Your body & soul

Meditating in Nature

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. –Henry David Thoreau 

Let me be the first to say that I have not read Thoreau. (Hey, I was a French major!) Nor am I completely at ease being alone in nature.

But Thoreau took two years out of his life living in this itty bitty cabin to write his seminal work, Walden, reflecting on simple living in natural surroundings.

I mean, check this out. He built this cottage with his own two hands.

While I am not advocating building your own tiny house on a pond, I love the idea of reconnecting with nature. Even as single women, we need to recharge our batteries, take some time for personal reflection, and remember what a beautiful place this planet really is.

The following are all things I have done to get in tune with nature. They can be done in as little as fifteen minutes, and don’t require you to be a deep transcendentalist or overly spiritual person to do.

  1. Take a walk or bike ride without your phone. While I don’t advocate walking in the dark without a means of calling in an emergency, take a walk or bike ride without listening to music or podcasts. Focus on the sounds, smells, and sights of your walk. Are there trees, flowers, or bird sounds you have never noticed before? It doesn’t even have to be a long walk. Fifteen or twenty minutes is plenty of time to observe and reflect.
  2. Find a park and sit down with your journal. Just like walking without your headphones, take five minutes to write down what you notice at the park. Dandelion seeds drifting past you. Kids playing on the playground. Squirrels chasing each other. Shapes you see in the clouds. Just write down everything you see, hear, smell, and feel. It doesn’t have to make any sense at all. Just allow yourself to be present in the moment.
  3. Watch a sunrise or sunset. I saw my first entire sunset after spending the night in a Pawnee earth lodge. We got up before dawn and listening to the pulsing drum and Pawnee chant, we watched the sun slowly make its way over the eastern horizon. My heart pounded in time with the drum, and the actual sunrise tool my breath away. And though I had to wipe the sleep away from my eyes, the colors were more vivid than I ever could have dreamed.
  4. Go to a park, public garden, nature preserve, or similar place to take pictures or record the sounds. This is fun to do. I love taking pictures of bright flowers, plants I’ve never seen before, or prairie vistas. I also enjoy recording birdcalls, especially the western meadowlark. I then throw these up on Facebook or Instagram to document the trip. It helps me see the word through new eyes, reminds me that there is more to life than staring at a computer screen, and makes me grateful I live in such a beautiful part of the country.

You don’t have to be a granola girl or a philosopher like Thoreau to take some time to reconnect with nature. Take one of these four simple steps and create your own memories. Love where you are, love where you live, and remember that there is such peace and joy to be found in nature.

What is the best way for you to connect with nature? Comment below!

 

(Photo credit: Creative Commons – Namlhots)

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Two Easy & Delicious Winter Soups

Baby it’s cold outside.

As I sit down to write this, it’s 15 degrees below zero outside. That’s damn cold.

I will be the first to admit I am one of those weirdos who actually loves cold weather (though I could do without the snow and ice). One of the fun things about winter is the comfort food to warm you up.

If you’re like me and love soup this time of year, I have two super easy recipes that are going to knock your socks off. They’re cheap to make, delicious, require few ingredients, and are actually quite filling.

Just kidding…SOUP FOR YOU!!! Treat yourself to easy, homemade meals that you don’t have to share with anyone else. Both soups keep well so you can eat them over a couple days. Pair with bread and salad, and you’ve got a full meal!

So grab those ladles ready and let’s go.

French Carrot Soup

This first recipe is one I’ve never seen written. My best French friend’s eighty-year-old mother taught me how to make this, and I’ve been hooked on it for about fifteen years.

It’s a thick, hearty soup, and it’s perfect to make when you have veggies in the fridge or pantry that are past their prime. You can tweak the recipe and put in leeks, squash, or parsnips. Don’t want to make so much soup? The amounts don’t matter. All you are doing is boiling veggies, then puréeing them!

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds baby carrots
  • 1 potato
  • 1 onion
  • 1 zucchini
  • Seasoning to taste—I prefer red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning

Instructions

  1. Peel and chop all the vegetables except for baby carrots.
  2. Put all ingredients in a large pot filled ¾ with water. Cover pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Remove from heat when vegetables are thoroughly cooked and easily speared with a fork or knife—about 45 minutes.
  4. Removing vegetables from water, put in blender and purée. Use about two cups of the boiled water to thin out the soup.
  5. Serve when hot. I added a dollop of sour cream here. You could also use crackers, croutons, bacon bits, or sunflower seeds.

Serves 8.

Tiny Pasta Soup

One of my all-time favorite cookbooks is Joanna Farrow’s Cooking with Just Four Ingredients. I don’t have the patience for tons of ingredients, so I appreciate how simple the recipes are and come out delicious.

This soup is lighter than the previous recipe, but I made a full meal of it with ciabatta bread and a salad. The itty bitty pasta is super cute and while I used stellette (stars), you can use orzo, farfalline (little butterflies [bowties]), or anything else tiny that strikes your fancy. Hell, you can even use alphabet pasta!

Ingredients

  • 5 cups of beef stock (I recommend low sodium as mine was waaaaay too salty)
  • ¾ cup dried pasta
  • 2 pieces of jarred, roasted red bell pepper
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring beef stock to boil in a large pan. Add seasoning to taste (I used red pepper flakes), then drop in the pasta. Stir well.
  2. Reduce heat so that the soup simmers and cook for seven or eight minutes until the pasta is al dente.
  3. While soup is simmering, drain the red pepper slices and dice them finely. Place them at the bottom of the soup plates.
  4. Serve soup immediately with the Parmesan cheese to taste.

Serves 4.

I hope these two recipes have inspired you to get in the kitchen and play around a little bit. They are absolutely perfect for this time of year, inexpensive, healthy, and keep easy as leftovers. Wow your friends with what a great cook you are, or enjoy it all to yourself!

What is your all-time favorite soup? Comment bel

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Don’t Buy the BMI Myth

“I’m not overweight, I’m under-tall.” –Garfield

While that line was meant to evoke a smile in the 1980s, I don’t find it funny. At all.

For over a century now, physicians have used weight and height to determine what constitutes obesity. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is used by many health care professionals, and it is a load of garbage.

I want to talk about why you shouldn’t buy into the BMI myth and what you can do about it.

First, let’s back up to look at BMI and the math behind it:

BMI = kg/height (in meters)2

To keep it simple, let’s say you weight 220, or 100 kg and are 5’7”, or 1.7 meters.

100/(1.7 x 1.7) = BMI of 36.6

So in this scenario, the 220-pound woman who is 5’7” is obese.

Without telling you my weight or height, I am technically “morbidly obese.” Actually, according to the BMI chart, I would have to be 7’4” to be considered “normal” given my current weight. And this system to determine obesity is a load of crap. Why?

It belongs in a museum. It was invented over 150 years ago. What we now know as BMI was first proposed by a Belgian mathematician named Lambert-Adolphe-Jacques Quetelet. He was one of the first people to link math to explain social statistics like crime rate, suicide rate, and, you guessed it…weight.

So Quetelet came up with the mathematical formula for BMI in 1842. While it was really not a bad place to start, there’s a huge problem with it…It doesn’t take into account people live in the third dimension.

Human beings aren’t one easy math equation. We aren’t two-dimensional beings like a painting. We have curves, rolls, appendages, and we occupy space. So BMI doesn’t take into account such things as bone density or stature, which does explain the difference of BMI numbers on people who weigh the same.

BMI doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle. So if we go back and look at the 220-pound woman who is 5’7”, there’s a big difference if she as an elite heavyweight judoka with a higher percentage of muscle than a woman who is less athletic and has a higher body fat percentage. In either case, the muscular judoka is obese the same as the less athletic woman.

How is that fair? It’s not, and that is why you need to stop worrying about BMI.

Instead of using BMI, there are other options for determining obesity such as:

  • Waist-to-hip ratio
  • Waist-to-height ratio
  • Surface-based body shape index (which takes into account the entire body’s surface)

While it does take more work to measure muscle or fat mass than a simple math formula, I would rather subject myself to calipers than ever use BMI again.

So what do I do about it?

I talk to my doctors. My general practitioner and gynecologist know I’m fat. I know I’m fat. They know I know I’m fat. I never get on the scale when I visit the doctor because I weigh myself every week. (Seriously—refuse to get weighed at the doctor’s office.)

But I talk to both of them about my weight loss, how I can treat my PCOS symptoms (the main cause of my obesity), and they keep an eye on my blood work to ensure I am healthy. The next time I visit them, though, we are going to discuss better alternatives to measuring my health than BMI, because I am done with it.

I know I can do chores, walk, do yoga, run short distances, and enjoy what life has to offer. I’m not letting numbers on a 100-year-old chart tell me if I am healthy or not. There is a better way, and until you owe it to yourself to talk to your doctor about the BMI lie.

The next time you see a headline about Americans being obese, I encourage you to tune it out. BMI is an extremely antiquated, short-sighted way of measuring health. There are other ways to measure health, and you need to talk to your doctor about better alternatives.

Don’t let BMI trick you into thinking you are overweight/obese/morbidly obese. You are beautiful just as you are, and you are certainly more special than numbers on a chart.

Do you buy into the logic of BMI? Why or why not? Comment below!

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I’m Fat and I Went Horseback Riding

Did you go through a phase in your childhood where you were obsessed with horses?

Think Tina Belcher.

*Raises hand.* Guilty as charged.

I read every horse book I could get my hands on. I learned how to draw them and plastered my room with horse posters and stickers. I played with My Little Ponies until the glitter wore off and their manes became frayed I even earned my Horseback Riding badge in Girl Scouts at summer camp. Trail rides at state parks were highlights of family vacations.

But then life got in the way. I gained weight, stopped traveling to state parks, and lost my love of horses.

Till my fortieth birthday, that is.

I was recently reintroduced to riding by a friend of mine. I want to share my experience and encourage you to think about horseback riding if you are looking for a new form of exercise. It’s sunshine, fresh air, and a helluva workout. And, horseys.

And yes, curvy women can ride horses.

It was a beautiful fall day—one you see on Instagram or in a movie—when my friend Lorri took me where she boards her horse, MJ.

Lorri called her sweet bay mare from her pen where she was chowing down on hay. Giving MJ a few pets, I remembered how soft horses’ lips and noses were—velvety smooth. Lorri slipped a bitless bridle on, attached a lead, and MJ came walking out of the pen.

We walked out to the open field where MJ turned into a horse lawnmower, eating up all the grass in sight.

Lorri had me hold MJ’s lead, advising me to stay to her left and in her line of vision. I was nervous about being in control of a 1,200-pound animal, but MJ was more intent on food than me.

After she saddled MJ up, Lorri took her horse to a nearby ring, mounted her, and did some warm-ups. I watched her command MJ to turn right, left, and back up. They went from a simple walk to a trot. MJ took the commands really well.

Lorri hopped off the horse, and it was my turn.

I was worried my weight would hurt the horse, but Lorri assured me I wasn’t too big to ride a horse. I got on the mounting block, put my left foot firmly in the stirrup and swung my right leg over MJ. I teetered in the saddle a little bit, but I was on a horse for the first time in twenty years.

I directed MJ to walk clockwise around the perimeter of the ring, and I tensed up immediately. My body wasn’t used to this, and my head swirled with thoughts of what could happen if horsey decided to rear, bolt, or jump over the fence.

Relax, I told myself. You are on a large animal. She’s a gentle mare, and you’re not helping by freaking out.

Forcing myself to breathe, I loosened up my legs and let MJ do the work. Under Lorri’s direction, I had MJ go clockwise, counterclockwise, and even back up! I was really on a horse again!

After fifteen exhilarating minutes, I was ready to get off. I asked Lorri to get me the block.

“No block,” she answered. “Stand up in the stirrups, swing your right leg over, and slide down using your stomach.”

I hadn’t bargained on that. I was terrified, but we were on soft dirt and it really wasn’t that far from the ground. I stood up in the stirrups, swung my leg over, and shimmied off, using my fluffy tummy as leverage.

My legs felt like noodles as I wobbled over to the fence. Lorri got the tack off MJ, and she let me brush MJ down while she fed her mare treats from a bucket.

Lorri explained to me the different ways to get involved with horseback riding if that was something I was truly interested in:

  • Take riding classes. If you Google stables near you, you can find places that offer hourly classes. You learn the basics of horse care, how to put on tack, and how to ride.
  • Rent a horse. For a monthly fee, I could rent a horse without the obligation of owning it or paying for board. Lorri even found me a suitable gentle mare, but I currently have no interest in riding as a hobby.
  • Purchase a horse. There are many horses to be found at sales and auctions. Only do this if you have the time and expertise. Most good horses run in the four figures, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you and the horse will not have fun. Horses are bigger and more complicated than owning a cat or dog—a commitment not to be taken lightly.

But the benefits of riding are undeniable:

  • Burn 200 calories/hour
  • Wonderful workout for your core muscles
  • Muscle toning, especially for abs and legs
  • Improve balance and posture
  • Wonderful way to interact with animals and nature

If you’ve never considered riding as a form of exercise, please give it some serious thought—especially if you think you’re too large to ride. Horses can carry up to 20-25% of their body weight. So don’t be afraid to get on the phone, talk to stables, and ask their honest opinion.

I am grateful for the experience Lorri and MJ gave me for my birthday. It was a workout I won’t forget any time soon!

What sport have you always wanted to try but been afraid to? Comment below!

Super Easy Summer Pasta Salads

The dog days of summer are here.

It is too hot to walk. Too hot to move. Too hot to cook.

Well, maybe there’s a little time to cook.

If you need to bring a salad to a summer barbecue or are just looking to change up your summer cooking repertoire, I found two super-duper easy pasta salad recipes. These can be eaten as a side dish or because they both have veggies and protein, they make a great meal if paired with a green salad.

As many of your know, I am a fan of simple recipes with as few ingredients as possible. The first recipe has just four ingredients, and the second has seven (not counting salt and pepper). Get ready to wow whoever eats these!

Caprese Pasta Salad

I found this on a beautiful blog called The Recipe Critic. Alyssa Rivers is a Utah-based food blogger. Just looking at her Pinterest-worthy recipes is enough to make you want to lick your screen. Check out her take on a classic Caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, basil, and fresh tomatoes).

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz. pasta (I used cellentani)
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) small fresh mozzarella balls
  • 2 cups (10.5 oz.) grape tomatoes, halved
  • 3 tablespoons pesto
  • Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cook and drain your pasta according to package directions. Drain with cold water and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine pasta, basil pesto, grape tomatoes, and mozzarella balls. Toss together until it is coated in the basil pesto.

Serves 4-6 people.

I wolfed this down in two sittings. It is easy-peasy to do. Although Rivers gives a recipe for homemade pesto in the original recipe, I am lazy and used store-bought pesto. I can use it again for sandwiches, pasta, meat, etc.

20-Minute BLT Pasta Salad

Baker by Nature is another mind-blowing food blog. Ashley Manila cranks out decadent photography and damn easy recipes. Look at this BLT salad you can nosh on all year round! (Note: The original recipe is HUUUUUGE so I halved it here.)

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces bow tie pasta
  • 1/2 cup zesty Italian salad dressing
  • 1/4 cup ranch salad dressing
  • 1/2 pound thick cut bacon, fried until crispy then cut into strips (I used salad bacon bits to save time, but they didn’t work well after they soaked in the dressing. Real is best here.)
  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced
  • 5 leaves of crispy romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
  2. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water until cool.
  3. While the water is coming to a boil, heat a skillet over medium heat; add bacon strips, and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.
  4. Place cooled pasta in a large serving bowl; set aside.
  5. In a small bowl combine zesty Italian dressing and ranch, mix well. Add dressing to pasta and toss well to coat pasta.
  6. Add bacon, tomato, and onion to the pasta bowl, mix well to combine, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve at once, or chill until needed.
  7. Add romaine right before serving, or else it will get soggy and gross.

Serves 8-10.

There were no leftovers when I made this for my family. Like I said, real bacon is best because my real bacon bits didn’t hold up in the soggy dressing. But I like it even better than BLT sandwiches. There, I said it.

Both of these recipes are super easy and guaranteed to wow you or your guests. I loved them, and you will too!

What is your favorite summer salad? Comment below!

I Did Parks & Rec Fitness for One Week

I don’t think I have ever mentioned this on the blog, but I work for my city’s Parks & Rec department.

Cue the L’il Sebastian and Jean-Ralpio Saperstein jokes. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard ‘em all.

With summer in full swing, Parks & Rec has a huge selection of activities not available any other time of year: swimming, softball, canoeing, special hikes, and other free classes. Being thrifty by nature, I gave myself a challenge to see if I could do at least four days of free fitness classes using only what Parks & Rec offered.

Challenge accepted.

Tuesday—Canoeing

I was at our city’s Fourth of July celebration to serve dinner to our employees working overtime. But before it was dinnertime, I went out to the lake (site of the fireworks show) where the Rec people had kids’ games and other demonstrations. One of them was canoeing. The Rec staff asked if I wanted to hop into a canoe.

“I haven’t been canoeing since the nineties,” I admitted.

That excuse wasn’t good enough. They slapped a life jacket on me and chucked me into a canoe.

If you’ve ever been in a canoe, you know the first couple minutes are a little hairy because you swear you are going to tip over, and that was my experience. As soon as I managed to feel even-keeled, though, I started drifting further away from shore. My quick demo would turn into a three-hour tour if I didn’t do something! Thankfully the water was not deep. I shoved my paddle into the water like a gondolier and made my way back to the bank.

I served dinner with hella sore arms, but proud I could navigate a canoe alone after 20+ years.

OK, so technically it wasn’t a class. But I got more exercise in those fifteen minutes than I do many days of the week!

Wednesday—Yoga

I have talked before about how much I love yoga, so this one was a no-brainer. I had to negotiate a longer lunch since this was in the middle of the day (12:00-12:45). I quickly changed into yoga clothes at lunch, sped the 10 minutes to the park where the class was, and rolled my mat open.

I was pleasantly surprised. There were only four other participants, so I got a lot of one-on-one instruction from a local yoga instructor. Though all of us were intermediate yogis, the teacher truly taught the class for any level. She suggested pose modifications to make things easier or more advanced. What I appreciated most was that she helped me make modifications for my bad back on the concrete surface below my mat. She was a true pro!

Thursday—Water Fitness

This was after work at a local pool. I was hesitant to break out my new Lane Bryant suit, but I paid a lot for it and dammit I was going to use it!

There were about thirty people there, almost all women. And they were all shapes and sizes, so why should I feel self-conscious about my size? It was basically a water aerobics class without using any props—just body weight for resistance. The teacher did a great job of teaching to those without much experience and suggesting ways to make it harder if we wanted to push ourselves.

I took a semester of water aerobics in grad school and it is a phenomenal workout. I used all my muscles, got my heart rate up, and best of all, my perpetually sore back didn’t hurt. If I’m honest, that was the best workout I had all week!

Saturday—Yoga

This was similar to Wednesday’s experience, but there were a dozen people in this class instead of five. I still got great, individual instruction. I also got to roll next door to one of my favorite cafés for breakfast! 

Sunday—Water Fitness

This was a similar routine to what I encountered Thursday, but the pool was absolutely packed. There had to be at least sixty people in the pool. It was a little more harrowing to find my own spot and harder to hear the instructor, but I still had a ton of fun. Though I couldn’t see well with water smacking my glasses, the age range appeared to be college kids to people well in their seventies.

It was the same instructor from Thursday, and I am amazed how she managed to keep sixty people corralled in one pool, motivating everyone, offering suggestions to modify the workout, and keeping us all laughing. She was worth her weight in gold!

All in all, I had a great week doing my Parks & Rec workout. If you are looking for something to do, why not see what your local Parks & Rec has to offer? You never know who you will meet, and it’s all low-cost or free!

What was the last fitness class you took? Comment below!

Six Reasons Why You Should Take a Retreat

Playing around on Google recently, I was stunned by the number of different retreats out there.

Religious ones. For writers. Yoga. Silent. Team-building. Corporate. Leadership. Health/wellness.

And they come in different types: guided, self-paced, structured, unstructured, silent, social, teams, couples, prayer…the list goes on.

I can already hear you saying: Are you seriously trying to convince me to go on a retreat? I’m already single. I get plenty of alone time!

You may get alone time, but how do you fill it? TV? Internet? Errands? Going out?

Those are all good things in themselves, but the word “retreat” comes from the Latin retrahere which literally means “to pull back.” How does it sound to take a week or weekend and just concentrate on you and what you want to do? However you want to do a retreat, I think it’s a powerful, transformative experience. Here are six reasons a retreat why a retreat may be just what you need:

  1. Shut out the outside world. One of the most obvious reasons to go is to take time away from work, family, friends, daily stress, and just be. This is strictly you It is not greedy or selfish to take a few days away from everyone and concentrate on yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, your work, relationships, and other aspects of your life will suffer.
  2. Develop deeper connections. Whether it’s connecting with a higher power in a religious setting, making new friends at a writing retreat, or rekindling your inner fire at a yoga retreat, these are all very important. Be it another person, God, or your very self, foraging these connections are at the very heart of what it means to be human.
  3. Gain perspective on your problems. I am one of those people who have difficulty seeing the forest through the trees. Petty problems can bog me down that I forget the big picture. But taking time alone to think about life reminds me that running errands isn’t such a big deal. Or that I could be more patient in traffic. Or nicer to everyone I meet. The little problems just don’t seem to matter when you step back and really examine it.
  4. Declutter your mind. Just as you get to put life into focus, you can also shake the cobwebs out of your brain. Ditch thoughts of that toxic coworker. Don’t beat yourself up that you forgot a friend’s birthday. Stop worrying about the number on the scale. It just doesn’t matter on retreat. Take a long, silent walk or luxuriate in a hot bath. Journal. Do what you need to do to quiet your mind, forget your shortcomings, and just move on.
  5. Rediscover what peace is. It is in that decluttering that you can remember what it is like to be at peace with the world. As cheesy as it sounds, I think retreats make the sunset and sunrise more beautiful. Food tastes better. Life seems happier. I feel calmer and more confident. When was the last time you were able to say you felt peaceful? I mean really, truly peaceful? That is the power of retreats.
  6. Cultivate or perfect a skill. Whether you try journaling for the first time, perfect a yoga stance, read a book on a topic you’ve always wanted to explore, or learn to cook a new dish, you are adding to your skills set. You are taking time to (re)learn what makes you happy, and that added depth will stay with you, even after the retreat is over.

 I went on my first retreat—with nuns—when I was 16. I haven’t been on one in a few years, but these are all things I’ve experienced firsthand. And yes, even us single ladies deserve some alone time!

What type of retreat appeals to you? Comment below!

Things You Should Never Say to Yourself Living with Chronic Pain

When I was seventeen and working the crappiest food-service job of my life, I had an accident. I fell and somehow my tailbone slipped out of place. It didn’t bother me for fifteen years until one day, out of the blue, it flared up. And I have been living with chronic pain ever since.

Chronic pain is something that lasts for more than three months. It can be intermittent or get progressively worse. Mine is permanent; I have good and bad days. As someone living with chronic pain and depression, it is so easy to feel sorry for myself and allow despair to win. It’s also easy to be depressed knowing this is a reality of aging.

I may not be able to control my pain, but I sure as hell can control how I react to it. Below are four things you should never say to yourself if you live in chronic pain. These are all based on personal experience, and it is my sincere hope that if you also live with chromic or even just occasional pain, it will give you hope that you can control your thoughts and improve your outlook.

“No one knows how I feel.” This is absolutely false. One hundred million Americans live with some form of chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine, in a report commissioned by Congress. That means that about out of every three Americans knows exactly how you feel, so you are definitely not alone.

One day not too long ago I was having a pity party. I put it out on Facebook that I was having back pain and it never seemed I would ever get better. It was then I found out friends of mine also had crippling back pain to the point of getting surgery, lived with constant migraines, or had even been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

I’m not saying that to scare you. I am saying that to let you know you are less alone than you think. A lot of people who care about you understand the frustration, and they are there to link arms with you.

“I’ll never be able to do ‘X’ again.” As someone who loves to jog, this is probably the hardest thing to face. I couldn’t take my beloved early morning jogs without paying for it in agonizing pain for days after.

So I had to adjust. I looked at exercise options I could do instead of running: biking, swimming, walking, and yoga. Since I don’t like to bike or swim much, I started walking (slowly, and only for 15-20 minutes) and going to yoga class. It gives me a sense of accomplishment I am doing some exercise instead of none, and the yoga is helping strengthen my back.

My goal is to be strong enough to run again, but I literally have to walk before I can run. I have to adjust to where I am now, and I refuse to allow myself to feel sad about it.

“There is no hope/treatment for my pain.” I saw my general practitioner to discuss the pain. All she gave me were meds I can’t even take because of my anti-depressants.

I saw a chiropractor whose treatment actually made me feel even worse and who wouldn’t give me strengthening exercises to do at home, even though I repeatedly asked him.

So now I am taking matters into my own hands. I am going to a clinic specializing in back pain to see if cortisone injections or something similar will help with the pain. I am also open to acupuncture or going to physical therapy. All this is to say I am getting second and third opinions. I am not accepting substandard care and will continue to look for ways to treat pain.

“I can’t.” Just like my inability to jog, I found myself saying “I can’t” to a lot of different little situations: taking the stairs at work, bending down to pick stuff off the floor, getting on my hands and knees to scrub my bathroom, etc. My thought is, My back hurts, so why bother?

That’s not the case. I do have good days. So I need to ban the I can’t mentality and trade it for Let me see how I feel right now. If I’m having a good day, I need to take advantage and climb those stairs. Maybe I’m having a bad day, but I can get on my hands and knees to scrub if I am careful.

The victory here is I am re-programming my thoughts to align with how I feel. I am cognizant of the bad days and don’t overdo it. On the good days, I do more, but I don’t go nuts. It’s about being in tune with your body and refusing to allow the negativity to win.

***

Don’t allow yourself to become a hostage to your pain. You do have to adjust your life to live with it, but that is a sign of strength, not weakness. You control how you live with your pain – it doesn’t control you!

Is there something I missed in this list? Comment below!

How to Find a Church by Yourself

There are some things in life that once you find them, you hold on to them and don’t let go: a great hairdresser, an honest mechanic, or a doctor who really listens to you.

Another staple of many peoples’ lives is a good church. But if you are single and unsure of how to find one, how do you even know where to begin? I want to give you some practical tips on how to find a church that suits you and will support you on your spiritual walk.

One thing to consider is what denomination of services you would like to attend. Some people prefer to go to the church of the religion they were raised in, which is fine. However, if that doesn’t meet your spiritual needs, consider taking this quiz to see where your leanings are. This BeliefNet quiz is for entertainment purposes, but it can give you insight if you prefer a more liberal, conservative, or middle-of-the-road church. For example, I scored highest as a Liberal Quaker, ranking far above the Catholic faith I was raised in.

However, being a Quaker isn’t terribly practical in my city of 300,000 people. They meet in a private residence once a week, and I’m not comfortable sticking out like a sore thumb for their meetings.

Another way to find a church is to ask your like-minded friends, relatives, or co-workers if they can recommend any churches. Ask them why they would recommend it, and if they think you would enjoy it. I think you will find their answers to be very telling. Ask if you can go to a service with them – there’s nothing like going to church with someone who can make introductions!

When I visit a new church, I have a list of what is most important to me:

  • Was I welcomed? I like a warm greeting. I don’t want to be a nameless face in the pew.
  • Music – Personally, I like more contemporary music.
  • Sermon – What was the central message of the sermon? Was it hellfire and brimstone, or did it teach an inspirational, gentle, and hopeful lesson?
  • Congregation– Is there diversity in the congregation? Is it all families or all older folks? Do you see unattached adults? If there is a good age spread, I take that as a good sign that the church reaches out to everyone.
  • Ministries – Many of these are highlighted in the church bulletin, which I highly recommend reading. Does the church offer anything of interest to you, like singles’ ministry, bible study, classes, or volunteer opportunities? Opportunities to get you involved will make you feel quickly at home.
  • Service time – I’m squirming after 45 minutes. If it goes past an hour, they’ve lost me.
  • Miscellaneous – Is there anything else that stands out about the church? Things I’ve noticed are coffee before or after services for fellowship, wonky parking lots, use of multimedia in the church, and the general overall church vibe. 

Of course selecting the right church for you is an intensely personal process, and you will unfortunately go to a few churches that just don’t resonate with you. But if you are brave enough to explore churches, keep in mind what is important to you in a church family, and visit the “maybe” churches more than once, I think you are well on your way to finding a worship community that’s just right for you.

If you attend church, how did you find the place you currently attend? Comment below!

Quick and Easy Meditation for Beginners

Cell phones. Car alarms. Noisy neighbors. TVs and radios blaring. Dogs barking. Kids screaming. Fire alarms when all you want to do is boil water.

No matter what your kryptonite is, I think all of us suffer from a world of excess noise and distraction. If you’re anything like me, you probably bombarded with cacophony from the minute you wake up till the moment your head hits the pillow.

Is it possible to hit the restart button and refocus your thoughts? How do you find your calm in the middle of a busy, loud day? Is it even worth taking a couple minutes to shut your brain up?

In a word…yes.

Now, I’m not going to lie: I came to hate the words meditation and silence when I was in training to be a nun. I had to go through several silent 48-hour retreats. We weren’t permitted to say a single word and were supposed to be in prayer and silence. I’ll be the first to admit I failed miserably. All I did was sleep a ton and sneak in books in order to have something to do. Because in my 20-something-year-old mind, I demanded stimulation and I didn’t want to take time away to pray.

And honestly, structured prayer isn’t my jam. But as I’ve gotten older, I see the wisdom and power of meditating. It has been proven to reduce stress, improve concentration, as well as increase happiness and self-awareness.

So how can you snatch a few minutes to calm your brain down and re-center yourself? I have to admit, as single women, we actually get more silence built into our day than wives and mothers. So why don’t we take advantage of it?

Below are a few quick ideas you can try today. Try doing any one of these for two or three minutes every day. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment. All you need is the intention of wanting to meditate.

In the Morning

  • Hold a hot cup of coffee or tea in your hands. Savoring the aroma, breathe deeply and focus on what you are grateful for in the day to come.
  • Practice three yoga sun salutations. There are many YouTube videos to get your started.
  • Sit comfortably in a chair. Concentrate on your breath. Each time you inhale, focus on a mantra or an intention you have for yourself. Suggestions for a mantra could be love, peace, joy, serenity, or a similar notion.

In the Middle of the Day

This will require you to disappear for a few minutes. If you can’t shut people out in your office or cubicle, go to your car, bathroom, break room, or even a storage closet if you won’t come across as a total weirdo.

  • Sit comfortably and focus on one good thing that has happened so far today. Replay it in your mind and thank the universe for it.
  • Close your eyes. Concentrate on your heartbeat and your breath. Be really present in the moment and think about how strong your body is, how alive you are, and how amazing it is to simply be today.

At Night

  • Lie down in corpse pose (arms away from body, hands up, feet shoulder-width apart). Breathing slowly, focus on your one-word mantra. Reflect on how it played a role in your life today.
  • Look up a quote on a site like dailyzen.com or http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/buddhism/daily-buddhist-quote.aspx. Sit in your favorite chair. Soak in that quote and let it flow over you.

What do you do to hit the “restart” button in your mind during a busy day? Comment below!

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