Baked Chicken

I know that chicken isn’t the most fascinating culinary option in the world, but I also know that it is one of the most versatile and readily-available options out there.  I love my chicken and turkey on the grill, in the oven, on the hob, on skewers, ground up, in sauces… you name it.  It goes well with most diet plans and programs like AIP, Paleo, elimination, and Weight Watchers, and I love finding new ways to use it.

For this diet I had to go back to the basics.  I love my curries, my baked enchiladas with veggies, and my stir frys, but right now loads of usual flavor enhancers are off-limits.  I can’t use my beloved tamari or soy sauce, any corn products (including corn starch), or anything with added sugar.  This recipe is super easy, super simple, and super fast, and I’m going to share how to do it two ways: with breasts and with a whole chicken.

Baked Chicken Breasts

Ingredients

  • Four chicken breasts
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons
  • 3/4 cup olive oil (You could use melted coconut oil here.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 to 1 tbsp spice blend of your choice (I like tagine spice or Ras al Hanout–loads of flavor with warm spices and seldom with sugar.)
  • Glass baking dish

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Take out the chicken and leave to warm up.
  3. Mix all the spices and wet ingredients together in a glass baking dish big enough for the chicken.  Taste and adjust accordingly.  I have had the best luck with more of the runnier marinades, as this seems to make the chicken moister.
  4. Add chicken to the dish and flip to coat in the marinade/sauce.
  5. Put in the oven for 18-20 minutes for medium-sized breasts.  I have had to go up to almost 30 minutes for large breasts before.  Cook until no longer pink in the middle; juices should run clear.
  6. Let rest for 30 minutes.
  7. Serve or slice to use later in the week for lunch.

 

Roast Chicken

Ingredients

  • One whole roasting chicken, any giblets removed
  • One lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Spice blend of choice or fresh herbs (I like this 10,000 Lakes No-Salt Blend which is mild, herby, and has some extra lemon in it.)
  • Olive oil to coat the bird
  • Roasting pan
  • Meat thermometer

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 475F.
  2. Take out chicken and allow to warm up on roasting pan of choice.
  3. Coat the chicken in olive oil, including inside.
  4. Combine salt, pepper, and the seasoning blend/chopped fresh herbs.  Pat all over the chicken, including inside.
  5. Prick the lemon with a knife or fork all over.  (Tip: Roll the lemon on the counter before pricking to release more juices.)
  6. Insert the lemon whole into the cavity of the chicken.
  7. Put chicken in oven.  Immediately turn down the oven to 400F.  Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes or until internal temperature registers at 165 degrees on the meat thermometer.  Juices should run clear if the meat is pierced with a knife.
  8. Take out chicken when done.  Cover whole bird with aluminum foil and rest for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Carve chicken and enjoy!
Advertisements

York

Minster6

As of today it’s been officially three years since I moved away from York.  That city is one of my favorites I’ve ever visited, and I think it’s my favorite place I’ve lived.

York is a fabulously historical city which boasts Romans and Vikings among its notable historic peoples.  As I would walk to work, I would pass under the majestic city walls, over the River Ouse, alongside the Museum Gardens and a bit of the old Roman wall, and then into a courtyard of the King’s Manor complex.  King’s Manor houses the Centre for Medieval Studies (where I worked in a small workroom at the top of the building), the King’s Manor library which housed mainly architecture texts, but I found some of my obscure medieval sources there), the architecture department, the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, as well as a delightful cafe called the Refectory.  The oldest portions of the building are from the fifteenth century, and I considered myself lucky to spend time there reading and researching.

The complex is also around the corner from York Minster, a gorgeous Gothic cathedral which is home to the Archbishop of York, the second-highest seat in the Church of England.  Its white exterior looms over the low, medieval city, and its bells ring through the city center to mark the hour or a celebration.

The streets in the center of town follow medieval paths, with the most famous being The Shambles.  On this street was my favorite bread baker (open early, and closed whenever the bread ran out) and tea shop, and on one end was usually an outdoor market with local produce and goods.  The city itself was founded by the Romans in 71 A.D. as Eboracum, though in 866 its name was changed to Jorvik following a Viking invasion.  The Jorvik Viking Center is still in town, and boasts a fabulous stationary exhibit with artifacts as well as a moving, animatronic exhibit about daily life.

Mostly what I remember is the ease of walking about the town and how delicious a piece of cake from Cafe 68 was, especially in the sunshine with a pot of tea.  I remember the creations in the huge windows at Betty’s Tearooms–elaborate gingerbread and chocolate animals for Christmas and Easter.  I remember the stark white of the Minster and the ruins in the Museum Gardens against the blue summer sky.  I remember the gangs of people flocking outside on a warm day along the Ouse.  I remember watching the Olympic flame come through town a few minutes’ walk from King’s Manor.  I remember the Ouse flooding its banks, burbling up to the hill with Clifford’s Tower (the last remaining bit of the 11th-century castle) at the top.

I also remember feeling in control of my life until I felt sick.  For the first time I felt like an adult–eating well, exercising, commuting to and from London to see my boyfriend, walking to work among the tourists, discovering new foods and drinks.  I miss York for all these reasons and those above, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Minster3

Granted

Did you ever do that experiment in science class about the use of opposable thumbs?  Basically, you try to go a period of time–an evening, a full day, a class period–with both of your thumbs taped to your pointer fingers.  How many of your daily activities are impossible without your thumbs?  I remember attempting to brush my hair without my thumbs.  Nightmare.  The lesson was simple: we do so much with our thumbs that we take that evolutionary advantage for granted.

So what else do we take for granted?

I was faced with the reality that I am oblivious to so much.  I can stand up, brush my teeth, wash my face, climb my stairs, and sit in a chair.  It wasn’t until I couldn’t do these things last night that I was hit with how much effort these simple tasks are when my back, hip, and leg are uncooperative.

I’d noticed yesterday morning that both my thighs seemed tight.  Perhaps it was because I’d been extra stressed at work or had a hard Pilates workout a few days before.  Maybe I’d slept funny.  No matter, I thought.  I went to work, went to a massage therapy appointment for my back, and then went out for dinner with my husband (diet-friendly falafel, salad, and hummus).  We walked around the area a little while, and then came back to watch a little television before bed–nothing out of the ordinary.

When I got up from the couch my thigh was incredibly tight.  Huh, that’s never happened before.  As I went up the first flight of stairs the tightness got more intense, and after I climbed all the way to our bedroom in the attic it felt like it was pulling my entire right side.  Then, of course, my back started seizing.  It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.  I’d sometimes had leg spasms with my back pain, but never this identifiable muscular constriction and progression up one side of my body.  I was literally doubled over because it was too painful to stand up straight.  I needed to hunch down and walk with my husband’s help, as my leg was suddenly incredibly weak and shaky.  He had to reach for everything I needed and support my back while I spit the toothpaste into the sink or rinsed the makeup off my face.

I’d taken all these little daily actions and my ability to perform them completely for granted.

I felt ashamed, angry, embarrassed, and incredibly sad, and I was reminded of the fact that everyone assumes I’m fine (but perhaps on the lazy side).  I show up to work and do my duties to the best of my ability while putting on a cheery face, but I have to calculate everything to the smallest detail.

Just using the mouse at my office has finally caught up with me.  I’m faster with the Windows brand mouse they issued to me, but the movement makes my wrist increasingly painful.  If I revert back to my ergonomic, thumb-directed mouse I’m not as fast.  If I’m not as fast, I can’t keep up with the speed I need to be at to meet the manager-determined quota.  For months I took using a mouse completely for granted, and now it’s something I have an internal debate about several times each day.

What do I do, then?  I know I can better appreciate the little things I do on a daily basis now.  I know I can clear out my bathroom even more so that when I do have an episode everything is at a more easily-accessible level.  For now, I suppose I also have to determine which is more irritating: the wrist pain or the lack of speed compared to what I’m used to.

Turkey Chili with Sweet Potatoes and Kale

This is one of my favorite recipes.  It’s a rare combination of super duper healthy with so tasty my carnivore husband asks for seconds.

I enjoy kale.  I know it’s completely overdone and perhaps passe to say that, but it’s true.  I love the slightly bitter taste which is similar to spinach, and I adore the fact it holds up in soups and stews without melting like other greens.  My husband could take it or leave it… probably leave it.  But I add it to whatever I can like quiches, stir frys, and soups.  So imagine my delight at finding a recipe that both of us love.

It’s adapted from my favorite cookbook, Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain by Michelle Babb.  The book is wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve made from it.  I tweaked the original recipe to add more spices, as I’ve been spoiled with my South Asian partner!  I also love to add in almond milk cream cheese for some added richness and creaminess.  I personally adore thick, saucy chili, so the kind that’s delicious but still runny doesn’t quite satisfy my craving.

This chili is hearty, filling, and full of vegetables.  Plus, there’s enough meat in it to satisfy those who can’t live without it!

Turkey Chili with Sweet Potatoes and Kale

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup onion (I use white, but any works)
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 3-4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, low sodium if available
  • 1 can (28 oz) fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans
  • 1 can (15 oz) kidney beans
  • 2 yams or sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I leave the skin on for added fiber and flavor, but you can peel them)
  • 1 ancho chili, seeded and diced (These are tricky to seed, so just do the best you are able.)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (I used “hot Indian chilli powder” which is burn-your-mouth-to-your-toes hot.  Use the sort of chili you are used to.)
  • 3 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 2-4 tablespoons Kite Hill almond milk cream cheese, (optional)
  1.  Heat the coconut oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook 5-7 minutes until translucent and soft.
  2.   Add the turkey and garlic, breaking the large pieces.
  3.   Cook until the turkey is completely cooked through, roughly 8-10 minutes.
  4.   Add 3 cups of the broth, tomatoes, beans, sweet potato, and ancho chili pepper, then add the rest of the spices.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are soft.
  5.   Gently fold in the kale and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  6.   If the broth is not thick enough for your liking, add in the almond milk cream cheese.  Serve with toppings of choice like avocado or corn tortilla strips.

 

Netflix

I think most people in the Western world would agree that Netflix is an obsession.

It’s readily accessible, it has varied content, it’s easy, it’s something for any size of group, and of course, it’s addictive.

I’ve watched a lot of Netflix since I got my account in Seattle.  Programming, documentaries, and films I’d never known existed were suddenly at my fingertips.  I had a bad day?  No worries.  I could snuggle under a blanket with my laptop to watch something for my queue without trying various streaming platforms to find something that appealed.  When I injured my back, Netflix was my saving grace.  I hurt too badly to focus on reading much, and so various films and television shows kept me from losing my mind.

While I was in England I watched scores of foreign films, especially Bollywood.  I was, of course, dating a Pakistani at the time, so those held a special fascination for me.  Jodha Akbar quickly became one of my favorite movies with its music by the legendary A.R. Rahman, the period costumes, and the chemistry between the lead actors, Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan.  The music was integrated beautifully into the story, and it didn’t hurt that the couple in the film were also interfaith.  I watched loads of Doctor WhoSherlock (multiple times), and Bones, and I also caught up on horrible rom coms I’d passed by during college.

After we got married and relocated to America we started watching series.  Parks and Recreation was the first (and, arguably, the best), 30 Rock, and How I Met Your Mother, and we’re now going though House of Cards.  We also found copies of back episodes of RomeThe Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family.  It’s an escape for me after work, and I think after his many, many long hours in England he needed something relaxing to do after his (thankfully shorter) workdays here.

I have noticed that I feel like my tastes have gotten simpler.  I don’t read as much even since the initial pain has either subsided enough or my tolerance has increased.  I can’t get into dramatic, more highbrow series or films as I used to.  I think perhaps my brain is just so exhausted from the pain all the time that it can’t process as it once did, and my attention doesn’t get as well captured by slow-moving storylines.

I suppose my only silver lining in noticing that change in my capacity and preference for entertainment is that at least something does entertain me, and at least I can escape.  There’s nothing quite like changing into my fleece sweatpants, a comfy t-shirt, and snuggling under my heated throw with my cat and dog on the couch.  There’s something so comforting about that scenario, especially when I’ve got a cup of tea and a chortling husband next to me.  (It’s hygge, but that’s another post.)  Whatever helps me get from one day to the next I will accept gladly.

Durham

Durham snow

The first city I ever fell in love with is Durham.

While I was in England on my graduation trip I visited Durham in order to talk with some professors about their masters programs.  An instructor I’d had for summer courses on Robin Hood and the Black Plague inspired me to look at interdisciplinary graduate (called “postgraduate” in the U.K.) programs.  What I’d loved about classics was that I could study literature, history, art, and language simultaneously.  Many graduate programs force students to choose a subject, but not a time period.  I didn’t want to take courses in just the literature department, for example, and have to take whatever courses happened to be offered that term.  A master’s program in medieval studies would enable me to study the time period I loved and build on the classical tradition I’d enjoyed as an undergraduate student.

The program at Durham seemed to fit my interests the most, but the city.  The city is amazing.

The peninsula of the Durham city center is surrounded by the River Wear on three sides, and at the center of the land is Palace Green.  Palace Green is a lovely, well, green space surrounded by Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle, Palace Green Library, and the ecclesiastical buildings.  Durham Cathedral is my (and many Britons’) favorite building.  The Norman cathedral was built in 1093 for a community of Benedictines, and the brown exterior dominates the landscape as visitors roll into the train station.  The gigantic pillars inside do not require any paint or ornate details; the geometric carvings are impressive and gorgeous enough on their own.   The castle is open to visitors, and is still a functioning building.  One of the university’s colleges is based there, and travelers can spend a night in one of the rooms.

DurhamMap2

The town is built on seven hills, and the cobblestone sidewalks and streets help the town to retain much of its medieval charm despite the Starbucks, M&S, and Costa.  I’ve always felt the most at home in Minnesota where people are kind, welcoming, and genuine.  Durhamites are much the same, and their nicknames are pastoral in nature (“pet” short for petal, “flower”).

There’s not a huge amount in the city, but I was delightfully happy there for a year.  I loved my program (and graduated with top honors!), and was smitten with the city.  Unlike many tourist attractions in England and the U.S., visiting Durham Cathedral was free, so if I needed a few moments of solitude or to clear my head with the sounds of the choir I could visit.

If you can’t leave home to visit this city, you can see the cathedral in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (there’s a plaster portion still in the wall of the arcade which was made to disguise modern pipes for filming) and in Elizabeth.  But if you can visit England, please do visit this charming city, and eat a piece of cake for me at Vennel’s Cafe.

DurhamCathedral1

Empowerment

I don’t know about you, but I feel the least empowered and strong when I feel poorly.

Fitspo, Crossfit, athleisure wear–all this contributes to this society that is all about pushing ourselves to the limit physically and celebrating those who can be the strongest, fittest, and skinniest.  The weight loss industry is booming, and shows like Revenge Body and The Biggest Loser are cultural phenomena.  I, myself, became part of that when I lost 80 pounds.  I used Jillian Michaels DVDs and the website MyFitnessPal to shed the weight, and I frequented message boards and Tumblr pages.

So what do we do when we can’t be a part of these communities?  What do we do when we long to exercise and push ourselves physically but no longer have the energy, the stamina, or the mobility/flexibility to do so?

I felt the best I had in years when I lost that weight.  I was off some pain medication I’d been on for my knee pain, and I was getting to sleep without the aid of prescription drugs for the first time since high school.  I’d started all that (the DVDs and YouTube workout videos, the Couch to 5K app, and the careful measurement of my food) after my CFS came back with a vengeance after I completed my master’s degree.  I knew I needed a way to combat it, and I’d heard that managing through diet and exercise had worked for some people.  I decided to give it a try.  As I watched the weight come off and my strength go up I became obsessed in my spare time with reading about fitness, weight loss, and nutrition.  I read motivational blogs to keep up my spirits, and I participated on MFP’s community boards to get advice when I’d plateau or was thinking about trying something new.  It was amazing, and I felt so good!

After my back injury at the height of my fitness and in the middle of my weight loss journey, I had to take time off.  I felt like I’d done something wrong and was being punished for being too ambitious.  I’d put my health first, and my PhD was second.  Was this karma?  For the first time I had a very serious relationship, so of course not everything could be going right in my life.

Since then I’ve been trying to figure out ways to claw my way back into a fitness regimen.  Since I’ve been working full-time it’s been next to impossible.  I can no longer go for a Pilates-cardio-swim triple sweat session and take that two hours out of my day.  The same exercise session would take me much longer, as my stamina and strength isn’t what it was.  Especially since I’ve started this elimination diet my body struggles more through exercise, and I’m just more tired all around.  It doesn’t help that my feet hurt 24/7 as though I’ve been working retail for 12 hours on Black Friday while wearing a 40-pound backpack…

Talk about not feeling empowered.

So what can I do to regain that feeling of progress and achievement when I have physical limitations?  I try to focus on the small things.  Getting out of bed and going to work.  Actually putting on that make-up.  Doing what I need to do after work and going to my various therapies.  In the fitness realm, it’s now taking a walk during my lunch break.  I upgraded my FitBit to one which buzzes every hour to remind me to get 250 steps.  I save my Instagram, Facebook, and personal email time until then, and I find these short breaks with a double reward make me much more productive.  In Pilates, I go for a few more push-ups, and I recently completed my first all-jog 5K.  (It was ridiculously slow and nowhere near my split before I hurt my back, but I’ll take it!)  My friend also introduced me to Habitica.  There are daily goals, and I’ve modified mine to include things like “survived the morning” and “took morning meds”–little things to in some way celebrate the little triumphs and acknowledge that I did get through the day.

However you feel empowered, I urge you to keep doing that.  Your progress may not be back to where it was when you were younger, fitter, skinnier, or less pained.  That’s okay.  Each time I put on pants and shower is a small victory, and it may not stack up to others’ or society’s expectations.  Just because you have an invisible illness doesn’t mean the little things aren’t visible, either.

 

crushit

Invisible

People call illnesses such as CFS, auto-immune diseases, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and arthritis “invisible illnesses”.  These are diseases and chronic conditions which aren’t outwardly visible to your average bystander.

Say that you break your arm or leg.  You may get a handicap placard, a cast, or a cane to help with your mobility while you recover.  Or if you have a chronic condition requiring a walker or wheelchair people obviously can see that signal of your injury or impairment.  Not so with invisible illnesses.  If someone with an invisible illness requires a placard, there are chances that someone somewhere along the way will comment on it.  “You’re not handicapped!  You’re walking just fine!”  But sufferers of invisible illnesses are not fine, and perhaps need that placard because walking farther than a few feet on bad days is simply too much.  Just because others may not see it doesn’t mean that it’s any less of an issue for a person coping with these illnesses and disorders.

People assume that because we appear normal–we get dressed and put on make-up, drive our cars, often go to jobs, and do our grocery shopping–we are.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  All these outings require careful planning and coordination, and often we do our best to look like any other person on the street.  I learned in college that the best way to blend in was to wear make-up.  “You look exhausted!” a good friend would tell me on a regular basis.  (Probably that was because I was, and my staying up to finish all my homework to my perfectionist standards didn’t help my haggard appearance.)  When I went off to graduate school we only had each module (course) once a week.  Thankfully, two of those were on the same day, which meant there were only three days of the week I had to look put together in a professional setting.  The rest of the time, I hid in oversized sweatpants and sweaters, slept as much as my body would allow, and stuck my nose in a book.  I met for study groups, but I did my best to not let anyone see how I truly was feeling.  I wanted to leave all that far away in America and focus on my academics in England, and I wanted to try to leave behind all the social and physical stressors I’d felt in college.  So, in order to put on a brave face (literally) I wore dresses and tights with a full face of make-up three days a week.  I stopped going to served dinners, as going up and down the hill to college meals was just too much for me to handle most days, and that would have required the effort to get properly dressed and put on all that make-up.

I believe that the physical symptoms are not the only invisible things for sufferers of these chronic conditions.  We, ourselves, are so wrapped up in our pain and fatigue that even on good days we feel unbelievably alone and invisible.  Friends you had in college are suddenly no longer speaking, even if they’re only a few miles away.  They can’t come hang out for a few minutes from down the hall if you’re having a bad day, and so they vanish.  You can’t make social gatherings, and people seem to forget you exist.

When I hurt my back in England it came shortly after I’d helped out a couple of friends who had just had a baby.  Between the two of them, neither could muster the energy to walk the short distance to check in.  A friend at whose house I’d stayed when she was horridly ill never came to see if I needed anything.  People I’d spend hours with in our workroom defriended me on Facebook and stopped texting me back.  Because I was no longer a constant presence, and perhaps because I was no longer “useful,” I was completely invisible and seemingly forgotten.

(I will, however, say that not everyone vanished.  My boyfriend and now husband made adjustments to his work schedule in London to help me.  There are many reasons I married this guy, but his loyalty is near the very top of that list.)

I encourage you to check in with those who may suffer from chronic conditions.  I know I hate asking for help.  I was the “house mother” in my housing block at graduate school because I was always available for a chat and even provided a cup of tea to anyone who needed a lift.  I’m the one who would prefer to take care of others, and I hate to trouble anyone by asking for anything.  I would also urge you not to compare their illness or condition with being a parent or a college student or anyone else who may not get the adequate amount of sleep–yes, sufferers of chronic illnesses are legitimately tired, but the fatigue we feel down to our bones is unlike being tired.  We can’t ever sleep off the fatigue, and we never feel rested in our muscles, joints, or brains.  The best things you can do are be there, show you care and are compassionate, and take their minds off the fatigue or pain.  Friendship and love are truly the best medicines when nothing else helps.

Accommodation

Accommodation.

That can be a wonderful word meaning a place to stay while on vacation or perhaps your living arrangement.

For those of us with chronic health issues, it means something completely different.

It means apprehension, anxiety, and usually a lot of paperwork.  It’s something that marks us as “different” or “special”.  I had to have accommodation during school for the late submission of assignments, understanding on attendance policies, and even choosing how severe symptoms or illnesses may or may not be during the duration of the term and “padding” my accommodations list accordingly.  Every semester I had to meet with a disability counselor in order to set up my accommodation for the coming classes.  “What’s new this year?”  “Same issues as last year?”  It made me think intensely about what was wrong with my body and how those issues affected me.  Migraines, a knee injury, CFS, frequent infections, allergies–all of these or none of these could spring up on any given day.

At work, accommodation seems far scarier.  It’s working with HR and weighing how much to ask for and what to say.  It’s far beyond attending classes and homework deadlines–it’s trying to anticipate what my body will do for eight hours a day and what my team may need and how all my other appointments and treatments might work.  It was a competition to get the job, and asking for accommodation makes me feel weak and makes me think they see me as too much of a special case.

With the lack of sleep due to the pain, the pain itself, and the strain of everything going on right now, I’m very emotional.  I feel weak both physically and emotionally, and the last thing I want to do is have to think about how else I should be or might be different.  I feel embarrassed (both because of what accommodations I have to anticipate and because of how emotional I am when I have to talk about what I’m going through).  I often feel blown off by others who hear that it’s “just” pain.  “Wait until you’re a mother” is a typical response when I talk about CFS, as if being sleepy (and admittedly emotional strained) with a baby compares to being physically fatigued and unable to feel rested.  I feel so idiotic sometimes, especially when I can’t control my tears or emotions.

Going over accommodations makes me feel exposed.  Chronic pain and illness make me want to hide under the covers and not talk about anything.  I cuddle with my cats or snuggle into a stuffed Olaf from my husband.  After so long I’m dreadfully tired of being considered different.

Rocky Mountain National Park

“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” –John Muir

Last October we were blessed to spend a long weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I’d never been there, and one of the first conversations I had with the cute boy who would become my husband was about national parks.  We had a flight voucher, and my birthday seemed like a good enough excuse to run off to the mountains!  It was truly brilliant.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Estes Park called the Golden Leaf Inn.  Monica, the lovely innkeeper (who happens to share my birthday!) is absolutely lovely, and she made some delicious meals with which we began each day.  Eggs, sausages, scones…  It was all delicious, and she was good enough to make gluten- and dairy-free options for us and other guests.

Our very first day while we were still adjusting to the altitude we went on a short hike to Bear Lake.  Both of us were huffing and puffing during our walk (one of the easier and more popular hikes in the park), but we were determined to have full days our entire time there!  Not content just with the lake, we also went over Trail Ridge Road our first day and hiked up to the highest accessible point near the Alpine Visitor Center.  It was spectacular to be completely surrounded by tundra and to be caught up in the sweeping winds that high up!

Over the next few days we hiked to various places in the park and were lucky enough to see loads of elk both in and outside the park in Estes Park’s city center.  There’s something so amazing about being surrounded by nature and hearing little save some birds, the rustling of the leaves and needles, and the grasses brushing against each other.

There is a Japanese concept of shinrin yoku or “forest bathing”.  Simply being in the forest, bathing in its quiet and green, acts to restore the mind and body.  Being outside reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, increases focus, and helps the body recover from illness and injury.  Of course, the lower stress level also help sleep during the night, and I know that after spending time in the wilderness my mind is sharper and I feel energized.

Before I ever read that there was an actual word for what I was experiencing, I loved being in national parks and being surrounded by trees and wildlife.  My favorite vacations as a child were to Yellowstone (and a little bit of Teton or Glacier thrown in), and I’m determined to go with my husband later this year because of these memories.  I’ve never felt drawn to beaches or flashy cruises or themeparks–my heart has always been among the trees.  I doubt that because I’m related to John Muir I’ve felt this way my whole life, but it’s lovely to consider that it’s always been in my blood.  While London felt like home in many ways with its museums, history, and amazing food, the mountains and forests call me home as often as I can return.  It doesn’t matter if I’ve seen the trail or the nearest city before or not, it’s always a part of me.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.”  — John Muir