Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Aerial Omily: Aerial Salon–Discord

When I want something bad enough, I put my head down and I werk. I didn't really know this about myself until I finally got brave enough to admit how badly I wanted to be an aerialist. Now that I know that it's all or nothing, I'm training four days a week, not counting the extra hour daily spent doing conditioning moves and stretches to improve my lines and shapes in the air every night at home. It is crazy, and it is awesome. Using my body, depending on my body, challenging my body, and watching my body grow and change, is the most fulfilling thing outside of my marriage and fostering/adopting cats that I've ever experienced.

Thankfully though, kicking ass at open workouts and classes is not the only component to one day reaching aerial greatness. I also need to be learning through watching: youtube videos whenever I need an excuse to procrastinate, and live shows whenever I get the chance! Which means I wasn't about to miss Lisa Natoli's Aerial Salon last weekend at La Sala in Williamsburg, especially not when I found out my coach, Nicki Miller, was also performing in it, oh yeah, and the theme? Discord. Out of my way, people.

I was interested to attend a show at La Sala. I've been to open workouts and classes there, and it's not a big space. I couldn't picture where they were going to stash the audience. We weren't stashed; we were up against all three walls of the space (the fourth wall being the bar), two to five people deep, with the apparatuses rigged in the middle of the room: silks, two ropes, a lyra, and a silk cloud.

The show was, of course, amazing! Nicki Miller opened the show with an awesome piece on rope, in which she held a lantern as a prop in the air, passing it effortlessly back and forth between fingers and toes to accommodate her beautiful movements. Um, mind=blown. Susie Williams performed a really fun old school circus piece on silks, and of course Lisa did cool stuff on everything! I love her choreography. She really seems to inhabit a 360 degree space around the rope in a purposeful way. There were a couple other performers I wasn't familiar with, who did an awesome rope piece, and a beautiful doubles piece on silk cloud with Lisa.

The show also featured projections on all four walls of drawings, and videos that complimented the theme and atmosphere of each act as well as the show as a whole. It was absolutely awesome sauce, and you should be sorry you missed it, especially since Lisa's off to Denver for two months, so it'll be a hot minute before she puts together another awesome show. Of course, she's not the only amaze-balls choreographer/producer/performer in town. Get tickets for the MuseIam Showcase at the Muse in Brooklyn February 16th! It's going to be full of amazing acts, among them, yours truly!

And you can still watch this crazy-awesome fast-motion of Saturday's set-up and performance, just so you have a better idea of just how sorry you should be to have missed it!

Awesome Sauce! The husband took some pictures on his camera, so hopefully I can update and add those later.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Balancing Poses, or, If Little Kids do This All the Time, Why is it so Hard?

Let's talk balancing poses. Do you like balancing poses? I enjoy the challenge they represent, and the fierce focus they require. I've also come to enjoy the exercise they are for my ego: some days I'm a great balancer, but other days I'm falling out of Vrksasana, tree pose, all over the place!
I have a lot of students tell me  they aren't good at balancing poses, but they're also a popular request. I suspect some people say they aren't good at balancing poses to cushion their ego just in case it's one of those bad-balancing days! As with all poses, I remind my students to be prepared to surprise themselves: a pose that they may think of as easy may suddenly seem insurmountably difficult, while a pose they've never gotten close to could suddenly happen with ease and grace. Bodies, and brains, are just funny that way!

Of course, some of us are better at balancing than others, just as some of us are naturally stretchier or have an easier time building upper body strength than others: we have different genes, and hence different biologies. We're all striving for balance though, both in terms of those tricky one-legged postures, and in terms of our practice, and our whole lives: balancing strength and flexibility, balancing effort and ease, that infamously tricky work/life balance...

And balancing poses can help by putting us into a balancing frame of mind, by reminding us that balancing takes effort, and by requiring the very balance of forces we're seeking to bring to our practice. It takes effort, sure, stay up on one foot, or to balance on our hands, but it's just as easy to effort our way right back down to the floor! If you tense up everything, you're too stiff to make the necessary micro-adjustments to stay put.

The benefits of balancing postures go further than that, though: losing our ability to balance is a part of the aging process, and it can lead to falls and potentially serious injury. Why do we lose our ability to balance as we age? Because we lose muscle mass, we lose vision, and we lose our hearing. Which may not seem like it has a whole lot to do with balance, but I'll elucidate.

We use three main systems to help us balance: our vestibular system is the liquid in our inner ear. As it sloshes around, nerve endings tell your brain where the liquid is in that little enclosure, and your brain responds by sending signals to muscles to pull you back to a place where the liquid is where it should be. It works very much like a leveler, actually. We also use our vision to help us balance, and if you don't believe me, just try closing your eyes in a balancing pose you feel very comfortable in! Our brains are always looking at the horizon lines in front of us, and using those to figure out how far off vertical we are. Then the brain sends signals to the appropriate muscles to correct our stance. Thirdly, as our weight shifts, the muscles themselves, particularly those close to our base of support, can feel the shift, and will respond by contracting or releasing appropriately to shift our weight back the other way.

Are you getting the picture? As our ear slowly breaks down with age, our vestibular system breaks down also. As our vision gets fuzzy, we have a harder time perceiving horizon lines. And as our muscles slowly atrophy, it's more difficult to respond quickly and affectively to our own shifting weight.

The good news? There's a way to fight our loss of balance that addresses all three of these issues to some degree! And that is...balancing! I know, it's one of those chicken and egg things (or maybe it's a catch-22?). If you feel like your ability to balance is getting worse, you need to balance more! Balancing also fights aging in another way: every time we challenge our balance, our brain lights up lke a Christmas tree! It's just a great, big challenge for a lot of different systems. It forces different areas of our brain to work together, forging new connections, and strengthening old ones. You know what they say: use it or lose it! That's very true of the human brain. Perhaps your balancing issues have nothing to do with advanced age, but trust me, the cure is the same! Get brave, and get on one foot.

Don't be afraid to use blocks, blankets, or the wall when appropriate. There's nothing wrong with standing near enough to a wall to use it to push you back toward center so you spend more time on one foot: doing so will work your ankle and leg muscles, so as to improve future balancing attempts, much more than constantly falling out and trying to come back in. Blocks are great for shapes like Standing split, or Warrior III, where the hands are near the floor, but need a little extra help to reach that support. Blankets are perfect for dealing with the fear associated with arm balances: put one in front of your hands in crow pose, so you don't worry so much about hitting your head on the floor.


Also, don't be afraid to fall! It's ok! Falling means you're working at the limit of your ability, which is what we want to be doing in yoga: working mindfully with our edge! If you can't seem to stay up for even a second at a time, it's probably useful to consider a slightly less challenging variation: foot closer to the ankle in Tree, toes resting on a block in crow, hand on a higher level of the block, or back against the wall in Half Moon.
Post balancing pose or sequence, take a quick time out to role your ankle or wrists around, and stretch them out. They just got a workout! Press the tops of your toes into the floor, and gently apply pressure forward and down, stretching the front of your ankle. This is a balance in and of itself, so make sure you've got a wall handy so you don't hurt your foot or ankle in the process! Stretching the wrists is easier: just draw the hand back toward the top of the forearm, and then down, toward the bottom of the forearm, gently. You can do this against the floor (very gently!), if you're on all fours: Try turning the fingers back toward your knees, pressing the heels of the hands into the floor, and then slowly bringing your hips back toward your heels, keeping the heels of the hands planted the whole time. Hello, forearm muscles!

Are you a fan of balancing postures? Which ones do you like best? Do you enjoy sequences that put together a few in a row and challenge you to move between them smoothly? Let me know in the comments!

Live Omily,
~em

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Eating Omily: No, Seriously–Convenience Foods!

A while back, I wrote a couple Eating Omily blogpost about convenient options for locavores. At the time, most of the options involved making something ahead. But sometimes you didn't make something ahead. Sometimes it's been the insanely-busy, no-rest-for-the-wicked, week-to-end-all-weeks, and no, dammit, you didn't boil a bunch of eggs or make a big pot of beans in the slow cooker, or put together and freeze a casserole, and now you would like some fecking dinner, please, and you have until the count of three to give me some REAL convenience options, or I'm pulling up the seamless app!

First of all, go ahead and pull up the seamless app. Ordering some tacos every now and then does not make you a bad person, even if they aren't even a little bit local. The idea is to make those tacos (or pizza, or whatever) rare indulgences, instead of weekly concessions.

Second of all, this post is just for my fellow New Yorkers. I've been noticing a growing trend at the Farmers' Market over the past year, and trust me, real convenience has arrived at last! Farmers are smart. They know their customers. It's not just hard-core granola types strolling around with their baskets of an early morning anymore. Real people with busy lives go to the Farmers' market, and we miss our frozen dinners, our pre-made entrees, or easy shortcuts...and the farmers have figured it out!

At the Farmer's Market on a Monday or Friday you can find:

Several varieties of mouth-watering frozen or home-canned soups in pint or quart containers. Flavors include: tomato-parmesan, vegan butternut squash, thai ginger carrot, potato and leak, and more! Throw the container in a bowl of warm water to get the thawing process started, then just heat and eat! Add buttered toast to round things out, and a salad if you're feeling ambitious. Done and done!

Pizza! Ok, so really, they're more like flat breads, but the crusts are rich and chewy, and the toppings are artfully selected combinations of seasonal and cured items. They come in whole wheat or white crusts, and in personal, or sharable sizes. Heat it in your oven or on your stove for a crisp crust, and if you have some cheese, sprinkle it on top.

Multi-grain hearty turn-overs. These guys are ideal for a meal on the go. You know those days when you totally forgot about eating? Yeah. For six bucks, get your hands on a curried lentil, or white bean and collard green, or spicy tomato turn-over in a spelt/wheat blended pastry shell. Sooooo good, and super satisfying.
Chicken Pot Pie. I kid you not. Homemade, rich, buttery, perfect-comfort-food, chicken pot pie. Good thing I'm making chilaquiles tonight, or I'd be jonesing for one of those! Slide it in the oven, and thank God for the Farmer's Market!

Off the hook cured meats: It's official–the folks at Flying Pigs Farm have outdone themselves! They now offer two varieties of sliceable, munchable, cheese-platable, addictively delicious cured salamis! Take home some bread, cheese, and one of these bad boys, oh, and don't forget a bottle of wine, and propose a picnic in bed! Your bad day just got cured.

It's probably only a matter of time before rotisserie chickens start popping up.

If you have just a teensy bit of energy, or it's not the energy so much as the time crunch getting you down, look no further than your fish monger! Scallops are my favourite because they sear to perfection in under five minutes, and everyone loves them. They're a little pricey though, so if you're low on cash, go for mussels. They take five or ten more minutes to prepare than scallops do, but they're also super delicious, and stupidly cheap. I've even got a recipe for you right here. Feel free to sub beer for wine if that's what you keep around. Whole fish will bake in your oven in less than fifteen minutes, and a fillet or two will be done quicker even than the mussels!

How's that for real convenience? Am I still not talking your language? What makes you cave to convenient, bad-for-the-planet food? Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Omily Tarot: Let it snow, let it snow, we can tarot!

It's snowing! A lot!!! I love snow, and having a morning where I went to bed to bare ground, and opened the curtains to see a wintry world of white is like winning the lottery times two: so, so awesome!! It's beautiful, it's fun, and it's nature's way of warning us (in a nice way, not like with a hurricane) that she tells us what to do, not the other way around. And of course, it's a perfect evening for hot cocoa, and tarot! Why not try out a new spread, or cajole a nearby cocoa sipping buddy into letting you read for them. Bonus points if you have a crackling fire to make this happen in front of (I've been known to roast marshmallows over the flame of our gas stove...)!

There aren't necessarily particularly good spreads for a snowy winter's evening, but my bet would be on some that you've never tried, or have struggled with or been intimidated by in the past.

Check out this link (http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/spreads/unusual.shtml) for some inspiration, and let me know which spreads you found the most interesting, and the most useful (and those may not be the same ones!) in the comments!

I'm off to a dessert-themed birthday party...another great way to spend a snowy winter's evening!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Aerial Omily: 'Um, Who Is That..?'--An Aerial Learning Curve

As you may have picked up on from my continuous rotation of blogging topics, I do a lot of things. This is just fine, according to society: I'm a well-rounded person with lots of interests and hobbies. Here's the kicker, though: I don't consider any one of the things that I do to be the one thing that I do. I don't have a single, clearly defined career, plus some hobbies. I have several different areas in which I'm already a paid professional, or in which I am working toward being a paid professional. Now THAT is frowned upon! It's the whole basis for the phrase, "jack of all trades, master of none".

To be fair, there is some truth to that. If you're always chasing the next big thing, you may not be setting aside enough time to refine your previously learned skills enough to be competitive at them. If you have multiple passions, you have to have lots of energy, and some kick-ass time management skills to pursue them all, and ultimately, odds are some are going to come out on top, and others will get relegated to hobby land. Which is fine. It's just that so far none of mine have, and the funniest part is, the one that I assumed could only ever be the hobby as emerged as the one I'm prepared to drop the most time and energy into, and the one I embarked on as a full-time career is still the smallest financial contributor.

That just goes to show you, there's little point to deciding in advance what will be a hobby, and what will be a job. Do what you love. Scratch that. Does anyone out there really love just one thing? Do ALL of the things you love! Do them with wild abandon! Get good because it's inevitable, and then offer your goods and services to others for a fair price. Learn how to market yourself properly, and let the dollars decide what will be your bread and butter, and what you'll do because you can't not do it. Shift your time committments as necessary to find a place where you're doing all the things you love in the quantities of time you want to do them, and you're also bringing in the money you need to maintain your lifestyle.

P.S. This is not easy. This is super hard. You can also just go get one of those 'jobs' I keep hearing about and have some hobbies on the side. No judgement.

In the spirit of that, I'm going to increase my weekly blog topics by one. I'm going to blog about aerial starting...

NOW!

My very first aerial teacher told us that aerial was like a language: the best way to learn it was just to be immersed in it, and not get too hung up about understanding all of it all the time. I took to that theory like a fish to water. Within a couple of months I was intimidated by how much my biceps had grown, had learned to love the deep, movement-restricting soreness that proceeded a good class, and had picked up a decent vocabulary. I felt like I was on track.

A year and a half later, I had the opportunity to perform in a real show for the first time: my third aerial teacher's student showcase. I was so, so, so super-pumped! I had a CONCEPT for my performance: a whole complicated concept about needing versus wanting, and the intersections of love and obsession, and being trapped but wanting to be trapped, and bondage, and also of course it was all set to a Lady Gaga song because fangurl.

I wrote my own choreography...realized I couldn't possibly fit my choreography into two minutes and cut my choreography...realized I couldn't fit it in and cut it AGAIN, made my costume, and practiced SO MUCH.

Then I performed. It felt amazing. Me, under the lights, Lady Gaga singing to my soul, the audience cheering...

Then I watched the performance and was like, "Um, who is that loser wearing three pairs of underwear and spazzing all over the silks?"

Turns out, feck concept. I needed to seriously up my game. And I've been on that journey ever since! I've performed four more times in the year and a half since then, and the good news is, my viewing reaction has shifted to, "Um, who is that person wearing cheap ebay pants from China/kick-ass 90's leggings and jangly bracelets/a leather blazer/baggy purple pants looking super uncomfortable and effortful all over the silks?" The bad news is, yeah it kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it? I need to seriously up my game.

Thanks to the sweet, nit-picky, tough-love-with-a-sense-of-humoreful, encouraging tutelage of Nicki Miller, that last performance was a whole lot more, "OMG, that's BETTER!" than, "Um, who is that..?", so I'm really looking forward to fulfilling one of my New Year's Resolutions: performing six times in 2014.

I'm confirmed for performance number one at the monthly variety show at the Muse: the MuseIam, on February 16th! Don't worry, I'm going to market all over the place shortly, so you'll have no chance of missing. Come check me out, and try to guess what "Um, who is that..." sentence I'll sum up this performance with! Get it right tell me on the blog, and I'll give you something cool for free...tarot reading? Reiki healing?? Could be!

That's enough for now, I think. There are so many fun specifics to get into, but I wanted to start by shedding some light on what aerial has been for me. Do you do aerial? What's your learning curve been like?

Fly Omily,
~em

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why You Want a Private Lesson: An Inside View

If you teach yoga, you know how great private lessons are. If you don't teach yoga, you can easily imagine how great private yoga lessons are. I know what you're thinking: hell yeah, more money for the same time and energy commitment, of course yoga teachers want to book private lessons. Here's the thing: they're good for you, too! Seriously. If you can spare the cash, you are seriously shortchanging yourself if you don't book (at least) one. Your practice won't be as effective, and you run a much higher risk of injury.

I know, I know. I used to think just like you: why would anyone shell out for a private lesson when group lessons are already getting pricier and pricier, especially in New York? There are so many quality instructors out there to choose from, who give individual attention and adjustments in class. You'd have to be a sucker, or be working with something that makes working in a group setting really difficult to get a private lesson.

Over the years, I've realized how absurd that conclusion is. But don't take my word for. Here's what a group class looks like to a teacher:

Basic plan: Heat it up! It's cold out there, so lets get the muscles really warm and moving, and thaw these guys out. Back bends will be good, too, since everyone is hunching over in the cold. I can focus on relaxing the shoulders and creating space for the neck in every pose.

Special requests/injuries: That woman can't extend her arms over her head due to a shoulder injury. That guy really wants to work on peacock pose, which no one else in this room can do yet. This girl wants to do 'stretching'. I don't have time to have a conversation and where, and why, she wants to stretch. Alrighty.
Over the course of the first sun salutation, I see that half the class isn't clear on the alignment for a half lift, and this woman over here is really unclear about the action of the lunge as a transitional pose. In an effort to help the most people possible, I offer my favorite self-adjustment for half lifts; take the hands to the hips, don't move the pelvis from forward fold. Everyone keeps their heads up to watch me, crunching their necks. I remind them to keep the neck long. Half get it. I run around giving hands on adjustments to fix necks for five more seconds, then it's past time to move everyone back into their vinyasa.

Oooooooh, vinyasa. How I love you. How I loathe you. In spite of telling everyone not to let their hips touch the mat before their chests, a few people are persistently still dumping the weight of their hips into their lower back, setting themselves up for back pain in a matter of months. I take a few seconds to remind verbally each and every time, and I give a hands-on adjustment to one person per vinyasa: I can't take a few minutes to really workshop each variation, because half the class has this down pat and is itching to move on.

By the time we move through a few warrior sequences, a few sets of chair pose, and some balances, I'm starting to count the minutes left in class: I haven't started back bending yet, and I have to fit in more stretching, and hopefully peacock pose offered in a way that will be meaningful for the people who haven't yet encountered it. Hamstring stretches are always a safe bet when someone says they want to stretch, but several students in here are borderline hyper mobile, and need help finding muscular support as opposed to extension. If I take them into a simple forward fold, they'll likely press their pelvis bones into their hamstrings in a way that will eventually cause injury. Do I have time for that conversation?

I have to sort all that out, and still leave enough time for an inversion before final relaxation. But which one? Peacock guys pops up into handstand as soon as I say the word, 'inversion', which is totally fine by me, but now I have three intimidated beginners that are going to need reassurance that this class is ok for them. I offer legs up the wall, which takes care of a couple people, and talk the ret of the room through shoulder stand, which I'm hesitant to do because keeping the neck truly safe in this shape means the perimeters of 'doing it right' are much more narrow than for your average pose. Don't move your head, don't wrap your thumbs around your hips, don't collapse into your hands, keep your shoulders on the blanket, make sure you lying on the fringe-free side of your blanket...

And finally, Savasana, much shorter than I'd like it to be. And I never fixed that girl's issues with the lunge transitions.

These are the kinds of challenges a teacher in a group setting faces every day: balancing their own plans with the needs of their class, and the desires of their class, which are frequently two different things, and the different levels, some subtle and some extreme, present in the room. Learning to balance these things and teach a complete, useful class is a skill that comes with experience: it's why yoga teachers are trained experts who deserve to be paid well for what they do. But no matter how excellent the teacher, a group class is not going to provide the asana sequence, guidance, and adjustments that a private can. Lets contrast that class with the highlights of an accidental private (a group class only one person showed up for) that I taught this morning:

Biggest difference: dialogue! Before class, we had a conversation about what the student wanted to work on, both in terms of goals for the body, and specific poses. I talked about what I had in mind for class that day and why, and how we could fit those goals together.

We got started, and within five minutes, a verbal cue had clicked for her, and she had fixed a pose she had been doing wrong up till now.

Before another five minutes had passed, we had paused everything to focus on chaturanga, and how do it safely, versus how to do it prettily.

We spent several minutes in Warrior I and II, working out how best to balance the many different alignment challenges this pose presents in this client's particular body.

We worked through some mini conditioning sequences focusing on the body issues the client had brought to class, spent five minutes working on headstand together, my hands and eyes available to her every second, so instead of depending on the wall, she was able to fight for proper alignment using the right muscles supporting her body in the right way.

We finished with some carefully and specifically offered forward bends, and a simple reclined twist. When I gave her the opportunity to wrap up her practice with the pose of her choice, she took a bridge pose, and we talked a bit about wheel. I was able to say that, yeah, wheel pose puts a lot of pressure in my lower back too, even though I'm working with proper alignment. There wasn't any advice I could really offer, except to listen to her body and not push it, and that was fine. She trusted me, so I didn't have to have all the answers.

See the difference? And just think how much more progress we could have made if we had met beforehand to discuss these goals, so I could have custom-tailored a session just for her!

And I could do the same for you! Come on, I know you have questions: is my ankle supposed to be tweaking so much in Warrior I? Am I lowering enough in Chaturanga? Why do I suck at balancing? Can I ever have a perfect split...or at least touch my toes? I'll bet you have New Years Resolutions just crying out for a session!

Whatever pose you're pining for, or whatever yoga practice or fitness goals you're going for, you'll get yourself on a much more direct route if you invest yourself in a private lesson. Go for it! Your yoga practice is worth it. Find an experienced teacher whose teaching style really resonates with you, and get in touch. If that's me, send off a Facebook message, or e-mail me at emily@emilyhursh.com before you change your mind! ;-)

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, January 13, 2014

Eating Omily: It's Winter. Chill, guys.

Comfort Food Season is totally here. It is cold out, and we want foods that will fill us up, and warm us up: we're looking for adjectives like, 'rich', 'hearty', 'meaty' (if we're into that sort of thing, and sometimes even if we aren't), 'heavy', 'stick-to-your-ribs'...on and on.

That's a normal and healthy impulse, but obviously eating mac and cheese and steak and potatoes every night for the next couple months is not going to get enough vegetables into your body. Yes, you can step away from the salads, but you should replace them with something.  In honor of keeping cozy while still nourishing our needs, I'm offering a stupidly tasty, thick and hearty, potentially VEGAN, and did I mention super-cheap recipe, just for you!

It's...chili. Which, depending on where you come from, can exist without meat about as easily as a cow can (muscles, you know). But trust me: this chili is heavy and meaty enough to satisfy any omnivore.

I start by sauteing half an onion chopped in oil, coconut if you're going for vegan, grass-fed butter (or, you know, pastured bacon fat...) if not. I added two chopped carrots and a couple chopped garlic cloves, and then started raiding my spice rack.

I added: a generous pinch of allspice, two generous pinches of cayenne, a few big shakes of Old Bay, a smaller shake of smoked paprika, a generous pinch of cumin, and plenty of salt. Once my veggies were properly sweated, I sprinkled about half a tablespoon of flour over the pot. (If you're not working with whats left of your veggie drawer and are doing a bigger batch than me, adjust your flour accordingly!)

I then went in search of a beer to add, but we were fresh out so I had to skip it. I can now assure you it still tastes amazing without, but the mellow sweetness of beer in the background is awesome, so if you have it, use it! Just half a cup or so, poured in after the flour has had a minute to cook.

Scrape up the brown bits with your spoon after adding the beer. At this point, I added half a jar of home-canned San Marzano tomatoes with the juice. The tomato juice is plenty acidic to deglaze the pan, so just do your scraping now if you skipped the beer. Make sure you squish the tomatoes as you add them, so they're in bite-sized pieces. I let this mixture come up to a boil, to let the flour start thickening.

After a couple minutes of boiling, I added a pint or so of cooked beans in their cooking liquid. You can use canned of course, but if you buy them dried, local if you're lucky, cook them up a pound at a time, and freeze them in pint containers, so you can easily thaw and use what you need.  Let the chili come back up to a boil. The starch in the beans will thicken the chili more, and you want all those flavors to have a chance to meld.
If you have a vegan cornbread recipe, or aren't vegan and have cornmeal, flour, butter, eggs, baking powder, sugar, salt, and milk, make yourself a pan of cornbread! It's super easy peasy. I use the recipe from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food. If you're lucky enough to have a cast iron skillet, put that bad boy in the oven while the oven heats up, grease it with butter or coconut oil, pour in your batter, and slide it back into the oven. You'll get a deliciously crispy-browned crust.
You can also use left-over beans to make Bean Soup Served in a Roasted Squash. What are your favorite cold-weather, nutrient-dense winter recipes? Share, share!
This is what Winter winning looks like. Nom nom nom...

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Omily Tarot: My 2014 Card of the Year

Guess what guys? It's FINALLY time for my Card of the Year Tarot Reading and Blogpost! This was supposed to happen Wednesday, but then I realized that I had left one of my cards at home, and I didn't want to do such an important reading with an incomplete deck. What'd I get? What'd I get?? First off, I drew a card from my newest tarot deck, which doesn't seem to have a name, but came as part of Tarot: The Complete Kit. I wrote about it here. Brace yourselves: this card may not seem as exciting as the last two years when I got an ace, and a Major Arcana card, but it's a doozy!

It's...The Five of Staves!
I have to admit, I wasn't exactly bowled over with joy when I pulled this card out of the deck. First of all, my ego would have been more gratified by an ace, court, or major arcana card, and more ominously, you may recall that the fives represent the first major challenge on a journey. It often feels like some of the sub plot journeys in my life have been nothing but challenges! I don't want a whole year represented by a major challenge card!

Or do I?

Bear with me for a moment, because this is a strange metaphor.
If you've been reading along for a while, you're likely familiar with our cat, Leia. She's a big, female orange tabby. She's incredibly social, and very sweet. The husband likes to play these weird games with her. When we come in the door, usually she rolls around on the floor, exposing her kitty belly, and  making these adorable trilling mews to get our attention. The husband likes to press his palm against her back feet, and push her around the floor as she lays on her side. If only they could get this down to a science, I would never have to sweep the floor again, but alas, Leia isn't a fan of this game. She rolls around, kicks, and scrambles to her feet pretty quickly after it begins. Her first response though, is to push against his hand with her feet, attempting to get away. But because physics, she only manages to make herself slider farther faster along the floor, because by resisting the pressure to move forward, she's providing a more stable place for his energy to be directed...

Are you getting the metaphor yet? I've been pushing and pushing and pushing, and my career seems to be rolling around, kicking, and scrambling to its feet, getting out of the way so that my efforts, solid and genuine though they are, aren't bearing much fruit. This year it seems, my career will finally push back, providing me with the feedback I need to know where to direct my energies, and a solid base I actually stand a chance of moving with those energies.

This is supposed to be the year of the horse, but apparently for me it's the year of the big orange tabby.

I also read the interpretation for this card provided by the book that came with the deck, and my own interpretation featured on this blog. Go read that one. I'll wait. So, the interpretation in the book reads:

"People around you are cranky; morale is low. Stay calm through the chaos, and remember who you are. Read all of the fine print–legal troubles are possible now. When reversed (which it wasn't, but probably still relevant): You don't always have to come out on top. Accept compromises and apologies. Reprioritize."

Doesn't exactly sound like good news, but I know exactly what it's talking about, and I can't say I'm surprised. Some shit is hitting the fan, and this is the year that it's got to be taken care of, whether we want to, or whether it seems fair, or not. The good news is, if this is the year of low morale, and cranky people surrounding me, my own hard work and positive attitude is going to stand out like a ray of sunshine breaking through a cloud bank, showing me off in the best possible light. This could be a break-through year!

So what about my own interpretation from the blog? What light does that shed on this complicated card? It's crystal clear to me: in spite of the husband constantly encouraging me to network, search out role models who are successfully doing what I want to be doing, get to know people who can help me, etc. etc. etc., I've spent the last year and more going it alone. It seemed like the only way. I didn't know anyone who I had a chance of getting to know who was successfully doing what I was trying to do. It felt like I was on this quest to prove myself, and to achieve my dreams, and there just wasn't room for anyone else on the path. This card is being very clear, and maybe even a little snarky: Enough of that bullshit! Find your team, pull it together, open your heart, share your resources, and only then will you grow, grow, GROW! I've come as far on my own as I possibly can, and if I don't open up to outside help, this is as far as I'll get.

It's a lesson I've been working on for a few months now: Life is not a zero-sum game. Someone else's success does not detract from my own eventual success. It's ok to help other people achieve the dreams you're working toward. There is plenty of room for you if you're following your dharma: your life's work. This is the year that I drill that lesson home and start living it...or start stagnating!

I'm so excited at the thought of having a team to work with, both in a literal sense, and a looser one. And I do: I can start naming members right now! People who genuinely care about me, believe I can do this, and are happy to help each in their own way. How could I not take advantage of that network of support? This is past due. It's important for me to keep this card in mind though, when I start hearing things I don't want to hear: honest criticism, unflattering comparisons, simple rejections. If I fight the people who are trying to help me, if I get scared and go back to insisting on doing this all my own way, I'll be on a much harder, and shorter road. This is definitely a year to keep moving away from my ego.

I was already beginning to sense and incorporate so much of this advice, though I couldn't have put it into words and actions nearly so clearly and usefully without the direction of the card, and that feels so good: knowing that I have my finger on the pulse of my journey, that I can trust my instincts because I know where I'm going, and where I need to go next.

A card that seemed disappointing, daunting, even a little bleak when I first pulled it has become a card to get excited about, a card that promises great things! It just goes to show you, every card in the deck has the potential to be positive or negative.

What's your card of the year? It's not too late to choose one! Let the tarot help give you a heading for 2014, and make sure you tell me about it in the comments!

Monday, January 6, 2014

I'll Never Forget You, 2013! Here's to Making 2014 Worth Leaving You for!

It's the New Year! It's been the new year for nearly a week! I've been kicking around the idea of New Year's Resolutions and goals for the last six days, being inspired by what my friends are reaching for this year, considering where I am on my journey, and what my next steps should be...

I'm a post-holiday slump sufferer, so it's not always easy for me to get excited about the new year, and that's especially true this year, because last year was so significant for me. It was 2013: 13 being my lucky number, and my Birthday being 2/13: I got my first chance to see Lady Gaga live (I had tickets for the tour dates she had to cancel for her emergency hip surgery), I had the best birthday party since my 18th, I started taking private aerial lessons, and I narrowed my focus to performance, artistry, and aesthetics in the air, I learned a lot about myself as a person, and about living skillfully on this planet. I got back into a regular yoga teaching schedule. I broadened my horizons to include new experiences I never expected I would try. I traveled to Korea and Japan, I did my aerial yoga teacher training, and started subbing those classes. I booked Reiki and tarot sessions with private clients, got stronger, loved better, and was thankful for my friends from the bottom of my heart, and I got to see some of those friends get engaged, and become parents. I spent an amazing weekend upstate with my best friend and the love of my life, I learned (finally) the importance of giving the people you love space to grow and change...and making it easier for the people who love you to adapt when you grow and change, oh yeah, and I got my septum pierced. It was a good year!

The nice thing about considering how powerful and transformative last year was in that it's a reminder that this year could be, will be, just as powerful and transformative. It couldn't stay 2013 forever! All I can do is thank my lucky stars that I was there for it. I lived it (as a 26-year-old, mostly: 2x13=26!!!).

So, how do I want to direct my energies for growth and universal contribution this year? This is my resolution for all of us. Take it with me!

I won't give up on the world. Things look really grim right now, but I believe we can fix this. I believe we can save our planet, learn to love and help each other regardless of who 'deserves' our help, and learn to truly love ourselves through our actions. No more self-sabotage, no more screwing up our own lives to help someone else who needs more than we're capable of giving. No more being afraid to fail! No more believing that you shouldn't bother, or that you're off the hook and don't have to try: We ALL need to be doing everything we can to make our world better! Get to it!

"My New Year's Resolution: Never be afraid to be kicked in the teeth. Let the blood and the bruises define your legacy."

-Lady Gaga 2012

And these are my personal resolutions. Feel free to ask me how I'm doing on them!

1. Meditate more. Every time I'm meditating daily, I can feel the difference. I'm a better, more functional person, and a happier person. I don't need to be perfect. it's ok for this to be a work in progress. Every day is great, but if I can make it more days than last year, that will be awesome.

2. Hand stand and forearm stand, center floor. This has been on my list for a couple years now, but my tight shoulders (and lack of consistent practice...) are still holding me back. I've kept up an increased focus on flexibility for the past year and a half, so this year should be the year!

3. At least Six aerial performances! Get ready to get a lot of invites to see me fly. If I'm going to do this professionally, for real, I need to get up there for variety shows and show cases consistently, so my body stops turning into a steel trap of nerves every time there's an audience, and the stakes stop feeling so high.

4. Meat hook, one arm, on both sides! This is an aerial move that requires a ton of core strength in your obliques and intercostal muscles, and it's my current conditioning goal because every time I try it (with two hands) I feel like my muscles are being torn off my ribcage until I collapse onto the mat in a puddle of my pathetic effort noises. Here is a picture of it on lyra.
5. Make more money! Seriously. There has been way too much spinning of my wheels going on in regards to this. I keep thinking a decent pay check is right around the corner...but it looks like I'm going to have to go around the corner and get it myself. And I'm going to use that money to sign up for a writing workshop so I can kick my novel into shape, and start shopping it to agents! This year!

6. Get at least one regularly scheduled aerial yoga class each week. This is how I train myself to teach silks, and this is the niche I need to be filling if teaching yoga is going to be profitable in this town.

7. Get back into our habit of setting aside an amount of money each week to give to someone who needs it: a charity, our church, a kickstarter that's going to do great things for our community...just not ourselves.

8. Stick with meal planning! It works! We eat better, we eat cheaper, and the week is less stressful.

9. Keep being brave: svatyaya, kids! Self-study is a journey that never ends. Every few months I look at myself in action and realize, I'm growing up! But it's not over yet: this year, I'll keep examining my habits and thought patterns, I'll keep asking the hard questions, and I'll keep breaking down those unhelpful patterns to make myself a better wife, friend, family member, and human.

10. It is long past time I pick my guitar back up! I don't remember a thing, but it's like riding a bike, right? By the end of 2014, I will successfully participate in a jam session...I may need a better guitar...

11. I'm getting back on my snowboard! This season! It's happening! Who's coming with me? We can complain about how old and sore we are afterward while drinking in a hot tub!

12. This is the one that feels the most daunting: We're going to get our apartment organized, and decorated the way we want it so it looks awesome, and we're going to keep it that way. Magic spells may be required. I'm down with that.

13. Get my Reiki Level II Attunement! It is past time.

Do you have goals or resolutions for this year? They are not allowed to be about weight loss or being or staying thin. Share them: put them out into the universe. It helps!

Live Omily in 2014!
~em

Friday, January 3, 2014

Eating Omily: Resolve to Make Better Cookies, and Love Yourself Along the Way

When it comes to Christmas baking, I'm perpetually a bit behind. Getting our shit together for the annual Christmas (T)Exodus (and ExOHdus?), and choosing, buying, shipping, and wrapping lots of presents doesn't leave me a lot of free afternoons to bake. Plus, for those big projects, like several dozen cookies individually frosted (or a couple dozen quart jars of whole tomatoes...) I'm a social baker! All that means that this is the time of year when I break out the rolling pin and the royal icing and make Christmas cookies, gingerbread people topping the list.

I've got the ingredients lined up on my counter, and a cookie-decorating date all set for tomorrow...how could these facts not inspire a cookie-centered blogpost?? I know, I know. You've probably shifted from holiday sweetness-overload mode to New Year's Resolution Repentance, and are hoping to avoid cookies for the next six months, but hear me out:

1. I'll be focusing on ways to make your favourite cookie treats a little bit friendlier toward your body.

2. Six months without cookies is just sad. I won't allow it.

3. Indulging responsibly (ie, eating two cookies instead of two dozen) is a skill. If you binge on cookies when you eat them, and then respond by not allowing them anywhere near you, you're only setting yourself up for a sad cycle of self-recrimination.

4. Instead of making self-deprivation your New Year's Resolution, let's focus on loving ourselves, body mind and soul this year! Make the best cookies you can make, build up the self-awareness to know when to put the rest away, and you'll be happier, and healthier all year long!

5. If, along the way, you do find yourself surrounded by crumbs and guilt, instead of a beautiful batch of cookies, remember: It's already happened. It's in the past. Let it go. Try again next time. No shaming, no punishment (nope, not even an extra hour at the gym. Do NOT go down that road).

So, that said, here's the recipe for gingerbread cookies I'll be using. It makes cookies that are chewy, rich, and spicy, and you can throw the dough together in just a few minutes if you have a food processor! It takes a bit longer with an electric or standing mixer, but still not a major commitment. Below are my own substitutions and recommendations.

This is the single most important tip I can give you: Choose your ingredients with care! You are putting this stuff in your body!  No bleached bromated flour, I beg of you.

Ok: unbleached all-purpose flour

Good: whole wheat flour

Better!: whole wheat flour from wheat ground recently and grown locally

Gold Star!: sprouted whole wheat flour from wheat ground recently and grown locally

Flour is the basis for any cookie, so why not get some fiber and b-vitamins out of it? Why not slow down the absorption of the sugar you'll soon be adding? Don't worry about texture. Cookies don't need to rise much at all, so using whole wheat flour doesn't change either taste or texture in any substantial way.

No factory-farmed eggs. Take better care of yourself than that.

Ok: "cage-free" or "free-range" organic eggs from your grocer

Good: Eggs that bear the "certified humane" label from your grocer

Better!: Truly pastured, local eggs bought directly from a farmer. My parents are even doing this in Mansfield, Ohio! They may not be available around you, and you should not beat yourself up over it if this is the case, but take a little time, and look around! I'll bet you'll be surprised how easy they are to find.

That goes double for dairy!

Ok: Organic dairy from your grocer (just barely ok! "organic" only means the cows are fed organic corn and soy, which does decrease the demand for pesticides, and does mean less pesticide residue for you, but remember: cows eat grass. To feed a cow corn and soy is to slowly poison that animal to death. No exaggeration. 100% of factory-farmed cows suffer from ulcers and other conditions, and 100% of cows will die of their diets if not slaughtered before that happens. Do you want to eat meat or dairy from an animal that is being poisoned? Does that sound like a nutritious addition to your diet? Didn't think so.

Good: dairy from grass-fed/pastured cows, preferably from your region.

Better!: Dairy from truly pastured (as in 100% of the time, weather permitting), bought directly from a local farmer, non-homogonized, and pasteurized at the lowest legal temperature (or better yet, if your immune system is healthy, not pasteurized at all; say yes to enzymes!)

Got that? Choose the best ingredients, get the best cookies, period. Not sure how much of a difference this can make? Read this blog post for crucial info about butter, and this blog post for the breakdown on raw milk: why the government tells us it's bad news, and why for most of us, it's not.

We're all a little skittish around sugar these days, aren't we? I like to use grade B maple syrup when I can, and organic sugar when I can't.

Ok: Organic sugar; it's non-GMO, grown without pesticides, and generally a bit less refined than the conventional stuff

Good: Fair-trade organic sugar; it's got all the same benefits, PLUS, it provides a fair wage to the farmers who grew and harvested the stuff, helping to end poverty.

Better!: Organic, fair-trade, unrefined evaporated cane juice! If you get the real deal, instead of looking sparkly, it will look like a cross between sand, and dried yeast, but trust me, it tastes just like brown sugar, and it will work fine in all your cookie recipes, except for the parts that are visual, like rolling the balls in sugar for a pretty sparkly coating and crackled top. Because of all the awesome minerals and trace elements, it's also less stable, so it doesn't work well for cooking into caramels, browning on creme brulee, or making sweet-and-salty popcorn.

It is still sugar, and it's never good to go overboard on sugar because that stresses a few important organs, and creates the most bad-for-your-heart kind of saturated fat.

For the royal icing, I'll be using three egg whites, one pound (four cups) of powdered sugar, a couple teaspoons of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, plus a couple drops of food coloring in various colors. Easy-peasy: Use an electric mixer if you can get your hands on one. It takes a few minutes to get the powdered sugar and egg whites incorporated, and then you have to beat for a couple more minutes to get the vanilla and lemon juice incorporated.

For this one, you will need to use pretty refined powdered sugar, but you can find fair-trade organic powdered sugar!

This is my go-to brand for all sweeteners that I can't get from my Farmers' Market: they have every thing you can think of from totally natural, to super refined, and it's ALL organic and fair-trade!

If your recipe calls for baking powder, choose a kind that's aluminum-free. It can add a metallic taste to your cookies, and heavy metals aren't very cool in your diet anyway. Keep an eye out for organic fair trade vanilla extract, and molasses, too!

This might sound like a lot to take in, but don't panic! Each time you run out of a cookie-making staple, refer back to this post, and make the best purchase available to you. You'll have a revamped pantry in no time, and you'll know what to buy, and where to buy it from now on, making it easy to maintain your good habits.

One last tip for you cookie-lovers: this used to happen to me every time. I would mix up a delicious batch of cookie dough, taking nibbles, and licking bowls and beaters every step of the way, and then be unable to resist a few cookies hot and fresh from the oven. I knew I was overindulging, but it seemed unnecessarily cruel to give up either the cookie dough, or the fresh-baked cookies themselves.

Answer: make cookie dough one day, bake the cookies the next day! They come out better after a thorough chill in the fridge anyway, and that way you're splitting up the treats with a day of healthy eating in between! This one has served me well for a couple years now. I enjoy nibbles of cookie dough through the dough-making process, then, depending on the plan, I'll either roll the dough into balls, and freeze them on baking trays overnight before throwing them all into a freezer bag, so I can pull out a couple at a time whenever I want, or I'll just chill the dough in a big lump if I plan on rolling and cutting out cookies in the next couple days. Obviously you can also refrigerate balls of dough  or rolled and cut out cookies if you have more time to work that night, and want the baking to go really quick the next day.
 Yes, I know, the dough looks a bit...unappetizing, but that dark rich color is due to black strap molasses: an unrefined sweetener packed with things like iron, and calcium...and a truly addictive flavor, trust me!
 This recipe doesn't seem to yield cookies that hold their shape well in the oven. We didn't mind working with ameoba-shaped cookies: we just used the different colors of icing to decorate the cookies with abstract, psychedelic combinations of colors and patterns: beautiful, and delicious!
Also we had sprinkles. Yay Sprinkles!!!