Creating Our Albany Blue Zone

This past fall Pat attended a conference where he heard a talk given by Dan Buettner, the author of National Geographic's Blue Zone study. He came home talking about the Blue Zone concepts - the idea that the places where people live the longest have certain ways of living in common. I've always been interested in this kind of thing, and the Blue Zone findings were intriguing to both of us.

The more I read about Blue Zones and about that approach to living well, the more I've come to realize that our life in Albany already encompasses many of the concepts - and that we could do even more to capitalize on those opportunities for 'good living'.

There are nine lessons that the study uncovered through researching the areas with the highest percentages of centenarians (as listed on BlueZones.com - you can read more about each lesson there):

1.Move naturally.
2. Have the right outlook - Purpose
3. Have the right outlook - Shed stress
4. Eat wisely - Until 80% full
5. Eat wisely - Mostly vegetarian, with limited meat
6.Wine @ 5 - 1-2 drinks per day, preferably wine
7. Connect - Belong to a community
8. Connect-  Put loved ones first
9. Connect - The right tribe

It struck me as I learned more about each of the above that several are made easier for our family to attain based on the community in which we live.

Move Naturally 

Blue Zone Finding: As it turns out, the world’s longest-living people don’t lift weights, run marathons, or join gyms.  It turns out that they live in places where they naturally move more, without thinking much about it.  They live in places where they can walk to the store, to work, to their friend's house, or places of worship. They garden and work outside. Movement is a part of their daily life.

Here in Albany: It's my guess that, overall, we have the opportunity to walk more than many of our suburban-living friends.  One of the reasons I wanted to live in Albany was for the walkability. From our home we can walk to the library, our daughter's daycare center, the gym/pool, a couple of drug stores, the hospital, several restaurants, the homes of many of our friends, a pond, a few playgrounds, Stewarts, my doctor's office, the salon where I get my hair cut, church, our dentist's office, and (if we were so inclined) the municipal golf course.

Do we walk to all of these places? Nope. But we do walk a lot. (It is oh-so-valuable to be able go places without going through the putting-the-baby-in-the-carseat struggle!) We take walks with our daughter most days of the week, sometimes just around our part of town, to no destination in particular. Sometimes we have a destination - the library, CVS, the pond, the playground, Stewarts, the coffee shop, and occasionally a restaurant. We often walk to visit our friends (we are lucky to have several friends living within a 1-mile radius), or meet friends for walks (or ice cream!) We've walked to church a couple times. But I know we could do an even better job of making the most of the awesome walkability of our 'hood.

Eat Wisely

Blue Zone finding: The Blue Zone researchers found that the people that live the longest eat meat, but in limited amounts - "consider it a condiment". Beans, including fava, black and soy and lentils are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.

Here in Albany: The quality of our local food scene is extolled often. Local farms, restaurants that value local/happy food, Honest Weight Food Co-Op, a supportive gardening community, several Farmers Markets, and a great local food blog scene make it easy to access and value this kind of diet. In our new role as parents we've become more aware than ever of what we eat, where our food comes from, and eating well. We're making more from scratch, buying as much locally-sourced food as we can afford (via Honest Weight, various Farmers Markets and our CSA), eating less meat, growing vegetables, and overall just being more aware of what we consume. I love that it's so easy to eat this way from here (although I do wish there was a weekend farmers market in Albany proper for city residents, rather than the mid-week mid-day markets for State employees. Probably too late for this now as all of the farmers are in Troy/Saratoga/Delmar/Menands on Saturdays and Schenectady on Sundays. It's not hard to get to any of those places, but it would be nice to feel the kind of community a market brings.)


Blue Zone finding: All but five of the 263 centenarians that were interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. The religion didn't matter, as long as it met as a community.  The research found that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

Here in Albany: We've been attending church more since living closer to our families, and certainly since Evelyn was born. Having a church within walking distance helps on the particularly lazy mornings. I'm also inspired by the many Jewish families I see walking through our neighborhood to and from synagogue on Saturdays. The presence of organized religion is stronger (and more diverse) in our current neighborhood than anywhere else I've lived. It's not a surprise, with several synagogues and churches of various denominations nearby, but I think it's an uncommon neighborhood trait in 2012.

Loved Ones First:
Blue Zone finding: Centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. Aging parents and grandparents live nearby or in the same home. The researchers recommend working on being in a positive, committed relationship and investing in children with time and love.

Here in Albany: We could probably achieve much of this living anywhere. Except that here, we live less than 15-minutes away from both sets of parents. Evelyn sees her grandparents- all of them- at least once a week, often more. Same goes for her aunt and uncle. This was a big factor in our decision to live in Albany. We could find- and have found- many of the other good-living qualities elsewhere. But the family that we have here, especially now that we have a child, is something we wouldn't have anyplace else.

Right Tribe:
Blue Zone finding: The world’s longest lived people chose (or were born into) social circles that support healthy behaviors. Research shows that smoking, obesity, and even loneliness is contagious. And so is happiness. The Blue Zone researchers recommend evaluating who you hang out with, and then surrounding yourself with the right friends. They claim this will do more to add years to your life than just about anything else. Isn't that amazing?

Here in Albany: We have dear and awesome friends living far and wide. Having friends living so nearby here in Albany has strengthened many of our friendships: easy weeknight meals or hangs together, frequent visits, meeting up for walks and talks, sharing garden bounty, baby play dates at the library and playground, meeting up for a drink at the neighborhood bar after work, and being able to easily help each other out in a pinch. The ease of our Albany friendships goes a long way. I worry that we'll lose that as years go on and young Albany residents and families do what young Albany residents and families seem to do as they grow: move to the 'burbs. For now, it's another thing that I love about living in Albany.

Our family can do plenty more in terms of living well, but achieving the Blue Zone ideals aren't so out of reach from here. Who wants to meet up for that glass of wine?


A Project a Week:: Week 3: Organize the Overflowing Plasticware Cabinet

Week: 3
Project: Organize the plasticware cabinet (and finish hemming the curtains!)

Background: There isn't much to say except that the cabinet that houses our plasticware/cutting boards/etc has become a cluttered mess. I've been buying fewer plastic storage containers and more glass/aluminum containers, and the new stuff has no place to live - so this needs an overhaul.

The Plan: Match containers to lids, ditch anything that doesn't have a match or is in bad shape, move anything we haven't used since moving in to the 'donate' pile, make space for glass and aluminum containers/lids currently taking up counter space, and do it all during a naptime so that this cabinet doesn't become toooo appealing to the toddler in the house.

Also: Finish hemming the curtains that did't get hemmed last week.

A Project a Week:: Week 2: Hemming Curtains - Update

So, here we are. At the end of Week 2.

And I have not finished hemming our curtains. (Although they are pinned, so that's progress.)

The thing is, the weather this week was amazing. And there was a three-day weekend. So, other projects took precedent.

I could consider this a failure, but I'm going to take it as a Project a Week lesson. Sometimes, project plans change based on conditions. The important part is that projects are getting checked off the list.

Instead of hemming curtains this week, I:

  • Transitioned my closet from winter to summer.
  • Planted flowers in pots for the front stoop.
  • Weeded the front gardens and planted some new annuals.
  • Collaborated with Pat to pick out shrubs for the patio border (Pat did the hard part of this project, planting the shrubs on an 85-degree day- and it looks great)
  • Planted marigolds in the vegetable garden for some natural pest-control and added bird netting over the strawberries and chives (a cute but destructive rabbit has already been helping himself to the chives- hoping the netting deters him)
  • Planted bulbs and thinned out lily-of-the-valley in the side yard.
  • Planted various other flower bulbs/seeds and herbs in containers on the patio.
I still feel like it was a productive week, although I did stray from my plan. 

Since the curtain-hemming project is partially complete, I'm going to keep this one in the plans for next week and add another. 


A Project a Week:: Week 2: Hemming Curtains

Week: 2 
Project: Hem bedroom curtains

Does everyone have these little projects that hang around, undone, for ages? Or is it just us?

Background: A few weeks before Evelyn was born last year, we did a mini-makeover of our bedroom: moved all the furniture out, scrubbed the floors and walls, purchased a new mattress and bedframe (our first actual headboard/footboard set up), put up shelves, photos and artwork that we'd wanted to hang since we moved in, organized nightstands and dressers, and hung new curtains. Except the curtains were too long, and we meant to hem them, but Evy was born a week later and, well, those curtains are still dragging on the floor in front of the baseboard heaters. (By the way, I highly suggest the master bedroom spiff-up as a pre-baby project for expectant parents. There's so much focus on the baby's room but, at least in our case, the baby spent more time in our room than hers for the first 6+ months. I spent a lot of time there with her in the early weeks and I was so thankful that we'd gotten it in order before she arrived.)

The Plan: There's not much to it- this week, I will hem those curtains. Not the most exciting project, but it will be crazy satisfying to cross this one off the list.

It is beyond silly that this project has needed doing for over a year, but it is what it is, and this week it's time to get 'er done -- which is, of course, the entire point of this Project Project.

A Project a Week:: Week 1: Complete

Week: 1 
Project: Plan and plant my vegetable garden
Status: Complete (mostly)

The vegetable garden has been planted!  Since kicking off this project last week I checked the following off my list:
  • Planned out the garden, taking into account that we'll also have a farm share, so we don't need a ton of veggies.  
  • Bought seedlings (tomatoes, strawberries, oregano, parsley, chives, calendula, zinnia) to plant in addition to some sugar snap pea seeds I already had on hand. I bought most of my seedlings at Honest Weight Food Coop - they've had a beautiful selection of organic vegetable and herb seedlings. I picked up the zinnias and a few other random flower seedlings at a neighborhood plant sale.
  • The organic co-op seedlings are lovely, but the tags could use a little proofreading (click to view larger...) 
  • Planted the herbs in a container garden on the patio. 
  • My partner-in-crime/husband built the frame for the netting we'll put up for the peas and tomato vines.
  • Picked up some other supplies like soil and bird netting to go over the strawberries.
  • Planted the seeds and seedlings in the raised beds. 
After the frame for the vine plants was built, but before any plants or seeds were in the bed. 

Not much to look at yet, but everything has been planted! We'll add the net to the frame this weekend so it will be all ready for the peas. 

This wasn't a huge project- I did most of it in small chunks during E's naps. Giving myself a 1-week timeline (and the fact that I had to report back on it here!) kept things moving along. Focusing on this project also inspired me to work on some other projects around the yard- it felt like a productive week. 

I still need to buy some basil for a second container on the patio (the nights were still too cold to plant it last week), put the bird netting over the berries, and hang the nets for the peas. That should be wrapped up this weekend.

Gardening has already been fun with the little one  -- I had some help with the watering this morning.


A Project a Week:: Week 1: Planning and Planting

Week: 1 
Project: Plan and plant my vegetable garden

Background: The summer of 2010 was our first summer in this house, our first home. We built and planted our first raised bed vegetable and herb garden, loosely following the square foot garden method. We planted too many things and generally had no idea what we were doing, but we certainly learned a lot! We harvested tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, and peppers. We made notes about what to do in future years and hashed out plans for building more beds.

In the summer of 2011 our time and attention was consumed by the darling infant who had arrived that spring, and pretty much everything else fell off our radar. We hastily planted some tomatoes and peppers, watched the mint that we stupidly planted the year before take over everything, and really didn't touch the garden.

This year I'm determined to have a successful garden.  Being outside and having a few minutes to myself to tend the garden is calming, centering, and good for the soul. I want that back in my life this summer. I am imagining summer evenings of putting my daughter to bed and heading to the yard before the sun sets for some time with the garden. That's not to mention my excitement over afternoons spent showing my daughter the garden and teaching her how to pick and bite cherry tomatoes. She's still very young, but this is the summer she'll begin her journey of gardening and learning about where food comes from.

The plan: I've spent a couple nights this week thumbing through my gardening books and finalizing my plan for the garden. My challenge is that our family is also doing a farm share. We're splitting a share with friends, but we'll still be getting plenty of vegetables from the farm. That changes my planting goals. Rather than planting for a summer of vegetables from the garden, I'm planting vegetables to round out the farm share (hard to predict), that we can easily process or freeze, and that my 13-month old will enjoy picking and eating throughout the summer. Since that will leave plenty of room in the bed, I'm also planning to grow several rows of pretty flowers to cut and enjoy/share through the fall.

I originally thought I'd start my own seeds, but clearly that ship has sailed. Perhaps another year, if I can figure out a spot for seedlings that's free from danger of crushing by child or cat.

At this point my plan is to visit a local nursery and co-op to pick up some plants over the weekend, and to get them in the ground within the next few days. The raised bed itself needs a bit of weeding and some soil refreshing, but overall is in pretty good shape. I'll need to construct/string up some sort of frame and/or netting for the snap peas, but that might be a project for another week. My Mother's Day request was for some time to work on this project, and I'm raring to go!


A Project a Week

I am surrounded by to do lists.
Half finished projects.
Stalled inspiration.
Good intentions.

I'm tired of not crossing things off the list. It's easy to feel daunted, tired, busy, too consumed by the day to day.

One of the things on my list happens to be "Return to writing that is unrelated to work. Blog again? Something."

So I'm starting a new project, with the goal of completing more projects. It's a project project! And in the process I'll accomplish the return to writing in a public place, unrelated to my day job.

A Project a Week is my new blog endeavor, to be documented right here on It's Loverly.

The plan is to introduce a doable project each week, ranging from hemming curtains to planning and planting my vegetable garden to organizing photos - those projects that tend to just sit on my to-do list. I'll document the project, share photos, and generally use the Project Project as a means to get things done.

Interesting for anyone else? We'll see. Here goes!

First up: Planning and planting this year's raised bed veggie garden. Stay tuned.