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Why Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. ~James Levine, professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the phrase sitting is the new smoking for years without really understanding it. Regular exercise is important, as we all know. But why has sitting been compared to smoking, a habit often started while young, that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, harms almost every organ in the body and results in more than 7 million yearly deaths worldwide?  Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, the site statesThat proclamation inspired an aha moment: the comparison is due to the vast number of resulting ill effects which can be prevented.

Hoping these images motivate you to do some moving outside! (Sedona, AZ)

From the Mayo Clinic, Research has documented that sitting for long periods of time is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and anxiety.  Additionally, too much sitting leads to decreased hip mobility, tighter hip flexors, and weaker legs, the article says, setting the stage for falls in aging adults.  Further, a sedentary lifestyle leads to a thinning of the part of the brain where memory is formed.  Reading about all the harm I could be doing my body has motivated me to break up the time I spend sitting in front of my laptop. 

This big dude was surveying the lay of the land, maybe looking for a little lunch. (The Grand Canyon)

But that’s not all.  According to an article on Harvard Health Publishing, a newer study shows the more hours spent sitting at work, driving, lying on the couch watching TV, or engaging in other (sedentary) pursuits, the greater the odds of dying early from all causes.  This applies even when the subjects exercise regularly.  Pretty frightening, I’d say, especially with the constraints of covid that have dominated for almost 2 years.

Looking over Northern Arizona from the San Francisco Peaks

So why does prolonged perching result in so much damage?  The Heart Foundation offers a few explanations: blood flow decreases, the possibility for blood clots increases, fat processing slows considerably, and insulin resistance becomes more likely.  The Hydration Foundation offers another reason: the miles of fascia in our bodies, serving as connective tissue between all of our organs, joints, muscles, etc., also acts as our personal irrigation system.  It’s up to us to hydrate (see last week’s post for more on that) and help our fascia move that water to all cells for their daily processing.  When this is not done, our cells struggle and can malfunction, leading to the harmful/fatal effects mentioned above. 

Tree beauty on the edge of the Grand Canyon

So, what to do?  When you are unable to stand, moving your shoulders, neck, legs, & feet and stretching (see my post on favorite yoga poses, most of which can be done seated) are beneficial, because all movement contributes to healthy functioning.  But whenever possible, break up your sitting every half hour with a few minutes of marching in place, walking, or some other activity to get your blood pumping and your internal water moving deep into your cells.  This keeps your body happy and in active mode during waking hours, fostering prolonged good health.

I love this twisted tree. If you’ll look hard to the left, you’ll see snow in the background – a first for me at the GC!

Making daily efforts to move more and sit less not only adds years to your life, but also contributes to good physical & mental health for the present and future.  The power to prevent many undesirable outcomes is in your hands.  Whether you’re 25 or 85, don’t allow sitting to become your new smoking.

You can’t afford to get sick, and you can’t depend on the present health care system to keep you well. It’s up to you to protect and maintain your body’s innate capacity for health and healing by making the right choices in how you live. ~Andrew Weil, MD

Many thanks to our visiting family last week who gave us the opportunity to show off some of the immense beauty of this area! (And, some of these photos may have been taken by them, so thanks again!)

Kinetic Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Hydration – Does It Really Matter?

It’s a glorious, sunny day here in Arizona.  But it’s dry.  Always dry.  As much as I dislike the humidity of the East Coast and the South, the dry cold (and heat) is a challenge for me as well.  So as I write, I’m hydrating by drinking a huge breakfast smoothie made with lots of fruits, veggies, & coconut water.  

Due to unfavorable experiences brought about by exercising in this climate, I have in recent years taken a deep dive into the science of hydration.  During college, I read Dr. F. Batmanghelidj’s Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, and it made a lasting impression, with information on how chronic dehydration can result in high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pain, asthma, allergies, etc.  However, since I hadn’t heard anything in the media or read other books supporting these ideas, I concluded that the body’s need for hydration couldn’t possibly be that critical.  Otherwise, we’d all know about it.  Right? 

Wrong. Decades of studying holistic health, both Eastern & Western paradigms, has taught me that much of the information we most need is not very publicized or, if it does happen to make a media appearance, a campaign of propaganda is often initiated to cause us to believe otherwise. Many times this is done in the name of profit, and usually to the detriment of our health and environment.  Or, the propaganda has been around for a lifetime and it’s really difficult to believe anything different.  (Prime examples include the myths that we should all eat a high-protein diet and that dairy is essential for healthy teeth and bones.)  Dehydration creates a great many problems in the human body, driving the need for pharmaceuticals, a trillion dollar industry.

You may have read other posts I’ve shared touching on why proper hydration is such a big deal. Our body is composed of more than 2/3 water. Each one of the mind-boggling number of cellular processes that occur within us requires water, according to Dr. Gerald Pollack, at the University of Washington’s Pollack Lab. Hydration influences our abilities to remember & feel energized, our cells’ capacity to clear debris vs. generate inflammation, and our power of creativity. (Check out my post Water: The Miraculous Molecule for more on these benefits.) It is essential for strong immunity, youthful aging, and proper cellular communication. It works to space blood cells, assisting with heart and kidney functions. It helps with elimination. And due to the fact that hydration helps the body run more efficiently, it also assists with weight loss.

Dr. Zach Bush, a triple board-certified physician, says that virtually all of us are chronically dehydrated.  Pretty strong assertion, right?  At his clinic in Virginia, he offers a device called a Phase Angle that measures the ability of cells to hold an electrical charge, which translates into an individual’s hydration level.  Dr. Bush says typically, a patient’s results are less than 7 on a scale that tops out at 10, even those considered healthy.  His cancer patients generally show a result of 4.5 or less, and those scoring nearer the 3.5 mark are usually close to death.  And improvement is not something that happens quickly.  A full year of committed lifestyle changes may increase your score by only 1/2 point.  For me, this brings the importance of proper daily hydration to the forefront.  Does it change your thinking?

My understanding of proper hydration has been broadened by listening to The Hydration Solution Summit from the Hydration Foundation and reading the book Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration coauthored by the podcast host, Gina Bria, and Dana Cohen, MD.  Interestingly, Bria is an anthropologist who has studied desert dwellers to learn their hydration secrets. The lessons from the podcast and the book are most practical, like the fact that (most) fruits & some vegetables like celery & cucumbers are more hydrating than plain water; fresh lemon juice and/or Himalayan salt added to water mineralizes it, making it easier for our cells to absorb; and placing your water in a glass in direct sunlight supercharges it, upping its hydration capacity. The eight glasses of plain water a day that most of us believe we need is no longer the best recommendation, Bria says. This is due to decades of heavy chemical exposure and tap water being forced through less than ideal city water systems & home pipes.  

Staying on top of your hydration needs is one of the best things you can do to assist your body with optimal function. If you’re suffering with health issues, there’s a good chance that getting and staying hydrated will help you feel better. You can’t always assume the media will share the health info that truly benefits you & your family. Don’t sell your health short: hydrate and thrive!

Blessings for Hydration,

Lisa

The original version of this post, entitled Hydration – No Really, was my first-ever blog post on WordPress, back in March of 2020. Thank you for reading (and if you’re reading for a second time, thank you for sticking around!)

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Working Toward Oneness: Empathy for All

I’ve just finished Dr. Aysha Akhtar’s book Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies. I had seen it referenced in other books I’ve read this year, and assumed reading it would be akin to reading poetry.  How I came to that expectation, I’m not sure, but it was most inaccurate; the author writes about animal & child abuse, the deplorable conditions of factory farms, and how violence toward animals is often commonplace for serial killers. The information is vital, the kind of knowledge that each of us should posses, but it’s hard not to wince at the recurrent brutality presented.

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. ~St. Francis of Assisi

My little climbing friend who believes the contents of the bird feeder are just for him! I think he enjoys entertaining us, too.

Dr. Akhtar has examined studies and done her own research on the direct correlation between savagery toward animals and violence toward humans.  In the chapter of her book entitled The Making of a Murderer, she describes face-to-face conversations with Keith Jesperson, a man serving life in prison due to the rape and murder of 8 women.  Prior to the age of 10, Jesperson’s father encouraged and praised him for killing animals.  He estimates that he clubbed to death thousands of gophers, sometimes with his dad laughing & recording the attacks on video.  Later, he moved on to strangling and stabbing domestic animals when they didn’t act in accordance to his will, and poisoning a flock of about 50 birds for soiling his truck.  Dr. Akhtar’s chilling accounts of these & other stories from Jesperson’s upbringing demonstrate a young mind being primed for murder.

Psychologist Frank Ascione, an authority on the connection between animal cruelty and other violent acts, says animal abuse may be part of the history of between 25% and 66% of hardened criminals.  A propensity for violence is common for those carrying out the sanctioned killing of animals, as well.  According to the university paper Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates, areas with a high number of slaughterhouse workers have more than twice the problems with crime than areas with none.  In her book, Dr. Akhtar shares quotes from past and present employees of slaughterhouses that reveal the extreme attitude of indifference they had to develop during their job of stabbing or beating animals to death. More and more studies are showing that compartmentalizing such apathy is not possible: it spills over into our personal lives.

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. ~George Bernard Shaw

A beloved Aunt in Montana shared these cuties

Animal Clock is an organization that was created to bring attention to the incredible number of animals currently suffering on factory farms.  According to their calculations, over 42 billion animals have been killed for food in the US alone so far this year, including over 8 billion chickens, 23 million ducks, 36 million cattle, and 124 million pigs.  Dr. Akhtar writes, If there is a trait that truly distinguishes us from other animals, it’s this: No other species is as capable of self-deceit as humans.  We ignore what affronts our worldview.  We disbelieve what we can’t ignore.  We rationalize what we can’t disbelieve.  “These things happen.  They’re necessary.  It’s not as bad as we think.”  And most dangerous of all, “it’s normal.”

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men. ~Alice Walker, American novelist & social activist

Our empathy is divided: the thought of eating our beloved pets is outrageous, but a slab of flesh from another species is a different story.  Many of us still buy products that have been tested on lab rats.  We purchase leather items, never pausing to think of the animal who unwillingly donated that skin.  It is important to realize all animals are sentient creatures: they love, experience joy, support each other, learn, get excited, mourn, and console as needed.  By purchasing meats and other animal-derived products, we disregard their endearing, human-like qualities and cast a vote for continued violence. 

Our Symphony with Animals shows that animal abuse is often found along the same path as human brutality.  I believe Mahatma Gandhi was spot-on when he said the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Holding ourselves accountable for respecting the lives of all animals could be the panacea for reducing overall violence.

Blessings for Empathy,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Nature’s Supreme Design

Is it your face
that adorns the garden?
Is it your fragrance
that intoxicates this garden? Is it your spirit
that has made this brook
a river of wine?
Hundreds have looked for you and died searching
in this garden
where you hide behind the scenes.
But this pain is not for those who come as lovers.
You are easy to find here. You are in the breeze
and in this river of wine.
~Rumi

I started taking an online gardening course a few weeks ago, and the new learning has inspired an abundance of thoughts on the attributes we share with plants, including an ultra-intelligent design.  In their work of supporting other forms of life, including ours, plants breathe, age, make hormones, reproduce, and employ highly developed means for adapting to environmental conditions. The overarching theme here at Micro of the Macro is recognizing our oneness with Nature, and in this post, I want to share a few specific thoughts on the ways in which we imbibe this intelligent design we’re so blessed to inhabit.

Crater Lake, Oregon

In the spring, we had our backyard landscaped.  Tiny plants were placed in the soil, so small that I thought they would need a couple years before growing large enough to really add to the aesthetics.  Although they are irrigated daily, I didn’t notice much growth until our monsoons started.  And even though the rains were light this year, the plants shot up, sometimes inches a day.  I’ve never seen anything like it!  Nature’s watering system seems to be the preferred moisture of our green, rooted friends.

Unfortunately, we are already dealing with plant-decimating pests. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants reveals how pests were controlled by Native Americans prior to the advent of pesticides.  (Learn a bit more about her beautiful book in this post.)  The secret was The Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash planted together, surrounding other plants; various bugs were attracted to the sisters and attacked each other, leaving the plants to thrive. I don’t believe most modern-day landscapers consider such methods. And the current widespread farming practice of mono-cropping attracts pests for the singular crop planted, making pesticides necessary. (This brings to mind a beautiful documentary I’ve recently watched, called The Biggest Little Farm. If you are a grower, you’ll find its lessons most practical.)

In addition to light, water and protection from pests, plants also need carbon, oxygen, & hydrogen; primary and secondary nutrients like potassium & magnesium; and macro- and micronutrients like nitrogen & iron. It is due in large part to their nutrient requirements that they benefit us internally. The effects on our bodies of eating plants is totally different than eating processed pseudo foods.  The reason for that is the huge number of microbes we host.  About 99% of our genes are their genes, according to Drs. Justin & Erica Sonnenburg from Stanford University School of Medicine.  Most of those microbes reside in our guts and control much of our thoughts on food and, therefore, the possible consequences of obesity and disease. Our microbes flourish on real, unprocessed foods, and when they are happy & healthy, so are we.  But when we eat processed foods, the microbiome population is altered adversely, resulting in unhealthy cravings.  And I’m sure you, like I, have battled unhealthy cravings at some point!  (For more on these ideas, check out my post Little-Know Weight Loss Strategies.)

In our external environment, plants help manage the continuation of life on the planet. Jim Robbins, author of The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, writes that plants absorb not only carbon dioxide, but also various other pollutants that might otherwise end up in our lungs. The root system of trees can render harmless toxic wastes, and their trunks and canopies help control the distribution of flooding rain and searing heat. They generate over 100 chemicals that benefit not only their own species, but also animals, including humans.  Plants are vital to our existence.  Their ongoing destruction in the name of progress is paradoxical and shortsighted.  How much more green life can be destroyed before the reduced oxygen supply and increased unabsorbed pollution and carbon affect us directly?  Could it be that our bodies, much like our environment, are already struggling from the harmful changes brought about by these practices?

Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature, unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping. ~Hubert Reeves, Canadian Astrophysicist

Reading over the paragraphs I’ve written, I can’t help but notice a common thread of human arrogance. What prompted us to decide that human intelligence is superior to that of other life forms?  Why did we feel the need to turn away from the old ways, those of honoring and respecting Nature that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples practiced?

Big Sur, California

The intelligence of all of Nature is astounding, and we are privileged to be a part of it.  Keeping in mind our shared design can go a long way in changing paradigms and ensuring our existence for future generations.  Our very lives, and those of our children, depend on it.

Blessings for Recognizing Oneness,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Escaping Normal

Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled . . . And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

The road to Taos & the Chama River

With many hardships of the pandemic still looming, I think a great many of us would like to escape our new normal. Would you agree?

I recently watched Into the Wild, which is based on a true story. I had never seen a preview or read the book, but fell in love with “Society” & a couple other songs from the soundtrack, sung by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and knew I had to see the film. A Rolling Stone journalist wrote that the songs temper the romance of absolute freedom with an eerie foreboding. A perfect description.

Another view of the Rio Chama

The movie, written and directed by Sean Penn, documents the cross-country journey of a young Emory University graduate, Christopher McCandless, after having given up most of his savings, credit cards, and other worldly possessions. During his travels, his heart is flung wide open by beauty, simple living, and some of the colorful characters he meets. Spoiler alert – the movie does not have a happy ending. But if you have ever escaped, or longed to escape, what society considers normal, the spirit of the movie will move you.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion with one’s courage. – Anaïs Nin

Before I left my home in South Florida years ago, I desperately wanted to escape. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be; I did know that it was something and somewhere else. I had lost the job that was my primary source of income. My 5-year romantic relationship had ended. My best friend (of over 15 years) and I had stopped talking. And my favorite (husband & wife) ministers were moving over a thousand miles away. I shared with a Buddhist Monk Energy Healer that I felt the cornerstones of my life had collapsed. He suggested these painful changes were preparing me for a huge shift in my life’s trajectory. He couldn’t have been more accurate.

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, just north of Taos

There is a universal, intelligent life force that exists within . . . as a deep wisdom, an inner knowing. We can access (it) through our intuition, an inner sense that tells us what feels right and true for us at any given moment. – Shakti Gawain

After a few months of depressed isolation and subsisting on Merlot & Häagen-Dazs, I had an epiphany: the Universe MUST have a better plan for me, and it’s up to me to discover it. That insight opened my heart and inspired my determination. Because the idea of traveling had always appealed to me, (and frankly, I didn’t know what else to do) I decided to sell my home and almost all my possessions and hit the road. Once I made that decision, however, I was terrified. I couldn’t even talk about it without crying. I knew in my heart that it was right, but I wrestled with fearful thoughts most days and nights until leaving. Thankfully, once I embarked, a feeling of tranquility came over me almost immediately. The spirit of travel was revealed to me, and a ubiquitous sense of gratitude swelled inside me.

The untamed beauty of Northern New Mexico

On this path let the heart be your guide
for the body is hesitant and full of fear
. – Rumi

My first extended stay was in Taos, New Mexico. I had read about the wild beauty of Taos Mountain, sagebrush, buttes, and canyons, and I longed to see them for myself. Staying at a hostel, I met a group of people of various ages and backgrounds who felt like family after just a couple weeks. That group included a Vietnam Vet from New York who listened to a lot of Grateful Dead. There was a gal from Oregon who was taking a break from college. I met a 30-something guy who lived in a tepee nearby and got around on bicycle. I shared a dorm room with a Texas lady who was fleeing a life that had spiraled out of control. (I’m happy to say we are still friends today.) And, there was a young girl who had fled San Diego after learning her boyfriend had cheated & smashing his car windows. Like a family, we all shared food, rides, ideas, stories, and music. During the day, we explored Taos Ski Valley, the Rio Grande Gorge & the Mesa; drove the Turquoise Trail & visited Durango; and checked out art galleries, unique shops, & the farmers market. In the evening, after sharing meals, we would sit around a fire pit, stare into the mesmerizing flames & savor the sweet smell of the smoke, while one or more of us played guitar. It was a soothing balm for my weary soul.

The Mesa, thick with delightfully-scented sagebrush

For three years, I would continue my journey on the road, staying in hostels, with friends & family, in community, and in my tent. I wintered in northern Florida, and during warmer months, visited California, Washington, Maine and most states between. I hiked hundreds of miles, experienced the love and healing power of Nature, and shot thousands of photos. I explored spectacular mountain ranges, witnessed extraordinary trees, discovered vast fields of wildflowers & breathtaking waters, and often found myself close to wildlife. I learned to love the ascent of a mountain and appreciate geography and topography in general. I met friendly strangers from many countries and learned to cook new foods. And when my big road trip was over, I felt wholly rehabilitated.

I resonate strongly with Christopher McCandless’ story. The beauty, education, kindness, and healing I experienced while traveling permeated every aspect of my being, changing me forever. Escaping the normal life I once had was the best decision I ever made.

The “Mother Road

Blessings for the Unorthodox,

Lisa

The original version of this post was first shared in May of 2020. Thanks for (re)reading!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Rice & Beans Soup with Fresh Oregano

About once a week, I make what I call a kitchen soup (shortened from kitchen sink soup because it just sounds better!)  Fresh farmer’s market finds, veggies that have gone unused from earlier in the week, extra cooked grains, leftover fresh herbs, and sometimes beans go into the mix.  Spices are chosen that will accentuate the ingredients, and, voila, a new concoction is born!  I don’t make note of the ingredients unless the soup is over-the-top tasty.  This recipe is the result of a super tasty one.

I love black beans and rice, and I love soup, but none of the recipes I’ve seen (or tried) for combining the two have appealed to me.  So, I am grateful to the recipe developers, who shall go unnamed, that inspired me with the idea of creating my own! 

Not only is this soup delicious, it has many health-giving properties as well.  According to a write-up on Web MD, black beans are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, iron, folate, and magnesium. Eating them regularly may help in preventing various cancers, protecting eye health, reducing heart attack risk, and even controlling weight and cholesterol.  Further, a Healthline article reveals studies have shown that if people eat black beans with rice, the beans can reduce the rise in blood sugar compared to when people eat rice alone.

According to an article from Medical News Today, oregano has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries for treating many ailments, including colds, indigestion, asthma, and diarrhea. Studies show that the herb contains a host of antioxidants, and has anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties. The article goes on to say that oregano may also be helpful for depression, cramping, allergies, diabetes, and arthritis. It’s a powerful little plant!

Sweet potatoes, I’ve found after years of reading many different sources, are one of the most beneficial foods around.  From the informational page on sweet potatoes at The World’s Healthiest Foods website, one difficulty in describing the health benefits of sweet potatoes is knowing where to begin. I eat them regularly due to their rich content of fiber, Vitamin C, many B vitamins, potassium, and beta carotene.  I also appreciate the fact that they’re anti-inflammatory and good for my gut in various ways.  Not to mention, they are sooooo flavorful!  If you’ve been buying the same type of sweet potato for a while and they don’t seem as sweet as before, try a different kind.  After sampling a few varieties, I’ve landed on a new favorite: the Japanese sweet.  Biting into a morsel of sweetness while eating this spicy soup is sure to make you say mmmmmmmmmm

I’d love to hear if you give the recipe a try!

Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients (use organic and/or non-GMO when possible)
2 tbsp avocado or olive oil
5 med cloves garlic, minced
1 med yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
1 med-large Japanese sweet potato, peeled & med diced
1 jalapeño, seeds removed & minced
2 cups home-cooked or one 15 oz can black beans, partially drained
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
*3 bouillon cubes
*6 cups water
1 med zucchini, med diced
2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
1 heaping cup cooked brown rice
salt to taste

*You may sub 6 cups broth for the bouillon & water, if you’d like.

Directions
Warm the oil over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the next 6 ingredients (garlic – jalapeño.) Stir regularly to prevent garlic from burning and cook for 10 minutes. Add beans and seasonings (turmeric – crushed red pepper) and stir while cooking for 3 minutes. Break up the bouillon cubes over the veggies & add the water, increasing heat to a quick boil. Bring down to a simmer for about 7 minutes, until veggies are firm-tender. Add zucchini & fresh oregano to simmer for 5 minutes. Finally, stir in the cooked brown rice and salt to taste. Allow to warm through, about 3 minutes more.

Serve alongside a green salad with avocado cubes & diced red onion seasoned with salt and fresh lime juice. Enjoy!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Scenes from a Hiking Trail

Are you looking for a little family adventure while you’re not yet comfortable with a return to full-on traveling? Maybe finding a new trail to hike in Nature’s exquisite surroundings can satisfy that yearning while inspiring a little awe.  From prior posts, you know that I love hiking, and I thought it’d be fun to share a few of my favorite trail scenes.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah, is one of the first parks I visited in the American Southwest.  I’ve heard it called the Little Grand Canyon, and at the time of my visit, it was one of the least-visited National Parks.  From various trails, I saw unforgettable colored canyons, interesting rock formations, various wildflowers, and trees with roots growing up to a foot above the ground.  There was even a big, bushy flowered plant that smelled like chocolate cake!  (If ever I learn its name, you can bet I’ll be planting a few around my house!)

Mt. Rainier from behind the pines

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. ~John Muir

Mt. Rainier, Washington’s tallest peak, topping out at 14,411 feet, is about 60 miles south of Seattle.  The region around the mountain is thick with evergreen trees and wildflower meadows, and has several rivers running through it.  Weather in the area is generally rainy, but I was fortunate to catch a couple days of sun and royally blue skies.

Sand dunes behind the vegetation, with the Rocky Mountains in the background

In southern Colorado, much to my surprise, I saw sand, and lots of it.  Great Sand Dunes National Park encompasses 30 square miles of sand dunes, including the tallest ones on the continent, reaching heights of 750 feet.  The area also has its share of 13,000 foot mountains, creeks, cedars, spruce trees, vibrant wildflowers, and diverse wildlife.

Joshua Trees in the desert

Southern California’s Mojave Desert is host to the Joshua Tree (see more about that & other uncommon trees here.)  This tree always makes me smile, due to its formation: sometimes stick straight, but most of the time, twisted with branches going willy-nilly. The surrounding shrubs, sparse multi-colored wildflowers and heaps of small boulders are a perfect backdrop.  If you like deserts, this one is a beauty, but be sure to take lots of water!

Grazing Bison along the Snake River, Wyoming

Ansel Adams, the American landscape artist and environmentalist, gifted us with an amazing photograph of the Grand Tetons overlooking the head waters of the Snake River in Wyoming.  This breathtaking area is home to lots of amazing wildlife.  During hikes there, I saw wolves, moose, bison, elk, and deer.

Devil’s Bridge, Sedona, Arizona

The red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, are one of my favorite winter hiking spots.  High temperatures are usually in the 30’s or 40’s, but at 4000 feet in elevation, the bright sun and low humidity always make it feel much warmer.  There are various rock formations with names like Snoopy Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, Chimney Rock, Bell Rock, and Devil’s Bridge.  The red earth is dotted with vivid green in the form of oak shrubs, sugar bush, junipers and cypress trees.  Nature’s striking contrast of colors could be a reason this area is so popular with tourists.

Near a trail in northern Nevada

Hiking can be a thrilling experience offering magnificent beauty and an opportunity to feel closer to Nature. The scenes I’ve witnessed on hiking trails have awed me, and serve as constant reminders of just how incredible our planet is.  At a time when pandemic uncertainty prevails, exploring new hiking trails may be the perfect family adventure.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~John Muir

Blessings on the Trail,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Water: The Miraculous Molecule

For a substance that seems so simple, there appears to be no end to the functions and benefits of water.  Many have written about it through the ages, including poets, artists, explorers, statesmen, philosophers, and spiritual leaders. They’ve addressed water as our source, as the driving force in Nature, and as a metaphor for the whole of humanity.  Presently, research on the universal solvent may in fact be more popular than ever.  I have touched on the value of water in a few posts, including the ideas of viewing it for inspiration, breathing it to enhance immunity, drinking it for help with looking & feeling younger, and consuming water-rich food and drink to assist with weight loss.  I’ve also shared health benefits of being near a waterfall and at the beach.  Water, whether in our bodies or in our environment, is truly miraculous.

Ft. Lauderdale Beach, Florida

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. ~Jacques Cousteau

Over 70% of our planet is covered in water.  Microscopic plants that live in the sea, called phytoplankton, produce a great deal of the oxygen we breathe and help support the life of all other ocean animals and plants, according to an article from the Davidson Institute of Science Education entitled The Real Lungs of the Earth.  Huge assignments for such tiny sea creatures, wouldn’t you say?

Another kind of sea creature, off the coast of Newport Beach, California

A Senior Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Stephanie Seneff, theorizes that water (in its structured form) is responsible for the ushering of protons into our cells, causing the pH balance of organelles to be altered, making possible functions such as energy production and cellular clean-up.  Debris that is not removed from our cells can cause inflammation, a part of many disease processes.  Dr. Zach Bush, internationally recognized health educator, says that almost all inflammation is the result of dehydration.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite Natl Pk, California

You could be forgiven for concluding that (biology) is all about proteins and genes embodied in DNA. This is only a form of shorthand; for biology is really all about the interactions of such molecules in and with water. ~Phillip Ball, Physicist & Science Writer

Lisa Mosconi, who has a PhD in Neuroscience and Nuclear Medicine, writes in her book Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power that our brains are composed of about 80% water, and every single chemical reaction therein involves its molecules.  Lack of proper hydration, she says, causes the brain to shrink, setting the stage for Alzheimer’s Disease.  I have discovered recently that when my memory is not at its best, eating & drinking substances with a high water and mineral content quickly restores my ability to recall.  See this link for my write-up on proper hydration.

Sunset over Lake Mary, Northern Arizona

In a TEDx talk, Gillian Ferrabee, Director of the Creative Lab at Cirque Du Soleil Media, equates the idea of water in our fascia with our flow of imagination, consciousness, and creativity.  (I’ve also read other sources that have broached the subject of water as consciousness.) Ferrabee says when she and her fellow creatives are blocked, they dance it out!  Dancing (or any kind of movement, actually) helps distribute water within the fascia network of our bodies, and this increased flow prompts new ideas, she states.   Could be a fun solution to a case of writer’s block!

Water is in many ways responsible for life on our planet, both its origins and its continuation.  It blesses us with a myriad of health benefits, regardless of how we receive it.  Whether viewed through the eyes of a poet, explorer, or spiritual leader, the miraculous nature of water cannot be denied.

Wyoming rapids

Rocks and waters are words of God, and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. ~John Muir

Miraculous Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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6 Favorite Inspiration Primers

Inspiration is God making contact with itself.  ~Ram Dass

In various reference sources, the definition of inspiration is first described as the act of drawing air into the lungs.  The term is further defined as a divine influence on expression. The opposite of the term, expiration, refers not only to exhaling, but also the cessation of breathing, or death.  I find these implications pretty profound, don’t you?

A publication on Research Gate shares a review of scientific studies on inspiration. Writers, artists, and other creators have long argued that inspiration is a key motivator of creativity, the paper reads. Over the past decade, scientists have tested and found strong support for these claims.  I just love when science confirms pieces of time-honored wisdom that make life more meaningful!

Monument Valley

According to the Harvard Business Review, psychologists Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot have identified three foundational aspects of inspiration: spontaneous evocation, transcendence over self-serving concerns, and motivation to actualize a new idea. Further, they say, the heights of human motivation spring from the beauty and goodness that precede us and awaken us to better possibilities.

In the spirit of enhancing the beauty & goodness that precede us, I want to share 6 of the best ways I know for priming the heart and mind to receive inspiration.

  1. Start each day by reading something inspirational or closely observing beauty in some other form.  Even if you, like me, wake up thinking of your to-do list, redirect your thoughts of doing and immerse yourself in being in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  Cognitive researcher and psychologist Nancy Etcoff says that beauty inspires and motivates us.
New Mexico color

  1. Attend an art exhibit or museum.  Viewing the works of creatives, whether local or world renowned, not only brings more beauty and interest into our lives, but also has a way of returning focus to our own creativity.
  2. Go to a concert or other live music event.  Psychologists from McGill University in Montreal studied music’s effects on the brain and found dopamine, a primary feel-good chemical, can be released both in response to music and in anticipation of it.  A great basis for a strike of inspiration, wouldn’t you say?
California coast

Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature for inspiration in the day’s work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

  1. Get outside!  Leave all your devices inside and get outdoors for at least a few minutes each day.  Allow your attention to be fully captivated by the the extraordinary creation surrounding you: wildlife, trees, flowers, boulders, bodies of water, canyons, or other natural beauty.  Martha Stewart, creative extraordinaire, says,  I’m very inspired by nature.  I look around me and get all kinds of inspiration daily.  
  2. Do at least one activity outside of your norm each week.  Schedule it in your planner or on your calendar so it doesn’t fall through the cracks.  New experiences provide new knowledge, opening the way for inspired thoughts, conversations, creative urges, and even new ways of being in the world.
Wyoming

  1. Make note of inspired ideas, even undeveloped ones.  If you’re like me, inspiration can sometimes come in small bits, or in the form of a question.  By recording these little nuggets and pondering them over weeks or months, a complete idea can emerge.  In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about inspiration gifting her with ideas which, after going unused, were passed along to others (as evidenced by later publications of her unique, discarded concepts.)  Don’t let your inspired ideas be regifted!

When we clear the physical clutter from our lives, we literally make way for inspiration and ‘Good, orderly direction’ (God) to enter.  ~Julia Cameron

Whether we’re referring to the act of drawing air into our lungs or being divinely influenced, inspiration is paramount. As long as we are breathing, we are creating, designing our lives in the smaller and larger contexts.  By priming ourselves with beauty and goodness to receive inspiration, we open the way for expanded possibilities that infuse all our creations with deeper meaning.

Blessings for Inspiration,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Blessed Are the Adventurous

Driving through New Mexico

An adventure can be defined as a daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.  Due to studies showing the many benefits of adventure activities, there are now possibilities for adventure travel, adventure therapy, and even adventure prescriptions handed out by physicians.

In other posts, I’ve shared how my personal adventures have changed the way I view myself and Nature, as well as my interpretation of life.  Driving new roads, hiking trails surrounded by wilderness, climbing, camping, discovering areas with immense natural beauty, and exploring the architecture, culture, and history of new destinations: these are the activities that have illuminated me from within, rehabilitating and revitalizing me from a miserable, burned-out existence.  Without having read any studies, I knew these experiences must be healthy.  Now I’ve seen proof, and I want to share it with you.

Hiking among Bristlecone Pines

In an article written for Good Nature Travel, Candace Andrews, world traveler & nature writer, says adventure travel is good for physical & mental health as well as the planet.  According to Andrews, regular hiking can increase the size of the hippocampus and help prevent age-related memory loss.  Adventures can also help us better cope with uncertainty, a skill that we could all use more of these days.  She goes on to imply that adventure travelers typically have a better appreciation for Nature, and are therefore more likely to help protect Her.

In a paper on Research Gate, three university authors look at various studies on adventure therapy (AT) and their outcomes. Key characteristics of adventure therapy, the paper states, are challenge, risk, reflection, novel settings, and experiential learning.  AT invites the participant to act, make quick decisions, and move their bodies in new ways.  These actions, once assimilated into previously learned behaviors and attitudes, can translate into “real life” benefits, like increased courage, adaptability, and self-confidence at work and home.

My favorite-ever campsite, with a creek running through the back

According to a study in the journal Neuron shared on the National Institute of Health website, adventurous behavior makes us feel good; it fires up the same regions of the brain as reward.  And Frank Farley, Ph.D., former President of the American Psychological Association, says that adventurous people have a sense of flourishing in their lives.  I can vouch for that!

An article in the Children and Nature Network Research Library reviews the long-term benefits of outdoor adventure programs for youngsters under the age of 25.  The lasting impacts (maintained at least a year after the program) most reported included independence, life skills, confidence, and the willingness to try new things.

Hike to an alpine lake

A 2018 essay from The Guardian announced that General Practitioners in Scotland were starting to write prescriptions for outdoor adventures.  Patients are instructed to go hill walking on Shetland’s upland moors, directed towards coastal paths to watch fulmars, to beachcomb for shells, and spot long-tailed ducks, oystercatchers and lapwings, the article readsThe adventures are prescribed to assist patients in improving specific health conditions, of course, but I like to think of all the unexpected peripheral benefits they’ll gain, as well.

Due to covid restrictions putting a hiatus on going and doing, I feel the last year and a half has just flown.  David Eagleman, Neuroscientist at Stanford University, says, The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.  By embracing new adventures, we provide our brains with opportunities to record novel, diverse experiences, expanding our sense of time.

Exploring the coast of San Diego

The human body thrives on adventure, whether a result of travel, AT programs, physician prescriptions, or other fun activities.  My adventures have changed my thinking and given me a more positive sense of being in the world, causing me to feel truly alive.  Are you blessed with an adventurous spirit? If not, in the pursuit of health and well-being, what can a little more daring, excitement, enterprise, and enthusiasm do for you?

Blessings for Adventure,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Thinking Outside the COVID-19 Box: 10 Ways to Boost Immune Function

Over the past 18 months, I’ve heard a lot about masking, hand washing, and social distancing to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Sadly, I’ve also heard about many immunocompromised people dying from the virus. But I haven’t heard top health officials talk much about boosting immune function. Have you? Doesn’t it make sense that we should all be working to strengthen our immune systems now more than ever?

Immunity is our first line of defense, meaning, more than anything else, it works to keep us healthy regardless of what’s going on around us. But it’s up to each of us to provide this mighty defender with good fuel and take other beneficial steps to enhance its efforts. You will find below 10 of my best ideas to accomplish just that.

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. In addition to drinking plenty of mineralized water, eat lots of (home-cooked & organic, if possible) soups, suggests Gina Bria, co-author of Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration. Also, I’ve read from many sources, daily green smoothies with (organic if possible) fruits and veggies are deeply hydrating, as well as nutrient-rich. Think apples, oranges, pears, mangoes, grapes, blueberries, avocados, celery, cucumbers, sprouts, cilantro, Italian parsley, spinach, red leaf kale, spirulina, cinnamon, cardamom, fresh ginger, chia seeds, and turmeric with fresh-ground pepper. (Shoot for using more veggies than fruits.) Any combination is tasty, and will gift your body with perfect, structured plant water. Anthony William, the New York Times Bestselling Author of Liver Rescue, says your hydration level (or lack thereof) can be a pivotal factor between getting sick and staying healthy.

  • Exercise moderately several times a week. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that participants who did aerobic exercise 5 days a week reduced upper respiratory tract infections over a 12-week period by 43%. Exercises in that category include brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, and other cardio pursuits sustained for an extended period. An article on Health.com states exercise helps highly specialized immune cells—such as natural killer cells and T cells—find pathogens (like viruses) and wipe them out.
  • Consume natural probiotic food & drinks such as (organic & raw, if possible) kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso soup. Stanford University of Medicine researchers Justin & Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, say their family gets a different natural probiotic food or drink each day to diversify the population in their microbiomes as well as those of their kids. Studies show that diversity in the gut is a major key to staying healthy.

  • Eat fewer pre-processed foods, including fast foods and junk foods, and more high-fiber whole vegetables, including beans and lentils, as well as prebiotic foods such as onions, garlic, dandelion greens, and asparagus. Again, all in service of a microbiome that can promote good immunity.
  • One more tip for the microbiome, from Dr. Zach Bush, a physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology and hospice care. A healthy microbiome, according to Dr. Bush, consists of between 20,000 and 40,000 species of bacteria. (Which explains why you should not eat the same foods all the time.) Spending time outside and in multiple ecosystems (for example, a rainforest, beach, desert, waterfall, lake, and river) can diversify your gut’s bacteria. And, if you’re far enough away from others, take off your mask! (Unless that is prohibited in your area.)

  • Diffuse essential oils inside your home, which is the next best thing to being outside. Dr. Josh Axe, Certified Doctor of Natural Medicine, says that many essential oils are antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic. He suggests eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano, lemon, and cinnamon for immunity. Add a few drops of some or all of them to your diffuser, vaporizer, or humidifier, if it offers that function, to purify the inside air that you breathe.
  • Even though you are practicing social distancing, make emotional connections. Phone or text a loved one, just to check in. According to Dr. Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, those societies and cultures over the past several hundred thousand years who learned to take care of each other were more likely to survive than those who did not. Our species has a primal need to feel cared for.
  • Practice expressing gratitude for your life and your blessings. Your feelings and beliefs have a strong impact on your biology, according to Gregg Braden, 2020 Templeton Prize Nominee. Your cells are always listening in on your thoughts, Braden says. Therefore, immune function is directly affected by your state of mind.

  • Take a break from watching or reading the news. Non-stop negative reports about the pandemic, environmental degradation, violence, dirty politics, etc., can result in a fearful mindset, constantly activating the fight-or-flight mode in our bodies. This can result in biological conditions that suppress immune function. Check in on the news only once or twice a day, or maybe even skip a day (unless you feel more anxious as a result.) Instead of spending so much time sitting on the sofa watching or reading the news, get outside to walk, do some yoga, or other enjoyable activity. (Since exercise and time in Nature are also good for immune function, this one idea offers three times the benes for your hard-working immune system!)
  • And finally, get enough sleep that you awake feeling rested. With so much ongoing illness around us, our biological functions may be working harder than usual to keep us well. You may find your need for sleep has increased. Listen to your body.

I hope this list empowers you to become healthier and diminishes your fears of the virus. It is important to continue following the many protocols in place. But it is also critical, in my opinion, to do all you can to boost immune function at this time when illness abounds.

Blessings for Immunity,

Lisa

Note: The original version of this post was published in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was first revving up in this country.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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5 Little-Known Secrets for Looking and Feeling Younger

I can remember the first time I heard the expression Youth is wasted on the young.  It came from a 40-something character sitting on a beach during an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.  At the time, I was too young to understand the meaning, but for some reason, the curious sentiment stuck with me.  Now, I get it. The vitality, fitness level, and lightheartedness of youngsters can become enviable as we age.  And although it’s impossible to return to those carefree days, there are natural ways to reclaim or retain youthful attributes, regardless of our current age.

We live in a beauty-obsessed society; Americans spent more than $9 billion on plastic surgery for purely aesthetic reasons in 2020. (And who knows how much we invested in beauty products!) With this kind of money being spent on little procedures, they can start to become the norm. This kind of normal can cause us to forget the fact that the human body is a revitalizing marvel.  Countless rejuvenating processes are going on at all times in our bodies below the level of our awareness. We were designed to heal ourselves with proper support; our cells work unceasingly to help us feel and look better. No liposuction, tummy tucks, or facelifts required.

After many years of studying the workings of a healthy body, I want to share a few of the best ways I’ve found to support my body’s efforts to help me look and feel younger.

  1. Daily Stretching – Dr. Gil Hedley, Board President for the Institute for Anatomical Research, produced a YouTube series called The Integral Anatomy Series: Deep Fascia & Muscle. Working with a cadaver, he shares The Fuzz Speech, demonstrating how fascia creates a fuzzy connection to muscles as we sleep.  When we stretch each morning, the fuzz dissolves, he says.  But when we forget to stretch or refrain from stretching due to injury, the fuzz gets thicker and thicker, resulting in stiffness, limited movement, and chronic pain often associated with growing old.  To continue enjoying the full expression of the physical body throughout life, stretching each day is a must.
  2. Proper Hydration – Gina Bria, Anthropologist & Founder of the Hydration Foundation, has done much to shed light on the critical importance of hydration.  This is an example of the extraordinary information you can find on her website: Fascia has recently been discovered . . . to be not only our connective tissue, holding us up and together like a crocheted sack, but a hidden irrigation system, a hidden electrical system, conducted by water, that sends cell-to-cell communication instantly.  To work well, it must be fully hydrated. Most of us go through our lives chronically dehydrated, which can present as low energy, various adverse conditions, disease, pain, and premature aging.  (For more on this, check out my article Hydration – No, Really.)  Additionally, Dr. Christiane Northrup, in an interview with Gina Bria, says that properly moisturizing the skin begins with internal hydration. Mineralizing water with a bit of fresh lemon juice or a pinch of Himalayan salt, eating fruits, getting outside, and taking Epsom salt baths can all contribute to better skin health and cellular communication.
  3. Fasting – Fasting has been a part of many spiritual traditions for eons, and for good reason. In his life-changing book, Conscious Eating, Dr. Gabriel Cousens writes, During a fast, digestive enzymes are relieved from their digestive role and mobilized for the cleansing and rejuvenation of the body . . . rapidly removing dead and dying cells and toxins.  Aging occurs when we have more cells die than are being built. Autophagy is the process described by Dr. Cousens, and according to Nutrition Expert Naomi Whittel, the process starts in as few as 16 hours.  Intermittent fasting for this period of time could be a good starting point for first-timers who have their physician’s consent.
  4. Protect your Telomeres – In an article on NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Michael Greger, author of the book How Not to Die, shares that a plant-based diet is foundational for longer telomeres, the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes that typically shorten with age. Other lifestyle factors, like normalizing weight and regular exercise are important, but without the right kinds of fuel, the telomeres continue to shorten, research shows.  Dr. Greger writes, Swapping just 1% of saturated fat calories in our diet (for high-fiber plant foods) can add nearly a whole year of length onto our telomeres. By slowing the shortening of the telomeres, he says, we can slow the aging process.
  5. Up your DHEA – In his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra, MD, discusses how DHEA, a hormone that is depleted by stress over the course of a lifetime, is found in elevated levels among regular meditators of any age.  Studies show DHEA improves physical and psychological well-being, muscle strength and bone density, and reduces body fat and age-related skin atrophy stimulating procollagen/sebum production. (It also) reduces total cholesterol and improves sexual satisfaction and insulin sensitivity.  But, according to Dr. Chopra, oral DHEA supplementation is not very beneficial due to it being broken down in the digestive tract.  From other sources, I’ve read that, in addition to meditation, DHEA levels may be naturally increased by sufficient rest, regular exercise, time in Nature, and a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (think walnuts & chia seeds.)

Reading through these tips, I’m noticing parallels of a healthy diet and regular movement. The bottom line, I believe, is this: youthful aging results from a commitment to a lifestyle that supplies your body with what it actually needs. Making good choices each day brings about beneficial ingrained habits. Soon, you’ll realize, trying to be healthy doesn’t feel like extra effort – it’s just what you do.  And your body will thank you.

Aging doesn’t have to be a dreaded or lamented process compensated for by plastic surgery.  Healthier skin, a stronger body, increased energy, and a joyful disposition can be ours throughout our time on the planet by making daily choices contributing to optimal body function.  Cheers to the phenomenal design of our bodies!

Blessings for Youthful Aging,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Pestoed Pasta Summer Salad

During the time I lived in South Florida, I worked for a few years in an office on Palmetto Park Road near the Intracoastal Waterway. The area offered an incredible choice of really good restaurants, but my lunch go-to was a little Italian place called Lilly’s New Cuisine. Their signature salad was my favorite, a bed of greens topped with marinated chicken, penne, toasted walnuts and light pesto dressing. Once I became vegan, I made some adjustments, and the recipe you’ll see below came into being. I like it even more than the original!

The nutritional value of this salad is off the charts! You can read about many of the benefits of romaine in my Quick & Crispy Chickpea Salad post. Basil offers a number of nutrients, including those contributing to bone health, oxygenation of the cells, cancer prevention, and inflammation regulation. Walnuts are also rich in the good stuff, including a load of omega-3 fatty acids which reduce risk of stroke & coronary artery disease, as well as an abundance of vitamin E which contributes to the health of cell membranes and the skin. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), you may have heard, is one of the mainstays of the Mediterranean Diet, which for over half a century has been considered by many one of the healthiest ways to eat. According to an article from the National Institute of Health, EVOO contributes to health by assisting in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases thanks to anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and immunomodulatory components. An impressive line-up of benefits for a salad, wouldn’t you say?

The ingredient list & directions here are a little longer than my other recipes, but each step is straight-forward and doesn’t take much time, so I hope you won’t avoid trying it due to its length. The bold flavors and varying textures in this delicious, filling salad make it one you’ll find well worth the effort for a special dinner with family and friends.

As always, I’d love to hear in the comments if you give it a go!


Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients (use organic and/or non-GMO when possible)
For the vegan parmesan
heaping 1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/8 tsp Himalayan salt
1/2 tsp lemon zest

For the pesto
2 cups basil leaves
1 – 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped & lightly toasted
vegan parmesan (use all made from recipe above)
salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad dressing
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp dried oregano

For the salad
12 oz penne, cooked, drained and mostly cooled, spritzed with a bit of EVOO & gently stirred if needed to keep it from sticking as it cools
pesto (use all made from recipe above)
1 large head romaine, torn into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups broccoli, broken into small florets
4 medium carrots, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 cup whole walnuts, lightly toasted

Directions
Make the vegan parmesan by placing all ingredients in a small jar and shaking vigorously until well combined. Taste for salt & zest.

Make the pesto by placing all ingredients except for olive oil in a medium food processor bowl. Pulse until broken into small pieces. Add oil through feeder tube to form a smooth paste. Taste for salt.

Make the dressing by whisking the 3 ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.

Gently combine the pesto with the penne, using a wooden spoon or your hands, until the ziti is well coated.

Make beds of romaine on up to 6 plates. Add pestoed penne, broccoli, carrots, and a good sprinkling of walnuts to each. Add dressing as desired. Serve with crusty bread and a nice Merlot.

Bon appétit!

Unfortunately, I tried a new gluten-free pasta. The pestoed pasta usually looks much nicer!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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A Secret to Happiness

Beach day at St. Maarten

If I were to tell you about a new medication that relieves pain, reduces stress & anxiety, lessens your risk for type 2 diabetes, helps improve memory, increases longevity, and enhances overall life satisfaction, would you drop your to-do list and rush to phone your doctor’s office for a prescription?  According to an article on Medical News Today, social interactions can result in all those benefits and more.

Exploring the Victorian Charm of Cape May, New Jersey

According to Dean Ornish, MD, whose Program for Reversing Heart Disease has been covered by Medicare since 2011, no other lifestyle factor has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes than loneliness and isolation. The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease, but also what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease, Dr. Ornish explains.  

Enjoying the adobe architecture in Taos Plaza, New Mexico

A write-up from Harvard Health informs us that scientists are finding social connections not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking.  The article goes on to say that caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It’s inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and we can engage in it in many ways.

A Psychology Today article says that engaging socially not only lessens feelings of depression, but also helps you fight off colds, the flu, and even some types of cancer.  I’d say that’s some pretty strong medicine!

Independence Day Parade, Flagstaff, Arizona

Dan Buettner, in writing The Blue Zones of Happiness, reviewed various polls and surveys from countries around the world to discover the factors that contribute to making the happiest populations.  Costa Rica, he found, is one of the countries whose citizens reported being the most content. He attributes this to their focus on spending a great deal of time with others.  Costa Ricans are socially interacting five to six hours a day, face to face, he writes, including barbecues with friends, church services, family meals, and soccer games. The U.S., with its rigorous work philosophy, did not make the top 12 in Buettner’s tally.  

Recent concert at the original Woodstock venue, upstate New York

Being outside is the easiest way for me to feel part of a physical community.  I find open-air concerts absolutely exhilarating. And time outdoors with friends, food, and drink is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.  But even strangers who are hiking, biking, fishing, or sitting in a park are often cheerfully willing to engage in conversation. According to an Evidence Note from Forest Research in the UK, green infrastructure can help bring people together, . . . increasing social activity, improving community cohesion, & developing local attachment. These benefits, the research says, reduce domestic violence and overall crime rates.  It’s no surprise that spending time in the embrace of our Primal Mother brings us together in a way that makes us more tolerant, loving, and supportive.

Strolling around a German village

Social interactions can contribute immeasurably to our lives, helping us feel better about ourselves, enhancing immune function, and prolonging our lives.  Focusing less on life’s never-ending to-do list and more on sharing time with others is a sure way to increase happiness.  How often are you willing to become happier?

The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food. ~Dean Ornish, MD

Blessings for Community,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Working Toward Oneness: 6 Favorite Asanas

According to a write-up on India’s Ministry of External Affairs website, the term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to control, yoke, or unite.  The philosophy was developed thousands of years ago as a way of bringing together individual consciousness with that of the Universal consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man and Nature, the article explains.  Although the physical branch of yoga that many of us practice does not encapsulate the whole of the original discipline, it does offer a wide array of benefits which can contribute to our sense of oneness and a happier, healthier life. 

Arizona

You may have read my article on how yoga can contribute optimal function of the entire body, reason enough to do some sort of regular practice. One of the best physical benefits, in my opinion, is keeping our fascia stretched and pliable.  The many ways we don’t move our bodies daily can lead to the fascia becoming tight, restricting flexibility, which compounds as we age and can lead to limited movement.  Differing poses offer particular benefits, as well.  I want to share with you the 6 types of asanas, or poses, that I practice daily, along with the specific reasons.

  1. Forward FoldsI think my love for forward folds started because as a young adult, I developed tight hamstrings, and I wanted to be able to touch my toes.  In an article describing the benefits of forward folds, American-Australian Yoga Teacher Jacqueline Buchanan says that, in addition to opening the backside of the body from the heels to the head, these postures also increase circulation and soothe the nervous system.
  2. Backbends – As a youngster, I couldn’t get enough of gymnastics on the mat and on the grass.  Dropping into a backbend from an upright position was a regular part of that.  I don’t do those anymore 😊, but decades of yoga have taught me that bending the front of the spine is just as important as bending the back of the spine.  These days, I find bridge pose, cobra, and pigeon pose get the job done.  In a Yoga Basics article, backbends are said to enhance posture, boost mood, and improve breathing.
  3. Side Bends – Yup, more spine bending!  This time, from side to side, because how often do we do those types of movements each day?  According to Roger Jahnke, author of The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques to Release Your Body’s Own Medicine, regularly stretching the spine in all directions can help us avoid lung problems.  So simple, huh?

  1. Twists – According to an article on Total Yoga, twisting poses stimulate the liver and lymph system, release tension, and can even help with back pain.  From years of learning from yoga teachers, I’ve also gleaned that twists are good for digestion.  I enjoy seated twists and twisted lunges, which also challenge my balance.
  2. Balancing Poses – Speaking of balance, I shared in a post several months ago about how I committed to doing half moon pose every day for a couple years to improve my once horrendous sense of balance.  It worked, and to this day, I still do it along with other balancing poses such as tree pose, side plank, and extended hand to toe pose regularly to keep my abs taut and my balance in check.  As we age, we tend to lose the skill of balance unless efforts are made to maintain it.
  3. Inversions – A few years ago, I attended a weekly arm balancing yoga class, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had with a group of yogis.  Handstands, shoulder stands, crow poses, and their many variations were always part of the merrymaking. Unfortunately, the teacher moved to another state, but even today inversions are an enjoyable part of my routine.  They boost blood flow to the brain and improve immune function, according to Yogapedia.com.  If you have only a few minutes a day for legs up the wall, it can be beneficial.
Colorado

Even on days that I don’t do a full yoga practice, I incorporate at least one of each of the above into stretching prior to and after other exercises. Every little thing we do, or don’t do, works together either for our benefit or to our detriment, and committing to small healthy acts is an easy way to stay on the positive side of that equation. (I’m a big-picture person, you may have noticed!)

Oregon Coast, shrouded in fog

Although the yoga that we know doesn’t involve the original philosophy in its entirety, we are fortunate that its physical practice has been brought to us through the ages. As you can see, the advantages of yoga are practical, and regular practice builds a strong foundation for uniting mind, body, and spirit, getting us a little closer to a sense of oneness.

Yogi Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Does the Earth Love You?

If you’ve been around Micro of the Macro for a while, no doubt you’ve read a lot about the benefits of spending time with Nature. For example, being at the beach can reduce stress & cancer risk.  Interacting with animals can result in improved heart & immune function. Visiting a waterfall can reduce chronic pain.  I have written about how working with plants can reduce depression, trauma, and anxiety, and how wildflowers support all living systems. Nature, in Her infinite wisdom, contributes unceasingly to life, including ours.  But let’s drill down further: does the Earth, our Primal Mother, love us?

Butterfly Garden, Tucson, AZ

In last week’s post, I mentioned briefly the book I am currently reading, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, member of the Potawatomi Nation and Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at The State University of New York. Early in the book, she writes of the differences in two foundations which have strongly influenced the ways we think of Nature: the Creation Story and the language we use.  

Aspens, ferns and wildflowers near Arizona’s Snowbowl Ski Resort

In Kimmerer’s Native American culture, and many others, the Creation Story does not involve Adam & Eve’s unhappy expulsion from a perfect garden due to a deceitful serpent.  Instead, it is a story of Skywoman, who falls from the Skyworld, grasping for the Tree of Life on her way down, bringing with her seeds, flowers, and branches, and leaving an opening for the sun to shine through.  During and after her landing, animals lovingly assist her. We are inevitably shaped by (Creation stories) no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness, the author writes.  One (of the stories mentioned) leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banishment.  One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good green world . . . The other, an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven.  A huge difference between perspectives for the followers of each tradition, wouldn’t you agree?

Rushing waters in Montana

Kimmerer’s native language, alive with the energies of the natural world, is almost completely gone.  (Due in large part to forced government board schooling of Native American children centuries ago, where speaking their native tongue was forbidden.)  The language of her ancestors addressed the Spirit in Nature; it was a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things, through pines and nuthatches and mushrooms, she writes.  The language reminds us, in every sentence, of our kinship with all of the animate world.  A far cry from English, which categorizes the living world as either people or things.  And how easy is it to neglect or abuse when we objectify?  (Think of the unfortunate slaves of ages past who were considered property.) How could we possibly come to believe that things love us?

Cactus blooms in the Sonoran Desert

The author, a scientist and teacher, is a mother of two, as well.  She writes with the greatest affection of her daughters, and says she taught them to garden so they would always have a mother to love them, even after she’s gone.  She composed a list of loving behaviors shared with her girls.  Included in the list are: nurturing health and well-being, protection from harm, encouraging growth, interdependence, and creation of beauty.  When we observe these behaviors between people, she says, we know they must love each other.  We even make the statement, “She loves her garden” when the same behaviors are demonstrated by someone carefully tending a plot of land.  Why then, the author asks, would you not make the leap to say that the garden loves her back?  The thriving of one is in the best interest of the other.  This, to me, sounds a bit like love, the author concludes. I couldn’t agree more.

A desert dove

Braiding Sweetgrass is packed with practical teachings of the old ways, offering a clear way forward out of the environmental disaster we are living presently.  But there is so much more to this book.  The beauty of Kimmerer’s prose could make a willing student out of anyone.  I find myself rereading some of her lines 3 or 4 times to relish gentle teachings that feed my soul.  Her descriptive, love-infused narrative brings the science of botany to life, revealing the exquisite luminosity of Mother Earth.

Jemez Springs, near Santa Fe, New Mexico

An endless supply of loving support is made available to us by Nature, being the good Mother that She is. In addition to making things beautiful, She also provides us with ways to help us feel better and improve our lives overall. Like Robin Wall Kimmerer, I strongly believe that the Earth cares for us beyond measure, and spending time in Nature is the easiest way to feel the embrace of that unconditional love.

Mazatzal Mountains, Arizona, strewn with Saguaro Cactus

Blessings for Motherly Love,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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The Dazzling Blogger Award

The Dazzling Blogger Award, designed by Helen at Crispy Confessions, recognizes bloggers who excel in at least one major area of blogging: writing skills, engagement, social media marketing, or content. A big thank you to my friend Suzanne at Happily Decluttered, who has honored me with a nomination.

Suzanne is super-organized and shares tips to help the rest of us reach that pinnacle. In addition to loads of practical ideas, her writing is brimming with love for her family and Nature. She does a monthly Happiness Highlights post that demonstrates what a rich life she is creating. I urge you to visit her site, and let her know I sent you!

Dazzling view of Big Sur

The Official Rules of The Dazzling Blogger Award

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award & link back to their site.
  2. Provide a link back to Helen, the award’s designer.
  3. Answer the seven questions asked.
  4. Compose seven questions of your own.
  5. Nominate & notify seven more people.

Suzanne’s Questions

  1. What is your favorite hobby and how did you get started?

Creating new dishes in the kitchen.  I seldom prepare the same meals, and I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.  I think this originated during the many months I worked in the kitchens of Esalen, Omega, and Ratna Ling, all holistic retreat centers.

Black beans, rice, & roasted plantains with fresh onion, cilantro, & tomatoyum!
  1. What is your favorite meal to cook?

Veggie burgers.  We have burger night twice a month, and I have found so many great ways to make them.  The leftovers get broken up over beds of romaine with red onions, brown rice, and avocado – my favorite salad!

  1. Do you live by any piece of advice or motto?

I am blessed and I am grateful.

  1. What was the highlight of your week?

Getting together with a friend I hadn’t seen in months for hours of talking and laughing and sharing plans for travel.

  1. What is your favorite board game?

Scrabble

  1. Have you read any good books lately that you would recommend?

I’m about 100 pages into Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Distinguished Teaching Professor & Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at SUNY College of Environmental and Science Forestry. I’m enjoying it so much that I’m already considering how I might share its ideas.  The author’s message is erudite with paradigm-changing potential, but her stories of the “old ways” are sweet, gentle, and communicate directly to the heart.  I feel everyone should read it, and its precepts should be taught to young children.

  1. If you could pick one chore that you could snap your fingers and it would magically be done, which chore would you pick?

The “big clean” of our house, which involves a deeper-than-daily cleaning that is done once a week.

Favorite outdoor space of a beloved aunt and uncle in Cocoa, Florida

My Questions

  1. During the pandemic, have you learned of any new places you want to visit?
  2. In what way would you say the pandemic has changed your life the most?
  3. What is your favorite season of the year, and why?
  4. What wild animal do you admire the most?
  5. Do you grow/care for a garden, flowers, or trees?
  6. What is your favorite outdoor space?
  7. Do you have a mindfulness practice?
Dazzling reflection in Yosemite’s High Country

As for nominations, in a world of fantastic bloggers, I hereby nominate the first 7 who tell me in a comment below they’d like to participate. Or, if you’d like to answer one or more of my questions without fully participating, that’s ok too.

Thanks again, Suzanne, for the nomination!  

Dazzling Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Notes on My Beloved AZ

A tree bloom on Sedona’s West Fork hiking trail

During my first extended visit to Northern Arizona, it stole my heart. It was early springtime, and the trees were budding and blooming and releasing sublime fragrances. The hiking trails were numerous, and lined with boulders, multi-colored sandstone, red cliffs, huge ponderosa pine trees, alligator junipers, small cactus shrubs, and aspen groves. Some trails featured Native American cliff dwellings, mud-walled structures, and petroglyphs. Other trails crossed creeks or lead to lakes, big and small. The most interesting trail I hiked, Cathedral Wash (a workout for both body and mind due to the trail dropping between 5 and 30 feet in areas, leaving you to figure out how to descend) ends at the Colorado River, just outside the Grand Canyon.

Cathedral Wash Trail. Look closely and you will see me (dwarfed, but waving!)

I find that a great number of people are unaware of Arizona’s elevation changes, the presence of trees, and the dramatic climate differences in the state. If you think of a featureless, sandy, flat state with no water, trees, flowers, or beauty when you hear someone speak of Arizona, this post is for you.

“Whales” in Sedona’s Oak Creek

You may have heard of the lovely red rocks of Sedona. Before beginning my 3-year road-trip adventure years ago, friends suggested I visit Sedona due to its incredible beauty and reputation as a spiritual hub. I took that advice, and they were right: its splendor is unforgettable, and with a guide, I was able to access a remote area that felt very sacred. But, did you know that Sedona sits at 4000 feet above sea level? And that it has a big, beautiful creek running through it, much of it recreation-accessible? (See this post for more on that.) During the late fall and early winter, trees along the creek turn spectacular shades of red, orange, and yellow. When snow falls on the red rocks, the sight is nothing short of glorious.

Hiking trail among Sedona’s red rocks

Speaking of snow, the highest point in the state, Humphreys Peak, topping out at 12,633 feet in elevation, sits among The San Francisco Peaks to the north of the small town of Flagstaff. At about 7000 feet above sea level, Flagstaff is one of the snowiest areas in the country, getting an average of 100 inches annually. Each of the seasons could not be more beautiful in Flag, as the locals call it. After winter covers Humphreys Peak with a bright white blanket, a lovely springtime arrives, bringing with it happy meadowlarks, woodpeckers, blue jays, hummingbirds, wrens, robins, warblers, finches, sparrows, and juncos. When summer takes over, there are a couple weeks of 90+ degree temps, but most days are cooler. It is possible during the summer to need a jacket at night, as high desert summer temps can drop into the 40s. Beginning around the first week in July, the area gets super-saturated with rain as a result of monsoon season, which lasts through September. The heavy precipitation encourages a myriad of wildflowers to pop up in meadows & canyons, alongside roads, and on hiking trails, once again transforming the beauty of the little mountain town. And then, fall arrives, causing local leaves to sing with vibrant colors.

Spring tree blooms in Flagstaff
The San Francisco Peaks overlooking a field of wildflowers in Flagstaff. Humphreys Peak is on the far left.

The drive north from Flagstaff reveals an other-worldly topography. Most of the land in the northeast corner of the state belongs to Navajo Nation and is largely undeveloped. About 90 minutes north of Flagstaff, you will see the turn-off to the Grand Canyon, which is a must-see. Carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, the Canyon is immense, sporting an elevation change of 8000 feet between its highest point and the mighty Colorado.

View of the Grand Canyon

About an hour farther north, you will discover Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Antelope Canyon. A boat tour on Lake Powell (located in both Arizona and Utah) offers spectacular views of the red, orange and white sandstone cliffs surrounding the water. With a Navajo guide, a walk through the narrow, beautifully formed Antelope Canyon will astonish you. The slot canyons are the happy result of flash floods having eroded the soft sandstone.

Horseshoe Bend, part of the Colorado River that runs through the Grand Canyon
Antelope Canyon’s unique beauty

As for points farther south, you will find them uniquely interesting as well. A drive south on I-17 just north of Phoenix yields a plethora of saguaro cactus plants at a certain point, and although I’ve yet to witness it, I’m told their beauty is astounding when they’re all in bloom. Tombstone, made famous by outlaws like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, is a cool little town where gunfight reenactments are performed in the unpaved streets. It has been designated one of the best-preserved rugged frontier towns of the late 1800s. And Tucson offers an extensive Botanical Gardens network, Saguaro National Park, and Mt. Lemmon, a jewel that rises over 9000 feet out of the Sonoran Desert.

Part of the set from the gunslinger performance

If you have always pictured the state of Arizona as hot, sandy, and drab, I hope this post has forever changed that image. The state’s diverse and distinctive terrain is an eye-popping Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Experience its unique history and allure, and you may find yourself writing love notes, as well.

Blessings for Arizona Beauty,

Lisa

Note: My beloved state is currently aflame. At the time of this post, there are more than 130 fires burning around the state; the largest 7 encompass over 400,000 acres, and many of the fires continue to grow. If you plan to visit Arizona this year, I strongly advise that you wait until the fires have subsided and air quality has improved.

Comments have been turned off for this post.

The original version of this post, entitled Arizona: A Love Letter, was published in May of 2020.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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6 Reasons I Choose Clean Eating

Ratatouille ready to simmer

Clean eating is a term that is broadly & loosely defined, I’ve learned while writing this post.  It can relate to not only food & drink, but also exercise, sleep, stress management, and spending time with loved ones, all of which are important for a happy, healthy life. But, to me, clean eating refers to only the consumption portion: choosing closer-to-the-Earth foods & drinks that are whole and organic, either unprocessed, or minimally processed with nothing artificial added. This practice provides my body with what it really needs.  As a result, I am the best possible steward of my health, which I believe to be my greatest asset.

Mango loveliness

There are many reasons I have made clean eating a lifestyle, and I want to share 6 of the biggies with you.

  • Eating whole, clean foods is the manner in which our ancestors ate, and the way Nature intended.  Only in the past 150 years has the practice of adding artificial flavors, colors, fillers, and other chemicals made in a lab become the norm. Because we evolved eating whole foods in their natural state, our bodies don’t recognize the man-made additives, and therefore don’t know how to process them.  Many times, they are tucked away in our fat stores, but sometimes, they make their way into our vascular system and organs, and have the potential to cause disease. I don’t want to take that risk.
Birthday cake made from black beans & dates, with avocado, date & cacao frostingDELISH!

  • Committing to buying organic fruits and vegetables keeps genetically-modified foods out of my body.  Due in large part to government subsidies in this country, GMO food production is on the rise. This is true even though there have been no long-term studies done on human consumption, and short-term studies have yielded frightening results.  According to the article 10 Scientific Studies Proving GMOs Can Be Harmful to Human Health, consuming GMO food & drink may contribute to various cancers, gluten sensitivity, autism, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.  
Mineralizing water with cucs, berries, and Himalayan salt
  • Nutrient-dense whole foods are high in fiber, the preferred food of my gut’s microbiome.  Keeping my gut bugs happy is a priority, since they wield such power over my cravings and, therefore, my health in general.  (Go to this article for more on that.) According to Michael Greger, MD, author of the book How Not to Die, eating the Standard American Diet, (which is high in processed foods, meats, & dairy, and low in high-fiber whole plant foods) can result in needing 4 or more days for digestion and elimination, whereas plant-based eating requires only one to two days.  The slower process is undesirable for many reasons. For example, when those 4 or more days are passing, we don’t stop eating and wait for clearance; we continue eating more of the same hard-to-assimilate foods, placing an even larger burden on all body systems.  It’s no wonder that the US spends more than any other country on healthcare (or disease management, to be precise.)

  • Eating clean allows me to avoid taking most supplements.  That saves me money. It also helps me avoid more man-made additives.  In The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, asserts that obtaining nourishment from a variety of whole plant foods is superior to taking supplements due to the symphony of nutrients released from plants that all work together, versus the single extracted vitamin or mineral that works on its own or with its manufactured ingredients.
Cherry tomatoes ready for a light sauté
  • Whole foods have a good amount of structured water in them, a different type of water molecule that is deeply hydrating and contributes to the optimal function of my body.  In his book Cells, Gels, and the Engines of Life, Dr. Gerald Pollack states that water is essential to each and every cellular process.  Most processed foods & drinks have little to no water content that can be used for cellular hydration.  (If you’d like to know more about the critical importance of hydration, check out this article.)

  • Clean eating contributes to a healthy pH balance in my body.  Processed foods cause the blood to become overly acidic, throwing off homeostasis.  When this occurs, the blood can leach minerals from the bones to reestablish its set point.  This can contribute to thinner bones and osteoporosis.  Additionally, blood that is constantly exposed to excess acid can become a breeding ground for cancer.
Cucumber blooms

Eating clean is a way to help meet your body’s essential needs while avoiding a tangle of harmful effects.  You were designed to eat real, whole foods.  By following Nature’s protocol, you are taking responsibility for your health, your greatest asset.

Blessings for Healthy Choices, 

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Spiralized Veggies with Thai Peanut Sauce

I first tried raw spiralized zucchini noodles at a deli in a Whole Foods Market near Austin, Texas years ago.  There was a choice of raw tomato sauce or spicy peanut dressing to top the noodles, and of course, I had to try some of each.  The peanut dressing was better, hands-down!  The bold, piquant flavors of that sauce haunted me, until finally, a few years later, I found a recipe that could be modified to taste similar.  (Regrettably, I didn’t record the name of the cookbook or author, so I cannot properly credit the person whose recipe I altered to create this fabulous sauce!)

Since that day at Whole Foods, I’ve experimented with many veggie noodle recipes.  In addition to zucchini, I’ve spiralized other vegetables, including cucumbers and sweet potatoes, and thrown in all kind of nuts, fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, and coconut.  Sometimes I lightly sauté the noodles in olive oil with garlic, other times I leave them raw.  I’ve even cooked grain spaghetti and mixed it with raw noodles. I’ve found that the colorful, raw combination shared below is my favorite.

As for health-giving qualities, raw foods have significantly more enzymes, vitamins, minerals, alkalizing properties, and structured water than cooked foods.  From various sources, I’ve read that, owing to these beneficial factors, 50 to 70% of our regular diet should be raw.  When I first learned about raw foods from the life-changing book Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, MD, the recommendation was for 100% raw – too radical for me, but I’ll admit, the people I’ve known who can manage that lifestyle are incredibly healthy.  As much as I love to cook, going completely raw would take away my favorite creative endeavor.  But I do shoot for 50% raw each day.  My morning fruit and vegetable smoothie accomplishes most of that goal.  I also eat quite a few salads and avocados, & often snack on raw veggies while I’m prepping them to cook.  During the hotter months, there’s nothing I find more refreshing than a cool slab of watermelon.  Additionally, I’ve started making various dessert balls by combining oats, nuts, dates, & other raw ingredients in the food processor.  They are so yummy, I give them as gifts!

On to the recipe.  My sincerest thanks to the cookbook developer whose name I did not record; this sauce was inspired in large part by the recipe Soba Noodles with Peanut and Ginger Sauce.

(Those of you with peanut allergies can sub almond butter & top with chopped almonds. I’ve made the sauce this way many times, even though I’m not allergic.)

Yield: 2 Large Servings 

Ingredients (use all organic/non-GMO if possible)
8-10” long zucchini, spiralized
6” long daikon radish, spiralized
Large carrot, spiralized or cut into thin strands with a veggie peeler
Large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, & sliced into thin strips
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
2 tbsp tamari
2-3 tbsp maple syrup (to your preferred sweetness)
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 tsp freshly grated garlic
1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne (to your preferred heat level)
4 – 6 tbsp peanut butter (to your taste)
1/2 – 3/4 cup water (to your desired consistency)
salt to taste, if needed
chopped peanuts for the top

Directions
Mix all the vegetables in a medium bowl. Put the next 7 ingredients (tamari through peanut butter) in a small blender cup & spin until creamy and well combined. Add part of the water & spin again. Stop and check consistency. Add more water (or don’t) until you’re happy with the thickness. Taste for salt, adding a dash or 2 if needed.

Split the veggie noodles between 2 bowls and top with *sauce & chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

*You will have leftover sauce. Try its deliciousness on any green salad, or simply spiralize more veggies! Or, how ’bout using it as a dip for fresh rolls? It also works beautifully as a stir fry sauce. It might even be good on chocolate ice cream😊! It will thicken after refrigerating, so whisk in an extra tablespoon or so of water as needed the next day.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Little-Known Weight Loss Strategies

Smoothie time!

A few months after the pandemic first started wreaking havoc, internet searches worldwide began showing a significant increase in the quest for weight loss information, according to Google Trends. It seems covid robbed us of not only our individual freedoms, but also our willpower. Many of us have put on weight as a result of gym closures, more time at home, fewer social interactions, and higher stress levels. In addition, several news stories at the inception of the virus focused on increased consumer demand for comfort foods such as hamburgers & fries, hot dogs, pizza, and ice cream. These foods, which are often filled with artificial ingredients, salt, sugar, fat, and excess calories, can offer a brief sense of stress relief as a result of their effects on the brain’s reward center, much like cocaine or heroine. But once that fades, we can be left with a sugar crash, extra calories to burn (or store as fat), an unhappy gut, guilt, and an overall sense of feeling worse than before we ate them.

So what can we do to feel better and drop the extra weight? Learn to work with, rather than neglect, the needs of our bodies. As you may have already discovered from past articles, the health information shared on Micro of the Macro is well outside the box, based on new or unpopular scientific studies. The star of this article, the gut’s microbiome, has become an area of extensive study over recent years, and the findings are changing the way we understand the concepts of health and disease.

The beauty of transformation

I’ve written before on the importance of this colony of bacteria in our guts (check out this article for my tips on immunity). What I didn’t mention in past posts is the fact that these microbes are often in charge of the foods we crave and those we choose to eat. Yes, you read that right, in charge. According to an article from the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health entitled Is Eating Behavior Manipulated by the Gastrointestinal Microbiota?, the gut bacteria that we “host” can manipulate not only the brain’s reward center, but also our tastebuds, cravings, and mood. Furthermore, the less diverse the bacteria colony (largely a consequence of antibiotics and nutrient-depleted foods), the more power the bacteria has to manipulate us, increasing our chances of obesity. In fact, the control our gut bacteria has over us is so exacting that the article refers to them as puppet masters! Frightening, huh?

What’s in your smoothie?

In order to regain mastery of your cravings and relationship with food, and therefore your weight, it is necessary to diversify your microbiome. Making healthy choices, such as organic fruits and vegetables, local and seasonal if possible, is a great first step. Introducing new foods to your diet results in new bacteria in your gut. Probiotic food and drinks, such as miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, and kefir result in greater numbers of diverse healthy bacteria. Fiber-rich prebiotic foods, such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, dandelion greens and jicama support the growth of those good bacteria. And a healthy, diversified colony of microbes can help you make healthier food choices in the days, months and years ahead.

Healthy, high-carb dinner

Fiber is extremely beneficial for gut bacteria, according to Justin & Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, researchers at Stanford’s University of Medicine. Fiber is actually a carbohydrate (something worth considering if you’re doing keto or another low-carb diet) that is indigestible. The Sonnenburgs’ research team has done long-term studies of the gut bacteria of a hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania, whose members, young and old, are considered models of vitality. Their studies revealed that each member of the tribe consumes between 100 and 150 grams of dietary fiber daily. Most Americans, it pains me to say, get about 15 grams per day.

The joys of jicama!

In addition to being a favorite food of your good gut bacteria, fiber also helps your body eliminate toxic chemicals, such as artificial food additives, pesticides, and environmental pollutants. These toxins, often stored in fats, interrupt the body’s normal functionings of blood sugar and cholesterol, which can lead to diabetes and obesity. (For more on this, check out Environmental Pollution and Diabetes: a Neglected Association.)

Proper hydration makes your microbiome happy, as well. (For additional info, see my article Hydration – No, Really). Healthy fats like seeds, nuts, and avocados are deeply hydrating and should be a part of your daily intake. Drinking plenty of mineralized water (made with fresh lemon juice and/or Himalayan salt) & eating lots of melons, cucumbers, celery, grapes, peaches, berries, & other water-rich fruits keeps your cells & fascia hydrated. When your body is not properly hydrated, you become unable to regularly eliminate food and toxins. You have less energy. You can feel dull and heavy. Your blood thickens, making your heart and kidneys work harder. (For more on that idea, check out New York Times best-selling author Anthony William’s book Liver Rescue.) A poorly-hydrated body cannot function optimally, and may very well thwart your weight loss efforts.

A yummy high fiber lunch

Eating fewer flesh foods, dairy, and eggs may also help. Not to say that you need to become vegan, but I’d like to share my experience with you. I adopted a whole foods plant based vegan diet in stages. I became vegetarian first, and lost so much weight, so fast, that it scared me. In fact, I started binging on granola to stop the weight loss! Years later, after learning about the evils of animal protein, I gave up cheese and eggs, which made me totally vegan. Again, I lost a lot of weight in a very short period. A testament, I believe, to the power of good plant food bacteria crowding out animal food bacteria in my gut.

The folks that live in Blue Zones, the places that have the healthiest, longest-lived populations in the world, typically eat whole food plant based diets. Usually, if they do eat meat or dairy, it’s only a few times a month, and in very small portions. In these areas, it is common for people to age without the chronic diseases that plague the majority of Americans, and to have leaner builds.

Weight loss is something many of us struggle with, especially when we turn to food as a source of comfort. Choosing to supply your gut’s microbiome with what it needs goes a long way in helping you accomplish your weight loss goals and feel better in general. And, not just for now, but for a lifetime.

Time to get ready for the beach!

Blessings for a Healthy Microbiome,

Lisa

Note: The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. I am not a medical professional.  Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed here have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

And Another Note: The original version of this post was shared in July, 2020.

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Green Exercise? Yes, Please!

View from O’Leary Peak trail, Northern Arizona

According to an article from Woodland Trust, the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK,  Exercise . . . releases endorphins, improves both physical and mental health and helps you sleep better. . . But did you know that where you exercise can make a real difference?  Exercising outdoors in a green space, studies show, results not only in profound benefits for physical health, but can also boost mental health in as little as 5 minutes.  Five minutes!

The term green exercise was coined in a paper from 2003 by researchers at University of Essex.  Their writings include an idea set forth by the American Biologist E. O. Wilson, called the Darwin of the 21st century, that humans have an innate connection with Nature, and therefore, time outdoors increases well-being in general and can even be transformative.  Coupling that with the merits of exercise, this paper was the first to address body movement in the great outdoors, declaring it doubly beneficial.

Peeking through a rock at the water’s edge, Southern California

I prefer exercising outside whenever possible, probably because I so enjoy being near plants, natural waters, wildlife, and looking at the sky.  Hiking and trail riding are activities that we enjoy on a regular basis.  If I must exercise inside, I make sure there’s a view and fresh air if possible.  When I belonged to a regular gym, I would focus on the trees outside the window while lifting or on the treadmill.  At my climbing gym, all the doors are propped open to allow the wind to blow through.  In our home workout room, I like to open the window and watch the birds while I’m on the boxing bag or glider.  Yoga is best practiced, in my opinion, with an outside view.  In fact, many classes are now offered in park settings.  I used to attend classes at a studio with windows revealing a direct view of the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona’s tallest mountains.  On snow days, it was particularly lovely and inspiring. 

Beautifully flowered rock found on a high desert hike

An article entitled The Great Outdoors: How a Green Exercise Environment Can Benefit All from the National Institute of Health states we may be still genetically designed to be hunter-gatherers in the great outdoors, (but) we are not being stimulated physically or mentally in the same way and this may be detrimental to health . . . maybe green exercise should be used to facilitate physical activity to improve health.  Going to the farmer’s market just doesn’t do it!  The article goes on to say that, owing to various factors, outdoor exercise can be perceived as less demanding.  (Maybe that’s another reason I prefer it?!)

Hiking Trail near Flagstaff, Arizona

Although there aren’t a great number of studies on green exercise, the research that has been done shows it yields many benefits physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Alive, a leader in natural health publishing for almost 50 years, shared a write-up encouraging outdoor exercise due to its ability to reduce stress and confusion; improve self-esteem, mood, and focus; and offer better recovery from training.  It can also reduce behavioral problems, especially in children. Plus, limited sun exposure enhances vitamin D levels, which can help us avoid cancers and heart disease.  And, bonus, due to outside sights and sounds being more interesting, green exercise increases the chances that we will stick to our exercise routine.  When you find you’re short on motivation, this might be the perfect fix.

A walk along the dog beach in South Florida

I’ve shared in past posts some of the many benefits we derive from simply being among trees, wildflowers, near waterfalls, and at the beach.  (Check out my Categories link for more.) Incorporate those benefits with the value of physical activity and you have a combination that’s hard to beat.  Not to mention, being outside makes exercise so much more fun!

A stroll near Moab, Utah

The many advantages of green exercise, even if limited to only 5 minutes at a time, shows a great deal of promise for improving our lives.  You are intimately connected to Nature; being active in this nurturing environment is a practice from the distant past that can easily transform your future.

Green Space Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Let’s Get Lost in a Forest!

Autumn at Wheeler Peak in Carson National Forest, NM

If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan Watts

The above quote describes the experience I had as I began hiking in the forests of the Western US.  What a difference it’s made in my worldview!  The hundreds of miles I’ve trekked among trees, boulders, rushing waters, shrubs, and wildlife have felt healing from the start, as if the forests have wrapped me in a maternal embrace.

Chama River in Carson National Forest, NM

The first forest to ever steal my heart was Carson National Forest surrounding Taos, New Mexico.  I’ve spent a good bit of time in the area, taking in much of its untamed beauty.  I’ll never forget a late fall hike at Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain, looking at acres of Evergreens and Aspens in the distance with their streaks of dark green and vibrant yellow. I also have fond memories of picking piñon nuts and learning to prepare them inside their shells. The area’s forest includes Aspens, various Pines, Firs, Spruce, fragrant Sage, Rabbitbrush, and sometimes a gazillion wildflowers.  Part of the Chama River runs through the forest, occasionally flanked on one side by mountains.  I was, and still am, head over heels with the Carson NF area. In fact, after years of talking about my love for northern NM, friends and family were puzzled that I chose to move to Arizona instead.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. ~John Muir

Hiking Trail inside Coconino NF, Arizona

The Coconino National Forest played a key role in my selection of northern Arizona.  Humphrey’s Peak, which tops out at 12,633 feet and is sometimes snow-capped for long periods, can be seen throughout much of the forest, and became iconic in my mind.  Between the time I first felt at home here & the year I was able to become a resident, I missed Mt. Humphrey’s like a far-away loved one.  The forest has plentiful hiking trails and encompasses the country’s largest stand of Ponderosa Pine Trees.  With a climate similar to that of northern New Mexico, Aspens, Spruce, Firs, and Junipers can be found here, as well as a few ancient Bristlecone Pines and Cypress trees. Due to a great number of blooming trees and bushes, Springtime delivers an intoxicating fragrance to the air.  As a bonus, the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is part of the forest, running parallel with Oak Creek between Flagstaff and Sedona.  This part of Red Rock Country is not as touristy as Sedona proper, yet its beauty could be superior.

A warm hike inside Dixie National Forest, Utah

Speaking of red rocks, southern Utah has its share inside Dixie National Forest.  From the first time I explored the area, I was struck by the gorgeous contrast between the burnt red of many of its rocks and the bold greens of surrounding trees, bushes, and grasses.  I’ve done quite a bit of hosteling, camping, hiking, and exploring of National Parks in and around the forest.  Bryce Canyon NP’s many hoodoos are unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  The simple act of driving through the beauty of Zion NP is a soothing experience, and hiking is even better.  Arches NP has some really unusual red rock formations, including, of course, arches!  Dixie National Forest’s desert-type terrain is dotted by plants, lakes and streams.

I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That’s what I believe, and it was very, very strong in the forest. ~Jane Goodall

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming

Further north and east lies the state of Wyoming.  After my first time driving almost the entire length of the state thinking what’s all the fuss about?, I came to the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  The nagging question disappeared from my mind, replaced by Oh, my . . . wow! . . . gorgeous!  The area contains 7 of the world’s largest glaciers, hundreds of alpine lakes, and a number of sweeping valleys.  Many headwaters can be found in the forest, including Two Ocean Creek, which is split by the Continental Divide to eventually make its way to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The Grand Tetons are part of this stunning forest.  Considered an adolescent range due to their age of 10 million versus the Rockies’ 50-80 million years, the Tetons have experienced much less erosion, which accounts for their jagged tops.

Bridger-Teton NF, Wyoming

This post would not be complete without mention of Los Padres National Forest in California, which includes the breathtaking coast of Big Sur.  This forest includes over 200 hiking trails, 100 peaks, 150 springs, and almost 300 camping areas.  Impressive, huh?  If you ever visit the area, you will never forget its extraordinary beauty.  My first visit involved a month-long work-study program at Esalen Institute.  Each morning, I walked among the trees near the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean from the boarding house to the main property, taking photos & imprinting on my soul the aesthetics of this wondrous forest by the ocean.

Pacific Coast Hwy shrouded in fog, Los Padres NF, California

What an irony it is that these living beings in whose shade we sit, whose fruit we eat, whose limbs we climb . . . are so poorly understood. We need to come, as soon as possible, to a profound understanding and appreciation for trees and forests and the vital role they play, for they are among our best allies in the uncertain future that is unfolding. ~Jim Robbins, author of The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet

Forests have indeed changed my perception of myself and that of the world.  I have no doubt now that I belong; I am a part of Nature, as are you.  During my many hours among the trees, I have come to know a healing embrace: that of our Primal Mother.

Blessings for Forest Healing,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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The Waterfall Effect

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. ~John Muir

Inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

When I see the word waterfall, it evokes exquisite and peaceful yet powerful scenes of Nature.  When I see an actual waterfall, I often catch myself holding my breath, as if the awesome, wild beauty I’m witnessing might disappear if I breathe too loudly.  Do you have a similar response?

Through the years, I’ve visited a great many waterfalls, oftentimes reached by hiking trails.  Niagara Falls, between New York and Canada, is probably the largest I’ve seen; I seemed to capture more spray than falls in every photo I took!  Multnomah Falls in Oregon is one of the most striking, and the entire area around Portland is home to a host of waterfalls, large and small, lending itself to some amazing hikes. You may remember my photo of Hanging Lake in Colorado, a small green paradise a little over a mile up a canyon wall. Glacier National Park in Montana showcases some spectacular cascades. Yosemite National Park in California is known for its wealth of waterfall beauty.  In the Navajo Nation of northern Arizona, you will find Grand Falls, often called chocolate falls due to its muddy water from the Colorado River.  And in southern Utah, a sweet waterfall and shallow lake can be found at the end of a hiking trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

In past posts, I’ve shared the idea that time near a waterfall is good for the gut’s microbiome and has a positive effect on immune function.  This post will give you more reasons to seek out waterfalls and bask in their glory.  Studies dating back to 1892 show that the natural force of water molecules crashing can cause electrical charges to separate.  As a result, some molecules gain an extra electron, and negative air ions, or NAIs, are formed, which studies show can be most valuable for health.  This process is referred to as spray electrification, or  simply, the waterfall effect

Yosemite National Park, California

According to an article published on the National Institute of Health site, the beneficial effect of NAIs include activation of natural killer cells and improved mental health, . . . which may reduce pain, including chronic pain. The article goes on to say that the changes made to the microbiome by NAIs (mentioned above) may also influence pain outcomes.  If helping with pain were the only benefit they offered, I’d say that’s reason enough to visit these spectacles of Nature.  But there’s more.

Niagara Falls, New York

A PubMed article states that studies reveal NAIs significantly reduced resting heart rate.  Further, it suggests that NAIs have a positive effect on the body’s circadian rhythms, which help regulate our sleep-wake cycle.  Could time at a waterfall resolve insomnia?

For a Healthline article entitled The Effect of Negative Ions, various research studies from the past century were examined.  Exposure to NAIs, the science shows, have resulted in reduced depression symptoms, improved cognitive performance, lessened stress, and increased fat metabolism.  The article goes on to say that it is the natural form of NAIs, not the manmade ones, that provide benefits, as there are risks associated with using electric ionizers in your home or office.

View from behind

You may have asked yourself, what about beaches and rapids and other waters that crash?  Negative air ions can be found there as well, but at lower levels.  This is due to the stronger force of gravity on waterfalls versus ocean waves or other crashing waters.  But, hey, if you’re within 10 miles of the sea and over 100 miles away from the nearest waterfall, by all means, catch some NAIs at the beach!

Grand Falls, aka Chocolate Falls, Arizona

Spending time near waterfalls not only puts us in a state of awe owing to their magnificent beauty, but also helps improve our health.  Whether you’re seeking relief from pain, sleep disturbances, or stress, or looking to boost immune function and fat metabolism, the waterfall effect may be reason enough for you and your family to plan a relaxing, healing excursion to one of these natural beauties.

Cascades of Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Mindfulness: What’s in It for Me?

Mindfulness is a way of being present: paying attention to and accepting what is happening in our lives. It helps us to be aware of and step away from our automatic and habitual reactions to our everyday experiences. ~Elizabeth Thornton

If you’re a regular reader of Micro of the Macro, you know that I often touch on the subject of mindfulness in my posts.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, who studied under Thich Nhat Hanh and co-founded the Cambridge Zen Center, defines mindfulness as purposeful, nonjudgmental attention placed on the present moment.  A more practical explanation, in my opinion, is paying attention as opposed to allowing unconscious behaviors to run your life.  We are such creatures of habit that it’s easy to slip into mindlessness.  Have you ever driven your car home from work (or vacation!) and later realized you don’t remember the drive?  That’s an example of an unconscious habit taking over.

So what does it matter if your life is controlled unconsciously?  Well I’m glad you asked.  The big-picture answer is that by living in this manner, you are sleepwalking through your time on the planet. Each of our lives takes place within a cosmic embrace of love and blessings, if only we take the time to notice.  The sound of crickets, birdsong, ocean waves, a child’s laugh; the sight of butterflies, wildflowers, and a star-lit sky; the smell of blossoming plants; the taste of fresh foods; the gentle touch of a beloved friend: all exquisite details that can be taken for granted or completely missed when we’re in auto-pilot.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~Mary Oliver

But there’s more to that answer.  Living unconsciously means that you miss out on the profusion of benefits for physical, mental, and emotional health that mindfulness offers.  According to an article from the American Psychological Association, over 200 studies have shown that mindfulness is effective at boosting immune function, decreasing chronic pain, reducing stress, and helping with depression.  These benefits, the article states, could be due to changes in the brain’s regulation of emotions, resulting in decreased rumination on negative thoughts.  Whether you meditate, practice yoga, do tai chi, watch wildlife, work in a garden, or evoke presence in some other manner, you may discover that you’re doing wonders for your health and peace of mind.

UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine shares a write-up addressing mindfulness studies that have shown positive impacts on relationships between couples as well as those between parents & children.  Additionally, mindful parenting is . . . linked to more positive behavior in kids, the article says.  The reduction of stress through better emotional regulation seems to be a recurring theme.

In a study from Central Michigan University, subjects that listened to mindfulness recordings were found to have decreased age and race biases as compared with control subjects.  The practice allows us to rely less on previously established associations, the abstract indicates.  To me, this implies that these prejudices can be broken down rather quickly, an idea with great potential for our times.

A US News & World Report article on addiction recovery speaks to the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for reducing substance abuse, including trials that are linked to reductions in impulsivity, cravings, and relapses.  A hallmark (of addicts) is that they’re very rarely in the now.  They’re either regretting the past . . . or dreading the future, according to Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.  The practice of mindfulness, therefore, could play an important roleHowever, as with most holistic modalities, more research is needed before it can be incorporated into standardized treatment.

Fortunately, research on the power of mindfulness is expanding.  A Mindful Magazine essay examines the directions of a few of the leaders in the field.  Planned studies include exploring the effects of mindfulness on childbirth, neurological development, memory preservation, cellular aging, and inflammation.  Perhaps these researchers are working from the premise that our bodies simply function better when we pay attention to our lives.  What do you think?

Learning to be present can enrich your existence and improve your health on every level.  Awareness of life’s moment to moment offerings can result in big, positive results, helping you to recognize your life’s beautiful cosmic embrace.  From reducing stress to strengthening relationships to helping with recovery from addiction, the benefits of mindfulness practices for you and those you love cannot be overestimated. 

We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Blessings for Presence,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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The Generosity of Plants

This week, I’ve begun reading The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith.  The book presents various research findings on working with Nature and draws beautiful parallels between gardening and developing a healthy mindset.  Stuart-Smith is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and her book was chosen by The Times, Britain’s oldest national daily newspaper, as one of the best books of 2020.  I guess you can tell I’m pretty excited about it, as I’m not even halfway through, but already wanting to share!

Early on, the author asserts that our species emerged in the savannah landscapes of Africa, and over the course of evolution, our nervous and immune systems have been primed to function best in response to various aspects of the natural world.  These aspects, she says, include the microbes we eat and breathe, the amount of sunlight we are exposed to, and the natural vegetation around us.  Further, she states, When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us.  

Stuart-Smith shares research done with many subjects in diverse environments.  She’s visited prisons to witness the difference that gardening programs have made for inmates, in some cases offering them opportunities to find work as gardeners post-release, which has been shown to lessen chances of recidivism.  She also writes of a garden project done for inner-city 7-year-olds with a high rate of learning disabilities, which not only resulted in a sense of pride and accomplishment for the little ones, but also transformed their sense of self-esteem and motivation.  Additionally, she addresses the use of therapeutic horticulture for those with depression, trauma, and anxiety, as studies have shown that the benefits of regular gardening are similar to those of cognitive behavioral therapy.  

I am enjoying the book immensely not only because it supports the ideas of Micro of the Macro, but also because of the memories it evokes.  As a small child, I often worked with my grandmother and uncle in our family garden.  No matter what was going on, working in the garden brought me into the present moment, with the sweet smells of tomato vines and dark soil, the intense feel of the sun on my skin, and the sight of bumblebees attracted to the yellow squash and cucumber blooms.  Years later, when I began hiking on a regular basis, I learned to treasure the smells of mountain tree blossoms and spruce needles, Ponderosa Pine bark, and an occasional deliciously earthy whiff of unknown origin.  Being present in this manner provides a calming escape from past regrets and worries of the future, wouldn’t you agree? 

Although we can derive amazing benefits from plants, their compassionate actions aren’t exclusively for humans.  In a delightfully-written article for Bay Nature, a 20-year-old publication advocating for the good of the environment, Endria Richardson brings our attention to the generosity of the California Redwoods.  Their biology, she states, does not require open-heartedness or a daily decision to be kind; it simply is, as a matter of design. This biology, or blueprint for being, can give rise to collective wellbeing: needles drop, bark is shed, a rich duff develops that protects not only one tree’s roots, but the root networks of clusters of trees.  During the time I lived among the Coastal Redwoods of Sonoma County, I was fascinated to learn about their root system; their underground support of each other allows them to grow to dizzying heights and withstand high winds.  On hiking trails, I also witnessed new trees sprouting from old, seemingly lifeless trunks.  Richardson continues her article by writing that acts of Redwood generosity help not only other trees, but also contribute to the lives of a variety of plants, animals, birds, and berries high off the forest floor. 

In an article written for the US Forest Service, we learn the extent of selflessness of the humble wildflower.  They support entire ecosystems . . . Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support, according to the write-up.  Are you noticing a pattern?

Believe it or not, even weeds can demonstrate generosity!  A Mother Earth News article shares that some weeds can benefit surrounding plants by protecting the soil, pulling up water and nutrients from great depths, and helping with insect control.  (Check out the article to determine which weeds you should keep!)

Nature provides us with an endless array of magnanimous acts.  The plant kingdom supports not only our well being, but also the health of its various members as well as other life.  This generosity seems to be part of Nature’s design of plants. Working with vegetation gives us access to that life-enriching bounty.

Blessings for Generosity,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Pope Francis, I Disagree: A Tribute to Earth Day

Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The original version of this heavily-edited post was first shared last year. The sorrowful effects of the pandemic are on the rise again in many countries and the senseless destruction of our planet continues. The message here becomes more urgent each day.

Since he was first elected, Pope Francis has been my favorite pontiff. I’m not Catholic, but I admire the fact that he’s not afraid to regularly speak out against corruption, specifically the neglect and exploitation of our natural environment for profit, as is common on a grand scale. For these reasons and many others, I feel he is a world leader in the truest sense.

Recently, the Pope expressed his belief that coronavirus could be Nature’s response to climate change. He was quoted in a UK periodical saying, “There is an expression in Spanish: God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the last part of that statement.

In honor of Earth Day, I present my defense of Nature, and therefore, my disagreement with the Pope.

The widespread death and health decline brought about by Covid-19 is unlike any other health crisis we’ve seen in the past 100 years. I’m on board with the idea that much of the fallout may be attributed to the (internal and external) functionings of Nature struggling from abuse and neglect; it’s hard for me to fathom how so many of us ignore the simple needs of our bodies and our Earth. But I don’t agree with the words Nature never forgives.

In my opinion, our external natural environment must attempt an ongoing balance of sorts, similar to our internal Nature’s constant drive for homeostasis. (For example, when we get too cold or too hot, we shiver or sweat, which reestablishes our normal body temperature set point.) The global warming callously caused by our species is like a disease to our planet. As a result, the natural world sometimes unfolds in ways resulting in death and destruction. I believe this devastation is related to rebalancing on some level more so than Nature’s unwillingness to forgive. What do you think?

Hope springs eternal – a revegetated Sunset Crater Volcano, Northern Arizona

In the podcast Food Independence and Planetary Evolution, Rich Roll, author of Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself, talks with triple-board certified Zach Bush, MD, about the wretched state of our food supply. In large part, the conversation centers around the soil-decimating and gut-destroying glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer which is used extensively in non-organic and non-regenerative commercial farming.) Dr. Bush, after speaking more than an hour on the sad and unjust consequences of using glyphosate and other current farming practices, shared the concept of biological grace, which he defines as the ability to heal faster than injured.

His first example of this idea relates to the microbiome of the gut. He talks about some of his clinic’s patients who, after a lifetime of damaging disregard for their health, can make a few simple changes and see health problems improve or reverse in a matter of weeks or months. These changes, including physician-monitored short-term fasting and (largely) ridding their lives of harmful chemicals, give a much-needed break to their biological systems, allowing Nature’s healing force to rush in and restore health, instantly forgiving the former myriad of abuses.

A table at a farmers market in Taos, New Mexico

Dr. Bush goes on to address soil health within the same paradigm. Decades of using genetically modified seeds, applying glyphosate, mono-cropping, and tilling are killing the life in our soils, resulting in, among other calamities, smaller yields with greatly reduced nutrient content. His estimates show that about 98% of the earth’s soils are now depleted in a similar manner. According to Dr. Bush, if these harmful measures are stopped, biodiversity can return to the soil within a single growing season. His team has partnered with the Soil Health Academy, and together, they have witnessed this renewal in over a million acres. In my mind, this, too, epitomizes Nature’s forgiveness.

In light of this information, I would like to say humbly, Thank you, Pope Francis, for calling the world’s attention to our ailing planet during a time of darkness like none we’ve known. But science backed by experience disproves your statement “Nature never forgives.” This clarification could critically impact our ability to overcome and move forward. Although the pandemic continues to rage, regardless of its source, I choose to work daily to achieve biological grace for the health of my body and my Planet.

Blessings for Forgiveness & Grace,

Lisa

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. ~Anne Lamott

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Frittata Primavera

Packed with fresh herbs, tomatoes, shallots, and green onions, and requiring just over half an hour from start to finish, this tasty stovetop frittata is a favorite Sunday morning breakfast in our house.

The first vegan egg-like dish I learned to prepare, although delicious, took way too long. First there was the chopping, next the mixing & resting of the batter, followed by the sautéing of the veggies, the frying of the batter, and finally the steaming. Ugh! By the time I sat down to eat, I was famished! You can imagine how thrilled I was to find a similar recipe that, once modified, takes a lot less time and might be even tastier!

And, you know if I’m sharing it with you, it has to be healthy! Shallots have good amounts of potassium, Vitamin C & Vitamin B6, and may help with allergies, bone health, weight, and circulation. Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K1, and lycopene, which can help reduce risks of cancer and heart disease. Fresh dill is a great source of various plant compounds that can play a role in kidney, liver, heart, and brain health. Fresh basil is packed with nutrition, including good amounts of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, copper, and iron, as well as several essential oils that are antibacterial & anti-inflammatory. And chickpea flour (in addition to a fabulous flavor) has a great deal more calcium, potassium, and fiber than wheat flour.

Give this recipe a try, and let me know if you find it to be a party on your palate!

Many thanks to Vegan Sandra for the original recipe.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients
2/3 cup chickpea flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
Several grinds of black pepper
3/4 cup water
1-2 shallots, minced
2-3 green onions, chopped into 1/4 inch segments
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped into 1/4 inch fronds
2 tbsp fresh basil, cut into 1/4 inch chiffonade
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, leaves chopped, but not too fine
1/2 cup Heirloom tomato, diced
2 tbsp avocado oil (or olive oil)

Directions
Hand mix the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the water & whisk until well combined. Add the shallots, green onions, 3 fresh herbs, and tomato, stirring thoroughly. Coat a large pan with the oil and heat for 2 – 3 minutes on medium. Add half the batter (or all of it if your pan is large enough) and cook for 5 minutes. Flip, using 2 spatulas if needed, reduce heat to the higher side of medium-low, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until mostly golden brown. Repeat with the rest of batter if you didn’t cook it all at once.

Serve alongside avocado, and for you big eaters, add a couple pieces of toast. Enjoy!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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5 Ways to Nudge Your Body Toward Optimal Function

The human body is a marvel.  Its ultra-intelligent design allows it to operate in ways without even requiring our attention.  The billions and billions of chemical reactions occurring each second are nothing short of symphonic.  The habits that become your lifestyle radically influence that symphony, for better or worse.  By providing your 70 trillion cells with the support they need to function at their highest levels, you make it possible to prevent or reverse disease, increase energy, and lengthen your time on the planet.  

In his book The Healer Within, Roger Jahnke, Doctor of Classical Chinese Medicine, explains, “Dozens of spontaneous self-healing mechanisms . . . are programmed to sustain or restore our health and vitality automatically.” And further, “The foundation of all self-healing, health enhancement, stress mastery, and personal empowerment is deep relaxation.” Below, you will find some of the best techniques I know to help you develop that foundational sweet spot.  (Reminder: I’m not a medical professional, and you should consult your Doc or NP prior to trying anything new.)

  1. Yoga – It took me many years to understand the statements get out of your head and drop into your body, bits of advice often dispensed by my well-meaning yoga teachers.  But finally, it hit me: by placing my attention on my breath and body alignment during poses, I put aside the process of jumping from one distracting thought to another for the duration of the class.  Dropping into my body calms my mind, and this calm stays with me for hours afterwards.  (Plus, all that stretching, twisting and bending keeps me an arm’s length away from aging!) According to an article in Psychology Today, regular yoga results in the central nervous system’s release of GABA, a chemical which works to suppress anxiety for hours after the practice ends.  Check out my friend Cindy’s blog Unique Times for some quick, heart-opening hybrid practices.  She’s a bright light and a great motivator. 
  1. Massage – According to an article from Mayo Clinic, massage is good for not only stress release, sore muscles, and circulation, but also insomnia, nerve pain, fibromyalgia and digestive disorders.  I have been a huge fan of massage as far back as I can remember, primarily because it feels so good to get my stuck energy remobilized!  In the past, I’ve gone once a month, but for the past few years, I’ve increased my time on the table to twice per month.  My neck and shoulders are much happier!  No massage therapist? No problem. Even self-massage can yield benefits.
Massage tables on the cliffs of Big Sur, CA
  1. Meditation – This practice dates back for thousands of years, and I’m guessing the reason it’s still around is because it is so advantageous.  U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine published an article stating that in addition to meditation boosting emotions, decreasing anxiety, and helping with depression, it also improves heart function, slows age-related cognitive decline, and strengthens the immune system.  What’s more, I’ve read from other sources that it increases creativity.  Years ago, when living and working at a Buddhist Retreat Center in Northern California, I had a regular meditation practice.  Presently, I am renewing that commitment.  A huge thank you to my neighbor, Jan, for introducing me to the Headspace Guide to Meditation on Netflix.  I find guided meditations easier than going it alone.
Music night at the hostel with the Tin Man and Scarecrow
  1. Music – Research shows that Celtic music, jazz, classical, and Native American music are great for reducing stress, says an article on Chopra.com.  In addition, playing an instrument or singing causes endorphins (happy chemicals) to be released in the body.  The article goes on to say this is especially beneficial for children and cancer patients.  Personally, I can’t imagine getting through a single day without listening to music, humming, singing, and a little dancing, can you?
Golden Gate Park
  1. Nature – I’ll bet you knew this was coming, didn’t you?!  As I write this post, I’m sitting outside in the warm Arizona sunshine listening to birdsong and the wind blowing through the trees.  According to the article Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science on Health.com, sounds such as rustling leaves and a babbling brook can help reduce stressful fight or flight feelings and increase the body’s capacity for relaxation.  

As you can see, these techniques not only help you achieve the foundation of relaxation needed by your body for optimal function; they have beneficial side effects as well. Combining one or more of them with other healthy habits can be the key to unlocking your best possible life. What could be better?!

What are your favorite relaxation techniques?  If you don’t normally honor your body’s need to relax, would you do me the favor of trying one of these?  I’d love to hear your experience.

Blessings for Healthy Foundations,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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The Sweetness of Spring

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

This beauty recently came to me via text from a beloved cousin. Thanks, Deb!

For the past few days, I’ve noticed the birds are back and making their happy presence known. I took time out this morning to admire the black, white, and vibrant red of two acorn woodpeckers out a back window. In preparation for the return of the hummingbirds, I’ve planned to hang their brightly colored feeder in a couple weeks. And after two days of snow last week, we stood for a long while in the warm sunshine enjoying the sights and sounds of a large paddling of ducks in a drainage pond. In the hopeful spirit of this miraculous season, I’ve talked to neighbors about planting, given a lot of thought to getting rid of things I haven’t used in a while, and am actively changing up my diet. I cannot recall ever being this enamored with Spring.

Acorn Woodpecker

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing, as it does, no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible. ~Mary Oliver

I remember as a small child dressing in a pastel yellow dress, lacy bonnet, white ruffled ankle socks, and black patent leather Mary Janes for church, closely followed by an egg hunt with cousins. Oh how I loved hunting for Easter eggs! It was by far my favorite part of the holiday; I enjoyed it more than the chocolate bunnies!

Elements of our Easter holiday originated in Ancient Mesopotamia’s spring equinox celebrations, as far back as 2400 BCE, according to an article on the website Learn Religions. Celebrated on the first Sunday after the first post-equinox full moon, the name Easter was probably derived from Eoster, the lunar goddess who was celebrated on the first post-equinox full moon. It was believed that on that day, the lunar goddess mated with the solar god, and their child would be born on the winter solstice of December 21st. The hare and the egg were symbolic of this celebration for their representations of fertility and new life.

The gardens at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. ~Rachel Carson

The birthing of animals in Springtime is certainly a reason to make merry. Years ago, when I first met my life partner, he was living on a horse farm in central Florida, and I spent a lot of time with him there. I can’t tell you how many hours we spent in the different paddocks, loving up all the horses, getting the young ones to trust us, and witnessing foal watch! It’s so exciting when the broodmares are expected to give birth at anytime. And the foals’ first few days of life, as they learn to feed and walk and play: what an absolute joy to watch!

Baby is bravely curious with Mom close by

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn

Humble beginnings

The sprouting of new plant life is a process that showcases the unparalleled design of Nature. Just think of the potential and perseverance a tiny seed must contain to reach maturity and bear fruit! I have neighbors who have already purchased seeds for planting in their gardens. And in many parts of the country, flowers will soon be flourishing, sometimes taking over fields as far as the eye can see. Savoring the exquisite view of a field of wildflowers is a fine way to spend part of a warm sunny afternoon.

Near Taos, NM

A flower blossoms for its own joy. ~Oscar Wilde

It’s also spring cleaning season! I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of cleaning, but I feel so much better when it’s done. And donating things that I no longer use is like a healthy purge. According to an article in Psychology Today, physical clutter can easily result in psychological clutter. Too much disorganized “stuff” can cause you to feel less than comfortable at home or in the office. It can also lead to feelings of being out of control and contribute to poor eating habits. Once internalized, clutter slows neural pathways, leading to memory loss as we age. Ok, I’ve got a bit of spring cleaning to do . . .

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. ~C.S. Lewis

Another transition into the Spring season should be eating lighter foods, according to the principles of Ayurveda, one of the oldest wellness systems in recorded history. Leaving behind the cold months of Winter, we should be eating fewer heavy, oily, sweet, and salty foods, opting instead for lighter foods including salads, leafy (especially bitter) greens, other vegetables, sprouts, beans, and berries. Seasonal eating works with the biology of our bodies, and can increase fat burning and decrease seasonal allergies.

A tiny bit of loveliness

The functions of your body are vested in Nature’s rebirth. I hope you will make a point of benefitting from the sublime gifts of our new season. Take your family on an outdoor outing, try some new recipes, or get rid of some stuff you don’t need anymore. May the abundant hope and beauty of the season cause you to reflect on the miracle in which we are all immersed. Happy Easter!

Tender green leaves on Aspen trees

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration
. . . ~D.H. Lawrence

Springtime Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Trails of Renewal

Trail in Grand Teton National Park

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something . . . that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

That subtle something that Stevenson references above is love, in my opinion. Hiking for miles in areas surrounded by mountains, stately trees, and wildlife I’d never seen in their natural habitat, with amazing skies overhead and occasional otherworldly deserts, all punctuated by streams, rivers, lakes, and seas: these are the gifts of Mother Nature that resolved my sense of disenchantment (see Escaping Normal for more on this), healed my thinking, and delivered me into the realization of oneness with Her. Can anything other than love mend one so thoroughly?

Over the course of 3 years, I visited many places known for their visual charm, where I hiked hundreds of miles. I encountered moose, buffalo, elk, bears, marmots, all kinds of birds & reptiles, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks. The sights, sounds, and smells of these explorations in Nature were rejuvenating. And the experiences I had will forever make me smile.

Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God. ~George Washington Carver

The Teton Trail where I encountered “Chippy”

My funniest memory of hiking was on a trail in the Teton Range of Wyoming surrounded by autumn-kissed leaves, grandfather evergreens, and plentiful ground cover. I had been on the trail for a long while without passing another hiker, so I was in a bit of a meditative state. As I rounded a cliff, a sudden, severe screech shattered the silence, scaring me to shivers. Continuing onward, I soon saw the culprit: a tiny chipmunk, the apparent sentinel of the forest, screeching more frequently as I approached him! You little *%&#!

Part of our hike in Germany

One of my most unusual hikes was in Northern Germany with a friend I was visiting. It was a long hike, through lots of hilly rural settings. We were on a trail for most of the day, but we also traipsed through a cow pasture. I voiced my concern that perhaps we were off the trail, and I was afraid we were going to be shot, but my friend assured me that her neighbors were a bit more lenient than mine in the US!

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. ~John Muir

Cathedral Wash trail

Cathedral Wash in Northern Arizona has been my most challenging hike, both physically and mentally. The trail drops about 400 feet in elevation through layers of sandstone which become towering cliffs on both sides of the trail in places. Many of the drops of 3 to 30 feet require an assessment as to how to descend to the next part of the trail, and there is some scrambling involved. The first time I hiked it, there were no cairns (markers) indicating the best way to proceed. On my second visit, the trail had been marked, but it had recently rained, and the best way to hike the dry trail is different from the best way to hike the trail with inches-deep water in places! Cathedral Wash ends with a breathtaking view of the rushing Colorado River just outside the Grand Canyon.

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. ~Edward Abbey

Hanging Lake up Glenwood Canyon

The trail that resulted in the most unexpected beauty at the end was the ascent up Glenwood Canyon, Colorado to Hanging Lake. I had heard good things about it from fellow rafters the day prior, but nothing could have prepared me for its extraordinary beauty. This is also the trail on which I learned one of my most important hiking lessons: always have extra camera batteries on hand! I got a few nice shots, but not nearly as many as I would have liked.

Hiking among California Redwoods

Hiking through the California Redwoods on a trail that took me to the waters of the Pacific Ocean qualifies as one of my most inspiring hikes. Glorious Redwoods enveloped me for most of the hike, and near the end, the view opened up to deep blue sky, gently crashing waves, and the rocky coast of Northern California. What a spectacular reveal!

The scene at the end of the Redwood trail

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
~Alexander Pope

View from a trail inside the Grand Canyon

In addition to the trails already mentioned, I’ve also trekked through a rainforest on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, made my way to the tops of waterfalls at Yosemite, and explored much of California’s Sierra Nevada. I have witnessed on foot the majesty that is Glacier National Park. I enjoyed a number of waterfalls while hiking the Columbia River Gorge and descended to the water’s edge at Crater Lake. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, wandered up and down the red rocks of Sedona, and traversed a great many tree roots and boulders on the way to the top of Mt. Humphrey’s, the highest peak in Arizona. Hiking the great outdoors has been good for me physically, but I feel it has served me even better psychologically and spiritually.

Sedona’s Secret Mountain Wilderness

Nature has an incredible capacity to heal and rejuvenate us. Hiking among mountains, trees, lakes, oceans, and wildlife, I know I am at one with this awesome creation; I belong. The healing love that emanates from Nature is like no other: She is, after all, our collective Mother.

Sweeping View from the top of Mt. Humphrey’s

Rocks and waters, . . . are words of God, and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. ~John Muir

Blessings for Oneness,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Red Rocks on the Water

The lovely little desert town of Sedona, Arizona, has more than 400 miles of trails for hiking and biking, and is surrounded by 1.8 million acres of forest land, according to visitsedona.com. Not bad for a destination known for its spas and luxury resorts! The rich colors of Sedona’s earth and trees are a delight for the senses. And as much as I love the trails and forestland in the area, my favorite part of Sedona is where the red rocks meet the waters of Oak Creek.


My first experience of Oak Creek was many years ago with a fellow hosteler from Switzerland and a guide. We were thrilled with the areas the guide shared with us, which were not open to the general public. We visited a sacred hollowed-out rock high on a ledge surrounded by breathtaking views. We hiked for miles in areas where we saw nothing but awe-inspiring vistas of trees and shrubs dotting red and orange rock formations. Finally, we found ourselves at a creek with towering colored cliffs on one side and old growth trees on the other. I will never forget how peaceful it was. And gorgeous!


Slide Rock State Park, on Oak Creek just north of Sedona, is a popular destination in the warmer months. The park is on a 43-acre historic apple orchard, and its 80 feet of narrow waters are open for swimming, sliding, and wading. There are also a few short hiking trails for those who’d like the opportunity to warm up after spending time in the extremely cold water!

One of the most photographed images in the Southwest, according to The USDA Forest Service, is the reflection of Cathedral Rock in Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing, which can be seen inside Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This park offers a picnic area with views unlike any other. There are hiking trails, and fishing and swimming are allowed. We soaked up the beauty while strolling along the water’s edge and soaking our feet in the creek afterwards.

Many of the hiking trails in Sedona run alongside or on occasion cross Oak Creek, but there is one trail that zigzags it: West Fork. My favorite time to hike this trail is either spring or fall: during springtime, the area is strewn with flowers and blooming trees, and in autumn, leaves are at their most brilliant reds and golds. Crossing the creek can be tricky in places when recent rain and snowfall has been plentiful. Most crossings involve navigating rocks or a fallen tree.

Even if you choose not to hire a guide or pay to enter a park, there are other ways to enjoy Sedona’s Oak Creek. Check out a trail that takes you to the water, and pack some food in a backpack for a hike & picnic. Bring the little ones in their bathing suits with small water toys. Or simply find a place near the creek where you can hear the water rushing and take some time to meditate. However you choose to enjoy it, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Many folks visit Sedona for luxurious accommodations offered among the extraordinary beauty of the red rocks, but the area offers so much more. Whether you are looking to hike, wade, swim, fish, photograph, or simply soak up some natural beauty, Oak Creek takes the beauty of Sedona to the next level.

Blessings for Beauty,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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For the Love of Skyscapes

Contemplate the entire Universe
As a magic show
On the grandest scale imaginable.
Fabulous art, an immense painting in motion.
God is a magician whirling galaxies of fire,
Juggling atoms, planets, and us.
Everything, everything is fleeting.
~Lorin Roche, PhD, The Radiance Sutras

Years ago, when I first began my travels West, I discovered the astounding beauty of skies. I was immediately captivated by the idea that beauty is love made visible, a statement I came across in a book I was reading at the time. I’m sure you’ve heard of the vastness of Western skies. Being able to see for what seems like forever is amazing. But the colors and cloud formations are unlike anything I had witnessed. I could remember so few sky images from the past. Was I too preoccupied in my former life to notice? Or was there too much light pollution in the East to appreciate the ethers? I can’t say for sure, but now I find that I photograph skyscapes as often as anything else.


It was in the tiny village of Arroyo Seco, New Mexico that I first saw a double rainbow. What a heart-opening experience! According to reference.com, a double rainbow is actually an optical illusion caused by sunlight entering a drop of rain, creating two internal reflections. It is also considered a symbol of transformation and good fortune. It certainly made me feel fortunate!

When I return to the East Coast and share the myriad of pictures taken on my journeys, I’m often asked, is the sky really that blue out there? And my answer is yes, when it’s not pink, orange, silver, black, or yellow! We do have the boldest blue sky I’ve ever seen (not just in the Southwest but in California & the Northwest, as well.) I’ve read opposing viewpoints on why the sky is so blue. Initially, I understood that dust was responsible for making it seem so vivid, and you know the desert has a lot of dust. But recently, I’ve seen that very clean air is required to get the boldest blue. Regardless of the reason, I’m grateful to be able to witness it (almost) every day.


As for the other colors often present in Western skies, a Science Daily article indicates they are due to the scattering of various molecules, light wavelengths, and our ability to perceive. Apparently, our eyes are more sensitive to some colors, and we are able to detect only a limited number of the hues present. But, what an amazing palette we have the opportunity to see! Sunrises of baby blues and bold pinks, monsoon and snowstorm sunsets with an extraordinary range of colors, and pastel pink snow skies heralding more of the gorgeous white stuff is on the way.


When it’s cold and raining,
You are more beautiful.
And the snow brings me
Even closer to your lips.
The inner secret, that which was never born,
You are that freshness, and I am with you now.
I can’t explain the goings, or the comings.
You enter suddenly, and I am nowhere again. Inside the majesty.
~Rumi

Night skies are fascinating in their own right. There are so many stars! And, the moon is sometimes so brilliant that I’m compelled to get up at night and look out the window. Its shine can be like a partially-dimmed sun.


Beauty must be love made visible. Looking upon the many spectacular skies with which we are gifted, my heart overflows and I am enveloped by a sense of wonder. I am grateful for my travels and my new home in the American West, where beauty emanates from every direction.


Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky. ~Hafez

Blessings for Beautiful Skyscapes,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Nature Interrupted

Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things. ~Lao Tzu

If you are a regular Micro of the Macro reader, you have seen my posts on how the design of Nature is being interrupted on an ongoing basis. Harmful chemicals are used on crops, in cleaning products, and in personal products. Plastics are used indiscriminately. Landfills are expanding. Oceans are affected by industrial run-off and carbon dioxide emissions. Trees continue to be wiped out to make room for commercial livestock. The water we drink now is largely devoid of minerals. These many macro-level tragedies combine to create a frightening reality for all of us sharing the planet. Drilling down to the micro level, I would like to share how the interruption of Nature’s design can affect us on a more personal level.

In a recent study from Lancaster University, extreme rainfall and flooding caused by climate change was shown to cause lower birth weights in newborns. Starting life in this manner can have life-long consequences for health and development, the study reports, including lower educational attainment, poorer health, reduced income in adulthood, and mortality risks. And of course, these undesirable consequences affect future generations.

Speaking of the little ones, an article in Psychology Today says that when children forgo playtime outdoors, choosing instead to play on devices, their tendencies toward mood disturbances increase significantly. Studies show that screen time can result in sleep disturbances, depression, stress, aggressive behaviors, poor focus, and lack of motivation. The article goes on to say, Many children are “hooked” on electronics, and in fact gaming releases so much dopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine use. This habituated response desensitizes the brain’s reward pathways, resulting in the need for ever-heightened stimulation. What’s more, increased screen time contributes to obesity and diabetes.

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Khalil Gibran

The chronic disruption of circadian rhythms, which regulate much of our biological functioning, has been shown to be instrumental in tumor growth, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Biology. Circadian rhythm alteration resulting from jet travel, shift work, or sleep disturbances, is a known risk factor for several types of cancer, the study shows. (On a side note, I have read from other sources that 5G technology has potential to substantially interfere with our circadian rhythms, as well as those of other animals.)

And finally, I want to address stress. Through decades of studying human health, I have come to believe that stress is a common denominator among those things that have harmful effects on us. Poor eating habits, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, climate change, working too many hours, worrying about money, commuting in traffic, too little time in Nature, physical and mental illness, relationship issues, working at a job (or for a boss) you don’t like, and the list goes on: all very common situations in our lives that result in stress. We didn’t evolve as a species to spend so much time feeling stress, which often activates our body’s fight or flight survival response. According to an article from Harvard Health, Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. These unfortunate effects can result in even more stress. It’s a vicious cycle.

Nature is loved by what is best in us. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When Nature’s design is interrupted, we all suffer in a number of ways. Each one of us is a microcosm of the macrocosm of Nature, after all. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our communities to be proactive in making changes, big and small, to combat these calamities that rob us of beauty, peace of mind, health, and longevity. By working toward preserving and restoring Nature’s design on all levels, we could find ourselves thriving in an optimal, life-enhancing world.

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Blessings for Nature’s Design,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Super-Simple Bok Choy Soup

This was the first recipe I shared on Micro of the Macro. It’s quick, easy, healthy, and delicious; what could be better?

According to the Universal Guideline for Human and Planetary Health, (WFPB.ORG), Human and environmental health are dependent on one another. What we consume greatly influences our personal health, the economic health of our countries, and the health of the planet we all share.

In the age of Coronavirus, this idea is more urgent than ever. Boosting immune function by eating more whole plant foods (for example, eating a sweet potato rather than sweet potato chips) and by consistently hydrating, which I believe is just as important as washing your hands, makes you proactive. And being proactive is a much better approach than stressing about when you might get the vaccine. Would you agree?

One cup of bok choy has about 75% of the US RDA of Vitamin C, which has been shown to help people who have contracted the virus. And vegetable soups, with a high water & mineral content, are very hydrating, which can mean the difference between falling ill or staying healthy.

Bok Choy Soup is one of my easiest go-to recipes. It doesn’t require much time in the kitchen, and it’s amazingly delicious. I have shared it with friends, some of whom weren’t previously familiar with the vegetable, and they, too, love it. With the addition of a few chopped Yukon gold or baby red potatoes, it can be made heartier for chilly nights.

A big thanks to www.Vegannie.com for the inspiration.

Let me know what you think if you give it a try!

Yield: 5-6 servings

Ingredients

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 bunch celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Himalayan salt to taste
15 oz cannellini beans, drained
*3 bouillon cubes
*6 cups water
1 large bunch of bok choy, chopped into 1” pieces (or 4-6 baby bok choys)

(*or sub 6 cups of your favorite broth)

Directions

Sauté the onions and celery in the olive oil over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are becoming translucent. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring, for another minute. Add crushed red pepper and sprinkle with salt. Add beans and stir for another minute or two. Break up the bouillon cubes over the beans and add the water. Increase the heat to high. Once it is almost boiling, stir until the bouillon cubes dissolve completely. Add the bok choy and reduce to a simmer for 8-10 minutes, or longer if you prefer the greens softer. Add salt to taste. Enjoy with a chunk of nice crusty bread.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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For the Love of Trees

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

This post was first shared close to a year ago. Although it’s a personal favorite, it didn’t get a whole lot of love because, at that time, few folks knew this blog existed. I am reposting it for all my current readers, in an effort to instill the vital importance of trees for each of us.

I grew up on a small farm in the Deep South, surrounded by trees and animals. My family had a couple cows, a few pigs, and lots of chickens. My grandmother, or Mawmaw, as we called her, maintained a huge vegetable garden on one side of her house, and a slightly smaller flower garden on the other side. Her property had several pecan trees, a walnut tree, a fig tree, and apple trees. Each time a grandchild was born into the family, she planted a new tree in her front yard. My birth tree was a magnolia, and even now, the scent of a magnolia blossom makes me swoon.

In those early years, I spent a lot of time climbing trees. It was great fun and I loved the views from above. Recently, I’ve learned to appreciate trees for other reasons. When I checked out of real life and took up traveling for a few years, (see Escaping Normal for more on that!) I discovered that trees were healing. Hiking in a forest or canyon or up a mountain surrounded by redwoods, ponderosa pines, aspens, or birch trees made me feel nurtured. And that’s as true now as before.

Petrified wood in southern Utah

Trees have not been the subject of a great number of scientific studies, although the studies that have been done reveal that their functions are vital for life on the planet. Most of us know that trees produce oxygen, take in harmful carbon dioxide, and provide shelter and food for animals. But after reading Jim Robbins’ The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, I’ve learned that trees are more important than I ever imagined. The author, who has written on environmental issues for The New York Times for more than 35 years, asserts that planting trees could in fact be our most important ecotechnology for saving this troubled planet.

According to Robbins, trees absorb not only carbon dioxide, but also various other pollutants that might otherwise end up in our lungs. Their root system can render toxic waste harmless. They can control the distribution of flooding rain and filter searing heat. They generate over 100 chemicals, many in aerosol form, that benefit not only their own species, but sometimes other plants, as well as some animals, including humans.

During my travels, I have witnessed some really unique trees with interesting stories. From the Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert, to the Great Basin’s ancient Bristlecone Pines, to the Giant Sequoias in California’s Sierra Nevada, the encounters were fascinating and unforgettable.

Joshua Trees inside California’s Joshua Tree National Park

The Joshua Tree is said to have been named by Mormons in the mid-19th century who were trekking through the Mojave Desert in search of a place to settle. The shaggy bark and open branches of the trees seemed to point them toward Utah, reminding them of Joshua from the Bible, who, with outstretched hands, guided the Israelites to Canaan. I couldn’t help but laugh when I first saw these unusual trees; they look like Dr. Seuss creations!

Bristlecone Pine inside Great Basin National Park

In Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, I came upon Bristlecone Pines, which are between 3000 – 5000 years old, making them some of the oldest living trees in the world. Their ability to withstand extremely inhospitable conditions accounts for their longevity. These ancient sentinels produce healthy pine needle clusters within a form that is partially dead. Instead of rotting, their decay-resistant trunks are polished by wind and rain. Even after dying completely, the Bristlecone Pine can remain standing for thousands of years.

Giant Sequoia dwarfing its neighbors inside Sequoia National Park

Giant Sequoias, according to Treehugger.com, can live up to 3000 years, and have branches that are bigger around than the height of 2 humans. Vertically, they can grow up to 300 feet, as high as a 26-30 story building. They can weigh over 2.5 million pounds, and may have a ground circumference of 100 feet. If you have never witnessed these gentle giants first-hand, I strongly encourage it. You’ll gain a new respect for biology! Sequoia National Park in California has some of the largest ones on record.

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. ~E. B. White

Trees work quietly for the betterment of life. Unfortunately, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. In his book, Robbins estimates that 80% of the world’s old-growth forests have been destroyed, and the destruction process continues. Trees and forests, he writes, “are ecosystem engineers that create the conditions for other forms of life to exist on every level.” Their disappearance, often the result of “progress,” may be facilitating the extinction of the human race.

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. . . . People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. ~Greta Thunberg

Demonstrating love for trees is a great place to start in resolving our ever-worsening environmental problems. If you have kids, talk to them about the importance of trees. Ask them to help you plant and care for some fruit trees or an oak or maple. (BTW, trees increase property value.) Teach your kids to climb trees, or climb with them. Take them to the forest to hike or bike. Visit an apple orchard. Check out state and national parks renowned for their grand species of trees. If you must have a live Christmas tree each year, decorate one in your yard instead of cutting one down. Showing love and respect for trees helps all life forms, and might just prolong our existence on this planet.

In the time when the world is sick and dying, a tribe of people will come together of many races. They will be a people who put their faith in deeds, not words, and the world shall become green again. ~Cree Prophecy

Blessings for the Love of Trees,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Outstanding Blogger Award

I was recently nominated by Angela from SUITCASE Travel Blog for the Outstanding Blogger Award.  Heartfelt thanks, Angela!  Like me, Angela is passionate about travel, exploration, meeting new people & learning new customs.  I do hope you’ll show her some love by visiting her beautiful site!

Rules

  1. Provide a link to the original creator’s award post, as well as one to the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Answer the questions provided.
  3. Compose 7 questions of your own.
  4. Nominate & notify up to 10 bloggers.
  5. Continue your awesome support of our blogging community!

Angela’s Questions

1. How did you choose the name for your blog? What’s the story behind it?  The name of my blog comes from a precept of Ayurveda, an ancient healing system based on balancing all aspects of self (the micro) and environment (the macro) to create optimal health and well-being.

2. How do you motivate yourself to keep blogging?  I am motivated by learning new information that helps me be the best version of myself, as well as the desire to share it in hopes of inspiring others.

3. If you would create another blog what would it be?  My current blog is broad enough to cover all the topics I want to write about, from health to vegan recipes to travel, so I wouldn’t consider a second blog.

4. What hobby do you have beside the blogging?  I enjoy cooking, reading, travel & the planning that goes with it, spending time in Nature, photography, and learning.

5. What are your essential travel apps or gadgets?  I am pretty old-school when it comes to travel.  I will research my destination online, and sometimes use a navigational device if I’m driving, but nothing fancy.  I still enjoy travel guide books. And one of my most exciting recent purchases was a road atlas!

6. Once you can plan your next vacation, where will you go?  I have begun planning a camping trip for early summer.  We will sleep in a tent, hike, and photograph the 3 parks in California’s Sierra Nevada.  I can hardly wait!

7. What superpower would you like to have?  I would like to be able to reverse the environmental damage done to our beautiful planet.  For example, when (even more) forest land is burned or clear-cut for the purpose of raising cattle for commercial consumption, I’d like to have an immediate awareness of it, appear on the scene, and cause all of the trees, shrubs, and wildlife to be instantly restored.

My little sister

My Questions

  1. When did you last spend time in Nature?
  2. Why did you become a blogger?
  3. Do you have a pet?  If so, what was the last funny thing he/she did?
  4. What music are you listening to right now?
  5. What book(s) are you currently reading?
  6. What was the last meal you prepared at home?
  7. What travel destination does the pandemic have you longing for?

My Nominees

The folks I have nominated are talented writers, storytellers, poets, and photographers, and their hearts always shine through their posts. They are also kind and encouraging to other bloggers. If you don’t know them already, you should; they are outstanding bloggers in every sense.

  1. Cindy at Unique Times 
  2. Janet at This, That, & the Other Thing
  3. Joanna at Naturetails 
  4. Ashley at A Different View
  5. Henrietta at Hensblooms 
  6. Kate at Aroused
  7. Philo at Philosophy Through Photography
  8. Frank at Beach Walk Reflections
  9. Dwight at Roth Poetry
  10. Donald at Donald Reese Photography

Thanks again, Angela; I am honored by your nomination!

Community Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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7 Lifestyle Touchstones from the Healthiest Person I Know

Over the years, I have learned that regularly investing in the health of my mind, body, and spirit is vital.  I don’t want to live forever, but I do want to feel good, enjoy life, and thrive as long as I’m on the planet.  When I go to my annual doctor’s visit for a check-up and blood draw, I remind her with a smile that I am the healthiest person I know!  I am blessed and grateful to be illness-free & require no meds; I’m strong and flexible & feel good the majority of the time; and my lab results are always stellar.  There are certain lifestyle elements that are essential to maintaining optimal health, and below, I share the ones that work for me.  (These tips have been garnered through the years from my degree work, independent research, and experimentation.)

  • Hydration is one of the most vital processes in my body, and I have control over it.  When I haven’t adequately hydrated, I become forgetful, I have no energy, I get headaches, and my body temperature goes unregulated.  (I can suddenly get way too hot or cold, and stay that way despite my efforts.)  After having worked in a lab, I’ve seen first-hand the way blood cells clump together when they aren’t dispersed with enough water.  Anthony William, author of Liver Rescue, among many other books, says that this thickening of the blood caused by dehydration results in the heart and liver being forced to work harder.  I believe it must force all our organs to struggle.  The human body simply cannot function properly without good hydration. (For more on the importance of hydration, check out my article Hydration – No, Really.)
Inner Basin view of the San Francisco Peaks
  • Spending time outside is one of the most important things I can do for my mental well-being.  When I’ve been inside for too long, I can get lethargic and grumpy.  Studies show that being outside has loads of beneficial effects.  For me, going outside can be like flipping a switch: I instantly feel happier, more grateful, and energetic.

  • Working with the microbiome in my gut is one of the best ways to ensure my continued good health.  According to Dr. Zach Bush, a triple board certified physician, each of our bodies is an ecosystem through and through colonized by bacteria.  The majority of that bacteria resides in our guts, and we have a symbiotic relationship with it.  By eating fibrous, non-GMO whole plant foods, avoiding antibiotics whenever possible, consuming fermented food and drinks, and breathing in diverse ecosystems like lakes, waterfalls, mountains, oceans, & deserts, I keep my microbiome healthy and happy, which in turn keeps me healthy & happy.
Eat this, not that processed stuff!
  • Regular exercise, including stretching, strengthening, and cardio, is essential not only for my physical health but also for feeling good about myself.  If I go 2 days in a row without it, I feel like a worthless lump!  Climbing, hiking, biking and yoga classes are my favorite forms of exercise, but we have a workout room at home for the days we can’t do our preferred activities.  Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker, asserts that exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants.  I can attest to that!  (Of course, you shouldn’t go off anti-depressants without working with your doc.)
Hiking in the snow again!
  • Focusing on the positives in my life helps me stay positive.  When less-than-pleasant ideas start to dominate my mindset (like when I get bad news), I step back, refocus, and recall my blessings & belief that everything happens for a reason.  According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, New York Times best-selling author, the term emotion can be thought of as energy in motion, and it goes wherever you place your attention.  Rather than worrying and dwelling on negatives, I find I am much more productive and cheerful when I am in a state of gratitude, expressing love for my life and the beautiful world around me.
  • Being generous opens my heart unlike anything else.  This doesn’t mean I go around handing out cash; my generosity involves expressing compliments, sending a card to a far-away friend, sharing home-cooked food, focusing my full attention on one with whom I’m speaking, and giving small gifts.  Research shared by UC Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine shows that giving releases feel-good endorphins, activates a part of the brain associated with pleasure, results in a helper’s high, and provides a myriad of long-term health benefits.  
  • Continuing to travel and learn about health, spirituality, cuisine, the planet, and other animals feeds my soul.  It also keeps my brain functioning optimally by forming new synapses.  You know the old saying use it or lose it?  That applies here.
Lake Powell, Arizona

An important caveat: as soon as I realize I’m feeling off, I assess.  What have I eaten?  Have I taken in ample water & electrolytes?  When did I last exercise?  Where have my thoughts been focused?  I want to feel good in mind, body, and spirit all of the time.  Figuring out the reason I’m not up to par is critical to getting back on track as soon as possible.

To me, feeling good on every level means thriving in a world teeming with love & beauty as opposed to enduring a joyless existence.  Staying conscious of the touchstones that support my health are of utmost importance.  My hope is that you may benefit from my experience. Regardless of your age, investing in your health and well-being is always one of your very best endeavors.

Blessings for Health,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

Featured

Winter in the High Desert


The first time I witnessed a big snowfall, it was in Northern Arizona. I was walking back to my hostel from a yoga class when the flakes first started. After having lived full-time in the Southern US, where snow seldom makes an appearance, I was super-excited to see it. Two days later, there was an accumulation of three feet, and I was over the moon. My car was buried, and I was lacking a proper coat and snow boots. But what a delight!


Later, after spending time in the Northeastern US, I learned that the snow in the Southwest was different; in addition to making everything beautiful, it was light, easy to shovel, and didn’t stick around for long. After a bit more exploration, I knew that I wanted to spend many more winters in that high desert environment.


The topography of the state of Arizona is an anomaly, and the weather reflects that. Cities sit at elevations separated by thousands of feet, mountains rise up sharply from arid desert floors, and forest covers about 25% of the state. Much of the state’s deserts are hot and dry. But on average, Flagstaff, in northern AZ, receives about 100 inches of snow each winter, making it one of the snowiest places in the country.

One of my favorite snow scenes is what I call a “spray-painted tree.” It is one with many small branches and without leaves on which the snow has fallen gently for hours, causing each of the little branches to be thoroughly coated. I also love the way the snow appears on the boulders, large and small, near the San Francisco Peaks, which are the majestic result of volcanic activity eons ago. And, of course, snow on the red rocks of Sedona is unforgettable.

From the inside looking out at the San Francisco Peaks

The reason the snow doesn’t usually linger here is due to the frequency and strength of the sun. Northern Arizona gets upwards of 300 days of sunshine annually, and the elevation increases its strength. For example, Sedona, sitting at about 4000 feet in elevation, is just under a mile higher than areas at sea level. Flagstaff, perched at 7000 feet, is closer to a mile and a half above sea level! You can imagine how the sun might feel stronger and melt snow quickly in these areas. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to the highest elevations where temps stay lower – like the ski area!) Owing to our strong sun, many cold days, even with temps in the 20’s, can be tolerable for hiking and other outdoor activities.

Layer up for a hike?

But there is more to the area’s extraordinary winter than snow. Some evergreens here exude an intoxicating fragrance in the colder months. Sometimes you have to cozy up to the trees to smell them, but other times you walk by and they just seem to be broadcasting their lovely scent. You know when you’re walking down the street and you smell some really good food and turn to see where it might be coming from? Same idea!

And the skies, oh the skies! To look up in the frigid night and see a gazillion stars in the big Western sky is absolutely glorious! In the early morning, the sun creeps over the horizon, heralded by tender shades of pink and baby blue. In the evening, when a snowstorm is blowing in or out, sunset skies can display brilliant hues of yellow, orange, red, pink, silver, black, gray, and violet. Photographs don’t do it justice, you really must see it first-hand.


In some years, the cold weather is prolonged here (we can get snow in June!), and we just need a break. When that happens, we hop in the car and within 2 – 3 hours, we find ourselves in a lower elevation with a higher temperature. Phoenix, for example, typically has winter temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees warmer than points north. A fabulous respite!

I do hope you are enjoying the season as much as I am! The snow, sun, skies, elevation, and evergreens make the high desert a true paradise in winter months. Especially now that I have a winter coat and boots!

For more photos and info on Arizona, check out my article Arizona: A Love Letter.

Winter Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

Featured

Asian Veggie Noodle Soup

As funny as it may sound, this recipe will forever take me back to memories of Northern New Mexico. It was in a small hostel there that I first had a soup similar to this prepared by another hostel guest, a young Japanese girl who was selling it for $2 a bowl. It was so fresh and delicious that, once I returned home, I immediately searched for a similar recipe on the internet. The closest one I could find was a Soba Noodle Soup by Rachael Ray, which I modified for the recipe below.

Not only is this soup crunchy with raw, colorful veggies & peanuts, but it’s also earthy from the reconstituted mushrooms, filling from the tofu and noodles, and have I mentioned incredibly delicious? It is versatile as well. If you don’t like one or more of the veggies in it, replace them with something you do like. If you’d rather not eat it with noodles, toss in some cooked brown rice. If you enjoy a “brothier” soup, use fewer veggies, noodles & tofu cubes.


Is this versatile, delicious soup good for you? Indeed it is. Gabriel Cousens, MD, author of Conscious Eating, says that raw vegetables have more enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, structured water, and other merits as compared with cooked veggies. Shiitakes have properties that enhance immune function and reduce inflammation, thereby helping prevent cancer, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods. And the American Heart Association urges us to replace some of the animal foods we eat with soy foods to cut our risk of cardiac disease.

I hope you’ll enjoy this healthy soup as much as I do! Please let me know in the comments below if you give it a go! And if you like this recipe, please check out my other recipes under the Categories link of this site.


Yield: 6 servings
Ingredients (use all organic and/or non-GMO ingredients if possible)
1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup of boiling water (for reconstituting mushrooms)
*5 cups water
*2 low-salt bouillon cubes
1 inch ginger, minced
2 tbsp tamari
1/2 lb extra-firm tofu, drained & cubed
8 oz buckwheat soba or rice noodles
1/3 lb sugar snap peas or snow peas, cut into thirds
1 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
1/2 – 1 bunch scallions, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Roasted, unsalted peanuts

Directions
Reconstitute shiitakes by placing them into boiling water removed from heat. Cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Remove the mushrooms (saving the water), rinse & dice. Pour the shiitake water through a strainer lined with cheese cloth into a soup pot. Add the shiitakes, 5 cups of water, broken bouillon cubes, ginger, tamari, and tofu. Bring to a boil & reduce to simmer for 5 minutes. Add the soba or rice noodles & continue to simmer long enough for them to soften, between 5 and 12 minutes. (Soba takes about 1/2 the time of rice noodles; be careful not to overcook it!) Taste for tamari, adding more to taste.

Place raw peas, carrots, cabbages, & scallions in a bowl. Ladle noodle, tofu, mushroom, and broth mixture onto the veggies. Top with cilantro and peanuts. Enjoy!

Store all the raw veggies in one bowl (except cilantro, which can go solo in a smaller bowl) and the broth mixture in another. Will keep a few days in the fridge.

*You may sub 5 cups of broth for the 5 cups of water & 2 bouillon cubes.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Travel Challenge – Day 10

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Andy at Andy’s World Journeys.

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Travel Challenge – Day 9

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Alison at Travels with Ali.

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Travel Challenge – Day 8

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Ingrid at Live, Laugh, RV.

Featured

Travel Challenge – Day 7

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Eeva at Wanders the World.

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Travel Challenge – Day 6

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Dan at Danventure Travels.

Featured

Travel Challenge – Day 5

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Jane at Jane Lurie Photography.

Featured

Travel Challenge – Day 4

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Tina at Travels and Trifles.

Featured

Travel Challenge – Day 3

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Pam at I Choose This.

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Travel Challenge – Day 2

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate D.S. Chauhan at Travel and Share.

Featured

Travel Challenge – Day 1

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Kelly at Compass and Camera.