Pilar Gerasimo, Experience Life Founding Editor

Revolutionary Acts

Experience Life founding Pilar Gerasimo shares her renegade perspectives for thriving in a mixed-up world.

Experience Life Magazine

Time to Shine: Win 2 Tickets to Illumination 2010!

I’m a big believer in the idea that we owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to enjoy life at our healthiest, happiest, shiniest best. That’s why I’ll be joining inspired women from all over the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on Saturday, March 27, for a day of self-discovery and expansion.

It’s called Illumination 2010, and it’s an amazing event dedicated to bringing the best and brightest in each of us.

Wanna come? I have a pair of tickets to give away! If you’re interested, save the date (it’s an all-day extravaganza), and then read on for how to get tickets! Hop on it, though: you have less than 48 hours to enter!

As part of the event, I’ll be leading an interactive workshop called “Grow Your Goals: An Organic Process for Positive Life Change.”

VisionLandscape.jpgIt’s an introduction to a fun, creative approach I developed for helping people clarify their personal vision and goals, developing solid action plans — and then making them happen.

With that in mind, I’d like to know:

How do you envision your ideal future? 
What positive changes are you looking to make next?

Simply leave your response as a comment on this blog entry by midnight Friday, March 12, and you’ll automatically be entered to win two tickets (valued at over $225). The winner will be selected based on the thoughtfulness and authenticity of his or her comment, as well as the spirit and clarity of the vision and/or goals identified.

The winner — selected by the Illumination planning committee and yours truly — will be announced on Monday, March 15, here at my blog. If you’re the winner, I’ll also personally contact you via email. And I’ll seek you out to say “hi!” at the conference, too!

You can learn more about Illumination 2010, its amazing cast of presenters (Joan Steffend, Liv Lane, Maryanne O’Brien and more) and how to purchase tickets at www.illuminationevent.com.

But if you want a shot at winning two FREE tickets, remember to leave your entry/comment below now.

Hope to see you (and a few of your friends) there!


NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. The “Experience Life Illumination: Time to Shine Giveaway” is subject in all respects to the complete Official Rules, which are available upon request. Giveaway is only open to entrants who, as of the entry date, are legal U.S. residents and are at least 18 years old. Giveaway is void where prohibited or restricted by law. Entries must be posted by midnight CST on 3/12/10. Sponsor: Experience Life, 2145 Ford Parkway, Suite 105, St. Paul, MN 55116.

Experience Life Magazine

Cup of Dreams

I’ve been driven bonkers for years now by how hard it is — outside of San Francisco, Seattle or Portland — to find a coffee shop that offers a latté made with organic milk. I hardly ever drink milk, so if I’m going to indulge in a latté, I want the real, unadulterated thing. And the real, unadulterated thing is surprisingly tough to come by.

Once upon a time, for a brief moment, some Starbucks locations stocked perma-keep, aseptically packed organic milk for picky drinkers like me, but then they stopped. (I believe this was about the same time they expanded their hideous selection of pale, low-fat pastries — perhaps they ran short of shelf space).

Anyway, with the crazy hope that my inquiries will contribute to some kind of critical-mass consumer demand, I’ve just kept on asking every barista I encounter: “Do you have organic milk?” Typically, the bewildered person behind the counter asks me to repeat the question. Sometimes they say “Sorry, no.” But more often, they reply with something ambiguous like, “Um … we have soy?”


Well, thanks to the wonderful word-of-mouth chain at work (one of our editors, Anjula, told another of our editors, Courtney, and Courtney told me), I yesterday discovered a coffee shop I had hitherto only dared dream of: Kopplin’s (www.kopplinscoffee.com) in St. Paul.


On the first day of spring weather, my dad, Jerry Gerasimo, and
Experience Life senior editor Courtney Helgoe soaked up sun and superb
coffee outside Kopplin’s (Hamline and Randolph, St. Paul).

Not only do they offer organic milk, it’s the only milk they serve. And it’s not just organic: It’s whole organic — from local, pasture-fed cows grazed on organic grass — and it’s packed in glass bottles.

But wait, it gets better. Kopplin’s also serves fair-trade coffee — divine espresso drinks and a beautiful array of made-fresh-by-the-cup drip brews — prepared to perfection. Seriously, best latté I’ve had inside the U.S., and quite possibly the best latté I’ve had ever.

Anyway, for all these reasons and more (no skim, no decaf, lots of thought behind all their decisions and aesthetics — visit their FAQ page for more info), Kopplin’s is my new favorite coffee shop.

The crazy part is, they’ve been there for years, right in the ‘hood — I just didn’t know about them.

I figure if THIS wild hope of mine can come true, it means that dozens of others can, too. Walking and biking paths everywhere! Kids learning how their brains and digestive systems work in grade school! Family farmers making a living doing what they love! Hurrah!

Somewhere(s), right now, I know all these and many more wonderful things are happening, and I trust that they — like the Kopplin’s coffee shops of the world –will just continue to flourish. In the meantime, any time I get discouraged about the state of the world, I’m going to Kopplin’s for a whole-milk latté. I’ll just take my seat on the sidewalk and sip until my hope is nudged from its slumber.

Experience Life Magazine

More Healthy Bargains

In my March “Thoughts From the Editor Column,”
I shared a few of my favorite healthy bargains. Here are a few more
bargains I didn’t have room for, but that definitely earn their keep:

Yoga: I used to take a weekly Monday night class that I
adored. It cost me $15, and I figure it easily saved me thousands over
the years in chiropractor appointments and spared me stress-related
illnesses of all kinds. It also gave me an equanimity and ability to
breathe through discomfort that has come in very handy over the years.
Alas, that class was canceled, so I’ve had to improvise. I now do some
yoga at home on a regular basis, squeeze group yoga classes in when I
can, and also attend a monthly two-hour Saturday yoga intensive, which
costs about $20. The difference I feel in my body, and the level of
flexibility I’ve been able to maintain doing even this little bit of
yoga is extraordinary. It has also given me a practice and life-skill I
intend to keep using as long as I live. I consider yoga a terrific
investment of both time and money for virtually anyone.

My Runner’s World subscription: I really like
this magazine for its breadth and depth, for the fascinating and
inspiring stories it tells, and for the practical advice it churns out
month after month. I’ve been a pretty casual runner for the past
several years, and the magazine has remained relevant to me during that
entire time. I suspect it will continue to be relevant for as long as I
continue to run. www.runnersworld.com

Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil: Being Greek myself,
I like to buy the Greek stuff by the big metal canister and decant it
into a smaller bottle I keep by the stove. Thirty bucks worth lasts me
about six months, and I use it for almost all my cooking. I can’t
fathom how many olives it takes to make a canister that size, but I
feel like I’m getting a great deal, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying
it by the bottle. http://olvil.com/oil.html

Heart-rate monitor: I bought a good one for about 100
bucks several years ago, and have gotten huge payback from it. It
really changed the way that I went about exercising (e.g., I stopped
going harder than I needed to, and also quickly realized that interval
training delivered huge benefits), and it was hugely motivating to see
my numbers change over time. You can get a cheapie monitor for $50
these days, but it’s worth paying a little more to get one you really
like. Make sure to get one that’s comfortable and has the important
features you need. I personally don’t care for calorie counters and all
that, but I like having customizable zones and the “out of target zone”
beeper to keep me between the lines. www.polarusa.com

Desert Essence Blemish Touch Stick: Not that I get
blemishes or anything, but when I do (or when I sustain little paper
cuts in the line of duty), I find this fresh-smelling tea-tree oil
antiseptic (packaged in a handy roller-ball applicator) heals things up
fast and it travels like a dream. I think it costs about $5 and you can
get it at Whole Foods and similar places. I keep one in my travel bag,
one in my purse, and one in the bathroom drawer. Also good for
de-stinking stinky environments: Just apply to hands and wave around in
the air. I do this on airplanes from time to time. www.desertessence.com/skin-care/face/tea-tree-oil-blemish-touch-stick

Local food: I’m not going to get into a big thing about
the nutritional value or food ethics here, but the fact that people in
my community go to the insane amount of work involved in planting,
growing, harvesting and delivering breathtakingly beautiful spinach,
delicate berries and other eye-popping produce absolutely blows my
mind. The care and respect with which they raise animals for milk, eggs
and meat is completely exceptional in today’s food-production world. It
often involves insane hours and backbreaking labor, and is typically at
best a breakeven proposition for them. And sometimes, if you get the
fruits of their labors through a CSA or farmers’ market, they cost the
same or less than conventional stuff. Even when it costs more, it’s
generally nowhere near as much as it deserves to be. www.localharvest.org

OK, I could go on and on, so I’ll just keep adding stuff as I
think of it. Meantime, if you have healthy bargains of your own you’d
like to share, bring ‘em on at community.experiencelifemag.com/2010/02/healthy-bargains.html.

Experience Life Magazine

My Road Less Travelled

Pilar as a Girl.jpgThis is me (an idealist dreamer from an early age) in the early farm days, circa 1973, in one of our commune’s many improvised environments  – a “barn apartment.” That’s my cousin Barb, a fellow commune-dweller (wearing actual clothes), in the background.

For a lot of my early life, the idea of “being different” was anything but appealing to me. All I wanted was to be like everybody else.

Alas, right from the beginning, that just wasn’t in my cards. Growing up in the Midwest, surrounded by Ann Johnsons and John Andersons, I had an impossibly weird name. At one point I asked my mom if she would consider letting me go by something more normal — like, say, Jill, Sarah or Irene. She would not.

To make matters worse, I spent most of my childhood on a back-to-the-land communal farm that was regarded by the surrounding rural community as completely bizarre. The lunches my sisters and I brought to school (sandwiches with sprouts on homemade dark bread, and yet packed in reused bread bags — go figure) bore no resemblance to the “normal” lunches other kids had.

The crazy-looking houses we lived in (experimental passive solar designs constructed by amateur builders from recycled materials) were so odd looking from the road they were rumored to be haunted, or to conceal dungeons. The fact that one house had a tower, and the other a drawbridge, probably didn’t help.

Long story short, my sisters and I were never going to fit in. We talked, thought and acted different from our peers, and at times we were regarded as so strange and “not from around here” that the local kids refused to sit next to us on the school bus.

For a long time, I tried mightily to conform. And eventually, when that didn’t work, I moved away — going first to an alternative public school in Minneapolis (weird), then to a women’s college in California (also weird, but in a different way), and then doing a brief teaching stint in Paris, where, being neither typically American nor appropriately European, I felt totally out of place once again.

Eventually, I got used to the idea of being a walker between worlds. Sometimes modern, Western, mainstream ways appealed to me. Other times, counterculture, global or ancient wisdom made a lot more sense. I experimented with both, mixing and matching as I saw fit, and searching out the balance that helped me feel best in my own skin.

In the realms of health and happiness, it seemed obvious to me that many of the dominant-culture patterns were making people sick, fat and depressed. They were also polluting the environment, undermining communities and emptying human lives of joy and meaning. And at the same time, many of the alternative-culture patterns seemed rigid, restrictive, joyless, overly woo-woo or infected with a nasty case of holier-than-thou-ism.

Looking at the world around me, and experimenting for myself, I started seeing that ultimately, neither side had all the answers. Reality just wasn’t “either/or.” It was “both/and.”

I figured out that I just had to get comfortable doing what worked for me — even when that meant feeling wedged between the cracks between two categories, or drifting free of all socially-sanctioned moorings.

Walking the path of health and happiness, I have found, sometimes means wandering alone.

It can also mean swimming against the tide, walking against traffic, dancing to your own drum, hoeing your own row and about a dozen other metaphorical acts that conjure the difficult and determined journey of the oddball.

Oh sure, detox smoothies, plant-based diets and yoga classes may be all the rage. You yourself may be training for a triathlon, practicing gratitude and freezing your own homegrown vegetables. And if you’re surrounded by other healthy, happy people who are doing similarly healthy things, you can count yourself lucky. I do.

But make no mistake: We still live in a country where the majority of the population is overweight, where most adults over 30 are on a variety of prescription drugs (especially antacids, depression and blood-pressure meds), where chronic disease is rampant even among young people, and where 85 percent of doctors’ office visits are stress-related.

We live in a country where sitting in front of a screen several hours a day is considered normal, where most grocery stores and restaurants primarily sell foods that do us far more harm than good, and where healthcare costs are so daunting that they threaten our entire economy.

We live in a country where fatigue and insomnia plague millions, and where, according to leading research psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, only 20 percent of us are flourishing, and the rest of us are getting by or “leading lives of quiet desperation.”

We live in a society, in other words, where living a full-vitality existence is very much the exception, not the rule. And as a result, committing to such a life can be fraught — at least initially — with inconvenience, expense, confusion, social awkwardness, frustration and doubt.

But you know what? It’s totally worth it. And it gets easier over time.

In fact, for the most part, living this way is delightfully rewarding. And sometimes — particularly when you making a healthy discovery or find yourself surrounded by a supportive social network — it’s an absolute blast.

So this is a blog about my experience on both sides of that journey. The agony and the elation. The loneliness and the camaraderie. The moments of clarity, befuddlement, hope, exasperation and everything in between.

This is a blog about choosing the road less travelled. It’s about the odyssey of making conscious, positive choices in a world that desperately needs more healthy happy people, but that often seems hell-bent on making their lives more difficult than they need to be.

It’s about my contention that today and in this culture, being fully healthy is a revolutionary act, one that requires courage, determination, experimentation and a deep willingness to find your own way and give your best gifts, even when it would be easier to settle.

In short, this blog is a travelogue honoring the meandering route that many of us are now walking individually — and yet increasingly, also together — and about what we’re learning along the way.

If you’re still reading this rambling entry, I’d wager that you’re a fellow walker on that path. Or at least an interested loiterer. And in either case, I’d love to hear from you (see the comments link below). What are your trials and tribulations, your breakthroughs and “aha!”s, your missteps and big leaps?
I can’t wait to hear all about ‘em.

In the meantime, here’s to the journey. And vive la revolution!

Note: I also  ponder related topics on Twitter (@pgerasimo) and Facebook, and in my “Thoughts From The Editor” column in Experience Life magazine. Connect with me there, too!

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