Friday, September 23, 2016

Eating for mental health and well-being



* Disclaimer: In no way is the information that is to follow to be confused with medical advice. I am writing based solely on my own experience and if you choose to use any of the suggestions in this post, you are doing so at your own responsibility. D'accord? Ok, bien. 

** As I have mentioned before, there are just a few posts that I would like to use to share some of the things that I have been learning about over the past few months. If that isn't your cup of tea (or if you are new here - merci! - and are in search of something more poetical), then why not take a dive into the archives? The bar is on the right hand side. Take a look at say, mid-2014. I can't even begin to remember what I wrote then so I bet it will be new to you too.

****
 
Today is the Autumn Equinox. As this beautiful cycle comes to a close and we prepare to start into a new phase, it can be an appropriate time to think about what we want to let go of in our lives as well as what we hope to bring in anew. As our bodies are our vehicle for this wondrous ride, why not start with the obvious? 

So. While this post will touch on mental well-being as a whole, let's acknowledge the elephant trying to hide in the corner. I have lived with chronic depression and anxiety since I was 15, so for over thirty years. Get out of the corner, elephant, we need you and there is no shame in that. It is what it is. Throughout the years I have done an enormous amount of reading on the subject and have tried numerous treatments with lesser and greater successes: cognitive behavioral therapy (awesome), yoga (ditto), acupuncture, reiki, cranial sacral therapy, Ayurveda, working with an osteopath. I finally started taking medications when my anxiety-based insomnia became so extreme that I walked out in front of oncoming Parisian traffic twice in one week. I had to. I was a danger to myself in more ways than one. 

In France, depression is still fairly taboo despite its prevalance. So my doctor never wanted to discuss my long-standing diagnosis but just kept handing over the prescriptions, year after year. And I took them, even despite experiencing the common side effects of weight gain and loss of libido. I didn't really question that they weren't entirely working, only keeping me functioning. I thought that was enough.

When my life fell apart at the beginning of this year, I had to take an honest look at why. And while far from the only factor, that I had let my depression take control over my life during the past two years played a strong role. I was no longer being responsible for my well-being. Granted, I know well what a Catch-22 it can be to invoke self-care while in the midst of a depressive or anxiety state but it was only after arriving in the States that I could clearly see that something else needed to be done. I was again putting myself in danger, not to mention that I was increasingly concerned about my memory problems and struggles with cognitive function. I needed to have a plan. 

I am a fiction reader. So I am no longer sure why I was hovering over the new non-fiction titles at the library this past March but a book caught my eye, "The Brain Fog Fix" by Dr. Mike Dow. It looked pretty cheesy and I openly scoffed at the promise to "Reclaim your focus, memory and joy in just 3 weeks." But as I was drawn to a chapter on depression, I checked it out. There I read that Xanax, the benzodiazepine that I had been taking for thirteen years for anxiety, could shrink the brain as much as that seen after severe alcohol abuse when taken long term. I contacted my mental health co-ordinator and arranged with a psychiatrist to go off it over a six month tapering period (which is now behind me). I also began reading about the effect of food on our gut and our well-being.

In the States, there is currently quite a lot of talk about understanding the importance of the mind-body connection through our gut health, or our microbiome. While normal levels of inflammation in our bodies can help kickstart our immune system into healing, when put into overdrive through poor diet, toxins and the stress present in our modern lifestyle, it can lead to a chronic imbalance which has been shown to be a root cause of a host of auto-immune diseases throughout the body as well as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's and yes, depression

The good news is that there are extremely effective ways of lowering inflammation in the body, one of the simplest being by changing our diet. And so that is what I did. There is a host of well-sourced and heavily researched information out there - Dr. Kelly Brogan's book, "A Mind of Your Own," many articles on mindbodygreen and Dr. Andrew Weil's suggested food pyramid amongst them.  I found the common links and adapted a way of eating that works for me and have had really incredible results with a definitive improvement in mood, well-being, cognitive function as well as memory and this during the most challenging period of my life so far.

So what does it entail? Well, I think that it won't be much a surprise for many of you but here are the basics.


 
The No's: 

No Sugar - I am sorry but it is as addictive as it is destructive and unfortunately, especially in the States, it is everywhere. If you don't believe me, then take a look at the label for something as healthy sounding as "tomato soup." We get plenty of the sweet stuff in our fruits and vegetables already.

No gluten - Gluten can cause an enormous amount of inflammation in the body, even for those of us who are not even close to having celiac disease. I had NO idea that this one would effect me as strongly as it did. Come on, I have lived in France the Land of Bread for the past fifteen years! Turns out (as I now know), it strongly brings me down and makes me tired.

No dairy - Dairy is second only to gluten in terms of its inflammatory effects plus distressor links in the body and digestion. Again, you might not think that you are intolerant but you won't know until you cut it out and feel the difference. Even in France where there are more cheeses than days of the year, one third of the population in Southern France has some level of dairy intolerance.

No processed foods - which can be defined as "anything that comes in a box" or anything that you don't actually recognize as a "food" on the labels list. Why eat that? Please keep an eye out for all of the chemicals, preservatives and the like such as the ever present hydrogenated soybean oils or high fructose corn syrup. Those two may boost the pockets of Monsanto but are terrible for your health. You know this already instinctively. Please really also be warned off anything labeled as "diet" "low sugar" or "low fat" as there are chemical fillers used to replace the originals!

No conventionally grown meat - grass-fed, organic only. Not only for humanitarian and environmental reasons but also because the meat is actually healthier, containing less fat and more Omega 3's. Cloning, added hormones, antibiotics and synthetic parasiticides, texturizers and coloring? No thank you.

No industrial seed and vegetable oils - such as soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, and grapeseed oil. Try olive oil, coconut oil instead.

Limited to no alcohol - Alcohol is a depressant. If you truly stop even for a while, it will change you. This deserves its own post and that just might happen one day.

And the Yes's:

Omega 3's - This has helped me the most along with turmeric and ACV, (see below), not only through foods (salmon, sardines) but also as a supplement that is strong in both EPA's and DHA's the happy/calm inducers. Strength, protein, heart and brain food. I try to buy line or wild-caught. A friend told me years ago that my shaky hands and unsteadiness would disappear once I had enough Omega 3's in my diet. I didn't listen then but he was right. And this is not to be confused with Omega 6's which we already have far too much of in our modern diet.
Beans and legumes - my secret weapon. An amazing source of protein that greatly reduces inflammation (hooray for chickpeas!) also including squashes and sweet potatoes. All are a great source of much needed fiber too. 

All leafy greens - the darker the better but romaine is also great for this. 

All cruciferous veggies - broccoli, red cabbage and the like. Roasted or sauteed, they are now a staple and I truly notice when I am not eating enough of them.

Tea  - whether green, white or black. I switched from coffee and it made a very big difference - an obvious move for anyone with anxiety and yet it took me years to figure that out.
Tomatoes - unless you have a reaction to nightshades.
Onions, ginger and garlic - raw is best but cook them if you need to, just get them in your diet!
All berries - They are so great for the brain but in general you just want to avoid all high glycemic fruits (and all high glycemic foods actually, it messes us up and then some).
Dark chocolate - but 72% cacao or higher with no added sugar.

Turmeric - this is the big one, it costs nothing and it is amazing. Not only is it one of the best things to beat inflammation but it just might prevent Alzheimer's. You will want to have a half teaspoon a day and use it with a bit of black pepper when you can to help the body absorb it fully.
Rosemary - for the same reason. Who knew that it could be such a powerhouse for mental health?

Lemon water - A great start to the day with warm water with lemon. If you are feeling brave you can add the turmeric and a bit of cayenne - just try it once! Not for everyday as it can strip the enamel off of your teeth.
Unapasturized, unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar - even better with so much that is good for you it is incredible. I use one to tablespoons in water and mix it with my dose of turmeric and pepper along with some ginger for a "wellness shot" every morning. Poor digestion often goes along with depression and this will certainly take care of that too.

Parsley - it isn't just for decoration, it's a superfood.

Avocado - get those healthy fats. Our brain is 60% fat - did you get that? We need them. And did you see that recent article in the NY Times saying how the sugar industry shifted blame to fat? There is so much about our ways of eating that are out of date and ill-informed. But that is changing.

Olive Oil - the benefits are proven and widespread,  plus see just above.
Spices - the more, the merrier but along with those already mentioned, I love cinnamon and cayenne for their antioxidant power too.

Adding prebiotics and probiotics - see here.

Buy foods that are certified organic when you can and Non-GMO whenever possible -  I hesitated to add this one as admittedly, I can't afford to buy organic all the time myself, although I do prioritize what is essential to me. For the rest, I can't ask enough to really take the time to clean your fruits and vegetables of those mega-inflammatory pesticides as best as you can. Now, GMO's or genetically modified foods have the irritants built in on the inside. Again, no bueno. Happily, food marketing is waking up to the fact that a lot of us don't want that and so are clearly labeling non-GMO food items. Please take a look at Emm's awesome comment down below too.


Additional notes:

Aim for 5-7 portions of vegetables and low glycemic fruits a day. I know that seems like a lot but you will feel the difference. Also, the less grains that I eat, the better I feel but that is just me.

Aim for one portion of Omega 3 rich foods per day. Not only is this important for all of the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant reasons above but to replace the calcium that you would normally get from dairy. Per serving, sardines have more calcium than milk! 

Since coming back to the States, my tastes have shifted away from meat, especially as I know of all of the scary additives and treatments that get the ok from the FDA here. Yes, please keep in mind where you are buying your food and what your local food laws entail. I did eat lamb and pork and even beef in France but organic chicken and wild-caught fish are more to my taste now (and I have to say that even the chicken is pretty rare). You might find similar shifts happening after the initial reset and it can be important to listen to what your body wants. I also mention this as to be clear that my personal experience is not a typical Paleo diet in that it is not meat-centric at all but rather a vegetable-based one that includes carefully sourced protein at every meal.

  

That sounds like a lot to take in, perhaps?

It really isn't that hard. And what is important for it to make a difference in your body is to go all out for thirty days. You can do it! This will give your body the reset that it needs, to start from zero, if you will. If you don't do this then you will not really know what a huge difference it can make for you and within your body - think of it as giving yourself a chance to breathe. From then on, aim for the 80/20 rule in that you adhere to it completely 80% of the time and then give yourself some slack 20% of the time. For me, that comes out as the occasional bits of cheese and glasses of wine and just knowing that I have that possibility makes me know that I am not on a diet but rather am making an important life-shift. Now, I no longer crave gluten, meat, sugar or junk food at all. I mean not at all. And also, I want to add that I adapted what works for me out of the various anti-inflammatory resources that I read. Some say no grains, soy, eggs or corn. I eat all of those things in moderation. I can't afford to buy organic meats and so adapted to beans (which may not work for everyone) as I really need to have a source of protein at every meal. Use the basic concepts but really try not to waver until you feel it taking effect. You will.

So what does this actually look and taste like?

Well, today I started with the wellness shot that I mentioned and chai tea. For breakfast, I had organic oatmeal with cinnamon and berries but it could have also been an organic ricecake with organic (most importantly, no sugar) peanut butter with chia and flax seeds. That was followed by my daily supplements of Omega 3, a calcium, vitamin d and magnesium combo (all so important for depression!), a vitamin b complex, iron and rhodiola. 

For lunch, I had a giant mixed salad of romaine and shredded purple cabbage with baby carrots and tomatoes, sardines, sunflower seeds and topped with a homemade lemon soy vinaigrette and a huge mix of the spices mentioned above (including cayenne for kick and a metabolism boost). And an apple.

Snacking is not usually my thing but I have come to love healthy, air-popped popcorn. No, not the movie theatre or fake butter microwave kind (there is some seriously bad juju in the lining of those packages). Yes, popcorn is anti-inflammatory! I choose clean brands such as Boom Chick a Pop and preferably those with no-GMO's whenever possible.

For dinner, I often make a big batch to last for several days based on the following basic idea: sautéed or roasted vegetables with a bean, legume or starch for protein in a healthy sauce. Tonight that will be zucchini ribbons with chili beans in a spicy fresh tomato sauce but it could also be roasted broccoli with chickpeas in a tahini dressing or roasted sweet potatoes with butternut squash in a maple soy glaze. Any filling combination will do. It is basic, it works and it is cheap as can be! Seriously, most of my meals are in the 30 cents to a dollar range in terms of cost per person. If possible, I do try and have my biggest meal for lunch (especially if meat is involved) and have something lighter at night, an option that I learned in France which just works.

I have never eaten so well in my life. I do not skimp with the portions on anything in the least bit; they are filling and healthy. And I really feel the difference in my body and spirit.

I also see the difference too. Some of you have asked about my weight loss and while I truly adopted this way of eating as one of my practical methods for getting my depression under control, I have also lost over 35 pounds in the past seven months. Now, to be honest, I would say that the first ten was from heartbreak pure and simple. But the rest just came off with the adjustment in how I was eating with no additional real effort. Yes, I walk thirty minutes a day and meditate - and I actually think that both of those are essential too. Again, this is about the big picture of body-mind well-being and I feel so strongly that it is all one big happy family. Peace inside and out is the goal. Am I getting there everyday? Well, if you read this blog then you know that I still struggle with the situations in my life but at least I feel like I am taking responsibility for my health, finally. And I am pretty proud of that.

I hope this is of help and possibly, inspiration. Let Autumn begin, my favorite season...


 (Those of you who have been reading for a while will be surprised to see this "vanity" shot of me. It is the only one that will ever be on this blog. Ever.)


Bonne continuation et bon appétit! 

Heather





Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Gratitude and the red barns



What is most meaningful to me in my life? Right now?

Creativity
Beauty
Nature
Seeing
Art 
Travel
Discovery
Learning
Connection
Helping
Love



I think that looks good. It is a start, plus I can imagine where all the many subsets of things that I adore fit into these blocked out categories (food is creativity to me, reading is discovery as well as learning). Best not to over think, especially, certainly when these are what I hope to base the next chapter of my life upon. What kind of alchemy will be required to make a path out of this I have no idea but for now I am gathering the ingredients with intention. And yes, I realize well that a lot of these items are already present in my day to day.



My instinct tells me that gratitude provides the force of a common denominator, un lien. "How can that be?" you might wonder, lips pursed. "How can appreciating what is bring about what is not yet present?" It is a good question but I will just give you the annoyingly vague, redhead mystical answer that I am "going on a hunch."



Whatever gets you through, n'est-ce pas?


And gratitude, at least using it in an active not platitudinal sense, has been a key element of just that during these past seven months. I have several practical posts that I have been preparing regarding the backbones of this Project of Me but that same subtle voice suggested that I throw this one out en plus, hoping that it will roll out like a stone skipping across the water, "just in case." Someone might need this today.


When I first arrived back in the States in March, I remember blinking through my jet lag under the harsh lights of the pharmacy. I was torn about whether or not to spend the money - less than $5 but I have to be that careful these days - on pens plus a black and white composition book that could fit in the palm of my hand. Through my haze, I remembered back to a bad depression in my 20s when, despite so much promise glowing nearly visibly, I had to make a list of all that I was grateful for to get me moving in the mornings. I knew that the same practice would be a wire to hold onto while walking forward through the dark times ahead. And it has been. Everyday I scribble out a list of ten things that I am grateful for; it takes me less than a minute. Simple but truly effective.



I just picked up that notebook and dared to read backwards for the first time since I started it. It gives my heart balance to see that, yes, there is a progression. Here are a few examples starting from mid-March to present...

"I'm breathing"
"the baby bird on the roof"
"Hot tea"
"a comfortable bed"
"Family"
"Ellie, friends near and far"
"my old posts on the blog"
"feta cheese"
"That I am ok with the quiet today"
"the crickets song"
"A sense of home in my heart"
"That hate isn't winning"
"getting better"
"meditation"
"Feeling safe"
"stars"
"tears" 
"unconditional love of dogs"
"my senses working"
"Learning"
and from my last list:
"Feeling whole"
"optimism"



 So, with the insistence of a missionary I am going to yet again invoke psychologist, author and meditation teacher Tara Brach, who, in the podcast that I was listening to this morning called "Happiness for No Reason, Part Two" (I also highly recommend Part One)  talked her listeners through a small exercise of whispering out loud to finish the phrase..."I am grateful for..." and then feeling how the answer lands or resonates within us before asking it again. It felt lovely to do, a bit like unspooling a prayer or building a safe place to wait out a storm, such as the husk of the local barns.



So what do you think, do you want to try it? It's ok if you feel foolish, I bet most people do. This is just something that you are doing for yourself anyway. This may be stating the obvious but I could feel my responses warming up my heart with a quite comforting song.


Do you feel like sharing what came up for you? It is more than ok if you don't, it is just a thought.


Thank goodness that we are all in this together. I intend to keep saying it because there is no day when that idea isn't needed. You all mean more to me than you can ever possibly know. The love that I feel for you (and receive from you) helps me to love better in my life. 

With much gratitude (je suis désolée mais c'est vrai),
Heather


Saturday, September 10, 2016

A few days of summer



To say that this has been an odd time is an understatement. More like a hold-your-breath, tic tock, out of the normal standards of what passes for continuum. Things stretch, they seem impossibly eternal and then run into each other like bumper cars with a case of the hiccups. And unfortunately, I am only referring to what has been going on in my heart.

A few weeks ago, I found myself sobbing, kind of in public, it's a long story. But there I was, washed over by a whole new wave of grief that had risen out of a seeming nowhere. I wiped off my tears with no pretense of embarrassment and then moved on to go shopping for a bit with my Sister, as one does. There, we ran into one of her oldest friends. I actually introduced them when I was seven years old and still fearless. We had just moved to Michigan and there were these girls about Robin's age out in the alley by the blackberry bushes. I took them up to her room and there you go. How simpler things were without personality in the way. So this same friend, Susan, invited us up to her family's little slice of personalized Heaven. We left less than 24 hours later. 

Michigan - where I have been living for the past six months - is truly quite beautiful, something that is a bit of an inside secret for those who are from "the Mitten State" (take a look at the bottom half on the map to understand, apparently the residents of the Upper Peninsula smugly prefer to be left out of the equation entirely) but an area, like much of the US, where great distances are considered casually. As I still do not have my drivers license, Robin sat with a fixed gaze behind the wheel for four hours but wore the effort with the lightness of a grocery run until we pulled up under the pines in front of a true log cabin.

Her immediate spreading smile was worth...all the gold in the world? Well, not quite, mais presque. She knew what she was getting us into. We both needed this. I stepped out and stretched and could feel the pull of Lake Michigan before I could see it. Now, you may laugh - certainly if you have never seen it - for I know well it is not an ocean nor a sea, but trust me, that pull, lion-like, is there. 

For two days, we settled in as Sisters. Sisters of a certain age who know each other now. We respected each others needs for respective space and togetherness. The timelessness of the log cabin walls and the somehow more seeming choice to have internet access or no let our individual current stories fall away. We read. 

Coming back from one of the evening walks that we would take along the beach before sunset, we looked up just as we were arriving back to see Tupelo, or Tupy, nosing down the steps of the dock. She is Susan's 15 or 16 year old Golden Retriever, depending on who is doing the math. So that meant that Susan had made the drive up to spend a few nights with us after all. It wasn't certain, but we had hoped. 

Old friends banter. I made a toast to Susan just for having known her for forty years. When you have moved around as much as I have in life, that is something worth the clink. I took over cooking when we all were too lost in the conversation and I let these two true friends be to wander down to the beach so that they could talk and I could get lost in the stars. With the waves crashing in, I craned my neck and was overwhelmed by the merciless number, far outweighing what my concerns - current or past - could ever be. And yet even there, I cried again until my ribs shook, vulnerable to the truth, that damn resounding truth that natural beauty or God (your choice) has called out to me with an unflagging voice. Under the bare gaze of a million years, I could not help but hear it. 

What else happened down there on the sands is between me and...something greater. This was a few weeks ago. It is such a long process, this grief, these steps towards healing. And I have accepted that I am on nobody's schedule but my own. But those stars are emblazoned within me and if I close my eyes, I feel them not far. 

As luck would have it, I slept down where I imagine the children are usually delegated, the basement level of the log cabin. But as it is built up on stilts, I was able to open my curtain every morning and see that thin line of horizon that could extend nothing but hope into my view. Breathe in, breathe out. Another day rising. 

This has been such a strange time. I don't quite remember the days of the week but I am aware, often too aware of whether I am moving forward or not. And yet, for those four days, I had a taste of pure summer. Far from much, I was focused on the quality of the light upon the water (so similar to that of Bora Bora as to be laughable - why do people insist on flying to the other side of the world?), how the most basic food could taste so much better, how people seemed to have their guard down enough to talk with strangers, that it was possible to count down the sunset and even the Milky Way could break me open, yet again, to the possibility that I am learning and very much still alive. We all forget that some times but it was, in this case, nothing that a few days of summer couldn't set towards the direction of...a maybe one day beyond. Listless yet dreaming like summers do.































Thank you with all of my heart for the many incredibly loving messages and emails that so many of you have sent about Ellie's passing. Again, I feel truly fortunate to have been able to call such a woman my friend. It has been so incredibly moving to see here and elsewhere on social media exactly how far her reach was and is. Hers is a light that will never go out.



Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Best Angel




My beautiful friend Ellie passed away yesterday. 

I remember after the first time that I met her in Paris (when the above picture was taken), I was literally buzzing, nearly shaking with happiness and just this phenomenal energy as I made my way first to the Gare de Lyon and then all the way back down to Provence. Her star shined that bright, even in the confines of her ALS bound body. The amount of love and laughter and incredibly wise perspective that she had to share, so directly, was like nothing that I had ever seen. 

Not having time to waste, we declared our friendship that night. I still feel really honored by this.

When she said a few months later that she definitely wanted to move down to Provence, I was on it, searching for possible houses immediately. The courage that it takes to leave Paris is huge. I did it myself when I moved to Arles with Remi in 2005. But Ellie did so while paralyzed from the neck down, with only her caregivers as her main company, knowing that her husband David and her daughter Grace would most often only be able to join her on the weekends. And yet she didn't look back until her declining health forced her to return to Paris and palliative care.

I had already left Provence at that point, but while there, I would do anything for her - too much - to show my love. Her family would make fun of me (with kindness) because of the insanely over-elaborate lists of suggestions and recommendations that I would spend hours concocting for their visits. My friend L ran into her a few times while Ellie and Co. were out at an antiques or food fair and would always remark at how strong she was even in the midst of the crowds staring at her in her wheelchair with her breathing mask on. That is Ellie too. She was determined to enjoy whatever she could (and occasionally pushed herself too far when the temptation of, say, a Frito beckoned) and without apologies.

She was so excited to surprise me that she had found the house to rent. Little did either of us know that it was located only at a twelve minute drive from mine. We honestly had no idea. She wasn't even exactly sure of the name of the town that she lived in until I explained it to her. She just found the house and made it happen. Given the proximity, you would think that I would have seen her every day but I did not drive yet (and am still working on it), there was no bus transportation and I was not in shape enough to bike it. But Remi would take me when he could and I watched as she (not-so) slowly transformed the wonkily decorated house into something so her, something really elegant yet completely welcoming. Again, how could I have had my doubts? This is a woman capable of anything. With Joel, one of her amazing and loyal caregivers, I helped to hang the lights on the Christmas tree while the Mistral roared outside. I surprised her with a bit of patisserie on New Year's Eve (before David surprised her by showing up an hour later) and she outdid me by somehow persuading him to pull their enormous Mercedes into the tiny lane outside my house the next day. I crouched down by the open door of the back seat and we talked, I was so happy to start the New Year in seeing her. Ben and Kipling came out and licked her hand. That was the last time that I was able to be with her in person.

My life took a dramatic shift not long after that. And she did not let me down, even though I could hear that her voice was getting weaker when we spoke on the phone. Of course, she said nothing about that. She listened to me, let her opinions fly with stinging precision but also knew just what to say with common sense and care. I can hear her voice so clearly: "If I can survive...one day...with this disease...then you will get...through this." I think of that nearly every day. It was Ellie who I would turn to for strength, just as I did my best to offer it to her (at the very least she knew well that I was never scared of her decline). She was also the first person I wanted to tell after my family when I took her advice: when I arrived in the States, when I passed the test for my driver's permit, that I was starting therapy...I suspect that a lot of us, whether close friends or less so, felt that way about her - that she was someone to share the good stuff with immediately. She was in contact with thousands of people and yet somehow managed to make each one of us feel special and important. 

Once she was again in Paris, despite having just been released from palliative care and her increasingly weak physical condition, she managed to not only keep her shop open but self-publish her third book, And So It Is, which tells the story of both her life and what it became while living with ALS. It is an incredible book, one that moves far beyond any trace of sentimentality to hit right to the essence of her experience. I literally do not understand how she made this happen but, along with her blog, Have Some Decorum, it is an important part of her legacy - one of being awake to the value of one's life - that I often told her was "The Ellie Revolution" (I also used to say that she could stop a war just with the power of her baby blues but that is another story).

Her last and perhaps most spectacular decision was her recent choice to return home, to the US and to her beloved California. When I had asked her about the possibility of doing so in the past she said that there was no way that she could make the flight, that the doctors would not allow it - but she did it anyway, supported by a generous friend who sent his private 727 for the occasion. From there she was able to get installed in the same compound that she had loved and left to live in France. It was truly meant to be, a gift from above.

While we would continue to email, I made a decision to talk to her less - it would break my heart to have to ask her to repeat things when I couldn't hear or understand her and frankly I wanted her to save her precious breath for David or Gracie or her best friends Jennifer and Yolanda. But I do hold especially dear one of the last conversations that we had (every single one of our conversations was special, we could talk for hours and hours and hours without pause back in the days when her voice was stronger). She wrote about this later actually, but it was a Sunday and she had gone to her favorite little church, this is still in Paris. There she had a "come to Jesus" moment, except that in it, she told God that she was ready to go soon. And to be truly Ellie, she took things one step further by saying that she was ready to go to work for Him. When she told me that, even though it was such a serious moment, I couldn't help but laugh and say, "Oh my God, you are going to make the best angel. The most kick ass one!"

And she will. She is. 

I am sure of it.

From what I know, her passing was exactly as she wanted it (because save for having ALS and dealing with workmen in Provence, she always got her way). She was surrounded by the love of her family and friends and she was at peace. I was one of her new friends and am incredibly grateful for every moment that I was able to spend with this extremely unique human being. There is so much more that I could say about her (and my thoughts are still fuzzy with my own grief, please pardon any errors here) - about her physical beauty, her brilliant impeccable taste, her wit, her steely intelligence, her thoughtfulness and caring. Not to mention her sheer force of will. While I feel immense relief that she is finally free of her physical suffering, I cannot stop thinking of David and Gracie, of her sister Heather, her parents, her incredible friends and those of you here and all over the world who loved her. She said that she could feel that, you know. To everyone involved, I am sending my love and strength, even though it is a drop in the ocean of your sadness. I am so sorry. 

With typical Ellie humor, she began her last post, "Well hello, surprise surprise, I'm still here."

You most certainly are, because you will live on. Let the angel work begin, Ells.


I love you, beautiful one,
Heather bis




Saturday, August 20, 2016

FOMO - or my best new addresses for Arles




So, people have been talking about "the next wave" of Arles since I first moved there in 2005. My then neighbor said that folks were saying the same when she first moved there some twenty odd years prior to that. And...*letting out a giant exhale*...rien...nothing happened. 

That is, of course, until now. I add the modifier because "of course" this would begin to happen during the first summer when I am out of the region in over ten years. 

As I perch over my instagram account, scrolling to the far blue yonder, I have been astonished to see so much positive change rolling into this 2500 year old town. At times, I twitch with a bit of FOMO or Fear of Missing Out.

Now, there is ab-so-lute-ly a reason for all of the hullabaloo.



I have been mum on this blog about the arrival of the LUMA Foundation as I have been slowly documenting its conception and construction from the beginning, all the better to spring it on you as the completed "Savior of the Arles Economy" that it will be. It is a brilliant project, entirely and privately funded by an incredible arts patron (who happens to be a woman no less) and yes, the entire town has been polarized by the pros and cons of converting tiny Arles into the new modern art capital of Western Europe. Ok, that last bit depends on who you speak to but in my opinion, it just might not be so far from the mark.

Those who are wise are anticipating the arrival of this next wave by paddling out to already to save their place before the surf is indeed up. Remi and I, were too far ahead of the game when we opened our now online only gallery, Nature and Cultures, in 2008 (granted, the actual construction dates of the LUMA tower, designed by no less than Mr. Frank Gehry himself, have been pushed back several times). And we were far from alone. I know of several business owners in Arles who have been just trying to "tient la route" for several years now and we all know why. 

It has been estimated that the LUMA Foundation will draw an additional one million visitors per year.

But oh, does Arles hate change. And yet, as my wise friend Stephen often reminds me, "Let go or be dragged." 

So, Arles, I am talking to you, time to let go and "face the strain."

Here are a few new and recent addresses that have my eyebrows arched in surprise. I can not wait to explore each and every one of them, hopefully upon my return to le Midi this October.




Chardon
Those of you who have been reading for some time know that my bona fide number one gripe about Arles is that it is extremely hard to find a decent restaurant for a decent price, let alone one with adventurous yet grounded cuisine. Eh oui, no longer. I watched the team of the Paris Pop-up do some magic last summer at the gorgeous Nord-Pinus Hotel (I have always said that it is one of the prettiest dining rooms in Arles) from a distance as I did not have a dime to my name but the word out was fantastic. Now, they have brought a new concept to an even better space (the previously under-used Querida on the rue des Arenes) by welcoming a series of chefs in residence to whip up their own menus of small plates tailored around the availability of seasonal ingredients. Just please trust me that this is a radical concept for Arles. In addition, there is a fantastically reasonable wine list (6 € for a glass of 2014 Bourgogne?) as well as a "bar dynamique" which can be attested to by some of the impromptu concerts that have taken place so far this summer (I can only imaaagine what the neighbors think). The current menu has offerings such as a cheese plate at 7€ and beef cheeks with eggplant for 12€. The ambiance seems to be a very happy, unpretentious one.
@chardonarles


Estello
As it does at Estello too. When you live in the centre historique, you try really hard to have a friend who has a roof terrace (they are harder to come by than you might think) because the truth is that there are no really great open air bars, especially for sunset (I can think of one). So, it was high time that this summer time pop-up happened with djs and drinks, plus petanque and photo exhibitions. I am not exactly sure whose idea it was to house all of this on the rooftop of the downtown parking structure but even that is just part and parcel with the "my way or no way" charm of Arles. Open until August 28th at 5 boulevard des Lices. Climb the stairs as the elevator can be iffy.
@helloestello



Arles Yoga
The same team behind Chardon is also bringing "real" yoga to Arles, finally. Now. I know how snobby that sounds but I have been down-dogging since my hippie Mom taught yoga in the 70s and was a bit mystified by the total randomness of the bit of yoga that I heard about in the area, either consisting solely of détente or "yes, you really can do a headstand your first class, come on, just give it a try - allez hop!" This summer there will be the Rock in Opposition technique on feature with two different teachers from Canada and the fall schedule will be released soon. Classes start at 12€ the pop with packages available - all take place at 9 rue du Palais near the Place du Forum. Sweet.
@rioarles


Superfood
If you had told me a year ago that soon there would be a café where not only everything would be made inhouse but also with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options available, I would have rolled over with the giggles. But it has happened. This spot is brand-spanking new on the lovely but unvisited rue Molière, inbetween the Place de la Republique and the boulevard des Lices. Salads such as black quinoa with avocado, fennel and parmesan in a lemon dressing are only 3.60€. I rest my case. 
There is a facebook page for those who are less Big Brother fearing than I plus on instagram:
@superfoodarles

Le Collatéral
Anyone who has been on one of my guided walks can verify that there are some absolutely amazing abandoned buildings throughout town that are just begging on bended knee to live again. I think that the former church and ballroom (because we know how those two go together) that is home to the b&b Le Collatéral most certainly takes the cake and I am delighted to see that it is open, plus that the owners put forth a ton of bonhomie in their presentation. There are only four bedrooms, each with a unique design spin, a huge lounge, library and an open terrace plus lots of art - all in the close but not noisy Roquette neighborhood. Booking rooms can be tricky business in Arles. I promise to look into this spot for you directly in the fall.
@le_collateral


Le Réfectoire des Ateliers
Of all the summertime events that I am missing out on this year, it feels the weirdest not to be going to the Rencontres. I love this photography festival and always have but...going to see the exhibitions out at the site of the Parc des Ateliers (where the LUMA is blooming to be) is just brutal. The heat is insane, it is dusty, everyone is cranky and usually hangry by the time that they stumble through thousands of photographs. Now, there is finally an option that makes this a worthwhile destination in it's own right. And listen up my tourist friends whose stomachs are on a different time zone: they are open all day from 10am to 5pm non-stop.  The products are local and often organic as are the dishes, save when they are put together by one of the "mammas" of the kitchen staff who are capable of whipping up what looks like to be a mean lamb tangine. This is not a new address but one that seems to be really coming into its own.
@lerefectoiredesateliers


Jute espadrilles
And speaking of relative old-timers, I just want to put an update out there for the many of you who have loved my post on the handmade espadrilles at Jute. And you should love them because the pairs that I bought when I wrote that post are still going strong and oh my do I wear out my shoes. I mention them because what they are doing now is phenomenal. I would love to buy all, or nearly all, of what they are creating. Worth a second look. 
They also have a facebook page, a new store in Avignon and this instagram account:
@jute_espadrilles

So there you go. No, I am not sponsored for any of the above - however, if any of the owners of these establishments want to buy me a drink or offer me a job, I most likely would not say no.


Bon Week-end tout le monde! 
Heather

PS. For those of you who can't wait a minute longer, you can read about the LUMA Foundation by clicking here.
PPS. Thank you to ALL of you who sent me so many happy birthday wishes here at Lost in Arles and by email. As you might imagine, they were especially appreciated this year...