Friday, December 20, 2013

Irish Elf

I don’t like anything getting in the way of my holiday cheer. I’m a bit of a Christmas professional; I look at the month of December as something to prepare for, both mentally and physically. Each year, I aim to be rested, energized and in full holiday spirit by Thanksgiving. For a girl who works her butt off and lives thousands of miles from most of her family and childhood friends, I crave, love and enjoy the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s like the proverbial fat kid does cake. I take pains to lighten my workload so I can maximize every opportunity to connect with much-missed loved ones, celebrate a year of hard work and soak up every ounce of goodwill and human kindness as fuel for the coming year.  There are a few things that threaten the sanctity of Christmastime though; regardless of how we plan for and enjoy the holidays, they still can be a source of stress and tension. If there’s one thing this Irish elf has learned, it’s that you’ve got to strike the right balance of precautionary measures and damage control to have a fulfilling season every year. Below are some tips and tricks that have proved increasingly valuable to me as I get older. Although some are almost ridiculously simple and, at first glance, intuitive, if you’re a woman, it’s highly likely you need to be reminded often of the importance of caring for yourself FIRST.

1.       Sleep. It’s supremely important. Lack of sleep affects our mood stability, cognitive ability, metabolism and in my experience, ability to maintain perspective. If you’re exhausted, find a way to get the rest you need. Ask for help, ship the kids off to the mall, and sedate your husband with wine if you have to. Just get your head on that pillow so you don’t feel like you’re wearing muddy glasses all month long instead of rose-colored ones. If you’re reaction to this recommendation is “Who has time for sleep?!” you probably need it more than anyone.  

2.       Eat. Nourish yourself. If you’re bouncing from daycare drop-off to work to the mall to the dry-cleaner to daycare to the grocery store before the sun sets, you need sufficient energy to power your body through the run-around and nourishment to keep you sane. Lots of healthy fats and proteins help do both. No need to make a gourmet meal, try making a smoothie the night before and grab it on your way out in the morning. (See below for a yummy Gingerbread Smoothie recipe I created this week!) Keep your purse, car, office stocked with raw unsalted nuts, fresh seasonal fruit, raw veggies and hummus, hard-boiled eggs, and other simple, whole, healthy snacks.

3.       Listen. Slow down long enough to respond to indications that you need a break or a moment for yourself. If you’re freaking out over lost scissors and Scotch tape, put the wrapping paper down and take a walk or draw a bath, but don’t wait until you’re past boiling point and freak out on the next caroler that rings your bell.

4.       Indulge mindfully. No one wants to deprive themselves during the holidays, but over-indulging will do as much damage as under-nourishing. Unless you want to put your mood and energy in a tailspin, go easy on the sugar and alcohol especially.  You’re far more likely to respond to stressful triggers if you eat every heavy appetizer put under your nose and wash them all down with chocolate martinis. Sugar cravings, binge-induced self-loathing and killer hangovers lead to holiday bulge, not holiday cheer.  Moderation is always more difficult for me this time of year, but when I can manage to be selective with my Christmas Party indulgences and balance them out with healthy, nourishing meals at home, I inevitably feel more energetic, stable and a little proud of myself too.

5.       Be kind. And gentle. If and when you’ve overdone it, don’t punish yourself by skipping meals or hammering a double cheeseburger. Your body needs the right amount, and right kind, of energy to flush out toxins after a night of eggnog and peppermint fudge. If you went to town on the greasy apps and drinks yesterday, be gentle on your system today. Skip coffee and aim for low – no added sugar. Start with a smoothie that has protein, healthy fats, fiber and greens in it in the morning. Try drinking green juices between small, simple meals like sautéed greens with grilled chicken breast or pureed vegetable soup with a small side salad. The more nutrient dense liquids you can consume the better – your taxed system will be able to absorb and replenish nutrients without having to work overtime.

In a (chest)nutshell, taking good care of yourself and being kind to your body (at least on most days) makes a difference in the way we experience life, and it can make a remarkable difference in the way we experience the holidays.  You’ll be far better equipped to handle the in-law landmine navigation, familial expectations and packed calendar if you put yourself in a position to enjoy the things that make all the hustle and bustle worth every cent and lost hour of sleep. No other time of year affords us as many opportunities to enjoy the life, family and friends with which we’ve been blessed. Why not ensure you can make the best of it?

Lizzie O’s Gingerbread Smoothie
1 Cup unsweetened plain almond milk
¼ Cup raw pecans
1 Scoop Plant Fusion plain protein (or other plain plant-based protein powder)
1 Cup baby kale or spinach
½ Tablespoon chia seeds
1 Teaspoon alcohol free vanilla extract (I love Frontier Naturals)
1 Tablespoon unsulfured black strap molasses
1 Teaspoon ground ginger
½ Teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch allspice

Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender (always start with wet ingredients at the bottom for easier blending.) Blend until spinach or kale is completely pulverized. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

In Living Color

B is the most authentic, real, alive person I have ever met. He is sensitive and passionate, his emotions lie just under the surface; they bubble over multiple times a day in intense waves of happiness, frustration, joy, displeasure, satisfaction, sadness, anger. Always intense and always fleeting, his emotions are part of the astonishingly broad spectrum of bold, bright, beautifully vivid colors that come together to form his character. He is at times raw and unfiltered, loud and unrestrained. He thinks big, smiles big, feels big. He allows himself to be vulnerable in every way. He fearlessly feels his way through life and as a result, his life experience is nothing short of grand.  

I, unfortunately, am equally emotional, but not quite as brave as my husband. 9 times out of 10, I’ll take a detour around an authentic emotional response and head straight for a more scientific approach. I’ll filter, analyze, audit and reason my way through a shit storm for 6 months sometimes before I get the guts to really feel something, let it out and move on.  

The idea of becoming unhinged is so disconcerting that I cling to restraint like warm, fuzzy security blankets. This is obviously a byproduct of growing up with a mother who was basically Vincent Van Gogh crossed with Scarlet O’Hara. There was fire and darkness and intense light inside of her, a kind of lyrical chaos that sometimes yielded warmth, tenderness and pure sunshine. Other times, uncontrollable storms of complex, confusing emotions consumed our household and sucked the breath out of each and every one of us. My father, on the other hand, is to this day unwavering, stoic, steady and strong. In our youth, he was the calm to her storm. He was truth. He was safety. He was peace. He was our lifeboat. And so, I cling to the kind of discipline and order with which he kept us all afloat.

I may always find unbridled emotion unsettling. I may always default to restraint and control. But I’m starting to realize that the things that comfort us, the old habits or versions of ourselves that are easy and proverbial, are often the ones holding us back. B has taught me that letting go enough to lead a bold and colorful life isn’t a recipe for disaster. And when I watch the way he laughs and loves and smiles and fills every room with energy, I know that to never realize a life as vivid as the one he challenges me to live would be far more devastating than any momentary loss of control.