Blog, Cooking

Are Probiotics the New/Old Anti-Depressant?

 

Researchers at the University of Virginia (wahoo-wah!) School of Medicine have discovered a fascinating link between increased probiotics and reducing the symptoms of depression in mice. It’s all very new and quite exciting. Specifically, the probiotic  strain Lactobacillus, found in the live cultures of good quality yogurt, have shown to improve gut health, relieve anxiety behaviors in laboratory mice. What’s really cool? Is there is NO REASON to believe that this won’t translate into the same benefits in human beings, according to lead researcher Dr. Alban Gaultier.

And here I was all this time thinking the reason that the reason people seem happier in the Mediterranean was a function of sunshine (think Vitamin D intake), spending more time in meaningful relationships (cultivating family & friend ties), a deeper sense of purpose through Faith & Spirituality,  and a better work/life balance! I consider these my 5 Pillars of Goddess living. Read all about them here: http://www.livelikeagoddess.com/five-pillars/

Changing your diet may not only be beneficial for your waistline, but also for your mood!

I absolutely love this, because it makes sense, doesn’t it? When you are in pain, are you not agitated? I certainly am. It makes sense that if your belly is agitated internally, then it manifests into anxiety and pain externally. Our extremely sophisticated bodies are linked between body, mind and soul.

Before you go buy your next tub of Dannon, be certain to read those labels! I have seen “yogurt” being sold on the shelf that is nothing more than thick milk, strained of water, preservatives and sugar, with absolutely no live cultures! Don’t be a fool and read those labels! My favorite yogurt brands are the following:

  • Fage
  • Chobani
  • Brown Cow (love the cream on top)
  • Green Mountain

For a great list of the best/worst yogurts on the market check out Eat This/Not That’s site: http://www.eatthis.com/greek-yogurt

A word of caution: Please do NOT pick up the flavored yogurts! It may be tempting, but it is full of sugar and not at all what a goddess such as yourself deserves! Pick up a yogurt with as many live strains as possible, and do not pass the expiration date

In the Old Country, we eat our yogurt nearly daily, and it is always on the table. Thick, creamy – no one would even consider getting a low fat, zero fat yogurt. We also prefer to eat our yogurt sans the sugar, and with a savory twist. Check out my recipe for Authentic Goddess-Style Tzatziki that can be whipped up in under 5 minutes: http://www.livelikeagoddess.com/tzatziki-cacik-jajeeka-its-good-no-matter-how-you-call-it/

To read the entire medical report that has this Mediterranean Goddess super excited to know she’s on the right track for both belly and mental well-being, follow along here: https://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu/2017/03/07/probiotics-in-yogurt-can-reverse-depression-symptoms/

Here’s to your Health! Live well, fellow goddesses!

Discover your Inner Aphrodite. . .

Claudia

Blog, Lifestyle

Are Probiotics the New, Natural Anti-Depressant?

Researchers at the University of Virginia (wahoo-wah!) School of Medicine have discovered a fascinating link between increased probiotics and reducing the symptoms of depression in mice. It’s all very new and quite exciting. Specifically, the probiotic  strain Lactobacillus, found in the live cultures of good quality yogurt, have shown to improve gut health, relieve anxiety behaviors in laboratory mice. What’s really cool? Is there is NO REASON to believe that this won’t translate into the same benefits in human beings, according to lead researcher Dr. Alban Gaultier.

And here I was all this time thinking the reason that the reason people seem happier in the Mediterranean was a function of sunshine (think Vitamin D intake), spending more time in meaningful relationships (cultivating family & friend ties), a deeper sense of purpose through Faith & Spirituality,  and a better work/life balance! I consider these my 5 Pillars of Goddess living. Read all about them here: http://www.livelikeagoddess.com/five-pillars/

Changing your diet may not only be beneficial for your waistline, but also for your mood!

I absolutely love this, because it makes sense, doesn’t it? When you are in pain, are you not agitated? I certainly am. It makes sense that if your belly is agitated internally, then it manifests into anxiety and pain externally. Our extremely sophisticated bodies are linked between body, mind and soul.

Before you go buy your next tub of Dannon, be certain to read those labels! I have seen “yogurt” being sold on the shelf that is nothing more than thick milk, strained of water, preservatives and sugar, with absolutely no live cultures! Don’t be a fool and read those labels! My favorite yogurt brands are the following:

  • Fage
  • Chobani
  • Brown Cow (love the cream on top)
  • Green Mountain

For a great list of the best/worst yogurts on the market check out Eat This/Not That’s site: http://www.eatthis.com/greek-yogurt

A word of caution: Please do NOT pick up the flavored yogurts! It may be tempting, but it is full of sugar and not at all what a goddess such as yourself deserves! Pick up a yogurt with as many live strains as possible, and do not pass the expiration date

In the Old Country, we eat our yogurt nearly daily, and it is always on the table. Thick, creamy – no one would even consider getting a low fat, zero fat yogurt. We also prefer to eat our yogurt sans the sugar, and with a savory twist. Check out my recipe for Authentic Goddess-Style Tzatziki that can be whipped up in under 5 minutes: http://www.livelikeagoddess.com/tzatziki-cacik-jajeeka-its-good-no-matter-how-you-call-it/

To read the entire medical report that has this Mediterranean Goddess super excited to know she’s on the right track for both belly and mental well-being, follow along here: https://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu/2017/03/07/probiotics-in-yogurt-can-reverse-depression-symptoms/

Here’s to your Health! Live well, fellow goddesses!

Discover your Inner Aphrodite. . .

Claudia

Blog, In The News

Media Release: Taste of the Valley on WHSV

http://www.whsv.com/content/news/Taste-of-the-Valley-Taking-on-the-Mediterranean-lifestyle-415352443.html

Thanks to the awesome crew at WHSV-TV 3 for producing and airing this segment on Tabbouli/Tabbouleh

I have been long espousing this all-in-one salad that combines protein, fiber, and slow-release carbohydrates in the form of whole wheat couscous as its base. But this typical Middle Eastern (roots are Lebanese/Syrian) salad offers more than just carbs; it’s loaded with fresh Italian parsley, chopped tomatoes, scallions, cucumbers, feta, lemon and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (of course). I like to make mine slightly spicy using a red pepper paste. To get the exact recipe, check it out here: http://www.livelikeagoddess.com/tabbouli-salad-with-a-kick/

This Taste of the Valley segment on Tabbouleh aired last Tuesday (Tabbouleh Tuesday!). One thing I forgot to mention in the recipe above: you can turn this simple, delicious and fresh salad gluten-free, simply by replacing the whole wheat couscous with quinoa. While I love quinoa’s protein and nutty flavor, it is definitely part of the New World foods (South American roots), and therefore a twist on the original Middle Eastern Tabbouleh salad. Prepare the quinoa according to its own package, and replace in this simple recipe. Enjoy! Please share as I love to see all of us eating healthier in the New Year!

Try it for your next BBQ in replace of pasta or potato salad!

Got another recipe that you love to share? Another version on this Tabbouleh classic? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line below.

 

 

Blog, Cooking

Omelette with a Turkish Twist

One of my favorite, quick, dirty meals is an omelette. What I found most interesting living in the Mediterranean, was the use of eggs. Sure, an occasional boiled one was found on my breakfast plate. But for the most part, eggs are considered lunch or dinner fare. And even better, was the play of eggs loaded with tomatoes, veggies, seasonings to make that egg-taste disappear. Now, full disclosure here: I used to *hate* eggs. I mean it was up there with cream cheese (yes, I’m weird). I couldn’t get myself near an egg unless it was scrambled with a load of butter and salt.

But that was before I learned about menemen! Man this stuff is awesome! It’s quick, light, and loaded with vegetables that take the egg-smell right out of your omelette. It’s super quick, and doesn’t need elaborate changes, so I’ll share with you the recipe right as I learned it: authentic, clean Mediterranean eating.

Menemen Recipe – Servings for 3

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, crushed (or 1/2 can of whole ripened tomatoes, crushed)
  • 1 bell pepper, thinly diced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced – OR – 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup Halloumi cheese, shredded (if you don’t have -or even know about – halloumi, it is a Cypriot staple. It’s an awesome cheese great for grilling. In the absence of halloumi, use Mozzarella).
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, paprika

Method

  1. In a heavy saucepan, coat the bottom with olive oil
  2. Toss the onions and peppers in the olive oil and cook over medium heat until translucent
  3. Add the tomatoes and continue to stir frequently, until the color turns deep burnt orange and red
  4. Toss in the eggs and Halloumi, stirring frequently. The halloumi will melt right in. Remove from heat and add your spices: salt, pepper and paprika to taste.

Your meal is done! Here’s another crazy twist: in the Med, if we drink fruit juice, it is ONLY freshly-squeezed (no Tropicana for us). And we drink these freshly-squeezed juices ONLY in the afternoon, never for morning. Enjoy your Menemen with a glass of freshly-squeezed OJ and a fresh green salad!

About Cyprus, Blog, In The News

A Tale of Two Laundry: A Poem

Originally published on Women Who Live on Rocks on 2/16/17. 

http://womenwholiveonrocks.com/a-tale-of-two-laundry-a-poem/

 

Let’s take a moment, and tell you a tale of a girl
who has lived and grown up on either sides of this world.
She hails from the States,
where doing laundry is a piece of cake.
She buys large tubs of Persil and Tide,
never worries that colors will fade and hide.
The smooth gel dissipates and flees,
and the clothes smell like heavenly Spring Breeze.

Every two days with her family of four,
a new load goes in and it’s not a chore.
She sorts the colors from the whites,
then pops them in her Kenmore Delight.
She turns the cycle to scour and scrub,
and leaves the Kenmore to do its job.
In 45 minutes her clothes are gleaming,
wrung dry, but still wet and steaming.

She feigns a moan as she leans down to take the wet pile
and plops them into the other Kenmore beside-her.
Her pressed hardwood floors are cozy under her feet,
while she sniffs a whiff of the laundry softener sheet.
With a turn of a knob, the heat is set.
She may leave her house without a fret.

In an hour or so, it’s time to do some manual labor,
but she has a better idea: and calls in a favor.
“Hey kids! You broke my wine glasses,” she scolds.
“As repayment, it’s time for you to fold.”
Because her TV program is on, she casts an eye to her tweens,
as they bemoan the hard work to fold and clean.
She rolls her eyes and her hands begin to work,
as her kids complain of their toils they must shirk.

Across the wide ocean, another tale unfolds.
Of the same young mother, and it is her story that is told.
She lives on a rock, in the middle of the ocean;
it was her husband’s idea to live here – his notion.
She is surrounded by God’s beauty and might,
and she has not a care in the world – or so she delights.
Except that she has the same family of four,
and this time the high heat makes their clothes smell more.

So she does laundry every two days
except on this rock, this little job seems like a maze.
She climbs her stone steps to the room with the old machine
that cracks, crinkles, and bubbles up when she must clean.
She sorts through the colors of school uniforms and swimsuits,
then she smiles to herself and thinks, “at least it’s not a business suit.”
In go the colors with the cheap local soap,
The powder stings her hands and she mopes.
But she knows that the soap isn’t the worst –
Oh no! The following few hours are the beginning of her curse.

After an hour or two, the machine has stopped its dizzy spin,
and it will be my turn to work, she thinks to her chagrin.
She pulls out the jumbled mess,
unraveling the twisted knot, it is such a stress.
She drags the wet laundry to the top terrace,
where the sun beating down is relentless.
On the Rock there are no need for dryers;
the sun does the trick better than any fryer.
Clothespins shoved in her mouth, her eyes squint in the sun,
her expert fingers hang the clothes – this is no fun!
Oh how her toes long for the cool, hardwood floor!
Instead blisters bead and form as she swore.
She manages to tie the laundry quite loose
and hang down as they form a little noose.
She leaves them to drip-dry on the sweltering stones,
and grabs a lemonade and fans herself as she moans.
“Oh the horror of living on this little rock!”
She flutters her lids and there’s azure blue. Her eyes are in shock.

How can I complain in God’s own land?
I look down at my arms, legs – strong and tanned.
I drift off to sleep as the soft wind blows,
and awaken shortly because this I know:
It’s time to lift the iron to my sun-stiffed clothes.

Blog, In The News, Lifestyle

Aphrodite Inspirations for a more Goddess-Worthy 2017

Originally published on @mindbodygreen on Februrary 8, 2017 (Just in time for Valentine’s Day! Love yourself better)

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-28654/aphrodite-inspo-how-im-living-more-like-a-goddess-this-year.html

At a time of year when the majority of resolutions have gone by the wayside, I’d like to offer a new one—one that doesn’t look at numbers on a scale or in your bank account.

Let’s look at following in Aphrodite’s footsteps. The goddess of love and beauty probably never spent a minute thinking of her curves. Instead, she focused on giving love and making the world fall at her feet.

Here are some secrets from sirens of the Mediterranean on how to live more like a goddess:

1. Adopt a healthier palate.

Naturally, as a Mediterranean lifestyle coach, I teach Mediterranean cooking.

My family is big on olives, olive oil, tomatoes, yogurt, feta cheese, and pretty much all things Mediterranean. It’s pretty easy for us to adopt a healthier diet when our palate is already accustomed to these tastes.

But if you prefer the taste of butter, meat, and takeout, then it may be more difficult to make that change. Below are a couple of quick ways to help you adjust your palate.

Eat at least seven servings of fruit and/or vegetables per day. Pack tangerines in your bag, chomp on dried figs for dessert, eat a salad every single day. I promise if you do this, you won’t have room in your stomach for a full cheeseburger and fries.

Eat beans/legumes at least twice a week. Packed full of fiber, protein, and folate, legumes are a great, inexpensive food that is extremely versatile (black-eyed peas are awesome on top of brown rice; edamame are wonderful on a salad; cranberry beans are great as a stew with coarsely chopped root vegetables—think carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips).

Still unsure where to begin? Take a cooking class! Cooking classes are a great gift to yourself—it’s the ultimate gift that keeps giving. Look them up at your local university, community college, local food cooperative, or local restaurants.

2. Gather your personal army.

Goddesses recognize that life can be tough, and to combat the stresses of simply existing, we need an army of supporters. In this new year, consider building your support village.

Join a success circle that will keep you on target with your professional and personal goals (think of a writers’ group). Reach out to new (and old) friends on social media. Then follow it up with a much-needed but often overlooked girls’ weekend or trip.

Plan a trip that has you swinging from vines, pushing your adrenaline by day, but relaxing in the evening and creating those precious moments that last a lifetime.

And call your mom weekly! She was the founder of your first personal army.

3. Get “om” with your spiritual side.

This is always the hardest one for me. I was born Orthodox Christian and raised Roman Catholic (I grew up in small towns in Virginia). I love the church and its ancient traditions. I love the fact that my five senses are tantalized once I enter a cathedral. It’s an overall experience that leaves me feeling relaxed, happy, and even chatty with my fellow churchgoers.

But then I don’t go for weeks, months, and at one point, even years. I get completely busy with life—workout classes, my children’s sports, traveling over the weekend, work, etc. Life takes over.

This does not happen in the Old World, where religion is still revered and it’s still considered family time to go to temple, church, or mosque. And I have to admit it: The families seem so contented and connected once they spend a couple of hours together on a given Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

So this year, I’ll make religion a priority again. And I’m not talking about the in-your-face, fire-and-brimstone religion.

I think most of us seek peace, love, and serenity on a daily, weekly basis. Give yourself the gift of peace this year. Give yourself the time to meditate, pray, and postulate before a higher being. Make a commitment to chant. Do it in the car or in the shower. Explore Buddhism and Hinduism if the monotheistic ones that you may have grown up with no longer fit.

Find the right religion for you; find one that resonates deep within you and say yes to peace.

4. Become an asset to your company.

One of the things I learned quickly in business school was how to build a balance sheet or snapshot of a company’s financial health. Once I graduated and moved to the corporate world, I began to think of myself and my peers as line items in a spreadsheet. I know, it’s totally unsexy and demoralizing to think of humans in this fashion. But it’s true: We are either a cost to the company or a source of revenue. We are either an asset or a liability.

Take a good look at yourself in the business setting. Are you actually adding value in your role? Could you learn a new skill set that would benefit your company and you? And as always, be certain to promote yourself loudly so others take notice of this new you.

5. Get your glam on.

Women in the Mediterranean know how to be flirty, fun, and sexy—in short, they ooze confidence. In the new year, take a dance class (tango or salsa, perhaps?), become regimented about skin care, eat healthfully, and choose sequins every now and then for a little sparkle in your life.

About Claudia, Cooking, Vegan, Vegetarian

7 Things to do with Tahini that AREN’T Hummus

Hello fellow goddesses!

This article of mine just got published on the fabulous Mind Body Green over the weekend. I’ve done some research about tahini. For those of you who aren’t familiar with tahini (or as the Israeli’s and Arabs call it: tahina), it is ground and crushed sesame seeds. Similar to almond or peanut butter in its consistency, tahini is now being considered a super food (I still cringe as I write that word. It’s all about eating sensibly and back to the basics – without fillers and without being stripped of natural minerals. But I digress). Nourishing, high in copper, calcium, iron fiber, and more, these tiny little golden and black seeds may help lower cholesterol. And they taste good. Tahini is an extremely versatile paste that can be made savory or sweet, depending on the recipe. Tahini is the staple ingredient behind your favorite hummus recipe. But if you are bored with hummus, check out these other tasty, iron and copper-rich foods that will have you as nutty over sesame seeds.

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-28325/7-things-to-do-with-leftover-tahini-that-arent-hummus.html

Blog, In The News

Cooking Videos with My Two Mediterranean Moms

Hello fellow goddesses!

I have finally gotten into my hands my cooking videos with my two Mediterranean moms (my actual mom and my mother-in-law)! A HUGE thank you to the Friendly City Food Co-Op (http://friendlycity.coop/) and to WVPT (http://www.wvpt.net/)for filming!

Golden Beetroot Salad over a bed of Organic Arugula

With my mom, we are giving an instructional video on how to make a roasted beetroot (using both traditional beets and these fantastic golden beets that I have recently been introduced to!) over top of organic, baby arugula, fresh, thinly sliced basil leaves, grated fresh garlic. The salad is then tossed in a light, fresh mixture of extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dried mint and salt. So simple, yet delicious, and definitely a staple on our Mediterranean tables.

To get the full recipe, check out the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5styDot0joQ&feature=youtu.be

Roasted Eggplant Salad

My mother-in-law shared this awesome eggplant recipe with me years ago. The roasted eggplant has a smoky, intense flavor that is packed full of fiber, B Vitamins, manganese, folate and more. To add colors, more flavor to the salad, I like to add chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced Italian parsley, freshly grated garlic, marinated artichokes and/or black olives, and topped with crumbled feta cheese. It is a wow salad packed full of flavor, yet very low in calories.

To get the full recipe, please click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdimRiGSBHw&feature=youtu.be

Be on the lookout for a new Live Like a Goddess YouTube channel Coming Soon!

Unleash your Inner Aphrodite. . .

Claudia

Blog, Lifestyle

Following in Aphrodite’s Footsteps: A New Year’s Resolution for the Ultimate Goddess

 

It’s week 2 into 2017. How many of you guys are still hitting the gym? Cut your sugar addictions? As far as New Year’s Resolutions go, losing weight is perennially the most popular. But for this year, I would like to offer a new resolution: one that doesn’t look at just the numbers on your scale or in your bank account. In 2017 let’s look at following in Aphrodite’s footsteps. The Goddess of Love and Beauty probably never spent an excess minute thinking of her excess curves. Instead, she focused on giving love and making the world fall at her feet.

In this new year, allow me to share with you some secrets of how sirens of the Mediterranean make the world stop at their pedicured feet.

Adopt a Healthier Palate

Naturally, as a Mediterranean Lifestyle Coach, I teach Mediterranean cooking. So it’s no wonder that the first thing on Living La Vida Goddess in 2017 would be learning to cook! My family is a huge fan of olives, olive oil, tomatoes, yogurt, feta cheese, and pretty much all things Mediterranean. So it’s pretty easy for us to adopt a healthier diet when our palate is already accustomed to these tastes. But if you prefer the taste of butter, meat, fried foods and take out, then it may be difficult for you to make that change. Below are a couple of quick fixes to help you switch your palate

  1. Eat at least 7 servings of fruit and/or vegetables per day. Pack tangerines in your bag; chomp on dried figs for dessert; eat a salad every single day. I promise: if you do this, you won’t have room in your stomach for a full cheeseburger and fries.
  2. Eat beans/legumes at least 2x per week. Packed full of fiber, protein and folate, legumes are a great, inexpensive food that is extremely versatile (black-eyed peas are awesome on top of brown rice; edamame are wonderful on a salad; cranberry beans are great as a stew with coarsely chopped root vegetables – think carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips).
  3. Still unsure on where to begin? Take a cooking class! Cooking classes are a great gift to yourself. It is the ultimate gift that keeps giving. Look them up at your local university, community college, local food cooperative, or local restaurants.

 

 Gather your Personal Army

Goddesses recognize that life can be tough. So to combat the stresses of simply existing, we create an army of supporters. In this new year, consider building your support village. Join a Success Circle that will keep you on target with your professional and personal goals (think of a Writer’s Group). Reach out to new (and old) friends on social media. Then follow it up with a much-needed, but often overlooked girls’ weekend or trip. Plan a trip that has you swinging from vines, pushing your adrenaline by day, but relaxing in the evening and creating those precious moments that last a lifetime.

And call your mom weekly! She was the founder of your First Personal Army.

Photo from Your24hCoach

Get Om with your Spiritual Side

This is always the hardest one for me. I was born Orthodox Christian and raised Roman Catholic (grew up in small towns in Virginia). I love the church and its ancient traditions. I love the fact that my 5 senses are tantalized once I enter a cathedral. It’s an overall experience that leaves me at the end of my 1+ hour relaxed, happy and even chatty with my fellow churchgoers. But then I don’t go for weeks. Months. (at one point, even years). I get completely busy with life – a workout class, my children’s sports, traveling over the weekend, work, etc. Life takes over. This does not happen in the Old World. Religion is still revered. It is still considered family time to go to temple, church or mosque. And I’ve got to admit it: the families seem so contended and connected once they spend a couple of hours together on a given Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

So in my new year’s resolution, I will make religion a priority again. And I’m not talking about the in-your-face, hate-spewing, hell-damning religion (because I don’t personally believe in those, nor go to sermons that espouse those). I think most of us seek peace, love and serenity on a daily, weekly basis. Give yourself the gift of peace this year. Give yourself the time to meditate, pray and postulate before a higher being. Make a commitment to chant. Do it in the car or in the shower. Explore Buddhism and Hinduism, if the monotheistic ones which you may have grown up with no longer fits. Find the right religion for you; find one that resonates deep within you. Say yes to peace in 2017.

Become an Asset to your Company

One of the things I learned quickly in business school was how to build a balance sheet: a financial sheet that provided a snapshot of a company’s health. Once I graduated and moved to the corporate world, I began to think of myself and my peers as line items in a spreadsheet. I know, it’s totally unsexy and demoralizing to think of humans in this fashion. But it’s true: we are either a cost to the company, or a source of revenue. We are either an asset or a liability. Since then, I have not forgotten these simple truths.

In the new year, take a good long look at yourself in the business setting. Are you actually adding value in your role? Could you learn a new skillset that would benefit your company and then you? And as always, be certain to promote yourself loudly – so that your higher ups take notice of this new you.

Get pampered

Get your Glam On

Women in the Mediterranean know how to be flirty, fun and sexy. The men drop to their pedicured toes because we Mediterranean women ooze confidence. In the new year, take a dance class (tango? Salsa?), become regimented about skin care, eat healthfully, and choose sequins every now and then for a little sparkle in your life.

Here’s to a brilliant, healthy, goddess-worthy 2017! Do you have any other healthy resolutions for 2017? Drop me a line below!  

Lifestyle

Take Back the Weekend

What happened to lazing around at the beach or a park on Saturdays? Or church and a large family gathering on Sundays? That’s what I want to know.

family-getaway-beach-chairs-jpg-rend-tccom-616-462

My weekends got hijacked the moment I stepped foot on American soil and enrolled my kids into public school. It seemed to happen overnight. One day my generation were kids – riding our bikes, telling ghost stories in the middle of fields, exploring abandoned and most definitely about to collapse wooden houses. We got into colleges and floated by at frat parties and all-nighters at the library. We grew up in simpler, less competitive times. And I know I sound old right now.

But this is the deal: the blissful, ignorant relative calm of the 80s is how people still live outside the crazed energy of the US. In the Mediterranean, no one in their right minds would consider infringing on family time to watch their kid kick a ball down a field. It doesn’t happen. Sports practices are after school once per week. Period. Music classes may occupy an additional weeknight. But that’s it. And as for competitions, recitals and so forth? Once per semester. Simple.

There is no illusion the kid in question will go pro or to the Olympics. There is no discussion of athletic college scholarships, probably because colleges are already rather affordable to the average household income. But I’ll withhold political discussions at this point.

While many Westerners may scoff at the lack of competitiveness in the Mediterranean (and visions of imaginary portly, lazy kids may abound in their heads), let me say one thing: what is lacking in athletic prowess is more than compensated in family-focused lives.

Three generation of a family sharing a meal. Stock photo from Huffington Post

Three generation of a family sharing a meal. Stock photo from Huffington Post

One of the most important pillars I noticed in the Mediterranean is the focus of a strong family bond. I could try to explain it by noting political instabilities in the region, and therefore focusing on the health and wealth of your own, immediate family is of utmost concern. The lack of trust in a government working for the people and by the people could also be a contributing reason why family is more important than all else. But really, I don’t feel the need to explain it. Rather, I would like to talk about the effect that happens in this environment. According to sociologists studying the effects of extended family, considerable research points to benefits of children growing up around grandparents and other important family figures. (http://family.jrank.org/pages/473/Extended-Families-Study-Extended-Family.html) Instead of focusing on artificial (and often times fleeting) sports relationships, shouldn’t we be more focused on cultivating long-lasting, meaningful relationships with family and close friends?

On a typical Sunday in the Mediterranean, we go to church in the mornings. Jews and Muslims would go to their prayers of worship on Saturday and Friday, respectively. But for us, after Sunday service, lunch was almost always had at my in-laws. They live in a modest home with a ginormous garden full of citrus, olive, pomegranate, persimmon and fig trees. Since retirement, they had gotten into the habit of planting seasonal vegetables. So lunches, while simple, were centered around local, organic veggies in season and fresh baked bread from the baker down the road. We usually shared a bottle of wine, plenty of laughter. It wasn’t a large, elaborate meal, but it was our tradition that most on the island held sacred.

But by the time coffee came around, extended family would begin making their rounds. Cousins, uncles, aunts, children, all stopped by for a cup of Turkish coffee, glass of homemade lemonade, or a piece of fruit. The children would play in the garden all day long, weather permitting. They climb trees, pretend to skate down the rickety driveway, throw rocks at the houses across the ravine (they could never hit it). Basically, they weren’t doing anything special. But they were bonding. They were playing, living healthfully not in front of a screen, not being directed by a coach, and always under the watchful eye of a loving adult.

img_2833

My fabulous four

They were part of a team. But I guess it wasn’t a formal one; it was a family one.