Category Archives: healthy living

endurance

I ran a half marathon yesterday.

I wasn’t always able to run. A large, physically awkward kid, I who would rather read a book than do much of anything else, and that included being active. I was consistently the slowest kid when we ran races at school and perpetually picked last when we formed teams in gym class. My mother kept encouraging me, and I learned the joy of moving my body in the ice skating classes she made me take.  Soon, I wasn’t quite so slow and awkward in gym class, but I still was no runner.

I started running in college to prove to myself that I could do it. It seemed difficult and unnatural during my first slogs through the streets, but over time I learned the joy of a breeze on my shoulders, the rhythmic pounding of my feet with matching breath.  I started running more and more and with my dad, and he spread the marathon bug to me.  In two years I ran 5 marathons, two half-marathons.  I was never fast, I was never even not-slow, but I could endure, and that’s really all that mattered, all that matters.

Dad went on to complete over 20 marathons, including qualifying for and running Boston, but I had to step away from marathons in 2007, after a disastrous race in Honolulu (painful on every level, it started with shivering in the rain while waiting for the race to start and ended with my then-husband telling me to go fuck myself after I hobbled, with blistered feet, across the line). My personal life was unraveling, and I became depleted on every level.  I couldn’t run 45 miles a week anymore. Some days it was all I could do to get out of bed.

But I kept running, albeit for shorter distances, through the divorce, through grad-school stresses,  through my mom’s illness and untimely death, and now, through the frustration of infertility.  What was once difficult and unnatural has now become part of me. Before I started my marathon of loss, I’m glad I had running to teach me that I’m stronger than I think.

the course was very challenging!
image retrieved from http://runkeith.blogspot.com/2012/03/half-marathon-and-mountain.html

Even now, as the load of grief over losing my mother is lightening a bit, I’m finding it difficult to fit in time for my long runs.  I was under trained for the half-marathon and my muscles are protesting terribly today.  I almost skipped the race entirely due to the undertraining, being out late at the opera the night before, etc.  But  I figured I could likely finish the race without an injury, so I went for it. Because I have the gift of health, and I’ll lose that too someday.  But before that happens, I’m going to use it.

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Roper Lake. May, 2012.

We are going camping!

I don’t know how two people who hate/hated camping gave birth to me, a person who is hard pressed to think of anything she loves more than waking up in a tent. But it happened. I am not my mother nor my father’s daughter in this regard.

I didn’t really go camping until I was 16. Sometimes is terrifies me to think I could have continued on that path, never knowing these things about myself:

I need to breathe air cleansed by the wild. I need to feel the warmth of the fire, and of my sleeping bag. I need the quiet.

I am grateful to those that brought me outside and showed me the door to discovering who I am. I hope I would have figured it out eventually. But you never know.

Have a great weekend, dear readers. May you find a slice of your own heaven, whatever that looks like for you.

good intentions

I’ve started meditating again. I sit in the early morning, when the sky is grey with the barely-risen sun.  Its quiet. Only a few birds bravely voice a song; the pigeons which incessantly lurk around our backyard roost comfortably on the telephone wire, the chickens are nestled in the coop half-dazed with leftover sleep.  I sit for 5-10 minutes, as that’s as long as I can gently rein in my untamed mind before I begin to fatigue.  Its a little bit like starting a fitness program, and in this exercise I’m way out of shape.

And that’s all. I made an intention to meditate for at least 60 seconds every day this week and I did it. But something as simple as sitting on a pillow for a few minutes in the early morning silence took a lot of contemplation. I had been thinking about resuming meditation for the last several years.  Maybe longer. I never had much of a meditation practice to begin with, although it was starting to get more regular 3 years ago.  Until it wasn’t.

I have a curious and enthusiastic soul, but one that often doesn’t follow through. Options and opportunities dangle before me like forbidden fruit, and sometimes I bite, but I often just think and think and think about it (whatever it is), but don’t do a damn thing.

So, I’d like to grow a bit.  To enjoy the beautiful choices which spread before me, but also to commit.  To say yes, to say no.  To be decisive in action or inaction. Jump into new waters with splayed toes and a smile on my face.

It seems silly that my pillow sitting involved so much “what if..?” “or “I should…” or “wouldn’t it be nice…?”  Time I could have spent actually meditating.  Or if not meditating, doing something else that was good and right for me or my life. Well, that’s okay.  Sometimes in life we need to take the scenic route to where we are going.  But I’d like to be clear with my intentions, honest to my needs, brave in facing what lies ahead, and adventurous in choosing my own destiny. retrieved from http://www.therisinghollywood.com/2011/11/21/how-to-meditate-into-higher-states-of-consciousness/

a history of the harp

Mom gave me harp lessons for Christmas in 1990.  She wrapped up a borrowed lab harp from a coworker who had built it from a kit, and she arranged for lessons from a  man who lived in a dusty house in South Minneapolis. My teacher, a gentle and humble soul who wore a uniform of cowboyboots and polyester slacks, charged 10 dollars per hour, a steal even 20 years ago.  I went on to study with him for the next eight years in his livingroom, which was filled to the brim with books, harps and houseplants.

I saved all my money starting at the age of twelve with the goal of buying a concert-sized harp.  Part of the way I made money was to play publicly at weddings and events during junior high and high school. My family would help me lug around my Troubadour, a black harp which stood on the floor and was ackward for me to carry. For some time during my early teenaged years I pasted a photo on my bedroom wall of a blond concert harp, with flowers carved into the collumn and gold vines trailing up the soundboard. I thought it was the most beautiful harp I had ever seen. With patience, frugality and the help of a generous grandfather, I bought that very model of concert harp at the age of 19.

The first time I appreciated the harp’s ability to heal was when I was about 13 years old.  My mom worked at an inpatient treatment center for women, and I provided a little mood music during a graduation ceremony.  There was a baby crying in the audience, and whenever I played, she fell silent.  As soon as I stopped playing, the crying resumed. The pattern continued for about 45 minutes. The mother joked with me that I should come home with her, and I was in awe that the music could have such an effect on others.

I kept on playing.  The harp has taken on varying degrees of importance throughout the changes of my life, from being a music major practicing 9 hours a week in college, to a busy new-grad RN who was lucky to pick it up once in 3 months.

 

playing at my mom's house in 2008

 

Flash forward to today.  I brought my lap harp up to Phoenix this weekend as a little surprise for my mom, who ended up getting admitted to the hospital with fevers and low blood counts.  I brought my harp to her room last night and played simple, peaceful tunes which floated through the whole unit.  I saw my audience of family and staff start to relax their shoulders and breathe a little deeper.

I’m grateful for my family support in taking me to lessons, encouraging me to play, and facilitating my performances throughout all those years.  I’m not the player that I used to be, but I still have some ability to unleash magic on the harp. There are songs so ingrained in my neuropathway, they will be with me for the rest of my life.

Music matters even more in times of fear and uncertainty.  Life gets busy, but I’m going to try to remember that its important for me to play, and for others to listen.  I feel better when I carve space for music in my life, and others can benefit too.

 

let’s go ride a bike!

I am not always motivated to do the right thing.  For example, I don’t wear my seatbelt consistently.  I guess the underwhelming feeling of freedom of movement trumps the extra assurance of  protection of life and limb in a car accident? It makes no sense. I’m ethically opposed to factory farming of animals and find processed meat abhorrent in terms of health, but I also really like and occasionally eat hot dogs.  Fundamentalism is not one of my strong suits.

Riding my bicycle is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day, and to make it even more rewarding, its also the “right thing” to do. In addition to giving the rider a tighter a$$ and improved cardiovascular function, biking is healthy for our society. Most of American driving destinations are less than 3 miles in length, a commute easily managed even by the less-than-perfectly-fit.   The environment benefits when we are not burning fossil fuels for transport, making the air cleaner for our community.  Bicycles require far fewer resources for road development and maintenance than automobiles; the space and money can be used elsewhere. Plus, if you are sticking to relatively short- distance bicycling, the kind usually done when running errand versus training for the century ride, you utilize what is in your immediate community and patronize local business. Americans sit way too much, and the diabetes and obesity epidemic that touches every corner of the US would be significantly mitigated if people moved more.

For all the benefits of bicycling, I probably wouldn’t do it nearly as often if it weren’t so pleasurable. When I’m on my bike, and not closed up in a car, I interact more with my surroundings.  I made eye contact with and greet my neighbors, notice details about the streets, trees and homes that make my part of the world unique. Plus, it feels wonderful– the fresh air, the sun on my arms.  Life is good on a bike.

I can even have my morning coffee on my bike commute!

in the garden

 

 

this morning’s harvest

 

I always suspected that I’d like to garden.  There was a point in college where I filled every nook I could find with houseplants, and my mom complained that my room was starting to smell like a cow barn. But other than a few potted tomatoes and hot peppers, I never took up serious vegetable gardening until this year.  Supported by Jack’s penchant for hard labor, we built a tremendous garden, which has been very successful considering our lack of experience.   Even the “failures,” such as our winter peas, teach us something, and I appreciate them. 

What has surprised me the most is the pure  joy I feel when sharing our harvest. I’m almost always ready to eat, but even more than even more than chowing down on the bounty myself,  I love sending friends from our home with arms full of delicious veggies, fresh eggs, pungent garlic.  I’m currently at the Phoenix airport, waiting for the plane that will take me to Houston, and I have eggs, squash and tomatoes tucked safely away in my carry-on. Luckily TSA hasn’t identified garden produce as a security threat, as I’m eager to share the fruits of our harvest with my family. 

Its about more than good food, although I’m not afraid to say it: our veggies and eggs are de-lish! There is a simple beauty in every tomato, a sublime wonder in the crookneck squash.  Our garden is something that we worked hard for, watering in the heat day after day, cleaning the chicken coop, digging and mulching and weeding.  But despite the labors, every time I pluck a zucchini or gather an egg from the nest box, it feels like a gift, a small miracle. Our food speaks to me on a deep level, and its no surprise: our garden is sustainable nutrition, aesthetic perfection, spiritual wonderment, community connection. And its an archetypal experience too, coaxing life out of the ground as humans have done for thousands of years.  It is the past, the now, and the future. It is a simple, humble thing, but I believe having a garden has been the most important recent development in my life. 

So, inspire me with your stories of gardening. I’d love to hear about them.

needle magic

Talking about stress levels quickly causes me to feel whiny and self-absorbed.  As if I have a virtual latte in one hand, a Blackberry in another, sighing while rolling my eyes to some poor, distracted patron waiting in line at Starbucks-  “Ugh!  I’m so stressed out!”  Yuck.  I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of forest burning, children being abused, politico-husbands exposing themselves on Twitter and I’M complaining about being stressed?

So, forgive me, but yes, I’ve been stressed.  This year has been unbelievably challenging, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been experiencing significant stress for about five years now. Its been (more or less) one thing after another since 2006. Some good stuff, some downright awful, but lots of associated stress. I don’t seem that bad off, or pathetic– I come to work every day to a great job.  I maintain a healthy weight.  I’m usually pleasant and cheerful and acceptably groomed.  But things were shifting in subtle ways.  I have been struggling with more feelings of depression.  Historically a champion sleeper, I was starting to lie awake in the early morning hours.  I often felt stretched thin

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My mother in law gave me 10 sessions of acupuncture for my birthday, and it really could not have come at a better time.  After only one session, I felt so much better! My mood lifted, I felt relaxed and easy. More like my old self. It was enlightening– I didn’t really realize how poorly I felt, until I started to feel better.

Its hard to take care of yourself when you are stressed out and busy, but of course, that’s the most important time to do it.  Acupuncture might not be the cure-all for everyone (although I’m telling all my patients to go!), but be it time with a friend, the overdue haircut, a massage or a walk– do it!  You’ll be glad you did.

a spoonful of sugar

 

Under more normal circumstances, I’m part of the Food Police. If not the commisioner, certainly an officer, maybe even a sargeant. While remaining open to the occasional donut, I’m very into vegetables, preferably locally grown and/or organic, eating very little meat, consuming lots of wholesome foods, rarely anything from a box, etc. Probably my only vice is exceeding, on a weekly basis, the daily recommended allowances for alcohol- but some of us don’t see that as a problem. My good eating habits help balance out the fact that I really like to eat– a lot. My philosophy is, if you are bad at portion control, you better fill that giant plate with veggies.

Well, it doesn’t help that I’m in one of the most obese cities in the world under stressful circumstances, but I tell ya– the sugar is flowing through my veins, and its not all-natural, nor from organically grown fruit sources.

I got my first taste of this phenomenom, to use a bad pun, in the waiting room for my mom’s first visit to the lymphoma clinic at MD Anderson. A volunteer came around with a beverage cart, and the choices were hot chocolate or decaf coffee. Distrustful of the decaf, which smelled a bit like a chemical dump, I went for the hot chocolate. And how soothing that was! It was a slice of childhood, when my friends and I would buy the watery, brown beverage, barely recognizable as hot chocolate, that squirted out of a machine at the local ice arena. One of those childhood slices that probably wasn’t all that wonderful at the time, yet irrationally provokes nostalgia. And here I am, in 2011. Yes, my mom has lymphoma, and sitting in that waiting room was certainly the manifestation of a terrible nightmare. But as I slurped up that reconstituted hot stuff, I felt a bit of peace.

I’m going to try to be patient with myself, and allow a certain amount of liberties (ice cream with Grandma!). But I also remember that I feel better when I eat better, and a belly ache after that big sugar binge is a gentle reminder that there are better ways to cope with stress. Like breathing deeply, taking walks, exercising, drinking extra water. I need to be loving to myself so I can be there for my mom.