Why should we all use our creative power…? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. ~Brenda Ueland
Some people ooze creativity, but I would contend after my 33 years on this earth that we are all born with a creative spirit. Maybe it’s not easily visible in some people, but instead of singing or dancing perhaps it’s creative problem solving skills. Or, I’ve met engineers who are closet painters or sculptors. And I’ve learned from teaching cooking that once people have the tools of how to create a meal, they are creative and inventive beyond what they thought possible.
I identify as a creative: I was a writer and played classical piano and French horn throughout my childhood, then ended up majoring in music and journalism in college. Since I chose a career in the business world (I’m part owner of a technical writing firm), I’ve had to determine how to balance an intense creative passion with a demanding career. How’s that for a challenge? I’d imagine many of you reading this have had similar experiences. Cooking became that creative outlet for me, and along with that this blog.
Many times, the stress of running two businesses while trying to be a loving boss / wife / daughter / friend / sister / aunt / niece / etc. has left me on less than a full tank. A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to be approached by a dear friend to try out a book called The Artist’s Way that focuses on creative renewal. One of the challenges in the book was to take an “artist’s date” each week, where you do something to indulge your inner artist. For me, it was playing a Chopin waltz I hadn’t touched in years. It felt so good, I cried (ha!). Creative healing central, here. If any of you readers are creatives or wanting to tap into more creative potential, I’d highly recommend the book.
And now, the food. To me, a simple recipe that highlights interesting flavors with minimal effort is #1 in creativity in my book (at least, in the home cooking realm!). A dear friend made this for a picnic and I couldn’t get over the simple beauty of vibrant, ripe fruit against the minty sweetness of a light drizzle of syrup. Our variation with this local fruit from our farmer’s market was beyond stellar. Like eating the best kind of candy possible. And if you struggle with work / life balance as I do, it’s also a super simple dessert for a summer evening. Whip up a bit of the syrup (which mainly involves hands off wait time) and store it in the refrigerator for the next occasion.
We’d love to hear in the comments below if any of you have thoughts on creativity, creative renewal, work / life balance, etc. Hope your summer is going well!
Remove the leaves from the mint and reserve for a garnish. Roughly cut the mint stems so they fit in a medium saucepan. In the saucepan, add 1 cup water and 2 cups sugar Bring to a simmer and simmer for a few minutes until thickened.
Remove from the heat and cool for about 1 hour while the mint seeps. When cool, strain into an airtight container. (Makes 1½ cups syrup; store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.)
I’m just finishing up four weeks in Europe with Eva and the kids, and wrapping up my Grand Travel Experiment. I have to say it was (mostly) a success.
I wasn’t perfect, but even in the failures, I learned a lot.
I’ve written recently about my work and workout routines while I travel, so I’ll try not to repeat too much, but this post will be an overall summary of the entire experiment.
During this experiment, I wanted to work on several problem areas for me in past trips:
No regular exercise routine
No regular work routine
No regular meditation
Not being able to let go of expectations of my kids
I did better than I’ve ever done with work, exercise and meditation, and the overeating and expectations of my kids were mixed successes but with lots of learning.
I’d love to summarize what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I’ve learned, for each area.
My experiment was to eat whatever I wanted (including vegan gelato!), but to try to be mindful as I ate, and not overeat. I rated myself after every meal (More than 110 of them!) on a scale of 1 (overate so much it hurts) to 5 (not quite full but sated).
Results: I was a 3 or 4 on almost all meals, and rarely a 2 or a 5. I never got to a 1, though my kids did sometimes. I consider this a huge success over past trips, where I either 1) overate on almost every meal or 2) restricted what I could eat so much that I didn’t get to eat a lot of tasty vegan food. I would have preferred more 4s and less 3s, but honestly, that would have been an unrealistic expectation. Overall, I think with the exercise and not overeating too much, I didn’t gain much, if any, weight on the trip. Which is amazing for a 4-week trip!
What I did right: Each day, I had a goal of trying to hit about 20 points, including 5 possible points for work and another 5 for workouts … so if I did perfectly with those, I’d need 10 points for three meals. That’s two 3s and a 4, which wasn’t hard to hit. This running tally in my head reminded me to be mindful (most of the time). I also asked the kids to remind me not to overeat if I was in danger of not making my points.
What I did wrong: Sometimes I couldn’t help myself and I overate. This didn’t feel good, because I don’t like being overfull, nor does it make me feel healthy. My problem is with trigger foods (like French fries/frites, or sweets). I tend to just inhale these instead of eating slowly and being mindful of my fullness level.
What I learned: I need to notice before I start eating a trigger food, and treat it as a danger zone. I should still be able to eat it, but I should be careful as I do so, as these are difficult foods for me.
In the past, I would be too tired from all the walking we do when we travel to keep up regular exercise. This trip, I wanted to do a daily workout, just something simple — pushups, or bodyweight squats. My plan was to do this every morning.
Results: I did a workout every day. Some days I was rushed, as we were trying to get out the door early for some reason, so I didn’t get a full workout, but I tried to make up for it with sprints or swimming or sprinting up stairs. This was one of my biggest successes — I’ve never traveled and had as regular a workout routine as this.
What I did right: I would do my workout as I was getting ready or working (if I worked at home). I didn’t give myself a choice — just do the workout. I also found lots of opportunities to do mini-workouts as we walked around or went to the beach — I would swim a lot, or sprint, run up stairs, dance with the kids.
What I did wrong: Nothing, really. I don’t think I could have done better unless I made workouts my top priority and found a gym in each city, but then I would have less time for exploring with the kids.
What I learned: Keep the workouts minimal, don’t give yourself a choice, and do them first thing in the morning. This is what works for me, and I hope I can remember this on all future trips!
In the past, I would do as much work as possible before my trips, writing everything in advance. That’s not sustainable if I plan to travel regularly or for extended trips, so my plan was to purposely not do work ahead of time, forcing myself to work every day while we traveled.
Results: I did brilliantly. This was my best trip ever in terms of getting work done. I worked every morning, without fail. Some days I would only get 30 minutes in if we were in a hurry, but I did the work. The great thing is now that my trip is over, I don’t have a mountain of work waiting for me when I get home!
What I did right: First, I purposely didn’t do all my work ahead of time, so I was forced to do work on the trip. Second, I didn’t even question whether I’d work each day — the only question was whether I would do it at a coffee shop, or at home if there wasn’t a good coffee shop option nearby. Third, I did it in the morning rather than giving myself an option to do it later in the day, when I probably would have been too tired after walking around all day. Last, I only asked myself to do an hour a day, aside from maybe answering a few emails at night.
What I did wrong: I assumed there would be good Internet wherever I went, but in some coffee shops and some of the apartments we rented, the wifi either wasn’t great or didn’t exist. So a couple of times I had to use my phone’s data to connect, which wasn’t ideal.
What I learned: This trip taught me that I can quite sustainably work every day while traveling … in the past, I didn’t think I could while mindfully enjoying the trip. It wasn’t a problem, which is welcome news to me.
I often drop my meditation habit while traveling, simply because my routine isn’t fixed, and often because I don’t have a space to meditate nor the energy after so much walking around.
My idea was to do a minimal amount of meditation as soon as I awoke, every day.
Results: I remembered almost every day as soon as woke up. I did sound meditation, where I would try to listen to all the sounds around me. I also did some sound meditation while out at busy squares and beaches in the different cities we visited. A few days I didn’t remember to meditate as soon as I woke up, but I would remember a little later in the morning and do a short meditation wherever I was. Overall, much better than any previous trip!
What I did right: I kept the meditation short and simple, and allowed myself to do it while lying down in bed (which I don’t do at home). This helped, because I didn’t have to disturb the kids (who were often sleeping in the living room on a couch bed in the apartments we rented), and it lowered the barrier to actually doing it.
What I did wrong: Nothing — I’m happy with how this went.
What I learned: Keep the meditation short, do it immediately upon waking, and if you forget, don’t be afraid to meditate wherever you are.
5. Expectations of the kids
This has always been a problem area for me — while I think I’m a pretty good dad, I can lose patience when the kids aren’t behaving as I’d like. This gets in the way of my enjoyment of a trip, and just as importantly, it makes the trip less enjoyable for the kids. Most importantly, it can hurt our relationship when I’m bossy, or lose my patience with them and say something out of frustration.
So my plan was to try to relax those expectations of the kids, or notice when my expectations were getting in the way of enjoying the trip. This meant a lot of mindfulness, and a lot of compassion for myself when I was feeling frustration due to expectations.
Results: This was probably my most difficult and least successful area. For the most part, I was calm and relaxed, but there were times when I lost patience and showed some frustrations when the kids didn’t behave as I’d like. A couple of these were not good at all, and I feel bad about them. While I didn’t lose my patience every day, there were definitely times when I got frustrated, regularly.
What I did right: I tried to be mindful of my frustration levels, and give myself compassion when I was feeling frustrations. I tried to notice my expectations of the kids and see when those were unrealistic or unnecessary. I also let go of frustrations much faster than normal when I did this.
What I did wrong: I can’t expect “perfection” here, so I’m not going to beat myself up for losing my patience … but there were a few times I wish I hadn’t said anything and instead dropped down into myself and dealt compassionately with my frustration. When I get frustrated, sometimes I’m not mindful. This is something I can continue to work on.
What I learned: I definitely have a lot of expectations of others that I don’t realize I have. Those can get in the way of my happiness and the relationships I have with people, and I need to continue to practice mindfulness around this.
Considering all these areas, I think the experiment was a joyful success, and I’m very happy I did it. I learned how to work and workout and meditate while traveling, which were big areas of weakness for me. I learned to control my eating a bit more, which is another big improvement. I taught myself that I can travel for a long period in a sustainable, enjoyable, healthy way, and that’s a major success in my mind.
And I enjoyed the trip, immensely and with great joy. Now time for a nap.
I’m so excited for today’s post! Many of you have been asking me to put together some plant-based meal plans or menus – What does a full day of plant-based eating look like? How do I combine easy, healthy recipes into a full day of eating? It’s something I struggled with in the beginning too – and even now, on occasion – so I totally get it. With the summer season in mind, this 2-day meal plan below is filled with healthy, energizing, quick-to-prepare options. All of the recipes (except the avocado sauce and smoothies) can be made in advance and keep well in the fridge. Yes!
This post was also crafted for a selfish reason too; I tested cake and frosting all last week for the next cookbook. The end result turned out pretty mind-blowing, but to say I was looking for a bit of a “reset” is an understatement. I try my best to eat balanced, but that doesn’t always happen as a recipe tester. When the dessert chapter needs to be wrapped up, the dessert chapter needs to be wrapped up! So in an effort to bring back balanced meals, I came up with this easy, veggie-packed menu to get back on track. I think we can all relate to this desire now and then, especially after summer holidays and traveling. After just half a day, my energy levels returned and I had a kick to my step again! The power of plants never fails me. I hope you enjoy it too whether you follow it to a tee or just mix and match some recipes into your normal routine. If you are just making these for yourself, you’ll likely have leftovers that carry over into day 3…never a bad thing.
Note: All the recipes are linked in the chart below. From there, you can print the recipes if desired.
– Lately I start my morning with white tea and I drink it until about 2-3pm. I find it gives me really consistent energy throughout the day (without the crash that coffee often gives me, but feel free to drink what YOU prefer). If I’m on the ball I will also try to have some warm lemon water (squeeze half a lemon into a couple cups of warm water – sweeten to taste if desired) first thing in the morning or I simply add lemon slices to a 1-litre mason jar and sip on it throughout the day. Between outdoor summer workouts and breastfeeding, it’s a constant effort for me to stay hydrated.
– All recipes can be made in advance except for the smoothies (I always prefer those fresh as the flavours start to change as they sit) and Avocado pasta sauce.
– Be sure to try out my Hidden Greens Chocolate Protein Smoothie – it’s a new recipe to the site and is bursting with nutrients! Not to mention…chocolate for breakfast. You can thank me later.
– Please keep in mind that this meal plan is not intended to be a one size fits all plan; tweak and personalize it as you see fit! I often have a mid-morning snack such as hummus and crackers to get me through to lunch.
– You can serve the 15-Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta with whole-grain pasta or zucchini noodles. I use this spiralizer to make zucchini noodles. It’s a great summer option!
Well, this was a beast of a post to put together so if I’ve forgotten anything feel free to let me know. Do you like these kinds of posts? I’m open to your feedback as always.
Wishing you boundless energy this week and all summer long!
Alex and I love crazy, inventive dishes and exotic flavors, but when it comes down to it, simplicity reigns in our style of home cooking. So it was no surprise that this creamy marinara pasta caught our eye when we received the new cookbook Yogurt Culture by our friend Cheryl Sternman Rule. We don’t eat pasta often, but a slow-simmered tomato sauce combined with creamy yogurt and topped with peppery basil sounded enticing.
The book is dedicated entirely to yogurt, and while that might sound overwhelming, the recipe ideas are varied and inventive: fruit compote toppings, savory Mediterranean yogurt dips with olive oil and lemon, lamb kebabs, mocha cupcakes–everything from sweet to savory to in between. I read a lot of cookbooks, so it’s meaningful when I say I truly enjoyed immersing myself in the pages of this book. What surprised me was the significant use of yogurt in Mediterranean dishes (my favorite cuisine), which for whatever reason I was not expecting, thinking a yogurt cookbook might simply be a list of granola and fruit toppings. Cheryl’s writing voice is clear and comforting, and her instructions are thoughtful. Even from this simple pasta recipe, you can sense her culinary finesse, for example choosing to temper the thick yogurt with a bit of the warm marinara sauce before mixing it all together.
This pasta was fabulous; it’s a bit like a vodka sauce without the vodka. It coated the pasta perfectly with just the right amount of creaminess, which we admire after ending up with many dry pastas after failed recipe attempts. We had a long list of other recipes from the book to make, but kept coming back to this one. It’s perfect for a summer evening on the patio – and our leftovers even managed to reheat well (a feat with pasta!).
I was also able to catch up with Cheryl about the book, who as lovely and kind in person as she is in her book. I’m a huge fan of her writing and inventive recipes, so it was a pleasure to have a little Q&A about cooking, health and yogurt! The interview is below. And if you’re interested in more yogurt recipes, Cheryl has started a site with a compilation of yogurt recipes and information: head over to Team Yogurt. Thanks again to Cheryl for her time, friendship, and a truly inspiring book.
Sonja: So, an entire cookbook on yogurt! What inspired you to dedicate a book to this ingredient?
Cheryl: The original idea came from my agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler, who had an inkling it might be a good fit for me. What she may not have realized, though, was just how perfect a fit it really was. I’ve been an avid yogurt-eater my entire life. I made yogurt all the time when I served in the Peace Corps. And I have a fascination with global food traditions. This one ingredient tapped into all those realms. It was, and continues to be, a dream topic for me.
Sonja: Is yogurt considered “healthy”? What makes it a healthful food?
Cheryl: Absolutely, yes. At its core, yogurt is simply milk and good bacteria. (Of course, you can make and buy non-dairy yogurts, but I’ll talk about dairy here.) Yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium, and probiotics, plus it contains B vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. I always hesitate to list out that long list of nutrients because they’re not really my focus. Yogurt’s just one of these foods that’s all-around great for you. That said, calcium, protein, and probiotics really do have substantial health benefits, so people who are motivated by cleaning up their diets or introducing nutrient-dense foods would do well to eat lots of (plain) yogurt.
Sonja: What’s a good way to flavor yogurt at home, instead of buying artificially-flavored brands?
Cheryl: The first chapter in Yogurt Culture is called Flavor. I created those recipes specifically to flavor plain yogurt in interesting ways with easy-to-make compotes and mix-ins. So whether you’re making strawberry-rhubarb compote or roasted blueberry compote or burnt-sugar apricots, you can keep these homemade flavorings in a jar in the fridge and mix and match them with plain yogurt.
And, of course, I provide savory options as well, relying on things like olive oil, spices, garlic, and salt, to name just a few. The rest of the book gives 115 recipes for what to do with plain yogurt. I really want to inspire people to use this incredibly accessible, versatile food in new ways.
Sonja: We love your recipe style of home cooking with flavorful whole foods. How did you become interested in cooking this way?
Cheryl: Once I really, really learned to cook (I went to culinary school in 2002-2003), I pretty much lost my taste for convenience foods. It was easy to just start building my food writing career at that point based on whole foods because that’s what I was cooking for myself and my family.
Sonja: What’s your favorite recipe from the book?
Cheryl: Probably the Greek Yogurt with Lemon Vinaigrette. It’s assertive, refreshing, surprising, beautiful, and takes less than five minutes to make. I love recipes that pack a flavor punch with such minimal effort!
28-ounce can tomato puree (we used San Marzano variety)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, at room temperature
Crushed red pepper
1 pound bucatini pasta
Torn fresh basil leaves, for garnish
What To Do
Make the sauce: In a large saucepan, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Toss in the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomato puree and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to a bubble, then reduce the heat and maintain a low summer so that the flavors can fully develop, 30 to 40 minutes, giving a stir when you think of it. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.
Temper the yogurt: In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon oil into the yogurt. Whisk in ½ cup of the warm sauce to temper the yogurt. Scrape the yogurt mixture back into the saucepan whisking to incorporate fully. Taste, adding more salt and pepper, and the crushed red pepper.
Serve: Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water according to the package instructions. At the end of cooking, set aside ½ cup of the pasta water. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, slowly transfer the hot pasta to the tomato sauce, tossing to coat. Drizzle in a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water, or more if desired, to loosen. Server hot, garnished with the basil.
I’ve had numerous readers tell me that they Suck at Habits. And I totally get that, because in 2005, that’s exactly where I was. I sucked at habits.
The good news is that I found a smarter way.
I learned to understand that habits are a set of patterns that I just needed to repeat until they became more and more automatic … and that setting up the right environment is everything.
Let me repeat that: setting up the right habit environment is everything.
If you suck at habits right now, that’s because your environment is set up for you to fail. It’s incredibly hard to defeat a hostile habit environment.
So the first thing to know is that you don’t suck, your environment does. You just need to learn to set up a better habit environment.
I also learned that I was often failing because I didn’t believe in myself — I would give up when things got hard, because deep down I didn’t really think I was going to succeed. I didn’t believe, because past evidence from repeated failures told me I most likely wasn’t going to succeed. I had proven to myself over and over again that I sucked at habits, and this belief got in the way of future habit successes.
What’s the way out of this negative feedback loop? You change the message. You tell yourself you’re going to succeed no matter what, and that your past failures don’t count because this time you’re going to put everything you have into it, and not allow failure. You change a habit that’s so easy to do that you can’t possibly fail … and then you let that habit success redefine your belief in yourself.
So the second thing to learn is that you can create a belief and trust in yourself if you make success your only option.
It turns out that the same set of actions will address both of these two things: 1) setting up the right habit environment, and 2) making habit success your only option, so that you can start trusting yourself.
Let’s look at those actions.
The Right Habit Environment & Creating Trust in Yourself
I could write a whole book on setting up the right habit environment, but for now let me give you these basic tips:
Start super small. If you want to build trust in yourself, you need to start with something incredibly easy, something you won’t fail to do. Most people ignore this advice, and fail, and then don’t believe in themselves. I’ve said it on this blog for the last eight years, but that’s because it’s so fundamental: you have to start small. Super small. If you want to run, form the habit of getting out the door and running for 2 minutes. Set the bar for success as low as you can. Start by drinking a glass of water each day, or stretching for 1 minute, or doing 1 pushup, or flossing 1 tooth.
Progress gradually. If you start super small, it might seem silly. But remember that you’re building trust in yourself, and setting yourself up with the right habit environment. What you want to do from there is only progress very gradually — make it so slow that it seems too easy to add more. Don’t challenge yourself, but make it a sure thing. Each step along the way, the new level of your habit becomes your new normal. And you’ll be amazed at the magnitude of successful change this can bring.
Create public accountability. Eventually, you might build so much trust in yourself that you won’t need accountability — but in the beginning, set yourself up with the right habit environment by creating public accountability. Tell people you’re going to do your new habit, and ask them to hold you accountable. Maybe even set up a consequence for failure. Report to them regularly, or have a public log. Trust me, with an environment like this, you’re much more likely to succeed.
Be all in. One of the mistakes I used to make was to only half commit myself. Tell myself in the morning that I was going to do something, and by the afternoon (or at best, a week later), I’d quietly let myself off the hook. This only caused me to trust myself less. Now, when I really want to succeed, I commit myself fully, in my own head. I tell myself that I’m absolutely going to do this, and I won’t let myself fail. I make myself an unbreakable vow. Then I do my utmost to honor this commitment to myself.
Journal your habit. This is an optional step, but it really steps up the habit change by helping you to learn everything you can from your experience. As you go through the habit change, you reflect on how you’re doing, what obstacles come up, what your rationalizations might be, where you can improve. Even just 1-2 sentences a day, or a few sentences every other day, can be a major factor in success.
Do a weekly review. If daily journaling is too much, I’d highly recommend a weekly review. Just take a few minutes once a week (set a reminder), and type up a few notes about how your week went: how did you do with your habit? What got in the way? What can you do differently this coming week to overcome those obstacles? This way, you improve at the habit each week, even if only a little.
Set up unmissable reminders. When people start a new habit, they often forget. So a key part of your habit environment is setting up phone/computer reminders, but also put up something visual in the place where you want to remember your habit. If you want to floss, put up a big sign “FLOSS” on your bathroom mirror, so you can’t miss it.
Don’t give yourself an option. This is something I’ve discovered about myself: if I allow myself to ask each day, “Should I do my habit now?” then some days, I’ll be very tempted to say, “No.” So it’s much, much more effective to not even ask the question. Just do the habit, without question. No option, no choice. Just one choice: do it.
Notice your negative self-talk and rationalizations. Mindfulness is incredibly important in habit change, and one of the best uses of it is to start to notice the tricks my mind starts to play on me. Notice when I have the urge to procrastinate or quit, and realize that it’s OK to have these urges, but that I don’t have to automatically follow them. I can pause, and think about it for a little bit, and sometimes not follow the urges. I can also notice the rationalizations my mind makes for not doing the habit (and our minds are very good at this!), and see that my mind is just uncomfortable with this new habit and is trying to weasel out of discomfort in any way it can.
Do it with someone else. This is a habit environment change that few people take advantage of, but it really creates an amazing experience that makes you much more likely to succeed. If you go for a walk (your new habit) by yourself, that’s really cool, but if you go with a friend, you’ll enjoy the conversation, look forward to your walk each day, and will be very unlikely to skip it, because you know that your friend is waiting for you in the park. If you don’t have anyone to do the habit with you in real life, look for a group or partner online, or find a coach.
Savor the habit. This is a step that many people skip … they just do the habit like it’s a chore they have to get through before the next thing on their list. But this is a huge mistake, because then in your mind, this habit change is a chore, and eventually you’ll want to give up this chore, because you think it’s optional. Instead, see the habit as a treat for yourself. It’s a little time to yourself, a time to practice mindfulness, time to relieve stress, time to take care of yourself. Smile, breathe, and savor every second you do the habit, and just maybe, you’ll look forward to doing it tomorrow.
How many of these habit environment changes have you tried? Are there any here that you can use to make your next habit change more successful?
Most importantly, if you “suck at habits,” can you use these tips to start building trust in yourself, so that your habit changes are odds-on favorites for long-term success?
Peach season is upon us, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my mom’s peach pie. It’s become a tradition in my family to enjoy juicy, summer peaches in this decadently creamy dessert. Unlike most of the recipes you’ll find here, it’s not a particularly healthy food, but it’s a summer tradition that’s as important to us as eating healthy the other 95% of the time. The pie has a family history of its own, which my mom tells in last season’s post about the best peach pie.
The season for peaches is short in Indiana, so now’s the time to make all those summery recipes you’ve been waiting for! Our favorite this season has been Peach, Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad. Here’s a list of some of our favorite peach recipes on A Couple Cooks, as well as some tasty links from around the web. Happy eating!
As my family of eight enters its last week of this four-week trip, I have to say that I’m probably just as fit as when I left, and in some ways even fitter — I can do more pushups and walk farther and longer, for example. My eating hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t been horrible … and I’ve done pretty well with exercise, so they’ve more than balanced out.
This is a huge victory for me, believe me. I don’t usually keep a good fitness routine while traveling — I try, but it’s never as good as when I’m home. This trip has been a big change for me, and today I’d like to share what has worked.
Here are 6 things I’ve been doing that have worked for me:
I keep the workout short and minimal. Every day, I alternate about 10 minutes of writing with my exercise for the day — either pushups or bodyweight squats. Just one bodyweight exercise, probably 4-6 sets (not including warmup sets) of as many as I can do. That’s it. But even with that minimal exercise, I’ve increased strength in those exercises and I feel that it’s been working fairly well. And because the workout is so simple, it’s hard to say no to it. But that’s not all I do for the day! More below.
I don’t give myself a choice. This is probably the biggest change for me this trip — usually I procrastinate on exercise, probably because I my usual travel workout routines have 4-5 different exercises and seem too difficult. This time, I’ve simplified it to just one exercise, so I don’t procrastinate. And turning this trip into a Grand Experiment, where I have to report back to all of you, turns up the accountability so that I don’t want to fail. So every morning, I meditate for a few minutes, I do an hour’s worth of work (writing and email), and I do my one bodyweight exercise for the day, no excuses. That routine works really well, if I don’t let myself off the hook.
I walk a crapton. Eva, the kids and I all walk a lot, every day. Usually for hours. That’s way more than we walk at home, so we’ve gone from walking wimps to walking gods in just a few weeks. Sure, we take breaks and stop for gelato and lounge around in public squares … but most of the time we’re walking through winding, cobbled streets and just admiring buildings, statues, cafes and the light softly illuminating a city that’s old but new to us.
I run up every set of stairs. As we explore these cities, there are lots of steps leading up bridges (in Venice), stairs going up from underground metro stations, steps going up a beautiful museum building … and I sprint up every single flight. If I see a set of stairs, I gleefully run up them, two or three steps at a time. Sometimes we’ve climbed up hundreds of stairs (Eiffel Tower, Arc de triomphe) and I only run up some of them, but I love stairs of all kinds!
I sprint. Every day, I sprint at least a few times. Maybe I’ll race the kids to a statue, maybe I’ll just sprint down a small alley for fun. For me, it’s a form of play. I don’t go on long runs while I’m traveling, but I do take the opportunity to sprint when I can. I usually end up exhausted at the end of each day!
I try to be mindful, and not overeat. To be honest, the foods I’ve eaten haven’t been that healthy — pastas, pizzas, French breads, vegan gelato. I’m OK with that — in the past, I’ve stuck to a healthy diet while traveling and it wasn’t as fun. So this trip, my goal is to eat mindfully, and not overeat too much. I’ve only been somewhat successful — I have definitely overeaten more than I’d like, but less than in the past. Still, I think for the most part I’ve been pretty good, and the times I’ve overdone it, I think it’s been balanced by the exercise.
I skip and dance with the kids. Finally, the funnest part! I will hold my daughter’s hand and skip merrily along these European streets. For me, it seems less embarrassing to skip merrily (or often, crazily) in public if I’m holding a child’s hand. I’m not as brave by myself, I think. Also, I dance with them in public. I’m not the world’s best dancer, but I can get a good disco fever going, or do the Twist, or the ever-reliable Running Man. America’s Got Talent, look out.
“Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life.” ~Marcus Aurelius
Are you like me, where you seem to be hurdled through your life at an incredible pace? Where even weekends and vacations can be a series of activities that leave you exhilarated but exhausted? It’s so easy to truck through life on autopilot, instead of stopping to savor the moment. Alex and I gave a little talk on mindful eating this weekend and it was a fitting reminder to ourselves to slow down and be mindfully present.
And if there’s a place to be mindfully present, it’s with this salad. First, juicy, succulent ripe peaches and vibrant red, yellow and violet tomatoes that taste literally like summer. Then, burrata. The description on the container is: “fresh mozzarella cheese filled with shreds of mozzarella soaked in cream”. In my opinion, one of the best taste treats on the planet (we first had it here). Add some peppery garden basil and some crunchy, salty peanuts, and it’s one of those first bite “Whoa” moments. While burrata is a bit on the pricey side, it’s worth it for a special splurge – an appetizer for a summer meal on the patio, or a simple main course with some crusty bread or crackers. And if your diet restricts dairy, the salad is fabulous without it; the combination of savory tomato + sweet peach is remarkable in itself. It takes a few minutes to put together, and without much effort looks completely artful on a plate.
Ultra simple recipes that showcase the flavor of each component are my favorite, and this one hits the mark. I can rave on and on since it was the idea of my fabulous husband, who brought home a load of peaches. (Me: “How about peach crisp, peach pie, peach ice cream?” Alex: “Peach, tomato, and burrata salad?” Me: “Sold.”) Every bite was a reminder to slow down and savor the remaining bits of summer.
Sometimes you just aren’t motivated, maybe you’re feeling depressed (as opposed to full-blown clinical depression), maybe you just don’t have the energy to focus on work.
We’ve all been there from time to time, and the good news is, we’ve all climbed out of this funk to some degree.
I’ve found there are two main factors to finding yourself in Funk Town:
You have low energy, from a lack of sleep, overwork, an illness, or overdoing the exercise (you know who you are).
You get into a negative thinking spiral — one self-doubt leads to another, one bad thought about your life leads to another, until you no longer believe in yourself.
These two factors often work together — usually when I’m jet lagged, or just went through a family crisis, or am severely sleep-deprived, I start down the negative thinking spiral.
Here’s the first thing to know about how you’re thinking during this slump: don’t believe any of your thoughts.
That’s because your mind, when it gets tired and negative, enters a childlike state — not the “let your mind be childlike and playful” kinda childlike, but more like, “Gimme what I want or I’m gonna throw a tantrum” kinda cranky, selfish, petulant child. This is not your best self, but a self that is suffering and just wants to be comfortable. That’s completely understandable.
Here’s the next think to know about this slump: You shouldn’t listen to the urges and thoughts of the childlike tantrum-throwing mind when you’re in Funk Town … but do listen to the needs. Your childlike self wants to rest, doesn’t want to do too much work, is tired and maybe needs some comforting.
Comfort yourself when you’re suffering. Not with food but with love. Give yourself rest when you’re tired. Make fixing your sleep a top priority. Go to bed earlier, turn off all screens, let yourself unwind, meditate while in bed, make sure there’s no TV or other lights on, and get some great sleep.
Weirdly, it also helps to get active. Take care of sleep, and don’t overdo your activity, but if you’ve been working from home or stuck in an office a lot, it’s often better to get your body moving — go for a walk, play a sport, do something active with friends.
A third thing to know: When you’re in Funk Town, don’t believe what your mind thinks about yourself and your work. It will say, “I don’t want to do that!” or “I can’t do that” or “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t care about that anymore.” None of that is believable, simply because the mind that’s saying these things is in a state of panic and fear and extreme discomfort. That’s not a believable mind.
Instead, notice these thoughts, then tell yourself, “I’m just suffering right now. I’ll figure this out when I’m in a calmer state of mind.”
Once you’re in a calmer state of mind, feeling better, then take assessment of your work. You might find you still love it, or if you don’t, you might calmly find another path that’s even better.
A fourth thing to know: It helps a lot to talk to someone else, who has an outsider’s perspective. Talk to a friend, a spouse, a parent, a co-worker, anyone. I can’t stress this enough — don’t be too proud to reach out for help.
A fifth thing: Once you’ve taken care of your rest and your health, you should do some work. Not a ton, but some. Put in some diligent effort, get a little done. Just enough to feel good that you did something.
It also really helps to start clearing your plate a little, if you’re overloaded. Start saying No to work instead of Yes all the time, as a friend of mine did recently when he was in Funk Town, and you’ll feel some relief.
Finally a sixth thing to know: It’s OK to be in Funk Town now and then. We all do it, so you’re not alone at all. It’s human to go through ups and downs, to not always be on a high of amazing psychitude. We sometimes doubt ourselves, sometimes get really tired, sometimes suffer. Don’t worry about being in Funk Town. You’ll get out of it, and because of your experience in Funk Town, you’ll be stronger and wiser and ready to take on the next challenge with renewed gratitude