Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brain Gyms

My student teaching and first teaching job in the U.S. were both at inner-city schools. Most of our kiddos came from pretty tough neighborhoods. My first graders knew more about rap and gang gestures than me. Some of my older students were bigger and scarier than me a (although I never let them know it). They often came to school in torn-up hand-me-downs clothes and some serious "hand-me-down" stress.

My first teaching job was at a school with a large group of refugees from East Africa. These are actually the munchkins that got me the job at the school. I loved them and wanted so much for others to recognize what these little dears had been through and continued to go through living in the ghetto's of Phoenix. They were a tough crowd. My job was to teach them to speak and read English--not an easy task when many of them showed up for school ready to punch someone's face in.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Hell yeah!" or "No"

I am a habitual stress case. When I quit my full time teaching job I thought I would calm down a little but what I discovered was that I was so used to being stressed, I didn’t know how to chill out. I found so many things to fill my time. I made these to-do lists and would practically have a melt down if I didn’t accomplish everything. I had to take immediate action so as not to waste this season of my life on stress.

One of the things I have been practicing as a means to calm down is the art of saying “no”. As a person who likes to please, this scary two-letter word does not come easy for me. But the more I practice, the more natural it feels and the less I throw myself into things that I really don’t want to do.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Black Bean Brownies

There’s no way around it, I LOVE CHOCOLATE. It is truly one of my weaknesses. Fortunately, veganism does not mean you have to give it up, just be more discerning about what kind and in what form you are eating it. These brownies, adapted from, are not only gooey and chocolaty, they are jam packed full of fiber, protein, and omega 3’s—making them ideal for a not-so-sinful treat.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Watch Your Back, Girls.

I love running solo. It’s not that I don’t enjoy running with others, it’s just running alone energizes me like nothing else. Running creates a sanctuary for me – a time for me to reset my brain chemistry, pray, and reflect. Running alone is also when I have my best ideas. In grad school I’d be out running in the beautiful hills of Cape Town and before I knew it, I’d outlined an entire research paper. Sometimes, when I’m starting to doubt myself, all I need is a good run to get my confidence back.

My desire to run alone has often troubled people and left my family feeling a little nervous at times. Its not that I’m fearless or na├»ve—I know I’m not invincible and that bad things can happen anyone anywhere. In Cape Town I was constantly reminded of this. I met so many girls at my university who would say, “I would love to run but I just don’t feel safe here.” I wouldn’t have it. Cape Town was the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived with the most incredible hills and accessible trails. I was not about to let fear keep me from my long meditative runs.

This was one of my favorite hills to train on in Cape Town--sometimes shared it with the baboons. When the mist moved in the sun made the air sparkle and it was magical.

Rosemary Roasted Vegetables with Balsamic Dressing

This is one of our favorite dishes. It is especially delectable in the colder months—we probably eat it a few times a week during the winter. It’s filling, healthy, and easy. It’s a great way to use up the veggies in your fridge that are on the cusp of becoming inedible. To my demise, I don’t have access to butternut in Korea so I substitute with pumpkin and it’s delicious. Don’t be afraid to stray from the recipe and try different types of veggies, squash, and potatoes.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What's on MJ's Feet?

In the past couple of years the Barefoot Running trend has become a hot topic for discussion. I won’t lie, I was skeptical at first. Conventional wisdom told me that the more “protection” my feet had the less likely I was to get injured. “Experts” at running stores told me I needed arch support, pronoation control, extra padding for the distances I was running.

The week following my participation in Comrades, a 90 KM road race in South Africa, I was distraught with horrible knee pain that left me hobbling around and kept me out of my running shoes and off the trails. After trying to fix it on my own for a couple of weeks, I ended up with a double knee injury and a very gloomy spirit.

After returning from a hiking trip in which every step was practically unbearable, I headed to the physical therapist. The PT did some strength and flexibility tests in both legs, and then sympathetically told me: “Your lower limbs are jacked up.” My glutes (which I always thought were rock solid) were lazy, my previously sprained right ankle was stiff and weak, my IT bands were both tight has heck, and this was all working together to cause Runners Knee on my left side and ITB syndrome on my right. She gently put her hand on me and said, “Melissa, you’re going to have to lay off running while we rehabilitate your lower body.” With tears in my eyes and a trembling voice, I accepted my lot and asked her to fix me.

A Salad a Day Keeps the Doctor Away--MJ's formula

“A salad a day keeps the doctor away” is one my food mottos. In our home, we dedicate at least one meal a day to a mondo salad filled with delicious high nutrient foods. When people ask me for nutritional advice and I tell them they should eat a huge salad for lunch or dinner, I often hear, “Salad just doesn’t fill me up.” MJ's salads aren’t your ordinary salads. By using nutrient dense ingredients your body will be satisfied and energized. Be warned: these salads are not for sissies.
Last Nights Salad: lots of greens, dried nori, carrots, green peppers, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, apple slices, raisins, almonds, olives, hemp seed oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

You're All You Need to be Right Now.

This morning during my yoga practice I found myself frustrated because I was wobbling all over the show in my balance poses. Warrior 3--forget it. Half-moon--2 breaths max. I was all tangled up in Eagle Pose, falling all over the place when I heard someone say, "You're all you need to be right now." I sunk deeper into the pose, pulled in to my center, and focused my attention on my breath. Finally, I was still and I had tears of relief running down my face.

I am all I need to be right now. So are you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

16 Tunes that Make Me MOVE!

I don’t typically listen to music while I’m running. It can be really dangerous (you can’t hear that car coming or that creapster on his way to get you). It also can distract you from listening to your body. I’m also not a huge fan of ipods at races.—I think it takes a way from the spirit of the race, but that’s a personal preference.. I love talking with other runners during longer races, if you have earphones in it’s a big, “DON’T TALK TO ME!”
Headphones don't make for moments like this. I ran the last 30 miles of Comrades with this dude and was happy to share the finish line with him.

I tend run much quicker when I have tunes playing which is fantastic if I’m doing a tempo run or mile repeats but not so much for days when I should be recovering. That being said, this past month I’ve been trying to get my stride back (I took a few months off to heal). Its been a little awkward to tell you the truth and I’ve found that listening to music is a great way for me to find a tempo that feels challenging yet comfortable. I think the key to choosing running music is to choose songs that make you want to move. Most of my favorite running songs also happen to be the songs I like to boogy to. I also have a few songs that I associate with good memories and the release of endorphins I get from remembering those good moments is like a shot of espresso.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

5 Simple Ways to Calm the Heck Down.

I have never been a great sleeper. I find it particularly difficult to sleep during stressful times. Whether its work, relationships, or some other aspect of my life, I tend to lie in bed circulating through a series of anxiety provoking thoughts. This is very destructive, as it only increases stress levels and makes it even more difficult to deal with the stressors the following day (I don't know about you but most of my melt downs happen when I'm exhausted).

Mental and emotional stress also tends to manifest itself in physical ways-- tight muscles, weakened immune system, headaches, stomaches, and lets not forget heart disease, depression, and high blood pressure. These are all quite unpleasant and in no way promote health and vitality. Time to give 'em the ol' boot.

The last year of my life leaned towards the more stressful side--living on 3 different continents, losing my nephew in an accident, starting (and stopping) a couple new jobs...just to name a few.
I was experiencing insomnia and high levels of anxiety. Having tried several things (mostly unhealthy--sleeping drugs, wine, and the sorts) I turned to breathing exercises and a few simple poses to learn how to respond to stress as opposed to react to it. I have by no means mastered this, its a journey, but I have found it to be the most healthy and practical
method to getting my body and mind to relax. Here are 5 easy ways I learned to manage my stress, find a place of inner calm, and get a bit more rest.

The Easiest Bread You'll Ever Make!

Part-Whole Wheat Chia Bread

When I first arrived in Korea, I may or may not have had a little break down over the lack of edible bread. I knew it was coming, as I’d read many threads about expats in Korea scouting for bread. They all said the same thing: the bread here sucks. And they were right. Once I got over my pouting stage and moved on to solving my bread problem, I felt like super woman. Those of you who read Mj and a Sea of Stories may recall the night I brought an oven home on the subway, all by myself. That very night I was busy baking.

Since coming to Korea, I’ve only purchased bread once—some “rye” bread from Costco that turned out to be not so rye-y—total disappointment. The rest of our bread consumption has been different variations of this VERY simple recipe. I was first introduced to the recipe by the mother of one of the children I nannied for last year. She got it from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Of course, I modified it to add some extra goodness (taste and health).

This recipe makes about 4 loaves of bread. The idea is that you make the dough, store it inthe fridge, and then rip off a chunk when you want to bake it. The book claims it saves for up to 2 weeks but I say more like 10 days. Again, this is the easiest thing in the world and your friends will think you’re AMAZING.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Apple Raisin Granola

I LOVE granola but most store bought varieties aren't vegan, are high in refined sugar, and have preservatives that my body just doesn't need. This recipe was adapted from Brendan Braizer's book, Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. I think the title says it all. This granola is chalk full of healthy omega-3s, fiber, and plant based protein. It's sure to leave you feeling satisfied and energized for your day.

1 apple, diced (I used granny smith but choose what suits you)
1 cup oats
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit
1/3 cup diced almonds
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup hemp seeds (or hemp protein powder)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
2 Tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
sprinkle of sea salt
1/4 cup hemp oil
1/4 cup maple syrup (Brendan uses Molasses, not easily accessible in Seoul)
2 Tbsp apple juice
squirt of agave nectar

-Pre heat oven to 250 F
-Combine all dry ingredients in large bowl and mix them up
- In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients and blend
-Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix, mix, mix
-Lightly oil a cooking sheet (I use coconut oil)
-Spread mixture on sheet
-Bake for about 1 hr, stirring every once in a while
-Remove from oven, break up with a spoon or fork, let cool
-Keeps in refrigerator for about 2 weeks (but good luck making it last that

I usually eat this dry as a snack in the afternoon but it also makes for a great energy packed breakfast. Top it with your favorite fruit and serve with soy, almond, or hemp milk.

Happy eating!