Six Tips to Help Save for a Summer Vacation

American workers are statistically proven to have far fewer vacation days available at their expense than employees in almost all other developed countries. Additionally, they take even less of those days off, for fear they may lose their job. In other words, where other nations offer employees an average of 3-5 mandatory weeks of paid vacation, the United States averages 2-3 weeks of non-mandatory, paid leave and workers still typically only take off 50% of those days. American employees are working for more extended periods of time with fewer opportunities to relax and rejuvenate. Studies also have shown that for a worker to meet their peak of productivity in an office environment, it requires a certain amount of time away from their job. These lapses in work provide individuals with the chance to refresh their minds and bodies. They then return to the office with much sharper minds, happier dispositions, and in overall better physical and mental health than they were before leaving.

One excuse many people use for not taking time off is the mounting expense of vacation. To escape the office and go out on an adventure to some exotic destination can put a dent in one’s pocketbook. Making a strategic plan to save for these occasions will reduce unnecessary stress and hopefully it will encourage more people to utilize their well-deserved vacation time.

Here are six tips to help save for a summer vacation:

1. Make vacation a priority. It is easier to find time and energy to invest in a priority than those things which are outliers. Making vacation a prerogative is step number one, and it will help create more urgency, importance, and motivation to encourage employees to step away from the office and escaping to a relaxing destination.

2. Establish a budget. Budgeting is also a pivotal key to reaching one’s vacation goals. When leaving the office to relax and rejuvenate, the objective is not to return to work with additional debt. Define a budget and provide a discretionary amount to be used for meals, lodging, and extracurriculars. It is also essential to have some extra in an emergency fund in case the unexpected occurs.

3. Set realistic expectations. A 20-year-olds vacation may look entirely different than those of an established, working 50-year-old. Understanding those parameters and sticking to a budget will help one develop more luxurious travel possibilities in the future. Try visiting a state park and then working up to a glamorous vacation in Hawaii.

4. Set aside money little by little. Create a fund and allocate a designated amount of money each month to its growth. By siphoning smaller amounts of money into an account over more extended periods of time, it accrues at a steady pace, without as much of an influence on short-term spending. It also takes the guesswork out of budgeting while on vacation.

5. Search travel sites for the best deals. There are plenty of travel websites to help make arrangements accessible and affordable. Do not be afraid to take advantage of offseason deals, discount codes, and promotional opportunities to enhance and prolong a travel budget.

6. Do long-term planning for future travel. Take baby steps for future travel by planning now for the ultimate getaway. Whether the desire is to travel the world and circumvent the globe or escape for a month at a time to a favorite destination, dream vacations come at an expense. Acquiring the paid time off at the office and the financial means to get away involves long-term planning. Meeting with a trusted financial advisor can help individuals prepare for their ultimate travel dreams.

Benedetti, Gucer & Associates (BGA) is a boutique wealth management firm located in Atlanta, Georgia and they have the knowledge and financial expertise to be an integral part of helping their clients achieve financial security while also guiding them to their long-term retirement goals. If travel is a priority, BGA can help it become an attainable reality.

Source: bgawealth.com

Benedetti, Gucer & Associates is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA). An RIA is obligated by law to disclose any possible conflicts of interest, and they are always required to put the interests of their clients above their own. This role is also known as a fiduciary.

In order to give advice that is tailored to your situation, Benedetti, Gucer & Associates recommends beginning with a comprehensive financial plan. This will take into account your overall financial situation, as well all of your goals and objectives (not just travel). In addition to helping you prioritize your goals, a financial plan can help you identify if you are on track for them.

If you are not on track, a proper plan can help to identify the steps necessary to get there. Once this is achieved, it becomes clearer how much travel is within your budget, and what the tradeoffs are should you choose to take that trip anyways. Better yet, if you are on track for Retirement and other long term goals, you won’t lose sleep over whether or not you can afford a nice a vacation. But this will only happen if you take the time to meet with an advisor and have him or her perform the necessary calculations.

After putting a sound financial plan in place, you won’t need to feel guilty for taking advantage of that hard-earned vacation time by planning a dream getaway. Start small and work up to more luxurious destinations, with the help of the financial professionals and wealth management experts at Benedetti, Gucer & Associates.

DISCLOSURES

The views expressed represent the opinions of Benedetti, Gucer & Associates and are subject to change. These views are not intended as a forecast, a guarantee of future results, investment recommendation, or an offer to buy or sell any securities. The information provided is of a general nature and should not be construed as investment advice or to provide any investment, tax, financial or legal advice or service to any person.

Additional information, including management fees and expenses, is provided on Benedetti, Gucer & Associates’ Form ADV Part 2, which is available upon request.

The use of the term “RIA” does not imply a certain level of skill or training.

The Five Star program is the largest and most widely published wealth manager award program in North America. The research process for the Five Star Wealth Manager firms and peers nominate award candidates. Award candidates are evaluated against 10 objective criteria to determine the Five Star Wealth Managers in more than 40 major markets. These ratings should not be construed as an endorsement of the adviser by any client nor are they representative of any one client’s evaluation.

5 Hacks for Staying Fit While Traveling

As I write this, I’m sitting in a vegan coffee shop in Cork, Ireland. The walls are mostly glass, and as I sip my Americano, I watch tourists and locals, burrowed in their jackets and scarves, walk past. It’s still cold here in April, but it clearly hasn’t slowed the city of 200,000 people down. Watching them all walk by has me thinking about travel and how most people don’t even want to think about working out while they are away from home. Either they’re on vacation or they’re working and under a great deal of stress. Well, I’m here to tell you that designating time to move and challenge your body is the best way to fully enjoy a vacation or process work stress in a healthy way.

I travel so much for work and for fun, I’m often asked how I maintain my fitness routine (aka sanity) while on the road. The answer is surprisingly simple: if you make the effort to exercise at home, you can just as easily make time while traveling even with a packed schedule and unfamiliar terrain. The key is to have a few tricks up your sleeve to make it easily achievable.

Below I lay out five of my top travel hacks for maintaining a certain level of fitness while traveling, and I can honestly say these have saved me from jet lag, constipation (sorry not sorry), stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness brought on by being in a new place. Feel free to try all of these techniques, or simply choose the ones that work best for you. I guarantee you, the amount of pleasure and relaxation from your vacation will increase exponentially, and if it’s a work trip you will be better rested, and have more clarity and focus so that you perform at your absolute best when when required.

Hack No. 1: Book a Hotel with a Fitness Center.

If given the option between hotels, opt for one that has a gym. Even if it’s tiny, it can make all the difference between your energy flowing for the day, or you feeling stagnant because you slept in. Small gyms usually have dumbbells and some form of cardio machine. Do 10 mins of hard cardio and then weight train.  If there are no weights, use your body weight as resistance in your workout. There are plenty of videos on YouTube  that show how to make the most of a small hotel gym. If your hotel has a huge gym even better. Just knowing that you have amazing resources minutes away, can help in getting you dressed and out the door ready to move your body.

Hack No. 2: Trick Yourself by Downplaying How Long You Will Workout.

There have been plenty of times that I’ve been tired and unmotivated to workout. The key is to bargain with the voice that says “No, I’m not feeling up for it today”, by telling yourself you’ll just go for 10-15 mins. Anyone can workout for 10 minutes right? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this to myself, and then once I start, I feel amazing and don’t want to stop. The hardest part in accomplishing anything we don’t really want to do is usually by just getting started. Once that hurdle is overcome, the rest is just momentum and by then you really do start feeling good.  Mood boosting hormones like serotonin and dopamine are released during exercise, and the effects can last all day long. If I can convince myself to just get to the gym or out the door for a run, it’s only a matter of minutes before I’m thanking myself that I did. Never once have I regretted a workout, whether it was for only 10 minutes, or the more typical 45-60.

Hack No. 3: Focus on How You Will Feel After.

Visualization is a powerful tool. When I travel there are so many things I want to see, taste, and do, and spending time in hotel gym isn’t always the most exciting option. What I use to get over that thinking and get my workout in is to imagine how vitalized I will feel afterwards. I also notice that my skin is more vibrant and I think more clearly with less negative internal dialogue. By moving my body I absolutely impact how I feel and think, and that carries over into my experience for the rest of the day, whether I’m sightseeing or attending a training conference. Try imagining how wonderful you’ll feel and how much sharper you’ll be if you workout, and it will be a lot easier to convince yourself to get it in.

Hack No. 4: Don’t Be Afraid to Explore.

If you couldn’t choose which hotel you booked or a gym wasn’t an option anywhere, your next option is to get outside and get steps in. If you’re not a runner, it doesn’t mean you have to suddenly pick it up. Just walking has tremendous health benefits, and will leave you feeling energized and ready to start your day. Plus, getting out and moving is a great way to explore a new city and see where you might want to return later. When I studied abroad in France, I traveled to different countries every other weekend. I would always wake early and go running as a way to orient myself in a new city and scope out fun places to visit later in the day. The same applies today. This cute little coffee shop I’m in is one that I saw with the backdrop of the rising sun as I ran past. I never would have known it was here otherwise, and now I’m enjoying an Americano listening to Shakira circa 2002. Life is interesting and you’ll be surprised how much you miss when you stay in your comfort zone (or hotel room).

Hack No. 5: Get Your Partner or Co-Workers on Board.

Humans are hardwired for connection. We are pack animals essentially, and sometimes the best way to stay motivated to workout is by getting our friends to go with us. Working out is a great way to bond with your partner or co-workers, and often you end up learning something new about them that you never would have otherwise. And again when you engage in an endorphin boosting activity with another person, you can’t help but feel closer and more bonded to that person. Trust builds, and you feel supported and safe. This is an incredible tool for personal and professional life: don’t let it slip away.

I hope you enjoyed these tips, I absolutely love sharing my life experience in order to help others live their best lives. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or have additional tips you’d like to add that you’ve used in your life to stay fit while on travel!

How Adaptogens Have Revolutionized My Wellbeing

For most people, life can get pretty stressful. Whether you’re a mom or not, there are plenty of demands put on us on a daily basis. How we deal with the reality of stress determines how healthy we feel and thus our quality of life. When we’re able to roll with the proverbial punches and keep moving, we are in the best position to make better decisions, and create the kind of life we want. My story is not unique by any means, I definitely deal with stress (some days better than others) but over time I’ve developed some serious non-negotiable self-care habits that have served me incredibly well. One of my favorites is the incorporation of adaptogens into my daily coffee routine.

Before I delve into the benefits of adaptogens, I’ll explain what they are.

The term “adaptogen” comes from Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, a Russian scientist) who first coined in 1947, but Isreal Brekham, PhD and Dr. I. V. Darymovhe created the formal definition in 1968. The formal definitely includes the following criteria:

1. An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body—an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. (Source)

In other words, adaptogens must:

  1. Be safe
  2. Work by reducing your body’s stress response
  3. Support overall health by helping the body achieve balance known as homeostasis

The adaptogens I consume in my morning coffee and evening tea have prevented countless colds (reishi, chaga, pollen powder, he shou wu), given me more energy and athletic stamina during my workouts (cordyceps),  lightened sun spots (maitiake), improved my skin’s suppleness (tremella) and increased my sense of calm (reishi and ashwagandha). I began taking them in November 2017, and have not been sick once despite living in a veritable petri dish with two young children. I also travel a ton for work and life, and my immune system has held strong through long flights and late nights.

I am all for trying new things, and in the case of adaptogens, I am so glad I did. My health, both mental and physical, has benefited so much from the exploration of this ancient form of plant medicine. One remaining note, make sure that the adaptogens you buy are from reliable sources. My favorite providers are Root and Bones, Four Sigmatic, or Real Mushrooms. These companies care about the extraction process, and the quality of their products. Like anything, its helpful to do your homework before jumping in. And if you are on any kind of medication, check with your doctor to make sure there wont be any unsavory drug interactions.

At the end of the day, life is meant to be lived fully, and we do that by being in vibrant health. When you’re sick or stressed out, you know you aren’t really living. It’s taken me years to find balance, and the journey is happily ongoing, but when I find something I know in my gut works, I have to talk about it. In the case of adaptogens, there is no doubt that they help provide the building blocks for an incredibly happy, healthy, and less stressful life experience.

Trending: Dry Brushing and Why It’s Actually Amazing for You

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard about the importance of exfoliating your skin in the shower. After all, the loofah has become ubiquitous with every college dorm survival kit– it’s just that important! Exfoliation removes dead skin cells, boosts circulation, and just feels good. Recently though, more attention has been placed on the practice of dry brushing, and its’ benefits have been proven to greatly outweigh typical shower exfoliation.

First, what is dry brushing? Dry brushing is the practice of brushing the skin once or twice a day with a firm but soft brush in an upward motion. It’s best done first thing in the morning and before you get in the shower. Unlike regular exfoliation, dry brushing is said to be a powerful way to detox the entire body by stimulating the lymphatic system. It boosts circulation, sweeps away dead skin cells, stimulates the lymph nodes, improves digestion, improves the appearance of cellulite, and helps the cells and body in general remove waste.

Stimulating the lymphatic system is at the core of all its benefits. The lymphatic system is responsible for collecting, transporting, and eliminating cell waste. If the lymphatic system is congested, it can lead to a build-up of toxins, causing inflammation and illness. Dry brushing stimulates and strengthens the lymphatic system and therefore provides a quick and easy way to help detox the body in a powerful way everyday. As with any health regime, results are best experienced when it’s practiced consistently.

Now that you know what dry brushing is and why it’s so beneficial for your health, what’s the best way to do it?

  1. Make sure your brush is made with soft, natural bristles. A longer handle will help you reach more area, and make the process easier.
  2. Start at your feet and move the brush in quick, sharp upward movements.
  3. For your hands and arms, brush in the same way towards the heart.
  4. For your stomach move in a counter-clockwise circular motion.
  5. For your back, work from your neck down towards your feet.
  6. Brush for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  7. Remember to be gentle–it should feel pleasurable, not punishing.

Practice dry brushing everyday, and you’ll not only feel better physically, but you’ll be surprised how much this simple act of self-care has on your attitude towards yourself and others. Once you start engaging in small actions that show you care for yourself, you’ll find that you’re more optimistic about life and more loving towards others. So fill your cup first thing in the morning, and then go out and tackle the day.

A Month of Total Body Workouts

As part of my passion for holistic health and living a balanced life, I have unintentionally over the years, developed a sustainable workout routine that safely challenges and trains the entire body. My routine incorporates elements of weight-lifting, running, yoga, swimming, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) and the result is a strong and capable body that will serve you well into old age.

Below is my recipe for success for those of you who need some extra guidance and support, or others who are simply bored with their current routine and looking to add some fun dimension.

Please Note:

  • If you have health concerns, do not start this program before consulting a doctor.
  • Push through discomfort, but listen to your body to avoid injury.
  • 5×5 translates to 5 repetitions of 5.
  • Donkey Kicks and Fire Hydrants should be performed with a dumbbell tucked behind the knee.

The Breakdown

Every morning I wake before everyone else in my house, quietly sneak downstairs and complete 15-30 minutes of yoga and 5-10 minutes of meditation. I finish my practice with a few minutes of intention setting– focusing on how I want the day to flow, what I am grateful for, and what I’d like to manifest. This simple morning routine has drastically improved every aspect of my life.

Week 1:

Monday:  Run or Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Mountain Climbers, 60 Russian Twists, 100 Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run; Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Dumbbell Curls (5×5); Tricep Dips (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kettlebell workout (30-60 mins–YouTube) or Run; Abs (30 V-Ups, 30 Bicycles, 30 Russian Twists, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 2:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 30 Flutter Kicks, Planks), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5), 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Thursday: Weighted squats (5×5); Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: HIIT Class or Run; Pull-Ups (3 sets); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Abs (100 crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 3:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 50 Flutter Kicks, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Abs (30 Plank dips, 100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Bicycles), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press; Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 crunches, V-Up w/ Rotation, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Circuit Training Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)

Week 4:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 Flutter Kicks, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pistol Squats (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Side Plank Dips, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kickboxing Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups, Plank)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)
Lastly, remember to have fun with your workouts–don’t view it as a punishment for what you ate the night before, rather as a celebration of what your body can do!

 

 

How to Transition Away from Processed Foods and Regain Alignment with a Weekend Juice Cleanse

It’s no secret that addiction to processed foods is a reality in this country. Unfortunately, that means skyrocketing rates of obesity and inflammation in children and adults, and all the heath problems that accompany those maladies. No one wants to feel sick and out of control, but so many simply don’t know how to combat it. It’s a systemic problem, but happily, it is also one that can be remedied with intentional action.

Though I don’t suffer from any health problems, I am acutely aware when my poor food choices negatively affect the way my body and mind feel. When I start feeling lethargic and unmotivated, and I know that my diet of processed foods is to blame. I follow a vegan diet, but even with that, there are still plenty of opportunities to eat poorly and feel unwell. Faced with this realization, I know the best way to regain mental, physical, and spiritual alignment is to eliminate food altogether and engage in the age-old process of a fast. Fasts are great for jump starting weight loss, healing the liver and gut, skyrocketing energy levels, and focusing the mind.

Rather than engage in a super strict water-only regime, I typically choose to do a simple weekend juice cleanse–sticking to mainly raw organic fruits and veggies. It’s incredibly important to drink copious amounts of water while fasting. I start each morning with a liter of filtered water, and this practice is especially important during a fast when you are cleansing out your system. It also helps subdue hunger pangs. I also don’t abstain from drinking black organic coffee. Fasting purists would say that one must forego all caffeine during a cleanse, but there is so much evidence showing the benefits of coffee on the liver and gut, so I choose to consume in moderation. Lastly, exercise and meditation are two crucial components of a fast. Without them, the effects are not as formative, and the results don’t last as long. Fasting, gentle exercise, and meditation is the trifecta of actions that create a substative shift and bring one back into alignment and true health.

Before I begin a fast, I make sure to stock my fridge with plenty of organic fruit and veggies. If you’re going to be consuming only liquid nutrients, you don’t want them to be sprayed with pesticides. Also, you are more likely to stick with the cleanse if you have everything you need, and don’t have to run to the store. Each day will consist of three to six 8oz juices, depending on how much you need and want, so stocking up beforehand is paramount. Lastly, I ensure that my family is aware I intend to fast so that everyone knows to be supportive.

I have found that as early as the first day with the first juice I feel a surge of energy, my mind is sharp and my mood is euphoric. I typically make extra so that I have the next batch ready and I limit the amount of times I have to clean the juicer. In addition to nutrition, gentle exercise is highly recommended to aid in the cleansing process. A 15 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout and some gentle yoga is a great way to eliminate toxins and purge the digestive system. I typically don’t feel any different during the HIIT portion than I normally would while not fasting, and my yoga practice always feels great and restorative. I concentrate on moves that focus on my back and abdomen (spinal twists, bridge pose, cat/cow, etc.) to encourage the cleansing process along even more.

It’s after working out, that I’m usually greeted by my first real hunger pangs. I reconcile this discomfort with remembering why I chose to cleanse in the first place and taking some deep meditative breathes. Studies show that cravings tend to last around 30 seconds, so if I make it past that point, I know I will survive–resolve intact. A meditation practice that focuses on cleansing, refocusing, and realignment is the perfect accompaniment to a fast, and makes a longer lasting impact after completion.

As the hours pass I notice how sharp I feel–sounds and smells are heightened and yet my mind is relaxed. I can see why so many people from around the world use fasts as religious and spiritual aides: it doesn’t just clarify the body, but the mind as well.

The second day of the fast is usually harder than the first. The excitement has diminished slightly, hunger is ever-present, but you will wake feeling lighter, more rested, and assuredly alive. Typically by day two there is a weight loss of 1-4 pounds. Seeing this quantifiable change is often the motivation I need to reach the finish line.

Day two’s workout should consist of some gentle walking and/or yoga and meditation. These types of activities will help curb hunger tremendously, create a sense of well-being, and restore focus for the week ahead.

By the end of the fast, ( I usually eat a light dinner Sunday night) I have increased my energy levels, gained a stronger sense of self-control and focus, crushed prior addictions to processed foods (i.e. sugar and salt), and feel completely at peace. Fasting is truly an amazing tool for encouraging self-discipline and eliminating spiritual, mental, and physical misalignment.

 

How a Vegan Diet Can Help Save the Planet

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Accord. Fifty-five United Nation countries collectively signed the agreement in November 2016 in an effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. When the news broke that Trump was out, I honestly wasn’t surprised. I felt that familiar sinking feeling when yet another act of progress championed by the Obama administration has been intentionally unraveled by the new president.

Trump explained that he did it because he valued American manufacturing jobs over everything else, to include the health and future of the planet. This message comes from someone who’s administration has not actually acknowledged climate change as a reality, and frequently used the term “hoax” to describe EPA data on its own government website. Not to mention that the biggest threat to traditional manufacturing jobs is automation, not climate change regulation. So what does this mean for those of us who do believe in climate change and understand what a huge disappointment this was in the battle for fighting global warming?

When president Trump withdrew US involvement in the accord, he made a statement to the rest of the world, that barring some sort of financial benefit, the US does not care to engage in collective movements for the good of others–i.e. non-Americans. As the unmatched leader in terms of wealth and military prowess, the US stands as an example of what other countries aspire to become. By opting out of an agreement promoting clear and defined goals of a cleaner earth, it shows a lack of concern and will no doubt encourage other nations to take on the same isolationist mindset. Those in leadership set the tone for everyone else, whether it’s a corporation, a field office, a soccer team, or a nation. It’s the same everywhere. Trump’s selfish and short-sighted withdrawal is a huge step backward for positive relations around the world, and for our planet.

For those of us at home who understand this and were disappointed–Elon Musk announced he was leaving Trump’s advisory council, there is still something we can do. By talking about climate change, and the effect that this withdrawal will have on the US and the world, we bring attention to it. When you bring light to anything, it has an impact. Additionally, Trump’s withdrawal was so shocking that it has sparked more debate and focus onto combating climate change at home. Individuals who may not have spent much time thinking about global warming, or from where the majority of it is generated, are now researching and talking with friends and co-workers about it and what can be done despite disastrous governmental actions. That’s progress.

What people discover when conducting research on climate change, is that the majority of the greenhouse gases are not from cars or factories, but from animal agriculture. The fastest route therefore to fighting back, is to stop buying meat and animal products. By one person going vegan for a year, hundreds of animal’s lives and over 400,000 gallons of water are saved. Additionally, the methane gas produced by cows and pigs–which is 23 times more damaging than CO2 and the biggest threat to the ozone layer, is seriously reduced. So now equipped with the data, what can we do?

Even if you’re not currently vegan, there are still small manageable steps you can take today that will create a real impact.

  1. Try eliminating meat from one meal a day. Since my transition to becoming vegan last year, my husband and kids have greatly reduced their meat and dairy intake, most notably from breakfast.  We were a household that would eat bacon and eggs regularly, now my family sticks to oatmeal, grits, peanut butter toast, and fruit in the morning–it was a simple change that my family could easily accept. And according to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week, the CO2 emission reduction would be the same as taking half a million cars off the road. It just shows how simple changes in our everyday lives can and do make a huge impact. We are not helpless observers to the wrongs of those in power.
  2. Incorporate an entire day without consuming meat, more commonly known as “Meatless Mondays”. If everyone in the US engaged in Meatless Monday for one day, it would equal a reduction of 1.2 million tons of CO2, 3 million tons of soil erosion, 4.5 million tons of animal excrement, and 7 tons of ammonia emissions. This was great way to encourage my husband to try new dishes and reinvent his old trusted recipes in new and interesting ways. Additionally, our grocery bill was greatly reduced. I was amazed at how far our money went after we eliminated beef, chicken, pork, and eggs from the cart. It took actually going to the store and seeing it in real life to fully appreciate how much further our dollar was going while simultaneously eating significantly healthier.
  3. Lastly, as humans it’s a well-known fact that we’re wired to connect. Seek out a community that supports your desire to learn more about plant-based diets and connect with them online. Facebook has a myriad of groups like “Vegans United” and “My Vegucation” that offer support and information from real people who have felt a similar call to make a change in support of the environment despite heavy cultural and traditional opposition. On Instagram, search hashtags like #meatlessmondays, #veganbreakfast, or #veganrecipes, for more inspiration and motivation. The vegan community is growing everyday, and it is one of the most welcoming, passionate, and intelligent groups I’ve ever encountered.

Currently the US is responsible for over 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If our president refuses to participate in a global effort to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a sustainable planet, and enough food and water to exist when they grow up, we as citizens have to take responsibility for the future onto ourselves. The truth is that we cannot change his mind or his administration’s agenda, but we can make small changes in our own lives, like the ones detailed above, that taken together as a country, can and will change the fate of the world and the future health of the planet.

 

 

A Letter to My Husband on Father’s Day

Dear Husband,

We met eight years ago in the most unlikely of places–Las Vegas. I observed this tall, dark, and handsome man talking to my friend, and something happened internally to me. Your face seemed familiar, your Southern accent drew me in, and the way you looked at me slowed down the constant chatter in my mind. You shook my soul in mere minutes, and I hadn’t even spoken a word to you yet. After I found the courage to approach you, we talked and didn’t stop talking until…

Read the rest where it’s been published on Red Tricycle.

 

The Unexpected Brain 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.

 

 

 

Four Unexpected Effects of a Plant-Based Diet

Update: My article was published in elephant journal! You can find the latest version here: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/05/four-unexpected-effects-of-a-plant-based-diet/

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What if I told you that you could do something today that would make you look and feel amazing, save lives and the earth? I think without knowing what that action was, most if not all people would agree to trying it. Unfortunately, when that action involves breaking with societal norms and traditions, the decision to change is harder fought. My only viable option then, is to share my own experience of how going vegan and relinquishing all meat and dairy from my plate, drastically changed my life in unexpected and beautiful ways. My ultimate purpose is that someone reading this will be curious enough to try the experiment out for themselves, and watch their own life transform for the better. 

Common sense dictates that when you eat more fruits and vegetables, while simultaneously eating less sugar, processed foods, and fat, you will feel better. A diet consisting mainly of meat, eggs, and dairy has been proven to sink the body into a state of inflammation which leads to disease and a poor quality of life riddled with medication and corrective surgeries. But what I found surprising is that in the past few months while I slowly eliminated meat, then eggs and dairy in favor of a plant-based diet, I experienced a myriad of benefits that I never anticipated. Aside from feeling happy about my choice to live an environmentally friendly existence, I experienced perks that I had not even considered when making my initial decision to become vegan. I knew I would feel clearer and have more energy, but I never expected these next four items to happen, and certainly not so suddenly.

Sleep: Within days of eating a diet free of meat, eggs, and dairy, I started needing less sleep. Typically I would feel exhausted by 9:00 pm. Right after putting my two young boys to sleep, I would want to crash too, and often did much to my husband’s dismay. Our time to talk and bond as friends and a couple was truncated because all I wanted to do was clean up the dinner dishes and get to bed. This shifted almost immediately when I began consuming more dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, fruit and grains. And aside from having more energy at night, my quality of sleep improved. I fell asleep fast, and slept soundly all night, which was not typical for me.

Before the switch, I would toss and turn to get to sleep (despite being overly tired) and would wake frequently throughout the night. The result was that I was groggy and reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 am so I can practice yoga and mediation, and usually it’s a battle for my feet to hit the floor. Not so under this new diet, and that’s with receiving even less sleep that I was used to getting. Now when the alarm sounds, I am alert and ready to start my day from a place of mindfulness and strength while the rest of my house soundly sleeps.

Athletic Endurance: I love to workout, it’s something that has been a constant companion my entire life. It’s rarely a chore, and something I honestly enjoy. Through working out I connect with my body and reach meditative states I can’t by simply sitting still on the floor. That’s why I was intrigued when I went completely plant-based, and my running felt different. I felt as though I could run forever, there was no resistance in my lungs, heart, or legs. My body moved in synchronicity, perfectly free and full of life. The amount of energy I source from nutrient dense foods has changed that way my blood flows when taxed, and I sensed it immediately. It has been shown that patients with high cholesterol and arterial blockages can improve their vascular health by switching to a plant-based diet. The body wants to heal itself, and it will if you only let it. It takes about three hours for the arteries to de-harden after the consumption of food high in salt and fat, which is usually when they are hit again with another damaging meal. Imagine what happens when you let the body go into a state of healing instead of destruction, and imagine what happens if you don’t.

The change I felt in running carried over to the weight room too. The weights felt lighter, and my recovery time was shorter between repetitions. Usually, the day following a tough weight session, I am sore, but I felt very little of that. At first I thought I was just having a good day, then a good week, but I saw the same encouraging results each time I went to the gym. My performance had definitely improved, and the only variation was the quality and make-up of my diet. After my workout, I typically drink a protein shake or eat an apple and it carries me through until dinner, no 2:30 pm sugary snack needed.

Sugar Addiction: Sugar is one of the most damaging ingredients in the human diet, and one of the most addicting. I certainly was not immune to its pull, however with an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet, my urge for soda, candy, and yes even Nutella has subsided substantially. Its been theorized that sugar cravings are actually caused by a depletion of nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, and chromium. Because I was getting plenty of the core nutrients my body needed, my usual sugar cravings evaporated. And as a result of consuming less sugar, I noticed my skin, hair, and nails looked better. I was healing my body from the inside on a cellular level, and it was showing on the outside.

Relationships: Truly happy people have a good relationship with themselves first, and feeding yourself well and with care, is the ultimate act of love to your body, mind, and spirit. By choosing to eat nutritiously and mindfully, I show myself love everyday, and that impacts how I interact with my sons, husband, family, co-workers, and friends. My improved levels of energy, athletic performance, and general sense of well-being made me happier and more excited about life and my relationships. It’s a scenario where everyone wins. Plus the more I talk about how great I feel, the more questions I receive about it. At first there is always a joke, usually accompanied with an eye-roll, but then more often than not, the conversation transforms to honest curiosity and openness about how a plant-based diet changed my life for the better, and how it could change theirs too.

The list above details just a few examples of how going vegan has had an enormous impact on my quality of life, and I am looking forward to discovering more as time goes on and I get more creative with my recipes. For those individuals who inexplicably deride a vegan lifestyle because it opposes cultural norms, I just want to convey that we have one life and one body, and to truly honor yours and live your best life, you need to actively take control of what you put in your body. And who knows what exciting ways your life might improve if you are curious enough to try a plant-based diet out for yourself.