Martha, My Dear …

martha

In an attempt to expand myself musically, I decided to take formal piano lessons a couple of months ago. I had taken years and years of lessons as a kid, and was even pretty good.  Everything I played came from reading the written note on the page, and for the most part, I only learned classical music.  As a teen and then as an adult, I wanted to be able to sit down at the piano and play some contemporary music. If I didn’t have the  music in front of me, it was quite a challenge. I could play some parts by ear, but was never able to just sit down and figure out a song. I can do it a little better after  having studied guitar as an adult (I began in my 30s! It’s never too late!)

My husband, Les Harris, is an all-around great musician and can sit down and play anything. I don’t know why he won’t just give me some of that talent. My sister Melissa can do the same thing. Sit down and approach music through the chords, not by reading the notes. At least this is what I think they are doing!

My piano lessons are going well. My teacher is Ben Heveroh, whom I know through OIGC (Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir). I have already learned to play some  twelve-bar blues, and a little gospel riff. I’m going through the John Thompson books I learned as a  kid. Some of the songs come back to me quite easily – others not as much. I like that I’m learning piano from several different angles.

I am on the fourth day of something called The Game On Diet (http://www.amazon.com/Game-Diet-Friends-While-Shrinking/dp/0061718890). I will blog more about this later, but suffice it to say I am kicking butt (Go Swan Team!) One of the rules of this game (I love games!) is to commit to a new habit. My new habit is to practice the piano every day, or for the purpose of the contest, at least 6 days a week to earn the maximum points. The hardest part of practicing for me is starting to practice. Once I’ve begun, it is no problem for me to practice for 30-60 minutes.

I wanted to learn some songs I could sing along to. I have a Beatles keyboard book, so I figured I’d start there. We listened to The Beatles a lot as kids, and my sister Melissa was completely obsessed with them. I remember the first time I turned over our  family’s  worn Help album, and saw Paul’s face. Those big soulful eyes.  He was maybe my first childhood crush. Paul was my favorite Beatle as a kid, and probably still is. I  remember Missy sometimes played Martha, My Dear, and I loved that this particular song could be carried on the piano. Of course, the strings and horns in the original version are beautiful, but the heart of it is Paul and the piano.I did a little research on the song. Paul is the only Beatle who appears on it.

paulatpiano.org

I love the syncopated, honky tonk feel of this song.  It is so much fun to play! It’s amazing how much can be done in a song that is only a little over 2 minutes long. Key changes, tempo changes, and a mere  handful of lyrics that really pack a punch. This song was reportedly named for Paul’s sheepdog, who was supposedly named for a stewardess (that’s what female flight attendants were called in the 60s, kids). The object of the song, however, is probably not the dog, but rather Paul’s former fiancee, Jane Asher, and/or  his own inner muse.

If you are reading this, feel free to hold me accountable and ask me to play this song the next time you see me. Until then, when I find myself in the thick of it, I’ll help myself to a bit of what is all around me. Silly girl.

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CLEAN

photo-8            juice-14  salmon15

For the last three years, I have done some sort of nutritional fast in the Spring.  The urge usually begins when I am dissatisfied with my weight or lack of energy, and Spring is an obvious time for all things new and rejuvenating. I blogged recently about de-cluttering as a tool for mental clarity. Cleansing the body is even more important from a health standpoint, but it also triggers the urge to make positive changes across the board.

I have tried different fasts over the years.  Once I attempted The Master Cleanse,  a juice fast consisting of lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.  This proved too hard-core for me and I don’t think I made it two days; the headaches, nausea and hunger were too much for me. Three years ago, my friend Sarah recommended Pamela Serure’s  3 Days to Vitality: Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind, Claim Your Spirit, which prescribes a three-day juice fast. With all fasts, there is recommended prep time and downtime as you gradually eliminate foods from your diet and later re-introduce them. I had some success with this fast, losing some weight and kick-starting some better eating habits. Then two years ago, I read an article in a health magazine which I pretty much bought because Mariska Hargitay was on the cover. In the article, Mariska recommends the book Clean by Alejandro Junger, M.D. Naturally, I bought the book right away, because I adore Marriska and if  she recommends something, it must be great.  And she was right!

mariska

The Clean program is a gentle, blended fast consisting of juices, smoothies, raw soups and one meal per day. All ingredients come  from what Junger calls “the elimination list”  in that it omits the most common allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, certain fruits and nuts, some meats) as well as refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. It really helps to stock your kitchen and prep for this fast by eating from the elimination list for about a week before starting the fast. Eliminating these foods and then re-introducing them is a great way to discover allergies and sensitivities. Some sensitivities and discomfort come from excess mucous in the system. The most common mucous-forming foods are wheat, dairy, refined sugars and red meat.

The Clean fast works for me because of that one mid-day meal. If I have that to look forward to, I am OK. Drinking a lot of water is important, and helps to fill you up. Also, if you find yourself extremely hungry, Junger allows for light snacks of fruit and nuts. Very important is to make sure to have a full twelve-hour period of fasting each day.  That means there should be twelve hours between dinner and breakfast with no snacking in between. According to Junger, eight hours after we eat, a “detox signal” is triggered.  Once  in detox mode,  the digestive system ideally require four hours to get rid of toxins and restore healthy bacteria. This is something I try to remember even when I’m not fasting.

Clean contains recipes for 21 liquid meals (juices, smoothies and soups) and 21 solid meals. A typical day for me would include an Apple, Ginger, Lemon and Spinach Juice for breakfast (pictured at top of page),  Halibut Baked in Parchment with Olives and Thyme for lunch, and Easy Pineapple and Avocado Gazpacho for dinner. I like to use my nice Belleek china or Nicholas Mosse pottery to make my meals special.

halibut  pineapplegazpacho

During this fast, it is important to drink a lot of water daily. The recommendation is at least two quarts. I like to add lemon, lime or cucumber.  There are some supplements that also support the detox process. Fiber helps to enhance elimination.  Natural fiber products such as psyllium husks or flax seeds can be added to smoothies or diluted in water. Two tablespoons of olive oil followed with water and lemon before bed helps with elimination. Probiotic supplements restore good intestinal bacteria and antimicrobials such as concentrated oil of oregano or a clove of garlic each day helps kill bad bacteria. A liver support supplement such as milk thistle is also suggested.

thistle

Several books on fasting suggest other great ways to support detox: exercise, at least 7 hours of sleep each night,  deep breathing, skin brushing, saunas, and hot/cold water plunges.  I have incorporated all of these into my fasting schedule,  and have added meditation, journaling, and  making art. During a fast, I get a real good sense of how body and mind work together holistically in everything I do. Last year, I was able to do the Clean program for three full weeks, and after that, I tried to adhere to the diet  for one day every week. This year, I am on Day 12 and am feeling great. Confession: I did not give up coffee this time. Coffee is always the hardest for me to give up, which is probably a sign of how insidious and addictive it is.  I have, however, cut down to a cup or less a day, with almond milk, diluted with water.

Thank you again, Mariska! (oh, and Alejandro Junger, too, I suppose ;^))  I am down five pounds,  and feeling great!  I am hoping to continue eating consciously; slowing down and appreciating each morsel, rather than mindlessly eating leftover scraps of pizza off of my son’s plate or snacking just for the heck of it.  It is incredible how much we eat without thinking about it. I’ve identified some of my poor eating habits such as excessive late night sweets. Maybe it’s the addictive nature of fat and sugar, but for me, one small dish of ice cream doesn’t cut it, and I always find myself going back for more. Now, I keep the twelve hour window in  mind, and if I’m hungry outside of that window, I stick to some almonds and blackberries. It’s amazing how I am not craving the fatty, starchy foods I used to crave. Hopefully, the next time I have a serving of ice cream, I’ll try very hard to enjoy each spoonful, and to wait before going back for more.  I’m sure I will backslide occasionally, and that’s OK. I plan to do the Clean program every Spring. It creates some good habits that last throughout the year.

Piedmont Stairs

trixandbadge stairpiedmont

My sister, Melissa, asked if my friends and I did a Stairway Walk after our huge lunch at Brown Sugar Kitchen a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, we did, although in order to burn the calories ingested that afternoon, we really needed to have done four walks, or else run the course several times, as we saw one fellow doing. We were content, however, to walk and climb at a leisurely pace, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Piedmont.

This particular walk is called Trestle Glen and Piedmont, with a duration 45 minutes,  a distance of 1.4 miles, a difficulty rating of 3 and 370 steps. This is one of the shorter walks in Charles Fleming’s book Secret Stairs East Bay, and begins on the border of Oakland and Piedmont near the intersection of Park Boulevard and Trestle Glen Road. There are Tracie and I, guidebook in hand, ready to go!

Located in the East Bay Hills, the small city of Piedmont is surrounded on all sides by the city of Oakland and is almost exclusively zoned for single-family residential housing. There are lots of gorgeous houses and spectacular views of Oakland, San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay. One of the first houses we came upon had a tree swing in the front yard. Alyssa and I were ready to try it out, but there had been enough egg on Tracie’s face for one day, so we kept going.

swing cherryblossompiedmont

There are some lovely saltillo tile patterns on several sidewalks, some which extend to the adjoining stairs. This is a type of terra-cotta tile that originated in Saltillo, Mexico. We also came across some golden poppy – the state flower of California.

saltyarch  poppies

This was a pleasant walk that I would do again. I could even see myself putting on some running clothes on a cool day, and talking the loop in both directions for exercise.  Well, we’ll see about that.