Sugar Free

no sugarIf at any time during this post something doesn’t quite make sense, I will be blaming it on my current state of deprivation. You see, I am trying to rid my body of some nasty stuff, so I am on a sugar free diet. No, that does not mean that I can have all the sugar free soda and sugar free gum I want. It means I can eat protein, vegetables, seeds and some nuts. Yup, that’s it. No, I’m not kidding. Basically nothing that has sugar in it or that my body would convert to sugar. No sugar, no wheat, no dairy, no wine. WHAT? No wine. I am so screwed. I can eat rice though? No? WTF?

I am not doing this by choice. Well, that’s not entirely true. I could choose to not do it and continue to feel horrible and have weird arbitrary symptoms pop up every few weeks, but is that really an option? So, I have decide to heed the advice of my naturopath and change my ways. A few years ago I would have laughed at you if you said I should see a naturopath. My godmothers husband was a naturopath of sorts. He would wave a crystal attached to a string over people’s nail clippings and tell them what was wrong with them. So my perception of the field was a bit skeptical. I have, however, discovered that there are certain areas of health and well being that are better served by a different approach.

A couple of years ago I was feeling really run down. I wasn’t sleeping well, I felt nauseated in the mornings (nope, not that) I was anxious, not really sick but always just on the brink, chronic cold sores and my running ability was seriously going to the dogs. I went to my regular doctor and he said I should start on anti-depressants. “But, I’m not depressed”. I said. ” I know, but it might help anyway”. Really? How could it help? I’d feel like crap but I’d be happy? I left hos office feeling really disappointed in a man who I had trusted with the health of my family for years. I’ve since realized that there are some things that he is great for and some things that he is not. Conventional medicine is pretty black or white. You are sick or you aren’t. You have this or you have that. Not a lot of room for anything else.

So over the past couple of years I have explored some alternative ways of dealing with my overall health. This time around I have discovered that I can most likely deal with my current symptoms with changing my diet. I will admit that I have been hard on my body. I don’t have a high pressure job, but my husband travels a lot and I have had to hold down the fort (with kids in it) after a day of work on many occasions and weekends. I’m not a hard partier, but I like my wine. I’m not a marathon runner, but I do push myself physically. Running is my stress relief but I now know that running itself puts stress on your body. I’m not a junk food person but there have been times (I’m not proud of them) when I have been known to eat Nutella by the spoonful. There is said it. If you add all this up and on top of it put about eighteen months of a truly stressful time in my recent life, you could see how my body could be saying “Enough, I am done.” And that is what it has done.

Now, how to reverse the damage? Cut out all sugar from my diet for a minimum of one month. Just as a note to anyone doing this. Do NOT watch the Food Network. It will make you crazy. Take probiotics every day to restore the good things that should be in my body. Take it easy. That one is easier said than done for me. I have a run coming up in four weeks that will involve me running three legs of two hundred mile relay. I at least need to be able to do that.

So here I sit munching on buckwheat crackers trying not to think about cupcakes and sushi and anything with cheese in it and resisting the urge to lace up my runners. I have learned to embrace coconut flour, coconut oil and coconut milk as alternatives to many things. My trip to Whole Foods yesterday involved a good deal of time wandering the aisles searching for suitable foods. I have to say, they do make it fairly easy to find good, albeit pricey, products. Did you know that some people eat like this all the time. By choice. At the end of the day The Best Thing in Life is my health so I guess that I am now one of those people living this way by choice.

Life Lessons

bag lady

My daughter and three of her friends had an opportunity to be involved in an event at BC Place this past week. Four excited six year olds and I piled into my truck and headed downtown from North Vancouver. They sang songs, played clapping games and talked about meeting their favorite soccer players. As we approached the East Side, my daughter asked if we were getting close to the homeless people. We had driven this route before and had had some discussions about people living on the streets. For some reason it was a source of fascination and tonight was no different as the four of them had some interesting questions.

I’ve never been bothered by East Hastings St. Yes, you need to keep your head down and avoid eye contact but really these people are, for the most part, harmless. I’m not a big person but I’ve never felt threatened on the odd occasion I’ve had to walk through the Main and Hastings area. There are parts of Surrey that scare me more. During the Olympics in 2010, everyone was concerned about how it would look to the rest of the world but honestly, it’s just another part of what makes this city what it is. No, it’s not as pretty as Stanley Park or Grouse Mountain. It’s not an area you might want to take people to on a city tour. But, it’s a part of Vancouver that has always been there and will probably never change.

So as we stop at every red light between Clarke and Carrall my six year old tells me that one of her friends has never seen a homeless person and could I please explain it to her. At this point I am bombarded with questions from all four of them. Why are they homeless? Where do they sleep? Why are they selling stuff on the street? If they don’t have any stuff why are they selling what they have? What do they need money for? What do they eat? Why is that man waving his hands in the air like he’s swatting a bee? That man doesn’t have a shirt on. Can’t he afford clothes? Are they ALL homeless? I did my best to answer them and I would like to apologize to their parents if they now have a few new words in their vocabulary.

I know they are young, but it does reminded me that we live in a bubble out here in Deep Cove. It’s a lovely bubble, but it is just that. We drop off our unwanted clothes at the charity box near Safeway and many of the girls collect money for charity at their birthdays parties instead of gifts, but the reality is that they have no idea why somebody would even need our charity. They all have comfortable homes, clothes and never miss a meal (or a snack for that matter). It’s a hard thing for them to understand at this point in their lives and just driving through the East Side once or twice doesn’t go far enough in explaining it.

So as we turn the corner at Hastings and Carrall Street and the scenery changes, the questions come to an end and the topic turns to what they will eat at the soccer game. Can we have a hot dog and popcorn? Do they have ice cream at the stadium? These questions I can answer. The girls may have moved on, but their questions, and my realization of how little they know of the world outside of our neighborhood, have me thinking. Is there more that I could be doing to educate my young daughter? I’m doing my best to show her The Best Things in Life, but should I be doing more to show her the other side of life?

Soccer Anyone?

soccer girls

It’s Monday night, 7:15pm at the all weather field at Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. My friend Sarina and I are sitting on the grass talking about the Women’s Only Soccer Program she runs. As we chat, women start to trickle in across the park. Some come with a friend, some come alone and some come in groups. It’s the first night of Sarina’s ABC’s of Soccer summer session program and a couple of the women are noticeably a bit nervous. Sarina introduces herself and encourages the women to start kicking a ball around. They are all shapes and sizes and ages and fitness levels looking to learn some skills and play some soccer.

Sarina started the Women’s Only Soccer Camps in 2002. Two things got her there. She had recently changed careers and was looking for something to compliment the somewhat rigid life of banking. At the same time she was playing soccer in a local over 30 women’s league. She would see women come out who wanted to play in the league but didn’t have much, if any, experience. They had the desire but got zero support and encouragement and ended up not returning. She felt it was such a shame that these women, who were looking for some fun exercise, were walking away, when it would be so easy to give them a little training and the tools to let them enjoy playing on a league team. So Sarina created the Women’s Only Soccer program that runs every Monday night in West Vancouver.

I was introduced to the program about six years ago. I hadn’t played in years but was looking for a good workout after my daughter was born. Even though I knew some other ladies already, I still felt kind of nervous that first night and totally useless once I got out onto the field. Two things stick out in my mind from that first adventure back into soccer. First, I ran my ass off and couldn’t walk properly for a couple of days. Talk about a whole body work out. Second, I felt so empowered. I couldn’t stop talking about it to my husband when I got home. It was fun, exhilarating, challenging, exhausting and oh ya, so fun! Even when I sprained my ankle in my second session I couldn’t wait to get back out there.

As the women gather in a small circle Sarina goes over a couple of things. “I don’t care if your are late and I don’t care if you have to leave early.” She just wants them to show up and have fun. After a few quick safety points, she asks them to each quickly introduce themselves and describe their level of soccer. Some women have been in her program for years, some play in a league and are looking to improve their skills, some haven’t played since they were ten and some have never kicked a soccer ball in their life. Everybody is welcome and everybody is included. The women were immediately put at ease just knowing that they were not alone. As they head off for a quick warm up lap of the field they are already chatting and getting to know each other. Did I mention how fun this program was?

Before the women showed up, Sarina and I got a chance to talk about why the program is so successful. There are a lot of reasons. To start, women are having kids later in life and don’t always have a lot of options for finding a fun, unintimidating workout that fits into their busy lives. With the Women’s Only Soccer Program there isn’t a huge time or financial commitment and the timing allows the moms to slip out the door after the kids are in bed. One of the biggest attractions, I think, is that there is no judgement what so ever. Nobody cares if you score a goal or if you pass the ball to an empty space or if you can do perfect throw in. Last week a women showed up that Sarina used to play with. She knew the woman was an accomplished player and wondered, at first, what she was doing at a scrimmage league. At the end of the evening the woman mention what a great time she had. Sarina realized that it wasn’t about the level of play or the skills achieved for this woman. It was about the environment, the workout and the fun.

At the heart of this amazing program is Sarina’s coaching style and approach to women’s soccer. Women show up week after week because they know they will learn the basics of soccer in a fun, encouraging environment and that is so important. Really it’s one of The Best Things in Life for me.  If you are interested in meeting some great women, learning soccer and having so much fun, I encourage you to contact Sarina and join her one Monday night on the field. I plan on doing it again very soon.

Happy?

happy face

What makes you happy? It’s different for everyone I suppose. The easy response would be, perhaps, a sunny day, a warm hug, an unexpected windfall, a great glass of wine. It’s a pretty loaded question really. It could be something life encompassing or it could be something tiny and seemingly insignificant. This morning listening to the Eagles Live album really loudly in the car made me happy. Sleep, chocolate, a new pair of shoes.  Those things seem so fleeting though. What sustains happiness, long term?

Over the years I have discovered that my happiness is very closely tied to my physical well being. If I feel good physically I am happy. If I’m tired, have an upset stomach or haven’t worked out in a few days, I can feel myself slipping into an unhappy place. I think this is true for most people and really it’s just simple biology. The act of getting your heart pumping and the endorphins flowing, puts a smile on most people’s faces. So why can’t we just spend our days out running or hiking on the trails? There. Problem solved. Happiness all around.

Then there is the saying money can’t buy you happiness. No, it can’t. But it can alleviate the anxiety and stress that go with a mountain of debt. I’m not ashamed to say that I am happier now than I was a few years ago when we were struggling to make ends meet. We don’t have any more “things” than we did then, but we argue less and worry less and in turn, are, I believe, happier. Do I envy people who have more than I do and think that having all that would make me happy. You bet. I know it’s materialistic and there are many people who have nothing and are extremely happy. I’m just not one of them.

When I reached out to friends to see what makes them happy, without a doubt, the most common answer was friends and family. Kids laughing, connecting with friends, time with spouses are all major happiness factors.  In no particular order here are a few examples of the responses I got.  They really are some of The Best Things in Life.  Sunshine, nature, wine, travel, napping, sex, cold beer on a hot day, love, chocolate, exercise. Of course one of my friends turned if around on me and asked me what made me happy. On that day? Seeing my inbox full of happy emails. Learning more about my friends and their joys in life.

An old friend commented that she was happiest when she knows that her interests and ideas are being supported by those closest to her. But then in the next breath she wonders if it’s right to leave her happiness in the hands of others. “I shouldn’t rely on others to make me happy”. This is something I struggle with as well. I have tried not to be a “gold star junkie” as Gretchen Rubin terms it in The Happiness Project. When you rely on others to pat you on the back or give you a gold star for your achievements you are, in essence, keeping score, and rarely come out on top. Am I successful in this? Let’s just say I’m working on it.

100 Happy Days is an on line project that has been around for a while. I was hiking with a friend a few weeks ago who was on day 56. The premise is that you email an image to their website every day for 100 days that symbolizes happiness to you. I would imagine that by the time you reach 100 days it would have become a habit for you to find something each day, no matter how small or insignificant, that makes you happy. A bit like a gratification post. I think that I’m going to try the 100 Happy Days project. It may be a good reminder to me of how many great things I encounter each day that make me smile. I also find that “having a clear vision and taking steps towards it every day” makes me happy as well.

Can you be happy all the time? I don’t think you can and I think that’s totally okay. Of course it’s not okay to be unhappy all the time either. The key is to find the right balance for you. The right mix or percentage of happiness . Over thinking things makes me happy too. It’s an odd thing, actually, to stop and really think about whether you are happy or not. People have made billions in the self help industry telling us what we need to do to be happy. Why do we need to read a book about it? Shouldn’t we just BE happy? Can it be that simple?

So at the end of the day did I find my answer? No. But I did start thinking more about my happiness and the happiness of others and that in itself is good.   One of the surprising emails I received was from a friend I hope to meet with very soon to talk about her passions. I totally expected her to say decorating cakes and being on my bike with my dog. What did I get instead? A great quote to close my post .

“I am happiest when I am continually striving for my potential in life.”

There is No Upside to Brain Damage

brain

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody could experience The Best Things in Life all the time? In a world of unicorns, rainbows and free wine that might be true. But the reality is that we don’t live in that world. Our world is much harsher than that. In fact, the best things in life can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye.

I first met Jane at the local rec centre when our girls were babies. I knew I would always remember her name because my mom’s name is Jane and my daughter’s middle name is Jane. Also Jane is from England. Ipswich to be more specific. Another reason to remember her is that my granny lived near Ipswich. We stayed in touch through mutual friends, sports and eventually school as our girls grew up. Our daughters both love soccer and ended up on the same team and in the same Kindergarten class. Jane was active and I often ran into her with her kids on the local trails or at the park. Then her life changed.

Three years ago this month Jane was experiencing the life of a normal mother, wife and Software Program Director. It wasn’t a particularly stressful day and things were pretty quiet at the office, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling of being a bit “off”. Sitting at her desk, she remembers wheeling over to a co-worker in her desk chair and telling her that she didn’t feel right and wasn’t sure what to do. “You don’t look very good. You should lie down” they told her. That’s the last thing she remembers. She had a massive seizure and lost consciousness. The EMTs came and she was taken to the hospital in and out of consciousness. After eight hours they couldn’t tell her anything about her condition so her husband came to pick her up. All she can remember is thinking that they were driving home from the hospital with their newborn son who was in fact, already two years old.

Eight months went by as doctor after doctor tried to figure out what had happened. She was told not to work and her days were spent at hospitals and doctors offices hooked up to machines as they flashed light in her eyes, taped her eyes shut and tracked her brain activity. One doctor even told her that it was a just a tension headache and she should try Tylenol. “Really? I lost the feeling in my left arm. I think it’s a bit more than a headache” She endured rounds of heavy duty drugs. One round she discovered was LSD based and caused an alarmingly bad trip. At least she can tick that of her list of things never to do again. After that, they put her on amphetamines to improve her brain function. The drugs left her hazy, tired and well, drugged.

After a recommendation from somebody on-line, Jane requested neuropsychological testing. The result. A diagnosis of encephalitis. Because a spinal tap was not done when her first seizure happened, they can not say of it was viral or bacterial. Regardless, the prognosis was not good. Permanent brain damage showed up in an MRI. The list of things she can no longer (ever) do is long. When the doctor told her she would never work again she was shocked, but what really hit her hard was when he told her that she would never snowboard or ski again. For an active, outdoorsy person this was devastating.

As the question came out of my mouth I realized how stupid it was.  But I asked it anyway.  “Has there been any upside?” No, there is no upside to brain damage. She often has to check a book out of the library multiple times as she forgets she’s read it or even what it is about. If she stay up late to bake for her kids school carnival she needs to take it easy for a few days afterwards to ward off more seizures. She dreams in German. She hasn’t given up gluten because it’s trendy. She’s done it because gluten is a known neurotoxin and increases the probability of seizures. She is judged. She doesn’t look sick but it is often a struggle to walk the few blocks to school to pick up her kids. She can’t count backwards.

She tries not to think about the future because she just doesn’t know what it holds and that in itself is very scary. She does feel that she is a better mother and wife than before. She literally can only focus on one thing at a time so if she is with her kids they have her complete attention. How many if us can always say that? Her husband has been so helpful and patient with her and for that she is eternally grateful. Their relationship is probably even stronger now that they can spend more time together. She has discovered pottery can be very therapeutic and has produced some beautiful pieces.

Janes Pottery

What struck me the most as I walked home from our chat at the local juice bar was Jane’s sense of empathy for anybody else experiencing difficulty in their life. She’s not bitter, or angry or resentful at all. I can’t say that I would be the same given her condition. I can’t help but admire her ability to go on with life on a day to day basis. “I don’t have an option”. She says as I tell her I think she’s doing great. And she’s right. She is making the best of a really crappy situation. I know it’s cliché, but if our chat reinforced anything it is to enjoy The Best Things in Life every day because you just can’t predict what may happen tomorrow.