May 8, 2014
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A meditation on greenbeans, grandmas and mommas

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I’m standing (barefoot, of course) at the counter humming a tuneless song and snapping the ends off a mess of beans. My fingers work quickly and automatically, finding that spot at the end of each greenbean with my thumbnail, that spot where it snaps just right. When there’s a lot on my mind, I cook a lot. Sometimes too much, and the leftovers pile up in little foil pouches and tupperware too mountainous for my hubby’s appetite to keep up with. When there’s a lot on my mind, the standing at the kitchen counter roots me. There’s little room in my head for long-lingering worries or orchestrated imaginary futures. My chatty internal conversations (and arguments) with myself reduce to a simmer. The kitchen counter is my moving meditation on chopping and measuring and whisking, for finding the just-right spot in the bean, for tending the onions as they soften. I am rooted, barefoot, into my kitchen floor and rooted into the women who taught me and my little-girl fingers how to snap the beans just so.

I picked and snapped mountains of beans sitting on grandma’s back porch at the cabin in North Carolina. A towel in my lap with a heap of beans, snapping the ends and watching the bowl to my side fill up. Often we’d pick wild blueberries and blackberries together, Grandma, Momma, Jenny and I. Blackberries are juiciest when fresh-plucked and hot-baked under the summer sun, with a few scratches on your arms from the stickers. Few made it to the intended cobbler.

Grandma taught me how to help in the kitchen and how to not get underfoot (although the latter lesson was only mildly successful). She is pragmatic, resolute and endearingly optimistic. She cooked solid southern fare in that practical, post-war way. She is okra and tomatoes, she is angel food cake with strawberries, she calls me her Strawberry Girl. The first time my Daddy met her, he took the lid off her rice and she smacked his hand. I’m so wildly nostalgic I can tell the old stories like I was there. My great-grandaddy who always dribbled gravy on his tie. Back when men wore ties to supper.

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Cornbread muffin recipe with Momma’s note

My Momma taught me how to cook. We love to eat together, yes. But we recognize the cooking as a special act, a creative and sacred place apart where individual ingredients are blended and married into something new.  I recall very few “cooking instructions” but rather I was a participant in the process. I remember the first Thanksgiving I cooked Grandma’s squash casserole and greenbean casserole, using her recipes that Momma scanned and printed out for me. The torn-edge magazine page with her handwritten notes in half-cursive (like mine, of course) in the margin. I have many of her recipes, and Grandma’s and Great-Grandma’s. Dad does a lot of their cooking these days; his kitchen-counter-meditation is a lot noisier than mine (“If Dad’s raising a ruckus in the kitchen, he’s happy!”) and when we eat together we spend half the meal discussing how it was cooked. The method he used for the flank steak. We know the flank steak is love; the love we show our loved ones by taking time to put everything on hold while we immerse ourselves at the counter to create a nourishing meal.

And so I stand at my own counter – grown now, rooted, and wildly nostalgic. When I make homemade bone broth, I feel connected to the women in my family and women everywhere, from centuries ago, who (apart from the crockpot) would know exactly what I’m doing and what that first sip of broth from the ladle will taste like. We know it’s the marrow and ginger and garlic that’s healing. Tonight as I snapped the beans, Momma text me a photo of Grandma sitting at her kitchen table with her two dearest girl friends who came in town to visit her, they had a dinner party tonight. She’s mostly in her bed these days, the bed is in the living room now, and she watches for the squirrel in the tree and talks to (bosses around? probably!) the repairmen through the window as they fix the septic tank. I told Mom about the beans. “You said it! We have such good memories!” she said.

This is why I cry happy tears when I snap beans, my barefeet rooted in our kitchen.

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September 23, 2013
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Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad Recipe (GF / Paleo)

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Quinoaaaaaaaaaa tabbouleh. Yes. Drag out that “wahhhhh” at the end. It’s much more fun.

Reasons why I love tabbouleh: 1) it’s fun to say, 2) it makes me feel like I’m travelling even though I haven’t yet been to a Middle Eastern country, 3) it’s a delicious alternative to lettuce salads, 4) if you make a lot it’ll keep feeding you for several days, and 5) it’s pretty dang easy. Once we went grain-free, finding a tabbouleh alternative was among my first google searches. This recipe is not only hubby approved, but approved by my vegetarian best friend & her family with discriminating palates. Enjoy!

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad Recipe

The quinoa:
Use a rice cooker & it comes out perfect. Trust me, use broth not water. It’s 10,000% tastier.

  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

The goodies:

  • 2 cucumbers, diced
  • 2 red peppers, diced & roasted (Heat a pan as hot as it gets, toss in the raw diced peppers, let them sear a bit, pour a splash of water in, put a lid on, reduce to medium & let them steam another few minutes. …Or buy a jar of them, that’s pretty easy too!)
  • 1 bunch parsley, fine chopped (or mint)
  • 1 package marinated feta, crumbled (omit for vegan/paleo)
  • Other goodies could include diced tomatoes, olives, pine nuts and onion

The dressing:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Dump everything in a big ol’ bowl & refrigerate to chill. Or as long as you can before you cave & have to eat it.

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September 20, 2013
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My 1 year yogaversary

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My yoga studio sent me an email congratulating me on my “yogaversary”! This blog is from a newbie point of view and with the prospect of a lifetime of a yoga lifestyle ahead of me, I definitely still feel like a newbie. So I thought I’d mark this milestone by taking stock of my experience thus far – where I started, what I’ve learned and where I want to go next.

Looking “back” at my first steps: I had back surgery almost 2 years ago – a spinal fusion – and a year of debilitating pain for a year before that. My identity and life were defined by my back. Doctor visits probably every other day were often the only times I left the house. My daily routine revolved around the schedule for mountains of prescription medication and what was on tv. Anxiety, depression, frustration, disconnection. I’m fortunate to have the most patient and compassionate husband who fetched thousands of ice packs and sat by my side for every hour of hospitalization. Surgery changed it all, thankfully. The physical recovery was hard (walking a lap around the dining table with a walker put me in tears), weaning myself off a year of prescription pain meds was harder, but getting myself out of the “victim mode” that came with it was by far the biggest challenge of all. I felt rather hollow and I had a strange relationship with my body.

In an effort to perk myself up, I bought this ridiculous straw fedora one day. I got in the car to get drive around with the windows down and get some fresh air. I said aloud, “What would someone who’s cool and wears a fedora do? … Maybe yoga?” It was the most absurd notion ever! I mean.. really?! I needed something to give me confidence to rejoin the land of the living. And apparently it was a straw hat. So I gave myself a pep-talk, walked into a yoga studio I’d driven by, and introduced myself as someone who had back surgery. My first class was a beautiful, magical restorative class one evening and I had tears in my eyes with each inspirational word and snuggly supported pose. I got braver and tried other classes. With each class I felt better, physically and emotionally. I was hooked.

What I’ve learned in a year:

The power is all within me. The physical practice of yoga, focusing on meditation & breath, and working to “live mindfully” have been transformative. I described it once to my mom as “a workout, therapy, inspiration, and a religious experience all in one.” I can see now that growing stronger and making better choices are something that I – and only I – am responsible for. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and in attitude. Nobody’s gonna do the work for you. It’s my own doing when I’m able to get into a new pose, when I’m able to calm myself down when I’m stressed out by focusing on my breath, when instead of giving in to my snarky sarcastic attitude I stop to truly and compassionately listen to someone else. Each of us has the power to change and grow we just have to pay attention.

2013-06-16 20.13.57 (2)My teachers are foundational. Many people start practicing yoga at home and have fulfilling experiences that way. I know I couldn’t have healed my body and come so far mentally without teachers to share their wisdom and physical guidance. I especially love having the same key teachers for a year now who know where I’m at, know when to push me, and know when to tell me to back the hell off LOL. Monica inspires my joy and peace, she continues to help me develop that deep connection to how my body works that was such a huge dissociation for years, and she reminds me live boldly & go outside my comfort zone. Alissa reminds me that I’m far more capable than I give myself credit for, she turned me into a inversion junkie (you have her to thank for all the crazy pictures of me upside down!), and in her classes I truly learned to find my breath. Karen’s reminders echo in my head every day that yoga isn’t doing a headstand or achieving a goal, but rather what happens on the journey getting there…. you practice yoga, you don’t do yoga. Without each of them, I can’t imagine I ever would have developed the physical strength and courage to do BACKBENDS of all things. If you’d shown me photos of yoga poses two years ago and said “You’ll be able to do that one day” I would have laughed and thrown a bottle of pain killers at you and your lies!

This is just the beginning. Everything I’ve written so far sounds like a big ol’ love fest. And there is a whole lot of that. The past year has also shed light (sometimes big glaring harsh spotlights) on those things I really struggle with. Those things that are so hard to let go of, to forgive myself for, and that I think define me. Yoga challenges my ego e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e d-a-y, whether I’m semi-self-consciously trying to show off or feel insecure and want to hide in the back of a class where people look so zen doing Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. Yoga’s approach of acting and reacting mindfully challenges my quick temper and cranky snarky moments that my whole life I have easily dismissed as “that’s just because I’m a [maiden name omitted to protect the somewhat innocent]” LOL. The biggest shining spot light is on my fear – particularly my fear of change. A fear that keeps me from standing up for myself because I don’t want to rock the boat or be perceived as not “being nice” – I’d rather stay afraid and reticent to my own detriment. I haven’t quite figured out how to overcome this on a large scale, but I keep trying to take little steps.

What I’d like to focus on this next year:

Mindfulness. Patience. Peace.

I took a class recently with a different teacher for the first time and his approach/intention/mantra for class that day was “In this present moment, everything is OK.” Everything in the past, even the minute before, is over. Those things happened and are done. We’re here now. The future hasn’t happened yet. The future may be better than we imagine or a little worse than we worry about, but it’s not here yet. We are in this exact present moment and have the ability to tell ourselves that IT’S OK.

We’d be sitting all quiet and meditating – “Everything is OK in this moment.” We’d be in some crazy pose that I just wanted to stop doing because it was hard – “Right now, it’s all OK.” In an0ther 30 seconds that pose will be over and I’ll be in another moment. I want to work on finding that peace and acceptance and patience not just on my yoga mat when it’s all chill and quiet, but in day to day life. Sitting in traffic for an hour when I’m running late, in a stressful meeting, when life gets turbulent… especially when change is going on and I feel like I’ve lost control… those are the moments I want to be able to remind myself that it’s just the present moment and to find the “OK” inside myself.

Hmm, funny. What I want to focus on for the next year hasn’t had anything specifically to do with my physical yoga practice. I’m gonna stick with getting into Crow pose as a goal. Stupid stupid crow! I’m like a dog with a bone, just can’t let that go :)

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August 26, 2013
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Lead With Your Heart

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yoga heart of cascadesYoga teachers use the expression “leading with your heart” which is probably the best metaphor I’ve found for the whole of my yoga practice and how I should live my life.

In class, it means keeping good posture when bending forward into a fold or stretch: keep your back flat to support and protect it, your head in line with your shoulders, and let your chest (heart) be the part that pulls you down. They could say “stop slumping over like the hunchback of Notre Dame – you’re just faking that your head is closer to your knee!” but that lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

I definitely need to remember this, especially to protect my back. But the double meaning of the phrase is what’s brilliant, so I thought I’d take a shot at describing what it means to me.

Yes: we need our logical brains. They help us manage facts and details, process different inputs, and (hopefully) help us find balance when things get overwhelming. But if I forget to listen to – or worse, ignore – what my true heart and self need then I’m cheating myself. It’s denying those deeper instincts, deeper needs, and those sparks of creativity and unexpected beauty. Maybe it’s because I’m too scared of what my heart will say. Or when I do listen, I react too quickly and give in to the first superficial emotion.

That’s why we have to be our heart’s leader: acknowledge the facts our brain is telling us, acknowledge the onslaught of feelings and emotions that we want to react quickly to, and then to dig deeper to find what we really and truly need. I get angry about something that happened and want to lash out hastily because I feel powerless. I plan and coordinate all of the details for something new and exciting but can’t actually bring myself to do it because I’m afraid so I come up with excuses and stall. My knee is being weird but I give in to my ego and try a pose my body doesn’t like just because everyone around me is trying it.

In the present moment, it’s a lot easier to give in. But these are opportunities to grow more into our true selves. I owe it to myself to not slump over, to not support myself and to cheat myself of these experiences. I owe it to myself to be the leader of my heart and to speak up for what it needs.

So notes to self:

  • My body knows what I need better than I do and it will tell me if I listen.
  • All the planning in the world eventually requires a leap of faith.
  • Showing kindness (to myself and others) and practicing restraint when I’m angry feel so much better in the long run.
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August 14, 2013
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Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe (Paleo / Gluten Free)

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My momma is the chocolate chip cookie queen and she always keeps a tin of them in the freezer – if you haven’t tried a frozen cookie, you’re missing out. I do like them but I’ve never craved them. Until yesterday. I was (metaphorically) smacked in the face with a baking sheet and a voice in my head yelled “COOOOOKIE!” like everyone’s favorite Sesame Street muppet.
At Kelly’s The Nourishing Home blog she posted “Our Favorite Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe. The huge thread of exuberant comments made me certain they’d be fabulous. AND THEY ARE. I do a lot of gluten-free baking with almond flour & coconut flour… like a lot. Muffins twice a week. They taste fantastic, dense and moist. But I haven’t had much luck with pancakes and cookies that taste like wheat flour cookies with that fluffy-to-chewy ratio. Mostly we end up saying “well they’re ok.. for being gluten free.” Kelly’s cookies recipe is the real deal! The only variation I made was substituting 1/3 cup of honey or agave in place of rapadura or sucanat, and that substitution turned out great.
Do remember that while almond flour & gluten free baking are much better for our bodies, almond flour is quite high in fat (good fat, but still fat). So they should be considered treats, not a health food. Don’t be like me and who ate 7 of them last night watching So You Think You Can Dance. Oh dear…  I found more cookie recipes on her blog. This is a slippery slope my friends.
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July 26, 2013
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Yoda Didn’t Practice Yoga: Patience & Surrendering

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I watched Return of the Jedi for the thousandth time recently & thought about the classic Yoda line: “Do, or do not, there is no try.” Oh you wise, green Muppet – you got that wrong! Luke got stronger at using the force when he was patient and kept trying & trying to whack that weird floating ball with his light saber. And when he was rash and made bold ego-filled moves, it left him hanging out in space with an arm cut off! …. OK, that was a much longer analogy than I was going for, but I’m a geek.

The last two weeks I’ve been working on patience and trying not focusing on the ultimate goal all the time. Starting with my relatively new active lifestyle. My bestie & her fam convinced me to start a kickboxing class once a week – talk about 180 degree difference from yoga! So fun, but when left unattended I easily slip into high-gear and love the feel-good-busy-ness and endorphins of the activity after work and on the weekends. That is, until my brain and body go on the fritz and I crash. I don’t recall seeing any yoga studios or DVD’s advertising “Yoga Helps You Push Hard Then Burn Out!”.

You know how when that voice deep-down keeps whispering something that you know is true, and suddenly you start hearing that message come from other people or something you read? I’m sure that message has been there all along but your brain now hears it all the time.

Recently I’ve been hearing my teachers emphasize letting go of that desire to push ourselves too hard, letting go of judging ourselves on not being able to do what we want to do yet. One evening after everyone else was gone, I was chatting with a teacher who was helping me with a pose and she said, “Katie, it’s good to have a goal. We all need something to work towards. But yoga doesn’t “happen” when we get into a pose, yoga happens in the transitions and in the trying. Yoga happens just standing still and breathing.” And that’s where life happens too – there’s no one day that we’ll reach where everything is now perfect.

I do have some specific goals in my yoga practice right now and like she said – that’s good but that’s a mere part of it. Patience in attaining those goals and not judging myself in the process of getting there is more important. And as I see it, surrendering is a part of practicing patience. I don’t mean surrendering in the definition of giving up or throwing in the towel (unless it’s a disgusting sweaty towel after kickboxing)!. I’m talking about surrendering by letting go of tight control we want so desperately to hold onto. Surrendering by letting go of our (often unattainable & unhealthy) expectations of ourselves and our lives.

Forearm Stand Falling

Trying, Falling, Trying Again

Scorpion Pinchamayurasana

Scorpion against the wall

Surrendering by embracing the present moment – letting go of worry for the future and dwelling on the past. Surrendering by letting go of fear. And boyyyy is yoga a constant opportunity to practice all of this. Any 5 year old will tell you that if you’re learning to ride a bike or climb a tree of COURSE you’re going to fall – duh! So we use training wheels, we start climbing the lower branches.

One yoga pose (asana) I’m working on specifically is like a headstand except you’re balancing on your forearms. It looks pretty similar but your sense of balance is a little different. So I started against my trusty wall & just practiced trying to kick up. Then moving a little farther from the wall – lots of falling & trying again. What I’m ultimately working towards is called “Scorpion” (Pincha Mayurasana) – which totally looks like a scorpion because you start bending until your feet are pointed out like the scorpion tail. It takes a lot of technical focus & work. But mostly I have to let go of my expectations and ego, let go of the fear that I’m going to fall on my face (which I totally do!). And when I want to start the litany of technical tweaks I should be doing to be “better” I try, even for a single second, to breath and just be there.

So today at work I’m going to work on this. No, not scorpion, I’m sure that would be a Worker’s Compensation issue waiting to happen! But being patient and letting go of the “big picture of expectations” and just be present.

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July 2, 2013
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Spicy Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash (Paleo)

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This is a tried & true recipe I make every week or two and it’s one of my husband’s favorite requests. It isn’t a photogenic dish, but it IS easy, hearty, super flavorful, flexible (“whatever’s in the pantry”), makes ALOT, and is paleo-friendly. And if you love really spicy food like we do, this is the perfect dish to kick it up a notch! I was inspired by PaleOMG’s delicious “Mexican Hash Egg Bake” which I tweaked into the recipe below.

I’ve used pre-cooked, ready-to-eat chorizo, andouille and spicy Italian sausage. I’ve also used raw sausage both in ground-meat-format or in casings which I cut open and smoosh out (it’s totally gross & fun). You have options!

Spicy Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash

Ingredients

  • 1 lb sausage:
    • ready-to-eat: cut in slices
    • raw/fresh: slice links open & remove ground meat
  • 1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, 14oz
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, sliced in 1/4″ – 1/2″ rounds & then in half (any bigger & they’ll take longer to soften)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp oil/fat
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne - only if you’re not using spicy sausage!
  • sea salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat a large pan on medium with oil/fat.
  2. Add garlic, onions and seasonings. Saute until onions start softening.
  3. Add sweet potatoes and sausage. Toss to coat and break up ground sausage (if you’re using that kind).
  4. Cover to steam the sweet potatoes. Let it cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the sweet potatoes are tender.
  5. Stir in tomatoes. When heated through, remove from heat & get your nom on!
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July 1, 2013
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Smile for yourself, smile for the world!

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257df39096d9163340856934b8e894a1“Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” – Mother Theresa

“Smiling is mouth yoga” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.” —Leonardo da Vinci

“When I look out at the people and they look at me and they’re smiling, then I know that I’m loved. That is the time when I have no worries, no problems.” – Etta James

“If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it.” – Andy Rooney

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

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June 26, 2013
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Kick it up a notch: moving past the routine

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Practice Makes Progress: Forward Fold

I’m exactly 9 months into my yoga practice. It’s become more than a hobby or a workout, but a part of my life. At the moment though, I feel like I’ve hit a plateau. Even if you don’t practice yoga, I’m sure you can relate to this with a hobby or sport you’re into. We get to a point where we feel confident and then stay where it’s comfortable & are nervous to take the next step. Yes, my balance, flexibility & strength in poses keeps improving – practice makes progress. Yes, I learn from my teachers and other students in every class. But I feel like I need more challenge. So here’s what I’m going to try & see how it goes:

1. Issue One: I want to learn more about breathing and meditation techniques, and connecting my mind with my body in my practice. For me personally, I don’t really connect with the chanting, aligning chakras and more new-agey (for lack of a better word) parts of yoga. Most of my research online leads to these things because it can be a big part of many people’s practice and the traditional yoga path. And that is so wonderful for them – we all are so unique. That is just not what I’m looking for right now. So… what to do? Solution One: If you read this blog (hi Mom!) you probably know that most conversations like this end up with my husband giving me a nugget of an idea to run with. He, being the academic he is, said there have to be books with the same approach I’m wanting. Almost immediately I found Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. It’s easy to read, practical for breathing & meditation techniques and the feel-good-stuff, as well solid information and instructions for hatha poses. I’ve been reading it on my lunch breaks & it “hits the spot!”

photo 2

Practice Makes Progress: Upward Bow Pose (and a kitty photo-bomb!)

2. Issue Two: Recently I signed up for a class at a different studio and it turned out to be much more advanced than I thought – and I freaked five minutes in. “What are these super-yogis doing?! I’m supposed to put my knee where?! Oops, I think I kicked someone!” The next day I was assessing what happened and had to admit that I take classes I’m comfortable with, with teachers I know & who know me. Yes, I keep growing into them. But sometimes I need to be kicked outside of my comfort zone & be challenged… to have that feeling of “woahhhh I don’t think I can do THAT!” and then trying it, maybe falling on my face or the person next to me, laughing it off & being happy that I tried. The trying is where the growing happens. Solution Two: I’m researching more challenging classes at other studios and some workshops this summer to mix into my regular routine. First order of business: this Friday I’m going back to that class that kicked my butt (properly hydrated this time however LOL).

3. Issue Three: Related to issue one, I have the best intentions but I (almost) never meditate at home. It’s more fun to do headstands. Solution Three:  I signed up for a free trial of YogaGlo.com where they have online video classes of all durations & styles that you can stream. I signed up for several 5 to 15 minute meditation & breath sessions to try in the morning before I get ready for work or at the end of the day before bed. I’m a bigtime “snoozer” in the morning, so… we’ll see how THAT goes. :)

I’d love to hear any ideas from you about what you do to break out of the normal routine!

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June 19, 2013
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Orange & Carrot Smoothie

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photoI cheated this morning and don’t feel guilty at all. I make a super yummy green smoothie everyday to sneak in a serving of veggies for breakfast. Today I cheated on my beloved greenie with an orange smoothie and it was so worth it! Here’s the deal: I hate carrots in any format other than carrot cake. And let’s be honest, that barely counts as “eating your vegetables”. This creamy, naturally sweet smoothie completely masked the carrot flavor! It’s a great combination of veggie, fruit & protein which makes a great start to the day.

We all know carrots are good for bunnies and our eyes. But did you know 1 serving of carrots has 41% of daily vitamin A, are packed with antioxidants like beta-carotene, and are among the top vegetables to prevent cardiovascular disease and can help reduce the growth of colon cancer cells.

Orange Carrot Smoothie

Ingredients:
I don’t measure because I’m sleepy when I make smoothies & wing it, so feel free to experiment!

  • handful of baby carrots (maybe 8)
  • handful of frozen mangoes (maybe 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 small banana
  • handful of ice cubes
  • big dollop of plain, 0% fat greek yogurt (maybe 1/4 cup) – omit for paleo
  • orange juice, to half-way cover the ingredients
  • plain almond milk, to fill up the rest of the way & almost cover the ingredients

Blend on high until smooth. Try not to chug it all in 10 seconds flat. :)

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