Beyond Vegetables – Edible Gardens Bring Beauty & Build Confidence

My neighborhood is full of experienced and  dedicated vegetable gardeners. Barbara is a Master Gardener who spends her days with school children cultivating edible gardens — an incomparable teaching tool. Nicolle started somewhat small but now has one of the most impressive and prolific garden I know. Both are generous with their knowledge and extra produce.


More than a year ago and despite the searing summer heat here in Arizona, I decided to give my own garden a try. The first attempt was a total failure — too much shade. The puppy trounced the plot (twice), then birds found the few pathetic tomatoes I managed to grow. Maybe this gardening thing wasn’t my gig after all.

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Nicolle told me about a local company that helps wannabe gardeners like me. They’ll plan, install, maintain, and advise on backyard gardens large or small. They’ll do as little or as much as you want. Not willing to try again without a little more know how on my side, I worked with Farmyard to plan and build garden number two.

Persistence is not my strong suit. I tend to be easily discouraged, and throw up my hands rather than risk failing royally. Thinking as a coach (retrospectively), I know when I’m weak in one area,  finding a way to bring in something I’m good at can turn things around. In this case, it seems one of my signature strengths, “appreciation of beauty and excellence”, saved the day. I really wanted to watch those lush green vegetables grow. I knew that even just the sight of my garden flourishing would bring me exquisite pleasure.


I was right. Many of the greens were planted from seed. I watched impatiently for several weeks (probably because I shoved those tiny seeds too deep into the soil.) Finally sprouts emerged, and then, watch out, everything began growing like gangbusters.


Green onions, butter lettuce, arugula, broccoli, kale, mesclun, spinach

Then there’s the many nuanced tones of green…
against the rich brown soil…
encased in the smokey blue of the smooth wooden box…
set against the warm, textured, stucco wall.

It’s lovely.


Soon, I’m told, it will be time to retire some of the greens and make room for tomatoes and other spring crops.

This time, I’ll be ready for the birds.


An Antidote to Judgmental Thinking

Walking along a wooded path, an older man encounters a growling dog cowering near a tree. The man hurries past angrily while thinking to himself, “What sort of stupid dog owner has abandoned this animal? I can only imagine how it must have been mistreated.”
A few minutes later, a woman jogs by and sees the same ferocious, lunging dog. Having a longstanding fear of dogs, she stops, turns around and runs the other way.  
Eventually a teenage girl happens upon the noisy dog. She’s curious as to why the dog is so distressed. She cautiously draws just close enough to see that his leash is tangled in the bushes next to the tree. The dog has furiously tried to free himself and has a deep abrasion on his side from the effort. “No wonder this poor dog is so worked up!” She takes out her cell phone and calls Animal Control for help.

Less Judgment More CuriosityThis has always been a powerful story for me. That three people can interpret the same scene so differently is fascinating. The first two are quick to judge and react dismissively or fearfully. It’s only the teenager who seeks more information. She reserves judgment and asks questions instead.

Psychologist Tony Hacker writes, “We make judgments when we think we already know all we need to know…When our judgment includes strong disapproval or dislike, we become more dismissive and cynical.” The tendency to be judgmental can impinge on our ability to be happy.

We all react judgmentally at times, and for some it becomes an unconscious and therefore repeated pattern. Know a cynic or two? This is probably what’s going on in their brain.

In coaching, it’s paramount that the coach suspends judgment on the client’s situation. (Note we like to say “suspend” since “eliminate” is nearly impossible.) Without pronouncements or advice, the coach is able to listen more closely. This is where curiosity comes in. This process allows the coach help her client discover new ways of thinking.

Beyond coaching, curiosity opens our minds to understanding the world around us. It allows us to gather the back story and then formulate an honest opinion. It helps us practice empathy. It reminds us to put ourselves in another’s shoes.

Judgment, on the other hand, doesn’t care about extenuating circumstances. Judgment is based on assumptions. The man in the story assumed the dog had been abused. The jogger assumed all dogs want to bite her. This type of thinking, though it can be destructive, happens in order for us to make sense of the world. Our brains want to find answers to the unknown because it makes us feel safer.

The Four AgreementsIn Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements, the third agreement is Make No Assumptions. It’s pretty fundamental to our relationships with others and to the world around us. By avoiding assumptions, we stay curious and help prevent misunderstandings and disappointment.

The first step in personal growth is always awareness. Next time you find yourself passing judgment on a stranger, colleague or loved one, back up and look for assumptions. Ask yourself what else you would need to know to create an informed opinion. It takes practice and compassion to stop ourselves from jumping to conclusions. Yet both will eventually lead us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of people, places and things that are different from us.


Hacker, Tony. Curiosity, Not Judgment, Leads to Understanding, The Seattle Times, June 2, 2013.

Ruiz, Miguel Angel, M.D., (1997) The Four Agreements, A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book), Amber-Allen Publishing (San Rafael, California).

on a different note: Judgement vs. Judgment

19 Smart and Healthy Snacks

Making smart choices when it comes to snacking is a common problem area for most of us. Whether we’re satisfying our own hunger pangs or feeding kids, unhealthy snacks have become far too plentiful and convenient. Clients often ask for suggestions so I thought I’d share some here.

Interested in more input on snacking, easy plant-based meals, eating light when eating out, or a well stocked pantry? Try a Kitchen Consultation which is customized for your lifestyle and your family. Available in person in the Phoenix area or via Skype elsewhere.


Frozen fruit – my favorites are pitted cherries, mango, pineapples and berry mixtures. Buy organic when possible (especially the berries). Frozen fruit is a great substitute for dessert, too.

Homemade protein bars or healthy muffins – Make a batch and you’ll have on-the-go snacks for days. You can always freeze what doesn’t get eaten the first week.

pineapple-73765_640Hard-boiled eggs – with salt and cracked pepper, of course. Not plant-based but a great choice for those who eat eggs.

Hummus and vegetables – When time is an issue, buy baby carrots, pre-sliced celery, peppers, and jicama. Go ahead and keep these on hand at all times.

Dried fruit – apricots, cherries, apples, blueberries. A little goes a long way, so it’s smart to combine them with some plain yogurt or maybe a small serving of low/no sugar cereal like Shredded Wheat.

Healthy trail mix – The bulk section is a good source (or homemade). Avoid mixes loaded with salt, yogurt covered anything, or chocolate. When you find a good one, dole out two handfuls into small bags so it’s easier to keep portions under control.

Nuts! Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds – roasted or raw, salted or not (take your own health into account). Fat and calories are high, so remember to keep portions reasonable.

Fruit – There is simply no better snack than a fresh, crisp apple. Bananas also rock, and they are cheap. Pears, oranges, grapes, papaya, cherries, berries, kiwi…

Whole wheat tortilla wrapped around just about anything – hummus, sliced tomato and/or avocado, a little peanut butter, leftover chili, last night’s veggies…

Plain yogurt with a few tablespoons of natural jam and/or low sugar cereal. (soy, coconut or almond yogurts are good options for plant-based eaters)blueberries-531209_640

Leftover salad — Not everyone is a fan, but personally, I am sure to make extra every night so that I can enjoy some mid-morning. Almost every day…

Granola bars – Remember not all are created equal.  Here are some good choices.

Popcorn – Whether you buy it packaged or make it yourself, go easy on the oil and skip the butter.

Melba toast  – whole grain types with hummus and sliced pickles or cucumber

Rice Cake (no sugar variety) with nut butter – very satisfying. Soy crisps are another great option.

Cherry tomatoes – Alone or with a small dollop of pesto sauce.

Oatmeal – I’m no proponent of the fast microwavable brands, but when I make stovetop oatmeal, I make more than I need and heat up the extra with just a little rice milk. Add dried fruit and a little balsamic vinegar for a taste bud explosion.

Edamame – It’s now so easy to find this versatile bean in convenient packaging.

Dark chocolate – with a few nuts – heaven!

5 Tips for Creating Successful New Year’s Resolutions

fireworksIt’s that time of year. Plenty of us make resolutions or set goals for the upcoming year, but among the makers, few of us follow through (about 12.5 %).

The good news is that compared to those that don’t make a resolution, you are TEN TIMES more likely to make a positive change in your life.

By all means, give it a go.

These tips are adapted from my upcoming online workshop, Happier & Healthier, Balancing Sleep, Food, Mood & Exercise for Optimal Living. Information on how to join is at the bottom of the post.

  • Make a REASONABLE resolution – If you’re starting from coach potato status, please don’t proclaim, “I want to lose 100 pounds” or “I will exercise every day.”
  • Be SPECIFIC when making a goal. Instead of “I will make more friends” try “I will join three groups this year with the aim of meeting new people with like interests. I aim to have at least three to four new friends by the end of the year.”
  • Is your resolution CHALLENGING? It’s okay to recommit to something you’re already making progress with, but you might want to add another goal that addresses a new area that needs improvement.
  • It helps to have a MEASURABLE goal. Throw a number in there, such as “I want to lose 10 pounds over the next 4 months by limiting my sugar intake to eating 1 sweet thing 2 days a week, with no sweets on the other 5 days.”
  • Keep the approach POSITIVE. Create an approach goal instead of an avoidance goal. For instance, “I will replace my daily candy intake with fruit,” rather than “I will stop eating candy.”

Compare your current goal against these suggestions. Can it be tightened up for a better chance at success? If you need help, share your resolution in the comment box, or email me for feedback. I’d love to help you.

Learn more about:

  • Setting smart goals and sharing them with a small group who will support your progress,
  • The role of stress hormones (those of us under chronic stress produce way too much cortisol), and how to maintain balance through sleep, food, mood and exercise,
  • The role of mindfulness and gratitude in creating a more positive and productive life,
  • What’s really behind willpower and how to improve yours,
  • Using your strengths to achieve more rather than attempting to fix your weaknesses.

Here what past participants have to say and sign up here.

Smarts and Stamina Online ProgramThe workshop’s content is based on Amazon’s Healthy Living Bestselling Book, Smarts & Stamina, The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. The book, like the workshop, is chock full of research-based tools of positive psychology to help us increase health, happiness, and overall success.

Throughout the six-week workshop, I’ll be offering support, feedback and accountability. Space is limited to 20 participants and begins February 4, 2015.

Please join us! I’m glad to answer any questions (

What’s Your Favorite Justification When Giving into Temptation?

What goes through your mind when your give into the late night cookies? When you say yes to another cocktail? When you snag a donut from the platter at work? Or when you skip the spin class you’ve had on your calendar all week?

What conversation do you have with yourself to justify the indulgence? Do any of these rationalizations sound familiar?

  • I just want to relax! (exasperated)
  • I really NEED something sweet. (whining)
  • I deserve a treat after the rough day I’ve had. (assertive)
  • You only live once! (carefree)

donutOr maybe you grab the donut and gobble it down quickly so your brain doesn’t have much time to launch into the pros and cons. It’s a reaction to the bakery smell, a compulsion to feel the sugar crystals and yeasty texture in your mouth. Your mind shouts, “Quick! Before she can talk me out of it, grab that sucker!”

You’re not alone. We all succumb now and then. Temptation is like a wave, a very strong, formidable, and sometimes overwhelming force.

But what if you ride the wave of temptation instead of being swept up in it? Take a minute to identify your own idiosyncratic self talk. What do you tell yourself? Once you’ve put your finger on the dialogue, raise a little red flag next time you hear yourself thinking it. Believe it or not, recognizing the pattern is the most important step in changing the behavior

Next step is to challenge the thought. Most of us don’t distinguish between our thoughts and the truth. They are NOT necessarily one and the same. Realizing there is a difference helps diminish the power of our thoughts. Once we know we can challenge them, it becomes a lot easier to do so.

What I’m describing here is sometimes called “conscious awareness,” and it’s one of the guiding principles of mindfulness. It’s the act of checking in with our thought processes and challenging those that aren’t serving us. It’s an important step in developing self-awareness, not to mention self-control.

Consider sharing you’re own favorite line in the comment section below, along with a good counter-argument. For instance the next time I tell myself “You only live once,” before diving into a short stack of chocolate chip pancakes, I might further the thought with “Yep. Life is short. All the more reason to make smart choices.”


Image courtesy of Suat Eman at