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There are plenty of things I like to gift myself: Chocolate. Foot massages at that Thai place. Pumpkin spice lattes (soy, of course). Kitchen gadgets. Fuzzy socks. Anything with avocado.

There are few things that I actually need though. In fact, I would call these things treats rather than gifts. A gift is something far grander. A gift doesn’t need to be tangible, but it most definitely should be substantial. 

The important thing to ask yourself here is,
“What do I long for most? – that I have the power to gift myself?”

So what can you gift yourself with?

  1. Grace. Be kind to yourself. When you put your foot in your mouth at a meeting, when you screw up a family member’s big day, when you’re late – again, when you look in the mirror, when you can’t squeeze into those old jeans, when you can’t finish a workout, when you know you should’ve, but didn’t; be kind. Turn off that barrage of hateful commentary in your head, and extend yourself some mercy. You’ll be surprised how light you feel. 
  2. Confidence. Take pride in whatever you’ve accomplished in your short time here on earth and don’t let the small things go unnoticed. It is so difficult for many to simply get up every morning and persevere through each moment of their day. Your struggles are your badges of honor, don’t short change them! There is always much more on the horizon to reach, accomplish, or conquer, but that’s tomorrow’s battle. Get ready for that battle by building your confidence from your past ones and how you’ve learned and grown from experiencing them.
  3. Honesty. Oftentimes, we let our emotions cloud our reality. Whether it’s regarding our health, our wealth, or our emotional well-being, we often lie to ourselves saying we’re OK, or we’re fine, or we’re trying our best, when we aren’t. Not really. Honesty is the foundation for integrity, proactivity, and success. Our truthfulness about who we are, what we do, and how we function is important because it allows us to see our reality and not build false pretenses that will ultimately hurt us in the long run. 
  4. Gratitude. Thank yourself. No, really! Sometimes it’s hard to be a present parent when work is at its busiest time of year, or to listen to a friend’s problems when you yourself have had a long, exhausting day. Much like you would thank others for their time, their energy, their knowledge, thank yourself too! The other side of the coin is to show gratitude to God, the Universe, Fate, or the Powers that Be. Whatever it is that you believe in, showing gratitude to someThing or someOne “above” for your lot in life is one of the most powerful things you can do because it is the most humbling. So give thanks, and give it often! 
  5. Letting go. Often times we hold on to slights against us or slights we’ve made against others. Whether it’s guilt or anger, pride or despair, letting go can be a difficult thing to do. But these emotions bind us, and we can only be free once we let them go. So let go of that hurt, that pain, and gift yourself with a sigh of relief. 
  6. Forgiveness. Maybe you’ve started noticing a trend here 🙂 Forgiveness is a part of letting go, and it’s so coveted because it is something so rarely given. We’re not built to be quick about forgiving or forgetting anything. The smallest of slights stick in our mind forever, but we’ve got to train ourselves to face those tough situations, people, or emotions, and come to terms with them. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings, your weaknesses, your mistakes. Forgive, and in time, forget. 
  7. Love. There’s a difference between learning to stop being your own enemy and loving yourself. Loving yourself requires active participation, it is not a passive act. Loving yourself is very similar to loving others. You take notice, and you begin to find things you like: physical things like the way you smile or crinkle your nose when you laugh, emotional things like how you show restraint when someone verbally attacks you, or mental things like how you persevere through a tricky problem at work to find a solution everyone can agree on. Pretty soon you realize how unique these things make you, and how you light up every time you notice them happen again. This is how our love for others grows, it is also how our love for ourselves grows. Gift yourself with taking the time to fall in love with yourself.  

This holiday season, in all your selflessness, don’t forget about gifting yourself with what you really need: a heart filled with ease and joy. Happy holidays!!

For me, mental health is something I take stock of – and work on – daily. It is as integral a part of my holistic health as diet and exercise. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” 

Essentially, our emotions drive everything we do, every decision we make. There is no logical decision we make that is not biased through some sort of emotion. But in the end, emotions are chemical. And it is up to us how we use and manipulate these chemicals for our overall happiness. 

I have a history of adolescent depression, and I know many family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that have suffered from some sort of depression, anxiety, mental or mood disorder at some point in their life. This isn’t something that happens in a vaccuum. Life gets tough; our environment, our genetics, and all sorts of other factors come into play. So for me, my mental health is negotiated daily. 

Over time, I’ve come to realize that if I don’t stake stock of my emotions and stress level regularly, I become overstimulated by all the trouble in my life and just shut down. The threat of recurring depression is very real, and it is not a place I want to be. So I strive daily to interface with myself and my emotions, to ensure I am mentally healthy and set myself up for success.

I give my daily practice the same priority as I give to my diet or physical activity. It is just as important, if not more, to manage my stress as it is to manage my organic produce.

Now de-stressing can be done in a variety of ways: watching TV, playing video games, drinking alcohol, eating a tub of ice cream. But to me, these solutions come with baggage as they are not holistically healthy, and they don’t usually address the problem – our need to interface with our emotions, to see them for what they really are, and take action on how we want to manage our stressor.

Here are 8 healthy ways I de-stress and check in with myself daily: 

I keep myself hydrated.
If I don’t drink enough water, I’m in a constant state of brain fog and lethargy. My muscles get dehydrated and I tend to feel my spinal pain far more than usual. Chronic pain is terrible for mental health, so I try to alleviate it before it begins, and staying hydrated helps with that. Try filling up a gallon milk jug with clean, cool water, and marking 1-inch notches up and down the length of the jug with a sharpie. Every hour, drink to the next notch. See how you feel at the end of the day. Though you may need more restroom breaks, you’ll be surprised by how much more focused you are!

I eat the rainbow.
Remember, all our brain and body functions are chemical. Our happiness, our sadness, our pride, our shame – these are all chemical. Getting enough of (and a variety of) vitamins and minerals through colorful fruits and vegetables is essential to making sure the chemical reactions in our brain occur efficiently. To put it in highly simplistic terms: misfiring of chemicals means misfiring of emotions. It is not truthful to say, “If we eat happy foods, we will feel happy emotions.” It is, however, truthful to say, “If we eat the correct foods, our body will create the correct chemical reactions, so that our emotions are regular.” Food will not control environmental factors, but it will give you the right tools to deal with the environmental factors in the most efficient and healthy way.

I move.
Whether it’s a simple yoga stretch, some walking, or a heart-pumping workout, I ensure that I move everyday. This not only helps with my pain management and thus stress, as I mentioned earlier, it also helps with getting endorphins pumping through your blood and brain. Endorphins give you a natural high, so that you feel exhilarated. Exercise is such a simple way to convert stressful, paralyzing emotions to energizing and happy emotions. 

I interact with the elements.
Normally, I’d say “I go outside,” but I think interacting with the elements in more all-encompassing. What I mean by this is that I use fire, water, air, or earth to calm myself down. We are natural beings, and the elements have an incredibly calming and humbling effect on us. Interacting with the elements could be anything from jogging in a cool breeze outside, to taking deep calming breaths (air), from taking a hot bubble bath to watching the rain (water), from sitting around a campfire to lighting some aromatherapy candles (fire), or from gardening with our hands deep in dirt to cooking with fresh herbs and veggies (earth). I try to do any one of these things daily to remind myself that I am not all screens and ideas, but that I am a real physical being that exists in harmony with these elements. 

I recount my day.
Whether your journal, blog, talk to a loved one or pet, recounting your day is essential in dealing with the highs and lows you may have experienced. I keep a moleskine or sketchbook in my purse always, so anytime I have an idea, an emotion, or an event happen, I can quickly jot it down. At the end of each day I look at what I wrote and decide what to do with them. I also talk to husband, and my pet (Ari, my cockatiel), and tell them about my day, even if it was a completely mundane, boring day. Doing this allows me to put the excitable, stressful, and boring moments of my day into perspective and I can then distill what I have learned from these moments and apply them to my life. This is how we grow

I meditate.
Along the same lines, meditation provides a great way to review your experiences and come to new perspectives and solutions. I call it interfacing with myself, as this is the time I take to really be with myself with no other voices in my head. If I am stressed from having too much to do, or I’m hurt from someone’s actions, meditation allows me to truly think about the situation, address it, and then let it go, so that all I am left with is myself – and that is enough! My favorite thing to do is use the app, which I have recommended many times in the past. It is a simple app for your phone, tablet, or computer that allows you go through a 2-, 5-, 10-, 15-, or 20-minute meditation break. You can choose to have it be a guided mediation or not. A lovely voice tells you to relax each muscle group, breathe, and focus on the present, as you listen to the sounds of nature. I have an alarm set on my phone for 10PM, so that every night, if I haven’t already, I’m reminded to take a few minutes to just be calm

I create.
Wiccanism has a saying, “As above, so below,” which means that things that exist in a higher, grander realm, are very similar to things that exist on a smaller, lower plane. Think of the solar system and atoms; the positive and negative path of electricity, and the pathways of our veins and arteries. On a far deeper level, I take it to mean, “As we are created, so should we create.” Creation, to me, is one of the most spiritual things we can do. Whether we get lost for hours in painting, cooking, building, writing, composing, singing, or dancing – there is always a satisfaction that happens from the sense of “losing ourselves” in a task that produces a concrete result. I feel these inspirations come not from us, but through us, and that connects us with the Divine, or to our truest sense of Self. Creating is a highly selfless act; we forget who we are and become the action we are taking, which like meditation, leaves us feeling refreshed and content. So every day, I take the time to create something – a quick meal, a small doodle in my sketchbook, a few lines of my next blog post – anything. 

I ritualize.
Every morning I have coffee. Every evening I have hot water with turmeric and honey. Everytime I leave the house, I have to brush my teeth. Everytime I start something, a new task or endeavor, I say a short prayer. These rituals help ground and sustain us; they give us a sense of comfort and continuity that our daily struggles just don’t provide. Introducing simple rituals into your day, especially those that mark the passage of time, can be highly beneficial in grounding yourself against daily stresses. For example, when I have my hot cup of water at night with turmeric and honey, the scent and taste and feel of the warm mug in my hands signal to me the end of the day, the close of one chapter. Because I’ve done this so many times, it is an automatic trigger for my brain to calm down, relax, and know that sleep is near. 

I hope these eight daily ways to de-stress give insight as to how I maintain my mental health and provide ideas for how you can manage yours.

Let me know what you do to de-stress in the comments below!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo | SPIRITPLATE

I recently wandered across a review of the New York Times bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Within moments, I bought the Kindle version and within hours, I had read it cover to cover, decided I needed a minimalist wardrobe and set to it. Aly found me that evening surrounded by a storm of strewn garments and trash bags, muttering to myself.

(This happens often. When I find an idea I like, I take to it immediately and wholly with little regard to what consequences such a decision would have to my day-to-day reality.)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is built on a simple idea: that decluttering your home happens only once and definitively, by discarding all possessions you do not need. To determine which items to keep or discard, one must hold or touch each item and answer honestly, “Does this item bring me joy?” If the answer is yes, keep it and assign it a space within your home – any other answer means you must discard it, either by trashing, donating, or selling the item. This process is called the KonMari method.

The KonMari Method is built on the premise that you should only keep those items in your possession that bring you pure unadulterated joy, and discard the rest. The possessions you keep must then be assigned a ‘home’ within your home – a place or space where it will reside when not in use. Thus if you ever remove the object from its home, it must be brought back. And if you come into possession of new objects, the same two steps must be followed – ask yourself does this object bring me joy? and then if it does, designate a new home for it. This way you only have to truly tidy up once, ever.

You may be thinking, what about bills? Heirlooms and gifts? Extra towels for guests? Marie Kondo has an answer for everything. She reasons with you like a stern nanny, telling you what you need to hear, often times ignoring what you want to.

Needless to say, in regards to my wardrobe alone (not counting the rest of my home), I produced four 13-gallon trash bags full of clothing to donate and sell, and another such bag for shoes alone. To say my closet was considerably lighter would be an understatement. I had left myself with about 40 pieces of clothing, including shoes and accessories, with about two of each kind of garment – two long sleeved shirts, two short sleeved shirts, two sleeveless shirts, two dresses, two workout pants etc, etc.

My Closet | SPIRITPLATEI stepped back and eyed my handiwork. I felt strangely in love with my (pardon the pun) stripped down closet and drawers, but I couldn’t place my finger on why.

The next couple of weeks flew by. I attended a birthday party, a two-day engagement party, a BBQ, a graduation and spent nearly every evening at my local jamat khana (church). I had long hours at work, three days volunteering at a local elementary school, a couple of work happy hours, and I worked out 5 days each week. Through all of that, I never once had trouble getting ready or picking out what to wear. I never once missed my discarded clothing or regretted my decision.

In fact, in the past month, I was astonished to find:

No one noticed. Not a single person in the last month has noticed my repeated outfits. No one knew I’d worn the same handful of tops all month with the same two cardigans and the same two pairs of pants (one of them jeans) in various combinations. This is a matter I’m very self-conscious about. I was admittedly fearful of the idea of someone noticing I was wearing the same things and passing a comment. The fact that no one did, and frankly, no one could care less, was refreshing.

I felt better about myself, physically and emotionally. I was only wearing a handful of my clothes prior to clearing out my closet. After wasting a significant amount of time looking through all my options, I’d select the same tried and true articles again and again. I constantly struggled with my self-image – putting on the rarely worn garments and lamenting on how I didn’t fit in them, or they made me look lumpy, before changing back into my usual picks. The strewn clothes on the floor after such difficult decision-making drove me nuts, and I hated having to pick them all up and put them back on hangers. I’ve had occasions where I’ve chucked a shirt or dress across the room in frustration. I had no idea how much time and energy was going into this daily process, or how much negativity about myself (ugh how can I look so disgusting in this?), my possessions (who the hell makes such restrictive pants?! I hate these!), and my home (I need a bigger closet, this isn’t enough!) I was generating. It was only when I downsized my wardrobe and experienced a complete lack of these instances that I realized how much lighter I felt. I got dressed in two minutes rather than twenty. As soon as I took off my work clothes I hung them where they belonged and got into my home clothes. No pants on the floor. No clutter. It dawned on me that all the clothing I was left with, no matter how few, were items that did bring me joy – I loved how they looked and felt and fit. This obvious fact was news to me. I only possess clothes I love to wear. What a novel idea!

My Drawers | SPIRITPLATEDecluttering my closet decluttered my mind. The thoughts once occupied with “What do I wear?” and “How do I look?” and their subsequent lamentations that followed, now had time and space to turn to other inquiries: “Can I get in a yoga sess before work?” “How about we meet earlier and catch up before the dinner party?” “Perhaps I could write a blog post on mindful eating?” “Will Tyrion meet the Queen of Dragons?!” In addition, I feel this has reduced my “decision fatigue”. Every morning, we have a set amount of decision-making abilities that is utilized throughout our day. This is why we often make the worst decisions by the end of the day when we’re exhausted and fatigued from deciding what was needed earlier in the day. Thus, minimizing decisions needed for other parts of our life saves our decision-making skills for more important things (i.e deciding what to wear vs. decision whether to work out or what to write). This is why Steve Jobs always wore the same thing day after day – he simply didn’t want to waste time thinking about it!

In the larger scope of things, this idea of limiting my wardrobe evoked an epiphany.
Limiting my wardrobe had, in many ways, liberated me.
Could this idea of “liberation in limitation” be applied to other aspects of my life?
Could I use it to truly enrich my life?

The answer, I was surprised to find, was: it already had.

Now before you go rolling your eyes about me bringing up my vegan diet again, hear me out. Let’s be real. Going vegan – going whole-food vegan – is no easy task. You do feel limited, if only initially. This new lifestyle is a vast departure from everything you’ve ever known or done. It creates a rift, a divide between you and your past self, your loved ones, your traditions, your social navigations. This is a difficult and oftentimes painful process. Like downsizing your wardrobe, downsizing your diet can be daunting. You no longer have the safety net of familiarity you once did. BUT, it is also a vastly enriching experience.

Since going whole foods, plant-based vegan, I have: far less bloating, more restful sleep, less general fatigue and more energy, a bearable and normalized menstrual cycle, no constipation and frequent motions, clear skin, shiny hair and strong nails. My mental focus has improved tremendously. I am no longer pre-diabetic, I rarely get sick and if I do I heal fast, and I recover faster from heavy workouts. Within the confines of this diet, I’ve learned to detect nuanced ingredients and subtle flavors, to recognize quality foods and use them to heal myself. I no longer emotionally eat or feel guilty for having an extra dessert or too many carbs, and I finally understand and take the time to really savor the process of eating and nourishing my body.

Knowing my thoughts and actions are aligned in my belief that no animal should be harmed for my benefit is the icing on the cake. There is a genuine peace in that, and I value it far more that I value the taste of a cheeseburger or the comfort of consuming the same foods my family does. I would have been unable to have these results and realizations by eating the way I used to: whatever I pleased.

Similarly, I would have never realized how much self-hate I was generating with an excessive wardrobe that did me no favors, or recognized what styles I loved, or noticed how much time, energy, and money I was wasting when I hadn’t limited my wardrobe. I wouldn’t have gained the same kind of self-assurance or confidence I have now that my personality speaks louder than my clothes.

You may think this excessive, too drastic a change, but consider the why and how of it:
Why and how are limitations beneficial?

Limitations foster focus and understanding. I can tell you 20 different uses for coconut oil. I now know what nutritional yeast, rhubarb, and psyillium husk are. I can tell you when polyester would be more useful than cotton, and how to pack the lightest, tightest suitcase you’ve ever seen. Having a limited scope forces you to focus on the options that are available to you, and learn more about them.

Limitations foster discipline and self-control. I’ve always had trouble making decisions. I sway when the wind blows. I’ve been told various times that I lacked a certain conviction. Placing limitations on myself allows me a sense of direction, and provides a stance to which I can adhere. It also lessens my decision fatigue, as mentioned earlier, in that I know I have limited options to choose from. Standing firm in my diet and my wardrobe (among other things) prevents me from reaching for that appealing, processed ice cream or for that far too expensive pair of shoes I know will give me blisters. This self-affirmation overflows into other aspects of my life where I am more apt at developing and sticking to my beliefs. This is so very important to me.

Limitations foster adaptability and flexibility. I know how to dissect a menu when I go to a steakhouse with friends.When you can no longer eat meat or have dairy, you find creative substitutes. Tofu and seitan provide the chewy texture you miss. Coconut yogurt pairs with your morning granola. Cashews find their way into every creamy concoction. When you have only one black dress shirt and one white dress shirt, you find new ways to spice them up with various accessories, make up, and jewelry. I know how to wear the same things five different ways. These skills have developed from limited options and availability. I travel often, and when I do, I’m not surrounded by my usual comforts. Even so, I am confident in my ability to adapt to new cultures and gastronomies, and be flexible when what I wish to eat or wear or do is unavailable.

Limitations foster creativity and innovation. From the ability to adapt stems the ability to innovate, to come up with creative solutions to problems that arise from limitations. For example, Aly’s mom loves making samosas – usually made of beef. Everyone in our family enjoys them and I did too at one point. She always wishes I would eat them now, and of course I refuse. Recently, I stumbled across an Asian-inspired crumbled tofu recipe that functioned as a variation of scrambled eggs. I thought, why not use that as a filling for samosas? So mom and I experimented, pressed and crumbled tofu, and marinated it in all the usual samosa spices, green onions, chilies, cilantro, etc, then wrapped the stuffing in the samosa pastry. When they come out piping hot from the fryer the result is incredible. Golden crispy on the outside and perfectly spiced and chewy on the inside, just like ground beef. Mom and I high-fived we were so thrilled with our experiment! This idea of making new associations within set boundaries has been true in all aspects of my life, including making art. When I have too many options I fail to be creative, to make any thought-provoking move. Within limitations, however, I find that I draw new connections, coming up with more creative and compelling ideas.

LaoTzu | SPIRITPLATELimitations can evolve into lifestyles. When we practice our limitations everyday, they become a habit, and soon they are no longer limitations but simply our way of life. The beautiful thing about self-limitations is that they are self-imposed and are subject to change. My journey into veganism began with a 30-Day challenge and mild curiosity, just to see if I could do it. It was a simple short-term self-imposed limitation that opened a whole new world for me. Likewise, I’ve adopted various other challenges: to drink more water, to meditate, to practice yoga simply to attempt to create a habit out of these things I wish to have in my life. To turn down coffee, or soda, or alcohol in favor of water may seem limiting at first – but what have a I gained from it? A daily habit of ensuring I’m hydrating enough, even if I do indulge in other drinks.

Tidying up my closet is a small part of the puzzle. I wanted a clean room, and I wanted to save time, effort and money. By down-sizing my wardrobe, limiting myself to a smaller selection and preventing myself from obtaining new additions, I’ve achieved some semblance of those goals.

I believe self-limitation is the key to unlocking the life you truly want for yourself. It’s about forcing yourself into a box so that you can focus and discipline yourself into creating a better version of yourself – one that can adapt to new situations, innovate on the spot, and do so with the grace of understanding.
“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”
…and you have the tools to create it.

Whilst it is paramount to nourish the body, it is just as important to nourish our minds, the self, and others. One way I like to do this is by grounding myself at regular intervals throughout the year. A grounding meditation allows you to clear your mind of daily stresses, center yourself in the turning wheel of the year, and harness the inherent energy around you, turning it into your own personal power.

EarthDay Grounding Meditation

Spring is a time of remembrance, a time of renewal and rebirth, and a time to sew the seeds of new ideas, new intentions, and new relationships in this deeply fertile time of year. You only have to look around you to see the green bursting forth, the birds buzzing with renewed energy, the winds bringing warmer air. Observing these seasonal changes allows you not only a deeper understanding of the passing of time, but grants you the opportunity to analyze the past, come to terms with it, and dig the roots you’ll need to face the future.

I find that I am truly satisfied and at peace with myself, when I’m not just letting time push me along, but actively participating in its passing. Ever missed out on a Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration? Your birthday? New Years? That feeling of disorientation that follows is what a grounding meditation overcomes. It allows you to have your communion with the present moment, witness it, cherish it, and lay it to rest as it moves on. It is also a great time to give thanks for all that you have experienced and visualize what you hope to actualize in the future.

Today is Earth Day, the perfect day to perform this guided meditation. It is taken from Dianne Sylvan’s The Circle Within. Read through it first, then set up your space where you will perform the meditation. If you’re a newbie to this, I recommend using some form of music to guide you as you visualize the following. For a soothing meditation, try and select any one of their visual or auditory experiences. I personally like a more energizing option; an upbeat instrumental like Lindsey Sterling’s Crystallize really sets the mood for me.

Set up your space, get comfortable, and begin:

Find a place where you can sit quietly for a moment with as few distractions as possible. Sit with your back straight and close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath; try to breathe from deep within your belly, rather than high in your chest. Let your breath lead you into a state of calm, soothing your heartbeat, soothing your mind. 

Now imagine yourself sitting in a field of warm, sunlit grass. The sky is a clear, jewel-like blue, the clouds feathery and soft. The breeze kisses your face like an old lover, and you can hear the distant song of birds far off in the forest. 

As you exhale, visualize roots extending from your body into the ground. With each breath, send them deeper, passing through the topsoil, through the groundwater and bedrock, down through the layers of the Earth. With each breath, your roots draw closer to the center of the Earth, the heart of the Mother. 

Soon, warm Earth energy begins to gather around your roots. Now, as you inhale, draw that energy up through the roots and into your body. Inhale, drawing energy up; exhale, pushing your roots a little deeper. The Earth energy may be colored, or invisible; it may move quickly like electricity or slowly like water. As it fills you, it gives you strength and clarity. 

When you feel full of the energy, visualize it pushing out through the top of your head as great spreading branches. With each exhalation, push the branches farther up into the sky, into the clouds, toward the life-giving sun. The sun’s gentle heat shines down on your branches, which unfurl their leaves in celebration. Feel your leaves absorbing the sun’s energy, the energy of the Father. Each time you inhale, draw it down into your body. The energy [of the sun] mingles with the Earth’s energy, turning slowly around the center of your body, where the two mix into a soft white radiance that fills you with peace. 

Then, once you are calm and strong and ready, begin to pull your branches and roots back into your body. Inhale, drawing them farther and farther in. When they are fully retracted, imagine that the energy inside you is sealed within your skin. Finally, bring your awareness back to the room or space you are in, and open your eyes. 

Wishing you all a very joyous sunshine-filled Earth Day! 

With love and light, 


Hi guys!

I wanted to share a sort of photo diary of our trip to Tanzania this winter. (Apologies for the quality of some of these pictures – all were taken from our really old cell phones!)

As soon as we got married last October, Aly and I knew the first trip we needed to take was to go see his family in Africa. So off we went, right after Christmas, to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.


Here we are at Oyster Bay, a seaside lot where street vendors offered fresh mishkaki (tiny pieces of marinated beef grilled over hot coals), fried plantains, mogo (fried cassava chips) topped with kachumbari (a spin off of Mexican pico de gallo or Indian kachumber but with added cabbage) , and kitale (a hollowed out young coconut filled with mashed potato and topped with shredded coconut and pilli pilli – pickled habanero) – YUM.


 I really loved getting to see where Aly’s family came from and what their lives were like, living in Dar nearly 30 years ago. This is the street where Aly’s grandparents lived and worked and where his father grew up.


Our second day there set the tone for the amazing trip. Our cousins and their friends took us boating. We stopped at a sandbank in the middle of the ocean – a sort of mini island that could only be seen at low tide at about 35 feet across, but sunk underwater as soon as high tide hit. Imagine standing on a small piece of sand with crystal clear water as far as the eye can see – everywhere you look. Just you literally standing on water, warm sun and cool breeze at your back, watching your crazy friend swim back from the yacht with a bottle of champagne. Simply blissful. There are no pictures to describe this experience. 

Most of our two weeks there were spent hanging out with family, celebrating New Years with them at Akemi, a revolving tower restaurant (like Dallas’s Reunion tower) owned by their good friend Priya, and getting to see where and how they lived and worked.

The last few days we were whisked off to the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar, the home of Freddie Mercury, is the original Spice Island, growing cinnamon, cloves, tea, ginger, and all kinds of curry spices: turmeric, paprika, cardamon, and fenugreek amongst others. We spent a day in the capitol of Stonetown, getting a tour of the narrow streets by a real cool guy named Hadi. 


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Zanzibar is a sort of melting pot, with cultural influences from all over the world due to the spice and slave trade. Slaves were imported from India and Pakistan. Merchant flocked from east Asia and Persia. Because of this there is a great Indian and Arabian influence on the architecture and food which can be recognized most prominently on the Zanzibari doors. The first is of Indian influence. The second of Arabic.

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We even got to see the oldest Jamatkhana (Ismaili Muslim house of prayer) in the world, a real blessing. 


Some more views of Stonetown’s streets and slave tour:

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Before we went to the bazaar/market, we stopped for some sugarcane juice!


The scent of the bazaar was irresistible with all those spices!

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We also checked out the fish market where fisherman bartered what they had caught that morning. 

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We ended our Zanzibar excursion by having lunch at this gorgeous seafood restaurant in the middle of the ocean called The Rock. Luckily it was low tide then so we could walk up to it, otherwise we’d have had to take a dhow boat! 


This trip was just mind-blowing. I loved exploring the beautiful Tanzanian culture that Aly comes from and spending time with my amazing new family. I hope you enjoyed seeing it – I know I can’t wait to go back!

Peace and joy,