Post

On Taking Care of Your Body

Your body is your greatest ally, and it’s critical to take care of it and treat it with respect.

This past weekend, my 17-year-old cousin, who was visiting from out of town, went into septic shock and ended up in the ICU. When an infection broke out, her body was not strong enough to fight it. Everything is okay now, but it was scary for a while.

This event reminded me of my life in January 2013, when I experienced a serious illness episode that changed me forever.

Cause

In early January 2013, I got the flu and was laid up for a week. I had been working crazy hours at my law firm job, writing a legal article in my spare time, eating whatever was in front of me, trying to meet holiday obligations in Texas, and missing my Western New York family and friends terribly.

I didn’t know what the flu really was until I got it. I had a fever, chills, cold sweats, mouth sores, and my body ached everywhere. I went to the doctor two days in, but it was too late to take Tamiflu and he told me to ride it out, so I did. For the next week, I couldn’t do anything (TV, talk, read, Internet, etc.) except toss and turn in my bed. After 27 years of being a relatively healthy person, I finally understood how people died from the flu and other infectious diseases.

Despite the awfulness of the flu, I am forever grateful that I got it because it changed my life for the better. I suddenly realized that my life was completely off balance and I was not taking care of my body. I had been prioritizing my job above everything else, I was too busy, I had too many things, I didn’t exercise enough, and I did not eat well.

Changes

Living a healthier and more balanced life is a constant work in progress; I don’t think I’ll ever be done. Three years have passed since I got the flu, and in that time many things have shifted for me. Here is a list of the most important changes that I have made in my life, all in the name of taking care of my body and overall wellbeing:

  1. My body is my ally. For most of my life, I treated my body like it was a thing that I had to battle against. It didn’t look right in the clothes I wanted to wear. My period was painful, gross, and something to hide. My hair needed to be washed in chemicals, dried with electric heat, and flat-ironed into straight submission (side note: my hair is naturally really straight). Although it’s hard to overcome years of habitual thought, now I do my best to treat my body like a friend and ally. What I put in and on my body must be healthy and safe. A loving attitude towards my body matters. Here is an article about loving your body, and I also really love the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach (I realize that both of these links are of the Buddhist persuasion, and although I’m not a Buddhist, I find many concepts wonderful for everyone).
  2. “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is the mantra of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, Food Rules, and Cooked. You can watch the documentary version of Cooked on Netflix.  Michael Pollan is not super inspiring on screen, but he is an incredible researcher and journalist who has weaved together science, history, and human behavior to create a beautiful blueprint for eating and preparing real food that nourishes your body, connects you to the natural world, and bonds you with other people. As for the “mostly plants” part, I love the documentary Forks Over Knives (although I am not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan), and the cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (it is so much more than a cookbook).
  3. No more added sugar. This one is huge, and I already wrote about it here.  For a slightly inappropriate but hilarious take on added sugar, see what John Oliver has to say.
  4. Green smoothies are amazing. I haven’t gotten into juicing because I like consuming the roughage parts of the plant that remain in smoothies. The book Green for Life is a great source of information on green smoothies and why they are so important for digestion, energy, blood sugar regulation, and overall health. Also, a Vitamix is completely worth it.
  5. Yoga for balance, flexibility, strength, and awareness. Yoga is my favorite form of exercise. Although I grew up participating in strict, competitive, rule-based exercise and sports programs, I gravitated towards yoga as an adult. There are so many kinds, and I like the ones that focus on breathing and longer stretches, like yin yoga. Going to a yoga studio once a week to start is helpful to learn the basics, but the nice part about yoga is that once you know a few poses, you can practice it anytime on your own, whether or not you have a mat. Yoga has completely fixed my lower back problems and whenever a muscle is tight, I know a stretch that will get at the right spot.
  6. Meditation. I’ve been trying to set aside time every day to focus on the present moment for a little over a year, and I absolutely love what it’s done for my life and mental health in particular. I’m not going to try to explain meditation here (it’s a personal thing you get into on your own), but the book Wherever You Go, There You Are is incredible. I also like the apps Calm and Headspace.
  7. Minimalism. One of the first things I wanted to do after recovering from the flu was get rid of the clutter in my life. Miss Minimalist really helped me with de-cluttering. I also love this article about the Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, who wrote The Art of Tidying Up.
  8. Financial Independence. I’m still on the road to getting rid of my student loans and gaining financial independence, but I love Mr. Money Mustache‘s blog for inspiration on how to live a less consumer-driven lifestyle. Early retirement is not my goal, but I want to stop worrying about money so I can be a creative person and live the life that I want without finances hanging over my head.
  9. Acupuncture. I know that needles are scary, and acupuncture seems totally crazy, but it works. I started doing it in Austin, and it helped me manage my mold allergy, recover from a dog attack, and reduce anxiety. I also think it’s contributed to me having a faster metabolism. Overall, acupuncture gives my body the energy tune-up that it needs to take better care of itself. I’m lucky to be able to go to an acupuncture clinic that only costs $15 (I sit back in a recliner in a room with other people receiving the same treatment), but a lot of health insurance providers cover it because it’s so effective and safe.
  10. Avoiding chemicals. Chemerical is a tough and slightly unbelievable documentary, but it inspired me to get rid of all of the chemical-filled household products that are unhealthy in ways that I’ll never fully understand. In short, your body absorbs the chemicals in household products, those chemicals have serious health effects over time, and no one is regulating them in a human-safe way. So in light of this information, I’ve used this amazing book to create my own natural cleaning and beauty products, which are effective and way cheaper.
  11. No hormonal birth control. Your body doesn’t have walls between organs, and hormonal birth control impacts every process in a woman’s body. I believe that every woman should be issued one of these at puberty (tracking your cycle is great), and must understand that pumping their bodies with synthetic hormones every day has serious side effects. Here is a good book on the topic.
  12. Walking outside. I try to always remember that I’m a human being, descended from people who spent a lot more time outside than I do now. I try to get outside for a walk at least once a day, if not more (dogs are great for that). Hiking in the woods and being around plants and trees and wildlife regenerates me, and directly contributes to my health.
Effects

The above list of changes I have made over the past three years represents an overall intention to connect with my body and respect it as the only vehicle I have to get me through my life. I have lost a lot of weight and about four dress sizes, and I also have more energy, I’m a better listener, and I am less anxious. The results have been noticeable to everyone that knows me.

I hope that this information can help or inspire others to be more mindful about their actions and how it affects their body. The changes I’ve made have been working for me now, but I expect that I’ll be doing things differently over time.  Also, other people are going to gravitate towards their own ideal ways of living. The important thing is to pay attention and take action to make the changes that feel right for you.

 

Post

Climate Change is Everything

Happy Earth Day!

Last night I went to hear New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman speak about climate change and its ties to income inequality, and how there needs to be a united progressive movement to combat the selfish and devastating actions of the fossil fuel industry.  AG Schneiderman is leading the charge to investigate fossil fuel companies, most notably Exxon Mobil, to see what they knew about the effects of burning fossil fuels versus what they told the public and investors.

Now that he is getting attorney generals from other states involved, he has become the target of a smear campaign, which questions what he is doing and suggests that he is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. His quote from the New York Times article, that he repeated last night:

“The First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, does not give you the right to commit fraud.”

I am so grateful that I live in a state that is taking action against the fossil fuel industry, but I did feel removed from the Attorney General’s fight. I tried to be an environmental litigator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but I only lasted 10 months. Litigation just isn’t for me. Still, I support his actions and am so grateful for his courage.

The thing that really stuck out for me last night was Attorney General Schneiderman’s plea for the progressive movement to form a cohesive, united front against the selfish fossil fuel industry.

Climate change is not an environmental issue; it’s an issue that captures everything about our failing economic system, unsustainable lifestyle, and disconnected values. Climate change is connected to poverty and race because the poorest people and communities of color suffer the most. Climate change is connected to the economy because it destroys human structures and closes businesses (I just received an email from a dog boarding facility in Austin that is closing because they couldn’t recover from last year’s Memorial Day floods). Climate change is connected to mental health because it’s scary to live in a world where future safety is uncertain.

So happy Earth Day! Now get outside 🙂

Post

Ferret-Bindering

There are certain things in life that I discover I really want, and when that passion hits me in the gut, I go to enormous lengths to reach my goal. This all-consuming, tireless effort is what I call ferret-bindering.

The following is an explanation of ferret-bindering:

When I was in middle school, I wanted to have a ferret for a pet, but my parents said no, absolutely not. I did not give up. Instead, I embarked on an elaborate campaign to receive the right to own a ferret.

For over a year, I wrote my parents letters explaining why I wanted a ferret, which I placed under their pillows. I used ferrets as the subject for all of my school reports. I read every book written about ferrets. I poured through my subscription to Modern Ferret Magazine. I surfed ferret websites on the 90’s Internet.

My final feat was a binder about ferrets. I sacrificed a few pages of Modern Ferret and cut out ferret pictures to glue to the front cover (see below). I used divider tabs to create binder sections: a collection of my school reports; Internet printouts; more cute pictures; and then my favorite, “My Ferret Life,” which was a handwritten plan for me to own a ferret (and still keep up with my other responsibilities!). I included a budget, daily schedule, pro and con list, and contracts for me and my parents to sign.

Ferret Binder
My ferret binder in all its glory.

The ferret binder cracked my parents’ resolve after a year-long campaign. For my 14th birthday, they gave me permission to own a ferret (best gift ever!). I was ecstatic.

Ferret-bindering: the process of going all-out to reach your goal, no matter how embarrassing, no matter how many times other people say no, and no matter how much work is involved when you could be having fun with your friends instead.

So why is this relevant? I am ferret-bindering Keeping Things Alive.

Post

Grocery Shopping

Today I went grocery shopping, and I have a lot of thoughts about this activity, so it seems like a good place to start writing. I’ll be writing about food a lot because it’s a big part of my life – I’ve learned from good and bad experiences that what I eat has an effect on my entire life.

I’ve been going grocery shopping on my own for over ten years, but it’s only been over the past year or two that I’ve been implementing a strategy. This strategy has helped me buy only what I need (way less wasted food) and buy ingredients that I later combine and cook into a meal, as opposed to buying ready-made and/or processed foods.

So here are my grocery shopping steps:

  1. Before I leave the house, I find a small piece of paper. On the top half of the paper, I write out the next five or so days of the week and what I plan on eating for dinner on those days.
  2. On the bottom half of the paper on the left side, I write out all of the ingredients from the produce department that are needed to make the above dinners. I also add bananas and maybe another fruit or two for breakfast and snacks.
  3. On the bottom half of the paper on the right side, I write out all of the ingredients from the rest of the store (non-produce) that are needed to make the above dinners. I also add in cereal, almond milk, eggs, cheese, bread, chocolate, coffee, crackers, and any household items I need.

    wegmans list
    Today’s grocery shopping list.
  4. When I’m at the store, I keep the pen and list in my hand as I hunt down the items on my list and cross off each item as I put them in my cart. I get all of the produce items from the left side of my list first, and then I go around the rest of the store and grab the items listed on the right side.

That’s it.

I tend to cook similar things over and over again (soup, vegetable fried rice, lasagna), and once I learn the layout of the grocery store really well, I know where all the ingredients are and the trip goes by quickly. I also make large meals for dinner so I can eat them as leftovers for lunch, and I have no problem eating the same thing multiple days in a row. For breakfast, it’s almost always Ezekiel 4:9 cereal with a sliced banana, and a fried egg with salsa on the side.


One more thought: the incredibly huge grocery stores I’ve grown up with have conditioned me to expect access to countless varieties of fruits and vegetables regardless of the season or climate. Today I was looking for organic carrots, and received a reminder that the produce I buy really does depend on real-world weather conditions:

CA carrots are struggling

This is an example of severe weather affecting food production on a large scale. Although severe weather has been happening throughout world history, one of the effects of climate change is more frequent severe weather events. As time marches on, consumers are going to see these types of food production disruptions on a more frequent basis. Being flexible, adaptable, and more self-sufficient is important in this time of increasingly frequent and disruptive change.

Post

Confession

Despite deeply caring about the Earth and what happens to it, I take plenty of actions that contribute to climate change and other environmental problems on a daily basis. Unfortunately my transgressions are many and will fill up more than one post, so this type of “confession” article may have to occur on a somewhat regular basis.

I’m not Catholic and don’t really know how confession works besides what I’ve seen in movies, but here is a list of ways I contribute to the Earth’s problems:

  • I drive my own gas-powered car. I love my Subaru Forester and it does a wonderful job transporting me and my dogs without much hassle, but it runs on gasoline and therefore emits greenhouse gases and other air pollutants every time I turn it on. I live in the suburbs, so I drive myself every place I need to go. Although I own a bicycle, I haven’t used it as much as I could during the warmer months.
  • I eat meat. The production of meat uses a ton of energy and produces a lot of greenhouse gases, but I still consume it on a weekly basis. I love cheeseburgers. And steak. And chicken wings. Eating meat that has been produced on a commercial scale is not good for the Earth or my body. Although I don’t eat as much meat as I used to, I still haven’t kicked the habit.
  • I am removed from the production of my food. Most of the food that I eat has been produced in another part of the country or another part of the world, but I could not tell you where. A ton of energy is used and greenhouse gases are emitted to grow my food, package my food, and then transport it to me, but I am completely removed from the process. I simply go to the grocery store or a restaurant, buy my food, and eat it.
  • I waste water. I take longer showers than I need to. I rinse off the dishes using more water than I should, and then run them through the dishwasher. I use a lot of electricity by running electronics and lights (the production of electricity requires a lot of water, so every time I use electricity, I’m also using water).
  • I buy new products. I have a subscription to Amazon Prime and have the ability to order new products in less than a minute on my computer or phone. I use this superpower to purchase whatever product I think I need at the moment, instead of making do with what I already own, or purchasing the product used.
  • I fly on airplanes. For eight years, I lived in Austin, Texas, which is a 24-hour drive from my family, so I opted to fly. Until very recently, I didn’t think about all of the fossil fuels that are burned up by me jumping on an airplane to see my family over the holidays, go on vacation, or visit friends around the country.

So there you have it. I am proud to say that I used to be worse and have taken steps to be less wasteful and harmful to this planet, but I still use up more than my fair share of resources and I want to be better.

Post

Intentions

I have dabbled in yoga for the past four years, and I like it when teachers ask the class to set an “intention” at the beginning of practice. Setting an intention allows me to have a more meaningful yoga class because it reinforces why I’m taking the time to be there. In that vein, here are my intentions as I begin Keeping Things Alive:

  • Courage: I want to fearlessly speak up about what I know and not censor myself.
  • Creativity: I want to express myself through writing, stories, and other forms of art.
  • Clarity: I want to present my thoughts and knowledge in a way that is easy for others to understand.
  • Connect: I want to connect with others who share my love for keeping things alive. I want to explore and appreciate the connections between everything on this planet.

Well, I didn’t mean for all of my intentions to begin with the letter “C”, but that’s the way it goes.


Bonus track! Check out the monarch butterfly my family and I “raised” this summer:

The monarch as a caterpillar.
The monarch as a caterpillar.

 

Monarch cocoon
The monarch as a cocoon.

 

cocoon shell
Emergence!

 

Monarch on pink flower
The monarch as a butterfly.
Post

The Gathering

I’ve been waiting to launch this website at the right moment, when I have it all organized and full of well-edited articles. But that’s just not happening, so I’ve decided that the moment to launch is now.

Tonight I went to the Rise Up for Climate Justice‘s gathering on the eve of the Paris Climate talks. There was ceremony, singing, and feasting. The evening was simple yet powerful, and each person I met was warm yet serious about climate action. Even though I didn’t know most of the people at the gathering, I felt like I belonged.

Rocks of grief & ribbons of gratitude.
Rocks of grief & ribbons of gratitude.

I feel small and powerless about climate change and environmental issues right now. I’m not going to Paris. I don’t have a powerful environmental policy job. I’m not living a perfectly sustainable lifestyle. I have a lot of student loans.

But I know that my smallness and powerlessness is changing into something else. I am finding my path and my voice, and for some reason, I believe that a part of my journey includes this website.

So here goes nothing. It’s time for Keeping Things Alive to come alive.