Unwrap your best holiday health: Ways to keep moving from Thanksgiving through those New Year’s Celebration

“Take care of your body. It’s the one place you have to live.”–Jim Rohn

This is my fifth installment of celebrating and encouraging movement for everyone.  If you’ve read my previous pieces, you already know that my goal is fairly simple.  I want to encourage everyone to move more in whatever manner works best for you, your body, and your schedule.  I do not believe in one-size fits all when it comes to fitness and health goals.  Instead, I am writing to explore techniques, habits, and motivations for incorporating more movement into life, even during the upcoming holiday season.

Why should you consider maintaining your movement/exercise routine during the weeks of Thanksgiving through the New Year celebration?  There are many possible reasons, but only you can decide your why(s).  Personally, it allows me to feel as if I have accomplished one positive thing for the day.  If everything else derails throughout the day, at least I exercised–even if it had to be for a reduced amount of time.  However, there are so many more valid reasons.

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Increased movement and exercise is one positive way to combat the stress that often accompanies this season.  Although stress isn’t a disease, per se, it is the body’s physical, mental, and emotional responses to external events, especially change, which often occur from Thanksgiving through the New Year celebrations. High levels of holiday stress can detrimentally impact mental health.  However, being physically active throughout the holidays is a proven technique to significantly reduce stress levels.

Along the same lines, exercise during the holiday season can provide structure to your schedule. If you have already committed to moving more throughout your day/week, and you have already been consistently applying it, then continuing to follow through with that plan builds at least a sense of familiarity and comfort.  Even if you have to reduce your time and/or days for physical activity, there is at least that semblance of reassurance that you are choosing to still take care of yourself, which can increase the likelihood of making another healthier choice throughout your day/week.

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As counterintuitive as it may seem, exercise gives you more energy during the holidays.  Harvard Health explains it this way. Increased movement and exercise increases oxygen circulation, which in turn, allows your body to energy more efficiently and therefore function better.  Furthermore, exercise increases cellular level changes, including augmenting the production of mitochondria inside your muscle cells. Having more mitochondria translates to your body possessing an adequate energy supply.  Plus, exercise boosts the production of the feel-good hormones that likewise make you feel more energetic.

Exercise and increased movement is a proven way to combat anxiety and depression, often associated with the holiday season. Let’s be honest, for many people, the holidays often serve as a reminder of loved ones and traditions lost to the past.  For others, the increased requirements for more socialization, or so-called holiday-expectations, can trigger the desire to curl up in a fetal position and hide until the season is over.  Furthermore, increased levels of darkness often precipitate seasonal affective disorders (SAD), a form of depression that affects approximately 10 million people annually. Physical activity is a proven method for reducing symptoms by releasing endorphins that increase positive feelings.  

Physical activity can reduce increased sedentary behavior associated with late fall and winter months. Colder and/or inclement weather can reduce motivation to get outside and move. It’s only natural to want to stay in and watch sporting events, stream series, or watch old movies while noshing your way through comfort food snacks and often calorie laden beverages.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these behaviors, too much inactivity is not beneficial to the body, mind, and even spirit.  A commitment to physical activity, even if it is laps around your house on commercial breaks during sporting events or between streaming episodes will go a long way promoting your overall well-being.

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In spite of all of these benefits, it can still feel challenging to maintain that fitness plan or movement goals you have established for yourself in previous months.  However, there are ways that can help you overcome obstacles.  The key is finding the ones that work for you as no one method/approach works for everyone.

Walk, march, or even jog around the neighborhood, if weather permits, or inside your house.  Even walking, marching, or jogging in place is beneficial!  If you don’t have time for your usual amount of time, such as 20 or 30 minutes, break it up into smaller time periods spread throughout the day.  If that isn’t possible, even one shorter burst of activity is better than none!

Consider exercising with an app, DVD, or streaming platform.  There are numerous apps and platforms that are free or reasonably priced.  In fact, you can even look up “holiday themed workouts” on Youtube lasting anywhere from 10-30+ minutes!

Inexpensive, portable exercise equipment are the perfect solution when traveling.

Invest in personal, home exercise equipment for use during inclement weather, traveling, or when short on time. Resistance bands and tubing, jump ropes, and exercise mats  are inexpensive, and easy to transport when traveling and/or visiting family/friends. The bands/tubing come in different sizes and resistant levels and require little training.  In fact, most come with a workout plan or can be found online.

Think outside the box, but keep it simple: 

  • Wake up 15-20 minutes earlier for a short movement period.  
  • Be mindful of the number of steps you take throughout the day, and challenge yourself to complete more than the day before.  
  • Wear exercise shoes when shopping and add power walk breaks in between stores or consider more frequent walks to your parked car after a store visit to stow away bags. 
  • Rethink your lunchtime, if your job allows, and use it as an opportunity for a short walk.
  • Challenge a fitness buddy to hold each other accountable to a realistic daily or weekly goal.
  • Complete bodyweight exercises throughout the day, such as push-ups against desk, body weight squats and lunges, chair tricep dips, twists, stretch, and so forth.  You might get a whole body workout by the day’s end!
  • Set realistic expectations and plan accordingly.  Consider reducing time/numbers of days per week, and then make a commitment to those.
  • Make movement part of the family/friend traditions if possible.  A family walk or dance session after a big holiday meal can not only improve digestion, but take the edge of any accumulated stress.
  • Make a holiday playlist.  It doesn’t have to be holiday music.  Instead, create a special playlist that motivates you when your energy is low.
  • Make sleep a priority too.  A well rested body moves with greater ease.
  • Hydrate consistently.  (Think of all the added sodium in those holiday treats.)

The holidays do not have to derail your exercise/movement routine.  There’s only one you and one body in which you live.  Therefore, think of physical activity during the holidays as the one gift you can give to yourself.  With a bit of flexibility, creative thinking, and determined mindset, you can continue to unwrap better health, one step, or choice of movement, at a time. 

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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.
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

“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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Berry Good Cauliflower-Berry Smoothie

“Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence.  All parts are interconnected.”–T. Collin Campbell

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Summer is back!  Okay, not officially as we have not yet experienced the summer solstice, but it is strawberry season!  In fact, throughout the coming months of summer, other berries will also come into season!  Freshly picked berries are not only some of Mother Nature’s sweetest earthly treasures, but they are also some of the most nutrient rich treats.  Plus, they are just so darn versatile.  Eat ‘em plain; toss them into cereal, smoothies, or yogurt; mash them onto your toast (for real!); bake them into cake, muffin, or pie recipes; cook them down into syrup, sauces, or jams; or, can, dry, or freeze them for later use.  Honestly, what’s not to love about berries?

From a nutritional standpoint, berries are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and the all important fiber. Think of berries as your personal arsenal for warding off cancer, protecting the health of your heart, and fending off chronic inflammation and/or illness. They also benefit your skin, may help lower cholesterol, and can typically be enjoyed no matter the diet you follow due to the fact they are low-glycemic and low in calories as well as carbs.  Those tiny, juicy, brightly colored orbs are bursting with nothing but love and goodwill for your body and your taste buds. 

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Now, contrast the vivid indigo of blueberries, the deep purple of blackberries, the candy red of strawberries, the shiny garnet of cherries and pomegranates, and the rose crimson of raspberries to the ever so homely cauliflower.  Oh sure, there are a few colorful varieties of cauliflower, but by and large, the most abundant form of cauliflower is as colorless as a canvas.  In fact, that is how I prefer to think of cauliflower: a canvas.  A canvas waiting for the strokes of color from an artist’s, or in this case, cook’s palette.

“Most flowers say, “I love you,’ but cauliflowers say, ‘I hope you live forever.’  And, that’s more intense than love.”–Unknown

Cauliflower, like the acclaimed berry, is considered a superfood.  It, too, is high in fiber, low in calories and carbohydrates, and full of vitamins and minerals.  Brimming with phytonutrients, antioxidants, and high levels of sulforaphane–an ingredient in all cruciferous vegetables–cauliflower can also wage war against cancer. Due to its high level of choline, it also supports learning and memory maintenance. (Who doesn’t need help with that?)  Additionally, cauliflower is full of bone-enhancing Vitamin K.  

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Similarly to berries, cauliflower is versatile in the kitchen.  Popularly known for creating a healthier alternative to traditional pizza crust, cauliflower can also be made into grilled “steaks,” buffalo “wings,” and stir-fried “rice.” Furthermore, it can be mashed, steamed, baked, fried, tossed into soup, salad or dip, eaten raw, its stem can be shredded and added to slaw, and it can be frozen for later use.  Plus, it can be added to smoothies! 

“If cauliflower can be pizza, you, my friend, can be anything.”–Unknown

Two simple ingredients make this smoothie naturally sweet, creamy, and a rock-solid nutritional choice to start your day of with the first positive step of the week.

If you are familiar with my work, you know I love whole-food, plant-based smoothies.  They are convenient, portable powerhouses of nutrition that can be made ahead of time and frozen.  That’s right! Blend a whole batch of smoothies up for the week in one manageably messy hour or less, and you are setting yourself up for a nutritionally robust, go-get ‘em week!  Then, the night before–or really, just a few hours ahead of time–take one smoothie out of the freezer, and set it in the fridge. Then, in the morning, you’re ready to kick off your dynamo day with a jolt of nutritional righteousness. 

Now that the weather is warming up, nothing tastes more refreshing than a cool, creamy sweet smoothie.  The sweetness occurs naturally from the succulent berries–no added sugars here.  Full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals; low in calories and carbohydrates; this smoothie recipe checks all the boxes.  You won’t be able to taste the cauliflower, but instead, you will taste all of the berry deliciousness of whatever berry(ies) you choose.  Your taste buds and body will be doing the happy dance, and you will feel a peace of mind knowing you made one small choice of positivity that just may lead to multiple beneficial steps towards your health for the day.

From frozen to thawed in a matter of hours . . .make ahead smoothies make your work week more organized and, well, smooth!

“A healthy outside starts from the inside.”–Robert Urich

I encourage you to give this recipe a try. Change it up, dress it up, and make your own version of this wholesome blessedness.  Then, hit me up via email, Instagram, Facebook or on this website, stephsimplycom.  I can’t wait to see what you do with it!  

From my home to yours, I simply wish you vibrant health.  Here’s to you!

Berry Good Cauliflower Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup riced cauliflower

1-1 ¼  cup favorite liquid or other favorite liquid 

¼-½   cup pomegranate, cherry, blueberry or combination juice (You want a total of 1 ½ cup liquid.)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash of salt (optional)

1 inch or ½ teaspoon ginger

1 mini cucumber or ½ large

½ lime, peel removed, but leave parts of the pithe for extra flavor and Vitamin C

1 cup mixed berries (My blender can only handle 1 cup, but feel free to add in another cup!)

Optional: 1 medjool date or ½ banana for added sweetness if desired 

Go “Extra,”only if you want, with as many of these additional nutritious powerhouses as desired:

Replace ¼ cup of your favorite liquid with ¼ cup aloe

2 teaspoons amla

2 teaspoon greens powder

1-2 teaspoons acai powder

½ – 1 teaspoon matcha powder

½ -1 whole scoop of favorite protein powder 

¼-½ teaspoon of turmeric powder

Place cauliflower and all liquid ingredients into the blender and blend well.

Add-in rest of the ingredients in the order listed above.

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Makes one large (approx 32 ounces) or two smaller (approx 16 ounce) smoothies, depending upon amounts chosen.

Shamrock Green Smoothie

“No matter when you start, a diet that is focused on plant foods will help you work toward the prevention of many illnesses and feeling better overall”–Julia Zumpano, RD, LD

Diet choices have long been debated.  From Adkins to Keto, 7-Day Rotation to Whole 30, Paleo to Low Carb, Mediterranean to Pritikin, and all variations in between, regardless of the varying diet trends, there’s no denying that fruits and vegetables are nutritionally sound food choices for promoting health. Experts may argue about which fruits and vegetables are the so-called better choices, but most will agree that eating unadulterated food from the ground is more nutritionally sound than eating chemically enhanced processed foods.

In fact, when going through the research, numerous medical clinics, cancer centers, and disease prevention sites recommend Americans increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.  It makes sense too.  All those different colors offer a wide array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory properties that cannot be found naturally in processed food.  

“Eating healthy food fills your body with energy and nutrients. Imagine your cells smiling back at you and saying: “Thank you!”.” – Karen Salmansohn

Think about it.  Fruits and vegetables don’t need a label that says, “Vitamin-D enriched” or “Fortified with 12 essential vitamins and minerals.”  They don’t need it because they naturally contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals–depending upon which plant you choose to consume.  This is why, “eating the rainbow,” is an often quoted expression.  If you eat a wide variety of colorful plants throughout your day and week, Mother Nature, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our Creator, provides all the nutrition your body needs for healthy functioning and vitality. 

Like many, since March of 2020, I have become increasingly more focused on what I eat.  Keeping my immune system running high, and my inflammation low, seems more important than ever in the era of living in a global pandemic.  While I’ve been a plant based eater for nearly ten years, I find myself more attentive to daily consuming dark leafy greens and/or cruciferous vegetables as part of my desire to remain healthy and avoid COVID.  While I recognize that eating well isn’t the only protective act I need to do when dealing with a highly contagious virus, these vegetables have long been established as possessing cancer and disease preventive properties, reducing oxidative stress, and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Additionally, they increase bone health, protect eye health, and boost the immune system.  Plus, their varying shades of green are chock full of fiber and a wide array of vitamins and minerals.  

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“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”–Thomas Ediso

Below is a green smoothie recipe I drank throughout most of March that features leafy greens and cruciferous.  After such an extraordinary winter with snows, ice, and then flooding, drinking a bright green smoothie felt like a personal manifestation of spring. Furthermore, since March was also the month in which I was wrapping up 12-weeks of training for the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon, this smoothie felt like extra-nutritional insurance for remaining healthy and ready to run. 

I like to think of smoothies as a blended breakfast salad.  When made fresh at home, I am the controller of ingredients, calories, fiber, and nutrition.  I keep my smoothies whole food and plant based food based in order to start my day off on the right foot–especially since I would otherwise, at least during the work week, skip breakfast.  While I often add healthy fats in the form of nuts or seeds to smoothies, I personally do not with this one, but you could.  Instead, I tend to add a teaspoon of greens powder for an extra boost of concentrated green goodness, and sometimes matcha (ground green tea) if I feel I need a boost of energy and focus.   This smoothie fuels my morning and keeps me full until lunch.  The flavor is bright and tangy, and it’s super refreshing to drink.  

Here few other tidbits and factoids I have learned while refining my smoothies techniques:

*  Put greens and liquid in the blender first and blend well, this is especially important, if, like me, you don’t have a top-of-the-line blender.

* Spinach is always the sweetest greens, which is why I often blend it with other greens such as kale and swiss chard.

* Riced cauliflower, fresh or frozen, works well as a “green” since it’s cruciferous and makes smoothies extra smooth and creamy.

* Lightly peel/cut away any citrus fruit, leaving part of the pith (the white part).  It is high in fiber, vitamin C, flavonoids–which boost the immune system–and it is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.

* Ginger and turmeric are both known for their immune boosting properties, reducing inflammation, and decreasing chronic pain.  Fresh ginger and tumeric–both are roots–offer the most benefits, but ground versions are still beneficial.  Therefore, I tend to add both spices to not only nearly all of my smoothies, but also incorporate them throughout the day.

I hope you’ll give this vibrant green smoothie a try. It is an easy way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.  Plus, you’ll start your day fueled with the power of green!

From my home to your, I wish you health, vibrancy, and vitality.  Be well, and, if you do give this, or any of my other smoothie recipes a try,  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shamrock Marathon Green Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup of your favorite greens, fresh or frozen, feel free to combine 2 different ones (think spinach, kale, 

½ to 1 apple, quartered (I use granny smith apple.)

1 lemon, peeled, quartered & seeds removed 

1 mini cucumber or ½ large cucumber, quartered

1 stalk celery, quartered

1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger or 1” fresh piece

¼ teaspoon turmeric or ¼” fresh piece of turmeric 

Dash of salt

Optional add-ins: 1 teaspoon greens powder and/or matcha powder, 1 tablespoon hemp, chia, or flaxseeds, and/or 1 scoop favorite protein powder 

Makes 1 generous serving

May Her Steps Be Remembered

“Nothing is impossible: The word itself says “I’m possible!”–Audrey Hepburn

“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.”–Tim Noakes

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I am so cold.  I’m freezing.  

I was shaking so badly as I stepped out of bed during this nocturnal, chilly wake up call;  my legs did not want to hold me up.

What is happening?

Waves of nausea immediately flooded my middle, and I became suddenly aware of the sharp tinges of a headache that reminded me of an illness, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to define the association.  Did I have a stomach bug? The flu, or something else? 

In the bathroom, I retrieved sweatpants and a sweatshirt and donned them in protection of my pervasive cold shivers.  On wobbly legs, I humbly returned to my bed knowing that something was off.  Trembling under the covers, sleep came in fitful waves, with bouts of shuddering wakefulness and nausea in between. Tossing about from side to side, my left shoulder was noticeable tender each time I rolled onto it.  The injection site. Images danced dreamily around in my head.

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“You have the hardest arm to stick,” the young pharmacy student stated with a grimace as she pushed harder to get the vaccine needle inserted into my arm. 

Across the way, I watched as another pharmacy student injected my husband, John, as if his arm were a stick of room temperature butter, despite the fact he has spent years exercising with weights.  John winked at me as I winced at the second effort of pushing by the pharmacy student into my arm.

Oh, yes, I had my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  My arm was sore last time; it is sore again. 

When the alarm eventually did go off at its usual Saturday morning time of 5:30, I groggily reset a new alarm for 6:00.  This was followed with a 6:30 alarm, and a final 7:00 am alarm.  

I never sleep this late on a Saturday.  Must. Be. A. Stomach. Bug. Surely, it’s not a reaction to the vaccine.  Can’t be, right?

Saturday was also the day I was to run my first 10 miler in preparation for my first virtual half-marathon since my back injury five years ago, and I could barely walk due to my convulsing shivers.  With sudden clarity, it occurred to me that I could take acetaminophen to mitigate the symptoms.  

Why hadn’t I thought of that during the night?

Opening the childproof medicine bottle, I discovered that I had five pills.  Great.  I decided to start with two and see what happens. 

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Making my way into the kitchen area, I started a pot of coffee, guzzled down several ounces of water, although my stomach protested, and sat staring out the window.  The nausea was pervasive, my headed pounded, and the chills were ever-present as I pondered the day ahead.  I felt extremely thankful that it was Saturday, and I did not have to work. Otherwise,  I would already be at school preparing for the arrival of students at 7:30.

Slowing sipping coffee–not sure if my stomach would revolt or not, a plan for the day began to take shape–assuming the acetaminophen kicked in.  By 8:15 am, the chills had mostly subsided, the nausea and headache were present, but felt more the muzak of years ago softly played in elevators.  I made the decision; I was going to try to run.  First, however, I needed to locate a name to honor from the Honor the Fallen website. 

A few clicks later, there came a name.  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker, a  26-year-old was an Army Reserve soldier assigned to the 89th Sustainment Brigade, out of Wichita, Kansas.  She was so young looking.  Her eyes were bright and full of empathy, but her slightly crooked smile looked wry–as if engaging in conversation with her was sure to be filled with quick-witted, sharp comments.  As I read her story, I felt a surge of inspiration. 

Given my suppressed chills, I ruled out running outside and opted instead for the treadmill. Besides, I told myself, the treadmill offers less impact on my back. An hour or so later, I was on the treadmill hoping for the best, but ready to abandon the training plan if needed.  

Don’t look down at the numbers.  Eyes straight ahead, arms at right angles, melt those shoulders away from your ears, keep the speed slow and steady.  One mile at a time, Steph.  One mile at a time.  Focus on the name:  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.  Pretend her name is written on the wall.

Podcast playing, my mind semi-focused on its content as my stomach continued its somersaults.  I decided to save walk breaks until later, when all of my reserves might be running low. Walk breaks would be the reward for early efforts.

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As a teenage girl, I often rode my bike to and from summer bandcamp. There was a hill on the way home that was steep and wound round a hill. At that time, a childhood jingle would enter my mind, “Just think you can, and know you can just like the engine that could.”  This same jingle entered my mind as I jogged on the revolving belt of the dreadmill, I mean, treadmill.  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.

One mile turned into another and another.  One hour passed, and one podcast was over.  Walk break taken long enough to start a new one.  Thirty more minutes passed; another walk break began.  Can’t take another moment of the incessant talking.  Time for the power button–music.  A driving playlist of beats began its encouraging cadence.  Nausea grew greater and legs grew wobbly again.  So close now.  Increase the determined self-talk.  More nausea, more achiness. . . keep pushing.  Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.   Sgt. Christina M. Schoenecker.

It wasn’t pretty.  It wasn’t fast, but it was purposeful. My struggle was nothing compared to the struggle of those who have served in our military. Christina M. Schoenecker, the name I found on the website, served during Operation Inherent Resolve. Assigned to the 89th Sustainment Brigade, Christina was an Army Reserve soldier out of Wichita, Kansas. This young woman died in a non-combat incident in Baghdad, Iraq.  She was the third casualty of this operation at the tender age of 26. 

It is through the mission of wear blue: run to remember that I often run, “in honor of the service and sacrifice of American military.”  My contribution is minimal.  There are local and national groups who do so much more work and efforts to increase awareness and honor the fallen and their families.  My only contribution occurs each Saturday, when I search the name of a fallen person–someone’s family member–write their name on a post-it note, place that paper the zippered pocket of my running tights, and send up words of gratitude to the heavens for this person’s service as well as to the family each one left behind.  My steps, no matter how challenging, still do not equate to the service of those brave men and women freely gave to our country.  It is my hope though, in some minor way, I honor their memory and offer their family some form of unseen comfort.

Thank you, Christina, for your service.  Thank you, for your ultimate sacrifice.  Thank you, Christina’s parents.  Your daughter was remembered this past Saturday, step by step.  Her memory truly inspired me to finish.

For more information regarding wearblue: run to remember, visit their national website, or look/join the local Ashland community, found on Facebook, or via email:  Ashlandcommunity@wearblueruntoremember.org.