Monday, December 22, 2014

Traditions

"Oh, this beautiful tree, with its branches wide, We hail it with joy at Christmas-tide." F. Schilling

Christmas time is here, with happiness and cheer. Cold days, dark nights, snow flurries, chapped lips and hands make me want to settle down for a long winter's nap. When I was younger, my parents spent time celebrating the holiday spirit through traditions. My father witnessed elves peeping in the windows, keeping watch on whether we were naughty or nice. This was scary and mysterious at the same time. Every year we looked forward to our big adventure up to Hampton Falls, NH to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. My sister and I journeying too far off the farm, getting stuck in the mud, and enduring a long drive home with wet pants and boots.

With my birthday in the middle of the month, I was happy the day wasn't forgotten. I made a wish, blew out the candles, and enjoyed my favorite cake, layered with berries and fresh whipped cream. On Christmas Eve, my mother always let me and my sister open one gift. It was usually a new pair of pajamas to wear on Christmas morning. My father read The Night Before Christmas to us in front of the fire, and we talked about how Santa rode in his sleigh up in the sky guided by his eight tiny reindeer.

As I got older and met my husband, a new set of traditions unfolded as we united with his family. We attended parties, dinners, and got together with friends. We played duets for our family, and sang Christmas carols. We spent time together, enjoying walks in the freshly fallen snow, snowboarding in the mountains, basking in the glow of a warm outdoor fire under a dark night sky sprinkled with millions of stars. We exchanged special gifts picked out for each other in honor of our new love. When we moved into our home, I bought a vintage silver Christmas tree complete with a color wheel that rotated and shined rays of red, yellow, blue and green onto the branches. We snuggled in the evening by the twinkling lights, and slept late into the morning.

When our babies were born, we slowly started adapting our own traditions. My husband has ornaments from his childhood, drums, bicycles, Bugs Bunny and Kermit the Frog carrying an armful of presents, Goofy riding a skateboard, and Garfield the cat playing a saxophone. We have a special red reindeer that bears the beauty of love and time, which is our first ornament hung on the tree. My breakable ornaments had to stay in boxes for the first couple of years, and our holiday decorating remained minimal for safety reasons. This year, upon my husband's request, we got a real tree. We picked out the first tree we saw, which was perfect. Our small home is filled with the scent of pine boughs and so far the tree is still standing. Grandparents have given special ornaments to the boys and they hung them with pride. My mother sewed our stockings with our names on them and they are up waiting to be filled. The boys ask every day about Christmas and like to countdown the days, which gave me the idea of making an advent calendar. I wanted one that would last us from year to year filled with holiday ideas, special events, and notes about the meaning of Christmas. Cutting out felt squares and sewing pockets is taking me a long time, so we will have one ready for next year.

"O' Star of wonder, star of night, Star with Royal beauty bright, Guide us to thy perfect light." J.H. Hopkins

As a mother, it is important for me to place great emphasis on giving to others in need and creating experiences that make happy memories. Every year we fill a bag of toys to donate to charity and talk about what the spirit of Christmas means to us, reading stories, singing songs, and being together. My favorite part of the holiday is baking and decorating Christmas cookies. I started with a simple sugar cookie and expanded into experimenting with different recipes from across the world. Buttery French Palmiers, Light Italian Pizelles, Spicy Dutch Pfeffernuesse, German Cinnamon Zimtsterne, and the Austrian Crescent Vanillekipferl make wonderful gifts for loved ones.

For me, baking these cookies is a way of remembering that the world is all one family. Surrendering to the sugar, flour and butter that splatters my small kitchen is a sacred time to honor the freedom and space in my mind to send out a prayer of loving kindness into the universe. 

My husband and I try to make homemade gifts, and we have made some beautiful things in the past, but time is limited these days and even though our creations have become smaller, they are still filled with love.  With the boys being young, we like to stay home these days enjoying visits from our parents and siblings. We make cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning and slowly open the gifts we have presented to one another. Creating a feast and enjoying a dinner together and taking time to eat it is a blessing. Our gift is spending time with family and friends, feeling grateful for all we have and are able to share. Our holidays have been simple and sweet, and every year I wish for peace, love, health and joy.

Finding Christmas spirit and filling this special time with personal traditions is a meaningful way to bring more of what you want into your life. If you want love, show love, if you want health, live healthfully, if you want peace, be peaceful and calm, there's still time to give, to share, to be thoughtful and respectful. When you are able to give up a part of yourself freely, for the sole purpose of benefiting others, the gifts you receive in generosity and kindness are tenfold. This is true Christmas spirit.

Ebenezer Scrooge knew this at the end of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!"

Dr. Suess knew about Christmas spirit as he told his famous tale of the Grinch, "Maybe Christmas,"
he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps means a little bit more!"

Charles Schulz who created the wonderful Peanuts characters said, "Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone."


"It came upon the midnight clear, 
That glorious song of old, 
From angels bending near the earth, 
To touch their harps of gold: 
"Peace on earth, good will toward men, 
From Heaven's all gracious King." 
The world in solemn stillness lay, 
To hear the angels sing." 
R.S. Willis


Life feels so rushed these days, we try not to fill it with too many things to do in hopes that new traditions can unfold in their own time.

"Thine Angels watch around, All bending low with folded wings. How sweet it is to see thee lie, In such a place of rest, In such a place of rest." J.B. Dykes

Friday, November 28, 2014

Music Memory

"Music is a world within itself, it is a language we all understand." Stevie Wonder

Songs are like portals for time travel, I hear a familiar melody and I am transported to another place and time. My imagination soars, my heart opens, and my senses come alive.  Listening or playing music connects my inner world to my outer world.  To me, music is sacred, it is a way of communicating without words. Sounds that string together in beautiful harmonies excite, inspire and strengthen me. My intimate relationships are bound by music.

Songs are powerful. They remind me of loved ones living and gone, situations in the past that have taught me lessons, and filled me with joy. Music can also keep me in the present moment. When I hear music that attracts me, I am transfixed, unmoving, waiting to hear the next note. Creating, writing, and playing music is a magical experience. The energy of playing with other musicians is like being in an orbit of circular sound, a tornado of emotion, expression and feeling.

Music has illuminated my happy times and carried me through sad times. Music can change my mood, my thoughts, my perception, in one moment.

Music brings people together, the common rhythm shared is the pulse of life.

One day, I was heading into Harvard Square with my sister after the recent passing of my Aunt. She was a woman of precise creativity, style and beauty. Cambridge was her home and she loved it there. On the escalator, literally being lifted out of the underground, the musicians of the subway serenaded us with Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven", the song performed by my Uncle on the day of my Aunt's memorial service. My sister and I felt her presence that day, welcoming us into her world.

My heart is heavy and raw with the loss of another beautiful soul filled with music and love. Sudden illness can take a person out of our living world so quickly, it is shocking, and leaves an empty space in the center of my being.

This post is dedicated to my Uncle Tom, a man who spoke the language of music effortlessly, and expressed his love through music. It was his heart and soul. You could hear it in the way he played guitar and the songs he sang.

The day I finished writing his eulogy, I had worked the night before and needed rest, but awoke with a start to my alarm that afternoon. Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" floated into my bedroom as if it was sung by my Uncle. "Happiness, no more be sad, happiness.... I'm glad."

Music is what feeling sounds like, the thumping rhythm of a bass note, the wailing cry of a guitar, the beating of drums and the soft melody of a piano. It's the sunshine of your love, the leaves falling all around, the sounds of silence, and in the ice that's slowly melting.
 
All it takes is one song to bring back a thousand memories. We all have that one song that fills up our senses and brings us back to a certain place and time. When we close our eyes and listen, we can travel back in time and re-live our memories over and over again.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Live for Today

"And don't worry 'bout tomorrow..."

October brings the crisp, clear, blue skies of autumn. The leaves turning red, orange, gold, and brown. Walking home from school with my boys, holding hands, chatting and singing songs, breathing in the sweet air and feeling the soft breeze on my cheek, I realize that in this moment, I am happy. I am content.

The time to be happy is now.

Happiness does not come from wishing for what we don't have, or what we anticipate for in the future. Happiness does not come from what has happened to us, or drifting thoughts about the past. Happiness is now, it is this moment, enjoy it, this is all there is.

Second to second, minute to minute, hour by hour, time ticks away, as I grow older it is moving faster and faster. My day is filled with things to do, moving forward seems to be what we do. Where are we going? What's next? But, what happened to here? Where are we now?

Being in the moment is not something that comes easily to me. I have to work at it. I worry, I fear, I feel anxious, uneasy and frustrated. My children live in the moment, they feel, experience and witness what it means to live with the good and bad. A perfect example is when my boys are outside playing, they laugh and run, fall and cry. I hear the screaming, sobbing, listen to the injustice of the moment or tend to the accidental fall or injury. A bandaid, a kiss, a hug, and they are smiling again.

When I don't live in the moment, I am not here. There have been times when my son asks, "Mom, Mom, Mom, are you there?" and I realize my mind has been somewhere else, wandering, and I didn't even hear him talking to me. Moments of my life slipping away.

I have to practice being here, in this moment. It is an active process in which the most important aspect is the awareness of the constant element of change. Everything is in a constant state of impermanence.

We can look to nature to see how things change through the cycle of the seasons, down to each plant and flower, insect and bird, there is a progression of birth, growth, decay, and death. The Earth, the mountains, the ocean is constantly moving, erupting, eroding, rising, melting, and transforming. Particles, atoms, molecules, and cells shift, morph, and dissipate. Energy, matter, space, and time are driven by forces of gravity, electromagnetism, and radioactivity in a perpetual state of fluctuation.

Every day our bodies, change and grow, breath by breath.

The very structure of our universe is impermanent.

In Living Your Yoga, Judith Lasater states, " It takes a brave heart to deeply accept that everything changes. Even when things are not the way we want them, we still fear change. Our attachment to things remaining the same creates suffering. When we cling to the illusion of impermanence, what we actually hope to secure is protection from the terrifying unknown that impermanence may represent."

When we begin to notice, to recognize, to take accountability for what we are feeling now, good and bad, without judgment, without fear, we embrace change. When we accept change, we accept life.

If you struggle with being in the moment, make a commitment to take back your now. Start with five minutes anywhere in your day, morning, noon or night, be flexible, the times can change day to day.
This simple exercise in mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime. Notice what is happening to us and in us, moment to moment. Surrender to the unknown. Stay open to possibility.


Find a comfortable seat or lie down. Relax your physical body and feel your weight sink down into the earth. Soften the muscles around your eyes, forehead, and mouth. Take time to open and close your jaw and swallow to relax the muscles around your throat. Find a lift through your spine and upper body and a grounding in your pelvis and lower body. Begin to notice your breath, feel the fullness of your inhale and the release of your exhale. Slowly, begin to deepen your breath. Pull the breath in through both of your nostrils and into the back of your throat, fill your upper chest with breath, your rib cage will widen and expand. As you deepen your breath further, your abdomen inflates with breath, hold the breath in your body for one or two seconds and then release it. With control, your naval is drawn towards the spine, and the breath shifts up and out through the nostrils. Continue to breathe deeply in this rhythm, until you feel a sense of ease and well being. Soon, the inhale will become passive and the exhale will become active. This calming breath is a focused breath, it brings awareness of the present moment into your mind and connects you back into your body.


Right now, the windows in our house are open, the night air feels good. My boys are loud, laughing, playing in the living room. My husband is sitting in his chair, resting, sipping a beer, listening to old records that crackle from scratches, and skip from running, jumping boys. There are dishes in the sink, laundry that needs to be folded, crumbs on the floor, dust in the corners, boys to be cleaned, and put to bed. We will get there, at our own pace, in our own time.

Wherever you are, be there. 

Whoever you are with, be with them.

Love is giving. Love is receiving. Love is listening. Love is patience. Love is forgiving. Love is connection. Love is kindness. Love is compassion. Love is hope. Love is living.

When I think of all the worries
That people seem to find
And how they're in a hurry
To complicate their minds
By chasing after money
And dreams that can't come true
I'm glad that we are different
We've better things to do
May others plan their future
I'm busy loving you

Shapiro & Mogul

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Taste of Summer

Sometimes it's good to be a not so mindful mama and let your kids eat sweets for dinner. After a wonderful visit with family in New Hampshire, we are fulfilling a recipe for the soul. Our last Saturday in August was a gem, sleeping late after a night of eating, drinking, and laughing. Awakening to an unexpectedly beautiful day of blue skies, light breezes, and soft sunshine, we are enjoying the bounty of summer. This short, sweet, season is not complete without picking delicious fruit off the vine. Picking the perfect peach is easy and fast, we filled up our boxes quickly, and moved on to the ripening blueberries. Meditatively, I nestled myself into the dirt, under the bush, and found the blue clusters waiting to be plucked. My heart is full, with the memory of my boys running and playing in the summer sun with peach juice dripping off their chins, and tart blueberries exchanged for kisses.




In honor of summer, blueberry peach pie is on the menu, served up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


Gathering ingredients and my grandmother's old rolling pin, I measure out the flour and salt, slice the cold butter, slowly add in the water, and using my hands, I work the dough together. Most recipes call for a food processor to combine these ingredients, but I was taught to use your fingers and gently pinch the butter into the flour. Less is more, minimally knead the dough, and shape it into a ball.


Patience is key, as the dough refrigerates, wash the berries and cut the peaches. 





A heavy coating of sugar and flour, sweetens and thickens the fruit filling.


Roll out the dough and fold it over the pin carefully to lay it into the dish.


Pour the fruit into the dish and dot with butter.


Roll out the top layer of pie crust and place it over the fruit, creatively venting your pie.


The sensuous smell of sugared fruit and melted butter floats into the house. Amazingly, it is done after only 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Scoop out the pie while it's hot and add the ice cream.


The steam from the pie will melt the cream, one mouthful of goodness is all it takes, and your lips will curl up into a sweet, summer smile.

"All you need is love is all you need."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Light on Life

B.K.S. Iyengar 12/14/18 ~ 8/20/14



"You do not need to seek freedom in a different land, for it exists with your own body, heart, mind, and soul."

"Anything physical is always changing, therefore, its reality is not constant, not eternal."

"Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action."

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundaraj Iyengar was a teacher, a giver, a creator, an innovator, a yogi.
His book Light on Life has changed many minds, hearts and bodies, including mine.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Your Mother and Mine

"Some people come into your life as blessings. Some come into your life as lessons." Mother Theresa

This post is dedicated to every mother. In every shape, color, gender, and form, a mother is anyone who cares for, nurtures and tends to another soul in an effort to help them grow stronger, share love, show kindness and instill a need to learn their purpose and passion in this world. To me, this is a pretty tall order. My shoulders are heavy with the responsibility of raising two boys in an uncertain environment. Moment to moment, my wavering words hold truth, my aching body shows action, and my cloudy mind should be clear and confident. The stress of work, home, and life can smother the simple, sweet, mothering I want to provide. There are days I want to bury my head in the safety and security of my mother's arms. I want to be held tightly and told everything is going to be alright. The weight bears down harder and it feels the whole world needs a mother to wrap her arms wide around the universe for a healing hug.


A mother is the most wonderful person in the world; 

She's the angel voice that bids you goodnight,
Kisses your cheek, whispers, "sleep tight."

The helping hand that guides you along
Whether you're right, whether you're wrong.

What makes mothers all that they are?

Might as well ask, "What makes a star?"

Ask your heart to tell you her worth,
Your heart will say, "Heaven on earth."

Another word for divine,
Your mother and mine.

Peter Pan


I read recently that a mother has the ability to set the tone of her home. This topic intrigued me as I feel I am wandering in circles, picking up the pieces, in a constant state of mess, just trying to keep up. As a mother of boys, my home is a wild place, akin to a jungle filled with roaring lions, trumpeting elephants, and hissing snakes. Sometimes the sun is shining down, and then a tropical thunderstorm soaks you down to your bones. My head spins with questions, wants, and needs, it feels like little birds squawking at me, singing the Beatles song, "All through the day, I me mine, I me mine, I me mine. All through the night, I me mine, I me mine, I me mine...."

I want to be the steady, strong, and disciplined mother my children need me to be, but life happens, emotions happen and I can't always hold it together. There are times when I don't know what to do or what to say. When my patience is gone, my anger builds, I feel worn down, I have no energy to give anymore. I want to runaway and "Let it go", building my own ice castle to hide in like Queen Elsa in Frozen. I know my life isn't a Disney movie, the daily grind has no real happy ending, but if I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I have the power to change things.

I don't want to worry, fear or become angry. I am a flawed person filled with insecurity about how to mother two beautiful human beings. I don't want to screw it up, they are the children of our future, mine and yours. This is a lot of pressure to put on myself. I know that my children learn quickly from my actions. If I say an inappropriate word, stomp my foot or bang my fist down, my children are doing it the next day. When balancing the effort of calm and the effort of anger, it seems the energy put into both is the same, so I need to choose: explode and encourage a path of anger, impatience and violence or pave a road filled with light, love, and peace.  Here are some tips I have learned to stay cool in heated situations.

Breathe. Close your eyes and take a long deep breath in through your nose. Hold the breath in for a few seconds and then consciously exhale very slowly through the mouth or the nose. Do this five or ten more times until you feel more relaxed. Reconnect to the situation, remember you have the power to take control in your thoughts, actions and responses. This is a great strategy to teach your children, slow down, calm down and gain control over emotions.

Take a time-out. If you feel ready to snap, do whatever is necessary to immediately remove yourself from the situation. Close your eyes, go to another room, take a moment before you react. Put the kids in their room for quiet time, take a hot bath or shower, get away for an errand or a walk around the block. There have been situations of frustration where there is no one else to lean on and it's just me and the boys. I have closed myself in a closet while my two year old is screaming outside of it. Taking some solace in a moment to myself, to collect my thoughts before responding to that raw power of an enraged toddler.

Clean something.  When I am upset, I get my best cleaning done. It's usually the stuff that has been building up and needs to be attacked. Vacuuming, dusting, cleaning out a closet, or scrubbing the floor are good ways to take out some anger. Get outside, change your environment, adjust your surroundings. Get into your garden. Mowing the lawn, raking leaves, pulling up weeds, and hauling bags of dirt can burn some serious calories. You feel a lot better when you are done, instead of feeling remorseful after you have yelled at your kids or your spouse.

Create space for yourself. Schedule time to do something for yourself. Take a yoga or exercise class. Go for a swim, a run, a hike in the woods, getting out into nature can lift your mood and refresh your spirit. Engaging in some physical activity enhances the endorphins in your body and is a natural stress reliever. Use your support systems, find balance in your relationships, there is beauty in the shared responsibilities of parenthood; respect and dignity will ensue. When my husband has any free time, which is rare, he likes to go mountain biking. When he returns he feels renewed, more engaged and present, ready to take on whatever comes next, and our boys do come on like a hurricane.

Stay flexible. Staying open to possibilities that exist in the moment. Stay awake to your life. This is your meditation, reflect before you react. Know you have choices. Becoming a rigid parent has limited benefits for you and your children. Before you answer, "no" or "yes", take a pause, explore the question, concern and potential outcome of the circumstance. Experience all of your life, the good, the bad, the ugly.  This is the spark and spontaneity of living.

  • Find forgiveness.  Give yourself permission to move on. None of us are perfect. It is the beauty of our mistakes that make us better people. It's just a bad day, not a bad life. Don't over-exaggerate an issue, lessons need to happen and mostly they happen through experience. Acknowledge your feelings in the moment, tell yourself, "I'm really angry right now, and it's okay." When you validate your feelings, communication and grace come easier as well. 


    When evening comes, I say a prayer. I clear space in my mind and my heart, I make room for myself and for others. I send out my prayer into the unknown and hope my healing thoughts and words go where they are needed most.

    In a world full of troubling turmoil, there needs to be a place of refuge. Find solace, find your inner calm, find love for yourself, for others, and for all creation.


    Is there room in my heart
    For you to follow your heart
    And not need more blood
    From the tip of your star

    Is there room in my heart 
    For you to follow your heart 
    And not need more blood 
    From the tip of your star

    Tori Amos

    Saturday, June 21, 2014

    Bumps, Bruises and Bugs!


    Recipe for home made insect repellent using essential oils:  1/4 cup of water, 10 drops of lemon eucalyptus, 5 drops cedar, 5 drops lavender, and 5 drops of geranium. Combine in a small spritzer bottle and shake well before applying. Be careful to avoid sensitive areas around the eyes, nose and mouth.

    It's summer! The weather is warmer and my boys are outside almost everyday. I can't believe the amount of scratches, scrapes and bruises on their little knees and elbows. They are tough little boys who fall down and get back up after a few tears and "all better" kisses from Mom. It's time to stock up on protective creams, balms, bandages and to know first aid interventions and remedies for the injured. I am in constant pursuit of products that aren't filled with chemicals in an effort to heal and mend. Of course, time, rest and proper cleansing will heal a wound quickly, but it is especially important to be watchful and aware of how, when, and where an injury occurs. Staying knowledgable on street safety, water safety, sun safety, stings, bites, and allergies are all part of staying healthy and enjoying summer fun.  Here is a an easy to read website supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, with helpful information on safety prevention.  www.healthychildren.org

    A couple weeks ago during bath time we found a tick on my younger boy. It was on for a while and had already dug its head into his soft baby skin. It was a tough fight, but I was able to get it off with a little muscle from my husband and some clownish laughs from big brother. Tick checks are so important, Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks, so identifying one and recognizing symptoms of tick borne infections is helpful in preventing the extension of the disease. Here is a link with all information and resources.  http://www.cdc.gov/lyme

    Unfortunately, it seems a solution with at least 20% of DEET is what repels insects and ticks from the body and clothing. Weigh the risks and benefits of such chemicals and apply with caution around eyes, nose, mouth and other sensitive areas. Protect skin with long sleeves, pants and socks when possible and stay away from heavily wooded or bushy areas, high grass and stagnant water by staying on marked trails and paths when hiking or riding in the woods.  I have made a water based spritzer filled with oil of lemon eucalyptus, cedar, lavender and geranium to spritz on their arms and legs to help deter the insects, its not as foolproof as DEET products but remains a gentler option, see above recipe.  Frequently observe for ticks and other bug bites in hidden spots, such as hair, scalp, behind or in the ear, under the arms, in the belly button and behind knees.

    When we all get dressed in the morning, I try to apply a waterproof sunscreen on myself and my boys, just so there is an initial layer of protection. When we are directly out in the sun or on the beach, I try to promote some shade options using umbrellas, secure sun hats, and long sleeve rash guards for swimming during peak sun exposure times. Find a sunscreen with minimal ingredients for UVA and UVB protection, and use your judgment on extra ingredients listed in many sunscreen lotions, like parabens, oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Here is a list of sunscreens from Consumer Reports and an interesting article from CNN Health.

    CNN Health/Sunscreen

    With these mindful tips, get out and get into nature!

    We have a family membership to the Mass Audubon Society, there are many sanctuaries and conservation land in the state of Massachusetts to explore and experience. Camps, educational programs and seasonal outdoor almanacs connect you and your family to the rhythms of nature, moon phases and local wildlife happenings.  My boys have had many adventures hiking along the paths and quietly observing the simple but vital sounds of summer bugs, croaking toads, jumping fish and nesting birds. I usually carry a small backpack filled with water, snacks, sunscreen, anti-bug balm, and my first aid kit.  If you hike often, cellular reception may not always be available, learn how to use a compass and carry a whistle for other options.  Everyone has specialized needs and it is important to create a first aid kit that is just right for you and your family. 

    Last spring, we were walking in the early evening and witnessed an owl waking up and offering us a stunning view of its wing expansion as it flew from tree to tree. We use our "eagle" eyes and "bat" ears to integrate a multi sensory expedition, becoming aware of the world around us and how we are all connected.

    http://www.massaudubon.org

    Monday, May 12, 2014

    Food Allergy Awareness

    http://survivalstraps.com/

    In honor of Food Allergy Awareness week, I would like to dedicate this post to all who suffer from food allergies, and to those who strive to raise awareness, educate others and inspire action of allergies and anaphylaxis. The current statistics show 15 million Americans with food allergies, including those at risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis. This affects 1 in 13 children in the United States, or roughly 2 in every classroom. FARE is a non-profit organization that was formed in 2012, a merger between the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the Food Allergy Initiative. The link below to FARE is devoted to sharing knowledge, research and education about food allergies and anaphylaxis. There are tools and resources available to learn about allergens, symptoms and ways to get involved by learning how to manage and treat reactions.

    http://www.foodallergy.org/

    I am a mother of a child who has food allergies. Learning to adapt and live without certain foods has been a struggle and a challenge. Children's birthday parties are stressful when your child can't eat the pizza and cake the other kids are enjoying. Going to school, restaurants or having dinner with others can be a nightmare with the risk of potential exposure. We can't leave the house without the EpiPen, Benadryl or our rescue inhaler. My son is 5 now, he is smart, strong, and fully aware of his food allergies. I have taught him to ask about food, inquire what is in it and advocate for himself. He inspires me to continue to research ways to create delicious food without harm, and to share our experiences with others.

    Although any food is capable of causing an allergic reaction, there are eight foods that account for 90% of all food allergic reactions in the United States.

    Peanut
    Tree Nuts
    Milk
    Egg
    Wheat
    Soy
    Fish
    Shellfish

    My son has 2 documented allergies in the above list, this is not counting the other allergens of pollen, dust, mold, and animal dander which trigger his asthma symptoms, I'll save that post for another day. A couple years ago, these allergies presented a constant state of fear in me and my husband. With so many questions, we were forced to seek help and inquire with other families and friends about food allergies. Eventually, the connections were made, support systems secured and the information gained has been invaluable. I love to share what I've learned and ease the hearts and minds of others dealing with these issues, in an effort to find a place of confidence and empowerment.

    Recently, I was acquainted with another mother whose son has 4 documented allergies in the above list, along with 2 more potential allergens to rice and oats.  My heart went out to her and a kinship developed. How do you create wholesome, nourishing meals when recipes call for ingredients that can't be consumed?

    You get creative and find another way.

    A stranger in another state, a neighbor down the street, a child on the bus, we are all connected, we all share in the bounty of this world. Sharing food is a way for people to come together, it is one of the most defining forces in all societies. Every celebration and joyful occasion is enjoyed with food as a central point. If you are lucky enough not to have food allergies, I am sure you know someone who does.

    Here are some simple offerings in the form of recipes, that I have found success with in my own home.
    As with any known allergen, read all food labels and look into cross contamination on shared equipment. Use all your resources, be prepared and trust your instincts.

    Banana Blueberry Crumble Muffins

    BASIC QUICK BREAD/MAGIC MUFFIN RECIPE


    1/2 cup quinoa flour (high protein)
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour OR *gluten free flour of your choice for wheat allergy
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp baking powder (aluminum free)
    1/2 tsp sea salt
    1/2 tsp spices (your choice: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, *turmeric to 'orange' veggie puree)
    ** 1-2 T ground flax for increased omega 3 fatty acid**

    1/2 cup light brown sugar OR maple syrup OR agave nectar
    *I like to add in 1 T of blackstrap molasses into the pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot bread for increased iron.
    1/2 cup canola oil OR vegetable oil of your choice (melted coconut oil is my choice)

    1/4 cup plain or vanilla greek yogurt (**egg substitution** try So Delicious coconut yogurt for a milk allergy)
    1 tsp vanilla extract (madagascar vanilla extract is really nice:)
    1 1/2 cups puree fruit (pumpkin, banana, applesauce)

    1/2 cup any vegetable puree of your choice **There are some interesting pre-made fruit & veggie combinations: Apple/Rutabaga, Pears, Peas, and Broccoli, Sweet potato and Pumpkin, Carrot, Apple, Parsnip and Mango and Spinach make really good add-ins**

    Fold dry into wet, then add in 1/2 cup of fun extras: *Enjoy Life dairy/soy free mini-chocolate chips,
    raisins, prunes, dried cherries, shredded coconut, or fresh berries like frozen blueberries, and peeled, diced apples or pears. 

    Get creative, here are some combinations that have worked well together!

    Pumpkin, Carrot, Sweet Potato with Mango, Spinach and mini chocolate chips or raisins.
    Apple, Rutabaga, Pear, Pea and Broccoli with prunes, raisins or dried cherries with crumble topping.
    Banana blueberry with shredded coconut and crumble topping.

    *For gluten free flours, I like Pamela's products. The artisan flour blend works great in these recipes.

    OPTIONAL Sugar crumble to top muffins:)
    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup all purpose flour OR gluten free flour for wheat allergy
    1/2 cup melted butter (Earth Balance Soy/Dairy free butter works great here!)
    Mix together and drop onto muffin tops before baking:)


    Preheat oven to 350 degrees, canola oil cooking spray is good to prepare loaf pans or use muffin cups.
    In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients, set aside.
    In a large mixing bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together.
    Slowly, add the dry mixture to the wet mixture with a wooden spoon.

    Pour the batter into a loaf pan or spoon into muffin cups.

    Bake loaf pan for 50-55 minutes, Bake muffins 20-25 minutes.
    Cool before serving, cool completely before storing. The muffins freeze well too!



    Vanilla Cupcakes with Piped Frosting and Fresh Strawberries

    Banana Cupcakes with Frosting and Sprinkles

    MY FAVORITE CUPCAKES

    2/3 cup non-dairy milk (I use vanilla flavored So Delicious Coconut Milk, Vanilla Rice Milk works well too)
    1 tsp. apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg's Raw Organic Unfiltered ACV)
    2/3 cup agave nectar (light) or Maple syrup
    1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use safflower, canola or coconut oil)
    2 tsp vanilla extract

    *option add 1 1/2 cups banana puree

    1 cup all-purpose flour OR *gluten free flour for wheat allergy
    1/3 cup whole wheat pastry OR gluten free flour (**If you want chocolate cupcakes add 1/3 cocoa powder)
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    pinch (1 tsp) fine sea salt

    *For gluten free flours, I like Pamela's products. The artisan flour blend works great!

    Combine the milk and vinegar in a medium bowl, set aside for 5 minutes or until it bubbles a little, if it doesn't bubble, keep stirring the mixture until it does. Add the agave nectar, oil, vanilla extract and stir.

    In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, a mixer is great here to minimize any lumps. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, bake for 18-22 minutes. Tops should be slightly springy when pressed. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.

    FROSTING

    1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
    1/4 cup softened butter (I use Earth Balance Soy/Dairy free butter, it works great:)
    1-2 T Vanilla flavored milk (I use So Delicious Coconut milk) add slowly so the frosting isn't too liquid.
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 tsp maple syrup

    *option add 1/3 cup cocoa powder if you want chocolate frosting

    Whisk or blend together, the mixer is great here:)

    Cool cupcakes completely before frosting and storing. These cupcakes freeze well too:)
    I love using old fashioned pipettes to create designs on the cupcakes, otherwise a broad, flat spreading knife works well too:) Fresh fruit and fun sprinkles are great additions to these sweet treats!

    Enjoy!

    Friday, May 9, 2014

    A Mother's Garden

    Happy Mother's Day



    My Mother kept a garden, 
    a garden of the heart,
    She planted all the good things
    that gave my life a start.

    She turned me to the sunshine
    and encouraged me to dream.
    Fostering and nurturing
    the seeds of self esteem.

    And when the winds and rain came,
    she protected me enough-
    But not too much because she knew
    I'd need to stand up strong and tough.

    Her constant good example
    always taught me right from wrong-
    Markers for my pathway
    that will last a lifetime long.

    I am my Mother's garden.
    I am her legacy-
    And I hope she feels the love
    reflected back from me.

    Author unknown

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    Awaken the Spine

    "The roots of a tree are pulled deeply down towards the center of the earth while the trunk grows vertically towards the sky, elongating and spreading through the branches into the space around it. The deeper the roots penetrate into the ground, traveling below the surface of the earth, the taller and stronger the tree. The central point of the tree, where it touches the earth's surface, corresponds in our body to the waist at the level of the fifth lumbar vertebra, where the human spine moves in both directions." Vanda Scaravelli


    I have always prided myself on my health, self-care, body mechanics and spinal awareness, but sometimes injury is inevitable. I'm not sure if it was one specific event or a series of events, but suddenly I had a debilitating back injury. It interfered with everything in my life. My work and my family suffered along with me. The pain and immobility worsened, soon I had a bulging bruise in my low back that could not be ignored.

    Once you have a back injury, it stops you in your tracks. The acute pain must be dealt with first. The immobility next, and the problem solving around how to function manifests itself in a whirlwind of anxiety, fear and doubt. I have responsibility outside of myself that extends too far and too wide, I had to ask for help. Calling out to work, asking my husband to come home early, leaning on childcare to stay longer, leaving dirty dishes, laundry and not making dinner = GUILT. In this situation, my guilt was an imaginary remorse, I refocused and remembered that things could be worse and I have the power to make it better. So, I called in my reinforcements and began to let others in and find help.

    I spent the first week making phone calls and a plan. I was unable to stretch, twist or lift heavy objects. The most important thing was to rest with ice and be patient. Which is very hard to do with young children on a good day. The second week I was able to breathe through some light stretching, walk and continue my work and teaching schedule. In retrospect, I would not be writing this post if it weren't for my family and friends. Their love and support is immeasurable and really got me through the third and fourth weeks of injury. When I returned to work, my co-workers expressed concern, asked about my recovery, and shared their own personal stories making me feel more connected to the compassionate community that I am surrounded by.

    It has been five weeks now, and things are improved. The injury has changed my yoga practice and my life. Care must be taken in all things physical or the injury returns. I know it is still there lurking behind every twist and turn. I now must be armed with core defense and awareness. I am careful with myself and sensitive to what I am doing in the moment I am doing it. These days, I am grateful for my open-heart and awakened spine.

    This post is dedicated to all who assisted me through my healing process, especially my husband and parents. My healing is still ongoing and I need to remain mindful when I am at work, but I must credit two therapists and their flexible efforts in assisting me. Their special talent and skills clearly improved my health and well being.
    Thank you.

    Dustienne Miller is a women's health physical therapist and yoga teacher whose knowledge and gifted intuition diagnosed, treated and gently reconnected my heart to my lower body.
    www.yourpaceyoga.com


    Jennifer Murphy is a licensed massage therapist at Lilac Massage Therapy, whose healing hands continue to help me keep my acute and chronic back pain under control.
    www.lilacseniormassage.com

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    Impermanence


    I have a Bird in spring



    I have a Bird in spring
    Which for myself doth sing—
    The spring decoys.
    And as the summer nears—
    And as the Rose appears,
    Robin is gone.

    Yet do I not repine
    Knowing that Bird of mine
    Though flown—
    Learneth beyond the sea
    Melody new for me
    And will return.

    Fast is a safer hand
    Held in a truer Land
    Are mine—
    And though they now depart,
    Tell I my doubting heart
    They're thine.

    In a serener Bright,
    In a more golden light
    I see
    Each little doubt and fear,
    Each little discord here
    Removed.

    Then will I not repine,
    Knowing that Bird of mine
    Though flown
    Shall in a distant tree
    Bright melody for me
    Return. 



    The one constant in life is change. Change of mind, change of heart and change in body. These three triads of inner connection extend into the outer world, environment, circumstances and relationships. Every day we are faced with a myriad of changes, some are small, some are larger. Some of us have an easier transition with change, others do not. I am the other, I find difficulty in adapting, I strive to remain carefree and calm in chaos. I tend to cope by keeping my emotions hidden and then lashing out in a brutal manner on myself or my loved ones.

    In an effort to stay rational, I direct my attention to the concept of Impermanence, an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence. No human being that belongs to this earth is free from growing old, falling sick, decaying and passing away. In this world there is nothing fixed or permanent or stable. Everything is subject to change and alteration. According to Buddhist thought, "Decay is inherent in all component things." We see this in the Spring, flowers rise from the earth, bloom and perish. We can choose to accept change, embrace it and look forward to the surprise of its unfolding, or resist it with every fiber of our being. The latter is probably not healthy and will inevitably lead to unhappiness, misery and sorrow in this life. For some people, change is needed, necessary, a hope for a new situation. Impermanence and change are undeniable truths to our existence.

    My oldest son is in his last couple months of preschool and their curriculum is based on recognizing the moment we are living in. The season, the month, the days of the week as well as letters, numbers, reading and writing. Poems, rhymes and songs are used to emphasize seasonal teachings. This week, as we welcome the beginning signs of spring, the children were taught the old English proverb, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." I was surprised as I looked at the pages that were brought home. The lamb was colored black, it had two sharp horns atop its head, no eyes, and a large mouth filled with purple teeth. The lion was smiling contentedly in a coat of pale orange and yellow. A child's perception of living in New England. Yesterday began with the snow and ended with the sun.

    My schedule is rigorous, I have placed high demands on myself this year. My husband has been working away from home, balancing opposite work schedules, planning for home renovation, child care and family time has been no easy task. I must force myself to stop cleaning, washing, folding and cooking. I must embrace my husband when he comes home and linger in his arms. I must sing songs, dance and read silly books to my children. Soon, they will be gone from my nest, leading their own lives, making their own decisions. I must turn to face the sun and leave the dirt just for today. Find love and glory in life and enjoy all that is possible in this moment.

    Friday, February 14, 2014

    Lovingkindness

    "In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you."  ~Buddha

    Metta meditation is the mindful practice and cultivation of lovingkindness. This meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke lovingkindness and friendliness toward yourself and others. With each recitation of the phrases, we are expressing an intention, planting the seeds of loving wishes over and over in your heart. With a loving heart as the background, all that we attempt, all that we encounter will open and flow more easily. You can begin the practice of lovingkindness by sitting comfortably in a quiet place. Let your body rest and be relaxed. Let your heart be soft. Let go of any plans or preoccupations.

    Begin with yourself. Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed toward our own well-being. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.


    May I be filled with lovingkindness.

    May I be peaceful and at ease.

    May I be safe and healthy in body and mind.

    May I be happy. 


    After this you can include others: Spend some time wishing well to a wider circle of family and friends.
    Then gradually extend your meditation to include your community, neighbors, people everywhere, animals, all living beings on earth, the whole universe.

    Finally, include the difficult people in your life, even your enemies, wishing that they too may be filled with lovingkindness and peace. This will take patience and practice. But as your heart opens, first to loved ones and friends, you will find that in the end you won't want to close it anymore.

    Lovingkindness can be practiced anywhere. You can use this meditation while traveling, in traffic, standing in lines, during any activity of daily life where your mind is free, whenever there is a pause, choose lovingkindness. As you silently practice this meditation among people, you will come to feel a wonderful connection with them ~ this is the power of lovingkindness. It will calm your mind and keep you connected to your heart.


    May we all be filled with lovingkindness.

    May we all be peaceful and at ease.

    May we all be safe and healthy in body and mind.

    May we all be happy.

    Saturday, February 1, 2014

    Let It Be

    "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be. And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, Let it be."
    McCartney/Lennon

    Recently, I enjoyed a 3 hour Yin Yoga workshop hosted by the yoga community in which I teach. Yin Yoga is a quiet practice that focuses on the internal energy that arises while holding yoga postures for a specified period of time. The poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues, tendons, fascia and ligaments with the goal being to increase circulation of synovial fluid within the joint, and improve flexibility. It is a wonderful complementary practice in an effort to strengthen the internal body for more intermediate exercise that moves at a faster pace, consistent with yang energy. On a deeper level, yin yoga postures help to improve the flow of qi (chee) or energy that may be stagnant or deficient within the body. Subsequently, organ health, immunity and emotional well-being are affected in a positive way. The title of the workshop was ~The Art of Equanimity~ maintaining an even, balanced mind in the face of stress, chaos, or crisis. Equanimity is one of the four sublime attitudes in Buddhist philosophy. With loving kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy as the other three pathways to awakening.

    3 hours can be a long time, for me it went quickly, connecting with breath and enjoying the physical sensations intensify. The joy in the process of this style of yoga is acknowledging the subtle changes that occur. Just when you think you can't endure holding a shape any longer, you breathe deeper, the mind shifts and you are refocused, enjoying a different view of the situation. The power of the mind and body is amazing. In teaching yoga, I emphasize the awareness of breath, alignment of the body and an awake quality of the mind. A balanced yoga practice, focuses on the inhale followed by the exhale, combining it with movement that assists and opens joints, strengthens and lengthens the skeletal and muscular body, while creating a sense of peace, lightness and ease in the heart and mind.

    I have been a critical care nurse for 15 years, working with families and patients during times of crisis. My understanding of coping with mental and physical stress is sharing and gathering resources, knowledge, compassion, empathy and patience. The power of equanimity has been a friend, a light in a dark hour, witnessing pain and sadness, enduring stress and challenge is a part of life but there must be a balance to stay alive. We have to wrap our arms around each other for support and love. We must make mistakes to learn and laugh at ourselves. Working in healthcare and studying yoga and mindfulness, I have come to the realization that every hour, every minute, every second, every breath is new. Constant change exists moment to moment and I am living this moment now. My challenge in life is not my professional work, studying for a test, speaking in public or holding a yoga pose for 5-10 minutes, it is the gift of raising children, they are my greatest teachers, helping me to find true self. When I am able to pause for a moment and reflect, and all my jumbled thoughts collect. Alone in my room, I clearly see the good and the bad that is really me.

    Being a mother of young children may not offer me much time to have a sitting meditation practice, a peaceful night's sleep, a hot shower, or any time alone. But it does offer a moment to moment approach of acknowledging the provoking self driven needs of a toddler and preschooler. My boys are in constant survival mode, working with sensation and emotion that sends direct signals to their bellies or brains. I have never known dual emotions such as frustration, anger, irritation and a love so full, boundless and protective in one swift second. I can respond with love and understanding or I can scream, sob, and show my fierce inability to hold my emotions together. In the short 5 years of motherhood, I have experienced both sides of reaction. Driven by loving kindness, compassion and joy, staying focused and composed in the tornado of boys circling around me morning, noon and night is my meditation.

    My words do not speak my truth, my actions do. How do we react to the everyday or stressful situation? How do we stay calm in the storm of emotions that build up and don't release? My feelings can sometimes be confused and tight, filled with uncertainty and fear. Other times I am confident and feel whole, solid and exacting. Life is an unknown series of events that presents an impact on body, mind and spirit. You have a choice on how you are going to respond to what the world offers you. You can let something or someone dictate the way you react to things. But, if you look within yourself, you realize you have the power to make things happen.  Life experiences, positive and negative, are tools that better assist us in our present situation. It is essential to understand that everything is not under our control, there are things in our life we can direct in a certain way but the outcome remains unknown until it happens.

    My husband is always reminding me to lower my expectations in life and maintain basic requirements for a situation requiring discipline or safety. Dinner tonight with my boys was a difficult situation. My husband and I tried to talk to each other, food was flying onto the floor, I could analyze why the screaming, whining and inconsolable crying was occurring or I could just roll with it. Naps were needed but not taken, the food was not eaten or liked, listening and communication was non- existent. My oldest son, who was trying to be good and eat his meal without complaint, said "Mom, you need to go easier on yourself, just let it be."

    Sunday, January 19, 2014

    The Old and The Young

    "This is the hand you used to hold, when I was only 5 years old."

    As of today, I have been a mother for 5 years. It seems like only yesterday a lively, kicking baby was growing inside me, he came 3 weeks too early and forever changed my life. Blessed with two beautiful, healthy boys, hand in hand, I show them the way to be kind, to share, to listen, to learn.

    I remember when I was 5 years old in preschool, we all stood in a line and waited our turn to step up on the chair while the teacher pressed our little hands into a plaster mold. A cherished memory, my mother saved this piece of artwork for 37 years and now my sweet, snuggly, loving baby is a strong, smart, independent boy. It only took 5 minutes to blow out 5 candles, make 5 wishes and open one too many presents. The Polar Express themed party complete with songs, tickets, trains and snowdrift cupcakes celebrated his love of engines and all things that move.

    Conversations from our birthday brunch ranged from christmas time get togethers, plans for the New Year, to the future of our parents retirement and our own life stresses. Work balance, child care, life insurance applications, bills to pay, stocks, bonds, college savings, and a home that needs major renovation. Our parents discussed healthcare, politics, will and estate planning, social security and various medical problems. I think the heavy topics are shared to make them easier to deal with, going it together instead of alone. Birthdays are a reminder that we all get older, there is a time limit on this earth. As the cupcakes were eaten, crumpled wrapping paper went flying, coffee almost spilled, new toys were opened and played with, slowly the true gift was unveiled. From the old to the young, three generations in one room connected by love, moments of life that form who we were, who we are, and who we will become. The beautiful words of Katrina Kenison solidify my feelings of living presently and sending out hope for our future. "Let's inhabit our own lives as generously and joyously as we can for as long as we can."

    My youngest son turned 2 at the beginning of January, his sweet Winnie-the-Pooh birthday reflected his dynamic nature, ending with a wild dance party in our living room with our neighborhood friends. We are lucky, we live in a warm, welcoming, safe community, surrounded by couples who have children the same age as ours. As many parents know, winter birthdays can be tricky, party planning after the holidays isn't easy, cold and unpredictable weather inhibits outdoor fun, expensive adventure and creative parties are available, but I prefer to keep it simple. Honoring the actual birthdate and possibly the hour of arrival, blowing out the same number of candles as your new age and enjoying the same number of wishes, sweet cakes homemade with love, and spending time with friends and family. If it rains or snows we go with the flow, stay in the moment, smile and take in the beauty of life and all it has to offer.