Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Studies Show: You + Self-Compassion = More Achievements

This week, I'm thrilled to be featured in this piece that Sarah W. Caron wrote on about the importance of self-compassion and how we can get some. It seems that studies show that if we can be compassionate to ourselves, we're apt to achieve more and accomplish more.

Accomplish more? Achieve more? Annnnnd, I'm in.

The question Caron proposed was, how?

If you're anything like me, and I dare to think a lot of women people are, most of the time you're too busy relentlessly driving yourself to be all self-compassionate. So I stopped and really considered: why? Why do we do this? And here's what I came up with: we relentlessly drive ourselves because we are raised to always focus outward and compare ourselves to some external hallmark of beauty/success/partnership/happiness.

Hmmm. And what's a certain thing I teach that's all about looking inward and not being competitive? Starts with a "y," ends with an "a" and is one middle letter off from that adorable little green jedi from Star Wars.

And that's when I also realized (yes, brilliance was high that day) that practicing yoga had actually correlated with caring a whole lot less about what everyone else was doing/thinking/being and being brave enough to leave my corporate life/career/identity and go after what I really wanted: teaching yoga and writing a book.

If you don't have time or access to yoga, you can also try the breathing, stress-relieving exercise in the article.

Chasing the Dream: Self-compassion helps you do more

Studies say those with self-compassion achieve more and accomplish more goals. Harness your own compassion for yourself in parenting, life and all your aspirations.

Have compassion...
for yourself

Jennifer Gaddis, creator of the site, was recently in a conference with her 9-year-old's teacher. Her son wasn't doing well in class. After the conference, she mentally beat herself up for not doing enough to help him — which just made everything worse.

She was lacking compassion for herself. "Finally I sat down and I thought, how can we make it better? To harness compassion for one's self, you must — and always — stop blaming yourself. Ask yourself how can you make it better? Tomorrow will be a new day," says Gaddis.

Experts say that self-compassion, a challenging goal, is important to achieving your goals since it allows you to roll with the punches and move ahead.

"My theory is this: Women are raised to constantly compare ourselves to something other than what we are — everything from how we look to our jobs, our parenting, our marriage, our 'success.' It's always about looking out, around us, and then never living up to that perceived better standard," says Sara DiVello, a registered yoga teacher who is certified with the Yoga Alliance. "The result is a combination of constant comparison which creates co-morbid anxiety — women are stressed about how they don't measure up and are also in a state of constant mental activity (anxiety) from all this comparing."

Gaining perspective

So, how do you de-stress and allow yourself that necessary self-compassion? DiVello suggests taking a step back. "Take a moment to sit down. Often, we're stressed but we don't take the time to sit down and deal with it — instead, we continue rushing around, absentmindedly stressing about how stressed we are... which only escalates our stress," says DiVello.

Then, give yourself a chance to focus. Think of what's stressing you out and take a deep breath. Exhale (extending it longer than your inhale) and flick your hands as though you're trying to get something off of them (you are — the stress!). Also known as the 'there's no paper towels in the restroom flick.' Repeat three to five times. Now, settle into extended exhale breathing (as described above) with the eyes closed for three to five minutes," says DiVello.

And guess what? I tried this... it really does help.

Achieving your goals

Having self-compassion makes embracing failure — the necessary things that we can all learn from — useful tools in our quests to reach our dreams. And as daunting as it may seem to skip the self-berating and learn from our mistakes, it is key to achieving your goals. "Self-compassion is kindness toward yourself and your mistakes. It helps you get up from failure, survive a divorce and be more joyful in the present. Yes, it can also help you be a better parent because you will have compassion for your kids when they make mistakes," says Maryann Reid, lifestyle expert at
Start with small changes that begin to free yourself from the negative talk that holds you back, says Kathryn Vercillo, author of Crochet Saved My Life. "It can be daunting to try to change that negative self-talk in those large areas of life since they are so ingrained into the way that we think. By starting small, in just one area like crafting, we can begin to learn to nip that negativity in the bud," says Vercillo.
For Vercillo, that's meant crocheting with abandon — and not taking a negative tone with the results. What will it mean for you?


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Writing Journey #2: Hiring a Professional Editor

As soon as I decided to go the indie route, I knew that hiring a professional editor was a must. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.

I researched independent editors, culling a list of 10. I narrowed it down to five that I interviewed by phone. I took notes on each conversation. I made lists of their previous clients and researched each book they had worked on. Then I researched the reviews that each one got. I asked for references; I checked references. I reached out to past clients who they hadn't given as references (because OF COURSE they're going to give me the clients who loved them--duh!). Then, after a lot of mental and physical pacing, I made a decision.

Then I stressed about my decision. Was this the right choice? Was she the best fit for me? What if her references and past clients had lied? What if this was all a farce? What if I'd just sent a big, fat check to a hustler?

I waited six weeks for my turn in the editorial queue. Then I waited four weeks for my manuscript to be sent back to me.

During this time, I thought of very little else. How could I when my professional editor was editing my book? (My book! Holy crap!)

My editor let me know that it's her policy not to comment while she works. Which kind of made sense except the fact that I'm totally freaking out and dying to know what she thinks!

One of my reasons for going the indie route was because it was the expedited route. But it seems that patience--lots of it--is required, even on the expedited route!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Quoted in USA Today Article on Yoga and Travel!

Whoa! I’m so thrilled to be part* of this awesome article, “How to maintain your yoga routine while traveling” featured in USA Today’s Travel Section! It was written by journalist Nancy Trejos, as part of her "Thriving on the Road" series, which is all about staying healthy while traveling.

This is such an important article because often it's when we are traveling that healthy habits (such as...oh, I don't know, yoga?) fall by the wayside, somewhere between the all-you-can-eat buffet and the post-buffet trip to the bar. So before your next trip, check out these tips--and the tips from the rest of the series!

*I've highlighted my part for your reading ease :)

How to maintain your yoga routine while traveling
Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY

October 24. 2012 – Roseann Day can’t go without yoga, especially when she’s traveling. That’s when she says she needs it most, what with cramped seats on airplanes and luggage to haul.
“Yoga’s a wonderful exercise that doesn’t require any special equipment yet helps with strength and flexibility,” she says.

If she can’t find the time to take a class, the Massachusetts-based information technology consultant will do yoga in her hotel room in the morning.

Now, more than ever, yoga enthusiasts have plenty of options for maintaining their routines on the road, yoga instructors and hospitality industry experts say. A number of hotels offer classes or in-room equipment. And if they don’t, yoga instructors say, there are many ways to practice the craft even on a plane, in a hotel room or outdoors at a park or beach.

“Yoga is one of the most feasible ways to exercise while on the road — limited amount of equipment: You lay down a towel if you don’t have a mat. (It) can be practiced indoors or outdoors,” says Marshall Sanders, a registered yoga teacher at VIDA Fitness and EPIC Yoga in Washington, D.C. “And you don’t have to worry about bringing multiple pairs of shoes because you practice barefoot.”

Interest in yoga has grown over the years. A 2012 study by Yoga Journal, a national yoga publication, indicated that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, up from 15.8 million in 2008. And they spend $2 billion a year on yoga retreats, up from $630,000 in 2008.

In an Omni Hotels and Resorts survey last year, 26% of respondents said they wished their hotel would help them find nearby yoga or spinning studios.

Equipment to go
Many hotels are doing better than that by offering classes or equipment.
Kimpton Hotel guests can request a yoga bag at the front desk that contains mats, straps and exercise bands.

In Washington, the Mandarin Oriental offers yoga mats and videos upon request. The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, a Marriott property, has Saturday-morning yoga classes in its Urban Garden when weather permits. In Boston, the Liberty Hotel offers “Yoga in the Yard” with instructors from the Equinox gym.

Omni Amelia Island Plantation in Northeast Florida has a yoga treehouse, where guests can practice yoga while overlooking the water.

Hilton Worldwide is testing a dedicated “Yoga Room.” The guestroom, available at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in Virginia and the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, has a designated space to practice yoga, a full-length mirror to check poses and yoga accessories.

“It’s yet another way to empower our guests and motivate them to maintain their healthy lifestyle on the road,” says Jodi Sullivan, senior director of global fitness for Hilton Worldwide. “We’re seeing more and more travelers, individuals, guests, consumers realizing the importance of yoga as far as breathing, meditation, stretching.”

Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of NYU’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, says hotels are trying to appeal to both younger and older guests.

“Yoga cuts across all age groups and many demographics, so it’s kind of universal,” he says. “Yoga and other types of exercise and fitness and health are all good messages for hotels because people feel stressed traveling.”

Start your trip off right
Yoga instructors recommend practicing some moves as soon as you arrive at the airport.
San Francisco International Airport recently opened a dedicated yoga room. Other airports have fitness centers on-site that offer day passes.

But there’s much you can do even while sitting in your seat at the gate or on the plane. Try an Eagle Arm pose while sitting, says Gabrielle Benoit, a yoga and pilates instructor and founder of Core Club LA in Los Angeles. All that is required is positioning your right arm under your left arm, then vice versa.

“If you are stuck on an airplane or in the airport, there are many different yoga poses you can practice in a chair to keep the blood flowing and get a little workout in as well,” Benoit says.

If you arrive at your destination and discover that your hotel doesn’t offer yoga amenities, there are other ways to get in your workout.

Many travel mats are now lighter than the ones you typically get at a studio.

If you can’t remember all your poses, online classes are available at such websites as Pay an $18 monthly fee, and you can get instruction anywhere you go. Some websites allow you to download classes onto your iPod. Many instructors offer free instruction in YouTube videos.

If you prefer the physical company of an instructor and classmates, there are plenty of studios that let people drop in for about $15 to $20.

Sanders recommends calling the studio ahead. “Confirm the style, time and request feedback on the instructor and find out if a reservation is necessary,” he says.

Fresh air is refreshing
For a cheaper alternative, take your mat to a local park or a towel to the beach and practice while getting some fresh air, he says.

Sara DiVello, a registered teacher with classes in Boston, recommends travelers develop a routine for the road. Ask your favorite instructor for a private lesson, and have him or her customize a travel routine, she says.

DiVello says traveling yogis shouldn’t push themselves too hard when on the road. 

“You don’t have to do a full 90 or even 60 minutes,” she says. “If you’re crunched on time, you can do an abbreviated practice.”

The best strategy, Sanders says, is to practice your routine first thing in the morning.

“Travel schedules tend to throw us off our routines, so doing your practice first thing in the morning will ground you (and) help reinvigorate normal body functions,” he says.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Food: Autumnal Vegetables

We're transitioning to fall weather (on the east coast at least), which means an end to summer fruit and veggies and fruit who masquerade as veggies (you know who you are, tomatoes!). Out with the old and in with autumnal root veggies and colder-weather greens like kale and swiss chard and even lettuces. So...what to do with these?

I just got my CSA box and here's what's on my menu tonight:

Main Course: Cheesy Kale
Sides: Roasted sweet potatos, leeks, and fennel and a crisp salad with cold weather greens and olive oil vinegarette.

HOW TO: Cheesy Kale
Start the rice (I use brown) in a pot by bringing the water to a boil, adding the rice, reducing to a simmer and letting it cook. The rule is twice the water to rice ratio.

Meanwhile, rinse the kale and strip the leave from the stalk. Some people cut them with knives or kitchen shears; I hold and rip because it's faster. Then roll the kale leaves up in a big cigar shape and slice into thin slices. Put aside.

Dice a large onion and saute it in a large frying pan in olive oil or a little bit of broth until the onions start to turn see-through. Add salt, pepper, and kale and continue cooking until the kale turns bright green and wilts. Remove from heat promptly.

Add the rice to the kale-onions mix and stir it all together, adding more salt and pepper to taste. You can also substitute soy sauce for salt--I love the flavor it adds.

Optional: Add diced kalamata olives (can you tell I'm a salt-lover) and/or grated cheddar cheese. YUM!

HOW TO: Roasted sweet potatos, leeks, and fennel.

Rinse all the veggies. Dice all--making sure that the sweet potato pieces are significantly smaller (about half the size). They are more dense and therefore the pieces have to be smaller or you will end of with over-cooked leeks and fennel (aka "mush") and raw sweet potatoes.

Spread out on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Roast in the oven at 425-degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring with a spatula at the 10-minute mark.

Serve it all with a fresh salad and alone everyone to dress their own salad by drizzling olive oil and vinegar (I like apple cider this time of year and it's supposed to be really good for you), salt and pepper.

Bon apetit!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Writing Journey: 5 Reasons Why I've Decided to Self-Publish

When I found myself starting to write a book three and a half years ago, I didn't think beyond the actual writing. All I knew is, I wanted to tell my story, get it out, get it down on paper (or rather on a screen for several months and then, after much ado, eventually out onto paper). Then I was focused on making it the best story it could be...editing, re-editing, having trusted hubby and critique partners read it. Then I'd edit it some more.

(Note to self: for the good of your partnership, Do Not Ask Spouse to Read Drafts. Ever!)

Eventually, I felt like it was as good as I could get it on my know, without professional help. (Professional help from an editor, I should clarify, though "professional help" in its more traditional sense--aka mental help--may be in order soon!) So without a lot of thought about what I was doing or why, I started researching agents. I undertook this task with meticulous care--researching their sales history, the reviews of the books they repped, their preferences, their blogs, what the writing community thought of them...I cross-referenced at least five sources for every single agent.

I created a spreadsheet. And eventually I sent a few queries out. Again, I have to stress, I did this without a lot any thought as to why I was doing it, why I was pursuing the traditional path, or what my other options (aka self-pub) were. You know, sort of like a lemming.

Then several friends sent me Jessica Park's extremely honest, wonderfully straight-talking piece on IndieReader about all the reasons that she self-publishes and the issues she takes with the traditional path. As she says, 

"I spent months thinking that I needed a big publisher in order to be a writer, to legitimately carry that “author” title. To validate me, and to validate Flat-Out Love. I needed a publisher to print my books and stick a silly publishing house emblem on the side of a hard copy. They were the only way to give my books mass distribution, and having them back me would mean that readers would know my book was good.

I also, apparently, thought that I needed to be taken advantage of, paid inexcusably poorly, and chained to idiotic pricing and covers that I had no control over

I was, it seems, deluded."

I laughed. Then I re-read her article several times. I researched the data she cites. (If you haven't read it yet, you MUST. Click over! Right now!) She raises valid, irrefutable points. I debated internally (and externally). And finally, after a lot of mental gymnastics, I made my decision: I'm going to self-publish.

My reasons are pretty much:
  1. Creative control.
    We've all heard the horror stories about the author whose cover was all wrong but he had no choice or input, or the author who had to re-write her plot in a way that she never imagined it. Maybe some people would be OK with this. I'm not one of them. I want to retain creative control of my book (my baby!). I want to be an active participant in its flight to public life.
  2. I'm new, but I don't want to be treated as "next to nothing."
    Again, Jessica Parks said it best: "Publishers pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it comes to pricing, and if I see one more friend’s NY-pubbed ebook priced at $12.99, I’m going to scream. They do minimal marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author. Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit. If it tanks, you get the blame."
  3. I'm impatient.
    It can take many months (maybe even years) to find the right agent. Once you finally make that match, the agent has to begin the lengthy and usually laborious task of trying to sell it to a publisher. This is called being "on submission." The wonderful author/blogger Natalie Whipple, whose blog I devotedly follow, wrote very openly and courageously about being on sub for 15 months, and what that was like. In a word: tough.

    Finally, Natalie's book did sell! Eureka!! {confetti!} {celebration} {cupcakes!} Then the publisher said it would be come two years.

    I understand that publishing is a process and patience is a virtue. I understand that newbies have to wait their turn and get in line and who the hell do these debut authors think they are anyway?! And I also understand that there are many, many reasons for wanting to take the traditional path (the honor! the validation! the wonderful fact that you--YOU!--have made it! you're in an exclusive club and you have the publisher's emblem on your book's spine to prove it!) and trust me, I wanted all those things too...but to me, personally, it wasn't worth the tradeoff. So since there IS another option, I'm choosing to take it.
  4. I have a bit of pioneer mentality.
    Yes, it's scary to be stepping off the paved path of traditional publishing. And it kind of feels like instead of a paved path, I'm hitching up the ox and pointing my wagon into the wild west of indie/self-pub. BUT I've always had a spark of pioneering energy in me anyway. Yee-ha!
  5. I'm willing to do the downside work.
    Every so often, Natalie holds Q&A days, when she generously and honestly answers any question you pose. (I've never met her, but I think she must be one of the nicest people ever.) On one of them, I asked her if she'd considered the indie/self-pub path and she said that it wasn't a good fit for her personally. She said, "Going that route requires a savvy marketing mind, being willing to promote yourself and get out there in ways that I don't feel I'm good at. For me, while the traditional route is marked with lots of gates, it felt more comfortable to me to get the support of an agent and publisher. They can do things for me that I really don't want to do felt like the right choice for me. For other writers, self-publishing feels right for them. It's certainly not any easier, just different, and I really admire writers who venture out on their own like that."  

    Listen, the idea of self-promotion is just as cringe-inducing to me as it is to everyone else. I dread it. I loathe it. I want to stick my head in the sand or induce an "Inception"-like coma where I'll wake when it's over. BUT this is the work of it. THIS is the trade-off for the upsides of creative control and speed and immediacy and better royalties. So, for me personally, it's a trade-off I'm willing to try and a path I'm willing to take.
Westward on! Giddy up!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to Relieve Stress at Work

Lately, there's been lots of talk about anxiety and stress lately. (Gee, the holidays aren't approaching, are they?)

First there was the Today piece about why we're such a nervous nation, which zipped all over the blog and Twitter-sphere and generated hundreds of comments and retweets. (And here are some ways this Inadvertent Yogini suggested yoga might help). Apartment Therapy posted tips to steal for how to get a good night's rest. And there's been all sorts of talk about stress at work and while traveling. To that end, here are a few tips you can implement at the office.

Three Things You Can Do at Work to Relieve Stress:

Yes, it sounds simple, but it really works. Here's why: When we become stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is activated (the good ol' fight or flight response), which was helpful back in the days of eluding saber toothed tigers, but in 2012 when the figurative banshee is your boss, it's actually harmful to the body-brain complex. Breath shortens and quickens, heartrate accelerates, and a series of other physiological responses occur. The bottom line is, you can't do your best strategic thinking in this state and prolonged experience can actually decrease the body's immunity. The act of taking a long, slow, deep breath brings you out of that fight or flight response and calms your brain.

You can also try one of these yoga breathwork practices for anxiety:
Extended-exhale breathwork. Breathe in for a count of 4 and extend the exhale for a count
of 5, 6, or 7...even 8. (Just make sure you aren't getting anxious about not having enough air. Stick to a lower-count exhale at first.) OR make a "mudra" with your right hand: Thumb over your right nostril, two middle fingers over your left nostril. Block the right nostril with your thumb and
breathe in ONLY through the left nostril for a count of 4. Block the left and exhale only out just the right for an extended count of 5, 6, or 7. Repeat for 10 rounds. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and triggers the relax-rest-digest response.

2. Walk--around your floor or outside, around the building if possible.
Similar to #1, the act of getting away from your desk, the email, or the person who is stressing you out will bring you out of the fight or flight stress mode that you automatically clicked into. With that distance, you can gain the perspective to better deal with the situation.

3. Stretch.
The jaw, neck, and shoulders are the first places in your body to hold and accumulate stress. When you're stressed, you clench the jaw and tense up in the neck-shoulders area. Here are two simple yoga tools you can use to help. If you're in a meeting and can't do something obvious, try utilizing the "fire point": Press the tip of your tongue to the little mound right behind your top two front teeth. You'll feel your jaw relax and your whole face melt and your shoulders drop.

If you're at your desk and CAN do something more obvious, try modified Eagle Pose: Bring the arms in front of you at a 90-degree angle, elbows at shoulder-height. If this is enough of a stretch for the shoulders/upper back, stay here. If you need more of s stretch, drop the left elbow below the right and twine the forearms, pressing the back of the palms together. The key to releasing the upper back muscles is to keep the elbows lifted--equal height to the shoulders--and the shoulders as relaxed and low as possible. Take a few deep breaths and switch sides.

Voila! Feeling better already aren't ya? AREN'T YA?!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I'm Reading: "Vlad All Over" by Beth Orsoff

I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to read an ARC of "Vlad All Over." I'm not going to lie--receiving a book without its final cover and with the disclaimer, "NOT FINAL/UNCORRECTED COPY," was swoon-inducing for a book geek like me. I felt like I needed to read it in highly public, prominently displayed areas, hoping that someone would ask me, "What is that extremely interesting book you're reading?" And then I could pretend to be super cool as I nonchalantly rubbed my nails against my lapels (not that I wear anything with lapels in my post-corporate current life) and say, "Oh this? Why it's an ARC of course...let me tell you alllllllll about it."

But instead, I settled for voraciously devouring author Beth Orsoff's latest creation, due out Nov. 20. In all, there is much to like in this unexpected tale of identity, relationships, Romania, and titillating historical tidbits woven seamlessly into a plot that will most definitely surprise you (several times). Allow me to, in the parlance of hip-hop culture, break it down for you. I'll studiously avoid plot spoilers.

"Vlad All Over" is the story of LA-dwelling, first grade teacher Gwen Andersen. The father of one of her students offers her the opportunity to go to Romania for six weeks as her student/his daughter's nanny. Being of sound mind and on a teacher's salary, Gwen accepts. Over the course of the next six weeks, she's swept up in a very unexpected relationship, magnetized by the legends of one of Romanian history's shockingly violent, legend-spawning despot rulers (you will be too), starts to piece together her possible/probable connection to this very foreign (to her) land, and wrestles with questions about whether we are who we are born as or who we are raised to be (nature v. nurture), which feeds into her personal history and future possibilities. Phew! That's about as much as I can say about this deeply involved, deliciously tangled web Orsoff wove without giving anything away. You'll have to order one to learn more (I recommend you do).

In general, I like my "chick lit*" on the upmarket side. To me, that means great writing (sharp, tight, descriptive), great plot (believable and relate-able), strong female characters (no shrinking violets, por favor) and plenty of humor. Orsoff meets and exceeds all these items on my wish list. From the first page, I wanted to be friends with Gwen and her best friend Zoe. Sometimes, I didn't fully identify with Gwen--she's a singular character and the reasons why become clear toward the end--but that's why we read books: to immerse ourselves in a world that's not ours as seen and experienced through someone who's not us. Otherwise, we'd re-read our own journals (zzzz). Obviously, this is fiction, but the interactions between Gwen and Zoe are so real and believable, it felt like my friends and me (if we were always super funny, fabulous, and off on adventures) (uh...which we are, natch). 

Orsoff is a very funny, very smart, very witty writer with a dry sense of humor. You can get a sense of this simply by perusing her author website. To me, there's almost a classic Spencer-Hepburn witty repartee kind of quality to her writing. Or if you're not a fan of old movies (I am), then a more-modern example might be "True Lies" with Arnold Swarchenegger, Jaime Lee Curtis, and Tom Arnold. Watch that movie and really pay attention to the writing and the comedic timing. Hubby and I re-watched the beginning last week as I was clicking through the channels and randomly stumbled upon it, and it's really, really good. "Vlad" has that same quality. And I will always gobble that witty, back-and-forth parlance up with a giant spoon and ask for more.

Orsoff is also very adept at keeping you engaged and reading...even past the point you planned to stop. For instance, "Oh, I'll just read a chapter before I head to bed," turns into many more chapters and 2:30 a.m.

Yes, that actually happened.

More than once.

I also like historical fiction. I enjoy learning obscure (and not obscure) facts as well as reading an author's speculation about what a real-life character might have been thinking back then. It was an unexpected bonus to learn a bit about Romania and the history of Vlad Tepes (known as Vlad the Impaler), who is the real-life Dracula (!).

I may have minored in European history, but I didn't know anything about Dracula (real or ficticious versions), and definitely didn't know that this was a real historical figure who lived in the real-world place of Transylvania from 1431-1476. Whoa! I love learning fun little things like that. And I also love mysteries and legends (who doesn't?)..."Da Vinci Code" sort of stuff. So, without giving anything away, I'll just say that are strong elements of these sorts of legends and secrets in Orsoff's book, woven artfully in with real-life news (a real-life Prince Charles media announcement even made an appearance) and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel--I've got to know where this story goes and where Gwen ends up (and with whom!).

Bottom line: An engrossing read that will keep you flipping the pages even after you planned to stop reading.
Best for: Upmarket chick-lit lovers and historical fiction fans
Stars: 4.5, baby!

(*Note: I do not like the term "chick-lit," but I'll use it for clarity's sake.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The September Check-In with Yourself

There's something about September that's all "back to business," even if you're not going back to school. (I'm not.)

When I worked in the corporate world (shudder) (vodka shot) (warding off PTSD), my manager and I always set goals in January that I was supposed to earnestly pursue throughout the upcoming year (I did my darndest.) Then we'd have quarterly check-ins to see how I was progressing...or should I say, we met quarterly so she could tell me that nothing I did was ever good enough. And when I did meet a goal, well, that just meant that it was time to set another. Which, as Sean Achor points out, only moves the goal post for happiness back ever-farther and makes it impossible to ever actually be happy.

Now that I'm out of the corporate world, I set New Year's Resolutions for myself and check-in periodically with them. So as September draws to end, I experience both the end of summer and the beginning of the last quarter before the year ends. AKA the last three months to try to meet those year-long goals. And although I've discarded a lot of crap from my corporate years, I think setting goals and checking in with yourself is actually a pretty good habit to keep.

I'm checking in with the goals I set for myself and seeing what I can do to finish the year strong. What about you? How are you doing with your goals? Care to check-in too?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Food: Linguine with Spicy Artichoke Sauce

Time for another delicious recipe. This one, Linguine with Spicy Artichoke Sauce, is from the amazing "Main-Course Vegetarian Pleasures," by Jeanne Lemlin, which I recently received as a birthday gift. (Super subtle hint-hint: let the b-day greetings commence.)

Don't let the title fool you--this is not just for vegetarians. My carnivorous hubby who didn't eat any vegetables when I met him (shudder) raves about it and my non-vegetarian best friend told me she actually wanted to lick her plate when I made it for her. It's fast, easy, and INSANELY good. Perfect for the weeknight dinner and definitely good enough for guests!

1 TBS of olive oil in a large skillet, heat over medium heat. Add 6 cloves of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Cook 2 minutes, stirring often. (You will notice that the oil starts to turn orange and the smell of peppers starts to spicy spicy--this is good).

Stir in 1 28-oz can of plum tomatoes, finely chopped and well drained. (Note: I don't drain them. I add in the tomato juice because I like it saucy...uh, I mean I like sauce.)

Add 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Place the linguine (or pasta of your choice) and cook until al dente. Taste to avoid overcooking.

Add 1 6-oz jar of marinated artichokes and 1/4 cup fresh parsley (mine from the garden--huzzah!), simmer 5 more minutes.

Drain the linguine (or pasta) and place in a large bowl (or return to pot to save dishes), toss with the sauce and serve, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Holy freaking YUM.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I'm Reading: If It Was Easy, They'd Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon: Living with and Loving the TV-Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-So-Handy Man You Married by Jenna McCarthy

My To-Be-Read (TBR) Pile is nearly as tall as I am (which, by the way, is fully in towering giantess territory), which is why it's taken me almost a year to get to this little gem. OK fine, I cheated a little by promoting it to the express lane because I've been excited to read it since I pre-ordered it last fall.

Turns out that my anticipation was fully justified. Jenna McCarthy's hilarious. I was literally laughing (yes, out loud, drawing stares in public and fully not caring) from the first page. She is irreverent, unafraid of "bad" language, and one of the most insightful, side-splitting, spot-on authors and commentators on marriage.

If you doubt me, watch her TedX presentation from December.

Some sections will appeal and apply more to some people than others. For instance, I didn't fully relate to the TV remote chapter because, if I'm brutally honest, I am the remote hog in my marriage. But even the sections that you may not think apply to you (for instance, in my case, the ones on kids didn't apply to me as I'm as-of-yet happily child-free) will still wildly entertain you (there's a scene involving two kids, adult supervision, and public urination that had me LOL yet again). For most chapters, I had to wonder if McCarthy didn't have binoculars trained on me and my house fully bugged--she was that in-tune with living with and loving the not-so-handyman I married. (I checked, she doesn't--she's safely across the country in California...or so her bio claims.)

It's a long-term habit that when I read something especially funny or awesome, I turn down that page's corner in order to share it with my hubby or other close friends. Turns out this is a dangerous practice when reading this book--there are sections in my copy where sometimes every page has been marked in this way. Sometimes the tops AND bottom corners are turned in!

I wondered if my husband would find it as funny or if this was geared toward the ladies (as the title might indicate). But I needn't have worried my pretty little head: Hubs laughed as hard or harder than me. When he wasn't laughing so hard he went silent, he managed to gasp out, "That's just like us!"

Oh good--it seems we agree on something ;)

Bottom line: I love it. I've recommended it (and will continue to do so) for everyone.

Best for: Anyone in a long-term relationship

Stars: Five, baby!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Yoga for the IT Band

In the corporate world, the term "I.T. Band" conjures images geeks with glasses playing Guitar Hero or hunching over their computers and checking out some website that's far too cool for you or I to know about while ignoring your repeated phone calls asking how to restart your computer.

Uh...I mean some adorable geeks with glasses who're helpfully waiting by their phones and only too delighted to help you locate the power switch so that you can restart your computer.

In the yoga geek world, I.T. (iliotibial) Band is the wide, thick band of fascia (I see you zoning out--stay with me!) that runs down the side of your legs between the hip (ilium) and the knee (tibia). It can get tight--really tight--and this can cause pain in both and the knee and/or the hip. It's also hard to stretch because it runs along the outer thigh (I promise this story really is going somewhere--stay with it!).

Last week after I taught, a student who is a runner came up and asked if I had any tips for her knee pain which seemed to be coming from her outer thigh and into her knee. After giving her the standard disclaimer about how I'm not a doctor...yadda, yadda, yadda...I suggested she try this I.T. Band release.

This week, she came into class--late, unfortunately, as everyone was already seated on their mat in the silent studio--and strode directly to the front.

"HEY!" She yelled, apparently forgetting she was wearing headphones with blaring music that necessitated this sort of volume, but the rest of us weren't. "GUESS WHAT?? I TOTALLY TRIED THAT I.T. BAND THING YOU GAVE ME AND IT WORKED!!!! MY KNEE DOESN'T HURT AT ALL!! SCORE!!!"

I high-fived her. The rest of the class seemed happy too--but not sure if that's because she then stopped yelling and the class continued.

Wildly curious? Mildly intrigued? Read on...

I.T. Band Release:
Grab a yoga block, a foam roller, or one of those foam block kid toys that look like yoga blocks. Alternatively, roll up a towel into a Tootsie Roll shape.

Lay on the floor on your right side with your bent elbow directly under your shoulder. Inhale and lift the hips up (you can place one foot on the floor if that helps), and place the prop perpendicularly under the leg half way between the knee and the hip.

Place the left palm on the mat to help support yourself. Inhale, steel your resolve, gird your loins, and when you are ready, drop the left hip forward (in effect "rolling" forward). Exhale, roll back. Repeat 10-12 times. Curse the day you were born, your mother, yoga, and this darn blog. Oh...and don't forget to breathe.

*This will always be intense, but if it's not good intense and you're using the block/roller, pad it with a blanket or towel. Or just switch to a rolled up towel.

Now it's time to do the other side! Repeat on the left.

Let me know how it goes. I promise you that I have students that request this every single week. They LOVE it and as far as I know, they're not crazy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Yoga: Good for the Soul AND the Skin?

Recently, while I was at a wedding, a random dude from India came up and told me I had nice skin...and from this, he could tell I did yoga. Naturally, I assumed this was a bad pickup line/he was a creepy stalker/this was yet another brush with crazy. Although the fact that he was from India, and India being the birthplace of yoga and all, did make me pause to wonder if maybe he had some inside track of knowledge.

Turns out, he did. According to an article in Marie Claire by Sarah Z. Wexler, in addition to all the bad stuff that we know stress is linked to, like lower immunity and higher blood pressure yadda, yadda, yadda, stress might also be causing you skin woes.

The article recommends some different products for various problem, as well as dietary adjustments guessed Check it out! And if the link isn't working, find it pasted below.

Is Your Skin Stressing You Out?

The bad news: Your anxiety over aging could be causing wrinkles, zits, and blotchy spots. The good news: You can - and must - relax.

By Sarah Z. Wexler
The yoga class I'd signed up for to unwind was doing just the trick--that is, until the instructor stopped in front of me during corpse pose and told me to relax. "Try to cut the imaginary string that's furrowing your brows together," she whispered. "You're getting a stress wrinkle." Stress wrinkle? I wanted to tell this guru to namaste out of my business, but I had a hunch she was right. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the kind of stress that drives us to yoga class--or a third Diet Coke or checking our e-mail from bed--isn't good for our skin, but it may be more serious than we realize. "There are very few skin conditions that stress doesn't exacerbate: among them dryness, acne, rosacea, eczema, sensitivity, redness, and wrinkles," says Boston dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. It may even play a role in the development of skin cancer, as suggested by a 2005 National Cancer Institute study in which stressed-out mice (who moved my cheese?!) were less immune to the effects of UV light and so developed skin cancer more rapidly than their nonstressed peers. If that isn't stressful enough to consider, know that "in extreme cases, stress can even mess with your hormones enough to cause villous hair growth," aka a layer of facial peach fuzz, according to New York City dermatologist Dr. Patricia Wexler.


The way stress affects your skin is that when you're tense, your brain releases cortisol, a stress hormone, into your bloodstream. That tells oil glands to ramp up production, leading to breakouts. Stress also dilates blood vessels, which causes redness and aggravates rosacea. Another side effect is skin becomes dehydrated, sensitive, and more susceptible to damage. Besides causing lines from furrowing your brow, stress also makes you look markedly older. We already lose 1 percent of our skin's collagen supply every year after we hit age 20, but stress can accelerate that. "Younger women are coming into my office with wrinkles and older ones are still fighting acne. These issues are caused in large part because patients are more stressed out than they were even five years ago," says California dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad. Some triggers are relationships, money, work, and family, according to Hirsch, but Murad also sees a rise in "cultural stress--the feeling that women expect perfection from themselves in all areas at all times. We all know that stress is unhealthy for your heart and brain, but it's just as bad for your skin." Repairing it works best with a dual-pronged approach that incorporates internal and external fixes.


Since stress marks everyone's skin differently, the first step is to take note of how your face reacts during the two weeks surrounding a high-stakes work presentation or a fight with your sister.
For those whose skin reacts with greasiness and breakouts, the key is exfoliating to unclog pores that can harbor bacteria. "Instead of a gritty scrub exfoliant, which can cause further redness, use a product with lactic acid, which hydrates as it removes dead skin cells," says Baltimore dermatologist Dr. Noëlle Sherber. "Then follow with an oil-absorbing kaolin clay mask." (The Kinara Red Carpet Facial Kit includes both steps.) Spot treat blemishes with a salicylic acid gel. But if your acne comes with sensitivity and patches of dryness, the standard over-the-counter routine won't benefit you as much as a trip to the derm's office. In those cases, Wexler recommends Isolaz, an acne-fighting light therapy, with a salicylic acid infusion to brighten skin and clear acne. Another in-office treatment is an antioxidant-rich glycolic acid peel, such as Vivité, paired with blue-light treatment. "The light waves kill acne-promoting bacteria underneath the skin without causing dryness or irritation," says Sherber.
If your skin goes to the other extreme with dryness, flaking, peeling, redness, sensitivity, rosacea, or eczema, you're not alone: A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that when women experience psychological stress, their skin becomes more easily dehydrated, even leading to eczema. Try products with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. "They absorb water and surround each dead skin cell with lipids, making the cell more able to hang on to water," says Murad. For daytime, use SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel with hyaluronic acid or Clinique Redness Solution Daily Relief Cream, which contains caffeine and glycine to reduce redness and inflammation. For evening, treat with CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM, since it has both hydrat-ing acid and ceramides. Another temporary skin soother is "a nightly 20-minute bath--that's not superhot!--before you apply a moisturizer," says Sherber. "For patients with stress-related dryness, it hydrates the skin and also builds in time to unwind." For your body, swap your traditional cream for one of Darphin's Aromatic Care Oils; they moisturize just as well, plus offer relaxing aromatherapy benefits.
For lines, sallow skin, and other visible signs of aging, you want to help skin fight back against free radicals and environmental damage with antioxidants. Murad's favorites are products that contain pomegranate extract and vitamin C, like his Essential-C Daily Renewal Complex. The next step up is a chemical peel to reveal your newer, younger skin below. Or check in with your doctor to bring in the big guns: fractionated laser treatment to brighten dull, wrinkled skin and up collagen production. Sunscreen is even more important than usual, since when you're stressed, "the dead cell layer on the skin's surface becomes thin, with microscopic holes in it," which can't protect as well against aging UV rays, says Murad.

Marcus Ohlsson/


Sure, topical treatments can offer temporary benefits, but you can slather on as much retinol as you want and still create a forehead crevasse if tension keeps your heart rate on par with that of a neurotic hummingbird. Experts agree that some of the most effective long-term ways to improve your skin are to chill out and to drink more water, though they offer a variety of methods for finding your Zen place.
"It's very easy for me to tell a patient to reduce her stress, but it's not so easy for her to go home and do that," says Hirsch. "The most critical step is realizing what your stress triggers are and then creating a plan for dealing with them. That could mean setting specific times twice a day to check your e-mail inbox, taking a weeklong Twitter holiday, or outsourcing what projects you can. It is really helpful to set limited, achievable goals so you don't always feel like you're falling behind. You may not clean all the closets in your house, but maybe you can organize your sweaters for winter."
Crazy-high expectations for yourself and being obsessed with perfection are a recipe for stress that many people handle with a bag of chips or a brownie. No, chocolate doesn't cause acne, but "processed foods can worsen skin by causing inflammation," says Murad. Instead, reach for snacks that can actually improve your complexion, like raw fruits and vegetables, thanks to their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. (The fact that they'll keep you in your current jeans size is a double bonus.) "If you have redness, stay away from spicy food and shellfish, since they can cause blood vessels to flare," says Wexler. A good bet is whole-grain crackers or pasta. "To encourage collagen production, I eat whole grains plus foods rich in amino acids, like eggs, beans, and seeds. Eating cold-water fish and almonds, which contain omega-3's, will help dry skin," says Murad.
Murad also recommends ways to reduce stressed-out skin that are more touchy-feely--literally. "Hands-on therapies like Reiki, craniosacral bodywork, and even hugging a friend help. I actually refer my patients to get massages," he says. Other experts recommend visual imagery of your "happy place," behavioral modifications like tensing and then relaxing each area of your body one by one, and doing yoga--so long as you get a teacher who doesn't point out your wrinkles.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

American Anxiety and How Yoga Can Help

There is a great article, American Anxiety: Why we're such a nervous nation on Today. com this week. And by "great," I mean important and yes, somewhat anxiety-inducing in and of itself.

As the article detailed how anxiety has become a problem for many of us, how our thoughts race, our hearts pound, blood pressure sky rockets, and we lay awake plagued by insomnia and worries, I felt my own pulse pick up and thoughts start to race--ironically getting anxious about my anxiety.

Anxiety about anxiety? Surely, that is a level-two problem. And by "level two," I obviously mean, "crazy person problem."

Oh well, according to the article, I'd be in good company.

Here's the thing though: when I'm not reading anxiety-inducing articles about anxiety, I'm actually fairly calm. Or at least calmer than I used to be, which was a high blood-pressure insomniac with a racing heart. But over the years, I've used wine, more wine, gallons of wine yoga as a tool to lower my anxiety and its many unpleasant side effects.

Here's how you can too.

  1. Got an extra hour a day (and no injuries)? (If injured, proceed directly to #3)
    Take a yoga class. One with lots of core work will help burn off that agida.
  2. Are you LOL at the idea of having an extra hour? No problem. Got 15 minutes?
    Do five rounds of sun salutations as follows:
    • Stand with your big toes together (or hip-width apart) and heels slightly wider. Take a deep, slow inhale and sweep your arms up slowly. Exhale slowly, drawing your palms to your heart. Set an intention for yourself. Maybe it's "Ground myself." Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, engage your core and slooooowly fold at the hips, bringing the hands toward the floor. Bend your knees to get there. Inhale half-way up to a long spine, pressing the palms against the shins. Sloooooowly exhale out, bending the knees and bringing the palms back down to the floor.
    • Inhale and step the right foot back to a low lunge. Exhale slooooowly. stay here.
    • On the next inhale, lift the left foot and then hold here in a "knee hanging" high plank for 3 cycles of breath. Lift the navel to the spine for extra core work. Breathe slooooowly and deeply, extending the exhale.
    • After three cycles, step back to high plank on your exhale. Keep the elbows slightly bent.
    • Next inhale draw the right knee to the right elbow, exhale slowly return to high plank. Inhale and draw the left knee to the left elbow, exhale and step back. SLOWLY repeat on both sides.
    • Are your arms shaking? Oh good--it's working.
    • Inhale and draw the knees down to the floor (or stay on your toes in your name is Clark Kent or you're freakishly strong). Inhale and drop the chest only to elbow-height. Stay here, with the hips high, for 3 cycles of slow, steady breath. Keep extending the exhale.
    • On your next inhale, breathe through to an upward-facing dog. Take a cycle of breath here. Release the shoulders down, away from the ears. Release any tension they're holding.
    • Tuck the toes under and with strong core engagement, lift the hips first up and then back to downward facing dog or child's pose. Stay here for 5 breaths.
    • Inhale, walk the palms back to the toes. Stay here for a breath. Then roll slowly back up to standing.
    Repeat this 4 times.

    Next, sit down (on the floor, on your desk chair, anywhere). Close your eyes and breathe 5 cycles of extended exhale breathing. Return to your intention. Open the eyes. You're done!
  3. Got 1-5 minutes?
    1. Do one sun salutation (above) OR
    2. Sit. Think of what's stressing you out and take a deep breath. Exhale (extending it longer than your inhale) and flick your hands as though you're trying to get something off of them (you are--the stress!). Also know as the "there's no paper towels in the restroom flick." Repeat 3-5 times. Now, settle into extended exhale breathing with the eyes closed, concentrating on your new-found wellness.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Punctuationasana: A Guest Post by Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares

Confession time: Guys, I'm super excited today. No, not about tomatoes (although they ARE exciting), or gardening, or my latest brush with crazy. No, today I'm excited because I'm featuring my very first guest post! Yay! {confetti}

Self-proclaimed grammar nerd, yogini, author, blogster, and all-around hilarious gal about town Jenny Baranick is sharing her thoughts on Punctuationasana. Read on to learn how yoga and punctuation intersect in ways you've never even imagined, then check out her blog, laugh your asana off, and then waste absolutely no time in logging onto amazon and ordering her book

I've already ordered my copy because Krishna knows I don't want any unplanned or unwanted grammar mistakes (and neither should you, so get ordering!). And full disclosure, I've never actually met Jenny and no, she's not slipping me commissions (she has to save every penny towards her dream pad, the 50 Shades of Grey Apartment, after all). I stumbled across Jenny's blog a while back and am genuinely excited for her book and the chance to support a fellow up and coming author.


I tend to subscribe to the “live and let live” philosophy—except when it comes to yoga. I am super annoying because I try to push yoga on everyone. However cliché this sounds, yoga has enhanced my life in every imaginable way—physically, mentally, and spiritually—so, sue me:  I think the world would be a better place if everyone had healthy lower backs, a calm mind, and a generous spirit. 

For a while there, I thought yoga teaching was my calling. I took a teacher training course, and I did even teach it for a while. But around the same time I began teaching, I fell in love with writing, and I felt that I had to choose because both yoga and writing would be full-time disciplines. So I chose to pursue writing as a career and take yoga classes instead of teaching it.

My first writing endeavor is the recently released grammar book Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares.  (I’m also an English teacher.) And here’s what I realized: grammar and yoga actually have a lot in common—ending punctuation in particular.

For example, Child’s Pose (Balasana) looks kind of like a period, doesn’t it? 

And like a period provides a nice long pause between sentences, we often come into Balasana when we need a nice long break between poses. 

If you use your imagination a bit, Chair Pose (Utkatasana) looks kind of like a question mark: 

And perhaps it’s no coincidence that when I am in Utkatasana I find myself asking this question: Why am I in this pose that is burning my thighs when I could be home on the couch?

And Head Stand (Sirsasana) looks like an exclamation point:            

And when I am in Sirsasana, I often feel like exclaiming, “Hey, Mom! Look at me! I’m upside down!”

Who knew yoga could be so nerdy! Or that punctuation could be so spiritual!

About the Author

Jenny Baranick teaches English composition, critical thinking, and a remedial English class called Writing Skills at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Consistently shocked at the poor grammar of her students, in January 2010, Jenny started her popular Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares blog.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Caprese Salad: Simple, Classic, Delightful...and Fresh from the Garden!

The garden bounty continues and this week the featured delights are tomatoes and basil...which means it's time for homemade Caprese Salad.

Simple, easy, classic and utterly delicious. Chop some tomatoes and fresh mozzerella, slice some basil, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of vinegar (I'm into white balsamic right now), sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. #amazing!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Love in the Time of Yoga

OK so ever since Super-Fit Dude showed up in my class for the first time a few months ago, I've thought he might be a good match for Super Cute Girl (SCG). SCG had mentioned at one point that she was single and would be thrilled to be matched to a great guy. Naturally, I called her over under the guise of introducing a regular student, "should he have any questions about the class or me as a teacher," (like, for instance, exactly how awesome I am?)

I saw sparks in that way that you know for sure two people have a connection and fanned them whenever I got a chance in overt, embarrassing, annoying subtle, secret ways handed down from the ancient yoga sages.

Cut to last night, I noticed Super-Fit Dude reaching over and drinking out of Super Cute Girl's eco-friendly water bottle.

Hmmm. Now, I know I'm a germ-phobe, but I'm pretty sure that that is not standard fellow-student behavior. (If someone ever drank out of my bottle, it would yoga ass-kicking time.)

Well, today I got an (unsolicited) confession: they're totally dating! Yoga love is in bloom in one of my classes. Yay!

Most importantly, they've already worked out a dating pre-nup. If things don't work out, she gets custody of me/my class. Love it!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Challenge Accepted

This week, I want to share a TEDx (self-organized TED event) talk that I really enjoyed for a few reasons:
  1.  This guy is a brilliant public speaker.I challenge you NOT to laugh at least once
  2. What he's talking about is really cool and thought-provoking
  3. He gives you some tricks to try at home (which I am trying--who doesn't want to make their brain 30% more efficient?!)

And in case you run into technical difficulties, here's the link:

I've issued myself a 21-day challenge: I'm trying to three things to be grateful for and the one positive experience journaling exercises as well as meditation. Care to join me in any or all? We'll report back in 3 weeks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What to Grow in Your Garden

Recently, I spent a lovely summer evening sipping white wine out on the deck with my friend Meredith. In between catching up on riveting details on our respective puppies (I don't need to remind you of Pelu's adorableness...or maybe I do; she just started fostering puppies for her friend's rescue mission at kill shelters--I know, I know! SO awesome!!), she regarded my garden dubiously.

Finally, after a courage-building sip, she said, "I've always wanted to try having a garden, but I need to start slowly. What do you recommend?"

No question: HERBS! Herbs are hearty, easy to grow, and most rewarding to all gardeners, are easily incorporated into dinner.

This summer, I'm growing parsley, rosemary, oregano, dill, and pots and pots of basil. In fact, I'm growing three sorts of basil just to compare them: traditional Genovese basil that you'd use in Italian dishes, Thai basil that you'd presumably use in Thai cooking (I'm a novice there, stay tuned), and Aussie sweet basil. I have no idea what that means or should be used for--consider yourself forewarned.

This weekend, two Australian friends stayed with us and we spent Friday night cooking dinner, drinking wine, listening to music, and laughing. (Note: these activities should be thoroughly mixed at all times.) On the menu: pesto fresh from the garden. The three of us headed out there (Pelu supervised) and picked a colander full of Genovese basil which I then whipped into a batch of pesto and served with a side of sauteed collard greens (also from the garden) and roasted beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes (also organic but not from my garden).

So easy. So healthy. So delicious!

Pesto basics:
Nuts (traditional recipes call for pine nuts, I like almonds instead. Can also use walnuts). About 1/3 cup.
Parmesan cheese (freshly grated). 1/2-1 cup.
Basil! 2 cups.
Garlic - 2+ cloves depending on your taste
Olive oil. Traditional recipes call for 2/3 cup. I like to substitute pasta water to make it healthier.
Salt and pepper to taste. I like it salty and peppery.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta of your choice. Sometimes I use fun shapes of traditional pasta. Sometimes I use brown rice pasta for a gluten-free option if a guest needs it or I just want to change it up.

As it's cooking, hand grate the cheese or run it through your food processor with the shredder attachment. Put aside in a big bowl. Change to the blade option and throw the basil, garlic, and nut in. Blend until pureed. Add the cheese and drizzle olive oil in to keep the pesto from sticking to the sides. Remember that you can do this with pasta water as a substitute to cut calories and keep it healthier. Add salt and pepper.

When the pasta's done, RESERVE AT LEAST 1 cup of PASTA WATER!! Then drain the pasta and throw in a big bowl. Add the pasta water into the food processor to thin it out (you want it soupy but not too thin), then pour it over the pasta. Voila! Healthy easy dinner in less than 20 minutes!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stillness and the Super-Fit Dude

There has been an influx of new students in my classes recently. Some are new to yoga, others are just new to my class, but the bottom line is the new students have been outnumbering the regulars.

This always happens in the beginning of January with "The New Year Resolutioners." I expect it in January. But it's the middle of July! What gives? (Besides the fact that word of my awesomeness is obviously spreading, natch).

Anyway, an influx of newbies usually means disaster that it won't be the best class. The newness of students (both new to yoga and new to me) often means they'll struggle in my class: alignment will be crappy, mindfulness noticeably absent, and frustrations (theirs) high. (More on this another day.)

But last night, for some reason (I could delve into my yoga theories on why but I'm feeling merciful today so I'll spare you), this particular class was amazing. Amazing! The kind of mindful, hardworking, beautiful class that makes teaching feel vital and joyful and worthwhile.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one to notice. Two new students came up to me after class, dizzy with their yoga buzz, and gushed about how awesome they felt. I wonder if they'll ever come back. Then two regulars came up, yoga buzzed and somewhat puzzled, and said, "That was an especially awesome class!"

We talked about why there were so many new people (a mystery) and why the class had been so mellow (also mysterious). Then one of them, a super-fit dude (who I'll call Super-Fit Dude) who looks like he'd be more at home busting out a triathalon than triangle pose, hesitated. "I actually had a vision tonight in savasana," he finally confided, looking a little uncomfortable. He looked like he's usually more comfortable debating the merits of muscle milk vs. protein shakes.

I tried to lift my jaw off the floor. "Really? Uh...I mean that's great."

"Yeah, it was like my mind went totally blank and I had no thoughts and just peace at the end." He tried to sound like it was no big thing but his face said, What the heck happened to me??!!

I could barely contain my glee/amazement. "That's awesome!! That's what yoga's all about! That's what everyone's trying to get to!!"

I stared at him. Didn't he know? This what monks and meditators and yogis and Buddhists and Hindus and seekers of all kinds are trying to get to: mental stillness! peace!no more monkey chatter!

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which is like the yoga bible, maps out an eight-limb system. Its first lines, in Sanskrit, obv, are: "Atha yoganusasanam. Yogas chitta vritti nerodaha." Which, as I learned it, translate to: "And now the continuation of yoga (teachings). The goal of yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind."

Holy crap. Super-Fit Dude chitta (mind) vritti (restless fluctuations) nerodahah'd (ceased/stilled)? That's amazing!!

"Well, only for like a few minutes," he demurred modestly.

OK, this bears repeating: Super-Fit Dude chitta vritti nerodahah'd! That's freaking awesome. I'm not sure who was more surprised: Super-Fit Dude or Super Fit-Dude's teacher!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beans and the Art of Bunny Massage

Last week I was just coming back from the LA Film Festival where I was teaching yoga and doing PR for Dead Man's Burden.

This week I'm harvesting green beans and administering therapeutic massage for a geriatric bunny. Ah, how the mighty have fallen.

I kid! I kid! But not about the bunny massage. Or the beans. Those parts are true.

First things first. In my excitement about actually being able to have a garden this year, and in my delight at being surrounded by green in the heart of a city, I neglected to note that the beautiful green bean blossoms I've been enjoying looking at turned from mere blossoms into real beans! This is partly due to the fact that the bushy leaves of the bean plants hide their bounty well. This is also due to the fact that I didn't realize the blossom to bean process was so fast.

Let me tell you--if you are not already growing something (anything!) you should get going and start growing because there is literally nothing as satisfying as growing your own food. Also, there is nothing as delicious. I promise nothing will taste better.

So get thee to a garden center pronto! It's cheaper than therapy and also more enjoyable.

Now on to the bunny massage. Yes, there is such a thing. My friend Dee is on vacation and while she's gone, I'm on bunny patrol. You see, Dee, the plant-loving, animal-loving, big-hearted lover of all live things, adopted two rescue bunnies. Due to her TLC, one bunny has lived to an advanced age (an estimated 14?) unheard of in the rabbit world. He is totally blind in one eye, mostly blind in the other and may or may not have survived a stroke. And yet he lives on, because he is loved and cared for.

Also, he receives a daily massage to incentivize him to keep living. And when Dee isn't there to tend to him, it's yours truly who steps up to the plate.

Dee trained me in the art of bunny massage, which consists of massaging him flanks to bunny nose, in order to keep him engaged and committed to life. The crazy thing works!! This tiny elderly bunny will be mid old-man nap when I arrive. But he promptly comes out of his peaceful doze and starts eating/grooming/hopping around as soon as his massage begins. Which makes me wonder if we all shouldn't be getting daily therapeutic massages...

And on that note, I'm off to the hutch.

Yes, this is actually my life. I'm not sure how.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Yoga and PR at the LA Film Festival

Just back from LA--jet-lagged, bleary-eyed, and still not sure which coast or time zone I'm in. BUT the trip and the LA Film Festival (LAFF), where I flexed my PR and yoga muscles, were pretty awesome. 

NOTE: "LAFF" is pronounced letter by letter "L-A-F-F" not "laugh."And with that I hope I can spare someone else a bit of mortification. Not that I'd ever make such an uber-geek gaffe. Ahem. {whistles, looks everywhere else}

Anyway, you may recall from my very first post ever that once upon a time, I was a corporate drone/PR maven. Then I realized I was les miserables and I traded cubicles for yoga mats.

Truth be told though, I still do PR work. The difference is that now I work on a freelance basis, which means I get to choose my clients and projects. Currently, one of those projects is Dead Man's Burden, an independent film that debuted this past Saturday at LAFF. It was a huge success--the first showing sold out (actually the Festival over-sold it by 30 tickets and thus had to deal with 30 extremely disgruntled ticket-holders who had nowhere to sit!), the reviews have been AMAZING, and the after-party, planned by yours truly, was described as the best industry party ever.

And you know as well as I do that LA/film people are only ever brutally honest. They'd tell you if your party sucked. (Wait...right? Um...guys?? RIGHT??!!)

When I wasn't working the premiere, I was teaching yoga to LAFF attendees, cast, and crew.

I was excited to bring my brand of yoga teaching to LA for the first time, to see how it resonated, and what people thought. The students seemed to react to it with a mix of, "Holy crap this hard!" to "I've never done yoga before--this rocks!"

As for me, it was a brain-twizzling experience to merge my two selves (or two of my selves, my author self stayed home) and blend PR and yoga. Previously, I thought that'd be like ice cream and ketchup (yuck). Turns out, it's more like ice cream and chocolate. It works!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Yoga Olympics

Seventy-five people from 24 countries competed in the 2012 Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup, an international yoga asana (poses) championship. Of course, I could seize this opportunity to leap onto my soapbox and preach about how the goal of yoga is inward-gazing, and howyoga isn't  supposed to be about competitiveness...or how these poses look downright scary/potentially destructive to the bodies that execute them, but really, you should just click on over to The New York Times article and slideshow and check it out for yourself. See what you think.

One thing is for sure: even thought I'm a yoga teacher, this body of mine could never, ever, ever do the things that these bodies are doing. And while I might marvel at what they can do, in the same way that I also might marvel at Cirque du Soliel exhibition of what human bodies can accomplish, I don't feel a single bit of disappointment that I can't do what they can do. I don't feel like any less of a yogi. And the very simple reason for that is that the benefit I've experienced through my yoga practice has been a therapeutic one.  I've used yoga for years as a way to dial down anxiety and stress, to stoke creativity, to alleviate back pain, and to serve as a refuge to escape to when the rest of my life necessitates an escape.

The fact that I feel better--body and mind--is enough of a "win" for me.

What about you? How (if at all) do you use yoga? Or other mind-body practices?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Gardening Haiku (and update)

A Gardening Haiku
Plants so green! Love! Yay!
Look! Future veggies! Love! Yay!
Back aching. Ouch. Boo.

In a frenzy of excitement over the fact that I get summer sun, I rushed to the nearest garden center over-bought far too many plants. I gave about half to my garden buddy, Dee. Then I did what any garden-addict does--I bought more pots to keep up with my habit.

Specifically, I bought more Earthboxes. In my experience, they're unmatchable when it comes to space-challenged urban gardens and high, high yield. I think I got 150 eggplants from 2 plants last summer. And I could've had more if I'd kept on top of picking them. But I got overwhelmed (there IS only so much eggplant you can eat, after all) and let them sit on the vine, reducing the plant's ability to grow more. I won't be making that mistake this year. I'll set up a farmstand on the sidewalk if I have to.

They arrived yesterday and Dee and I set them up and planted  them until well into the night. Note: Planting past 10 p.m. by dim porchlight (really no light at all) is a definite sign of gardening addiction.

Anyway, the garden is now complete for the Summer 2012 Season (except for the fact that I owe reciprocal planting to Dee next week, a fact that my lower back heartily protests).

Let the growing begin!