Sunday, February 23, 2014


Although life can cause you stress (things act as stressors), life’s occurrences and situations are not in themselves stress. The stress is our response. One definition of stress that I find particularly astute is that stress is the perception that one lacks the resources to cope with a situation. Because stress is a physical response (manifested in the body) to events that threaten or upset one’s balance, stress can make us sick. I have been learning in my nutrition studies about the negative impacts on the body caused by long-term stress. I attribute the high rates of chronic diseases (such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure) among ethnic minority populations to the long-term stress of historical trauma and institutionalized racism. Of course education about nutrition and healthy lifestyle will improve the outlook for good health over the life course for minority populations. But I believe that if we want to make real inroads into reducing minority health disparities, we have to open the conversation about healing from historical trauma. These are general thoughts about the nature of stress. Interesting, but what about when I have to cope in my own life?

I have a lot of stressors in my life this year. I find it interesting that often when I disclose this to someone, they are eager to tell me the things that they do to relieve stress. Their impulse to help is endearing. My stressors? After not getting any grant writing work for several months during the fall, which devastated my savings, I am finally getting work and have taken on an enormous workload to replenish my savings account and pay down debt. So I am completely swamped; working evenings, weekends, pretty much all the time until mid-April. Ron continues to struggle with serious health issues and is recovering from foot surgery (off work on disability), which has him relatively immobile. We need to sell our house this year and move to something smaller and less expensive so that Ron can retire and pay more attention to his health. Next weekend we are having a garage sale (oy, so much work). We are scrambling to get house cleaning and repairs done so we can put the house on the market in April. Confined to a wheelchair (or on crutches), Ron is limited in what he can do in this regard because he can’t reach, lift, or maneuver. I don’t have the time to do this stuff, because I have so much grants work, nevertheless it has to get done. Somehow.

Whenever I can eke out a couple of hours to myself, I spend it doing my nutrition studies homework, which has slowed to a crawl (fortunately, it’s a go-at-your-own-pace program). In the midst of all this, on Wednesday my dear little cat, Ella, had a tumor removed from the top of her head (price of surgery:  $1200; value of the antics of my precious imp:  priceless). I will find out in a few days if it was cancer. At the moment she is sleeping peacefully in my lap. This weekend I missed Akili and Tina’s engagement party in SoCal because there was no earthly way that I could fly down there yesterday. And writing? Other than writing a million grants, my weekly blog post is the only personal or creative writing I continue to do. For the first time in twenty years I do not engage in creative writing almost every day.

How do I cope with the stressors of 2014? One thing I do is try to enjoy the process of doing all the things that need to get done. Enjoy working on my grants projects. Enjoy clearing stuff out of my house and lightening my burden of possessions. Enjoy the adventure of leaving this house and looking for a more wonderful one. Enjoy my nutrition studies when I have time for them. Enjoy having Ron around to chat with when I take a break. I intend to enjoy the garage sale, to enjoy chatting with the people who come by, unloading some possessions (even though the forecast is rain, but I’m setting it up inside the garage). Other things that I do to cope with stress include the following:
  • Drink Tulsi tea. There are many good stress reducing teas on the market. Celestial Seasonings makes one called Tension Tamer that I also like. But Tulsi is my go-to stress reduction tea.
  • Walk every morning, which is my personal form of meditation.
  • Take Ashwagandha and Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) supplements. These are “adaptogens” that help the body cope with stress physiologically. I swear by Ashwagandha. It’s terrific.
  • Write.
  • Blog about my life once a week. (Thank you for reading.)
  • Make lists to get things out of my head.
  • Cook delicious, beautiful, nutritional food and eat it with loved ones.
  • Drink lots and lots of water, even though it makes me keep running to the bathroom. Oh well.
  • Garden or work in my yard. (Once again pruned all my fruit trees myself.)
  • Put fresh flowers on my desk and kitchen table.
  • Share a leisurely meal with my husband at least once a day.
  • Schedule times to get together with friends.
  • Communicate with one or another of my children via phone, email, text, and/or Facebook daily.
  • Pet my cats.
  • Visit the ocean.
  • Watch a movie with Ron and then discuss it afterward. If I really need to unwind, we do a funny movie so I can laugh my head off.
  • Watch football! (Go Niners.)
  • Listen to music, one of the greatest healers of all.
  • Limit exposure to the media. I am very careful to avoid violent images and to limit the amount of negative news I read.
  • Try not to get distracted by the images, vids, article links, funny or uplifting whatevers, etc. sent to me via email and Facebook. I rarely click on these (sorry folks, if you send it, I usually delete it without viewing). I also limit the amount of time I spend on Facebook.
  • Be nice to people I don’t know whose job it is to answer the phone and provide customer service after I have been on hold for twenty minutes and am ready to holler. (Especially challenging when I have been listening to advertising or crappy music while on hold.)
  • Read before going to sleep every night.
  • Try to see the humor in difficult situations.
  • Be compassionate to others. Forgive.
  • Feel grateful.

Making this list of things I do to reduce stress has actually helped reduce my stress level. I feel like I’m being proactive about not getting too bent out of shape despite sitting under the avalanche of life. That’s it for today. I gotta go make kale chips, drink more water, look at photos from Akili and Tina’s engagement party, pet a cat, spray copper on my fruit trees, write a grant, and continue to set up for next week’s garage sale. Hang in there folks. I can vouch for the fact that the incredible happens.

  This is my computer wallpaper. I find it relaxing. It takes me down a path to peace.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ron & Amy's Geriatric Valentine Adventure Weekend

As a Christmas gift, our children gave us a weekend getaway at the Coast in the form of a Groupon deal. To use the gift, we had to figure out what a Groupon is. I thought it was a fish at first, but it turns out it’s a cross between a coupon and a group. I guess that explains it. Whatever it is, it worked like magic when I called to make the reservation and I didn’t have to pay the inn anything. What will people think of next? There was one catch, however, in that Ron is currently on crutches recovering from foot surgery. The bubbly woman at the front desk who helped me with my reservation on the phone assured me that the room was accessible to someone non-ambulatory.

We drove to the Coast on Friday. Originally we planned to leave right after lunch to arrive at check-in time. But it took Ron several hours longer than he had expected to pack all his medications and figure out which pair of sweat pants to wear. I, on the other hand, had my Ugg boots, Birkenstock’s, and leggings thrown into a bag in 15 minutes. I do confess that it took me another 45 minutes to unload my refrigerator into coolers and Trader Joe’s shopping bags (seriously, who trusts restaurants to cook decent food these days?). Even so, I had a couple hours’ edge on Ron in terms of being packed and ready to roll. He settled on the periwinkle sweat pants, by-the-way, and he looked swashbuckling and debonair in them.

We only had to stop once to use a restroom on the drive, which made us both feel fit and bladder-sturdy. As we wound our way down the incomparable Northern Cali coastline, Ron gazed at the ocean and I ate seaweed snacks. I reckon that the proximity to the Pacific gave me a hankering for Nori. The torrential pouring rain was picturesque and soothing to our drought-withered souls, but a bit tricky to drive in.

We arrived at the inn before sunset and soon discovered that there was a considerable gap between the cheerful innkeeper’s concept of accessibility and ours. They had booked us into the most accessible room in the complex, which was down a flight of five stairs. Thank goodness we brought the crutches and not the wheelchair. I tried to keep my temper and not act like a grouch, but I did tell the innkeeper in no uncertain terms that it would be challenging for Ron to get into the room and she replied that it was challenging building the inn on a cliff. I refrained from pointing out that they seemed to have managed to build the parking lot without stairs for the cars to maneuver. Fortunately my umbrella did not turn inside out while I was assisting Ron down the slippery slope and stairs.

The room was advertised as having a fireplace, but I had failed to ask if it was a real working fireplace, which it turned out it was not. But it was warm, had a lovely glow, and, as Ron pointed out, he didn’t have to chop wood to use it. So we were OK with it. As I threw together a romantic digestion- favorable dinner of vegetable crackers, goat cheese, kale chips, red wine, and gluten-free soaked cashew substitute cheesecakes from the depths of my Trader Joe’s bags, Ron stared into the synthetic flames of the programmable fire. I reckoned he was trying to work out exactly what produced the heat and the vaguely holographic flame. By the time I had the meal laid out on napkins (I forgot to bring plates), Ron had been watching the fake fire for quite some time. “I don’t think those are real flames,” he said. “I think they have a repeat pattern to them.” I asked him where he had found the hallucinogens and if I could have some.

After ascertaining that Ron was not in danger of having an epileptic seizure from staring at the fake fire, I proceeded to assess the room for tiny LED lights that would need extinguishing in order for me to sleep later. These blinking, flashing, and glowing demons keep me awake at night. I unplugged the hair dryer (who needs a light on a hairdryer, seriously?), the clock radio (which was useless because it only got one station and the programming consisted of the surf report, a cattle swap, and accordion music), and the phone; covered the TV control panel with a washcloth; put a Band-Aid over the smoke detector light; and hid the digital wine bottle opener under the bed.

After dinner, we played a frustrating and interminable card game, called Spite and Malice, which is not always interminable and frustrating, but this particular one was since neither one of us was getting the right cards and because the cards kept sliding off the bed. The red wine made it all seem funny and the more wine we drank, the more perplexed we were about that fake fire and the less concerned about how many cards were under the bed. The remainder of the evening was more relaxing as I had a long soak in a bubble bath in the enormous tub, listened to an entire Keith Jarrett album, and engaged in some unmentionable activity with my one-legged husband. It was all legal, I assure you.

The next day we decided to go on an outing to the nearby casino for a meal. The casino, it turned out, was hardly bigger than our garage, and if you didn’t count the slot machines then it had less stuff in it than our garage does. From the outside it looked like a barn. We ordered simple omelets and salads in the restaurant and I promptly put too much Tapatío sauce on my eggs and choked. The security guard stopped by to make sure I was alive and we had a lovely chat with him once my eyes stopped watering. After our meal, I thought I’d try my luck at one of the slot machines. I’m not a gambler and I can’t remember the last time I was in a casino (which, at my age, means nothing as I may well have been in one just last week and already forgot). I sat down at a 25¢ slot machine, with a quarter in my hand, and attempted to insert said quarter into every conceivable orifice in the machine. Apparently a 25¢ slot machine does not take quarters. I should have realized at that point that I was not prime casino material and that I would not be able to win enough money to pay off my mortgage by playing a 25¢ slot machine. But I am a pretty determined person. I asked around and learned that I had to put a  whole dollar in the machine. Doing the math, that gave me exactly four chances to win. It was thrilling but short-lived. I pulled the handle four times, won nothing, and lost my dollar. I still had my quarter, however. I can’t figure out if I came out ahead because I have shockingly poor math skills for someone with a graduate degree. Ron spent three dollars at a blackjack game but quit because the dealer was an interactive videotape of a woman and she refused to show more cleavage even when Ron asked her politely.

After the excitement at the casino, we were ready for more gluten-free soaked cashew desserts, so we drove to a natural food store where I could forage for such delicacies at my leisure. I left Ron in the car observing two dubious characters loitering on the street near his window. Ron kept his finger on the “lock” button of his car key just in case he needed to lock himself inside for his own protection. The dubious characters appeared to be discussing a pile of potentially combustible clothing left out on a nearby wooden table, free for the taking, I presume. You never know what mischief country people can cook up with a table of free clothing. Ron was prepared.

Back at the room we caught up on some reading, watched the spectacular rain and the waves that rolled in on the shore visible from our window, Ron took some photographs of said rain and said waves, we ate our finger-licking coconut/lemon/vanilla gluten-free treats, and played cards again (sensibly spreading the game out on a table instead of the bed this time). I know these illicit activities I have mentioned have made you blush, but I’m determined to give a true account. I will, however, spare you the details of later Bacchic revels of the evening.

The next morning dawned sun-soaked and diamond-clear, offering us a brilliant view of the Pacific. We packed up our leftover kale chips and apples and hiked the cliff-side steps to our car. Before heading home we paid a visit to the Point Arena Lighthouse because, let’s face it, old people love lighthouses. They remind us of bygone days when we could check into hotel rooms using cash, there were no LED lights to stifle so night was dark, the fireplace was real and completely non-hallucinatory under normal conditions, and the radio not only worked but brought fine music and extraordinary programming. Even as times change, the ocean, it seems, never does. I could watch it forever and it always brings me peace and renewal. 

Point Arena Lighthouse Off the Coast of Mendocino County in Northern California.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Daughter Turns 30

Between today and next Sunday, my firstborn will turn thirty years old. Her birthday is a milestone in my life as well as hers. It marks thirty years since I became a mom. When I think back to my life before I had children, I don’t quite perceive it without them. I view it in the context of their eventual arrival along a continuum. Since the day my daughter was born, I never again perceived my life or the world completely without her.

I have no sisters, only brothers. I always wished I had a sister and have had many women friends throughout the years who served me well, some still serving, as stand-ins for a sister. During my childbearing years, I fully expected to have two daughters. I believed that my girls would never go without a sister like I did. But it didn’t work out that way.

My daughter has ever been her own woman. She selected what she would wear each day from the time she was fourteen months old. She went clothing shopping with a pacifier in her mouth and picked out her outfit for the day before she could speak more than a few hundred words. I have read about how a daughter goes through a separation period from her mother, a time when she discovers who she is as a separate person, a woman differentiated from her mother. Usually this occurs when women are in their teens or twenties. My independent daughter did this when she was two years old. Whenever I took her to play at a friend’s house, she would say to me, “You can go now.” Dismissed. She wanted me out so she could carry on with her own life. We are such different women in so many ways that when I recognize a way in which we are similar it often takes me by surprise. Crazy that, because as much as we are different, we also have much in common. More so than my daughter realizes.

In thirty years, my hopes and dreams for my daughter have changed very little. I want her to be healthy and happy, protected from harm. I want her to have a fulfilling life with meaningful work that gives her the opportunity to use her talents. I want her to be recognized for her accomplishments and appreciated for her work. I want her to travel through life in the company of a wonderful life partner, someone who adores her and someone with whom she is completely her real self, completely comfortable. I want her to live in a beautiful home in a lovely community. I want her to have children and to love raising them as much as I loved raising her and her brothers. I want her to have the best friends any woman can hope to have. I want her life to overflow with music, laughter, delicious food, good times, extraordinary people, and an abundance of love. I have prayed for these things for her from the first time I watched her sleep in my arms.

Although I am an abundantly creative person, I could never have imagined a daughter as magnificent as the one I received. She lights up the room when she enters. I'm feeling blessed and sending love to my one and only girl on her thirtieth birthday. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Nutrition Studies

As many of you know, in the fall I enrolled in the Bauman College Holistic Nutritionist Certification program. I’ve been learning loads of interesting, valuable, and applicable things about health and how our bodies work. Since the course is distance learning, I can go at my own pace. You might imagine that means slow and easy; but I have a habit of devouring information, so my “own pace” is more of the swiftly and intensely variety. I appreciate being able to move along quickly, not being held back while waiting for other students to catch up with me.

I have discovered in the course of my studies that the founder of Bauman College, Ed Bauman, has a sensibility much in sync with my own. Although he delivers all the audio lectures that I have “attended” in my distance learning, and although I have learned a great deal about him through the lectures, he knows nothing about me. We have never met. Perhaps I will visit the Bauman College campus in nearby Penngrove one day and meet him in person.

I want to share some basics about the Bauman approach, called Eating for Health (E4H). The E4H Model is not a diet but a way of life. Bauman describes E4H as “a relationship to food based on consciousness, gratitude, sound science, and positive energy.” E4H stresses that the most nutritious food is seasonal, organic and whole, unadulterated by toxins, and locally grown. E4H encourages consumption of a diversity of foods from seven food groups daily. Take a look at the E4H Model, provided below. It doesn’t look like the Food Pyramid or My Plate or any of the standard “food group” models we are accustomed to seeing.

Notice what Bauman refers to as booster foods, which I believe are an innovative feature of the E4H Model. When consistently added to the diet, booster foods increase energy, detoxify, and reduce inflammation. These regenerative foods enhance the healing of tissue damaged by toxicity (caused by environmental contaminants, stress, and trauma) as well as malnutrition (caused by previous poor eating habits including eating poor quality food).

The specific constellation of food eaten following the E4H roadmap will look different for each individual person. The individualization inherent in the application of the E4H Model is my favorite aspect of this approach to nutrition. What we eat and how we eat is personal and must correspond with our own unique physiology, culture, taste, and spirit. E4H would be used to improve health through transformation of food choices, eating habits, and philosophy about nourishment and wellbeing. From this glimpse into my course, perhaps you can see why I am so excited about my studies and the new directions opening up before me.