Monthly Archives: April 2012

One-way ticket to Rome

Yep, that’s right. Today I bought a one-way ticket to Rome. I’ve been thinking about going for some time, but something has kept me back; and it still haunts and threatens me.

No, I’m not talking about money. This is something intangible. I’m referring to my conditioning.

Those who know me well have heard me bring up this topic time and time again. They are either sick of it or are too conditioned themselves to acknowledge it. Most people respond with any critical comment of America with, “This is the greatest country in the world.”

I am by no means a black-and-white thinker. I understand that every situation, person and place has its good and bad. I am grateful to be an American and to enjoy the rights that I do; I love my job and my life. But none of that negates my point: Americans, in general, work too much.

And I’m not just BSing. Numerous objective studies consistently place the States far down the list of the best countries to work in. Here are the top 10, as reported by the Huffington Post: Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, France.

This was based on work-life balance (how much paid time off is afforded, how many hours worked a week, how much paid leave for parents, etc.)

It is a well-known fact that most countries in Europe mandate a 5-6 week PAID vacation. Of course, Americans get about 2 weeks if they are lucky. 21 days is considered phenomenal. The problem is that most workplaces discourage people from taking off more than a week at once, even if it is unpaid. Therefore, most people are not able to take extended vacations.

Everything is relative. Some people have it far worse and I know I am lucky. But to many, travel is not considered a self-indulgent luxury, but one of life’s greatest and most fulfilling, educational experiences. In fact, one of elderly people’s frequent greatest regrets is that they did not travel more when they were younger (another is wishing they had worked less).

Trips — and not of the weekend resort/Disneyland variety, although those are nice too — are often the highlights and hallmarks of a lifetime. Who wants to do the same thing, in the same place, every day for years upon years? Who doesn’t yearn to admire our planet’s great natural and manmade wonders, to immerse completely in the utter foreignness of other lands, to interface with our brothers and sisters across the seas?

This article, by the Atlantic, goes more in-depth on the subject. It details the top 23 countries to work, with the States dead last. I also encourage you to read the top comments, comments like this:

“Americans work longer days and get less vacation then our European counterparts. Did you know that more German made cars are sold than American made cars? Yet German auto workers make twice what American auto workers make and , get better benefits and more vacation? I’m sure thats all just stacked against the good ol USA.  Wake up, look around. Instead of believing the old BS learn about the reality you are living in.”

and

“I work in the Netherlands. I get 8 weeks paid holiday, a very reasonably priced health insurance plan and I work for a company that has flex hours. We have public transportation that is clean, efficient and plentiful. The Netherlands is an extremely integrated society. There are people from all walks of life living in Holland. And oddly enough, they have almost none of the social problems that the US has.

Are you kidding me? It’s a fantastic life and one I thoroughly love. I’m privileged to be able to work there and live there. And yes, all of these countries are in Europe. That should tell you something. ”

Just to give you some perspective. CNN also featured an article entitled “Why is America the no-vacation nation?” I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read this article. It discusses the fact that not only do Americans get barely any vacation opportunities, but they are CONDITIONED to think that they SHOULD NOT BE taking the vacation — my original premise. They (I) feel guilty; I should instead be working diligently, impressing my superiors, climbing the ladder, stacking the cash and saving for the future. Taking a vacation is impractical, self-indulgent, immature and reckless. These are the thoughts nagging me (while the other me is saying go enjoy life and have adventures while you still can).

I doubt that Europeans feel guilty while they are out enjoying life and not chained to their desks. And I’m rather perturbed by the commentary I get in response to these statements — one, people are under the impression that their current economic crisis is a direct result of working less hours. How does this make sense when the U.S. is the one that set off the global recession; when you observe that Europe prospered for years and that people who work hard and long in sweatshops, for example, have little to no effect on their country’s GDP, let alone their own personal well-being. Any cursory survey of world history will prove the correlation of more hours worked to national financial health to be a fallacy. The real culprits are corruption and mismanagement in the upper echelons.

The other response I often get is something along the lines of, “everyone in the world wants to come here; at least you can say what you want without getting shot.” There is truth to this. There are many opportunities in this land of plenty and people, for the most part, are allowed to voice their opinion. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve or learn anything from others.

Plus, taking vacations is supposed to improve health, relieve stress, and improve cognition and creativity — all things which contribute to a higher quality of productive output.

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Books that saved me

Natalia Rose

When I was in college, I began to suffer from some unsettling symptoms: fatigue, severe anxiety, dizziness with fainting spells, prolonged sicknesses, depression and mood swings, and foggy and unclear thinking. I knew something was wrong with me; I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel like that. My whole life to that point, I had enjoyed exquisite, ectastic, perpetual well-being: endless energy, perfect metabolism, and constant happiness. I did well in school and was popular with my friends. What had happened to me?

An acculumation of prescription drugs and processed foods had created an extremely toxic environment. My liver had become overburdened, creating a domino effect of stagnation inside my body. But I didn’t realize this for a long time. Every night I would wonder what was wrong with me and pray to feel normal again, like I used to feel. I didn’t have a name or a specific diagnosis; therefore I couldn’t seek help from a doctor nor understanding from friends or family. To myself, and to everyone else, I was just inexplicably unwell and “off.”

One day my prayers were answered. I was guided to a particular shelf in my college campus where I found  books I had never seen or knew existed: books on natural health, holistic and alternative healing (alternative is an ironic term; it is alternative to what is generally accepted and is called Western medicine, but many of these practices have been used and proven effective for millenia), and nutrition. I finally learned the principles of the mind-body-soul connection. What you put into your body has a very profound effect on how you look and how you feel. Therefore, if you are not taking care of this one factor, you are significantly affecting your happiness, well-being and success potential.

The very first book that came to my rescue, and one that I will never forget, is The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose. I do not eat all raw nor am I vegan, but this book enlightened me and spurred me to seek out countless other books (and later, documentaries) on the subject. I learned all about detoxing and the effects of the modern American diet and lifetyle. I began watching what I ate and seeking out super high-quality foods. I never consciously let another pesticide, preservative, hormone, antibiotic or artifical ingredient into my body again.

It took a long time for me to feel completely better. Years, in fact. It was a gradual process, but an interesting one. Thoughts and self-love are also very important. I hated that I had to deal with that situation, but glad of what I have learned. One important thing — something that many people find somewhat disturbing — is my avoidance of all doctors and medicine. I hope to never take a pill again and to never see a doctor again, unless it is an extreme emergency. If one has built a foundation of health, then sicknesses will be few; if something does arise, the body is always able to heal itself with the proper harmonious tools. There are many natural remedies that heal without side effects. Here are a few other great books:

Raw Food Life Force Energy by Natalia Rose

The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin

Eating for Beauty by David Wolfe

The Gerson Therapy by Charlotte Gerson

Natural Cures … by Kevin Trudeau (this one has mixed reviews; however, lots of interesting information about things you wouldn’t normally consider, like the damage caused by microwaves)

Not everything you learn and read about will fit your personal mindset and lifestyle. Some people choose to eat meat while others don’t. Some people think there is nothing wrong with taking pills — like birth control — on a daily basis. My personal beliefs were formed by experiences and research, validated by intuition and tangible effects.

The Lady of Shalott

I once memorized this poem with my mother. It is a very mysterious, dark poem with elements of fantasy and magic. Why is the lady cursed and by whom? It is reminiscent of medieval times, and the imagery of the lonely, doomed, lovestruck Lady floating dead down the river is hard to forget. A very evocative tale from one of my favorite poets, Alfred Lord Tennyson, it seems to defy analysis. It is just a sad, supernatural tale told in beautiful rhyme. If I had to interpret it, I would say it has to do with the tragic nature of life and love itself: how we can lose so much when we choose to take a chance; the swiftness of time; the nature of regret and experience (do I play it safe or take the leap, and which is preferable); the intricacies of the human heart;  and how nothing gold — not beauty, not anything — can stay. As Edgar Allen Poe put it : “the death… of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” Another rich, interesting poem from the mid-19th century — that my mom and I also loved — is Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market.

PART I

ON either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
          To many-tower’d Camelot;          5
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
          The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,   10
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
          Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,   15
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
          The Lady of Shalott.
By the margin, willow-veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d   20
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
          Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?   25
Or is she known in all the land,
          The Lady of Shalott?
 
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly   30
From the river winding clearly,
          Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ”Tis the fairy   35
          Lady of Shalott.’
PART IIThere she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay   40
          To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
          The Lady of Shalott.   45
And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
          Winding down to Camelot:   50
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
          Pass onward from Shalott.
Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,   55
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
          Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue   60
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
          The Lady of Shalott.
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,   65
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights,
          And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;   70
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
          The Lady of Shalott.
PART IIIA bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,   75
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
          Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,   80
          Beside remote Shalott.
The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily   85
          As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
          Beside remote Shalott.   90
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
          As he rode down to Camelot.   95
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
          Moves over still Shalott.
His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;  100
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
          As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river  105
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
‘Tirra lirra,’ by the river
          Sang Sir Lancelot.
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,  110
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
          She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;  115
‘The curse is come upon me!’ cried
          The Lady of Shalott.
PART IVIn the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,  120
Heavily the low sky raining
          Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote  125
          The Lady of Shalott.
And down the river’s dim expanse—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance  130
          Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
          The Lady of Shalott.  135
Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Thro’ the noises of the night
          She floated down to Camelot:  140
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Heard a carol, mournful, holy,  145
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
          Turn’d to tower’d Camelot;
For ere she reach’d upon the tide  150
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,  155
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
          Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,  160
And round the prow they read her name,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;  165
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
          All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, ‘She has a lovely face;
God in His mercy lend her grace,  170
          The Lady of Shalott.’

Beautiful bacteria

Do you suffer from any of the following: fatigue, headaches, irritability, yeast or urinary tract infections, skin problems, constipation, digestive issues, anxiety, or frequent colds?

Many common health problems arise from a bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract, which is home to over 400 bacterial species. These little guys help you synthesize vitamins and nutrients, filter toxins and power your immune system. When their numbers are in decline, you are definitely going to feel “off.”

Beneficial bacteria — which we receive at birth — is often killed off by antibiotics and other strong medications. Poor diet and emotional stress can exacerbate the issue. Some people experience the above symptoms, but more severe situations can arise: Crohn’s disease, IBS and even colon cancer.

To keep your system healthy, make sure you eat plenty of yogurt. Make sure it is high quality with only natural ingredients and a good dose of live probiotics. You can also get probiotics in pill and liquid form (do your research to make sure you are getting the kind that will stay alive all the way to your digestive tract; otherwise they can be killed by stomach acid and will do you no good). I get a bottle of liquid acidophilus from Whole Foods and add it to my smoothies. The taste of a good yogurt, full of live cultures, is delicious: creamy and tangy. For those who are lactose intolerant, try goat’s milk yogurt or kefir. You can always add wild honey to sweeten it up (also delicious with fruit and Grape Nuts).

You can also get live strains of bacteria from fermented foods and raw soy sauce. If you get enough of these yummy little organisms, you will improve your mood and energy level, prevent illness, and actually look better. Eating lots of yogurt will keep your complexion looking pretty. Learn more here.