Kidney Awareness Month 

March is Kidney Awareness Month. 💚 

It might not mean much to you, but it holds great significance for me.  For years my family has suffered from Kidney Disease – more specifically PKD OR Polycystic Kidney Disease. Growing up, I thought it was isolated to my paternal grandmother, but fast forward to today, this disease has affected my father and two of his four siblings. All three having had or approaching the need for a kidney transplant. If that is not scary enough, it is still unknown whether this gene has been passed on to myself, my siblings, my cousins or our children. 

It is devastating to watch this disease take an otherwise healthy and energetic person and turn them into someone who struggles for the energy to perform normal activities of daily living. 

My dad (and his siblings) have struggled for years, and as those years pass, the fight intensifies. Today, my dad awaits a much needed kidney transplant. One would think that because he has a willing donor that it would be an easy process. It is not. While his donor (his loving wife) wants to donate to him, she is not a direct match. About a year ago they began the process to be placed on a paired kidney exchange program. Essentially, when a kidney match is found for my dad, she will donate her kidney to an awaiting recipient.

 Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, we’ve gone through two potential rounds of pre-qualifying draws and on both occasions, no match was available for him. It is such an emotional roller coaster. The fear, anticipation, hope frustration, despair…  

He continues to wait, but not without a cost. He is operating at less than 15% kidney function and every day that passes puts him at increased risk of kidney failure. My hope is that a match is found quickly so that he avoids dialysis. Dialysis, while life saving, comes with its own risks and set backs. 

So why am I writing this? Well, in addition to advocating for PKD and Kidney Awareness month, I am writing to ask for your help. 

What can you do to help you ask? Sign your organ donation card. Or better yet – go online to officially register your organ donation. So many people are in need of vital organs. Vital organs that we will have no use for once we die. You have no idea the difference you can make by taking two minutes (it literally only takes that long), to register your organ donation online. 
Be a donor. Save a life. 

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RECIPE: Gluten-free/nut-free Granola

In my recent attempts to balance my hormones and introduce creative food alternatives, I made a home-made granola and it was DELISH! And, its kid approved!

Recipe from my Holistic Nutritionist, Jenn Pike

Nut-Free/Gluten-Free Granola Bars

2-Cups Organic Oats

2/3-Cups Organic Coconut Sugar

1-Cup Gluten Free Flour (I use coconut flour)

1/2-tsp Baking Soda (I made without because I didn’t have it on hand, and it turned out great!)

1/2-tsp Baking Powder

1-tsp Cinnamon

1-tsp Salt (I used 1/2 tsp because I find the pumpkin seed butter salty enough)

1-tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2-Cups Raw Organic Honey (heat to soften)

2-tablespoons Coconut Oil (heat to soften)

1/4-1/2 Cups Sunflower Seed or Pumpkin Seed Butter (I used Pumpkin Seed Butter)

1/4-Cups Sunflower Seeds

1/4-Cups Pumpkin Seeds

1/4-Cups Carob Chips (Not part of the original recipe, but I added this in order to make it look enticing to the kids…and I prefer carob to chocolate)

Mix all ingredients together.  This will appear challenging at first because the seed butters and honey are gooey, but just keep working the mixture with a fork or wooden spoon. Once mixed, press into a greased pan (I use coconut oil to grease it), approx. 9×13.  The dough will be VERY dry and crumbly, but that’s ok.  Continue to press until the dough forms with the pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for approx. 20 minutes or until the edges are browned.  Remove from oven and let sit until completely cooled.  Cut into strips or squares and store in snack sized bags or a tupperware container.  I freeze mine and remove as needed.  You may find some pieces will stick to the pan or crumble off the bars.  Keep in a separate container and use as granola (perfect for topping yoghurt!). ENJOY!

Why feeling stuck is not always a bad thing.

I recently wrote a speech for my Toastmasters club, and in it, I described the lessons I learned from pain, feeling stuck and how its not always a bad thing.  Below is an excerpt from what I wrote:

“AH AH AH CHOO! Oh no! I think I’m stuck. But all I did was sneeze?!”

There I was, 18 years old, hunched forward in pain, and literally stuck. I had no idea what happened.  I tried to ignore it, hoping it was just a passing hiccup, but trying to ignore pain works as well as trying to bathe a cat.

I found myself a massage therapist who worked his magic on my back, getting me from 90 degrees of forward flexion to an almost upright position.  Not exactly ideal, but it was a drastic improvement from where I started.  I eventually ended up in my doctors office, and diagnosed with a herniated disc.

It took months to get better, and during that time, I became increasingly more frustrated.  One week I was fine, the next, I was stuck.

Try to imagine if you will, a single 18 year old girl, attempting to look sexy at club – only now, add in sweatpants and a cane. Not exactly the best way to find a boyfriend.  Yes, my social life was starting to suffer,and there was nothing that I could do about it.

I couldn’t go out. I didn’t want to stay in. It hurt to sit. But it also hurt to stand. I got really good at identifying people by their shoes. 

Stuck.

Ermahgerd! It was in front of me all along. If only I could have seen in front of me!

I was literally and figuratively STUCK!

They say the body mirrors what is going on inside our minds and coincidentally (or not), I was feeling stuck.

I had just graduated from ECE at Seneca college, a program that I loved thoroughly.  I loved learning about the psychology of the human mind, how we learn and the developmental stages we go through from infancy through to adulthood.  The arts and crafts weren’t bad either.  There is an art to cutting and pasting!

I was ready and excited to get this new chapter started.  I started sending out resumes to a few choice schools.  My very first interview was with a Montessori, and I was immediately hired.  Me! A teacher! I couldn’t believe it.

And then it started.

The snotty noses, screaming kids, and countless amounts of spilled milk!  Whoever said don’t cry over spilled milk obviously never worked in a daycare before. 

I was not enjoying this.  Not one little but.  It wasn’t at all what I imagined. I began to reassess, and I toggled between not wanting to be a quitter vs coming home exhausted, sore and sick.

Stuck.

I was stuck, in one of the biggest dilemmas I had ever faced.  Ok, maybe not the biggest but it was big enough to keel me over in pain from a simple sneeze. 

The days and nights I spent thinking, analyzing, over analyzing and stressing out over this, had created this huge monkey on my back. And it was weighing me down.

So, I quit.

I didn’t think twice about it. As soon as I got clear on what was happening, it was an easy decision to make. I was not where I wanted to be and my back was telling me so. I am so happy I listened, because a whole new world of opportunities opened up for me after that.

There was so much learning in that experience for me.  There were 3 main lessons that my back pain taught me.

  1. When you’re not happy with what direction you are going, you have full control to change it.
  2. When your body tries to telling you something, it’s best to pay attention. It’s giving you a clue to what is going on in your mind and heart. And, Ignoring it will only cause it to amplify its message for you.
  3. You are not stuck. Despite what you might feel, you are not stuck anywhere. Your life is yours to create. The sky is not the limit, your belief system is.

As for my back pain, unfortunately my herniated disc became a chronic issue and one that I continue to deal with, 22 years later. As much as I hate that I having chronic back pain, I have learned to be grateful for it. It is my guide in a sense. It keeps me connected to myself, my purpose and my true desires.

When I’m overtired and not taking care of myself, it screams at me to stop. And when I’m anxious or stressed about something, it is the first thing to wake me up so I can change direction.

Feeling stuck is a feeling not a fact. Use it as an indication that something needs to change, and know that when that feeling occurs, there is usually something really big waiting for you on the other side.

PKD. Three letters that changed my life

PKD. Who knew these 3 letters would hold so much significance in my life.

What is PKD?
PKD or Polycystic Kidney Disease is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys. Over time, kidney function decreases resulting in kidney failure.

As a child I knew very little about this disease other than what I witnessed my grandmother go through. I knew it made you tired, that you had to spend countless hours in your room hooked up to a machine, and that if you were lucky, you would have an operation to get a new kidney. A pretty elementary understanding.

I really didn’t know how much this disease would impact me. My naive mind only understood it as an isolated incident. Never did I think that my father, and two of his siblings would also be affected. And never once did I think it would affect me, my siblings or our children.

It didn’t seem like much at first. So they would end up with a few cysts on their kidneys. What did that really mean anyways? Change of diet? More exercise? More sleep?

Fast forward a few years, my grandmother passed, my dads brother needed and received a new kidney from his loving and selfless wife and my dads sister started regular dialysis and was placed on the transplant 7-9 year wait list and recently received her “gift of life”. My dad – well, let’s just say that despite being a strong man, his vitality and stamina has already begun going down hill, his creatinine levels slowly rising, and the conversation and preparation for transplants have begun. While transplant is a gift of life, it brings new challenges as I now watch my uncle struggle once again with a failing kidney due to a compromised immune system. In this disease there is hope yet there is still great uncertainty. Our finish line is a cure. 

Why am I writing about this?
September 4th is National PKD Awareness day in Canada and I want to put a face to this prevalent yet not widely known about disease.

The reality is my father will need a transplant. Until then, he will likely find himself struggling for energy to keep up with his grandkids, who are too young to understand why their grandfather can’t play hide and seek or soccer as much as he used to. He will need to continue to carefully watch his diet, take meds for blood pressure, and make many other life changes to accommodate this devastating disease.

As for me, my siblings, my cousins and our children? We don’t know if we carry the gene, if or how severely we will be affected or if we’ve passed this on to our children.

Today, I raise awareness for my family and for the many others who fight every day to end PKD.

PKD. Three letters that have changed my life.

For more information about PKD, visit http://www.endpkd.ca

Photo: Team Risi at the 2014 fundraising walk


  

The Peeing Mantra

My Musings

Peeing and mantra…not exactly two words you would have anything to do with one another, let alone in the same sentence. What is it exactly? Well, here’s how it came about.

A while back I was having a conversation with someone about some of the things we do that make us happy. We got talking about yoga and exercise, writing and mantras. She shared more with me about a mantra she had been working with. The peeing mantra. Needless to say she had my attention.

Mantras, generally speaking are groups of words that when spoken, are capable of creating some sort of transformation.
She went on to say that, one of the challenges people have is creating time to meditate and reflect. Being someone who leads a pretty busy life, I completely understand how hard it can be to carve out time for regular day-to-day stuff, let alone meditating and…

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What stops you from achieving success?

Michelle Risi

It has been said that in order for us to achieve success, we must find that which stops us and give it a swift kick in the…. Ok, so maybe that’s not exactly how it goes – but you get the idea.  We all grow up with dreams, goals and aspirations and by all accounts we are all destined for great things.  So what stops us from getting there? 

Think about your business. You no doubt aspire to achieve goals- whether they be status related or income/production.  You are clear about what it is that you need to do every day in order to reach those goals.  But yet, at the end of every day, there is that one (or two) things that stops you dead in your tracks. What is it?

Fear is a big one.  How about distractions? Self-doubt? … (feel free to stop me any-time).  The truth…

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Do you know what’s in your food?

I am not the “healthiest” person out there, but I do try and make good choices when I can.  I’ve always been a champion for finding more holistic ways to live; natural medicines, energy healing, and wholesome foods to name a few.   I shop organic when I can but never really put in huge efforts to find it.  If it was there, I bought it.  And if not, then I opted for the conventional foods found in most grocery stores.  I know that organic is better, and I know that conventional foods are not exactly the healthiest or cleanest – but I never thought that they were poisonous and that the FDA and other governing bodies would try to conceal it. Until now!

My husband came home and shared this article he read today about the FDA admitting that our chicken has arsenic in it.   I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  At first I thought it was just another conspiracy theory – which I tend to keep an open mind whilst listening to – but always end up asking myself “This can’t be true, can it?”  So, I Googled.  The article that was published by www.globalresearch.ca kept saying that the link was not accessible at this time.  Interesting. So, I continued to search. I came across a similar article published in Natural News – Natural Health News and Scientific Discoveries. (After about an hour of trying – I was finally able to access the global research article)

To say that I was left feeling angry after reading both articles would be an understatement.   A few years back, claims were made about the levels of arsenical drugs found in the conventional feed for chickens.  At that time, the FDA and industrial food industry stated that these drugs were safe as they are excreted in chicken feces.  Of course these claims were made without any scientific proof (or none that were published publicly).  One of the articles even went on to state that the arsenic-filled chicken feces have been fed to our cows! Not sure about you, but reading that makes me want to consider cutting out meat all together. 

Since the last claim – this issue seems to have taken on new life and momentum.  The FDA now admits that our chicken contains arsenic but that it is still safe to eat.  Seriously?! Since when is eating cancer causing chemicals safe?

The irony is that the FDA continues to diminish and argue against the health benefits of natural/healthy foods such as the legitimacy of natural remedies, and as the article mentioned “ raw milk and elderberry juice”.  While I honestly don’t believe that there is truly anything that is pure and clean to consume anymore, I think we need to start looking closer at what is really happening and speaking out when we can.  I’m not referring to starting a movement of any kind (unless of course that is something that moves you), but I do believe we should start asking more questions and educating ourselves better.  It’s evident that having an “FDA stamp of approval” on things doesn’t equate to “safe and healthy”.

I encourage you to read the articles, and keep researching.  There are always two sides to a story and somewhere in between there is the truth.  It’s up to us to find that truth and finally take responsibility for our own health matters.

 

It’s all fun and games until your jeans don’t fit!: Detox for spring

It’s all fun and games until your jeans don’t fit! Anyone else with me on this?

If you’re like me, I did whatever I could to get through this never ending winter. Comfort food, wine and lots of hibernating. It worked while it worked, but now that the spring weather is approaching I know I need to clean up my act. And my insides too! In other words, it’s detox time!

While our bodies come equipped with mechanisms to eliminate toxins – eating an excess of sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods can hinder our bodies natural ability to detoxify and rid itself of built up waste. How do you know your body is not working the way it should? For me it shows up in my skin, sleep and energy. I feel sluggish, depleted of energy by 6pm, and I either can’t get enough sleep or I awake frequently throughout the night. Not relating? How about bloating, headaches, fogginess (decrease in mental clarity), weight gain, irritability or mood changes, dry skin/hair…the list goes on.

I’m not a nutritionist and don’t claim to be a specialist, but I do have a fair bit of knowledge about the human body and it’s systems through my Kinesiology degree, and what I do know is that our bodies need to be given optimal environments if they are going to function the way they need to in order to keep us healthy.

I’m the first to admit that I get off track, overindulge and stress my body out. Luckily I’m a big believer that there’s always room for a do-over, tomorrow’s another day, and it’s never too late to start. And the good news is, it’s true!

For the last week, I’ve been prepping my body for a 10 day spring detox. I’ve been reducing my sugar, caffeine and alcohol and adding fresh juices to my diet. Why do I prep vs dive right in? Because I would probably end up with sick with digestives issues and migraine headaches, so I opt for the gentler route. Many people have asked me what exactly I do during my detox, so here it is:

3 TIPS TO STARTING A DETOX FOR SPRING

1. Eat whole, real foods and increase your water intake: The first step is to eliminate foods that come in a can or box and select fresh foods instead. Because you are eliminating toxins from your body, you need extra water to help facilitate this process. (I’m not a big water drinker. I find that adding fresh orange, lemon, or mint to my water makes it more appealing.)

2. Eliminate sugar, caffeine and alcohol as well as any other food that you know generally doesn’t sit well with you. Some usual culprits might be wheat, gluten, eggs, dairy, red meat…to name a few. . This is the hard one for me. I love my wine. Something about a nice dinner and a glass of wine after a long day at work…. *sigh*.

3. Lots of vegetables, fruits, greens, grains, legumes, and beans. Preferably organic if you can. (This is the easiest one for me as I love vegetables. Especially my greens!) Green veggies such as kale, swiss chard, wheatgrass and collards all have chlorophyll in their leaves, which is essentially plant blood. By incorporating chlorophyll rich foods into your diet you are assisting your bodys’ capability of eliminating waste while also nourishing your cells. (Perfect for glowing skin and hair!) If you find your having difficulty getting enough fruits and vegetables into your diet, try juicing! Visit www.juicerecipes.com or stop by your local Booster Juice and have them make one for you.

For me, the key is to gradually ease into the detox as well as set up strategies to ensure I stick with it and get the full benefits. I will flavour my water, drink herbal tea instead of coffee, go for a walk when I have a craving or my favorite, buddy up. It makes it easier when someone else is doing it with you. You hold each other accountable and keep each other motivated. And lastly, build in a reward. For me getting my clothes to fit properly is reward enough, but finding something to reward yourself with will give you something to look forward to when it’s all done.

Happy Spring!

-MR

My upside down world

As a child, I used to love acrobatics and dance. Next to music, using my body to dance, stretch and twirl made me feel good. It was fun, playful and expressive. Yet, as I got older, it was like I somehow forgot and as life got busier, being playful and having fun were pushed to the bottom of the list…until recently.

Since the birth of my children, my life has been turned upside down, and I wouldn’t change a thing! Aside from having challenges with time management, (goes with the territory of working mom, I suppose), I woke up one day and realized I had let go of me. All of my energy and all of my focus were directed to my two beautiful kids, and I don’t regret a thing. But, what I became aware of was that I somehow forgot to lighten up and have fun, including taking time out for me to, well…just “be“.

So, I started doing different things a little at a time, that reconnected me to “me”. I eventually found things that were playful and fun and that’s when things started looking up. I got back to the gym, I started singing again both at home and in a glee group, I started reading books (and not just children’s books!) and I started writing again. But it was when I took up yoga a few years back, that I started to find a joyfully new perspective.

There is one day in particular that stands out for me, and it was the day that my world got turned upside down, again. Only literally this time. It was towards the end of yoga class and the teacher had happily announced we were going to do handstands. It had been over 20 years since I did any form of handstands. I was excited yet a bit intimidated. I wasn’t exactly sure that I was going to be able to do it, but nonetheless I was determined to try. Moving towards the wall, I pressed my hands on the floor and kicked up. Of course, my first attempt was a fail. But after a few more tries, I did it! There I hung, upside down, feeling the blood rush to my head. Loving the feeling yet afraid to open my eyes for fear that if I really took in the fact that I was upside down, I might lose balance and fall on my head. At the end of class, I walked out of there feeling energized and happy.

I realized that being upside down had renewed me in a way. It made me feel like a kid, full of life and more importantly, joyful…happy. I haven’t stopped doing handstands since that day. Whether it’s with my kids at home, at the gym, or out travelling the world, I always find an opportunity to be upside down.

I get asked a lot why I do handstands, and my answer is this; because it’s fun! That answer is usually sufficient for those that applaud my efforts, but to others, it usually causes a scrunched up look of amusement in their faces followed by a head tilt, and then questions as to whether it’s safe or healthy.

I get that I’m not a professional yogi or gymnast. I understand that I could hurt myself, and I have. ( I recently fell when I became a little over zealous in my attempts to kick up and ended up flat on my back…ouch). But, there is something about being upside down that nourishes me. It turns out, that there are in fact health benefits to handstands.

Before I go on to list my top 3 reasons why handstands are good for me and why I do them, I will add the following disclaimer: There are contraindications to being upside down and those include, but are not limited to, those individuals who are pregnant, have a heart condition, high blood pressure and previous back/neck injury. Please check with your doctor before attempting any new form of physical activity.

My top 3 reasons for doing handstands:

1) As mentioned before, handstands for me are fun. It has been shown that handstands have a positive effect on mood. As the blood rushes to your head, it stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete Endorphins, those feel good chemicals that help elevate mood and make you feel happy. It also helps to increase the circulation of blood and lymph through the body, which helps to collect and eliminate any toxins in the body, thus improving your immune system.

2) I have absolutely gotten stronger, both in my core and arms since doing handstands. I can now play with different variations because I can hold myself up longer. I’ve also noticed more definition in the muscle tone in my arms and back. The process of kicking up your legs, holding your body weight up with your arms, while keeping your back and core engaged is a great way to build strength, coordination and improve your ability to concentrate. You have to be mindful of everything you are doing while performing a handstand. So you not only get physical benefits but mental ones as well.

3) It’s a perspective shift, both literally and figuratively. There is something quirky yet enlightening about viewing the world upside down. As soon as I was confident enough to open my eyes, I was amazed at the upside down perspective I gained. It literally shifted the way I viewed things. There is no way you can be angry, or sad while hanging out upside down. Try it! Inevitably you may have some resistance or fear to doing a handstand and when you are able to push through that, you bring forth lessons in courage, determination and trust. You need to have courage to start, determination to keep trying and trust that your feet will find the wall and the ground will support you.

For me it started off as a yoga pose, but handstands have become such a big part of my life. It’s the first thing I do when I’m stressed or tired. It’s a fun activity that I do with my kids, and lately, it seems to be the mark I leave behind every place I go. I’ve even started taking pictures of myself doing handstands in all the places I’ve visited. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.

At a charity golf tournament

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At the gym

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In Barcelona, Spain

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Team Risi at a fundraising walk

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At the office

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In small town Eganville, Ontario

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A jail cell in Alcatraz (San Francisco)

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The Mandarin Oriental hotel, San Francisco

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