Uncategorized

In Defense of Dirty Hands

Source: In Defense of Dirty Hands

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Uncategorized

In Defense of Dirty Hands

I suppose it’s oftentimes true  that opposites attract. I have always been artistic, without an academic bone in my body, whereas my husband spent the entirety of his schooling as an advanced placement student. When we met he was  student in an engineering program. After two semesters of boredom and misery he said to me,”I don’t want to sit behind a desk; I hate school. I enjoy working with my hands, fixing things.”

 

In truth, it initially did seem strange that my significant other who could become anything, would want a  dirty job! With my support, he followed through on  changing his route and attended trade school. I have been proud of my husband. He’s  takes great pride in his work. A natural teacher, he eagerly  helps other technicians troubleshoot, and is known to be an honest and accommodating salesman.
Recently, an aquaintence told me what an awful shame it was that my husband had wasted his brain becoming a mechanic.  It was stunning that someone would say something so rude.

 

I was insulted not only for my husband, but for  all of those men who build and repair the cars, roads, and buildings we depend on. I wondered  how a person who excels at fixing things doing just that  for a living, could be perceived as wasteful. I thought of my grandfather, my uncle, and my father-in- law.

My grandfather had a passion and talent for construction and woodwork ; those skills combined with his winning personality resulted in him  owning one of the most successful contracting companies in my home state.  My uncle recently became the top salesperson in the US for the company where he once worked as a mechanic. My father in law  made a great living as a FedEx worker and supervisor.   I also have countless additional family members who hold various positions in the construction field. All of them are proficient, and provide well for their families.Those are the people I think of, when I hear the term “blue collar”. Growing up, I  never equated this type of work with stupidity, and naively didn’t realize some others did.

 

 

Given some of the elitist attitudes in today’s society, I  would be curious of the results if those who question the intelligence of blue collar workers attempted to do their “easy” jobs. What would happen if those who looked down their nose at mechanics had to fix their air conditioning when it died on a 100 degree day? Would it prove a simple feat for such a person to build their own home up to code, or repair their own plumbing if their house flooded?

 

It seems a natural response, being thankful there are people who help keep our houses warm , and our cars running. It’s disheartening that anyone who takes advantage of the opportunity to apply their effort, interests, and talents to learn  and improve upon a skill, would find themselves looked down upon. Has anyone  stopped to realize the shelter,  transportation , and climate control we often  take for granted was built and serviced by blue collar workers?  It’s my hope readers will ponder that, and learn to respect the contribution of these strong and hard working men.

As for me, I’m thankful my father, who has his Ph.D., didn’t take an attitude of delusional superiority when he fell in love with the hairstylist who would later become my mother.  Together, my parents raised me to introduce myself and show respect to anyone providing a service in our home. As Americans, I propose we embrace this faded ideal, and respect those who add value to our society, even if they get their hands dirty doing so.

No added sugar, fruit sweeted eating,, Plant-based, vegetarian, meatless, vegetarian advice, vegan., Semi-vegetarian, Flexitarian, heart health, Uncategorized

The Sweet Life (With Less Sugar)

There’s no getting around it, sweet things taste good. While greasy doughnuts and multi colored candies have never appealed to me, there was a time when I couldn’t be left alone with a chick flick and a pint of sorbet.

This changed about three years ago when I read a piece on American’s excessive sugar consumption. As a natural foods enthusiast who avoided the standard American Diet like the plague, I assumed I was doing much better than most. It was true I wasn’t  eating hydrogenated oils, and synthetic colors, or flavors, but I was still consuming double the recommended amount of sugar on a near daily basis. On a day when I would indulge in my half pint of sorbet the figures were much worse. This was without drinking sugary things or eating candy!

Within one month of my new found sugar awareness, my always easily inflamed and broken out complexion had cleared in a way that amazed me.  I also no longer needed to take 12-15 ibuprofen per month for cramps and headaches. I knew sugar was inflammatory, but I never realized how much so until I minimized my consumption. An added benefit of my great sugar reduction was feeling my energy level skyrocket.

I know cutting sugar sounds near impossible, perhaps even punitive, but becoming aware of my sugar intake and avoiding added sugar has been one of the best things I have done for myself, which is why I’ve chosen to share the experience. Let me show you the way I went about this journey.
A few starting points:
* It is important to note there is no timeline. This can be done at one’s desired speed. The point of this is lasting and positive change.

*According to the World Health Organization the average adult female should consume no more than 25 grams (six teaspoons) of sugar per day. Did you enjoy a glass of apple  juice with breakfast? Congratulations, you’ve just taken in 24 grams of sugar (and done so without fiber to slow absorption).
*When I began, I set out to consume less than 25 grams of sugar or less each day.  That was helpful because I never denied myself when I craved a bit of sweetness. I encourage readers to follow that same guideline rather than attempt a path of complete abstinence, which will result in cravings and is unlikely  to result in lasting change.
* Cutting down on sugar may be more of a challenge if your diet is highly processed. It is still completely doable if you’re willing to read some labels and switch a few packaged foods out for the real thing. When checking labels know that manufacturers often use alternative names for sugar: fructose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, rice syrup, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, cane juice, cane sugar, crystalline fructose,or beet sugar.

Below are the steps I have taken to rid my body  excess sugar and the negative effects it was having on my personal well being.

The initial step is taking note of how much sugar you are consuming. Do this by printing one of the simple online charts that list the naturally occurring sugar content of all fruits, vegetables, and grains. For any canned or packaged food, reading labels is imperative.  When following a whole foods diet with little processed food, there are few sneaky sugars. The same cannot be said for prepared or processed foods. Sugar is added to  cereals, bars, and even savory soups, and crackers.

 

When grocery shopping, it’s best to buy ingredients. Shop the perimeter of the market for as many items as possible. Your cart should be filled with a variety of vegetables, grains, seasonings, and fruits. Processes snacks should be kept to a bare minimum.

I’m aware some  remove fruit from their diet when avoiding sugar; not only is this  likely to cause intense cravings and loss of micronutrients, it’s also unnecessary. We will be using fruit to satisfy those sugar cravings. In addition to nutrients,fruit contains fiber which causes its natural sugars to be released into the bloodstream slowly. Speaking of sweetness…

 

I used to be one of those folks who’d cringe at the sight of dates. I had never eaten one, but to me  they didn’t look very appetizing. These days, I keep a Costco-sized container of deglet noor dates in the fridge. I also make date paste  to sweeten any recipe   ( it tastes way better than it sounds).
Why dates? They’re a natural whole foods sweetener. Dates should be used conservatively given their high sugar content, but they are the best bet if you’re making  dessert or smoothie that needs extra sweetness. In addition, dates are full of fiber and minerals and won’t cause the dreaded sugar crash.

Make Smart Choices with Prepared Food. Boxed Cereals should be avoided. I say this  because A. Does anyone actually feel satiated eating this as a meal? B. Boxed cereal with no added sugar usually tastes like cardboard. If you must have cereal, I recommend plain oatmeal with fruit. Remember the banana you slice into your oatmeal contains  about 18 grams of sugar. Do yourself a favor and trade a heavily sweetened  breakfast for a better option.

 

For lunch many of us enjoy sandwiches. Have you read your bread, though? If ever you have  made your own, you are aware that bread is supposed to contain flour, water, salt, and yeast. Most breads you see the market contain added sugars (and hydrogenated oils, Datem, and calcium proprionate). Stick with Goldminer and La Brea, which can be found in the bakery section of most markets. Their sourdough has no added sugars.  Of course, there is always the option to make your own bread. The aforementioned brands taste significantly better than most sandwich breads. The only caveat is they don’t  keep as long. Unless eaten quicky, they will need to be frozen, or toasted. How about what your putting onto and into your sandwiches and meals?

Most bottled dressings and marinades are loaded with sugar and other synthetic chemicals. I strongly encourage everyone to make their own. There are countless quick and simple recipes (Hello, oil and vinegar with seasonings)!  While it is simple to prepare our own dressings and marinades, few of us prepare our own ketchup (although there are easy recipes at the click of a mouse!). Personally, I buy ketchup without high fructose corn syrup, but it remains fairly sugary. Be aware of how much ketchup and other sweetened condiments  you’re consuming. The liquid sugar trap doesn’t end there.

Would you believe half of our sugar intake comes from sugar-laden drinks? Soda, fruit juice, and fruit drinks. Water should always be our default drink. If that seems boring to you, try adding a few lemon slices or experimenting with carbonated flavored waters. This helps, particularly if you are a soda drinker.

Snack foods almost always contain added sugar. Here are a few of my favorite no sugar added choices:
*Vegetables with a homemade dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic
* Edamame (soybeans)
*Avocado with salt and lime
*Blue Diamond Almond Nut Thins
*Triscuit-Original
* Sourdough Pretzels with hummus
* Popcorn
*Avocado Toast….and more!
I know what you’re thinking: What About Dessert? When I opened my eyes to the dangers of excess sugar consumption I admittedly  had a moment of, “I don’t  need to eat dessert again.” Who was I kidding? I’m sure there are people who live happily in the perpetual abscence of dessert, I’m just not one of them! Plus, I believe in alternatives not denial. At times, you are going to crave sweets. This craving need not find you stuffing yourself with Thin Mint Cookies. Here are a few favorite dessert ideas:
*Date Sweetened Smoothies
*Apple Slices and Peanut Butter
*Mashed Sweet Potato with butter, stevia extract , and cinnamon
*Unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon
* Fruit and/or stevia extract  sweetened cakes, pies, and cookies. (Occasionally, I post such desserts.)
*Hail Merry Tarts
*Homemade banana ice cream

Armed with this information,and a few recipes, you’re ready to visit the market. The above guide should help you lessen your sugar intake significantly. Myself and many others have discovered when excess sugar is removed from our diets with it goes our heightened chances of developing Type II diabetes, stubborn extra weight, sluggish immunity, inflammation, acne and other inflammatory skin issues, and low energy. Those are all things we can certainly stand to lose on our trek to wellness.

 

Source: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/

 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. My writing is based on my personal research and experiences.

 

Names, Personal Evolution, Changing My Name, Uncategorized

A Rose By Any Other Name

Our names are often the first thing we share with others.  We all have various images that come to mind at the mention of  certain names. These images may be of a person we know with that name, or a picture our mind generates seemingly at random.

I have always been interested in the naming process.  I’d  even tried to name my little sister, but my parents weren’t having it. As a child, I asked my mom why so many people we knew named their male  children after people in the same house; “It’s tradition.” she’d say. Until my mom assured me I could name any future children as I pleased, I assumed I’d have to marry a man with a name I liked in the event we decided to have children and one was a boy.  What a relief!

It was during sixth grade when finally, I was given a naming opportunity.  My sole positive memory of my time in Catholic School was the privilege of choosing my very own  confirmation  name. In an effort to pick the perfect name, I spent months   with my nose buried in the baby naming book my mom had purchased for me. The process wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped, and I was disheartened to find my options were  limited to choosing either a saint’s name, or a name derived from that of a saint.

I didn’t know many saints, and kept picking fancy french names. My pious sixth grade teacher was not amused. She wanted me to pick something basic. There was no way that was happening. I eventually settled on something saint derived but, at the time, unique.

As is the case with most people, I was generally accepting of my birth name. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, but it was by no means awful either. It was overly  common though, and each time I met someone who shared my birth name they were very much a tomboy. The name fit them better than I.  This  bothered me. Worst of all, many people called me an awful sounding  shortened version of my birth name,which I hated!   I did have my  childhood nickname, which I preferred over the ugly built- in nickname that had come with my birth name; however, only a few people called me by this.

In my early twenties, I began to feel the persistent urge to change my name.  At that time, a legal name change was a highly tedious and expensive process, so I held off.  Nearly a decade later, I finally I decided to take the leap.  I had no idea what name I’d choose, but the options were plentiful.  To me, the possibilities alone were a source of excitement.

I knew  I wanted something feminine and nature derived. Choosing my middle name was quite simple. In contrast to the simplicity of choosing a middle name, settling on my new first name took several months.  I had it narrowed down to about five choices when I surprised myself by choosing an exotic version of my birth name. It would be an easy transition for everyone, and it just felt fitting and comfortable.

In the state where we live, I wasn’t required to go before a judge. The process basically consisted of filling out paperwork, sending it to the courthouse, waiting several weeks for the paperwork to return to me with court stamped approval, and going to the DMV for my new license. The entire process cost $380, and a fair amount of patience. It was tedious, but absolutely worth it.

You may be wondering  what happened aferward; I’ll start with the negatives: my parents were mildly upset with me for a while, my sister made fun of the odd spelling of my new name, and a few people still  occasionally call me the dreadful shortened version of my old name ( I suppose I need to ask them to stop doing that).  That about sums up the negatives!

Almost everyone in my life made a seamless transition into calling me by my new name, even my 85 year-old grandmother. Alot of people who know me have told me the new name suits me better; I  have felt that as well. The unexpected perks of my name change have been the frequent  compliments I receive, and the always comedic question, “Are your parents hippies?”.  More important than any of the aforementioned, was the sense of relief I felt when my new name was approved. I remember saying,” I finally got my pretty name!” (and then awkwardly remembering I was home alone, realizing that I’d never be cool, and embracing this fact as I twirled around the dining room, documents in hand).

I’m sure there are people who find my decision to change my name dramatic and self-indulgent, and that’s alright; they’re free to keep the name their parents gave them. For me, when my name is called it feels natural and reflective of my personal  evolution. It’s who I’ve always been except a bit better, like the rosebud that finally began to blossom into it’s full glory after a long winter.

Have you changed your name? Has anyone you know done so? Would you consider changing your name? If so, which name would you choose?

Plant-based, vegetarian, meatless, vegetarian advice, vegan., Uncategorized

Nuts About Milk

Remember the days when the nightly phrase at dinner was, “Drink your milk!”? Oh, how I dreaded those words. Luckily for me, my mom gave up her attempts to get me to drink milk upon realizing the only way I could swallow cow’s milk was if my glass was filled half way with chocolate syrup. I hated the taste of it, and as it turned out my body was rejecting cow’s milk as well, in the form of exzema and digestive issues.

When I first ditched dairy, non-dairy milk choices were slim. Our local market had a specialty aisle; nestled into the corner of said aisle, were  a few dusty cartons of EdenSoy and rice milk from which to choose. Times sure have changed. These days, I am blown away by the array of non-dairy milks available at every store I visit. How convenient!

There are several  uncomfortable truths  about the store bought nut milks, though; they’re mostly water and thickener, and are  often high in added sugar. Homemade nut milk only takes a few minutes; it’s  higher in protein, minerals, and flavor.

Nuts are a great source of protein. Protein  is the building block of our tissues, and is reparative as well.  Nuts are high in minerals such as: Calcium, Copper, Iron, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Selenium, and Zinc. Minerals are important for nerve and muscle function and  immunity.  Some are cautious regarding nuts because they’re  fairly high in fat. While excess  is unhealthy, fat is a necessary macronutrient essential for the good health of our skin and other cells. Fat also helps in the transport of fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K). Homemade nut milk is creamier  than store bought, and making nut milk at home helps you to avoid excess sugar by allowing you to control the sweetness.

 

After some experimentation I discovered the best ratio was 1/4 cup of cashews to 2 cups of water.  The recipe below creates a basic neutral milk for use in sauces, mashed potatoes, baking, cereal, and smoothies. Although, you’ll likely want to skip the vanilla for certain uses! The most commonly used nuts are almonds or cashews. Almonds create a lighter milk that’s lower in fat, but MUST be pre soaked overnight even if using a Vitamix. Cashews result in a richer result and don’t require soaking.

Cashew Milk

1/2 cup of unsalted (preferably raw) Cashews

4 cups water

3-5  Dates

1 tsp Vanilla extract  (optional )

Place in high speed blender, and blend on high for about two minutes. Chill for 30 minutes before drinking (unless you’re adding it to a hot recipe).

This cashew milk keeps in the fridge for up to five days. Shake before using.

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Plant-based, vegetarian, meatless, vegetarian advice, vegan., Uncategorized

Vanilla Date Bread

While I  make just about everything else from scratch, my lack of baking expertise has found me buying pre-made baked goods for my husband, and as a result feeling like a partial failure as a wife.  I’m sure I’d have long  been capable of baking a cake if I went the classic “eggs and sugar route”, but you know us plant-based folks,  we’re commited to finding  healthier alternatives, and it’s not  always simple when it comes to baking.

I’ve certainly  tried my share of online recipes with  alternate ingredients, but I haven’t  enjoy many of them.   As much as I love chickpeas and  brownies, it’s been my experience those two shouldn’t be together under any circumstances.

Not long ago, I finally created a baked good I was proud of. My husband , a self-proclaimed sweets connoisseur, raved over it, and asked me to make it for his birthday. I was nervous about baking it for guests, two of which had professional baking experience. As it turned out, the bread was a hit. This recipe is sweetened entirely with fruit, meaning there’s no white sugar.

One  challenge of baking sweets without unhealthy ingredients has always been the frosting .  Most homemade  frosting is made with large amounts of butter and powdered sugar. That’s usually the best case scenario, as frosting from a can contains synthetic colors, and flavors, as well as hydrogenated oil.  If you’d rather not put  any of the above into your body, but still love frosting, there’s a healthier option here. This frosting was adapted from a recipe found in the book, “Nourishing Meals”. Although  I’ve made some changes to their recipe, I must credit the authors of this book with teaching me an entirely new way to make frosting!  

This recipe yields about sixteen servings. This is a special occasion treat for us.  Each frosted slice contains approximately 15 grams of fat. I usually eat two slices per sitting, hence the special occasion designation! The fiber and protein conten, paired with the abscence of refined sugar ensures this sweet treat will not cause cravings or the dreaded sugar crash. It’s the only dessert I’m willing to eat for breakfast. I hope you’ll enjoy this recipe as much as we have.

 

Vanilla Date Bread

Dry Ingredients:

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

1 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients:
2 c.  Date Paste (2c dates to cup of water)

1 1/2 c. Milk of your choice

1/2 c. Butter (dairy or non-dairy)

1 tbs. Vanilla

Directions:
*Preheat the oven to 350
*Whisk the dry ingredients together.
*Place all wet ingredients into your high speed blender and blend until smooth.
* Using a fork mix the wet and dry blends until they just come together; the batter will be dense and sticky.
* Scoop the  batter into two greased loaf pans or one 9×13 baking pan.
*Bake for 22 to 24 minutes.
*While the cake is in the oven, wash out the blender,  you’ll need it to prepare the frosting.

Vanilla-Cinnamon Frosting

1c. Cashews

1/4c. Water

1/2c. Dates

1/2 c. Coconut cream (Thai Kitchen is my preferred brand)
1 tbs. Vanilla
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon

Directions:

*Place all frosting ingredients into your high speed blender. Blend on high for three minutes until everything forms a cream consistency. You may need to scrape down the sides with a spatula once or twice.

*Transfer the frosting into a container and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

*  Once the cake has cooled, frost it using a silicone spatula.

*Source: Segersten, Alissa, and Tom Malterre. Nourishing Meals: 365 Whole Foods, Allergy-free Recipes for Healing Your Family One Meal at a Time. New York: Harmony, 2016. Print.

Performing Arts, Dance, Uncategorized

Only a Dancer

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“Is your father upset that he’s so educated and you’re only a dancer?” I froze for a few seconds before responding, “I don’t think so. I  was actually awarded several talent scholarships.”  Growing up in an elitist area, I was no stranger to digs regarding my artistic path, as well as inquiries regarding matters such as who had designed my purse.  This question, however, cut like a knife. My father  had given me  specific  directives: Cultivate your talents. Whatever you do with these talents do it well, and continually find ways to grow and improve. He and my mother had always encouraged my dancing, but were they  secretly disappointed?

Never before had anyone questioned my parent’s view of my worth. I could roll my eyes at  other people’s limited view of who I should be, but not that of my parents. I’d disappointed my parents with things I’d done, but  dancing was who I was.  I couldn’t bear to think who I was could be disappointing to them.  Later that night, I burst into tears at the dinner table and asked if what my neighbor implied was true. It wasn’t true in any way.  They assured me my neighbor was foolish and definitely incorrect in her assumption.

Since then, I’ve proudly taught hundreds of students and even stepped out of my shell for a while performing both as a dancer and more recently, a singer. Over the years I’ve noticed common threads or traits  that run through my most passionate and dedicated  students. In my experience, these traits exist most intensely in those who’ve  gone on to continue their dance studies after high school, perform, and teach.  If  ever you’ve known and loved a dancer, the coming words will surely ring true.

Dancers are tenacious; they  understand the value of trying something many different ways with many different corrections and adjustments before accomplishing said goal. Dancers are perfectionists; once they  “get it”, they’ll  work tirelessly to turn acceptable into exquisite.  Dancers posses discipline, self-respect, and often a maturity beyond their years. Self-worth and improvement  are repeatedly pressed in the studio; as a result, dancers  are less likely to engage in damaging or  risky behaviors.  Dancers know themselves on a deeper level. They’ve  discovered their strengths and weaknesses and are empowered to work with both.

Dancers  understand that the love is in the details. It’s not only their movement, but the precise way in which they execute it.  Dancers’  passion  outweighs their desire for status. Even the most successful are never well off, but to an artist it’s worth the sacrifice. Dancers work hard, not solely for money but also for the love of their art form, the opportunity to reach others with their gifts, and the chance to feel  alive in a way only available to those who take the dance floor as their home. Dancers create. Isn’t that why we’re here, to create relationships, families, beauty, and memories?

Dancers have the grit to face a world in which they may be wanted, but not needed, a world in which they may be passed over for work due to their height or hairstyle. They must demonstrate their commitment and value repeatedly. Dancers stand comfortably in their own vulnerability, taking their bodies, hearts, and spirits bravely onto the stage. They do this never knowing when they’re to be replaced by a younger,stronger dancer, or set back by an overuse injury, or the natural aging process. Dancers express feelings and stories bringing  us into their emotional space, helping us to better accept and experience our own feelings. Therein lies the fragile beauty of the performing arts.

As a dancer and teacher, I’ve  experienced joy and disappointment, felt energized and exhausted, been inspired and burned out. Still, there’s never been a day in my life I wasn’t thankful for the opportunity to share the arts.

As for my old neighbor who wondered if my family felt disappointment due to my being a dancer, I’d love for her to take a few of  my classes. It would  be entertaining  to watch her discover the biggest truth regarding dancers: Making difficult movements look effortlessly beautiful, using a blend of talent and training to take our bodies to unique extremes, and creating a kind of silent poetry that moves observers emotionally, are things  “only a dancer” can do.