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Unnata Aerial Yoga: Guest Post on Yogaholic

January 5, 2012

Hello everyone,

Hope 2012 is off to an awesome start for you all!

In the spirit of learning something new this year, I recently attended a workshop in Beirut on Unnata Aerial Yoga.  (Yes, while pregnant). This is right up my alley, because as a child, I was always in absolute awe of the trapeze act at the circus and still am. My wonderful teacher, Dani, is off in New York doing some intense yoga training in this practice and asked me to do a guest post about it on her blog. If you’ve never heard of Aerial Yoga — check it out, it’s pretty amazing stuff !

” Like regular yoga, some poses looked fluid and easy, and others looked super demanding, because gravity and the motion of the hammock add all kinds of variables and challenge our bodies in ways we’re not used to. What’s different is the element of play – when you’re suspended in the air, feeling strong and flexible, sweeping the ground with your hair as you sway back and forth, it feels like that rush of being a kid in a playground again. Not to say that it isn’t a bit scary…….. Read more on Yogaholic 

And since we’re on the subject, here is a gorgeously shot scene from the movie Bye Bye Blackbird,  featuring acrobat extraordinaire James Thiérrée, (grandson of Charlie Chaplin).The beauty! The romance! Enjoy.

About Guilt, Gratitude, & Eggs for Dinner

December 19, 2011

I don’t know about you, but I tend to be a bit of a snob when it comes to blog content. If it hasn’t been updated in a few months and offers no explanation, then frankly, I’m not impressed.

So this is what happened: I discovered two days ago that this blog has just been mentioned in Elle Arab World – and with a very postive write-up at that. The problem: Anyone who picked up the magazine over the weekend and might have been compelled to check this blog would see that the last post just before this one was published more than 3 months ago! AAaaaarrrghhh!

Click to zoom in

Elle Arab World December 2011

So what’s the deal, why haven’t I been writing? Sure, I’ve been insanely busy, busier perhaps than I’ve ever been in my life – but then I should have no lack of things to talk about. Let’s see.. I’m starting a new business in a totally new field, renovating a house, organizing a women’s’ retreat for the spring,  keeping up with my workouts, making time to spend with my little girls and hubby and to keep my household running in some semblance of order. Some….Semblance.  I’ve avoided becoming a social outcast by making an effort to see friends, support important events, and generally show up. And all this with about half my normal energy since I am about 5 months pregnant. But so what? There are women all over the world who are doing all this and more, and WITHOUT childcare, mind you – which is not my case, thank you, dear God.

So those are not the reasons why I haven’t been writing. Frankly, it’s the pressure of all of you out there actually reading what I have to say. When I started the blog, I was doing it just for me – as a personal challenge to show myself what I could come up with. If someone read it and liked it, yay! If not hey, no biggie. But then, people started reading. Acquaintances approached  me to tell say ‘I love your blog!’ (Thank you). I’ve been mentioned in a couple of magazines, front-paged on Freshly Pressed  (which brought in 5,000+ hits in 48 hours..) and I have a bunch of subscribers..(in plural, not just my mom).. and suddenly I feel this pressure to be… I don’t know…worthy!

So I’ve used ‘busy’ as my reason for not posting, but I think it’s time to admit that it’s a pretty lame excuse. It does feel great to be this engaged though. Exhausting, granted, but amazing to be creating, to see real momentum happening in my projects, to see my business starting to take shape, to see walls being torn down and rebuilt in our new apartment, to watch our kids discovering the world and to see my stomach getting bigger every day. There is growth all around me, and it’s addictive. About 18 months ago, I was trapped in a negative cycle of complaining that I didn’t have enough to do, and then feeling guilty for complaining, round and round and on and on ad nauseam. At one point, I also had a considerable amount of fear associated with taking all of this on. But in the last few months I’ve learned a really, really important lesson – several actually:

  1. Not only is it OK to want more – it’s a basic human need to want to grow, expand, and learn. We should never feel bad about that.
  2. Wanting more does NOT mean that we are not grateful for what we already have – ambition and gratitude are not mutually exclusive.
  3. There is no such thing as work/life balance. Truly, when you see these incredible multi-passionate super successful women and say “Wow, how do  they do it all?” Trust me, they’re not doing it all, at least not all on their own and not on the same day. It takes planning, asking for help when you need it, (this particular point has been a HUGE revelation to me) and the acceptance that it’s ok once in a while if the kids have scrambled eggs for dinner. They kinda like it actually.
  4. Gratitude is a powerful force. When you begin to make a regular habit of practicing gratitude on a daily basis, your perception shifts, and with it, your world.

So, since this is probably my last post for 2011, I leave you with a few thoughts.

  • Meaningful lives don’t happen by accident. Let’s find the time in the next couple of weeks to reflect on our past year, and make some big plans for the next one. For some of you, those big plans may actually involve slowing down, which is good too. Give yourself an annual review – there is a good guide here, and put a real plan in place for the next 12 months. Just the act of writing down your goals starts to put them in motion.
  • If you want to dig a little deeper into what makes you tick but find that a difficult thing to do, check this out this chapter by Danielle La Porte, she’s pretty awesome.
  • Let’s agree to catch ourselves when we get on a complaining carousel, it makes us fuzzy in the head and gets us nowhere. Step off and get some perspective. Again: ask for help.
  • And finally, practice gratitude. For little things, big things, things that haven’t even happened yet. I’ll go first: Thank you for reading. And Merry Christmas :)

4 Books That Changed the Way I Think About Food

August 21, 2011

I like to read several books at once.  I tend to get into a theme, and then sort of co-read several books around the same topic. I’m not convinced that this system has much merit, but since having children, my attention span has dwindled to some kind of digital age A.D.D. (Anyone know what I’m talking about?), and so I’m only half way through a couple of these at the moment.
However, I have seen enough to know that they are all worth reading, probably more than once. Be warned: All of these books have affected the way I eat, so if you are perfectly happy with a fast, processed, meaty, or milky diet…..don’t read them.

1) The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

I read this a few years ago, and this is the book that really turned me away from processed food and got me interested in learning more. There is so much information in this book that should be common knowledge, but it wasn’t for me. To name a few things I didn’t know about: What really happens at a factory farm,  at a slaughterhouse, the incredible corporate power of many food industries, the involvement of the pharmaceutical companies, migrant labour issues, the insane amount of environmental damage caused by the factory farming of animals, and the prevalence of processed corn derivatives in EVERYTHING. Pollan goes into all of it, making you really stop and think not only about what you are eating, but the consequences of what you choose to put on your plate.

 

  2) In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, again.

In a very sensible voice and about 200 pages, Michael Pollan gives a solid, easy to understand explanation of why bad foods are bad for us, and what to eat instead. He boils his recommendations down to this simple phrase:”Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants”. By food, he means the things on the periphery of the supermarket, not in the center aisles, things that will actually rot rather than last forever on your shelf, and things that your grandmother would recognize as food, instead of ingredients you cannot pronounce. Excellent advice.

 

 3) Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer.  

I’m reading this now, and enjoying it. Jonathan Safran Foer is a great writer this is more a personal story than a big, footnoted, scientific one. I think I like it because Safran Foer is from my own generation, and I can relate to his voice and his story. Food is a big part of his family culture, he considered vegetarianism but could never really commit because he really enjoyed eating meat. Then he recently had a child and decided to find out for himself what was really happening to the animals between the farm and the supermarket. (Not that you can call those places farms, they are factories in every sense of the word).  Reading this book has pushed me further away from meat than anything I have read before, although I’m not about to become vegetarian yet. Apparently there are some gross chapters that I haven’t got to yet, but at this point, I still can’t seem to resist my mother-in-law’s kibbe…

 

4) The Food Revolution, by John Robbins.  (10th Anniversary Edition). How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World.

Ok, that’s a pretty big claim, but this is also a monster book, packed with information and with a forward by Dr. Dean Ornish and over 50 pages of resources and notes in the back. The first sentence of this book is, “I was born into ice cream”. The author, John Robbins, was the only son of the founder of Baskin Robbins, yet walked away from the empire he was being groomed to inherit to spend his life learning and teaching about the impact that eating animals is having on our health and our planet. (He no longer eats ice cream). I’m only about half way through it, but I am finding it to be clear, organized and extremely compelling.

 

 What’s the most important thing I’ve learned?

THAT OUR FOOD CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES. The old rules of supply and demand are in force more than ever, and as long as we keep creating demand for faster, cheaper animal products in huge quantities, we keep encouraging practices that have serious repercussions on our health and yes, on our world.

All of this new knowledge has definitely made me think twice about what I eat and what to feed my family.  We are eating more raw fruits and veggies than ever, experimenting with new foods and grains, reading labels very carefully and asking a lot more questions than we used to, but it’s not easy to change the way your family eats. There is history, memory and emotion involved, not just taste buds.

Here in Lebanon I find it especially tricky, because I still don’t know enough about what is being injected into/fed to the animals that provide our milk, cheese and meat, nor what kind of conditions they are raised in. As a result, we have reduced meat and dairy consumption, but not cut them out entirely. It’s a learning process, and I’m telling you, that kibbe really is damn good :)

What do you think about all this? Do have any suggestions for books to add to this list? 

Bonus Vid: Check out this analyst’s story about how she started looking into what was really in the food chain after one of her kids reacted reeeaally badly to breakfast one morning….

Why I love Mondays

May 30, 2011
Alt Text

So fresh & delicious, it doesn't always make it to the table!

I look forward to Mondays, and here is why.

Reason 1) My farm fresh veggies for the week arrive today.

This makes me happier than you might imagine. I get two deliveries each week through CSA programs, (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture), and if you’re not already receiving produce this way, you absolutely must look for one in your area! The first delivery of the week is from Healthy Basket, AUB’s program with farmers in Lebanon.  Most weeks, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to get, I just know that everything will be season, certified organic, and locally produced. And it actually arrives in a basket, not a nasty plastic bag, yay!

Buying your vegetables from a CSA program is a good idea for a multitude of reasons, most obviously because it supports local farmers, giving them a fair price for their produce and providing them with a steady income to help cover their expenses, so they can get back to doing what they do best, (farming is hard work!), instead of schlepping around the country trying to sell their vegetables. Second, you are doing a good deed for the environment buying locally, instead of contributing to a market for produce that needs to be shipped halfway across the world, polluting seas, skies and land on its way over. And third, you are creating a direct relationship with the people putting food on your table.

Very yummy baby artichokes

My other delivery comes from my friend Joanna’s farm. In this case, it’s not strictly organic, (i.e. not certified), but I know that she runs a clean, conscientious farm without dangerous pesticides, which is good enough for me. Plus, I get to pick and choose each week from her varied and interesting selection. (Through her we have discovered kohlrabi, yellow watermelon and baby artichokes, fun!) So the veggies arrive on Monday, and this sets into motion my second reason for being happy:

Reason 2) I get a fresh start on what I am going to eat and feed my family this week.

It’s easy to slip a little on the weekend. Or a lot, even. Recently, I’ve been “leaning” into vegetarianism, even cutting out most dairy as well just to see what will happen to my body/skin. (Another post, another day, maybe). This has influenced what we cook at home. During the week, I try to provide a mixed diet of vegetable stews (bamia, loubia, etc) , lentils, grains and some chicken and eggs. The kids do eat meat in the form of ground beef in mahshi (stuffed vegetables with rice) about once a week, but we try to keep it minimal.  Not because I believe that beef is so terrible for them, it’s just that I have no access to organic beef here in Lebanon, (somebody start an organic dairy farm already!) ….and no idea where the beef comes from at my supermarket, what kind of hormones/antibiotics/chemicals the cows may have been exposed to, or how hygienically or not it has been processed. (Ew.) The same goes for milk. This freaks me out a little, to say the least. I think we do ok, but then the weekend comes…and it’s pretty much over. Between the birthday parties and meals out, come Sunday their little bodies are subsisting on French fries, pizza and ice cream. Which is fine…. but whew! Monday arrives, and we can go back to our healthy habits.

I love getting this new chance to be organized and healthy, every single week. And with this renewed sense of purpose comes my third reason to love Mondays:

Reason 3) I get a great workout in, and with it a whole bunch of mojo that lasts for days.

Again, the exercise falters on the weekend, so by Monday I am ready to burst, which produces a great run or yoga session. Then with all that momentum, I get ahead of myself and make some crazy schedule for workouts all week! Ok, sometimes I do them all and sometimes I don’t, but hey! Come Monday, the wishful thinking starts again! And you know what happens when we exercise…..

Reason 4) I feel more focused at work.

Mondays are for evaluating, list-making, scheduling and catching up on last week’s undone tasks for my new business(es). If I was a superhero and procrastination was a superpower, I would rule the universe. I can also be slightly disorganized, it drives my (Virgo) husband crazy. The fresh start I get on Mondays uncovers The Productive and Efficient Me; Hurray, she does exist! There is huge satisfaction to be had from scratching things off your to-do list, and I do it with relish. I am also in the middle of an 8-week online business course, and a new module is released every Monday, yet another reason to look forward, get my groove on, and you know,  just DO the WORK!

What do all these things have in common? Kaizen, of course!

The beginning of each week brings a new chance to make small improvements in every area of our lives: Our health, our wellbeing, our careers, and our personal growth. What’s not to like?

.

 Do you feel this way? What helps to set you in positive motion? Leave a comment below and tell me about it.

Blame it on the Wind

May 20, 2011

Have you been feeling cranky, aggressive, depressed, or just a bit blah, lately? Maybe it’s the weather.

A couple of nights ago, at a graduation dinner AUB (American University of Beirut) students, an ominous wind began to blow across the courtyard. I watched as the girls glanced nervously skyward as their dresses rustled and a few warning drops landed on their perfectly blow-dried hair.  Within minutes, everyone was dashing for cover as a dusty rain started blowing onto everything. Oddly, there was actually one person in the crowd who thought to bring an umbrella, but it turns out that he was a British professor, which figures!

Dust over the Persian Gulf two weeks ago, courtesy of Nasa Earth Observatory. Click image to see in Google Earth

By the next morning, cars all over the Beirut were speckled with muddy rain, and the citizens were suspiciously squinting at the sky behind balconies and windows coated in dust. The Khamsin have definitely arrived, and the complaints have come with them. “How can I concentrate with this weather? Don’t take your kids out today! This wind, it makes me feel so …[insert complaint]….”

My typical reaction when someone said this kind of thing to me, was to roll my eyes and shake my head. The weather is the reason for your headache/ nausea / bad attitude?  Oh please. It just sounds so provincial.  But I have to admit; there is something kind of spooky about the Khamsin.

The Khamsin winds usually appear at this time of year across in North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula.  They are hot, dry, and oppressive, and have been blamed for all kinds of crazy behavior. I looked into it. A quick read on Wikipedia turned up some good stories; like reports of the Khamsin blinding soldiers and making compasses go haywire during World War II, and choking Napoleon’s men with “suffocating walls of dust” during his Egyptian Campaign.  The winds have even been used as a defense in court cases for crimes committed during the Khamsin, because it’s accepted that they can make people a bit loony.  According to lots of research,  it is true that wind and heat do not have a very good effect on our personalities. Crime rates rise, car accidents increase, even horn honking goes up, (although I’m not sure Beirut is any louder than usual this week!) There is also a somewhat controversial theory that has to do with the large amount of positive ions that come with these hot dry winds, which studies have connected to cause a rise in serotonin, making us feel tired, nauseated, irritable and even violent.

Hmmm. So it turns out there is something to this weather thing. But what do we do with this information?

We could…. grumble about the pollution, the dust, about how it makes us feel tired and crabby, about the fact that we can’t get our cars washed for the next week or spend much time outdoors. Yep, we could definitely do that. Or we could try to appreciate that this is just another part of nature’s cycle and change of seasons.

Living in cities has made us less in tune with the effect this cycle has on our bodies, but no less susceptible. Consider for a moment the profound effects that the change of seasons has on our planet, on ocean tides, the migration of species, the growth cycle of crops and fertility cycles of animals, (including us, apparently!) . Our bodies are sensitive instruments, vulnerable to changes not just in temperature, but barometric pressure and humidity. Acupuncturists sometimes use the analogy of the maple tree – just as these changes help to ‘squeeze’ the tree to release sap, so can they can put pressure on the inner workings of our bodies and energy flow. I love this idea so I looked up sap flow, and it turns out that this is true, at least for the trees.  I know that there are times of the year when I feel focused and energized and able to give, and others when I feel so depleted and out of synch I just want to hide under my blanket all day.  Personally I actually love this kind of windy weather, it signals change to me, which generally makes me restless, but in a good way.

So instead of getting annoyed because we’ve caught the flu or are feeling a bit ‘under the weather’ so to speak, let’s do what we can to ease ourselves through it. This includes eating foods that are in season, getting the rest we need, and accepting that we are part of this natural cycle of change and growth, even embracing it.  Smiling works too, try smiling at your screen right now…… Feels good, huh :)

On a lighter note…. I know a more appropriate song would be the “Winds of Change, but throughout writing this post, I’ve had the song “Blame it on the rain” running through my head. Remember Milli Vanilli’s Classic 80s Number One? So here’s a 80s flashback for you. Admit it, you loved them for a while, even if they were lip-synching.

Beirut Birthday Blues

May 13, 2011
Copyright Creative Commons

Copyright Creative Commons

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned birthday parties?

Remember those? Our mothers made us dress up (in a dress!) and put some thought into the gift we were going to bring, since it would probably not be exchanged. It was held at home, and there was often an older cousin or sibling present to keep us kids entertained and work the cassette player [yes, I am JUST old enough to remember those too ;) ..] while we played musical chairs or pass the parcel. We ate jello boats, popcorn, ice cream and cake, and we always left with a little bag of goodies and a huge smile on our faces.

Just thinking about those days makes me happy and also a little sad, as we hunt around Beirut for a place to hold a  party for our daughter, who actually turns 5 today: Happy Birthday, my Angel! I thought our requirements were simple: we don’t want loud music, we don’t want to serve fast food, and we don’t want a Disney/Character theme. There is a terrific thunderstorm outside as I write this, but being the beginning of summer, we would also like to have it outside. That combination pretty much rules out nearly every venue I can think of in Beirut, including our apartment, (no garden).  I have been to lots of birthday parties since our children started school. Some have been sweet and lovely. Some, not so much.  At one, 4-year-old girls were given manicures and makeovers, although thankfully mine declined out of shyness. Then we watched a rather strung-out looking “Cinderella” in an overused wig stomp across a stage to loud hip hop music…it had the kind of bizarreness of a Monty Python sketch.

At another, the girls were invited to change into princess costumes, (ok, that part was cute), and then brought up on stage to dance …while the boys watched. Is this a good message to be sending to children of this age?

At yet another, the birthday girl (also 4), was suddenly whisked away, only to reappear being carried back in on a throne, dressed in a mermaid costume, while a humongous cake with fireworks was rolled up to her. She looked kind of cold and a little scared…I would be too.

I know what you’re thinking. I should just lighten up. Those parents just wanted to do something special for their kids, and the kids probably loved every minute. You’re right, I just feel like these extravaganzas for children have gotten a little out of control and I’m yearning for something a bit simpler.

I’m also not crazy about the character obsession, because I’m wary of the fact that our kids are becoming targets for marketers before they can even read. If you think I’m exaggerating, consider this: Children as young as 18 months are able to recognize logos. In her book, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, sociology professor Juliet Schor says that marketers are taking advantage of this and targeting children under 3, who can influence their parents’ buying decisions. Anyone that has tried, and failed, to negotiate with a teary toddler over a box of blue cereal in the supermarket knows that this is absolutely true.

And let me just make it perfectly clear that I am not immune to this marketing science myself. I currently have Dora, Barbie AND Hello Kitty Band-Aids in my bathroom, OK?! I don’t need them, but the smile that suddenly appears when I put one on a scraped little knee is worth giving into consumerism for that moment.

I do think though, that we should be mindful of the kind of marketing messages our kids are exposed to, and how they are affected by them. Professor Schor found in her research that 11-12 years olds who are “more materialistic and consumer-oriented, develop higher levels of depression and low self-esteem, headaches and poor relations with their parents”. Hmmm. Come to think of it, I think that applies to adults as well. Children as young as 4 and 5 can use brands as indicators of popularity among other kids, and do, says Susan Gregory Thomas, who has written another book on the topic called: Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds.  Ooooh, it’s all beginning to sound quite sinister, isn’t it!?

So back to our Birthday Conundrum: As parents, how do we fulfill the sweet birthday wishes of our little girl, who does want everything pink and princess-ey like her friends, without giving in to the peer pressure of being ever more extravagant and theatrical or falling prey to evil corporate marketeers?

Am I over thinking this? Probably. If you think this is bad, you should see me in a toy store….all this plus the environmental issues get factored in and I get total decision paralysis, it’s ridiculous.

I had wonderful birthdays growing up. Yes, there were presents and parties, but the best gift that my parents gave me was waking up with a delicious feeling inside that today was special, which I carried with me from the moment I saw my birthday breakfast set up on the table, until I put my head down that night.

And I still believe in the basics: A space to run around in the sunshine, some games, and a nice big cake and ice cream to share with friends. If that sounds too old-fashioned, just call it vintage.

My recent attempt at jello boats

An Elephant Never Forgets

April 30, 2011

Today’s RIBI (Random but Interesting Bit of Information).  Thank you, Dr. Jenkins, whoever you are.

“The origin of the phrase seems to go back to observations that elephants follow the same paths and even hand down genetic memories of directions and places or grounds across generations. Each elephant clan has a certain burial-place, like many human communities, and always help the dying ones get back there if they are not killed traumatically first.

The most famous example of the tenacity of memory of elephants is illustrated in the story “Elephant Walk,” which was made into a movie in the 40s, or perhaps early 50s. This is the true story of a British colonial villa which was built across a traditional elephant walk in India. The elephants were confused and enraged to find their way blocked, and every year at the same time, the villa staff would have to defend the villa and deflect the herds around it so they could get from one side of the offending villa in their traditional migration.

Finally the elephants could not be dissuaded, and one year in rage they finally stormed on through the villa, destroying it and killing many of the people, restoring the traditional road.

In addition to their travel and burial patterns, it has been demonstrated in the 20th century that elephants also have a high friendship skill with humans, as well as developing lasting relationships with other elephants, and in fact do remember individuals of the human and their own species even when separated for decades”.

~ Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Cool, huh?

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