Hi there! Welcome to our monthly interview series: Easy Living. Here we’re talking to local healthy lifestyle enthusiasts and experts who love what they do and inspire others to be better every day.
Today, I am excited to introduce to you the amazing Cheryl Catrini, a Chicago-based writer, organizer, mother of two adorable boys, and dedicated green-lifestyle-in-the-city enthusiast. She does it all and always amazes me by how much one person can accomplish. We met at a volunteering event organized by imperfect produce for non-profit Fight2feed (As a side note: if you are from Chicago, read the fight2feed’s mission, maybe it will resonate with your heart and encourage you to join them ;)) Since then, we became friends who also happened to share a passion for a green living in the city.
Every meeting with Cheryl is a gift for me. It’s deep, genuine, always enlightening, and absolutely relaxed. This interview is a representation of one of those conversations where you’ll find a beautiful mesh of topics such as the benefits of a green lifestyle in the city and cool spots in Chicago, things that add more joy to her everyday life and reasons to volunteer more. I hope you will enjoy reading it!
If you had to define all that you do in a title, what would you say?
I would probably say – what day of the week is it? This question is a little tricky for me because I’ve never been very good at doing or being just one thing, but if I had to pick something to put on a business card, I would make two cards. One would say ‘Writer’ and the other ‘Professional Organizer’.
How would you describe your philosophy on being fit and healthy?
I have so much that I want to accomplish, within a single day and within my lifetime, and I can’t ask my body to keep up with my brain if I don’t care for it properly. There are a lot of beautiful metaphors out there about our bodies, but while the notion of the body as a temple is lovely, temples are a little too passive for me. I regard my body as a machine, and machines require proper input and maintenance.
What do you enjoy the most in having a green lifestyle?
Without a doubt, the quality it has added to my life. It seems to me that we have long been sold a false sense of luxury and quality. In a brilliantly bizarre cycle, we are told that stylish packaging, pre-made this, no-effort that, are the means to achieve an enlightened, modern lifestyle. But generally we are left feeling unfulfilled and wanting, and instead of realizing that we are participating in the wrong system, we assume we just haven’t bought enough or aren’t buying the right thing, and so we buy more. But while plopping tomatoes into a plastic bag at the grocery store feels like nothing and nestling tomatoes in your tote bag at the farmer’s market feels pretty good, popping a tomato straight off the plant you’ve grown and into your mouth feels downright incredible. That is luxury. That is quality. And that same increase in superlatives exists with all aspects of a green lifestyle. The more you do for yourself, the more natural you get, the higher the quality of your life and the more fulfilled you feel. At least, that has held true time and time again for me.
It seems to me that we have long been sold a false sense of luxury and quality. In a brilliantly bizarre cycle, we are told that stylish packaging, pre-made this, no-effort that, are the means to achieve an enlightened, modern lifestyle.
What was your path to becoming more conscious of your food choices and lifestyle? What would be your advice for someone who wants to start making healthier choices?
I spent a long time dabbling in health and exercise. I would go through long stretches of working out and then it would drop off. I was a vegetarian for 7 years, but without ever delving too deeply into many of the intricacies of it – not eating meat was the only real parameter. Then four years ago I found out I was pregnant with my first son and everything changed. He existed as this tiny little bundle of cells and all I could think about was how every cell that would go into creating him was going to come from my body and the things I put into it. How could I not give him the best start I was capable of? I also gave a lot of consideration to what pregnancy would mean for my body. I didn’t want to reach a point where I was uncomfortable with myself (the last three months of pregnancy excluded!) and I figured that working out and building a habit of it would be much easier when I was 8 weeks pregnant with no discernable physical changes, than it would be with a newborn and all sorts of responsibilities I couldn’t anticipate, so I started right away. So my best advice for anyone who wants to start making lifestyle changes is just to start. Actually, begin. Now. Pick one meal you really enjoy, figure out how to make it, if you don’t already know, and then figure out if there are ways to improve its nutritional content. Then do that again. And again. If you’ve decided that you want to work out, then get down on the floor and do a plank. Doesn’t matter if it lasts 5 seconds, you’ve done it and now you are someone who works out, and it’s much easier to continue doing something than it is to start after all…
So my best advice for anyone who wants to start making lifestyle changes is just to start. Actually, begin.
How does your morning routine look like?
My husband and I are both early risers so he gets up and makes the coffee while I get up to nurse our 9-month-old. I usually get back in bed, where my latte (packed with MCT oil & grass-fed collagen powder) is waiting on the nightstand, around 5:30, and do a little reading and planning for the day. He leaves for his office and I pump and then get dressed so I can be ready for when our toddler wakes up around 6:15. From there it is a mix of making breakfast, wrangling small bodies and playing until it’s time to start working. Some days I work from my home office and primarily get tasks accomplished during naps and independent play, and some days, one of the grandmas comes over and I pack up my laptop, notepads and breast pump and head to my coworking space.
What is your favorite way to unwind after a long day?
Learning! I know many people like to shut-off at the end of a busy day, but if I have spent the entire day doing things I don’t particularly care for or that might be creating stress for me, the last thing I want to do is nothing. I want to do something that I feel benefits me, and that will not just feel good at the moment, but will also contribute to my motivation and momentum the next day. And that is learning. So whether it is a few language lessons in my Duolingo app, a class on Masterclass or reading whatever book I’m currently on, when I get in bed at night I do those. There is also usually a cup of tea and a bowl of frozen blueberries involved.
What makes you laugh, smile, and be joyful?
Tale as old as time: my kids. Because as I type these answers my toddler just arrived at my desk with a silicone cupcake holder filled with water and a leaf from one of our lemon trees, “I thought you might like some tea! I’m going to have some tea too!”
Who or what gives you the most inspiration?
I usually don’t go in for the sappy stuff, I mean, I’m not the type who’s going to yell, “Puppy!” and pet a passing dog, I don’t cry during movies and after appreciating 99% of my toddler’s artwork, I recycle it, but I am a full-blown sucker for kindness. Kindness is definitely my top inspiration. Life is hard, days are hard, minutes can be really hard and I have yet to experience anything that can change that as quickly and readily as kindness. When I see kindness or am the recipient of it, it makes me want to imbue everything I do with kindness. I want to treat myself and my body kindly, my family kindly, my clients kindly, the person in the elevator kindly, our milkman kindly, the earth kindly, everyone and everything kindly. That’s probably why I volunteer so often, to be near such a concentration of kindness.
When I see kindness or am the recipient of it, it makes me want to imbue everything I do with kindness. I want to treat myself and my body kindly, my family kindly, my clients kindly, the person in the elevator kindly, our milkman kindly, the earth kindly, everyone and everything kindly.
What’s your favorite quote or mantra you can’t live without?
A creative man is motivated by his desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others. – Ayn Rand
There are so many aspects of life that are driven by our interconnectedness with others and while that is most often both enriching and necessary, I very strongly believe that we must pursue our passions as though we alone exist. When I write a story, I am not writing to create something on par with this person or that person, I am writing to write the best story I am capable of in that moment and about that subject. By focusing on making my individual piece of life the best that it can be, I am contributing most positively to my own happiness and the world I share with others.
By focusing on making my individual piece of life the best that it can be, I am contributing most positively to my own happiness and the world I share with others.
If you have any wellness or personal growth related books (or other books!) and authors you admire, please share!
I don’t really read much non-fiction or follow any blogs, but I do read a lot. And I believe it to be one of the absolute best things a person can do. The information we obtain through reading (even when we don’t realize we’re obtaining, or moreover, retaining, it) seems to be processed by our brains in such a way that it often lays dormant until we need an idea of our own and then we make connections from all over the place and the results can be quite profound. So I recommend reading anything and everything you can. But if anyone wants a specific fiction recommendation, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon*(See below). It’s gorgeous.
Name a few of your favorite restaurants, cafes, or coffee shops in Chicago where you would like to meet a friend?
Sable Kitchen & Bar in the Palomar has been my favorite restaurant since my first visit to the city (before moving) about 6 years ago. The friend I was traveling with and I chose it simply because it was open late and near our hotel, we never expected to be treated to one of the best meals of our lives. Now dozens and dozens of restaurants later, it is still where I bring every person who comes to visit, and where, whether for just a cocktail or dinner, I most enjoy getting together with friends. There are two cafes fairly close to me that I enjoy visiting both alone to do work and with friends. One is Maison Marcel, on Broadway in Lakeview, where they have delicious salads and egg dishes as well as house-made croissants (that you can watch being made!). There is also Cafe Corbel, on Clark in Lincoln Park, which offers a pretty incredible selection of in-house pastries and treats, including authentic Turkish fares, which I especially love because I am currently using my Duolingo time to learn Turkish.
What is the most popular recipe in your family?
Banana muffins! In our house, we are always looking for ways to cut down on things going bad and food waste, but when it comes to these muffins, bananas are the one thing we overbuy just so some will turn brown & spotty. Honestly, the older the banana, the better. If you can hold out until the skins are totally black, you will be rewarded!
Cheryl’s Banana Muffins
- 3 or 4 overripe bananas
- 4 tbsp ground flax seed
- ⅓ c warm water
- ½ c maple syrup
- ¼ c Brown butter
- Almond extract
- 1 ½ c flour
- ½ c oats
- 2 tsp baking soda
Preheat oven 375 F. Put flax in a large mixing bowl and add water. Mash bananas in with fork or potato masher. Add maple syrup, brown butter, almond extract (I never measure extract) and salt, mix. Stir in baking soda, flour, and oats. Butter muffin tins and fill. Bake 30 minutes. Do what my family does and stand over the pan when it comes out of the oven and attack like a pride of lions. Also works great in a loaf pan as banana bread.
So where can everyone keep up with you to learn more?
Instagram! There is a lot of back and forth about the value and meaningfulness of social media, but I have found some truly great creatives and relationships through the platform, and believe that it can be as substantial and positive as people choose to make it. I post both writing and green living goodness through @cheryl.catrini and would love to connect with people there.
I have found some truly great creatives and relationships through the platform, and believe that it can be as substantial and positive as people choose to make it.
Cheryl’s recommended book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón