Rest, recovery, and self-care: All important aspects of fitness

Self-care is never a selfish act–it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on this earth to offer to others.”–Parker Palmer

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In previous writings, I have written to encourage reluctant movers/exercisers to find ways to increase movement, mobility, and/or exercise into their daily routine.  I absolutely and wholeheartedly believe in the importance of moving more and sitting less.  There is a vast array of scientific evidence that demonstrates movement and gentle exercise increases mental and physical well-being, decreases diseases, and furthers longevity.  While it doesn’t make you bulletproof, there’s not denying its benefits.  That being said, there is also a time and place for self-care AND rest and recovery days as they are known in the fitness industry.

   Let’s first differentiate between the two as both are worthy and valuable tools.  Technically, self-care can be defined as anything you do to take care of yourself.  Self-care can, and should, include a wide range of activities that nurture your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.  In an ever-evolving world in which more and more value is placed upon hustle, productivity, and work along with the expectation to either pass on vacation days, or if you do, then there is the pressure to continue to work on those days–taking time to care for self is more important than ever.  Plain and simple, self care is vital to the integrity of our own health, so we are more effective both in and out of the work-setting.

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Self care is a practice that can occur on any day of the week or at any time of day. It can be as simple as offering yourself kind words of praise or encouragement when you do something well, such as thinking, “I am proud of you for choosing to do this.”  However, it can also be an entire day, away from work and/or stress, filled with activities that feed your soul, mind, and body.  The point is, self care will vary from person to person and can encompass a variety of actions.

In fact, according to many health experts, areas for which self-care can occur includes many dimensions. Some of the more obvious areas comprise of spiritual, emotional, occupational, and physical well-being.  However, less obvious areas for self-care include intellectual, social, financial, and environmental.  Given these diverse facets for self-care, it creates a vast array of opportunities for self-care activities.  Here are a just a few ideas to get you thinking, but by no means are definitive:

  • Journaling, writing, drawing, creating
  • Spending time outside, gentle walks with pet, hike
  • Spending less and paying down credit cards
  • Reading/listening to books; watching a documentary
  • Change jobs/careers; Clean up that resume
  • Exercise; prioritize sleep; regular medical checkups
  • Volunteer; regularly scheduled social or family events
  • Pray, meditate; read inspirational scriptures; attend the worship service of your choice
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Leaning into daily self-care activities leads to a healthier, more well-rounded life. Just as regular movement/exercise can vary from person to person, and from day to day, self-care will too.  Even when/if current life situations limit time for self-care, a little can go a long way in contributing to our overall well being.

Likewise, rest and recovery days can be part of the self-care plan, and should be essential part of your movement/exercise plan.  Adequate rest and a day or two devoted to recovery offers the body numerous benefits. While our muscles, heart, and lungs become more efficient when we repeatedly complete the same action, such as walking, running, cycling, weightlifting, playing tennis/golf/basketball, or any other sport/activity, it also places stress on those same areas.  Resting and/or a day away from those activities, allow the muscles, lungs, and heart to take a break and recover, allowing you to actually make more progress. 

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Recovery can include completing movements/exercises that are outside of one’s regular routine, such as walkers taking a day to bike, those who play specific sports taking a day to practice yoga, or runners taking a day to swim.  However, recovery can also be a day devoted to rest, or at the very least, a day in which exercise is avoided.  Both types of recovery, in addition to a regular sleep schedule and nutritious eating habits, benefit the body in numerous ways.

Recovery days reduce the likelihood of injury and allow the muscles to rest and repair.  It also reduces muscle fatigue that can decrease performance and reduces muscle pain and soreness. Adding an active recovery day, allows our bodies and minds to experience and try out new forms of exercise. While days completely devoid of exercise allows the body and mind to rest.  Both types of recovery improve your ability to sleep soundly, promote longevity, and reduce stress. 

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In the end, increasing daily movement and activity as well as the implementation of a regularly scheduled form of exercise are important, but more isn’t always better, especially for those who are competitive or prone to over-doing it.  As with most things in life, the key to any wellness program is finding the right balance that works for Y-O-U, and that may change from season to season and from decade to decade.  

Taking care of your body, mind, and spirit are important and worthwhile investments.  After all, each of us is a creation of the Divine, but we are only given this one life.  Let’s honor our Creator by respecting the unique creation that is each of us, and live our lives to the fullest, imbued with the vitality of a healthy mind, body, and spirit!

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Gratitude over Attitude

“Gratitude is one of the strongest and most transformative states of being. It shifts your perspective from lack to abundance and allows you to focus on the good in your life, which in turn pulls more goodness into your reality.”–Jen Sincero

I caught myself complaining, AGAIN, about an irritant within my life. While I was doing this in the safe company of a trusted person, it was a habit I was beginning to recognize and for which I was beginning to feel I needed to personally address.  Therefore, I began to ponder why I have such a strong tendency to bellyache, fuss, and grumble?   Does my complaining make anything better?  Does it benefit anyone?

Furthermore, why is it our nature to yammer on about all the so called wrongs in our life?  Part of the reason, I know, is that in a polite world, we often bottle our frustrated feelings inside and continue to wear a smile on the outside.  This often leads to our complaints exploding out of our mouths with the first opportunity to release them in like-minded/sympathetic company. It plain ol’ feels good to liberate the tension–which, on one hand, is a healthy coping mechanism.  

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But what happens when we keep going on?  Telling anyone and everyone who will listen to us about the perceived infractions.  As our audience changes and expands, so does the story, expanding in power and hijacking our brains. We might even post our complaint on social media, magnifying the story and giving us the impression that we are truly supported, and most of all, righteous, in our indignation.

What does this gain us?  Is it a sense of control?  A sense of support?  A sense of community?  Perhaps all of that and more, but since I am not a psychologist, I’ll leave that answer to the professionals.  Instead, all of these ponderings brought me to the importance of mindset. 

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One of the more inspired lines that I’ve run across, previously written about, and regularly applied in my own life, is “mood follows action.”  It is a phrase I implement when I don’t feel like doing a particular task, such as getting up early, tackling a workout, or instigating work/chores.  Those three words remind me that once I complete the task, I will feel a sense of accomplishment, and my mood will lift as a result.  It is the dread that is often worse than the actual doing. I began to wonder if something similar was true with regards to complaining . . .

action = increased complaining = decreased gratefulness = negative mood

If I continue to choose the action of frequently complaining, particularly about the same thing, am I creating my own negative mood?  And if so, am I creating a bias towards these so-called “terrible” events, making them out to be more grievous than they actually were?  What if instead, like the eye doctor asking me if I preferred A or B,  I flipped my daily lens so that it was tinted with more gratitude and shaded less with attitude? 

action = reduced complaints + increased gratefulness = happier mood

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I took this thought even further and researched what the science said. It turns out that complaining can actually negatively harm your health, not to mention serve as a repellent to others.  First of all, it turns out that every time we complain, our brain rewires itself to produce more negative thinking. According to neuroscience, synapses that fire in the production of the complaint, wire together, making it easier, over time to react, complain, and think negatively with more frequency.

Negative thinking/stressing and complaining can damage the hippocampus, which is responsible for overall cognitive function, problem solving, and critical thinking.  The smaller the hippocampus, the greater our decline in memory and the less adaptive we are to change. The more we complain and/or focus on the negative, the more we increase our levels of stress, and, in turn, cortisol.  High cortisol levels decrease immune function and make us more susceptible to a wide variety of health problems such as sleep disruptions, digestive dysfunction, depression, and high blood pressure to name a few.

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Complaining, and an overall pessimistic attitude, can shorten our lifespan.  Research indicates that optimistic thinkers tend to live longer than proverbial pessimists. Additionally, like attracts like. The more positive or negative we are, the more we tend to attract others who do the same. In fact, our brains naturally mimic those with whom we most often associate through a process called neuronal mirroring. This is often due to our ability to feel empathy, which can be a positive thing, but it can backfire on us if we repeatedly surround ourselves with negative people.

Nonetheless, there is a time and place for complaining, but it is how you frame it, and to whom you speak, that makes a difference. If something is truly worthy of a complaint, think constructively when talking (or writing) about it.  Identify, before initiating the conversation or written evaluation begins, a clear purpose about the specific goal/desired behavior. Then behavioral experts encourage us to deliver the complaint like a sandwich.

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Start positive, with a true and affirming comment. (This first step may require some thought and some reframing, but it is worth the time to get the listener/reader to pay attention.) Next, state the desired outcome/behavior in a matter-of-fact tone without accusation.  Then, follow this with another positive, but true, statement.  Below is a highly simplistic example, but it illustrates the point.  

“I really love shopping at this store because the employees are so friendly and helpful.  However, lately, I encountered issues with the pick-up system in which numerous items in my order are not bagged.  I’d like to continue shopping here, so I am wondering if there is a way to ensure my order is properly bagged on my next visit.”

If, however, someone is directing the criticism to you; own it, and empower yourself as an agent of change rather than victim. By taking ownership of the issue, we have the power to create a solution that works for us. In the end, we earn more respect for owning up to our own mistakes, flaws, or misperceptions. Furthermore, it allows us to be perceived as a problem solver with integrity.

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One point worth remembering is that, while complaining can be a healthy way to relieve stress, we want to be careful with whom we confide, who is around us when we make these comments, and how often we are complaining.  If you know that you will feel better to get a grievance off  your chest, do-so with trustworthy companions in a private location–rather than on a platform for everyone to read or in an area in which anyone can hear.  Then move on, let it go, and identify at least one positive about your day/situation on which to focus, including your controlables–one of which is your attitude.  

By training ourselves to choose gratitude over attitude, we are more likely to see our blessings, promote our own mental and physical well-being, and increase our ability to perform tasks.  Furthermore, we may ultimately attract more good to our life by merely opening our eyes to seeing it.  For many of us, however, this takes practice and time.  Therefore, the next time you find yourself complaining, be like the eye doctor, flip the lens, determine the better view, and find something for which to be grateful.  

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If you must complain, do so. Then, flip the lens and look for the points for which to feel grateful.

Maybe it’s time to close the window: Self-care and balance includes moving away from toxic people and situations

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted.  Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”–Hans Margolius

I love to sit at my desk in the flush of morning light writing with the window above my desk open.  Even when it is cold and chilly, I will often crack the window a few inches to enjoy the predawn air. There is something about the fresh air, the stillness, and the early hymn of dawn that fills me with a sense of peace and hope. The dawn air dissipates the frights of night that may have entered my dreams and nourishes my mind with renewed resiliency for whatever the day may bring.

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One especially hushed, predawn Sunday morning, as I sat, savoring the caress of fall air on my cheeks and hands, I noticed smoke rising from the yard beside mine.  It was my neighbor burning something.  I returned once more to my writing as the serenity of the morning continued humming its charming ambience.

Gradually, every so subtly, the scent of the air shifted. Wafts of acrid air began to drift in through the window screen.  Still, it wasn’t enough to detract from the overall freshness of the morning, and so I left the window open, continuing my writing.  

For 30-40 minutes, I continued my typing, pausing for moments here and there to gaze out the window and clarify my thoughts.  I noticed the dullness of the green leaves, a sure sign that Mother Nature is changing into her fall wardrobe. A single bird rapidly called in a repeated series of three trills, “Hello, hello, hello,” but earned no response. 

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Noticing the familiar tingling in my lower half, cued me into the fact my extremities needed a walk break.  I rose and walked outside to the newspaper box.  A cacophony of Canadian geese, singing their song of seasonal change, flew overhead towards the autumnal clouds.  

It was then I realized how strong the scent was.  Whatever was being burned in my neighbor’s yard had filled the air with a noxious haze that I had not noticed while at my desk with its slightly opened window. However, when I walked back into the house and returned to my desk, the insidious odor had indeed permeated the air.  How had I not noticed previously?

Perhaps it was due to the fact my window had only been partly opened or maybe it was due to my focus.  Regardless, the scent had gradually slithered through the opening of the window, changing the air in a subtle and measured manner that I had not noticed.  I began to reflect upon how often that happens in life, for better AND for worse.

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The seemingly piecemeal process of aging is but one example.  Our children gradually change. Often, we may not notice it in the day to day, but one day you will look at your child and suddenly it hits you how much they have grown and changed.  Likewise, we may not notice our own aging process until we happen to see a photograph of ourselves, and like a slap on the face, we are quickly hit with the awareness of our own aging.  This is all a normal part of the evolution of life.

However, what about other life events? For example, the progressive way in which computers evolved and changed the way I teach.  When I began nearly 36 years ago, there were no computers in my classroom.  The most technological advancement that I had was a rolling chalkboard and a box of dustless chalk!  Flashforward, and my current classroom uses Apple TVs, Google classroom, iPads, Chromebooks, and Macbooks, with all students using their own device on which they are expected to complete work.  For better or worse, that change is here to stay.

I think back through history, for example, the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany.  It all started in a seemingly moderate way, but it progressively evolved and soon evil, incrementally, blanketed much of Europe, affecting/influencing much of the world.  This, along with countless other historical events, remains a cautionary tale of the way in which harmful developments, left unchecked, can crawl into our lives without our realization until they have fully enmeshed themselves into society.

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Back at my work area on that particular Sunday, I decided to close the window above my desk, and leave my writing space for a while, allowing the air to clear.  As I moved into other areas of my home, I could clearly observe the difference in air.  An hour or so later, the air in and around my workspace was cleared, and all it had taken was the simple act of closing the window.

There are certain ideas, concepts, environments, and even people–personally associated to us and distantly known by us– that are likewise toxic disguised in appealing and attractive soundbites, conversational style, and images.  Like the sweet lullaby of the break of dawn, they lull us into acceptance, or at the very least, acquiescence–better to play along or ignore in order to remain focused on our own goals. The problem is that, little by little, we begin to assimilate, breathe in, if you will, the poisoned atmosphere/attitude until it has permeated our being in ways we can’t clearly sense until we step away and gain a new perspective.  Only then do we fully feel the necessity of closing the proverbial window and stepping away from the baneful environment.

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The irony of it all, is once you close the window and move on, you begin to realize that there had been a small, still voice inside you all along telling you something wasn’t right.  For me, on that Sunday morning, my tingling legs told me to move since my sense of smell had been so gradually overcome by the slowly shifting air.  Therefore, it is important to tune in, listen for that inner guidance, to Divine Providence.  Perhaps, you may not be able to remove yourself entirely from certain situations and/or certain people, and if that is the case, determine what you can change, and then act.  Close the window. Move in another direction, and notice how much better you will feel with fresh air and a fresh perspective. 

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Root to rise

There will always be rocks in the road ahead of us. They will be stumbling blocks or stepping stones; it all depends on how you use them.”–Friedrich Nietzsche

There were three crossings over the stream in which we had to choose to balance-step across rocks as John is doing here, or wade the water.

Life can be challenging.  Demanding work schedules, a multitude of community and family commitments, and even the basic chores of life can often leave many of us feeling depleted.  Then, throw into the day-to-day mix, some minor crisis and/or irritation, such as the washer quit working, the car is making a funny noise, or __________ is getting sick, and we begin to wonder how we will ever get through the coming day, much less the week. 

I was reflecting on this thought, not only from personal experience, but also from experiences of others. In a recent conversation with a young mother, I listened to the challenges she faces as she tries to balance the increasing demands of work, family life–especially her growing children’s varied activities/interests–and several house issues that require extra time, money, and attention.  It was clear, in spite of her ability to joke about it, that she was completely frazzled and worn out.  My heart went out to her.  

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Haven’t we all been there?  Perhaps we may not have experienced her exact circumstances; nonetheless, feeling overwhelmed and over-extended is certainly a relatable human experience.  We all encounter rocky times along life’s path, and those times may feel like insurmountable stumbling blocks.  In fact, we may indeed stumble, stutter-step, and fall off the path, but the question is, can we then use those same life boulders as stepping stones?

Later in the same week, I found myself once more engaged with a parent of younger children.  In this conversation a young man was describing the demands of balancing the needs of his three children, whom he clearly adored, his beloved wife, and his work.  He described a recent experience in which he begrudgingly attended a study group at his church with his wife in the midst of a grueling week. 

“I did not want to go,” he said.  

Once there, however, he realized that it is at the busiest or most stressful times when he most needs to take some time for renewal if he truly wants to be of service at home or at work.

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Driving along a hill lined road a few days later, I observed a tree that seemed to grow out of the rocky rise.  Its multiple roots wrapped around and over the rock-defined prominence. I marveled at the tree’s ability to stay rooted and find nourishment in such an unlikely environment.  

In fact, later that day, I took time to read an article or two about trees that can live in rocky soil. I was stunned to learn that there is a wide variety of hardwood and softwood trees that can live in stony soil, including fruit trees.  It was the fruit trees that most surprised me because not only is the tree tasked with the job of sustaining and growing its root system, trunk, limbs, and leaves/needles, but it also must produce enough nourishment for the additional task of fruit growth.  

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As I read these articles, I found that many trees’ roots have the ability to adapt and thrive in rocky, stony, or even compacted/dry soil.  Furthermore, many trees that are drought tolerant have shallow root systems. This adaptation offers them the ability to grow in rocky soil as their roots seek and stretch to find sources of water and nourishment.  Additionally, there are other trees with deeper root systems that somehow find a way to burrow in between rocks to find water and nutrients.  Regardless of the type of root system, the one commonality among all trees is the fact that they use those boulders and rocks as stepping stones from which they extend their branches towards the heavens, rising above a so-called inhospitable environment.

In an era of disparate sound bites, images of divisiveness and dissonance, and all the demands of life, we must strive to live more like the rock loving, sand embracing, and drought tolerant trees.  We must continually seek and stretch towards our true source of life, the great I AM.  It may be difficult, as life throws us one challenge after another. Therefore, we must take time to mimic those rock-loving trees by rooting down to rise up in order to offer our unique gifts–our fruit–to the world.  

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Taking time to routinely root down into our inner faith world, allows us to rise above the stumbling blocks of life. Root down to rise up. Depending upon your faith and/or religious practice, that regular practice of “rooting down” may look different from one person to another in the same way trees’ roots vary.  However, they all serve the same purpose: anchoring us to our true foundation, keeping us straight and stable, and providing us with the ability to absorb the good and filter out the bad, storing-up a wide array of resources for when times get, well, even rockier. 

With the foundation of a well-established root system, we become like the trees that thrive in rocky and dry environments. We can climb around, over, and sometimes even remove life’s stumbling blocks, so we too can rise up, stretch towards our higher power, in order to produce more fruit, especially in our busiest times.  Root to rise.

Even in an rocky area known as Craggy Flats, ancient trees have rooted down and around the rocks in order to rise above its above of it all.

Good Fitness Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise.”–Gene Tunney

For the past two months I have written a couple of pieces focused on the importance of incorporating movement into your life.  It is my belief that movement benefits everyone and can add years to your life and life to years.  Therefore, this month, I’d like to blow open the myth that fitness requires a gym or club membership and/or requires special, and often, expensive equipment.  Rather, I’d like to shed light on free, nearly free, and budget friendly ways to increase movement and exercise.

Remember, in a capitalistic society, corporations and businesses want to make money.  Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but my point is that you do not have to buy into all the slick and pretty packaged marketing!  As a consumer, you DO have choice.  So when those social media pop-up ads try to convince you that you need this “exclusive, just-for-you, one-time only offer” for a studio/gym membership or the “latest, greatest, in-debt-til-die exercise equipment, you absolutely have my permission to walk away—for real.

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In fact, walking, according to both the Mayo Clinic and University Hospitals 

Network is considered, “just as good as any other form of exercise.”  Of course, walking at a steady pace for a given period of time is the best, but all forms of walking count towards your overall health.  Walking for exercise is free, all you need is a supportive, comfortable pair of shoes.  It can be completed solo or with friends.  Plus, it can be completed in a multitude of  indoor and outdoor sites.  However, walking isn’t the only inexpensive way to increase movement and exercise into your life.

You can do housework or yard work as a workout.  Cue your favorite up-tempo tunes, set a timer, if you’d like, and get to work.  Keep moving until the job is done or the timer rings–whichever works best for you. 

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If you have younger kids or grandkids, play with them.  Take them to a park if you don’t have access to a yard.  Better yet, ask them to join you while you walk, bike, hike a trail, or jog.  Play soccer, shoot some hoops, throw frisbee, toss a baseball or softball.  Other options include, but are not limited to, volleyball, pickleball, tennis, golf (make sure you’re walking if you want the full workout), badminton, and so on.  There are so many ways to move, play, and enjoy your kids/grandkids and even get to know some of their friends. Of course, all of these activities can also be enjoyed with friends!

Free workout options include walking, pushups, planks and walking up and down the steps of your house.”–Joe Cannon, MS, certified strength and conditioning specialist, NSCA certified personal trainer

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Make use of equipment at home and youtube videos (or other sites to which you may have access).  With just your body weight, a chair, and stool, you can get a whole body strength workout. You can even use canned goods and water bottles/jugs as “weights.”  Honestly, there are so many free workouts available online that require little to no equipment that can provide fantastic cardio and/or strength workouts.

Two worthwhile items I do regularly use are a quality yoga mat and athletic shoes.  Both of these are versatile and worthwhile investments.  The yoga mat not only can be used for yoga, but it can also be used for any type of exercise that requires time on one’s back, belly, hands, and/or knees.  This one time investment is portable; it can be used on a back deck or patio, carried to the park, or taken along when traveling.  Similarly, a pair of good-fitting shoes are just as versatile.  Personally, I am always willing to invest a bit more for personal service to determine a proper fit for a supportive workout shoe from my local neighborhood running/walking store. (Shout out to Robert’s Running and Walking Shop!) 

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Other pieces of inexpensive equipment to consider:

  • Exercise bands and/or tubing (love these inexpensive items!)
  • Free weights, kettlebells, and/or medicine ball (in light, medium, and “heavier” variations)
  • Jumprope
  • Step bench (can be used both for cardio and strength training)
  • Fitness ball (can be used for a variety of core exercises)
  • Exercise DVD or apps (many apps are free or a low-cost)

Learn to be a savvy shopper.  You don’t automatically have to buy from one place, nor do you need to purchase items all at once.  Gradually add pieces, and consider purchasing used items on Amazon, eBay, Facebook market, Goodwill, and consignment shops.  I am often amazed at what I find at both Goodwill and consignment shops for next to nothing.

Budget friendly pieces of exercise equipment can be gradually added to your collection. You can even build your own step bench.

Personally, I love to find free fitness plans on-line, and modify them to fit my age/fitness level.  There are so many good sites, many of which I outlined in a previous article.  Once you find a plan you like, there are no decisions to make.  Simply follow the outlined plan for the set-number of days/weeks.  Your heart, mind, and body will thank you.  One word of caution, however, be sure the plan is appropriate for your level of fitness.  You want to set yourself up for success, so choose wisely.

Other budget-friendly tips include:

  • Split a gym membership with a friend.  Many gyms offer a payment plan that allows you to bring a friend for “free” for x-number of workouts. 
  • Join walking or running clubs.  Many parks, walking/running shoe stores, and even some malls offer these for little to no cost
  •  Join community gyms.  Many religious centers and some communities offer gym memberships for little cost to no cost.
  • Try donation based classes.  Many yoga studios and community centers offer weekly donation classes that are paid as or if you can.

Bottom line, you absolutely do not have to pay much, if anything, for a quality workout.   Other than perhaps quality footwear, you can absolutely get an excellent workout without spending any of your hard earned money.  Therefore, don’t let budgetary restrictions keep you from putting a little pep in your step and vitality in your years. Exercise your right to ignore those money-mongering marketers, and take charge of your own health AND budget! 

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Seasonal Growth

“Every season is one of becoming, but not always one of blooming. Be gracious with your ever-evolving self.”— B. Oakman

This past May, John, my husband, and I were given nine tomato seedlings that our neighbor, Dianna, had started.  John purchased special potting soil, and I carefully planted those seedlings into large gardening containers.  They were my pet project this summer as I tended to them like a mother tends to a baby.  From suckering them to fertilizing them at specific points in the summer to monitoring the moisture in the soil to determine if I should water or not, I tried to be the best plant parent I could be. However, I knew that in spite of my best efforts, Mother Nature had more control than me.

Nonetheless, John and I ooed and awed over the plants’ first golden blooms.  We gleefully counted the tiny green orbs that first formed in place of the blossoms, and we celebrated as they grew bigger, and more petite tomatoes began to emerge.  As their color gradually transformed from chartreuse to a yellow-orange, and then gently evolved from an orange-red to scarlett, our anticipation mounted for a plentiful harvest, to the degree nine-plants could produce. 

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By the first week of August, we had a bounty of tomatoes.  None of them were particularly large, but they were bursting with flavor–the perfect tangy blend of sweet, tart, and acid.  With our first pickings, I cut-up fresh cucumber and tomato to add to shawarma-spiced chickpeas for me, and made bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches on homemade bread for John.  Throughout the week, there were salad plates topped with aromatic, zesty tomatoes alongside dinner, and veggie sticks and tomatoes in bowls for packed lunch.  Oh, the ways we can, and do, enjoy tomatoes!

Last weekend, I was out picking more tomatoes, and I reflected on a conversation with my dad the previous week.  He lives in Melbourne, FL, about an hour or so, east of Orlando.  He and my bonus mom, Pam, have a fenced-in backyard that they have transformed into a tropical paradise.  Vibrantly filled with plants that would never grow here locally, thrive in their backyard as they continue to learn more about the growing seasons of Florida.

In that recent phone conversation, Dad and I discussed the plants they were currently trying to grow, and the ones they would soon plant, once the temperatures cooled and moderated.  One plant he was eagerly anticipating growing were tomatoes.  He explained his plan to plant a couple of seedlings, then several weeks later, plant a couple more, then he’d plant another a few about a month after that, and so on.  Apparently, unlike here, fall is the perfect time to plant tomatoes, and throughout the winter months, he gets to reap the harvest.

Therefore, when I shared with him how well my tomato plants were producing, he bemoaned the fact he could not yet have a fresh garden tomato, but of course, encouraged John and me to enjoy our season while we could.  Nonetheless, he was looking forward to the season when he, too, could enjoy a fresh slicer tomato on a sandwich or chopped up in a salad.  We talked some more about his different growing season, and the types of tomatoes he planned to try to grow this upcoming year before moving on to other topics at hand.

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As I reflected on this conversation while picking tomatoes, with each snip of my pruning shears, I was simultaneously filled with gratitude for each tender fruit, but I was also feeling a bit of sadness for the fact that I could not share these with Dad.  Then, I reminded myself that he would be enjoying tomatoes, most likely in December, January, and February when our area will be chilling to rain, sleet, ice, and snow with not a single fresh tomato in sight.  That’s when it hit me.

In the same way I can gather tomatoes in August and September, but Dad cannot until the winter months, we all have different growing seasons in life.  I began to think about all the ways in which we, as part of our humanity, often compare our current position in life with that of others in similar circumstances, age-range, or whatnot, and feel as if our situation/status falls short in comparison.  Personally, I often think of dreams and hopes I still hold for the future, but due to life, many of those notions must be put on-hold for the time-being.  However, the more I snipped tomatoes, the more I began to realize that perhaps instead of comparing, and thinking about where/what I think I should be doing, maybe I would be better benefitted to switch my focus to cultivating and nurturing those seeds of hope, and recognize that it’s not their growing season . . .yet.

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“Be aware of what season you are in and give yourself the grace to be there.”--Kristen Dalton

Just as it is the growing season for me in southern Ohio, but not for my Dad in central Florida, the same is true for life.  Our lives are filled with seasons too.  There are times when we must let go of notions and things that no longer serve us, like the trees do in fall, and the winds change the color of our lives with a flourish.  Other times, our lives are filled with great spaces of dormancy as harsh and bitter winds send us into a blanket of darkness.  Then, there are those moments in which we experience blooms of hope, sometimes even in the midst of a rainy season.  That is when the magic can occur.

Through our letting gos and goodbyes, through those dark and latent times, and even through downpours of sorrows and grief, there remain within each of us, planted seeds of possibility and potentiality.  Those seeds have their own growing seasons, but each person has different seasons and different times for harvesting.  It is our job to be aware of our season, cultivate our inner seeds, and trust that when the time is right, new growth will occur.

As it is wisely stated in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . .He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Therefore, we must put our faith in our Creator, and rest in knowing that our hopes and dreams are indeed being cultivated by a force greater than us; and when the season is right, our season for growth, and ultimately harvest, will one day come into fruition.

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Plants roots us in the present moment

Biophilia: Love of living things and nature that human beings innately possess”–hypothesis of Edwin O. Wilson 

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This summer, I have relished time spent caring for both my indoor and outdoor plants.  While I don’t have many compared to other gardeners and indoor horticulturists, I find that I don’t need a larger number to reap the benefits of caring for plants. In fact, I continue to be surprised by the numerous ways in which nurturing plants increases my sense of well-being, and my recent research dive supports this, and so much more, too.

First, the back story.  I have always been drawn to plants and nature.  As a young girl, I drove my mother nuts stealing popcorn kernels from the kitchen, filling paper cups with yard soil, and planting those kernels in those soil-filled cups.  I’d set them in my bedroom window sill, water them when they were dry, and watch them grow.  The part that really got to my mom was when I fancied myself a scientist, and I began conducting my own “experiments” by placing those corn filled paper cups in different windows, and even in a bathroom without a window, to see which plant grew best, making notations in a self-made booklet. 

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Additionally, my dad was wonderful for taking my sibs and me for walks in the woods behind our house. While walking, he would point out the different trees, identify the various nuts, and pause for us to take in the marvels of mushrooms, tiny flowers, ferns, or other low-lying plants of interest that as kids, we might not have otherwise noticed.  In addition to all of the wondrous sights, there was an abundance of scents, sounds, and even fanciful touches to fill our young minds with wonder–only I am not so sure that we always felt that way when coming in contact with brier bush! Nonetheless, both of these childhood experiences never left my heart.

Fortunately, I married someone who loves the outdoor space as much as I do, and thus our travels typically include some form of nature exploration.  However, my relationship with growing my own plants did not get rekindled until the past several years.  Oh, to be certain, I tried caring for and raising plants in fits and starts, but my attempts most often ended in the Death Comes to the Plant written in tandem with complete lack of proper care and yours truly.

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“Your intuitive powers increase when you are with plants because your mind is silenced and you become more aware of the present moment.”–Sanchita Pandey

I should firmly state, before I go any further, that I have MUCH more to learn when it comes to plant care, and I still have my fair share of murderous flops.  However, that is the wonderful thing about caring for the few plants I have successfully not assassinated, I am growing right along with them. One thing I do know for sure is that when I am fully focused on plant care, my mind is firmly glued in the present moment, and all other worries and stresses of my life fade, momentarily, from my awareness.  

Nurturing plants can reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, researchers in the UK concluded that working plants, whether indoors or out-of-doors, depending upon the patients’ setting, increased feelings of well-being among those with anxiety, depression, and even dementia.  In fact, in one town in England, Manchester, there are general practitioners so-called prescribing potted plant care for patients who are experiencing depression, anxiety, and loneliness.  Programs such as those known as “horticultural therapy” and “Docs prescribing plants” were only just the tip of the iceberg in my research

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Along the same stem, plants have also been shown to expedite patient recovery from long-term illness in the hospital as seen in studies dating back to at least 2002.  Patients with scenic views of nature or those who have plants and/or flowers within their surroundings, needed less pain medication and/or spent less time in the hospital than those patients who did not have these botanically natural sights. 

Additionally, NASA scientists, way back in the 1980s, determined that low-light houseplants demonstrated the ability to improve indoor air quality by reducing the amount of indoor pollutants and toxic substances. NASA even offers a complete list of approved plants. Studies on this topic have since been conducted at both Virginia Tech and Washington State University have further established that house plants are efficient air cleaners and that even having as little as 2% of the room filled with plants will create an impact on air quality. 

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Not only do houseplants clean the air, they moisturize it as well.  This is important during the winter season and in arid environments that tend to have little moisture in the air.  The vapor plants regularly release can be beneficial for those who regularly suffer from dry nasal passages especially. Furthermore, believe it or not, there are some plants that release oxygen into the air throughout the day.  One of them is a common house plant known as the Snake Plant and the other is the Gerbera Daisy, which is not commonly grown indoors, but with proper care can survive two to three years.

Other noted and researched benefits of plants include, but are not limited to

  • Increased focus and productivity, in the work and school environment
  • Increased and sharpened attention span
  • Improved positive outlook at work–even Amazon got into the research
  • Improved cognition
  • Serve as a reminder that our actions have power
  • Demonstrate in real time the importance of completing little things
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Growing plants can be such a meditative and calming act. Their care unites us, if only for a few moments, to the present moment.  Nurturing house plants, or any other gardening endeavor, serves as a reminder of the miracle of life and our natural link to nature. With each drop of a dead leaf, plants remind us of the importance of dropping that which no longer serves us. When plants wilt and droop from lack of care, then perk back up from the simple act of watering, it is a reminder that we too can recover from wilting periods of time. Tending to plants further reminds us it’s ok to go through seasons of dormancy, and plants further remind us that when something isn’t working, it’s also ok to troubleshoot or ask/search for help. 

In the end, at least for me, caring for plants fosters the joy of biophilia, my own inner craving for growth alongside nature, and my deeper, more expressive connection to our shared Creator, the ultimate horticulturist.

Moving into health for every body: Tips for fitting additional movement into your routine

“Changing ‘exercise’ to ‘movement’ was a game changer for me . . ..” –@brittanilancaster (Tik Tok)

Last month, I wrote about the importance of rethinking exercise and the benefits of incorporating movement into your daily activity.  Nevertheless, it isn’t always easy to plan, begin, and stick with a program.  You may have the best of intentions, only to be derailed by life.  Don’t feel guilty or ashamed by this–many of us, including myself, have been there on more than one occasion. Consequently, I am not writing to preach or make you feel bad. Guilt is not, in my opinion, a sustainable motivator; however, as I have previously stated, mood does follow action.  Therefore, this month will focus on actionable steps to starting, or returning, to a routine plan of movement.  

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 Honestly, the best form of movement is the one YOU will enjoy doing, but in case you’re not sure, here are a few considerations. 

  • Solo or buddy/group system. Personally, I think it’s important to know if you’re a solo-type of exerciser or one who would stick to a program better with a buddy or a group.  Some people prefer, and are more likely to follow through, with an exercise buddy or group.  While others tend to like more solo endeavors.  Knowing your preference may increase your chances of a more positive movement experience.
  • Choose an activity that you like.  It goes without saying, but I am going to state it again, if you dread exercise, you are probably not going to stick with it.  Ideally, find a form of exercise that makes you feel happy, empowered, and/or confident.  Do you love talking and/or sharing the latest juicy tidbits with a friend?  Then, choose an activity that allows you to do that while moving, such as walking.  Do you crave alone or quiet time?  There are many types of exercise that can lend you that much needed head-space for “me-time,” such as walking, biking, or strength training to name a few.  Are you motivated by instructors or group energy? Try one of the myriad of group fitness classes offered by gyms, fitness centers, or studios. And by all means, if you try one form of exercise, and you don’t like it, don’t throw in the proverbial sweat towel, try something else! 
  • Be realistic and start small.  In an ideal world, we would all follow the Department of Health and Human Services guidelines and exercise moderately 150 minutes per week–typically divided into five days for 30 minutes per day.  However, your schedule may only allow for three or four days and/or 15-20 minutes per day.  That’s okay.  Commit to a realistic routine and time.  Better to work within your schedule and be consistent with lesser amounts, than to do nothing at all.
  • Make it part of your weekly routine. Brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate barriers.  Schedule exercise times into your smart calendar and set reminders, so nothing else can be scheduled during this time period. Schedule workouts with a friend in advance to build accountability, or use smart watches and/or fitness apps that allow you to link with friends, during workouts. Set out clothes, water bottles, equipment, snacks, and so forth, ahead of time. (I actually lay out all of my workout clothes for the week, set them in one stack by the bathroom, so I can grab and go quickly each morning.) 
  • Remember to reward yourself.   “If I do this, then I can do this.” Think about what really motivates you, and then set mini-goals towards that reward. It could be as simple as giving yourself permission to watch your favorite guilty-pleasure TV series for thirty minutes after completing a workout, or heading to your favorite local coffee or smoothie shop with a friend after completing a week’s worth of goal workouts. With consistency, health rewards will also naturally begin to occur, such as, sleeping better, greater sense of self-esteem, reduction of stress, lowered blood pressure, etc.
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“Day 29 of exercising for mental health. Finally feeling like myself again.  I can’t believe I’ve gone my whole life without this.  Love watching my heart and lungs get stronger so quickly.  Getting my appetite for life back.”–@claraandherself (Tik Tok)

Barring any health issues, here are a few ideas for working around common obstacles that often occur when starting and/or maintaining an exercise program.

  • Have flexible expectations. Sure, we’d all like to look and move like a Marvel or DC superhero, but that’s not realistic, especially when first starting a new exercise routine or new form of exercise.  As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and any exercise program takes time.  However, little-by-little, improvements do occur, including moving with greater ease, less fatigue, feeling overall better/stronger, or even sleeping better.  It won’t happen overnight, but with a fair amount of consistency, improvements will occur.
  • Self-kindness and self-compassion always. Nobody is perfect. Kick ideas of perfection out of your head. Setbacks, illness, injuries, and other unplanned interruptions are going to happen.  If you miss a day here or there or if you have a time span in which your workout plan went out the window, don’t let it derail your overall goal of lifelong wellness. Offer yourself the same compassion and understanding that you would offer a friend.  Then, as soon as you can, get back to it–even if it means easing back into it or changing/adjusting your plan
  • Avoid the all or nothing attitude. You do not need to spend hours each day engaged in exercise to reap the benefits.  Even modest amounts of time will benefit your physical and mental well-being, and that could even include 5-10 minute movement breaks interspersed throughout your busy day!
  • Slide day mentality. Don’t get me wrong.  I am not giving you permission to let exercise slide.  Instead, while you may have certain days/time you prefer exercise, be willing to slide a workout to another time or day of the week in order to accommodate week to week schedule fluctuations.  Likewise, if you’re short on time, reduce your total workout time.  A short workout is still better than no workout at all!

I encourage you to banish those limiting beliefs about movement and exercise.  Ignore the toxic, guilt-inducing, body-shaming misinformation about exercise circulating on social media.  Exercise movement is all-inclusive and should be a positive experience for EVERY BODY.   

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Of course, I am not a medical professional, as such, it’s always best to talk to your family health provider before beginning a new movement program.  That said, as a so-called “non-athlete,” exercise has made a huge impact on my own physical and well-being, and I’ve watched it do the same for so many other dear ones in my life.  It is my hope that if you are not currently incorporating much movement into your life, you will consider starting today.  If you  already embrace exercise, keep it up, and while you’re at it, grab a friend to move with you!

Wishing you the best health, Dear Reader!

Banish any limiting beliefs you have about exercise.  Ignore the toxic perfect perfect body images of exercise as well as misinformation.  Exercise is all-inclusive and should be a positive experience for EVERY BODY!
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Let your Life Be a Work of Art

“Make your lives a masterpiece, you only get one canvas.”–E. A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

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I recently came across the line, “Let your life be a work of art.”  These words were spoken by the late Thich Nhat Hanh, and they inspired me to reflect upon their deeper meaning.  As often happens, I could feel the tendrils of my brain entwining around this notion and exploring all of its complexities.  In fact, the next day, I found myself in meditation asking myself how to “live artfully” and contribute more beauty to the world.

It seems to me that all lives are pregnant with possible ways to share unique artistry with others. While I know, as Bucchianeri once wrote, we only get one life canvas, I’d like to think, that with the gift of each new day, we are each bequeathed a new canvas on which to create. Therefore, how do we bring about awareness and intention to our daily opportunity to create quality life art? 

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I think many great religious and thought leaders would point to nourishing your innerworld as a start. Initially this may sound self-centered.  However, I am reminded of the repeated directive instructing passengers, when flying on an airline, “put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others.”  This is because you cannot be of assistance to another person, if you don’t have a one true source for life. 

Therefore, it makes sense to foster a rich, more faith-filled inner life in order to create a more inspired and productive outer life.  Personally, I know when I mindfully start my day with time set aside for thoughtful devotion and contemplation, my actions are apt to be more harmonious and positive with others.  In fact, I find that if my inner world is unclouded, my actions and choices are more thoughtful and in better service to others.  

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That said, I don’t think it’s a linear or perfect process, but a gentle ebb and flow. When we seek, pray, read, meditate, and/or focus upon living more peacefully, as described in most major religions, we can then draw from a wellspring of faith, purposely seeking guidance for serving others.  However, that doesn’t mean we always remember to do that.  Mistakes, stress, anxiety, emotional overload, and so forth, can take us off our A-game for a span of time, but like a swing responding to gravity, our faith can draw us back to the path. 

The more we return to cultivating that inner-world, the more we begin to live in closer alignment with our higher purpose.  Life, it seems, begins to evolve and flow with greater ease, enhancing our ability to constructively contribute to the world and others around us. The greater the sense of ease, the less resistance and/or friction in life, thereby allowing for more effective and productive communication and actions.  Thus, the “art” we hope to create in life, organically continues to evolve and spread to others.  

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 In fact, at least based upon my current reflections on the subject, it seems to me, the more we get clear in our inner world, the more we learn to accept responsibility for our own actions and choices.  As we assume more responsibility for our own actions, we can begin to also foster more responsible reactions as well.  In fact, when our reactions become more moderated and considered, the more effectively we can generate a sense of calm, creating less distress in our own lives and the lives of those around us. 

Of course, writing about “life as art” is easier said than done. Nonetheless, I do believe it is worth trying. As with any work of art, the process is often filled with struggle, but as any artist can tell you, the process of creation can often be messy and imperfect.  Therefore, learning to artfully live with more intentionality and tempered reactivity is a process also permeated with struggle as it takes awareness, time, and a large quantity of patience with self and those around us. 

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However, by repeatedly returning to the cultivation of our inner life, our hearts and minds are gently reminded to remain in alignment with the higher purpose of our faith.  Even after those less-than-stellar days, that we all experience, we can return to our practice and consciously redirect.  In the end, this not only benefits you, but others also profit by your choices, and even more so, by your example.  This give and take of constructive and purposeful living creates a dynamic design of a colorful criss-cross of actions and interactions.

Admiring the beauty of a large pot of flowers, vincas, on my front porch brought me full circle in this “living artfully” thought exploration.  The flowers began as four tiny individual plants. In spite of all the crazy weather, the vincas have multiplied ten-fold, it seems, with eye popping color. The vincas are a reminder that our lives can flourish in similar fashion. 

Our Creator designed us with the ability to withstand dry times, heavy rains, and even stormy seasons. However, the more often we return to nurturing our inner world, the better able our True Source can work through us. By more frequently listening and surrendering to that deeper voice of God, the more we allow our lives to become the design of the Creator’s hands; and like the vincas on my porch, our lives can become unique and colorful works of art to which Hanh encouraged so many years ago. 

By creating the practice of cultivating our inner world, we can become aligned with our higher purpose.  Through the ebb and flow of practice, we learn to accept responsibility for actions, consider our reactions, and allow the "art" of our life to flow with greater ease.
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Good or bad, this too shall pass

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in the storm.”–Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark

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“This too shall pass.” 

How often have we been told and/or likewise used that phrase?  Typically, this phrase is spoken during times of trouble, stress, or suffering.  However, what about during the good times– those really sweet, special moments?  Why don’t we say those same words then?  Wouldn’t it be worth acknowledging that this wonderful time period cannot last forever either?  Now, before you think I am writing like a Negative Ned or Donavan Downer, cast your rod alongside my line of thinking, so we can fully explore these open waters.  

In life, good, bad, and temperate moments will rain down upon us.  Sometimes life serves up a spring storm, blowing in fast and furious, momentarily soaking us, but then moving on quickly, no worse for the wear.  These are those momentarily stressful times, usually only lasting a few hours, or at the very least, no longer than a day.  Typically, with a good night’s sleep, the negativity is released, and by morning light, you’re gifted with the start of a new day, refreshed enough to handle any remaining raindrops of the previous day.

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However, there are times when it seems like one day of storms follows another day.  I am often reminded of these times during the summer when there are consecutive days of hot and humid weather with afternoon storms that can be quite fierce.  Sometimes, this type of weather pattern can go on for weeks, much like troubling circumstances life can serve up. 

We’ve all experienced those periods.  For example, the car breaks down, the air conditioning unit goes out, all while trying to navigate a daunting unforeseen health, personal, or professional crises.  News headlines add further stress, and even the most mundane of tasks begins to feel like, “one more thing I have to do.”

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Personally, it is during these difficult times that I am reminded of how I take normal for granted. The grind of the day-to-day work routine may often have us looking forward to the weekend. However, when a crisis strikes, I’d give anything to go back to that so-called grind again without the outside drama, distress, and distraction.  

Similarly, we can often take our health for granted, complaining about aches, pains, stiff joints, and the like.  However, when tossed into the throes of a serious illness, our outlook may seem different. We find that we long for the days when our only complaints are stiff hips, low back ache, or overall fatigue. 

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At the beginning of the month of July, a week of hot, humid, stormy weather swept through the area in which I live.  Each afternoon or early evening, severe storm alerts were posted in the area. One particular evening, a severe storm warning was posted with a strong wind advisory, and a potential for power outages. This was the third such weather alert in as many days.

Within the hour, rumblings of distant thunder could be heard.  Minutes passed as the thunder grew louder, and rain drops began to fall.  Gradually, the intensity of the rain began to grow. It wasn’t long until window shaking thunder was reverberating throughout our home with luminous lightning bolts crashing towards earth as the rain intensified. As gales of strong winds swept through the valley in which I live, the power went out. 

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Sitting there in the fading light, surrounded by the storm, I began my usual grumbling about the power going out. However, in the middle of my spouting, it occurred to me.  I was dry.  Our roof was not leaking.  Food was in my cupboard and refrigerator–although, I was keeping it closed for the time being. We had plenty of clean water.  My family was safe.  There was a mode of transportation outside our home if, for some reason, we needed leave.  

What more could I ask for?  Besides, the storm would pass, and eventually, the power would be restored–even if it took days–which, thankfully for us, it didn’t.  It was in this moment of reflection that an often repeated phrase, “This too shall pass,” crossed my mind.  

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Storms pass.  While we may not be able to see when they are going to pass, they ultimately do move on.  It may take days, weeks, months, or even a year or more, but the downpours of life do fade.  Therefore, why don’t we more frequently push the pause button during calm-after-the-storm moments and appreciate them?  Why don’t we take more time to feel and express gratitude for the sweet, exciting, and even average times of life–really savor the fullness of those less challenging moments because they, too, shall pass. 

Both calm and stormy times can offer us lessons–lessons of strength, stamina, perseverance, appreciation, gratitude, and even acceptance. For many of us, myself included, it takes the challenging moments to teach and/or remind us how to weather and ride out storms.  These times of intensity bring us face to face with the present moment as life storms cannot be ignored–they demand our attention.  Unfortunately, it is the calm, steady-as-it-goes time periods of life which can all too often be overlooked and not appreciated nearly enough.

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Next time, a storm moves through the area in which you live, observe it closely.  Tune in to all of the chaos and turmoil that accompanies it.  AND THEN, intentionally discern the calm that follows. Take notice of the birds as they resume their singing, the return of insects buzzing, and resumption of all those surrounding precious life sounds that create the uncelebrated mundane muzak of life.  

Allow those opposing meteorological moments to serve as a reminder that no matter what type of weather life serves up, it all passes.  Storms of life may vie for our attention, providing us with numerous lessons of fortitude and resilience with each experience for which we can be grateful (at least afterwards). However, let’s remember to enjoy and appreciate those moderate to mild days.  They, too, provide valuable lessons, quietly dishing up the joy and peace that can be found even in the most monotonous routines of life. 

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