Day on a Plate with Nicolette Johnson: Puerto Rico Blogger

Meet Nicolette Johnson — a fellow midwestern girl who turned into an island-life enthusiast after moving to Puerto Rico in July of 2015.  That tiny island in the Caribbean brought so much happiness, adventures, health, love, and passion for living and buying local into her life that she started writing about it, everyday. Her goal was simple: to share the beauty and simplicity only Puerto Rico could offer. An amazing career opportunity brought her back to the Midwest this winter but lucky for us, she brought back the best of island life too!

In our Q&A below, Nic shares her top health & beauty tips to inspire us all to continue making healthy choices in the New Year! 

Brooke: You're always glowing and in such good spirits! It's contagious. Can you please share some of your Puerto Rico secrets for looking & feeling so healthy? 🍃

Nic: After buying a book on the variety of medicinal plants found growing wild in Puerto Rico, I developed a true appreciation for the healing power of plants, and became fascinated with what was growing around me! In November of 2015, I attended a Green Medicine Healing Plant workshop in the rural central mountains of the island, and learned about the remedies we can make in our homes with simple ingredients. With a history of chronic infections, I found that moving to Puerto Rico transformed my health, and I attribute my current health status to a lot of the learning about my first tip:

Nic's Tip #1 — DIY Remedies

The symptoms: Ear aches, sinus pressure, or throat irritation

The remedy: Garlic earplugs!

When you are feeling illness coming on like a common cold or ear pain, place a few tiny pieces of mashed up raw garlic on the middle of a piece of gauze (not paper or Kleenex; gauze only). Twist the garlic pieces inside the gauze and place the ball end of your twisted gauze into your ear overnight. Be sure the garlic is secure inside the gauze; you do not want it falling down into your ear canal while you sleep. This remedy can help reduce pain and inflammation overnight.

The symptoms: Acne, sunburn, cold sores, or inflammation in general

The remedy: Aloe vera gel (from your own plant)!

I'm sure I'm not alone in this experience of my youth & teenage years: slathering commercial bottles of green gel all over your body after spending too much time in the sun. Unfortunately, big commercial bottles from drugstores are often costly, filled with parabens, artificial colors, and other nasty additives that often irritate the skin and don't truly "nourish" it. Luckily for us (whether you live in a place like the Caribbean where your aloe vera can grow wild outdoors or in the Midwest tundra during winter months where your plants need to stay indoors) aloe vera can thrive in both environments!

If you don’t have the space for growing plants indoors or outdoors (weather permitting), I have seen grocery stores like Whole Foods who sell Aloe Vera plant leaves you can strip the gel from.

Simply strip the aloe gel from the plant and apply directly to your skin, or put it in a smoothie to help with general inflammation.

Nic's Tip #2 — Embrace Chaos & Be Grateful

We often forget how important mental and emotional health is when we talk about healthy living.  Moving to Puerto Rico wasn’t really a culture shock because I have always felt comfortable with the island lifestyle and with the language, it was more of a nothing-is-the-end-of-the-world anymore mindset I adapted and only-in-Puerto-Rico chaos I got used to, but in the very best way!

I love to tell this story when people ask me about life in Puerto Rico to give a perspective of how the island cracked through my worried surface and made me a lot more spontaneous and able to embrace chaos (though I’ve still got a ways to go!). It was my last week of my first rotation of my job, and there were presentations I had to present to management.  It was also my first week in a new apartment. I woke up to head to work, day 2 in the new place, and our dog Sammy had peed overnight. It was his first night in the apartment, and he must have been nervous.  As I cleaned up his pee, it got all over my hands. I went to wash my hands and we had no running water!  I hadn't brushed my hair yet, and we had no wet wipes or anything since we were so new in the apartment. I left for work in a rush to present with pee hands, stopped at a gas station to wash my hands, and just burst out laughing. I looked like a mess, and my steering wheel smelled like pee. We didn't have water the first week at my apartment, and it made life interesting. It also made trips to the beach so amazing, having access to WATER! Embracing the chaos instead of letting my pee-hands ruin my day, and being grateful for living by the ocean and when the water came back on!

Nic's Tip #3 — Everything but make-up!

My skin struggles went on through college, and I wore a lot of make-up, spent a lot of time scrutinizing my face, and threw away a lot of money on oil wipes. Moving to Puerto Rico opened up a whole new world of nourishing beauty options: eating a lot more fresh fruit from the roadside, drinking coconut water, doing coconut-coffee body and face scrubs, relying on salt water for a good cleanse, breaking a sweat every day, wearing make-up occasionally, and switching to organic skin products — these things completely changed the game for me. It took the island environment, the confidence of my bare-skin friends at the beach convincing me to do the same, and my job restrictions on make-up use to inspire these changes, but they can really be applied anywhere!  My skin rarely gives me troubles, and if it does, I pay attention to my food and water intake, throw on some healing balm (see products I love below!), and usually my skin clears right up!

Nic's Tip #4 — Get Off The Grid and In The Green! 

Vacation days are called vacation days for a reason! Living in Puerto Rico meant life felt like a vacation most days the first few months just because of the weather, and once I got into the normal working routine, the vacation feeling surprisingly never wore off.  Weekends were spent disconnecting, exploring, staying in a treehouse in the jungle with no cell-service, doing anything but checking on my projects at work or thinking about other problems I was dealing with.  I swore to myself that if I ever was in a professional role where I couldn’t take a true break, I would get out.  Finding places to take breaks, turn your social activities into active ones, and get outside! In the winter and especially the Midwest climate, it can be harder, but there are ways! Recently I’ve been taking long walks in my city on weekends, finding places to walk to with energizing indoor activities like visiting the farmers market, taking our pup to the dog park, and planning a getaway where I can spend a lot of time outside!  Get off the grid and get outside; your lungs, body, relationships, and colleagues will thank you when you come back with all the happy outdoor vibes in your soul!

Could you take us through a typical day on your plate?

My golden rules for eating are making the majority of food that ends up on my plate as colorful as possible combined with choosing foods that did not come pre-packaged.

Breakfast is by far my favorite meal!  On days when I have the freedom to take my time with a slow morning, I'll have a delicious lemon mango smoothie and geek out over pumpkin pancakes (Trader Joes Gluten Free Pumpkin Pancake Mix is my favorite!).  Not every morning starts out slow, so some ginger lemonade I whipped up the night before and coconut, chia, sunflower butter, and pumpkin oatmeal makes the cut to take with me on-the-go to work!

Lunch is always a big deep green salad adorned with pumpkin seeds, a protein source like beans, and a little spicy rice with quinoa on the side!  Luckily in my workplace, the salad bar and yummy toppings vary every day so I never have to skimp on flavor during lunch. Here's what it looks like most days...

Dinner is a toss-up. I might throw some of my leftover lunch salad with a bean burger or salmon to add protein, and some sweet potato fries or another hot side to round out my plate. Other nights, I’ll enjoy spinach pasta with garlic, throw some of dad’s venison on top, and have some soup on the side.

Dessert...Once in a while I’ll pick up some of Green and Black Organic’s dark chocolate (I go dark since I’m dairy free to control my chronic ear infections), or throw some cinnamon and honey in my coconut milk and heat it up for a sweet and spicy treat. That doesn’t mean I skipped out on mom’s amazing Christmas cookies…everything in balance, right?! 🍪  

What are the foods you can't live without?

  1. Fruit – pineapple, mango, and parcha (passionfruit) when I can get it!
  2. Salmon – garlic and rosemary on top = YUM!
  3. Asparagus/Spinach/Kale (any green vegetable really!)
  4. Sunflower butter! – I thought I loved sunflower seeds until I discovered sunflower butter….

You praise the power of a natural beauty routine — what does that look like for you on a daily basis?

If I could describe my beauty routine in one word, it would be: simple. My role for the first 8 months at my workplace in Puerto Rico did not allow make-up, skin products, or hair products for sanitary reasons, so Monday to Friday was me looking in the mirror seeing my normal face, natural hair, and skin that didn't have any magic lotions or potions covering it.  The weekend days, they were spent hiking, at the beach, in the sunshine, and taking pictures focused on beautiful scenery rather than a close up of my face or hair while I dripped sweat and took in the view at the top of a mountain. Living the island life taught me that less beauty routine and products means less holding back, especially when you are splashing around in the ocean and end up with sand all over your hair and face – there’s just no bother getting too dolled-up! Beach hair is in!

Since moving back to the Midwest, I have noticed I do wear make-up and do my hair on a more regular basis, and am using more products to keep my skin hydrated. However, I stick to (and swear by!) Honest Beauty products which are eco-friendly and don’t contain harsh chemicals, which has kept my skin looking the same regardless of how often I am wearing make-up! In addition, I use as few products for as many functions as possible.

My all-time favorite beauty product: The Honest Company Organic Healing Balm

I use Healing Balm as my makeup remover, chapstick, zit cream, overnight moisturizer, heel cream, hand salve, sunburn remedy (if I don’t have aloe on hand!), and everything in between. I don’t have other body lotions, make-up remover wipes, moisturizers, toners, exfoliators, anything! It has made travel, and life, much simpler! Here’s to me making my own DIY healing balm in 2017… (Um, yes please! We want the recipe ☺️ ) 

Morning: Spray-on some Honest deodorant, wipe off any makeup and prep lips with Honest Organic Healing Balm, throw on a necklace or pair of earrings and my watch, add a little Honest Organic Baby Powder to my hair for fluff (this was especially helpful on the island when it was humid and my hair got greasy faster!), throw a few curls in to the ends of my hair or put my hair in a low ponytail, add a little highlighter, blush, a sweep of mascara, and some bronzer if it’s a make-up day, and throw on some lip tint to brighten up my face.

 

Daytime: Apply some honest lip gloss on top of healing balm throughout the day.

Evening: Wash my hair, face, and body with Honest Shampoo and Body Wash (yes my shampoo is my face wash and my skin has never been clearer!), and apply healing balm on my entire face and neck as an overnight moisturizer!

Are there any other daily practices you have to maintain this admirable balance in your life?

Quick workouts – When it’s cold outside, or just not in the mood for a huge workout, or putting on shoes even sounds like a struggle, I roll out my yoga mat and hit the ABikiniADay website for their High Intensity Interval Training or Abs or Butt Workouts. They take 15 minutes tops, make me feel amazing, and melt away the cold, a lazy mood, and any struggles I was having without leaving my comfort zone.

Morning yoga – if there’s a big meeting coming up or I woke up with low energy, I’ll roll out my mat for just a few minutes of stretching and abs to start my day feeling strong!

Bring the outside, in! – one thing I loved about Puerto Rico was the green space everywhere, access to the outdoors regardless of the time of year, and wild plants growing even on city street corners. I left my precious plants behind when I moved back to the states, but have since purchased some amazing air-cleaning plants, decorative plants, and medicinal plants to keep me surrounded by living things, which I do think helps mental health. The mini cactus in the bathroom of my apartment just adds a different kind of beauty than other décor.

Take breaks at work – a quick lunge stretch at my desk, a walk to another department, and soon I’ll be starting lunchtime yoga! It is so important to take a break – a lot of my best ideas come just waiting in the lunch line or on a walk in a new environment.

Make time for hobbies I love – in my free time, I have always enjoyed writing. This blog and maintaining my relationship with Puerto Rico and all the amazing things it has to offer even from a far has been great for keeping balance in my life!

Call friends – most days a week I have a phone call, even if it’s a quick one on the bus ride home, with a friend – just to catch up! It’s important and something that helps me balance my little world with what’s going on with the important people in my life.

Disconnecting – even if it’s for 20 minutes while your phone re-charges, it is so nice to make dinner or ask someone about their day or curl up on the couch with some dark chocolate and cuddle the dog without another notification interrupting. Blogging has definitely made me much more connected than I used to be, and now there is cell service everywhere where in Puerto Rico I could lose it in the mountains, so it does take a conscious effort to take abreak from devices!

Plan trips and take true vacation days – enough said!

You've clearly found your rhythm for healthy living but many people don't know where to start  — what advice would you offer for someone looking for a jumpstart?

Don’t be strict and don’t compare yourself to others on your healthy journey.

Embrace healthy (most) of the time. If you are trying to cut dairy and still want a piece of pizza every few months (like me!), it will be okay! Being strict may create cravings that may lead to binges so be sure to treat yourself once in a while! As long as you focus on 90% of your choices being ones you would honestly agree are healthy. As for being active, don’t think you have to run a marathon or even want to in order to be a health champion. There are so many ways to take care of your body, so don’t compare your preferences to anybody else’s! Find what works for you and stick with it — that's all that matters! 

Listen to your body. If your body is shutting down, give it rest versus pushing it through an intense workout, getaway weekend, or a party that will just push you over the edge. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way! If you are thirsty, feed your body with water, not a sugary juice or soda. Give your body what it asks for, and your body will reward you internally and externally.

My new job has been taking a toll on me; cookies, donuts, juices, free pizza, staff breakfasts around every corner. During the holidays, there is any excuse to stuff yourself. When everyone is participating, it's hard not to!  What I noticed when I was saying yes those first few weeks of my new job to every single treat or meal offered - I had headaches, low energy, and felt sluggish in general.  Then we get to the actual family celebrations, eat until we could explode, and do it over and over again until we are just sick and tired.  Our body knows what it needs, and tells us in many ways.  My body needed healthy food, and it needed to move to get past that sluggish feeling!  That’s when my boyfriend Julio and I started taking our long weekend walks, and even trips to the dog park in the snow; we're talking heading out Saturday morning and getting back late afternoon, even in the cold winter! My legs were sore the next day from hauling my heavy boots like ankle weights all day, and we saw new places in the city we had never been to!  Which leads me to my next point...

Spend more time outdoors. Feeling fresh air, a breeze at the end of your hike, a beautiful view, disconnecting from technology, and sore calves after a long walk makes you feel amazing! Spending more time outdoors has created an addiction for me to get outdoors and be active, which in return supports my healthy lifestyle and appreciation for the health and wellbeing the earth offers us at such a low cost.

Don’t wait until you feel unhealthy to start making healthy choices. It’s one of the things that bothers me most about working in healthcare. So many of the conditions we end up sick over are preventable with healthy lifestyle choices. Our society isn’t wired for us to make healthy choices, it’s wired for us to seek convenience, rely on somebody else to do the leg work, and that leads to unhealthy choices being the easier path to take most of the time. Take control of your future, and make choices now that will set you up for all those adventures you want to feel well enough for throughout the length of your entire life.

With the start of a new year, what's your take on New Years resolutions? 

Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.
— Eric Thomas

I don't make New Years resolutions. But there's this quote I keep posted in my office (and in my mind!) when I get ahead of myself with big goals that seem so hard to reach.  

Build the life you have imagined and become the person you want to be by focusing on the day-to-day, and watch the long term effects blossom as a result.  :) 

Ok, does it get more inspiring than this girl? I am so grateful to call Nic a friend and delighted to have her back in the Midwest! Thank you for sharing your healthy tips with me & my readers — we are truly thankful for you helping to make healthy living more accessible and fun for all of us! xo

Want more inspiration from Nic? Follow her blog (http://www.herislandlife.com/) and on Instagram (herislandlife). Also, all the beautiful photos in this blog post were taken by Nic herself.