Health & Wellness

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

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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


Family Bed
Before our daughters arrived, we hadn’t thought much about sleeping arrangements. We turned our upstairs office into a little girls’ bedroom in a matter of weeks and hemmed and hawed about what kind of bed to get for them, and that was about the extent of our deliberations. But from the first night the girls were in our custody, it was clear that co-sleeping was going to be in the cards — at least for a while.

Co-sleeping — when parents and children share a bed or bedroom — is one of those parenting decisions that can raise hackles and eyebrows. Most of the controversy centers around the safety of sleeping with infants, but many people think sleeping with children of any age is just plain weird. I never thought that myself, recognizing that it’s the norm in many parts of the world, but I also didn’t think I’d ever be keen on a family bed myself. Then two little people rocked my world, and it all became about what was best for them — and the family as a whole. The fact is, co-sleeping was undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons we all bonded and attached to each other so quickly.

There were definitely some challenges along the way, and we had to do some experimenting. Neither our bedroom nor the girls’ was big enough for more than one bed, and there were four of us. There were also sleep issues to contend with: I’ve always been a very light sleeper, and B frequently suffers from terrible insomnia, so we’re not exactly “we can sleep anywhere” people.

The biggest question as time went on was (and still is), how can we all get a decent night’s sleep? The girls clearly sleep much better when they’re with one of us, unsurprisingly: We learned in Ethiopia that sharing a bed — and a very small one at that — with family was all they had ever known. But I definitely don’t sleep better with them attached to me, as much as I love it in other ways.

When we arrived home together, B and I both fell sleep with the girls initially, and then I’d sleep with them through the night. After months of poor sleep, a very achey body (their mattress is not nearly as comfortable as ours), and B and I not digging sleeping apart for months on end, we decided to put everyone in one spot – which meant moving to the bigger mattress in our room.

The females in this family like to sleep in semi-fetal positions, so it wasn’t long before our queen felt cramped. So, after remeasuring our room and giving our super-comfortable mattress to some friends, we ordered a king. It worked great for a few months — and then, slowly, little bodies began spreading out all over the place, and B and I found ourselves clinging to the sides of the bed every night. Once again, we were struggling to get the sleep we needed.

Eventually, we moved S and H back into their own bed and took turns falling asleep with them. They began to sleep through the night on their own occasionally, but usually called for me in the night. If our bedrooms hadn’t been so small, we would have put two large beds in one room as our next step after family bed. 

As challenging as it can be, I highly recommend co-sleeping to new adoptive parents, since I think it can be huge for attachment and healing. I also noticed how great it was for B and the girls: As the full-time working parent, B couldn’t spend nearly as much time with them during the day, and co-sleeping sped up and deepened their bonding.

Right now, I’m not sure our girls are ever going to grow out of wanting to sleep with us. If they had their way, we’d all still be in the family bed… They definitely still sleep best when we’re all together, and they can’t fall asleep yet without one of us. I do get to sleep in my own bed more often these days, though, and I treasure those nights – but I (and B) also have to admit that I kind of miss the little munchkins when I do.

Have you ever co-slept? Is it something you’d consider? Why or why not?

Image: Milk-Friendly


Do You Wear Perfume?

April 2, 2014

Perfume Bottles
I’ll always remember my very first perfume: a small roll-on vial of something that smelled like lemons. I thought it was the best, though was always disappointed when it would disappear after about an hour. Wearing perfume seemed a very sophisticated and feminine thing to do, and most of the adult women in my life had some on their dressing tables; even my mother — not the perfume type —  kept a bottle of Chanel among her things for special occasions.

As I got older, I would try perfumes here and there — sometimes in department stores or at friend’s homes, or even by rubbing those magazine samples on my neck and wrists. Nothing ever stuck. I always wanted to find a “signature scent”; friends had them and it seemed so cool. But I could never find one that seemed right. Plus, the truth was, I just didn’t really like perfume — it was too strong, and too much of a bother; I preferred to let my soap, shampoo, or moisturizer do the job. (And boyfriends never seemed to care for perfume on me anyway.)

Thankfully, aromatherapy came to the rescue, and now I can find essential-oil mixtures that reflect my preference for natural products and are much more suited to me, scent-wise. I remember spending a fun afternoon with two friends at an aromatherapy bar coming up with signature scents a few years ago. It was so interesting to see how each of us was drawn to different ones — and we smelled a lot of them! What made one of us ooh and ahh made the other turn her nose up, and vice versa. One friend loved florals and strong exotic scents, whereas I am (still) drawn to fruity/citrus scents and anything woodsy. (Turns out I like to smell like a man: my signature scent had things like balsam fir and spruce.) I’m also drawn to things like ylang ylang, vanilla, ginger, frankincense, and patchouli.

I’d love to know if you wear perfume or essential oils. Do you have a signature scent?

Image: Iron-on transfer of vintage perfume bottles on Carte Postale from Room 29 Etsy shop




Clinking Glasses
There is no harder job than parenting. Of course, “job” doesn’t accurately describe it; parenting is 24-7 with no monetary reward and no benefits like paid vacation time, health insurance, or personal days. While we moms (and dads) know that it’s the intangible things that make it worthwhile, there are times when it’s nice to treat ourselves with a tangible reward. Sometimes just getting through the day feels like an accomplishment when you’re a parent! Whether it’s a dish of ice cream, a walk outside, a little retail therapy, each of us probably has “gifts” we like to bestow on ourselves from time to time.

For me, it’s not so much about rewarding myself but replenishing myself. Getting out with friends for dinner or drinks is my favorite way. I’m a very social person who enjoys time with my friends, and whether it’s a quick glass of wine at a local pub or a planned-in-advance dinner at a favorite restaurant, the time is very therapeutic for me. And while I enjoy talking about my kids, I covet opportunities to speak uninterrupted about current events, projects, deep thoughts, and “girl” stuff.

Even a social butterfly needs time by herself, though, and there are two things I love to do all by lonesome: One is boutique browsing. I’m not a big shopper, and I get overwhelmed in big box stores, but meandering through local shops is a fun way to see what’s trending in fashion and housewares without having to buy anything.

My other not-so-guilty solo pleasure is grocery shopping. I know, weird. But what’s torture for some people is actually relaxing and fun for me. Being able to food shop without little girls in tow is kind of heavenly: I get to check out new items, read labels, and take my time. Such a luxury!

And there are also little things daily I do to give myself a lift. The main one is treating myself to some chocolate. I keep a stash of my favorite stuff on hand and typically have a square or two each day.

How about you? What are your favorite ways to reward and replenish yourself as a parent? If you’re not a parent, do you treat yourself for working hard at something?

Note: This post was inspired by an invitation to contribute to the “Give Yourself a Raise” campaign launched by, a new marketplace to buy and sell gift cards on the web. 

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Spring Cleaning

March 24, 2014

Brooms In spite of the fact that we may actually see more snow around here this week, spring has officially sprung, and spring cleaning is on my mind. Truth be told, I hate cleaning, but I absolutely love a clean, organized house, so I’m always looking for ways to get there.

Usually, spring cleaning is all about a deep cleanse of everything, getting rid of excess stuff, and airing out the house. But I find the prospect of all that a little daunting, so I like to take it in smaller steps or projects. When it comes to actual cleaning, here are some of the tasks recommended on Martha Stewart for spring cleaning:

  • Clean rugs, carpets and floors
  • Clean windows
  • Clean shades and curtains
  • Clean fridge and freezer
  • Vacuum, rotate, and flip mattresses and furniture cushions
  • Replace filters
  • Do a safety check (replace batteries in smoke detectors, check fire extinguishers, etc.)
  • Clean out closets/edit wardrobes

I could stand to do pretty much every one of those, but this spring I’m a little more focused on decluttering and reorganizing. There are some rooms in our house that are out of control, so I’m thinking of tackling each room in order of priority — with my bedroom and the kitchen at the top of the list.

I also want to try my hand at some natural, homemade cleaners this season for any actual cleaning I get to. Here’s an all-purpose cleaner recipe on my list.

Are you gearing up for any spring cleaning? How will you approach it this year? Any tips to share?

Image via Notforgotten Farm


Getting Enough Sleep

March 19, 2014

Pillows Have you ever seen this short TedTalk by Arianna Huffington about why we should get more sleep? It’s been around for a while, but I recently came across it again, and it got me thinking about how I might improve the quality of sleep in my household — beginning with myself.

I’ve always been a night owl; I came wired that way. I thought becoming a mom would change me, but the only difference is that I’m now up earlier. I still get a second wind around 10 p.m. and can’t bear to hit the hay earlier And lose my only free time of the day. I do some of my best work at night. I really wish I were a morning person, but I’m just not. My husband is the same way — maybe even more so.

On top of that, we both suffer from insomnia. Ever since I was little, I’ve had trouble falling asleep, though reading — even for 15 minutes — helps a lot. My husband, on the other hand, never had insomnia until five years ago when he was holding down a stressful job. He’s not been able to kick it since.

We have strategies to cope: I let him sleep in on Saturday mornings, and he lets me sleep in on Sundays. For Lent, we’re committed to getting into bed by midnight: We find that makes a difference in the quality of our sleep. We have an air purifier that also makes white noise, which cuts down on the street noise outside our bedroom. We have a great mattress and crisp sheets, and we try to minimize time on bright screens before bed. (Since night time is when I get to work on my laptop and respond to email, eliminating screen time altogether isn’t realistic.)

My sleep is okay, I just need more of it; B has some plans to address his issues in a more serious way. Both of us know how important sleep is to our health, to memory and mental function, and to our general well-being. There are lots of studies now that show how important sleep is for all of us.

Are you a good sleeper? What helps you get good quality sleep? I’d love to hear your do’s and don’ts!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


I Take My Coffee Bulletproof®

February 24, 2014

Bulletproof Coffee
I drink Bulletproof® coffee a few mornings a week. Ever heard of it? The recipe (as well as reviews about it) have been making the rounds in the blogosphere for a while — particular among natural foodie blogs — but a lot of people in my life still hadn’t heard of it, so I thought I’d share.

“Bulletproof” here refers to a copyrighted term popularized by a tech entrepreneur named Dave Asprey, who claims to have shed 100 pounds by eating a high-fat, low-carb diet. He explains on his website that he was inspired to create his coffee drink after experiencing yak butter tea in Tibet.

Making Bulletproof® coffee is simple: a cup of high quality brewed coffee (Asprey believes all beans are not created equal); a little unsalted, grass-fed butter; and some coconut oil (he uses a special kind). You stick it all in a blender until it’s frothy, and that’s it! (Read here for the exact recipe.)

While our culture tends to be gun-shy about fats, it’s common in other parts of the world to add them to hot drinks. Ethiopians often add spiced butter to coffee; many mountainous countries (like Tibet) add fats to teas. Doing so keeps hunger at bay by helping you metabolize the drink more slowly, and you don’t get the rush and crash often associated with caffeine.

I can attest to all of this. I’ve always loved the taste and smell of coffee, but it has never liked me: It left me feeling jittery and upset my stomach — even stuff brewed from the best of beans. When a friend told me about Bulletproof® coffee, I knew I had to try it. I can’t say I notice any extra energy (like so many others claim), but I can go the whole morning without feeling hungry, I don’t get anxious or a racing heart, and my digestion is unaffected. Since I’m not convinced caffeine is the greatest thing — at least for me — I don’t drink it every morning, but it’s the only way I like coffee now.

If you’re curious about how this compares to a regular cup of coffee, it turns out very creamy — much like a latte. You’re not supposed to add sugar, but I find the fats kind of make up for that. I suppose you could always add a small amount of sweetener (like honey or stevia) if you had to, but it’s meant to be taken as is for all the supposed benefits.

Have you tried Bulletproof® coffee? If you decide to try it, let me know what you think!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul