The Unexpected Health Benefits of Travel

One of the most exciting places in the world is the Atlanta airport. Sounds a little strange right? Not if you saw it like I do: a place of endless possibilities and a gateway to the rest of the world. Travel is something so dear to my heart, I consider it a friend. It’s a concept that has allowed me to eat strange foods, witness incredible sights firsthand, both ancient and new, and meet people with completely different cultural and social paradigms that have changed and shaped me for the better. I’ve learned more about history through my travels than I ever did in school, and have felt energy in places that produced a profound impact on how I understand that part of the world and how it relates to everything else. When I was visiting Normandy, our guide took us into one of the German bunkers on the beach and at once I was transported to D-Day. I felt an eerie, unsettling energy that I would have never experienced through films or reading. Travel did that, and it’s why I advocate for it so strongly–not as a future event to be undertaken after much planning and saving, but now, right now while you’re still hungrily curious about the world and physically able to meet the demands in fully seeing it.

I don’t think my affinity for travel is unique, but I have witnessed so many friends and family members postponing that next trip for various reasons, thereby missing out on so much that life and the often not talked about health benefits it has to offer. And while the reasons they proffer are absolutely logical and valid, I can’t help feeling sad about the missed opportunity of discovery, connection to others, and personal growth by foregoing the trip. So my humble advice is to go, just go. There is no better time than now to explore this amazing planet and get out of the ordinary flow of everyday life. Your bank account might take a temporary hit, but the law of reciprocity dictates that the little you give will produce so much richness of experience in return. There is never a time in traveling where you wont learn something from getting out of your routine and embarking on a journey. What you also will find, is that beyond all of the clichés of travel expanding your horizons, there are unexpected health benefits that make it imperative that you take that next trip sooner rather than later.

First, your build a better brain. Psychologists found that when you step outside of your comfort zone, you literally stretch and grow your brain. Learning anything new challenges and activates your brain in a way that following a routine simply cannot. When you travel you may not know the language,  how to navigate a new transit system, or how to order a coffee just the way you like it–you are forced to learn, and by doing so you become smarter. When the brain is on autopilot too often, it actually becomes weaker and less efficient. The novelty brought on by travel zaps your brain into active learning mode, and the amazing memories generated are just the icing on the cake to a fitter, younger brain.

Second, travel deepens your empathy for others. Empathy grows best under specific conditions often correlated with travel: being in the present moment, listening, speaking to and relying on strangers, recognizing commonality in others, and cultivating an interest in others.  Empathy, like anything, takes work, but its a skill that is beneficial to all parties. The more empathetic you are, the more you are able to prevent and resolve conflicts, be understood yourself, and promote healthy relationships. Travel is a powerful tool in strengthening your empathetic muscles, and often it doesn’t even feel like work.

Third, travel makes you happier. A 2016 study by the U.S. Travel Association and Project found that the more time taken off for travel correlated to more happiness at home. The more vacation days used, the lower the stress. The study also showed that over the past 15 years, Americans are taking nearly a week less of vacation. The case for travel could never be more important, especially when your well-being is at stake.

Life-changing travel doesn’t mean taking a trip thousands of miles away: simply going outside of your usual track of work, life, and play can have an impact. Not far from our house is a magical place called the Atlanta Chinatown Mall. Inside you will find a cornucopia of Asian food from different regions in China. When you first approach you’re greeted by a calming zen garden and a crimson bridge crossing a koi pond. The food court is definitely not fancy, but the food is unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted. I have never sampled more authentic Chinese food anywhere else–I generally point to what looks good as everything is written in Chinese, and try something new every time. Recently, my husband and I took our two young boys there, and our four-year old made fast friends with a Chinese boy around his same age. The boys were from very different backgrounds, but bonded over an iPad game and a love for fried rice. It was so interesting to watch them connect, and when the boys parents–who didn’t speak English, came over to retrieve him, there was that mutual understanding that all parents share when it comes to raising kids. We were able to communicate though our facial expressions and share an authentic moment together despite the cultural and language barrier. It made the experience of going out for good food so much richer. 

The Chinatown Mall experience reminded me of one of my first travel memories: running through the San Diego airport away from my screaming mother. Our family of six was on its way to Okinawa, Japan for a two-year stint courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. I didn’t really understand where we were going or why, but I knew it was going to be completely different from anything I had experienced before, and I was excited. When we finally arrived after an uneventful 18 hour flight, I was introduced to an unfamiliar landscape, heavy humid air, and the smell of sea and salt from the ocean. My mother was understandably unnerved when a crowd of other passengers gathered around us while we waited in Customs, and started touching our hair. We were oddities with our bleach blond hair and pale blue eyes and they investigated us with open curiosity–looking back now, it was a fantastic introduction to Japan. The Customs clerk was equally as curious about this strange ragtag group of six, and made each of the kids a different origami figure to take with us, just because he was kind and knew we would like it.

We lived in an area called “The Ville” off base. My younger sister and I had a Japanese nanny, and she would sing us songs that I still remember today and sing to my boys. Because our nanny was Okinawan, we ate how the locals did, and our seemingly mundane errands turned quickly into an education on Japanese, and more specifically, Okinawan culture. We’d walk with our nanny or our mother to the Oki-Mart grocery store down the street and pass the different shops with various goods hanging in the window, usually some kind of poultry in its full form. The air in Okinawa was thick with the tantalizing smells of strange foods, the ocean, and mildew, creating a strange, yet comforting aroma unique to that part of the world. It seemed so stifling at first, but we all quickly adjusted and by the time we left, we didn’t even notice it. We didn’t speak the language of our neighbors, yet there was a bounty of learning and communication happening–as children this was invaluable to our development and growth in understanding, connecting, and empathizing with others.

I have no intention of bringing my boys on an 18 hour flight anywhere, at least not yet, but I know the extraordinary impact that travel had on me at an early age, and I want the same for them. I want them to converse with different kinds of kids like the boy at the Chinatown Mall, to taste food local to our destination, and to see landscapes they’ve never seen before. I look at it as my duty to show them the world, and spark the same curiosity about places and people who I still have today, so that they develop into smarter, more empathetic, and happier adults.

Whenever I travel, I am more awake, present, and alive then any other time. On my deathbed, I’m not going to remember those cool shoes I bought, or the purse I just had to have. Instead, I will remember that amazing meal I had in Nashville with my sister and brother-in-law, or the funny conversation I had with a Moroccan boy in a laundromat in Montpellier, or how unsettled I felt standing in a German bunker looking out on the beaches of Normandy. Travel offers you the unique opportunity to experience new places, food, and people firsthand, but its true gift is discovering who you really are and how truly connected we all are on this beautiful planet.

 

 

 

Red Tricycle Articles

Guys I am so excited to share that Red Tricycle (basically my bible for all things motherhood), has published TWO of my articles on the realities of momlife. You can check them out here:

The Mommy Wars

Want to Try for a Water Birth? Here’s My Story and How I Did It.

Thanks for reading, and please share if they speak to you!

Love in Marriage When You Have Littles

Update: Red Tricycle published this post! You can find the article and more awesome momlife related content here: http://redtri.com/love-in-marriage-when-you-have-littles/


When my husband, Sam, and I first got together our love was easy. We’d go to dinner, get drinks, or jump in the car on a whim and go camping for the weekend. We knew that when we had kids, things would change, but didn’t really dwell on it. I had co-workers tell me to wait at least five years after we married before having kids, so that we’d have our own time to enjoy each other and our freedom. Of course, me being me, I did the exact opposite and we became parents as soon as possible. If it weren’t for conception issues, I’m sure I would have been pregnant within months of our wedding.

What I learned soon after having Nash, was that love in a marriage is an organic, ever-changing animal. During those early days and weeks, I knew I loved my husband, but when I was the only one getting up every night to change and feed the baby, the only one struggling with Nash all day while Sam went off to work where he had long lunches and happy hours, our love began to deteriorate.

I realized I didn’t need or want a romantic partner, I wanted a partner that could work and relieve me from some of the drudgery of parenting. My husband hadn’t had to go through 10 months of pregnancy like I had, and wasn’t yet mentally prepared for taking care of another life. I understand this now, but at three in the morning after being around a crying baby all afternoon, that logic didn’t translate. We went through a period of struggle those first several months, and there were times I wondered if our marriage would ever feel like it used to—happy and free, not an endless debate of who changed the last diaper, or whose turn it was to wash the bottles for the next day. I wanted to love and be loved, and not feel forced to make it work because we had decided to have a baby.

To give you some background, I grew up in a home where my mom did everything. My dad worked 18 hour days as a Marine, and was often deployed for months on end, so my mom had no choice but to rise up and take care of everything. I am still amazed at her strength and selflessness. I know myself and my weaknesses well enough to know that I would not have been able to do it with such grace and love. I’m still amicably called a shark in our family, and for good reason. But I never had the impression that mom resented the fact that dad was gone so much working, in fact she carried on like it was normal. If she ever felt like things were unfair, I still don’t know it. Growing up that way didn’t make me want to be like mom, however, I resented the idea and fought it every day which didn’t make things easy at home.

Our marriage, after surviving the first real rough patch following Nash’s birth, began to get better once he was older and began to form a true bond with Sam. It was then that our love changed again. I saw Sam as someone who loved Nash as much as I did, and would spend hours with him after work playing, reading, and goofing off. Then after Nash went to bed happy and tired, Sam would cook dinner and we’d drink wine and talk. As rough as the beginning had been, this new stage of intimacy was so unexpected and fortifying. I looked at Sam with new eyes, or maybe I just saw who he had become through the transformative power that becoming a parent has on someone. I was smitten all over again, and with someone familiar but also completely new.

If there are any take-aways from this, is that in any relationship, there are highs and lows, but that if you can hold on to each other and push through the tough times, you will be so rewarded in the end. I’d never dreamed that I’d feel as close to another person as I do to Sam—in fact as much as I moved around growing up, I never really felt that I belonged to any place or person. Sam has been the avenue to finding myself and a home, and all the hard times and arguments were the resistance needed to realize that and find true peace and happiness.

 

DC’s Water Birth Story

When I was a child, my mother would tell me the story of my birth on my birthday. Even though by the time I was six, I knew it by heart, she always indulged me because she knew it made me feel special. As one of four kids, we constantly fought for attention (and the best cereal), and so she knew by telling me the details of that day, I was made to feel important on my birthday. I wanted to carry on the tradition while the memories are still relatively fresh, and detail my experience of bringing DC into the world so that he will always have it, and feel special too.

My youngest son, DC, (i.e. Douglas Clifford after his grandfathers) turns two years old on Sunday. If you’ve ever met DC you know that he is someone that plays by his own rules, and no manner of chiding, begging, or bribing will make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. There is a great deal of academic debate on the topic of nature vs nurture in determining the character and personality of an individual, but I have the opinion that most of who we are, and how we behave is derivative of nature. DC is so diametrically different in demeanor from his more timid and acquiescent brother, that sometimes I wonder how they can be related. Personalities aside, his birth, as is often the case, was indicative of his determined and independent personality.

Days before my due date (January 30th), my parents drove from Florida to help with soon-to-be older brother Nash for when the time came for me to leave for the hospital. Life was fairly unchanged, my pregnancy had been easy, and I was able to run, work, and sleep normally. On January 28th, my husband, Sam, left for an overnight work conference. Thankfully it was in Atlanta where we live. I spent the evening with my parents re-watching old episodes of Game of Thrones as they caught up on Jon Snow’s influence over the Wildlings, and then went to bed. I remember feeling extremely alert and having trouble falling asleep, but around 11 pm, I finally did. Around 1 am, I woke up with strong cramps, and I knew DC had decided to make his appearance while his father was away for the night at a conference. I was beginning to know DC.

Nash’s birth had taken exactly eight hours, so I knew I had time. I called Sam and he, in his quintessential, easy-going manner, said “Ok, tell me when your water breaks and I’ll leave.” (We naively thought this birth would go exactly as Nash’s had, where the water breaking with him had signaled us to leave.) I went downstairs and turned on the t.v. which woke up my concerned parents. I told them to go back to bed and rest because labor had just started and we wouldn’t need to leave the house for a few more hours. Adorably, both of them got out of bed and stayed with me, and so we decided the best course of action was to finish the Game of Thrones marathon. Finally, the contractions had become powerful enough to warrant a drive to the hospital, even though my water still hadn’t broken like it had with Nash. Since Sam was staying overnight at the conference hotel, my dad took me, and luckily we had just skirted the infamous Atlanta morning traffic.

There were a lot of vehicles on the road despite the early hour, and the winter sky was still dark. When we arrived at the hospital, my dad ran towards the Labor and Delivery entrance to see if we could enter there, or be forced to go through the main ER entrance because it was so early. While I waited for him, I texted my sisters, who both immediately texted me back with words of encouragement, solidarity, and love. I felt as if they were in the car with me, comforting and guiding me along. Soon my dad was running back to the car and leading me out of the cold and into Labor and Delivery.

At 6:30 am we checked-in at the hospital, and I was given a comfortable room, fitted with a large birthing pool. The midwife asked if I wanted to wait to fill the pool, warning that warm water will sometimes delay the progress of the labor. I smiled, and politely asked her to fill it up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my dad more miserable, and even though I wasn’t making any noise, he told me that just knowing I was in pain was torture for him as a parent. I told him to go to get some coffee, and I labored alone for a few more hours as women have done since the beginning of time.

My reliance on meditation carried me through the continuous waves of pain. I focused only on my breath, and imagined the safe delivery of my baby. I trusted in my body and the process, and knew that I would be fine. I never allowed fearful thoughts to take over, even when it was hard for me to catch my breath. I treated the pain like riding a wave, trusting that I wouldn’t drown. I let go completely and let my body guide me. The warm birthing pool was essential for keeping me comfortable and allowed me to easily change positions  as needed. The hours flew by and soon the sun was shining through the cracks of the closed blinds.

The midwife and nurses came in periodically to check the unborn baby’s vitals, acknowledging that all was well. Sam arrived at the hospital around 9:30 am, after not escaping the aforementioned traffic. DC was born an hour later in the birthing pool, and as soon as the cold air touched him, he cried out loud and strong. I know that I was waiting for Sam to arrive in order to give birth, and I still jokingly rebuke him for extending what would have been a perfectly fast and easy labor because he had work obligations.

DC came into the world happy and healthy, and we knew that our family was complete. Later in the day, my parents brought Nash in to visit us, and upon seeing them, I burst into tears. I broke down, not from exhaustion or the hormonal crash (which is very real) but because some of the most important people in my life, individuals whom I love the most, were all in the same room–every one of them feeling this intense, palpable love for this newest member of the family. It was a perfect moment that I will never forget.

We left the hospital the next day, and life ever since has been one chaotic but beautiful wild ride, thanks in great part, to the unbelievably cute and indefatigably rebellious DC.


Casual Chic for Work 

Today’s dreary rainy weather called for an outfit that was comfortable, yet still work appropriate. I opted for a buttery soft sweater, statement necklace, dark wash jeans and classic heels to finish off the look. I feel so comfortable and ready to take on the day, no matter the weather outside. 


Sweater: Express 

Jeans: Rag and Bone 

Heels: Calvin Klein

Watch: MVMT

Bracelets: Alex and Ani

Chocolate Strawberry Banana Protein Smoothies

One of my favorite shows, Chopped, challenges competitors to make delicious meals out of seemingly random ingredients. I am no chef, but I enjoy pretending I’m on the show when faced with a surplus of leftovers or fruit that’s a tad too ripe. 

Such is the case today when I opened the fridge and found a full container of strawberries that were not long for this world. I decided to whip up healthy protein smoothies for me and the boys and they turned out delicious!

Ingredients:

2 cups of strawberries 

1 banana 

1 package of GoGo Squeeze Organic Strawberry Banana Applesauce 

1 scoop of chocolate protein powder

1/2 cup of chocolate milk

Ice (optional)