Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It is always the beginning somewhere

I try to be of help. Usually that comes down to walking my Sister's dog and my Mom's, when appropriate. My Sister adopted Lucy in New York City many canine years ago, say 12, and oh was she a troubled child. Now she is "an old lady" and is growing or has grown deaf, we aren't completely sure. So when I mouth, "Do you want to go out?" I use the same downward bulldozer gesture with my palm that merchants used to entice me into their stalls at the souk in Cairo. Her ears pick up and with bright eyes, she stretches her often wobbly hips and follows me to the door, toenails clicking across the kitchen's tile floor.

My Mom adopted Sweetie at the last hour of what was to be a doomed existence. Have I told you of his story before? She had worked late that evening and was looking through Petfinder while sipping a glass of sherry for a possible Golden to replace (without ever replacing) her beloved Emma. Save that instead she found a desperate plea to foster a rescue temporarily, starting that night. Without a home, without a safe place to go to, it was his last day before being put down. Tired though she was, my Mom called the number listed and was met by a kind woman who had driven up from Ohio in the night. What emerged from the car, was not a Golden but a massive pile of orange fur with big bones and Chow lion eyes that are so kind, all my Mom could do was bend down on her knee, open her arms to him and exhale, "Oh, sweetie, come here." And that was that. His loyalty is beyond measure, his gratitude too. I whisper to him that I know the truth, that he is a regal prince who was cast by a witch's spell into a dog's body. And yet there is no better place to be for he is dearly loved. When he was initially scooped up by the pound, he had been following a group of children. That says it all, I think.

I walk the dogs separately, not least because it is beneath Sweetie's dignity to "faire ses besoins" under the sniff of another animal but also because the more minutes I have to walk down the dirt road to the potholed bridge over the twinkling creek and back, the better. It is where I learn. I kick through the pebbles rolling under foot and past the skeletal remains of animals picked clean from predators - this is the countryside, after all. That day's nature comes to me. All I have to do is be moving still enough to take it in. The changes, what is new, what is leaving, what might be. All of this clicks forward the wheels in my brain and springs in my heart and somehow I come back to the big Victorian house a wiser person? Well, no. Better? That word rankles. More me in honesty. How about that?

The nights are cold and the freezing pushes the red up through the veins of the growing oaks all around. Very much of a hurrah and yet the ultimate in letting go to arrive well while perfectly on time.

The deers bathed in golden light on an open field blink back to me in agreement, the red-bellied woodpecker taps his Morse "yes" into the pines, the pin-eyed velvet fur mole chews loudly, zig-zagging through the grasses at my feet. We are right where we are supposed to be. I catch myself nodding a lot. "I am right where I am supposed to be, " I think with relief.

She Let Go

"She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore."

- Reverend Safir Rose

On a windy day, the smallest of leaves blow like a forethought of snow.

But all of this is a mémoire, written at another desk, with other dogs at my feet, familiar strange. In autumn, we always focus on the ending, what is lost or a bet on what can be forgotten and yet...it is always the beginning somewhere.


My Dad was a great admirer of Luciano Pavarotti's voice. For years after his passing, I couldn't listen to his arias as it made me cry but I have as of late. Perhaps it is because Toussaint is approaching but I feel like mon père might be watching over me just at present. But then again, there are many who are. I love my family. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learning to drive at 47

I was petrified. Best just to admit it right up front. 

This was a game of the mind and I was already struggling mightily to find my playing pieces let alone anything resembling a strategy. But I knew it was my chance, it had to be done. 

Let me back up a bit.

At the tender age of sixteen, I simply thought that I was far too cool to take Driver's Ed in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, on the edge of Amish country. And then, allez-hop my parents moved us out to Santa Cruz, California where driving was deemed far less urgent than following around a university student named Lawrence who looked remarkably like Julian Sands in A Room with a View. I should have learned to drive. But then I was in New York, where driving is a non-issue save for the wealthy, which I was decidedly not. My joke was that I could catch a cab like nobody's business (even if that involved showing a bit of leg and waving a twenty on New Year's Eve). And then I moved to Paris. And then Arles where everything was in walking distance, then the tiny village where...it was a real problem that I could not drive and my happiness went down as my dependency on Remi went up. Best just to admit that up front too. I paced until I ate myself up from the inside out. But this is a happy story, I digress.

When I arrived here on March 1st, I had made a list of goals in my head on the plane. So I wrote them out on a post-it note:

- Exercise
- Meditate
- Cut down Xanax
- Reduce Alcohol
- Study for permit
- Learn to drive
- Keep Writing
- Have Gratitude

It kind of brings tears to my eyes to share that with you because I am looking at the post-it note right now. It is still in front of me on my computer where I put it, so broken. I thought that if I could just do those things that maybe I could find myself again. And do you know, I have done all of those things. Am doing, too, present tense.

My Mom's husband Leonard offered to take me out driving for the first time as he has driven for a living for many years. Part of me is still in that car, his really fancy big boat that glides and yet that day I stopped and started around a high school parking lot, so tenuous and uncertain of the weight guided by my hands. Yet he built me up with praise, saying seeing promise. But I shook my head inwardly, knowing I had to find a professional to teach me. It is so different when you are not only no longer a fearless 16 and are too aware of the power of a vehicle. Shapes loom like monstrous shadows, all is a seeming permanent uncertainty, taunting. I had just come out of a bad full-on collision in January that lead to my world falling away from under my feet. Gun-shy doesn't begin to cover me.

And then I called a cheesily named All-Star Driving School who lined me up with my instructor, Bill Riccobono. Isn't that a great name? He is one of my guardian angels, I think. If guardian angels wear baseball caps and chew on rutabaga while they work. Because from the first lesson he understood that this would be a mental game with me. Within the first hour he asked me to drive around a cul-de-sac backwards and that I could do reasonably well, because I was out of my head, out of my forward motion fear. But the rest? For months, I danced around my commitment. I would meditate before each lesson and still end up covered in sweat by the end of it. At times I would shake, others I would cry. I couldn't lie to him in his little car because he saw anyway. This is a man who has been doing this for some time and has seen the gamut. Somehow, Buddhism came up early on and so he knew to reach me on a more spiritual plane to pull me out of my panic, where we could end our session with a "Namaste."

For financial reasons, I had to stop for a while, then he went on vacation, then I had to take a break around when my friend Ellie passed as I truly wasn't doing well. But I had passed my test for the permit in the spring, having only missed three questions. That buoyed me and it turned out that all of the pauses between lessons helped to build my confidence, to let me get used to the idea that maybe I could drive after all. My Mom did not quite trust me enough to take her car out on the roads so around and around the subdivision we would turn, practicing. Parallel parking, backing into a space. Kind of like me finding my way. 

Months passed as I kept looking at that post-it note with hope and anxiety mixed with a "will I be asked to the dance?" longing in my belly. Finally, it was me who did the asking; I learned to drive. I remember laughing the first time that I kicked it up to 80 mph on the highway and Bill's responding, "All right!" in surprise. I could not have done this without him. He coached me wisely and with the calm assurance that I struggled to find within myself. How incredible it must be to work only with clients who are afraid and yet only to assure. He never made me feel like a fool and so I didn't have to beat myself up for the mistakes that everyone makes. After our last lesson, with my test impending the next day, he told me, "Just go for a drive," and had me promise to send him a photo with my certificate after having passed the driving test. 

I did. 

All morning, my stomach was tight and aching; I had not slept the night before with eyes blinking open at the ceiling. I did my best to breathe and to remind myself of what I have learned in Al-Anon, that all I can do is just show up and do "the next right thing." Bill had promised me that the test giver, L, was a "good man" and he was. Having arrived early, I watched L as he coached a young driver that had not even passed the parking portion of the test so that she could do better next time. I knew that I was again in good hands. 

I got into the rental car, as I don't have one of my own. I adjusted the mirrors and pulled the seat up close under the steering wheel to give me the illusion of being more in control. The day...could not have been more perfect as autumn days go - blue sky overhead, yellow leaves falling - all encouraging me in beauty. L explained the parking maneuveurs although Bill had already been over them with me so many times. I did what I had promised Bill - to take each very, very slowly and yes, that worked. They were not perfect, but nearly so.

So I should not have been surprised when L gathered his papers and got into the car for the driving portion but I was. "Ok, here we go," I said out loud. And then explained sheepishly that I would probably be talking to myself out loud a bit, coaching style but not to worry. "Of course not," L replied, "those are often the only sane conversations you can have in a day!" And with that, we both laughed and I went for a drive. 

Of course, I asked "L, did I pass?" as soon as we came to our final stop. He made me wait as he went down through the list of "must-have's" very dead-pan until adding, "and make sure that you smile when they take your picture at the DMV so that it doesn't look like a mugshot." I started to cry, I couldn't help it and threw my arms around him sideways, he didn't flinch. "It has been a very long road," I offered. He nodded. 

So I celebrated with my family that night and today I went to get my license. I did my hair and my makeup but still grinned like a chipmunk for the photo, I couldn't help it. This is one of the biggest things that I have done for myself in my life. Not because it was hard but because I was petrified and yet I found my way through. Not to mention that it was a little more than symbolic. As my wise friend Stephen said, "You are taking the wheel of your life." I am. I did. 

I can drive now. I can take myself to wherever life leads me.

At least I know that I can try.


This was a surprisingly hard post for me to write because I feel incredibly vulnerable about this subject and yet don't feel like I could accurately give you the experience of what this meant to me. Usually, I correct and correct each text for hours until I can't stand to look at it anymore but I can't with this one. So, I am giving myself permission to put this out there imperfectly and just let myself be happy.
Thank you, as always, for your incredible support and kindness.

With much Love and Gratitude, Heather

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Running hands on stone

When I think of Provence, does Provence think of me? 

A friend asked a version of that curling question a while back in the comments. I have needed to pose it, inwardly, for necessities sake over and over these past few weeks. And while I am humble enough to know what the only possible answer lying embedded within 2500 years of history could be - a booming God-like "Non" - there are held-tight images glowing strong, still.

I am in Arles and it is the after dinner dog walk. A simple, everyday affair. Ben, Kipling and I are at the Arena but my mind is elsewhere. Unthinkingly, I reach out my hand to the grooves in the columns put into deep relief by the sun, another day done. My eyes flick toward Ben, off-leash and rounding the bend up ahead. Kipling gives a slight tug and continuing on, padding feet quietly with my arm extended, I run my hands across the stone from arch to arch and in so doing touch time without a care. 

This is a memory that I have replayed a hundred times during the past eight months. I don't even know if the moment ever actually existed. It doesn't matter finally. 

As I turn in mind's eye towards those distant crossroads yet again, I try, repeatedly, to explain what hold Provence has on me and this is as close as I can come. I have often leaned on the word "Beauty" - even as an all encompassing filler for when the heart is searching; this blog was named "Lost in Arles" for a reason as I have often said. But there is a deeper sense. "History" nor "Culture" do justice either but rather a nameless sensibility that somehow gathers a yawning insouciant freedom wrestling with the stark shadows of fortified walls (or closed minds), searing heat pushing against a winter Mistral and the possibilities that the Rhône rolls in, brightly reflected with a Van Gogh lilt. 

I can't ever go back to the life that I had as it doesn't exist anymore, I know that now. I accept. 

But what new one awaits for me? And where? Our persona sands off with times passage just like the patina in the stone that I am thinking of today. At least mine does. Cats with nine lives and all that. Yet, there is so much that stands. I tend to forget that part. Do I listen to my heart or my head? Will the words somehow meet in the middle at my throat, allowing me to find the words to speak? 

Fingers reach to touch, to touch...the air and are left grasping. There is a known unknown waiting and it will be just for me.  If Provence ever does think of me, at least it just might admire the willingness, the asking.




 Admittedly, I am especially emotional today. These words were like fishes wriggling through my fingers. There is a very rare Black New Moon tonight and it is a time of planting seeds for the coming six months. And if I don't know what those seeds are? If I have no idea? I am often scared of the blank page awaiting me but tonight I will try to place my trust in the hole where the moon should be.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Eating for mental health and well-being

* Disclaimer: In no way is the information that is to follow to be confused with medical advice. I am writing based solely on my own experience and if you choose to use any of the suggestions in this post, you are doing so at your own responsibility. D'accord? Ok, bien. 

** As I have mentioned before, there are just a few posts that I would like to use to share some of the things that I have been learning about over the past few months. If that isn't your cup of tea (or if you are new here - merci! - and are in search of something more poetical), then why not take a dive into the archives? The bar is on the right hand side. Take a look at say, mid-2014. I can't even begin to remember what I wrote then so I bet it will be new to you too.

Today is the Autumn Equinox. As this beautiful cycle comes to a close and we prepare to start into a new phase, it can be an appropriate time to think about what we want to let go of in our lives as well as what we hope to bring in anew. As our bodies are our vehicle for this wondrous ride, why not start with the obvious? 

So. While this post will touch on mental well-being as a whole, let's acknowledge the elephant trying to hide in the corner. I have lived with chronic depression and anxiety since I was 15, so for over thirty years. Get out of the corner, elephant, we need you and there is no shame in that. It is what it is. Throughout the years I have done an enormous amount of reading on the subject and have tried numerous treatments with lesser and greater successes: cognitive behavioral therapy (awesome), yoga (ditto), acupuncture, reiki, cranial sacral therapy, Ayurveda, working with an osteopath. I finally started taking medications when my anxiety-based insomnia became so extreme that I walked out in front of oncoming Parisian traffic twice in one week. I had to. I was a danger to myself in more ways than one. 

In France, depression is still fairly taboo despite its prevalance. So my doctor never wanted to discuss my long-standing diagnosis but just kept handing over the prescriptions, year after year. And I took them, even despite experiencing the common side effects of weight gain and loss of libido. I didn't really question that they weren't entirely working, only keeping me functioning. I thought that was enough.

When my life fell apart at the beginning of this year, I had to take an honest look at why. And while far from the only factor, that I had let my depression take control over my life during the past two years played a strong role. I was no longer being responsible for my well-being. Granted, I know well what a Catch-22 it can be to invoke self-care while in the midst of a depressive or anxiety state but it was only after arriving in the States that I could clearly see that something else needed to be done. I was again putting myself in danger, not to mention that I was increasingly concerned about my memory problems and struggles with cognitive function. I needed to have a plan. 

I am a fiction reader. So I am no longer sure why I was hovering over the new non-fiction titles at the library this past March but a book caught my eye, "The Brain Fog Fix" by Dr. Mike Dow. It looked pretty cheesy and I openly scoffed at the promise to "Reclaim your focus, memory and joy in just 3 weeks." But as I was drawn to a chapter on depression, I checked it out. There I read that Xanax, the benzodiazepine that I had been taking for thirteen years for anxiety, could shrink the brain as much as that seen after severe alcohol abuse when taken long term. I contacted my mental health co-ordinator and arranged with a psychiatrist to go off it over a six month tapering period (which is now behind me). I also began reading about the effect of food on our gut and our well-being.

In the States, there is currently quite a lot of talk about understanding the importance of the mind-body connection through our gut health, or our microbiome. While normal levels of inflammation in our bodies can help kickstart our immune system into healing, when put into overdrive through poor diet, toxins and the stress present in our modern lifestyle, it can lead to a chronic imbalance which has been shown to be a root cause of a host of auto-immune diseases throughout the body as well as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's and yes, depression

The good news is that there are extremely effective ways of lowering inflammation in the body, one of the simplest being by changing our diet. And so that is what I did. There is a host of well-sourced and heavily researched information out there - Dr. Kelly Brogan's book, "A Mind of Your Own," many articles on mindbodygreen and Dr. Andrew Weil's suggested food pyramid amongst them.  I found the common links and adapted a way of eating that works for me and have had really incredible results with a definitive improvement in mood, well-being, cognitive function as well as memory and this during the most challenging period of my life so far.

So what does it entail? Well, I think that it won't be much a surprise for many of you but here are the basics.

The No's: 

No Sugar - I am sorry but it is as addictive as it is destructive and unfortunately, especially in the States, it is everywhere. If you don't believe me, then take a look at the label for something as healthy sounding as "tomato soup." We get plenty of the sweet stuff in our fruits and vegetables already.

No gluten - Gluten can cause an enormous amount of inflammation in the body, even for those of us who are not even close to having celiac disease. I had NO idea that this one would effect me as strongly as it did. Come on, I have lived in France the Land of Bread for the past fifteen years! Turns out (as I now know), it strongly brings me down and makes me tired.

No dairy - Dairy is second only to gluten in terms of its inflammatory effects plus distressor links in the body and digestion. Again, you might not think that you are intolerant but you won't know until you cut it out and feel the difference. Even in France where there are more cheeses than days of the year, one third of the population in Southern France has some level of dairy intolerance.

No processed foods - which can be defined as "anything that comes in a box" or anything that you don't actually recognize as a "food" on the labels list. Why eat that? Please keep an eye out for all of the chemicals, preservatives and the like such as the ever present hydrogenated soybean oils or high fructose corn syrup. Those two may boost the pockets of Monsanto but are terrible for your health. You know this already instinctively. Please really also be warned off anything labeled as "diet" "low sugar" or "low fat" as there are chemical fillers used to replace the originals!

No conventionally grown meat - grass-fed, organic only. Not only for humanitarian and environmental reasons but also because the meat is actually healthier, containing less fat and more Omega 3's. Cloning, added hormones, antibiotics and synthetic parasiticides, texturizers and coloring? No thank you.

No industrial seed and vegetable oils - such as soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, and grapeseed oil. Try olive oil, coconut oil instead.

Limited to no alcohol - Alcohol is a depressant. If you truly stop even for a while, it will change you. This deserves its own post and that just might happen one day.

And the Yes's:

Omega 3's - This has helped me the most along with turmeric and ACV, (see below), not only through foods (salmon, sardines) but also as a supplement that is strong in both EPA's and DHA's the happy/calm inducers. Strength, protein, heart and brain food. I try to buy line or wild-caught. A friend told me years ago that my shaky hands and unsteadiness would disappear once I had enough Omega 3's in my diet. I didn't listen then but he was right. And this is not to be confused with Omega 6's which we already have far too much of in our modern diet.
Beans and legumes - my secret weapon. An amazing source of protein that greatly reduces inflammation (hooray for chickpeas!) also including squashes and sweet potatoes. All are a great source of much needed fiber too. 

All leafy greens - the darker the better but romaine is also great for this. 

All cruciferous veggies - broccoli, red cabbage and the like. Roasted or sauteed, they are now a staple and I truly notice when I am not eating enough of them.

Tea  - whether green, white or black. I switched from coffee and it made a very big difference - an obvious move for anyone with anxiety and yet it took me years to figure that out.
Tomatoes - unless you have a reaction to nightshades.
Onions, ginger and garlic - raw is best but cook them if you need to, just get them in your diet!
All berries - They are so great for the brain but in general you just want to avoid all high glycemic fruits (and all high glycemic foods actually, it messes us up and then some).
Dark chocolate - but 72% cacao or higher with no added sugar.

Turmeric - this is the big one, it costs nothing and it is amazing. Not only is it one of the best things to beat inflammation but it just might prevent Alzheimer's. You will want to have a half teaspoon a day and use it with a bit of black pepper when you can to help the body absorb it fully.
Rosemary - for the same reason. Who knew that it could be such a powerhouse for mental health?

Lemon water - A great start to the day with warm water with lemon. If you are feeling brave you can add the turmeric and a bit of cayenne - just try it once! Not for everyday as it can strip the enamel off of your teeth.
Unapasturized, unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar - even better with so much that is good for you it is incredible. I use one to tablespoons in water and mix it with my dose of turmeric and pepper along with some ginger for a "wellness shot" every morning. Poor digestion often goes along with depression and this will certainly take care of that too.

Parsley - it isn't just for decoration, it's a superfood.

Avocado - get those healthy fats. Our brain is 60% fat - did you get that? We need them. And did you see that recent article in the NY Times saying how the sugar industry shifted blame to fat? There is so much about our ways of eating that are out of date and ill-informed. But that is changing.

Olive Oil - the benefits are proven and widespread,  plus see just above.
Spices - the more, the merrier but along with those already mentioned, I love cinnamon and cayenne for their antioxidant power too.

Adding prebiotics and probiotics - see here.

Buy foods that are certified organic when you can and Non-GMO whenever possible -  I hesitated to add this one as admittedly, I can't afford to buy organic all the time myself, although I do prioritize what is essential to me. For the rest, I can't ask enough to really take the time to clean your fruits and vegetables of those mega-inflammatory pesticides as best as you can. Now, GMO's or genetically modified foods have the irritants built in on the inside. Again, no bueno. Happily, food marketing is waking up to the fact that a lot of us don't want that and so are clearly labeling non-GMO food items. Please take a look at Emm's awesome comment down below too.

Additional notes:

Aim for 5-7 portions of vegetables and low glycemic fruits a day. I know that seems like a lot but you will feel the difference. Also, the less grains that I eat, the better I feel but that is just me.

Aim for one portion of Omega 3 rich foods per day. Not only is this important for all of the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant reasons above but to replace the calcium that you would normally get from dairy. Per serving, sardines have more calcium than milk! 

Since coming back to the States, my tastes have shifted away from meat, especially as I know of all of the scary additives and treatments that get the ok from the FDA here. Yes, please keep in mind where you are buying your food and what your local food laws entail. I did eat lamb and pork and even beef in France but organic chicken and wild-caught fish are more to my taste now (and I have to say that even the chicken is pretty rare). You might find similar shifts happening after the initial reset and it can be important to listen to what your body wants. I also mention this as to be clear that my personal experience is not a typical Paleo diet in that it is not meat-centric at all but rather a vegetable-based one that includes carefully sourced protein at every meal.


That sounds like a lot to take in, perhaps?

It really isn't that hard. And what is important for it to make a difference in your body is to go all out for thirty days. You can do it! This will give your body the reset that it needs, to start from zero, if you will. If you don't do this then you will not really know what a huge difference it can make for you and within your body - think of it as giving yourself a chance to breathe. From then on, aim for the 80/20 rule in that you adhere to it completely 80% of the time and then give yourself some slack 20% of the time. For me, that comes out as the occasional bits of cheese and glasses of wine and just knowing that I have that possibility makes me know that I am not on a diet but rather am making an important life-shift. Now, I no longer crave gluten, meat, sugar or junk food at all. I mean not at all. And also, I want to add that I adapted what works for me out of the various anti-inflammatory resources that I read. Some say no grains, soy, eggs or corn. I eat all of those things in moderation. I can't afford to buy organic meats and so adapted to beans (which may not work for everyone) as I really need to have a source of protein at every meal. Use the basic concepts but really try not to waver until you feel it taking effect. You will.

So what does this actually look and taste like?

Well, today I started with the wellness shot that I mentioned and chai tea. For breakfast, I had organic oatmeal with cinnamon and berries but it could have also been an organic ricecake with organic (most importantly, no sugar) peanut butter with chia and flax seeds. That was followed by my daily supplements of Omega 3, a calcium, vitamin d and magnesium combo (all so important for depression!), a vitamin b complex, iron and rhodiola. 

For lunch, I had a giant mixed salad of romaine and shredded purple cabbage with baby carrots and tomatoes, sardines, sunflower seeds and topped with a homemade lemon soy vinaigrette and a huge mix of the spices mentioned above (including cayenne for kick and a metabolism boost). And an apple.

Snacking is not usually my thing but I have come to love healthy, air-popped popcorn. No, not the movie theatre or fake butter microwave kind (there is some seriously bad juju in the lining of those packages). Yes, popcorn is anti-inflammatory! I choose clean brands such as Boom Chick a Pop and preferably those with no-GMO's whenever possible.

For dinner, I often make a big batch to last for several days based on the following basic idea: sautéed or roasted vegetables with a bean, legume or starch for protein in a healthy sauce. Tonight that will be zucchini ribbons with chili beans in a spicy fresh tomato sauce but it could also be roasted broccoli with chickpeas in a tahini dressing or roasted sweet potatoes with butternut squash in a maple soy glaze. Any filling combination will do. It is basic, it works and it is cheap as can be! Seriously, most of my meals are in the 30 cents to a dollar range in terms of cost per person. If possible, I do try and have my biggest meal for lunch (especially if meat is involved) and have something lighter at night, an option that I learned in France which just works.

I have never eaten so well in my life. I do not skimp with the portions on anything in the least bit; they are filling and healthy. And I really feel the difference in my body and spirit.

I also see the difference too. Some of you have asked about my weight loss and while I truly adopted this way of eating as one of my practical methods for getting my depression under control, I have also lost over 35 pounds in the past seven months. Now, to be honest, I would say that the first ten was from heartbreak pure and simple. But the rest just came off with the adjustment in how I was eating with no additional real effort. Yes, I walk thirty minutes a day and meditate - and I actually think that both of those are essential too. Again, this is about the big picture of body-mind well-being and I feel so strongly that it is all one big happy family. Peace inside and out is the goal. Am I getting there everyday? Well, if you read this blog then you know that I still struggle with the situations in my life but at least I feel like I am taking responsibility for my health, finally. And I am pretty proud of that.

I hope this is of help and possibly, inspiration. Let Autumn begin, my favorite season...

 (Those of you who have been reading for a while will be surprised to see this "vanity" shot of me. It is the only one that will ever be on this blog. Ever.)

Bonne continuation et bon appétit! 


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Gratitude and the red barns

What is most meaningful to me in my life? Right now?


I think that looks good. It is a start, plus I can imagine where all the many subsets of things that I adore fit into these blocked out categories (food is creativity to me, reading is discovery as well as learning). Best not to over think, especially, certainly when these are what I hope to base the next chapter of my life upon. What kind of alchemy will be required to make a path out of this I have no idea but for now I am gathering the ingredients with intention. And yes, I realize well that a lot of these items are already present in my day to day.

My instinct tells me that gratitude provides the force of a common denominator, un lien. "How can that be?" you might wonder, lips pursed. "How can appreciating what is bring about what is not yet present?" It is a good question but I will just give you the annoyingly vague, redhead mystical answer that I am "going on a hunch."

Whatever gets you through, n'est-ce pas?

And gratitude, at least using it in an active not platitudinal sense, has been a key element of just that during these past seven months. I have several practical posts that I have been preparing regarding the backbones of this Project of Me but that same subtle voice suggested that I throw this one out en plus, hoping that it will roll out like a stone skipping across the water, "just in case." Someone might need this today.

When I first arrived back in the States in March, I remember blinking through my jet lag under the harsh lights of the pharmacy. I was torn about whether or not to spend the money - less than $5 but I have to be that careful these days - on pens plus a black and white composition book that could fit in the palm of my hand. Through my haze, I remembered back to a bad depression in my 20s when, despite so much promise glowing nearly visibly, I had to make a list of all that I was grateful for to get me moving in the mornings. I knew that the same practice would be a wire to hold onto while walking forward through the dark times ahead. And it has been. Everyday I scribble out a list of ten things that I am grateful for; it takes me less than a minute. Simple but truly effective.

I just picked up that notebook and dared to read backwards for the first time since I started it. It gives my heart balance to see that, yes, there is a progression. Here are a few examples starting from mid-March to present...

"I'm breathing"
"the baby bird on the roof"
"Hot tea"
"a comfortable bed"
"Ellie, friends near and far"
"my old posts on the blog"
"feta cheese"
"That I am ok with the quiet today"
"the crickets song"
"A sense of home in my heart"
"That hate isn't winning"
"getting better"
"Feeling safe"
"unconditional love of dogs"
"my senses working"
and from my last list:
"Feeling whole"

 So, with the insistence of a missionary I am going to yet again invoke psychologist, author and meditation teacher Tara Brach, who, in the podcast that I was listening to this morning called "Happiness for No Reason, Part Two" (I also highly recommend Part One)  talked her listeners through a small exercise of whispering out loud to finish the phrase..."I am grateful for..." and then feeling how the answer lands or resonates within us before asking it again. It felt lovely to do, a bit like unspooling a prayer or building a safe place to wait out a storm, such as the husk of the local barns.

So what do you think, do you want to try it? It's ok if you feel foolish, I bet most people do. This is just something that you are doing for yourself anyway. This may be stating the obvious but I could feel my responses warming up my heart with a quite comforting song.

Do you feel like sharing what came up for you? It is more than ok if you don't, it is just a thought.

Thank goodness that we are all in this together. I intend to keep saying it because there is no day when that idea isn't needed. You all mean more to me than you can ever possibly know. The love that I feel for you (and receive from you) helps me to love better in my life. 

With much gratitude (je suis désolée mais c'est vrai),

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A few days of summer

To say that this has been an odd time is an understatement. More like a hold-your-breath, tic tock, out of the normal standards of what passes for continuum. Things stretch, they seem impossibly eternal and then run into each other like bumper cars with a case of the hiccups. And unfortunately, I am only referring to what has been going on in my heart.

A few weeks ago, I found myself sobbing, kind of in public, it's a long story. But there I was, washed over by a whole new wave of grief that had risen out of a seeming nowhere. I wiped off my tears with no pretense of embarrassment and then moved on to go shopping for a bit with my Sister, as one does. There, we ran into one of her oldest friends. I actually introduced them when I was seven years old and still fearless. We had just moved to Michigan and there were these girls about Robin's age out in the alley by the blackberry bushes. I took them up to her room and there you go. How simpler things were without personality in the way. So this same friend, Susan, invited us up to her family's little slice of personalized Heaven. We left less than 24 hours later. 

Michigan - where I have been living for the past six months - is truly quite beautiful, something that is a bit of an inside secret for those who are from "the Mitten State" (take a look at the bottom half on the map to understand, apparently the residents of the Upper Peninsula smugly prefer to be left out of the equation entirely) but an area, like much of the US, where great distances are considered casually. As I still do not have my drivers license, Robin sat with a fixed gaze behind the wheel for four hours but wore the effort with the lightness of a grocery run until we pulled up under the pines in front of a true log cabin.

Her immediate spreading smile was worth...all the gold in the world? Well, not quite, mais presque. She knew what she was getting us into. We both needed this. I stepped out and stretched and could feel the pull of Lake Michigan before I could see it. Now, you may laugh - certainly if you have never seen it - for I know well it is not an ocean nor a sea, but trust me, that pull, lion-like, is there. 

For two days, we settled in as Sisters. Sisters of a certain age who know each other now. We respected each others needs for respective space and togetherness. The timelessness of the log cabin walls and the somehow more seeming choice to have internet access or no let our individual current stories fall away. We read. 

Coming back from one of the evening walks that we would take along the beach before sunset, we looked up just as we were arriving back to see Tupelo, or Tupy, nosing down the steps of the dock. She is Susan's 15 or 16 year old Golden Retriever, depending on who is doing the math. So that meant that Susan had made the drive up to spend a few nights with us after all. It wasn't certain, but we had hoped. 

Old friends banter. I made a toast to Susan just for having known her for forty years. When you have moved around as much as I have in life, that is something worth the clink. I took over cooking when we all were too lost in the conversation and I let these two true friends be to wander down to the beach so that they could talk and I could get lost in the stars. With the waves crashing in, I craned my neck and was overwhelmed by the merciless number, far outweighing what my concerns - current or past - could ever be. And yet even there, I cried again until my ribs shook, vulnerable to the truth, that damn resounding truth that natural beauty or God (your choice) has called out to me with an unflagging voice. Under the bare gaze of a million years, I could not help but hear it. 

What else happened down there on the sands is between me and...something greater. This was a few weeks ago. It is such a long process, this grief, these steps towards healing. And I have accepted that I am on nobody's schedule but my own. But those stars are emblazoned within me and if I close my eyes, I feel them not far. 

As luck would have it, I slept down where I imagine the children are usually delegated, the basement level of the log cabin. But as it is built up on stilts, I was able to open my curtain every morning and see that thin line of horizon that could extend nothing but hope into my view. Breathe in, breathe out. Another day rising. 

This has been such a strange time. I don't quite remember the days of the week but I am aware, often too aware of whether I am moving forward or not. And yet, for those four days, I had a taste of pure summer. Far from much, I was focused on the quality of the light upon the water (so similar to that of Bora Bora as to be laughable - why do people insist on flying to the other side of the world?), how the most basic food could taste so much better, how people seemed to have their guard down enough to talk with strangers, that it was possible to count down the sunset and even the Milky Way could break me open, yet again, to the possibility that I am learning and very much still alive. We all forget that some times but it was, in this case, nothing that a few days of summer couldn't set towards the direction of...a maybe one day beyond. Listless yet dreaming like summers do.

Thank you with all of my heart for the many incredibly loving messages and emails that so many of you have sent about Ellie's passing. Again, I feel truly fortunate to have been able to call such a woman my friend. It has been so incredibly moving to see here and elsewhere on social media exactly how far her reach was and is. Hers is a light that will never go out.