While in Canada last week, I happened to catch an article taped to a friend's refrigerator which discussed the revival of a heritage wheat grown by a local farmer. Laura Robbin, reporting for the Ottawa Citizen, told how Patricia Hastings discovered the wheat, and has been growing it for several years until she finally has enough to start marketing it. The Red Fife wheat, named for the Scotsman David Fife who brought it to Canada in the 1840s is causing quite a stir among bakers. Even royalty were impressed by the taste, and Prince Charles took a few bags home after a recent visit. But what makes it more interesting to me and others is the possibility of a flour that is more friendly to our digestive system.

Over the past several years more and more people have become gluten intolerant, even if they haven't been fully diagnosed with celiac's disease. In "Wheat Belly," a book by William Davis, Davis describes how today's wheat has been modified so that it has lost almost all resemblance to the wheat our grandparents ate. As a result it has wreaked havoc on many digestive systems and engendered quite a few health problems. Since my daughter has been gluten-intolerant over the past several years, I've learned how to bake with alternate grains, but the idea that heritage grains could be restored to our diets without negative side effects is intriguing.

I haven't found any place to buy the wheat locally, but hope that as more people become aware of the dangers of modified foods, heritage grains (and vegetables) will begin to show up with the frequency of organic foods and will result in a vast improvement in our collective health.
 

Does happiness really make a difference? Shawn Achor makes the case that a brain that is positive is more creative and learns better than a brain that's negative, neutral or stressed. Funny, enlightening and challenging.
 
Ever since I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (I got my certification about 6 years ago), I've been intrigued by the idea of grouping people into different "types." So when I came across the concept of body types (doshas), based on the Indian Ayurvedic system of health, I was intrigued. Although I don't have much knowledge about Ayurvedic medicine, I do think it is interesting to consider that different body types may have susceptibilities to different diseases, may react to stress in different ways, and can benefit from specific diets and health practices.

When looking looking into the dietary restrictions for the vatta dosha, for instance, I noticed that it involved eliminating some of the same foods that are suggested in studies I've read on Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Based on connections with anxiety in both the vatta constitution and contracting IBS, this diet seems to make some sense.

As with many ancient types of medicine, Ayurveda could probably benefit from the cutting edge of modern scientific research. I wish more time and energy was given to understanding alternative medicines, which focus more on preventing poor health, than in developng new drugs to cure poor health.  And I find the idea that we may have different energy levels and mindbody interactions compelling. It makes sense of why what may be extremely helpful in one situation, could be perhaps even harmful in another.

Anyway, as my indigestion has been off for the past several months, I'm experimenting whether changing my diet based on my dosha will be helpful. If nothing else, it's encouraging me to slow down, notice what I eat and how I feel when I eat it. If you're interested in some exploring yourself, I started at this link at the Dr. Oz website. I also found this blog post by Dr. Lissa Rankin at her website called OwningPink. If you have any interesting info or stories, pass them along!
 
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I'm currently in the midst of reading Healing the Eight Stages of Life  by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant and Dennis Linn. Recommended to me by my friend Cathleen Lauer, a spiritual director and all around wise woman, the book is a real find.

The authors use the eight developmental stages of life delineated by Erik Erikson as a basis for their work. At each stage different virtues are garnered; competencies are gained or lost, leaving holes in our ability to navigate well. For example, the play age (from 3-5) offers the opportunity to develop initiative. If this is denied or stymied, an oversensitivity to guilt may ensue.
Other stages affect trust, autonomy, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity.

What I appreciate most about the Linns and Fabricant, is their spiritual grounding as they work their way through the material. (Matthew and Dennis both come from Jesuit  backgrounds.) Several years ago, when my husband began to pastor, I learned firsthand about the importance of inner healing, and the power of forgiveness, prayer and positive affirmations of God's love and power. The prayer exercises that are offered at the end of each chapter provide good guidance for moving forward; they are specifically geared for healing of memories and patterns set during the time period covered. I'm finding good stuff for myself as I go back slowly through my life.

Unhealthy patterns keep us from becoming free, competent, and full of grace. I'm thankful for a thoughtful and careful resource to help me on my on-going quest for spiritual, emotional and cognitive health.

 
Last year I started eating kale after a friend introduced me to kale chips. The chips weren't really that good, but I was surprised that the taste of the kale wasn't bad at all. I figured that since it was probably good for me (isn't that what they say about dark, leafy vegetables?) I should add it to my diet. After a little research, I realized that there are a lot more things going for kale than I knew! Here are some pluses for this leafy veggie:

1. Major source of fiber
2. Two powerful antioxidants
3. Anti-inflammatory help with omega 3 and Vitamin K.
4. Vitamin A
5. Vitamin C

For additional info and some more benefits, you can check out this link.

The way I like kale the best is super easy. Don't buy the kale that's in bags, but choose the greenest, freshest looking bunch you find. Simply strip off the stem (this keeps the kale from being  bitter) and chop into bite-sized chunks. Put some olive oil in a frying pan and dump in the kale. Sprinkle with garlic salt and stir-fry several minutes until the kale is cooked, but still a bit al dente. It's OK if you don't like it - but if you do, what a great way to help your body out!

Kale is also a good ingredient for certain types of soups - I've always loved the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden which is full of kale. Here's a recipe that's very similar to one I use from Pioneer Woman. There are lots of pictures, but if you scroll down to the bottom, you'll find the ingredients and a simpler set of directions.
 

I must admit that I find checklists helpful. Especially when it comes to helping me reflect on how I'm living. As you might imagine, from someone who decided to start a website entitled "Let's Choose Joy," I'm pretty intentional about making choices that lead to a more healthy, integrated, joyful life.

Of course, the downside of being intentional is that you can become way too serious, unless you're intentional about not being serious, which is where checklists come in handy. Here's my latest attempt at seeking balance.

Be intentional about healing.
Whether it's emotional health or physical health, I still have areas that are in deficit mode. I don't assume that I'm as healthy as I can be, so I keep an eye out for twinges. Although I don't look for problems, I'm open to things that naturally appear.

Keep growing.
There are so many ways to grow, things to learn, skills to acquire, aspects of life to appreciate. Growing, unlike healing, doesn't start from a deficit. It may start from zero, but hangs out in the positive zone, and makes life lots more textured and interesting.

Don't forget to fill up.
Here's the part where having fun makes it to the list. I need to do things that have no obvious positive result - just fun for the sake of fun. I've finally found a music buddy, so last Sunday we grabbed 10.00 seats and took in an amazing concert by our local symphony. Hummed all the way home. Especially important is to know (and remember) those things that are pure joy to me.

Give.
While the other three categories focus on myself in appropriate ways, I remind myself of the joy that comes through giving to those around me. Whatever stage I am in I can always give. Even the gift of companionship is enough on a day I feel like I'm worn out. Or perhaps I can give others the opportunity to give to me. (The Golden Rule in Reverse).
 
Most mornings I try to start my day with protein, which translates into an omelet with spinach and feta cheese. I pair it with a glass of OJ and I'm set. On mornings when I have a few extra minutes, I sub out the OJ for a smoothie. This one is chock full of good things: bannaa (potassium), OJ (vitamin C), yogurt (protein and good bacteria), blueberries (antioxidant) and flax seed (fiber and Omega-3). But the real reason I make it is because it tastes great. Usually I just throw in the ingredients willy-nilly, but this morning I tried to measure it out a bit so you have a starting point. Here 'tis:

Morning Smoothie:
1/2 banana
1/2 - 3/4 c Orange Juice
1/2 c plain yogurt
2 t ground flax seed (I buy the seeds and pulverize them in the coffee grinder)
handful frozen blueberries

Throw it all in the blender and enjoy!
 

The New Year is on its way, reminding us of the power of new beginnings. I've been thinking of what it means to officially dismiss the person I used to be and embrace the person I am now. In the past I've had certain ways of coping, habits of behavior that have been downright harmful - not only to others, but also to myself. But I've been busy these past years: growing, learning, and changing. And it's good to remember that, to consciously switch up my profile picture, so that who I see myself as - and who I present to the world - more accurately reflects who I am now, not who I was then.

And when I've done it for myself, my next task will be to gently encourage others to see me in this new light. Over a family dinner last week, I made a comment about how one of my daughters had reacted in the past to a certain situation, back in those pre- and young teen years. Her face grimaced. But I'm not that way anymore, Mom, she protested. And it's true. It's painful for her to be reminded of that old person, just as it's painful for me to remember what it was like when she was in that stage. But we can just let it go, delete it from our pages. Because the new reality is the new reality. And the more we live out of it, the more true it becomes.
 
You've probably already seen more Christmas cookies than you want, given that Christmas parties often start in November, but here are some tips and a recipe to help deal with all the sugar that's coming your way over the rest of the holidays.

1. Make your sugar count! Since tons of sugar isn't good for anyone, make sure when you have something sweet, it's really good, and not just empty calories. Some store bought goodies really don't have much flavor, so what's the point? I'm often disappointed when I hit a dessert buffet or sample a plate of cookies; something that looks amazing tastes like cardboard. I'm learning to take a bite, and if it's not really yummy, to just put it aside.

2. Pair your sugar with protein. There are at least two reasons for this. First, protein is harder for your body to digest than sugar, and slows down the release of insulin. Too much insulin can cause you to store unused calories as fat. For more on this, you can check out this article. Second, sugar makes us sleepy and protein wakes us up, according to a recent article in "Wired" that you can read here.  And we need all the energy we can get around the holidays! If you have a hard time finding protein, you may want to carry a few sticks of celery in your purse (although not protein, they do have a high fiber content and help me balance sugar lows). Other easy options are nuts and cheese, which are often available at parties.

And on to the recipes: These both come from my mom via my grandfather who worked during his high school years as a baker, and was the family confectioner. We loved to visit their house at Christmas where tins of fudge, caramel corn, chocolate covered nuts and myriads more goodies were scattered throughout the living and dining rooms. Enjoy!

Baked Pop Corn (ss good as Cracker Jacks, really!)

4 quarts popped corn
1 c unsalted peanuts
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c butter
1/2 c corn syrup
1/2 t salt
1/2 t soda
1 t vanilla

Heat oven to 250. Place the popped corn and peanuts in a large pan. (I use my turkey roaster.) Combine sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt. Heat til boiling and boil for 5 minutes. (You can do this on the stove or in the microwave). Add soda and vanilla. (This is fun to do as it starts to puff up.) Immediately pour over popcorn and stir. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 5 or 10 minutes. When done, pour out on waxed paper so the corn doesn't stick to the pan.

Butter Cookies (our favorite cut out cookies)

Cream:
1 c butter
1 c sugar
1 egg
1/4 t salt
2 t vanilla (I think this is what makes them so yummy!)
Blend in: 2 2/3 c flour

Chill for one hour. Then roll out 1/8 inch thick and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 375 for 7-10 minutes or until edges just start to turn golden. Ice with your favorite frostings and sprinkles.
 

Several weeks ago a friend of mine started posting on her Facebook page a list of things she was thankful for. She called it the Daily Ten. Part of the Teach America program, this young woman works in a school where most if not all students are part of an Indian reservation. There are plenty of challenges. But even on days when it was a stretch, the combination of humorous, poignant and homey items, made for inspirational reading. I found myself looking forward to the end of each day when I could check it out. And I found myself thinking, this is really an idea worth imitating.

So last week I started. While my daily ten hasn't always made it to paper, I try to rehearse it at night before I go to bed. Although honestly, I think writing it down makes it even better. Here's what I'm noticing. I think of myself as a pretty grateful person, or at least a positive person, but even I have struggled this past year with bouts of depression or low energy. The first night I sat in bed thinking through my weary day about good things that had happened and it was difficult.

The next morning, realizing I would like to have 10 things to be thankful for by the end of the day, I decided to get an early start. Was there anything to be thankful for right now? Soon the list was started: breakfast with my daughter, a yummy omelet for the breakfast, slowing down enough to make smoothies which make any day special, healthy legs which made sweeping the floor a breeze. And so the day continued.

Not only did I find myself storing up things for my daily ten, I realized I was enjoying the moments, the individual moments that together stitch up a day. I was giving myself specific reasons to smile, which elevated my endorphin level and made me feel better. It's something as simple as which makes me realize there's a big difference between knowing what is good for you, and actually practicing it. 

And there's the rub. We know the things that make us healthy, but it takes time to slow down and add them regularly into our days. That's when having a list, or starting a routine is helpful. Like realizing that I need more iron, so grabbing a steak out of the freezer, and adding a large helping of kale, which I did last night. Now I think, I should just make one night a week steak and kale night, so I don't forget. If it's part of my routine, I'll know I'm getting what I need.

Adding iron to my diet, giving thanks, regular yoga. If I add one practice at a time it doesn't have to be overwhelming - just like making bread, kneading a little bit of flour at a time until it's just part of the loaf. And in the meantime I can be grateful for the progress I'm making. Wait - is that number 3 or 4 for today?