#JustDesserts

Since I started eating more consciously, documenting my food and paying attention to nutritional profiles, I weened myself off sugary foods pretty well. So much so that I don’t only lack cravings for foods I used to really long for (see: Puppy Chow), I sometimes can’t bring myself to enjoy them anymore.

I call this phenomenon my #BittersweetTooth

But just because I’d rather go back for more salad when other people move onto cupcakes (like I did at a dinner I attended two nights ago), it doesn’t mean that I shirk dessert foods entirely. So while I want to offer you some form of “dessert salad” (I have several ideas…), I’m going to stick to #JustDesserts and provide some examples of what I eat when I want to ‘treat’ myself.

1) Banana Walnut Freezer Mash – At some point—somewhere between trying to find a healthier ice cream and determining that banana cream is perhaps a great substitute—I decided I’d experiment with different ways of freezing to establish an easy freezer wash I could have before bed. Adding some of my favorite flavors (cinnamon and salt), I found that I could create a mash that I could freeze ahead of time and then later mix with Greek yogurt to establish a consistency not too dissimilar from ice cream. In addition to discovering that bananas were a good alternative cream, I found that they (along with things like cherry juice and jasmine rice) are good to consume before bedtime. But I also found that walnuts are suggested as a “perfect bedtime snack” as well—which is great because the flavor of walnuts pairs excellently with banana (just think of all of the banana-walnut combinations you’ve seen and heard about.

I mean, just check out this “bourbon banana and walnut french toast”:

Can someone bring me a plate of this?

So now, I typically have a bag in my freezer with a strangely-colored dark banana mash. I can easily mix this with Greek yogurt or a milk (alternative) to make a cream spread or the base of a drink (smoothies, anyone?). Regardless, it’s definitely a satisfying snack I can go to in times of “weakness.”

2) Blueberry Icee – Blueberries are hands-down my favorite fruit. Because they’re packed with b-vitamins and native to my home state of Michigan, I grew a strong affinity to regularly consuming them on their own. In addition, when I learned that b-vitamins help to prevent and recover from the ill-effects of drinking alcohol, I decided that I would never let my blueberry stores run out. And since research suggests that blueberries maintain their nutritional content when frozen, it’s easy to keep them around. But just like banana freezer mash, I was introduced along the way to Blueberry Icee—a kind of slush that truly is a treat. Mixing frozen blueberries with cool milk (alternatives) turns a well-portioned mix into a slush delight that you can easily modify by adding cacao flakes, nuts, and flavoring (my dessert go-to, as always, being cinnamon). Because the dish is cold and low-calorie, I would also suggest this before bed—especially after consuming things that… may intoxicate your body.
3) Apple Cinnamon PB2 – Bananas, blueberries, and now apples: you can see that my dessert cravings currently center around sugars naturally found in fruits. But here, I also want to talk about nut butters. Given the bad reputation that nut butters have received, I try not to use traditional spreads when I can. But the taste pairing of apples and peanuts still excites my tastebuds in wonderful ways. So as a dessert, it’s a real treat for me—especially with the addition of salt and cinnamon elements.
If I’m not snacking on fruits and nuts in their original forms, there are a few ways I commonly utilize the wonderful powder known as PB2 to make desserts. The first is to make a spread by again mixing it with cinnamon and Greek yogurt. The other is to add it directly to applesauce (sometimes even frozen applesauce). And though apples, cinnamon, and PB2 are fine on their own, they can also be modified with rich cocoa, cacao nibs, and/or (alternative) pretzels for extended enjoyment. The key in this last dessert, however, is that I’m aiming for fiber and satisfaction of a flavor I still crave (peanut butter) without having to give into less-healthy foods. In this way, healthy-er habits allow a way to enjoy dessert without having to junk food—what a relief!

Do you have similar dessert habits or ideas about how you can #LevelUp the things I’ve presented? Comment below and we can still develop a #Saladarity. As a final suggestion: all of these desserts can be reformulated to top a salad and avoid less-healthy dressings. Why wait for dessert when you can enjoy it throughout the whole meal?

Check back on next week’s post for some retrospective ideas about how I expanded my the way I approach food combinations. (Hint: it involves familiar phrases…)

For a good Puppy Chow/Muddy Buddy recipe: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/15820/puppy-chow/
For more ideas about foods to eat before bed: https://www.prevention.com/health/sleep-energy/best-foods-eat-night-help-you-sleephttp://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20628881,00.html
For the recipe to make bourbon banana and walnut french toast: https://naturallyella.com/bourbon-banana-and-walnut-french-toast/
For more foods to recover from and/or prevent a hangover: http://www.eatthis.com/best-foods-for-hangover-cure-ranked/
To read about research on freezing blueberries: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140722124810.htm
You can find PB2 in many supermarkets or on sites like Amazon, here: https://www.amazon.com/PB2-Powdered-Peanut-Butter-6-5/dp/B002GJ9JWS?th=1
To read about unhealthiness in nut butters and how to get around them: http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/nut-butter-the-bad-the-good-and-how-to-make-it-better

Advertisements

#UniqueCombinations

I’d like to start today’s post with two anecdotes that have stuck with me.

The first is a sign from my home community that read “Rabbits for sale! Cute and cuddly or tender and nutritious”
demotivational poster BUNNIES<source: http://www.motifake.com/bunnies-bunny-pet-yummy-cute-demotivational-posters-154803.html>

The other is a joke: “Q: How do you catch a unique rabbit? A: Unique up on it.” (And there’s a follow-up–Q: How do you catch a tame rabbit? A: Tame way.”

Both of these anecdotes highlight the strange but sometimes pleasant result of combining things in unique ways. When it comes to food in particular, the different ways of thinking about and framing food can create major shifts in eating habits, taste preferences, and even the culinary ability to surprise others with simple (but purposeful) choices in preparation. I want to share with you a few examples that have changed the way I approach cuisine that I hope inspire your own modes of thinking and eating differently.

1) Salt + Coffee – I didn’t start drinking coffee until I entered grad school. This was not necessarily because of the caffeine (though I had transitioned from soda to energy drinks and was looking for a healthier alternative), but when I moved into the markets of Washington, DC, I was exposed to more kitschy and flavorful roasts. In addition, one of my first roommates worked as a barista and all it took was the anecdotal account of another roommate to convince me of the tastes and benefits of the beverage.

But beyond deciding how to flavor my coffee directly (“Cream or sugar?”), I also thought about coffee with my morning breakfast as both a side supplement of flavor and a potential source of dippable enhancement. At the time, I was a fan of multi-grain toast with salty butter, and dipping my toast in my coffee appealed to my gut. In fact, from a quick Google search, it seems the practice of dipping things from bagels to biscotti to donuts is not uncommon.

(Check out this suggestion of re-enlivening stale bread!)

<source: http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/dipn-coffee-or-how-to-use-stale-bread-361831>

But I took it one step further. Rather than waiting until my breakfast food was ready to add to my coffee, I started adding seasonings to my coffee directly. While this may seem odd (and some seasonings may not mix), I was surprised to find that my own tastes even enjoyed a hint of salt in my coffee. Since iodized salt can provide some semblance of a necessary electrolyte, I considered this a fairly healthy practice.

More pointedly,, though, I have heard people suggesting that adding things like cocoa to coffee is “mind-blowing” and a “game changer,” while here I am putting notes of garlic and almond flavoring in my cup o’ Joe. Whether in coffee or another liquid, I suggest experimenting with your own tastes to see how you might enhance your drinking enjoyment.

2) Cinnamon + Milk + Stout – Speaking of drinking: I grew up in a few Michigan communities that viewed the beverage of a beer quite differently. In my rural hometown, it seemed the only choices for beer were Bud Light or Busch Light – neither of which tasted anything close to appealing, IMHO. So while many of my friends picked up drinking in high school, I picked up designated driving and experienced party atmospheres as a mere observer.

At some point in college, though, I was the driver for a birthday jaunt with a friend to Founder’s Brewing Company. After the server took her order, he turned to me and asked, “What would you like.” Even though I explained to him that I was the DD and I didn’t drink, anyway, he insisted I must at least taste what they had on tap.

Agreeing to a conservative sip of their beverages, I soon realized I had been greatly misled in my impression of beer varieties. When I could pick out the notes of barley and other flavors I associated with my experience around grain fields, my mind was enhanced in terms of what I would expect of brews, but also what I was willing to drink given the right flavor combinations.

However, it also gave me ideas about how to turn something bland into something grand. Even a light lager can be made into a citrusy shandy just by adding a fruit element, like lemon or orange.  Some even insist that the beer must be served with a fruit wedge, like people who are crazy about lemon water (love you, mom).

Citrus Beer Cocktail | The Marvelous Misadventures of a Foodie<source: http://www.foodiemisadventures.com/2013/01/drink-dish-citrus-beer-cocktail-with-video.html>

But then I tasted what I sounded like it would be very flavorful (DuClaw Brewing’s Sweet Baby Jesus), and it still left me wanting. So after a few sips, I thought o O (Chocolate and peanut butter go with cinnamon and milk… maybe I could turn this into my own creation?)

I give you the Sweet Chocolate Horchata Shandy:

IMG_20170704_081248_743.jpg

Even though I doubted the mixture of (almond) milk with beer, a little experimentation with unique combinations led to a much more enjoyable drink. Never doubt your inklings.

3) Yogurt + Nut Butter – Also known as “PeaYoNuGurt,” I was once in the habit of consuming this combination on a regular basis. Because plain yogurts tend not to overtake the other substances with which they are mixed (and because I was looking to up my intake of protein and probiotics), I combined peanut butter with plain Greek yogurt as a staple base for my mornings. Sometimes I would use it as a spread on toast; sometimes I would add crushed blueberries and chia seeds as a seedy cup o’ PB&J; and sometimes I would even use other kinds of nut butters. However, the key here is the yogurt.

I acknowledge that some diets don’t allow lactose or other elements of yogurts, but there are so many alternatives available that I’m sure yoou can find one that suits you. Beyond enhancing the benefits of nut butters, you can make your own with crushed nuts or you can make various kinds of mayonnaise, like avocado mayonnaise.

Creamy Avocado Spread (Better than Mayo!)<Source: https://www.simplehealthyeats.com/creamy-avocado-mayo-greek-yogurt/>

The key, though, is that the unique combinations can change thee consistency, taste, and application of your food so that you can achieve the flavors and nutrition you desire. By experimenting with #UniqueCombinations, you, too, can create a diet that enhances your enjoyment – of food, of fellowship, and (ultimately) life as you know it.

Thank you to everyone who has checked out my #Saladarity blog thus far and perhaps given me feedback in person.However, please do let me know (in the comments) what you enjoy, what yo want to hear about, and what you practice in your own life – or (especially from this post) what you think sounds ridiculous.

To check out the beer that aided my experimentation and explore what else DuClaw offers: https://duclaw.com/beers/sweet-baby-jesus-2/
For a great recipe of avocado mayo (complete with it’s suggested uses): https://www.simplehealthyeats.com/creamy-avocado-mayo-greek-yogurt/

#BelligerentlyHydrated

They say that if you want to lose weight, drink water. They say you should drink eight glasses a day. They even say hokey things like “Water is Life” and “This Is Water.” But how does this play into everyday nutrition? And if it is true that water has restorative and healing powers (in addition to helping your diet goals), how can you consume more of it?

That’s something I thought about after I graduated high school and was bored out of my mind still living with my parents. I had an affinity for drinking out of glass containers (albeit my beverage of choice was typically Mt. Dew), and I wanted to find large containers that would easily allow me to meet (and exceed) the eight-glass recommendation.

One day I realized the vases my mom had around the house would suit my needs, and there were enough to cycle through so I could wash them as needed. Little did I know that these “vases” were actually meant for drinks, though decanters/carafes/etc. are typically meant for pouring into other containers rather than directly into your mouth.


<source: https://www.tradesy.com/i/glass-set-of-6-vintage-wine-carafe-clear-decanters-centerpiece-bottle-jar-reception-decoration/1160561/>

Still, whether I drank from these open glass implements or seal-able bottles, I made sure I was #BelligerentlyHydrated by priming my habits with full containers. When I still hadn’t started consuming alcohol, I posted a status on Facebook that just said, “Drinking tonight.” And then people were like, “WHA–?” And I was like, “-TER.” Now that I do consume alcohol, I still drink water first.

If this sounds like a beneficial habit to you, it is. Psychologists, nutritionists, and other theorists suggest the mindless habits we engage in can set us up for success or failure (see the book on Mindless Eating I previously mentioned here). Here are a few that I think have helped me consume more—and stay hydrated:

  • #BottleItUp – Early on, I started engaging in a trend of keeping around large containers that I would fill with water. Because we can prime ourselves to feel the sunk cost of commitment, by setting up my environment with bottles I could easily drink from, my first consumption was not a bag of chips or candy (though I certainly used to have plenty) but a significant amount of water. Whether or not what they say about mistaking thirst for hunger is true, drinking water does start to fill you up. So even to this day, as I begin my day and before I enter a space with food, I like to #GetHydrated with an appetizer of water.
  • Flavored – According to Mindless Eating, psychology research shows that flavoring water—particularly fruit and other nature-based flavors—triggers our minds to actually want to drink water. That’s why companies offer all different kinds of flavored water. I even see brands like Giant now trying to get people to think about their #Flavorite non-water beverages in order to try their “spiked-inspired creations“. (Note: they’re careful to disclaim the non-alcoholic nature of these beverages). Whether you buy flavored water, spike it yourself with flavoring liquids, or infuse it with things like chopped fruit, herbs, or other types of flavoring, drinking any water is more hydrating than none at all.
  • Cucumbers – In a previous post, I shared my reverence for the power of cucumbers and their nutritional benefits, but even Macka B admits that a cucumber’s “95% water” makes it a “great hydrator.” And that’s not nothing. More to the point, you don’t have to drink water straight or even spike to hydrate: you can consume hydrating substances like celery, watermelon, and berries to ensure you’re getting #WateredUp. In fact, living in DC has taught me to be careful about consuming too much water before wandering far from a bathroom. So instead of drinking liquid (which is more likely to flow through me), I eat a cucumber. This habit is so common that the cashier in the health food store at the midpoint of my commute to the GWU started calling me “cucumber,” and I suppose there are worse things to be known for…

So whether you drink it straight, infused it with other substances, or osmose it into your body from subtle sources, I recommend getting #BelligerentlyHydrated on a daily basis. I’m not saying that it’s definitely magical, but I drink water every time I’ve had a sickness, and so far I recovered every time.

To listen to David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI
To  read more about sunk costs: https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/sunk-cost-fallacy/
To check out Giant’s Spiked Inspired Creations: https://www.facebook.com/giantfoodstores/videos/10215155208023757To groove again to the coo-cumber song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRGlon_ezvU

#Flavorites

Wherever I go to eat, I most always carry a grinder with my own personal “all-purpose seasoning” that’s crafted to my tastes. Growing up in a household with a fresh herb garden and a yia yia who utilized many flavors in her Greek cooking, food was never allowed to be bland. This cultivated an early enjoyment of flavorful foods, but I didn’t truly realize the deep implications of this until I read Mark Schatzker’s The Dorito Effect and learned how to hack my taste buds and cravings to my benefit. The effects of this way of thinking is perhaps most poignantly evident from the story of my Munchies epiphany.

The morning after a savage game night at my apartment, I awoke with a craving for a tasty snack. But since I didn’t have a hangover as an excuse to binge on fried food, I wanted to make a healthy choice. And yet there, in the middle of the kitchen counter, was a bag of Frito Lay’s Munchies.

Munchies <source: https://target.scene7.com/is/image/Target/14885837?wid=520&hei=520&fmt=pjpeg>

Opening the bag, I soon discovered there was no more than a handful left. Yet my appetite had been whet, and I was determined to finish them off. So to extend the flavor enjoyment and to hack my hungry head, I grabbed some matchstick carrots to sop up the residual seasonings left in the bag. Not only did that increase the volume of food I was eating to a satisfying amount, it also allowed me to savor the flavor in every bite—as if vegetables were the junk food I was craving all along. Since then, I have identified several ways to trick my mind into eating more  of what’s good for me while still satisfying my cravings. Here’s some things I do:

  1. Add the Herbs – Though I’ve never tried weed and really got the munchies, Michael Pollan’s account of why it’s so desirable gave me enough evidence to suspect that my jonesing for things like oregano and rosemary is at least similar. Whether I’m cooking with fresh herbs, pairing them base on pop culture phrases (eg. “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and time“), or sprinkling a savory herb blend on top of a dish, I use herbs to curb less flavorful things like cauliflower and tofu. I’ve also noted my flavor preferences so I can order food that tastes good from the base to the topping
  2. Nutritional Yeast – If you don’t yet know about this stuff, you’re in for a treat. This low-calorie, high-protein, vegan-friendly sprinkler provides a cheesy, nutty taste when added to foods (try popcorn) or mixed into a spread like mayonnaise or yogurt (including dairy-free alternatives) to make a home-crafted sauce. Not only does it provide great flavor: its nutritional profile is sure to supplement your healthy diet.
  3. All-purpose Seasoning – I balk at the suggestion of seasoning mixes thoughtlessly added to foods; especially if they claim to be intended for specific types of cooking, like grilling or preparing specific meats (and not everything is improved by adding salt and pepper). However, I know personally which flavors I enjoy if a dish isn’t up to my sniff or snuff, so I keep my grinder handy. Packed with flavors that meet me general or current tastes, I can make food more garlicky, hickory, peppery or otherwise—the important part being that I can change the flavors to meet my own preferences rather than conforming to simple marketing suggestions.
    91Rqalwn6lL._SY550_[1]
    <source: https://www.amazon.com/Trader-Joes-Everyday-Seasoning-Grinder/dp/B007SR8IP2>

So what are some of your flavorites? And how do you ensure you’ll like the foods you eat? Also, please let me know if you have similar habits so we can continue to dine together in #Saladarity.

For #Basic, all-purpose seasonings (and instructions on how to make your own): https://food-hacks.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-copycat-trader-joes-spices-home-0168876/
For Mark Schatzker’s book: https://www.amazon.com/Dorito-Effect-Surprising-Truth-Flavor/dp/1476724237
For Michael Pollan’s book: https://www.amazon.com/Botany-Desire-Plants-Eye-View-World/dp/0375760393
To watch a performance of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ccgk8PXz64
To order some yeast, look in your nearest organic market or check here: https://www.amazon.com/Bragg-Organic-Yeast-Seasoning-4-5-oz/dp/B002863BIW?th=1

Wealth of Relations – Moonlighting

Blood Moon
(Photo Credit: Christian Ronnel)

“Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” Jonathon Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

While playing a round of The Game of Things, I was tasked to name “Things you think about as you are falling asleep.” Players are supposed to secretly contribute a response, and then take turns trying to correctly match the responses of other players. The game can be adapted to the people and the mood of the group, so I was torn between being cheeky, transgressive, or honest. Though I ended up writing something strategic that I expected people not to match with me, any real answers would cast a beam on something that is important to my life—namely, nightly reflections.

When I prepare for bed, I don’t deceive myself into thinking that I’m being taken away from my best state—as if full consciousness is the only opportunity for value and productivity. Instead, I have made ritual my mindful transition into dreams. Whether this means reflecting on my day and affirming its successes, remembering the things that have constituted my life thus far, or preparing my mind for sleep and the day beyond, I engage in a conscious effort to spend my subconscious time better than merely “crashing” into sheets and hoping for the best.

Just as the moon is a reflection of the sun that shines in the day time, so too should our minds be at night, casting the same brilliance. We tend to think of nightlife and nocturnal states as the dark sides of our lives, but the reality is that they are more connected than we admit. Not only does the day affect the night, but what shines at night also affects the day. We often talk of the “full moon rising” as bringing lunatics to their prime, but it doesn’t take an oceanographer to convince people who live near the sea that the moon shares its tidings even when it can’t be seen. The natural component of Earth’s orbit represents an image of our mind—full or less.

full moon madness
(Photo Credit: mstollenwerk)

Aside from punny connections within nature, the moon is as important in symbolizing my nightly routines as the parenthetical sun is to my day. Even Biblical accounts considered the moon a great light, and though it is regarded as a lesser one, it is still intended to “separate light from darkness.” (Genesis 1:16).  In whatever phase or visibility the moon is currently represented, it often serves as a reminder that tangential thoughts constantly orbit in the margins of visibility, and they hold a certain importance when illuminated.

As a personal practice, I have found relief in knowing that all the thoughts I exhale during the day have a place on my nightstand, right next to the tangible objects I pull out of my pocket at the end of my day. Here is my take on the significance of the moon in its various phases. Just as they reflect light, each phase illuminates the practice of setting aside thoughts in preparation for sleep:

  • Full – Illuminated in its full glory, this phase of the moon is a classic symbol of reflecting fully on the thoughts of the day. With the greatest amount of the moon in view—omitting the dark side that faces away, of course—the moon is presented for inspection and analysis. Every crater, face, and changing blemish becomes visible for anyone willing to notice, and this phase represents the ability to perceive a maximal consciousness of the iceberg mind. It represents our reflections in the clearest view.
  • Crescent – Either waxing or waning, the crescent is an admission that there is something missing; something present, but not quite perceivable; something that would complete the concept that is more clearly in view. While there is a plentitude of scholarship on the ancient symbolism of the crescent—even shoddy sources acknowledge this—its currency establishes a certain curiosity: that beyond what can be seen, there is more to be filled in. Just as partial thoughts are carried throughout the day, the sleeping mind can fill the rest with imagination, even if we fall asleep with thoughts incomplete.
  • New – When the sky is clear and the moon is nowhere to be found, what cannot be seen can still be recalled. Just as aftertaste can recollect the amore that was formed when that pizza pie first came into view, the acknowledgement of a moon out of sight is still effective in knowing there is something in the darkness that has pull on the present. Though no thoughts may come into view as we fall asleep, the practice of recalling allows the image to return another night as the thought comes ‘round again.

Harvest – Cast in an ochre hue like the image of the god of war, a harvest moon is a popular image in photographs and pastoral myths alike. Just as the sun rising through the misty horizon can create a beautiful image as it rises or sets, the harvest moon demonstrates the effect of framing an idea in the dust of the day. Whether perceived as a symbol of plentitude or as a scientific phenomenon of sight, the harvest moon demonstrates the power of putting thoughts into perspective. So long as it doesn’t morph into anxiety and rumination, the act of recalling and releasing memories is a practice that prepares the active mind of the day to transform into the Gottschall’s storyboarding mind of the night. The process of re-collecting ideas at night may seem like a second job—the least desirable task after a long day’s work—but I find that moonlighting all that has been, is, and could be, allows me to harness the power or subvert the forces of what is presently orbiting my mind.

By perceiving the big cheese and deconstructing the significance of parts of my life, I have found that reflection is a valuable habit to enter at night. In addition to allowing my mind to orbit on, it gives me time to unwind so that my sleep can be restful. I recommend a similar practice as a space-clearing mechanism to allow your mind to rest, rejuvenate, and conclude all of the sentences you’ve left running on in the light of the sun.

This is the second phase of my reflections in the Wealth of Relations series: taking images from daily life to show how I make my days a little less banal, and how you can, too. Let me know if any of these ideas resonate with you in the comments below so we can be wealthy together.

To reflect on last week’s ideas about the sun, look here.

Wealth of Relations – Crepesculum

Better is everything from this point forward.

I’ve made a habit of taking morning walks. Stepping into the morning air in any weather (with the air growing increasingly frigid as winter comes in for a big hug), I always have to acknowledge the reality of what hangs above me: not only the sky but also my thoughts, cloudy or clear.

One of the most resonant natural images of mythic meaning shines in the rays of light that reach from behind horizons and clouds. Weather stretching up or down, these crepuscular rays have been endowed with varied and contrasting meanings: Led Zeppelin paints them as a heavenly stairway while Connor Oberst regards them with cyclical cynicism; Christians point to them as proof of the divine while scientists use them to demonstrate the value of empirical inquiry. Whatever these rays mean in the prism of representation, they always provide me with substance in their brilliant displays.

The importance of perceiving these rays has held a particular significance for me as I’ve turned waking into a habitual activity. Deciding to keep my alarm set at 6am every day was in part inspired by secondhand mentoring, but it’s a benchmark I’ve continually exceeded—to my own satisfaction. I often wake before my alarm, disable it, and reset it as I head out the door. Part and parcel of my morning wake is my morning walk into the lightness of a new dawn. The sunlight itself is not only symbolic, but also a key factor in directing my day as I often feel connected to changes in the climate.

One of the main struggles of working at home is being too sedentary—especially when my job requires me to be at the mercy of long-winded students—I purpose my mornings with a walk to a nearby shopping center. In addition to the active engagement of my body; the re-spiration of my body that fills me with breath again; exposure to the outside world and a sample of the weather; and adherence to my commitments; this process allows me sufficient time to reflect on my relationship with myself.

The symbolic ray of light that provides the image of this clearer sense of self may only be a metaphor, but the relationship it offers reminds me that the sun is always there: we make it significant. Depending on the exact time I leave, this often allows the perspective of the sunrise, the clouds in the way, or the recognition that I’ve left too late to catch it all. These elements of my settings speak to me personally as the backdrop of a reality: that I make meaning with the day. Whether you consider a sunrise as a beautiful act of God or a natural phenomenon that may also highlight a copious amount of pollution, the act of acknowledging it brings you into yourself—back into a relationship with your conscious mind.

Having risen to plenty of mornings that highlighted my own loathing or allowed me to release my breath back into the world, I know from experience that a ray of light is as dull or sharp as we want it to be. But by committing into our own agency, the ways we constitute the world determine if our sun is rising towards opportunity, falling from expectations, or just a sedentary object we ignore.

My challenge to myself that I invite you to consider is to walk with that decision every morning, and to bring to light the consequences. During many morning walks, I have intervened in the inner dialogue of my worst critic to look directly into the sky fire; to burn up all the passive intentions my disappointments might hold me to—weighted with fatigue or lack of accomplishment—in order to make room for my rays to shine. Because each new day is bound to take us somewhere, I try to remind myself that the way forward is clear, and it is up to me to participate in that .

Every morning when I head towards the shopping center—my legs either happy to be in motion or my body angry about enduring the cold—I return to the ray of light that I hold onto: that I am able to rise with morning to become more than a fixed object in the universe. By a conscious act of waking and taking a moment to look up, I become ready to engage with whatever the day may hold. And if that means enduring the burden of a beautiful sunrise, so be it.

The first phase of my reflections will be on the Wealth of Relations: taking images from daily life to show how I make my day a little less banal, and how you can, too. Continuing next week with the sun’s counterpart, the moon, I will complement this forward thinking with backwards reflection. I hope you will join me.