Comfort Food & Celebrations


I find myself searching the aisles of the grocery store for something comforting, rich and sweet. It is frustrating because I want a chocolate fudge cupcake, but I am allergic to gluten, dairy, and soy. I could eat the cupcake. I wouldn’t die. But I would feel even more miserable than I do right now. And it would last for days. No thanks.

My baby starts school next week. I just dropped her off at daycare with her hand-picked treats for her last day. The teachers decorated and we are all catching in our throat as we say, “Good Morning” to this exuberant, proud and gorgeous little sunbeam of a girl standing before us. She is ready to party.

She proudly explains her party food choices – strawberry & vanilla vla, applesauce, whipped cream in a can, and melkbroodje. Some of these things are so purely Dutch, I can’t really explain them except to say that these will probably be what my daughter reaches for to comfort herself after she drops her own youngest daughter off at her last day of daycare.

I heard Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek say that the deepest truths are those in which the opposite is also a deepest truth. This is my dichotomy today. Our lives will become explicitly easier once our daughters are on the same school schedule and we are no longer paying for full day daycare, but I am profoundly sad today. I am so sad that it feels illogical. It feels like I am sad for some bigger loss.

I can’t really name it. So as I eat my raw pecan caramel bar and drink a coconut milk latte to comfort myself, it is like trying to hug a ghost. I am reaching into the darkness.

A soft whisper rises up in me. “Nothing will ever be the same again.” There are so many changes going on in my life right now – many of them good and so deeply wanted – but there is a very real grief over loss. This feels like a tipping point. This feels like the last tether to an old way of life. Yep, that is the Chewbacca in the dark recesses of my mind that needs a light shined on it and a big hug.

I am supposed to be working right now. My instinct is to bury this and lose myself in my inbox. But I feel like I need to wade into this grief. I need to sit in this emotion….and….just….breathe….



90 Day Action Planner & Vision Board

I am trying the 90 Day Action Planner by CoLab. It has many great activities. One is making a Vision Board.


Do you make a Vision Board?

Is that so 2005?

I made one.

It combined the use of two of my favorite apps – Pinterest and Canva.

Add red wine, dark chocolate and watching “Holiday Inn” over the Christmas holiday. Who cares if it doesn’t work, I say. It was far more entertaining than scrolling through people’s Christmas morning pictures on Facebook. And then I made my Canva image my phone’s screen saver.

I will check back in at year’s end to tell you how it went.

I mention all of this because it is one of many exercises in “The 90 Day Action Planner” by CoLAB. It’s Week One of The guided program. I am having fun with it, trying not to get overwhelmed and keeping and open mind.

I catch myself being afraid to write goals down. What if this thing really works and I manifest everything I write down? Then I think about how having that doubt has somehow jinxed me. Then I just feel stupid.

But I am slowly making my way through the exercises – skipping some and doing some out of order. It has given me quite a bit of clarity on my top priorities for 2018 for my business and my personal life. I narrowed my business goals down to five. That says a lot for a person with a Vision Board with 25 things on it.

What is blank so far? I hit a mental wall at pages 27 (Your Manifesto) & 28 (Your Power). It feels like I need a cape, mask and superhero name.

Private Bikram Coaching Sessions

Private Bikram Lessons

Courtesy of
Courtesy of Pixabay

Have you ever asked yourself these questions during a Bikram class?

  • What did the teacher mean with that instruction?
  • How on earth do you manage more than one class per week?
  • What adaptations should I do for an old injury?
  • Why does it feel like I am sometimes making an old injury flare up?
  • How will I ever do the camel pose without feeling like my last meal is coming up?
  • Why are my ankles weaker than everyone else’s?
  • How on God’s green earth do these people get so flexible? Do I have a shot in hell in getting that way?
  • Why can’t we talk or fidget during class?
  • Why do I have to keep my elbows locked & triceps flexed so much?
  • How can I possibly relax my shoulders & steady my breathing during a pose?
  • What should it feel like when you are doing a certain pose correctly?
  • Why does Bikram teach some of the poses differently than other types of yoga?


Check Your Brain at the Door

I think the first thing I learned was to check my brain at the door. After one class, I had so many insights and ideas that I was bursting to share several with the owner of the studio. I just could not get the ideas out of my mind so I emailed her about them. That is what led to my taking four private coaching sessions.

At our first meeting, she laughed and said her brother had a similar experience of getting lots of inspiration during Bikram classes. But that was not the goal of class. Bikram yoga is an active meditation. The goal of class is to not use your mind during class. Leave your mind at the door. Like a puppet, use the words of the teacher to guide your body. Nothing else. No internal dialogue.

When your body or your mind is revolting, use the teacher’s voice to block out all the internal noise. Her voice is this thread I grab onto to pull me through. In a world where we are constantly looking at a screen or listening to something through ear buds, it is a very foreign concept. Think of it as SatNav yoga.


How it Worked


Intake – Mama’s Back

We started by my explaining my current and past injuries or relevant health issues. I have had a weak back that began in university after years of high impact sports. Yoga is the only thing that really worked to take away the pain in my lower back, hip and leg pain. And then, after two child births, my core was just shot. I of course wanted to lose some weight, but mostly I wanted to be able to keep up with my kids. I hated telling them that I couldn’t lift them or run with them because “Mama’s back hurt today”.

But Bikram seemed to trigger a shoulder injury I had from softball. So my back felt better than ever, but my right shoulder pain was worse than ever. Everything is connected. So it turns out that I was overusing my shoulder to compensate for my back. It wasn’t Bikram. She watched me do a few poses, suggested some changes, and the pain started to subside as the weeks went by. This was an issue I had even been to a physical therapist for months to help with. Five minutes of instruction and in a matter of weeks, the pain was gone.

I also had the goal of attending Bikram yoga three times per week. For more on that, read this.


Courtesy of Pixabay

Slinky Lessons

Once a month, I would meet with the studio owner after class. I had emailed her about five poses with my questions or difficulties. And, gradually, I got answers to all the questions above and many more.

In the coaching session, we would first talk through a pose and my questions. She would say,

“If your spine were a Slinky, what should it be doing during this pose? Why?”

Umm. What? I had never thought of yoga like this. You usually hear yoga teachers say, “Breathe into the pose. Feel the energy of your life force. Observe how your body is feeling.” And other some such vaguery.

“When you hear this instruction, show me what you do.”

She’d watch me do the pose and take a picture of me in the pose. That was quite intimidating for me. But she seemed to consciously and effortlessly give feedback in a non-judgmental way.

She’d usually tell me a funny anecdote about her learning the pose or what she sees as a teacher. This was key for me for remembering what to do in class. She’d also do the pose herself, talk me through the mental prompts she gives herself, and show me the right and wrong ways to do a pose.


Practice in a Plastic Bag

She would draw stick people to demonstrate the mechanics of what my body should do in a pose and write key words. I kept these notes in a plastic envelope in my yoga bag and looked at them before each class.


“If your lower back hurts or you feel yourself collapsing into your lower back, lift everything above your lower back.”

Prior to each class, in the yoga studio I would try to stand on my mat with my body in perfect alignment, pelvis tucked in, shoulders relaxed and arms straight over my head with elbows locked next to my ears. I would look in the side mirror at how that looked and focus on how my body felt in this position. Then I would take deep breaths and try to raise my ribs higher as if I were a Slinky trying to stretch myself vertically. It is essentially a spine stretching and strengthening exercise. During class, I then try to do this before each pose. It feels like it makes more space or lightens up the load on my lower back. In turn, that gives me more comfort in each pose and I can go deeper into a pose or hold it longer.

Instead of thinking during a pose, “Oh shit! I am stuck! This hurts my lower back.” Or, “Oh, my hamstrings!”

I began thinking, “Suck in my gut. Flex my quads. Flex my triceps.”


  1. I was able to do more of the instructions the teacher was giving.
  2. I enjoyed class more.
  3. It felt like that 90 minutes without my thoughts had been like a hard reset on the mother board of my brain.
  4. I saw real results in muscle tone in my stomach, arms, and thighs.
  5. I became more conscious of my posture throughout the day.
  6.  I feel more balanced physically.

For more about Bikram yoga in The Netherlands, click here.

2016 Resolution in Review: Bikram 3 Days per Week

So it has been a year since my 2016 resolution to go to Bikram yoga three times per week.


Image credit: Pixabay

Last January, I had the clarity and relief that comes with complete failure – rung out like a wet dish rag after failing at something I poured every last drop of myself into.

Instead of rushing into the next thing, though, I carved out a few months to recover and think. For the first time in my life, I really tried to answer the question,

“What do I want to do?”

I was 36 years old.

I had been asked the question countless times, but had answered, instead, the question,

“What do you think I should do?”


“What are people telling me to do?”

And I take complete responsibility for that mistake. It took me some time to have any answer at all. Frankly, I still don’t have a big, magical quest-like answer. The first thought that rose to mind was,

“I want to do Bikram yoga 3 days per week.”


Image credit: Pixabay

Once I stopped questioning it and got my butt to class, I started to realize why. Now, nearly a year after hearing my Self answer, I know the reasons why.

  1. Power Posing
  2. You are who you surround yourself with.
  3. It is physical, spiritual, hormonal, mental and weight loss therapy all in one.
  4. I am a mother.
  5. No more hiding.
  6. It is a lifestyle.


Power Posing

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 


cuddy tedglobal.jpg

Image credit: Harvard Business School


Amy Cuddy

Have you seen Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk? Click here to watch it. What struck me most about this talk was (3:30):

“There is another audience that is influenced by our nonverbals. And that is ourselves. Our thoughts and our feelings and our physiology [are influenced by our nonverbal communication].”

Whoa. What?!

Later (7:24), Cuddy says,

“Do our nonverbals govern how we think and act about ourselves?”

“We know that our minds change our bodies, but is it also true that our bodies change our minds?”

Cuddy then goes onto describe a study she did that tested how people perceive themselves when asked to pose in dominant or submissive positions. In a nutshell, her study found that power posing in private for two minutes significantly increased testosterone (dominance) levels and decreased cortisol (stress) levels. Just posing one’s body for a matter of minutes changes their biochemistry.




Image credit: adapted from


The concept of power poses made me think of yoga poses – specifically poses known for opening up the chest and shoulders. Could it counteract the passive body language of folding in on oneself with slumped shoulders and wrapped arms? And I wondered how this related to the ancient idea of chakras – in particular, the third, fourth and fifth –  the throat, heart, and solar plexus, respectively. You can learn more about them here. Maybe Cuddy’s study was (indirectly) proving the science behind chakras and yoga poses.


Cuddy does indeed dig into the yoga connection in her book, “Presence”, and it is from the eyes of a long time skeptic of yoga so it makes for an interesting read.

But, getting back to Bikram yoga. I realized that the Bikram sequence of 26 poses includes many that open the heart, chest and shoulders – the Bow, Standing Bow, Camel, Cobra, Half Moon, Awkward, Full Locust, Fixed Firm. Could Bikram improve my posture – not just my chest and shoulders, but overall? Could that make me appear more dominant and confident? And, finally, could that make me internalize a belief of dominance and more self-confidence?

Simply put, yes. It is not a 100%, overnight change, but I would say at least a 10% increase. This based purely on the science of my gut feeling. So it is the most successful thing to date for me.


You are who you surround yourself with.

Business tycoon Jim Rohe said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who you surround yourself with matters. Literally.

Have you been to a Bikram yoga class? If not, check out the video here from the studio I attend. This is what a typical class looks like. Don’t you want to look like these people; be these people? Yes, it is intimidating as hell at first to be surrounded by so many svelte people, but, stick with it. It is very motivating.

You will notice people of all ages in the class. And they all looked so balanced physically. There are no men with huge pecs and bird legs. The women do not look like body builders.


It is physical, spiritual, hormonal, mental and weight loss therapy all in one.

Maria McBride did a great job of explaining this on her blog

Excuse #1 for not going to Bikram: 90 minutes + shower = too much time. I am too busy. It was a major mind shift when I realized that Bikram yoga could be my workout, physical therapy, weight loss coach, psychiatrist, hormone balancer, and meditation all in one.

No, I am not kidding. Bikram is just as mental as it is physical. It exercises your organs & glands as much as your muscles. Over the years, I have experienced it working its way through my body’s history of injuries – from my high school sprained ankles from basketball to my two pregnancies to yesterday’s work day spent hunched over a computer.

From this perspective, two hours total and 15 euros per class is a bargain.



Image credit:


I am a mother.

Motherhood is life’s greatest reward and greatest responsibility. It is partly my personality and partly the ages of my children – 2 and 5. As primary caregiver, I am thinking about their needs more than they are. I am the first person they reach for when they are delighted, injured, scared or tired. It is my lap they want to crawl into. I get to smell the crowns of their heads as they rest their ear against my chest and calm to the sound of my heartbeat. That much attention is a wonderful, exhausting gift.

All humans have a finite amount of daily energy. Sleep, diet, exercise, and stress add or subtract from that holy abacus. For me, touch is also a factor. As a mother, there is this ethereal balance of physical contact with my girls. Some evenings, I just cannot stand to have one of them crawl into my lap during dinner time. Other mornings, I crave pulling my daughter into my lap for a wake up cuddle.

For me, exercise is also tactile.

Bikram yoga gives me the quiet and lack of stimulus I crave. No one needing my help or my attention. My needs are first.

No loud dance music fueled Zumba or equipment dense skiing for me. No treadmill, no shoes even. I used to do that. Nowadays, I need to get out of my brain and into my body. I need to feel my bare feet touching the ground. I need one point of focus. And Bikram yoga gives me one external voice to focus on while the heat burns my ego away. By ego I mean my monkey brain that can run wild chasing after the latest stimulus or repeating a single thought over and over much like my five-year old.

I am a mother. Which means that I housed and birthed two baby humans. One’s body does not go back to whence it came without some hard work. When I realized that most of the women in my class had multiple children and could easily rock a bikini, I knew I had come to the right place.


No more hiding.

The Bikram studio has floor to ceiling mirrors on two sides. I put my mat in the back corner so that I couldn’t see myself in the mirror. I liked crowded classes for this reason. I looked at the heating pipes running along the ceiling so I would not have to see myself in the mirror. I hated it when the teacher said my name. I just wanted to be ignored and ignore my reflection until I got good enough, skinny enough….until I was enough. One day, I caught my own reflection in the mirror and thought, “There you are.” No cringe. No smile. No judgement.

I later asked the teacher how many classes I had taken. More than 100.

I only now realize that I could not begin to answer the question, “What do I want to do?” until I started from a place of feeling “Enough”.

It began to take shape tangibly on my yoga mat. It began when I could greet my own gaze in the mirror. It continued when I saw myself in a tank top and yoga capris and thought, “Not bad!” And then later thinking, “Is that muscular arm mine?”

Just that one thing- holding my own gaze in the mirror- was the real beginning. There is something very powerful about sharing your own eye gaze without any other distractions. It is an active meditation. If you suffer from perfectionism as I do, it is a break from the critic. A break from the criticism I yield on myself and others. And then that mental pattern starts to change. The criticism is 10% less. I can see him as an amusing little toddler having a tantrum or a yapping frightened little dog. And, outside of class, he shuts up sometimes. Not often, 10% less. But I notice it.

My mat is still in the back of the class, but I position myself so I can see myself in the mirror.


It is a lifestyle.

I am no yogi. I burn no incense.

But getting to a 90-minute class three days per week takes some planning. Feeling well during that 90-minute class also takes some planning. No big breakfasts. No overdoing it on drinks or dinner the night before. Getting my sweaty towel and clothes cleaned changed my laundry routine. It changed what I bought at the grocery store. It changed when I planned meetings and social events.

I don’t say this as a deterrent. People center their lives around all sorts of things.

I say this because people will naturally wonder if they will get in great shape by going to Bikram yoga classes. Yes…And. I think the changes I made to my life outside of class that enable me to get to class are a huge factor in my weight loss and health improvements. It is a package deal. It is a lifestyle.

I mention 10% a lot in this blog. If that does not seem like much. Read this book.

In full disclosure, in 2016, I did not manage to get to class 3 days per week. I averaged closer to 2 or 2.5 times. That is still more than twice the amount I attended class in 2015. The physical, spiritual and mental results were still great. 2017 – same goal. So far, so good.

Join Me: One Month Gluten Free Challenge

Exactly one month ago, I wrote about the tipping point in my life with my health that got me to start eating gluten free. It also caused me to make a major pivot in my career. As I have written about here, I became an entrepreneur this year. Like many, that opened a flood gate of creativity in my brain. I have so many ideas for new businesses.

Like a river running through my subconscious, all of my ideas have an underlying theme – community. I like to connect with people. I like to help people.

So, where better to start than with eating gluten free? If you are interested in knowing more, come on over to my blog at Gluten Vrije Vrouw. Don’t be scared by the Dutch name. I am blogging in English. Or find me on Facebook at the same name. I am trying my hand at videos so it gets pretty interesting on my Facebook page.

My first endeavour is to launch a One Month Gluten Free Challenge for The Netherlands. I will provide all you need – recipes, meal plans and even do all of the shopping for you to try eating gluten free for one month. And that’s not all. We will have a private Facebook page and weekly video calls with special guest experts joining in to answer your questions.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Gluten Free 30 Opt in

Why Do I Love to Shop?

Why Do I Love to Shop? Morethananexpat

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trips. $100 Budget. Coupons.

I have been taking one question with me to the yoga mat for each of my Bikram yoga classes. It is the closest I get to meditation these days. My monkey mind focuses on one question. These are the words that rose to the surface in my mind’s eye.

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trip. $100 Budget. Coupons.

Red, white & blue sweatsuit. I don’t know how old I was. It was before junior high so I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. It was a surely a boy’s sweatsuit. It has red, white and blue color block horizontal stripes across the sweatshirt. I probably thought it looked fancy because of the white collar with three buttons. It looked like one of those rugby shirts that were so popular in the 80’s. I had matching red sweatpants with pockets. Pockets made them fancy. Pockets made them day wear. My European husband will laugh out loud when he reads this.

“I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.”

And I had essentially a mullet perm hairdo with pink tortoise-shell round glasses perched atop chubby cheeks and buck teeth. I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.

I loved it. I wore it with turquoise high top Chuck Taylor Converse that flipped down at the top to reveal a yellow lining. I loved those shoes.

I know this was before junior high because I vividly remember the playground and four square. Recess was basically the only time we were allowed to socialize at school. I was so proud of that outfit. Oh, my classmates let me have it. Playing four square, I remember the other players and other standing around laughing at me and my outfit.

That perm, those thick horizontal stripes, baggy pockets, circular eyeglasses. They did not help my chubby little body one bit. Oh, I was comfortable wearing them, but after my classmates got done with me at recess, my skin felt like it was on fire. I’m sure I cried. Which is like gasoline on a fire for tween girls’ laughter. It is a wonder I made it out of those years.

Phone Books. My twin sister and I used to deliver phone books. This was before the term “Side Hustle”. I think we spent one or two weekends delivering phone books in the biggest town in our area. Thank God we were not doing this in our hometown. The shame could have consumed me. We delivered phone books to earn money to spend on school clothes. It taught us the value of money. What it also taught me was to hate phone books. There were stack after stack of these things shrink wrapped and sitting in our garage. That plastic smell. The ink turning my finger tips black. The paper cuts. The value of money.

My mother made it work. She found a means to an end. I associate those phone books with shame and with being too poor to just buy school clothes like everyone else, but she was actually the first entrepreneur in my life. I tell myself I don’t know how to be an entrepreneur, but the seeds are all right there. I have been telling myself the wrong stories.

Reward. I associate shopping with a reward. I see shopping as a reward. Small wonder. Delivering these phone books was rewarded with a trip to the Chicago suburbs to go shopping for next fall’s school clothes. It was a big deal. The Chicago suburbs might as well have been the runways of Paris or Milan compared to my small town options. There was no internet shopping. There was no internet period. Sears catalog. Phone books, people.

Now I know why I snuck out of the office all those times to go shopping. In London when I worked 14 hour days, in Amsterdam when everyone hated bankers, in Wisconsin when I felt alone, on business trips when I felt so stressed, I went shopping. Whether it was stopping into an outlet mall in Wisconsin or meandering through Liverpool Street Station or buying too many souvenirs at a market in Istanbul or nipping into Marks & Spencer’s. It was all a reward. And if there was a sale, oh, there was no stopping me.

Annual Shopping Trip. My mother turned Fall School Shopping into a destination vacation. We stayed in a mid-range hotel (which seemed very posh to me). We ate out for dinner (at a place with cloth napkins). Sometimes we got to bring a friend along. We went to shopping malls with a population probably as large as our town. It was a cultural event.

We went for clothes, but it was an entire experience. Maybe that is what I crave when I walk into a store. I crave that excitement and experience. Maybe I miss my mother and my sisters.

And how I felt so cool walking into school in clothes I knew no one else had. This back fired big time. See red, white and blue sweatsuit above. Yep, that was definitely before high school. Blending in was crucial to my high school experience. I think that is a question for another yoga class, though.

$100 Budget. For some reason, I think we each had a budget of $100. That seems like a lot of money back then. We came back with a pile of clothes and shoes. I remember meticulously tallying the receipts. Being even is crucial for twins. Down to the cent, we had to be even. We definitely knew how much each of our pieces of clothing cost. If not immediately, it definitely now instilled a value of taking care of my belongings. I know this because I find myself saying it to my daughters and husbands.

Coupons. What is it with the American culture and coupons? Dutch people ask me this especially now that TLC starting running “Extreme Couponing” in The Netherlands. Scarcity. Marketing 101. It is ingrained in the American culture. Get it while it is cheaper. If you wait, you will have to pay more. Full price is for suckers. That is why coupons have expiration dates.

These shopping trips taught me to never pay full price for anything. It is a great lesson on the surface. Somehow, being on sale made something more valuable. How backward is that? Why doesn’t ‘being on sale’ mean “It is ugly and no one wants it”?

Coupons should have taught me to game the system. They should have taught me a bigger lesson that there is a system and it can be gamed. It taught me to how to consume the most possible. It also eventually made me realize that there is a huge margin built into most sticker prices.

I still find myself compulsively confessing to people that I bought something on sale or second-hand. Why do I do that? Another question for another yoga session. So many questions…

Birthdays & Grief


Today is my youngest daughter’s second birthday. She is a beautiful, clever and funny little thing. I am so glad that she is a part of our family. And yet, I feel ambivalent at best about this milestone.

Some people reflect on the past year at New Year’s Eve. I reflect on the year on my two daughters’ birthdays. I can vividly see and remember their births and each subsequent birthday. I reflect on just how far they have come – how far we both have come in the past year. And then I think about my father.

I think about all he has missed since his death over two and a half years ago. He died within days of my oldest daughter’s second birthday and while I was just weeks pregnant with my second child. I grieve all over again for what he missed this past year. I grieve for my children not knowing their grandpa.

And then I get this dropping sensation and visceral tightening in my stomach. I am angry. I am resentful. His sudden death somehow seems avoidable. I resent him for not taking better care of himself. I am angry that his death overshadows my daughters’ birthdays.

I used to love planning birthday parties for my daughters. They were epic. Ridiculous, but great. For my oldest daughter’s second birthday, I had put so much effort and detail into planning the party. A few days prior, my father suddenly died. The party suddenly seemed so pointless and stupid.

I am not pissed at my dead father for ruining my party planning for my daughter’s second birthday. I am not that shallow. I am saying his death put a black smudge on one of my simple pleasures.

And, every year, it takes my focus off of celebrating the great little human I am so happy is part of my life. A child’s birthday should be a day all about them. They are a gift in my life. Seeing the delight in their eyes about a party with all of their favorite things is my way of showing them “Today, you are the center of the universe. Your every wish shall be granted.” It is a day to count blessings not to drudge up grief.

I need to find a way to celebrate his life as a gift – to count my memories of him as blessings and share them with my girls.