Category Archives: Advent

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?

A Christmas Run: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

This morning I woke up at 5:08 CST and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I decided to just get up, unlike yesterday when I stayed in bed for two hours trying to fall back to sleep. I went to the bathroom and weighed myself. Yep, still a fat and sassy 250 pounds.

I ambled downstairs in my running attire and found my shoes, hat, headlamp, and gloves right by the door where I left them on Sunday. Pudge, the grey cat, helped me as I laced up my shoes and visualized my run, which was going to be a very short one mile in the crisp 17º air. I love it when I walk out the door and can see my breath in the light of my headlamp. That’s the perfect way for me to start my day.

For some reason, I think I ran too close to the edge of the road; I couldn’t get good footing to go very fast, which turned out to be okay, because my lungs weren’t really happy to be doing what I asked them to do, and they immediately (this is a new thing) started spasming. Breathing got difficult really fast, when usually my asthmatic response doesn’t start until I stop running. “Well, this is a fun little adventure,” I thought to myself, so I slowed way down and took almost 17 minutes to finish that one mile.

It was a beautiful mile, so I am fine with the slowness of it, but I’d like to just be able to go out and knock out 6 or 7 miles with no problem, like I could a few years ago before I stopped running regularly, and before I let depression and Facebook control my life. This is why my one resolution is to get my life back. I want to be able to just go run. Run a trail, run the streets, or set the treadmill (gross) to a speed faster than most people walk.

On January 12, I will run my favorite race, and this year I was hoping to run the 13.1 distance instead of the 6.55, but it looks like my goal is shifting to simply completing the 6.55 in less time than it took me last year. I am still too slow to be allowed to enter the second lap of the 13.1 distance, but I will be there next year (so she has said for five years or so?). Running for me is about setting goals, and maybe achieving them, and not being too hard on myself if I don’t, because running is about joy for me.

But, let me return to the title of my post, a Christmas run.

My favorite days to run are on holidays. The town is quiet, no one is awake, and everything is darker for longer than usual. I love to run along and watch the town come alive in the morning. Since I prefer out and back routes, on the way out, every house is dark, but on the way back (on a longer than one mile route), I get to see people waking up and maybe one light is on in the house, or maybe a guy wearing a robe comes out to get the paper, or maybe I can see in the kitchen window (if it faces the road) where a woman is getting the coffee pot going.

But on holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, I can run much later and everything is so still for so long, it’s almost as if I am the only person here, like that bad Twilight Zone episode “Where Is Everybody?”. During those quiet moments, I get to meditate, sending positive energy out into every house, and I get to pray silently for each person in each house, and I can feel the goodness and beauty of everyone, even if I don’t know them.

Running on Christmas is something I’ve done for probably close to 10 years, and it’s something I want to continue to do. I desire to bring hope, peace, joy, and love to each house, even silently, as I run past. And I want to experience those things for myself and be able to give myself grace as I reflect on last year and forecast into next year.

Yesterday was beautiful. Today was beautiful. Tomorrow will be beautiful.

I’ve started this post a million times…

or so it seems. I usually know with a certain level of accuracy how to express what I am feeling, but this week I am at a loss for words. I’m unsure what to say, and I’m unsure what to think, and I’m unsure what to do.

I’ve heard people say that the election resonated with them in the same way that the Pulse shooting resonated with them, but that’s not quite it for me. I’ve heard people say that they feel like a homeless person, because their home has been taken from them by force, but I can’t say that because I’ve never been homeless.

There are countless other ways people have described their disappointment, including a customer who came in, in tears, because she fears for her autistic son’s well-being and the loss of Arctic animals because of climate change. I, too, am scared—no terrified—for my GLBT+, non-white, non-“Christian” friends and the earth. I’m pissed that we are in a war in Standing Rock, North Dakota with indigenous people who are trying to protect the tiny bit of land that they were given by our government. This article by Code Switch is an excellent article about what’s going on there.

I feel like I am inside some bad trip, where nothing makes sense, and someone is trying to help me down, but I can’t come down. I’m just stuck, here, in an alternate world where nothing makes sense and nothing adds up. People, who I previously considered friends, intelligent friends, say things that make no sense, things that don’t follow any kind of consistent ethic, and that don’t align with their previously stated morality.

I keep seeing these things posted on Facebook walls of people who voted for Donald Trump, and I can’t wrap my head around how people can reconcile this bit of Scripture with the running platform of our President Elect:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Everyone around me is angry or sad, and those who aren’t angry or sad are elated and willing to tell me so. Over and over again. People I don’t know post hateful things on my Facebook timeline.  I spent fifteen minutes yesterday with a customer who told me all about how the next four years are going to be the best of his life. When I said, okay, he said, your products are going to be made in the US again. I said, okay, and he just kept talking about how P.E. Trump is trying so hard to establish himself as a good president. I said, okay.

I’m tired. I’m taking a break.

*

About four months ago, on my 42nd birthday, I set some goals. The older I get, the easier it is for me to just ignore my goals, to not care about meeting those goals, or to just be lackadaisical about accomplishing them.

On this coming Sunday, Advent begins, so I think I might try to accomplish my goal of going to church. I think I need it. I think you need for me to go. I say this because I have not been my best self for the majority of November. Maybe a baby Jewish refugee in a wooden cow trough, who was birthed to an unwed teenage mother and father, who was brought gifts by “foreigners,” who was worshipped by the working class, and who was later saved from infanticide at the hands of the ruling class will be just the miracle to bring me around.

Anyway, I set a couple of other goals, too: running, compassion, pay it forward, social media and creativity, and finances.

I am working on running, while also playing soccer and nursing my plantar fascia on my right foot. I won’t be running a full marathon again next summer, but I am going to run a 25K trail race at Afton; 15 miles is a more accomplishable goal for me this year.

Compassion, which includes going to church, seems to be going the best right now, since I am trying so hard to understand what makes people do what they do. I’m also trying to work at allowing myself to be in someone else’s shoes; I’m hoping that maybe I will somehow be able to better understand my fellow humans. I’ve also been a bit of a slacker when it comes to meditation, so I need to refocus on this aspect of my life as well. I can really tell when I practice mindfulness and when I don’t. I’m not so mindful right now. I’ve been vegetarian, but not vegan, which is something I will fix at the new year.

I still haven’t worked on paying it forward, and I’d love to find somewhere to volunteer every week, even though my schedule is a bit wacky, I could just RTO time each week for volunteering.

The social media and creativity goal is the one that I should’ve kept working on with diligence. More than any of the goals. I find that being on social media is really damaging to my psyche. People are mean. I should’ve been drawing or printmaking, instead of spending all those hours on Facebook, getting angrier.

Finally, my finances are slowly improving. I’m paying more on all of my credit cards each month, and I have a separate savings account, where I deposit all of my wages from Caribou, for vacation spending. We went to New York and I paid for all but the dog boarding with cash, but I quickly paid off the dog boarding upon our return.

So, while I’m not making major headway, I feel like I am making some. I’m also taking a break. Until after the holidays. Peace. Grace. Joy. Love. Hope.

Giving Space and Learning Grace

I talk a good talk about giving grace and learning people’s stories and giving people space to be who they are, but in reality, I am pretty judgmental and not very gracious in lots of situations.

For one example, this morning I sat next to a woman in church who kept sighing the whole way through the bad poem that was read, through the sermon, and through the strange liturgical singing prayer thing we did. I found myself really getting angry with her every time she’d loudly answer what I believed to be rhetorical questions asked by the pastor. I have a low tolerance for people who I perceive need to be in the spotlight. But then I stepped back and thought about how I don’t know this woman’s story. Maybe she had a past that really resonated with what the pastor was saying. Maybe she had low self-esteem and needed to feel like she knew the answers. Maybe, just maybe, I was being the opposite of the person I really want to be. We’re in church for crying out loud and there I was judging everything about someone I didn’t know. I was stealing her space, and I was shaming her in my head.

For another example, as I said above someone read a poem in church today, and all I could do was sit there, like I was in poetry workshop, and critique the poem for its lack of poetic-ness and poor imagery. Even better was that it was up on the giant projector screen, so I could critique the word choice, the line breaks, the rhythm or lack thereof, and basically everything about it. I stopped listening when there were too many mommy references. Maybe this poet had a hard time composing because of the pressure of Advent. Maybe she wrote from the heart and not from the head. Maybe she needed to process peace for her own rejuvenation and healing. And, again, I was being the opposite of who I want to be. I was stealing the poem from the poet and from all those for whom it could have been a blessing. My negative waves were likely tangible.

For a third example, I stopped at Caribou this morning before church, and I ordered a medium hot press in my mug. From my perception, the barista apparently thought I didn’t know what size my own mug was, so she charged me for a small. Then the barista at the bar only made a small hot press, so then I had four ounces less of coffee. There was also a whole over ring debacle, in which she made me wait in line while she fixed it, then re-rang my order. From my perspective, she was inept. But maybe the new computer system really had her rattled this morning. Maybe she had a rough night last night. Maybe she was nervous because I was a fellow employee. Maybe, I needed to give her grace instead of judgment, and maybe I could live with only twelve ounces of coffee, instead of sixteen. I scowled, I was short, and I took every opportunity to give her grace to do just the opposite. What an ass!

All of this to say that I am working (still and forever) on giving space for people to be who they are, and I am working (still and forever) on giving grace to people when they miss my high-held expectations for them.

I hate this lesson. I hate realizing how often I fail to recognize the divine spark in my fellow humans. I hate thinking about how this makes people relate to me, like there is some secret handshake to be my friend, equal, comrade.

There isn’t a secret handshake with me. I do believe in grace. I do believe in space. I do believe in all those things I say I believe in.

Being a real person is hard work.

Giving Thanks and Counting Blessings

This year I am thankful for so many things, and I am trying to get into the habit of counting my blessings each and every day, instead of waiting for a holiday to prod me into it. Here is a solid list of things I am grateful for, and they are in no particular order.

1) Mental Health: As I look back through this blog, I notice my thoughts and moods look like a roller coaster (not a fun one), going from high to low, back to really high then back to really low, and there are some flat places like where people stand in line to get on the coaster and then off again. Only I never got off again. I just stayed on the thing and rode it again and again, like when my youth group went to King’s Island one year and rode the Adventure Express ten times in a row, seeing the same sights over and over again. Then when we got off a couple of girls puked in the trash can. That’s an accurate portrayal of how I feel about my life for the past five years or so, but the past year from about August back to the August of 2013 was especially excruciating. Seeing the same sights over and over again began to kill me. Slowly. And definitely made me want to puke in the trash can.

Unknown to most people I was suffering. I thought about killing myself at least once or twice a week, and the thought wasn’t a fleeting whim of considering suicide. I dwelt on it. Sometimes for several days at a time. The days were dark, my thoughts were heavy, and I didn’t want to go on.

Unknown to most people I was also addicted to several things, the mildest of which were beer and cigarettes, but there were other darker addictions, too. There will be other posts, other writings, other stories wherein I discuss those things, but not now, not when there is so much to be thankful for.

Unknown to most people, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to escape my life and do anything but what I was doing.

Fortunately, I remained.

Fortunately, there was an end to my suffering.

Fortunately, there were Zen gardens, long conversations, fellowship, and grace.

And life is not excruciating right now. Now I have no suffering. I am only blessed.

Right now, I am filled with joy, and not the fleeting kind. I am filled with that joy I was looking for this time last year. The kind I had no business of even trying to write about, because I was so far from it, I wouldn’t have known it if it had bitten me in the ass.

Right now I feel mentally well. And content. And at peace. This wasn’t a magical transformation, but a transformation of hard work, diligence, and perseverance on the part of myself and many others.

I am thankful I am not where I used to be.

2) Vocational Health: I am blessed with the ability to work a minimum-wage job with very little stress. My goal each day is to be the person who brings a smile to someone else’s face. I don’t look at my job as making a cup of coffee; I look at it as bringing grace and joy through food to a guest of my hospitality.

I can’t explain how it feels for me to not be teaching; I do miss the thoughtful conversations with my students and my colleagues, but not the rest of it. I enjoy having those same conversations with my coworkers and customers, but moreover I enjoy clocking in, serving people, clocking out, and coming home. No planning, no grading, no emails, and no bull shit. The worst thing that happens at work now is I make someone’s coffee wrong, so then I remake it and no one is harmed.

Probably the best part of my job is my manager, who is the best friend I’ve made since I moved here in July. When she is filled with happiness, her excitement is contagious. When someone does something she appreciates, she tells the person. When someone does something wrong, she has a constructive conversation with the person, not with everyone who works at Caribou. There’s no guessing where you stand with her. No head games.

People who manage other people shouldn’t fuck with the people they manage. Each person should know exactly what she is doing right, or exactly what she is doing wrong, and how it can be corrected or continuously improved.

Nebulous feedback is only detrimental to coworkers. I am so glad I am out of the land of nebulous evaluations and the RISE model that causes all educators so much pain for so little helpful feedback or constructive criticism.

I am thankful I am where I am.

3) Physical Health: This is an area that I still need to work on, but I know I can do it. On Monday, I am going to go swim for the first time since I’ve been up here. I’ve been walking pretty consistently, and I plan to start running three days a week. I also plan to move my bike and bike trainer into the house, so I can bike twice a week. My physical health goal is to swim on Monday and Wednesday, to bike on Thursday and Saturday, and to run on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. I certainly feel better when I am active, and not just physically. I can tell in my emotional demeanor when I have the chance to do moving meditation and when I don’t.

I’ve been drinking a few too many beers, been smoking a few too many cigarettes, and been having a few too many eat whatever I want days. I know this is not necessarily healthy. I also know that the opposite extreme is not healthy for me either. I do not live well on a restricted diet. I do not live well without the option of smoking a bit now and again. And I do not live well without an occasional alcoholic beverage.

I am well aware that moderation in all things is best for me, and I am striving toward a better and healthier relationship with what I consume.

I want wellness in regards to exercise and food.

I am thankful for being able to tell when enough is enough.

4) Relational Health: I have more friends than I have ever had before. I have a better relationship with my wife than I’ve had in about a year. I am more appreciative of my family than I have been in a long time. I value and cherish people in a way I haven’t before in my life.

Without family and friends, I am fully aware that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I especially wouldn’t be so mentally well.

Every day, I thoughtfully consider that I might not even be here today were it not for my family and friends who’ve loved me unconditionally.

I am thankful I am here today.

5) Locational Health: Is this really a thing? Haha. I am so happy we live where we live. There are several state parks within a short driving distance. I frequently walk on an island, which is part of what I’ve always wanted. I didn’t imagine the island would be between two rivers in the middle of a huge city in Minnesota, but I have an island to walk around. I can drive half an hour and be in Minneapolis, or half an hour in the opposite direction and be out in the country surrounded by cows. We live in a quiet and working-class river valley, but I work up in the Heights, so I can see everything at night after work or in the morning before work, even the stars. I can drive back to Indiana in one day, so I can visit easily, or I can drive one day in the opposite direction and be in Canada.

I am thankful I live in a second place I love.

6) Spiritual Health: Advent starts on Sunday, and I am so excited to see what God has in store for me for the next year. I have been using Common Prayer before work each morning, and I love how God speaks to me through those words. I can find one phrase or idea and carry it through my day.

I am thankful for God’s grace, peace, and love.