Monday, December 14, 2009

Posture Lesson From Miss Chicken Goode



I'm not sure where she picked up the name, but she's been one of our regular models for about the last 15 years or so. She's made of plastic and lives in our basement, and because I'm working on a painting of her at the moment, she was in my mind today when I was warming up on the treadmill at the gym. I realized that her great posture is the result of the hook attached to the top of her head. While I was walking, I started imagining being suspended the way she is with her bones all loose and dangly like a set of windchimes and immediately I felt my posture improve. My shoulders became more relaxed (I hadn't realized they were tight!) and I just moved with more ease. I found that it worked best if the hook I was imagining was located a little towards the back of the crown of my head rather than the front (notice where the hook is located in the photo above), with my chin in a neutral position--not lifted or pushed down too far. This had the effect of elongating and relaxing the back of my neck. So give it a try and see if it doesn't make you feel lighter on your feet with less back and neck strain at the end of the day!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I've Got A Cold

I have now officially joined the zillions of people out there who have a cold and it suuuucks! So what to do now? A few things that come to mind are:

Stay warm! Wear a warm hat when you go outside, wear warm socks, etc.
Drink tons of tea. I make a spicy tea (recipe below) with cinnamon and ginger.
Rest and sleep as much as you can, but, unless you have a fever, it's good to get a little exercise like walking to stimulate your immune system.
Eat more cooked vegetables and whole grains, less heavy protein and fat.
Avoid dairy products and sugar.

That said, I also favor the idea of calling it an official vacation and babying the heck out of yourself. I know it goes against the "no dairy" rule stated above, but when I was a kid, my Mom would give me soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and I would curl up in bed with a pile of comic books. Wow, that really sounds pretty nice about now. Boris said his mother would give him angel hair pasta with mashed potatoes on it. That sounds freakin' amazing. If any of you have any great comfort food ideas for a cold, I'd love to hear about it!

Spicy Tea

1 quart water
1 inch peeled and sliced ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
sprinkle black pepper
2 tea bags (I like Tulsi tea for this, but you can use any kind of tea you like--green, black, white, oolong, rooibos, anything).

Bring the water to a boil in a pot and add the ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper. Cover and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags. Let steep for about 5 minutes. Pour and drink it up!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Architect Warrior


Here's a little kick-ass baditude to inspire you with today. I just came back from Texas where I was hanging out with my father, Milton Bell, who has been a huge source of strength and inspiration for me. He just turned 80 this year and he still kicks butt wherever he goes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


This drawing that I did when I was in school back in 1977 (yes! The Year Of Star Wars!) is not a drawing of Robert Sapolsky, but of a friend of mind named James Kenney. But I thought that James looks kind of like Sapolsky, so here it is!

Lately while painting in our studio, Boris and I have been listening to lectures on youtube by Robert Sapolsky. Not only does he present information that is 500% fascinating, but he's just such a great speaker. So entertaining and fun to listen to! Anyway, one of the things he talked about was that the act of anticipating getting something you want is going to give you a higher endorphin blast than actually getting the thing. The reason I'm bringing this up is that it explains so many things--he used the example of gambling addiction or compulsive shopping, for instance. I could never understand how these things work as an actual addiction (although the fact that they do is obviously true!), but Sapolsky explains that the feeling of knowing you might get the reward you seek is like a powerful shot of an addictive drug.

Boris and I have always had a related experience with our painting. When working on a painting, we actually often enjoy the act of climbing towards the goal of doing the painting even more than when we finally finish it. The moment the goal has been realized, the feeling changes into a good kind of satisfaction, but it doesn't have that intense excitement that climbing does. I had always thought that this was because when the painting is still being formed, it contains all kinds of unknown possibilities and then, when it's finished, it's kind of nailed down into one spot. I do think that's part of the difference in feelings, but also knowing a change of chemistry is taking place, and not a letdown, makes you accept that it's just the way the system works. So then you can start getting excited about the next goal and the next one after that! I love it! Keep painting!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Balancing Food Cravings

To avoid pesky cravings, these two ladies should probably think about having less chrome and more vegetables in their diet.

We've discussed before that eating late at night isn't such a great idea (unless you're trying to gain weight), and I've just read some new information to add to the timing of what you eat. The information comes from a book called "Eat Your Way To Happiness" by Elizabeth Somer, who is a registered dietician. The book is mostly about how to maintain a positive mood and sustained energy throughout the day, but something that I found cool to think about is how what you eat for breakfast influences your choices at lunch and what you eat for lunch influences your choices at dinner. I read about this in Dr. Weil's December 2009 newsletter, which I subscribe to (you should too!).

When you've been sleeping for the past 8 or so hours, your brain releases a chemical called Neuropeptide Y. This chemical causes you to crave glucose. Glucose is the simple sugar that feeds your brain so that you can think and function. The primary way you get glucose is through eating carbohydrates which break down into glucose in your digestive system. So if your brain is craving glucose, it seems like you'd want something sugary like marshmallow Peeps on top of Froot Loops or something, right? Please don't. You'll get an initial rush of serotonin (which, yes, feels great), but you'll pay for it with a yucky, sluggish, even depressed feeling later on. This would probably make you want to reach for another quick boost of sugar for lunch, and so on, and so on. Up and down all day is not a good way to function. I've described what we eat for breakfast here, but just make sure you have good whole foods that include high-fiber carbohydrates, a small amount of good protein (an egg is pretty perfect), and a couple of servings of fruit or vegetables. This will keep your energy balanced up until lunch.

Then, by lunchtime, a different brain chemical called galanin comes into play and makes you want to eat fat. You should have some healthy fat with your lunch (along with a serving of protein and some more complex carbohydrates and, of course, fruits and vegetables), but don't overdo it with the fat, even if it's healthy fat. You'll overproduce galanin and it will make you crave more food than you need at night.

So at dinnertime, having a simple dinner of a lean protein, lots of vegetables, and a medium-small serving of complex carbohydrates (my favorite: brown rice and hulled barley mixed together) will be best. Too much carbohydrate will make you sleepy right after dinner (and we discussed why you shouldn't lay down to sleep right after eating in the last post, but too much protein will block your brain's ability to absorb serotonin (a necessary brain chemical that helps you to relax as well as keep a positive mood) and make it harder to sleep at bedtime.

Sheesh! There's so much to remember! Being a healthy human does take some effort and planning, but you can do it. And it sure beats the alternative!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Go For A Walk

Here's Boris, my amazing walking partner, going around with that beautiful silver hair. I think the wind is in love with him too!

If you're one of the fortunate people who has had the privilege of stuffing yourself with Thanksgiving goodies, do yourself a favor and take a nice, long walk afterwards. It's tempting to flop down on the couch and go to sleep after a big meal, but taking a walk or doing any kind of exercise will help keep your arteries healthy.
Research from 2005 that was reported in The European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that during a four to six hour period after eating a high-fat meal, our arteries look "just like the arteries of a person who has heart disease", states Janet P. Wallace, professor in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Kinesiology and co-author of the study. That's pretty gross! But if you exercise after that meal, the arteries don't look sick anymore. Of course, the real problem isn't what happens after just one high-fat meal or two, but if this is a regular pattern for you, that's when cholesterol starts to build up, oxidize, and cause serious problems.
Walking is a good choice of exercise after eating because it's so comfortable. It also helps your digestion and just keeps you from feeling the sluggishness that comes with a high-carbohydrate, high-fat meal.
So just get up and do it. Come on, put your shoes on, take the first couple of steps. See how much better you feel?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Recipe 4: Apple Grape Pie

Here is Dena Obaza (aka Dina Colada) looking so fine in her Thanksgiving mask. Will she remove the mask to eat her Thanksgiving dinner? Heck no! (Today is her birthday--Happy Birthday, Dena!)
The mask was made by Beth Zyglowicz--an artist we met at Illuxcon. What's that? You don't have a Thanksgiving mask? You'll have to get one from Beth!



Apple Grape Pie
Makes one 9 inch pie

Crust:
1 cup spelt or whole wheat flour
½ cup oat flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup canola oil
A little less than ¼ cup cold water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with Pam or other spray oil. In a mixing bowl, combine flours and sea salt. Add oil and stir with a fork. Mix until the mixture resembles corn meal. Add water a little at a time and stop just when the dough has enough water to form a ball. If you've accidentally added to much water, you can add a little of the oat flour. However, if you need more water, just add some! It should be a nice Play-Doh consistency. If you didn't play with Play-Doh when you were a kid, you need to get some now because it's pretty fun stuff.
Don’t knead the dough after this point, but let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Take about 1/3 of the dough and flatten it into the pie plate, pressing some up at the edges. Poke the bottom with a fork a few times. Set the rest of the dough aside for now.

Filling:

3 apples (I like Gala or Fuji for this recipe, but any apples will do), cored, but not peeled, and sliced
About 1 ½ cups washed, halved grapes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup brown rice syrup

Mix all the filling ingredients in a large bowl until it looks pretty evenly mixed with the cinnamon and brown rice syrup. Pour into the pie plate that has the dough pressed into it.

On a wooden cutting board, sprinkle about a Tablespoon of oat flour, then put the rest of the dough on it and roll it around a little. Now roll it out with a rolling pin to a circle about 6-8 inches in diameter. Pick it up and put it on the apples that are in the pie plate. It might fall into about a million pieces, but don’t worry about it, just put the pieces together like a puzzle with spaces between them.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.

Thanksgiving Recipe 3: Vegetables!

Okay, what? Tony Palumbo has always loved spaghetti and meatballs, so this is his vision of a perfect Thanksgiving meal. It's true, meatballs aren't vegetables. But I'll post a recipe soon (after a little kitchen testing) for a vegan version.


I always say that if I had to only pick two vegetables to have on a desert island (assuming there was an oven to cook with), I'd pick sweet potatoes and broccoli. They're just two of the best Superfoods in terms of nutrition as well as taste. And they're in the list of the Clean 15 that don't require as much pesticide to grow, so even if you don't get organic ones, you're okay.
And salad! Well, you can't beat salad because anything goes! Having some crunchy raw vegetables with your meal is not only refreshing and balancing, but it helps your digestion along. Also, as everybody knows, it keeps you from eating too many total calories in your meal because of the high fiber and water content.
You just can't go wrong with vegetables!

Sweet Potatoes
People often want to know what’s the best kind of sweet potato. I say any kind of sweet potato is the best kind! I love the garnet yams, jewel yams, yellow ones, orange ones, all of them
The simplest way to have them is to just wash them and bake them in their skins, uncut, at about 425 degrees for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until they’re soft. How long it takes really depends on how big they are. Once they’re baked, they’re so delicious hot, cold, or anywhere in between.
But, if you’d like to get a little fancier with them, here’s a good recipe:

Fancy Sweet Potatoes
2 – 4 medium sized sweet potatoes or yams
Wash and cut into chunks an inch or so big. Don’t peel them.
Toss with:
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons Mirin or other cooking wine
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Spray a baking dish with Pam or other spray oil and add the sweet potatoes along with all of the other ingredients. Bake at 425 degrees, turning them every so often with a spatula, for about an hour or until tender.

Simple But Delicious Broccoli
Serves 2-4
The trick here is to clean the broccoli properly. Just cut off the end of the stem, then
peel off the skin with your knife all the way up to where the branches start coming out
at the top of the broccoli. Now chop the stem into 1 inch pieces, then take apart the crown
into serving size pieces.

Mince 1 clove garlic and let it sit for a few minutes. In a cooking pot with a lid, place 1 Tablespoon olive oil with the minced garlic. Heat until the garlic just starts to brown a little. Add the broccoli pieces, 1/3 cup of water, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Cover and cook just until the broccoli is a little tender (about 8 minutes or so). If you find that the water has evaporated before the broccoli is cooked through, add a
little more water. At the end of the cooking time, you can remove the lid and let the water cook away for a few minutes.
Serve!

Salad Extravaganza
Wash salad greens. My favorite mix is arugula, baby spinach, and chopped dandelion greens, but feel free to make it your own and use romaine, boston, whatever you like.
Slice a couple of carrots into coins and add those.
Add 6 pieces of fresh asparagus, uncooked, cut into 1 inch chunks.
Add any other chopped pieces of vegetables that you enjoy eating raw (could be cherry tomatoes,
sugar snap peas, green beans cut really small, broccoli, gobo root, lotus pods, mushrooms, etc.)

In your serving bowl, put 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil, 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar, and 1 Tablespoon brown mustard.
Add a handful of chopped raw walnuts and a handful of raw pumpkin seeds.

Now add the salad greens and vegetables. Mix it all up and serve.

PS This is also good with chopped apple or any other fruit added to the mix!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Recipe 2: Lemon Thyme Polenta with Mushrooms

Yep, that's chicken and waffles, not lemon thyme polenta. I asked David Palumbo what he'd like for Thanksgiving and this is what he drew.


You could easily substitute any kind of mushrooms for the dried ones I've used here, but shiitake and maitake mushrooms are so extremely good for your system that I like to include them in recipes anywhere I can. A good place to get them for a great price is Mountain Rose Herbs. You can get the Lemon Thyme from there as well. It's a great source and they have the best prices.

Lemon Thyme Polenta with Mushrooms

Preheat oven to 400.
Lightly oil an 8x8 inch glass baking dish with olive oil and set aside.

Soak 1 large dried maitake mushroom,
3 dried shiitake mushrooms in
2 cups boiling water for 20 minutes.

Remove mushrooms, reserve broth. Let the mushrooms cool on a cutting board, then chop them up.

Add the chopped mushrooms back into the broth and bring the broth to a boil again.
Add ¾ cup polenta and
½ teaspoon salt.

Stir and cook until thick and soft (about 15 minutes). If it becomes too thick to stir, add water just
a little at a time. Add
½ teaspoon garlic powder and
½ teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, beat
3 eggs, add
1 to 2 ounces of grated cheddar cheese.

While stirring the polenta mixture, slowly pour in the egg and cheese mixture (it’s easiest if you have a
helper here). Pour the whole mixture into the baking dish. Bake at 400 until it puffs up a little in the center.

Thanksgiving Recipe 1: Broiled Salmon with Miso Tahini Sauce

Boris had originally thought he'd draw a salmon eating a little person's head, but when he started drawing the face, he changed his mind. So now the salmon's eating a little round cake of mochi ice cream.


As many of you know by now, Boris and I don't eat meat from creatures that have legs or wings. This includes turkeys (as well as gryphons, centaurs, and minotaurs), so it makes you wonder "what to do for Thanksgiving?". Well, we do eat some creatures with scales (including some flying dragons, but not ones with wings, only the serpenty-ones with those crazy big eyes and fins that fly from magic powers rather than wing power), but dragons are pretty hard to catch because they're so smart, so we usually have salmon for festive dinners. Okay, enough silly stuff. Sorry! I could go on like that all day.

I'm not so crazy about the fake meats made from soy (especially since they have ISP--isolated soy protein--as a main ingredient) or "turkeys" made from tofu (although I love tofu and eat it often, I just don't like the way the taste or texture of tofu turkeys), so we just decided to ditch the whole idea of turkeys and have fish instead.

Broiled Salmon with Miso Tahini sauce
Serves 2-4
One pound fresh salmon fillet, preferably wild salmon
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Black pepper
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 rounded Tablespoon sweet white miso (favorite brand, South River)
1 rounded Tablespoon tahini sauce
2 scallions, with both green and white parts chopped
hot water

Rinse and pat dry salmon fillet. Leave the skin on.
Cut the salmon into serving-sized pieces. These could be either one
larger piece for each diner or cut into smaller pieces (maybe 1 ½ to 2 inches or
whatever size you’d like to have).
In a glass bowl, put the olive oil, minced garlic, chopped ginger, black pepper, and
soy sauce. Coat the salmon pieces in the marinade and let it soak, covered, in the
refrigerator for anywhere from ½ hour to several hours.

Heat broiler and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with
Pam or other spray oil, add the salmon pieces with the skin side down. Place them
a bit apart from each other. Broil until firm (depending upon the size of the salmon pieces, this could be anywhere from a few minutes to 10-12 minutes). Turn the pieces over and, if you’d like to remove the skin, now is a good time to do that. The brownish part between the skin and the meat is where lots of omega 3 oil is located, so it’s best to leave that part alone. If you slip a spatula between the skin and the brownish part, the skin will usually slip right off
once the fish is firm. Now broil the other side until it’s a little more cooked.

In a bowl that’s large enough to hold all of the salmon, combine the miso and tahini. Add enough hot water to make a spreadable paste. Add the chopped scallions. Add the salmon, folding it into the sauce carefully so that you don’t break up the pieces too much. If you have pieces that are very large,
you can just do this step on a serving plate.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving

This painting was done by Winona Nelson (aka Nonie) while we were at Illuxcon! We're pretty sure the turkey is just stunned (see below).


In the next few days, I'll be posting a series of recipes that are healthy suggestions for a festive dinner. The emphasis is on healthy, a little fancy but simple, not too much trouble to make, and not super expensive.

I thought I'd make a menu that looks like this:

Miso Salmon
Lemon Thyme Polenta with Mushrooms
Salad Extravaganza
Sweet Potatoes
Broccoli with Garlic
Apple Grape Pie

You could add a couple of these dishes to your menu along side your traditional family favorites. And, remember, if you have kids, the foods you serve them at holidays are the ones they'll think of when they're grown as the kinds of comfort foods that make a holiday special. See? He's okay. Now he's telling her some jokes to take her mind off eating. And I know he was successful, because we just saw him out playing miniature golf with some ducks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Asian Pear

What can I say about an Asian Pear that even comes close to the effect it has when you take a bite out of it? It's a little like taking a bite out of a crunchy rain cloud (without the lightning) that has been flavored with the perfect mix of sweet and tangy--a little like honey and lemon. Super clean, juicy and crunchy. Better than anything ANY pastry chef ANYWHERE in this world or any other world could ever come up with!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Your Liver: Part 2


Milk thistle is definitely right up there at the top of my Favorite Herbs list. Living in the society we have today with all the pollution and environmental toxins around, and especially if you work with artist's materials such as oil paints (like we do), we need all the help we can get to keep our livers healthy.

First, you have to understand something about your liver--it's a freaking amazing organ. It can regenerate damaged liver tissue faster than The Lizard character from SpiderMan. Seriously, you can remove a huge portion of a liver and it will just grow right back! (Probably not a good idea to try this at home, though.)

Listen to this: "The human liver is one of the few organs in the body that can regenerate from as little as 25 percent of its tissue." says Seth Karp, assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, Boston. Wait...25% from 100%...carry the 3...minus pi--that means 75% of your liver can be taken away and it will grow back!!! Weird!

And according to Dr. Andrew Weil in his fantastic book, "Natural Health, Natural Medicine", milk thistle (Silybum marianum) "is nontoxic, and European research shows that it stimulates regeneration of liver cells and protects them from toxic injury."
So you can take it regularly without side effects or toxic buildup.

But please don't think that you can take milk thistle and then chug beer and eat tubes of cadmium orange. While I realize that those activities can be crazy appealing, your liver will only forgive you for so much mistreatment before an unknown, crucial breaking point is reached and cirrhosis (basically, massive scarring of the liver) sets in and then it's...well, bad stuff. Really bad. Like death and stuff like that. And something that's coming to light now with the obesity epidemic is that Fatty Liver Disease, which comes from fat deposits and inflammation in the liver can cause cirrhosis. And, get this, you don't really have to be obese to get Fatty Liver Disease. It can also come from foods that cause general inflammation (mostly trans fats, saturated fats, refined foods, and artificial ingredients). So, yep, you can get cirrhosis from eating too much junk food even if you're not technically obese.

Of course, the best approach is to just baby that liver. Milk thistle is a great thing to take herb-wise. But mainly, clean living with whole, unrefined foods, clean water and green tea, exercise, and clean air are the best way to keep your liver dancing the happy dance.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jumping Rope


I just got a new jump rope and I'm having so much fun with it. It's made by Bodyfit/Sports Authority and it has a little meter on the handle that keeps time, counts jumps, and calculates calories. All that for $20! And that was the most expensive jump rope they had at the store! The regular ones cost only about $6. Not bad for a serious kick-your-butt piece of exercise equipment and all around bringer-of-fun.
Can you remember when you were a kid and you actually jumped rope just for fun? Well, even if you were too busy playing Super Mario Brothers and didn't jump rope for fun, you should give it a try now. It's not just good for blasting calories to smithereens and cardiovascular fitness, it's great for brain fitness, too. The coordination required will stimulate all kinds of new synapses and dendrites, stuff like that, to form in your brain. All brains love new dendrites. Make yours happy today!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Addiction!


As if you didn't already know this, but did you know that junk food is literally addictive in precisely the same way that cocaine and heroin are addictive? Now we have solid, positive proof, thanks to researchers at Scripps Research Institute in Florida and their team of brave (now obese) little lab rats. The rats were given unlimited access to all kinds of high-fat, calorie-dense food that is commonly available in convenience stores. The rats because compulsive overeaters when pleasure pathways in their brains became less and less sensitive, causing them to gorge themselves more and more to get the same high. Even when they were subjected to a mild shock in order to have access to the junk food, they still went for it.
Then, according to Paul Kenny, an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at Scripps, "after 40 days of becoming more and more addicted (and obese), the rats were switched to a nutritious food pellet, they refused to eat anything at all, even though they were clearly starving."
The act of refining the food is what makes it so addictive. Our bodies evolved with whole foods that needed to be broken down through digestive processes before the foods' nutrients and sugars could be released. Cocaine is only addictive because of this refining process, too. The leaves, when chewed by natives, supposedly give a high similar to coffee. But, when refined, the same chemical becomes a life-consuming addiction. Same with heroin or alcohol, same with sugar, same with any refined product.
When you think about it, this principle applies just as well to experiences. Anything, really, that gives you a good feeling. Painting, music, conversation with someone you love, love itself, nature, anything.
So choose your addictions wisely! They're just another fact of life. Healthy addictions can be cultivated to your benefit and enhance your well-being.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Can Read Your Mind!

It's true! This just occurred to me today while I was doing my cardio workout. I can read your mind, right here in this blog. "Okay," you say, "so what am I thinking?" Well, my mind reading only works IN THE FUTURE! And after you read this, my mind-reading tells me that you'll be thinking, "Ha! She can't really read my mind at all." What a great trick!

So what does this have to do with fitness? Well, you can entertain yourself with your own mind like this too whenever you do your cardio exercises. Some people think doing cardio exercises at the gym (like running on the treadmill, stationary biking, or using an elliptical machine) is boring, but I often have trouble trying to look halfway sane at the gym because I'm laughing so hard. It all depends on what you're thinking! IPods help, too. And, if you combine cardio exercises with music you enjoy or something positive going on in your mind, you'll literally flood your system with happy chemistry that will make your whole day so much fun!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Carl Sagan Day


Happy Carl Sagan Day! Today is the first annual celebration of the life and work of an amazing man who really knew how to get into crazy little corners of your mind and expand it into directions that you never knew existed.
If you haven't at least read his book, Cosmos, or seen the TV series, Cosmos, well, you're just really missing an experience that everyone should have. When I first read his essays on biology, especially the parts about our mitochondria, the information really had me so intrigued that it set off a whole new passion of discovery for me. If you're a fellow human being on Planet Earth like I am (and you probably are!), you need to know this information!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Astragalus Root

I thought it would be a good time to mention one of my favorite herbs, astragalus root. With all the talk about colds and the flu, it's helpful to know of an herb that enhances your immune system without any side effects and is a relatively inexpensive herb as well. I first read about astragalus in Dr. Andrew Weil's book, "Natural Health, Natural Medicine". It's great for use when you think you may be catching something, but since it's non-toxic, you can just use it regularly to keep your immune system strong. We use the powdered herb in capsule form and follow the directions on the bottle, but tincture or tablets are fine. If we think we're getting a cold or something, we increase the dosage temporarily to give ourselves an extra boost. You can also find astragalus root in Chinese grocery stores and some health food stores as dried, sliced root that you can simmer as tea or in soup.
Still, of course, the best thing to help you prevent getting sick is hand-washing and avoiding touching your face (especially eyes and nose). Don't you think that shaking hands should be put on temporary hold until after flu season? We can just show our palms to each other to say that we're not carrying any weapons. Maybe make a peace sign or a Vulcan sign or something.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Breathing!

It was recently suggested by Jennifer Oliver that I write something about breathing exercises and I thought it was such a good idea. One of the quickest and most effective ways I know of to either calm down or perk up is through breathing technique.

First, here's my favorite stress-release breath that I learned from reading Dr. Andrew Weil's work. It's perfect for times when you've been pushing through a deadline and you've stopped for a break. Standing, sitting, or lying down, gently straighten your back so that your entire breathing system, from your nose to the bottom of your belly, has plenty of room. Now inhale through your nose to a count of 4, hold your breath without tightening your throat (this is important!) for a count of 7, then softly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Wait a second or two and repeat 3 times. The length of time that passes for each count isn't important, it's the ratio of 4:7:8 that makes this breath work.
When you're doing the breath-holding part, be sure you're not creating a lot of tension or increasing your blood pressure too much by holding in too much air or by clamping your throat shut.
This is good when you're stuck in traffic or waiting in a line somewhere that's trying your patience.

Next, a calming/balancing breath that employs a cool visualization. Again, from whatever position you're in, gently straighten your back, then inhale through your nose. Imagine that the breath slowly floats down a line that goes from your heart to the bottom of your pelvis (called Sushumna). Imagine that the base of your pelvis is a trampoline that, on the exhale,slowly sends the breath back up the same line it came down to "fan" your heart from the bottom up.
Do this for at least 5 or 10 breaths. If you have time, you can do this for as long as you like. It's a good breath to use while you're doing stretching exercises that you hold for longer times because it relaxes your body into the stretch in a very natural way. I love using this breath. I'm convinced that it's one of the fastest ways to get a nice dose of happy chemicals from your brain whenever you want it.

The perking-up breath is sort of like a dog panting, except it's just in and out of your nose. But the idea is to breath in and out very quickly with short little breaths. You'll be using your stomach muscles to accomplish this. It can take a little time to get those muscles to be coordinated enough to do this smoothly for more than a few breaths. So start with just a few of these panting breaths and end with a deep exhale. Build up slowly to do 10, 20, or 30 of these quick panting breaths before the deep exhale.

Thanks for the inspiration, Jennifer!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coconut Lentils


Marc Scheff, one of the participants in our recent artists' retreat,
not only took this crazy photograph, titled "Exquisite Boris", but also
made a huge (really huge) pot of Coconut lentils for everybody. The aroma
of fresh garlic, ginger, and jalapeno peppers was magically delicious.

COCO LENTILS by Marc Scheff
A goopy lentil dish made with coconut milk

I don't measure much, so most of this is approximate. Adjust ingredients for more/less lentils, and more/less spice. It's quite simple to make, despite my verbose directions.

If I were to guess at amounts I'd say

* 1 package lentils (I think they're 8oz)
* 2 ears corn, or 1 can
* 2 zucchinis
* 1 bag spinach
* 4 carrots
* 1-2 jalapenos (to your own levels of bravery)
* 1 onion
* 4 heads of garlic or more (I use as many as 8, I love it!)
* 1-3 inches of ginger

1. Soak lentils for ~8 hours (if you're making this for dinner, put them in a bowl in the morning with a few extra inches of water)
2. Drain lentils and place in a fresh pot of water
3. Bring to Boil, simmer for maybe 10 minutes

4. While waiting for lentils, chop up whatever veggies you want
I use carrots, zucchini, corn, onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and a green like spinach or kale at the end
Experiment with other veggies like mushrooms, or peppers if you like
5. Take a pan with some oil and bring to high heat
6. Turn heat down and drop diced/sliced carrots in (carrots take longest to cook, so they get extra time)
7. Heat until carrots are getting crisped and a little soft

8. Drop in as much garlic/ginger/diced jalapeno as you like, and the diced veggies
This is where I add stuff like zucchini and onion that needs a little, but not a lot, of cooking time
9. Give a few squirts of Bragg's Amino
10. Cook until veggies are mostly crispy and/or cooked

11. Drop in corn and lentils. Add lentils slowly and stop when you have the right veggie/lentil balance for you.
12. Add 1 can of coconut milk and a dash more Bragg's to taste

13. When the dish tastes right and is cooked, add spinash or kale
14. Stir until kale/spinach is cooked

15. If you need it to be goopier, add more coconut milk and Bragg's

16. Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Barn Fitness

Every year in the fall (for the last four years), we go to a beautiful place in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts where we spend a week with a group of our artist friends painting, laughing, eating s'mores, stuff like that. Aside from the s'mores (which are terrible for you on the physical plane, but the absolute peak of health food on the fun plane), we keep it pretty healthy. It's good to get away from your usual fitness routine here and there and give your body a break. Too much of the same exercise for too long without a change tends to create tendon soreness that just sort of lingers on and on. So here are some exercises if you ever find yourself with only an old New England barn and a bunch of friends as your equipment.

Pull Ups are a good exercise to start with. They mostly work your upper back, biceps, and rear deltoids. Keeping these muscle groups strong and toned is important in holding up good posture as well as creating an athletic V-shape to the upper body. Any exercise that requires you to pull weights (rows, bicep curls, etc.) fits into this category.


Demonstrating Pull Ups, left to right: Anthony Palumbo, Justin Gerard, Marc Scheff, David Palumbo, and Winona Nelson. Standing by are Dave Seeley, Dena Obeza, and Arkady Roytman.

Next is Push Ups. Push Ups are the perfect "opposite" exercise for Pull Ups. They work chest, tricep, and front deltoid muscles. Any exercise that requires you to push against weight (bench press, shoulder press, etc.) fits into this category.
Boris is demonstrating Push Ups for us here. He didn't have any s'mores while he was at the barn, preferring to save himself for his favorite snack, Suzy's Flatbreads.

Moving on to a great leg exercise, we have Jumping Lunges. Start in a lunging position and jump straight up, switching the position of your legs. At the top of the jump, tighten your knees and quadriceps. This exercise is great for overall strengthening and toning of the legs as well as working on your balance. If you do this exercise with respect for your knees and don't lunge too low, you'll strengthen your knees and keep them healthy.
Justin Gerard is demonstraging Jumping Lunges for us. He was thinking of the Silver Surfer when he was doing this.

And when it's time to wind down, pick a partner and make some swords out of tin foil. Exercise is so fun!
Anthony Palumbo and Winona Nelson are demonstrating their fencing skills here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cholesterol

I just HAD to put a link to this article by Dr. Mark Hyman MD for anyone out there with any kind of cholesterol concern. He talks about the real causes of high cholesterol, as well as whether it is actually something to be concerned about or not. One thing that I found worth pointing out is that the dangerous kind of high cholesterol comes from eating sugar, refined foods like white bread, and especially from high-fructose corn syrup, rather than fat. Not a surprise, really, when you realize that the worst damage comes from inflammation in your system--practically a certainty if you're regularly having high-fructose corn syrup, the highly-refined sweetener found in soda, most sweet drinks, and most processed foods.

Since many well-meaning but overworked doctors get much of their latest information from pharmaceutical representatives (who obviously have a product to sell!), they can sometimes come to conclusions that aren't always in your best interest. If you or anyone you know and care about are having cholesterol concerns or are taking cholesterol medication, please read this article!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jennifer Oliver


This beautiful, lush painting that you are looking at was done by Jennifer Oliver at last year's Illustration Master Class. Since Jennifer sat next to me during most of the week's painting time, I was fortunate enough to see its development from the earliest stages as well as make a new friend. It's like the friendship and the painting were born at the same time!
And now she has sent me a recipe from her friend, Rhett Wickham, that I wanted to share with all of you. She had plans to try it with a sprinkling of cinnamon to push the exotic factor even further, but I don't know yet how that went. I suspect it was fantastic!

Rhett's easy goat cheese and pear pizza:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Fresh pizza dough
One large white or Vidalia onion, sliced and caramelized
Two pears, thinly sliced
Sliced goat cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
Basil Pesto
Raw Walnuts
Coat rolled out pizza dough with pesto, cover with the onions, goat cheese
and pear slices. Sprinkle with ground pepper, sea salt and chopped walnuts
to taste. If using feta cheese, omit the sea salt. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes for a thin crust, 20-25 minutes for a thicker crust, or until golden. Yum!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Late night eating

I just read this on Dr. Andrew Weil's website:

"Want to Lose Weight? Don’t Eat Late

The timing of your meals may influence your weight, at least if you're a mouse. A new study from Northwestern University suggests that late-night snacks or eating when you should be asleep can pile on pounds. The researchers were investigating why shift workers who are on the job at irregular hours tend to be overweight. So they fed mice a high fat diet during normal mouse sleeping time and fed the same diet to a control group of mice during the hours when the animals are naturally awake. All the mice gained, but the ones fed when they should have been asleep increased their weight by 48 percent compared to the others whose weight went up only 20 percent. All the mice ate the same number of calories and performed equal amounts of exercise. This suggests that the timing of meals matters to weight control. Earlier research found that our circadian clock regulates energy use, which implies that when we eat may affect the balance between calories consumed and the number of calories burned daily. The study was published online Sept. 3, 2009 by the journal Obesity."

If you're like lots of artists I know and love, you like to work late at night--and maybe even have snacks to keep you company (along with NPR, of course!).
Anyway, I just thought it's a really good thing to keep in mind. Maybe a cup of unsweetened tea would be a good companion!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tomato Pie

The tomatoes in this picture, photographed by The Magnificent Boris, were grown in my own yard from seeds that I planted. One of my neighbors told me "they'll never grow", but I really proved her wrong.
A different neighbor made a tomato pie from her homegrown tomatoes and it made our mouths freak out with happiness, so I had to share her recipe with you!

RACHEL’S TOMATO PIE

Filling:
2 or 3 large ripe tomatoes or 2 cups of cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
Handful of basil leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt

Pie crust:
½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup spelt flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Approximately ¼ cup cold water

Topping:
2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
2 ounces grated parmesan cheese

Combine sliced tomatoes and all other filling ingredients into a bowl. Cover and let
marinate at room temperature for about 6 hours or so.
Spray a 9 inch pie plate with spray oil.
For the pie crust, mix flours and salt, add olive oil and stir with a fork until mixture
resembles corn meal. Add water, just a little at a time while stirring with the fork, until the very moment it holds together in
a ball. Flour a wooden cutting board with spelt flour and roll out the dough into a circle with a rolling
pin. Transfer to the oiled pie plate.
Sprinkle about ½ of the cheeses onto the crust, add the marinated tomatoes, top with
the remaining cheeses.
Bake at 425 until crust is browned, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature before
serving.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tanning Beds--Don't Do It!

This is a deadly serious subject and one that I'm qualified to rag on about because about 10 years ago, I had a mole on my leg that started changing a little. When I went to get it looked at by a dermatologist, he tried to act pretty calm, but I could see that he was alarmed by it. By the way, it wasn't even very big or scary-looking, but it had a light colored ring around it and it was slightly raised. So he cut it off and sent it in to the lab. A couple of days later (he rushed it through to get a quick answer), I got a call from his assistant saying that I had a malignant melanoma and had to have more skin removed from around the original site immediately.

It really wasn't a big deal and I was lucky that it was removed early before it had a chance to spread (it's cured 100%), but now, of course, I'm leery of every mole and freckle because people actually die from melanoma. Bob Marley died from melanoma! Almost 69,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma and over 8,500 people are expected to die from it in 2009. Of course, I'm sure Bob Marley never used a tanning bed and there are certainly other ways that skin cancer begins to grow besides tanning beds, but doesn't the fact that so many more (50% increase since 1980) skin cancer cases are in young women tell you something? Young men don't use tanning beds as much as young women and they haven't shown the same rise in melanoma incidence.

I have no doubt that the skin cancer I had was caused by the use of tanning beds when I was in my bodybuilding competition days. Truthfully, it's pretty dumb to tan for a contest because everybody uses a really dark skin dye on the day they compete anyway--even those with naturally dark skin such as African Americans, so it's a complete waste of effort.

Anyway, I hope you've all read by now that international cancer experts are confirming in an announcement published in the medical journal Lancet Oncology that tanning beds and the ultraviolet radiation they put out are as poisonous as arsenic. They literally described it as poison and said that they are at about the same level of cancer-causing danger as cigarettes. Personally, I think tanning beds are much worse than cigarettes and I really hate cigarettes. Also, they've said that people who use tanning beds before age 30 increase their risk of skin cancer by 75%.

So, can't we all just learn to love natural skin color whatever color it happens to be?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One more time...

So now, in the last four posts I've given you four important sources to learn great things about yourself and how to take the best advantage of your body/mind's potential.

Andrew Weil, Big Daddy of Medicine (my title for him), one of the most brilliant thinkers of our time, can help you find answers to just about any health question or concern as well as give you a good direction to follow for health maintenance.

Steven Gurgevich, a great brain coupled with a gentle spirit and an uncanny talent for teaching you to speak to your own subconscious mind, will encourage you to encourage yourself (yay for self-empowerment!).

John Sarno, a revolutionary doc who knows what really works to treat chronic conditions, will educate you in how to make use of your body's own nervous systems so you can heal yourself in a real and lasting way.

and
Candace Pert, a fearless supernova of energy and enthusiasm who researched it all, will show you the science behind Dr. Sarno's and Dr. Gurgevich's methods to take you even further into the empowerment that comes with knowledge.

The point of all this is to give you some serious resources to learn about a new paradigm of thinking about your own body. The work of all four of these very special people has helped Boris and me in so many ways that I feel compelled to share it with you. So read the posts below, think for yourself, and decide what's for you!

Dr. Candace Pert

I was reading Dr. John Sarno's book, "The Divided Mind", and he mentions that anyone interested in the subject of the biochemistry of emotions (that would be me!) should read a book called, "Molecules of Emotion" by a neuroscientist named Dr. Candace Pert. I jumped up (yes, actually jumped) and ordered myself a copy from Amazon.com and, besides being a lively and entertaining read, it was yet another introduction to a new doorway of thinking for me. Reading this material was like being introduced to my own body's systems for the first time. Learning about how your cells communicate with each other, directing their action, keeping you healthy (or making you sick) is now one of my passions.

Dr. Pert, who once came within inches of winning a Nobel Prize, has centered her work around chemicals called peptides that are what create the communication system in your body. At the present time, she's devoted herself to using this premise to find a cure for AIDS. This communication system in our bodies is so elegant and sophisticated that it makes the internet look like a telegraph, or maybe like paper cups and a string--no offense to the internet, I love it.

It's just too bad that all this isn't common knowledge that we were taught from the time we're little kids, maybe the way we were taught basics about our bodily functions like having a cardiovascular system, for instance. Or a brain, or a liver. It's that basic to our existence and we just never knew about it! And once you get the general idea of how it works, you can use your new understanding to enhance your own health and well-being in ways you never dreamed of.

Dr. Pert is currently Chief Scientific Officer of RAPID Laboratories in Rockville, Maryland which is developing a drug treatment and vaccine against HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dr. John Sarno

I was going to talk about Candace Pert next, but I realized that it was Dr. Sarno who led me to Dr. Pert, so it makes sense to talk about him first.
I just love this cartoon! It was drawn by Boris to illustrate Dr. Sarno's point to our son, David.

I first heard of Dr. Sarno's work through Andrew Weil's recommendation. Dr. Weil had been saying forEVER that most any kind of back problem could be helped without drugs or surgery and that Dr. Sarno's book, "MindBody Prescription" was a good place to learn about his theory. I didn't pay much attention until I had a really yucky time with back, knee, and hip pain that just wouldn't go away. I went to all kinds of doctors, got all kinds of tests including blood tests to see if I had some weird rheumatoid problem. To make my long, painful story short and painless, I took Dr. Weil's recommendation and read Dr. Sarno's book and (FOR REAL!)within 2 weeks after finishing the book, I was perfectly pain-free and back to running, weight lifting, and yoga.

Dr. Sarno has put himself out on a limb by spelling out a treatment that really consists of education. No drugs, surgery, or special exercises, just a new understanding of how the body's systems of creating pain works. And it was this new understanding that opened my mind to a completely different approach to thinking about the entire subject of health. The beauty of this education is that once you understand it, the back-and-forth communication between your mind and your body becomes a source of knowledge for you that you didn't know you already possessed!

John E. Sarno is Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center. He graduated from The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1950. In 1965 he became the Director of the Outpatient Department at the Rusk Institute.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dr. Steven Gurgevich

I'm not sure where to start in talking about Dr. Gurgevich's work. Body? Mind? Art? Yep, these three areas of my life have been boosted into new dimensions through listening to his self-hypnosis CDs. It's probably the most painless and effortless way to reach into your unconscious mind and make whatever adjustments you choose to your life. What I've learned from his work that's so valuable to me is how to actually communicate in an effective way with my own mind and body.

Most artists, being such visual people, have a particularly successful time with self hypnosis and visualization. We're used to imagining things in vivid realism, complete with multi-sensory detail. One CD in particular that has helped me with my art in an unexpected and kind of cool way is "Musical Performance Success". It was made for musical performers so that they'll have more confidence when they play in public. I decided to get it because I could just mentally switch out the word "musical" for "artistic" and just see what would happen! (I seriously LOVE experimenting with drug-free--and only drug-free!-- altered states of consciousness!) Not only have I experienced unexplainable easy confidence when I'm painting in front of a crowd (such as at the Illustration Master Class), but it's given me more confidence in my art all together. Artists of all kinds need confidence like life needs water, and all of Dr. Gurgevich's work transmits a sense of calm and confidence to the listener.

The first time I heard about him was through the recommendation of Dr. Weil. At the time, I was having trouble getting a solid night's sleep, so I got some of his CDs and listened to them as I fell asleep at night (so you can see, they obviously worked!). I just got more and more interested in the possibilities I saw with this and now I've really learned how to work it myself. That's the coolest thing about this is that he teaches you how it works so that you can do it yourself according to your own needs.

He also seems to be a dyed-in-the-wool great person. He has an incredibly soothing voice that gently but clearly transmits his peaceful energy. His wife, Joy, also a real sweetheart, shares a section of their website that has some great nutritional advice. Through Dr. Gurgevich's work, I've realized in a very tangible way the unlimited potential that we all have to make use of our amazing unconscious mind.

Steven Gurgevich, PhD is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the
Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona College of Medicine

Dr. Andrew Weil and Boris's Liver

About 11 years ago, just by a complete stroke of luck, I happened upon Andrew Weil's book, "8 Weeks To Optimum Health". Boris was struggling with a team of doctors who, for 15 years, had been mystified over his increasingly problematic liver. The docs were at the point of putting him on a highly toxic drug (Prednisone) with little hope that it would actually fix his problem and simultaneously putting him on a list for a liver transplant! In desperation, I went to the bookstore and looked for anything I could find about liver function and liver health (this was before we had internet). I found several great books, but Dr. Weil's book, as well as another book of his called "Natural Health, Natural Medicine", turned out to have most of my answers. Within 6 weeks, a 15-year long health saga was completely over and Boris now lives with his own liver that Thor or Tarzan or even Zeus himself would envy (yeah!). Since that time, I've read everything I could find that Dr. Weil has written as well as works he's recommended from other doctors and scientists. It was the beginning of a brand new path of thinking for me.

The thing about Dr. Weil that is so great is that he's just so incredibly intelligent, curious, and open-minded. He's not interested in following any one particular line of thinking, or in simply enhancing his own image. He just wants to find out what works. So he researches Eastern, Western, whatever kind of medicine, looks for the sound science behind it, and makes his recommendations. He's one of the great thinkers of our time. His website is amazing in its helpfulness and accessibility.

Dr. Weil attended both college and medical school at Harvard University. He is the founder and Program Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (formerly the Program in Integrative Medicine), which he started in 1994 at the University of Arizona.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Four people you should know about

I got hooked on learning about mind/body issues back when I was competing in bodybuilding (1984-1989) and have only gotten more and more interested in this passion of mind through the years. As anyone well knows, there are many experts on the subject whose work I've read who have great things to say, but, at this time, four people's work stand out in my mind as Super Supreme, and they are Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Steven Gurgevich, Dr. John Sarno, and Dr. Candace Pert. I'm going to write a separate post for each one of them so that I can tell you why I feel so strongly about their work.
In the meantime, I think we should build a new Mt. Rushmore of Health and Fitness and have these four people's images carved into a mountainside!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Create your perfect breakfast

I think the two most important things to consider in deciding how to design your breakfast are:

1. Make sure you're having some of each of the following:
protein (Ezekiel cereal or toast, eggs, lowfat or nonfat milk or other dairy products, or tofu are good choices),
complex carbohydrates (note the word complex! That means nothing made with sugar or white flour or any other refined grains),
fiber (whole grain, fruit, vegetable),
some healthy fat (as from nuts or eggs),
and some "water food" (juicy fruit or vegetable)
as well as some water (tea or coffee).

2. What kind of mood are you in? Are you feeling slow and want to pick yourself up? In that case, a good choice might be some eggs and a piece of fruit or steamed vegetables. Good beverage choices would be tea or coffee or even a nice glass of cool (not cold) water.
Are you feeling like you need to be soothed? Try some cooked Irish oatmeal or other whole grain hot cereal with fruit on top. Have some tea with cinnamon or other warm spices.
Are you already tranquil and balanced and want to stay that way? I'd have our usual breakfast cereal mix.
It's important to check in with your emotional state so that you can make any adjustments that are necessary. Your choice of breakfast music is also important for setting your speed for the morning. For some reason, when it's first thing in the morning, I only like instrumental music. Songs with words make me nervous in the morning. Go figure!

Some things that are a bad idea for every day are bagels (too densely packed with carbohydrates), muffins and pastries, fatty meats (sausage, bacon, etc.), butter, syrup, jams and jellies made with sugar, and cereals made with refined flour or sugar. I don't recommend imitation meats like soy sausage, etc., if they contain the ingredient Soy Protein Isolate. It's a too-refined ingredient that takes a good thing (soy) and turns it into an artificial food that's really not good for you. Plus, fake meats usually have way too much sodium. Toast is great as long as you are sure that the bread is of really good quality whole grains. My favorite is Ezekiel bread--it's such a great complete food. Put some almond or peanut butter (or sliced avocado with tomato!) on your toast instead of butter.

Another factor to consider is how much time you have in the morning to make and eat breakfast. This should never be an excuse to limit your nutrition because you can always prepare something the night before or get up 10 minutes earlier.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Inspired To Go For A Run

Boris and I shot a bunch of pictures of horses for upcoming paintings at a nearby stable the other day and, once we were at home looking at our pictures on the computer, seeing this one made me feel compelled to drop everything, put on my running shoes, and go flying down the street. When we were shooting these pictures, you could see how much this horse loved the feeling of running. He would trot for a bit and then just take off. Inspiring for sure!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Are you at Comic Con?

If you are one of the 120,000 people (give or take a few) attending Comic Con, you're going to eventually get hungry and I HOPE you're not just going to grab a hot dog or something equally full of chemicals/devoid of nutrients!

Eating well while traveling is always a bit of a trick, but the best place to find food is at a grocery store. Not only will you save money, but you can actually find real food that will keep your energy up (something you need for sure at Comic Con!). Some good suggestions are trail mix (not granola, which is full of sugar), rice cakes with hummus or small pieces of good quality cheese, and fresh fruit (of course!). If you're lucky enough to find a supermarket with a salad bar, you've hit the jackpot. Just stay away from the salad dressing--most pre-made dressings are just more chemicals, fat, salt, and sugar. A little olive oil and some vinegar are not only tasty, but actually beneficial to your health. Vinegar boosts your fat-burning metabolism and also increases the good bacteria in your system (this does great things for your immune system!) and olive oil contributes to the healthy fats you need to break down nutrients.

Be sure to drink lots of water while you're traveling. I know it makes for more trips to the bathroom, but that's really healthier than temporarily shutting down your filtration/hydration system. Besides, every trip to the bathroom is more exercise! Yay for exercise!

Have fun, you lucky Comic Conners! Sorry we're not there--we miss you all!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rebecca Guay

By now, you all know about the Illustration Master Class that Boris and I taught at a few weeks ago. And you're probably also familiar with the beautiful lady who is the driving force behind bringing the Master Class to reality, Rebecca Guay. I've always admired her art as well as her strong, graceful form and her background in classical ballet (not to mention that she's a sweetheart!), so I've asked her to answer a few questions to share with all of you!










Me: How does your background in ballet affect your paintings?
Rebecca: One of the things that dance really gave my was an attention to detail and an awareness of the small things that make a pose beautiful when things are done well or awkward if they are not.
There is such scrutiny to detail in dance- the perfection of the line, the gesture of the body that leads the viewer out into the visual space surrounding the dancer. My training is in ballet, and although my anatomy is is totally wrong to have ever been a dancer in any real way myself, I did get the opportunity during years of classes to pack my visual memory with the beautiful forms and lines of truly gifted people. If I cannot have that "line" myself in life, I can have it in my art.

Me: How does your background in ballet affect your fitness routine?
Rebecca: I think I have a really good sense of body awareness from ballet that helps immensely in doing weights and cardio- as well as really good balance and core strength for things like kickboxing, which I love.

Me: Is it difficult to keep your fitness/nutrition routine consistent when you're under the pressureof deadlines?
Rebecca: Yeah- I'm bad with sugar, especially under stress- it's a problem. I try to use TRUVIA ( a derivative of stevia)- but I fall off the wagon.
If I keep a lot of fruit around I'm better, the summer is better overall.

Me: I heard you had a cool fitness breakthrough recently (pullup). Can you
tell us how great that was and how ecstatic you were?
Rebecca: I've been doing a rotating weights/cardio/ weights/yoga/weights/cardio routine in the last three months that includes a lot of pull up and chin ups ( assisted mostly with a chair).
I've always had lean looking arms, but not strong arms, now I can actually do a pull up un-assisted- which seems like diddley squat to most people but makes me totally giddy!

Thanks Rebecca!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back and Chest Poem

After doing a 35-minute cardio session on the StairMaster (which emphasizes a strength move for legs), I did an interesting back/chest workout today. It went like this: (one set each exercise)

Lateral cable pulldowns, 15 reps (back)
Seated cable rows, 15 reps (back)
Then,
Bench press, 15 reps (chest)
Flat dumbbell chest press, 15 reps (chest)

Then I increased the weights and dropped my reps down to 10 for each set.

Bent over rows with a barbell, 10 reps (back)
Bent over rows with a dumbbell, 10 reps (back)
Then,
Bench press, 10 reps (chest)
Incline dumbbell press, 10 reps (chest)

Then I increased the weights a little more and dropped the reps down to 8 for each
set.

Lateral pulldowns on a machine, 8 reps (back)
Seated rows on a machine, 8 reps (back)
Then,
Bench press, 8 reps (chest)
Incline dumbbell press, 8 reps (chest)

Hey, this workout is structured like a poem!

So, you see, the point here was to do 2 exercises for back, then immediately do 2 for chest, back and forth 3 times, increasing the poundage and decreasing the repetitions.
I finished with a bunch of regular old pushups and 4 sets of leg raises for abs (15-20 reps each set).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cardio and music


The gym schedule that we mostly stick to goes like this:
35 minutes of cardio, then weight-lifting -- day 1
just 35 minutes of cardio -- day 2
day off from the gym -- day 3
repeat

So that means that today is a "just cardio" day. I'm opting for running on the treadmill today because my sister, Suzanne, is visiting and I can run on the treadmill next to hers. Once again, I was planning to take it a little easy today because my legs are kind of sore from weight-lifting yesterday, but as soon as my music in my ipod takes over, I'm swept away and running like a maniac. Did I look a little bit like a crazy person? I'm pretty sure I might have, but I'm not going to worry about it. Suzanne was inspired to run with me and that was really cool!

Which brings me to the point of this post--music. I don't know of any better "energy booster" (more like rocket fuel!) than my ipod. I've seen study after study that shows that people listening to upbeat music while exercising experience less discomfort/boredom, burn way more calories, create more endorphins, and experience a faster passage of time during their exercise session. I only listen with earbuds or headphones while I'm doing cardio at the gym because, like any sane person, I would never use headphones while running on the street or trail. This is a rule that I hope you'll follow too!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Leg Day!

Today is leg day at the gym. When I was competing in bodybuilding and lifting really heavy, those words would strike terror into my heart, but now I look forward to it.
As usual, I started with my 35-minute cardio session. Today I decided to run on the treadmill with a fairly fast pace and only low hills. Then, after a few good post-run stretches, it went like this:
Start by going through a giant set one time, 15 reps each exercise:

Leg extensions
Deadlifts with two 25-lb. dumbbells
Front squats on the Smith Machine
Lunges with two 15-lb. dumbbells
Hyperextensions with 25-lb. plate

Now you can either repeat this giant set or you can focus on one or two of the
exercises. I chose to do a smaller giant set with the leg extensions, deadlifts, and lunges. I went through this sequence 3 times. In the second and third sets, I increased the weights on the deadlifts and lunges.
After that, I went back and forth between weighted hyperextensions and ab work (cable crunches, sets of 20), doing these two back to back three times.

That's it! The whole thing took me about 30 minutes and it was just perfect for me.
PS As I mentioned before, for anyone who isn't familiar with these exercises, I'm going to come back later and show pictures of them with explanations of how to do them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Changing Gears


A great question has been brought up by a couple of you and that is how to change gears between doing creative work, doing business errands, and exercise/fitness. This is something that, years ago, I had a real problem with. I know that the human brain is infinitely flexible and adaptable and I was determined to do all the things I wanted to do.
I realized that the most efficient way to make this happen was to use my powers of visualization ahead of time so that my brain would already be there once I was doing the new activity. For instance, the time spent while you're doing your cardio session is an ideal time to think about whatever creative work you're going to be doing later on. In fact, exercising increases dopamine (a brain chemical that makes you feel happy and makes you smarter and more creative!), so take advantage of your exercise time to figure out your next creative move.
Then, while you're painting, take note of what time you think you should stop so that you can do your exercise, errands, whatever, then start mentally preparing yourself while you're working and visualize yourself doing the new activity.
Abruptly ripping your mind away from an activity can be mentally exhausting, but you'll surprise yourself at how painless it can be if you use this visualization technique to ease the transition.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shoulders

I start off the day the same as usual with 15 minutes of yoga before breakfast. I'm going to write a more detailed post at some point in the near future about the morning yoga I do, but for now, I'll just say that it's very instinctive and based on how I'm feeling on any particular day. Yoga is all about connecting mind and body and I don't think applying a rigid standard is respectful to the constant fluctuations of mind and body.

At the gym, I decided to do my cardio session on the Stair Master today. It's the kind that has moving stairs so that it's like climbing actual stairs (as opposed to pedals that you push). I did it for 35 minutes and climbed 206 flights of stairs. I did a few speed intervals, but not too extreme. And, yes, it did kick my butt!

We have a lunch appointment that's going to take most of the afternoon, so I'm saving my free-weight shoulder workout for tonight at home.

About 8:30 pm I did a free-weight shoulder workout that was composed of giant sets, each exercise done for 12 reps, the whole routine repeated 3 times.
It went like this:
Front raises with 10 lb. dumbbells
Lateral raises, 10 lbs.
Bent over lateral raises (for rear deltoids), 10 lbs.
Overhead shoulder presses with 15 lb. dumbbells
Upright rows, 15 lbs.

When I repeated the giant set for the second time, I replaced the 10 lb. dumbbells with 12.5 lbs. and the 15 lb. dumbbells were replaced with 17.5 lbs.
For the third giant set, I changed the 12.5 for a 15 lb. dumbbell and switched the 17.5 for a 25 lb dumbbell.

I then did 4 pilates type exercises for abs and core (more on that later), with about 25 reps each set.

That's it for today! That workout only took me about 20 minutes, so it is something that can easily be worked into the day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day two

After doing a light weight-training session yesterday as well as a medium-light cardio session, today I'm going even easier so that tomorrow I can start to pick up the pace a little.
I started the morning with my usual 10-15 minute yoga session before breakfast (this is something we do every day).
We went for a 2 mile walk after breakfast, and we painted all day (gotta do that, too!).
We had an early dinner and then a couple of hours later, I did a light one hour session of ashtanga-based yoga. If you've got the great fortune to have access to Steve Ross's fantastic yoga show, "Inhale", you must try it! He makes it so fun and not so serious, but you still get all the benefits.
Now, off to a good night's sleep because there's more to do tomorrow!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Easing back into regular life after the IMC


Boris and I are back from being two of the faculty members of the 2009 Illustration Master Class, a week-long intense illustration workshop put together by fellow artist and fitness enthusiast, Rebecca Guay. The IMC is a first class Happening. We all gather at Amherst College and spend a full week of 12-plus hour days (starting at 10am and going on until at least 10 pm--most people stayed until about 1 am every night, some even later), drawing, painting, critiquing, listening to lectures from top professionals in the field. It is intense and emotional and everyone who participates seems to love it!
The intensity of the experience is physically draining and it would be true craziness to just jump back into my regular exercise/fitness routine without easing back in slowly and thoughtfully, in a way that wouldn't leave me too sore to continue my workouts later in the week.
Rebecca thought it would be a good idea if I wrote a log of my daily fitness habits,
so here's what I'm doing fitness-wise today:

First thing upon getting out of bed is a short 15-minute yoga session, especially focusing on stretching the muscles along my spine. The mindful breathing that defines yoga is perfect for starting the day with a balanced state of mind, connecting body with mind.

Breakfast is next, then a short walk around the neighborhood (about a mile) just to get some daylight, fresh air, and blood flowing. Just connecting with the day.

After a cup of tea and a few e-mails, we're off to the gym. First today, we do 30 minutes of cardio exercise. Boris likes the stationary bikes and elliptical machines today, I choose a nice, easy run on the treadmill. I start off with a minute or two of walking, then get to an easy pace. But after turning on my ipod, I start to go a little faster and, before I know it, I'm kind of flying along with The Clash. Oh well, so much for easing in. Whatever! It was a great run and I got rid of the cobwebs in my muscles.

After cardio, we do weight-lifting. On a day like this, I just want to hit every muscle group lightly and keep moving constantly. Fortunately, the gym is pretty empty today, so I can pick whatever I want to do. It went like this (one set each exercise, all sets are for 15 reps, light to medium weight, no more than 30 seconds rest in between sets):
Leg extensions (quads)
Lateral pulldowns (lats, biceps)
Seated rows (lats, biceps, and full back)
Deadlifts with dumbbells (full body, emphasis on legs)
Lunges with resting leg on the exercise ball (legs, balance, core)
Shoulder presses with dumbbells (shoulders)
Upright rows (shoulders, biceps)
Hyperextensions (lower back, core, butt)
Bench press (chest, shoulders)
Bicep curls (biceps)
Kneeling crunches with weight (core)
Regular lunges (legs, butt)
Pushups (chest, core, quads)

So the idea here is to make the blood jump from upper body to lower body, back and forth, sideways, all over the place. Move fast, thinking of what you're going to do next while you're in the middle of an exercise. If someone takes the machine or station you had your eye on, forget it and immediately pick something else. This is a good idea if you're new to weights or, as in my case, coming back from a week or more of rest from the gym. You won't build a lot of muscle if you do this consistently, but if you're just looking for general fitness and conditioning, it's a great way to go.

Around 3pm I do a 15 minute meditation, focusing on my breath, just keeping my head screwed on--not too tight and not too loose!

After dinner, we go for another walk, this time about 2 miles. This keeps your metabolism up while letting your stress from the day out.

That's about it for today. Good night!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cool Mind Trick From Another Dimension

The next time you find yourself in a situation that you feel is less than your favorite thing (let’s say, doing any kind of paperwork, a boring meeting, waiting in slow traffic, things like that), pretend that you are an alien being who exists in some other dimension where your reality is entirely different from ours here on Earth. So now, you, the alien, are in your own dimension and you’ve gone to an amusement park where one of the rides is that you get to pop into the body of some random person on Earth and experience whatever situation they are in for 15 minutes. And here you are! Suddenly, you become aware of your new living, human body (in the other dimension, you only exist as a bunch of electrons or something) and all the cool things it can do. All the things around you would be so amazing and new. Even filling out tax forms would be such a thrill! I know you’re probably thinking, “It would have been better to pop into a different person for my 15 minutes”, but you wouldn’t think that way because you wouldn’t be comparing it to another experience.

This is something I like to do just for fun sometimes when I want to taste a different reality, but I was reminded of it the other day when Boris and I visited with our friend and fellow illustrator, Dan Dos Santos, his wife Cristina, and their two sons, Uno and Kai. Uno is about 2 and a half, and he got the most amazing happiness from helping Dan measure cups of water to make rice. For him, this was a great adventure, filled with risk and reward. That’s the kind of other-dimensional thinking that can make a person’s life so much more fun! It’s not the task you have to do, it’s how you’re thinking about it.

Whatever is going on, just think of how rare it is that you would have a chance at this very moment!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stevia Experiments

Stevia is a South American herb with a sweetness that’s 300 times greater than sugar. Since Boris is from South America, it was no surprise to me that stevia comes from his homeland—being the sweet guy that he is and all! He’s waaay more than 300 times sugar’s sweetness! Anyway, I’ve been intrigued by stevia for some time now because I’ve read that it’s actually good for you. As hard as it is to believe, stevia actually helps stabilize blood sugar levels. This is amazing considering the terrible things sugar does to our blood sugar balance. So I tried a few products (mostly protein powders and drink powders) that were sweetened with stevia and didn’t like the taste. The best way I could describe it was like electric licorice. But, since I don’t give up easily, I thought I’d get my own stevia and see if I could make it work for me.
I bought a bottle of pure stevia extract called SweetLeaf Stevia Extract made by Wisdom Brands, about .9 oz for about $10. After realizing how little you use in recipes, I figure it will last me a couple of years.
There was another brand that looked like it had way more in the bottle (about 4 oz.) and cost about the same, but after looking closer at the ingredients (Boris’ suggestion), I realized that they had used a filler to pump it up. I thought that if I want to investigate this stuff, I need it to be pure.
After a couple of quick experiments, I came to realize that the trick to using it is not to try for an end product that is super sweet. Just use enough to bring out a sweet taste that balances with the other flavors. The usual substitution with sugar is 1 cup of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of stevia, but I would recommend that you use maybe 1/3 or ½ of a teaspoon of stevia per cup of sugar instead. That means that if you’re putting it in your tea or coffee, you would just put the slightest dusting on a spoon.I made a small batch of oatmeal cookies and some coconut tofu pudding and they were great! I tried another thing that was really crazy that I won’t tell you all the details about, but it involved frozen celery and a blender and it was horrible (although Boris claims he liked it)! So here are the two good recipes I’ve made so far:





Sugar Free Oatmeal Cookies 10 cookies
¼ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup barley flour
1 cup rolled oats
Pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts
1 ½ Tablespoons flax seeds, ground
¼ teaspoon stevia extract
Optional: ½ cup chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons canola oil
½ cup vanilla almond, soy, or rice milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with Pam or other spray oil.
Mix all ingredients except oil and milk. Stir in oil and milk. Spoon onto oiled
cookie sheet. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until lightly browned around edges.

Coconut Tofu Pudding Serves 4
12.3 oz. box Mori-Nu Silken Tofu, Firm
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup unsweetened vanilla almond, soy, or rice milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 teaspoon stevia extract

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Use more or less
almond, soy, or rice milk to get it to the thickness you want. Adjust stevia amount to your
taste. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. It will thicken a little more in the
refrigerator and the flavors will blend and mellow.
This is great spooned over bananas or other fruit.