Wednesday, 23 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast: Day 8

I feel like I want to fast forever.

Before coming into this fast, I was backsliding heavily into lazy patterns of eating and "living," which I don't even consider living.

So, I love movies. I really love movies, but television... Okay, I love Nashville. LOVE it. I also have a stupidly guilty pleasure in Grey's Anatomy, even though I think it can often be, well, stupid. Every now and then Channel 4 has a show on health or diet that I'm keen to tune into every week... and if this were it, three hours of television a week during certain months of the year with a move night every other weekend or so, I wouldn't think so much of it.

The problem is that I am often alone in the day and for some reason that translated to great loneliness this past year... which meant that when I ate my breakfast or my lunch, I'd do it in front of the television... then Kwok would often want to eat dinner in front of the tv, and so it added up to a lot of brain-zapping and mind-numbing.

Since this fast, I've actually loathed hearing the television. I had to haul myself upstairs to read when Kwok was watching a program the other night. (Okay, this is all with one exception. Last Friday morning, I performed my usual ritual of hauling out my laptop and watching the previous evening's Grey's Anatomy that aired in the US.)

My mom is coming to visit at the beginning of May and while I'm glad she's coming, I'm reluctant to abandon my fast, though will need to unless I want to take her out for Mother's Day and watch her eat while I juice. It's possible actually, but it seems, sort of, wrong. We'll see.

This was one of the harder fasts to get into because of said backsliding and the attachments I have to food, but once in it? It's been one of the easiest and healthiest in terms of juice choices. Of course, I could still be healthier. There are diehards who would scoff at the fact that I use fruit at all. Okay, scoff. This is my fast, so this is how I'm doing it.

Overall, I'm feeling pretty good... more on the Hurom to come!

*****
So, the Hurom, while it gets a much higher quality juice, isn't the best at straining... So, I've been double-straining. Unfortunately, I must've missed out on double-straining some of the juice this morning as some fiber got into it... and then I felt hungry and had cravings all afternoon. Hmm. I made sure everything was double-strained this afternoon for what was ultimately a really delicious juice.

Also, I think I'm tending less and less to the sweet items as they almost seem to irritate the gut. I take this as a good sign.

*****
How much can change over the course of a day on a juice fast! I started the day feeling great... quickly turned to feeling wretched and nauseous, felt tired and weak, couldn't go for my run... and then by evening, I felt okay again. Ahh, gotta love honoring the body.



Today's Menu:

Morning juice:
(I actually felt really bloated after this... not sure why... but then I felt hungry and got cravings, so not sure what's going on....)
-150g spinach
-30g mint
-1 lemon
-4 apples

Afternoon juice:
(I drink 2/3 of this, which was about 2/3 of a litre because again, I really suddenly wasn't feeling well, so gave the rest to Kwok.)
-9 tomatoes
-8 stalks celery
-2-inch hunk of horseradish
-3 new potatoes

Evening juice:
(Didn't think I'd drink anything but tea or water after feeling unwell earlier, but then this sounded nice, so I went with it.)
-1 cup cranberries
-5 oranges

Teas:
-1 mug Yogi Green Energy

Exercise:
-40-minute morning yoga session
-3+-mile dog walk
-15 minutes of Just Dance

Sauna time:
-60 minutes

Supplements:
-2 chlorella tablets
-2 spirulina tablets

Other self-care:
-Morning dry skin brush
-Oiling with an Ayurvedic blend after shower



Tuesday, 22 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast: Day 7

I know I've mostly been putting the menus up and in part that's because I've been quite busy, in part it's because I don't really have any readers, and ultimately, it's because I haven't had too much to say on the juice fasting front. I will write more tomorrow though, as... I got a Hurom! Eee!

Today's Menu:

Morning juice:
-5 cherry tomatoes
-5 large tomatoes
-5 celery stalks with leaves
-2-inch chunk of fresh horseradish

Afternoon juice:
-3 sweet potatoes
-2 cups cherries

Evening drink:
-1 litre of water
-1/2 lemon

Teas:
-2 mugs Yogi Green Energy

Exercise:
-40-minutes morning yoga session
-2+-mile dog walk
-taught 90-minute session
-1-mile run

Sauna time:
-60 minutes

Supplements:
-3 chlorella tablets
-3 spirulina tablets

Other self-care:
-Morning dry skin brush
-oiling in ashwagandha and lavender oils after shower


Monday, 21 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast: Day 6

Today's Menu:

Morning juice:
-4 beets
-13-15 very small carrots (I didn't actually count!)
-1.5-inch chunk of ginger

Afternoon juice:
-1 pineapple
-1 cucumber
-125g spinach
-30g mint

Evening juice:
(I won't be getting any kisses tonight.)
-1 red onion
-1 clove garlic
-1 small carrot
-3 small new potatoes

Other drinks:
-1/2 a lemon in litre of water after sauna

Teas:
-1 mug of ginger mate
-1 mug Yogi Green Energy

Exercise:
-2+-mile dog walk
-Gardening (couple hours)
-House cleaning (hours!)
-25 minutes of Just Dance

Sauna time:
-65 minutes

Supplements:
-4 chlorella
-4 spirulina

Other self-care:
-Morning dry skin brush
-15-minute morning meditation
-oiling in ashwagandha oil after shower

Sunday, 20 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast, Day 5

Today's Menu:

Morning juice:
Unfortunately, I was only able to drink about 2/3-3/4 of this juice, because Luna, oh, precious Luna, literally jumped onto it and me on our lovely, comfy chair... which is now green. :/ 
-30g fresh parsley
-10 big kale leaves
-100g spinach
-1 cucumber
-1 kiwi
-3 medium apples

Afternoon juice:
-7 oranges
-2 cups of cranberries

Evening juice:
-2 cups cherries
-2 large sweet potatoes

Teas:
-2 mugs of ginger mate

Exercise:
-2+-mile dog walk
-taught a 75-minute aerial yoga class
-30 minutes of Just Dance (on the Wii!)

Sauna time:
-60 minutes

Supplements:
-4 chlorella
-4 spirulina

Other self-care:
-Morning dry skin brush
-oiling with ashwagandha oil after shower

Saturday, 19 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast, Day 4


Today's Menu:

Morning juice:
Made from:
-4 beets
-7 carrots
-1.5-inch hunk ginger

Afternoon juice:
(It's a bit too sweet actually! Used too many apples.)
-30g fresh mint
-125g spinach
-1 lemon
-6 small apples

Evening juice:
-3 cups cherries
-2 large sweet potatoes

Teas:
-2 mugs of ginger mate

Exercise:
-1.25(?)-mile dog walk (had to cut it short today due to time constraints surrounding the car!)
-over an hour of good hard gardening labor (which included lugging massive amounts of dirt around the garden)

Sauna time:
-45 minutes

Supplements:
-4 chlorella tablets (Pukka)
-5 spirulina tablets (Pukka)

Other self-care:
-Morning dry skin brush
-oiling with brahmi oil after shower

Friday, 18 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast, Day 3

Today I taught an impromptu aerial yoga class. There was an American woman visiting the UK, who loves aerial yoga, and came to one of my classes on Sunday. She was flying back this Sunday (so couldn't come) and asked about private sessions (which are really expensive). Realizing the cost of a private class, she asked if I might be able to pull an impromptu session together... which I did, arranged for 11:30 this morning.

I have a lot to say about this class and about aerial yoga on Day 3 of a juice fast. Before I do, for anyone wondering what the hell aerial yoga is, here are a couple pictures:

Gazelle - Aerial Yoga - Sanctuary Grace Yoga - ©Julie Bolitho-Lee


Aerial Yoga - Forward Bend - Sanctuary Grace Yoga  ©Julie Bolitho-Lee

Firstly, I felt great during the class. No weakness, no worries. I taught and I also participated in many of the moves (like you do as a yoga teacher). My morning juice sustained me fine. (Usually later in the fast, I have incredible amounts of energy, but in the first three days, I try to keep things light.)

That all being said... I broke many speed limits getting home, salivating at the thought of prepping one of my favorite green juices (pineapple, mint, cucumber, spinach).

Following my juice, I crashed... hard. I took a nap, but set an alarm because I still needed to walk the dogs in daylight. I felt incredibly groggy and out-of-it when I finally descended down the stairs to get the pups ready for their jaunt.

Following all of this, Kwok and I gardened for a bit and then I became enamored in beginning to plan our trip to Sweden in October. We're participating in an acroyoga elemental immersion. I've never been to Sweden, but Kwok has--and looks like we're stopping into Denmark along the way as well. I have a lot to say about acroyoga too (having just done the lunar immersion in London at the beginning of the month, but think that will have to be for another time). I'll just say this for now: I'm addicted. Acroyoga teacher certification and Thai massage certification are the next steps on my career path (other than getting my act together and finally publishing something more substantial). (Okay, fine, here are a couple pictures of acroyoga too!)
Basing Bob in a backbend ©Julie Bolitho-Lee

I'm a bird! ©Julie Bolitho-Lee

Anyway, this isn't actually the crux of what I wanted to write about.... I wanted to write about one of today's aerial yoga participants.

Firstly, it is worth noting that there was a woman who had come to aerial yoga a few times, but struggles to get to the Sunday class (I'm hoping to start a Wednesday afternoon class soon!). I had a weight limit of 15 stone (210 pounds/95 kilos) until very recently. My swings could only take 15 stone. However, I recently purchased two swings from Aircat in the US and had my mom ship them to me here in the UK. These take a tonne each (which still blows my mind). My student told me awhile ago that she had a friend that wanted to try aerial yoga, but was far over the weight limit. So, when I emailed her a few days ago asking if she wanted to come along today, I mentioned the new fabric I got. We then arranged for her and her friend to come today. I never asked her friend's weight before or after, but my guess is that she was probably two of me (though I'm terrible with guessing weights and I try to avoid such things anyway).

For years, I have been weight conscious. Yoga has helped me accept and love my body in a way that I probably haven't since I was first embodied as a child. As mentioned in the previous post, I struggled (and still struggle to a lesser degree) with issues around food. I am not thin. A friend recently said I was athletic and I was baffled. I was horrified when I stepped onto the scale recently and saw I'd gained nearly seven pounds since my best friend visited the UK for six weeks (my pregnant best friend who can eat anything without a problem). I started eating vegan sweets and breads when she was here... and then I didn't stop... and neither did the scale.

I'm, for the first time in years, making a concerted effort to lose weight--mainly because I want to be a lighter flyer in acroyoga. It's the sport that is inspiring me and it's the first time I feel I have a safe reason (rather than some unfounded psychological hatred) to lose weight. The last few years, I've just tried to be healthy... and I have been... for the most part.

Of side note, one of my biggest peeves is when I've lost weight for some reason or another (in the usual flux of life) and then I run into someone I haven't seen in awhile and they say, "Have you lost weight? You look great!" I grew up hearing this sort of thing. I have experienced it throughout my adult life. The problem with statements like this is that there is an implication that maybe I didn't look great before... and that somehow my value has since increased, that my value has anything to do with how much I weigh or what size I am. Furthermore, there is then an implicit seed planted that I should either look this way from now on or risk not looking as great. (Of course, as the saying goes, the greatest prison is the one in which we put ourselves when we worry what others think of us--something like that.) Furthermore, what irks me  is that it is often, not always, but usually, women who say this to other women--women buying into the cultural stereotype that a bit of fat is not okay, when in fact people who are even moderately overweight but active are infinitely fitter and healthier than people who are underweight and inactive. Thin does not equal healthy. Fat does not equal unhealthy. Nonetheless, I've struggled as a yoga teacher... wondered if in my US 10 jeans people would find me too chubby to teach yoga, when in reality a size 10 is perfectly normal and I am perfectly healthy. Vegan. Active. Mindful.

So, today, I watched this woman, who was probably freaked out beyond belief stepping into this studio with three other fit and familiar-with-aerial yogis and myself, and I watched her struggle to get into the swing--the opening and most basic move. We got her there though, and you know what? She caught on. She started to understand... but she was tired--breathing hard in movements that I never thought were challenging... and I say this not in judgment, nor do I want to begin to assume what she was thinking (though yes, I imagine she quite possibly could've been freaked out), and all I could think were two things: 1) How awesome are you, lady!? and 2) I need to be kinder to my body. 

I talked with Kwok at length when I got home today about all of this, how I tell my students over and over and over again to be kind to themselves, to be compassionate, to love all the cells of their body... and I say this meaning it, but I also say it because I know exactly how hard it is--how hard it is to be nice when looking at one's own image. I struggle every day when I look in the mirror. I hate wearing jeans. I've always had a pretty face, but my belly? My inner thighs and inner knees? They could use some work.

The ridiculous thing is I am so strong, and I am so adventurous (my word for my abilities rather than "athletic"). I survived thyroid cancer at nineteen, likely brought forth by the autoimmune Hashimoto's Disease that I've had since I was fourteen. I have overcome terrible eating habits with which I was raised and have been a staunch vegan for five years--and loving every moment of it, advocating for all the creatures of this earth. (Check out my hero, Gene Baur speaking with Time--watch the video.) So, why on Earth do I persist to pick at my body, to obsess about perceived "flaws?" Honestly, it is ridiculous. Watching this incredibly brave woman today, I just thought, That so easily could have been me. Followed by, Honor the abilities you've cultivated. 

I hope that this post is in no way offensive. In no way do I want to be anything like Jen Polachek, the girl (and I say girl because I assume she is very young by the tone of her post) who wrote the incredibly presumptuous article about an overweight black woman in her yoga class. I want my yoga classes to be for everyone... and I want everyone to be welcome, to be brave, and most of all, to cultivate love for themselves. It is shameful to disrespect the bodies we have been given. They are such blessings--every single one.

Onto the fasting diary.....

Today's menu:

Morning Juice:
(I didn't really like this juice. I hadn't intended to add the apples, but it was both bitter and sour upon tasting the initial four ingredients--think some of the kiwis were under-ripe?--so I added three small apples.)
Made from:
-3 handfuls kale
-2 huge handfuls spinach
-5 kiwis
-1 cucumber
-3 small apples

Afternoon Juice:
Made from:
-1 cucumber
-1 pineapple
-25g mint
-100g spinach

Evening Juice:
I waited too long to make this (felt freezing) and started to feel really hungry, which meant I went for the sugar fix. Ho-hum. It happened.
Made from:
-5 apples
-1/2 lemon
-cinnamon
-warm water

Teas:
-2 mugs of Pukka Mint Green
-1 mug ginger mate

Exercise:
-taught 75-minute aerial yoga class
-2.5-mile dog walk
-30 minutes or so of gardening

Sauna time:
-70 minutes

Other self-care:
-oiling after shower in raw sesame and brahmi oils

Thursday, 17 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast, Day 2

I'm actually unsure how many juice fasts I've done in the last six years. I'm guessing this is probably around #7. The first juice fast I ever did was actually guided by Jason Vale's book, Seven Pounds in Seven Days. It came with the juicer we bought at John Lewis when we were first married and stocking up our house with appliances--when we were nesting. I'm not even sure what inspired us to get a juicer then, but I remember exactly where it was in the shop and us debating whether or not we would actually use it. Obviously, we decided that yes, we would get one--and it came with this ridiculously titled book. I'm amazed I didn't chuck it into the recycling bin, being a bit of a book snob. At that time, I was a vegetarian, but not much healthier than the Midwestern meat-eater I was growing up. Looking back, I ate incredibly unhealthily as a vegetarian--lots of pizzas, ice creams, pastas, breads, etc.

Of course, the title of that book (which I'd relegated to some far corner of one of our bookshelves), came into my mind when I was putting on weight at 23 and feeling pretty bad about myself. Kwok was away for work in Thailand, so I just did it... and it was hell, because my body was so toxic, laden with the residues of cancer treatments, full of the toxic Midwestern diet on which I was raised (sugars, processed foods, fast foods, etc). And what did I do when I finished? I ordered all the same junk I'd always eaten (doritos, licorice, etc) and proceeded down the exact same path... and I thought juice fasting was ridiculous and then did actually get rid of the book.

Fast forward to another low on this same rubbish diet, coming right after Christmas and Kwok's birthday (in which I made him and his twin two beautiful cakes, one a mango cake with chai tea frosting and the other a chocolate cherry cake). I'd again put on weight and was generally unhappy in my life; researching on the internet, I came across this Christian fasting website, www.freedomyou.com. Despite still being scarred by my conservative Christian upbringing, I found the website very helpful, very welcoming... and I decided then and there, to do a 30-day juice fast... which I did. And I lost loads of weight and started to finally understand hunger, connection to body... and it brought me back to yoga, which I had done while being treated for the thyroid cancer, but not much since.

Unfortunately, I wasn't quite ready for the juice fast mentally. It's like that television program, The Hoarder Next Door. In it, a psychologist specialized in hoarding, Stelios Kiosses, goes to hoarder's homes seeking help, but before getting the hoarder and a duo of cleaners to help clear out the clutter, he offers them a variety of therapies to address the root of the problem (the hoarding is just a symptom). It's the same with food. Overeating or eating the wrong foods may be a learned behavior, but when you start to know better and learn about the body and learn about nutrition and you still eat poorly or have bouts of returning to it, that, to me, signals a deeper issue... and this is something that frightens me now, in that I can still revert back to unhealthier food behaviors (nothing like previously, though). I still  have work to do on my mind, on letting go, on loving myself.

So, a long story short, I gained most, but not all of the weight back following the 30-day fast... but there was a seed planted, and I suddenly became interested in nutrition, exercise, health again... and I started running again... a lot. Then, one day, the autumn I was 25, Kwok came home and said, "I don't think I can eat meat anymore." (I'd never forced my vegetarianism on him.) I asked why and he replied (he who had never had pets till after we were married), "If the dogs have feelings, thoughts, emotional lives, certainly other animals do too." I agreed with him and that was that... or so I thought.

Two weeks later, standing in the kitchen making something that likely contained butter or dairy of some kind, Kwok calls to me from the computer and says, "I think we should be vegan." My heart actually sank... but I love cheese. I love ice cream. Is he crazy? People will label us and think we're nuts? He proceeded to tell me that I should read what he's just been reading about dairy cows. Oh no. 

So, I had a choice. I could choose ignorance (a tactic employed by myself and many humans regarding animal suffering) or I could face it, face what horrible reality waited to confront me... so I faced it, and somehow I knew then that cold turkey wasn't going to work with my psychology, so I gave myself six weeks to wean fully from dairy. Milk was easy, butter was easy... ice cream held out (I had such fond memories of eating Ben & Jerry's with my best friends growing up - and you know what, I still have those fond memories... and now I have fond memories of vegan gelatto in Sardinia this summer with another of my best friends). Cheese was the hardest and for good reason: our bodies actually become addicted to cheese. Cheese has a high amount of casomorphins (protein fragments from the digestion of casein, or milk protein) and casomorphins have an opiod effect. I repeat, casomorphins have an opiod effect. The result is physical addiction to cheese. 

But I did it. The last time I ate cheese, I was 25. I've since consumed dairy on a handful of occasions unknowingly--and especially in that first year when I was so unaware about what was in most foods: Really? There's dairy in croissants? It is shocking to me now, but I was just one in a number of people equally unaware.

What is funny now is that people make assumptions that either I was raised vegan or vegetarian (I most certainly wasn't) and that I somehow must have found the transition to veganism easy (I didn't). I grew up with a father who had one of the earliest gastric bypass surgeries (I think in 1998) and managed to lose the weight and then gain most of it back (sound familiar?) because the psychological reasons for his overeating weren't addressed. Meanwhile, my mom was a serial dieter, always talking about how fat she was (she was at least two sizes smaller than me). This only skims the surface of the dysfunction in our house... which means it only skims the surface of my own relationship to food.

I juice fast every spring. This is the first time I've blogged about it for awhile... and I'm hoping my practices in yoga and mindfulness will continue to help me root out some of my own issues. Admittedly, my meditation practice is flimsy at best and I'm hoping to better work it into my life in this fast and beyond (though I do find yoga a type of moving meditation). Either way, it's admittedly a bit scary... to start to get to know yourself in this incredibly intimate way and be faced with all the shit you stuff down with food, with excuses, with boredom, with laziness... a fear of succeeding.  Self-sabotage became a regular part of my life after moving to Oxford... and I need to figure out why. This juice fast won't likely provide that answer, but it at least forces me to posit the question: what am I afraid of?

So... onto the menu for Day 2:

Breakfast juice:
Made from:
-20g fresh parsley
-3 large handfuls of kale
-4 handfuls of spinach
-1 cucumber
-3 small apples

Noon juice:
Made from:
-30g fresh mint
-100g spinach
-1 lemon
-5 small apples

Evening juice:
Made from:
-4 small beets
-9 very small carrots
-1-inch hunk of ginger

Teas:
-2 mugs of Yogi Green Energy (some people won't drink green tea on a juice fast; I am not one of those people).

Exercise:
-2.5-mile dog walk
-an hour or so of gardening

Sauna time:
-60 minutes

Other self-care:
-Oiled after shower with raw sesame oil

Supplements:
-2 chlorella tablets
-2 spirulina tablets

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

2014 Juice Fast, Day 1

Every year, I embark on a juice fast in the spring or early summer. This year, today is the day I begin... in part because old (bad) habits around food have crept into my life again--bored eating being the least of the problems and eating sugar and wheat being the worst. I've put on a few pounds, but the biggest teller is that my skin is dry in patches and I've had a few pimples (both so rare for me with my usual healthy, vegan, gluten-free diet). Furthermore, my mentality around food has gone from enjoyment to regularly wondering when I can eat next. This fixation and attachment to food is a symptom of larger issues within the psyche--in part, an avoidance tactic, but also in part a learned behavior from my father who used food, like so many do, to not just avoid, but to comfort, to stifle, to entertain, etc.

Juice fasting always allows me to get up close and personal with my bad habits and the patterns of my mind. It isn't some quick weight loss fix. It's about nourishing the body and the mind. I suppose a reader might be wondering why I then juice fast every year--in part because I'm still breaking these bad habits (it took over twenty years to form them and I've changed incredibly in the last five years, but I'm still eking out the last few strongholds), and also in part because I love the experience of the fast.

Yesterday, stocking up on my lovely organic supplies at the grocery store, I was excited. I was excited that all this lovely nourishment was going into my body and that I was going to take this time to reflect and be. Even better news is that yesterday I completed a massive project (with impending deadline) that had been looming over me for weeks. The timing is perfect. I can clean my body, clean the house, work in the garden and begin to paint again. I have been itching to get my oil paints out ever since the sun started shining on Britain again. (We have an incredible south-facing conservatory--perfect for oil painting.)

I'm also excited about this year's fast because some of my juicing habits have changed. I've learned better how to make good green juice recipes that I love and we also *drum roll* have an infrared sauna. I'm so stoked to be able to do a juice fast with an infrared sauna literally in my back garden. We'll see how it goes.

Oh, also... I found fresh, organic turmeric. I've never juiced turmeric before, but I know it is incredibly healthy and a favored drink in parts of Asia, so I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure I'll dedicate an entire post to it.

Anyway, today's menu:

Morning juice:
Made from:
-1 pineapple
-1 cucumber
-150g spinach
-50g fresh mint

Noon juice:
(I drank 3/4 of this. The rest I gave to Kwok. He said that he felt it tasted like it was medicinal and the kind of thing that you don't need more than a few sips of!)
Made from:
-5 turmeric roots
-1 lemon
-2 small apples

3pm-I'm-crashing juice:
Hadn't wanted to do a pure fruit juice (other than cherries later on in the fast and possibly orange-cranberry, but meh, it's already happened).
Made from:
-1 mango
-3 oranges

Teas:
-couple mugs of mint buchu (Kwok brought back from South Africa last year)

Exercise:
Keeping things light today as the first three days are always a bit draining.
-2.5-mile dog walk (followed by glorious sunbathing in the field)

Sauna time:
-60 minutes while Kwok and our nephew were eating dinner inside

Other self-care:
-Oiling the skin with sesame oil post-shower post-sauna

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Yoga Teacher Training Writing Competition Scholarship

Calling all want-to-be yoga teachers - here is a great competition to enter:
http://www.tribe-yoga.com/india-yoga-teacher-training.html

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Compass Within


When I begin to feel lost, that magnetic compass that lives deep in my bones always guides me to the home of water--to open expanses that somehow allow me perspective and distance, as well as memory, and yet, always connects me to the flowing energy of everything in the only thing there is, which is the here and now. That compass within is irrepressibly magnetized toward the northern shores of Lake Michigan. The three short years I lived two-hundred feet from those shores as a child, and heard the Great Lake's waves or the subtle movements and cracks of the ice outside my window, are an internalized rhythm sure as heartbeat. They are steadfast and root my spirituality--my faith in the Earth and all that is. 

Today, I awoke to aches in my neck and shoulders--the result of internalizing stress, heartache about life, and the guilt that I could possibly have heartache about life when all around me life shines and breathes grace. My plan for the day was dull: to clean, to tidy, to prepare for a guest coming on Friday, to grocery-shop (I've hardly eaten since Kwok left for Thailand two days ago). I thought I'd play the guitar, build more of my callouses. Maybe sing at the piano. Try to convince the new chickens that I am not the enemy. While there is goodness in all these things--even vacuuming (the blessing of having pets that create a carpet of fur)--I felt malaise. 

And then in a moment of grace, I was reminded that I am of the smallest fraction in this world--that I am a woman with means to move freely. I contemplated surfing Llangennith, calling the dogwalker to see to the dogs. I sent a text to my surf instructor in Wales--no luck, his surf van is in the shop for its MOT. No problem: the next thought--and why didn't I think of it sooner?--take the dogs for a day at the sea. With new zeal, I clean the cat litter boxes; I clean the chicken coop (and avoid being bitten by the new hens while shooing them out into the sun). I feed the cats, make the bed, change my clothes, feel nice in my new dress, recognize how much I wear red, wonder what, if anything, that means. I pack the dog food, bowls and water... and then I am off to the Gower--the closest thing to home I have in this country and mainly because it is Kwok's home, where his heart seems to beat steady and convinced.

It is a three-hour drive to the Gower and I left at noon. My guess is that most British would scoff. Three hours is so long... when you're not from Michigan. I felt renewed as Janie sat shotgun, occasionally smiling and panting, but mostly snoring. Elu tolerated the ride, though he never loves the car... and Benji remained that most insufferable kind of travel companion--the equivalent to the child that bounces around and repeatedly asks, "Are we there yet?". Not only did he refuse to lay down for the first two hours, he refused to sit down. He remained on all-fours, strapped to the seat belt for two hours... at nearly eighteen years of age. Every five minutes of those two hours, he let out a high-pitched whine, sometimes so high that the sound was inaudible, only a hiss from his tense vocal chords. 

My iphone played a random shuffle of all songs I have on it.... "Life's a big game so you gotta play it with a big heart." Thank you, Coolio. I needed to hear that today.

When I arrive at Rhossili, I park at the small stone church (free parking, one of the only times I find myself gladly donating to a church--still embittered by the harsh and so often judgmental Christianity with which I was raised). I manage to back into a space via an awkward L-shaped path and I am proud of the ways I have learned to be British--to manoeuvre into small spaces. I love my little Prius and feel grateful that a dream I've had since I was a teenager is being fulfilled this day--driving to a shoreline with a Boston Terrier in the passenger seat. (I'm reminded to visualize all those other things I desire in this life.)

The dogs and I take the coastal path toward the house I have always admired--the one that sits overlooking Rhossili Bay, and has a small barn and space for horses, other farm animals. (Note to self: visualize living there.) The dogs and I trek down deep slopes and I recall the burning of my knees after running downhill in San Francisco seven years ago. We take a trail that leads us to, not a cliff face, but a cliff face's younger cousin. We trek back up the hill until we find a trail that takes us to the proper coastal path (I hadn't realized I wasn't on it). My heart pounds and the dogs pant. 

Eventually, we make it to the sea and Elu runs from me; his spirit bounds toward the water. This is one of the greatest gifts I have ever given to the dogs and myself. We spend three hours walking from Rhossili to the end of Llangennith and then back again. All three dogs have freedom--go off-lead (though Benji occasionally has to be put back on). Elu interacts with children and I, having lived in southern England too long, feel nervous, apologetic. Fortunately, Elu seems to distinguish Welsh children from non-Welsh children and the kids smile, pet him, encourage him to join in their fun.... He is so convinced that this world is all for him that he begins destroying a giant sandcastle built by two boys and their father. I am mortified. The father laughs--calls him a vandal--as Elu destroys one of four towers of their giant fortress. He then digs through the mote and into the castle walls. The boys laugh. The father laughs. I breathe sighs of relief... until Elu bounds over to two other boys near an inflatable raft. He jumps inside of it and begins digging. I make a mental note that I have indulged my dog child too much.

Eventually we sit and take photographs--let Benji have a break. 

I sit with thoughts about my life and let them drift in and out with the tide. 

Slowly, we begin to move back toward Rhossili again. I am painfully aware that I may have pushed Benji too far today. The walk back is slow, but likely not slow enough. My father never stopped or slowed for me as a child--I was always running to keep up, once losing a toy in the middle of a busy road (Dizzly, the magenta and pink raccoon). When I managed to escape his hand, I ran back, into traffic to retrieve my beloved friend. My parents nearly died at the sight of my four-year-old body, my bouncing curls, leaving their side to move to the yellow lines in the middle of the road. But he still never slowed down. When my legs grew enough (though still too short to keep up naturally), I learned to glide quickly--something noted by a tall boyfriend I once had--that I was the only girl who ever kept up with him (and looking back, it was only in stride). I struggle now to walk slowly.

I carry Benji the last tenth of the steps back to the top of Rhossili. I should have carried him more, though I ached so much myself I couldn't consider it. We cut through the stone church's graveyard--there is a headstone for all the lost sailors. I wonder how many from the Gower have been entombed in the sea. At the car, the dogs drink--fresh water (both boys having been stung by the taste of salt on their tongues today). I feed them their dinner on the grass behind the car. 

I haven't eaten yet--not a single thing--and I'm not hungry, but I want a drink at the Worm's Head Hotel pub, a place I have been many times before; the views are staggering from the terrace. I take the dogs on tight leashes into the pub (where they are not allowed inside, but one must order at the bar, so I remain mystified as to how I can successfully do this without breaking the rules) and I have to order £10 worth so that I can pay by card. I order 1/2 a pint of their driest cider, a portion of olives and ciabatta and two orders of chips (I started with one, but my total remained £7.50). I've exhausted the vegan options. As I walk to the terrace with the dogs on their short leads, an old man says something about  "the poor dogs." I'm astounded someone would ever have the audacity to think of my dogs as "poor." 

I sit alone on a picnic table overlooking the bay. I take out my phone to take pictures and it has died. There is an odd relief in its temporary death. 

When my food is brought to the table, I am given ketchup, malt vinegar and salt. I recall the ways in which my father always asked for malt vinegar with his fries and how at one time I despised him for this oddity--thought it was just another attempt by his ego to be unique, troublesome. I didn't know then that it was a throwback to his grandmother, my great-grandmother, the Geordie born in 1898, who died three days before my Truman interview in 2005 (a few months shy of her 107th birthday). 

When I was alone, walking the dogs on a path in the local wood yesterday, a pang of loneliness and isolation struck deep into my core, and I surprisingly thought of my great-grandmother, a woman I loved and admired. Today, I imagined sitting with her--wondered what she would say about it all, me, womanhood, drinking a 1/2 a pint in Wales with three spoiled dogs. It is unlikely she ever made it to Rhossili Bay in her life... but the malt vinegar and chips would have been familiar. I think she would love me despite my faults and just marvel at life and all its mysteries, aches and complications. 

The dogs eat the majority of the second portion of chips. This is the first fried food Janie and Elu have ever tasted and not one of the three dogs seems overly impressed with the chips. They much prefer pancakes, strawberries, carrots and steamed broccoli. (They are so clearly my dogs.)

When we head back to the car, I see each dog instinctively take a piss on the way. I realize I haven't peed since morning and that I am likely dehydrated. I also realize that I should probably pee before setting off too. After settling the dogs into the car, I take a look around and decide my best option is to go behind a SUV in the car park. I won't be seen by the windows of the nearby houses and I can crouch between it and the stonewall of the graveyard. Mid-stream, I hear a car moving across the clay and rock car park, moving toward my spot--they are about to use the small space next to the SUV to back into another space. I quickly pull up my underwear, feel frustrated that I couldn't finish and casually stroll to the car. As I'm about to leave, the older female of the couple from the intrusive car knocks on my driver's side window (the window that is cavalierly troublesome and refuses to shut after being opened). She asks me how to get towards Worm's Head and can she cut across the way I just came from the corner of the car park. I quickly tell her that it isn't the ideal way (in fact, there is no way, unless one wants to scale nettles and a stone wall, but I do not tell her this). I also tell her that she can go out of the car park, turn left and cut through the graveyard. She remains English and unimpressed.

On the phone with Kwok while I was at the sea--his sea, his bay--I tell him that I'm worried I won't want to return at the end of the day. He reassures me that it will be fine. He knows internally too the power of those expanses, their ability to recharge. 

Kwok again is right. It is okay returning--crawling back over the hills of the Gower. Somehow, I always miss the return over the Severn--even when I've been driving--but tonight I notice. Driving the Severn to Wales is like driving the Mackinac into the Upper Peninsula--Wales and the shores of Lake Superior both feel so rooted in the essence of my being, but not yet quite my own. My bones still belong to Lake Michigan, birch groves and apple orchards on its shores. 

I leave the Welsh radio station on in the car until finally, when we hit Swindon, the static becomes intolerable. For forty-five minutes, there was no music, just two men speaking to each other in Welsh. I am reminded of John Ottenhoff and the English language documentary we watched in Brit Lit--a class I was taking at the time I was diagnosed with the thyroid cancer. I recall how he told us Welsh is very similar to Old English: "It almost feels familiar, doesn't it?" And it does... and it is soothing, despite the occasional hacking sounds which remind of Arabic. 

When I see the "Welcome to England," sign past the Severn, the corner of my mouth and my nose automatically scrunch like an unintentional tick. It is unlikely England will ever feel like home, despite the English line running so heavily through my blood--mixed with the Native and Irish. 

Once home, I say hello to the cats--feed them some fish. I go with a flashlight to the back and collect Myfanwy (our only Welsh-named hen) from behind the compost bin. Every night, she nestles her sweet body behind the bin, under some rose vines. I gently scoop her and she allows me to hold her, to put her in the run despite her desire to sleep under the stars, not in the coop. I crave to let her do this, though I would never forgive myself if something happened to her. I refuse to take the risk. 

And now I'm here... writing and writing at nearly three in the morning. The sea sustains me unlike anything else in this life. It forgives and moves; releases and brings back. I am so grateful for the tide.