The Serenity of a Japanese Garden

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As I approached the lake in the garden, the ducks started swimming my way. I had to keep my eye on one when I turned my back to take a photo. Good news, I wasn’t chased! I wished I had bread in my pocket for them and the koi.

The garden is part of Hermann Park and I’m sorry that I had never been there. The joy of more leisure time is being a tourist in my hometown. If you enter from the front gate, the garden is slowly revealed to you. The challenge for the Tokyo landscape designer Ken Nakajima was to use our local trees in his design. The effect was lovely! It was a peaceful respite from the heat of the city.

As I was sitting there enjoying the lake, I heard a loud cry from a toddler. A multi-generational family came in with two young children. That was my signal to move on!

What I learned from my Nutritionist

Could I have food sensitivities? This is what I wondered when I was working with Pam on Precision Nutrition. My mother, grandmother and her sisters all had autoimmune issues. I decided to go to a nutritionist halfway through the program with Pam. I found Ashley Hurst, R.D. who also has a degree in functional medicine. Functional medicine specialists often want to know why things are happening and try to get to the root cause.

Ashley was friendly and a great listener. She did a complete medical intake and I had a few digestive issues and some inflammation. I was at a healthy weight but I could see the inflammation in my face. Ashley said to prevent inflammation focus on healthy oils such as Walnut oil, Avocado oil and Olive oil. and avoid Canola, Safflower and Vegetable oil. Also avoid refined and white grains which can spike insulin. This will come up again later in my journey.

Ashley reviewed my vitamins and supplements and I decided to start on her multi-vitamin, fish oil. probiotic, and magnesium in powder form. The magnesium is amazing and improved my sleep immediately!

Mediator Release Test I decided to take the MRT to see if I had food sensitivities. The lab tests your blood to see if you have an immune reaction to 150 foods. I had some severe ones which where wheat, lettuce and strawberries. I noticed that I was eating lettuce and wheat frequently. I removed all the moderate and severe foods and gradually added them back in over a 6 month period. Ashley suggested that I stop eating gluten and dairy at this point because the test indicated wheat and some dairy were reactive for me. It was difficult but I did that. I also looked for starch alternatives to gluten that I could eat, such as rice and potatoes. Giving up bread and pasta were difficult but if I could find alternates then I could get through it.

It was difficult to remove a large number of foods at first, but I was able to gradually add more back in. After 6 months, I was able to add all the foods back in without a problem, though still avoiding gluten and dairy at this point. I lost a couple pounds, I felt better and look less puffy after going through this process.

Micronutrient Density test A few months in, I decided to test my micronutrients to see how I was doing. They test 33 different vitamin and minerals. They look at the nutrients that are part of the Krebs cycle and Methylation cycle. I did pretty well considering I had been on Ashley’s vitamins for a while at this point. There were a few things I needed to supplement. I found this to be really helpful and plan to retest every year. The thinking is that if your micronutrients are in good supply you will prevent disease. Also, as you age, you don’t absorb micronutrients as well. I read recently in a magazine that people who are 50+ need selenium. Yes, that’s me! I added Brazil nuts into my diet and saw an improvement in my test results.

Gut Bacteria: I ended up taking two different stool tests to check my gut bacteria. The first one, Ubiome went out of business shortly after I received my results. Ashley made some suggestions after looking at my results. I took Thryve Inside 6 months later and found my gut bacteria to be in fairly good shape. I tried their probiotics for a while but couldn’t tell much difference from my other brand. I would take this test again in the future if I needed it.

In summary, it was very useful to work with a nutritionist. Ashley was my partner to help me figure things out. She had a lot of tools and ideas to draw on. I was very impatient at first, but realized it takes time to work through the steps and look for results. The Micronutrient Density test was very helpful and I plan to take it once a year. The MRT probably helped but it was harder to tell. I did have a reduction in inflammation and my slight digestive issues improved. Her vitamins and supplements are high quality and the micronutrient density test showed that I had good absorption. After working with Ashley, I learned that I don’t have an autoimmune disease which was good news.

Perhaps this will help someone who is thinking about meeting with a nutritionist. Stay well!



Cadillac Ranch

I’m gonna pack my pa and I’m gonna pack my aunt

I’m gonna take them down to the Cadillac Ranch

Bruce Springsteen

Cadillac Ranch was on Bruce Springsteen’s album, The River. It was released in October 1980. The following Fall, I started college at UT-Austin and remember bringing this album with me. As we studied, played and hung out with new friends in our dorm rooms, I remember playing this album over and over. It became scratchy and worn from use. My friends probably tired of listening to it. Yes, I had a little crush on Bruce back then.

It was exciting to see the inspiration for the song in person, though it looked different than I expected. All the cars are covered in graffiti. When we arrived at 7:30 in the evening, people were streaming out of their cars to see this landmark. Some brought spray paint with them and others were excited to find cans on the ground with leftovers.

The artists, a group called Ant Farm contacted Stanley Marsh 3 about funding a project in 1972. Cadillac Ranch was installed in 1974 and moved two miles west in 1997. The artists support the interactive nature of Cadillac Ranch today. I find it to be an evolving and iconic landmark.



What I Learned with a Fitness Coach

“I can help you with your nutrition and get stronger”. My friend Pam Owens was talking about her new program 3 years ago. I was curious. I knew she that she was a fitness and nutrition coach and specializes in golf, but didn’t know that she had a new program. I had been doing weight training for over 20 years but hadn’t worked with a trainer recently. Hoping to learn some new things and lose a few pounds, I signed up. It was a 1 year program and she used the Precision Nutrition system and tools. I would receive regular emails with nutrition lessons and my workouts, which were mostly strength based. The workouts were 4 days a week and Pam and I had regular coaching calls. Sometimes we Face-Timed so she could demonstrate or I could demonstrate. My customized program was heavy on building muscle which meant following the program and not doing some of the cardio I was used to. This was hard at first! I set my goals based on what I wanted to achieve and would track weight, measurements and take photos monthly.

I learned many things over the year but this is what stayed with me.

Eat slowly. It takes a while for you to sense fullness so eating slowly is important.

Balance your macro nutrients in a meal. Have some protein, a little fat, vegetables, sometimes starchy carbs.

Pay attention to carbs Are you carb sensitive? I hadn’t heard this term before. I was encouraged to try things out and see how I did. I didn’t realize zucchini is a starchy vegetable. When I think about carbs, I tended to think about potatoes, rice and bread.

Strength workouts alone can change your body. I lean towards cardio exercise so it was good for me to focus on strength work. I’m so glad I bought free weights and bands back then! I’m using them now during the quarantine.

Take note of your workouts. Pam suggested I write down my workouts that I received from Precision Nutrition. Each week your workouts would be emailed to you and for the following three weeks, the intensity would increase. I kept notes in a spreadsheet and have a year’s worth of workouts that I use today.

Experiment! Keep trying new things to see what works for you. Try new exercises. Experiment with new foods or taking foods out. I’m still doing this today.

Overall, it was a worthwhile program and I’m glad I went through it. At the end, I lost 14 inches and a few pounds.

Goodbye Mom

My mother’s health started to fail in 2019. I could tell that she was getting weaker and her heart failure was progressing. She had little energy to participate in activities at their Independent Living apartment that she shared with my Dad. My parents moved there in 2013 and they depended on me to help them. I couldn’t do all that they needed of me and helped when I could. There was a point when it felt like she wanted me to live their life with them but knew that I had to live my own life. Eventually they hired caregivers to help with daily tasks.

In March 2019, I flew to Mexico City with my sister and niece for a short vacation. I started receiving calls and texts from the caregiver who came in to help my Dad. ‘Are you bringing your mother something? She says you’re coming back to the apartment. No, I’m in Mexico City.’ The texts continued over the next several days. ‘Your mother rode her scooter to the front desk in her robe and said she needs help. I can’t seem to control your mother.’

When I returned to Houston, I took her to the hospital to see if the doctors could determine what was going on. I hoped it was something that could be cured with an antibiotic. She was clearly having some hallucinations and her personality changed in just a few days. Her doctors ran tests and didn’t come up with anything. She had heart failure along with rheumatoid arthritis for years. They said she might be approaching end stage heart failure. Her doctor told suggested I move her and my Dad to Assisted Living to save money.

Once she returned to their apartment, her symptoms continued and she asked to see the nurse practitioner who visits the facility. Thank goodness I was there that day! The Nurse Practitioner pulled me aside and said this is definitely End Stage Congestive Heart Failure. Your mother has all the symptoms. I think you should put her on hospice. I was enormously relieved to hear the truth!

It was a whirlwind but we started hospice the next day. I had no idea what this journey would be like but kept telling myself take one day at a time. We added 24/7 caregivers. Mother’s personality continue to change but she let go of the angst and anger in a few weeks. She became happier and lighter. Usually she could only tolerate the news or sports on TV but I was surprised to see her laugh while watching a sit-com on TV.

On April 17 they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Dad wanted a big celebration on Easter Sunday. Mom was continuing to weaken. She told me she didn’t want a party. I knew I couldn’t get 20 family members or friends to come at the last minute on a holiday! Dad ordered a huge cake and asked the facility to reserve a private room for 20 guests. I felt reassured that Mom had said she didn’t want a big event. On the day of the lunch, it was our immediate family. We had lunch then ate some of the beautiful cake with their photo reproduced on it. Mom wasn’t hungry and had trouble holding her head up for the photos, but she had a big smile on her face. Once we got back to their apartment, she asked when the next party started. What??!! I asked if she wanted me to invite her close friends to the apartment for cake. She said ‘oh no, I don’t want people in the apartment’. She was satisfied for us to send some cake to her friends.

She continued to weaken and passed on May 30, 2019. She was a wonderful and loving mother. She had high standards for us but I know she wanted the best for us. She told us how much she loved us often. I miss her very much but feel like she’s with me everyday.

Hop to it!

I bought some weighted jump ropes in late April. We were home (like everyone else) due to the pandemic. I had been walking, doing some weights and even joined a dance class online. My intention was to jump a little at home and bring them with me to the kickboxing gym once it reopened.

Woah! The first time I jumped, I thought these ropes are great! They’re weighted and you get feedback from them. So much better than my cheap rope that will twist up. The ropes come with a free app with workouts. I started doing a beginner workout that was 16 minutes long. I could only make it for 6-7 minutes with breaks. My heart was pounding with this workout. Yikes, it was time to get in shape!

In the first few weeks, I could feel my muscles recovering after the workouts. It felt like they were humming and throbbing. I could feel it most in my legs, arms, and butt. One of the things I learned is that you need to have a day or two break in between to let your body recover. I overdid it in week two. I was jumping and kept going faster and faster. That night I had trouble sleeping and couldn’t lay on my left side. The lateral muscle in my quadriceps was aching. I was concerned I had done some serious damage to my leg but the pain went away in a day or two. I decided I need to take 3-4 days off from jumping and start over.

Why am I doing this? When I was in my twenties, I decided that I wanted to stay healthy for the long haul. I ran a lot during that period then, then I started weight lifting in my thirties. Later I started cycling then took up yoga. Now, I don’t want to do long workouts but like to get my heart rate up and maintain my muscles. Jumping rope is a great solution because you can do it anywhere and the ropes are portable. I didn’t think about nutrition much in the early days. I’ll write about that journey in another post.

I’m improving now and jumping 3-4 times a week. My stamina has improved and can jump longer without a break. I’ve worked up to 30 minute workouts. I also realized quickly there is so much to learn. I watch people in the online group jumping rope and admire their speed, fluidity and skill. I’m working on the basic bounce, alternate foot, boxer step, crossover, and jump jacks. I can see a difference comparing my videos from the beginning to now, but the improvement seemed slow to me. My kickboxing trainer told me to keep practicing and it will come. Then I heard from more experienced jumpers that I need to be able to jump 100- 200 times in a row before I move on to the advanced jumps and increase my speed. Okay, back to the basic bounce now!

Is anyone else trying something new for fitness? I’d love to hear!

Sarah 💕

Taking Flight

I flew last week. I was curious and a little concerned about how it would go. I hadn’t seen much on flying recently but remember the photos of crowded planes and few face masks. I also was aware that the Texas Medical Association had rated flying as a moderately high risk activity.

After thinking about it, I decided to continue with the trip. I was meeting close friends for a weekend in West Virginia. My husband and I have been mostly home during pandemic. We have seen a few friends and gone to the beach, but other than that, we have had little social life.

My flight was from Houston to Richmond, VA and I found a direct flight. I was disappointed when a week out, the airlines canceled my flight. They routed me to Washington, D.C. then picked up a smaller plane to Richmond. My flight to DC was 50% full and I had the row to myself. I was thrilled! The flight attendants gave us a plastic bag with a small water bottle and a couple snacks. I packed my lunch thinking it would be a long day and when I saw that the restaurants in the Houston airport were closed, I was grateful that I had my meal. My flight to Richmond had more passengers, around 70%, but it was a short flight. I was relieved to land in Richmond! I had that mask on for 6 hours and couldn’t wait to take it off. I thought about the essential workers who wear them every day all day.

I felt like the airline tried to do everything they could to make it safe and comfortable. All the passengers were wearing masks, were patient and complied with requests. The crew seemed happy that we were there. It was a good experience overall. I’ll fly again when the times comes.

Safe travels!


Everything is changing

I’m in transition from a previous life into a new one. I have read about the liminal space, where you are between something old and something new.

I spent decades in the oil and gas industry helping teams and leaders become more effective and reach their goals. In 2017, I decided to shift my business to leadership coaching. I started the coaching program at Rice University in January 2018. I loved practicing those deep listening skills. I felt that I was in the right place.

Where am I today? I’ve been coaching a bit but most of my time has been taking care of family. Since 2018, I’ve dealt with serious family illness, lost two pets, buried my mother, and now my 91 year old father is in declining health.

My husband recently retired and this brings new adventures. When he decided to retire, we weren’t in a pandemic. We’re both 57 and fortunate that we can retire now. We had planned to be traveling all summer, but now we’re trying to keep busy and plan our future.

Anyway, I’m trying to lean into this transition as I imagine what’s next. I’m always learning and working on nutrition, wellness and fitness topics. I picked up some weighted jump ropes a couples months ago. It’s fun but a challenge! I’m on a journey to improve my jump rope skills. More on that later!

My hope is that someone will benefit from what I share in this blog. Come join me!