Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bittersweet Goodbyes and Exciting Beginnings

Well, it’s the end of the quarter and the end of my days as a master in nutrition student. I graduate on Monday. You are reading my last blog and my last class assignment. It is has been a bittersweet experience this last week. I have been saying goodbye a lot. I feel very discombobulated and out of sync. My routine, though anticipated, has been turned upside down and I find that what keeps be tethered to reality is all the final projects and exams I am working on and studying for. Because I am graduating and moving on to my dietetic internship this summer I resigned my position as a volunteer chef at the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell and I worked my last day in the Finance Office at Bastyr University. I love all the people I work with in both places and will miss them terribly.

Sharon McCain and her husband Gene at Northshore are wonderful people and if anyone would be interested in volunteering a few hours each week to make soups and/or serve soups and sandwiches in the coffee shop contact the volunteer coordinator at Northshore Senior Center at You won’t regret it. I looked forward to it each week and I will miss it this summer.

The women in the Finance Office at Bastyr University have been very supportive the past two years I have worked there. Each one is smart and friendly and fun to work with and I consider them my friends. I hope where ever I end up working I will have such wonderful people to work with. Thank you Mary, Norma, Shirley, Gena, Anna and Joanne.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my education at Bastyr University. The instructors and staff are highly knowledgeable, dedicated and truly care about the students. I have to mention a few people who had a great influence on me. Dr. Diane Spicer, Basic Sciences teacher: I was lucky enough to be in three of her classes. She is an exceptional teacher and sets the example for other teachers to aspire to. Kelly Morrow, MS, RD is a highly trained and insightful clinician and teacher and I thank her for kicking my butt every quarter. I am a better student and a better person for it.

As I finish this blog and say good bye one last time I am truly grateful to my friends and family and everyone I have worked with or studied with and celebrated or commiserated with during the last few years. Thank you to everyone who has supported me. I could not have done it without you! It is because of you I look forward to an exciting beginning as a dietetic intern and a new life as a Registered Dietitian.

Writing – Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

I took a course in Writing for Food and Health this last quarter. I had an idea I would write a book on nutrition or maybe a cookbook, or both. I have come to the decision this will be unlikely. I’m actually not surprised. I never have been one to journal or write in a diary for more than a week or two at any given time in my life. I had a hard time finding things to write about that didn’t sound silly or just plain stupid. After taking this class and learning what it takes to write seriously and then actually get it published I found I do not have the passion to be a successful writer. I found you truly have to love it because it is not easy. In this day and age of electronic media it is next to impossible to get noticed and less likely you will earn enough money to make a living.

I admire and support those who do love to write and have a passion for writing. There are a couple of women in my class I consider very talented and they make it look easy. I, on the other hand, struggle and it seems each word must be ripped out of my head and reluctantly put on paper with my hands…it’s exhausting. Give me a vegetable and a knife and I will cook you a meal to die for with my eyes closed. That is my passion, what I do effortlessly and with enthusiasm.

I am glad I took the writing course. The instructor, Terence Maikels, is very good and I learned a lot. But I also learned to recognize when I should step back and leave it to the professionals. I will stick with what I know: nutrition, food and cooking … and reading books of all kinds.

If you would be interested in the Writing for Food and Health course at Bastyr University, go to for more information.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Positive Affirmations or No Such Luck?

As I do at the end of every quarter, I start using positive affirmations to help get through the enormous work load and survive the high level of stress. Some people don’t believe affirmations work. In fact no study has shown conclusively that they work. All I know is that they work for me. You can use affirmations to boast your self confidence or you can use them to help you reach your goals, or both.

Everyone is unique so what affirmation works best you is an individual thing. I believe it should be personal and not necessarily shared with the world. For me, sharing it dilutes the power and meaning by inviting criticism. What works for me will not resonate for someone else and therefore be ineffective. For this reason I won’t share with you my affirmations but just know they are positive and help me to visualize achieving my goals.

People use affirmations all the time, even if they don’t know it. How many times have you given yourself a pep talk before giving a big speech, or during the last mile of your run or even at home finishing up some chore or task you don’t like, but feel better once it is done? You are re-affirming your commitment to finish. Athletes use positive affirmations along with visualization as part of their training. It can be a powerful tool to achieving your goals.

My niece was performing in a play last weekend and experienced stage fright for the first time. Rather than focusing on what could go wrong, I explained that if she thought about how she was going to do well, she would most likely do just what she thought. She didn’t get it at first, but then the light bulb lit up and she happy to know she had more control over what she thinks and feels than she realized. It is an emotional intelligence skill that will help her throughout her life.

So in the last week of class, building up to final exams and final presentations I am staying focused on my successes and concentrating on taking the next step toward the end of the year and graduation. Here is a link to Success Consciousness. It is a web site that provides more detail about positive affirmations, visualization and stress relief: I wish you success.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Too Many Assignments, Not Enough Time…What’s New?

It’s crunch time again… the last few weeks of the quarter and all my classes have major assignments due. This is where I have fallen down in the past in my commitment to exercise and eat a whole foods diet. It is the most stressful time as a student for me and the most important time to stick to a healthy lifestyle of regular exercise and to include fruits & vegetables, lean protein and high quality fats in my eating plan. But, as it is with many people, this is where I fall down. I feel too much stress to take the time to care for myself. I tell myself there is no time to put down the books and take a walk, or work out at the gym. I tell myself there isn’t enough time to shop and cook a healthy meal. The thinking part of my brain tells me this is the opposite of what is best for me. My emotional brain says there is no time! Hit the books and don’t look up until the quarter is over.

Someone once told me not to believe everything my brain tells me. I thought it was a silly thing to say at the time, but I have learned it is true. In very simple terms our brains have two areas that contribute to what we think: the frontal lobe that works through logic and reasoning and the primal limbic lobe that controls our emotions. At times they are in conflict with each other and some pretty weird thoughts can creep up. I have learned to stop and think: ‘I don’t agree with that thought or emotion.’ I don’t have to let it control my actions. It turns out that is a powerful thing to do. The more I practice it, the more I feel in control and I am less stressed. I find I am more relaxed and able to enjoy life even during times of stress like the end of the quarter.

So, to answer my own question, this is what is new: I am taking a new approach to dealing with stress. I have a better outlook for the end of the quarter (and the end of my Masters in Nutrition program). I find I am enjoying school much more and able to savor the last four weeks before graduation. I will never be at this place in time in my life again and I want to make it the best it can be. My time at Bastyr has been a unique experience I will always cherish and never forget. I am so glad I am able to recognize that and revel in it. How about you?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Growing love in your garden

Well, our garden is finally, completely in! I say “we” when it was 99% my sister’s effort and sore back while I did school projects and filled out endless pages of application for my internship’s summer programs. I am very excited for our garden this year. With compost lovingly made over the last year by mother nature (with my sister’s help) we will soon have organic tomatoes, peas, corn, beets, beans cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, pumpkins, dill, cilantro, basil and thyme. I suspect there is even more than that, but since I didn’t actually do any planting this year, I can’t be sure. We decided not to grow zucchini. Why, you may ask? Because it multiplies exponentially, grows to the size of a baseball bat overnight, and we still have 3 pounds from last summer in our freezer. It is a wonder and a weed. The last zucchini we pulled off the plant last fall was so large it could seriously have cause harm if you were to swing it at someone or drop it on your foot.

We have a friend who is growing zucchini and has offered to share her excess crop and we will share the excess tomatoes we will inevitably grow. I picked out some heirloom tomato plants from Sky Nursery that I am very excited to try. Tomatoes are another wonder and a weed. Last year we had two tomato plants. They produced so many tomatoes we could not give them away. Literally, I had friends that saw me coming in late August and ran away yelling “No more tomatoes!” I picked out three tomato plants for this year….call me crazy, I know…I actually exercised self control. I really wanted to get 4-5 varieties. This year I have a peach colored heirloom tomato I am anxiously waiting to try as well as a chocolate cherry tomato that is suppose to be super sweet. I don't remember the name of the last tomato plant I picked out, but I do remember it promised to be "your next favorite". Truth be told they are all my favorite. With the exception of my mom, everyone in my family loves tomatoes. My niece eats them like candy.

It may be a long shot, but we are trying watermelon for the second time this year. Hopefully a better spot in the garden with longer direct sunlight will ensure success. Last year we didn’t even see one. Does anyone have the secret to success for growing watermelons in the Northwest?

There is no place like my back yard when the sun is shining and the garden is growing and bursting with potential. It fills my soul and my heart is overflowing with the love our garden brings.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mindful Eating

Well, so far I have kept up my goal of exercising 3-4 days each week. Poor Blink has got the short end of the stick as I have been working out at the gym on rainy days and taking walks in St. Edwards Park at school between classes. She has only been lucky enough to go for a walk with me once or twice a week. I know I will get better at walking her as my last quarter in school ends and I have more opportunities this summer. When she looks at me with those big brown eyes I just keep saying “Hang in there Blink, summer vacation is coming!”

I have been pretty good about eating a whole foods diet as well. I did have a couple of small brownies and a slice of rhubarb pie at our family’s Mothers Day celebration. In my defense, the brownies were made with whole wheat flour and the rhubarb pie was baked from scratch by my sister in law. But there was still a lot of processed sugar.

Where I have fallen down is in the category of mindful eating. My last career was in Food & Beverage for 20+ years before returning to school. During that time I developed the bad habit of eating fast. For those of you who have worked in restaurants and catering you understand that you eat when you can – usually gulping down whatever is at hand in between setting up, serving or breaking down. I have had a hard time breaking myself of this habit, especially when I am rushing from class to work or to the library to do homework.

For those of you unfamiliar with mindful eating, here is the concept in a nutshell:
Food is much better digested and absorbed when eaten in a relaxed and unstressed environment. One should take the time to set the table and sit down for meals. Eat with your family or friends. Catch up on the events of each other’s lives. Take smaller bites, chew well and enjoy your food. Think about where it came from and what it does for you.

I completely understand and wholeheartedly agree with this concept…the problem lies in executing it! I need to remember mindful eating before I eat and not after. This is my goal this week: I will consciously make the effort to mindfully eat at least 1-2 meals every day. Why only 1-2 meals and not all of them? Hey, I’m not perfect, just trying to improve. Stressing out about mindful eating is defeating the purpose, don’t you think?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Seeing Orange and Green

I’ll never forget feeding squash to my niece when she was nine months old. Her mom was introducing new foods to her and squash was the vegetable of choice that week. Rhiannon LOVED squash. She loved to eat it, squash it (hence the name I suppose), smear it on her face, in her hair, on the high chair and watch it fall as she pushed it off the tray. The dog and the cat would wait patiently under her high chair and check out what was falling. We have a picture I will always cherish of orange: orange kid, orange high chair, orange walls and even an orange hat on the dog’s head where a falling piece of squash had landed and Rhiannon grinning from ear to ear. Now that Rhiannon is older, she has decided she doesn’t like squash anymore…oh well, maybe she will re-discover the wonders of squash some day...I just hope not as a hair product!

Memories like these are precious to me. Food was always an important part of growing up for me and it continues with the next generation in our family. Many of our family stories are based around food in some way or another. It tells the tale of childhood, maturing (or not) and becoming adults and making our own choices about what foods we eat, what foods we cook and the source of our food.

We had a lengthy discussion at dinner the other night about the source of our food. We all believe organic is better than conventionally grown food, but who can afford to buy all organic? We can’t; this is particularly true when tuition is due every quarter. So what should the priorities be when considering which foods to buy organic?

After almost two years in the Masters in Nutrition program at Bastyr University, here are my top two rules for buying organic. Number one: Buy organic meats and dairy. Organic meat and dairy are expensive but I believe the most important because animals concentrate any pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics they eat in their muscles and milk; and number two: if you can’t buy all organic fruits and vegetables than use the shoppers guide to pesticides from the Environmental Working Group website to guide your choices. They list the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide content (they also list the fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticides). The dirty dozen are: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots and pears. I will only buy organic for these. If money is tight I will buy conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticides. These include: onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangos, asparagus, peas, kiwis, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.

Following these two rules helps keep me and my family healthy and I am able to sleep better at night. I hope it helps you too.