Finding Presence: The perfect avocado toast

It was a typical busy morning in the Wanderlust household as I served breakfast, packed lunches, ushered the Wanderlust Juniors out the door, then speed-walked after them as they rode their scooters to school. Later, returning home with a growling stomach, I finally had time to prepare some breakfast. I felt unsettled after a rushed morning routine that left me with no time to sit down to catch my breath. Later, as I stood in our quiet kitchen, my gaze panned over the messy floor of the adjacent family room, then returned to what was before me: two slices of toasted bread and an avocado on a wooden board atop a cluttered counter.

I chose, for the moment, to ignore the clutter. I sliced into the perfectly ripe avocado and exhaled with relief to find it ideal inside, a smooth, creamy green. I enjoyed every bite of the avocado toast in complete silence, save for the sound of the birds’ song outside the window. In this season of my life, juxtapositions abound. A noisy house in the morning gives way to silence that feels luxurious through lunchtime. The same noisy, vibrant energy returns to fill the rooms after the school day ends, then the house envelopes us in its sleepy tranquility.

I delight in those cycles and treasure the small gifts of a full day, making space to observe the transitions and creating opportunities to take breaks, to simply sit, if only for a short minute, and listen, watch, feel, breathe. Some days, the perfect avocado toast is precisely what I need to return to Presence, to feel gratitude for this ordinary day with its ebb and flow.

What steps can you take today to return to Presence? Hint: It’s in the little things.

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More about avocado… A few months ago, shortly after our move to NZ, Mr. Wanderlust saved the pit of an avocado, drilled three small holes into it, and stuck three wooden skewers inside. We immersed it in water inside a jar and kept it on the windowsill. Today, this is the result of our patient care. We have another, larger avocado tree, in our backyard. I purchased it recently from the local garden centre. It will be a while yet before this little seedling will be ready for planting, but we are starting to think of soon moving it into potted soil to allow it to continue to thrive.

Four things that are saving me these days

Photo: View from the Kaimai Ranges, by Mr. Wanderlust

On Wednesday morning, I turned the calendar leaf to reveal the first day of a new month. It dawned on me that, although this new month doesn’t feel remotely like the Novembers I have come to know, with their cold gray rain-drenched streets and trees that shed their cover in preparation for a blanket of snow, it’s nevertheless the second-last month of the year. And oh, how time does fly. That same day, I walked through the local shopping centre, where tall artificial Christmas trees had popped up overnight, to the sound of Christmas songs playing. November has always been my least favourite month in the northern hemisphere, and although it feels different in NZ, where sunny days are interspersed with warm springtime rainfall, I remain vigilant of the state of my thoughts and emotions. The reason I prioritise self-care and consistently work to improve my wellness habits is precisely because it’s much too easy for me to slip.

These days, here are four things that are saving me and helping me to stay well:

1. Walks in nature

On most mornings, after I take the Wanderlust Juniors to school, I walk to the beach or through the reserve. Some days, I drive to the local hills or the Mount for a more challenging walk to the summit, where I stand in awe, gazing from above upon our spectacular city. From time to time, whenever Mr. Wanderlust is able to steal away from his work for an hour, he joins me. Sometimes, we ride our bicycles in lieu of walking. I wrote previously about the resistance I have been feeling, as of late, toward more formal forms of cardio. Of course, yoga is a necessary daily practice, but I also crave fresh air and outdoor movement. Once outside, I often feel I could walk for hours. Some days, I listen to music or a podcast, but I prefer to tune into the sounds of the ocean’s waves or birds around me and take it all in, observing the ornate seashells as I pass them on the sand, the sheep that graze on the hillside. I walk briskly, but my mind remains in a state of meditative flow. If I’m lucky, from time to time I’m able to eavesdrop inconspicuously on an interesting conversation that I file away as possible material for a story.

2. Healthy routines

About two months after our move to NZ, I began to feel particularly homesick. I went through what immigration experts term the ‘fight or flight’ phase, during which I compared everything in NZ to what I had come to love in Canada. Then, I would nitpick at everything that did not appeal to me as much as I had hoped it would. At the same time, I began to drown my emotions in jars of Nutella late in the evening. Believe me, dear reader, that for me to admit to this feels shameful. I have always prided myself on being a careful eater and I have always had a difficult relationship with sugar. I know that it’s best for me to avoid it altogether. These days, I am picking up the pieces of me that I misplaced during that challenging phase. One day at a time, I plan carefully, eating three healthy solid meals, and avoid snacking after dinner. I brush my teeth, slip into my pajamas, and unwind with some Yin or restorative yoga, followed by reading a few pages from a book before turning off the light. I myself have often felt that this routine sounds rigid, but it helps me to feel my best, and for Vata, consistent healthy routines are key.

3. Community

Community is another major factor in adjusting to our new life in NZ. It’s easy for me to be a hermit, to stay at home all day and avoid any social interaction. However, when I do start speaking with our neighbours or the members of the fitness club who attend my classes, the conversation often ventures beyond small talk and leaves me feeling fulfilled. Moreover, online interaction via the blog also brings its delights. Yesterday, I received an email from a friend who told me about how much this blog helped her friend when he was going through a challenging time. As a writer, I enjoy putting my work out there, but I often wonder about who actually reads it and whether anyone cares about the content I produce. Similarly, as a yoga teacher, I want to know whether I deliver the type of class that other expect to attend and whether, in my classes, I am able to effectively address issues that others often struggle with. That feedback is invaluable to me and helps to connect me to the greater community, both online and offline.

4. Small celebrations

Earlier this week, our children celebrated their first Hallowe’en in NZ. Hallowe’en is a new holiday here and was not celebrated traditionally the way it’s celebrated in North America and some parts of Europe. With the longer daylight hours, the Wanderlust Juniors trick-or-treated when it was still light out, and stopped at only one spooky house among the non-ornate ones. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every moment of their outing and were particularly delighted that they did not need to wear winter jackets over their costumes the way they used to have to do in Canada. Seeing their excitement reminded me that every day is to be celebrated and that dressing up is fun. When I shared this article on my personal Facebook page, about one of my favourite fictional characters and films, lamenting over the casual dress in NZ, a friend commented to remind me that I should feel free to dress up and express my style any day. She’s right, of course, and I intend to do just that. I feel better when I put more effort into my outfit, even on days when I don’t have anywhere special to go. We should not need to wait for an occasion. Instead, every day can be a special occasion if we make it so.

Your turn: What is saving you right now? If you live in the northern hemisphere where November is the cold month in-between fall and winter, what do you do to turn up the hygge and make this time of year more enjoyable? Please leave a comment below. 

In the spirit of community-building, thank you for sharing this blog with a friend. 

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The week in review: May 19th

It appears winter has arrived in NZ, announcing itself by way of rain, wind gusts, and crisp mornings. Inevitably, it’s all very different from winter in Ontario and we are curious about the months to come. I think of plans for July and immediately conjure images of hot and humid days, then remind myself that such weather doesn’t apply to this part of the world at that time of year.

There are also other fascinating discoveries. Two weeks ago, I noticed that the moon phases progress in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere than in the northern. As someone who follows the moon particularly closely, I was puzzled to see that the moon was waxing from the left to the right side. My delight at this so-called discovery might sound downright ridiculous to others for whom this information is likely common knowledge, but it fills me with inexplicable joy and curiosity. Please do leave a note in the comments below and tell me, did you know about this ‘mirror effect’ of the moon in the northern vs. the southern hemisphere?

A few favourite moments from the past week:

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I was almost knocked off my feet by a wind gust while taking photos near the dunes. I’m at once terrified and fascinated by the ocean on stormy days.
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Beachside treasures that leave me in awe of the wonders of the universe.
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It’s easy to eat the rainbow when delicious vegetables are in abundance at the farmers’ market.
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I adore the whimsical nature gifts that the youngest Wanderlust Junior brings home almost daily. Some of them — ahem, pet bugs — are somewhat questionable, but others are sweet.

Favourites from around the web:

Modern Mrs. Darcy has released her list of 17 books everyone will be talking about this summer. I can’t wait to get my hands on a few of these. Which ones are you looking forward to reading?

A fascinating podcast: Accelerated Learning: Get Good at Anything in 20 hours

Beautiful, honest, and though-provoking. Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them. I have often looked at photos of my mother from her late teens and early 20s and wondered about the woman she was before I changed her world.

We spend plenty of time inside our heads. You Can’t Be Creative without Being in Your Body

Things have been busy on my end. It’s time to return to basics. Today I’ll Press Pause

Excellent advice for the writer. So you want to be a writer? Essential tips for aspiring novelists

Wishing you a beautiful weekend, regardless of the reigning season!

The week in review: May 12th

It’s a rainy and windy day, with a reminder of Autumn. We are spending the evening in hibernation, made more cosy with a few good books, a hearty chickpea stew, and freshly baked brownies for dessert.

A collection of favourite moments from the past week:

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Delicious kale from a local permaculture garden yielded these perfectly crispy chips.
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More fresh, organic goodies.
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Spectacular Piha Beach.
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Walking along the beach near Devonport, Auckland, I brought my gaze up from the seashell-sprinkled sand toward these beautiful giants.
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The perfect rainy day companions.

Favourites from around the web:

I’m fascinated by neuroplasticity and this article offers interesting insight. Could your thoughts make you age faster?

For the bibliophiles: Reading is Forgetting.

Getting stuff done with the pomodoro technique. Thoughts?

A different take on the Little Free Library. Thoughts?

Wherever your travels might take you this weekend, may it be beautiful in every way!

Favourites: March 10th edition

A few simple highlights from the past week:

Knitting

A delightful new knitting project!

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A great book.

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Our current quick-and-easy ‘go to’ dessert: banana and chocolate chip cake.

From around the web:

Important for HSP to remember.

A mindful approach to difficult emotions.

Self-care.

Environmental responsibility..

More mindfulness.

For the yogis.

On letting go of books. Mr. Wanderlust and I recently significantly downsized our enormous library; we can empathize with the author of this story.

Life lessons.

Instagram Favourite:

I enjoy following the explorations of Zero Waste Chef. Her profile states the three inspiring rules she follows to run her kitchen: “Rule #1 no packaging. Rule #2 nothing processed. Rule #3 no trash.”

Wishing you a tranquil weekend!

Slow mornings

Sunday morning.

A few overripe bananas alone in the centre of a large ornate bowl.

Hungry bellies await breakfast.

A yawn escapes while the countertop is set with a metal bowl, a whisk, and measuring cups.

The bananas are peeled, then mashed.

Milk is poured, with juice of half a lemon squeezed to replace buttermilk.

Coconut oil melts in the skillet.

The dry and wet ingredients intermingle in a large bowl.

A handful of chocolate chips tossed into the mix. Why not?

Coconut oil sizzles as batter is poured onto the hot surface.

The routine is tranquil, meditative.

The kettle emits a gentle whistle as the water inside boils.

Tea. Pancakes. Coffee. Maple syrup.

Simple, like Sunday morning.

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In the interest of saving time amid a busy weekday routine, we celebrated Fat Tuesday a couple of days early. In truth, Sunday morning pancakes are a tradition chez nous. Here is our favourite banana and chocolate chip pancake recipe:

Ingredients:

2 medium-size very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 cup buttermilk (or a cup of milk with lemon juice squeezed into it)
1 egg
1 tbsp coconut sugar or white sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil or butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
handful of chocolate chips
additional coconut oil for frying

Preparation:

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, bananas, buttermilk, sugar, and oil.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold the batter showly. Add the chocolate chips and stir gently.

Fry 2-3 minutes per side on a skillet lightly greased with coconut oil or butter. Serve with maple syrup and/or other favourites.

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Place share a favourite pancake recipe in the comments below.
 

Pantry declutter project: mung bean soup

I spent the weekend tidying the laundry room in our home and sorting through piles of paperwork that I had collected over the past several years. I’m also cooking my way through our kitchen pantry stash of beans, flours, and other items that we had purchased once upon a time within the past few years but have not used in substantial quantities.

On Sunday, I used a large quantity of flour to make play-doh for the youngest Wanderlust Junior’s classroom; banana pancakes for breakfast; banana and chocolate chip muffins for Wanderlust Juniors’ snack break at school; and a banana and chocolate chip loaf for our post-dinner dessert. I confess that my baking quest was not a result of attempting to bake my way through an entire bag of flour. Rather, there were too many very ripe bananas sitting on our kitchen counter, begging to be featured in several delicious ways.

Last week, I shared with you my recipe for banana, blueberry, and lavender muffins. This time, I will share with the result of my pantry declutter project: mung bean soup. I made a large pot of this flavourful, warming, grounding soup on Sunday afternoon for me and Mr. Wanderlust to enjoy at lunch all throughout the workweek.

Ground, warming mung bean soup recipe

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Ingredients:

2 cups dry mung bean

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small white or yellow onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

3 carrots, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped finely

1 green pepper, chopped finely

1 heaping tbsp tomato paste

Enough filtered water or vegetable stock (or a mixture of both) to cover the mung bean and vegetables, plus three additional inches of water and/or stock on top

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp curry powder

sea salt and pepper, to taste

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preparation:

  1. Soak the mung bean overnight in a large pot in cold water. Before cooking the soup, rinse and drain the beans.
  2. In a large cooking pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil and cook the onions and garlic until they turn a golden brown colour.
  3. Add the carrots and celery and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the bell peppers and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Add the tomato paste, turmeric, and curry powder, and stir everything together.
  6. Add the salt and pepper and water and/or stock, cover and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue to cook the soup, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour on low heat.
  8. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, and stir once again.

I like to allow the soup to rest overnight, absorbing the flavour, and serve it the following day.

Do you have a favourite soup recipe that incorporates various legumes that just might be lurking in my pantry? Please share them with me in the comments below.

Do you know someone who might enjoy this recipe? Please share this blog post with a friend!

In the bleak midwinter, I shall bake muffins

The Wanderlust Juniors and I spent the first week of the new year with my parents in cottage country, where we slept in, enjoyed plenty of time outdoors in the fresh winter air, taking walks and playing in fluffy snow — almost knee-deep for me, and even deeper for them. It’s truly a pleasure to grant ourselves a vacation from the everyday bustle, to start the year on a quiet note, with a retreat from the city, immersed in silence.

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Through the wardrobe… Winter is magical.

It would be dishonest of me to say that I do not care about weather changes. Although I do enjoy winter weather, the limited exposure to sunlight does affect me, as it does many others. Yet, staying indoors for an entire day when it’s cold outside also doesn’t help to elevate my mood. That is why I do my best, whenever possible, to bundle up, pull on my big faux-fur winter boots, and head outside for a walk or to play with Wanderlust Juniors. Even 15 minutes outdoors make a tremendous difference, reminding me that the world continually changes, that nothing is ever static, and that we must grant ourselves the opportunity to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and reconnect to the greater world. Perhaps, we just might find that the midwinter is not all that bleak.

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Playtime! Snow angels in the winter sunshine.

After the outing, we go back inside for a large mug of steaming tea for me, and muffins for the boys. Here is my ‘go to’ muffin recipe:

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Banana, Blueberry, and Lavender Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

a pinch of fine sea salt

1-2 tsp culinary lavender (In Toronto, I purchase culinary lavender from Weir’s Lane Lavender & Apiary)

2 ripe bananas

1 egg

1 cup milk of your choice

1/3 cup vegetable oil, grape seed oil, or melted coconut oil

2/3 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F and lightly grease or line a 12-cup muffin baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lavender. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mash the bananas, then add the egg and whisk lightly. Add the oil and milk and continue to whisk until the mixture is uniform.
  4. Carefully pour the wet ingredients into a well in the centre of the bowl containing the dry ingredients. Gently fold in the blueberries, stirring carefully until the batter is just combined.
  5. Using a tablespoon, pour the batter evenly into 12 muffin cups.
  6. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the muffin baking pan, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Notes: I sometimes substitute chocolate chips for the blueberries, if you wish. Lavender reminds me of summer in the midst of the cold months; however, if you do not enjoy lavender, you may omit it entirely. The Wanderlust Juniors also love these muffins as a school snack.

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Please leave a comment below to share your tips for staying healthy and joyful throughout the winter months. Also, I would love to read about your favourite type of muffins. Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend!

My goal for 2017: Create Magic

Last year, I set out to focus on being Present in 2016. This year, my intention continues to build on the themes of presence, awareness, and mindfulness, to pay close attention to and seek out the magic that surrounds us every day. I also acknowledge that often, magic is in a spark that lurks just beneath the surface, waiting to be reawakened by our inspiration to live a life that is more robust, reaching beyond the bleak, dust-covered exterior, allowing ourselves to mine deeper with our own curiosity toward a greater potential.

And so, my goal — or mantra, if you will — for 2017 is to create magic.

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I will make more time and space:

  • to read
  • to write
  • to sit in silence
  • to meet a friend for tea and heart-to heart conversation
  • to laugh with my loved ones
  • to enjoy family hikes
  • to practise yoga, moving with ease
  • to make music
  • to dance
  • to play with fun recipes in the kitchen
  • to make cosy, pretty pieces using luxurious yarn

When we make self-care a priority and consciously clear space for what matters most, we create magic.

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What I do not want is to rush, to feel scattered, and to waste time. To me, those actions are the antithesis of magic. They dull creativity instead of stoking its precious embers.

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Do you have a goal, mantra, or word for 2017? To help you fine-tune your focus, you may wish to reflect on the following:

What practices worked for me last year? 

What actions and/or habits did not serve me last year? 

What do I want more of in the new year? 

Spend some time journaling, then read your responses and look for key words that show up on the page. Use those words to create your goal statement or mantra, or choose one or more words on which to focus this year.

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If you would like to share your word / goal / mantra with me, please leave a comment below. Here’s to a creative 2017!

A radical new intention

This year, I am starting the month of December with a radical new holiday intention. Instead of rushing to and fro, over-planning, and over-indulging, I choose to do one task at a time, say ‘no’ to what I do not want to do or because it simply doesn’t feel right at this time, and slow down to sustain my mindfulness practice. I intend to move as much as possible every day, even if I can only spare 15 minutes in the morning after a later-than-usual night. Speaking of late nights, I also vow to go to bed earlier, whenever possible. Like many, I require additional rest in the darker, colder months of the year to remain healthy and feel well-rested.

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How lovely is the Toronto Distillery Christmas Market, especially with all that sunshine! All we need now is a bit of fresh, sparkling snow.

In addition to those usual self-care intentions, I am taking on a challenge that to many might seem completely counter-intuitive right before the holidays: I’m giving up refined sugar. I could have waited until January to quit sugar, but I don’t believe in wasting time, nor do I enjoy waiting to do something that I can do right now, especially if it is a beneficial change that I can make today.

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Festive window decor.

For me, refined sugar (white or brown) is a substance on which I have come to depend, and this, to me, is problem. While some might be able to have one cookie once per week, then happily enjoy a few dessert-free days, that cookie sends me into a frenzy every time, amplifying cravings. According to Gretchen Rubin, I am an abstainer and as much as I might wish to convince myself that moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle, it turns out that when it comes to sugar, it is far from the truth for me. And so, on this first day of December, my challenge is to stop consuming sugar. Is this a permanent change? Maybe. Nothing is permanent, nor, in my opinion, should we expect it to be. I might choose to eat dessert on special occasions, if it feels right, or I might decide to remain strict with myself once and for all. Dessert ceases to appeal to me when I have been sugar-free for a couple of weeks. So, resisting treats at Christmas should be a piece of — sugar-free — cake.

I do indulge by substituting maple syrup, dates, coconut sugar, and honey for white and brown sugar when baking cakes and cookies or preparing oatmeal for breakfast. Personally, I do not ever develop a dependence on those healthier sweet alternatives and therefore am able to indulge in them mindfully, in moderation.

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I have previously gone off sugar for several long periods at a time, breaking fast when I convinced myself that I could eat just one tiny piece of birthday cake or a cookie. Although my will power is strong when it comes to other passions, it is not strong with attempting to moderate my sugar consumption. 

Do you wait until after the holidays to set resolutions for a healthier lifestyle? Is there an intention that you would like to set for the month of December?