The Great Outdoors

I have always known, but somehow need to be continually reminded that time outdoors is essential to my happiness and well-being. Some of the moments in life that I have felt the deepest connection to spirit and self have been times that I’ve spent alone or with a loved one in nature. Soaking in the reality, beauty, and simplicity of the untouched world. Stepping away from screens and music, work and stress, and the continuous noise of busy life into the quiet sounds of plants and birds and children’s laughter. Experiencing sunlight as it filters through the trees creating shadowy artwork on the ground. Discovering forgotten clearings along paths through the woods that seem as sacred as a temple and using those spaces to meditate and reclaim calm. Sitting on a park bench and watching children who are still too young to be self-conscious run and play and be free in a way that many adults envy in the deepest parts of themselves. Dropping the restraints of time and tasks and pretending for a short time that they do not exist. Inhaling the smell rag weed and wood mulch, dead leaves and earth all in the same breath and feeling cleansed by it. Going home dirtier than you’ve been in a long time, yet with no desire to wash it off. This is life in its simplest and best form and I am grateful for it.

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Surprising Indulgences

Yesterday was a day of surprising indulgences for a working mother of a two-year old. Personal time and relaxation are both commodities that are hard to come by at this stage of my existence. Yet miraculously, my day started with a glorious half hour of quiet solitude complete with a cup of french vanilla coffee and a cinnamon bagel. This was after I had the privilege of sleeping in till almost 8:30 since both of my boys slept till 9:00. The worrisome part of me wanted to go in and check on my little man since this occurrence is so rare, but my more rational side won out as I let him sleep and enjoyed my quiet, solitary breakfast. The level to which I savored this event is almost (but not quite) sad.

Woman in Her Bath painting by Edgar Degas

This was not even my only spoiled moment of the day. After a long and fulfilling morning working outside in the yard as a family, I got Aiden fed and in bed for his nap and then drew a hot bath with epsom salts, candles, and book and proceeded to soak away all my muscle aches, tensions, and worries and simply relax. As I laid flat on my back with only my nose and mouth above water, I began to contemplate how very lucky we are. There are so many things we take for granted. Little things like being able, at a moment’s notice, to fill an entire tub with enough hot water to completely submerge ourselves. As little as 60 years ago this would have been considered decadent. The only way you could have such a bath was if you heated all the water on the stove first (after chopping and bringing in enough wood to do so) and probably shared it with other siblings or family members, hoping you were the first in line. My mother remembers living in a house with no indoor bathroom! Even today, in other places in the world, such extravagance would never even be considered. Yet I simply turn a knob and don’t even think twice about soaking my cares away. We are indeed blessed. How many other simple, everyday activities do we take for granted. How many conveniences that we see as basic necessities were never even available to our parents or grandparents? How many of them will still be available to us tomorrow? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that today I am grateful.

Fighting For Fulfillment

A few minutes ago, as I was reading to Aiden before bed, I fell asleep between one page and the next. There was a long pause and Aiden asked, “Mama, why’d you stop?” My only response, “Oh, sorry, where was I?”  That is the state of exhaustion in which I find myself tonight while trying to write something insightful. I was discussing with a friend recently that every decision we make as adults seems to involve some amount of sacrifice. The question we face when making these decisions is, does the gain outweigh the loss? While in the early months of pregnancy, I find that the sacrifice for maintaining my personal goals and sanity seems to be utter exhaustion. Obviously, I believe the benefits of a stimulating conversation with a greatly missed friend till the wee hours of the morn outweigh the crushing fatigue that faces me the next day. Clearly, I think it is more important for me to keep writing consistently even when my bed is calling my name like a siren, than to wait for a refreshed and inspired moment to enlighten my readers with witty repartee. And it is certainly beneficial for me to continue reading for my book club even when sleep is crowding my vision.

But, while considering these things, I realized that this is not a unique problem of early pregnancy. My current battle may be with exhaustion, but there is always something that is encroaching on our time, energy, and commitment. We always have to fight for personal fulfillment and growth even when the activities that cultivate them sometimes feel like chores. Because without them, we stagnate. We sleep. We waste. If we are not striving to be better, even while sacrificing a certain amount of ease and comfort, then we become millstones around the necks of those we care about who are trying to grow. So keep fighting for the things that make you a better person, even when you would much rather be doing something else, because in the long run, you will find yourself changed, with a greater capacity for understanding, challenge, and new growth.

Technological Sabbath

I have been seriously considering, as of late, implementing a regular technological sabbath for myself. A day of rest from the myriad of devices that connect us to everything under the sun. From what’s important to what’s completely irrelevant. From the beautiful to the terrible – the heroic to the mundane. We, more than any previous generation, have the world at our fingertips with all of its woes and inspirations, and the weight of it is immense. The burden of knowledge is great and the guilt of inability, although unjustified, can be just as great. We have computers in our pockets that can show us real-time video footage of the most recent natural disaster, civil war, or peace rally. They can look up, at our first thought of curiosity, the answer to any question, and yet we still feel confused. And even with such powerful tools always at our disposal to advance knowledge and personal development, we spend a huge portion of our time using them for frivolous and meaningless tasks like surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Angry Birds, or browsing Facebook to keep up with our “friends.” If ever we find ourselves with a spare moment of quiet or stillness, out come the phones. Walk around in a public place and notice how many people around you are staring at a screen.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology. It’s value is immeasurable and it is shaping the world today in ways many never dreamed possible. I just worry that we are attaining its prize at a rather high price. The loss of quiet contemplation and meditation. The inability to experience stillness without trying to fill it. The physical and mental release of curling up in a big chair with an actual book or crochet hook or guitar. Embarking on projects with our families that involve rakes and shovels or paints and brushes instead of remotes and ear buds. Hiking or biking without music or podcasts and simply our own thoughts to keep us company. But, as I contemplate all of this, the devil on my shoulder says, “Yes, those things are all very whimsical and beautiful, but every week? For a whole day? I don’t know. What if someone needs to get a hold of me? What if I need directions somewhere? What if . . . the world stops if I don’t pick up my phone or laptop multiple times a day?!?” My fear wreaks of addiction. There are so many ways to fill a day without the need for buttons. And I really believe I’d be happier if I set one day aside to shut down, breathe, and . . . reboot.

What do you think? Can it be done? Would you do it?

You Are What You Eat

I have discovered, as of late, that what you put into your body has a profound affect on how well it operates. Just like a car is bound to experience mechanical problems if it is only run on the cheapest gas and old, gluey oil.

If we could see the effects of what we ate as clearly as these little guys, we'd probably be a lot more careful about what we put in our mouths!

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with very high cholesterol. I was only 28 years old and weighed 136 pounds – not exactly a likely candidate for such a problem. And none of my immediate family struggled with it either, making the excuse of “I can’t help it, it’s just in my genes” not altogether legitimate. Although genetics may have played a role, I had to look myself square in the face and acknowledge that I was part of the problem. I was all too often resorting to what was cheap and easy and emotionally satisfying rather than what was healthy and best for my body and life. I began to see a nutritionist at our local heart clinic and get my blood work done every few months to check on progress. And, let me tell you, it was remarkable. Here’s a snapshot of the numbers:

This last date is slightly higher on some of the numbers because I'm pregnant, which can raise cholesterol for women.

Once I started seeing significant results and sharing my success with others, people were constantly asking me if it was terribly difficult to change my diet and “deprive” myself of things that we as Americans deem to be innate rights, like fast food, and pre-made frozen meals, and FRIED everything. The truth is, it wasn’t! There is very little that I actually cut out of my diet and SO many ways to make substitutions. Like ground turkey instead of beef, olive oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, heart-smart margarine instead of butter, egg beaters instead of eggs, 1% or fat-free cheeses, skim milk, canola mayo, high fiber cereals, muffins, pancakes, pastas and breads, and lots more vegetables and fruit. And, of course, less of everything to drink except water. All the things I used to cook and love, I can still cook with some modifications and we can barely, if at all, notice a difference. Everything is fresher, lighter. And if I need something quick and easy on the go, I get a sub from subway or a salad (without heavy dressing). And the best part – because this is a lifestyle change and not a diet – it’s OK to cheat every now and then. The important thing is to generally reform our habits. Learn to pay attention at the grocery store. Care about what we put in our body and not just satisfy our cravings. I still have a ways to go, but I thought I would share my success so far as an inspiration to others that making healthy choices can make a tangible difference even in a short amount of time.

I’d love to hear some of your healthy eating tips and ideas. What are some of your best kitchen secrets?