01 November, 2014

Experiments in ... Fitness, Environmental Stewardship, and Self-Betterment

Mel on Wheels:  
Or ... Putting the "Spin" in Spinster!

So, in my quest to create a better life for myself, there are several arenas to which I look when deciding on new things to try.  Of course, health is a top priority, be it nutrition, wellness/self-care practices, or fitness.  Environmental stewardship is another big one.  I strive to do my part to make the lightest footprint on Mama Earth that I possibly and realistically can, from composting food scraps to recycling any- and everything I can, to choosing not to own a car.  I am also motivated by any opportunity to be outside, to be an active participant in the beauty and wonder that Nature has to offer.  

There are really a great many things that motivate and inspire me, but these are all pretty high on the list.  There's also a common thread tying these particular inspirations together for the purpose of this blog post:  They are the primary motivations behind my latest pursuit.

I am sure you are all on the edges of your seats, antsy with anticipation, to know what my latest pursuit actually is, right?  Of course, you are.

Oh, okay, enough with the dramatics.

My latest pursuit, or experiment in bliss, if you will, is ... dum da da dum!!! ... bicycling!  

No, bicycling is not new.  Yes, I have ridden a bicycle before.  In fact, I've owned several bicycles in my lifetime.  I have enjoyed many a leisurely ride in my youth and adulthood.  I have never, however, really pursued bicycling as a primary form of transportation or as a serious form of fitness.  And that is what makes this experiment new and exciting (and a little daunting) for me.  

I've been sans automobile for over three years now.  Some of you might be wondering why I haven't pursued cycling sooner.  To be honest, I just have always really liked walking.  One of the main reasons I made the decision to not have a car was spurred by my love of getting to know foreign cities by foot when traveling.  There's a connection to place afforded to pedestrians that just isn't available for folks who only ever motor around in a vehicle.  On foot, one gets to see the people who populate the place where one lives.  On foot, the minute shifts and changes of a place that happen on a daily basis are much more noticeable, and unfold slowly and languidly like a flower blossoming, or a lover revealing his or her secrets in a thousand tiny moments of vulnerability.  I just really enjoy this sense of intimacy and belonging with my town of residence.  

If I love being a pedestrian so much, then why am I trying to become a cyclist, you ask?  This decision is being driven by a couple of reasons.  The first and most important is for my body's sake.  At present, I work (for the most part on my feet) on concrete floors.  I live with concrete floors in most of my home.  I walk everywhere on concrete sidewalks.  It's a rare moment when I'm NOT on concrete flooring.  And concrete flooring, while looking pretty cool, is not friendly to bodies who are always on it.  There is no give, no shock absorption with concrete flooring.  The joints have to take up the slack there.  Bearing that extra [sizable] load, the musculature has to compensate.  All this results, over time, in a wonky body.  And mine is feeling the wonk.  And the wonk does NOT feel good.  I've been nursing some pretty uncomfortable situations in my body for several months now that I can only attribute to my constant existence upon concrete floors.  Since I like where I live and where I work enough to not want to change those things if I can help it, my best option is to change how I'm transporting myself.  

I considered a car for little while, but just couldn't quite get 100% behind the idea.  I would waffle back and forth repeatedly on whether or not I actually wanted one - whether or not having a car aligned with my values enough to feel like a truly viable choice for me.  I just couldn't fully and wholeheartedly commit to the idea of owning a car again.  And, if I'm not fully committed to an idea, then I have learned [the hard way] that I should, in fact, not go through with that idea.  So, the car is out .. again.  The buses here are unreliable at best, so that's not a viable option.  Taxis are too cost prohibitive to use on a daily basis.  Plus, they pose the same carbon demerits as a car.  So, they're out.  I have an unconventional schedule, which makes ride sharing a logistical impossibility.  What does that leave me?  Yup.  A bicycle!  

A lesser motivation leading me to this path, was the sense of freedom that can be gained when riding a bike.  Especially the notion that if I take the time to really learn to ride properly and hone my skills faithfully I can become proficient enough to ride further away from my residential locus than I could ever imagine walking in any reasonable span of time.  So, with my bike I might be able to take weekend camping trips to the lake, say, without having the hassle and expense of renting a car for the trip.  Freedom.  I like it.

All these thoughts of heightened fitness, diminished body pain, riding to new and semi-exotic locations on a whim are very exciting to me.  However, the reality is that I am only just stepping onto this path.  When it comes to the kind of serious riding that I am hoping to eventually do, I am a complete novice.  

I have a bicycle.  Some of you will remember that I got myself a sweet little Schwinn commuter following my trip to Nashville earlier this summer.  She's a beautiful little thing, really.  Her name is Babette Bicyclette.  However, despite her good looks, she is just an inexpensive box-store-bought run-of-the-mill bicycle.  She is not capable of the kind of riding to which I aspire.  She only has seven gears, and she's fairly heavy.  But what she is, is a great tool for getting started.  When I got her I was really just wanting something that would give me the opportunity to find out if cycling was something I'd even enjoy doing more than once in a blue moon.  I rode every day in Nashville, and loved it, so thought I'd try riding around Durham a bit to see if the same held true for my mundane life. 

Until recently I only rode occasionally ... mostly to work if I was running late.  I still don't have lights for Babette, so she's currently unridable after dark, which is earlier and earlier these days, and will be even more so once Daylight Savings Time reverts tomorrow.  I also don't have any storage options for her yet, so I can't really take her shopping or anywhere I will need to transport more than what I can fit in my 19-liter backpack.  That really limits what I can do with her currently.  That doesn't even take into account the fact that I have no emergency kit (or know-how) for repairing flats or addressing other potential problems that could occur on a ride.  But I'm working on gearing her out a little at a time, with the hopes that she'll be up for some longer rides soon.

When I rode her last week, I noticed my rear tire was flat by the time I arrived to work.  When I was walking her home [by way of the bike shop to address the flat], I discovered her chain had popped off somehow.  (I still have no idea how it happened.)  Luckily, the guy at the bike shop was really helpful and nice.  I had been a little worried about even going into a bike shop as my one and only experience doing so years ago was not so pleasant.  But this experience was nothing like that previous one.  Here was a bike mechanic who took the time to listen to me about my bike and about my inexperience and my hopes for slowly progressing into a more capable and serious rider.  He offered advice without intimidation, and he even commended me on my plan to start with a cheap bike to decide if I like riding and what kind of rider I am before investing in a more specific, technical bicycle.  He did suggest that I get a tune-up for Babette, telling me that bikes bought from box stores are often assembled by people who have no experience with bicycle mechanics.  So, while they may be sturdy enough to be ridden with a basic level of safety, they will likely be more comfortable and even safer with a proper tune-up.  A few days later, I was checking Babette in for her tune-up.

When I picked her up just the other day, I couldn't believe how much smoother and more comfortable and FUN my ride was.  The mechanics had even adjusted the seat height and handlebar height for me.  Wow!  What a difference!  I couldn't believe it.  It's like I already have a new upgraded bicycle as I'm beginning to get serious about this journey.  Now, I'm so excited to take her out on a longer joy ride this afternoon.  

I'm also trying to prepare myself for the saddle in other ways.  I've started reading books about bicycling to become accustomed to the lingo, to learn about the various bikes and tools and such available, as well as to get tips for how to improve my riding in a safe and smart way.  I've signed up for a general bicycle maintenance course at REI next month.  I'm hoping to take some more specific classes at my new favorite bike shop in town later this year.   And, I am considering maybe searching out a meetup group that does local group rides for varying levels of proficiency.  I'll admit the latter will take me considerably outside my comfort zone.  This, of course, if why it is likely a very good thing for me to do.

I am looking for friends to join me on some rides around town.  If you are here in Durham, and interested in setting up a cycling date, let me know.  

Also, I'd love to hear about your experiences with cycling.  Are any of you avid cycling enthusiasts?  Or even avid cycling novices?  What's been your experience getting in the saddle?  I'm eager to hear your stories!

I hope you all have a most beautiful Halloween/Samhain weekend.  Get out there and enjoy this gorgeous weather!


27 October, 2014

Experiments in ... Health: The Journey Continues

how listening to my body has lead me down a rabbit hole of new insights and information and revelations that are changing my Life for the better

So much has been happening in my Life since I last wrote about my transition From Foodie to Fruity.  I am extremely overdue on a follow up post, but here it is, better late than never.  At my last writing on this topic I had intended to forge an experiment of one month of eating fully raw 80/10/10 style.  Well, I didn't do that.  I actually made a conscious decision not to do that.  What I decided, and still hold to, is that the Raw Til 4 lifestyle seems to work best for me right now.  Raw Til 4 is a subset, if you will, of the 80/10/10 low fat high carb vegan food movement.  Following this lifestyle's principles, the earlier part of the day is the time to consume raw foods - primarily sweet fruits.  After 4p, cooked foods are allowed as long as they are low fat, high carb vegan foods.

It has been interesting to continue to learn more about this lifestyle, and, specifically, to discover where I mistake the identities of certain foods along the way.  

For example, when I was first transitioning to this diet, I was focusing on the ideas of vegan and high carbohydrate, and making sure I was getting enough calories.  (This is a diet of abundance, rather than restriction, where calories are concerned.)  I was trying to figure out how to get enough fruit into my body at regular intervals in ways that were conducive to my lifestyle.  I was not, it turns out very aware of how much fat I was consuming.  I was making the rookie mistake of assuming that eating vegan was going to mean I was eating low fat by default.  Silly melanie!  I could very often be found gorging on whole bags of taro chips or plantain chips, not realizing that these were foods full of salt and fat!  And, when I actually think about it, of course chips are full of fat and salt!  Obviously!  But I just didn't consider what I was eating as closely as I should have been.  And that brings us to Lesson #1:  Pay attention to the food that goes into the body!!  Actually consider what is being put into the body, and how it is likely to affect the body in the short and long terms.  This has been - and continues to be - an important lesson for me.  And, the really amazing thing is, that the more I consider my food intake, and tailor it to fuel my body rather than weigh it down, the more carbohydrates I feed my body.  And the more carbohydrates I feed my body, the more glucose I feed my cells.  And the more glucose I feed my cells, the more clarity of thought I have to actually consider my food.  It's a beautiful biofeedback loop!  Likewise, the opposite can happen on days when I over-consume fats:  I will have a harder time making smart conscious decisions on those days because the excess fats make my brain fuzzier.  It's still a bit of a challenge at times.  I'm discovering that while I thought sugar had been my big downfall in the past, it was really, more accurately, the fats that were the problem.  The large amounts of fat in my diet inhibited my body's ability to utilize any sugars I was eating, and, therefore, I would crave more sugary foods.  Now that I am working to keep fats under 10% of my total daily calorie intake (and on good days trying to keep it closer to the 5% mark), I don't have cravings for anything, really.  I am generally always satisfied and fueled for where the day will take me.  Oh happy day!

Here's how you, too, can be fruity if you want to.

Here are some really easy ways of incorporating more low fat high carb vegan foods into your diet.

1. Have a smoothie for breakfast.  Make it with RIPE bananas and whatever other fruit you like.  Add some water and blend and voila!  Instant fruity deliciousness in a glass!  Not to mention, a cornucopia of nutrients and glucose to fuel your body for the day's tasks.

2. Have a smoothie for lunch, too!  This is what I do, because it's convenient for me.  Plus, again, it's nutritious delicious fuel for my body.

3. Instead of a smoothie for lunch, have a mono-meal of sweet fruit.  Choose something like bananas, dates, mangoes, etc.  The sweeter, the better.  And make sure your fruit is ripe!  Unripened fruit is difficult for the body to digest and can cause some uncomfortable digestive responses.  By making a mono-meal of one particular type of fruit, you give your body the opportunity to get lots of good nutrition and energy (glucose!) with the minimum of effort expended on digestive processes.

4. For dinner, make yourself a gigantic salad of mixed greens and whatever other vegetables sound good to you.  If you're just trying to get a taste of this lifestyle (pun intended), you can use whatever salad dressing you have on hand, but in a very small quantity.  Even better is to make your own dressing with no oil, such as dijon mustard blended with coconut aminos or tahini.  And best is to make a dressing of blended fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes and citrus fruits.

5. Also for dinner, after your gigantic salad, make a quick and easy stew or soup by cooking the vegetables of your choice in vegetable or mushroom broth (preferably low sodium).  Pile those veggies on top of some rice or polenta or starch of your choice.  Then top with some tomato sauce.  (I like to blend organic tomatoes with bell peppers and dates for a delicious sauce.)  Delish!

6. HYDRATE!  Drink at least 4 liters of water a day - intermittently throughout the day.  You should have to pee all the time.  And your urine should be clear most or all of the time to indicate proper hydration.

7. SLEEP!  Very few of us get enough sleep.  Very few of us know what enough sleep is.  If we take our cues from Nature, we would be getting roughly as many hours of sleep as there are hours of darkness.  That means more sleep during the winter months and less in the summer.  But it's usually more sleep than most of us are used to getting, regardless of the season.  If you are unable to allow yourself to get that much sleep, then I would encourage you to at least start lowering the lighting in your home as the sun starts setting and at trying to let your body start relaxing by doing easy activities like reading or bathing.  Also limiting your time in front of your screens (TV, computers, phones) as it gets darker can make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep, even if you're skimping on quantity.

8. Get adequate sunlight exposure.  I know it's more difficult to do this as the thermometer plunges, but you can still strive to get sun on your face and in your eyes and even on your body through your windows in your warm home whenever you can.  Ideally, you'll get a minimum of 30 minutes of sun exposure daily.  And I mean sun exposure without sunscreen.  What's the point of basking in the sun if you're slathering on a chemical barrier to keep it out of your skin?  Whether you choose to use sunscreen is up to you, but if you do, still strive to get some unscreened sun daily.

26 October, 2014

August/September/October: Playing Catchup!!

Well, here it is:  the LONG overdue Resolution Revamp update.  Read it here.


21 July, 2014

JULY: Save Some Money

Check out my latest Resolution Revamp post here, where I recap my progress and introduce July's resolution (belatedly).  Enjoy!

02 June, 2014

JUNE: Take Time Off!

Welcome to June, dear readers!  I hope this glorious Spring is treating you well:  filling your hearts, lifting your spirits and warming your cockles.  Here in the American South we’ve been having a beautifully drawn-out sweet and temperate Springtime.  What good fortune we are having!

The month of May found me cultivating my meditation practice, as you may recall.  This resolution – while perennially difficult for me – has proven to be much more attainable than expected.  I have managed to sit for my practice most days this month.  And I’ve not really felt guilty about the days I didn’t sit, but I did, strangely, miss the experience on those days.  I have discovered that evening meditations work best for me right now.  In the past, I always tried to practice meditation in the mornings after waking, and with mixed results.  However, meditating just before bed is proving a welcomed addition to my nighttime routine.  It allows me to soften my mind and body in preparation for sleep. 

In an effort to keep myself from getting too “thinky” about the practice, I have only been asking myself to sit down and count out 50 breaths.  I have a pretty slow breathing pace, so this allows me a decent amount of time ‘on the cushion’ for my practice.  I do hope to eventually add more breaths/time, but for now, this seems to be sufficient for me to feel benefits and to still feel like I can sustain the practice without too much effort. 

I have noticed that I am drifting into sleep much more easily and comfortably.  (However, my sleep, once I’m in it, is still fraught with physical discomfort and crazy dreaming.  Will have to figure out how to address that at some point, but that will have to be left for another blog entry.)  I have also been experiencing some pretty auspicious emotional shifts happening.  I don’t attribute these solely to the meditation practice, but I think the practice is definitely playing an important role.  I will talk more on that later.  I’m also feeling like I have a much calmer internal sea; much more equanimity.  There may be some emotional debris bubbling to my surface, but deep underneath all that is a new stillness and serenity.  It sounds a little hokey when I type it out here, but I don’t know any other way to describe it.  I believe those moments I’m spending in mediation are directly contributing to the well of contentment, and that is motivation enough to keep up the practice. 

June’s resolution is one that I feel would be well applied to the lives of most modern Americans:  Give myself days off of work and don’t work on those days.  Sounds simple enough, sure.  But, in practice, this can be a nearly impossible feat for many of us.  In fact, the timing couldn’t be better on this resolution.  Just last month I made the decision to add an extra day of work to my schedule.  I was already scheduled to what I believed to be my maximum number of client hours in a week, but I was feeling concerned about money (thank you, IRS), so thought I’d try working a little more.  Surely I’d be able to do that – work one more day a week … just for a few hours … no problem!  Well, as it turns out, it is a problem.  So, a few days ago, I changed my schedule back to the old one.  The moment I did that I felt a weight lift from my heart and from my shoulder girdle.  Whew!  Just adding that one day a week to work had increased my stress levels, dramatically decreased the quality of my sleep, affected my ability to make the best food choices for myself, roused an old muscular injury (which is still not ironed out), and made me feel so exhausted and overwhelmed that I found myself just wanting to crawl into a hole to get away from it all.  No good!  And … No more!  I’m back on a schedule that my body, mind and spirit can handle.  And, in the spirit of June’s resolution, I am not going to plan too much drudgery on the days when I’m not at my job.  Instead, I’m going to do things that make me feel good.  Brilliant plan!  I encourage you to try it, too!  I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Well, that’s it for now, superstars!  Today’s a day off for me, so I’m going to wrap this up and go enjoy the rest of this beautiful Sunday afternoon.  I hope you do, too!



07 May, 2014

Resolution Revamp: May 2014

i heart you.

Check out my latest Resolution Revamp post here, where I recap my progress and introduce April's resolution.  Enjoy!

09 April, 2014

Experiments in … Health: From Foodie to Fruity?

via fruitsbenefits.com
Greetings, dear readers!  I hope you’re enjoying this fine Springtime.  I certainly am.  All of Nature is stirring and waking and making noise in such glorious, organic ways.  The warmth of the reemerging sun is lighting a fire in my heart and under my arse.  I’m feeling inspired and wild and giddy.  I hope you are, too!

If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that I have spent the last two months working a fairly restrictive elimination diet.  (You can find more information on the specifics of that journey here, here, here and here.)  My goal in doing so was to actively foster an improved state of health.  It has been such an informative, inspiring and surprising journey.  My body has gone through numerous cycles of detoxifying healings, and is continuing to do so.  You can read (or re-read) about some of that here.  I have been experiencing a renewed and stronger connection to my body since instating these changes in my life.  In fact, I am much more able to receive – and to honour - the messages that my body is sending me.  The surprising piece of this process is learning what my body is asking of me. 

I first began to take notice of a real shift in my mind-body conversation when I realized that the longer I abstained physically from certain foods, the less powerful my emotional bonds to those foods became.  Prime examples:  Coffee, booze, ice cream.  These things have long held a strong Romantic association for me.  

via browndresswithwhitedots.tumblr.com
The sweetness of a quiet morning curled up with a rich, bitter cup of coffee.  Coffee became symbolic of the luxury of simple, uninterrupted downtime with my Self.  

via dailymail.co.uk
Communal imbibing of wine or cocktails with friends.  This experience validated my sense of community and belonging, the deep need for connection with others.  

via flickr.com
The rich, delicious comfort of a thick spoonful of gelato on a balmy, wistful evening.  Ice cream has often provided feelings of comfort during moments of melancholy, or reward for some kind of accomplishment.  These are just some of the food associations that have long driven my dietary choices. 

This is how my relationship with food has been as long as I can remember it:  emotionally driven.  Suddenly removing these emotionally linked foods from my diet has helped to break the enchantments of the psychological connections as well.  Suddenly, my body is less swayed by my mind.  Instead of feeding my emotional hunger, I am finding it much more enjoyable to feed my physical hunger.  And feeding my physical hunger makes me feel better.  It gives me more energy in the morning, so that I am much more likely to enjoy my quiet morning in meditation or exercising or even enjoying a hot cup of herbal tea which gives my body natural healing medicine making my time with my Self much more fulfilling and luxurious.  It allows me to be less brain fuzzy and more present in my interactions with friends so that I am able to spend more quality time having real exchanges with people rather than forging superficial relationships around food and drink.  It allows me to find comfort in the elemental sensations of the balmy evening – the breeze on my skin, the scent on the breeze, the way the moonlight caresses the blossoms on the branch – without the awful after-effects of digestive discomfort.  And, as a result, I am finding new, healthier ways of rewarding myself for accomplishments.  (I plan to post more about that in future.)  Plus … it’s a heckuva lot easier on the old pocketbook!  Maintaining coffee, booze, and ice cream habits can be expensive!

The second time I became aware that big changes were afoot in my body was one unassuming day at work.  I ate a handful of dry roasted mixed nuts only to find my taste for them had completely diminished.  Anyone in my family can tell you that I have long been a fan of dry roasted mixed nuts.  My dad and I used to gobble them by the handful and would sometimes polish off a couple large canisters in one sitting.  So, you might imagine my surprise when I discovered my taste buds were breaking up with roasted nuts.  Suddenly, eating these cooked and salted nuts ceased tasting like warm delicious treats, and now tasted like edible death.  Strange, but true.  It was like each nut was a little decaying carcass with no life, no energy, and I was using it to try to nourish my body.  What used to seem so natural and delicious and even healthy, suddenly seemed completely absurd.  How could I expect to have this deadened, cooked and salt-laden food provide living energy for my body?  I had never really considered the implications of using dead organic matter to fuel my living body.  And, strangely, I am still only wrapping my head around the notion.  I am someone who spends many, many hours pondering food and health and natural living, and I have never once before now even considered that eating dead things might not be the best way to keep my living body functioning optimally.  Food for thought, most definitely.

Even after that singular realization, I stayed true to the diet I’d laid out for myself for the month.  During that time, as is often the case, I was doing a fair bit of general internet searching on health/wellness and natural living.  I found myself drawn to more and more sites powered by proponents of a low fat, high carbohydrate, raw vegan lifestyle.  I was not searching specifically for this kind of information, nor was diet the primary focus of these sites.  But as I kept reading and researching, some of the dietary information was making good sense to me.  What was even more interesting, was that I could feel my body responding to the information at the cellular level.  (Yep, I know that’s a really New Age-y thing to say, but it’s the only way I know how to describe what I felt.) 

As my body seemed to be responding to these ideas, I began to actively seek out more information on this way of eating.  My brain was continuing to resist the notion of limiting fats and restricting meats, but my body seemed to be almost yearning for it.  So, I decided to bridge the gap and commit to a compromise:  I will be transitioning to a one month experiment on a low fat, high carb, raw vegan diet, and I’ll see how my body responds to it. 
via fullyraw.com
I am currently practicing a “raw until 4” regimen, where I eat mostly or only fruits until 4pm.  After 4pm, I allow myself to have cooked foods, but opt for lighter cooking methods like steaming or light sautéing or gentle baking, along with big leafy vegetable-rich salads.  My goal is to ease myself to a completely raw situation by April 15, and to maintain it for one month.  Then, I’ll reassess at the end of the month and see how I feel. 

While I’ve only been doing this for about a week, so far I’m feeling great. My body is continuing to detoxify itself, and I’m feeling lighter and clearer already.  I finally purchased a Vitamix blender, which should help exponentially in making juices, smoothies, soups and sauces.  It should be arriving in a couple days.  (Special thanks to my mom and dad for their birthday generosity, which allowed me to make that purchase!) 

There are many different ways of eating raw and vegan.  I am choosing to follow the 80/10/10 version pioneered by Dr. Douglas Graham. I find Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram’s website, fullyraw.com, lays everything out in a way that really makes sense to me and makes the information accessible and non-threatening for newbies like myself.  The FAQ page, especially, has been really useful for me.  If you would like more information on what this way of eating actually is, I would suggest spending some time perusing her site.

I would love to know if any of you have experimented with this style of raw vegan eating.  Please feel encouraged to share your experiences in the comments section below.  Also, if any of you are interested in joining me for this experiment, comment or message me.  Experiments are more fun with more people!

via fullyraw.com

I hope you are all enjoying your own journeys to health and vitality.  May this gorgeous Spring season rejuvenate and invigorate you!