Health & Wellness

Ode to the Coconut

February 10, 2015

Coconut Tree
I grew up far from the tropics, so mangoes, papayas, and similar fruits hanging on trees in the South Pacific were rare treats. When my father spotted a coconut in a grocery store, he’d bring it home, hammer a hole in it, drain out the juice, and chop the flesh up for us to eat. I loved the flavor then, but I had no idea that I’d eventually come to idolize this bulbous fruit.

The coconut has gotten a lot of exposure in recent years, thanks to health and food bloggers. Recently, it hit the big time with Starbucks’ announcement that it would begin offering coconut milk with its beverages. But most people still don’t know all you can do with this marvelous fruit:

You can eat it. There’s the shredded coconut many of us grew up with, and the raw flesh, of course, but I use coconut oil a lot in place of butter, and by itself as a supplement. I make coconut cream as a replacement for whipped cream, and my new favorite variation is coconut butter — I’ve taken to eating a tablespoon of it here and there when I’m craving something sweet. But it’s also used in sauces, desserts, and a host of other things. Which leads me to…

You can cook and bake with it. I use coconut oil to sauté vegetables and cook popcorn; in baking, I use it in place of other oils and coconut milk as a substitute for dairy. For cakes, muffins, and pancakes I use coconut flour. Do you remember the chia seed coconut milk pudding I made for breakfast a while back? Yum.

Raw Coconut
You can drink it. Smoothies, anybody? I use coconut milk in our smoothies, cereal, and oatmeal all the time. I also use coconut water in smoothies, too — especially in the summer. Drinking coconut water by itself is still growing on me, and some brands are tastier than others, but it’s one of the best ways to hydrate because it’s so high in electrolytes and potassium and low in sugar.

You can use it as a body product. I’m back to oil pulling because it makes my mouth feel cleaner and my teeth feel better, plus I hear it may help guard against viruses and bacterial infections. I’m also going to start oil cleansing soon. (I’ll write a separate post on this soon to fill you in.) I use coconut oil on my daughters’ hair and skin a lot — sometimes blended with other ingredients, like shea butter, and sometimes just by itself. It’s my go-to skincare product. I’ve also used it to remove makeup, heal children’s bum rashes, and soften callouses.

Is there anything this fruit can’t do? I bet we can run cars on it, heat our homes with it, and water money trees with it; we just don’t know it yet!

Are you a fan of coconut? What are your favorite ways to use it?

Images from free images


Inspiration for the Aging

January 21, 2015


I don’t know if you’ve seen this article from bored panda about 60+ year-old people who are living their dreams and achieving amazing goals, but it’s worth a look. The photos and descriptions are inspiring. I feel like so much of what we hear about being older is negative and one of the reasons we want to prevent and deny it is not just that we don’t want to face death, but also because we assume there’s nothing much to look forward to, at least in terms of what we value right now.

Of course, it makes sense that we care about different things at different stages of our lives, and I certainly hope I’m not the same in my 70s as I am now. But what if some of what we assume about our senior years isn’t necessarily the case? For example, what if you were able to achieve one of your life-long dreams at 65? Or, what if you could be in the best shape of your life at 70? Could you be living your best life at 89? It may sound unlikely, but the people in the article above make it seem quite possible.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not counting on retirement — nor do I expect social security to be around by the time I get there. If I make it into my “senior” years, I expect I’ll still be working, learning new things, and staying as healthy as possible so everything else can happen. I don’t know that I’m ever going to want to jump out of a plane or sail around the world, but I can think of lots of things I’d like to do, first and foremost with my daughters.

Are you inspired by these photos and do you have any dreams for your 65 and over years?

Image from freeimages



Snowy owl by Carrie Ann Grippo-Pike Yesterday, I mentioned some big changes that will affect our new year, but those aren’t exactly “resolutions.” In fact, I didn’t actually make any resolutions at all this time — which goes to show you just how little room there is in my brain these days, since I always set some goals for the new year. I’m still planning to do it sometime this month, but while I’m going to make a short list of to-do’s, I’m planning to focus more on some qualities or dispositions I want to work on (or attain more of) this year.

For example, I’d like to be more cheerful in 2015. I’m not a dreary or negative person, but I find that busyness and tiredness quickly leads to grumpiness, which can lead to more complaining and a lack of gratitude. Cheerfulness is not just faking a happy face, but letting inner joy and peace radiate outward. I’d like to give myself and my loved ones a little more of that.

While 2014 was a tiring one for me, I know a number of people whose years were much more difficult: They lost loved ones or experienced particularly hard trials.  How do you approach a new year coming out of something like that?

This article, “Beyond Carb-Cutting: Resolution After a Trauma: Eat, Play, Love,” speaks well to the question. A new widow shares how, in the past, her resolutions centered on things like losing weight, but now — trying to move on after the death of her husband — they’re about how she wants to be, instead of a list of things to do. That makes a lot of sense, as moving on after trauma requires a focus on what is healing to mind, body, and soul, as well as trying to find a new way to be in your life.

Did you make any kind of resolutions this year? How did you go about the process — anything different this time?

P.S. — Have you noticed the comments are now fixed? Hallelujah! Thanks to Matt Cheuvront and his team at Proof Branding for their help! I highly recommend them out if you ever need branding, logo, media, or web development.

Image: Carrie Ann Grippo-Pike via Fine Art America




by Margaret Cabaniss

Born to Run
If you are at all interested and running — and probably even if you’re not — you’ve likely had someone recommend that you read Born to Run, Christopher McDougall’s book about the hidden Tarahumara tribe, their virtually inhuman running prowess, and the journey of a ragtag bunch of American ultramarathoners to the wilds of Mexico’s Copper Canyon to learn their secrets. It’s part adventure travelogue, part extreme athlete profile, part history of sports medicine, and way more interesting than I just made it sound.

People have been gushing about this book to me for ages, but the more they gushed, the more I resisted — mostly thanks to the whole barefoot running trend it helped inspire. If there’s been a dramatic surge in web-footed runners in your neighborhood over the last few years, you can likely thank this book: While the author himself isn’t a barefoot runner, he makes a pretty strong case that our high-tech modern running shoes are destroying our natural (he would say evolutionarily evolved) capacity to run long distances, pain-free. The stars of his book, the Tarahumara tribesmen, make a pretty convincing argument themselves: They’ll often run 40, 60, 100 miles in a go with nothing but thin pieces of rubber tire lashed to their feet.

The book inspired waves of people to buy those wretched “barefoot shoes” in droves — after which they’d turn around and press the book on me with all the missionary zeal of the newly converted. As someone suspicious of movements in general, it really did not interest me.

It took the recommendation of a (formerly non-running) friend for me to finally pick the book up — and I devoured it in almost one sitting. Turns out that nearly lost tribes of superhuman athletes, and the kinds of characters who are attracted to the idea of running 100 miles in the desert in the height of summer, make for pretty gripping reading.

And then there are passages like this:

That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.

Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love—everything we sentimentally call our ‘passions’ and ‘desires’—it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.

I mean, if you don’t want to get up right this second and run around the house whooping we are all Running People!, well, there’s probably no hope for you.

Yes, fine, I may have drunk the Kool-Aid a bit. I refuse to buy those cursed shoes, but suddenly I’m very interested in the Pose running method, and going barefoot more at home, and chia seeds and trail races and YIKES I really don’t know who I am anymore. But hey, it’s like they say in the book: “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”

So has anyone else read it — and if so, did it inspire new heights of running madness in your home, too? I’m still not quite on board the whole barefoot running train, but I am open to suggestions… Read anything else lately that you were dead-set against at first but found yourself embracing by the end?

Image: unknown, via Pinterest


Kids and Internet
This article about a professor’s decision to minimize his kids’ internet time is worth a read. The author, Martin Kutnowski, describes the screams from his 10-year-old after she discovers her iPod can’t connect to the internet. She and her 9-year-old brother were used to four or five hours of screen time, and it was causing some zombie-like behaviors:

American children need 60 minutes of moderate to intense activity a day, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control. One could only hope to meet that standard. Returning from work every evening, I would find two zombies—the cliché never gets old, because it is accurate—in front of the computer. In a catatonic state, the children would respond to my greeting with an unintelligible mumble. After turning the computer off, I would try to talk them into riding the bicycle or going to the park.

Failing that, I’d make them to do chores or homework, often musing how much easier it would be to haul an elephant up a mountain. At dinner, if asked what they had learned at school—the kind of conversation I used to have with my parents—my annoyed children would respond “nothing,” absently looking into the distance, longing to tether themselves online as soon as I turned my back.

No surprise here; the internet and our tech devices can be pretty addictive. Do you check your email repeatedly when you don’t really need to? Your phone? Facebook or Twitter? Many of us have habits that border on addiction, although we don’t like to think of it that way. Since most of us never had the internet, smart phones, or iPads as kids, I think it’s hard for us to know where to draw lines for our children.

In our home, we’re trying to strike a balance. I have definite luddite tendencies, but my husband is a tech geek, so we try and meet in the middle — though he agrees that 6-year-olds need less time in front of screens and more time outside and playing. Our daughters are allowed to use some educational apps on the iPad, and that’s about it (besides being allowed to watch occasional favorite programs and movies that we download).

I certainly want to avoid raising kids that fit the description of Kutnowski’s students:

As a professor in a four-year undergraduate university, I meet young people just as they emerge from the public-school pipeline, and from years of excessive electronic stimulation. Differences among these entering students are profound, in physical health, in skill level, in social and academic engagement, and ultimately in their chances for success. Many of these students have urgent needs: Some don’t understand their own nutrition, how to form a coherent and complete sentence, how to focus long enough to read one chapter of a book, or how to talk and collaborate with one another or with the teacher.

I help as much as I can, and often my students become engaged with their academic and social environment. An earlier intervention—fewer videogames, more activities outdoors and more guided reading, for instance—could have saved those who give up. And no, l don’t buy the fantasy that failing students will be “successful” dropouts like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Statistics predict that most people without a postsecondary education will be low-wage earners.

Speaking of Steve Jobs, it’s worth nothing that his kids weren’t allowed to spend much time on the internet or with electronic devices.

How do you strike a balance for yourself and/or your kids when it comes to the internet and electronic devices?

Image: Rage Against the Minivan


Oil Pulling
As if it weren’t enough that I stopped using antiperspirant a few years ago, I’ve also been oil pulling on and off for the past year. Oil pulling is a folk remedy that’s been around a long time, but I only read about it a couple of years ago on some natural health blogs. It’s hit the mainstream, though, since popular bloggers like Design Mom have written about their experiences with it over recent months.

While there are no studies proving its effectiveness as far as I know, fans of oil pulling say it improves oral hygiene, freshens breath, and can even whiten teeth. (Some have claimed it’s even healed cavities and toothaches.) Most people use organic coconut oil, but I’ve heard of people using extra virgin olive oil, too (sesame oil is traditional in Ayurvedic medicine).

I’m always looking for natural ways to freshen my breath and whiten my teeth — and I like experimenting with stuff like this! — so giving oil pulling a try was a no-brainer. Some people have a hard time with oil in their mouths, but it doesn’t bother me, and I think you can work your way up to it if you start with smaller amounts.

Oil Pulling 2
Here’s how it works: You take a spoonful of oil (a teaspoon to a tablespoon), let it melt in your mouth, and then swish it around vigorously for 15-20 minutes before spitting it out. (I have no idea why that’s the recommended timeframe, but the way; as far as I’m concerned, you could start with 5 minutes and work your way up.) You do it once a day, usually in the morning in place of brushing — though I still floss and also brush with baking soda before bed.

I have to admit, when I’m consistent with it, I start seeing the effects: My teeth feel great — smoother, cleaner — and I dare say they look a tad whiter. And my breath is better, even first thing in the morning. But it’s that consistent part that’s hard. Finding 15-20 minutes in the morning to swish doesn’t always happen — it’s typically a busy time with my kids, and inevitably, as soon as I put that oil in my mouth, my voice is required for something. Over the last few days I’ve been trying to get back to it, though. I hear the longer you do it, the more benefits you experience.

I’m curious: Have you ever tried oil pulling, or would you? Does the idea intrigue you, or does it seem too far out there to bother with? I’d love to hear what you think! In the meantime, if I manage to stick with it for more than a few weeks at a time, I’ll have to give you an update!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


Giant Buddha by SiamSawadee
According to a new Gallup poll, people 65 and older feel better about their appearance than any other age group. Not by a lot, mind you, but it’s noteworthy: 66% of seniors feel good about their looks, versus 54% of 35-64 year-olds and 61% of 18-34 year-olds. (The poll also found that men feel better about their looks than women in every age group.)

This makes sense to me, based on our culture’s messages about youth and beauty and what I see around me every day. The 35-64 age range is when people — especially women — seem to struggle most with their appearance, because it changes so much during that time. It’s fair to say I don’t know any woman in that group who doesn’t have some complaint about the way she looks (though some are more obsessed than others).

I consider myself to be fairly laid-back in this regard, though I’ve never had any weight issues, and thanks to some good genes and a healthy diet, I’ve always looked younger than my age. But it’s not the externals that determine satisfaction; inevitably, the women I know who struggle the most with their appearance, as well as with aging, are those whom society would consider very attractive. I’m guessing one reason is that the more your identity is rooted in your physical appearance — and the way people respond to your appearance — the more difficult it is when your appearance changes. Add to this the images of “beauty” we’re bombarded with all the time, and it can be hard to accept wrinkles and sags, a changing body, and society’s preference for youth.

I’m guessing that, by the time we reach senior-hood, we start feeling differently about ourselves. We’re grateful just to be here. We’re more at peace with what’s happening physically and more focused on what brings us meaning — time with loved ones, the memories we’ve made, creative pursuits, staying as healthy as we can, our spiritual lives.

Now that I’m well into my 40s, age and beauty are things I think about more often. I’d love to know your thoughts: How happy are you with your appearance, and what makes you feel beautiful? How do you confront the idea of aging, mentally or otherwise, and how have you dealt with changes to your looks and body so far? What do you think are the secrets to being happy with your appearance and aging with grace?

Image: SiamSidawee via etsy


by Margaret Cabaniss

As the unmarried “mama” of our bloggy contingent, I’m the last person who should be giving marriage advice — but psychologist John Gottman is a different story. His decades of research into what makes for happy relationships translates today into an ability to predict, with 94 percent certainty, whether a couple will split up or stay together, after observing them interact for only a few minutes.

Not only that, but Gottman says there’s one very basic trait that separates the “masters” (those couples in happy relationships) from the “disasters” (those who are unhappy, or who eventually split up). The secret sauce in happy marriages? No secret, really: It’s kindness.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Sound familiar? Read on:

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there. People who give their partner the cold shoulder—deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally—damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued….

Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

It seems so obvious, and yet relationships today fail at a depressing rate. Maybe because we tend to think of kindness as a concrete act: giving a gift or a paying a compliment, say. But according to the Gottmans and other researchers, the kindness that makes for lasting relationships is an attitude built into every interaction — particularly those times when we’re stressed, angry, tired, or generally feeling anything other than kind.

As the Atlantic author points out, kindness is better viewed as a muscle: The more it gets exercised, the stronger it becomes. And there are a couple of concrete habits we can cultivate to build the kindness muscle:

One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. From the research of the Gottmans, we know that disasters see negativity in their relationship even when it is not there. An angry wife may assume, for example, that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her. But he may have just absent-mindedly forgotten to put the seat down. . . .

“Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on and people trying to do the right thing,” psychologist Ty Tashiro told me. “A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing even if it’s executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.”

So true — and equally applicable in every relationship (with coworkers, siblings, friends, parents), not just romantic ones. Another:

Another powerful kindness strategy revolves around shared joy. One of the telltale signs of the disaster couples Gottman studied was their inability to connect over each other’s good news. . . .

We’ve all heard that partners should be there for each other when the going gets rough. But research shows that being there for each other when things go right is actually more important for relationship quality. How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship.

This one surprised me, but it makes sense. As a congenital worrier who sometimes greets other people’s big plans with a list of questions about what could go wrong, the article was a powerful reminder of just how damaging that sort of response can be.

There’s lots to think about here, and I’m curious to hear what you think. Does Gottman’s research ring true to you? How do you practice kindness? What do you find critical in building strong relationships?

Image: via Pinterest, source unknown


Chia Seed Pudding
I’m always on the hunt for alternative breakfast foods. We don’t do a lot of cereals around here, and eggs get a little old — especially when my daughters only like them boiled, and no one in the family but me eats things like fritattas and quiche.

So when I came across a pudding made with chia seeds and coconut milk, my interest was piqued. Mainly because I’m totally addicted to coconut milk: I’ve always liked it, but I’ve taken lately to opening cans of the organic, whole-fat kind, scooping out the solidified cream, whipping it, and sticking it on everything (or sometimes nothing at all — just eating it with a spoon). Then I take the liquid and use it in smoothies or baking.

I also use chia seeds wherever I can. They’re the highest plant-based source of Omega 3s and include fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants, and even protein. Talk about a super food. I stick them in muffins and smoothies a lot, but since the tiny things absorb over 10 times their weight in water, they’re great in anything that calls for a gelled consistency — pudding being one of them.

This recipe is extremely simple, and I apologize, but for the life of me I can’t remember where the original recipe is from. Lots of sites have versions of it, though, so you can experiment with different techniques and add-ins. Here’s what I did:

Chia Seed Coconut Milk Pudding

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 -3 Tbsp chia seeds
  • honey and/or vanilla extract (optional)
  • assorted fresh fruit and/or berries (bananas, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc.) for the topping
  • 2-3 small mason jars with lids

Shake the can of coconut milk so the fat and liquid are blended well, then distribute it evenly between the mason jars. Stir one tablespoon of chia seeds into each jar so they’re evenly distributed. Add a few drops of vanilla extract or honey, if you want some sweetness or extra flavor, then cover the jars and stick them in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, the chia seeds will have absorbed the liquid and you’ll have a solidified pudding. Top it with your favorite fruit (I like berries and bananas), or you could also add granola and nuts. The topping really adds to the pudding, especially if you don’t add much sweetener to the milk.

I gobbled this right up the first time I made it. My daughters were a little less enthusiastic, but they did eat about half of their little jars, and I think it’s something they’ll enjoy better in time if I serve it occasionally. If not, I won’t mind eating their leftovers!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Have you heard of Soylent? (No, not that soylent…) It’s a new Silicon Valley product — a nutritional supplement of sorts — being touted as the answer to all our food needs. Basically, you just blend up a drink of this gritty beige powder, add some of the oil the company sends with it, and you’re good to go: all the nutrients your body needs, with no grocery shopping, slaving over a hot stove, or taking time to prepare meals.

The New Yorker interviewed one of Soylent’s creators:

Rhinehart, who is 25, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me.

Rhinehart is wrong. Food is not primarily an engineering problem; it’s a cultural keystone and a huge part of what it means to be human — not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. The philosophy behind Soylent is exactly the opposite of the Slow Food approach: Soylent’s creators view food in a strictly utilitarian way, and human beings as machines. In their view, all we need is nutrients, optimized for functioning, and we’re set.

Slow Food, on the other hand, emphasizes what the Soylent makes miss: pleasure; hospitality; comfort; and an abiding connection to memories, traditions, culture, the land, and each other. Gathering around a table of flavorful, wholesome food does a lot more for us than simply provide nutrients. (And even there, holistic nutritionists would disagree with the makers of Soylent that food is merely the sum of its parts: There is general agreement that eating whole, complex foods is superior to popping vitamins.)

I agree with Michael Brendan Dougherty, who wrote about the “tyranny” of Soylent in The Week, when he says:

What Soylent’s proponents don’t seem to understand is that food cannot be reduced to mere nutrition anymore than all of movement can be reduced to simple exercise, or sex and parenthood to mere reproduction (although in the latter case, the more strenuous socialists have tried!). Mealtime is a place of communion, conviviality, even sensuality. It is where we learn to be human.

Sure, there are days I wish I didn’t have to put meals on the table — what parent doesn’t fantasize about that sometimes? — but reaching for something like Soylent? Nope. Frankly, I can’t imagine Soylent ever really catching on, except among the kind of guys who created it. Or maybe it will become a popular weight-loss product? For anyone tempted to try it, though, I’d just recommend getting a Vitamix instead: A nutritious, delicious smoothie will make you feel a lot more human.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I’m curious: Does a product like Soylent give you the willies, or do you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing? Would you ever buy a meal replacement product like this?

Image via Pinterest