Thursday, February 8, 2018

Reflecting over the future and retirement.

It's time to enjoy the freedom and plan the retirement. After making a career, bringing up the kids and putting them through school, they move out, get a job and start their own family. Then our parents get health problems, sick with Alzheimers or dementia. What are you going to do? What about our dream  for the future?
Green winter in Provence. I could retire here.
I've just learned that writing or journaling is good for brain function. I've never kept a diary, but I have prayed and now I spend time organizing my thoughts into this blog. Lately I've been working on my mental health and hormone balance. Adrenaline, insulin and cortisol hormone all effect our health tremendously. Hypertension, energy level, stress and metabolism all are controlled by these hormones. In addition to weight-loss I've found that I don't get angry, disappointed, stressed or let down by other people the way I used to. Practicing yoga and being focused on nutrition has changed my hormones, improved physical health and brain function regenerating all the cells in the body naturally. Working against cell degeneration makes me believe I can be active and live healthy until I'm 100 years or older, just like in the Blue Zones.

My immune system is very strong. I only get sick with flu-like symptoms every 7 years or so. During our stay in Provence this December, both hubby and I got sick. First we had upset stomach lasting 24 hrs. It might have been some bug as my mother had the same back in Norway. A few days later we both came down with aching bodies and coughing, luckily no fever. On the return flight passengers coughed all around me. Traveling while sick is no fun and lacking energy makes life miserable. Wanting to live to 100 years depends on having the energy to live a good life.

Lots of leaves in the pool due to cold and windy weather before a hard freeze.
We've had a hard freeze here in Houston leaving our garden brown and lots of tropical plants are dead. Regained my full energy I am eager to get on with spring gardening. I have been online researching perennials that will survive colder climate. My inspiration is of cause Provence gardens. I loved being in a setting that had green lawn, olive trees, lavender, rosemary and evergreen plants so I might have to think differently when it comes to gardening in Houston. I've watched French gardens on youtube and found a lot of inspiration. So far I've planted some Iris and Hydrangeas that I know will survive the next winter. I also planted some Agapanthus and compact Texan Sage that will provide some texture contrasting to the other plants. Raking and turning the mulch, removing weeds, dead plants and leaves makes the garden somewhat refreshed. It's too early to get too involved in gardening, roses can be cut after valentines day, so maybe next week.

Meanwhile I've been doing a lot of research on brain health. I find these things very interesting. Last year hubby had no work and we had to live on saved money. At the same time he was diagnosed with osteo arthritis and the doctor told him he had only 5 more years before he would be invalid. He already had kidney stone and hypertension for years but now he was also borderline diabetic so our future didn't look too good. The new public health insurance doubled in premium costing as much as our monthly house mortgage with only catastrophic coverage. That is when you start thinking about how you want to spend the future in retirement.

We're dreaming of retirement in the countryside, preferably in Provence and spending December, the coldest month of the year there was a test of how it would be like. So this time we didn't spend time sightseeing but tried to live as the locals. One month; Christmas, my birthday and New Years in Provence was very nice. The weather was much better than expected. Several restaurants and hotels were closed due to lack of tourists but also because of the holidays. They live a much slower pace of life where food and lifestyle is important, a compelling argument to get even deeper engage in living healthy.

Have you ever heard of type 3 Diabetes? That's the what some doctors call Alzheimer. My father-in-law has signs of Alzheimer and it's very fast progressing. Last Monday I attended a funeral for a lady that died of Alzheimer. People might survive cancer, but no-one survives Alzheimer, the 6th leading cause of death in USA. As hubby was borderline diabetic I am worried about Alzheimer.

Unfortunately it seems like Alzheimer and brain problems is just as common as all the other diseases I've been writing about the last year. But the more I investigate the more I find a common link. All these diseases are linked to inflammation and diet. So my resolution for this new year and probably the rest of my life is to continue eating healthy, organic real unprocessed food low in sugar and carbohydrates. My health experience in Provence might have been a coincidence, but I am still convinced that eating healthy can reverse most of our common diseases. For me there is a lot of power in knowing this in contrary to giving up and accepting that it's genetic or nothing you can do about it. With this empowerment I went to the local farmers marked to buy organic vegetables and grass-fed beef with marrow bones to make a stew. Full of collagen to improve gut lining and boost my immune system.

Yoga is a tool that works on the body and mind together.  Functional medicine also works on the whole body and it will be my mission to learn more about it. I don't see a difference in the two, and they both support our choice of nourishment. Most people don't see the same connection and think we're crazy. We all believe in different things. Although I want to help others, they have to live their lives the way they believe is right, just like I do. It's hard when you see small children being effected by their parents choices, but I can't do anything about it. Even my friends fighting cancer are eating carcinogenic food and have no interest in changing. This is a big part of my mental work, to let go. I don't loose sleep over it anymore and I can let those thoughts go.

I bought some grass-fed beef with marrow bone at the farmers marked to make a stew. Perfect in this cold weather. 
Organic vegetable from the local farmers market. Red cabbage has lots of phytochemical and antioxidants.
Honey comb is great on cheese as dessert. It boost your immune system and helps with allergies. 
Perfect dessert: cheese with organic berries, nuts, honey and biological French wine. 
As for retirement plans. One of the intentions of visiting Provence this winter was to experience what it would be like to live there during the cold winter. And that was amazingly pleasant; to see green lawns, animals grazing on the fields and having pleasant weather to walk in nature. The villages still had their markets and lots of traditional festivals. I could live there in winter. We found one obstacle and it was the property prices. We visited and investigated a few properties and found that you get half of the square feet home with much lower standard than we're used to for the double price of our home in Houston. That is a big concern besides the fact that we have to make new friends and a social network all over again. Those things takes time.

Being married to a guy working in the oil and gaz industry, and with two kids in the same industry, we're quite vulnerable. We've been almost one year without work and living off savings with skyrocketing healthcare costs and uncertain health issues. Safety is of a big concern for us. Retirement is at least 2 years ahead and we're spending time planing and reflecting on the future. Being self employed hubby might be able to work longer than people that are employed but at the same time one have to enjoy life while one have the health and the means.

Our goal is still to retire debt free and away from the stress of big city life. So far we've checked out 2 retirement options, Hot Springs Arkansas and Provence, France. Arkansas will give us financial freedom of low cost living but not the lifestyle we want. Provence is still a dream but we're not sure it's worth the cost in money and personal investment. Returning to our home, daughter, friends, lifestyle and hobbies puts things in perspective. My biggest question is not related to the material lifestyle, but the health and energy level as one gets older. With aging parents and friends loosing theirs I reflect over the future life quality more than the material aspect.

My daughter got a puppy the day after I returned from France, what a joy in life. 
Some people choose to be close to their kids and even depend on them to take care of them when they get older. Being Norwegian, it's not in our culture to live with our kids or depend on their care. Paradoxically as parents and grandparents we'd like to be close to them and share our experience with them, but in todays society youth is valued and old people are not listened to. In countries with public healthcare the government takes care of the old and sick, in the US it's different. One have to make preparations. Arranging our economy and making good health choices becomes important.

Every day can be joyful no matter what we choose, there is no right answer on how to live. Luckily hubby is working now and therefore we have to remain in Houston for a few more years. We both agree that our past year brought us closer together and gave us a different focus on life, health, future and values. We're enjoying each others company, family, friends, my daughters new puppy and hoping for spring to arrive.

This little thing reminds me that life is all about love
Our long term goals remains and because of that our short term goals are clearer. When we organize our mind towards our goal and put everything we do in that direction anything can happen. Once our goals are clear in our minds we need to commit to create it; the way you think, the way you feel, your emotions get organized, your whole body will get organized in one direction. This creating process in all of us is not a small thing. Success happens by intent, not by accident. We're not trying to be control freaks who's always calculating, analyzing and searching for the perfect life because people like that will never be happy. To achieve health and longevity one can't decide how the world is suppose to be created by our ego, but it's a balance and being at ease with who you are.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Food is a serious matter in Provence.

As a follower of my blog you know I love food and cooking. What county is known for their cooking but France, so you know I am in my element. Furthermore I love organic cooking and here it is without question. My next passion is nature and without nature you have no foods for cooking so for me one thing follows the other. The nature is so present in this area, it emerges wherever I go.  Yesterday we walked the streets just behind our rental home and ended up in the hills called The Alpilles that we've been walking for the past 3 years but this time without having to take the car. What a wonderful surprise. On our way, we passed several olive growers and beautiful nature.
This beautiful property is just a few minutes walk from our rental home
What would Provence be without olives?
Horses are a big part of the local culture here.
This one reminded me of my grandfathers horse and looked better in the pictures than the companion black horse.  
This time we've rented a house in a small village called Saint Etienne du Gres. This is a village we've just drove through on previous visits. We're living smack in the middle of the village, actually across from town hall and we overlook the arena from our second story bathroom. 100 meter from our house is the local fish store open 3 days a week. Across from the town hall is the liquor store where we get all the wines we need. We can walk to the bakery and butcher as well, so everything is set up for a nice meal at home. With a kitchen to die for, we have everything we need for a great vacation. Inspired from the the restaurants we try new cuts of meat and prepare the vegetables in new ways. Being creative and spontaneous makes it fun. 
Using fresh herbs from the garden
Dijon mustard makes a great rub so the herbs and spices stays in place. 
Seasonal vegetables in caramelized vinaigrette reduction finish off the meal. 
Cattle, sheep and horses are all grazing on the fields so the meat is naturally raised with no added antibiotics or confined stress environment. As I've told you before, the meat takes its flavor from the herbs the animals are eating so the lamb here taste different than elsewhere. The same goes for the honey we bough at the local market. They are unique to this area. So the olives, the wine, the cheese all gets its flavors from the minerals in the soil, the climate and the vegetation growing here. Nature is so wonderful and full of variation and diversity. 
The cheep are still crazing on the fields in late December. 
The Alpilles are a chaine for small mountains where the cheep will graze from wild herbs. 
I was expecting December to be cold and windy with no vegetation but was very surprised to find it lush and green with plenty of vegetation. The winding roads are far from the congested highways in Houston. Even with a temperature of high 14-15 and lows just above freezing, the landscape is beautiful and the sun feels great. 
The tree line is very evident because of the arid soil and porous chalky mountain.
This picture gives a perspective of the landscape where the lowland is very fertile and the hills are perfect for growing olives and grapes for winemaking and keeping sheep. 
Although Provence is known for lavender, sunflowers, olives and tomatoes you can clearly see from the topography that it has a lot to offer as part of culinary experience. And their traditions goes back to the romans and even beyond that. Around Christmas the traditions are as strong as in the summer. This time of the year, seafood is best with oysters and lobster shipped in from Bretagne. From the region, pot au feu, daube and foie gras will keep you warm and satisfied. 
Pot au Feu from Chez Laurent in Eygalieres is a winter dish full of flavors.
A cheese plate or two with cured pork sausage, chestnut paste and local lavender honey will satisfy the cravings for sweet or salt, creamy brie with truffles or hard herb infused cheese will add texture and substance. The stack of sausage and the cheese plate to the left are from Chez Emily in Eygalieres. 
No matter what restaurant you visit, they will give you a small dish of olives before the meal. All olives taste different, some are more salty and even some have a herby taste. The other day I could taste cinnamon but that's unusual. Olive growers are as serious as winemakers when it comes to olive oils and the fruits it selves. We visit the different growers to buy olives just as we visit vineyards to buy wine. It's a serious matter.  

Locally grown olives and foie gras at Chez Laurent in Eygalieres (normally from duck) as appetizer before ordering the meal. 
The Alpilles are located just 45 minutes from the Mediterranean ocean and fresh seafood is as obvious as locally grown vegetables and meat. But this time of the year people are splurging on wild caught seafood from Bretagne and elsewhere. Even the local supermarkets have greater supply than a big city like Houston.

Oysters and seafood are great this time of the year.
To my surprise, I could get fresh berries for my greek yogurt breakfast. Berries is one of the fruits lowest in carbohydrates and I eat them daily. As a seasonal produce they remind me of summertime and I wasn't expecting too much sweetness this time of the year, but I've not had this sweet tasting strawberries in a long time. 

These French strawberries are just as sweet as my childhood berries in Norway.

In restaurants, the meals are presented as a piece of art. My lentils soup for lunch was airy like a mousse and had small flowers on it. The desserts are a chapter in itself. So nicely decorated, it must have been made by an artist. No wonder they call food making artisans. Not as sweet or as greasy as you'd normally find them elsewhere. Made daily and melting in your mouth wondering what happened after an explosion of taste combinations you've never had before. Leaving you not too heavy after a 3 course meal. 
My lentils soup had small flowers as decoration. 

Flourless Buche de Noel with tropical fruit mousse center covered in white chocolate and coconut.
Even the free range eggs bought at the supermarket gave us a little surprise. I just read an article about the importance of not washing the eggs because of an invisible shield from the hens protecting against bacteria, so in France the eggs are not washed or refrigerated before they're sold. So opening the cartons, we found feathers, lol. 
The free range eggs had feathers. 
My passion for food as medicine is way beyond what I can describe, and here in Provence the food is elevated to a piece of art so I have a hard time describing every single aspect of it. Around Christmas time people are so busy with presents and stressed about money, it might not be on top of your mind to think about these things. But as I've discovered the users manual to living is how to use this wonderful body and take care of the earth at the same time, this is the best Christmas present for me this year. I am spending time with my husband after 10 weeks of separation in a wonderful part of the earth eating, drinking, breathing and nurturing my mind with this wonderful life. And I let my guard down eating refined carbohydrates and sugars from Christmas to New Years. So far I've been able to do intermittent fasting: not eating between dinner and noon, keeping the insulin low, the most healthy thing I can do for my body without doubt. Hopefully you have a great time with your loved ones as well keeping your traditions alive and enjoying the bounty of nature. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Visiting Christmas market in Saint Remy de Provence.

Saint Remy de Provence with a population of 10.000 brings lots of people to their markets year around. This week the market last 3 days and the differs from the weekly markets on Wednesday and Saturday. This close to Christmas people are planning Christmas dinner and dessert. Here the custom is 13 desserts, mostly nuts, candied fruits and some cookies. Visiting after lunch is great because at this time of the year the sun sets early so they lit up the stores and their window displays are very nicely decorated. 

The restaurants are decorated for Christmas, this one has live mini poinsettias in the window
Creative decor on the facade with garlands above the door and reindeers under chandeliers. 
This cheese store seems very popular year round.

I love the fashion here, very comfortable and well put together. 
Strolling the streets of Saint Remy de Provence is always interesting. The town has roots several thousands of years back before the Romans and the Greeks came. So every corner you turn will have something worth taking a picture of. I love the wooden shutters in all the different colors, old doors made of thick wood and metal hinges or a lovely doorknob. Buildings with exposed beams in the ceiling and arched stone passages from back when the town was fortified. Tile making has long traditions here but lots of masonry work is also made of local limestone. These trades are still alive thanks to the love for traditions and this time of the year the traditions for food and culture are more alive than ever. 

The french buy fresh bread daily and as we're stopping at a bakery to get our baguette, it's really hard to resist all the other temptations on display. The lady in front of us makes a tall order for her Christmas party and that gives us plenty of time to browse.
Tempting creations at the bakery
Strolling the streets gives us a tidbit of what's to find as we're arriving the square outside the city hall where all the stalls are lined up for the Christmas Market. Chestnuts are roasting and we hear the choir singing inside the church next door. Vendors handing out samples is the best sales trick in the world. We bought 4 almond macarons, way to few, and a glass of lavender honey. The vendors are all very proud of their production and eager to tell us how they work and welcome us to visit their farms and small shops to get a closer look. The beekeeper, 5th generation, is located just 3 km down the road and tells us how he heats up the bee comb before pressing it into liquid honey. Without the honeybees we would be without most foods. And every honey has its own flavor depending on the vegetation in the area. Eating honey on a regular basis is very good for strengthening the immune system and it taste really good with cheese.
No need to bake this year.

Honey with lavender

Artisan food has a new meaning now, after visiting the market.  Most impressive was the variety of chocolates. Christmas is a time for sweets, so in addition to the candied fruits, nougat and honey, the chocolate production was amazing.

These are made of chocolate 
Perfect gift for a chocolate loving golfer (ME)
I happen to like cheese but these are all made of chocolate. 
Our favorite interior store in Saint-Remy de Provence.

Bed for snuggling on cold winter nights. 

Provence is known for their old traditions in pottery and some of their traditional colors are yellow and blue but over the years the fashion is changing. We love bringing home souvenirs as table cloths or dishes we can use daily so we're reminded of our vacations every day. Not just as a souvenir but as an appreciation of the craftsmanship and traditions that are kept alive. I don't like plastics and things that are only meant for one season. Isn't that the point in visiting an artisan market or a local trade store?
Cute ceramic serving bowls.
You have to keep the butter in a nice dish like these. It will taste better, guaranteed.
I love my yellow and blue butter dish and I use it daily, reminding me of my trips to Provence. 
Looking for a place to get a coffee avec.
The french obviously don't drink coffee between lunch and dinner, because we couldn't find any place to sit down for a hot drink with a little something on the sides. Luckily we have a great coffeemaker at home and a liquor store just 150 yards from our house so we stopped there on the return to get some port wine. What more do you need after a stroll on a cool day? This is just perfect.
The macaron taste great with coffee and port wine.
We bought a gray table runner for the dining table and it fit perfectly combining the colors from the dining chairs and the candles from the florist. I think live is getting pretty close to perfect here.

Locally bought table runner, candles and flower arrangement. 

Why buy stuff made in China, when you can support your local artisans?