the peace, and the fierce love will take your breath away. Be prepared to sit in silence and take it all in one deep breath at a time.
The meals were delicious and the people were lovely. Before dining, we sang together as a way of blessing the food. I shared vegetarian meals with yogis from around the world and, sometimes, I opted to sip my green tea with honey at a table of silence. There is space to make friends or to seek solitude. There is also vegan chocolate cake and coconut ice cream at the Mandala Cafe.
Mmm Mmm Namaste
Please find out more at http://www.yogaville.org/

Acceptance + Sunshine + Summer Jobs

Let me tell you a story about this picture and acceptance and sunshine …

See that lock? Punching it shut for the last time always means one thing for me: the season is coming to an end. I get so sad and I have convinced myself over the years that I need an “official last day”. It is easier to finish this job when it is warm and sunny, when I am able stack the umbrellas side by side for the last time. It gives me a sense of closure. So, imagine my disappointment when I woke up at 8:00 on my last day of work and it was pouring. Imagine my further disappointment when my boss called to let me know that we may not open at all, but that he would check back at 10:00. Well, by the time 10:30 rolled around and it was still raining, I had accepted that maybe my “official last day” would not be on my terms. I had made peace with Mother Nature by staying in bed with the blinds closed pretending it wasn’t happening, I cursed the thunder a little bit, debated whether or not I should offer to work this weekend, and I cried a little. Then, I finally got my ass out into the kitchen, made breakfast, and got on with my morning. Like a big girl.

“It was a wonderful summer,” I had said to my mom over coffee, as I stood out on the front porch watching the rain. And I meant it. It had been hot and sunny, my customers were nice, I worked hard, and I was so grateful for each of those perfect summer days. I decided I didn’t need an “official last day”, that yesterday was as perfect as any other. “It is what it is”, I conceded, “if there is one thing I know can’t control, it is the weather.”

Then, like a miracle, like a gift from the Universe, the rain stopped. The sky cleared itself of every dark cloud and the sun started to shine. My phone rang moments later, we were going to open the shacks and my boss wanted to know how soon could I get to work.

The art of acceptance never ceases to amaze me. It is like this every time I experience disappointment, every time I am unwilling to release the way I think it should be from my stubborn death grip. As soon as I let go, I get exactly what I need. And so it was on my last day of work for the summer …

The moment I accepted the rain, the sun began to shine.

Osteoporosis

Did you know that about 25 million people in the United States are effected by osteoporosis? Consider this … calcium consumption, especially from milk products, is often recommended to help prevent osteoporosis risk. However, over the past 50 years the prevalence of hip fractures has risen significantly worldwide. Fun fact: there are more fractures in regions that have a higher consumption of milk products – namely the U.S., U.K., Canada, and mainland Europe – than in those that don’t – like Africa and China.

The Nurses Study at Harvard University (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9224182) which followed 78,000 nurses for more than a dozen years, found that those who drink two or more glasses of milk per day have twice the risk of hip fracture than those who drink a glass a week or less. Why? Read on …

Our bones are made up of calcium phosphate salts (65%) for hardness and a collagen matrix (35%) for flexibility. Without the calcium in the bone, it will bend but not break when subjected to stress. But, if you remove the collagen, all that remains are the calcium salts, which will shatter when subjected to stress. This is why excess calcium may increase the risk of fracture. I am not to avoid calcium (we need it!) But our bodies also require a true entourage of nutrients working together for good bone health: magnesium, phosphorus, boron, copper, manganese, zinc – plus the vitamins C, D, K, B6, and folic acid. We also need protein to build collagen and healthful fats for vitamin D absorption and protection against bone-destroying free radicals.

Reference:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9149664

Inflorescence

This is how bananas grow. I know, I didn’t believe it at first either. The flower part that you see hanging from the banana tree is actually called the inflorescence. It is usually cut off because it pulls so many nutrients from the bananas themselves. The bananas can’t grow as quickly or as well if the flower is getting all of the attention. Some people like to leave the inflorescence because it’s just so lovely, but their bananas are never as strong and delicious as ones that blossom on trees without the flower.

Banana tree pruning reminds me of every relationship I have ever experienced. The hardest lesson that I continue to learn: let go of what no longer serves you. Just because something is beautiful does not always mean it is worth holding on to. Case in point: my very first boyfriend from the beach, the one I believed I could not live without, the other one who married a girl from Illinois, the man who moved away. These were relationships that had stopped working. However beautiful each one had once been they had run their course. I wasn’t growing anymore. I needed the beautiful blossom that was our relationship to be removed (in some cases, obliterated with a machete), so that I myself could blossom. And I have. I have grown stronger as a result of letting go. I have become a gorgeous, ripe, totally imperfect … perfect banana.

So, learn to let go and you’ll grow stronger (and more delicious) for it.

 

295 NORTH TOWARD BALTIMORE

Published on The Manifest-Station, April 2015

I want to tell you to stop being such an asshole. For all you know my hands are white knuckled around the steering wheel and I am sucking in tiny breaths in rapid succession. For all you know the height of this hill, the sharp turn around the corner, and the anticipation of Baltimore traffic below have paralyzed me with fear. For all you know taking the exit for 295 today feels like cliff jumping. Maybe if you knew, you would stop honking, stop yelling, stop riding my bumper around this narrow bend.

What if I told you that my grandmother is one of my earliest memories of love? I don’t remember what it was we were doing, but I remember that I was small enough to fit in her lap. Her long fingers were clasped around my back, my face was buried in her sweater and we were rocking back and forth. She was singing. That is one of the few memories I have of feeling safe. Now, nearly thirty, I still cling to the sound of her humming.

As we inch along toward the exit I am sweating through my fleece jacket and cautiously tapping the brakes. I want to tell you to just back off a little bit.

You only know that I have stopped my car on the Beltway and proceeded at 12 miles per hour. You only know that you have had the terrible luck of being stuck behind this white Jeep Cherokee at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I bet the lime green sticker reading Island Time really pisses you off. But I want to tell you that there is so much you don’t know.

You don’t know that I buried my grandmother yesterday.

You don’t know that for the last three years my grandmother and I shared a bathroom in my parent’s house. Some evenings, I would make us macaroni and cheese out of a box and we would talk about the most recent celebrity wedding. I would count out her pills and watch her as she took each one.

I feel like a child she would say.

Well you aren’t.

Damn straight.

And we would laugh about how life turns out sometimes.

I want to tell you that I am going as fast as I can in this minute and as we begin this descent I just need you to calm down.

Perhaps you are late for work. Maybe it is your job to set up pirogues at the farmer’s market and as we inch forward down this exit they are growing limp in your backseat. If that is the case, I am sorry. Maybe it is a more important event, your daughter’s wedding perhaps. Maybe you should be there now, straightening the veil over her shoulders and fixing her mascara. If that is the case then I want to tell you I am truly sorry.

I’m sorry I mouth in the rearview mirror. But your rage can only see the speedometer. I watch your lips opening and closing like a voiceless ventriloquist puppet. I can see your hands flailing wildly in the air.

I’m sorry I mouth again.

You shake your fist at the back of my car.

I’m so sorry.

You give me the finger.

I want to tell you that my grandmother would spend most of the day on the front porch of our beach house. She would wear her favorite purple sweater and canvas loafers. She smelled of hair spray and faint musky perfume and my childhood. Right in the corner near the door, I want to tell you, that is where she would sit. I want to tell you how difficult it was to lose her. I want to try. But, the things you should really know are the most difficult to explain.

What I can explain is the way my grandmother would sit on the porch for hours re-reading the same page of her novel and watching beach goers make their way down the street. I know that sometimes she would sit there and close her eyes. Sometimes, her eyes would be closed for so long that I would creep quietly to her side, searching for the rise and fall of her chest. I once asked her what she was thinking about when she sat there with her eyes closed. Your grandfather, she had told me, I sit here and I think about your grandfather.

I want to tell you that grief is relentless.

There are not enough hours you can work, men you can date, relationships you think you can fix, or miles you can run that will keep you from facing loss. One day you will be standing in the grocery store debating which jar of olives to buy and the air will suddenly grow thick and hot. I want to tell you that grief is suffocating.

I want to tell you that this won’t happen again. I want to tell you that I will get better at saying goodbye and practicing acceptance. I want to say aloud that I will take the suggestion to focus on my breathing, to have faith, and to let go.

But that is not the truth.

Instead, you pass me as we merge onto 295 and shake your finger once more in my direction. And I drive on.

On Thursdays We Eat Tomatoes

Last year at this time, we thought my mom was cancer free. We were wrong. The melanoma had snuck into her bloodstream and reared its ugly head at the end of the summer. After a clinical trial, she finally got into a regular round of treatment. Every other Thursday she and my dad drive into Baltimore and spend a few hours in a hospital. I’ll spare you the details because that’s really my mom’s story. Her awesomely brave and powerful story.

My story is about the tomatoes.

While I cook often and am always trying out healthy superfood-filled recipes on mom and dad, I make it a point to cook something healthy and cancer-fighting every other Thursday. It started out with a lentil stew full of veggies and tomatoes, then it was a hearty tomato soup, my mom loved the zucchini pasta with roasted tomatoes. I had read that tomatoes have powerful cancer fighting properties, so my Thursday night recipes have been centered on this pretty little fruit. Being able to focus on making a healthy meal for someone I love on a night that she really needs the nourishment has helped me to deal with the cancer diagnosis. What may look like heavy research, detailed grocery lists, and a lot of meal planning to some has been incredibly healing for me. Finding the next delicious tomato dish has helped me to feel like I have a hand in her healing and that has been a wonderful gift.

And it turns out I was right about the tomato …

The tomato gets that beautiful red hue from an antioxidant called lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that combats those nasty cancer-causing free radicals. While eating raw tomatoes is awesome (because they are also loaded with folic acid and vitamin C), cooking them actually helps release the lycopene. Think roasting, broiling, grilling, stewing, sautéing. There really is so much you can do.

So, on Thursdays we eat tomatoes.

I Would Like to Live at a Farmer’s Market

I would like to spend my days separating the curly kale from the collard greens. I would like to help stack the Honeycrisp apples in their wooden crates. Need someone to refill the baskets with blueberries or trim the ends off of the peonies? I am your woman. If famer’s markets were open in the evenings, I would like to spend that time wandering from booth to booth chatting about the benefits of local honey. Sipping freshly brewed, small batch coffee under the stars, I would greet each customer with a smile and tell them that they must try the fresh biscuits in the far corner. Yes, if farmer’s markets had a residential area, I would unpack and settle into the buzz of freshness and general the feel-good vibes of local foodies. Why do I love it so much? I have narrowed it down to five reasons (there are about 100, but here is what I consider some of most significant):

Nutrient-packed produce

The longer it takes for food to travel to your plate, the more time between harvest and consumption, which means less fresh produce with fewer nutrients. Farmer’s markets sell fresh, local produce which means it traveled somewhat short distances and was just harvested. Since it hasn’t been hanging around on shelves waiting to be sold, it is packed with more nutrients and amazing fresh flavor.

Well hello, Deliciousness

 
Fresh food tastes better when eaten shortly after harvest. Period. There is nothing better than FARM TO FACE FRESH. Just try the blueberries at peak season.

Environmentally Friendly

 
Cutting down on the processing, packaging, and travel reduces the amount of fossil fuels burned. Bringing your own re-useable grocery totes makes your shopping even more earth friendly. Pass on the plastic bags they provide and bring your own.

Support Local Business

 
Shopping at farmer’s markets helps keep farmers in business and contributes to the local economy and community. The retailers are also more than happy to please their customers and spend time talking about their product. Just ask the famous “Mushroom Ladies” at the Baltimore City Farmer’s Market the best way to cook their oyster variety. You will feel like you have made a friend for life. It’s just a feel good purchase.

Cantaloupe Popsicle?

Don’t mind if I do Sometimes markets will sell all-natural body products, locally sourced chocolates, and artisanal popsicles. Look around, browse, wander, strike up a conversation, and enjoy each minute.

Carrageenan

Let’s talk seaweed for a minute. My advice to nutrition newbies is to always read their labels and eat real food. But what if you just aren’t sure if that ingredient is real? I mean isn’t corn starch real and what exactly is carrageenan? Well, let me introduce you to this little ingredient…

Yes, carrageenan is completely real and natural. It is extracted from a particular type of red seaweed common in the Atlantic Ocean. The seaweed is boiled to extract what is called carrageenan.  It has no nutritional value and it is used primarily as a thickener and emulsifier.

Many food manufacturers, including organic food companies, are adding carrageenan to their products. If you are reading labels, I am sure you have seen that most processed food often contain substances known as gums, otherwise known as gelatin, corn starch, carrageenan, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, locust bean gum, agar, etc. Why? Because processed food needs to travel long distances and live on your shelf or in your refrigerator for a long time.

The role of these gums in processed food is to:

Thicken: They thicken the foods you expect to stay thick: ice cream, marshmallow fluff, pancake syrup
Emulsify: They help liquids to stay mixed without separating
Change the Texture: They can make something thicker or chewier
Stabilize Crystals: They might help sugar or ice from crystalizing

Why should you care?

The Cornucopia Institute has initiated a nationwide campaign urging the FDA to remove carrageenan from the food supply. Dr. Joanne Tobacman, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago, has been researching carrageenan and has published 18 peer-reviewed studies. She is convinced that it is harmful to human health, causing because they it can be causing inflammation, gut irritation and even cancer.
There are still plenty of foods that do not contain carrageenan and they’re sold at all major grocery stores. Take a look at his extensive list, you will find everything from carrageenan-free kefir to cheese to ice cream.

My advice is still to read labels and eat real food. Carrageenan doesn’t make the Real Food List, so avoid it. Please. Ask questions and be a real advocate for yourself and your health.