Sunday Night Check-In: Mid-City, Hiking and Reindeer Games

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I was so happy when Friday came and I had absolutely no plans for the weekend. I was going to do absolutely nothing except maybe clean my house. Well, I wanted to take some Epsom Salt baths, workout and cook, but that was the extent of what I wanted to do. Friday afternoon my friend Jo Ann texted me about the White Lights event in Mid-City Baton Rouge. I had forgotten that we talked about doing that. I begged off, but I was conflicted because I really did want to go. She finally pushed me to go, and I’m so glad I did.

White Lights Event in Mid-City (Click or hover over pics for captions.)

I’ve been trying to figure out creative ways to make some extra cash, and I’ve been thinking about learning a skill or a craft like pottery or soap-making or something like that. The White Lights event was jam-packed with local artisans and small business owners selling their own handmade products. I had a chance to talk with Ashley, the owner of Grinning Jupiter Jammery, about her business and how she got started. Her wonderful jams were showcased on top of cream cheese, and I devoured the blueberry and strawberry jams while we chatted. I could see myself doing something like that and spending Saturdays and Sundays talking to people at local markets just like I was doing with her. It made me hunger not only for her jam but for a different way of life. It lifted my spirits to think that a different way of existing was possible.

Dozens of vendors just like these were at the White Lights event, and the parking lots around my neighborhood were so crowded that you could hardly get around. I wondered to myself where all of these interesting people have been the last 16 months since I’ve been here. I talked to several vendors about how they got started and how successful their cottage businesses were, and I came away with a curiosity percolating about what I could offer up for sale from my little bungalow. Maybe I could make soy candles laced with essential oils or even soaps with exotic names and artistic designs.

I spent a good part of Saturday with my friend Beth at Highland Coffees. Great news! They are keeping their location open. A huge uproar from their customers forced the evil landlord to reconsider his evil price increase, so they will remain in their location. It is definitely my new favorite coffee shop. It’s right by the LSU campus, so the crowd is diverse, and their coffees and teas are wonderful. I had the best biscotti I’ve ever tasted Saturday. It was hearty and crunchy and dipped in dark chocolate. It was a perfect accompaniment to their decaf Colombian coffee heavily dosed with half and half – from a pitcher not a plastic container! Score!

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This morning I got up still sleepy but couldn’t fall back to sleep. I had 6 reindeer game points to gather today, so I started the day off trying a pumpkin pancake recipe from Jessica’s blog. For me it turned out like a pumpkin mush instead of a pancake, but it inspired what I call Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal. After eating that, I got sleepy, and I turned in for a mid-morning nap. I woke up around 11, and the first thing on my mind was getting into the woods. I packed up Ashok and headed to Tickfaw State Park. We hiked for about 2 hours. It was a spectacularly beautiful day and warm enough for shorts. It had been so long since we went hiking. We were both in hog heaven. Ashok spent most of her time running away from me really fast and then running back to me at the same pace. I swear she was grinning from ear to ear. She took several swims, and, luckily, I didn’t see any hungry gators that would have liked a nice little black furry winter snack.

Tickfaw State Park

For an active weekend, I feel really rested. I have some sweet potatoes baking, and I’ll steam some broccoli and heat up my leftover chicken for dinner. I downloaded a new book for my Kindle that promises some tips to help quiet my mind. I have been working to stop over-thinking this weekend. When I first woke up this morning, my mind was racing, and I decided that I should at least think something positive. The first thought that passed through my mind was ‘bananas are so nutritious’. It made me laugh which is better than making me worry. When I got tired of thinking about how nutritious bananas were, I thought about how nutritious apples are. It put me in a better mood to start the day.

Pecan Pie Oatmeal: Steel Cut Oats, Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Spice, Pecans and Soy Milk. Oh, yeah, and a drop or two of Trader Joe's Organic Sweetened Condensed Milk.

Pecan Pie Oatmeal: Steel Cut Oats, Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Spice, Pecans and Soy Milk. Oh, yeah, and a drop or two of Trader Joe’s Organic Sweetened Condensed Milk.

Y’all have a good week now. I met my Reindeer Games goal, so I’m stoked for next week and have planned to be more consistent so I don’t have all of this last-minute hoopla going on. It’s going to be a slow week at work, and I’ve already heard that my absolute favorite drink has already launched at Starbucks. My annual 3-5 pound weight gain due to the Eggnog Lattes at Starbucks is going to kickoff this week. I think I’ll save it for a Friday after Thanksgiving treat. I had no idea they had planned to discontinue it. It was my very first drink at a Starbucks ever! I walked into the Starbucks in Times Square in New York and ordered one during Christmas season. I can’t imagine the holidays without it. Enjoy the holidays in whatever way makes you happy. They only come around once a year and none of us is promised one next year. Pretend it will be your last and make it your best. Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble gobble.

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Coach Ashok Brings Me Back Into the Game

Last night I wanted to go out with my friend Jo Ann to the White Lights Event in Mid-City in Baton Rouge, so I didn’t carry through on my plan for the Reindeer Games. Life isn’t just about exercise and I wanted to enjoy the holidays. But then this morning I got up and didn’t feel like exercising either. About 3 PM I looked and Ashok and said, “I think I’m going to drop out of the Reindeer Games.”

She looked at me incredulously and said, “No, you’re NOT!!!”

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She said she was going to get my bohunkus going, but first she needed a healthy snack to get her energy up and her brain focused. So, I gave her some broccoli.

Then, she made me total up my points for the week to see how far behind I was from from my goal of 25 for the week. I was at 13. So I needed 11 points in the next two days to make my goal. “That’s ridiculous,” I said. “I’m not going to kill myself exercising for those points. I’ll just start over on Monday and meet the goal next week.”

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“I have the stopwatch,” she said. “We can get 6 points easy today. I figured it up.”

“6 Points!!!”, I exclaimed. “I’m not spending my day exercising.”

“Oh, yes you are!!!” she barked.

There were a couple of things Jessica posted this week that were easy points-makers. First, she was giving 3 points if you did her Reindeer Games Benchmark Video workout. It seemed short – at least shorter than the hour I’d have to normally work out to get 3 points – so I agreed. I took off and did my 1 Mile timed walk. Then I came back home for the rest of the workout.

 

Yesterday she posted a 1-point challenge to do a 7-minute workout that’s on a free app.

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“Your lazy ass can do a 7-minute workout,” she insisted. “Get down here and do your planks.”

I downloaded the 7-Minute Workout app and followed the instructions. Ashok really enjoyed the jumping jacks and high-knee run. I only enjoyed the short duration of it.

But I still only had 4 points. Ashok decided an easy point was to cook Jessica’s One-Pot Chili recipe.

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I LOVE Trader Joe’s!

 

“We’ll have to go to Trader Joe’s!” she exclaimed. We jumped in the car and took off.

I bought ingredients for the chili and made it and some cornbread. It was delicious and definitely worth the effort for one measly point.

Well, that was 5 points! So, now all I have to do is get one more point today. She offered a bonus point this morning for anyone who would send her a pic of our efforts in writing our workouts down on our calendars. That’s easy-peasy. I’ll sit down with my tea tonight and finish that off.

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After all was said and done, I felt really happy that Ashok coached me back into my Reindeer spirit. I even got to enjoy my favorite dessert, cornbread with butter and cane syrup fairly guilt-free.

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Buster and Ashok were very thirsty after it was all over with.

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And, Bella was very hungry.

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I made the comment that it was really fun that we all got to spend the afternoon together doing something healthy and that I was within 6 points of making my goal in the Reindeer Games this week thanks to Ashok.

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“That was the most ridiculous display I’ve ever seen,” Bella said.

 

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“Can we meditate now?” Buster said.

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“We’re not getting a reindeer, are we?” Ashok asked. “Because I’ve got enough problems with you and these cats. I’m just sayin’.”

Meditation … Medication for Over-Thinking

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My meditation spot

 

I woke up way too early this morning. Immediately my mind started racing. What am I going to do if I have to find a job before the next 3 1/2 years are up and that stupid law eats up my Social Security benefits? Can I afford to relocate to another state where that law doesn’t impact me? How much money will that take? What if I can’t find something else, and I don’t have enough money to retire? What if  ….. what if … I finally got up at 4:45 sick of the hamster wheel in my brain. My brain feels raw sometimes I think so much.

My Memphis acupuncturist said people in this country think too much. We worry too much. Everything I read says women worry and overthink more than men. I know that one of the key benefits of my anti-depressant was that it stopped some of the excessive chatter in my brain. Since I’ve been of off it – over a year now – the chatter has increased. It was fine for awhile, but as soon as life got stressful, my thinking became a non-stop grind.

I’ve been sitting to meditate for the past two weeks for at least 20 minutes everyday to combat the thinking drain. It’s a challenge because the chatter doesn’t stop just because I’m sitting. I’m constantly refocusing myself on my breath. I keep saying to myself gently, “thinking” to pull myself back to silence. It is torturous on some days. This morning I sat down to meditate on my purple cushion. I set the timer to count down for 20 minutes, and I closed my eyes. After several hours of mind-churning thinking, it was hard to get my mind to stop. But, I put in the effort. I made it through the 20 minutes without beating myself up. Somewhere along the way, the thought crossed my mind that I was off my medication, and I needed to be gentle with myself about my over-thinking propensities. I’ve been muting it for 20 years, and now I need to heal it. It’s going to take time.

Meditation is a powerful thing. Almost every time I type the word, I misspell it as medication. It is true HEALING medication. After I finished my practice, I sat down to journal about my fears to try to get them out of my head. The meditation had brought me some wisdom. Instead of writing about all of my fears, I instinctively wrote:

I am over-thinking, and it’s making me miserable. It disturbs my sleep, and it makes me anxious and tense. I have to start doing some things consciously to stop it. I was going to write about my work fears, but that’s just my obsessive thinking. I need to focus on the real issue. I suppose that’s what happens when I meditate. I see things more clearly.

I was just thinking this morning that the meditation wasn’t working. Ha! It finally focused me on the real problem.

The act of meditation enabled me to reframe the problem. And, in the quietness of those moments of being silent, I realized how much it was tormenting me. I am so grateful. Today I researched some information on things to do to stop over-thinking things. There will always be things to worry about, and I can’t control that. But I can work toward healing my over-thinking problem.

The articles I read said that some people are wired this way. I know Daddy worries a lot. He jokes about it all the time. He’s almost glad when something bad happens so he has something concrete to worry about instead of just some vague worry about everything in general. I probably got it from him. So, I can be gentle with myself that I’m just wired this way but start to take some steps to restore my sanity. And, you know what? Just realizing that the problem is my over-thinking helped me to put my other issues in their place. I can do some things to mitigate damages to my future retirement, but there’s no point in worrying about things that may or may not happen. Who knows? I may end up with a great new job with great retirement benefits. Or I may be fine just the way I am. I may get hit by a bus tomorrow, and my niece will get rich off my 401K that never got used. Those things have at least the same probability of happening as the other. They are all imaginary problems. I can’t do anything about something that hasn’t happened yet.

I started worrying when I read that over-thinking can actually impact my health negatively. When you think of something bad, your body ramps up as if something bad is really happening. It doesn’t know the difference. So, now I can worry about how my worrying is going to devastate my health and leave me in medical bankruptcy. NOOOOO!!! I’m going to take some of the advice from the below articles and keep meditating. It seems to be making a difference in a simple but profound way. Today, I didn’t worry at all about my future. When the thoughts drifted by, I just said, “You’re over-thinking, Sweetie.” They disappeared as quickly as they came.

Articles on how to stop over-thinking

8 Ways to Stop Over-Thinking and Find Peace of Mind

6 Steps to Stop Over-Thinking Your Life

Google Search Results on how to stop over-thinking

 

 

Winning at Reindeer Games

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You have to take pics of your workout and post to Facebook to get your points! Tonight’s ‘after’ shot.

I have been crazy busy this week. I had the day off on Monday to run a top secret errand, and I didn’t get in bed Monday night until 11 PM. It was a rushed way to start the week especially when Saturday, Sunday and Monday had NO down time. It was back to back driving, working, playing and talking for about 16 hours every day. I regretted the decision to join the Reindeer Games with Jessica’s group Monday night because I knew I’d have to figure out a workout on Tuesday. I really just wanted to do nothing.

I was able to sleep late Tuesday morning, and when I came home Tuesday night, I had about 1 hour and 15 minutes before I had to pick up Ashok at my brother’s house. I really wanted to get some exercise points, so I hurried up and got dressed for some yoga at home. If I hadn’t had those points staring me down, I know I would have skipped it. Jessica said she was heading out for a quick workout. “Whose idea was this anyway?” she joked. I could see that this Reindeer Games participation was going to help me fit in exercise during the next two weeks.

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I even cooked some healthy dinners.

I jumped up Wednesday morning and took Ashok for a walk and decided that I’d work out again Wednesday night. I only get 1 freaking point for a 30 minute workout. Jess gave a bonus point for setting a goal for the games, and I set a goal of getting 25 points a week. I don’t know what I was thinking. That’s 3.5 points a day. But, it got my bohunkus out walking Wednesday night, too. This morning I took Ashok for another 30 minute walk before work. For 3 more points, I headed over to the gym tonight for an hour workout. I did my own thing with weights, aerobics and one of the cardio machines. I raced from there to Trader Joe’s to get the fixins for my cornbread dressing for tomorrow’s work party.

I’ve been cooking a little bit every morning to save me time in the evenings. Monday I put the giblets in the crockpot to make broth. Tuesday morning I cooked a chicken. Last night late I baked some cornbread. Tonight all I had to do was saute the veggies and throw it all together. I’ll bake it tomorrow morning. I can’t believe I did it! I even cleaned my house in between tasks. It’s amazing how much I can squeeze in when I have a lot going on. When I’m less busy, it’s easy to let things slide. But, when I don’t have a lot of time and have a lot to do, I can get stuff done. And I know I would not have exercised any of the last three days if this Reindeer Games wasn’t driving me. I guess that’s the point, right? Give me motivation to fit it in.

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One of my friends at work said she really needed to start exercising in the morning. When she felt her best she was getting up and exercising before coming to work. She’s working out now, but she’s going to an evening boot camp. I know it probably seems like I like to work out. I’ve been pretty consistent all of my life, but I would actually prefer not to work out at all. If I didn’t feel so much better, I could probably be a slug. But I know that my good health and energy depends on fitting in regular workouts. When the alarm goes off in the morning, I always want to skip my workout. I don’t work out every morning, but I at least walk most mornings. As soon as I think about having to drag myself somewhere to work out after a day at work, I often change my mind. It’s the ‘getting it over with’ that drives me to get up and go in the mornings. I love having a whole evening at home without needing to work out or worse, feeling guilty because I didn’t work out. It feels amazing to have it checked off the list.

I’m up to 11 points for the week. I only have 3 days left, so I have to get 4-5 points every day. I may not meet my goal this week. That day off Monday hurt me. But, that’s okay. It’s the trying that counts. And, who knows, I may get a couple of walks in both weekend days if I feel good and the weather doesn’t get crazy. Worst case scenario, I fall short of points but succeed in getting more workouts in than I would otherwise. I can start over again on Monday!

IMG_0296So, I’m sitting here with Buster kitty on my lap and Ashok next to me on the chaise lounge. I lit some candles and some incense and tuned Pandora to my Enya station. The kitchen is clean. My dressing is made. The dog next door is barking. I am drinking some lovely herbal tea that I bought at my friend’s yoga studio when I was in Memphis. I am a happy camper. My workouts are done, and I can eat our work holiday meal tomorrow without feeling like a slug. Tomorrow is Friday, y’all. I can’t wait until the weekend. I want to chill out a little. It’s been a long, exhausting week. And I actually feel really, really happy right now. Thank you, Master Reindeer. You got me on my game.

Expecting Miracles and Synchronicities … Plugging In

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This hangs above my kitchen door to remind me.

I went out of town this weekend, and I drove past a friend of mine’s exit on the interstate. I drive by there all the time, especially when I was go to and from Memphis. This time, for some reason, I felt compelled to text him and say I was ‘waving hello.’ He texted me right back and asked if I had time to stop on the way back for dinner. It sounded like a great break in a long drive, and, of course, a free home-cooked meal and a visit with him and his sweet wife.

After dinner that night, he said the oddest thing happened the night before when I texted him. He and his wife Pam were talking about this study he’s doing at his church, and he mentioned to her that he really wanted to tell me about it because he thought I’d love it. Russell is one of my blog followers, and he knows I love to study spiritual things. We don’t talk often, and even though we have each other’s phone numbers, we don’t ever text or call each other. Anyway, he and Pam were discussing how he could approach me about sharing this material. All of a sudden he gets a text from me ‘waving hi.’ Pam said his eyes got as big as saucers, and he said “That was God.” When he relayed that to me, I had to laugh because I actually was prompted to text him as opposed to Pam, and I’m not really sure why. I’d never done it before. In fact, the thought crossed my mind once, and I dismissed it as being stupid. But the urging was insistent, so I did it. Voila! It was a synchronicity.

I don’t really believe in coincidences. I’m sure they must happen from time to time, but I think it’s a lot more fun to believe things happen for a reason. I’m in a period where a lot of synchronicities are happening to me. When I feel connected spiritually or ‘in the flow’, I see synchronicities everywhere. They probably happen all the time, but if I’m disconnected, I don’t really notice or appreciate them as much. I believe that God and the spirit world communicate and interact with us all of the time. And it makes me giggle every time – if it doesn’t touch me enough to make me cry – because I take it as a reminder that I’m not doing this alone.

I love my Medicine Cards for that reason. Whether it’s a synchronicity, a message from God or just coincidence, I always get what I need to hear from those cards. A friend of mine mentioned that he thinks they are just so vague they could apply to anybody at anytime. I believe they are purposely universal. But, I believe that God helps me decipher exactly what I need to hear. They say that the Bible is called the Living Word because it is actually a living conduit for communication with God. When I read the words, I comprehend what I need to hear because the words connect God to me individually. Someone else could read the same words and get a different message or get no message at all depending on what they need to hear. I like to think of it as a plug being plugged into an electric socket. Whatever needs to be ‘turned on’ will turn on depending on it’s design. A lamp will do one thing when plugged in, and a stove will do something entirely different. The catalyst is the same.

When I got into recovery, my life was such a mess. I didn’t want to go to those stupid meetings and listen to all that talk several times a week. What kept me coming back was seeing others whose lives had taken significant turns for the better. My sponsor kept telling me, “Don’t leave before the miracle happens.” For some reason, those words were strong enough that I kept coming back for several years. I didn’t want to leave the day before the miracle happened in my life. It wasn’t a single miracle, and, in fact, I don’t know that a whole lot changed except for me. But, one day I realized the miracle had happened. I looked at the world in a whole new way. I saw synchronicities in everything. I saw more meaning in life. Everyday events were powerfully reassuring that I had a greater purpose in this world than I had imagined. My relationships became more meaningful and connected. In fact, my relationships – which were superficial at best – were now powerful spiritual connections that had the power to rock my world almost everyday.

When I talked with Russel and Pam about the study he’s been doing at church, he mentioned my propensity for groups. I love groups because of the synchronicities that happen in them. If I’m talking to God, and he needs to say something to me, there are limited pathways for him to communicate to me if I’m alone. If I’m in a group, he can speak to me through any person in that room. I have had direct answers to prayers through other people’s stories and shares. One time a person in a group spoke totally off-topic and spoke verbatim the message I had prayed for the night before. My mouth fell open when he said that he knew that was off-topic, and he didn’t know why he shared that. I did.

Today, I expect miracles to happen. Of course, on occasion, I expect big, glorious miracles to happen in unexpected ways. But, I mostly expect small miracles and synchronicities to happen all of the time. I want to stay spiritually connected and fit so that I can plug into that stuff when it’s available. Staying connected to me means being connected with people who are spiritually connected. I can also get connected by using spiritual tools like meditation, my Medicine Cards, prayer and spiritual literature as inspiration and play. I’ve seen God in animals in the forest and received gifts and blessings from rainbows and spectacular shows in the sky. Maybe I’m just creative and imagine all of this communication that goes on around me and through me. I don’t care. It’s fun, and it makes me happy. If you ask me, that’s God doing for me what I can’t do for myself. You may not plug in the same ways I do, but I urge you to continue to expect a miracle to happen. Better yet, expect a million miracles. If you look for them, they will find you. Plug in.

Learning From My Little Sweet Potato Fanatic

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Brrr ….. it’s cold!

As soon as I woke up this morning, Ashok ran over to the bed for her morning hug and belly scratch. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night I wake up, she’s totally excited that I’m stirring. And…. she thinks it’s time to get up and have her morning meal and walk. It breaks my heart when I have to tell her to go back to bed. The life of a single person’s dog must be incredibly boring. I often feel guilty about how much time she spends alone waiting for me. And, sadly to say, I do sometimes plan my life around her because I don’t want to leave her alone more than necessary. Today, I’ll drive out to Hammond with her in tow to go to the football game. She can’t go, but she can wait at my friend Gretchen’s house. Just letting her ride with me to and from the game is better than her waiting another 1:45 minutes home alone. It is one of the primary reasons I paid prime real estate prices for a home close to work. I can go home at lunch and let her out for a few minutes. It killed me when I was gone for such long days plus a commute at FedEx.

So, I got up rather shortly after first waking up to take her for her walk. I would have loved to stay in bed for awhile longer, but she was sitting there staring at me with her “I’m ready to go” face.

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We went downtown for a walk, and I was surprised to see that the Farmer’s Market was still open. Everywhere I’ve lived the market closes from November to about March. As much as I complain about the hot weather down here, I guess there are some advantages to long, hot summers and mild winters. I was actually able to buy some field tomatoes from the same vendor where I bought some Opelousas sweet potatoes. I told her that I’d never eaten Opelousas sweet potatoes and that I was fairly new here. However, I informed her, “My sister gets me sweet potatoes from Marksville.” She looked at me with this grimace as if Marksville sweet potatoes tasted like dog doo-doo. “Marksville?” she added, “these are much better than that.” I had to laugh. It was as if there were some sweet potatoes that were nasty and some that were amazing. I think there may be ones that taste better than others, but I’ve had very few really nasty-tasting sweet potatoes. And, I don’t think Ashok has ever found one she didn’t like. I texted my sister and told her the lady at the market said Opelousas sweet potatoes were better than Marksville’s, and she said … well ... how do I put this…. to keep a G-rating on this blog ….. she said she was ‘wrong’.  I guess down here there seems to be fierce regional competition on the orange spuds.

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I don’t really buy much meat, so I usually skip the meat vendors, but I remembered that I’m responsible for cornbread dressing for the company lunch and my family dinner. I thought I’d better get some giblets and chicken for the broth. So, I bought a fairly pricey organic chicken and a bag of hearts and livers. Turn up your nose if you will, but Momma’s cornbread dressing is unbelievable, and she uses the organ meats. Who am I to break with family tradition? I also got some fresh cornmeal since I couldn’t remember what I had at home.

When I arrived at the market, there was a pretty young woman that was selling cannolis, chocolate mousse and hot chocolate. I wanted some hot chocolate, but she said it needed some time to heat. It was homemade and being warmed in a black kettle. Every time I’d walk by, she’d tell me it’d need another 5 minutes. I finally decided to buy some on the way out even if it was lukewarm. I could heat it at home, and I wanted some homemade hot chocolate. I am not disappointed. I’m drinking it now, and it takes like liquid candy. I gave Ashok half of an Opelousas sweet potato, and she came back in the kitchen looking for more. She knew I’d bought a whole box and there were more where that came from. I gave her the other half, and she excitedly ran off with her vegetarian bone.

She’s sleeping beside me now, and I suppose she’s happier than I might think. I know several single friends who have dogs who have the same dilemma. The fact is that we need those dogs as our companions. They keep us company, and they give us something to love on and care for when it seems that no one needs us. My Medicine Cards say that dog medicine is all about loyalty. They will do whatever their master wants them to in order to try to please them. Even if they are abused, they will still remain loyal to their human companion. As a human, I doubt I could even fathom that type of loyalty. Our capability to think and reason gives us the sense to get out of the way. But, my little canine companion seems to be very happy with me. She’ll never really get socialized to other dogs because she is alone, and I worry about that, too. If I could give her the best life a dog could ever have, I would. But, this is what I have to offer, and it is limited.

I can learn a lot from her. It’s the simple things that cause her to jump in the air with all four feet off the floor in excitement. When I talk in a high, sweet animated voice ….. when I say the words ‘walk, run or ride’… when I stir in the mornings …. and when I fill her food bowl…. she responds with unbounded joy. She is most content waiting for me in the car when I’m running errands, looking out the window on a car ride and curled up beside me on my sofa. She’s extremely jealous of my cats and pushes her nose at me when I make room for them. I wish I had her level of contentment with what’s right in front of her. And she’s so smart. Not only are sweet potatoes delicious, but they keep all year long, are highly nutritious and are dirt cheap. Susan’s bringing me a box of Marksville spuds next week. I’ll see if she thinks Opelousas sweet potatoes are better than Marksville’s. My guess is she’ll love whichever one is in front of her.

So, in an attempt to let Ashok be my teacher, I’ll note the simple things that gave me joy this week. I love the little space heater I have in my bathroom. It reminds me of my first Mother-in-Law’s home in Clinton. She had the coziest bathroom heaters in her old house. I’m grateful that I have a canine companion who is so patient. I totally enjoyed lunch with an old friend on Friday. The hot chocolate I had this morning was a very special homemade treat. My cats are like little hot water bottles on a cold night. And, if I’ve never said it, I absolutely love my house. It’s not very well insulated for the cold, but it’s lovely, and it gives me a lot of comfort and joy. Oh yeah… and I am grateful for the cold. I know everybody around here is freezing to death, but I think it’s just right. Lion Up, y’all!!

Don’t Dread Holiday Fatness, Reindeer! Let’s Play!

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Me and Jessica last February having a treat at Cafe du Monde.

For most of my life I dreaded the holidays. Well, I actually dreaded the month of January when I realized what I’d done over the holidays to my body. I followed the popular cycle of binging through the holidays and then trying to lose it in January. It really didn’t work that well, and I usually fell into Valentine’s Day depressed and binging on chocolate just to get through. I’d start the next holiday season at least 5 pounds heavier than I had the previous one. I lied to myself all through the holidays that I was enjoying myself. I’d rarely exercise, make lots of sweets and eat most of them myself and binge at parties and meals. It was a non-stop sugar and fat fest, and I did it religiously. And, I tortured myself even further in January by having to join Weight Watchers and start furiously exercising to undo the damage. When I look at pictures of myself over the years during the holidays, I can remember how fat and tired and discouraged I felt. It was not fun.

I lied to myself. So, the liar and the victim were the same person. Gratefully, when I hunkered down and did the work on my internal hurts, habits and hang-ups, the desire to eat like that left me. I’m not going to say once and for all because I don’t know what the future holds. But, I know that I haven’t had to diet in the last 5 or so years. My weight has stabilized. The holidays are now a few days out of the year where I take time to enjoy family and friends and the reason for the season. My splurges now are going to nice places to see Christmas lights and listening to lovely music. I have no guilt and nothing to be sorry for by my birthday in January. In fact, I feel better than ever after the season is over. And, I have plenty of treats along the way.

My coach Jessica has come up with a plan to give me some additional incentive this year. She’s hosting her first annual Reindeer Games with a virtual option. She lives in Tulsa now, so she has a local clientele. But, she’s also offering a virtual option leveraging social media. What I love about Jessica’s coaching style is she looks at health holistically. The idea of the games is to give points for healthy behaviors. So, she’s giving points for trying new recipes, working out and sharing with others. At the end of the Games, she’ll give out cool prizes like gift cards and even free training. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m definitely in this year. My knee is bothering me, and I’m considering giving up running like I do because I’m sick of being injured. I need something to get me started looking at other options, and this sounds like a great idea. Click here for more information and to register.

Oh, and if you think that the holidays are all about helping others, you can do that, too. Jessica is a bright, young entrepreneur trying to get on her feet. Your contribution will go to a great cause. Her passion is helping people get healthy and live happier, fuller lives. Give the gift of health to yourself and your family this holiday season. It’s only $20 or the price of half-decent dinner. But, hoof it, Reindeer. It starts Monday!

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Morning Rant: Retirement Money

whyretireYesterday I spent some time researching some laws that have an impact on my retirement income – if I ever get to retire. Retirement is probably a fantasy for a lot of us now. My young friend Jessica told me that a lot of her young friends making a good deal of money can’t even make ends meet. Student loans are unbelievably deadly now and approach the price of a home in some cases. I’m afraid her generation may never know the feeling of being debt-free. The laws that are impacting my sanity right now are Social Security laws called the GPO and WEP. They impact public service workers because they offset Social Security benefits. Since I spent a lifetime contributing to Social Security, if I take the pension that I have here, I stand to lose a large portion of my SS benefit. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, and it’s particularly devastating to some spouses of civil service workers who won’t get spousal support because of their situation and people who decided to give back and become teachers or public servants after a long career. And, of course, it mostly impacts those of us in the middle class or lower incomes. I’m lucky. I can make a decision now on what to do about continuing in state employment. Most people don’t find out about it until they try to collect their benefits and walk away with no SS benefits at all.

I was not informed of this impact on my retirement until I signed paperwork on the first day of my job. I had already moved and quit a job. I didn’t have a lot of choice. I’m 53 years old. Now is not the time to start playing with my retirement resources. I’ve been angry and afraid about it on and off. The problem is that it’s a formula, so I don’t know the potential impact. But, if I stay here five years and collect a pension, it will affect me. If I don’t stay here and withdraw my money, my contributions are not being invested for me. The latter seems like the lesser evil, but I have to sit down with a Social Security expert to figure it out. On and off, I try to not think about this because I’ve taken a course of action to move here for this job that is not easy to unravel, but I don’t think it’s wise to bury my head in the sand. I have information, and I have time to make decisions based on it.

If I retire, I probably won’t do it for another 10-12 years. I’m lucky. I have time. There is a bill in the House and Senate right now to repeal this legislation. The weird thing is that it doesn’t impact the entire country. I just happened to choose a state for public service where this is in effect. I could do similar work in many other states and not be impacted at all. So, if you are ever considering changing careers to get back into public service after working in the private sector – or if your spouse does – please be aware. You can get more information on this at this website.

I have several friends who are in financial uncertainty right now. One friend is even considering moving to a foreign country to take a job because it’s so much easier than getting back into the workforce here and the working environment is so much better in her field. What is wrong with this country? Why has money become so hard to come by, and why has the middle class unable to make ends meet? Why have work environments deteriorated into hell-holes? I talked with one of my friends last week who could not even get out of bed for a week because she’s faced with looking for another job. “I just cannot go back to a corporate job,” she said, “and make those awful business relationships.” I’ve come to the same point myself. I know everybody has somebody or something to blame, but I think the problems are very complicated. How have we come to accept working in hell as acceptable? Why, in a civilized society, do we accept horrible working conditions and raping our retired of their incomes just? And don’t even get me started on the pathetic health care system that’s stealing money and sanity from everybody? I’m just ranting. I don’t know the answers. I just know that I’m going to research what foreign countries might be great to live in, too. What the hell? Maybe there’s something saner than this.

So, I let some big things go the other night. I gave my financial future over to God. I let Him have it. I’m sick of it, and I can’t figure it out. I’m going to take steps to do what I need to do, but I can’t keep worrying about it all the time. It is what it is. A friend of mine who is in a financial conundrum said she realized that she’s been making Uncle Sam her Higher Power by focusing all of her decisions on getting some Social Security benefits. That really resonated with me. I’ve been making money and retirement income specifically my Higher Power. I’m not trying to get rich. I’m just trying to get by. But it has been stealing my serenity. So, I’m giving it back to Him to handle. It’s always been His anyway. I just twist myself in knots thinking I can figure out the puzzle.

I have a friend whose aging mother gets very little to live on every month. She’s in her 70s. My friend said her mother is obsessed with finding a man with health benefits. At least I’m not doing that – yet. I’m just obsessed with having a job with health benefits. Is that really what God sent me here on this planet to do? To survive? I’m disappointing Him and myself by not living my life according to my gifts and passions and focusing on where that elusive retirement money is ever going to come from. My brother Terry is my financial planner, and when I mentioned that my money is not being invested, he said, “Well, if the market crashes, you might be glad!” Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. When all is said and done, all I might have is this uninvested money that’s being held by the State of Louisiana. If I’m lucky, they’ll repeal that law and this will be a moot point anyway. The fact is I’ll probably be working until I die, so I’d better have a job I like doing and that makes a difference. Maybe I’ll be surprised and get rich. Or maybe I’ll marry a man – or woman – with health benefits. Or maybe I’ll move to Italy and drink dark coffee and cook lasagne on my farm in Tuscany. Options abound.

The Sanctuary … the Ritual … the Sweet Release

IMG_0208I am cooking some butternut squash and potato soup. I wanted some nutritious comfort food with a bit of spice. I’ve been following my instincts today. I wasn’t feeling well this morning, so I took the day off from work. I did what I could to get myself back in a good frame of body, mind and spirit. I got a great massage at a new place I discovered called the Sanctuary. Tucked behind a scuba shop, the Sanctuary’s sign beckoned me to come back and take a look. It was a little wooden building surrounded by plants, beautifully colored outdoor furniture and a long wrap-around porch. I took a deep breath in as I stepped onto the porch.

I spoke to Jessica earlier in the day. When I got up I knew I needed to do something rejuvenating, so I called several massage therapists. Jessica said she would make time for me. She said, “I could hear in your voice that you really needed it.” As luck would have it, she had time for a 90-minute massage, and I had the funding. She was busy with another customer when I arrived. A beautiful little shop filled with natural cleaners, supplements, health foods, essential oils, jewelry, and books entertained me while I waited. I knew I’d landed in the right place when I saw a couple of rows of essential oil-scented epsom salts. I also spotted a little book on smudging and blessings that I wanted to read.

I had time to look around before she called me into her office which also doubles as her massage space. She pulled down bamboo shades which allowed light to come in while not compromising privacy. Just as I closed my eyes, a lovely, heady scent of essential oils filled my nostrils. She told me it was a blend called Calm. I immediately relaxed as its scent hit my olfactory nerve. She had one of those warming massage tables, and I melted into its warmth and the magic of her expert touch. She corroborated that my neck and shoulders were really tight and went to work on making that disappear. I’m always left wanting more when a one-hour massage ends, but 90 minutes is deliciously perfect. I had not had a massage in over a year, and I really needed it. Budget cuts had done a number on my monthly massage habit after I left Memphis. Massage, along with acupuncture, are the two things that I invest in for my health fairly religiously.

Our business transaction at the end was a bit of a sweet ending. She charged me for an hour massage, and I reminded her that it had been 90 minutes. She was so grateful that I told her, and she offered to just charge me for the hour, but I really felt that I wanted to pay for the service provided since it was so sensational. I purchased some of the epsom salts, and I grabbed the little book on smudging and blessings. She typed in the price on her iPad, and she hesitated. “I want to give you the book,” she said. “Something is telling me that I should, and we listen to those things, you know.” I do know, and I appreciated that she was the kind of person that listens when something inside of her prompts her to do something. I felt a nudge from something supernatural to notice that I was being supported. I noticed.

I sat down to read my book, and I realized why she felt she needed to give it to me. The blessings and rituals are Native American and feature the animal spirits that I use in my Medicine Cards. I told a friend today how my Medicine Cards have been such a blessing to me the last six months. Now, I have some additional ideas to connect me even more to that practice. Thanks, God, for supporting me so beautifully in that.

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One of my cats knocked over a photo in my dining room, and I noticed my God-box sitting there. I used that heart-shaped box for years after my divorce when I wanted to let things go. The ritual of writing my concerns on a piece of paper and putting it in my God-box helped me solidly let go of it and put it into God’s hands. It often took me awhile to get to the point where I wanted to let something go, and sometimes I’d have to let it go several times. But, it was a practice that really helped me. Years later, I pulled those pieces of paper out and realized that all of those worries were indeed history. I’ve got some things I want to put in that box tonight. I’m going to use my little book of rituals and bless the act, and I’m going to let some things go – at least for today.

img_1564Perhaps the release of tension in my shoulders will be the first step in releasing this burden of having to carry the world on my shoulders. The world really doesn’t need to be carried, and I don’t need to be the one to carry it – even if it is my world. I can find sanctuary in places like I did today. I can find sanctuary in God’s love for me and His insistent nudging to remind me that He’s here and looking after all my needs – even the ones that may seem frivolous like little books about smudgings and blessings. I can find sanctuary in my beautiful home with my lovely little animals who seem to adore me. Sanctuary is not always hidden behind a scuba shop nor does it always require an appointment. But, sanctuary does require my waking up and noticing that I need it. I have to reach for it, take action to move toward it and, finally, to rest in it and notice. What a blessed day. They say a cool breeze is about to blow through and move these 80 degree temps into the history books. I have the AC on right now, but, by the the time I wake up, the chill will be on. All I can say is thank you … thank you … thank youI noticed.

Sunday Night Check-In: Football, Sleep and Gratitude

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I’ve continued with sporadic Epsom Salt soaks. I took one this morning after my failed run attempt. I started to run this morning, and in pretty short order, my knee kicked up in pain. I had some pain yesterday when I was doing lunges in the weight room but hoped it was just situational. Looks like it’s going to be a catalyst to slow down my running this week. I ended up walking 6 miles instead of running 8 this AM. It was a gorgeous day, and I decided not to be disappointed in the injury. Injuries come with sports, right? I noticed several of the football players last night being iced, wrapped and otherwise treated for injuries during the game. And Jessica is sidelined right now with a meniscus injury.

The run started well….

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I’m in a better frame of mind altogether since I started soaking in the Epsom Salts. It may be the placebo effect, but so what? If it’s working, it makes me happy. I slept until 7 AM Saturday morning after going to bed at 9 PM. I haven’t slept that late and that good in a long time. This morning I slept until 6:30 and then took a 2 hour nap this afternoon. After I soaked in the salts this morning, I got busy cleaning house, roasting some beets and brussels sprouts for the week ahead and making some of my famous warming ginger tea. I put clean sheets on the bed, looked at it and decided I needed to dive in. I haven’t napped like that since I got off my anti-depressants last year. I don’t want to be that sleepy everyday – which I was on the drugs – but it sure felt good today. I woke up in a happy, relaxed mood and a phone call from my peer at LSU. Seems she was worried about me the last time we met for lunch, and she wanted to check in on me. I saw her the week before the anxiety attack scare, so I guess I must have been in a pretty anxious state. She was relieved to hear that I felt a lot better. So am I.

Famous Ginger Tea – Great for inflammation and warming you up.

Take 1/2 lb. of fresh unpeeled ginger root. Chop into thin slices. Boil for 10 minutes in 1 gallon of water. Turn off heat and add 9 green tea bags (I use decaf since I drink it a lot at night.). Steep for 1 hour. Remove tea and steep ginger for another 3 hours. Makes 1 gallon of delicious tea. I serve with soy milk and honey. Yummy!

Southeastern played yesterday, and I drove over to Hammond for tailgating about noon. The game started at 3 PM, and my friend and former football player Mark cooked an amazing pastalaya. I ate heartily of the spicy dish and then commenced to eat way too much dessert. I left early in the third quarter of the game as it was a runaway. Lions whupped up on ‘em, 76-7. I got home early enough to stop by Trader Joe’s for some whipped cream and milk for cocoa. I’ve never seen the place so empty. It was about time for the LSU-Alabama hearbreaker match–up to begin. A lady in front of me in the check-out (one of the 10 people in the store) was stocking up on booze for the after-party. I don’t imagine it was a very festive occasion after all. But, they probably had plenty of liquid in which to drown their sorrows.

Southeastern Tailgate Party

Trader Joe’s Dismal Saturday Night

One of my girlfriends stopped by unexpectedly and we shared a cup of cocoa and some excellent conversation. She also brought me the eye of newt I’d been looking for. She presented it to me ‘from one witch to another’. I’m thrilled to have the new ingredient so I can cast my spells. It was a great day … great weekend really. The weather was perfect and I made it a point to be really social. I even chatted up the clerk in CVS tonight about Epsom Salts. She said she’s been taking Castor Oil to help her sleep and it works like a charm. I may have to try that old remedy too. It seems all of this old stuff really works. Who needs all those pills when you can spend $5 at the drugstore and get relief?

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I had a chance to clean out my magazine basket and found some old Runner’s World issues from last winter when I was injured that I hadn’t read. I couldn’t bring myself to read about running when I couldn’t run, so I just stashed ‘em. One of them promises a recipe for brownies that won’t make me fat. I don’t know if I buy it. But, I’ll settle in with another cup of cocoa and my magazines to end a great day. One of the things I kept thinking about this weekend is how much I love my little bungalow in Capitol Heights. It’s the perfect size for me and with Pandora playing my yoga music playlist, it’s just as cozy as can be. I am really grateful for that. I can’t think of many of my homes that I didn’t love, but I know that I truly am grateful for this one, my two-minute commute to work, my neighborhood and my proximity to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. My house is girly and feminine, and it’s a place I can curl up and relax. And I’m really, really grateful that when something breaks, I just call Joe and he fixes it for me. I don’t miss being a homeowner at all.

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Y’all have a good week. Do something relaxing and comforting on Monday so that you can look forward to it. My ex and I used to do veg nights on Mondays. We bought pizza or something to bring in and curled up in front of the TV to watch movies and play. Mondays took on a whole new flavor when we had that time together to anticipate.