The healing power of a nice long walk

Move over, banana bread and sourdough. I think walks should be the hot trend of 2020.

It seems like everyone I talk to is enjoying neighborhood walks (with the exception of my friends in New York who are still reporting anxiety on the crowded sidewalks).

Here in Seattle, my friends are happily noticing birds and lovely gardens. I’ve been known to stick my nose in the flowers to get a good smell. I probably shouldn’t be doing that during a pandemic, should I?

In early March, the first couple weeks of quarantine, I donned my rain jacket or even winter puffer for my walks. I got to watch as things went from brown and bare to green and lush. The cherry blossoms bloomed, dropped white petals and pollen everywhere, and then turned a rich burgundy color. I watched the tulips go from barely peeking out of the ground to tall and open to wilted brown leaves. What a gorgeous spring it’s been and how wonderful it’s been to notice all the changes.

Cherry blossoms + winter coat back in March. (Look how much shorter my hair was, too!)

Walking also comes with a myriad of health benefits.

My therapist friends tell me they’re great for letting go of stress and anxiety. Leave your phone at home or in your pocket and get a good dose of mindfulness.

Since my expertise lies in the weight management category, I can tell you that for most people 20-30 minutes of moderate walking is really all you need to maintain your current weight. That’s assuming, of course, that you don’t walk to the bar, bakery or ice cream shop for a high-calorie treat.

For weight loss or more substantial health benefits, up the intensity by jogging, walking uphill or carrying a backpack. You could also ride a bike, go for a swim, dance, garden or basically move your body in a way that feels good to you. But at a baseline you’re doing really well with 20 minutes of walking per day (2 10-minute sessions is also good, but make your bouts of exercise at least 10 minutes long).

Walks are also a great way to get the lactic acid moving the day after good weight-lifting or running session. If you’re a little sore, resist the urge to lie on the couch and get some steps instead.

Today I took a longer walk than usual to the post office and back with some moderate hills. It’s about a half hour each way through a different neighborhood. I came home in such a skippy, happy mood. Bread has never made me feel that good. And I like bread.

Getting dressed

What are you wearing?

No that’s not a come-on. I’m genuinely curious. If you’re half my readers, that makes you my dad (Hi, Dad!). You’re wearing jeans with a blue polo shirt.

But what about the rest of you? I’ve been switching between about 5 outfits since this all began.

One is a comfy striped dress that I add knit leg warmers circa 2011 to on chilly mornings. Two of my outfits involve patterned yoga pants with either a t-shirt or a hoodie depending on the part of the day. Finally, I occasionally throw on one of two pairs of jeans, but mostly just one. With that, I again pick whatever t-shirt or hoodie feels right. I rotate between 3 pairs of shoes: classic black sneakers, my running shoes, and flip-flops. Often I choose the running shoes to duck out the mailbox or deposit the compost simply because the laces are short and I won’t trip over them if I don’t tie my shoes.

Day 1 of WFH life. I was proud of myself for wearing a dress–but didn’t bother doing my hair.
Day 5,478. It just makes sense to wear workout attire in case I want to catch Zoom barre or yoga in the afternoon–still with the not doing my hair.

I went to a Zoom open house last week and a friend and I were talking about how we considered just getting rid of all the other shoes in our closets. Her other friend told us not to do that. “We are going back to offices eventually,” she reasoned. I wasn’t seriously going to ship that all off–besides the Goodwill isn’t even open for donations right now.

Yesterday I felt a bit weird because I wore a pair of black and white striped yoga pants with a blue Brooklyn t-shirt out on a walk. About halfway to my destination, I realized my stay-at-home outfit was a little weird out of the house. But I shrugged it off.

I have two pairs of solid-colored leggings, but one is black and one is navy and they are both magnets for my cat’s white fur, so I don’t wear them around the house. Today I considered buying some gray leggings that wouldn’t show the cat’s fur but decided against it. I’m good.

I’ve also been favoring simple white gym socks that I never wore in ordinary times because they don’t stay in place when I’m running, and they don’t look nice with work attire. At home, though, they’re the perfect comfy socks to keep my feet warm on spring days.

I know I will eventually go back to an office, but for now, this feels fine. I don’t mind my minimal life one bit. I feel 0 pressure to impress any of you on Instagram or even this blog.

I hope I will carry some of this minimalism with me when we do leave the house again. A few mix and match pieces to make up a simple capsule wardrobe will work just fine.

For now, I make it a point to get dressed every morning. I’ve worked from home off and on throughout my career and that has always been important to me. But I definitely don’t wear my office attire and makeup to sit in the dining room with a cat in front of me. How about you? Do you swear by getting dressed as usual each day? Do you change out of your day jammies and into your night jammies?

The best diet

It’s usually my stomach that wakes me up and a Saturday morning in physical distancing was no different. I really didn’t feel like making eggs. I wanted carbs and sugar but not toast. When I spotted a bag with a fudgy cookie leftover from the previous night, I felt giddy. That’s exactly what I was craving.

I ate my cookie and drank coffee without guilt. In fact, I was proud of myself for listening to my body and feeding it what it wanted. Later in the morning, I felt like protein and grains, so I made a second breakfast of a breakfast burrito.

As a nutritionist, I’m often asked about the best diet and timing of food. My answer makes no one happy. It depends.

Afternoon tea and muffin

Some people swear by eating only at meal time. Others (like me) eat small amounts more frequently. Since we’ve been home all day, I’ve analyzed my quaranteammate’s and my eating habits. I usually eat toast or oatmeal with almond butter and fruit right away. Usually have a snack of nuts or fruit around 10. Then I’ll have lunch and an afternoon snack—usually something sweet. If I find myself hungry later in the afternoon, I might have more nuts or a granola depending on how I’m feeling.

He eats breakfast. Then lunch. Then dinner. My meals are closer to 400 calories. He’ll usually have a larger portion of the meal I make then maybe have some bread with cheese on it or crackers and hummus. And a banana.

Neither of us is right or wrong. Neither of us will gain or lose more weight than the other. We’re both feeding our bodies the way that works for us.

In one of my final nutrition classes, I did a review of scientific studies on timing of eating. The results were inconclusive. Some studies showed that participants who followed intermittent fasting lost more weight. Some found that people who had frequent snacks and meals had a healthier body weight. Some showed that the secret to success was eating a bigger breakfast and smaller dinner.

My conclusion (and my classmates all came to the same conclusion) was that when you eat is subjective. It’s more important what you eat and how much.

In the same class, we were all assigned a weight-loss diet to present to the class. I observed that we could have all had the same first 2 slides in our presentations. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and get at least 20 minutes a day of moderately vigorous physical activity.

From there, you could add a whole lot of calcium, subtract any foods not available in the Paleolithic era, or eat only plants. It was basically a wash as long as you had that foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and physical activity.

So one plan I like is mindful eating. That’s what I was practicing the morning I ate a fudgy cookie for breakfast. Mindful eating is about thoughtfully choosing foods to nourish your body and consuming them without distraction. You can start with fudgy cookies if that’s what you want. Usually after eating sugar, though, I feel like I need protein, so I had that. In the afternoons, if I need a little pick-me-up, I know that a handful of almonds is going to give me what I need. A cookie is going to make me want a nap on the couch. Coffee is going to leave me frustrated when I battle insomnia a few hours later.

So there’s not one right answer for anyone. Listen to your body—and be sure to give it fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some physical activity.

I hate clutter

I hate clutter.

I don’t need a picture-perfect house but stuff surrounding me just makes me feel uneasy.

I know everyone in the world is currently wishing for a bigger house and here I go jumping on the bandwagon. Our 1,000 square-foot place has two bedrooms and three bathrooms (when 1 + ¾ + ½ = 3). I’d love a third bedroom. If you’re handing them out, I’d take another closet, a space for Gatito’s litterbox, and a little patio, too. Still, in normal times, we fit here.

But as you know, these are not normal times. Therefore, I’m going to whine a little bit.

We’re both working from home, which means the space we were going to turn back into a dining room after my graduation is still an office with a desk chair and monitor in it. We have four dining chairs scattered around the house.

Since we can’t go to the gym, we borrowed a bench and some weights from a wonderful friend. The bench now doubles as the living room coffee table. The ottoman that once sat in front of the couch is in the bedroom.

It’s all just making me feel very squished. Everything I can get out of the house is going out. I brought two of the dining chairs out to the storage locker. The trunk of my car (that moves about once every 10 days) is storing bags of stuff for when the Goodwill reopens.

Still, I’ve been telling people that I feel like I live in a storage unit. My office has some framed pictures leaning against the wall because I couldn’t find proper hooks with which to hang them up—and that’s not exactly essential to warrant a trip to the hardware store. Gatito insists on having a litterbox on each floor, so the downstairs one is next to my desk. We also have stuff we brought home from the offices with us.

A few spots are making me feel better.

  1. When switching out my sweaters for summer clothes, I also packed away office clothes. I won’t be needing them until sweater season at the earliest, so my closet is looking minimal and tidy.
  2. I also gave my bathroom a good cleaning and tucked most of my makeup and hair products under the sink, leaving out just the basics.
  3. I’m making it a point to tidy up the kitchen each night before heading upstairs—and sometimes while listening to conference calls because it’s nice to get up from my desk. Having that space neat and organized feels more peaceful.
  4. I’m safe and healthy at home with my boys. We have strong wi-fi. I have a job. We have no sulky teenagers or restless kids in need of homeschooling. I’m incredibly grateful.

Making the house feel like a hotel

For Nick’s birthday this year, we booked a hotel room downtown and enjoyed a little staycation. We lounged around the room watching cable TV. We had drinks at the hotel bar before wandering down the street for a nice dinner. The next morning, we ordered room service and enjoyed a leisurely morning before taking the bus back to our house.

Those 19 or so hours of vacation were so refreshing that I wanted to do the same thing for my birthday.

Only my birthday fell on week 5 of the pandemic in North America—and the weekend that infections were expected to peak in King County. As we do in times of crisis, we adjusted our plans and gave the house hotel-like feel instead.

I started by cleaning and decluttering. No hotel has piles of junk all over. Before hotel weekend began, I made sure to have the laundry, schoolwork, and necessary shopping done. I dragged some extra dining chairs (that aren’t being used while the dining room is a home office) out to the storage locker. We also set up a little window seat in the bedroom.

Nick surprised me with new sheets as a birthday gift. But washing your bedding and making the bed tight and crisp like a hotel works just as well.

We ordered breakfast from a local bakery. We went a little overboard and got breakfast sandwiches, a loaf of bread, and some pastries, which ended up doubling as a birthday cake when we couldn’t find one of those.

We ordered dinner and a cocktail kit from a local restaurant. My personal hotel bartender mixed up drinks for days in our kitchen.

The birthday is now in the past, but some of the hotel-like luxuries remain because it makes spending all the hours at home a little bit nicer.

Every morning we’ve been making the bed. It looks nice when I walk into the bedroom and it feels like a treat at the end of the day. I try to get ahead of clutter and keep the house relatively cleaned up. I took a tip from one of the doctors at work. She routinely cleans her kitchen at the end of the day, which helps her wind down. I started doing the same.

We’ve also kept lemons and limes on hand for hotel bar replication.

Behind the story: lagom

I recently read a book, interviewed a kind Swedish woman and wrote an article about lagom, the Swedish concept of moderation.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think I was raised in lagom country: Minnesota. The book described lagom as helping one another out, so no one person has to do too much. Yup, my extended family mastered that decades ago! Someone needs a new roof? Everyone is there Saturday morning with work clothes on and mugs of coffee in hand ready to pitch in.

Gatherings are always potluck style. Everyone brings something. No one has to do too much. We even bring chairs, tables, and tents. Before the Christmas gathering each year, my aunt goes over to her brother’s house to get the tables arranged and set.

This is Minnesota

Ia Dubois, former Swedish culture instructor at the University of Washington, told me lagom is often used in terms of food. To make sure there’s enough for everyone, no one should take more than they need. This was also practiced in my hometown. Of course, we always had plenty or even too much.

I remember Grandma taking my sister and me to a ladies’ event with lunch. She had only RSVP’d for one guest, but then ended up bringing both of us. Grandma made sure she was the last one in line, so everyone else could get their fill first. If I had to guess, I would say that at the end of the event, the leftover pasta salads and casseroles were lovingly packed into old butter and Cool-Whip containers so people could bring them home.

Ia explained that in Swedish culture, you never take the last appetizer or dessert bar off the tray without offering it first or cutting it half and then half again, so everyone can have a piece. She said just eating it would earn you a disapproving look.

This happens in Seattle, too, though. When someone brings cookies to work, there’s always one left at the end of the day.

There’s some dark history to the sweet lagom lifestyle though. In Swedish culture, children were told they are not special and that they mustn’t try to be unique. They were taught to blend in and conform. A little google research revealed this had led to mental health issues in the country and has been blamed for suicides.

I think there’s a happy medium. We can be individuals with our own unique talents and desires while still doing what is best for the bunch.

This concept feels applicable to the pandemic. If we bought just the toilet paper, Lysol wipes, or flour we need, there would be enough for others. If we understand that some people have to go to work to provide essential services or provide for their families, maybe the rest of us would feel better about staying home and leaving the resources for those who really need them.

And it’s about being kind to ourselves. Lagom is about doing what feels right. If baking sourdough bread every morning isn’t your thing, maybe you support a local restaurant by purchasing bread. That’s lagom.

Some people are in a place where they can thrive during this pandemic. They can finally write that children’s book or paint the guest room. Other people are in survival mode—just trying to get healthy and meet their basic needs. Wherever you’re at is OK. It’s not a competition. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side and if there’s anything you need, just ask. I have more than I need and I’ll happily share with you. That’s lagom.

Writing for its own sake

I opened up a book today and before I even got past the introduction, I highlighted a quote that spoke to me: “The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.” –Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness, 1932 as quoted in Do Nothing: How to Break Away From Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving.

Last year when I went for my annual checkup, my doctor (who is the greatest primary care doctor I’ve ever had. Text me, I’ll give you her name) told me she could tell I was stressed. My face was breaking out. My thyroid levels were all over the place. She asked me what I was doing. I told her about my full-time job, graduate school, and freelance writing. I had just sold a piece to Self magazine and wanted more of that!

Without telling me what to do or what not to do, she asked what I could do to manage stress. Now since graduating from therapy years ago, I feel like a person who manages pressures pretty well. I make it a point to close my laptop no later than 8:30 p.m. (I’m getting close here!) and spend some time quietly and mindfully unwinding for the day. I was stressed to learn I was too stressed and needed to do something about my stress.

But as I thought about it, I figured there was no need to stress myself out freelance writing. Yes, I love it and it brings me joy. But I had a full-time job that paid well. I didn’t need a side hustle to earn extra cash. I had also committed to 15 hours a week doing grad school work, so I wasn’t in dire need of a hobby.

Now that I’m done with school, though, I’ve found writing to be therapeutic for me again. As I read that sentence today, I wondered what it would be like to just do it for me–and not worry about selling articles. That could come. Or not.

This blog was always for me first. If anyone else read it and felt better about something, that’s was a wonderful side effect that made me happy. But ultimately, even if no one read it, I would still want to write it.

Go ahead and cry about socks.

On Saturday, April 25, 7 weeks into quarantine, I turned in my last graduate school assignment. After hitting submit, I sat on the living room couch for a minute waiting to feel relief, excitement, or fatigue.

What I didn’t expect was to get hit with a wave of dread, anxiety, and worry.

Nick and Gatito were upstairs. The house was quiet. I didn’t know what to do. Nothing felt right. It was late morning and all I could think about is how many hours I had to fill of Saturday. And then Sunday. And then how many weeks or months until life would resemble “normal.” I didn’t have schoolwork to keep me busy anymore. I had all the time in the world to feel.

I remember early in quarantine telling my mom that I was looking forward to finishing school, so I could be bored like everyone else. All the Zoom cooking classes, free webinars, and virtual museum tours sounded fun—when I didn’t have time for them. Now they felt like a poor substitute for the real thing.

But in that moment, I felt lost. My usual activities weren’t available to me. I couldn’t celebrate my milestone with a mani-pedi, dinner out, gym sesh, or walk with a friend. Even the graduation ceremony and trip I had planned were postponed indefinitely.

I wandered over to the shelf where I had a stack of books I hadn’t yet read. I chose one called Hot Dish Heaven, a murder mystery set in small-town Minnesota. My mom found it while cleaning out Grandma’s house. In the front cover, Grandma had tucked my first communion program. Knowing Grandma, she did this with the intention of giving both to me. The mystery was about a young newspaper reporter.

2020 commencement ceremony

The book was sweet and very much reminded me of visiting Grandma’s small town. The reporter was working on a feature on funeral recipes. Yup, the very hot dishes and dessert bars I grew up eating in church basements—often with Grandma.

I couldn’t take it anymore. All the emotions of the day hit me hard. I went upstairs to find Nick and Gatito and get a hug.

I walked into the bedroom and started tugging off my socks. Nick could tell I was upset and asked what was wrong.

“I just don’t want to wear socks,” I sobbed. “I hate wearing socks.”

Kudos to him for not laughing about a grown woman crying about wearing socks—a toddler move if ever I’ve heard one.

As soon as my socks were carelessly tossed in the laundry hamper, I snuggled in for my hug.

What I realized was it’s OK to cry about socks. We all know it isn’t really about socks. It’s about everything. And nothing. I learned in therapy that sometimes we just need to sit with feelings of uncomfortable. They give us an opportunity to re-evaluate and decide where to go next.

Let’s do this together–from a safe distance

Nine years ago, I went to therapy for anxiety and started this blog.

Six years ago, I left my news career.

Those were the two healthiest things I’ve ever done.

This week was the closest to news reporting that I’ve done since. I’ve posted frequent COVID updates. I planned a TV segment on healthy tips for working from home. I wrote a blog post attempting to make home isolation fun. I didn’t think much of being asked to write a blog post on minding mental health during this health emergency. Business as usual. That’s what I do.

Impact

It wasn’t until I was posting it that I felt the magnitude of all that has happened since February 29 when a state of emergency was declared in Washington state. A week ago, I cleared out my desk at the office. When our vice president told us we could take our monitors and any other equipment home, I got it. This isn’t going to be like a snow storm when we work at 60% for a day or two. We were going to be home for a while.

I was on a conference call and someone said, it’s going to be interesting to see what the world is like six months from now. I don’t think we’re going to go back to working the way we did before.

I think he’s right. We probably won’t. Not all of us anyway.

Then events started getting canceled. Restaurants started closing. Everything began to feel changed.

Acceptance

I was keeping busy going for daily walks, cooking meals, checking in on friends, and earning a master’s degree. I thought I was doing everything right.

But talking to therapist Amy Cirbus made me remember that I need to slow down and let myself feel.

“Everyone’s life is disrupted right now,” she told me.

Yeah.

Yeah, it is.

I had a lot more work to do before leaving my “office” today, but I wrote the mental health post. Because it’s the post I needed to read today.

And then I put on a feelings-packed playlist on Spotify and laid on the floor next to my cat. And I let myself feel everything I had been avoiding–just as I had in my journalism days.

Wherever you are in this, we’re all in it together—from a safe distance apart. Sending lots of love to you all.

Making the most of a bad situation

I’m an optimist. I like to view situations as opportunities rather than burdens. Even if I initially kick my feet

I’m on day 5 of social distancing. I’m using the time to develop some healthy habits beginning at home. Some of them I learned five years ago when I worked a remote job. Some I’m beginning now.

Leave the house

At least once a day and interact with other humans I don’t live with. Yes, it can be from six feet away, but I need to get out.

Take a walk

I just did a story with a physical therapist who advised that when working from home, get out for a walk before and after work. It’s a nice way to not only get some physical activity, but also separate work hours from home hours.

Cook at home

Apologies to all the restaurant owners out there. I know business is slow with people social isolating. I will happily contribute to GoFundMe campaigns or buy gift cards for later use, but I’m really not feeling dining out right now. Instead, I’m making it a mission to eat up some of the food that’s been in the freezer or depths of the cupboard for a while.

Avoid consumer news

Instead of watching endless hours of paranoia, I’m going to the sources and reading the CDC site. Please, please know that right now there is a whole lot we do not know. Journalists don’t like that. If anyone with a science-y background is willing to go on record, journalists are going to report what they say. It’s the truth. And I would have done it six years ago, too.

Clean up

Kitchen towels get thrown in the laundry at the end of each day. Glasses and water bottles are getting washed promptly, not reused. Sheets and bath towels more often, too. I’m also decluttering. I do not want to be surrounded by useless stuff.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful that I’m healthy. The people I meet on my morning and evening walks appear to be healthy. We’re all doing the best we can and getting through it together. That’s a lot.