December 30, 2012

Cookies vs. Broccoli: Both/And not Either/Or

The inspiration for this post came about a week before Christmas when several dozen homemade Christmas cookies sat about 2 feet away from me on the dining room table.

I love cookies. Well, I should say I loved them. There was a time in my all-to-recent past where cookies had a chokehold on me. I couldn't be near one without eating it. Some days I actually sought cookies out, but those were rare. I would mostly just be in the vicinity of a cookie and wouldn't be able to resist consuming it.

Cookies used to be a regular grocery store staple for me, especially growing up. My mom would buy several packages each week for our school lunches or weekends or evenings--basically whenever.

I have no problem telling you I was a sugar addict, mostly because don't consider myself one today. 

Here's why:

while I do consume sugar, I don't constantly obsess about it
I rarely if ever seek to buy food containing processed sugar (either out or when buying groceries)
I rarely if ever use processed sugar in tea or while cooking
I am 100% aware of the effects sugar has on my body and mental spirit
I don't have negative thoughts/feelings of shame while consuming sugar or sugary foods
I rarely if ever prioritize consuming sugary foods over fruits or veggies

I could probably add a few more but that will do for now.

Oh, and I intentionally eat sugar in front of people who think I wouldn't or shouldn't because I'm a healthy life coach.

I listed those habits because they are in stark contrast to my former lifestyle and nutrition habits--direct opposites, in fact. I sat down and thought about my relationship to sugar now versus just a few years ago and definitely 8-10 years ago and that's what came up. There was no way I was thinking about green foods back then. I thought about vegetables as this annoyance that got in the way of my sugar consumption. I also obsessed about sugar like crazy, constantly wondering about my next fix.

And that was as recently as 2009.

And then I became a health coach. And things changed significantly.

And then I addressed my deepest fears, one of which ended up being my transgender identity. And then things REALLY changed.

I think I really realized how differently my nutrition, lifestyle habits and relationship to food have all changed when I was staring at those tins of cookies on the table and there was absolutely no one and nothing stopping me from eating as many as I wanted. Seriously. I mean, that's really my life every single day--no one is responsible for telling me what to do and how to live my life other than me. I have the power to do whatever I want, eat whatever I want, say whatever I want, and love, learn, clean, color, write, think, walk, dance and dress however I want--the list goes on and on.

The question is: with all this freedom of choice and expression--what do I actually choose? 

Because that is what defines who I am and the life I want to live.

On this particular day, I regarded those cookies and I heard myself say out loud, "yeah. cool. Yum. As soon as I eat something real and something green."

And that's exactly what I did.

December 18, 2012

Good Grief

Those famous words uttered by Charlie Brown at least once in a Peanuts episode or cartoon in the newspaper.

Given the event in Newtown, CT last Friday, I wondered aloud, "can grief ever be good?"

Aside from what happened on Friday morning, this time of year is difficult enough for many people, while also being full of joy and celebration for others. In fact, it's possible it is both difficult AND wonderful for most people. From posts on facebook, more and more people are expressing that this year is particularly difficult for them.

My past experience of grief surely never felt good at all but as I said in a facebook status the other day, I am experiencing a new kind of grieving experience this year--one that actually doesn't feel horrible and in many ways feels very good, indeed. I have come to develop a newfound respect for grief, and all it has provided me.

Perhaps my intimacy with my own grief over the past 10 years helped me manage my feelings about the tragedy at Sandy Hook, CT. I don't feel desensitized from the many violent shootings this past year (and years before), I feel very present with them. I remember watching footage from Columbine when I was in college and feeling the same level of awareness and utter sadness that I felt this past Friday morning. I also feel angry. I feel angry that I was raised to fear black men as the ultimate violent aggressor in my country and instead white men are behind the majority of these mass shootings.

Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Of the 142 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. Forty four of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman.  -

Now, I grieve misinformation I was fed as a child and continue to be fed today.

I grieve many old stories and old belief systems I was taught at home and in school.

When I endured my first break-up, I grieved the loss of my first love. In the years following that relationship, I grieved revelation after revelation of the person I thought I was, and the experiences I had as a child.

I've grieved jobs that ended, whether on my own terms or not.
I've grieved friendships that ended.
I've grieved my own identities.
My old voice.
My body, as it has changed over the years.
My relationship to my family.

In every instance, I was fully present with my experience. My Buddhist practice taught me to do that. I read book after book about being present, leaning into the sharp points, not running or grasping (at alcohol, smoking or food). I grasp in a different way, which I'll explain in another blog post.

After years of sitting with grief, I've realized it is indeed a very good process. Sitting in my experience, being fully present with my feelings (all of them, and there are many) has allowed me to become an excellent coach for others who are taking on similar work. The more I am able to be in my own company, no matter what comes up and no matter how impossible things feel, the more I am able to do that for others.

That matters to me, because not everyone is able to do this. And I believe it is something we all need.

I didn't know years ago when I struggling through understanding and passing through the many stages of grief what it was all for. I had no idea why I was suffering so. Now I see, and it all makes sense. Grief is a very good thing, indeed, because nothing is permanent. Nothing lasts.

Things come and things go--people, jobs, money, material possessions, even feelings--and the best work I have done in my life is learning to be ok with that. 

I've had to allow feelings that come up when I want things to be different and just sit with those feelings. Sometimes I give those feelings a minute, sometimes a week, something years. I find the most tension not in feeling the feelings but when I try to stuff them down or pretend they aren't there or when I ask for help from people who aren't ready, willing or able to provide it. That's when the grief goes from bad to worse.

I experience good grief when I draw on my Buddhist practice that reminds me of what I already know. I also experience good grief when I share my feelings with people who can hold the space for them, perhaps because they do that well for themselves. I also experience good grief when I don't rush the process--because grief has shown me it is way stronger than the Puritan work ethic. Yes, there are things to get done and life goes on, but grief runs by its own timeclock. And I have come to respect and admire that. It teaches me a lot about my inner world versus the external world I participate in.  The agenda of the external world rarely lines up with the internal one.

Grief is good when I embrace it. It has taught me how to be vulnerable and more gentle with myself. It has taught me how to be a better listener for others. 

Good grief.

December 17, 2012

Who's In Your Fellowship?

I'm not talking about religion here. Although, I will be doing that soon.

Right now, I'm talking about your team. Your crew. Your people. The ones who will get you through a tough time of change and transition.

Last year was a rough one for me. In fact, there were quite a few rough years leading up to this massive change I just took on. But the last one was pretty tricky.

In those last few months as I was staring down decisions about permanent changes to my body and identity, I was struggling. Grasping at straws many days, I felt as if life were bottomless. A deep dark abyss that awaited my eventual drowning.

To say I was depressed is an understatement. You never suspected that? Well, that's because I had a formidable crew of supporters to sustain me during the darkest, scariest of times, just like Frodo's crew in the Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Each person/dwarf/hobbit/elf, etc. in that group added an unique skill or talent to help Frodo accomplish the tremendous task and journey he elected to take on. Just like the Fellowship of the Ring, the members of my fellowship all possess different skills and traits and bring unique perspectives and gifts with them. I am grateful for each and every one, and I couldn't have done what I did without them.

Here are the top 5 qualities in my friends, therapists, coaches and mentors that I need and am most grateful for in my past, present and future transitions:

1) humor: I love funny. I love wit. Anyone who brings this into my life to lift me up gets bonus points. I especially appreciate it when it comes in the form of sarcasm with a laser-focus set on intentionally bringing me out of a funk. The witty, "I'm saying this to make you laugh" sarcasm. For instance, the other day I said to a struggling friend, "eat some broccoli, cut the shit. Go be a warrior." She texted me later, "that was the best advice I've gotten in months."

2) deep listening: don't nod and say, "uh huh". Don't "yeah" me to death. Freakin' listen to me, tell me what you hear me saying and ask me if I need or want any advice or feedback. One of the best skills I've learned and developed over the past 5 years is how to actually listen to someone. I don't do it perfectly all the time but I think I do a better job than I did in the past. And I really appreciate someone who does it well for me.

3) homemade food: I can't explain what it felt like coming home from my surgery to weeks of homemade food from my friends. There was no feeling like it in the world. I felt like they really really knew me and my values and I felt incredibly safe and well-fed, as a result. And the people who let me cook for them? Winners. Food is love, and I like to give and receive it as much as I can.

4) no agendas: my best supporters during my time of massive change and transition were people who listened to me process what was real and true for me with no agendas of their own. There weren't any questions about hard things or if there were and I resisted or shrugged, they dropped it. There was no pressure to answer or explain myself because they wanted to know more details about issues I was struggling to bring into my consciousness. They existed to support me--not to use me as a classroom. There was no timetable in place--never once did my best supporters say things like, "well you have to make a decision soon" or "when will you use male pronouns--because I'm confused". Yeah, I was, too. And it was hell trying to get up and function every day but I still did it and sought out people who didn't need an answer to be able to love me. In fact, they got early on that it was damn near impossible for me and they took my lead when talking about it.

5) awareness: probably the best and most valuable skill my friends brought was a deep awareness of what I was going through. Not all of them were particularly trans* savvy, but they possessed a deep awareness of my process, perhaps as a result of their own deep suffering or transition of some sort, that enabled them to be fully present with my struggle. Some members of my fellowship were trained therapists and practitioners, some were deeply intelligent and intuitive people, some were learning through me but gentle enough to keep their questions for later. They got that it was big, all-consuming and incredibly scary. And even if they didn't fully understand and couldn't relate, they gave me the space and time to sort through it.

Who are the people in your crew? What qualities do you need in your friends to accomplish what feels impossible to do by yourself?

December 16, 2012

Buttered Black Beans, Collards and Sweets

It was cold and rainy today. Bleary. Bleak.


Hello, comfort food!

I didn't feel like going food shopping so I went through the cabinets instead and pulled something super great together. Here's three tips to make something like this possible:

1) no matter how tired you are, always buy two different kinds of leafy greens at the grocery store 1-2x a week. Store them in bags or containers to keep them fresher, longer.

2) keep a few cans of Eden brand beans around. For nights when you want some power-packed protein but have no energy to cook. Paired with some butter and spices, they go from "meh" to "YEAH!"

3) think outside the box. You're keeping this simple. You're cooking dinner for yourself (or your partner or family)--you're not competing on a Food Network tv show. Although, the challenge of assembling dinner with little to no ingredients can feel a bit like being on Iron Chef...

Buttered Black Beans, Collards and Sweets

1 12-oz can black beans
1 bunch collards, washed and chopped (check out my video on how to prep collards)
2 large sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp org. butter
1 carton org. chicken broth
2 cups water
1 medium onion, diced

1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp. chili powder

In a large pot, combine chicken broth, water and collards. Simmer over medium-low heat for 45-60 minutes. The longer you cook them, the more tender they will be. Allow for this time when prepping your meal.

In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook until translucent. Add black beans and spices and simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes.

Cut sweet potatoes into long rectangular cubes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook potatoes in the oven on a cookie sheet (adding parchment paper is even better) for 15 minutes or until browned to your liking.

Combine and serve.

Waste Not, Want Not

Dear Dillan,

I made that recipe you posted, where you cooked the collard greens in chicken broth. They came out great! Super soft and tasty.

I wondered, do all the nutrients get lost when I cook them like that? What should I do with the broth after I cook the greens in it?


your rad client

Dear My Rad Client,

Drink the broth. That's where the nutrients go. Makes for a tasty warm drink!

December 11, 2012

Choosing to Relax

This past weekend, I made a decision.

I was going to relax. On purpose.

It's been an extremely enjoyable few months. I have been living it up since coming home from my surgery in August. I made a decision to enroll in grad school during the summer and really wondered if I'd be able to make it along with my coaching biz and some other side gigs. The good news is: not only am I making it, I'm thriving!

But it's a lot of work. And I'm busy. But I couldn't be happier. I get to decide what I do each and every day of my life and it is THE ideal life for me. I honestly couldn't ask for more and I wouldn't change a thing. It is exactly the life I want to be living right now and some days, I honestly can't believe I pulled it off---let alone that I've been rockin' it for the past 5 months.

That's a long time to be living the dream. Can't wait for more years ahead!

In the meantime, however, some rest and relaxation is called for. I keep a packed schedule so I had to be sure I scheduled in some downtime--balance in all things, after all, right?

I had a craving for some escapism--so I downloaded the Lord of the Rings triology and got through parts 1 and 2. Still have to make some time for part 3, the final chapter. I've seen them before. They are very staged, a little silly but just the kind of stuff I was craving: total fantasy and a departure from my real life and all the serious and wonderfully powerful stuff that involves. A little mental vacation, if you will.

After being hosted by some incredible friends this past Friday night for dinner, I put my feet up, grabbed a bottle of the new Woodchuck cider Winter brew and enjoyed the heck out of my Saturday evening. And then I did it again on Sunday night. Three evenings of pure bliss!!

It was the first real relaxing weekend I've had in way too long, and it felt damn good especially at this time of year. I remember the years of running myself into the ground at work and getting caught up with the holiday prep and expectations. That stuff can be so fun but so stressful, too. I want to enjoy my life, I don't want to merely "get through it".

It is a choice. A choice I need to make on purpose.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

If I kept telling myself the story that "I could never live in limbo as a trans* person", I wouldn't be enjoying my life the way I am today.

This time last year, life wasn't very rad. And the year before that. And the year before that.

I never would have known that I would enjoy life this much and have this much fun, but it took a lot of time for me to stop telling myself the story that I didn't deserve to be happy, healthy and live my life on my own terms.

Now I look awesome, feel awesome, spend my time doing exactly what I want to do and I am not dreaming about all that---it's my reality.

I am so glad I stopped telling myself the story that it wasn't possible so I could start using my time effectively toward MAKING it happen.

December 4, 2012

The Power of a Little Positivity

Think that no one notices when you're coming from gratitude and abundance?

Think again. Here's what happened to me!

A New Normal

I left "normal" behind a long time ago.

See ya!

I pride myself and cruise through life these days as a result of questioning the concept of normal and generally doing everything in my power to make sure I don't believe the hype.

There is no such thing as normal. #justsayin

I have a lot more fun and love my life because I listen to myself, surround myself with people who support me and persevere at "work" I love (quotes because it never feels like work) and eat real food.

And you can believe that I'll keep seeking out new ways to support everyone in rethinking normal and why they can ditch that expectation for themselves.

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