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& Favorite Easy Meals
May 2015; Letter 6
Back 'Home' After A Visit Back 'Home'
We recently got back from a trip to Colorado. It had been almost three and half years since we’d been 'home'. (Our last visit was just months after we packed up and moved whole-hog to Argentina in 2011). Mostly our time there involved shopping for all of the things we can’t get in Argentina (small stuff for us, and a mountain of favors for friends) and visiting with family— both my husband’s and mine.
We have done a lot of traveling since moving to Argentina. It’s been one of the highlights of this life adventure. We are technically tourists, so we have to leave the country every three months... which gives us the push to branch out and explore.
In the past 3 years, we’ve been to Iguazú Falls (awesome!), Machu Picchu (incredible!), Easter Island (a favorite!), as well as the southern coast of Uruguay (focused around Punta del Este), Asunción (the capital of Paraguay), and most recently in January we went to Patagonia, traveling from Punta Arenas to the famous Torres del Paine National Park to El Calafate, Argentina. We’ve also been to Santiago, Chile multiple times, spent a week on the beaches in Iquique (in the extremely arid desert of Northern Chile), and did the Andean 'lakes crossing' from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina (beautiful!). We also drove from our little town of Cafayate, Argentina north through the towns of Los Molinos and Cachi (stopping at the must-see Colomé along the way), through Jujuy (staying in the gorgeous multi-colored towns of Tilcara and Purmamarca), to the border with Bolivia. However, because the border was closed when we got there (due to strikes in the country) we haven’t actually visited Bolivia yet.
Yes, we’ve been a lot of places, but there are still SO many more. On our list are The Galapagos Islands (off the coast of Ecuador), Colombia (probably to include a hop to Aruba and or Curacao), and maybe a visit to Venezuela— though it’s really messed up these days (hotels tell tourists to bring their own toilet paper, due to shortages). We’d also love to visit Brazil, but the steps to getting visas are a bit onerous for US Citizens.
And that’s just South America. (Not including Guayana, Suriname, and French Guiana, which we don’t have any plans to visit.) Then there’s the whole rest of the world. Though higher on our list are places that are actually easier to get to from Buenos Aires, such as South Africa.
Anyhow, in the past 3+ years, with four trips per year, we’ve only been to the US three times. Colorado, Florida, then recently again, Colorado.
It’s very interesting going back ‘home’. Of course everything feels super easy and natural to us in the US. Not just the language, but also how everything is done. Knowing exactly where to go to get things, and what steps are needed.
When moving to another country, I’d say this is the aspect that gets the most overlooked: Is also the aspect that causes the most stress and ‘culture shock’ for foreigners. Even going to the bank is different here, and vastly so.
When we were recently in Colorado we stopped in at our bank to make a deposit. As soon as we walked through the doors, three tellers chirped their greetings and nearly jostled to help us. There was zero wait, and we were out the door within 5 minutes, tops. When we tell our Argentine friends about this, they look as us in disbelief. A 20 minute visit to the local bank would be exceedingly fast; more common is waiting at least an hour and half for your number to ‘ding’ on the board, announcing that is is finally your turn.
That’s just one example of how different things are here. But it’s really across the board. From how you shop for food, to handling taxes, to exchanging money. The first time we went to the grocery store in Argentina, it took us about 2 hours to get through our shopping. Trying to decipher the product labels and find what we wanted was EPIC! (Though now it's fast and easy, except that checkout lines can often be long in Argentina. This country is not famous for its efficiency.)
It took about 9 months of living here before we stopped feeling like every single day was an obstacle course. And now coming 'home' to Argentina actually feels like (a new) normal, and we slip right back into the routine. Very interesting to be able to straddle the two cultures and to slide back and forth between languages (fairly) seamlessly.
(Though there are always new things to discover For example, a friend’s father just died, so we just learned what is customary in terms of giving condolences and/or support for the funeral and family here.)
I have to say that moving to a foreign country is not for the faint of heart. A can-do, adventurous spirit is a must. I don’t care how friendly, beautiful, or romantic the place seems, there will be challenges, and a lot of them, especially if the native language is not your own.
One thing that living in a foreign country does well is to strip away a lot of the fluff from life. There is nowhere on earth with access to as much ‘stuff’ as the USA. Our list of ‘must-haves’ and things we missed when we first moved here has gotten shorter every year. After a while so much of it just falls away.
Our list now is mostly vitamins (which are usually impossible to get here or very expensive) and technical gadgets (from iPhones to bike computers). Of course, size is also an issue, because shipping into Argentina is a non-starter. You have to have friends pack things down to you or bring them in yourself. (We were loaded to the max on our recent return to Argentina, but somehow managed to only pay about $50 in excess baggage fees.)
I have often said that I feel like I earned at least one degree in the years that we have been here. Definitely one in economics, maybe also one in sociology, and certainly one in ‘life’. By comparison, going to school is a vacation. I wouldn’t hesitate to let my kid (if I had one, and depending on their temperament, of course) go live in a foreign country in lieu of college, if they wanted to. The operative word though is ‘live’. You don’t get down to the real learning until you have to handle day-to-day life, supporting yourself, and the myriad obstacles that arise. Just passing through isn’t the same thing at all.
Although the US is easier in many ways, I love how ‘real’ it is in Argentina. Donkeys loitering on the sidewalk, dogs sleeping in the street-- fully trusting that cars will go around them. A cat washing itself on the shelf in the grocery store. All of nature and life is more in your face here, from the food which looks dirty and actually rots if not used, to the politicians who are seen much more realistically than in the US (as the crooks 99% of them are). The US is so ‘glossy’ comparatively.
So, although we had a good visit back ‘home’ in Colorado (and it was very fun to eat out every day and to get our fill of Mexican and other ethnic foods), it was also good to get ‘home’ to Argentina, and back to our regular healthy eating (and to our kitties, who moved down here with us from the US).
While we were gone I got some new ideas and inspiration for the kitchen, mostly just from having a break from cooking, which is needed sometimes. Keep an eye out for more new recipes soon, as well as natural cure-related articles as well.
The No-Workout Routine
In addition to getting back to clean eating, it’s also nice to get back to my 'workout routine’. I put that in quotes because I don’t really workout anymore. I did for many, many years. In fact, I was a personal trainer and taught group exercise classes for about 15 years. I was a die-hard for the gym, and for high-intensity aerobics classes.
During my 'year of healing', I started doing a lot less in the gym and lot more walking and yoga. My energy levels were so erratic then, and I had so many nagging aches and pains, that even light jogging went by the wayside. Then, when we sold our property in La Estancia de Cafayate, we no longer had access to a decent gym at all. Fortunately, by then I had pretty much fully transitioned to alternating walking and yoga five or six days a week.
Interestingly, my fitness levels haven’t suffered. I shocked my husband when we went hiking in Patagonia and I was just a powerhouse throughout the very hard, full-day hike we did. I felt great, kept up with him, and was no more sore than normal the next day. Since then, I have proven to myself multiple times that nothing is missing with my new exercise routine, except that I have a lot more energy and a lot fewer aches and pains.
When I used to work out hard in the gym, I struggled a lot with neck, hip, and foot pains. That’s pretty much all gone now. I used to have to push myself so much (more than I realized at the time), always willing myself to get through it. I can see now that most of my energy in those days went into those workouts. No wonder I felt tired all the time and didn’t have anything left for other areas, such as recreational activities on the weekends. Mostly I just wanted to sleep. Now I have the get up and go when I want it. (And my sex life has improved as well. Again, my energy isn’t being drained off into workouts that aren’t really going anywhere.)
For my yoga ‘classes', I use a site called My Yoga Online (which actually is now a part of Gaiam TV). It’s fabulous. I can pick the teacher, duration, and type of yoga class I want. Some days I do an easy 20-30 minutes. Other days I do a hard hour. It all depends on how I feel. Some days I just need to move a little, other days I need to work off tension or antsy energy.
I also discovered Kundalini Yoga, which I didn’t like at all at first, but now I ‘need' to do at least once a week. It’s kind of like Jane Fonda meets Yoga, or Yogaerobics, as I sometimes think of it. It’s a very active form of yoga which focuses on building and clearing energy, balancing and energizing the chakras (which are a real thing), and breathing.
There’s also a strong aspect of learning how to go within, and go beyond, and I believe it is one of the sources of my improved energy levels and ability to maintain my fitness while doing a lot less physical exertion on a regular basis. I particularly like Gloria Latham’s classes. That said, I also enjoy other styles of yoga, everything from the super restful Yin yoga, to Hatha flows, to Ashtanga power classes.
On alternate days I go for a walk. There aren’t a lot of hills around here, so I walk mostly flats for about 45-50 minutes at a pace from slow (if I’m tired) to brisk, no longer worrying about pacing or heart rates or anything like that. Usually after I walk I do some light stretching, maybe some core work, and/or the Tibetan Longevity Exercises, which are basically a simple and short Kundalini Yoga routine.
What’s wonderful is all of this is so flexible. I don’t need anything except tennis shoes and my ipod (and even that is optional), or my yoga mat and computer. I also don’t have to drag or drive myself anymore; it’s a pleasure I look forward to each day. (And if it isn’t a pleasure one day, then I take it really easy or skip it.)
I highly recommend getting on the stress free workout plan, whatever that is for you.
For some, that could certainly include going to the gym. Not to seem sexist, but I do think more aggressive activities are essential for most men. They need to burn off some of that testosterone-induced, agro-type energy in order to feel relaxed, happy and balanced. Of course, I have known women like that too (with excess energy to burn).
I was never that type and have discovered that a certain amount of energy conservation, combined with the right active outlets, has greatly improved my health-- and with no downside... no weight-gain, no loss in fitness. In fact, in all honesty, I think I look better than ever. And that is the FIRST time I have ever made a statement like that in my life! (Certainly in the past 25 years since my body-image struggles began in my teens.)
Who knew that listening to your inner needs and being nice to yourself could get you what you most wanted?
So, on that note, I’d encourage you all to continually assess and reassess your life. Just because you have been doing one thing for a long time does not necessarily mean that is the best thing for you now (or that it ever was).
As I recently read (and have come to believe) 'the solutions are always as present as the problems’. If something is ‘wrong’, don’t just look at the problem. Instead, distract yourself for a while, or put your focus on what is right in front of you, on the task at hand, on whatever it is you are doing NOW (instead of projecting worst case scenarios into the future, or recalling negatives from the past or stories you’ve heard). You will discover that the answers are already there, waiting to be revealed, waiting 'to come to you', if you are only willing to listen inside.
This is not a ‘reasoning’ thing. It’s an inner listening that often results in an action with no known 'source’. Suddenly you are just moving in the ‘right’ direction. (Like when you are struggling to remember something, but can’t. So you let it go... only to have it pop clearly and suddenly into your mind a bit later.) It really works, in all areas. But the letting go part is key.
I encourage you to keep in mind that it’s always okay to change your mind or your approach. Even to say, ‘Gee that was really dumb, I don’t want to do that again". In fact, I believe that one single thing would solve a great many problems in this world.
It is a known psychological issue that once a human shows themselves to be one thing (especially publicly), they will go to great lengths to maintain that image, to assert that the decision they made was ‘right’, to be ‘consistent'. For example, a person who votes for a particular politician is less likely to comment on or notice their subsequent back-peddling from promises or outright lies.
It’s a very common form of self-deception, one that we are all susceptible to. And one that is made all the worse the more emotionally attached we are to whatever ‘it' is to begin with. Especially ourselves.
Be careful of placing labels on your self, they can be hard to peel off later.
To keep me on track, I sometimes use a little shortcut I picked up from one of my favorite people, Paul Rosenberg. He’s not a household name, but he is an excellent writer with a dedicated group of readers, a truly good person, and a modern-day philosopher. He writes a monthly newsletter called the Freeman’s Perspective and has written a number of books.
One of the books he co-authored, and which I highly recommend, is called ‘God Wants You Dead’. It’s a very inflammatory title, which I hope won’t deter you from checking it out. (In fact, the more the title freaks you out, the more you should read it.)
I was raised to reject religions of all stripes, and his book was very balancing for me. It helped to separate the baby from the bathwater, so to speak. He makes a lot of very reasonable and good points— not for or against religion per se, mostly against biased thinking in general.
I have since come to realize the original foundations of the major religions were built on useful truths. However, the dogma (and the organizations themselves) have so distorted the original messages and intent that they are barely visible anymore, if at all.
Also from the same book, comes a nice shorthand technique for making decisions and living life fully and openly. Go inside and ask yourself, ‘WWMHSD?' (What would my higher self do?) You won’t have to wait long for the answer.
It’s really a great way to get some perspective.
Another related method is (in a split second, without thinking about it) to just respond to the open-ended statement,
‘In my heart of hearts…’
You’ll know instantly what you would ideally do.
You can use this with any decision you are making or any problem you are trying to solve you. You will be presented with your true yearning and desire which comes from the best part of you. And which can’t be ‘wrong’. Whether or not you have the courage to follow it, well, that’s another story. But if you do, I can guarantee your life will be the better for it.
I am slowly getting better at just stopping and saying, ‘You know, that was a stupid thing to do. Now what would my best, my ideal, self do?’. Then simply deciding that I’m going to say sorry, or admit my error in thinking, or stop doing what isn’t working for me. And remembering not to do that again. No berating, no guilt, just a clean slate whenever I want it... and can remember to create it.
As always— whether dealing with relationships or health issues— the best place to begin is within.
Thanks for reading this month, and don’t forget to see below for the favorite easy meals for this edition.
Favorite Easy Meals- from April 2015
I’ve got one easy and delicious recipe for you this month...
It's Quite Possibly The Perfect Pumpkin Soup
I hesitate to share a pumpkin soup recipe. What new twist could I put on the old staple that would warrant a blog post? Well, I’ve got to say, this is the most amazing pumpkin soup. Maybe ever. With fresh cilantro, a burst of ginger, a touch of mild curry and coconut milk, and chunks of avocado on top… it’s just divine. It’s also gluten-free, nut-free, grain-free, totally vegan... and very filling.
The pumpkins I use the most here in Argentina are called ’zapallos’ (technically 'zapallo brazileño' or 'zapallo negro'). They have dark greenish-black skin, sometimes with a bit of orange mottling, and dark yellow-orange flesh. On the internet the closet thing I see is called Thai Pumpkin. It is similar to Kabocha, but not identical.
You could also use an ‘American-pie' pumpkin, or go with butternut squash. Feel free to adapt to whatever orange-fleshed vegetable you have on hand. I’ll bet carrot would be tasty too. If you have an aversion (personal or dietary) to potatoes, you can leave them out. You could also skip other ingredients too, but I’d chime in that the fresh ginger, cilantro, and avocado are essential. Actually, it all goes together so well I don’t want to tell you that you can leave anything out.
I know it’s Spring where many of you are. So I hope you still have cool enough weather to want soup. It’s heading into Fall here, so I’ve been a on a bit of a soup-bender... since it was too hot all summer to even consider eating them. Soups are such a great way to throw together a simple and nutritious dinner, with the bonus that you have easy leftovers for a day or two.
Recipe for The Perfect Pumpkin Soup
1 onion- diced
2 cloves garlic- minced
1 tablespoon mild golden curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 teaspoons salt (start with one and add more to taste later if needed)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (or coconut oil)
2 medium potatoes- diced (russet or similar, or 4-5 smaller new potatoes)
1 small pumpkin or 1 large butternut squash- cubed (approx 5-6 cups)
6 cups water or stock
1 tablespoon fresh ginger- minced (or 1+ teaspoon dry ground)
1/2 cup whole coconut milk (optional, this soup is still delicious without it)
1 small bunch fresh cilantro- washed & minced
Fresh avocado diced- at least 1/2 an avocado per bowl
Salt to taste
Prepare all of the ingredients. For the pumpkin, I cut it in half, then cut off the rind, scoop out the seeds and cut the flesh into approximately 1 inch cubes.
In a soup pot, combine the first ingredients (from onion through pumpkin) and sauté 5 minutes or so until hot and fragrant.
Add the water or stock. I used water here and 1 cube good bouillon. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes or so.
Add the fresh minced ginger and simmer another 15 minutes.
By now the potatoes and pumpkin should be tender. If not, let cook a bit longer. Then turn off the heat and add the coconut milk. Let cool enough to handle (10 minutes or so). Then puree throughly with a hand stick blender in the pot or transfer in batches to a blender and return to the pot.
Stir in the minced fresh cilantro. Add salt to taste (enough to make the flavors *pop*).
Serve in bowls with fresh diced avocado on top.
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