It’s Summer time, do you know where your toes are?

 

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I love when the universe sends me a message, even when it comes with an ouch! I was assembling a shelf last weekend and dropped a heavy-duty wheel attachment that glanced off my middle toe—on my “good” foot. Even though my toe throbbed non-stop for 24 hours I had to laugh. I’d been thinking hard about my summer goals and juggling those expectations with the siren call of outdoor adventures. I’m well aware of how push-pull of demands from outside can derail my focus and I was determined to stay on task. But experience has taught me the body has a way of “talking over” the voices of others. Pay attention! Yes it’s the barefoot season, with the summer solstice arriving at 12:24 a.m. on Wednesday June 21. Temps are in the 90s after our prolonged cold spring rains. Summer in New England is heating up.

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING

A dear friend once came to visit and taught me a powerful lesson about stillness. In the heat of the day, after she had traveled so far, why not just sit together?? With the fan lazily moving overhead and the windows open wide we sat in companionable silence on the porch and gradually, with no outside interruption, words poured forth. Keeping perfectly still was a release, a rescue of sorts. So maybe this summer, in the heat of the day, just stop with the busyness. Sit in stillness – not for 30 seconds- try 5 minutes. As you stretch your awareness, instead of your movements causing a breeze you’ll be able to detect the movement of air around you. Be still another 5 minutes and you will begin to feel cool. You will actually have greater clarity to then get up and continue if you must—you might even shift your awareness of what is truly important.

 

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WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY?

It’s Travel Time. Road trips restore us by putting the horizon just beyond our windshield. Our car becomes a magic chariot, decanting us into a new landscape. In summer an old growth forest becomes a sandy shoreline; suburban sprawl a charming historic wharf; city streets a mountain retreat. Such was the case for my husband and I this past week. After days of endless inland rain we emerged into a sunny Wellfleet afternoon on the Cape.

 

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THE MUNDANE BECOMES SUBLIME

The daily catch of seafood and locally grown produce led the day. Our outlook brightened with the sun, and I noticed how we see each other differently across a table of nature’s bounty, enjoying the moment without regard for the tasks and chores and nagging questions left behind at home. The simple pleasures unfolded with a meal well-prepared, with engaging and artful hosting and the vibrant setting where all guests were made to feel welcome.

 

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REMEMBER TO PLAY TOGETHER

Within the shared moments, across the sand or across a table, new possibilities emerge. Mingled on the fresh scent of the breeze off the ocean that day was a tantalizing suggestion of new opportunity and renewed promise. O, Spring does lead to Summer! — in relationships as well as the progress of the seasons.

STAY CURIOUS

Walking on the sand we test the icy water. And leave some footprints to wash away when we leave. Despite the impermanence of our day excursion we feel more grounded, finding a respite from events beyond our view. As the day winds down we’re filled with the hope that lingers in the slowly setting sun.

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FOLLOW THE CURRENT

The beauty of stillness is that you can take it with you anywhere. Whether you embrace every invitation or not, when you work hard and play hard too, the interval in between becomes an important component of a healthy balanced life.

 

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Book of the Month: Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein

This is a gorgeous book for an imperfect time. There are lessons on the beauty and serenity inherent in the everyday, especially in the natural, slightly used and in need of repair. Charming collages combine with haiku creating a multidimensional experience for the reader. The text’s gentle prodding cultivates curiosity in both young and old.

A Bit of Movement:

Toes are in the spotlight in a summer weather, and I’m not talking about a fresh pedicure. How’s your toe alignment? Now that barefoot season is upon us, it’s the perfect time create an exercise habit for your toes. .A little Toe Yoga can set you up for a great day of fun in the sun.

Chris and I have teamed up for a sequence to start your day off on the right foot!

Stretches: Don’t just swing out of bed and start moving—take time to feel the surface beneath your feet. Notice the points of contact from toe to heel, then push off.

Stop at the kitchen counter while you prep your morning wake up drink- and  stretch your toes by lifting up from the heels.

Alignments: Sit and weave your fingers between your toes, shaking hands with your foot. Then hand-in-foot circle the ankle too.

Foot prints: Capitalize on this foot awareness by pressing your feet into your mat as you rise up into the warrior pose. Feel the power of your calves and thighs respond to this supportive grounding. You have enhanced the value of your workout by cultivating a strong and mindful base.

Something to Wear: Yoga Toes Sandals

Something for Fun: Foot Art – henna tattoos for the feet

Something Soothing: Foot Reflexology

Happy Summer Solstice to All!

Chris and Claire

Text Photos Claire Mauro

Yoga Photos Chris Primavera

Arancini,  Ceraldi

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Fresh Color for Dinner!

Mom and Dad Florida

Dad and Mom outside their Florida Home, 1970s

My Dad was right. During his adult years high blood pressure was a dangerous problem because he had a type of hypertension not well-managed with the existing medication. In an effort to help himself he turned to naturopathic medicine. Dad tirelessly promoted a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, at least that’s how it seemed to us sitting at the dinner table. He became the food explorer, trying new flavors and combinations and pressing his discoveries on the rest of the family.

There was no stopping Dad when he leaned over my dinner plate, squeezing fresh lemon on all the vegetables, meat and potatoes saying, “This will make you beautiful!” He often railed against our packaged snack foods of childhood. Mom was no help; she went along with all his ideas. I’m sure she hoped a cure was in reach and his strategy would keep his debilitating disease at bay.

Carrot Appetizer

Carrot, hummus, and sunflower seed appetizer

It turns out Dad didn’t go far enough. Over the years I‘ve been inspired by his food adventurism myself. I cherish the memories of group meals and extended family dinners from my childhood and with our own family and friends today. Healthy fresh meals, full of fun preparations and festive gathering together, remain high spots on my life landscape. For a while though I lost sight of Dad’s full aim, his belief that through loving interaction we also can use food as medicine.

Today there are many voices hawking food cures, touted to us daily across the media. Popularizing a particular food may give it the mantle of fad or quick fix (really, an “it” veggie of the year?)  And ubiquitous food advice masks more serious issues of food access and quality control for large swathes of our population. Now it seems the media saturation, if effective to draw your attention, is increasingly important. A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows people all across the country are dying daily from heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes due to poor diet. We are dying from lack of good food in our land of endless abundance and the all-you-can-eat buffet!

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Savory pancake with tomato and avocado-feta topping

Mainstream medicine is taking a life-changing step, to prescribe food and improved patient access to it through hospitals with a Fresh Food Pharmacy.

Not only that, teaching kitchens are springing up in primary care doctors’ offices, with the basic healthy food preparation skills deemed important to ensure compliance with food prescriptions. The loss of home economics in schools turns out to have endangered our entire national population. Good food practices are lacking across all economic strata. Ask your doctor about gaining food skills!

 

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Fresh strawberries are easily prepped with a knife or strawberry huller tool

Healthy choices are a mark of self-care, just as Dad advocated all those years ago. When we teach our children and ourselves the powerful connection between choosing fresh ingredients and our health and wellbeing, we aren’t denying joy, we are embracing a whole new more joyous adventure into living life fully.

It does take inner strength to do this and a big dose of self-parenting as well. For the past two weeks I’ve been attempting a sugar and gluten cleanse with guidance and group support from Donna at Better Off Well. It’s been eye-opening to discover the hidden sugar and gluten in everyday food encounters. I discovered my own behavioral pitfalls and made substitutions for my food indulgences. Every day is not perfect, but I’m more aware and that makes my choices more mindful. This is a potentially life changing moment, and I know my parents would be pleased to see the lessons they introduced still having an impact.

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Red cabbage and citrus slaw, sweet potato and kale-stuffed portobello mushroom

Here’s my latest Book Discovery—Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal. The South Indian cooking is light and fresh and full of color and flavor. Ingredients are widely available as are the spices. Take yourself on a food adventure in your kitchen!

And for the crime novel lovers, a dash of Indian food, history and culture is integral to the satirical murder mystery, Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. As an admirer of Jane Eyre, Jane Steele must navigate the dangerous world of Victorian England to secure her lost inheritance. See my review on Goodreads for more.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and others who parent us along the way!

Photos and food prep, Claire Mauro

 

 

Core Values, Lived Practice

Easter Daffodils

An astonishing week for blooms in our corner of New England brings a burst of activity to our home and landscape. My desire for change prompts me to contemplate a new broom, the better to sweep away the cobwebs of winter. The shift in the light illuminates areas needing attention and that includes not just our immediate environment.

My late winter injuries linger with nagging pain to attend to just when I want to keep moving. Patience for healing is as important as any actions such as proper exercise and nutrition. Slowing down brings focused action. The result is not great leaps but incremental movement, and that’s pretty satisfying. The hare gives way to the tortoise. I have a habit of turning difficult moments into questions. This leads me to ask– How can we create forward motion when confronted with obstacles?

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Core values + Lived practice -> Well-matched Opportunity = Heartening Action

Retreat is not defeat it’s a chance to re-group and come back stronger. Reflecting on your personal home truths and checking in with yourself to see how well your daily life aligns is a good regular practice. I believe in the rhythm of seasonal cycles to provide a framework for this kind of review. With the best of intentions things will still fly apart with regularity, that’s the certainty in the world of uncertainty. Restoring a balance is not always the same as putting things back together as they were before.

Re-assembly required. So often we build on top of the ruins instead of taking the time to go back to the basic foundations.  We need to remember what is underneath, then we can build solidly.

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Show compassion for yourself as you restore balance. Here are some suggestions:

Be gentle with your words, your thoughts and with your body–urge yourself on without drill sergeant shouting, use graceful movement not punishing workouts.

Allow your environment to please you—choose time in nature, silence vs noise.

Eat food you enjoy —buy fresh ingredients, cook simply.

Celebrate daylight! Bathe in the light to lift your spirits!

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P.S. Elan Mastai has a lot to say about building and what to do when things go wrong in his new book—All Our Wrong Todays. A Utopian environment sounds good, but what’s the alternative? The protagonist. Tom Barren, in this time travel adventure unmasks societal misdirection, false gods and searches for redemption. You can find my review on goodreads.

all the best to you

All photos and graphics by Claire Mauro

Adventures in Time

Tulip Time
Tulips on a snowy day

Remember to breathe Every good movement instructor has encouraged students in the studio with this phrase. When exerting yourself with physical effort it is potentially dangerous not to breathe, raising your blood pressure and straining your muscles. It seems obvious to just breathe, except we all need the reminder because sometimes we don’t breathe, and not only when exercising.

How many ways are there to describe it? Hold your breath, gasp for breath, forget to breathe, have the breath knocked out of you, takes my breath away

With phrases like these we suspend our action, hold still, wait for the next thing to happen. We are overcome with emotion in shock, fear, surprise, or grief, in pain, or deep in intense concentration.

In times of unpredictability we each need to raise our awareness to the breath, to assert our autonomy and breathe, rather than be held in a collective gasp, a population holding its breath.

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Tell me all about it

Reflect on your own resilience Breathing is your most basic point of control. Not being able to catch your breath is life threatening and breathing shallowly in your upper chest raises your anxiety. Deepening the breath draws you into yourself, settles your emotions, allows you to gather your strength. Use the moment of deep breath to feel your feet on the ground and pause before you act. It’s helpful to recall experiences of dealing with difficult situations in the past and how we got ourselves beyond them. Take the time to consider the lessons learned and how they might be applied in new situations.

No matter how hard we try to avoid it, there is no way to stop unanticipated and unwelcome news from arriving. I was recently reminded of this with an unexpected medical diagnosis. In my response I traveled down familiar side paths of reaction and arrived at the same place of transition I was headed to all along. I like to think I got there faster from experience. Time, we all want to believe, is under our control.

This month I have two books for your consideration:

The Child in Time Ian McEwan He is the master- I’m a fan. It’s very interesting to read this work from an earlier point in his career (1987). There are signature elements familiar to his readers and what have become cornerstones in contemporary fiction – the layered complexity of the narrative, the metaphysical exploration, and the sheer, breathtaking depiction of unspeakable loss. He toys with time and place with expertise and plumbs emotional depths we feel along with his characters. The Thatcher era political comments are quite timely for today. The tragedy and terror of child abduction strikes at every reader’s heart- and remains a danger. If you read this be sure to also view The High Street Abduction a recent video from BBC News. An adaptation of The Child in Time will air on BBC and PBS starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk Portia Nelson  This 35th anniversary edition contains her classic Autobiography in Five Short Chapters. The poem is an iconic statement on awakening to yourself, applicable at any age and repeatedly at every stage of life. The genius of her presentation is in a form so universally accessible to understanding it deserves your time.

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Proof of Spring- Fig tree

Happy Daylight Savings Time!

 

P.S. Many Thanks to Ms Lizzie Cat for her Cattitude

All photos Claire Mauro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cup of Tea

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Balance, energy, positivity- who doesn’t want that? This month take the time to connect to what you know to be your core strengths. Instead of the tired clichés how about some old fashioned FUNdamentals?

Simple luxuries on a snowy day have the added charm of being crafted creatively. Never mind that our heart’s desire is available by virtual reality, this is about hands-on simple pleasures. Savor the warmth in your hands circling a steaming cup of tea, float a slice of orange on the surface and inhale the citrusy goodness. Hover over the toaster waiting for the last slice of cinnamon raisin toast – that satisfying pop! when it’s done is music to the ears.

Your senses are free, my friend, make use of them! Whatever your winter landscape, snow and ice or sun and sand, suspend your caretaking of your future self, the dictates of the metaphorical rainy day, and be here now

How do we know anyway, that the person we will be when that rainy day comes will need what we have so carefully put by?

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Reading together — my Aunt Rae and Me

My love of books today came from the simple pleasure of childhood. The walk to library, one hand on the carriage as mom pushed my sleeping sister along the sidewalk, was a treat to be celebrated with a bit of skipping. I can see in my mind’s eye the child-sized chairs with the woven seats, carefully placed beside the shelf of picture books under the eaves of the old library. I loved nothing more than to sit as close as possible, examining the book covers for clues to the riches inside. Being read to and later reading myself, was a joy discovered early.

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While the holiday stack is long depleted the thirst for more is never slaked. New titles crowd my inbox and my personal room of requirement overflows.

We have what we need if we only know what that is. In my case it is Ali Smith’s public library and other stories  the always inventive, unexpected and thrilling nature of her characterizations reveals us to ourselves.

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Smith has taken the occasion of the advent of the all-volunteer library to enthrall me once again. Her sheer genius of burrowing into a character and drawing us into their world in the most spare and artful ways is always satisfying. She serves up a dozen stories and the offerings are interwoven with notable quotes on the value and expansiveness of a public space so rich in opportunity for all ages, the reminder makes one swoon, then rush off to borrow some books!

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In the aftermath of the latest snowfall- oh what a glorious silence! The tree branches are frozen, their icy crustings barely quivering with the undercurrent of wind. Holding still is the way to perceive the movement around me. A single leaf dances erratically while all its companions appear to stand rigid. The more still I am the more tiny movement I see until whole limbs and slender trunks are swaying in the woods before me.

Gather the stillness, wrap it like a cloak and take it with you through your day.

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Happy Valentine’s Day to All!

For more of my book reviews, check out goodreads.com

As usual All photos Claire Mauro

 

Happy New Year Redux

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Whew, what a strange trip of a January, unfolding into a non stop season of no snow, wildly shifting temperatures and lots of riled up interactions. It’s time for another new year- this weekend I’m happy to welcome the Year of the Fire Rooster.

In a month usually reserved for quiet, restorative practices I’ve been expending energy in every direction. Even a surfeit of well-intentioned activities, an abundance of good things, can add up to too much. I had to back off and re-calibrate when an old injury had a major flare up, sidelining me. The body holds a wisdom our minds may be too preoccupied to acknowledge.

Lighter nourishment fits the bill when pain slows us down. And an inspiring book or two will help to maintain a positive outlook. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

SOUP
Here are three of my favorites on our table this month. The glory of root vegetables from my favorite farm markets provided flavorful comfort when I needed it most.
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French Lentil Soup
A puree of green lentils, carrots and simple seasonings yields a satisfying lunch or dinner. Leftovers simmered down make a tasty side dish at the next night’s meal. I love the chameleon aspect of the smaller green lentils, which turn brown when cooked. You can find the recipe on Epicurious.

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Golden Borscht
Using a classic recipe like this one I’ve had for many years, I switched up the usual red beets for more delicate golden ones and used kale in place of cabbage and simmered it with shin bones for added flavor. You can leave out the meat if you prefer.

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Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup
Boston’s NPR and Globe correspondent Kathy Gunst is a welcome voice in my kitchen. I tried her recipe this month using roasted winter vegetable soup and the flavors are sublime.

READ
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Put Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime on your reading list. Stories of childhood tinged with adult perspective are capturing my interest right now and Noah manages the ultimate sleight of hand. His humorous, enlightening, poignant and wise memoir reveals a repressive system of government and a social order imposed by a ruling minority, as seen through the eyes of a child. If you want to be reminded of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of art, not to mention the enduring bond between mother and son, look no further.

Happy New Year!
Claire
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Photos, Claire Mauro