2015: A Year of Well-Being

A couple of days ago our minister asked: “What would it look like for 2015 to be a ‘Year of Well-Being?” Standing here at the beginning of the year and having the maturity to look back at those that have passed allows us a moment to reflect and set an intention for the days to come. What kind of year will it be? Many things will happen that are beyond our control, but there are many conscious choices that we make each and every day that have a big impact on how we could accurately describe that year when we get to December 2015. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’d need to do to make 2015 a “Year of Well-Being.”

Clearly you know that the way that we eat is part of my attempt at ensuring well-being in our household, but in my zeal for healthful food, I confess that other aspects of well being are prone to slippage in some cases and downright neglect in others. I cannot eat my way to anything greater than relative well-being; I am more well than if I kept everything else the same and ate crap. Relative well-being achieved. However, having just come through the public incubation system month of plague and scourge, I have to consider deeply if I could make some other choices to great impact.

Apparently even fabulously successful people neglect their well-being, and Arianna Huffington has written a book about how her very successful and hardworking lifestyle led her to actual physical collapse in 2007. It would seem that less than 6 hours of sleep a night and 18 hour work days every day does NOT do the body good. Her doctors concluded that she had actually collapsed because of sleep deprivation. Ms. Huffington describes her journey back to a sane place of wellness in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In the book, Ms. Huffington works diligently to rethink the way that we define success and to enrich the meaning of well-being to raise the bar for a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and deeply connected. Before any of those deeply fulfilling things can happen with any regularity, however, one must not be on the verge of physical collapse. Ms. Huffington recommends three key steps toward increasing your physical well-being so that you can get on with the business of enriching your life.

First step: sleep. I don’t know about any of you, but I could stop reading or listening right here. This is the one that has my (and Mr. Little Sis’) name all over it. Most adults need from 7-9 hours of sleep (bear in mind that these are averages, so some people need more; those who think they need much much less are likely fooling themselves). the amount you need fluctuates with age, so maybe you (and by you I mean I) could get less when you were 22…

Mr. Little Sis and I tend to go in cycles where we get 7.5 for a while (when we’ve recognized that we’re zombies) and then slide slowly back toward getting less than 7 for nights or even weeks at a time. And we slowly get REALLY tired. Know what it’s hard to do when you’re REALLY tired? Assess the amount of sleep you’re getting and make good decisions about what to cut so you can get more. It’s also really hard to work efficiently and effectively so you can accomplish what you need to in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also hard to decide what to put in your child’s lunch before you’ve had caffeine. Let’s face it, sleep deprivation makes pretty much everything we want to do more difficult and more time consuming. So why do we fail to go to sleep?

I can’t tell you why YOU do it, but I can tell you why we do it.  After the children go to bed I enjoy the peace… I also have tasks that I save for night time like packing part of the kids’ lunch (to eliminate some of the pre-caffeine decisions), physical therapy exercises, blog work, knitting, bill paying, and occasionally when I really lose track during the day, putting laundry away (the ultimate self-punishment = leaving clean clothes on the bed to discover at bedtime). I also have the long standing habit of reading a little before I turn out the light and actually go to sleep. I’m laughing while I write this because that really is quite a lot. No wonder I have trouble going to bed at a reasonable hour. I do often turn on the TV while working on some of these things and with the exception of knitting, I’m sure this serves to slow me down as well. Mr. Little Sis fails to go to sleep because most of his life is online. His work is remote from a home office (translation: there is no end to the work day) and he blogs from home for an international audience that is very interactive (translation: there is no end to blog day). We have both set ourselves up for less sleep than two adults, particularly two adults with elementary school children, need to make sense of the world and feel reasonably well. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of physical collapse, I’m guessing there’s a lot of steps between that and feeling rested. We could definitely get more sleep.

Second step: more exercise. There are a ridiculous number of studies that attest to the fact that exercise improves not only our actual physical health, but our sense of well being. Exercise lightens our spirits, makes us feel better physically, and promotes SLEEP. While we may be wiped out after working all day, many of our occupations don’t tax the body. The mind is weary; the body is not sure why we’re sitting still so much.

Like my sleep, I tend to be somewhat cyclic with my exercise habits, although having a large dog has put me in the position of doing some walking every day and addressing muscular and skeletal issues has me on a physical therapy regimen that ensures I’ll be doing something with my muscles many days of the week. Still, I know when I’ve slipped. I can tell when I’ve stopped working just a little harder. I can feel my spirit sinking (along with my posterior). I catch myself, add a little (longer faster dog walk), and then usually feel well enough to add a little more (actually working out). Why the cycles? Who knows. Doesn’t seem to take much to interrupt my exercise routine. Sickness, family emergencies, pretty much anything that changes the timing during my day will unhinge my workout scene for weeks or more.

Third step: meditation. Yeah, ohmmm. I’m not gonna lie. I have never successfully meditated. I’ve tried a bunch of times. The times that felt better usually felt better because I fell asleep. Pretty clear I need to spend some time on getting more sleep before I can even hope to successfully meditate. If YOU get enough sleep and are interested in the benefits of meditation, this page has a number of links that will help you get started.

Well-BeingWhere does that leave me? I’m not really much for resolutions, mostly because I used to make them about weight loss all the time and it was part of the cycle of dumb diets and bad results (see our thoughts on a real food resolution). I prefer to think of setting an intention for the new year, a focal point, a turning of my consciousness and attention. It’s pretty clear to me that if 2015 is to be a year of well-being for me, I need to get serious about getting more sleep. I’ve been working toward that and am now realizing how tired I actually am. As I continue to increase my amount of sleep in search of the number that actually makes me feel rested, I’m hoping my motivation to be a little more consistent with exercise will also increase. But I’m not even going to worry about that too much just now. I’m going to sleep. And it will be good. What will 2015 be for you? If 2015 as a year of well-being is about food for you, maybe our E-Book Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals can help. If it’s not about food, maybe it’s time to sleep. It will be good. Be well friends.

Reader Faves of 2014

That time has come… the year in review. So much has happened for both the Sis sisters this year that it seems to have gone by at a particularly breakneck pace. It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating LAST Christmas and yet here we are. 2014 is coming to a close and it is time to take a retrospective look at the pantry. In finding our top posts for the year we have a peculiar mix of new and old posts. I’ll highlight the ones from 2014 first and then point you toward the older ones that still made it into the top 10 post list. Are you ready?

Top Posts of 2014

The Zucchini “Problem” and My Vegetti This summertime post takes a look at the freakish squash that tends to grow in an all or nothing pattern. We had the “all” this year and it required a little bit of creative thinking, and a new kitchen gadget to deal with it. We love our Vegetti, and we love zucchini… no problem.

Buying Healthy at Costco: My Faves This post takes a look at the question of bulk buying. Are you really getting a deal? The answer is sometimes. I reveal my favorite healthy good deals at Costco to make your bulk shopping a better bargain.

12 Healthful Freezer Faves This winter post was written in preparation for my foot surgery which had me off my feet for several weeks. Packing the freezer with healthful foods is a great way to get ready for recovery, and a nice way to help someone else through theirs!

On Becoming a Creative and Healthier Home Cook This post was written in response to a friend’s inquiry about how to learn to cook without a recipe. How do you improvise? How do you change recipes to suit you? How do you know what will work when you change a recipes. Learn some basic tricks that will help you make the food you want.

Gentle Gardening Arsenal This post covers several natural DIY gardening recipes that will help keep those critters out of your patch. Experience greater yields and less crop loss without eating stuff you wouldn’t even want in your trash can.

Older Posts that Apparently Still Rock

A Cookie by Any Other Name Bigg Sis’ pumpkin cookies got featured in an article on weird and delicious pumpkin recipes and that, as they say, was that. This post is a real fan fave and has the added bonus of telling you how to make some awesome healthful cookies.

You Say Potato In this strangely popular post (hi Pinterest) I reflect on methods of growing potatoes. I think the super awesome oven baked fry recipe at the ends is a likely contributor to the popularity. If you’ve never grown potatoes or had good luck making oven fries, this one’s for you.

Garbage Smoothie Anyone? Cold Composting Tutorial Bigg Sis shares her brilliant, efficient and mess free composting method. Nourished soil, less trash, free clean fertilizer – what’s to lose? Get ready for spring by starting today!

The Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever! If time is your enemy in making healthful meals for you, you’ve gotta check out this sauce! Easy, fast, healthful and a real winner – put it on everything. We do!

Roasted Chili Lime Nuts Bigg Sis’ brilliant savory snack just can’t be beat. Super easy and super delicious. Fool around with the spices and make your own delicious nuts… er… snacks… nutty snacks.

So there you have it! Reader favorites definitely worth a retrospective review.  While you’re reviewing, don’t forget that no New Year is complete without a resolution. Make this year’s resolution a real one, to make the switch to real food. Let us help with our E-Book, Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals

Don’t Diet. Eat Real Food. Let Us Help.

At the end of 2012, we had a few things to say about the annual dietary revolution that so many people attempt in honor of the new year. We revisit those thoughts now, when yet another year is approaching at a breakneck pace…

So here we go.  The New Year approaches and the diet chatter is increasing.  Everybody’s choosing plans, making resolutions and getting ready to start measuring their bits and counting their stuff.  If you are one of these folks, I’m going to ask you to reconsider.  I’m going to ask you to do something completely radical. I’m going to ask you NOT to go on a diet.

When we decide to go on a diet, we are committing to a temporary state of restriction, usually in an attempt to achieve some sort of numerical change – a smaller waistline, a lower reading on the scale, a smaller clothing size.  When we commit to a temporary state of restriction, we are admitting to the foregone conclusion that the results of that restriction – the number drop – will also be a temporary phenomenon.

You cannot return to the way you normally eat and maintain those lower numbers.  It doesn’t work.  If you’ve made this particular resolution in the past, you already know this is true.  Simply restricting what you eat also doesn’t guarantee that the food that you DO eat will actually nourish you.

BSNewYearWhen we decide to change the way that we eat, we are committing to a higher level of consciousness about what we eat in an attempt to eat food that is more healthful, that provides our bodies with more of what they require; a body that is getting what it needs is far less likely to torment us with the cravings that often drive us to eat unhealthy foods.

When we decide to change the way we eat, we are committing to caring for our bodies and our health, and are therefore also committing to caring for those around us who love us and cherish us.  When we decide to change the way that we eat, we open ourselves to the joy of living healthfully and the adventure of eating new and abundant real foods.  And so I ask you, on this auspicious occasion, NOT to diet, but to change the way you eat.  Eat Food, Real Food.

Big Sis and I have spent a lot of time this year talking about Baby Steps to Better Health.  Maybe you missed it; maybe you weren’t ready; maybe you already think you eat well and weren’t interested in making a change.  But now it’s coming – that resolution moment – that moment when so many of us get a little honest about our habits and find a little motivation to make some change.  If that’s you, and you’re ready, we’d like to invite you to join us taking Baby Steps to Better Health.

We’ll do a recap of the steps we’ve already covered.  We’ll get you started.  We’ll help you figure out what to eat and show you how to make it super yum.  If you’re ready, we’ll help you take those steps that will get you eating and feeling great in a way that works for YOU, with changes that YOU choose according to YOUR timeframe.

This is YOUR plan; it’s YOUR body.  YOU should be the one to decide what to put in it, thoughtfully and consciously, using ingredients that aren’t invented in a lab.  And you will find that the food you put in that body can be both succulent and healthful, both sublime and invigorating, both yummy and nourishing.  Because real food is delish and it does your body good.  Don’t diet; Eat Food, Real Food.

If this sounds like the way you’d like to start 2015, rather than kicking off the year with a glass full of nutrasweet and a package of freeze dried low cal low fat air filled nothing, maybe this is your year. We’ve put all our baby steps in a book for you, Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals, so you can work your way through them with a little encouragement from us. Let 2015 be your year, the year that you do it different and things actually change. Let us help.

An E-Book for Real People about Real Food

Normally I would be posting a meal plan today, but frankly my meal plan is all over the place. As so many of you are, we are entering an extended period of celebrating. The hitch for us is that we’ve been under siege of illness for over 2 weeks now. It looks like we’re nearly done, but many of our guests are iffy.  We’ve admitted to ourselves that a certain amount of flexibility is going to be required in the days to come. My larder is full of a variety of options and we’re just going to roll with it.

With that said, we fully intend to roll with it in style because we have a big reason to celebrate around here. A few years ago Bigg Sis and I started this whole crazy blog business as a way to get some practice writing, to write together and to each other, and to begin to consider how we could write a book that would help regular folks improve their health by eating real food. And at long last, we have reached that goal.

Our e-book, Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individualsis a labor of love, of effort, of humor, of cooperation, of irritation, and most of all of Bigg Sis’ dogged and relentless determination. We are so delighted to share our own food journeys with all of you and hope that you can find some inspiration, so guidance, some advice, some help, and the occasional laugh while you construct your own path. The book is based on our Baby Steps series from the blog, with expanded explanations, examples and stories. If you are ready for a change or if you know someone who is ready (or almost ready) for a change, check it out. What better time than the present to give the gift of better health in easy realistic steps from hilarious (okay, nice and amusing) sisters?

While you contemplate that, I’m sitting on the couch, big dog at my side, next to the glow of the lit Christmas tree taking this last little opportunity to rest before I finally get to see my sister again. We’ll start our holiday celebration feeding our families together, singing a bit, cooking a bit, taking a walk or two and laughing laughing laughing. I can’t wait. Here’s hoping your holidays are whatever you need them to be, that your company is warm and caring, and that your meals are delicious and satisfying. Eat well, be well friends.

Why Should I Eat Something I Don’t Like?

Indeed.  Why should my son who asked that question of me?  Why should I?  It got me thinking about ‘First World Problems’ and starving children, but, let’s be honest.  Generations of parents have tried to convince their children that they should eat something nasty just because there are people in the world who would be happy to have that nasty thing which is WAY better than nothing.  But it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work for children OR adults.  Empathy is not the forte of the young, especially when it really doesn’t make sense.  It is sad that others do not have enough to eat, or what they want to eat, but my son will say that if there is something he prefers right there in the cabinet, then why can’t he have that right now?  He knows what he eats for dinner won’t affect that poor child’s hunger either way.  So how to answer that question for him, and for myself.  In a culture that emphasizes choice, reward and satisfaction, why shouldn’t we always have something we like to eat?


I chose a picture of broccoli because my son used to hate broccoli. The only way we could get him to eat it was to allow him to put ketchup on it (Bleah!) He still does not love it, but he eats it, without complaint, and without ketchup ;-)

I’ve got 3 responses to share with my son and myself:

A) You can acquire a taste for things / change your taste for things;

B) You have 1 body which you would like to be able to navigate through as much of this world / life as possible; and my personal favorite….

C) Because I made it and we’re all sitting down here together to eat it, dammit!  i.e. this is about more than your personal satisfaction.

I know, that’s all a bit flippant, so allow me to expand…

A) Indeed you can acquire a taste for things and even lose a taste for things!  I recently splurged on a purchase of some fancy Italian ice cream which was labelled chocolate / peanut butter.  Who knew the fancy Italian ice cream would have little peanut butter cup candies in it?  My mother will think I’m lying, but I removed the candy peanut butter cups because they were too sweet.  They made the ice cream cloyingly sweet to me, so I didn’t eat them.  Mind you, I used to ADORE Reese’s peanut butter cups.  They were my candy of choice and Younger Big-Bro could always get a good trade out of me at Halloween if he had Reese’s cups to offer.  However, I have lost my taste for milk chocolate and heavy duty sweets because I stopped eating them and learned to love other things that are not so sweet instead.  It can happen.  It took awhile!  Baby Steps friends, remember to take Baby Steps – small changes a bit at a time, like reducing amount or cutting it with something.  With chocolate you can slowly switch over to darker chocolate.  For more info on making switches – either fast or slow, see Baby Step #1 The Ol’ Switcheroo, or Baby Steps Boost which makes suggestions for how to take Baby Steps away from some common unhealthy foods.

It can also happen that people’s taste buds change as as they mature and as they age.  Little Sis will tell you that Miss Picky Pants (my adorable niece) has taste buds that can change overnight ;-)  If they haven’t tried it in awhile, have them try it again.  And not the touch the corner of the fork with your tongue and then make a face try.  An actual try that involves a bite, followed by chewing and swallowing.  We require 2 bites because the first one is still colored by negative expectations, or a poor guess.  This rule goes for adults also.  As a precursor to answer ‘C’ I say, “Put your Big Girl Panties on and just eat it – it won’t hurt you even if you don’t like it.”

B) If children were left to eat without any input, some of them just might develop some serious nutritional deficiencies.  Heck, many adults have serious nutritional deficiencies.  Personally I am low in iron.  I try to eat greens and cook in a cast iron pan to amend that situation.  I’m sure you know the basics of balancing protein, carbohydrates and including lots of veggies and fruits.  Perhaps more information about what nutrients are in our food and what those nutrients do for us would help allay the tendency to eat pizza every night.  Check out some resources for nutrient information:
– Charts on the nutrients in fruits, vegetables and fish
An extensive list of foods and the nutrients they contain – this is a pdf booklet – you have to go through about 10 pages of other info before you get to the chart, but it is a good resource.

As we mentioned in the Baby Step on getting your kids engaged with change, try to tie in their personal goals with their food intake.  In other words, if they want to be an athlete stress the nutrients needed to help them get stronger and to grow healthfully.  If they want to do well in school stress the foods that will feed their brains….

Understanding the physiological need for a variety of healthy foods and the physiological benefits of a variety of healthy foods can be helpful in convincing yourself and others to eat things that are not your first, or even second or third choice.

C) Eating is about more than personal satisfaction.  It is part of the ritual of converting the bounty of the planet into bountiful community.  It takes a village to feed one gaping maw.  Recognizing the involvement of community, family or personal involvement on the resulting meal or even packed lunch takes a little emphasis off the pleasure and places it back on the living, necessity of eating.  So when our culture shines through in my son’s belief that he is entitled to have something delicious every time he eats, I can try to re-focus him on all of the reasons and all of the work that goes into feeding people.  Little Sis’ family starts the evening meal with some thanks to the one who prepared the meal.  What a great way to re-focus the meal on the bounty of being fed…. the bounty of having good nutrition…. and the bounty of being together and taking care of each other.

Should we live to eat? or eat to live?

Here at the Pantry we usually fall in the middle on such spectrums of possibility.  It surely seems too stringent to do either exclusively.  But there is definitely room in most of our lives for a little more eating to live.  Such a blessing to even have a choice!

Fed Up with Diet By Advertising

Sugar – looks pretty innocent, doesn’t it?

In honor of the release of Fed Up, a documentary about the power of sugar in our food supply, I’ve decided to take another look at my own (and my children’s sugar intake), and to remind myself WHY I would still be concerned about it.

This documentary, and most of what I’ve read about sugar and processed food in the last 10 year,s leads me to the conclusion that I cannot trust food manufacturers with my health. (See Salt, Sugar, Fat for more about that.) And it seems to me that there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of packaging and readiness and the healthfulness of the actual item. There are, of course, exceptions in the “natural foods” category. I can purchase prepared foods with less sugar, fewer chemicals, but these items ARE exceptions.

I don’t particularly want to build a life of eating exceptions. Processed food that doesn’t contain excessive salt, sugar, and fat is usually very expensive, and frankly, it’s just unnecessary. Somewhere along the way some very smart guys (think Mad Men with fewer cocktails and hopefully a little less infidelity) did a real good job of convincing Americans that we don’t have time to actually prepare (rather than warm) our food and that we’ll be fine just purchasing and warming the stuff their corporate sponsors produce.

The notion that we should be eating processed food, that it’s yummy, that it’s nutritious, that it’s convenient, that it’s inexpensive is an ad campaign. That’s it. And ad campaign. It’s not science. It’s not sound personal finance or family friendly economics. It’s not what your doctor recommended or what your grandma told you to do. It’s an ad campaign. I don’t want to build a life on an ad campaign. I don’t want my children’s health to be the result of an ad campaign.

Here at the pantry Big Sis and I have consistently embraced the fundamental importance of real food – food that you cook for yourself – as the cornerstone of a healthy diet. There are lots of models of “healthy” eating out there and they differ in some pretty important ways, but almost all of the ones that involve a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary restriction or substitution of their processed food for your preferred processed food, will lead you to Michael Pollan’s very sound, and very simple advice about food. 1) Eat food (by this he means food, not packages or chemicals), 2) Mostly vegetables, 3) Not too much.

Notice that nowhere in this simple advice does Mr. Pollan suggest that you consume a whole lot of sugar. If you are convinced that you don’t have time to eat better, or that there’s no way that changing your eating habits can really work or be affordable or fit into your schedule, I implore you to see Fed Up, or read Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Don’t have time for all that? Check out our posts on sugar, on Salt, Sugar, Fat. Make sure you know the true cost of that easy food. If you’re convinced, but not sure where to turn, we can help. Check out our Sugar Busting and Baby Steps to Better Health series. Or take 5 minutes and read about cutting sugar at breakfast time. You can do this; you really can. We’ll help.

While you get started, I’ll be doubling back, checking for slippage, doing some quick calculations of my and my kids’ regular sugar intake. When it comes right down to it, we just don’t need that much, and the less we eat, the less we need to enjoy a little sweet satisfaction in our long, healthy lives.

Fed Up – Hollywood Takes on Sugar

Have you heard?

Have you seen it?

I haven’t seen it yet, but seeing who they’ve interviewed, I’m pretty sure I know what’s in there. And I’m so very glad to hear people talking about sugar with such big voices on such big screens. Maybe you’re not as excited as I am.

Are you afraid?

Are you ready to change things?

Are you ready to take control of your health?

You don’t need that stuff.

We’ll help.

For tips on how to start cutting sugar in your diet, click on the Sugar Busting category on the sideboard or on the tabs above. For a more comprehensive overhaul (which will include cutting the sugar), click on the Baby Steps to Better Health category.

You can do this, and you’ll be awfully glad you did.

Baby Step 15: Shake Your Groove Thing

Shake your groove thing yeah, yeah. Show ’em how we do it now….

All of the young readers are perplexed, and I’m sorry, but this is the price you pay for being, well, younger. A little catchup on the reference here.

In our baby steps series, we’ve talked about food.  Okay, we’ve talked a WHOLE LOT about food.  We’ve also talked a great deal about how we think about ourselves and how we think about food, the ways we use food appropriately and inappropriately, the ways our culture portrays and uses food. We’ve talked about honoring and respecting ourselves enough to nourish ourselves. But we haven’t talked about everything we need to do to be in better health. Heck, in some ways we haven’t even scratched the surface, but even in the interest of keeping it simple, we’re not done.  There is an elephant in the room, and I’m not talking about my maternity pictures…

Big Sis and I started with food because… we really like food… AND we truly believe that eating more healthfully makes all other aspects of self care easier. But even with all the healthy food in the world, there’s something simple our bodies need that we’ve not talked about. It’s time to move. NONONONONO, don’t click away. Don’t click away because this is NOT where I tell you exactly how much to exercise every day and how to use some equation to calibrate that perfectly with what you’re eating. Don’t click away because this is NOT where I have some miraculous contraption that will give you a great butt. Don’t click away because I have no interest in having you look at your body to find fault with it.

babystep15Stay here and do a little thinking about how much you move your body. I don’t know you – you may run marathons. I know I wanted to. You may have an exercise routine down, and if you DO, that is awesome. If you’re like a WHOLE lot of people and you don’t have time to have an exercise routine, you hate to exercise, you can’t imagine running a marathon being even remotely appealing… stay here and think a little about baby steps. Let me illustrate with a couple of stories…

Story 1

Mr. Little Sis and I had a really rough couple of years.  REALLY rough. I had a miscarriage that nearly killed me. Mr. Little Sis got laid off and then Mr. Little Sis’ Mom died. Believe it or not there are more bits of woe from that time, but those are the highlights. I was low, I mean not talking to anyone, not wanting to do anything, not wanting to go to the graduate program I’d worked so hard to get into. One day a friend asked me to go to the park and as our dogs cavorted and tried to start trouble with other dogs we talked honestly about my fragile state. When I revealed the utter lack of motivation that seemed to start every day for me, he asked a simple question. “What if you pretended you didn’t have a choice? What if you just decided you HAVE to do these things?” It was an interesting perspective. I was attending my graduate program, but was deeply distracted by not WANTING to go because I was so down.

I took his advice to heart and decided to pretend I didn’t have a choice about anything. And one of the first things I decided to do was to start taking a slightly longer walk with my dogs every day. I started parking a little farther out in the student lot and walking in to campus. I went back to my old habit of looking for the worst parking spot at the grocery store and forgetting where all the elevators were on campus. I became the stairs. Each step made me feel more alive, more energized, and more in control of my days in a time when I was clearly not in control of much of anything. I began to run and search out my knee joint tolerance level for pavement pounding, building up a little bit, month by month – slower than even the most judicious trainers would recommend. I was renewed and that sense of renewal, physical and mental, carried me for quite some time, through graduate school and a few years beyond until I found myself carrying twins… There’s no jogging or baby stepping around that one.


IMG_8272There was a day at my OB’s office that when I stepped on the scale and I gasped. The nurse said “Honey, let’s have you face the other way for the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know if we’re getting into a problem area.” Yeah. A problem area.  My children were 7 and 6 pounds when they were born – pretty big for twins, and I was so big with them that I required a walking stick to raise myself from my mandated bed rest position to standing (in order to pee, of course). The few pictures my husband was brave enough to take during this period show a tired woman with what looks like a balance ball shoved up her weirdly cut shirt. The children were born, and they took some of that weight with them, but not enough, and after bed rest and the relatively lower level of physical activity before that time had left me unmotivated, out of shape, and without a starting line at a time when I was averaging about 3 hours of sleep a night.

I don’t know what motivated me – whether it was a friend, something I read, or sheer delusional brilliance, but I ordered a pedometer. There was not a lot I could do in terms of serious exercise with infant twins, but I could walk. Heck, I was already walking a lot – back and forth from bedroom to bedroom, back and forth next to the crib, back and forth in the living room doing the bouncy thing, and up and down the hills of my neighborhood with a stroller. While I don’t recommend counting many things, there is a value in knowing what you are currently doing if you are attempting to do MORE of anything. The pedometer let me set new goals, add some steps over time and give myself the room I needed to get back into reasonable shape, feeling more like myself, and again a little more in control of my daily existence at a time when I really wasn’t in charge at all.

Story 3

IMG_0283This story is a little more modern… It’s from today. As many of you know, I’ve recently been subjected to surgery on my big toe joint.  Apparently I injured that joint at some point and it’s been wonky ever since. That wonkiness led to bone spurs. Ignoring bone spurs while you walk aggressively and occasionally run for exercise is, well, not good. So my rock star orthopedist has removed all those nasty spurs and I have been sitting on my growing by the minute posterior for two weeks.  I’m not sure how much of my personality has come through in this online adventure, but let’s suffice it to say that two weeks is pretty long for me and my antsy brain to be sitting still. The difference this time is that I can’t simply now begin to exercise again by measuring the steps I’m taking and increase their number, I have to go WAY back. I have to go to a physical therapist and have him move my toes.  That’s step #1 this time. Moving the toes and not beating myself up too badly about the weight gain during my mandated idle time. After moving the toes for a few weeks, I get to take this cumbersome walking boot off and try walking in regular shoes, short distances with ice to follow. At some point in this progression I will be stable enough to have our 85 pound dog join me and take a REAL walk. As for running, rock star orthopedist is not a fan but allowed that I could try it as one part of a multi-faceted approach to exercise. Great.

Baby Steps and Exercise

The point of sharing these stories is to demonstrate a key principle of our beliefs about better nutrition and better health. You have to start where YOU are. Maybe you’re ready to run a 5K, maybe you are ready to walk the dog twice a day, or maybe you need to start by wiggling your toes. Doing someone else’s next step will not get you further down YOUR path. Changing habits and changing our lives and bodies takes time and that oh so elusive (especially for me) patience and some honest thought.

As with all of our endeavors, the Sis sisters recommend facing exercise with an honest assessment of what you currently do. This is not the same as asking whether or not you go to the gym. Perhaps you also have a canine friend who requires walking, maybe you go on hikes on the weekend, maybe you are a floor nurse and walk ALL DAY LONG. The next question is whether your current level of exercise has you feeling as fit as you’d like to be. If not, the follow up to the honest assessment is to choose one thing you’re going to do to increase your fitness level. Execute that plan for a time and see how you feel. I know, I know you don’t have time – seriously I get it. Choose something small that you can add that doesn’t make much time. It’s much easier to adjust your schedule 15 minutes at a time than to add an hour of activity all at once.

Baby Steps to Fitness – Some Really Easy Places to Start

  • Parking Lots – Stop looking for the best space, look for the worst, or as bad as you can tolerate and walk it.
  • Stairs – Take them all or part of the way to your destination.
  • Public Transit – get off a stop earlier and walk it in.
  • Don’t use a riding mower – unless you have way more land than you can cover, use a mower you walk behind.
  • Extra Stairs – when going up or down the stairs at home, repeat the trip at the steps for a boost.
  • A Short Walk – take a few minutes sometime during your day for a short walk – the fresh air and natural light can do wonders for you.
  • Errand on Foot – If you live where you CAN actually walk to the market or the library, do it. There are all manner of carts and wagons in the world that can help you bring your loot home.
  • Enlist a Friend – we all have friends who are more fit than we are (Big Sis is SUPER scary fit). Observe, listen, pay attention. What do they do that we don’t do? Can we borrow some of their habits, activities, or ask them to take a walk?
  • Try Something New – maybe you didn’t like to swim as a kid and haven’t done it since – our tastes do change, perhaps the pool is the place for you.

Increasing our fitness and activity level doesn’t have to mean joining the gym (unless you want it to). What can you do that’s a little more than you do today? Where do you park your car at the grocery store? As for me, my toe moving begins Wednesday (which seems eons away), and I will take it from there, one halting and healthful step at a time.

Baby Step # 14: Add Some Nourishment

BabyStep14Bad weather brings out the survivor in us, doesn’t it?  Threats to our electricity, our ability to drive (with all the inherent loss of access to food and other stuff), ability to do our job, and our plans in general, are indeed very upsetting threats.   Some of us bring in the outdoor furniture or delicate plants, some of us check the batteries in the flashlights, some of us buy lots of bread and milk, some of us check the firewood, blankets and maybe even fuel supply for the generator.

It is a giant step in our culture to go from: “You deserve a break today….. Treat yourself….. A moment for you…… You deserve the best…… Because you’re worth it” and all the other attempts by advertisers to get us to reward ourselves by purchasing their products to: “Batten down the hatches!”  We don’t have to batten down very often, do we?  Left to our own devices and the influence of Madison Avenue we’ve become quite accustomed to having our favorite food or at least something we genuinely like when we eat.  Every time we eat.  Why not?  Who wouldn’t choose what they like over what they dislike? Restaurants, convenience stores, vending machines and the center aisles of the grocery store are all too happy to provide our favorites, with plenty of questionable additives to keep them from spoiling and to make them easy to prepare.

My fellow nurses and I marvel over the number of patients who will say, “I can’t eat that”, or “I don’t eat that” when offered hospital food, not because of allergies or being vegetarian, or gluten-free, but simply because they don’t like it, or it’s not what they are used to or not the way they usually fix it.  Why should the nurses be surprised?  Nurses are surprised because nursing is a fast-paced ‘batten down the hatches’ kind of job.  With far too many tasks to complete in far too little time, we are in survival – and patient survival! – mode.  As a result, we just don’t always understand that patients who are recovering or depressed or feeling lousy but not in danger, continue to behave within the rules of this culture.  “You deserve something that you like, why not your favorite?”  And so when the patient complains about the food, we ask them what they want, call the fine people in nutritional services, get the patient’s request filled if at all possible, (no matter if it’s not terribly healthy), and then make jokes in the nurses station about how we work in a spa rather than a hospital.   (Some of the high cost of American health care, this spa mentality, but we won’t go there today).

I am not trying to say these patients’ behavior is bad or wrong, it is our culture and it is what it is, but it does offer some insight into the difficulty of improving eating habits and trying to maintain a healthy weight in this American culture.  How is a person supposed to feel satisfied by a meal or a snack if that meal or snack represents less than what one likes, or is less than is ‘deserved,’ or somehow less than what society says is good, best or one’s right?

I believe that part of the battle for creating a healthy lifestyle is identifying what nourishes you.  Taste buds are not the only players in the satisfaction game.  A nourishing meal or experience is satisfying because you have been nourished, i.e., your body, mind or spirit has been strengthened, guided, fed, nurtured, sustained, encouraged, cultivated, supported, fostered, developed and/or promoted.   I’d like to see a McDonald’s french fry do that all by itself.  Mind you, a McDonald’s french fry eaten with friends….. or after basketball practice….. or on a date…… or any other physically, emotionally or spiritually fulfilling activity is another story.  So, it’s not always the french fry that satisfied you, but the company or the circumstances in which you ate that fry.

Baby Step #14: Add Some Nourishment

What Nourishes You?

To add some nourishment, you have to figure out what nourishes you. Consider the following:
– What makes you feel good for a prolonged period of time?  What do you talk or think about a day, a week, or a year later?  I bet it’s not the french fry.
– Why do you find unhealthy food (pick your fave) satisfying?  Is it the convenience?  Is it buying something?  Is it the restaurant atmosphere or sneaking something once the kids have gone to bed?  Is it the taste, the texture?  Is it having someone make something for you?  Does it represent a break from an activity that you find difficult or draining?
– Do you plan nourishing activities to feed yourself and possibly your family in body, mind and spirit?

If you can recognize some truths about what nourishes you, it might be easier to get more nourishment and less ‘processed food Ka-Pow sugar/fat and salt taste’ into your life.

Check your self-worth.

In order to add some nourishment, you must believe that you are worth nourishing.  It is easier to believe that you are worth nourishing when you are well nourished.  “Them that’s got, shall get,” right?  Kind of twisted, but I believe it’s true.  It’s like smiling at yourself in the mirror when you don’t feel very up.  It makes you feel better.  Steve Martin says you can’t play a sad song on the banjo.  It’s also hard to be sad when you are smiling.  It’s also hard to choose unhealthy food once you have experienced nourishment.  But you have to pay attention.  You can’t attribute feelings, behavior and choices to feelings, behavior and choices unless you are paying attention.

So again, ask yourself:

“Why do I choose what I choose?”
“Am I trying to nourish myself?” – remember all of those wonderful meanings of nourished: strengthened, guided, fed, nurtured, sustained, encouraged, cultivated, supported, fostered, developed and/or promoted.”
“What nourishes me?”
“How do I get more of what nourishes me in my life?”


Sometimes after work when I’ve been out of the house for 14 hours and running around for about 11 of those I get home and feel ravenously hungry.  If I don’t pay attention I will overeat and sometimes choose the least healthy option in the house before realizing that I’m full and not running and my feet hurt less and I can slow down and take care of myself.  I just caught myself doing it again last night, so I’m going to pack one last healthy item in my lunch bag to eat on the way home.  That will take the edge off of feeling ravenous and allow me to come into the house and nourish myself by sitting down, relaxing and catching up with my husband and son.  They nourish me (when I spend time with them!!).  Allowing myself to be still after a very busy day nourishes me.  Reading nourishes me.  Making things nourishes me.  Meditating/Praying nourishes me.  So many things other than a quick fix of a Ka-Pow dose of sugar, fat or salt nourish me.  And it is lovely when I pay attention and care for myself enough to seek out nourishment over satisfaction.

Practice and Experiment with Conscious Choices

I am not suggesting that you should not choose to eat what you like to eat, but I am suggesting that consciousness about your choices may make you aware of more choices, both food and non-food, available to you.  If they are nourishing choices, you may ultimately find them to be more satisfying than what you currently choose.  I often use Lent as a time to remind myself of what a certain indulgence means in my life.  When I give it up, I either miss it terribly or find that it was not so important to me after all.  That is how I was able to reduce my sugar intake.  I found that after 40 days of nothing sweet I found most sweets unappetizingly sweet and by the end I didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would.  Giving up fiction did not have the same result.  I missed it very much and appreciated it more when I returned to it.  In fact, I think I chose my books more carefully because I wanted to read really good books.  Since those days of Lenten deprivation I have found it very helpful to ADD something for Lent – some devotional practice or amount of quiet time or time spent to help others and I find that to be very nourishing. What could you give up or add to challenge your conscious decision-making?

Baby Step #14 is really a life-long journey, but even long journeys can be taken in baby steps.  I certainly have made steps forward and backwards in learning what, and then pursuing, what nourishes me.  ‘Batten down the hatches’ can take us to survival mode when we know what is important to basic survival.  Finding and pursuing what nourishes us in body, mind and spirit can help us survive and grow with grace and with respect for ourselves and for others.  It’s not easy.  I have to remind myself that like all of the baby steps, a baby step forward is still a step forward.  In fact it nourishes me to attempt, to succeed, to fail, and to try again.  I remember and treasure this process long after the memory of tasty treats has faded.

I encourage you to figure out what nourishes you and to add some more nourishment to your life.