Sunday, March 30, 2014


To all moms who fight the fight.

Six years ago, after a shocking autism diagnosis of my little boy Alex, I collected all my might and fought the fight of my life. It was long and brutal, but rewarding on many levels. I learned to be patient with him, pick the battles for him, learn to cheer and celebrate even the smallest steps forward. My entire body and mind were concentrated on one and only one thing - the fight, fight to the end!

Years gone by, and the grip of autism started letting go - Alex made amazing leaps forward, started going to school, became a cool buddy of mine...

However, instead of celebrating the victory, I, suddenly, stumbled, fell flat on my face, and... was unable to get up.

Have you heard of depression? Yeah, I've got that. Suddenly, being a mom, going to work, having friends over, and just breathing air in and out became an unbearable burden.

"Depression, shmepression," I've heard from many. I tried to follow friends' advice to ignore "bad mood",  but it was not helping.  I felt weak, deficient, and very disappointed with the world.

The day when I woke up, looked at my kids, and felt absolute apathy, I knew that I had to call not my friends, but a psychologist.

It took a while to untwist my all-tangled-up brain cells - by then, I was so wrapped up in a bubble of working, whether it was at work or at home,  that I could not grasp a concept of being able to do something for myself, but, as it turned out, I resented it greatly. What about me? Is me over? Done? Am I a bad mother if I want to think about me a little? Oh, there was a lot of work to be done...

Here are a few things I learned:
Don't ignore your feelings of being trapped. These feelings won't go away, they just will keep growing and, eventually, show their ugly face. Never be ashamed of your feelings, and never be ashamed to ask for help!

Imprint in your mind - your life and happiness are as valuable as everyone else'sWhen we have a child, we think that we can never love anyone else as much. We have another child, and we, somehow, love him or her just as much! Our heart has the ability to grow big. There is no need to sacrifice space. So go ahead, take a selfie.

Never feel guilty to take a little time for yourself. Our children don't need us 24 hours a day. Take a break - a happy mom equals a happy household.

Find your ME again to bring balance to your life. Is there something you've always wanted to do? I'm sure there is! So, start a new career or pick up a hobby, whatever rocks your boat - whether it is painting, or pottery, or sewing, or gardening, or cooking, or playing an instrument, or playing tennis or any other sport... The possibilities are literally endless!

True, it takes a while to learn to live by these rules. But we have learned much harder things in our lives, haven't we?

I had to remind these rules to myself every day for almost two year. But I made it! For my hobby, I chose horseback riding - spending time at the stables, learning to becoming the boss, getting myself out of the comfort zone, forgetting everyone but me for an hour a week. Works wonders, I say!
At a horse show at Anaheim Equesterian Center ~I never said I would not take the hobby to the next level!
Prepping Quincy for the show ahead.
Got a few ribbons! And there is my amazing instructor in the pink hat. Thank you!
Yes, being a mom :)
Hugging my cheerleaders!
Big love to my honey
Taking selfie while waiting for food after the show.
Oh, wow, the highlighter really does wonders to slash off years off the skin!
So ready for a hearty meal
With love always,
xo Zuma A.

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Related posts: Autism: Life Unedited ,  Autism: Walking the WalkAutism: Happily Ever After

Thursday, March 27, 2014


No one argues that it is probably wise to eat organic food. But, unfortunately, most of us can't really afford to eat organic food all the time.  Right? Maybe...

So I decided to check the difference in cost of today's dinner if prepared with organic ingredients vs. non-organic ingredients.

What's for dinner tonight? Tomato Salad, Baked Salmon, Mashed potatoes,  and Garlic Spinach. Mmmm, I am such a good wife!

Okay, before I go any further, here is the general list of foods we should buy organic.

bell peppers, potatoes, carrots
celery, spinach, lettuce, kale
apples, peaches, nectarines
strawberries, blueberries, cherries, grapes (if imported)
peanut butter
dairybeef, poultry, eggs

*Note - While tomatoes are not on the list, for the sake of better taste I buy organic.
And here's the list of foods that do not contain high level of chemical and pesticide residue, and don't necessarily need to be purchased organic.

onion, sweet potato, asparagus, broccoli, eggplant
cabbage*, sweet corn, sweet peas, avocado
grapefruit, bananas, pineapple, mango, kiwi
cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew melon

Before you put fruits and veggies on the table: Remove and throw away the outermost leaves of lettuce and cabbage, if not organic. This cuts down on dirt bacteria and pesticide residues. Also, it is always better to peel fruits, if possible.

So, I was off to Trader Joe's, and to make a dinner for 4, here was the grocery list:
                                                                Price/Organic            Price/Conventional
5 tomatos                                                 $3.99                         $2.29
1 red onion    (price for2lb pack)             $3.49                         $2.49
1 pack Persian Cucumber                        $1.99                         $2.49
2 lb Russet potatoes   (alb pack)              $3.99                         $2.29
6oz heavy cream                                      $2.99                          $3.49
1/2 lb unsalted butter                               $4.79                         $2.88
1 pack chives                                           $1.79                         $.99
2x 6oz baby spinach                                $3.98                         $1.98
6 cloves garlic                                         $1.49                         $1.29
1 lemon                                                   $.49                           $.39
2 pieces of wild salmon (always wild!)  $13.99 lb                   $10.99 lb
                                                     Total:  $42.98                       $31.57

I made choice of organic v. non-organic produce based on the list above, and my total was: 41.68

Ok, I admit that non-organic produce is considerably cheaper. So it is up to you to decide if it is worthwhile for you to cut on something else and spend on organic foods. I know I do.

And here's the side note, since I firmly believe that our giant dinner plates make us eat way more than we should (1/3rd more to be exact), I buy less produce to fill up the smaller dinner plates, and spend even less than what I would have to pay for conventional produce. (You can read Lesson From The Past so you know what I mean!)

What are your thoughts? Please please please share!
xo, Zuma A.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Organic Food Versus Non-Organic Conventional Food

"Hah!" Alex exclaimed at breakfast. "This yogurt smoothie bottle says: all natural ingredients... It's funny, of course natural!"

Oh, duh!

...So then how did it happen that the food we nourish our bodies with became colored, washed with pesticides, injected with chemicals and hormones, and genetically altered? When did we lose common sense?

Even now, when there is so much awareness is raised about healthy food, we get confused from labels and fearful of being brainwashed and tricked into paying more. So many of my friends still believe that organic foods are just a way for companies to charge us more, and that organic foods and no better than conventional foods. Others simply resent the price.

Being an advocate of healthy lifestyle, I have always been mindful as to what I put on the table - I try to buy organic foods as much as I can, and eat more veggies and fruits than meats and breads, and I know I am not alone - I stopped by Whole Foods last Saturday and was impressed to see the long lines and  crowded isles.

Well, but who is right? Those who spend extra bucks on organic foods, or those who don't? Lets get to the bottom of it!

How different is Organic Food from Conventional?

Conventional foods - farmers apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth, spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease, use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds, give animal antibiotics, growth hormones and medications.

Organic foods - farmers use natural fertilizers like manure or compost, spray pesticides from natural sources, use environmentally generated plant killing compounds or hand weed, give animals organic feed and balance diet to help minimize disease.

Hmm, no wonder that organic foods are pricier. But then, that's how it was and should have been in the first place! Price of food became cheaper when the farmers started using chemical and synthetic sprays and hormone supplements. We fell for it, and, instead of eating good food, we just started eating more! I mean, it was cheaper, after all!

Now, obviously, there is no short term harm from consumption of these chemical fertilizers, synthetic insecticides, synthetic herbicides, antibiotics and hormones. But do they have a long term harmful effect on our bodies?

FDA believes that there is no harm from small portions of all of these chemicals or hormones. Hmm, but do they consider that nowadays we eat way more than we ever did? Are they influenced by big bucks and lobbyists? What about the skyrocketing rise of birth defects, cancerautism, or ADHD?

There are  studies done in regards to the difference between organic and conventional foods, and they found that that, first, there is not much nutritional difference between these foods; and, second, there are NO definitive answers if all the chemicals and antibiotics cause us harm. There is NO proof that the rise of birth defect, cancer, autism, or ADHD, is directly linked to all the chemicals we eat and breath. And for now, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reports that the majority of pesticides now in use are probable or possible cancer and other causes.

But wait! Having no proof proof of direct link, does not mean it is not true, right?! And it does not mean that tomorrow, the scientists will not find that link! Wasn't there time when we thought "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!" was good for us?

Meanwhile, should we trust the FDA's decision to allow all the chemicals and hormones in our foods? Should we wait for more studies and more answers? Should we, potentially, continue harming ourselves while waiting?

I say, lets get ahead of the game, and... go back to the eating habits of pre-cheap-food times!

What are your thoughts? Please share!
xo, Zuma A.

Next: Are organic foods really pricier, and what are safe foods?
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Garden

Happy 1st day of Spring everyone!  Today, when I woke up and opened the window, I felt the warm breeze that smelled like a delicate mix of flowers and a little thicker than usual air. That was the smell of Spring.  In spite of people's perception that we don't have any difference between the seasons here in SoCal, we really do!

Soon, I started my day and quickly fell into a routine, until Varuzh asked if I could water the garden today morning... Lately he has been swamped with work, and started complaining that I keep buying plants, or pets, or stuff, and then he has to take care of everything.

Well, I do tend to bring things home, but those are good things! And, honestly, I do not have a problem watering the garden. What could be more pleasant? Seriously!

I have been preparing my garden for Spring, actually. I was ready for it to look and smell good.  So, together with my friend Mary Ann, who, I firmly believe, is an expert in gardening, we went to Roger's Garden and got a few plants.
But then I got busy and did not have time to plant the flowers and, when I came to the garden on Sunday, I discovered that my cute little daises died.
Oh, no! I am a plant killer! 

Maybe Varuzh is right, I thought. I did bring the plants home, but haven't taken care of them, haven't planted them, and killed them!

Ok, lesson learned. Luckily, other plants will be in better shape and will survive. And I will approach and treat them with respect and will patiently wait for the reward of beautiful flowers in my garden. 

You know that there is a thing or two to know about gardening, right? 

I know that too, but I have always been impatient and wanted big beautiful flowers to fill and beautify my garden. So you know, it does not work that way ~ flowers and plants need to be taken care of, need to be planted the right way, in the right place, and need time to grow. That means, that if I plant the plants now, I won't get the look I want right away. It may take a season or two. And, besides liking the look, color, and scent of flowers,  there are a few things to ask before bringing them home. 

So, when you decide to tackle on your garden, you need to equip yourself with a lot of patience and ask these questions when choosing plants:  
1. Do they like sun or shade?
2. Are they heat or cold tolerant?
3. Are they evergreen or seasonal, and will they come back in a year?
4. What type of soil do they grow well in?
5. How much watering do they need?

This time I decided to plant Sea Lavender (love the name!).  It likes sun, grows well in SoCal, and attracts butterflies!
This is how it looks now
And this is how it will look... soon!

This spot gets the most sun, and it is big enough to let the plant grow and expand. It will look pretty bare now, but the plant should grow pretty big quickly and fill up the place.
It is very important to loosen the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches. For the richness and to ensure good growth, always add to the soil store bought organic planting mix. Make sure it is pet and planet safe!
Before taking the plant out of the container, clip off the leaves and glowers that show signs of wilting. Knock the plant from its pot and loosen up the bottom roots to encourage them to spread out into the soil.
Plant the flowers at the same soil level they were in the container.
Warning! Your hands will get dirty :-)

xo, Zuma A.

You may also like Garden Therapy , In The Garden, The Garden Update, Back To Basics

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Perfect Yogurt Parfait

Happy Monday everyone! Hope you had a great weekend and ready to take on the world. I think I am ready ~ I will be having quite a busy week and tried to take it easy over the weekend. I managed to distract myself away from any chores, and all I did was some gardening and reading.

In order to keep myself strong during the day, I always start my day with breakfast. I cannot skip breakfast after I get up (that actually saved me from dieting ~ I could never pass 9AM without eating!).

Now, since Spring is almost here and fresh fragrant berries are back in stores, I am so happy to get my favorite breakfast back - Yogurt Parfait. It is very simple and very healthy. It wakes me up, gives me energy, and helps me to continue eating healthy throughout the rest of the day,

While I usually post a Shopping List, I will not do it here because Yogurt Parfait is very personal. Usually it includes yogurt, berries, and granola, the rest is up to you. For me, I add cottage cheese to the mix.

Oh, and it starts with a cup of coffee, of course!

Cheers to breakfast~

xo, Zuma A.
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Lessons from That Fabulous Girl

Have you ever met that girl? The one who, no matter rain or shine, headache or heartache, always looks so well put together?  I know I've met that girl - she was in my school, and in college, and at work, and on the street... That girl is everywhere!

I always thought that I have not been blessed with the gift of being that girl - it is too often that I have a bad hair day, or barely any make-up on to cover my lovely age spots, and, unless I'm off to a party, I don't put mascara on, so I don't have to wash it off at night.

Earlier this week, I sat in front of my computer and googled images of Jackie Kennedy-Onasis, Kate Moss, and Victoria Beckham, the ultimate That Girls! Always put together, always effortlessly fabulous.

Agh... How do (or did) they do it? 

Ok, after an extensive research, here are a few skills I need to master on how to always look stylish and put together. There are only 5 Skills, but there is a lot of information and links, so grab a cup of coffee and get comfy. Here we go.

Skill #1: Know what works for your body type and have fun.
Whether you are edgy or classic, romantic or gothic, bohemian or timeless, you really must know what works for your body. Whether I like it or not, I don't have a body of Victoria's Secret Angel.  I must work on my hourglass shape, and enhance features that I have, not someone else. Here is the guide to understand your body shape from T-Styled Me.

While that girl has a lot of basics in her closet, she also loves LOVES to accessorize and experiment ~ mix and match clashing styles, colors, and brands. Here is a great presentation on How To Put Together A Wardrobe from IFB.

Read "The Bible", i.e. Vogue (or Elle, or Bazaar) for ideas. But when recreating the look, be true to yourself, find your favorite things, so they can become your signature pieces and people will start to associate you with them. Wear it, own it, love it. And please, always dress according to your destination ~ no 9" heels at the airport.

And, finally, if you stumble upon a bad day (a common state of mind for me), have an "emergency" outfit that you can just throw on and be fabulous. Headache? What headache!

Skill #2: Create a skin care and make-up routine.
I do have a well established skin care routine, and I take my facial appointments very seriously and have a pretty good skin. But does that mean I don't need much make up? Absolutely does not!

Putting make-up on is a skill that must be learned. In no way I say to doll-up for an everyday look, but I say to smooth and even up your skin tone, give it some color, enhance cheekbones, highlight eyes! It almost looks like there is no make up on, but there is. That's the "effortless" look. So get in a habit of applying make-up and, after a few tries, it will not take more than 5 minutes.

Learn how to apply make up from the pro, a very lovely Tanya Burr.

Skill #3: Pay attention to your hair.
Really? To get to work on time, I get up at 5AM, and, believe me, I have absolutely no desire to put make-up on or to style my hair. That would wake up the entire house! So I end up getting out of the house with shapeless hair.

But now I know that there is a way to avoid styling my hair at 5AM and still look great. Yes! I don't know about you, but I wash my hair only twice a week.  There really is no reason to wash hair daily. (Did you know that Audrey Hepburn washed her hair only once a week?) And I already invested in my hair appointments with Patrick every 8 weeks for color and trim, and I invested in a good shampoo, so all I need is to take five minutes and style (in my case it is to straighten) my hair twice a week. When hair is washed and styled, there is really no need to do much until the next wash.

The real trick is, though, when hair is out of shape, that girl knows what to do - wear a hat, or pull her hair into a neat ponytail, or to make a beautiful bun. Here are links to the perfect blow out from The Londoner and how to make a bun from Wendy's Lookbook.

So, figure out what works well for your face structure, set up an "emergency" hairstyle for the days you have no time, and voila!

Skill #4: Proper posture.
Well, proper posture is something that can take some time to get used to.

To get good posture, you need to walk, sit, and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles. Proper posture keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly.

Core strength is the key. Any exercise that focuses on core strength and body awareness is great, especially Pilates and Yoga. So go ahead and make a call to the nearest studio. And while you are dialing, don't forget to sit up straight! Here are some tips and tricks on how to keep good posture from Huffington Post.

And last, but certainly NOT LEAST,
Skill #5: Beauty starts within - self-contentment.
While it may seem that being self-content has nothing to do with fashion and style, but it does. How many times do we hear that that girl's look is so effortless, that she looks like she did not spend much time thinking about her look and just threw something on and left the house.

Well, maybe that's exactly what she did! Being self-content means accepting and acknowledging who you are at your core. It's about being satisfied! That girl knows who she is, she knows what she wants. She exudes that quiet confidence that makes us feel her effortlessness.

Here are more thoughts about Self Contentment Leads To Confidence.

Oh, I have a lot of homework to do, but I think I can master all five skills. I can be effortlessly fabulous. Yes I can!

What are your tricks and do's for being that girl? Please please please share!

xo, Zuma A.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Healthy Comfort Foods: Bean Stew

I had a very stressful week last week, and, as a result, my body was demanding lots of comfort, including comfort food. So, on Saturday, I ate a giant sandwich and desert in one sitting, way more than my body could usually handle. Then on Sunday, I continued with a giant bowl of Alfredo pasta for dinner and baked amazingly delicious chocolate swirl cupcakes (will post recipe by the end of the week), and on Monday I wanted to start my day with a cupcake or two...

Ok, this had to stop!

It is true, scientists claim that comfort foods really do lift our mood. Technically, certain foods, like fat and sugar, can increase serotonin activity in the intestines. And serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls that "feel good" sense in our brains. And, naturally, having eaten something that make us feel really good makes us eat more of it!

Great! What can I do then? Can I trick my body and prepare healthy food that gives me similar feeling of fullness and comfort? There's got to be something!

And the answer is - Beans. After researching the subject, I found out that a bean dish is very comforting and very good for us. Beans are high in antioxidants, fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc. Beans are hearty and are a good alternative to high-fat protein sources like red meat. I mean honestly, a half cup of beans is only 100 calories!

First, I thought to make a vegetarian chili, but, being lazy and not following directions, I ended up with a delicious Bean Stew. A very healthy, low calorie, and very satisfying Bean Stew!

Shopping list: 
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 onion (and, unless you are an onion dicing pro, a tissue for your tears)
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, preferably red
1 chipotle pepper (but I didn't have it and substituted it with jalapeño pepper)
1 can organic diced tomatoes
1 can organic diced tomatoes and chili pepper
1/2 tbs curry
2 pinches of cumin
red pepper, cinnamon and salt to taste.
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
sour cream and cilantro for garnish

Preparation time 15 min, cooking time 10-15 minutes!

Step 1: Dice onion and peppers, chop garlic. Drain and rinse beans.
Step 2: Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic until the onions are transparent. Add bell pepper and chili peppers. Add both cans of tomatoes (don't drain). Stir in curry, cumin and spices (red pepper, cinnamon and salt). Don't put too much salt if canned beans were soaked in salt water.  Let it cook for a minute. 
Step 3: Stir in the drained and rinsed beans. Heat through for about 3-4 minutes.
Last year I took couple of cooking classes at Sur La Table, and the instructor told us that the only reason we cry while chopping onions, is because our knives are not sharp enough.

Obviously, my knives are NOT sharp, because I've cried... a lot. My Honey told me that he has no problem when he dices onions using the same knife. He said I chopped too slow...

Well, he may think he is a pro, and I think that he is just not sensitive enough!

So, if you are like me, have a tissue ready, just in case.
I am happy to inform you, that this dish painlessly broke my streak of consuming fatty foods, and I am back to my usual diet now.

xo, Zuma A.

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