Biking was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. Up until age 10 I lived in a quiet area of Auburn, Alabama, and my parents let me range freely by bike. I explored as far as my legs would take me. I also enjoyed getting gadjets for my bike, like an odometer and turn signals.

This pretty much ended when we moved to a small town in the Santa Cruz mountains of California. Roads there were narrow, winding and steep with lots of traffic. I tried to keep biking until I broke my wrist doing it about 6 months later.

I’ve flirted with picking up the bike habit as an adult a few times, but it didn’t stick. There was a lot of fear and resistance to overcome. But now I am rediscovering the joy and rush of biking. I am commuting by bike to a class at our local community college. It’s about 10 minutes there (mostly downhill), and 20 minutes back. (I recently started taking a longer route home for safety since it is dark.) Having a saddlebag for my books has been key.

Almost every day that I have class I don’t feel like biking, and resist many seductive excuses. Invariably I feel much better after riding to class. By the time I get home I’ve gotten a workout! My legs are starting to rejoyce in it. Every ride is a new experience, and I gain confidence and strength with each new condition. I love being part of my environment.

The next step for me is to get a bike trailer so I can take my kids with me on local erands. I am getting serious about reducing our carbon footprint. A few miles by bike may not add up to much, exept that it is creating a new culture and paradigm for myself, and more importantly, my children.

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Sometimes More is More

I recently came across my personal journal from 2009, and I was struck by how similar the themes of my life were then and now.  At that time my older daughter was in her first year (as my younger is now), and a lot of my energy was taken up by dietary modification and experimentation.  It was the beginning of the journey to hammering out my ideal diet. I think I’m almost there! (And I think my bodies needs will always be evolving, so it’s not a static thing.)

For the months of May and June I went back to logging all my food in a journal.  I went off all dairy, chocolate and nuts to see if it would help my baby’s eczema.  The answer seems to be “no”.  (Teething/heat make it worse, leading my husband to quip: “She’s allergic to being pissed off!”  We are also looking to household allergens now.)  Anyway, I was getting a little obsessive and puritanical and caring more about how eating some things would look to the journal rather than how they would actually affect me. So I’m stopping the obsessive food-logging, at least for now.  (Though it is an invaluable tool when you want to change your diet.)

The final tweaks to my diet are fun ones.  More “safe starches” like sweet potatoes (more carbs in general, I think this is putting me back in the ballpark of 75-100 grams of carbs per day rather than 50-70 g, which I think is too little with nursing).  I’m also eating less leafy greens.  That’s right, chronic kale was giving me chronic diarrhea! (Sorry, TMI). So I still eat greens, but smaller portions, and not as my main carb source.  I’m currently reading The Perfect Health Diet, by Paul Jaminet and Shou-Ching Jaminet, and the “safe starch” concept is theirs.  I’m also experimenting with heavy cream in my coffee (in addition to butter for cooking, which I seem to tolerate).  Basically, I’m adding the icing to the cake!  So far I have more energy on a slightly higher carb intake (still very low carb compared to SAD).  I am happily fat adapted, and even adding more fat to my diet, especially coconut oil.

A final note on weight loss: at last check I was down to 131 lbs.  This is a jump up and down happy number for me!  (This was a couple weeks ago, I don’t actually have a scale.)  I don’t remember the last time I was this weight, but it was sometime while I was still growing. At 5’4″ this puts me at a BMI of 20, firmly in the “normal” weight range.  I ‘d still like to loose 10 or so more lbs, and firm up my belly, because what the heck, I want to look good!

This process raised an important question for me:

Is it good to go hungry, ever?

On one hand, my inner puritan would feel virtuous on days when I ate less, and was a little hungry.  But then I’d wonder if this under-eating was sabotaging my metabolism.  Even though this paleo journey has taught me that the kinds of food you eat determine your health, I was still in the sway of the “calories in- calories out” mindset.  Reading Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat, And What To Do About It completely blew the lid off this type of thinking.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand why fat accumulates, and how to reverse the process.  It cites the scientific literature extensively, but is written for a lay audience.  Basically, there is little if any proof that eating fewer calories will cause weight loss.  Truly getting this message blew my mind!  What a gift.

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eczema inspired experimentation

There seems to be some force in the universe pushing me to examine every aspect of my diet. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, my baby girl developed eczema over a large percentage of her body, while exclusively breastfeeding. (Poor girl!) This is in spite of the fact that I didn’t eat wheat, eggs, soy, very little dairy (grass fed butter only), nuts and corn only occasionally… My first thought was, that I do (did) eat A LOT of 88% dark chocolate. (About half a bar a day, but it is strong stuff.)  So I cut out chocolate for close to 3 weeks (no visible change), and did a super binge test (about a bar and a half of chocolate in one day)…. I didn’t notice any difference in her skin, but I felt terrible! I didn’t touch chocolate for another week after that.  The experience helped me break the chocolate addiction, and get to a place of eating it as an occasional treat rather than a main source of fuel (basically a caffeine boost). I then completely eliminated the butter, and nuts for a couple weeks. Also no noticeable improvement.  Now I’m turning to our household environment. Planning a carpet cleaning with vinegar (when I can find a day to move all the furniture and be out of the house long enough for it to dry). I also considered giving up fruit after reading this post about the paleo auto-immune protocol. I got pretty depressed about how restrictive my diet was becoming, and reading about illnesses this diet could treat. I had to take a step back and realize that I don’t have an auto-immune disease, and I’m doing this to achieve sparkly good health.  And after about a month a very clean eating I lost another 5 pounds. Down to 136!! I don’t remember the last time I was this weight, but it was probably when I was still growing (in height).  Up coming tweaks: considering doing 1 vegetarian day per week for spiritual reasons (not because I think it would be good for my health.) Going to look into WAPF methods for fermenting grains and legumes. Or maybe I’ll just eat tempeh and veggies and think of it as a sort of fast day.  Considering Mark Sisson’s 80/20 rule, I could eat anything 1 day out of 5, if the other 4 were perfect. This seems insane, but makes me feel better about deviating for 1 day a week.

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Camping- with 2 babies and a 4 year old

My lovely sister, Carrie invited me to go on a last minute 2 day camping trip at Arroyo Seco, in Los Padres National Forest. She was going with her husband and 7 month old daughter.  My husband couldn’t go due to work… Should I take our 6 month old daughter and 4 year old daughter camping, without him there to help?… YES!

Part of my decision was realizing that I used to have much more of a healthy sense of adventure. My cynical side would say that car camping is hardly adventurous. But as soon as we got there I was so glad. It was May 1st. The shrubby oak forest was still green, and since it was a weekday the place was nearly deserted.

We set up camp as swallows swarmed the twilight sky eating mosquitoes.  (Thankfully, not too many skeeters.) The forest was alive with the songs of birds, insects, and frogs.  We saw turkey vultures, hawks, quail, bluejays, woodpeckers, heard doves coo and owls hoot.  A granite outcropping loomed across the lake, inviting the imagination.  One day a bluejay flew right at me and landed in a tree overhead.  Then 2 read headed woodpeckers began a areal display that seemed to be just for me.  I relaxed as I felt my consciousness stretch out to feel the spirit of the mountain, and my senses engaged to try to discern individual voices in spring’s joyous cacophony.

The next day we went on a hike, kids and all, and returned to the river to swim in cold clear water.  I stood still long enough for ripples to subside, and noticed a fish around 6-8 inches long. Then I noticed another, and another.  Small fish were everywhere swarming around our feet.

My 4 year old daughter had a great time of it all, and slept like a rock.  It was great to broaden her horizons and get away from electronic entertainment for a while.  She enjoyed smores and ghost stories by the fire, and even pee-ed in the woods.

We had our share of crying to deal with, and poop to clean up, but the effort was well worth it.  It made me want to get out there again soon.

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How I came to Primal/Paleo eating

A cornerstone of my quest for vibrant health for the past few years has been examining and experimenting with my food choices.  Yes, I’m dancing around the word “diet”.  I’ve always believed that you only live once, and yes, you should eat and enjoy that piece of cake.  However, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”, so as I get older (and wiser?) I’ve been experimenting with delayed gratification.  Dragging out the enjoyment of the final payoff, or finding that I don’t really want or need that “treat” to be fully enjoying life.

And I no longer eat cake.

Let’s start at the beginning… I came into the world loved and breast fed. (Thanks, Mom!) My diet as a youngster was a fairly healthy version of SAD. (We got Honey Nut Cheerios, not Count Chocula.)  Lots of home cooked meals, but we were no stranger to the “Happy Meal”.  I was a lean and happy kid.  I loved riding my bike and exploring the creek with neighborhood friends.

Then I was hit with a double whammy of a move and the onset of puberty at the beginning of 5th grade.  Our new home in the Santa Cruz mountains of California had a great view, but was perched on a hillside, and the roads were too dangerous for biking- narrow, winding with no shoulder. Sometime that year I fell off my bike and broke my wrist, and that pretty much ended my efforts to bike the neighborhood.  I was also very shy, nerdy and a “tom-boy”, and really had a difficult time making friends.  I still consider 5th grade the hardest time in my life.

We (myself and 2 younger sisters) became “latch key” kids at this time as well.  We had a basketball hoop and rope-swing and epic plastic egg battles around our staircase, but also watched a lot of TV, and I began snacking out of boredom.  I ate a lot of that Cosco trail mix with the m&ms.  Our weirdest favorite was “craft singles”, folded to cut in a strip, and dipped into Diet Pepsi!  Needless to say, I got a little chubby around this time.  And basically I have been ever since.

My highest all-time weight (non-pregnant) was as a senior in high school.  I think I topped out at about 174 lbs.  Then I went to college at UCSD and actually lost my “freshman 15”.  I resolved to go to the gym 4 times a week. It was on campus and included with tuition.  It was also my main way of relieving the stress of being away from home the first time, living with a roommate, and keeping up with my classes.  I also benefited from “positive peer pressure” as the girls I lived with were fairly health conscious (a gymnast, a soccer player, a marathon runner). I was on the sailing team Freshman year, and played Ultimate Disc the second and third years.  I didn’t have a car and walked a lot to get to my classes and later (when I lived off campus) for groceries.  I also worked at a coffee shop and ate a lot of baguettes (and of course, espresso drinks).  I felt that I was being good by not eating much (being hungry), and working out fairly hard with the Ultimate Disc team.

After college I returned home for a while, and my mom was getting the family into the Zone diet, in an effort to control my Dad’s blood sugar.  I went along for the ride and found I was losing weight easily with moderate exercise.  The Zone concept is to eat a certain ratio of macro-nutrients (Carbs, Fat, Protein) at every meal and snack.  Compared to what most Americans eat this amounts to a reduced Carb diet.  Never the less, I was still a bit overweight, unable to get below 150 lbs.

When I became pregnant with my first daughter in 2007, I was 30 years old and weighed about 160.  I gained 40 lbs to my all-time high of 200.  A year after my daughter was born I was back to 160. I didn’t try to “lose the baby weight”, it just came off through nursing and the rigors of baby rearing.

This is also when my health problems began.  I developed eczema on my eyelids, elbow creases, and most distressing of all, my nipples.  Combined with breast-feeding this resulted in thin weepy skin that seemed to just disintegrate, then scab over, but refused to heal.  I tried every over the counter remedy I could think of, and finally went to a dermatologist.  She prescribed a steroid cream.  It worked, except I had to keep using it or the condition would return.  I went to a naturopath, and in addition to supplements, she recommended a gluten (wheat) and dairy free trial period.  It seemed to help a little, and I lost 10 lbs (back to 150).  It didn’t eliminate the eczema, and I couldn’t detect a strong reaction to adding it back, so I eventually added both back to my diet.  In retrospect I should have tested them separately and done a “binge” style reintroduction to really detect an effect.

I was really committed to breast-feeding, even when I had to express to let one side heal. I got down to 1 milk producing breast since my daughter developed a preference for the less affected side.  By age 2 (my initial goal based on WHO recommendation) we were going strong, and we just kept nursing until 3 years, 3 months.  I was about 3 months pregnant by this time.

Still struggling with the eczema, and as one with an interest in Chinese medicine, I turned to acupuncture.  Since I wanted to check out Five Branches, I went to their Santa Cruz clinic, and was treated by students with a faculty back up. (I had about 5 sessions with 3 different students, and 1 faculty member who has to pre-approve their treatment plan.)  According to this system, I had a “damp heat” condition, which expressed itself as a rash.  I also was experiencing chronic diarrhea (sorry more TMI) around this time, and once again, a wheat and dairy free diet was recommended for me. I stopped using the steroid cream around this time in order to see what was really going on in my body. I kept extensive food diaries, and shared them with my practitioners.  They recommended  eating more protein (a bit of a shocker for me since I never have a meal without protein), and more leafy greens, as well as bone broths. They also said to avoid refined sugar, which I pretty much did already. Around this time I became pregnant for the second time.

I followed this gluten and dairy free diet for about 6 months, finding substitutes for bread among the processed corn chips, tortillas, crackers and gluten free “breads”. Basically sub-ing other refined grains.  I added dairy back in, after eating cheese at a party and suffering no ill effects.  During my second pregnancy I started at a low of 148 lbs, gained virtually no weight in the 1st trimester, though my belly grew. (This was radically different from my 1st pregnancy when I lived on cheese and crackers to deal with morning sickness in the first trimester.)  During the second trimester I gained 18 or so lbs, then I heard of the “Primal Blueprint” diet through a mothering magazine forum, and read about it on marksdailyapple.  The main change this brought was to eliminate all grains.  I had already found that I had a similar reaction to gluten-free substitute foods as I did to wheat, so this made sense to me.  I’ve found that there are many foods I react to if I eat too many, including eggs, nuts and dairy. My diet is focused around meat and vegetables. I get organic and preferably pastured meat almost exclusively, as it is better for me and the animals. I make bone broths with left over bones in the slow cooker. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes since I am nursing and feel I need the energy they provide.  I also cook with pastured butter, as my only regular source of dairy. (I quit cheese for the most part after finding I couldn’t eat cheese without polishing off half the block.)  When I first started this “diet” I lost a couple pounds, even though I was 6 months pregnant.  My midwife was ok with it, just didn’t want me to keep losing. I slowly gained weight for the remainder of my pregnancy for a grand total of 20 lbs (from 148 to 168).  This was much easier to carry around than the 200 lbs in my earlier pregnancy.  Now nearly 6 months postpartum, I’m back to 147. (I had dipped to a low of 144.9.) I’m wearing the pants that were just slightly too small for years.  The biggest miracle has been finally kicking the eczema just in time to nurse my second daughter with no problems!  I truly feel that the eczema was the best thing that has ever happened for my health, and forcing me to get outside of the norm, and make difficult choices. It also keeps me on track by occasional very mild flair ups.   And after about a year I stopped dreaming about eating pizza.

Now I want to really see what is possible for me in terms of health and fitness.  I am inspired to start up my food diary again, and eat extra healthy in May.  Summer is on the way, and I choose to finally lose the extra wight that has plagued me since I was 10 years old.  I also am on a quest to regain the joy in physicality that I last remember having around age 9.  Wish me luck!

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Back to Bikram

The day before yesterday I went back to Bikram Yoga for the first time since having my second child. It had been about 14 months since my last class. Happily, I felt like I pretty much picked up my practice where I left off. I didn’t remember the sequence of postures, which actually helped me be more mindful, rather than thinking ahead to what was next. (Bikram Yoga is a set of 26 postures, and 2 breathing exercises performed twice, in a heated room. The sequence is always the same.) It was great to have an hour and a half to completely focus on myself without interruption.

I don’t know how anything can be so refreshing and so exhausting at the same time!

I felt cleansed as my heart pumped blood all over my body, nourishing each cell. In “tree” pose, I actually had a sense of a solid, rooted and flourishing tree in my heart!  I definitely was much less stressed for the rest of the day- a great benefit for a mother of 4 year old and 6 month old daughters.  Now muscles all over my body are sore.  Thanks, Bikram Yoga Monterey!  I’m looking forward to experiencing new possibilities for my body, particularly a more mobile healthy and strong back.

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Happy Vernal Equinox!  Spring officially starts today, although we’ve had some of the first wintery weather around here, with rain, hail and a dip of the mercury.  Equinoxes are a specific moment in time (2 per year) when the center of the sun passes directly over the equator.  The sun is neither tilted towards or away from the earth. It is commonly believed that the day and night are of equal length on the equinox, however day time is actually about 14 minutes longer depending on your latitude. I learned all these nerdy facts here.

Also, today my husband is releasing an album of new music for bass ensemble here.  It’s “name your own price”.  Check it out!

Well, back to me… I don’t feel very equanimious on this equinox.  I’m going through a lot of changes as a newly minted mother of two, and also thinking ahead towards a career change.  I’m starting to practice Medical Qigong (give treatments), and planning to go to acupuncture school in a year or two.  All this thinking and planning ahead is leaving me reeling a bit!  I need to sink my roots into the earth and stabilize.  Enjoy the moment, and truely be present to my family and how we are right now.

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