These are the shoes that remind me what I can do

I woke up sad this morning because I feel like I’m losing Africa already, and we haven’t been home two weeks yet. I opened the bag of Kenyan coffee and inhaled, as if breathing in the coffee aroma could somehow take me back.

I’ve told you how reluctant I am to start talking about Africa. But talk about it I must. In just a few weeks our team will share with our church and other friends about our trip, so keeping it to ourselves won’t be an option. And maybe talking about it will help me not to feel so sad.

The week before we left for Kenya, I bought these shoes for $8 at a thrift store.

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My only other pair of sneakers are gleaming white (from disuse, not because they’re new) and we were told to be prepared for the things we brought to get dirty and possibly ruined. The dirt we walked on was brownish red and everything eventually turns that color over time. These shoes were unrecognizable the day we hiked the volcano.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A couple of good pairs of walking shoes are what I needed. I got these because they fit and were in relatively good shape, and I thought maybe I could leave them behind when we were done. I almost did, but I’m glad I didn’t.

We started painting the boys’ dorm on Thursday of our trip. (If you look close enough, you can see a spot of ginger brown paint on the toe of one shoe. This was my color all week long. Ask me about the adventures of Ginger Brown sometime.) Long hours of sanding, taping and painting were ours for three solid days. On the second work day, we decided to start the morning, after breakfast, with a walk to clear our lungs of the fumes and clear our minds for the work ahead.

One group took the second half of the campus tour; another group took on Killer Hill, the steepest hill on campus. That morning I was struggling emotionally and my lungs were heaving with even the smallest trips up the stairs. We were at 7,000 or so feet above sea level and I’m not in the best of shape physically. I opted for the Killer Hill group, even though it meant I was the only female. And the least fit. (Our group included teenage boys who apparently have super-human strength all the time.)

About halfway up Killer Hill (I wish I had a picture to show you what I’m talking about here), I was sure I’d made a mistake in coming. I was lagging behind on an unfamiliar campus, and though we were all headed in the same direction, I was afraid of being left to myself. (Phil and I were at odds with each other as well that morning, so there was not a lot of compassionate care between us.) Our leader and missionary friend Lamar stopped us to catch our breath. I felt like the only one heaving and gasping for breath, and I nearly turned around. But where would I have gone? No one was back at the dorm and I’m not sure I could have found my way.

I took deep breaths and let myself rest and then we continued onward and upward. I could see the top of the hill, and I put one foot in front of the other. I was determined to make it. Sometimes, I am stubborn. And I needed to cure my emotional state with a physical challenge. Sometimes, this is the only way.

We made it to the top. Me, gasping and heaving. I lowered myself onto a retaining wall to rest up. The view over campus was–well, I was about to say “breath-taking” but it was the walk up the hill that took my breath away, not the view. Already on the side of a mountain, we could see the valley below from wherever we were. It wasn’t the view, really, that struck me, but the physical challenge.

The path leveled out and we finished our walk, and my mood improved enough to carry on with the work I had started the previous day. Later, as I climbed the stairs to our room, I noticed that I wasn’t out of breath anymore. Even taking the stairs at a quick pace, I could breathe normally.

Was I acclimating? Or had I pushed my lungs past their limits and somehow increased their capacity for air? (Tell me if there’s science to back this up. I want to know.)

Three days later, I found myself at the base of a dormant volcano, about to start an hours-long climb to the top. As I huffed my way up Killer Hill, I told myself it was practice for the volcano. But as I looked at the challenge ahead of me, I wondered if I’d made a mistake not going to the tea farm with a few members of our group.

The view of Mt. Longonot before we began our hike

The view of Mt. Longonot before we began our hike

I was confident, sort of, because we had done this before. Phil and I hiked a mountain in the Smokies on our honeymoon. But that was nearly a decade and at least 20 pounds ago, pre-children. What in the world was I thinking?

As we ascended, I would ask that question a lot. We took our time, and watched large groups of Kenyan schoolchildren scamper up the mountain ahead of us. Partway up we would have the opportunity to stop, rest and decide if we were continuing on. My goal was to make it at least to that banta–a shelter-like pavilion. I could see it the whole time we hiked.

The path was dry and a bit barren but reminded me of the Bible. I could almost see Jesus and his followers walking paths like these, telling stories along the way, as much to teach as to take their minds off the climb.

A glance over our shoulders showed us beautiful views of the surrounding land. One of our team was certain we’d found the place where Mufasa died in The Lion King. When we looked hard enough, we could see the profile of giraffes near the river bed.

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I can’t get over the trees in Africa.

We’d been hiking for an hour or more when we reached the place of rest. We had scrambled over some rocks to reach this point, and our guide and missionary friend Lamar assured us that this was the hardest part of the climb, harder even than summitting.

I believed him, and decided that I would regret it if I didn’t try to make it to the top. When might I get another chance to say I’d been on the rim of a volcano? My breathing was labored, but not in the same way as it had been when I was adjusting to the altitude. I felt like I would if we were on a vigorous hike in Pennsylvania–challenged and winded and maybe a little bit affected by the altitude. I did yawn a lot on the hike to the top, not because I was tired or bored but in need of oxygen.

The journey to the top was a different kind of challenging. Steeper, although the path was clearer. And by this time, the school children were on their way down, so we had to stop sometimes and move to the side, lest we get run into. This was also entertaining, though, because a group of white people climbing a mountain in Kenya is as much a sight as the mountain itself. We often shook hands with a dozen children or high-fived them on the way down. One even declared as he walked past, “I am from Washington. I am a black American.” (President Obama’s visit to Kenya was just a week past at this time.)

I was the straggler again, only this time, there were four of us in the final group that ascended the mountain. We stopped often. Every few steps, it seemed at times. A couple of times I thought I might pass out right there on the mountainside. Phil wouldn’t let me sit down. He pushed me mentally to keep going. Lamar said I could do it and it didn’t matter how long it took. Victoria said she needed to rest, too, and I shouldn’t feel bad about needing to catch my breath.

The closer we got to the top, the harder the climb. Earlier in the week, we had talked about mountaintop experiences and how this trip to Kenya might be one, the kind you don’t want to come down from. And I thought of this as we climbed, how much we crave the mountaintop experience, the high of accomplishment, but easily forget how hard it is to get there in the first place.

We set small goals. “Just to the next curve and then we’ll stop.” “We’ll make it to that tree right there. Ready?” Until finally there was just one more stretch to the top. I gave it everything I had. All I could see ahead of me was sky and then suddenly, I was there. At the top. On the rim of a volcano. I raised my arms in victory and exhaustion. (I also may have peed myself a little. Sweat, pee, it’s hard to tell at that point.)

How many feet is that?

How many feet is that?

Inside the crater was a lush forest of green. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was beautiful and worth every labored breath and calf strain.

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We don’t even look happy here, but trust me, on the inside, I’m elated.

We rested on the rim for what felt like hours, and there are more stories for others to tell of climbing into the crater and reaching the crater floor. We walked a little ways around the rim, but I was content to have made it to the top.

Comparatively, the trip to the base was a breeze. It was easier to run/jog and let gravity carry you, and I felt all kinds of free as I careened down the mountainside.

I just hiked to the top of a volcano. I kept telling myself in case later I wouldn’t believe it. I was amazed at what my body–my almost middle-aged, out-of-shape body–could do. It could do far more than I give it credit for.

When we packed up the next night for our trip home, I decided to bring the shoes with me, as a reminder of what I could do. Earlier this year, I set myself a goal to lose some weight and as of leaving for Kenya, I’m fairly certain I had gained weight. Hiking the volcano and walking up Killer Hill reminded me that my body is strong and capable of more than I allow it and that it is possible to push past my endurance and survive.

Now that we’re back, I find that the work my body did in Kenya hasn’t disappeared. The kids and I have taken several walks–the same ones we took earlier in the summer–and I can breathe normally for the duration, even if I am walking at a faster pace or up a hill. I am by no means a star athlete now because I climbed a volcano. But I feel like a warrior. Or at least, a warrior in training.

I can’t wait to get into a rhythm of physical activity and see what my body can do. (After school starts next week, I aim to be active daily.) And it’s not just for the physical benefit but the mental and spiritual as well. Maybe I’ll save those applications for another post.

I didn’t expect to come home from Kenya with a renewed sense of my physical capabilities. But it’s one of the clearest and most amazing takeaways I had from the whole trip.

And just to add to my own sense of warrior-ness, I looked up the altitude of the mountain we climbed in the Smokies and compared it to the one in Kenya. I was almost 2,000 feet higher in Kenya than in Tennessee. (That shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. And it makes me feel like I could take on another mountain. And another.)

2015-08-05 13.15.45Days before we hiked it, we could see Longonot in the distance, from our room. It was my first view of Kenya when I woke up Wednesday morning. It was impressive to gaze at from miles away.

After we hiked it, I took this picture to remember that we had seen it up close. We had, in a way, conquered it.

I’m grateful to have learned something about myself in a place I didn’t expect it.

How I’m celebrating my 37th birthday

I turn 37 today, which is by no means monumental. It’s not like 30 (been there, done that) or 40 (it’ll be here before I know it) or even 35. It’s just a random number in the middle of a decade, but every year that pushes me closer to a new decade is becoming significant. Don’t ask me why because I really don’t know.

Already, this year is changing me for the good as I work toward wholeness. And for my birthday, I want to add to that. So, I’m planning a year-long celebration. Sounds fun, right?

Well, I’m using the term celebration loosely. What I really want from my 37th year is better physical health. I don’t know if it’s feasible, but I’m setting myself a goal to lose 37 pounds in the next year. It totally won’t be fun, at least not all the time, but if I reached even half my goal, I’d be doing myself some good.

Why do I want to do this? Well, for starters, I’m embarrassed when I take the kids to the park and I can’t keep up. On scooters or bikes, they zoom ahead, and even if I lightly jog, I can’t keep up and I end up trying to catch my breath, legs and lungs burning. I want them to have an active life and I don’t want to sit on the sidelines.

Second, this whole back pain episode from last week scared me a little. I know that fitness alone won’t keep me from having pain or physical problems, but I can certainly do better for myself and my body.

Third, winter is the worst time for me to make a decision about increasing my physical activity because I don’t have a gym membership and I’d rather walk or run outside, anyway. So winter is the wrong time for me to set any kind of goal. May, however, is the perfect time. The weather is consistently nice. The downside of May is that mid-month, I lose my mid-week preschool mornings.

But a plan can help, so I’ve got one. And I’ll need to anticipate challenges and problems so I don’t get discouraged.

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Here’s what I think it’s going to take for me to make progress toward this goal:

  • Meal planning and calorie tracking. I often dislike both of these things, but the meal planning keeps me from feeding my family and myself junk all the time and the calorie tracking helps me make better decisions about what I eat. If there is good stuff to eat in this house, then I will eat it. If there is not, then I make poor choices. I’d rather track calories than go on a diet that excludes something because I want to be in charge of my choices.

    Daria Nepriakhina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

    Daria Nepriakhina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

  • Exercise. (Duh.) But specifically, I need to plan it in my day. I’m hoping to get in a daily walk and eventually start the couch to 5K program again. I’ve been inactive long enough that I think walking will be best to start. Once I’m feeling better about making room in my day for a walk, I’ll start running again. And as motivation, I’ll sign up for a 5K for the fall. It’s been many years since I’ve run a 5K (it was just the one time) but I enjoy the challenge. Most of the time.
  • Weekly weigh-ins. I know numbers on a scale don’t tell the whole story, and I usually dread stepping on it once a week, but I need some kind of measure of progress.
  • Accountability and discipline. I’m going to need to plan exercise into my day because it won’t just happen on its own. And I will need the accountability of others asking me how it’s going or checking in with me. That’s partly why I’m blogging about it. I don’t like to admit that I’m not happy with my body or level of fitness, but if I don’t tell anyone that, I won’t make any changes. I’ve tried and failed before to make a good plan for weight loss, but it fizzled for whatever reason. Don’t let me fizzle, okay?

I know everyone has a different idea of what works, and I’d love to hear about your journey to get in better physical fitness or health. For now, this is my plan.

Do you have a health/fitness goal? How do you stick to a weight-loss plan or a fitness regime?

What are the challenges you face or have faced when making decisions for healthy living?

When all you can do is be still

I woke Sunday morning with back pain so bad I had trouble walking. The tightness would grip me and I would cry out and lean against someone or something or drop to my knees. Anything to relieve the pain.

It was the most helpless I’ve felt physically since giving birth to my children.

That was enough to convince my husband that we needed to head to urgent care where I would at least get some medication to help with the pain. Two hours of waiting and I was given painkillers and muscle relaxers to manage the pain until it passes or I decide to take another course of action.

So I spent a lot of Sunday being still, not by choice but by necessity.

Yu-chuan Hsu | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Yu-chuan Hsu | Creative Commons | via unsplash

It’s a humbling thing to be in so much pain and rely on others to get you the things you need. I reserved my energy for the effort it took to get off the couch only for necessity (the bathroom).

And I realized that I don’t sit still very well. All day I fought the urge to get up. For food. For drink. To help the kids. Just to do something different. And I found myself getting frustrated because all I did was sit. And rearrange my position for comfort. When I was hungry or needed water, I had to ask. When the rice sock needed re-heating, I had to ask. Apparently I’m not very good at asking, either.

So, it was a hard spot for me to be in. Today I’m a bit better, but still trying to take it easy. My husband is home today, but he won’t be tomorrow and I want to be able to participate in our lives again. It’s a scary prospect, not knowing when or if you’ll be able to do regular life stuff again.

Being still has been my only choice, and I’m surprised at how hard it is.

Is it harder because I didn’t choose it? Because it’s the result of pain?

There’s a psalm that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I want to believe that I can do that in the midst of everyday life, but when stillness is a necessity and I resist it, maybe I’m in desperate need of it after all. Maybe I need to, even when I’m not bound by pain, behave as though I am. I am a master at starting a dozen different things and finishing none. I am notorious for sitting down to do one thing and remembering 10 other things I could be doing.

Be still? Who has time?

And yet, being still is a gift.

From my vantage point on the couch, I saw a robin land on the tree branches in our front yard, and I watched him watch us, sitting there for minutes. I heard my kids say actual words instead of just hearing their noise. I was aware of everything going on around me because I was undistracted by anything else. And I was dependent on others, so I felt I needed to be present mentally with them. Our daughter snuggled close and I appreciated the closeness. Some days, I’ve been touched too much and can’t handle another sensation, but last night I needed it.

I also took a 2-hour nap, aided by the medicine, I’m sure, but that’s almost unheard of for me. Twenty minutes on rare occasions is about my limit. I’ve resisted naps for as long as I can remember, afraid of missing out. Maybe this is why I choose not to be still. I’m afraid I’ll be missing something.

Stillness is both a necessity and a luxury, and I need to treat it as such.

To the world around me, stillness might look like idleness. But it’s not the same thing.

And maybe that’s what I’m afraid of, too. That if I’m still, I’ll be looked at as lazy. Ours is a culture that values the doers, not the be-ers, so I convince myself to do and do and do until I’m done. (And honestly, who of us is ever done?) Or overdone.

This back pain/muscle strain is a combination of overdoing it (cleaning, walking, chasing the kids at the park) and underdoing it. I have neglected my health for years, and this is just one more indicator that I need to take care of myself.

Otherwise, I’ll be celebrating my 37th birthday next week like an 87-year-old–limitedly mobile, with body aches and pains, ingesting medicine to keep me functioning.

There is a time to do and a time to be, and I pray that I will know and sense the difference. And give equal value to both times.

Something else this forced stillness has reminded me: I want to be well. I don’t want to keep telling the children I can’t do this or that with them because my back hurts. I don’t want this to be my life, and it doesn’t have to be. At least not yet. I have options to relieve my back pain that doesn’t yet involve surgery or chronic pain. Exercise, chiropractic care, yoga, orthopedic footwear. All of these are possibilities, and I am thankful for the choices.

Being still is also a choice. I can say “no” to busyness, “no” to doing one more thing, “no” to my value being only in what I do instead of in who I am.

I don’t have to like it, at least not at first, but stillness is a gift, forced or unforced. And I will learn to appreciate it.

Have you ever been forced to “be still” because of illness or injury? How did you handle that time? What keeps you from regularly being still in your life?

A brief health update (because some of you have asked)

Last month, I let the world of Facebook know that I was trying medication for depression and/or anxiety because I was having some issues with side effects and I just needed to talk about it. The response was overwhelming and humbling.

It took me a few weeks to take further action. I talked with my therapist who suggested maybe an anti-anxiety medication might be better. I made a doctor’s appointment, and last week, I finally got to check back in with my doctor, who has been on a short journey with me but is someone I really like and trust.

Together, he and I decided that medication might not be the best choice for me right now. So, I’m trusting my body and its over-reaction to these meds and I’m seeking alternative sources: relaxation techniques, exercise, better eating, the occasional adult beverage at the end of a stressful day. This was my preferred path all along, but I didn’t want to rely on my own understanding or resist medication for the sake of resisting. (Nor do I believe that medication is evil or a wrong choice for anyone.) This is what is best for me right now.

My symptoms are mild and manageable. I will listen to my body and be aware of my emotions and determine if what I told my doctor about how often I’m anxious or depressed is true, and if we need to re-evaluate in the future, we will.

So, I didn’t want to leave you hanging (as if you’re all worried about all the time-not!). But I’m thankful for your concern and for the stories you’ve shared and the support you’ve given.

I believe mental illness is a real thing and that people don’t talk about it enough because it’s got a reputation as being a shameful thing. Those who struggle with it struggle to varying degrees and the best response to someone else’s treatment plan is my new favorite saying I learned from Amy Poehler: Good for her (or him); not for me.

I’ll keep you posted if there’s anything to report. In the meantime, I’d love to hear how alternative therapies work for you.

What’s your go-to activity to fight anxiety or depression?

Breathing techniques? Yoga? Exercise? Nutrition? Wine? Something I’m not even considering?

 

When discipline stops being scary

The kids and I are eating dinner at Chick-fil-a tonight, which is not noteworthy since my husband works there and any employee who has been there for more than a month recognizes us when we walk in the door.

What IS new about this is that it’s the first time I’m ordering off the menu while trying to stick to a new eating plan. (Notice I didn’t say “diet.” That’s a dirty word for me.)

See, about three weeks ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. It’s always ridiculously high in the office because I get nervous about doctor’s appointments, but it was so high that my nurse practitioner decided medicine was the best next step. I hate that it’s come to that, but I’m grateful for health coverage and an easy fix. In the meantime, I’m getting to know my new provider really well. I’ve been back several times to check my blood pressure and the medication’s effectiveness, and while it still isn’t where it needs to be, it’s getting better.

That’s a lot of back story for a blog post. Moving on.

While the medicine does its job, I’m trying to do mine by paying better attention to what I’m eating and how much I’m eating and how much exercise I’m getting. You know, the normal stuff I’m supposed to be paying attention to but haven’t been.

And because I’m not a terribly disciplined person, I’ve had to take some actions that lead me toward a more disciplined life. (Just so you know, even typing the word “discipline” makes me uncomfortable. It sounds so structured and binding, and not fun.)

Earlier this year, at the recommendation of my mother, I started using an app called MyFitnessPal to track my calories and activity. Since I’m not a terribly active person right now, either, it helped me set my calories at a level that would help me lose weight.

Then somewhere in the middle of the year, I stopped using it, even after seeing results of 5-7 pounds lost in a couple of months. Nothing drastic, but slow and steady, just the way it should be. I stopped using the app and I stopped caring about what I ate.

By Brian Jimenez | Creative Commons

By Brian Jimenez | Creative Commons

So, when I finally went to the doctor late last month, it was no surprise, really, that my weight was up and my BP was high. Without help, I don’t always take the best care of myself. So, I’m back to using the app, and I’m reading labels, and I’m learning all kinds of things. Like there is a ridiculous amount of sodium in stuff that I normally buy. That calories don’t add up very fast when I’m eating fruits and vegetables. And I can learn to like unsweetened iced tea because drinking all those calories in sweet tea is a bad idea.

And surprisingly, it’s not as scary as I thought it might be. Sure, it’s hard. But there are a couple of things I’m learning that make it easier.

So, whether you’re trying to watch what you eat or be more disciplined about other things in your life, maybe you’ll find this helpful, too.

First, I try not to say “no” completely to anything. I could not eat when we go to Chick-fil-a tonight, but I’d probably be a little sad about it. Yes, it’s just food, but it’s also hard for me to resist a temptation right in front of me. So, if my kids were eating it and wandered away, I’d be likely to steal a waffle fry or ten. So, I wasn’t interested in avoiding eating out at all. The same was true last week when I met a friend at Panera. Normally I’d just get a cinnamon crunch bagel with cream cheese. Instead of defaulting, I ordered a breakfast sandwich with avocado, spinach and egg white. It was delicious.

Related to that, I’m trying to plan ahead, too. So, earlier today I researched the nutrition information for various menu items, and now I can order with confidence without totally blowing my eating plan. Making a plan before I’m in a situation is helpful in a lot of circumstances, not just for eating. This helps me feel like I have some control, not like I’m being denied something by an outside force. That would make me miserable.

Third, I’m trying to set myself up for success. That means buying the good stuff from the grocery store. If I have fruits and vegetables and hummus and lower sodium choices in the house, then I will eat them. If I don’t, I will resort to junk or whatever is convenient.

This is not perfect by any means, nor do I follow it perfectly all the time. I have days where I fail or make decisions that are not the best but I start over the next day and try to do better.

I still don’t like to think of it as discipline, but it’s become necessary for my health, and I’m not hating it.

That’s a win, right?

Is discipline easy or hard for you? How do you stick with a plan?

How I need to remember that change is gradual

I woke up feeling unwell in body and spirit. A challenging sermon on holiness at church yesterday and the onset of a cold that’s making its way through our family have left me drained before I’ve even started today. That, and the need to do EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE IMMEDIATELY.

Tell me your Mondays are like this.

With piles of laundry mocking you as a failure.

With kitchen counters covered in dirty dishes singing “You’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”

Back to school. Back to a sometimes routine. The first full week of a new year.

And I’m blowing it already.

While it’s true I no longer make resolutions, I still feel the need to make changes in my life every time the calendar turns another year. Maybe I’m not calling them resolutions, but I’m still taking the opportunity to change.

And there’s plenty of opportunity for change.

As the first of the year dawned, I pledged to myself (again, for the third time) that this would be the year I finish my novel.

Last year, I felt mostly bland about my writing. Frustrated. Discouraged. Sure that I’d never make anything of myself. I chipped away at the story, adding words here and there without regularity.

Give up. Give up. Give up. The voices told me lies, but I wanted to listen.

Nevermind that my husband switched jobs and we moved and our daughter started school. Transition upon transition.

And when I dared to look at how much writing I’d actually done, I was surprised to learn that in all of 2013, I added 20,000 words to my novel.

It felt small and like nothing when it was happening. But at the end, it had amounted to much more.

I tried on three outfits before church yesterday because I’m having a love-hate with my body. I have some clothes I’d like to wear, to rediscover, and they.don’t.fit. Curse them.

I had a plan for Christmas Eve, to wear this purple dress I love and got on sale and haven’t worn in two years. It looked awful, which in my mind means I feel like I look awful.

But Christmas is full of holidays and eating so I allowed myself the feast, knowing that there would be a season of less come January. On December 31, I started a new plan. I would get up early. I would exercise. I would intentionally eat healthier. Oatmeal instead of a bagel. More fruit. More salad. I love all those things but they take more time to prepare. More effort. And, of course, I have to have them in the house in the first place.

As of today, I’ve worked out four times in the last week, which is four times more than all of fall, I think.

Yet I feel like a failure because there are no results.

It’s only been a week.

Time. Discipline. It won’t happen overnight.

(And for the record, I’m not aiming for a weight or a size but a healthier lifestyle overall. The older I get the better care I want to take of myself so I can enjoy my kids and life as a whole.)

A few months ago while sorting through some old newspaper clippings of columns I’d written back in my mid-20s, I had the urge to wad them all up. Or burn them. Something destructive.

Because the girl who wrote those words has changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Some of it was her choice. Some of it wasn’t. But she’s different. I feel like that girl barely exists in my memory. I wanted to shake her. Or punch her in the face. And tell her that she had no idea what she was talking about.

Life wasn’t like she thought. Faith wasn’t what she thought.

It was like looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection of me 10 years ago. And I saw not only how I looked on the outside but what I thought on the inside.

The urge to destroy passed, and now I’m grateful for the look into the past.

Because change has happened. It has taken years. But the differences are obvious to me. Ten years seems like a long time, but with those clippings in my hands, I felt like no time had passed at all.

A week is not a worthwhile measure for change.

It is good to want to change. It is good to have a plan. It is good to pursue what is better and whole.

It is not good to expect immediate change. But oh, how I want a quick fix for everything.

It is not good to expect perfection. But oh, how I want to do it right the first time.

It is not good to give up after only a week. But oh, how I want to say “forget it” to all my plans and intentions.

Here is what I am learning. Slowly, but I’m learning.

Change can’t happen alone. I need community.

Part of my writing plan was to join a group for word count accountability. Nothing happens if I don’t meet my goal, but I can be encouraged by what others are writing and knowing I’m not the only one struggling.

As for the other areas where I want to change and need to change: community applies there too. But that’s hard. I can’t go to a gym right now. But I can let someone else know my plans.

Invitation is a key to transformation. I have to let people in, and that starts with talking about my failings. Then it moves to sharing my plans. It continues with commitment. And it doesn’t end with failure.

The only book you need for all your vinegar needs: Review of Vinegar Fridays by Hana Caye {plus a giveaway!}

I started using vinegar (and baking soda) as a cleaner a few years ago when money was tight and we didn’t have extra funds to spend on cleaning products. Until then, I’d heard that there were natural, non-toxic, non-chemical alternatives, but I didn’t give them much thought.

Then I started using them. And learning more. And the more I learn, the more I find there is to learn.

Enter the Green Grandma, aka Hana Haatainen Caye, blogger, writer, and overall inspiring woman. Her blog is a wealth of information about green alternatives, lessening our harmful environmental impact, and healthy living. I met Hana at a one-day writers’ conference a few years ago when I was still a bit skeptical and uninformed about all this green living stuff. Over time, her words, the information she’s shared, have contributed to some gradual changes in my family’s life.

vinegarOne of the past features on Hana’s blog was Vinegar Fridays. She’d share a tip about how to use vinegar for cleaning, health or beauty. It was here I learned that I could use it as a fabric softener instead of the liquid stuff, especially when hanging my clothes out on the clothesline. She compiled these tips into a book, Vinegar Fridays, and holy cow! If I wasn’t already impressed with vinegar, I would be after reading this book. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Vinegar Fridays from the author in exchange for my review.)

Did you know that vinegar can help relieve sunburn? Or work as a fabric refresher to dispel odors? Or can repel bugs?

Maybe you did know that. And I don’t want to reveal all of Hana’s amazing tips, so let me just say this:

Reading Vinegar Fridays made me want to clean my whole house.

Want to. I almost never want to clean my house. But Hana makes it sound fun and safe and effective. And if all you need is a jug of vinegar, and occasionally some baking soda, then there’s no lugging around a bucket of cleaners that leave you woozy from the smell.

Vinegar Fridays offers tips for more than just cleaning. Facial masks. No-pooing (in place of shampooing). Salad dressings (of course!) And other health-related remedies.

Seriously. I feel like I’ve been missing a valuable resource for my home. I can’t wait to stock up on spray bottles and start trying out some of these tips all over the house.

And guess what? I’ve got an extra copy of the book to give away! Hana graciously gave  me a second copy for one of you. To enter to win it, just leave a comment here, on this blog, telling me something you’ve learned about vinegar over the years, or why you’d like to give vinegar a try. I’ll keep the contest open till Monday, November 4, when I’ll choose a winner and send you the book.

In the meantime, check out Hana’s blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Lots of fun, informative and challenging information.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win! You can check out the book here.