Category Archives: Joy

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.

Feeling Sassy and Full of Joy

The week after Thanksgiving when I stepped on the scale to see where I needed to go for the new year, and to see why my blood pressure was so high—I’m trained, like you are, to blame it on my weight, not stress or anything else it might be—I was shocked to find myself sitting firmly at 260 pounds. I’m 5’3″ tall, so 260 pounds is quite a little load to bear for someone of my stature.

I also looked in the mirror and saw someone who had recently come through a really bad depression, and when I say really bad, I don’t say that lightly. The details of that depression are fodder for a different essay, somewhere else, in another time when I am further away from that period in my life. I saw someone who was really stressed at work and who didn’t believe in herself the way I had always believed in myself.

I looked in my exercise journal and saw that I had been faking it at running, always having an excuse: my foot hurts, I’m too tired, or I was standing at work all day. I looked more deeply and saw that I was faking it at trying to play soccer. I played on Monday nights, minimally. I loved it, but I wasn’t pursuing it. I wasn’t swimming, biking, strength training, doing yoga, or anything that I wanted and needed to be doing. I wasn’t doing a lot of what I love.

I was simply existing. Unhealthily existing.

I’ve noticed lots of patterns in my life where I realize I’m drowning inside myself, so I throw out every life preserver I can think of. I change my diet, I exercise like a fool, I quit this that and the other all at once, and then I fail. The failure then makes me feel like I am drowning all over again.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to wallow.

The week before Christmas, I decided to cut out caffeine as a first step toward healing. I chose caffeine first, because I realized I was having difficulty sleeping, even if I quit drinking coffee before 11AM. I also realized that a lot of the caffeine I was drinking was in the form of really sugary coffee drinks, so I figured that would help with my January plan of cutting a lot of sugar out of my diet.

In January, along with caffeine, I cut out most added sugar. I say most, because I do indulge in one sugary snack each day, to allow myself some pleasure. I know me. If I don’t have some pleasure, I will fail. I’ve tried moderation before, and even failed at that, so I get one treat each day. Usually I choose a small hot chocolate with dark chocolate, no whip, and almond milk, but it’s getting too sweet for me, so I’ve switched to a Ghirardelli dark chocolate square with blueberry in it. Yes, I know chocolate can have caffeine, but less than half the caffeine in a double espresso or cup of coffee.

In January, I also joined with my brother to commit to 30 minutes of exercise each day. During the first couple of weeks, even 30 minutes of exercise seemed like hard work, but in February, I added another 30 minutes of exercise each day for a total of an hour each day. I am being very intentional and careful about what exercises I do each day, so that my muscles get a chance to relax and recover between days.

For March, I am adding in strength trainings. See? I’m trying to progress incrementally. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I bike and swim. One Tuesdays and Thursdays, I strength train and walk, and on Saturdays and Sundays, I walk with my wife.

There are four main changes, aside from the above mentioned diet and exercise changes, I’ve made that have made a difference in my mental health, my physical health, and my spiritual health. I quit drinking alcohol. I meditate more frequently. I eat lots of good food. I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace.

I quit drinking. I didn’t think it was a problem in my life, but it was, and I wanted to be perfectly sober for the next four years if you know what I mean. I met with my priest—I say my priest, but I rarely attend church anymore—just to chat about my depression. We met in late July or early August. When I told him about what was going on, he said, “Well, have you tried not drinking? Alcohol is a depressant, you know.” Since he is “only” a priest and not a mental health practitioner, I didn’t heed his advice until January 19, and I haven’t had a drop to drink since then, unless you count the minimal alcohol in kombucha.

For me, alcohol was a huge stumbling block to joy. Did I have a hard day at work? Have a rewarding beer! Did someone piss me off? Have a Scotch to right things! Instead of dealing with the situation that upset me, I’d just drink until it felt better. I’m not sure that makes me an alcoholic, but it sure made me dependent upon a substance for healing when there are so many other things that are better for me.

I meditate more frequently. Whenever I swim, I treat my time in the pool as meditation. I focus on my breath and my form. Since I have my handy Watch to count my laps, I am free to simply focus on the silence of the water, the breath that comes in and goes out, the way body moves in the water, and the way the water feels against my skin.

I also meditate when I am not swimming, using an app called Insight Timer. If you’re reluctant to try meditation, you should check it out. There are guided meditations preprogrammed, and you can set your own program. I sometimes spend time in prayer after meditation or before, and I have to say that people notice a difference in me. A coworker asked me if I was okay the other day. I said yes, why. He said, you just look so calm and centered.

I eat lots of good food. I watched a video courtesy of our wellness group at work, and the nutritionist talked extensively about fixing a broken metabolism by eating enough good fuel. She said that many of us have broken metabolisms from low-calorie diets, from over exercising and under eating, or simply from not eating food that provides sustainable energy for our bodies.

Whenever I have wanted to lose weight before, I have always cut calories and exercised harder. This time I used the Mifflin-St. Jeor calorie calculator, which she suggested in the video, to figure out how many calories I actually need. I was surprised to find out that with my level of activity, I need about 1900 calories per day to promote fat loss. I’d been cutting to less than 1000 to try to lose weight, but according to the nutritionist, that is a level where most people’s bodies think they are starving, so adding calories is way to jump start our bodies into thinking we’re well fueled and can sustain our levels of activity.

I’m seeing my body change, and I am eating food to fuel that change. I’m eating food as fuel and for pleasure. This is a whole new way for me to relate to food. And I like it.

Finally, I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace. There are days when I mess up, when I treat people poorly, when I don’t exercise, when I eat things that aren’t particularly good for me, when I don’t meditate, when I wish I could be anywhere else besides where I am, where things are all joy and puppy feet and rainbows.

More often than not, I am in the moment. I am present. With myself. With others. With my pets. With nature. With [Them]. I. Am. Present. There’s a line in The Alchemist that says, “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.” I have found this to be true. Instead of looking for what will be, I’m learning that relaxing into what is and improving on what is, brings an eternity in and of itself.

Most days I am filled with joy, because why not be? If a small bit of joy can be found in front of me, why not revel in it? Why not try to use my joy to make others joyful as well?

And finally, I am giving myself grace. One thing about living in the present is recognizing that when I am not present, or when I do not have joy, or when I behave in a way that doesn’t recognize and honor the divine spark in those around me, I can be vulnerable, honest, gracious, and refocus. I can come back to being present. and I can improve on that present.

I’m learning a lot of new things about myself on this new journey.

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.

Kindness. Running.

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

Yesterday at work I was an asshole to a someone. I was short with her. And the interaction immediately felt bad. Generally, people describe me as patient when I work them, but I was so impatient with her that I was embarrassed as I talked with her. And I was rude. But I couldn’t stop. My behavior was like a rapidly spreading cancer or food poisoning induced diarrhea. I couldn’t stop it.

I have excuses—bad excuses—for why I was this way. I won’t list them because when I’ve tried, in a few previous drafts, to list them they all sound petty. Extremely petty. I could say that it was the other person’s fault, the woman I dealt with earlier who treated me poorly. I could say that I was tired. I could say that I don’t like working on Sundays, so I was already foul. I could say that I wasn’t supposed to be helping her because I was supposed to be doing something else. I could say a lot of things, but as I mentioned, they all sound like feeble attempts to not take responsibility for my own behavior.

I’m working on this kindness thing, this being present and real and compassionate in every moment with every person I meet, and I’m finding that the more I work on kindness and compassion, the more I am smacked in the face with the moments I am unkind. Or impatient. Or rude. Or short.

Or just an asshole.

And there are many moments I wish I could go back in time and change the tone in my voice, the look in my eyes, the mannerisms of my hands, or the unspoken language of my body positioning.

But I can’t. I can only try better later.

Is that another excuse? Is that another way of my excusing my own behavior, or is it a healthy way to move forward trying better next time? Is there a way to stop myself in the middle of an interaction with someone and just admit that I was being inconsiderate, unkind, or impatient?

My goal this week is going to be to allow myself the space to breathe between interactions, to stop myself if I feel like I am being less than kind or compassionate, and to really force myself to be fully present with each person with whom I interact. No excuses.

*

While I was out running this morning, I was thinking about how running is getting easier again, slowly but surely. I was noticing that I have time and energy now to look around and notice what’s around me as I run. My breathing is improving, my form is getting back to normal, and my legs are feeling stronger each week.

I found myself being incredibly thankful for this moment of renewal in my life, the time here and now when I am not a slave to sadness to anxiety. I am thankful for second—let’s be real 1000th—chances and that I am here to live more days.

I took some time, too, to pray and meditate while I was moving, which is  really the goal of it all anyway. My mental health, and ultimately my ability to accomplish kindness and compassion, is wrapped up in my ability to begin my day with a long period of thinking, praying, and breathing.

Days, like today, when I don’t work until noon, are perfect for me. I can read, I can write, I can run, and I can pray and meditate in a slow, leisurely, intentional way. Days, like today, where I can sit on the porch and write while drinking coffee, are the days that make life worth living for me. And I know that sounds cheesy, but I know how true it is, so I’m grateful.

I’m also so very grateful to those of you who continue to read my words here, even when they seem sad, or hopeless, or cheesy, or beautiful, or cyclic, or uneventful. Thank you.

Namaste. Peace. Love.