Random Thoughts of a Morning Person

Waterfront Park, Charleston, DC
Morning calm in Charleston, SC. Taken during a visit to the town a few years ago.

I don’t know when I became a morning person. I just know that I haven’t always been one. For example, in college, I seemed to be the most productive at night. That was when I was able to churn out “A” quality essays and research papers. I would spend my days working, interning, doing reading assignments or conducting research but evening time was when all that day time business came to fruitation because it was the work I did at night that appeared before my professors and earned me my grade—not all that behind-the-scenes activity I did during normal waking hours. Continue reading

Notes from Two Weeks on a Soup Cleanse

I know it sounds counter-intuitive to go on a cleanse or diet of any kind during the holidays, but after over-indulging in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (not to mention on the big day itself and several days of leftovers afterwards), I decided I had to do something about my out-of-control eating habits.

So after reading about the Souper Girl one-week (or more if you desire) soup cleanse in The Washington Post, I thought I’d give it a try. Lord knows I wouldn’t survive a juice cleanse, and I tried no-carb dieting last year (with much success but so much self-torture that I don’t think I can put myself through it again), I thought it was time to try something new. My expectations weren’t too demanding (and I think that has been the key to my success with this cleanse). I didn’t expect to lose weight after just one week doing this, but I did expect to reset my voracious appetite, curb my cravings for junk food, and literally cleanse my body of all the garbage I had been eating leading up to now.

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Souper Girl’s cleanse did not disappoint. You do it in one week intervals, and it consists of four homemade, locally sourced, vegan, kosher soups a day for five days with two days off in-between where you substitute your soups with natural vegan foods like brown rice, hummus and veggies, quinoa and other similar meals. (I’m not a vegan but was open to trying this.)

Lucky for me, I live within Souper Girl’s delivery zone and received my week’s worth of soups right at my door, with flavors consisting of the likes of Brazilian Black Bean, Wheat Berry Minestrone, Curried Split Pea Appel Kale, Gingered Sweet Potato, Barley Chickpea Kale, Hearty Lentil Butternut Squash and Greens, and Gingered Carrot Orange just to name a few.

As is the key for most diets or cleanses, the first 1-3 days can be the most difficult as your body goes through a sort of withdrawal. But, again, as with most diets or cleanses, the key is to stay busy. And thank God that is exactly how my first week went on the cleanse. I was so busy at work (and over the weekend), that I simply did not have time to think about mindless eating. Having a scheduled eating regiment actually worked well with my lifestyle (and continues to).

Luckily, the soups are very filling and range to about 1,000-1,200 calories a day. You start your day with the highest calorie soup and work your way through to the lowest. And better yet, the portions are very generous (it’s a proper bowl of soup, not a cup) and because they are homemade, they are so incredibly tasty that each one was a treat to look forward to. I really did enjoy my first week on the cleanse, so much that I signed up for a second week.

What I like about it:

  • Truly delicious soups
  • Big portions and very filling
  • Packed with nutritious ingredients
  • Convenient to prepare (just microwave in the container the soups come in)
  • The “off” days offer flexibility in your diet
  • Curbs your cravings
  • Resets your appetite
  • A glass of wine a day is allowed
  • Actually does cleanse your insides
  • I lost 2 pounds; probably water weight, but it was water weight that needed to go

What I don’t like about it:

  • It’s a little pricy ($135 for a week’s supply however, repeat buyers get a $10 discount, but still…)
  • Toward the end of the first week of the cleanse I did get a little sick of soup overall, but it obviously was temporary since I signed up for a second week and continue to enjoy it

Lessons learned from the experience:

Diet truly does affect your body, both inside and out: I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but I lost enough water weight so that my clothes fit more comfortably, and my body literally was working around the clock releasing all the junk that had accumulated inside me over the weeks.

Homemade makes a difference: I’ve tried commercial diets before, and while they worked well for me, they weren’t very tasty. I truly do believe the fact that these soups were homemade made a difference in this cleanse experience. They tasted divine and were not skimpy portions.

Flexibility in a diet really helps: The fact that this cleanse has two off days really helped, and after the first week of successfully following my “off day guidelines,” I felt comfortable enough to indulge in just one meal of evil carbs and fat (pasta carbonara and fried mozzarella) knowing that the next day (and several days after), I’d be back into the routine of healthy soup eating.

Veganism is not bad: No, the experience did not convert me; I will continue to consume meat and eggs and milk and such, but I learned that my body can function just fine without those products, too. If anything, I didn’t get sleepy mid-afternoon (as I usually do at work), and I attribute that to the cleanse and likely vegan aspect of the diet.

So with two more weeks to go until Christmas, I feel much more comfortable confronting the holiday and all it’s glorious junk food and am happy to know that afterwards, I have a plan to get back on track and stay that way until next holiday season.

 

Escaping a Rut

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Just the other day as I was cleaning up the photos on my iPhone, I noticed a disturbing trend. All my pictures looked like crap. I used to be such an avid “photographer.” I used to take decent pictures of interesting subjects. I used to have “an eye,” as people would tell me, yet recently, I seemed to have lost the gift of the photographer’s “natural viewfinder.” Of course, the first thing I did was blame my iPhone.

Aw, it’s not a real camera. It makes photographers lazy. Anyone can take pictures with a smart phone these days.

Then I started to blame my environment.

There’s nothing photogenic about where I live. This city is boring from an aesthetic point of view. There’s nothing here that makes an interesting picture. This town is a photographic cliche. 

And perhaps in a final act of denial, I blamed my lifestyle.

All I do is work, and it’s killed all creativity within me. I have no energy to be creative. I have no time.

Perhaps, in a sense, all of the above were true, but what it really took to get my creative juices flowing again was a trip out of town. Nothing opens one’s eyes as much as exposure to new places and scenes and this happened to be just what I needed.

So, starting mid-morning today a girlfriend picked me up in her little blue Mazda and drove us out to Manassas Battlefield Park in Virginia where we hiked and walked the various trails, cameras in hand, soaking in all the views around us—both man-made and God-made. And it was as if a switch then turned on inside of me. Suddenly, everywhere I looked I saw a potential postcard picture. It was as if by instinct that I knew what angle to take my pictures at and how to maximize the landscape before me. Whatever creativity I lacked when I woke up this morning at home suddenly came alive out there on the battlefield.

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It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and once you’re in a rut, it can be hard to escape. Exhaustion, negativity, hopelessness—it can all weigh down on you and suddenly you can lose the ability to see the good and beauty in what’s around you. You seem to lose that self-confidence you once had. It’s suddenly harder to think outside the box, to find that spirit of creativity that is buried deep inside you.

They always say you should take a step back and examine your surroundings whenever encountering such roadblocks. I would take that a step further. For a more radical change, temporarily leave your familiar environment altogether and explore a new place. You’ll find it rekindles a sense of curiosity within you and once that happens, you’ll notice other positive changes; a renewed feeling of adventure, excitement and even joy as suddenly the little ordinary things such as a house, a tree or even the sky, take on a whole new appearance in your eyes.

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The trees may seem more interesting, the sky bigger, the air fresher, the landscape wider. Your entire perspective shifts. This is a good thing. And it’s important.

So the next time you feel stuck in life, get out of the house, get out of town, and go find yourself again in a new surrounding. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.

Origins

This weekend I hosted my parents in Northern Virginia/Washington, DC. They’ve been here before, but it’s been a few years and a lot has changed since their last visit. For one thing, there are new buildings, new restaurants, and new stores throughout Northern Virginia. The Mall has a new Smithsonian museum—The National Museum of African American History and Culture. I live in a new condo, in a new neighborhood and a new zip code, and as part of that process I have purchased new furniture and decor, completely transforming all they have previously known to be associated with me and where I live.

I have a newish job. My social circle has changed as friends of mine they have met have moved away to other states and new ones have entered my life, albeit at a cautiously slow pace. I am older, my cat is fatter and things are overall…different. I may not have moved far, but so much about this area has changed since they were last here. It was like a new vacation despite the fact that they have visited before.

And they have changed too, I noticed. They aren’t elderly, and they are both healthy, but they are also both slower than I remember (although this city is pretty fast). They tire faster. They don’t hear as well as they used to (granted, NoVa and DC have become pretty loud places when you venture from home; restaurants like to blare their music, traffic is in surround sound, and you can hear everyone’s conversations). For the first time since living here and hosting them, they seemed more Midwestern than ever in this fast-paced East Coast environment.

And in many, many ways, it was comforting, endearing. These are the people who raised me. They brought with them to NoVa/DC the values and comforts I grew up with and have since lost in this crazy part of the country: the appreciation for a good, wholesome breakfast at a local diner (thank you Bob and Ediths!); a sense of patience in this impatient world (politeness in the face of appalling customer service); delight in nature and animals (the National Zoo continues to bring them joy); and awe and amazement at the fast-paced, cut-throat world I live in.

Sometimes we need reminders of where we come from, whether our origins are good or bad, we still need to remember where we started out and who helped us get to where we are today.

 

Remembering to Breathe

A friend recently complained on Facebook about how long it takes her to do even the simplest things in this town. For example, she had to take an entire day off work just to complete the mandatory annual vehicle safety test all Virginia car owners must do (and pay for). Imagine having to take an entire day off work to do vehicle maintenance work as mandated by law! Did she really have to take the whole day off to do this? Probably not. I’ve spent about half a day of my weekend doing the same exam, but I didn’t like it—weekends are precious to me.

She then went on to vent about how taxing it is just to buy a loaf of bread at the grocery store. That is literally true. Here, you have to deal with traffic, crowded grocery stores and long lines at the check-out. (That’s why I buy the majority of my groceries online and have them delivered to my home. And for items—especially certain produce and health and beauty products—that require an in-person visit to the store, I wake up early on a weekend and hit the shops before 10:00 a.m. when the streets and stores are empty. With the exception of getting up early, it’s relatively painless, and I still have the entire day/weekend to do non-errand-related things.)

But I do get her point. The suburbs of DC are not really suburbs. They are very urban and have extremely high population densities which means congested roads even on weekends, crowded shops and long lines. Coming from rural Minnesota, I can confirm that her complaint is legit, it truly is a chore to do the simplest things in this town due to the massive amount of people wanting to do the same thing as you at the very same time. (Happy are those who telework or have flexible schedules during the week while the rest of us are at the office!)

Because such daily struggles are so real here in DC/Northern Virginia, this article really spoke to me. It talks about eliminating certain things from your schedule so you can do more of the things you enjoy. It sounds simple and rational, but it is harder to do than it sounds. But if you can manage to make some small changes in this direction, noticeable benefits do arise. Some key take-aways from the article (emphasis is mine) include:

“With fewer activities, there’s less stress on your calendar and your budget. You have less worry about carpools, traffic, and arrival times. You relieve that feeling of living through over-full, overcomplicated days.

“More free time means more space for stillness and contemplation. It means more space for dreams and growth. It means more time for listening and reflecting.”

“When there’s open space in your calendar, there’s more room in your heart for considering your place in the world, for thinking about who you are and how you intend to live.”

This may all seem boring to some people out there. Especially those who need constant motion and company. But I think there is value in this philosophy for everyone.

A good friend of mine is recovering from surgery and has been told to give herself six weeks of physical rest before she can live the way she was living before her procedure. Already in week two, it is driving her nuts because she wants to go to the gym, move around and push herself physically, much like she did before her operation. And she even tried to do so after her surgery, but quickly learned it was a bad idea. There is something to be said about rest and disciplined stillness, whether it is physical or mental. There is nothing wrong with slowing down and reflecting. In fact, that is how some of the greatest inspirations are born—out of thoughtfulness, silence, thought. Action followed, but it required some silent thinking first.

So while the Western world (and DC especially) glorifies constant movement, busyness and action, I no longer buy into the hype that those who don’t constantly hustle fall behind. Those who don’t also remember to breathe and reflect will, in the end, cause themselves more harm than good. The challenge is making those arrangements in our lives to be able to do all this—to slow down, reflect and contemplate.

It is possible though and it does require sacrifice. But, I have found, it is totally worth it.

Seasonal Shifts

This time of year in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, something shifts in the atmosphere. It’s very slight, but also very noticeable. The sun’s patterns begin to change, the nights get a shade darker, the air oh-so-graudally begins to dry out. The mornings are a tinge cooler, the evenings a little more comfortable. It’s not so much that the seasons begin to change this time in August as much as it is the fact that summer is simply coming to an end.

I’ve seen this subtle transformation take place in different parts of the world, and I’ve seen how different cultures respond to it. In Kyrgyzstan where I did my Peace Corps service, the people of the Chui Valley start the canning process, preserving their fruits and vegetables while the harvest is plentiful and healthy. Beets, onions, berries, cherries, pickles, carrots and peaches. All of it stuffed tightly into jars with salts and seasonings, sugars and spices, stored away for those long winter days and nights that are not too far away.

In South Korea, you know summer is coming to an end when you start to see red chili peppers drying out in the sun on top of blankets and tarps spread out on the sidewalks. No doubt these fiery delights are being prepped for the autumnal kimchi crop, soon to be packed into clay pots along with a variety of salts and seasonings where they will ferment with a mixture of cabbage, scallions, and sometimes dried fish, all part of the age-old process of producing one of the country’s traditional side dishes—a product of huge national pride.

Yes, there are many ways the world reacts to the end of summer.

Soju on the rug

This year in our home, the end of summer coincides with our continuous home decorating efforts. Our bare condo is slowly showing signs of warmth and comfort, and even though our work would have taken place no matter what time of year I purchased and moved into the place, the “nesting” activities only further emphasize the coming fall ahead. Just a few days ago the new braided rug arrived for the master bedroom, covering the hard bamboo floors with a cushion of softness and traditional coziness, reminiscent of my childhood days growing up in rural Minnesota in a home full of beautiful braided rugs, often with a dog lying on top. Of course, now that I am on my own the dog has been replaced a cat, but the tradition of creating an inviting sense of warmth that was so prominent in my childhood house continues in my “adult” abode.

I’ve even noticed my music playlist gradually changing. The Nicki Minaj, Enrique Iglesias, SWAAY and Jason Derulo tunes are being swapped out for James Taylor, Nora Jones, The Zach Brown Band and Alison Krauss songs. And alas, the kitchen table is not being spared either as it sees less watermelon and more spaghetti squash.

Summer is ending. What changes are you making as you prepare for the transition into fall?

Simple Pleasures Part II

I have these quirky little fantasies. One is to call in sick to work on a cold, rainy day and spend my time at home painting acrylic on canvas pictures while listening to classical music or jazz. (Something that will never happen as I don’t call in sick unless I really am.) Another is to spend my entire weekend in my PJs, curled up on the couch reading books or watching Netflix. (My sectional and accent chair arrive early August and then that fantasy can come true!) Another is to be able to write this blog from my new private balcony with a piece of key lime or pecan pie (depending on the season) on the table next to my laptop. (That dream might be a few months away as I need to save for outdoor furniture.) Kind of weird, right? At age 38, I’m starting to sound like an old woman!

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This morning I got to experience one of my other quirky little fantasies—sitting at my new kitchen table, coloring in my favorite adult coloring book (sounds so scandalous, but it’s not) while enjoying a warm cup of milk tea.

Some people might read all this and think of me as being painfully introverted. It’s true, when taking the Myers-Briggs test I always score slightly introverted, but just barely, for some reason. I do feel I am more introverted than I test, however, but it’s not because I feel uncomfortable socializing—I don’t. I have no problem introducing myself to a group of people I don’t know or killing it at networking events. I can also speak publicly with little anxiety. It’s just that after a while, it all starts to drain me. And on top of an extremely stressful job, the easiest way for me to unwind is to spend some time alone doing some simple, but relaxing activities. For some reason, these bring me a lot of joy. Sadly, they are mostly fantasies, however, as life rarely seems to slow down enough for me to do any of these things I long to do.

Today I got lucky, though. J. Miguel is at a Peruvian festival I opted not to join so I’m alone in the condo, finally able to enjoy my new home as these past weekends have been full of work or social obligations that have taken me out of the condo. So today I’m going to finish coloring this picture (or not), publish this blog post, make some pasta for lunch with a glass of crisp white wine and finish watching “The American,” starring George Clooney, on Netflix.

I will accomplish absolutely nothing today except a total recharge of my social and physical batteries, and I will enjoy every single minute of it.