Friday, July 29, 2011

Something a little different today…a tantalizing recipe (if you are inclined to the chocoholic, as I am) from Erin Bolger, the author of The Happy Baker-A Girl’s Guide To Emotional Baking.

Why? Well, another summer weekend is at our doorstep, many of us will be heading out on our longer workouts of the week, or maybe some are even doing races. Treats are in order, don’t you think?

But first, from Erin, by way of intro:

“Running. Some of us may have taken up running to get away from our exes. Some of us started for a healthier lifestyle. I basically hit the treadmill when I decided to go freelance from my comfy job with benefits and I thought running would strengthen my lungs and get me off of my expensive asthma puffers (I was right). I was also ending a long-term relationship and nothing helps you get over a break-up better than a hot post break-up bod!

As great as running’s been though, it’s not my go-to activity. Most of you run when you are stressed … I bake! I’m an emotional baker. I forget about everything when I am baking and just go to my happy place.

I have a serious sweet tooth and could easily replace cookie dough for all meals. Since this is not always the healthy choice I have created a yummy and nutritious cookie combining two of my favourite things … coconut and chocolate. Now this is not a low-fat cookie so you can’t eat it like it’s going out of style but I have been known to have one for breakie!

Happy Baking & Happy Running!”

Ditto from me. Enjoy your weekend workouts and treat yourself! Here’s how…

Chocolate Chunk Coconut Cookies

½ cup coconut oil

¾ cup coconut sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ tsp. vanilla

1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

1 cup unsweetened coconut

½ cup coconut flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

pinch of sea salt

100 grams dk chocolate, chopped (I used 72%)

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a mixing bowl blend together the oil and sugar until combined. Add the eggs and the vanilla; blend. Add the cocoa; blend. Stir in the flour, coconut, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the dark chocolate pieces.

Make dough into 1-inch balls. Place on a lined cookie sheet and flatten with your fingers. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cool & Enjoy. Store in a cool dry place in an airtight container.

For more of Erin’s emotional (and let’s not forget, yummy) baking recipes, you can visit her at

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why I Am a Vegetarian and Diana Nyad

I suppose I might have titled this, “Why I Am Not a Flesh Eater,” if I was to most closely mimic Bertrand Russell’s famous speech and essay title, Why I Am Not a Christian, off of which I was riffing, but that sounded a bit rugged for my taste, though, come to think of it, so is swimming with the sharks, which is what inspired this missive.

A friend sent me an email the other day asking, “What do you think about the sharks?” She was referring to the flurry of reader comments around a story about Diana Nyad, who, any day now, will swim from Cuba to Key West—103 miles, which is predicted to take somewhere around 60 hours. If it wasn’t already impressive, Diana is 61 years old, which certainly adds a “Wow” factor to her athletic endeavour. But there was this business of the sharks.

Re-Posted from HuffPo with title change

Apparently, most long distance swimmers who have taken on this particular challenge have swum in a shark cage, which is, as it sounds, a cage surrounding the swimmer, protecting her from those animals. The drawback (at least, a swimmer like Diana considers it a negative) is that the cages are tied to a boat and dragged along behind, which means the swimming is easier and faster (in 1997 an Australian did the Cuba-Key West swim in 24 hours with the cage-advantage).

Instead of a cage, Diana will be flanked by two kayakers with shark shields (electric shock rods) and there will be four shark divers on board the support boat, ready to dive in and spear threatening sharks to death.

To death? I missed the part where the sharks volunteered to give up their lives for Diana’s swim. I have no love of sharks in particular, but I’m not sure why creatures living in their own environment, way out at sea (we’re not talking about holiday-makers at the beach a la Jaws), may be punished for doing what they are genetically engineered to do, so that one of us humans, can pass through their environment on a personal mission to prove her strength and endurance.

Don’t get me wrong, I think personal missions of strength and endurance are to be celebrated. Such quests, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote in Flow, enable us to expand our concepts of our selves, which, in turn, builds the self-confidence that “allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind.” All good so far. And don’t get me wrong on this next—in the person vs. shark, I save the person. Still, there’s a difference between an accidental encounter and a courted encounter. As athletes, we take great care to respect our bodies, should we not extend that same respect to our environment, others, to other creatures as well? Should our athletic endeavours come at others’ expense? Diana and her sharks disturb me.

Not as much as Food Inc., which I finally got around to watching, which lifts the veil on the food industry, exposing the insidious cycles of corporate control, government support, animal cruelty and, worst of all, how this fosters our diabetes epidemic. As Eric Schlosser points out in the movie, if our food system of factory farming disdains and disrespects animal, so will we adopt this same mentality toward other living things, humans, strangers, foreigners, people with whom we disagree.

Both Diana’s sharks and Food Inc. reminded me of why I am a vegetarian. I have been so (with some early recidivism) since I was sixteen, close to 2/3rds of my life. Why?

I recently came across a Sikh story, told in Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of Buddha, which conveyed, more lyrically than I ever could, why I made this choice. The story (and I quote directly from Brach’s book):

An aged spiritual master calls his two most devoted disciples to the garden in front of his hut. Gravely, he gives each one a chicken and instructs them, “Go to where no one can see, and kill the chicken.” One of the men immediately goes behind his shed, picks up an ax and chops off his chicken’s head. The other wanders around for hours, and finally returns to his master, the chicken still alive and in hand. “Well, what happened?” the teacher asks. The disciple responds, “I can’t find a place to kill the chicken where no one can see me. Everywhere I go, the chicken sees.”

Indeed. I cannot eat something, or rather some formerly living creature, which I could not look in the eye, and then kill. The rule is my own, for me (I would not impose it on you), because not only the chicken sees, but also I see myself, and then I must live with myself. One of the cornerstones of health, something we are hyper-keyed into as athletes, is the ability to live comfortably with oneself. As much thought as we give to our workouts, that and much more we need to give to others in the world.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In Sickness and In Health

My latest post on HuffPo

The words of the traditional marriage vow might just as easily apply in any circumstance in which we join our lives with another’s, through marriage, civil union, or any other long-term domestic partnership, through birthing or adopting. The promise is not always explicit, but it’s there. I will not abandon you in your time of need. Of course, we often do. We’re human and imperfect after all. Of all the people to whom we might owe this obligation, in sickness and in health, there is one we often don’t notice, one who we cannot abandon, except through the most radical means; and that is our self.

I am stuck with me, no matter what. I’ve recently had a disconcertingly up-close-and-personal engagement with my own obligation to myself in sickness.

Five weeks ago I was colonized by bronchitis. All during the week prior I’d been clearing my throat to the point of annoyance, my partner looking at me sideways as I ahem-ahem-ahem-ahemmed, as if I was trying to get everyone’s attention to make a very important point. Out for a morning ride with a friend, I felt exhausted and cough-y, and finally gave up on the workout and headed home after only 2 of our usual 3 loops of the park. I got into bed and there I stayed, for one week, then another, and another. And the bed became the couch, because in the end I couldn’t get in and out of bed. My coughing so severe, that I fractured ribs on both sides.

I have been very lucky in life. I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve never been sick for anything longer than 5 days, and even then, not felled. Even when I had chicken pox a few years ago, an experience that can be gruesome for adults in a way it apparently isn’t for children, I slipped through the illness with relative ease. Last year when I sliced open my knee and had stitches, I was unable to do anything but walk for a couple of weeks, but the pain was manageable, the end clearly in sight from the outset.

So these past weeks have been unlike anything I’ve been through before.

I should start by saying—I am still very lucky. Bronchitis and fractured ribs are nothing, in the grand scheme of the available perils, and yet it is the very mundane-ness, which caught me short. For so little, I felt that I had stepped out of the current of my own life. The world was moving on around me, but I had slowed to a near stop. Week by week, I cancelled everything on my calendar. My most important obligation was to myself, to get well.

Things I couldn’t do with bronchitis (or at least not without inciting coughing almost to the point of vomiting):

--breathe deeply

--roll over in bed

--eat dairy, or vinegar, or anything spicy, and any number of other foods, which seemed to change by the day

--drink seltzer, or juice, or alcohol


Things I couldn’t do with fractured ribs (or at least not without pain on the Richter scale):

--breathe deeply

--lean over the sink to wash my face or brush my teeth, not to mention spit out the toothpaste with any force…wash my hair

--open and close the front door of my apartment and my apartment building

--put on and take off underwear

--pick up my cat for a dose of purr-therapy

--take a full jug of homemade iced tea out of the fridge


At some point along the way, I read a Buddhist blog, which encouraged slowing down, savouring, for example, each small sip of a glass of water—something I was forced into doing by circumstances. And while I agree that stillness and noticing the moments in our lives is a practice worth cultivating, I recognized too, as I hadn’t before, how much joy I take in gulping down my water, of devouring life with gusto. Noticing the small pleasures does not always require that they be slow and measured. It is the noticing that matters more than the stillness. But until I can zoom and gorge and guzzle again, I am noticing slow-style.

Almost daily I re-jig my expectations of myself. I’ve been walking in the morning. At first I walked at quarter speed. I wanted, still want to cry at times, when a fleet woman glides by, legs roped with working muscles. But I’m also enjoying the new pace. I have had time to notice the morning dogs—the big white dog of uncertain breed, with the turned out front right paw, the panting Bulldog, the fresh shaven Yorkie. Just yesterday as I caught up to a man walking slowly ahead of me, I smelled his baby before I saw the infant in his arms, that sour-milk-powdery-sleep scent of the first months of life. Running, I would never have caught that whiff, I would have passed by too quickly.

In low moments, when I longed to sink beneath the waters of self-pity (I hope I am beyond that stage now, but nothing is sure), I wondered if I’d ever get better. I wondered who I was. I wanted an explanation of why I was sick, but one that would jibe with who I thought myself to be. In the beginning, I tried to deny the pain. I like to think of myself as having a high tolerance; therefore I shouldn’t feel so much pain from coughing. When I learned that I’d fractured several ribs, the lens re-focused. Oh yes, this is painful, but I have a high tolerance, so I’ll get through this without depending on the prescribed painkillers. Not so easy. I needed to re-assess. I wanted, in sickness, to hang onto some preconceived notion of strength and resilience with which I identified myself. As if I might lose myself.

But I am right here, where I have always been, by my side, in sickness and in health. I have some weeks to go. I don’t know how many. I know that one day I will wake up and go about my day. At first, I won’t notice that there is no coughing to notice, no pain to notice. Then I will. Notice. I will think, “I’m myself again.” But it won’t be true. I’m myself now. That is a thing worth noticing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blueprint for a Bogey

I love go-carting. I need only get behind the wheel of a go-cart and I start laughing. On my middle brother’s wedding day, we took him go-carting in the morning, and we laughed more than we drove. I recently lucked upon an exhibit at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art called, “Blueprint for a Bogey.” In Glasgow, a bogey refers to a homemade go-cart, built of whatever is around, and then driven with reckless abandon by their child-creators. The exhibit was about “play”—the way in which we interfere with or restrict children’s instinctive desire to play, how we seem to lose our innate ability to play as adults, and how we might reclaim that prerogative.

Did you furrow your brow at that last sentence and think, “Playing isn’t appropriate for adults,” or some version of that thought? As adults we are so good at burdening ourselves with responsibilities, obligations, and expectations, that we sometimes feel shackled to our lives. Playing is the opposite—free, light, spacious, and unbounded. After all, play is a creative engagement with the world, without end, or purpose. Sounds grand.

Yet, as adults, we too often find it challenging to play. Everything we do has to have an agenda, even things that look, at first blush, like play, are, on closer examination, really pursuits in which we are aiming toward a goal—to achieve a certain skill level, to do a race or event, to get fit or lose weight, to win.

I was recently out playing on my slackline with my partner. That is, a tightrope-like piece of webbing, easily secured around two nicely spaced trees; and, in our case, low to the soft, grassy ground. A dog-walking woman asked, “Are you training for something?” Her question gave me pause. My only objective was to have fun; to relax; to enjoy hanging out in the park, listening to the thump of the basketball on the nearby court, watching the amazing variety of dogs as they sashayed past; to lean up against the fat tree and feel the rough ridges of bark digging into my back when it wasn’t my turn on the line. Was I being too aimless? Did I need to get more serious?

As adults we like to have an answer to the question “why” when we are doing something. We feel uncomfortable if there’s no good reason to pursue a particular activity. Add to that that we feel uncomfortable if we aren’t good at something. We reach a certain age and think we ought to be accomplished at everything we pursue. Think—how limiting is our desire or need to be expert. Add on top of that our fear of looking foolish, which increases with our age. Think more—how limiting is our desire or need to be thought well of.

Playing unfetters us. And what a relief it is to live, even if for only short interludes, in the wide-open expanse of playtime. How much more creativity and energy we will be able to bring to the rest of our lives.

Only days after I saw the Glasgow exhibit, a group of girlfriends took me out for a “mystery activity” night. I was instructed to meet them on a particular corner, wearing casual clothes, no skirt or dress. When I saw the mechanical bull in the middle of the appointed venue, I almost balked. No way. Not with people watching me. I’d make a fool of myself (I didn’t know at the time that Sex & the City had apparently bestowed a certain cool on the activity). Then I stopped to think more about that last—foolish? In whose eyes? Why? And why did I care?

I rode the bull. It was fun, and almost as exhilarating as go-carting. Like a child, I could have gotten right back on for a second ride.

Re-posted from Huffington Post