05 January, 2015


Happy New Year, everyone!  You can read my first official post of 2015 HERE.  I'm thinking of officially switching over to my wordpress blog.  Let me know what you think.  

Sending love!

01 January, 2015

Experiments in ... Holding My Self Accountable vs. Allowing My Self To Falter (aka: A Resolution Roundup)

(Note:  This post was also featured on Resolution Revamp.)
It's December! Already! How did we come to the closing of the year so quickly? It feels like I was writing out my resolutions just last week. But, I guess, time flies when you're having experiments in bliss.
What a wild and wonderful year it's been! While I must confess that I have lagged on my resolutions in this last quarter of the year, I am exuberantly proud of the personal progress I've managed to make in 2014. I have completely restructured my lifestyle and my health continues to improve daily. As a direct result, of course, my quality of life is improving. This process, like so many others in my life, and in Nature, is happening at the Tortoise's pace. The Aries in me can get impatient at times, but I just keep reminding her that most true and lasting positive change takes time. My true nature seems to be more that of the Tortoise than the Hare, anyway, so this pace, in the big picture, suits me just fine.
So, I think I'm going to just dive right into my resolution round-up. Let's see how I did, shall we?
January was all about organization. Resolution #1: Organize home and life. Considering the fact that I was getting settled into my new loft and starting to fall into a good flow of client retention at work, I feel like this resolution was met. I will pretty much always believe that there can be more organizational improvements made. That's the Virgo in me.) But I feel very good about my organizational work this year. Yay! One resolution met!
February saw the advent of the elimination diet. Resolution #2: Treat myself to an elimination diet during the month of February. Then adjust everyday diet accordingly to eat for optimal health and not for emotional reasons. This was perhaps the best and most important gift I gave myself this year. In fact, it's one of the best things I've EVER done for my Self. This elimination diet, which ended up lasting through March, was the beginning of my discovery of the low fat high carb vegan lifestyle. And this lifestyle has been and is still creating so much positive change in my health, and in my life, in general. Hooray! Two resolutions met!
Exercise was the theme for March. Resolution #3: Get moving! Exercise regularly and joyously. Physical exertion has been an ongoing topic of scrutiny for me this entire year. I get plenty of exercise. I walk or bike almost everywhere. My job is physical. I stretch and wiggle all the time. And I occasionally even fit in some formal workouts. So, I have no qualms about claiming the prize on this resolution. Would I like to make some changes and improvements in this arena? Yes. But I'm satisfied with where I am until those changes can be made. (More on this in an upcoming post.) Awesome! Three resolutions met!
April was about cultivating creativity. Resolution #4: Do something creative every week. Make actual artist dates a la The Artist's Way. Have some kind of finished project to show for your efforts at least once a month. Okay, so this is where my footing starts to get a little slippery on the resolution road. While I have managed to participate in many creative endeavors this year - probably more than I have in the past several years - I have not been as consistent as this resolution dictates. So, we'll call this one a Room For Improvement.
Meditation was the plan for May. Resolution #5: Cultivate a meditation practice. I was doing some really good work on this resolution for a while. Unfortunately, I eventually let Life seep into my practice and suddenly so many excuses seemed to take precedence. However, spiritually speaking, this is what a meditation practice is. It's not about perfection, but about practice. It takes time to make it a habit. It involves failures as well as successes. And it's as much a lesson in how the failures are handled, as it is about how many successes are had. So, I'm considering this one a Room For Improvement, as well.
June was an attempt to separate my personal life from my working life. Resolution #6: Give myself days off of work and don't work on those days! Seems like such a simple aim. Alas, it continues to prove otherwise for me ... often to my detriment. I continue to struggle with my own boundaries about how much I can reasonably work. I'm also a sucker for helping out when I am needed. And while this stems from a good place of wanting to be a helpful and contributing member of the work team, my inability to refuse these requests for help most often leave me overwhelmed, overworked, and with a strained immune system. So, while I was doing okay with this resolution during a few months mid-year, overall I am calling this resolution a fail. Or rather, this is an opportunity for more reflection on my personal needs and how to provide for and protect those needs in my own words and deeds. Let's do it!
Financial health was the name of the game in July. Resolution #7: Save some money. Well, I did manage to save some money this year. However, I also managed to spend most of it in these last few months. I don't regret putting the money where I did, but I'm eager to start saving again. This time, I hope I can manage to create a more substantial nest egg. Another growth opportunity. It's on!
August asked me to indulge my social side. Resolution #8: Be more social. I think my failing with this resolution was that I didn't designate any specific parameters to be met, so I have no real concrete way of gaging how successful I was at achieving it. That said, I feel like I gave a decent showing out in the world. I even hosted a couple of parties. I'm still fairly hermity, but I managed to get myself outside much more often than I have in years past, so I'm calling this a win. Alright! Another resolution met!
September was about taking care of my Self. Resolution #9: Make room for some kind of Self care every week. Well, while I didn't get too caught up in documenting how often I was doing things for my Self, I can say that I practice Self care regularly. Whether it be meditation, hydrotherapy, yoga, time in sunshine, cuddles with my best bunny friend, or sundry other delightful treats, I treat my Self often. So, this resolution is one that can be happily checked as accomplished. Heck yeah! Five resolutions met!
October wasn't about me. It was about others. Resolution #10: Volunteer at least once a month. I am very sad to admit that this resolution got lost in the shuffle of end-of-the-year busyness. It's a downright fail. I mean, er, another opportunity to work harder in 2015! I'm looking forward to it!
November urged novelty. Resolution #11: Try something new at least once a month. While this is a notion I support, I admit that I wasn't specific enough in it's phrasing. I'm sure there were many new things I tried at many times throughout this year, but I did not always take note of them. So, I think I'm going to consider this a faulty resolution. Maybe I will try to tweak it into something more measurable and specific, perhaps, for next year?
December was all about spirit. Resolution #12: Cultivate a spiritual practice and attune to Nature by observing the Wheel of the Year, Esbats and Astors. I'm afraid I didn't do very well on this one, either. While I was almost always aware of when these events were taking place, I was not good about formally (or informally, if I'm being honest) acknowledging and honoring them. We'll be seeing this resolution again, dear readers. Be ready.
So that's it. Five resolutions met. Two resolutions partially met with Room For Improvement. One faulty resolution. And four resolutions unmet leaving opportunities for new growth. It's not perfect, but it's decent. And I'm happy with this progress. I'm looking forward to setting some new resolutions for 2015. I suppose I will have to get busy with that really soon. Still, it's gonna have to wait until another entry.
Happy New Year, lovelies! 2014 has been a wild and wonderful ride. Thanks for sharing it with me! If you'd like to share how you did on your resolutions this year, I'd love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below (or message me directly if you tend toward a more private nature). May 2015 bring you health, wealth, bliss and love!

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!