Wildflowers: Resilience, Beauty and Grace

On The Mesa in northern New Mexico, with the foothills of the Rocky Mountains & a Buddhist temple in the background

I must have flowers, always, and always.  ~Claude Monet

I first fell in love with wildflowers on a trip to Taos, NM.  The first couple times I visited, drought conditions prevailed, and I remember hand-written signs hanging all over the little hostel encouraging water conservation.  But a couple years later, the drought ended (unbeknownst to me) and I returned to discover incredible displays of wildflowers all over the northern part of the state.  It was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed, and my deep appreciation for these beauties was born.

Just outside Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Since that time, I have become a seeker of wildflowers.  Anywhere I travel now, I look for them, even if they can be found only in small patches.  I believe their resilience and willingness to tenderly reveal themselves after years of enduring drought is a spiritual act, one that we humans can reflect on and learn from.

Where flowers bloom so does hope.  ~Lady Bird Johnson

On a hiking trail inside Joshua Tree National Park in California

Not only do wildflowers delight our senses, but they serve practical purposes as well.  According to an article from the US Dept of Agriculture’s US Forest website, wildflowers support entire ecosystems for pollinators, birds, and small animals on a micro scale. Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support system.

Lupine among the aspens, alongside Kachina Trail in Northern Arizona

Like many parts of the Southwest, Northern Arizona is often strewn with wildflowers, especially during monsoon season.  I went to buy some native seeds to plant around my house earlier this year, but the nursery was sold out!  It seems a lot of us are planting seeds during this pandemic.  An article from Mother Earth News, The Benefits of Growing Wildflowers, says Wildflowers are as much the heartbeat of our planet as the oceans. All living creatures interact with wildflowers whether they know it or not. For 130 million years, wildflowers have blessed the earth with their amazing skill sets and stunning beauty . . .  They freely bestow upon us a grace that helps sustain all of life.  Therefore, planting native species, the article goes on to say, is most advantageous.  I’ll be sure to get to the nursery earlier next year!

In the Mojave Desert, Southern California

The Amen of nature is always a flower. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

What are your favorite wildflowers?  Have you planted any native species?  I’d love to learn the names of the ones unlabeled in the pictures of this article. If you’re familiar with them, please don’t be shy – share your knowledge!

Wildflowers are beautiful and beneficial creations.  They help ensure the survival of pollinators, and therefore, humans.  What a debt of gratitude we owe them for their willingness to reveal their tender beauty, sometimes after years of drought, in an effort to help sustain life!

On the coast of Big Sur, California, with a very vocal little bird!

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy . . . to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch

Blessings for Wildflower Love,

Lisa

For the Love of Animals

We are born into this world with a love for animals.  As babies, we share the same innocence and many similar vulnerabilities.  As we grow, we often have animal playmates that grow alongside us.  I’ve met many service dogs who regularly visit nursing home residents.  I’ve known cats living in a hospice facility that won’t leave the room of a patient who is very sick or dying.  I have witnessed horses who adore their owners and caregivers.  And, as a small child, I felt a loving kinship with our cows, pigs, and chickens, and sensed that love returned.  Animals seem to embody a spirit of loving oneness with us.

In a study done in 2012, researchers at the University of London found that  dogs are more likely to approach an individual who is weeping than one who is simply talking.  The submissiveness they display in these situations indicates that they have a primitive understanding of human distress, according to the study.  I have experienced this sort of behavior first-hand, but from a cat, surprisingly!  Have you witnessed this type of behavior from an animal?

Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

As mentioned in my first post on animals, 69 scientific studies on human-animal interaction reviewed by The National Center for Biotechnology Information show that interacting with animals can be quite therapeutic. Some of the benefits shown in these studies include improved mood & behavior; reduced stress, fear & anxiety; improved heart health & immune function; and reduced aggression.  Over the past month, I have set up both a hummingbird feeder and a regular seeded feeder in our front yard.  These precious (but sometimes possessive!) little birds have touched my heart in a way that brings back the sweetness of childhood.  Watching them feed, I’m overcome with tenderness and exhilaration.

Is this a common effect of the pandemic, do you think?  Have you made a deeper commitment to animals, or Nature in general, since the onset of the virus?  Or do you know anyone who has?

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

What about eating animals: do you find that you’re eating fewer meats these days?  I have seen many news articles over the past several months about how the popularity of fake meat items has boomed.  According to the meat paradox, as discussed in an article from Current Directions in Psychological Science entitled The Psychology of Eating Animals, most people care about animals and do not want to see them harmed but engage in a diet that requires them to be killed and, usually, to suffer.  What thoughts or feelings surface when you read that statement?

Before covid-19, I can’t remember ever hearing the word zoonotic.  Now I’m seeing it used repeatedly.  The term refers to diseases, like covid-19, that are spread from animals.  According to Wikipedia, there is increasing evidence . . . that measles, smallpox, influenza, HIV, and diphtheria came to humans this wayTuberculosis and even strains of the common cold, the article goes on to say, originated in animals.  I’ve read information from several sources suggesting that the sad state of factory farming practices in this country could lead to more frequent outbreaks of zoonotic diseases.  Can policy makers do nothing to protect us from these looming threats?  In light of the many sacrifices we’ve made due to the pandemic (and who knows how much longer it will continue), shouldn’t this be a priority?   

I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being. ~ Abraham Lincoln

We come into this world treasuring animals, but learning to disregard that love, at least for farm animals, often seems part and parcel to growing up.  With all the benefits animals confer on us when they are loved and treated well, perhaps an examination of our current belief system is in order.  Learning to embody the same sense of loving oneness they often display may very well contribute to not only our happiness but also our health and longevity.

Blessings for Animal Love,

Lisa

Quick and Crispy Chickpea Salad and Dressing Recipes

The masses have spoken (well, at least the 8 people who voted in my poll!) and the winner is . . . a new recipe!  I had a lot of good feedback on the Bok Choy Soup recipe I posted a while back, and I hope you find this meal just as tasty.  For those of you who asked for more quick and easy recipes after trying the soup, thanks for your patience!

This meal quietly slipped out of my rotation for a few years, even though it’s one I’ve always enjoyed immensely.  Has that ever happened to you?  I suppose it was because I began experimenting with a lot of new ethnic dishes, so for a while, my focus shifted to finding new (or new to me) ingredients and trying new methods of preparation. For reasons unknown, this sautéed chickpea (aka garbanzo bean) salad popped back into my memory recently, and I immediately wanted to share it with you!  I started making it so many years ago that I can’t remember where I got the idea.  I looked around at recipes online, and couldn’t find anything similar, so I’m thinking perhaps I saw lots of recipes during that time that included sautéing chickpeas & decided to throw some on a raw salad.  The combination of tastes and textures in this dish make it absolutely crave-worthy. 

The salad starts with a big bed of romaine lettuce.  Romaine is not only crunchy and delicious, but also very high in folate, vitamin A and vitamin K, which doesn’t get a lot of air time, but is super important.  Vitamin K works to help blood clot.  Additionally, it works with calcium to strengthen bones & teeth, to help keep arteries from hardening, and to prevent osteoporosis & fractures, according to Dr. Joel Furhman, NY Times bestselling author and internationally-know expert on nutrition and natural healing.  Having worked with a hospice organization for years, I know that as we age, bones can get brittle, balance and strength often wane, and falls increase.  Those conditions create a perfect storm for fractures, which, for various reasons, can be the beginning of the end.  So let’s try not to go there, eh?  Eat your romaine!  😊

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~ Hippocrates

Chickpeas, as it happens, may be as healthy as romaine.  According to The George Mateljan Foundation for The World’s Healthiest Foods, garbanzo beans are high in manganese, folate, copper and fiber.  The fiber they contain can assist in making the preferred energy source for cells that line the colon.  This can result in more optimal colon function, reducing the risk of cancer and other gastrointestinal issues.

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe for this incredibly healthy, delicious salad, that will take you less than 30 minutes!  Please let me know in the comments if you give it a try.  I’d love your feedback.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredientsuse organic and/or non-GMO whenever possible

1/4 large head of romaine, chopped
3-4 medium carrots, sliced
1/2 small red onion, diced
2 tbsp oil, preferably avocado (but olive oil will work)
3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
16 oz cooked chickpeas (either prepared from dried or canned, drained)
1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
Salt to taste
Extra drizzle of olive oil, if desired

Directions

Create beds of romaine on 2 large plates.  Add a heavy layer of sliced carrots to each & sprinkle with red onions.  

Heat the oil on medium-low heat in a large skillet & add fresh garlic (if using), stirring for 1-2 minutes, until just fragrant.  Add chickpeas, using the pan’s lid like a shield to protect yourself from popping oil, and stir to coat.  Add cayenne pepper, salt, and garlic powder (if you didn’t use fresh garlic.)  Cook, stirring frequently for 7-12 minutes, or until the chickpeas get a little tanned.  (Be sure to stop cooking if the oil starts to smoke.)  Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.  

Scoop 1/2 of the chickpeas on top of each salad, and drizzle a little olive oil if desired.  Enjoy!

Note – if you find the salad is not quite filling enough for you, here are 2 ideas:

  1. Follow it with a big chunk of watermelon! 
  2. Stuff the salad into a pita round, and add some of this lemon tahini dressing, which is one of my favorites:

Yield: just under a cup

Ingredients

2 cloves chopped garlic
1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed butter)
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp hot water
1 tsp salt

Whisk all ingredients together, adding just enough water for your desired consistency.  Keeps for a few days in the fridge stored in a small jar or other glass container.  (You may want to add a tiny bit more water each day you take it out of the fridge, as it can get pretty thick.  It won’t really affect the flavor, as it intensifies as it sets.)  

*This can also be used on grilled veggies, in grain salads, on regular raw salads, or even to replace mayo on some sandwiches.  I make this versatile, delicious dressing often.

Thank you, Jess Hinkson, for the dressing inspiration!

Special Southwest Finds and a Poll Just for You

When I first started spending time in the Southwest, a whole new world opened up to me. That new world included the opportunity to witness things that were outside my old frame of real-time reference. I remember my first time seeing a tumbleweed being blown across the road, thinking excitedly omg, just like in the old western movies! (Except, of course, I was in a car instead of horse-drawn buggy, and the road was paved, not dirt. :)) Exploration in this beautiful part of the world makes my heart happy. If you are familiar only with the East Coast of the US, you’re missing out on some other-worldly, breathtaking sites. In fact, the Southwest shares so few parallels with the East that I have often said it feels like a different country.

. . . There are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young. ~Anne Lamott

I want to share with you a few of my special finds from the Southwest. I realize these treasures can be found in other locations, and I’d love to hear if you’ve seen any of them, and where. I was surprised to learn this week, after a lifetime of believing otherwise, that tarantulas can be found in more than half of the U.S. Who knew?!

Speaking of tarantulas, I saw this old gal in Sedona. (I say gal because she was alone on the sidewalk of a touristy shopping area!) I’d never seen one outside of a glass-enclosed case, and I was surprised at how close she let me get. I was even more surprised at some of the facts on tarantulas, as reported by spideridentifications.com. They can be as small as a couple centimeters, or as large as a dinner plate! The lifespan of a typical female is 30 years, and 7 years for a male. (Any thoughts on that? LOL! Sorry, guys, I couldn’t resist!) Also, their jaws and fangs, which can be 1.5 inches long, are quite strong. There are not many reports of them harming humans, according to the site, lucky for us.

Next, the Painted Desert occupies 7500 square miles in northern Arizona, between the east entrance of the Grand Canyon and the area surrounding Petrified Forest National Park. This extraordinary landscape is made up of fine-grained rock that is easily eroded and shaped by the elements. As for the coloring, compounds of manganese and iron account for the many bands of reds, orange, grey, and lavender. It is truly a site to behold.

As its name implies, Petrified Forest National Park contains an abundance of wood turned to stone. The above picture, however, was snapped at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah. Petrified wood is actually a 3-D fossil that is formed by a mineral process over millions of years. Like the Painted Desert, the fossilized wood is colored by minerals. In addition to the colors in the pic above, you can also find this wood with shades of black, pink and green.

Petroglyphs have been another amazing find for me. How awesome is it that our ancestors unknowingly left us this beautiful history?! The above shot was taken at V-Bar-V Heritage Site in central Arizona. When I visited, the area was an active archaeological dig site (which was a first for me as well!) This rock art was created between 600 and 900 years ago, and encompasses over 1000 petroglyphs on 13 panels. It is said to be one of the best-preserved sites of its kind.

The photo above was taken at Mesa Verde National Park in the Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado. This ancient construction, which is underneath an overhanging cliff, was built primarily of shaped sandstones cemented with mud. Some structures were made for dwelling, others for storing crops, and still others for ceremonial purposes. They are said to have been built between 700 and 800 years ago. Because this population left no writings on the rocks in this location, archaeologists have had a harder time gathering information on them. However, the dig sites around the area have yielded evidence indicating that their “accomplishments in community living and the arts rank among the finest expressions of human culture in North America.” Impressive, huh?

And now, stepping away from history and archaeology, chile ristras are the very mascot of the Southwest, in my opinion! These cheery decorations are made not only for the practical purpose of drying for later use, but also for ornamentation. It is said they bring good health and fortune. They can be found all over New Mexico. Check farmers’ markets to find troves of them, along with other unusual desert-made goodies.

I hope you enjoyed my special finds. The Southwest is really a jewel, with a lot of sweet surprises. I encourage you to visit and explore, and fall in love with a new world, just as I have.

And, now the poll. I am going to rely on your input to determine the subject of my next blog post. These are your choices:

  • Wildflowers
  • Animals
  • A new recipe

What say you? Please leave your choice in the comments section below.

Blessings for Sweet Southwest Surprises,

Lisa

Six Science-Backed Reasons to Get Outside

Did you enjoy spending time outside as a kid? I did. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember spending much time inside, unless I was at school. I loved playing outdoors with pets we had over the years, including lots of dogs and cats, a couple rabbits, and a rooster that I treated like a baby. I enjoyed riding my bicycle and skateboard up and down the driveway. I reveled in turning cartwheels and doing handstands in the grass. I liked climbing trees and fishing with my grandmother at our little pond. I spent many hours on the cool ground, looking for lucky four-leaf clovers. (Often while singing I’m looking over a four-leaf clover that I’ve overlooked before . . .) Sometimes, I’d link together the little clover flowers to make a crown garland. I can’t guess how many unfortunate butterflies I caught in a big Mason jar when they would light on the giant twin oaks in the backyard. And the poor June bugs that I caught provided plenty of outdoor entertainment once I tied a long string around one leg, limiting the area to which they could fly. (Hopefully, nobody is teaching kids to catch butterflies and restrain June bugs anymore!) On the playground at school, I delighted in running, jumping rope, and playing on the monkey bars and swing sets. What are your most cherished childhood memories of being outside?

I don’t remember being sick very often as a child, and I think all the time I spent outdoors had a lot to do with it. Research shows time and time again how nature can benefit us. And just because we’re having to lay low now due to covid doesn’t mean we can’t get outside. Actually, being out in the elements is often a better bet than staying indoors.

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in. ~George Washington Carver

In an article on the Centers for Disease Control website entitled Are There Benefits to Spending Time Outdoors?, it is reported that, due to benes such as the opportunity to be active and the sun’s role in producing vitamin D, being outside may elevate your overall health and wellness. If those were the only significant findings from science in this area, they’re reason enough to get out in nature, wouldn’t you agree?

The EPA report, Estimating Greenspace Exposure and Benefits for Cumulative Risk Assessment Applications, is a lengthy document which addresses many effects of the outdoors on public health. The findings of these multi-disciplinary studies include “improved cognition, attention restoration, and improved immune function.” Also, greenspaces can “reduce exposures to air pollution . . . and noise.” Kind of the opposite of what an indoor environment provides.

The Journal of Positive Psychology published Noticing Nature: Individual and Social Benefits of a Two-Week Intervention, an article describing a study of 3 groups of undergraduates assigned to pay attention to different environments: natural, man-made, and a control group with no change from the norm. The results of the study showed that those assigned the natural environment had more elevated experiences and felt more connected to others and life in general than the other 2 groups. In just two weeks’ time!

The earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

An article from Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, Trends in Research Related to “Shinrin-Yoku” (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing) in Japan, describes many studies, including findings on the smell of plants. (Did you catch my article For the Love of Trees?) Many trees release chemicals that, when inhaled, decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which works to stimulate fight or flight responses and regulate homeostasis. These bodily changes lead to feeling less stressed. We could all use some of that now, right?

In the book they co-authored, Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight & Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration, Gina Bria and Dana Cohen, MD, talk about the ways our modern indoor work lives contribute to dehydrating us. (Check out my article Hydration – No, Really to learn just how critical proper hydration is.) Closed environments like offices, with bright artificial lights, screens and other electronics, air conditioning, heating, and even furniture and flooring, absorb vapor from the air. Modes of transportation, including cars, trains, and airplanes have super-low humidities. Now combine all that with the long periods of sitting that many of us do which constricts the flow of fluids in our bodies, and you understand how you can become a very dehydrated individual by the end of the day. That is, of course, unless you take regular action to stay hydrated. According to the book, drinking beverages like fresh lemon water and eating fruits like apples and grapes, as well as doing little things like opening a window, breathing deeply, keeping a plant on your desk, taking quick walks outside, and all movements, even fidgeting, help you stay hydrated. If you’re working remotely now, can you move your office outside?

One of the few triple-board certified physicians in the country, Dr. Zach Bush, says that getting outside can enhance our overall health by diversifying the microbes in our guts. A healthy microbiome, according to Dr. Bush, consists of between 20,000 and 40,000 species of bacteria. He says that Americans, as a result of eating the standard American diet and regularly consuming antibiotics (via prescription and/or eating commercially raised livestock) typically have about 10% of that amount. Spending time in various natural environments can up that percentage. Think forests, waterfalls, lakes, beaches, deserts, rivers, and rainforests. They each have differing microbes that are just waiting to join and diversify the community of good bugs already present in your gut! (Learn more about the microbiome in my article Thinking Outside the COVID-19 Box: 10 Ways to Boost Immune Function.)

Spending time outdoors is not only fun, but also incredibly healthy, according to science. Maybe the fact that it makes us feels so good accounts for the many hours we spent playing in trees, dirt, and water as kids. And now, walking and biking in nature takes me out of my adult mindset and puts me in touch with a sillier, more playful part of myself. It still makes me feel like a kid.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein

Blessings for Time Outdoors,

Lisa

Passages for Trying Times

No matter what is going on, never give up. Develop the heart. Too much energy in your country is spent developing the mind instead of the heart. Be compassionate, not just to your friends but to everyone. Be compassionate. Work for peace in your heart and in the world. Work for peace. And I say again, never give up. No matter what is going on around you, never give up. ~Dalai Lama XIV

It’s been one of those weeks. One where I thought I knew my subject matter for this post, and after working on it for hours, it occurred to me that it really didn’t feel right. (Does this ever happen to you?) So then I started working on something else only to have the same thing happen. After the third time, I surrendered. Maybe I should just inject a little beauty and hope into this extra-heavy reality we’re living. Ok, that feels right.

Recognizing the mental fatigue created by dark clouds of uncertainty provides an opportunity to take a much-needed pause. Breathe deeply, picture yourself immersed in beauty, and make a plan to reward yourself this week, to bring light to recently darkened passages. Don’t put it off. Self love and compassion are paramount now.

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. ~Mahatma Gandhi

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. ~William James

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. ~Marie Curie

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Blessings for Lighter Passages,

Lisa

Mystical, Magical Water: A Photo Essay

The High Country at Yosemite

We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of the sea . . . Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful . . . and all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things. ~ Desmond Tutu

What is it about water that we are so drawn to? Why do we crowd beaches on summer holidays? Why do we gasp at the site of a waterfall? What makes a stoney creek so appealing?

So extravagant is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep . . . ~ John Muir

Hidden Inlet in Northern California

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many have written about water through the ages, including poets, authors, 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.

Water is the softest of all things, yet it is the most powerful. ~ Wayne Dyer

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve water. As a small girl, I remember digging for worms in the rich black soil of my grandmother’s back yard. We would then walk together down a rocky dirty road to the pond, carrying our freshly-dug bait and fishing poles made from sugar cane stalks. I don’t recall ever catching any fish, but I will never forget watching the big green dragon flies lighting on the red and white bobs, and being transfixed by the ever-expanding water ripples created when we would cast. We spent a lot of time at that little pond, and the sight of it now takes me back to a sweeter world.

Grand Tetons, Wyoming

The majority of our family vacations were on water, as well. We would load up the car and drive to the panhandle or Crystal River on Florida’s west coast. We swam, sunbathed, and went deep sea fishing. It was always the highlight of the year.

What memories of water do you have? Do you have a special beach, river, or lake that you return to again and again?

Rocky Coast of Northern California

Don’t sit and wait. Get out there, feel life. Touch the sun, and immerse in the sea. ~ Rumi

Blessings for the Love of Water,

Lisa

Little-Known Weight Loss Strategies

For the past 4 months, internet searches worldwide have shown a significant increase in the quest for weight loss information, according to Google Trends. It seems covid-19 has taken away not only our 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. Several recent news stories have 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/or an overall sense of feeling worse than before we ate them.

So what can we do to make ourselves feel better and drop the extra weight? Learn to work with our bodies. As you may have already discovered from past articles, the health information I share is well outside the box, based on new and not-yet-popular scientific studies. The star of this article, the 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. (Side note: some physicians now assert that an unhealthy microbiome underlies all disease. But that is a subject for a future post!)

The beauty of transformation

I’ve written before about 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 those bacteria are often in charge of the foods we crave and those we choose to eat. Yes, that’s 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 (a consequence of taking antibiotics and eating the same nutrient-depleted foods), the more power the bacteria has to manipulate us, increasing our chances of obesity. In fact, the control of the gut bacteria is so exacting that the article refers to them as puppet masters! Frightening, right?

Holiday lunch on the hotel balcony

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 fresh organic fruits and vegetables, 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.

The joys of jicama!

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 you might want to consider 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 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, take in about 15 grams per day.

In addition to being a favorite food of the 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 functioning around blood sugar and cholesterol, which can lead to diabetes and obesity. (For more on this, click this link : 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. (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 happy sunflower field

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, also eat whole food plant based diets. If they do eat meat or dairy, it is 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. At a time like the present, when stress and uncertainty abound, food often becomes a great source of comfort. Choosing to supply your microbiome with the good stuff goes a long way in helping you accomplish your weight loss goals and feel better. And, not just for now, but for a lifetime.

Blessings for a Healthy Microbiome,

Lisa

Micro of the Macro, Explained

Recently, I was asked about the theme of my blog.  I’ve written on human health, environmental issues, the beauty of nature, travel, vegan recipes, gratitude and unity.  You, too, may have wondered in past weeks, what do these ideas have in common?  After giving a lot of thought to helping you better understand, I have updated my About page.  The revised text follows. 

Humans are a part of the biological system called Nature.  Mother Earth, all living things, every mountain, drop of water, and grain of sand are made of the same elements that we are, and together, we exist within the same Universal Fabric. Quantum physics shows this Universal Fabric, even the part we see as empty space, to be conscious and interdependent. All of our actions, large or small, feelings, thoughts, and intentions affect not only our own lives, but all that exists within the entire Fabric, for better or for worse.  What’s good for one of us, the Micro, is good for the whole, the Macro.  (For example, feelings of love and gratitude are good for each of us, as well as all of existence.)  And those things that are not beneficial for the Macro do not benefit the Micro.  (For example, chemically treated crops are not good for the Earth’s soils or a person’s gut.)

This idea is not new.  The Micro of the Macro concept originated in the healing system of Ayurveda, (from the Sanskrit Ayur, meaning life, and Veda, meaning science or knowledge) which dates back 3000 years.  This ancient system is firmly rooted in the idea that a healthy balance between mind, body, spirit, and environment creates an optimal state, therefore preventing disease.

In this blog, we explore themes that can help balance the Micro with the Macro.  You’ll see data from new health studies, nature photos, travel essays, vegan recipes, philosophy, poetry, and other reverent musings. You’ll also receive links to empowering websites and podcasts, as well as information on the physicians, scientists, & other individuals on the cutting edge of helping further an aligned humanity, and whose voices need to be heard.

Please join me in exploring and celebrating this beautiful privilege and responsibility each of us has, living as a Micro of the Macro.

In short, this blog is about Life: our lives in relation to those of other living beings and our interactions with Earth, the only home that we have.  When we take measures to improve our individual lives in meaningful ways, the whole of Life benefits.  

Healthy eating is one of the best ways to improve your own health and that of the planet. By eating an organic whole food plant based diet, not only can you spare the lives of innocent animals,  but you also vote (with your dollars) for a food system that is less toxic, and therefore healthier for us and our environment.  When you supply your microbiome with these much-needed nutrient-dense foods, it responds in ways that nourish the brain and other vital organs.  (Learn more in my article Thinking Outside the COVID-19 Box: 10 Ways to Boost Immune Function.) You feel better physically and mentally, which can result in positive interactions between you and your family, colleagues, and community.  

Traveling allows you to better understand and accept people and ways of living that may have at one time seemed frighteningly different.  In last week’s post, Six Reasons to Gift Yourself with Travel, I outlined some of the benefits of travel, both individually and collectively speaking.  Some of those benefits include increased tolerance and appreciation of other populations and the natural world, a broader understanding of current events, and an education unlike any other.  These ideas can benefit not only the traveler, but also the human race and the planet.

According to Nancy Etcoff, psychologist and researcher at Harvard University, beauty is instinctual and essential to life.  (Did you see my photo essay For the Love of Beauty?) Spending time in nature, surrounded by the beauty of mountains, ocean, forest, or wildlife, reconnects us with our origins and opens our hearts.  Sunshine super-charges our mitochondria and helps our bodies produce vitamin D.  Trees emit love in the form of oxygen, along with health-inducing chemicals.  The sounds of birdsong and rustling leaves result in stress reduction.  Colorful sunsets can be awe-inspiring.  Again, a win-win for the Micro and the Macro.

Maintaining an ongoing practice of gratitude can help you get through trying times.  Focusing on and being grateful for the positives in any situation helps infuse a higher vibration in all your thoughts and deeds.  Many studies have been done on gratitude, and its health benefits include lower blood pressure, better cholesterol levels, feeling more socially connected, experiencing less anger & anxiety, and better sleep.  (Check out my article Does “In All Things Give Thanks” Apply to These Times?)  The kicker is, the Universe matches your vibration, providing more higher-vibe situations.  You can see how this can help align your efforts with the betterment of the whole, right?

And unity.  What a time to address the subject of unity, when people around the world are more divided than ever by disease, politics, prejudice, and financial status, but so many are raising their hearts and voices in defiance of it all. Some changes have already been implemented, and I believe many more are imminent.  (Did you catch my article Unity Rising?)  Unity and equality involve not only reformed interaction between the powers that be and our communities, but also a renewed commitment to caring for the Earth that sustains us.  This sentiment is being echoed far and wide, by indigenous peoples, environmental journalists, animal rights advocates, and youngsters who are rightfully fearful of climate change robbing them of long lives. Unity is woven by love, a love demonstrated by peaceful protestors, food pantry volunteers, and a host of front-line workers.  It is strengthened by attention shared with families and friends as we continue to shelter at home, check on our neighbors, and stay in touch with friends.  It is made brighter by an appreciation of Mother Earth, as we go outdoors for temporary respite from this heavy reality.  And, rest assured, it has always been a part of us, but must have gotten lost on our to-do lists in the pre-covid status quo.  

I hope you now have a better understanding of the theme of my blog.  Fact is, each of us is a Micro of the Macro, entrenched in the biology of Nature.  This platform, with its many diverse subjects, is designed to lovingly encourage you to align with the whole, for improved personal & planetary health, and the betterment of mankind.

Blessings for Clarity,

Lisa

Six Reasons to Gift Yourself with Travel

Paris

Before I started traveling, I was showered with advice from friends and family. They said things like travel is dangerous, those people don’t like Americans, and you’ll be back home sooner than later (a home that I never, by the way, returned to.) They all meant well, of course, but I’m not sure how many of them had done any traveling of their own, especially to destinations across the pond. In retrospect, I’m thinking maybe they were giving me their often fear-based advice based on what they had heard or assumed. Fact is, I’ve enjoyed all the places I’ve visited, and I’ve never felt ill at ease. Learning about new cultures is fascinating to me. I love hiking and biking new landscapes, towns, and villages. It’s thrilling to see with my own eyes the ancient structures first glimpsed in the textbook of my college Renaissance Art and Architecture class. And the people I’ve met couldn’t have been nicer, both the other travelers and the locals, who are always more than happy to direct me to the nearest train station or cafe, or point me in the right direction when I’m lost. In fact, I have come to believe that travel is a gift with life-long benefits, and I’m so grateful for my experiences (as well as the opportunities that await!)

As a result, my advice is much different: I feel you’re selling yourself short if you don’t travel! Of course, it’s never a bad idea to check for travel advisories, read guidebooks in advance, and be aware of your surroundings (which is true at home, as well), but there’s no need to be fearful with good attention and preparation, even if you’re not part of a group. Below, you’ll find some of the reasons I feel travel can be a gift for all of us, both individually and collectively.

Walkway to the Colosseum in Rome

Experiencing new places and cultures allows you to get to know some of the populations you’ve heard about in the news, and therefore reduces fear. The idea of hate, or intense aversion, is often rooted in fear. Being in a distant land, whether in this country or another, you learn that people are fundamentally like you: they love, care for their families, work, take part in community, walk their dog, prepare meals, and treasure their beliefs. It’s truly an affirmation of life to witness the similarities.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. ~Mark Twain

Second only to the benefit of reducing fear is the fact that travel is one of the best educational experiences there is. While you’re experiencing new cultures, you learn about history, politics, religion, art, language, food, flora, fauna, geography, topography, and on and on. You may gain a new understanding of why things are as they are in that part of the world. Additionally, you might be challenged to plan your train or bus route, communicate with native speakers, find a restaurant, or locate a merchant who sells good wine and crusty bread or locally sourced souvenirs for the folks back home. Being outside your daily norm can really augment your brain activity.

Tables in an alley at a cafe in Rome

Travel will broaden your appreciation of nature and humanity in general. This planet is amazingly diverse and beautiful, and that realization could lead you to the ideas of protecting and preserving Her for future generations. During your travels, you may come upon trees, flowers, or animals you’ve never seen. You might be delighted by waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, green seas, or volcanos. And after getting comfortable with the folks you once considered foreigners, your capacity for empathy expands.

The world is full of wonderful things you haven’t seen yet. Don’t ever give up on the chance of seeing them. ~J.K. Rowling

Moderate stress, the kind that traveling causes, can be good for you. Being in a strange land, interacting with new people, doing new things, trying new foods, and simply going outside of your normal routine brings about moderate stress, which can result in increased energy and focus, improved memory, and bolstered immunity (https://www.learning-mind.com/positive-effects-of-stress/).

Gargoyle on Notre Dame Cathedral poised to gobble the Eiffel Tower

Travel changes your perspective on life in general. With a broadened worldview, you’ll find your conversations will change. You may read or hear news stories with a different understanding. Your spending habits may shift, after realizing the value of experiences over objects. Your beliefs may even become less rigid and appear less black or white.

Finally, as I mentioned before, the benefits of travel last a lifetime. The memories, photographs, knowledge, new ideas, and increased cognitive abilities experienced can be with you forever. Perusing travel photographs and journals always brings joy to my heart and a big smile to my face. And you know I enjoy sharing them with you!

View from the Seine, Paris

As soon as covid-19 allows, show yourself some love and gift yourself with travel. Every chance you get. For a month, a week, or even a weekend. In this country or elsewhere. Even if you do it on the cheap, like many of my trips. You’ll come back home with an enhanced sense of what it means to be fully alive. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor . . . Explore. Dream. Discover.” I couldn’t agree more.

Blessings for Travel,

Lisa

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