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’ 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.


Where I confess my sins and begin again

I went running this morning.

starting line

Not earth-shattering, headline-making news, but for me, it was significant.

Four months ago, my mom bought me a new pair of running shoes because I asked her to and because the desire was in me to pick up a habit I’d neglected for too long.

And for four months, I’ve made excuses.

Too cold. Too dark. Husband’s new schedule. I’m sick. Too tired. Too many other more important things.

Today, my husband had the day off. And my pants have been fitting too tight. And I ate some delicious food this weekend, and too much of it, so I had fewer excuses.

I’m not sorry I ate the food or that I prioritize other things.

But I am sorry that I have broken a promise.

A promise I made on this blog and then slowly let slip out of my “important” pile.

Less than three years ago, I took up running, training to run a 5K (my first ever) with my husband. And I found out I liked it. I didn’t lose a ton of weight by doing it, but I felt good. I had more energy, and my body was in better shape than it had been.

So when the 5K was over, I kept running occasionally, not as often as when we were training. And I had this idea. I would pay better attention to what I ate. I would exercise. And when the pounds dropped off, I would donate money to a worthy cause. I gave myself six months.

And I failed miserably.

Now, almost a year and a half later, I haven’t lost as much weight as I’d hoped and I haven’t given any money to that worthy cause.

And I could spend a lot of time beating myself up about that or I could do what I did today.

Lace up the shoes.

Stretch out the legs.

And start over. In the rain, no less.

But in a way, I was grateful for the rain as I completed day 1 of the Couch-to-5K plan.

Because starting something good won’t always wait for the right conditions.

Sometimes you have to splash in the puddles and be drenched in the downpour on the way to your goal.

I won’t lie: I didn’t feel great when I finished.

My body ached. I wanted to go back to bed. I was soaked. And all day I’ve felt reminders of what I did in my calves and hips.

But the pain will pass.

And discipline is always hard. Training your body–or your mind or your spirit, for that matter–to do something it doesn’t normally do is hard and takes work and perseverance.

But it is worth it.

I can’t make any promises this time. I won’t tell you that in six months I hope to give $100 to women and children in Liberia or that I’ll be running a half-marathon by the fall.

All I know is today, I ran.

And I will run again.