The Most Radical Thing I Ever Did: A 21-Day Cleanse

I’ve taught English in Mao’s hometown, walked 800 km – solo – across a large European country, fallen in mad love, packed up all my toys and moved to snow country to write a book without knowing a soul.  But ask me to give up ice cream?  Baguettes?  Morning cuppa joe?  Bacon?  Juice glass of vino?  No freakin’ way!

So I approached it gradually.

I bought Kris Carr‘s book, Crazy Sexy Diet, in January.  I cleaned out the fridge in February.  I bought an Omega Juicer in March – the Jag of juicers!  Small steps.  It’s like weaning myself off the bottle, only it’s not just the milk I’m relinquishing.  It’s practically everything I put in my mouth.  I was shooting for Lent (tried giving up sweets then, but I wasn’t quite ready.  The sight of my first brownie signalled failure.)  But spring time is about renewal, rebirth, rebooting our systems, yes?  So, on March 30th, I launched full throttle into a master cleanse: no wheat, no dairy, no animals, no coffee, no alcohol, and my Achille’s heel – no sugar.  No sugar! How in the wholly Himalayas was I gonna do that?  Was I to feel like Sisyphus?  Atlas?  Or an orange jumpsuit-wearing prisoner relegated to a bowl of gruel?

I couldn’t have done it without Ms. Carr’s book.  She led me gently through each day with a prayer, an affirmation, medical guidance, upbeat encouragement and expectations of what toxins feel like as they’re expelled.  Thank goodness for her hand-holding and thank the snow gods for the meditative months that led up to this undertaking.  I spent the winter shedding and I was ready for the final heave ho!

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With all those restrictions, what did I eat and drink?  Water with cayenne & lemon upon rising.  Green & herbal teas throughout the day.  Oatmeal with soy milk, seeds and flaxmeal for breakfast (my usual, anyway).  2-3 glasses of green juice daily.  (Kale, romaine, fennel, carrots, beets, grapefruit, parsley, celery – whatever was on hand).  Lunch was usually a version of Mark Bittman’s celery & fennel salad, sometimes adding in turnips, beets, carrots, daikon, orange segments, pine nuts – anything I could slice on my Muji Mandoline.  Dinner was some version of a grain/bean/veg combination:  steamed or lightly sauteed broccoli, chard, mustard greens, collards – brown rice or quinoa –  white beans, green or red lentils, chickpeas.  I’d also snack on almonds, dried plums & cranberries, sesame crackers, apple slices with nut butter.  I consulted a couple of macrobiotic  and Japanese cookbooks on the shelf for more ideas, to keep it interesting.  Having lived in Japan, I find much of their cuisine keeps with this particular dietary lifestyle.  I miss eating there – no other country has satiated me more at the table.

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I wondered if I would feel deprived, but Kris presents this cleanse in such a positive light that it truly felt like I was gaining health and well-being.  The coffee was easy – I’m really more of a tea drinker – and the caffeine withdrawal headache only lasted a week or so, and was fairly mild.  I kept super-hydrated and slept really well – better on both counts than usual.  Maybe removing the caffeine/sugar roller-coaster was all I needed for deep and rejuvenating slumber.  I awoke an hour earlier than normal, around 5:30, and experienced an unusually high amount of energy each day.  I treated myself with a few lavender baths, worked out more at the gym (weight-lifting & laps, only – no cardio machines for me: boring.)  I chose physical activities that were fun, not a chore, so daily walks and hikes were mood boosters.

Noticeably, my portions grew smaller as I was satisfied with less.  I realize that I eat emotionally, hungry for more than just caloric nutrients.  But somehow I was more tuned into my body and could put my fork down appropriately.  Buying, preparing, and cooking my meals was faster and easier.  Strangely, I found more hours in my day, as I was more mindful in every aspect of diet and digestion.  Wow – I realized how we always wish for more space in our day, more time to carry out our to-do lists, but I had energy to burn!  Granted, I’m not employed outside the home and I have no children to raise, but really – was all this uumph always available, yet hidden underneath crusty loaves and triple creme sheep’s milk?  I feel like I could run a marathon, a business, and a small country now.  And that’s just on Tuesday.

As I watched my scale groan less, I felt buoyant and effervescent.  I started having profound shifts in perspective.  But not before THAT ONE DAY.  Oh, yes: that one day the Dragon of Craving rose up inside of me, in an all-consuming fire (is this what heroin addicts go through, seriously?). WINE! I MUST have a drink! Give me spaghetti Bolognese! A burger! – a juicy, rare burger, with cheese and bacon and… it didn’t matter that I wasn’t hungry; I was suffering an irrational rage.

15I can’t describe the power of this monster inside, but I held on to my commitment and found relief: opting for popcorn in  sacrificial appeasement.  Then I got as far away from the kitchen as possible. I climbed in the car (leaving my wallet at home to avoid a sudden bakery raid), drove to the beach, walked over the boulders and along the shoreline, breathing in lungfuls, and called a friend.  I was the queen of crank that afternoon, but friendship, water, and the sea air calmed, soothing that savage craving.  May none of you ever meet that beast.

That was my only rough moment.

Well, except for the Morning of Traumatic Sobbing.

Interspersed with the cleanse were 3 days of green juice fasting.  I’d do six days on, one day fasting, repeating over 3 weeks.  And what happened the day after my first fast was incredible.  It was an emotional release like no other.

Simultaneously, I’ve been asking/praying for clarity.  I want revelation.  I want to see where I’m going, or at least have an inclination about what’s next.  My recent intention, to write in a wintry place, completed once March arrived and I started feeling anxious.  Stay?  Go?  Love?  Work?  Home?  Travel?  So much monkey mind I couldn’t see through the fog, so I began asking for what I wanted, an arrow, a sign, a clue.  All while eating carrots & celery sticks.

Clarity: paradoxically hard to describeWell, you know what they say? Ask and you shall receive.  Careful!  It came in spades.  Every day brought striking clarity, bold visions, answers to long-buried questions.  One in particular, during meditation, a word appeared, so I moved to the desk and began writing about it. Before I even finished a sentence, I was sobbing.  Hard and clean, not hysterical, but fully.  Now, I don’t cry; I hold on tight.  Last time I really cried was four years ago, and now tears were flushing out an unresolved memory from childhood that, it was dawning on me, I hadn’t grieved back then.  It has held me back and I don’t want anything holding me back.  Remarkably, there was no anger (at myself or anyone else), just release and mourning.  And a big pile of tissues afterwards.

Compassion washed in, and I settled.  Putting pen on paper, I wrote twenty, yes – 20 – pages and excavated decades old detritus.  Phew.  When we let go, we really let go.  Goodbye past, hello bright future!

Those 21 days witnessed the passing of so much:  defenses that no longer serve me, fears that aren’t scary anymore, eating and drinking patterns that are harmful.  What I’ve learned is enormous.  I now know that bread is as numbing as wine.  That my sugar addiction has inflamed my shoulder for more than 25 years, and if I eliminate it as best I can, it no longer hurts.  THIS alone is a miracle, and it’s ridiculous it took me this long to find out.  Chronic pain clouds our sunshine, and pain’s absence liberates.  My skin and dairy don’t make a good partnership – in fact, I was mistaken for a twentysomething the other day (I’m 43) and countless people have remarked on my glowing and youthful skin.  That’s worth the price of admission, alone.

I supplemented my regimen with drybrushing, taking vitamins & aloe juice, lots of positive thinking, journaling, meditating, putting my Netflix habit on hold, getting a massage, getting an enema (more on that later), using essential oils, reading up on raw food & veganism, and exercising a bunch more than usual.  Swimming laps and sweating it out in the sauna were divine.

What I didn’t experience were hardcore toxins getting expelled (bad smells, pimples, aches, etc…) and I think that’s due to a generally healthy diet from the start. I don’t eat much meat, fast food, or processed boxes & bags that sell in the center aisles anyway.  I do like my Ciao Bella gelato and Newman-O’s, however…

This may sound silly, but the most dramatic thing I learned is that we are what we eat.  Yes, I’ve always known that.  But when we medicate ourselves with not just alcohol or even caffeine, but with pasta, butter, toast, cheese … we suffer for it.  Eating animals that have not lived or surrendered their lives in compassionate hands means we’re digesting violence, fear, unmindfulness.  Sugar is a replacement for a lack of sweetness, perhaps.  I don’t mean to be preachy or change anyone’s mind.  Live and let live.  I just want to share the extraordinary sensitivity that I’ve developed both physically and emotionally.

Do I miss the old flavors?  My taste buds have actually changed.  Drinking a glass of white wine is like sipping sugar-water.  Eating bread feels like I’m stuffing.  That drawer full of cheese?  I can feel it weighing me down already.  I had no idea that what once brought me pleasure actually was a buffer to living and what I want now is to live like I mean it.

Have I since incorporated some of those taboo ingredients?  Sure, but I’m keenly aware of their effect on body and mind, and make those choices consciously.  Food tastes better.  Almonds are delicious!  That farro and grilled spring veg plate at Eataly?  Delectable!  A small piece of high quality 78% chocolate?  Hits the spot!

Radical?  Yes.  And I’m so proud of myself for accomplishing it.  I didn’t know I had it in me.  Will it last?  I’ll let you know…and in the meantime, I would love to hear if you’ve ever done one or thought about it, if you have any questions or want to share with me your experience.  It was a journey of eye-opening magnitude for me!

Victory Edition 1919 War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables

Stapled To The Chicken

Why did the dead baby cross the road?

Because it was stapled to the chicken.

Stay with me here.

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My regular yoga practice was going strong this winter, until I put it on hiatus for the past 3 weeks.  I’m still figuring out how to be mobile and maintain a routine; usually something has to give, and this time yoga got sidelined.  Back in Maine after a jaunt south to celebrate my sister’s birthday and get a B-12 shot of Gotham, I barely made it this morning to an early Vinyasa Flow class.  Returning to the mat I felt like a blue square skier on a double black diamond slope – is this what happens when the pause button gets pushed?  Damn!  If Plank and Cobra didn’t make me feel like a traitor, then ‘resting’ in Downward Dog was far from soothing.  In fact, while the blood was rushing to my head and my shoulders were painfully strained in this upside-down vee, I began feeling a HUGE resistance.  Of course, I thought it’s been awhile and I’m out of practice.  But it was more than that – it lodged massive and imposing like a mountain.  I’d never felt so much physical force inside me.  Little did I know I was on the verge of having emergency psychic surgery.

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Quickly a vision of the resistance entered my awareness like a camera snapping into focus:  a large ball, perhaps 3 feet in diameter, seemingly composed of milky white cartilage, smooth as a ball-bearing.  Solid.  Firmly half in and half out of my body, from my navel to my philtrum, nestled like an asteroid that just hit earth, I clearly felt this imaginary (?) object emerging from my mouth, my throat, my heart, my gut.  I tilted my head back to give it room.

Immediately the asanas dropped their struggle, or I against them, and I  effortlessly continued on through Pigeon, Tree, and Warrior III, while this otherworldly cartilage protrusion, still as stone, remained as real as the wood floor under my mat.  When I finally came to the supine poses, nearing the end of the session, I lie there wondering… what next?  Then this pearly, foreign sphere rolled up and off my chest, across the floor, into oblivion.  I didn’t feel lighter, there was no crying or any other inclination to release.  The only notable result was that I suddenly wanted a freshly juiced glass of green vegetables.

Back home, after stopping by the local grocery for all things green – kale, kohlrabi, celery, fennel, parsley and cabbage (as well as a bag of Willow Bake Shoppe donuts) – I reflected on the strangeness of my morning.  I wasn’t compelled too much to figure it out, or understand any symbolic representation.  Instead, what most interested me was feeling that I had just witnessed the boundary point of my unconscious and conscious minds.

I had no intimation of this coming nor did I feel afterward that anything paradigm-shifting had really happened – all I wanted was some raw green juice. But somehow I think something had occurred.  I think there’s a whole world down there that I’m completely unaware of, with burrowing voles and tectonic waltzing that sometimes erupts.  It’s just the first time I was keen to it.

Am I transformed?  That remains to be seen.

So what was with the donuts? I sense they were my ‘dead baby:’  that which no longer serves me, but I haven’t relinquished yet.  I’m crossing that road, and little is going to stop me, even if it resorts to absurd stapling tactics.

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Weebles Wobble, But I Don’t Fall Down

For a significant time in my life, I tended bar and waited tables and eventually reached a level of mastery that only comes after years in the profession.  In order to get and stay employed at upper tier establishments, you must meet demanding criteria with excellence, and make it look second nature.  Once, a fellow apron-in-the-trenches, Raven, observed that while it may seem to someone peering in from outside or to a server-in-training all graceful and effortless, it’s actually harder than it appears, and can be interpreted as a more accessible job than it really is.  Cultivating an efficient, hospitable presence in the midst of crying babies, hungry diners, first dates, and VIP business deals calls for a complex recipe.  Oenophilic knowledge, reflexive prioritization, vast patience, and a fluid physicality with an intimately choreographed and fast-paced dance among tables, swinging kitchen doors and moving human targets are all ingredients that create an illusion of a seamless, well-edited film.  She was right, we made it look easy, and we earned our Oscar every single night.

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Despite proficiency and agility, it’s not always wine and roses.  Steve, another veteran colleague, adds one crucial perspective that can make the difference between a shift feeling like an Amazonian jungle drive with no struts or shocks, and cruising the Autobahn in a cushy, air-conditioned Beemer. In industry jargon, being ‘in the weeds’ means you’re on a sinking ship, you NEED HELP NOW, all hell’s breaking loose, and the wreckage is piling up.  Sometimes no amount of technical ability can save you from this kind of disaster.  With his signature wry wit, he offers this wise salve, “Kellie, you can’t be in the weeds, if you just. don’t. care.”

Contemplate that for a moment.

When pressure mounts – a raucous table tries to flag you down for their third bottle of wine, another wants to send back undercooked steak that they ordered rare, the chef is yelling for you to pick up hot plates, crema on an espresso is fading at the counter and your barista won’t be too pleased to make it over, and the host just seated an ornery family of eight in your station – it’s hard to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  The last thing that will help is grasping for perfection and squeeeeezing tight.  Instead, give up.  Stop caring about the mess, the stress, doing your best.  Embrace chaos and move through the madness.  Keep humor in your pocket; toss the-sky-is-falling panic.  Once you stop caring that you’re in the weeds, sanity and order swiftly return.

This is how I finally came to write.  For too long, I harbored lofty views of what writing should be – gazed up on vaunted writers as gods – Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Twain – as anyone with literary ambitions would.  I intensely pulsed with visions of grand words and clever turns of phrase like the masters.  I toted high ideals, yet felt low and too intimidated to put pen to paper for fear that I could nary craft as expert a sentence as theirs.  Nothing I wrote would be good enough, much less perfect, so why even try?  In essence, my wish to be a great writer actually prevented me from ever seriously commiting.  What use is that?  So I alternated between fits of private prose and artistic abstinence, but always ended up disappointed in myself.  Journals got filled, shelved, forgotten.  Yes, Mr. Famous Author, follow me right this way to your corner table.

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Then I remembered how I did what I did for a living, and the philosophies of Raven and Steve.  There was the answer, the road to freedom. I acknowledged that it would take years to achieve mastery, if ever, and I stopped caring about being top-notch.  I didn’t need to be a great writer.  I didn’t even need to be a good writer.  I laid down striving for perfection.  Starving for expression, all I had to do was write.

At once, my first gig waiting tables, back when I was far from competent, came rushing into memory.  One night early on I dropped an entire tray of frozen pina coladas and other frou-frou drinks all over a poor little girl who had the misfortune of sitting beneath me.  Out of mortifying embarrassment I laughed uncontrollably, while she burst into frightened tears.  It was all so horrible, but I cleaned up the mess, got on with the shift, and went back to work the next night and then the night after that.  I persevered, got less clumsy, and built up skills.

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We’re rarely good straight out of the gate;  so when I ask a friend, a best-selling author, for beginning writerly advice he offers up the same, wise morsel – make as many mistakes as I can.  So I do, continually, and it’s OK because now I’ve learned not to care about looking foolish or amateur.  All I want to do is write and have fun doing it.

This week, I sit cross-legged in yoga class, prayerful hands in front of my heart, post-OM, pre-asanas and the instructor, about to lead the group in a series of balancing poses, suggests we set an intention for our evening’s practice.  Before I can think up one, she shares hers – to wobble.  She actually intends to sway, to teeter.

Let go, whispers the universe!

Kapow!  I finally get it… Validity exists in shakiness as much as in stability.  When we’re trying to ground, find steadiness on one foot, arms akimbo, torso bent forward, and we falter – indeed, that is exactly when to accept imbalance – it’s integral to the pose, and not as I’ve long thought, failing.  I’ll never be in the weeds again.

As soon as I embrace the wobble, the imperfection, I stop falling down, and finally begin.

How An Acupuncturist Taught Me To Roast My Vegetables And Relax

Working in Japan was a pain in the neck, literally.  From my shoulder blades to the base of my brain, I had been in persistent agony for several months by the time I got desperate enough to call an acupuncturist.  My neck had petrified into one frozen, stony mess.  I was a stranger in a strange land on assignment in Tokyo back in 2007 and irrationally worried that if I didn’t get help, I might never be able to turn my head freely again.  Not that I necessarily wanted to, because everywhere I looked, all I saw loomed cold, lonesome and aloof.

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I missed my old restaurant job.  I missed understanding snippets of conversation on the train.  I even missed the F train – you know it’s bad when you ride the world’s cleanest, most efficient metro system and you long for the Jamaica-to-Coney Island local.  More than anything, though, I missed the flexibility that carried me through past adventures around the globe.  Where did it go?  What had happened to me? I was tight in the grip of physical and mental paralysis.  I finally called an English-speaking doctor and booked an appointment.  Must. Have. Relief. Now.

Have I mention my trypanophobia?  Come near me with a needle and I have a meltdown. I have actually skipped college matriculation just to avoid the required MMR inoculation and would almost rather get my teeth drilled sans Novocaine.  I’ll pretty much do anything to avoid the dreaded syringe.  Here I am then, lying on an acupuncturist’s table in a foreign country with a man in a white lab coat sticking needles in my neck and down my spine, trying to convince me there’s really nothing to be afraid of.  That’s how bad my neck felt.  Pain is relative, I tell myself, but I surrender as best I can to 2,200 years of Eastern orthodoxy and hope I don’t hyperventilate or start weeping uncontrollably, although that’s probably just what I need to do – breathing and crying can be great relief in times of debilitation, but I’m unable to unclench my body or my mind.

“OK, now just lie here while your body adjusts,” the doctor says, as his hands move skillfully down the back of me in a calm, healing manner.  His touch is soothing.  “Your feet are really cold,” he remarks, as he inserts a few more needles along my legs.

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“They’ve been cold lately,” I reply.

“Do you eat a lot of salad?” he asks.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I answer, slightly irritated that he’s focused on the temperature of my feet when clearly it’s my neck that needs his full attention.  I’m suffering;  who cares about my feet?  Make my neck feel better!

“You should cook your vegetables,” he advises.  “Don’t eat them raw.  You need warmth in your food, then your feet won’t be so cold.”

I resisted him; all I could think was that I liked salad.  It’s healthy, quick and easy to prepare and besides, cooking had really not been my forte anyway.  I preferred going out to eat and ordering a garde manger-composed leafy pile of raw vegetables with some fancy vinaigrette.  Or did I?  Was I just on a road that was a little too well-traveled for a contrarian like me?  Perhaps it was time for things in my life to change.  Hey, even my doctor was telling me I had cold feet.

The simple and obvious have often eluded me.  Could it be as easy as that?  Warm begets warm.  I soon came to consider his gentle demeanor and the possible wisdom in his words.  For the rest of my time in Tokyo, I sautéed up lots of greens and experimented with making vegetable miso soups.  I stopped ordering salads when I ate out, even if they sounded nutritious and gourmet.  I considered the radical notion of change and questioned the prudence of stamina.  As I began to relax into cooking, the chill in my feet lessened and the pleasures of the kitchen dawned. Gradually I gained movement in my neck and loosened up other restricted places in my life.

farmer's market Maine organic vegetablesI carried this lesson home with me and now, four years later, I love cooking.  I’ve found warmth in the kitchen and in my life.  I’m roasting  sheetpans of beets, sweet potatoes, and turnips.  I’m simmering cabbage and chard in soups and sauteing kale and garlic with local Maine shrimp and scallops.  As my upper body has slowly recovered from tension and tightness, I have also started to recover from twenty-five years in the restaurant business and its accompanying foodie mentality, which from a certain stance can both be seen as rigid and competitive.  The constant pursuit of the highest rating, the latest dish, the most perfect execution can sap the playful and judicious, leaving us in less than good health.

I don’t reject it all, however.  I do embrace eating seasonal and local, I support healthy school lunches and food security campaigns.  I enjoy the widespread availability of organic produce and all the attention and respect serving and cooking professionally get these days.  The world is a healthier place as the general public becomes more fluent on farm-to-table restaurants, the impact of governmental subsidies for corn and soy, and the environmental consequences of Monsanto-like genetic manipulations.

I’m just not as religious and precious about it anymore.  I’m looser in my approach, less driven and uptight.  This top chef, that obscure ingredient, dissecting what’s on my molecularly gastronomic plate – I leave that for the next generation.  All I really want to do now is breathe, relax, and cook up some beans and greens that warm me from head to feet when it’s cold outside.  I want to break bread that I baked this morning with people I love and turn to them with soft suppleness and toast to our good health.

Don’t Fight A Cold, Embrace It

I felt like Helena Bonham Carter‘s The Red Queen when I awoke this morning – head tripled in size, pale as a mime, yelling “off with their head!”  It would’ve been funny if I didn’t feel so under the weather.  Where did that saying come from anyway? As if there’s a hovering, dark cloud I’m crouching beneath…

Well, it seems that cloud has been ominously harboring an occasional cough, lurking…stalking…waiting for just the right moment… and now it’s invited some rascally friends over:  sneezey, wheezy, runny, and headache-y.  I feel like an Alka-Seltzer commercial, or one of the Seven Dwarves.

So what, you say?  It’s December.  But I’m not one of those who, when this time of year rolls around says “I always get sick when this time of year rolls around.”   In fact, I don’t get sick anymore, at least not in that bronchial infection-sore throat-winter blues kind of way.  Rather, since I purged the bad habits of my life, like smoking, drinking to excess, dating emotional vampires, and working 65 hours a week, I’ve been respiratorily fit.  I could make out with a phlegm-friendly, Keflex-popping, walking pneumonia patient and saunter away sniffle-free.  Luckily, my immune system is currently respecting my lack of health insurance, and for that, I am grateful.  So what’s with my Big Head Todd and the Monsters?

Well, apparently even a downsized life adjusts relative to its environment.  Less affects me more now.  I’m like the princess and the pea and DAMN that pea is a bruiser!  So what’s my strategy?  Don’t fight it, embrace it.  And stop with the fairy tale metaphors.

First thing, I hydrate incessantly – water, tea, cider, and no coffee, thankyouverymuch. There’s cups of Yogi tea and OJ in progress on practically every flat surface and I hope I don’t capsize, I’m sloshing around so much.

Second, I check my trusty Louise Hay mini-tome, Heal Your Body, hands down the most thumbed-through book on my shelf.  (Buy it.  Read it.  You’ll thank me later.)  According to the guru of metaphysical therapy, I’ve got too much going on;  I’m disordered.  Maine to Connecticut to Manhattan to Brooklyn back to Connecticut to upstate New York to Connecticut back to Maine.  What?!?

What I need is a break, both geographically and creatively – it’s not just my engine that’s been thrown full-throttle, but my imagination has been working overtime, too, hence my body’s message to climb back into bed…

and.

just.

stop.

Third, the hug:  a deep appreciation for my body’s wisdom, even though I mostly overlooked it ’til now.  If I didn’t hit the brakes, I’d be like Wile E. Coyote, splat up against the painted boulder.  Who wouldn’t choose a cuddle over a crash and burn?

Now the Rx:  supplements.  Airborne, Vitamin C, zinc… and just because Echinacea hasn’t run the FDA gauntlet successfully doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.  Put that in your cauldron and stir it.  Can you say, at the very least, P-L-A-C-E-B-O?

Finally, I focus on all those beautiful, healthy parts of me.  Remember how your mom said if you kept making that face, it would stay that way?  She was right.  So I stop making that ugly, can’t-you-see-I-feel-like-crap face and begin marvelling at those new muscles I’m getting from yoga, and how strangely enough, my hair looks shiny and smooth today.

Wouldn’t ya know it?  I feel better already.

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