The Ripple Effect

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Way back in the early 1990s (when choker necklaces and miniature backpacks were all the rage), I was working as a technical writer for a software startup in downtown San Francisco, whose software was based on the productivity methodology of bestselling author and sought-after guru, David Allen.

One of tenets I remember from Allen’s approach is that we want our minds to be like water, rather we want our minds to react to stimuli in the same way that water would: a pebble causes small, undulating ripples, then slowly fades away. A three-hundred-pound boulder might create a large splash, but it, too, fades over time. But what happens to your body when you treat every pebble-sized demand on your time and attention like a three-hundred-pound boulder?

The past four years I’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress: PTA leadership role, nonprofit board participation, mothering three active kids, entering and then completing graduate school, then teaching full time in an urban, underfunded school. The cumulative effect of the stress that these roles demanded of me led to some challenging health issues: weight gain, heart palpitations, pitting edema. At the end of last year’s school year, I was so concerned about how the stress of my life was affecting my health, I underwent a series of medical tests to try to find a root cause. The result of all of those tests: a vitamin D deficiency.

While I’m not a medical professional, being deficient in vitamin D alone seemed an unlikely culprit behind the myriad symptoms I’d been experiencing. So I sought out additional council from an acupuncturist. After a lengthy consultation, she recommended I quit my teaching job. Well, I explained that wasn’t going to happen. That I was no quitter. And that what I needed was a way to continue doing my job without it killing me. She advised me to cut out wheat, dairy, corn, soy, alcohol, and caffeine from my diet and put me on a formula of Chinese herbs. Since up to that point I’d been surviving on a combination of all of these things (primarily caffeine, chocolate, and red wine, if I’m being honest), I was doubtful I’d be able to stick to such a strict regimen.

At first, if was very difficult.  Cooking one meal for my family and a separate one for myself was a logistical challenge.  I struggled with finding replacements that were satisfying and easy to prepare. It took a while for me to find the combination of meals that I could put into rotation that were quick, tasty, and devoid of the suspect ingredients.

Now, three months later, I find the changes fairly easy to contend with on a daily basis, and easier still to stick with for one simple reason: eliminating those things from my diet worked. I can’t explain why–and Western medicine offered zero explanation–but kicking these things to the curb had a profound effect on my health. The swelling subsided. I lost weight (averaging 5 pounds a month – I’m down 15 20 pounds so far). I sleep more deeply. I have greater mental clarity. Cravings have subsided. I basically eat my meals but never snack between meals any more.

True, it’s been a lot of work. I have to be proactive about cooking meals to take to work. If we’re going to a restaurant, I need to find out what menu options may work ahead of time. But all of that has been worth it to feel so much better. Not only have my symptoms subsided, but I feel a greater sense of calm about daily disturbances than I used to. I just don’t have that “ball of stress” feeling that I used to have before the dietary changes. I have no idea why, all I know is it’s true.  I may not always respond to a “boulder” with a peaceful David Allen-like ripple, but at least now tiny pebbles won’t cause a tsunami of stress.

If you’re struggling with any of the unexplained health issues I mentioned and typical medical tests offered little explanation, consider seeing an acupuncturist or Chinese Medicine practitioner for another perspective.


Fast Times

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I’m in the middle of a weeklong  Master Cleanse fast and just realized I have spent the last half-hour browsing recipes for golden lentil soup. I guess this would be a good time to collect my thoughts and feelings about how this fast is going so far. Time to refocus the mind!

Although this fast has become trendy among a certain celeb set, I first heard of the cleanse eleven years ago when it was still something only the crunchy hippies in our circle of friends were doing. And I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course.

After watching my husband go through the, um, process for a week, I decided to give it a try. While it’s true that you can lose a fair amount of weight (mostly water and…some other stuff), that wasn’t my primary motivation. I had just had my second miscarriage and was feeling pretty down about it. We had been trying for years and just couldn’t make it stick. When I heard about the cleanse I thought it might help me “clean out the pipes” so to speak, set the right conditions for trying to conceive again.

I should mention here that going into my first cleanse I was a stone-cold caffeine junky. I could easily have 6-8 cups of coffee a day. It really bothered me to feel so enslaved to something. I knew it would be hard to give it up for the fast, but I also knew that I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t really need it. Continue reading »

The Ground Beneath Your Feet

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36352_447040471456_651989_nWe live in earthquake country. I’ve felt small tremors and medium-sized ones, and live with a healthy dose of fear that the long-predicted “big one” will hit California any day now. And yet, if it did, we would be woefully unprepared. It’s really easy to forget you live in earthquake country, until, that is, one strikes, and then it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever forget again. But then you do. You vow to get that earthquake kit together. You swear you’ll replace that funky water stored under three inches of dust in your garage. Really, you will. Right after you tend to something else which seems way more important because it’s actually happening, not theoretically happening.

But the thing about earthquakes is that they are unpredictable. It’s almost crazy not to be always prepared for them to strike because we never have any warning that they will.

Which brings me to two separate but equal events today that led me to drink down that healthy dose of fear I mentioned earlier. One has to do with imagining an earthquake won’t happen; the other has to do with imaging one has.

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Don’t Eat That Shirt

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IMG_0004Keeping growing kids clothed can be a full-time job. I just love getting hand-me-downs for our kids. We are lucky to have good friends whose two boys, ages seven and nine, keep my four-year-old clothed in cool threads for much of the year. But what you can’t find at consignment shops or other second-hand stores, you just have to break down and buy.

My son, having gone through a recent growth spurt, seems to have no pants that actually come down to his ankles. Fleece capri pants on a four-year-old boy? Not a good look. So, on our way home from an appointment yesterday, we noticed that a local Gap store was having a major pre-spring sale. Since saving money comes in second only to saving the planet when it comes to our purchases, we decided to see what we could find.

Well not long after we set foot inside the store, my son found some t-shirts with superhero themes that he just…had…to have. What kid his age wouldn’t go for a batman t-shirt with built-in cape? I mean, come on. I almost wanted one for myself. [Future DIY project: make t-shirt that reads “BatMom”.]

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Five Reasons Why Prop 65 Doesn’t Do Enough

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9803Prop65Image_150Last week California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced its intent  to list Bisphenol-A (BPA) on the state’s Prop 65 List, which requires disclosure of substances known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.  While I’m certainly glad that OEHHA has moved to regulate this endocrine-disrupting chemical commonly found in baby bottles, canned foods, and paper receipts—a move that is long overdue, in my opinion— I don’t believe it’s likely to result in additional protection for consumers, at least not in any tangible way.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that Prop 65 exists. It’s because of this law and the work of groups like the Center for Environmental Health that we no longer allow the sale of lead-tainted candy in California. It’s why phthalates linked to birth defects in boys are no longer permitted in teething rings and sippy cups. Those are all fantastic outcomes of Prop 65, the only law of its kind in this country. However—and I’m not speaking as a scientist here, but as a mom and a consumer—it doesn’t do nearly enough to protect our families. Here’s why:

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