Holland in 2012

My street
My street

It was the day after my sister’s wedding when I boarded a plane for my first solo trip. This wasn’t the original plan. But life happened and I was no longer going to a wedding in Finland. Instead I decided to visit the country where my great-grandmother emigrated from._MG_9246 As usual, I didn’t have much planned after the first few days. Thanks to the sage advice of Rick Steves, I had a great room in Amsterdam. From this corner of the world, this old city began to feel like my own.

I rented a bike and rode all over town. I stayed a couple blocks away from where Anne Frank once hid through her adolescence. On my third day, I was flagged down while riding my bike and asked why I was alone. They had seen me coming and going over the past few days. I was a regular now.  We visited and kept in touch after I returned home. Traveling alone allows you to meet people and have conversations you otherwise never would._MG_9278

Martine was a beautiful lady I met on the train heading north to the islands. Her husband, a professor, had passed away a few years before. She loved to travel, but her friends would rather stay home. So she traveled the world alone. I loved talking to her._MG_9329

I had only a faint idea of my Dutch heritage. I knew my family were called Freislanders and that they came from the islands. Not knowing which one, I picked Terschelling and had a lovely time there. This was not a big tourist destination. It seemed mostly Dutch people traveled there for holiday, but not foreigners. I inquired about my relatives at the local museum on Terschelling, but the lady there told me instantly that they did not come from that island. She knew from the name._MG_9347 It was a small island. I traversed it on bike and saw some beautiful Dutch horses on the way. She gave me the name of a website which I looked up once I got home. From there I was able to find my relatives and trace them back hundreds of years from marriage license information.

IMG_2485 Some of my favorite books are the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, the group sails to the end of the world where the water gradually gets more and more shallow. This Wadden Sea went on endlessly shallow. A person could walk for ages and not get deeper than the knee.

The last town I visited was Delft, where the famous blue and white decorative ceramics are crafted. Here I had a fancy bathroom and a sound night’s sleep before returning home.IMG_2505

It was my first solo trip and a great, life-changing experience. I learned that I’m okay on my own. Even then I’m not alone.IMG_2481 IMG_2492

 

Uncle, Uncle

I started my new corporate job last week. It’s a great company, great people I work with, a fun department and challenging work. I haven’t done a corporate gig since the last millennium, so I’m adjusting to the new schedule. It’s working out well so far.
Today the CEO walked past our row of cubicles. Apparently this doesn’t happen often because there was a lot of buzz about it. It got me thinking about my Uncle John.

photo of John F. Akers

He would have caused a buzz like that walking past any floor in IBM. My uncle was the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world. The last time I saw him was at my parent’s house during Easter a couple years ago, the year before he passed away.
My new job has gotten me thinking about another uncle lately too. My new job title is “Editor”. This was my Uncle Roger’s title at People magazine. For a couple decades he was the senior editor at this major magazine and now, in a small way, I’m echoing that. I like my new job, and my new company. I’m excited about this opportunity and getting to know my new co-workers.

Motorcycles & The Grand Prix in Monte Carlo

Paris in 2000 It was raining in Paris, so we left.

 

 

 

We headed south for the coast of France and rented a couple motorcycles.  We explored Cannes, I had one of the best meals of my life in Nice. It was there I discovered Gnocchi, with my dad on his birthday.

We wound our way along the coast, through the small coastal towns of Southern France. Every time we rode around another point to see the next inlet of blue ocean and a steep coastline dotted with bright houses it took my breath away.Nice-France-for-Dads-Bday

I had learned how to ride a motorcycle earlier that year dirt biking in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I borrowed my friend Mike’s time-worn Honda to practice before leaving.

Italian’s drive a little more aggressively than drivers in the US. Similarly, my dad drives more aggressively than your average driver anywhere in the world except maybe Jeff Gordon. I did my best to keep up, but somewhere near San Remo we were passing a car on this winding coastal road as two motorcycles came at us in the oncoming lane. I was still on the center line and those two remained side-by-side. I think my bike had 125cc’s, so there wasn’t much power to get in front of the car I was passing. No room on the road! Dad had safely passed already. I avoided a head on collision bumping into the car I was passing. My foot hit the car’s front tire, I wobbled a little before regaining control. Biking-San-Remo

I was a little shaky pulling into San Remo a short time later. We may have gone a little slower after that. So there you have the story of one of my near death experiences. Next time, I’ll let dad go on ahead.

One morning, we were sitting outside eating breakfast and we heard this strange buzzing sound. It was like thousands of bees nearby. We listened for a few minutes before realizing it was the sound of Formula One engines racing through the streets of Monte Carlo. Monte-Carlo-Grand-PrixWe had passed through Monaco the day before and saw the race course being set up. But today the drivers were practicing on the course. Perfect! We returned to Monte Carlo and found seats on the last turn before these cars floored it through the iconic tunnel. It was loud. The drivers cut this corner so close each time that the banner hung there was torn to shreds by the first afternoon.

A perfect day finished with some Limoncello. Que Magnifico!

Rose Hip Seed Oil: Benefits

This natural oil helps fight fine lines and wrinkles while moisturizing. I use it daily using a roll-on applicator. No before and after pictures here, but I believe it’s doing the job. Rose hip seed oil “contains transretinoic acid, a derivative of vitamin A that is also known as tretinoin.” according to Livestrong.com.

rose hip oil Rosehip Seed oil also fights signs of aging with antioxidants. It also helps the skin heal and prevents scaring.

When it comes to choosing between the latest and greatest skin reviving serum being pushed at the mall for $300, or a five dollar bottle of rose hip seed oil, guess where my money is going… to Amazon!

While I was reading up on Rose Hip Oil for this post, I came across this recipe for a natural toner. So I’m off to find some rose water and try this out.

Rose Water & Apple Cider Vinegar Toner

What you need:

  • Pure, undiluted rose water, like Cortas
  • Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, like Bragg’s ACV

Use 3 parts rose water to 1 part ACV. Enjoy!

Vietnam in 2000

We spent Thanksgiving in Ho Chi Minh City with Megan who was spending four months teaching English there. Kia and I flew in to Seoul South Korea and spent the night in a Korean style room with mattresses on the heated floor before boarding a plane to Vietnam where we would spend the next couple weeks. We shopped in Korean markets which displayed cell phones with color displays as yet unheard of in the states at the time.

Megan met us at the airport with rice hats. We took a cab to her house which would be the only time we rode in an actual car for the rest of the trip. The city runs on scooters and motorcycles.

Vietnam Taxi Ride
Vietnam Taxi Ride

We had clothes custom made for us, including some silk china doll dresses. There were plenty of pre-made dresses to buy, but none of these fit my 5’10” self. We bought material at a fabric shop while playing patty cake with the local kids. Then we went to a seamstress. She took our measurements, looked at some of the pictures we brought from home, them made us awesome outfits for $8-$10 each.Silk Dresses

We toured the Mekong Delta. But before that, we got food poisoning from an upscale Chinese food restaurant serving drunken prawns. I’ve never been so sick in my life. That night president Clinton made the first visit to Vietnam from an American president since the war. The streets were going crazy in celebration and I didn’t have the strength to stand at the window and watch. Still, it was cool to hear and witness that.

The museums in Vietnam show history from a different side than we Americans are used to. We lost that war. The museums showed atrocities committed by American soldiers and the damage done to that country rather than celebrating any freedom we had hoped to bring. It was a different story in Korea where the war memorial celebrated the various countries that helped South Korea escape communism. The Vietnamese museum was the first place I’ve experienced feeling like I was on the losing side of history. Helicopters from 30 years before still littered the airfield.

new old friend
new old friend

Kia, Megan and I got head massages. They lasted for one hour. It cost $1. It felt amazing. I looked like a Qtip after with my short platinum hair sticking straight up and frizzing all over the place after. Totally worth it!

one dollar head massage
16,000 vietnam dong head massage

Taj Mahal in 2000

Dad and I had arrived in New Delhi at night. The temperature had cooled so as the cab driver drove us to our hotel room, we watched the crowded streets as thousands of people flocked to the grassy fields and park areas for late night picnics. Before dropping us off at the Ramada Inn, our taxi driver taught us to greet the people of India. “Namaste” means “all of god’s goodness be with you.” It’s a beautiful word.

We toured the carpet factory as Suresh and Sushma led us through. Sushma was quiet, but she instantly felt like my friend. The guy in charge of mixing carpet dye was ancient and worked over a large kettle of liquid to which he would add the dye later mixing it with the wool for custom rugs. “He can smell the color!” Suresh told us with conviction.

After our rug tour, they sent us a driver to take us to Agra. It was a long drive. On the way we would see many trucks overturned, presumably crashed in order to miss hitting something in the road such as a person or a cow. There were many cows and monkeys roaming about. It was fascinating. Also, people all along the road for the 230km journey were seen squatting, defecating, and carrying on in squalid living conditions. It was sad and exhausting and eye opening.

The Taj Mahal was a beautiful building constructed as a mausoleum for the wife of some big shot. It was beautiful and ornate but much smaller than I had imagined. One must take off their shoes before entering. There are millions of visitors here. Fortunately we made it through without contracting disease to our bare feet.

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal 2000

There were many people on pilgrimage visiting the Taj Mahal. One couple I spoke to had come for their honeymoon. Several people asked to take pictures with me and my dad. With my short blonde hair, his guess was perhaps they thought I was Sharon Stone.

I handed out candy to a few children who were begging. This quickly turned into a throng of children surrounding us with palms open and raised, begging for more. My dad tossed the bag into the crowd and we left.

There were beautiful people there, colorful, desperate, hopeful, talented, happy people there. I don’t understand India. I don’t understand the starvation while emaciated cows roam the streets. I don’t understand the filth and poverty that so many millions of people live in, nor the abundance of others. There were so many bright smiles there…and so many lost and desperate souls.

Prague 1998

We rented a car and drove throughout Europe in the summer of 1998. It was Sheryl and me together with our moms. On this day though, we had to leave the car behind. The rental car company would not allow us to drive into the recently opened Czech Republic. So we sat down on the train, four seats facing each other in pairs, ready for a full day of adventures. It was sunny and warm and we had our backpacks supplied for a day trip to Prague.

Just before the train pulled out of the station, a very friendly young man passed by and asked Sheryl, “Can I have a sip of your water?” Sweet Sheryl had one of those tall bottles of Evian water as yet unopened. It would last her a full day in the 100+ heat. But this guy reached out his hand as she hesitantly agreed. He cracked it opened, took a swig and handed it back to her enthusiastically saying “Thanks!” She had such a look of disgusted disappointment on her face. It hadn’t occurred to her early enough to tell the vagrant who obviously hadn’t bathed in many days that “no, you cannot sip from my water bottle.”

Lesson learned: It is wholly appropriate and necessary to say “no” sometimes and often…even to very friendly people who smile though green teeth.

Prague 1998
Praha 1998

rAWWWW Nuts!

Looking for a nutritious snack option?

Since we have been eating healthier and removing pre-packaged, processed food from our pantry and our diet, we are in need of finding alternatives. Nuts in moderation are a fantastic option. Even better- Raw Nuts! The roasting process can trigger the release of harmful chemicals in some nuts, like acrylamide in roasted almonds. So it’s best to eat them raw.

health benefits of raw nuts
photo credit- Steffen Zahn, creative commons

Eating raw nuts can reduce your risk of developing serious chronic diseases. These little gems can reduce the risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure, lower weight, reduce waist circumference and increase heart health.

Will eating nuts make you fat?

It’s a myth that eating foods high in healthy fat will make you fatter. In fact, it’s better to eat nuts that things with more complex carbs. According to this study, people who ate a low-calorie diet that included almonds vs. complex carbs, the almond group had a:

  • 62 percent greater reduction in their weight/BMI
  • 50 percent greater reduction in waist circumference
  • 56 percent greater reduction in body fat

Another study in the journal Obesity also stated that eating nuts two or more times per week was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.

Which nuts are best to eat?

Look for raw & organic nuts. Note: peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes. They’re also apparently one of the most pesticide laden things you can eat.

 Some of the best nuts for your health are:

Almonds: almond skins are rich in antioxidants, phenols and flavonoids which can help prevent cancer and promote healthy aging. (In North America, nearly all almonds are pasteurized even if they’re labeled raw.)

Walnuts: help get those free radicals and reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancers. For further reading, check this article out about how the FDA says walnuts, broccoli and some other foods should be labeled as a drug for their healing properties!

Pecans: With over 19 vitamins and minerals, these babies can lower bad cholesterol and promote healthy arteries.

Soaking nuts, especially walnuts, can make the flavor better. It can also increase the enzyme activity which increases your body’s ability to absorb their nutrients and digest them. Soak nuts from anywhere between 20 minutes to 2-3 hours, then discard the water. Even better, soak them overnight in glass, not plastic.

Some nuts are more suited to roasting than others. For example, the health benefits of cashews are not greatly reduced with roasting.

 My favorite place to get nuts, raw or roasted, is in the bulk bins at Sprouts. There are an abundance of choices. Try them all and see what you like best. My favorite is Macadamia Nuts! I pretend I’m in snacking in Hawaii whenever I grab a handful.

What’s Your Story

I took a road trip this weekend. I love road trips. The sun was shining. The music was blasting. The red and blue lights twinkled in my rear view mirror. Wait. That last part wasn’t so great. I’m convinced that the speed limit on the 5 should be no less than 100 mph. Since the California Bullet Train is at least a millenia from completion, please give us this little favor. How many times can a person traverse the vast expanse of the Dust Bowl actually going the speed limit? Nevertheless, I enjoyed my drive to not-so-sunny San Diego. In fact, the only sun I saw while attending the Storyline Conference at Point Loma was this beautiful sunset. If there’s only going to be 10 minutes of sun for the weekend, this is how I’d like to see it.

Sunset at Storyline Point Loma
Storyline at Point Loma

Palm fronds littered the streets and trees fell in the soggy ground and high winds. Meanwhile, I sat in an auditorium and listened to awesome speakers like Jon Acuff, Bob Goff, Donald Miller, Kristen Howerton and Anne Lamott. Also, this guy was here…

And this guy

The Storyline conference is to help people figure out how to live a more meaningful story. I discovered this group after reading several of Donald Miller’s books and then reading his storylineblog.com. We were encouraged to look at the different events in our life, both positive and negative. When we can find a redemptive purpose for our suffering, some meaning behind the negative things that happen, then it ceases to be suffering. “Joy is what you experience after the pain changes you” says Donald Miller. Bob Goff encouraged us all to Live in Grace and Walk in Love and also to see people for who they are turning into, their better, future selves.

When I look back at my life at the age of 75, what do I want it to look like? Instead of ending with regret at not having invested enough in important relationships or ignoring dreams, do this:

-Cultivate deep friendships
-Be Grateful
-Don’t ignore your dreams
-Project who you were created to be onto the world
-Keep work & relationships in balance

This list was made as a warning after a nurse listened to the 5 most common regrets of many elderly dying:

-They ignored their dreams
-The worked too much
-They didn’t say what they thought
-They wished they had made more friends
-They wished they had chosen to be happier

I love that happiness is a choice and it has to do with gratitude.

Storyline Sunset
What will you think of your life when you’re 75?

So, the conference was great. In addition to that, I got to visit with two dear friends. I stayed with one in Escondido. She has three beautiful kids whom she’s homeschooling. I played volleyball with both these girls in college and it was so fun to see them as moms. Tired moms. Are there any moms of young kids that actually have energy? Please, I’d love to hear from you. The second friend I visited on the way home has four boys. This is the girl who said she would never have kids. She’s an awesome mom, and also runs a school. On my drive down, I also got to pay a quick visit to two old surf buddies too. Kids were everywhere, mostly boys. In fact, of the 4 friends I saw, there were 9 boys, one girl, and one more boy being born as I type this.

As I drove into Palm Desert to visit my friend Deb, I was running low on gas. I was running low on oil. I needed to pee. 400 yards from my exit, the car started to sputter and cough. It coughed up the off ramp and through the stop light and into the gas station where it died. I had no power steering as I coasted to the pump. The timing could not have been more perfect. I filled what I needed to. I emptied what I needed to. I got to church almost on time. I got to see my dear friend and not get towed out of the desert. It was amazing. The sunset. The gas pump. The speeding ticket. The old friends. The weekend was a reset. It filled up my gas tank, and my oil, and relieved me. Okay, I’m taking that pit stop analogy a little too far.

If you want to learn more about Storyline, click here. You can also start planning your story on this cool site at mysubplot.com. It’s free.

Two Months in Review

It’s been two months since I first visited EWG.org and read about the different chemicals and carcinogens that are added to almost everything in our lives. Today I’d like to take a look at what changes we’ve made so far and how they’ve affected us.

My main motivations for changing to a more healthy, all-natural lifestyle are to try and reduce asthma and allergies suffered by my youngest son and me. I’ve been learning about how much disease in America is preventable with good diet and exercise. Cancer struck very close to home a few months ago too.

warning labelHow many times have we read a label that states that the product we are using in “known to cause cancer” and yet we go ahead and purchase and use it in our homes? How many products do we apply to our skin, our face, our clothes, our dishes, that are absorbed into our bodies that are harmful to us? I’m taking a more thorough look at the ingredient labels. I’m educating myself on what I’m purchasing. I hope to drastically reduce the amount of harmful toxins, chemicals and carcinogens that leech into our bodies.

This journey began two months ago, not long after I returned from the funeral of a dear friend and college volleyball teammate who died of breast cancer. She left behind a two year old daughter, a loving husband and many family and friends who just couldn’t believe that this vibrant, healthy, athletic young woman lost her life so early.

First, I made a list of every product I had in my bathroom. There were about 16 different things I’d put on before I even had my first cup of coffee in the morning between face soap, moisturizers, shampoo, make-up and the cleaners I had in there. I did this for each room in my home and came up with an extensive list of personal care and cleaning products.

Then, I looked up each product on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, and Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. I wrote down the grades of each product from A to F, just like in school. Almost everything was an F, even the baby laundry detergent that I once bought for my newborns. I was shocked.  There is extensive information on what ingredients cause what harm and I focused closely on which things caused asthma.

After I learned what to avoid, I wrote down next to each of my old products a newer, healthier alternative to use. This has been an ongoing project. I’m still working my way through the list. I’m interested in making a healthier home. I’m also interested in being as frugal as possible. I didn’t just want to throw everything out. I returned unopened products to the store. This gave me about $85 to buy newer, healthier products. There are a great deal of household products that are simply and easily made out of cheap ingredients already in your pantry, namely baking soda, vinegar and honey.

So far, I’ve been using 7th Generation for my laundry and dishwasher and that’s working out nicely. I briefly returned to soap nuts for laundry, but was a little disappointed. I had one load that didn’t smell too fresh. I’ll give them another go down the road. I’m a little concerned about smelling okay since I’ve also changed my deodorant and gotten rid of most fragrance in our cleaners. I’ve asked a friend to let me know if I start smelling “crunchy”. Haha. But so far I’m okay.

I clean my sink with baking soda and vinegar now instead of my old abrasive cleaner and it works like a charm.  I made a solution of all-purpose cleaner and put it in the “GreenWorks” spray bottle. I was shocked to learn that “GreenWorks” got an “F” too! My new disinfecting spray is made of :

1/2 tsp castile soap
3 Tbs white vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda ( I haven’t found washing soda yet)
2 cups hot water

I use this to clean my counters, table, walls, bathrooms, etc. It works great. I’m not a huge fan of cleaning though and pretty much think of it as a complete waste of my time. However, I don’t like to live in filth, so I’m always reaching for that perfect balance: having a clean home and not spending time cleaning it. This is impossible of course, because I have three little boys. It’s like living with little tornados of grime & Legos. Cleaning is a losing battle, but at least it’s more healthy now.

I changed my make-up, moisturizer, face wash and deodorant. It’s working okay. I still have about the same amount of acne, but that might be caused by the change in my diet. I’m eating less processed foods and meat and much more veggies. I’m wondering if all the nuts and avocados I’ve recently been devouring is adding to my youthful looking skin. By “youthful” I mean acne like I’m still in high school. It’s never gone away. I’m getting by without prescription medication for it now. I was on that for the past few years. So it’s improved. I’d just like it to be gone completely. Same thing with allergies in the spring. They’re still there. We’ll see if they’re less severe this year. I just started my sneezing and itchy eye routine this week.

The houseplants I purchased weeks ago are (all but one) still alive. This is a miracle and I’m very pleased with this. I don’t have any way to measure how clean our air is. But supposedly the plants are cleaning it. Asthma does seem to be a little better around here, although both my son and I still need inhalers occasionally.

We’ve been eating much healthier. Unfortunately my sons are not quite as excited as I am about all the new vegetable recipes I’ve been finding. I keep hoping their taste will adjust and they’ll start loving cilantro, avocados, quinoa and sweet potatoes. I’ll just keep trying new things. I hate to admit how poorly I was cooking for them this past year. It was a difficult year personally and dinners suffered. There were plenty of nights when we ate pizza or chili mac and there was no veggie on the plate. Now there are mostly veggies on the plate with a little pasta or fish.

How about you dear reader? Have you made any new healthy choices recently. I’d love to hear about it.