Stay Calm and Carry On

This is an opportune time for embracing the upside of the downside, but first we have to stay calm and carry on. In this, another unprecedented week, it’s hard to know what content is appropriate. When I check my inbox, I hope for normalcy. But every email that promotes a product or service unrelated to the new coronavirus-limited life seems tone deaf. TV commercials are the same way. Party scenes in new episodes of TV shows feel odd.

Some people want information to feel calm. For others, information feels stressful. We are getting a large dose of reality every day. Our systems have many holes. In some areas, they are truly broken. And suddenly those breaks can’t be hidden. That feels frightening.


And there are very personal fears. One of my friends without a large bank account cannot work right now and is not near his family. He worries that his money won’t last until the relief packages are worked out. Another of my friends’ mothers is in a nursing home that has 13 cases of COVID-19. She fears she may have seen her for the last time a week ago when they closed to visitors. My family is facing both the fear of exposure from diagnostic procedures and the possibility of open-heart surgery for my 2-year-old granddaughter before the virus is under control. It doesn’t help knowing that the first positive case of COVID-19 in our state was in a healthcare worker who worked at the only hospital equipped to do the surgery.

I’m pretty good in a crisis, but I hit my limit of calm one night this week when a tornado flattened several houses near my hometown. While I was on the phone with a friend there, three rounds of gunfire rang out just outside my window. I suddenly felt afraid.

In the days since, I realize how easy it can be for fear to turn into panic. Intellectually, it’s easy to see that this is a great opportunity to learn and improve! We just have to treat it that way. But our emotions may get in the way until we find a way to stay calm and carry on.

We all have to find a path to calm that works for us. If you’re not sure how to do that, here are some tips that may help:

Follow a routine
Create a regular home routine if you do not have one. Get up and go to bed at a relatively consistent time each day. Create blocks of time for productivity, mindless entertainment, and physical activity. Experiment with the flow until it feels right then stick with it. If your timeline needs to be rigid, make it rigid. If you work well within loose guidelines, keep things loose.

Put one foot in front of the other. You don’t have to feel like it. Just start doing something. Cook. Do the dishes. Mop the floor. Organize the toys. Clean out your closet. Go for a walk (if allowed), work out, do yoga. Do your nails. Draw. Paint. Write. Repot the plants. Rearrange the furniture. Mow the lawn.

Performing normal everyday activities will make your life feel less upended.

Do something comforting
Take a long bath. Drink hot tea. Break out the weighted blanket and watch a lighthearted movie. Watch a comedy routine. Read. Meditate. Pray. Dance. Play or listen to music. Listen to a podcast. Watch sports reruns. Knit. Crochet. Sew. Play with your kids.

Rinse, repeat! Many of us are so focused on productivity that we feel like we’re wasting time when we comfort ourselves. It’s okay to spend time and energy producing comfort and calm.

Be present
This is a wonderful time to stay in the moment. Instead of thinking about what may happen, notice your current surroundings.

That’s easy to say, but We’ve all seen a distressed person pacing because they just can’t be still. Sometimes you have to calm the energy in your body before you can calm your mind.

Doing something that requires strength can help you focus. Planks, pushups, squats, weight lifting (if you don’t have weights at home, grab a cast iron skillet), and stair walking can help dispel nervous energy. Hoeing in the garden or working in the yard is a great way to channel energy, get fresh air, and enjoy the smell of the earth and the sounds of birds singing.

If you can do nothing else, plant your feet firmly on the floor and breathe! Look around the room. Count all of the red objects, all of the yellow objects, everything shaped like a square, everything that’s round, etc.

I’ve sung the praises of yoga for years, but now is a great time to get out that mat you bought and never used (yes, it’s possible without a mat). There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of yoga videos available free online. You do not have to be flexible or strong to begin. And at home no one is going to judge you.

You can combine yoga and weight lifting as well. That’s how I started. I used a short yoga-with-weights practice I found in a magazine.

Learn a dance routine. This requires a combination of mental focus and physical activity, plus there’s music! That’s a great combo to keep you in the moment! There are tutorials online or you can break down your favorite artist’s video on your own.

You may find it’s easier to connect in a real way right now. I’ve used phone calls rather than texts more often this week. It was easy to feel the impact of some of those calls.

Different social media outlets can have very different effects. Choose those that most often make you feel positive and post away. Use video call apps. Talk to your neighbors from your own porch, yard, or balcony.

If you feel afraid, it’s okay to say so. In fact, just saying it out loud to a trusted friend or family member will make you feel better. Unstated fears can easily spiral. Voicing them takes away much of their power. On the other hand, I’m not sure a social media video filled with fear is helpful.

It’s a good time to share some love! I sent a few emails this week to some outstanding doctors and nurses I know telling them how much I appreciate their courage and dedication. Perhaps I should do this when there’s not a crisis, but I never think about it. That’s a lesson I can learn.

This time will present many opportunities for evaluation and improvement, but for now it’s sufficient to stay calm and carry on.

Editor’s note: Since I began writing this post, my friend’s mom received a second negative test for Covid-19. I find it somewhat comforting that in a highly contagious environment, she has not been infected.

Travel Tip #23 – BnB, AirBnB, Managed Condo, or Hotel–What’s the Difference?

BnB, AirBnB, VRBO, managed condo/home rental, or hotel/motel–what’s the difference? If you’re planning a trip it’s helpful to know. Sometimes it’s fun to get out of town to watch the Super Bowl. In a new location, the snacks seem more exotic and it’s easier to imagine a Cinderella outcome! As the coronavirus spreads its influence, it seems like traveling sooner rather than later could be a good idea.

If you’re getting out of town this weekend or later in the year, here are some accommodation differences worth noting:

Hotels are predictable.

Most of us are familiar with a variety of hotel and motel brands and styles. You may have a favorite that you choose on a regular basis. Each will vary slightly in layout, decor, and amenities, but many things are predictable.

The typical hotel or motel has everyday maid service. The rooms are stocked each day with enough towels for at least two showers per person and a day’s worth of hand and bath soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. You’ll consistently find a hairdryer, an iron and ironing board. Some hotels also automatically provide mouthwash, makeup remover wipes, shower caps, shoe polishing cloths, and vanity kits containing Q-tips, cotton balls, and a fingernail file. You can always expect to find ice machines and vending machines around the facility.

It’s been at least four years since I’ve stayed in a hotel that did not have a coffee maker, microwave, and refrigerator in a standard room, but some high-rise convention or small boutique hotels may not. Breakfast is usually served at hotels even when there’s not a restaurant on site. Some hotels and motels offer a self-service laundry as well as a traditional laundry service. Most can provide you with complimentary forgotten items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a comb.

Other hotel amenities may include room service, a pool, spa, beauty salon, shopping, bicycle rental, ballrooms, meeting rooms, exhibit spaces, a golf course, croquet courts, concierge, restaurants, bars, casinos, dance clubs, music venues, and art galleries. Resort hotels will specialize in an even wider range of activities and services from which to choose. If you love hiking, skiing, fishing, boating, or sailing, you can easily find a place that caters to your activity. You can also soak in luxury at a resort with a pillow menu.

Hotels reservations are easily canceled at no charge up to 24-hours prior to check-in. Keys or key cards are distributed from a front desk even if you book and pay in advance online.

Parking policies vary widely. In small towns and cities, parking is usually free and in an open air lot. In larger cities, parking may be in a deck where you must pay. Some facilities offer valet parking only for which they charge a fee. In metropolitan areas, there is often a complimentary shuttle to and from the airport.

Bed and breakfasts may lack privacy.

When my kids were young, bed and breakfasts were all the rage. I stayed at several in several states. Most were located in large, old homes where you rented a bedroom with named for a theme – Benjamin Franklin Suite, Roosevelt Room, Emily Dickinson Lounge, etc. Some rooms came with a private bathroom, but many required me to share with other guests.

Breakfasts in BnBs were prepared and served by the hosts who usually wanted to chat. Other guests also wanted to chat. I know everyone was just being friendly, but I’m more of a drink my coffee in silence person so I have never felt very comfortable in the traditional BnB environment.

For me, BnBs work best when traveling with family or close friends. Everyone can stay in the same place and I’m staying with people I know. If I choose to keep quiet during breakfast, no one thinks I’m being unfriendly. They already know I like to ease into the morning.

If you’re traveling with unreliable friends or family, be sure to review the cancellation policies before booking a bed and breakfast. Some require cancellation days or weeks before check-in and may charge a cancellation fee.

I think this model may have evolved into more of a self-serve situation in some BnBs. There’s a lovely one in Santa Barbara where you help yourself to snacks and breakfast. The breakfast is less elaborate than the BnBs I’m used to, but more flexible and private.

My most recent experience with a bedroom in a shared home was a HomeAway rental in Brooklyn. The owners lived downstairs and rented out the upstairs bedrooms. There was one shared bathroom located down the hall from my room. The owners provided towels and hand soap, but toiletries were up to me. That has been my experience with most BnBs.

The mornings at the HomeAway felt very much like a BnB. The owners served breakfast and expected everyone to show up at the table around the same time. It was not my favorite accommodation, but the location was perfect. I was in Park Slope across from Prospect Park and around the corner from the friends I was visiting.

AirBnB and VRBO units are everywhere and all of them are different!

When location is important, AirBnB and VRBO have made it possible to find accommodations convenient to almost anything. On my last three trips to LA, this has allowed me to forego car rental and ride sharing. I’ve been close enough to walk to my primary destinations and a variety of restaurants.

The maps on AirBnB give a reasonable idea of location, but can sometimes be inaccurate enough to put you on the other side of a major highway. Once you book and receive the specific address, it’s a good idea to review the location so that you can cancel within 48 hours of booking to guarantee a full refund if the address is not suitable.

Cancellation policies vary by host from flexible to moderate to strict. All policies are clearly stated on the site. This can still mean there are some inaccuracies if the host enters incorrect information. AirBnB has a resolution center to help resolve any conflict that may result. I sometimes choose a more expensive option in order to have the flexibility to cancel closer to my departure time, especially when I’m booking well in advance.

I use AirBnb, but my sister uses VRBO. There is some overlap, but it’s easy to search either service without creating an account. I use the filters to make sure I have completely private quarters with enough bedrooms and bathrooms for my travel group to be comfortable.

When it’s just me, I don’t care about a separate bedroom, but I do want a real bed. The site icons make it easy to determine whether the sleeping spaces are appropriate.

In addition to cancellation policies, bedrooms, and bathrooms, I review the photos, list of amenities, and house rules. This means that the flexibility of size, configuration, and location requires more time and research than booking a hotel. If you prefer to keep things simple and predictable, a hotel or motel may work better.

There are also other things that vary. Hosts rarely update their original list of amenities or general check-in instructions. That has meant I carried a hairdryer only to find there was now one provided. Most recently, it meant that the red lantern identifying the appropriate gate to my facility was missing.

Unlike a hotel, you may need to provide your own shampoo, bath wash, and lotion. If shampoo is provided, it may be in a large container like you use at home. There is not a maid or cleaning service to do your laundry or dishes. Those are up to you.

I’ve never stayed for more than a week in a single AirBnb. I’m guessing that towels would be restocked and sheets changed during an extended stay, but I don’t know what interval is considered average.

Just like visiting a friend’s home, you may encounter a broken shower handle, hot water that takes forever, and occasionally a few clothes in a closet. These are a few examples from my experience, but I’ve never had a problem large enough to ruin my trip or even my day. If this kind of thing creates undue stress for you, it may not be worth taking the risk.

A coffee maker and coffee may or may not be provided. On a trip a couple of years ago, I had to borrow a French press from my son and purchase coffee from a nearby grocery.

Your facility may not have a TV, or if it does, it may only be broadcast TV rather than cable or satellite. This is not a big deal for me, but if you’re expecting to watch a game on ESPN you may be disappointed.

My most recent stay provided Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and antenna TV. That meant having two remotes and needing to know how to change the input on the TV, but that’s what I do at home so it felt perfectly normal.

Some hosts provide extras like a variety of snacks, bottled water, and cooking basics like pots, pans, knives, salt, pepper, and cooking oil. Others may have dishes and a microwave, but no food or water.

With AirBnB and VRBO, you simply can’t expect consistency. Read the reviews. Read the lists. Read the rules. You’ll still occasionally be surprised.

Host personalities vary greatly and there is no standard for customer service. Some prefer to communicate only through an app. Others will provide their phone number and meet you at the door. I prefer hosts who are responsive, but not overly involved and I’m perfectly happy if I never meet them in person.

Having the ability to cook if I want to, value for the money, and the wide range of locations and sizes makes AirBnB my preference in spite of the inconsistencies. I just look at those as part of the adventure.

Managed condo and house rentals can be the perfect in-between.

Houses and condo rentals handled by management companies fall somewhere between hotels and AirBnB. While the units are owned by individuals, they are managed under a set of consistent policies administered by the management company. I sometimes choose these when traveling to the beach with a group or to Asheville, North Carolina by myself.

When I stayed in a studio condo at The Residences at Biltmore, I had everyday maid service just like a hotel. I also had a full kitchen sans dishwasher and a stackable washer & dryer. I did my own laundry, but the maids washed the dishes, restocked the towels, and made my bed.

I don’t think any shampoo or soap was provided other than dishwashing liquid, but I really don’t remember specifically. What I do remember is feeling as though I had everything I needed. There was an outdoor elevator to take me to the third floor. I had a lovely balcony with a view where I could sit or dine.

In addition to the bed, there was a chest of drawers, chair, twin sofa bed, fireplace, and small dining table. The closet was large and all of the finishes were high end. Outside, the pool was huge and the pool area included a fire pit for cold weather. Parking was ample and free. Spa treatments were available.

I’ve been tempted to purchase one of these condos. They’re on the edge of Kenilworth, a neighborhood I love. They seem well managed and they stay full. I’d have to be willing to give up some income in order to spend time there myself and I’m just not sure a purchase makes sense at $300,000 and up. Nonetheless, the pull is strong. I loved being there.

Most of us are comfortable in our own homes. When we travel, we hope to be equally as comfortable if not more so. The requirements for an accommodation to provide that feeling will vary from person to person. Your best choice may be guided by budget, convenience, amenities, or level of service. Whatever the criteria, knowing the difference makes the choice more clear.

So, what’s the difference? Here’s a quick recap:

  • Hotels are the most predictable, consistent, and easy to cancel last minute.
  • Bed and breakfasts may lack privacy, but can provide a homelike feel.
  • AirBnB and VRBO offer great locations, the most flexibility, and are often a great value for the money. They are not consistent and require effort to research amenities and policies.
  • Managed homes and condos have straightforward policies, fewer personal touches, and don’t require communication with the owners.

Even if you stay home for the Super Bowl, you may want to travel for Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or just a regular old day. That’s what I’m doing next–traveling on a regular old Friday to a regular hotel. Whenever and wherever you go, I wish you comfortable conditions and safe travels!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Does Chocolate Cause You Heartburn?

Does chocolate cause you heartburn? The problem may not be chocolate. I’m familiar with many varieties of stomach and abdominal pain. Sometimes, it’s quite a process to figure out what triggers a specific response.
I can’t say I’ve ever been advised by a physician to try to figure out the cause of any pain, but it seems logical to me to get to the source of a problem whenever possible. That’s the only way to potentially resolve the issue for good rather than continually treating symptoms. After years of practice, here’s the process I follow:

Keep track

I start by being aware of what I’m taking in. Of course this means reading labels and asking good questions in restaurants. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

If you know you have an adverse response to monosodium glutamate (MSG) and you’ve been eating Nacho Cheese Doritos®, a scan of the label will tell you eliminating them may make you feel better. Kentucky Fried Chicken and Campbell’s® Chicken Noodle soup could also be culprits. Even if you can tolerate a small amount, eating three MSG containing foods in one week may overload your system.

Keeping a food journal is more effective than making a mental note. If you just can’t make yourself keep a journal, try texting yourself or creating a suspect food list in your note app.


In addition to keeping track, I observe my body sensations closely to see if I can identify an adverse response early in the process when the signs are subtle. Sometimes I don’t feel the full effects of an offender for a day or two.
Early signs often point me in a different investigative direction than I would go if I wait for full fledged cramping and pain. It can also mean some pain may be avoided.

When I consume dairy, it causes spasms throughout my stomach then my colon. When those are concentrated just to the left of my solar plexus, they can trigger something akin to panic. It’s not exactly the same, but it shares some of the physical responses and can lead to feeling panic if I don’t address it.

Knowing this is simply a response to dairy allows my brain to perceive the spasm as a temporary moment that will pass if I just wait. This keeps me calm. It also means that I don’t tense up my gastrointestinal system which causes the spasms to last longer.

Eliminate the culprit

Although it sounds simple in retrospect, it took a very long time for me to associate milk exposure with the resulting symptoms. Since I didn’t feel the full effects of ingestion until a day later, it wasn’t a natural line for me to draw. As I practiced recognition of subtle symptoms as soon as they appeared, my timeline became more accurate allowing me to identify a pattern in my response to milk. From that point, it was easy to eliminate milk and milk products in order to see if I would experience improvement. I did!

Once I have identified a food that consistently brings me discomfort or pain, I am happy to let it go. I would rather feel good than continue to ingest foods because they are convenient or I like the way they taste. And I don’t want to rely on pharmaceutical support to remain pain free. That means all foods containing milk are now suspect.

Back to chocolate

This brings me back to chocolate. If you google, “Does dark chocolate contain milk?”, you’ll get many answers saying it does not. Before you pop some dark chocolate brownies in your mouth, you need to know you’re still putting yourself at risk.

The label of Nestlé® Toll House 53% Cacao Dark Chocolate Morsels reads: chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, milkfat, nonfat milk, natural flavor and it warns of milk ingredients as an allergen. If the brownies you choose are made with these morsels, you may experience symptoms. There is enough milk in some dark chocolate to trigger my intolerance.

If you ate a few chocolate morsels by themselves, you might notice nothing more than mild heartburn. In my case, heartburn is an early clue that I may need to limit or eliminate a food. Learning to pay attention to this has allowed me to avoid more significant symptoms down the road.

Does chocolate cause you heartburn? Are you milk or lactose intolerant? If so, the problem may not be the chocolate.

For me, that’s great news because it gives me an easy way to eliminate occasional milk exposure and in the process, heartburn, stomach cramps, and panic. And it doesn’t mean I have to eliminate all chocolate. It just means I have to read labels and substitute some ingredients when I bake.

I love a simple solution followed by a So Delicious® Dipped Double Chocolate Delight cashewmilk frozen dessert. I think I’ll have one now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Choose Easy-to-Adapt Recipes

It’s easy to create delicious gluten-free food when you choose easy-to-adapt recipes. We all have favorite homemade foods. Many are family traditions that connect us to comfort, loved ones, and happy memories. We don’t want to lose those connections when we change food selections in order to be healthy.

While some family recipes may be difficult to replicate in exact texture and taste, many will require only minor substitutions. I like to start with those. Beginning with simple adaptations builds confidence and creates a more soothing transition to a new lifestyle.
If you’re beginning a gluten-free regimen and hope to create your family’s holiday favorites, consider easy-to-adapt recipes for:

If you make broccoli, corn, green bean, or squash casserole thickened with flour, try substituting corn starch, sweet white sorghum flour, or oat flour as the thickener.

For those in the South, this one is easy. Most likely, your family stuffing recipe uses cornbread as a base. All you’ll need to do is make cornbread that does not contain flour. Everything else can stay the same.

Custard, panna cotta, and crème brûlée recipes are usually gluten-free without any adaptation.

Pudding recipes will most likely use corn starch to thicken. Vanilla pudding can easily be turned into banana pudding. If you aren’t comfortable making the cookies for banana pudding, purchase gluten-free arrowroot or sugar cookies.

Many pie fillings are traditionally gluten-free–pecan, pumpkin, sweet potato, cherry, apple, chocolate, coconut cream, lemon meringue, and key lime. If you’re new to a gluten-free diet, just make the filling at home and purchase a packaged or frozen gluten-free crust.

Cheesecake filling is also normally gluten-free. If your recipe is not, Cooking2Thrive has one that is. You can serve cheesecake without a crust or choose a pre-made gluten-free graham-style crust.

Since cookies do not need to be fluffy, they’re easy to adapt. Before trying flour mixes, start with peanut butter cookies which can be made without any flour. Another easy-to-adapt option is chocolate, peanut butter no-bake cookies. Substitute gluten-free oatmeal for regular oatmeal.

Broth based soups like chicken with rice or chicken noodle will normally only require a substitution of gluten-free noodles. If your recipe begins with store-bought chicken stock, there are many gluten-free brands available.

Tomato soup and chili do not need tomato paste to be thick. Substitute Pomi tomatoes for canned or fresh tomatoes in your recipe.

The potatoes in potato soup provide an automatic thickener so no flour is needed. Many potato soup recipes do not include flour.

Clam or seafood chowder can be made using only potatoes as a thickener. If you feel you need a little something extra, use corn starch.

Make the roux for gumbo by deeply browning some sweet white sorghum or oat flour in fat.

All the Rest
The most common holiday entrees will not need to change. If your family chooses pot roast that is dredged in flour, use sweet white sorghum or oat flour.

Bread based stuffing or bread pudding can be made using store-bought gluten-free bread if you’re not at the point at which you are comfortable with gluten-free baking.

When the family gathers for breakfast, consider frittatas, roasted potatoes, and fresh fruit or omelets, grits, and smoothies. You can easily add frozen gluten-free waffles, muffins, or donuts.

As you can see, adapting a recipe can be incredibly simple. When you begin with easy changes, switching to a gluten-free diet will look less daunting and feel more user friendly. That’s why I like to choose easy-to-adapt recipes!