Saturday, August 22, 2020

Staying at Home and Staying Sane: Developing A Healthy Routine During Quarantine

I think I've got Cabin Fever...

I remember watching "Muppet Treasure Island" in the theatre with my husband, and being the only two laughing the loudest at the high brow humor throughout the movie. Aside from Miss Piggy's entrance to "Boom Shakalaka!", the part that I remember most is the scene where ship has encountered the doldrums, and after 5 days of no wind, they go mad, bursting out into the song, "Cabin Fever". 

When I went to watch the clip on YouTube, the comments clearly indicated that everyone had already thought of it as a perfect representation of 2020 amid the Coronavirus pandemic and other recent chaotic global and social events. As day by day passes, there is yet another day that goes by; we are now in what is an endless pause of days, with no place to go. It seems we all have cabin fever right about now. 
I am blessed to be enduring this difficult time with a loving, patient family who is never short on talent and creativity. My adult children all chose to return home to face the quarantine together with their mom and dad. None of us were naive enough to believe that this experience was short-lived, it was our guess that the period of Staying Home-Staying Safe, wearing masks and limits on social interaction are all now part of our daily lives, and that this not-so-new normal will be around for much of the foreseeable future. 

Having said that, knowing that the things that bring us all joy--going to concerts and museums, hanging out at the beach, hopping on a flight for a weekend getaway at a fancy hotel, enjoying a ball game or a visit to your favorite pub -- may never be the same, we are all going through an unusual grief process. One where our hope remains for the old life and the return to the way things were, but it is waning due to relentless news reports of cases continuing to rise, businesses and service openings being reversed, the political climate, racial unrest, and the threat of an unstable oil tanker poised to bring environmental disaster on a global level...what else can possibly happen? 

There is nowhere to hide, and we are all going mad. 

Being here, at home, can also have its share of frustrations when there is a strain in the family fiber. An argument can rattle already delicate relationships, or a person's need for distance can cause hurt feelings and a sense of feeling trapped. Especially when the world outside is much more threatening and stressful than the world within the walls of home. 

I know I had to stop and think about just how much more I will have to muster to power through the uncertainty of it all. Since the shutdown, I have battled depression and anxiety, insomnia, weight gain due to an interruption in daily routines, I have even had to sever a few relationships with friends and family, because recent events have only magnified the true toxicity of these connections. I do not believe I am any different from many of us who are trying to find a center during this time, however:  Every emotion has been felt by the collective mind and body of the world, and we all wonder where, exactly, we are headed. 
But in the meantime, I have found a bit of peace; not because of anything but stopping and slowing down enough to help myself manage my mind. Mental health is the top priority in order to continue to remain strong through this crisis. Here are some things I have tried. I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist, so I am only listing the things that have worked for me and my family, to help us to continue to celebrate life and find happiness and purpose together on this road to wherever. 

1. Find what centers you, then find gratitude.

I am a person of faith, so I pray and meditate. What is it that you do to quiet your mind and reflect within? Find time in the day to practice "centering" through practicing mindfulness by focusing on breathing, listening to the sounds around you and finding gratitude for what you have. When I want to put my mind at ease and wind down, the Calm app helps me with its guided meditations, stories, talks and music. Beware: you may not get to know what happens at the end of the story because you will be off to dreamland in minutes! When your are able to clear your mind, gratitude comes more easily. Interestingly, the act of being grateful is not only for times when we experience wins and wonderful things, it is also for the struggles and difficulties. 

Last year, I had so many valuable lessons in being grateful for what I had. Quite a few of my friends experienced loss or very trying times with spouses or loved ones. I cannot imagine losing someone I love so much and have spent the better part of my life with, that pain that they experienced so soon has to be unbearable. In addition to that, we lost a close friend and two relatives to cancer. My own situation with a cardiac episode due to a hostile workplace that resulted in a bout of PTSD, ironically caused me to realize that my problems paled in comparison to most people. I was able to reflect on the many bullets I have dodged that could have been meant for my demise. Since then, I am grateful for every thing; my wins, and my losses, because someone else’s losses may be too much for me to bear. 

Even in this time of what seems like the world is on "freeze" state, how many bullets have whizzed past you? What in your life did you see coming for you before the whistle blew, "time out"? Think about that and be grateful that we are now in slow motion, and you have time to fix it, or better yet, you may find that the problem no longer exists!

If feelings get too difficult with which to cope, seek the ear of a friend or loved one, or talk it out with assistance from a licensed mental health professional. A common stigma of therapy in the Black community prevents many from accessing this level of critical self care, yet there are growing resources becoming more available each and every day.  Therapy for Black Girls provides resources for women of color to help them to become the best versions of themselves. I enjoy Dr. Joy Harden Bradford's weekly podcast while doing my daily morning walk. 

Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to list those things that you want to say thank you for. You can even write out your thoughts in a brain-dump fashion to move your feelings from your head to the paper. Beginning this way, with Morning Pages, helps the mind to clear and ready you for the day ahead. Create a journal from a notebook, or invest in a planner and a few colorful pens to bring an artistic flair to your writing. It will foster a habit for jotting down your feelings and ideas. 

2. Exercise!

Moving around! We all know how beneficial movement is to the body. There are SO MANY resources that are available that provide whatever exercise that may interest you. Now that the gyms are closed again, creating time and space for workouts at home are what's up! I went to Target to get a yoga mat, and they were sold out. Finding equipment is not easy, because everyone is working out at home. 

  • I wake up and workout before the sun rises on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday are dedicated to yoga; I love spending time with my sister-friend, Emilia, in her yoga class from Zoom. It is a time to get an outstanding yoga lesson and spend time with one of my most favorite people in the world. Saturdays are usually a day for dancing and weight training, and Sundays, yoga and resting. Each and every day, I take a 30-45 minute walk in the morning or early evening. 

Begin your day with yoga or mild stretching to get the blood flowing.  Photo: Adobe Stock

  • Some amazing apps that I use for exercise are Asana Rebel, an amazing yoga app that has multilevel lessons, music, motivational tips and healthy recipe ideas. There is a membership fee (65.00 annually), but with so many useful features, I think it is worth the price if you are no longer paying for a gym membership and are looking to save money.  I also use Fitbit and the Fitbit app to track my steps and to check in with friends who are working on staying in shape. Check out Instagram and YouTube for Mr. and Mrs. Muscle, a dynamic duo who provide free, action-packed workout videos that you can follow and focus on various muscle groups to help you to get toned and build endurance without any large gym equipment!

Get outdoors to exercise!

  • According to Andrea Goff of About Boulder, experts have found that while strength training and higher intensity exercise along with moderate exercise is the ideal situation for many, the National Runners' Health Study found that high-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol , diabetes, and heart disease. If you suffer from knee, back or ankle issues, walking can be a valuable means of exercise. 
3. Get up. Make up your bed. Get dressed.

One thing about being at home most of the time during the pandemic is that mentally, your mind is in a constant state of semi-relaxation. This can mean that the idea of getting up and getting dressed in actual clothes may seem unnecessary .  While most of us have mastered the WFH look for the countless Zoom and Google meetings, there are still those times when we wake up and roll out of bed, and any effort beyond brushing our teeth and a messy bun feels a bit far-fetched. But experts say that morning rituals such as showering, grooming and getting dressed is beneficial for our mental hygiene. 

As it turns out, remaining in our pajamas or sweats for too long can have an effect on our self-image and our emotional state. According to Elizabeth Beecroft, an LMSW based in New York, "Getting dressed in the morning can play a role in your mood throughout the day and lead to further productivity, optimism, motivation and an overall improved mood." She believes that putting on clothes is an important part of mental health. 

Get up, dress up and show up!   Photo: Adobe Stock

You don't have to dress up in heels and a power suit to have an at-home polished look. Opt for some comfortable joggers, or boyfriend jeans and a simple blouse, or an easy frock with a pair of UGG minis. During the summer heat, pull on a pair of white jeans and a bohemian top or trapeze shirt that can feel fine watering the lawn or taking a quick jaunt to the market (don't forget your mask!). Everlane is a company I have fallen in love with for their conscientious marketing and simple, clean designs I find easy to wear while working virtually. 

My Everlane haul.

And what if you want to dress up? Do it! Put on that sexy little black dress and go for a drive! Getting out of the house to view the city skyline or cruise up the coast is the one thing that still feels normal, and traffic is at a minimum, so traveling along the freeways are less of a headache. 
Whatever the day brings, face it by establishing a set routine of getting up, dressing up and showing up!

4. Eat right. 

It is sooooo easy to be cocooned away eating all types of comfort food, but we all know that making this a habit has a whole host of serious repercussions. Excessive weight gain is just one of them. Now is the time to explore healthy options that you may have not had time for at the beginning of the year. Try blending a smoothie in the morning to get in a few essential nutrients. Create your own special mix or try these amazing recipes from, which is filled with a variety of additional healthy tips and ideas for creating a clean gut and mindful lifestyle. 
Learning to create delicious meals that you can eat from a bowl is a simple way to put together clean, healthy combos that will provide all of the necessary components of a balanced diet. For more information, see my post making bowl food here

5. Connect with others.

We need human connection. Yet, at this time, in order to stay safe, connecting through a handshake, hug and kiss, high-fives and hand holding is best left avoided. If you happen to accidentally hug a friend you've not seen since the beginning of quarantine out of mere instinct, it now feels awkward. But according to well known science, our need for touch distinguishes us from other animals. Physical touch encourages bonding with others, boosts the immune system and builds trust, while the opposite is responsible for having a negative impact on mental health and sense of well-being, which may result in stress and anxiety. A lack of physical contact can also result in compensation by self-medicating or soothing with food, drugs and alcohol. 

Photo: Adobe Stock

Gathering with others is not possible in our time of quarantine, yet if we are home with others, we are fortunate enough to be in the company of friends or loved ones, who can be the sources of abundant hugs and affection. Pets provide unconditional love and have the profound ability to lower stress levels and high blood pressure. Even hugging yourself, a weighted blanket or indulging in pampering ourselves with a self-massage can boost comfort. 

Even though we must remain distant, we can still step outside to greet our neighbors or share engaging conversation from the safety of our own yards or from across the street. Making physical touch a priority in our daily routine will help us to cope and endure during this uncertain time. 

6. Find a reason to celebrate.

I have stopped my morning habit of waking up and watching the news, because of the bombardment of negative stories that flood the television. By the time I was ready to begin the day, I was saddled with anxiety, worry, anger and grief. This emotional state would carry on into the day, making recovery almost impossible. Eventually, I found myself feeling the need to reframe the circumstances. First, I eliminated watching the T.V. for anything except entertainment. Next, I chose to adopt the perspective that this Great Pause was an opportunity to do a number of things I have always wanted to do; work in the garden, spend time with family, read some awesome books, practice my violin...the list is endless. Finally, I looked for reasons to celebrate even the most mundane of things with a bit of luxury.

Every birthday in our house has been a private, elegant affair complete with elaborate balloon bouquets, charcuterie boards, fine wine and lavish cakes made from scratch. Everyone dresses up and we spend the evening dancing, playing fun games and enjoying opening gifts. We have enjoyed virtual concerts together, and a gourmet "S'more Bowling" Night, where we experimented with different ingredients to create new and different versions of the famous campsite treat, and played an energetic game of 9 Pins under a string of patio lights. Even something as simple as committing to a dedicated time of relaxing with a cup of tea and a few cookies helps to set an intention of appreciation for the simple, good things in Life that do exist all around us. These occasions have been some of the most magical times we have had together as a family. The memories we have made are priceless. 

On one of my most impatient days, where everything just seemed to be typical of our Coronavirus Pandemic culture - waiting in line, having your temperature checked just to pick up a prescription, my favorite tea store closing, finding empty shelves, trying to decipher what someone is mumbling behind a mask - I just fell out of sorts. I grumbled and complained. A conversation I had with Emilia one day called my attention to my salty disposition: She once told me, "It is not about waiting, but what we do while we wait."  It got me to thinking, like she always does. If we shift our focus away from the circumstances which have befallen us, and dedicate our energy to the way in which we respond to these circumstances, we just may find within ourselves a peace which surpasses all understanding. 

What are you doing to discover the beauty in this time of uncertainty? Leave ideas in the comments below!



Monday, November 11, 2019

Eating From a Bowl | Clean Comfort Food Without the Plate

It seems more people are enjoying their food from bowls. How and why is this becoming the norm?

I know this because I’ve become a "bowl person"; I cannot remember the last time I’ve eaten from a plate.  

Since my visit to the doctor for my checkup, I have been fighting to lower my cholesterol and control my blood pressure by changing many things in my diet. As a result of eating more cleanly, many of my meals are prepared in a bowl: Breakfast is an exercise in color balance, artistry and including balanced nutrients, so I begin the day on Saturday and Sunday with a smoothie bowl. Lunch or dinner is complete with a warm, savory mix of vegetables and protein with a Buddha Bowl. Eating this way has helped me to stay on target with my wellness plan, provided me with the opportunity to explore various tastes and textures and has given me a new perspective on how food gets to our tables and into my bowl. Most of all, eating from a round vessel, brimming with satisfaction for the senses, gives me a feeling of deep and profound comfort.  

After I discovered that my cholesterol was high, it was a wake up call to spring into action to help keep my body healthy: I come from a history of high blood pressure and heart disease. My father suffered from both conditions and became the victim of many strokes that deteriorated his health and finally took his life. I always thought that I lived a healthy enough lifestyle that I would not become subject to such issues, but having a palate for extravagant, rich cuisine (code word: butter!) eventually caught up to me. I had my own frightening cardiac episode that landed me in the hospital and placed me on low-dose blood pressure medication. The follow up exam revealed high LDL cholesterol. That’s the bad cholesterol, by the way.  
“No meat, no dairy.”, my doctor mandated. 
What? I love ice cream. And cheese. And BUTTER! Nooooooo 
    But I want to live.
 Things could only become more complicated with a previously diagnosed heart murmur, so I figured I’d better get with the program. 

Turning to creating masterpieces within a bowl helped me to see that not being able to enjoy meat, dairy and gluten would mean I would have to seek other opportunities to explore new combinations of food, creating new tastes for my palate.  

After the initial disappointment of eliminating certain foods from your diet, you begin to learn that there are so many different ways to enjoy food, and you begin to feel better, physically, emotionally and spiritually. One thing I have discovered is how to prepare dishes from other cultures. For instance, many South Asian foods from India do not contain meat or dairy and are full of delicious, aromatic spices. Protein sources come from lentils, beans and eggs. A favorite recipe I love to prepare is Bhaat Baat, a hearty meal of mashed vegetables, rice, yams and soft boiled egg. You can find how I make it here on my blog. Aside from India, other tasty meals can be found on Mediterranean and African menus as well, low in cholesterol, gluten and dairy free with little or no meat, but containing beneficial protein. It is all about exploring the limitless possibilities of what is available.  

Once I’ve cooked up what I am hungry for, I place it all in a bowl.  
There is something about eating a meal from a bowl that brings feelings of comfort, pleasure and satisfaction. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way. Eating from the round, close area of a bowl seems to bring a sense of security, a nostalgic reach-back into our childhood, where things were simple and food served in a bowl was hot and substantial. As Annalise Griffin points out in her article, Bowled Over: The reason why food tastes better in bowl than on a plate, "There is an intimacy in eating from a bowl, that isn't just there when eating from a plate... You pick up a bowl and bring it closer to yourself, and you can really enjoy it and immerse yourself in to what's in front of you. In many ways I think it's one of the oldest ways to eat and at the same time, in this day and age, a lot of folks are looking for comfort and recognition of sustenance." In this turbulent time,  having a meal in a bowl seems to make  the world feel a bit better and more familiar. according to Wall Street Journal author Bee Wilson, Sales of bowls are rising as Americans prefer more casual, one-course meals that layer flavors. Tableware makers are reconfiguring place settings. Restaurants are overhauling their china cabinets and consumers are increasingly cradling their food while perched at kitchen islands, lounging on sofas or multitasking at a table. The bowl trend is also influenced by our new connections to Asian cuisine and cooking, which layers various ingredients to be tasted together at once, the article states. Additional eating establishments have caught on to the bowl trend because they’ve found that flavors are able to mingle together and that food stays warmer longer. Which is one of the reasons love preparing my food in a bowlHot food is always a source of pleasure and comfort for me. A meal is best served at a time when the aroma and flavors of the dish are at their peak as the food arrives immediately from the stove to be enjoyed.  

So, how do you make a bowl? What are the basic components of a healthy, clean Buddha Bowl?  

 1/2 green vegetables-kale, spinach, collards, turnip greens, mustards, Brussels sprouts, broccoli…or any other. Mix up flavors by sautéeing in red onion, chili oil and garlic 

¼ grains-you can prepare brown rice, quinoa, millet or buckwheat ahead in advance to cut down on preparation time.  

1/8 more veggies – I like to add carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, yellow squash…sprinkling these with oil and then roasting  these on a cookie sheet can be done the day before or in the morning while preparing for breakfast.  

1/8 – good fats – nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil; I like vegan butter stirred into my grains. Vegan butter can be from cashews, avocado, sunflowers or other seed.  

Protein is also added in the form of whole plant -based sources. Hummus or whole chickpeas, beans, lentils(Dahl) or vegan patties add heartiness to a bowl and keep 
More full for a longer time.  

Top all of this with additional seeds, fresh herbs, crunchy veggies and sauces (lemon juice, Lime juice, sriracha, the choice is yours!) for finishing flavors. I love Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Seasoning to give my bowl that extra special kick and a beautiful, finished appearance.  

Smoothie Bowls are made with — well— smoothies! Blend your favorite smoothie and top it with fresh fruit, nuts, clean granola, and seeds. When you  add various powders, you can create unique colors to your blend or puff to the topping. Either way, these “Superfood” powders provide another source of protein and adaptogens that our bodies need.  

Superfood Powders
Beet Powder 
Matcha green tea powder 
Maca powder 
Chia seeds 

To thicken a smoothie for a bowl,  you can blend in chickpeas another great protein source. Edible flowers like chamomile, violets, roses, baby pansies and nasturtiums  all provide an extra pop of color and beauty to your creation.  Just make sure they are free of pesticides and are organically grown. For more on edible flowers, visit Erin Baker's website

Bowl food was thought to be a passing fancy in 2018, an Instagram fad that would soon be a thing of the past. But alas, this trend doesn't seem to be going away, in fact, it is slowly becoming a new way America eats. Warm and savory or chilled and fruity, the bowl eating culture is gaining momentum, and seems to be the new normal for our trying times. 

Do you like to eat bowl food? What delicious combinations have you invented? Share in the comments below!

Blogger Template Created by pipdig