46 Years and 48 Days

In July, I wrapped up my 46th revolution around the sun and began my 47th. The first 48 days of this revolution have been some of my best days as an adult, even though the last time I wrote about how hot it was in my van with my dog.

The week after my birthday was spent in leisure on our Washington Island property. I spent the days with my wife reading, lying in the hammock or sitting around the fire, cooking food outdoors, eating delicious carry out, drinking coffee, walking to the lake and wading in the water, and being with each other.

During that week and for the past month and a half, I was able to contemplate a few things in my life. I want this year to be governed by three things—to filter every decision through them, like guiding principles—and I am trying to say yes to things that bring me joy,

The first guiding principle is this meditation, which I read in a book, but I don’t remember which one: “What did you do today to make this world a better place? What difference did you make in someone’s life today? How did you let someone make a difference in your life today?” When I end my days in this manner, I get the opportunity to reflect and think about how I am reacting and responding to the events in my life. Sometimes I love what I see. Other times I don’t love what I see. But either way, I have thought deeply about how my day went.

The second guiding principle is a quote from Brother David Vryhof, who is a monastic at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist: “Complaining, or murmuring, as St. Benedict calls it, can have a toxic effect on human communities. Suppose you gave up complaining. Suppose you made it your practice to express what you desire and to work constructively toward achieving it, rather than complaining about the things you don’t like. Could becoming “murmur-free” make a difference in your quality of life and in the quality of life of those around you?” Not complaining about things is challenging, but when I can adhere to the spirit of this quote, my life feels more peaceful and more loving.

Lastly, this poem by Mary Anne Perrone sums up a lot of what I am feeling these days:

Life at Midlife

I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness.
I believe, I Believe.

In addition to living by these principles, I have begun accomplishing some tangible goals. I started reading a few chapters of the Bible each day. I am attempting to read a leisure book each month. I’m running every day, which is always something that makes my life better. And, I am fully embracing veganism for all of the reasons!

These guiding principles, living into my goals, and a job that makes me feel alive again are making these days beautiful.

They aren’t easy, but they are beautiful.

 

So This is the 20-21 School Year?

Shortly before school began, I accepted a position teaching back at my old school in Muncie, and shortly after my school began and before their school began, I accepted a one-class overload teaching at another school in Muncie, so to say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

For some reason, even though school is online, I feel like I am spinning my wheels and can’t get a good footing on my teaching. I try something, and it doesn’t feel right, so I change to something else that still doesn’t feel right, and then I try something else, and so on. I think part of the problem is that I feel like I am just having my students do tasks, and that it’s hard to make those tasks meaningful for them.

I wonder if it’s because I feel unsettled in my own life, so that rubs off into my teaching. I live on the East side of Indianapolis with my brother, but on Sunday and Monday night I stay with some friends on the outskirts of Muncie. With my dog. In my van. And it is hot right now. Today the temperature was in the high 80s, and there is no air conditioning in the van when it’s parked, so Luna and I are roasting as the van cools down, and I am working on school stuff and writing about my life.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I love this life I am living right now. I have a beautiful dog. I live part time in a van, which feels super free. I am teaching in a place I really enjoy. So, here I am, sweating something fierce, in a van, in Muncie, IN, while my dog sits on my right arm, and I think about what I’ll have my students do in class tomorrow. And I love it.

But even things you love can give you stress.

Fat Vegan Trail Runner

Within the past year, I have  become better friends with my body, developed a better relationship with food, and rediscovered the joy in exercising. Warning: this blog post could be, may be one day, a whole book.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my body image. Emblazoned in my mind is a pediatrician’s appointment from third or fourth grade in which my doctor described me as smart, athletic, funny, and almost perfect: “You’re practically perfect, but we need you to lose some weight, because you’re way too much overweight.” At this point in my life, I played softball, spent my days playing outside in the woods, and was generally a joyful kid, but it stung to know that my body was the thing about me that was out of control and keeping me from being “perfect.” Who tells a child that they are practically perfect anyway?!

For my entire life, I have tried to be an athlete, sometimes succeeding more than others, but, even when I was finishing my Muncie 70.3, there was a voice somewhere inside me saying, “You were almost last, you almost didn’t finish, and you don’t deserve this.” I played it off and reveled in my finish, but then I tried a marathon the next fall and only made it to mile 15 before allergies (damn ginkgo trees) caused me not to finish.

And, it wasn’t until I sat down to have coffee with my friend Molly, that I pieced together my biggest fear for five or more years has been my body betraying me again. I’ve said I was going to train for runs, I’ve wasted money on races I didn’t even start, and I’ve started running again two or three times each year since then, before simply stopping and finding an excuse. I didn’t have faith in my body. Because she is allergic. Because she is fat. Because I didn’t believe in her.

But mostly, because for some reason, I forgot that being fat isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Being fat certainly isn’t the worst thing to happen to me. There is a whole host of other things I’ve done or experienced which I could write about, have written about, and probably won’t ever write about that are worse than my being fat.

But a switch flipped in me during that beautiful conversation with Molly (everyone should get a friend like Molly), and this year after 40-ish years of struggling to perceive myself as powerful and beautiful—I’ve always feigned knowledge of my fat body’s beauty and power—I have finally come to really believe that my body is, in fact, beautiful and powerful. And fat. And I can be friends her.

I. Am. Beautiful. Powerful. Fat.

During this whole reflective process, I also looked back at my writing here and elsewhere, and I reflected back on my diet choices since 1992, the first time I went vegetarian, and I realized that every time I make a food choice, the underlying motive is weight loss, even when I try to pretend it isn’t. I became vegetarian when I went to college to avoid gaining weight living in the dorms. And I ate so many grilled cheese sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and salads with bad thousand island dressing and spaghetti with marinara, because there weren’t delicious vegetarian and vegan choices in dorm cafeterias like there are now.

Then I started eating meat again when I took my required PE class, because my professor said that she got sick being vegetarian in college (she neglected to mention that she was a marathon runner on a scholarship and was running 100+ miles each week without vegetarian nutritional coaching). So I started eating a lot of chicken and broccoli and “healthy” foods to lose weight without getting sick. And then I went through the phase with no money and ate ramen and Hawaiian punch for every meal, because ramen was $0.10 and I could get a 48 oz. Hawaiian Punch at the Discount Den for $0.69 and it would last all day. And I lost a lot of weight.

Then I became vegan, because that was where you could really restrict your fats and all those things you shouldn’t eat, but I said it was for the animals and the politics, and it kind of was, because I love them, and I read The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams.  But it all kind of had to do with controlling the size of my body, which was the “only thing” that made me imperfect.

I’d go for incessant runs, lift weights, swim, bike, and do it all without adequate fuel in my body. Basically, my whole life, day to day, was like the one scene in Brittany Runs a Marathon where she gives herself a stress fracture. My hair started to fall out, and everyone blamed it on my vegan diet, because that’s the part of my life they knew about. So I cycled through every single diet (Atkins, Paleo, Weight Watchers, that weird one with the cards and the milkshakes, the fasting thing, the juice thing, the military diet, you get it), every single exercise regimen known to man (weight lifting, cardio, Richard Simmons, kickboxing, aerobics at the local gym, and well you get it again). And every single time I tried something new, I just knew it was going to fail, because it wasn’t who I am.

All of that to say, because of my ethical and moral compass, I believe that being vegan is the best dietary choice for me, but it took until October of this year, even before that coffee conversation, and as a 45 year old woman with a couple of graduate degrees, for me to realize that I couldn’t become vegan to lose weight. And I love the choice for compassion—not against calories—I made in October while snuggling one of my backyard chickens, so I eat whatever I want as long as it does no harm to animals. I try to make sure my choices do as little harm to anyone or anything, choosing fair trade, organic, and all those fancy things when I can. I have to be vegan to follow my heart and my conscience. I have to be vegan to be powerful and beautiful. And I’ll probably still be fat.

Finally, I have rediscovered the joy of exercise by doing what I enjoy: swimming, trail running, hiking, and in the spring, biking. And doing these things for the sole purpose of joy, not weight loss. Because I went for so long without really running just pretending to do so, I am really slow, and I’d be telling tales if I that doesn’t hurt my feelings and make me somewhat frustrated, but I am getting stronger and faster every day, and that to me is what it is about. Being better than yesterday. In all facets of life.

Being outside, on a trail, with no one around, is my greatest pleasure. In the words of one of my favorite runners and writers: “All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.” On the trail, there are only trees and plants, animals, the ground, and me. I can revel in the strength and power of my body, and I can align with the beauty of the natural world, and I don’t have to worry about what I perceive other people might be thinking about me. And maybe they aren’t thinking anything, which is fine too.

But what I am thinking while I run in the silence is: I am beautiful and powerful and fat.

December 1, 2019: First Sunday of Advent

Here are my Goals for 2020. You’ll notice they look surprisingly similar to the ones for 2019, partially because I did not reach all of my goals for 2019, because I’ve finally reached a balance between challenging and attainable, so I think I’ll just roll with that for another year.

    1. Swim, bike, walk, or run every single day. Finish the Indy Mini on May 2, 2020
    2. Read at least one book each month. Write at least a little every Sunday.
    3. Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening.
    4. Practice silence and work on listening, with intention.
    5. Eat mostly real plant-based food. Consume campassionately.
    6. Create more, conserve more, buy less.

Live joyfully and feed my soul.

Swim, Bike, Walk or Run Every Day

My brother and I signed up to do the Indy Mini this year, and we signed up for the shorter races leading up to it, so we’d know for sure that we can finish the 13.1 miles on Indy Mini Race Day. If you don’t know what the Indy Mini is, it is a half marathon that is part of the Indy 500 Festival, and you can learn more about it here. The commitment to do 13.1 in May, jumpstarted my already running self into a Holiday Run Streak that goes from today, the first Sunday of Advent until January 6, or Epiphany.

That’s 37 days of running at least one mile each day, and I started this morning by running around my friends’ neighborhood, which I have to say is quite a nice little spot to live. What will be fun and challenging about this Run Streak is that my 20-week training plan for the Indy Mini starts on December 16, so there will no doubt be some sore legs and a lot of walking/running intervals, until I get my running legs back under me.

My goals are simply to finish without being scooped up by the sweeper bus, to spend as much time with my brother as I can before I go back to Minnesota in June, and to have the most fun I have ever had running that far!

Reading (and Writing)

So far this year, I have read 6 books—probably more, but I did not write them down in my logs, so I guess in my mind they don’t count—so this is a goal that needs some attention next year. Considering that if I put my mind to it, I can read most books in less than a day, this seems like a really low number for a goal, but with teaching and trying to balance my life, I guess I just do not read as much as I used to. I am absolutely open to suggestions for reading.

I should probably make my goal for this coming year a writing one, since I feel like I miss it so much, but I have not done it for so long, that it feels weird even writing this. I guess practice makes me better, so maybe I should commit to writing here every Sunday. From January 5, 2020 – December 27, 2020.

Meditation: Silence and Listening

This goal, which is really two combined, is one that needs quite a bit of attention. Basically, I just need to do it. I need this goal more than any other one, and yet it is the one that gets neglected the quickest.

Eat Vegan Whole Foods

I am proud to say that this goal is going along perfectly. Since October 4, 2019, I haven’t eaten any meat, and I have been working my way into being completely plant-based by December 31. Since I live with my brother, we’re doing this one together (along with eating a lot less sugar), and we’ve already seen some excellent health benefits from it.

One of my favorite meals is pizza, and I always get sad thinking that I will miss pizza when I am vegan. Luckily I found an excellent vegan pizza crust mix, for when I don’t make my own from scratch, and I am enjoying using fresh vegetables and cheese replacements to make big, delicious homemade pizzas that are way better tasting, and way better for me, than store-bought pizza!

Last night I had one of the most beautiful pizzas I have made: big brown mushrooms, little rings of yellow, red, and orange peppers, bright green spinach, and giant tomato chunks with just a bit of Daiya cheddar shreds. Not only was it beautiful, but without all of the cheese, the delicious flavor of all of the vegetables came through.

Create More, Conserve More, Buy Less

I am really getting into being conservative with my spending, which is saying a lot if you know me and know how I love to spend money, because what is it but green pieces of paper. Anyway, I have kept my spending for gas (we have a 2 hour total commute each day), groceries, and entertainment to less than what I budgeted for three months in a row!

I am trying to purchase things that are necessary (do I really need that item?), that nothing I already have will serve the same function (will the things I already have work to do that job?), that I can’t do on my own (sorry Starbucks, but I brew my coffee in my classroom now), and that really bring me some kind of joy in my life (do I need another mug because it has a funny saying on it?). I’ve also gotten into fixing things, instead of just buying new.

My ultimate goal: Live JOYFULLY and feed my SOUL.

This is my ultimate goal, because I know that if I am not searching for joy and nourishment in my life, I am not happy, nor can I help anyone else seek for joy or nourishment. Now, I will be really honest, because of the way I am wired, seeking joy is really difficult for me. I am much the realist, and never really an optimist, but I know that joy and gratitude are the keys to living a long and memorable life, so I keep trying to regroup and see if I can help others.

My brother helps with this: he always sees the good side of things, and he always gives people the benefit of the doubt. I want to be more like him, and I try, but it is really hard to always assume positive intent, think things will turn out okay, to understand that everything happens for a reason, and to make the best of every situation. I will get there, though.

They say if you keep reframing events in the ways in which you can be grateful for them, that you’ll eventually do it automatically. I do not know who they are, but they have to be right, right?

Goals 2019 (REDO, as usual)

My original goals are listed in the previous post, but my intentions have shifted again this year. I was going strong with the previous goals until Spring Break, when I had to drive to a cabin in Colorado and needed my phone for directions. If I had ridden there with the rest of my family, I wouldn’t have needed the iPhone Map app, but I can’t drive in the mountains, read directions, and read a map when I am the solo occupant of my vehicle.

I decided that I would reactivate my smart phone to have a navigation system, and then I decided that it too much of a hassle to switch phones again. I also have a rekindled desire to create the Plastic Toothpick Podcast that I was going to make during the school year this year, back when I had high hopes of taking master’s education classes and starting a podcast, before I knew that my particular students would take every fiber of my being, every single day.

In order to start a podcast, I have to some means of sharing that podcast, so along with reactivating my iPhone, I am also back on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. As soon as I finish my first podcast, I’ll post here about it, but it will likely be some time in June.

Since I had to renege on my old goals, I figured I’d finish out the year with these:

  1. Swim, bike, walk, or run every single day. Run Twin Cities Marathon in October.
  2. Read at least one book each month.
  3. Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening.
  4. Practice silence and listening, with intention.
  5. Eat mostly real food.
  6. Create more, consume less.

I’d also like to make a new goal of actually writing in this space more frequently than once every several months, because my writing chops need a brush up. At any rate keep watching this space for more to come.

When I last wrote, I was in the middle of the Whole 30, and I was incredibly positive about it. I am still very pleased with my experience in those 30 days, because I lost 17 pounds, which I have kept off for three months now. Don’t get me wrong; I am not a person who is obsessed with losing weight at this point in my life. I have been that person before, because I didn’t see any worth in myself in the body I am in. I am more interested, at this point in my life, in treating my body like a beautiful machine that carries my soul across the finish line.

My body positivity that I am experiencing at nearly 45 years of age has been a long time coming. I credit much of my newfound joy in my own skin to several podcasts that I listen to and to several athletes who don’t let their larger bodies hold them back. Sometimes in my life—like when I started running almost 12 years ago—I have felt like I was the only fat person trying to be an athlete, and that can really wear on a person. But thanks to Mirna Valerio, Martinus Evans, and Latoya Shauntay Snell, I have a renewed joy in and love for my own body. I promise that anytime you feel overwhelmed or like you don’t belong running with thinner people on the trail, track, or road, these folks will absolutely rekindled your confidence.

I’m ready to run.