What If?

What if you began to expect the best from any situation? Isn’t it possible that you could write new chapters in your life with happy endings? Suspend your disbelief? Take a leap of faith? After all, what have you got to lose but misery and lack?” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

At a recent weight-management meeting, members discussed how they successfully eat pizza. I had eaten pizza the previous day, but not successfully. I ate until I was full, then a fresh cheese pizza arrived, and I ate more. What was I thinking? I kept my eyes down and berated myself.

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After the meeting, a friendly woman told me she’d read my blog for the first time and thought it was gentle and encouraging. She mentioned a recent post, in which I said, “Take baby steps. If you can only walk a block, do that. Next time, walk a little farther.”

I felt better after talking with her and thought, “What if I were as gentle to myself as I am to others?”

I’m taking an online class and one assignment was to take a picture of some chaos in our lives, then look for inspiration in it. I took a picture of the mess on my counter and in my side pantry, and commented “Not much about this is inspiring.” But the instructor wrote: “To me what’s inspiring is the potential in the cookbooks, maybe even some of the stories that go along with them. The counter top shows life in motion and that’s inspiring.”

This reminded me again that I could be nicer to myself. I sat down with a cup of tea and looked again for inspiration among my chaos. My counter held a journal and books for another class I’m taking on Benedictine spirituality. There was a get-well card for a friend and a magazine on current events. Yes, my various interests could be inspirational—they inspire me.

The unknown used to be really scary, just that fear of, ‘What’s next? What if I’m not prepared?’ I just don’t feel that way anymore. I feel like the best is yet to come.” – Mandy Moore

In my last blog post, I mentioned I’d be training for my second half-marathon. The night before the race, I was anxious. What if I hadn’t trained adequately? What if I wasn’t dressed for the weather and was too hot or too cold? I sat down to reread pep talks from last year’s training. The leader suggested we enjoy each mile, remember we had trained, and have fun. I put the race in God’s hands and asked for His help.

The race went well for me. The scenery was pretty, the weather was perfect, and there were many spectators. My two daughters, my sister, and my husband were there to cheer me on, which gave me a boost. I finished more than seven minutes faster than last year. Many people congratulated me, which added to my excitement.

getting near the finish IMG_0033

Getting near the finish—that’s me in the white visor

I journaled about the race and the phrase “What if” popped up again. “What if I give into this current excitement and let myself feel passion for running?” “What if I train to do the Turkey Trot faster in November?” “What if I allow myself to become a better runner?”

There are many role models in my fun run club. What if I look for role models in other areas of my life? What if I remember to be a role model?

And what if I were to enjoy and feel excitement in other areas of my life—like writing?

Do your “What if” questions lead to worry and anxiety?Are there more positive “What if” questions you could ask yourself?

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Posted in faith, God, Motivation, Running, Self-compassion, Stress, Weight | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

My Way

I know what’s best for me, and I want to do things my way. So, now I listen to my inner voice and my heart – and that’s how I make my decisions.” – Nina Hagen

It happened again. I intended to run consistently through the winter to establish a fitness base before training for a half-marathon. But I didn’t succeed with that intention.

Run from Haiti

A winter runner

There were reasons for this (and to be fair to myself, I did run and walk occasionally.) I had a heavy cold and sinus infection early this year that lasted about a month. My leg muscles were tight and I had blisters on my toes from walking a couple of miles one evening in unsuitable shoes. We’ve had a rough winter here in the Chicago area with lots of snow, slippery running surfaces, and cold. And I’ve been focused on other issues lately.

I do want to run the half marathon, which is on April 22. Integrity is important to me, and I paid for the race with the goal of running it ten minutes faster than last year. Training for it will help me get more fit. But if I want to run well, it is time I stop making excuses and start training in earnest.

So I thought about how I wanted to train for the race. Last year, I ran with a 1/2-marathon training group. I joined a pace group for interval running: 8-minutes running, 2-minutes walking, which may have been too strenuous for me. My legs were constantly knotted up, and I think shorter intervals would be better. So I decided to do the training my way this year, rather than join that group.

Doing things my way doesn’t mean starting from scratch. It’s always good to learn from the experts. I pulled out the training plan from last year and adapted it.

A few years ago I ran with a group coached by “Ironman Bob,” who I wrote about hereHe emphasized the importance of warmups, cooldowns and stretching to avoid injury. Warmups and cooldowns are simply walking before and after a long run. These will be a regular part of my training.

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The first milestone was to run six miles. I did the run alone last Saturday, using intervals of 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking. I liked that interval but realized I need to run a little faster or shorten the walking interval to meet my goals for time. Music on my MP-3 player and a picturesque route made the running pleasant.

I will supplement solitary running by running with my fun run club sometimes. People in the group train for different distances and at different paces, but one member is doing the same half-marathon, and she runs a similar pace. We plan to do some runs together. This morning I walked five miles with two other women from the club. Walking is time on my legs, and I consider it to be good training.

Recently I lost a few pounds, which should help my running, and I want to lose a few more. This would be a win-win situation: Losing pounds will benefit my running, and running should help me lose a few pounds.

So what about you? Maybe you’re not a runner, and talk of running isn’t of interest to you. But I hope you’re walking or getting other exercise. What is your best way to do this?

And I hope you’re doing things your way in other areas of your life as well. The tag line for this blog is “Be a Leader in Your Own Life.” If you’re not doing things your way, whose life are you leading?

What are your goals, why do you want to meet them, and what is your plan for getting there?

When have you found your own way?

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Discipline for Reaching Goals

Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift. There is nothing small in it. For the greatest things grow by God’s law out of the smallest. But to live your life you must discipline it. You must not fritter it away.” – Florence Nightingale

My friend Georgia and I met recently for lunch and what we call a “mall crawl.” We walked around and around an indoor mall on a cold winter day for exercise and friendship. I mentioned that I was having trouble coming up with a topic for my next blog post, and Georgia suggested Discipline. I was reluctant at first because I’m not very good at discipline. But I’m willing to share my struggles.

I’ve written about various aspects of discipline before. But this topic seems important enough to have the links to these posts in one spot. For discipline, we need to:

These ideas provide a plan of sorts for being disciplined about our goals. But perhaps we haven’t discussed the most important piece, articulating why we want to accomplish them. That can help us achieve them.

I’ve been going to weight management meetings for several years, which has helped me maintain my weight. My weight goes up one week, down the next. Unfortunately, I still want to lose about eight pounds, not just maintain. At a recent meeting, we talked about the need to revisit why we want to lose weight. I realized my reasons weren’t strong enough. One reason was for better health. Well, even my doctor said I’m close enough! Another reason was to be active as I age so I can do things like travel. Again, I’m fine weightwise for that. I still need to develop my arm strength, but that’s a different goal.

No, my current reasons are so I can quit paying the monthly fee and so I can fit in the too-small jeans in my closet. After I nailed this down, I lost three pounds in one week and feel motivated to continue.

My most recent vision board

My most recent vision board

Once we’ve decided on our goals, we need to keep them visible. List your goal with your reasons or create a vision board with pictures of your goals. Post your goals or vision board where you will see it. One year I created a vision board of places I wanted to go, mostly in Europe. At the time, my husband preferred to travel inside the United States, but our first trip came about almost effortlessly. Our daughter had a college semester in Spain, so we visited her and continued on to France. That made it easier for us to go to Italy three years later. I’m not saying a vision board is magic, but keeping our goals visible can help us reach them.

After thinking about discipline, I realize I do succeed in some areas. I’ve been writing this blog for 5 ½ years and I’ve been serving as a church librarian for 5 years. Neither of these has a financial reward. I enjoy doing both and think they are worthwhile, which helps me be disciplined.

In what areas do you struggle with discipline? And in what areas do you succeed?

Do any of the above steps resonate with you? Please share your own ideas about discipline.

Posted in Discipline, Goals, Leading Ourselves, Weight | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Our Best Intentions

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” – Beverly Sills

When someone is going through trauma, I often say, “Take care of yourself during this traumatic time.” I wrote a blog post on this topic here. But what about good times, such as preparing for the holidays? This can be stressful too. I overdid things this past Advent and forgot my own advice about self-care.

Advent wreath for blog on our best intentions

My intentions were good. I wanted to prepare spiritually for Christmas by following an Advent program, and I wanted to make Christmas a fun time for family, friends, and myself. Advent was short this year and life got in the way, so I only did about a third of the spiritual prep I’d planned.

My husband and I hosted two events for Christmas, one on December 22 and one on Christmas Day. We also made sixty cheese blintzes for a family party on Christmas Eve. Add in two church services and my worry about a health issue with my husband, and that was a hectic week during a very busy month. I’m glad we hosted the two events, because they were a lot of fun. But I didn’t run, walk, go to the arboretum, or write in my journal. And I overate, especially sweets.

By the time evening rolled around on Christmas Day, I had a headache and was exhausted. I could not seem to stop myself from being irritable and impatient. That is not how I wanted to be. My best intentions had gone awry.

On the day after Christmas, I took time to reflect on the holiday. I was relieved it was over, instead of feeling joyful, which is how I’d intended to feel after Christmas. Clearly, I had overdone preparations. I tried to do a lot ahead of time (like baking cookies and freezing them), but I made way too many cookies. We had many leftovers after both events, even after sending food home with our guests. I believe in eating in moderation, and this blog encourages healthy eating. So what was I thinking when I make five kinds of cookies, along with other desserts? I did have help at both dinners, but I overdid my part. Next year, I will keep it simpler.

This taught me how critical self-care is even during good times. In hindsight, I need to pay attention to what I’m doing and what I’m eating, even when I’m busy. I need to relax and get fresh air. And I need to do that spiritual preparation. In future, I need to get exercise even, or especially, when I’m busy. Yes, even during Christmas week.

happy new year 2018

I then took some quiet time to think about the new year and how I want it to be. For 2017, I had picked a “one word” to focus on, and I set resolutions. It is ironic that my “one word” was self-care. I don’t regret picking that to focus on. Even though I lost track of it by December, I had some success. My weight stayed stable this year, and I ran a half-marathon race. Except for December, I walked and ran frequently. Also I succeeded at some of my New Year’s resolutions. For example, “Take fun vacations and be fit enough to enjoy them fully.”

Even when we fail at our intentions, it is worth setting them. We will succeed at some, and we can learn from others. If we fail, we can apologize to ourselves and to others and move on, resolving to do better next time.

I wish for you a happy, healthy, and rewarding New Year!

What do you intend to make happen in 2018? How will you make 2018 a great year?

 

Posted in Holidays, Intentional Living, self-care | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Aging Gracefully

You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here?” – Goldie Hawn

My family ran our annual Turkey Trot 5K race on Thanksgiving morning. Although I did not have a spectacular time (39:03), I placed 32 out of 116 in my age group. This is almost the top quarter. I was thrilled when I saw this and posted on Facebook, “If you’re a so-so runner like me, stay with it. All you have to do is get older.”

all ages run the Naperville Turkey Trot - 2013 photo by Chuck Koch

All ages run the Naperville Turkey Trot – 2013 photo by Chuck Koch

My sister-in-law, Maria, runs much faster than I do and has run several marathons. Her response to my post was, “Awesome, Sue. As we age gracefully, so our competitors lessen and our hard work pays off.” I am not even close to Maria’s level of fitness, and to hear her say “we” are aging gracefully was the highlight of my day.

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought much about that concept, but I sure thought about it that day. What does it mean to age gracefully? No matter whether you are 20 or 90 years old, you are aging. Probably aging gracefully means something different to you than it does to me.

Partly what it means to me is making an effort to stay in good health as I age. Three years ago, I had a bone density scan that showed osteopenia (low bone density). My Mom and Grandma both had back issues, and I hope not to have chronic back pain like they did. I have taken calcium since becoming an adult, but after that scan, the doctor said my supplement should include minerals. She also advised regular exercise. I recently had another bone density scan, and my bone density is now normal. By being proactive, I have strengthened my bones.

This good news made me determined to continue to work toward aging gracefully. There are still things I need to do to succeed.

* Keep my weight at a healthy level.

* Enjoy life. This includes continued effort to deal better with anxiety, which is a recurring issue for me. I don’t want to be anxious as I age.

* Keep serving as librarian at my church. Keep writing. I want to use my talents.

* Stay with my fun run club. I find role models there who keep me exercising.

Below is a picture of one of my role models for fitness, Muriel. In this photo, we are getting ready to run at a nearby park.

Muriel and I at knoch knolls photo 2 pic 8-2017

Muriel, left, and I at Knoch Knolls park

Muriel often schedules and leads fun runs during the day, which helps to keep me running. It is sometimes a challenge to keep up with her. Last April, she ran the Naperville Women’s half marathon 16 minutes faster than I did, placing 2nd in her age group. Muriel will turn 75 in mid December. She is an inspiration to me and to others in our running group. I am grateful for her friendship.

What does aging gracefully mean to you? What will you do or stop doing in order to age gracefully? Who are your role models?

Posted in exercise, Healthy living, Inspiration, Proactive, Running | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Noticing and Appreciating Nature–and Life

There’s so much to appreciate about my life every single day, and I make a big point of taking time to smell the roses and notice how lucky I am. I never want to take that for granted.” – Josie Maran

Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting.” – Shauna Niequist

I’d been inside most of the day, volunteering at the church library and then using my home computer. I had only been outside to walk to my car. This is easy to do, isn’t it? We get caught up at work or caught up with projects and soon, the day is gone. This particular day, I felt I’d eaten too much, and I hadn’t gotten any exercise. It was getting dark, and I knew I had to move now or it wouldn’t happen. Overcoming some resistance, I went outside.

I walked in my neighborhood with a million thoughts in my head. Suddenly, I realized I’d passed my favorite area without noticing. I had walked mindlessly across the bridge by a man-made lake in our subdivision.

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picture of woman on a bench by the lake IMG_2763I wonder how often we do this? How often do we go through our days without enjoying nature and without noticing the beauty around us?

I decided to retrace my steps and to make sure to notice the area this time. It was a beautiful fall day. The temperature was comfortable with a slight breeze. Leaves crunched under my feet. Geese were strutting about and squawking. One of them was eight feet from me—he didn’t seem to mind my presence.

I went home with my spirits lifted, thankful for the beauty I’d found by a retention pond in our ordinary suburb. I hope the pictures from my smart phone show a bit of the beauty.

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picture of goose IMG_2765

picture of the creek IMG_2762This time of year, it is easy to be sedentary. The days are getting cooler, with less daylight. We want to be comfortable, and comfort is good. But too much comfort can make us sedentary. Then it takes more effort to move, and we become even more sedentary. This is an unhealthy cycle.

Let’s you and I choose a better way. Let’s make an effort to leave our comfortable homes sometimes, go outside, and move our bodies. And notice what’s around us.

The days go by too fast. If we pay attention to the hours and days, we will appreciate our lives.

What do you need to notice and appreciate? What beauty do you see in your neighborhood?

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Facing Our Fears

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

In September, I was fortunate to travel out west with my husband Ken. His sister Mary was vacationing in Missoula, Montana for a month, so we started our adventure there. My husband loves going to the mountains. I am less enthusiastic. I fear driving on mountain roads without guard rails and walking on trails that overlook deep drops. Before we went, I told him, “I don’t want to be on the edge of cliffs!” And he respected that. Throughout our trip, we chose paths with lower elevations—maybe a 200-foot rise. Yes, I was within 3 feet of an edge at times, but never closer than that.

What I hadn’t reckoned with was my fear of bears. We hiked in Missoula at Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. Mary had seen a black bear there the week before. “I looked at him, he looked at me, and he walked away.” OK, I could deal with that. We, after all, had three people in our group and made more noise when we hiked. Bears would probably stay away when they heard us.

But when we got to Glacier National Parks, I started seeing these signs:

clear sign about grizzlies

Sign at Glacier National Park

The sign says “Entering Grizzly Country” and warns hikers to carry bear spray and not hike alone. We did not have bear spray—it’s expensive and you can’t bring it home on an airplane. Also the day was breezy. Maybe I’d end up spraying myself instead of the bear. With a little persuasion, I hiked with Mary and Ken in two of these “high frequency bear” areas that first day.

glacier national park pic 1 for blog DSCN9165

Glacier National Park – Photo by Ken Ekins

But that night, I could hardly sleep, picturing myself turning a corner and surprising a grizzly. The next morning, I laid down the law, “I am NOT going in any of these high-frequency bear areas! You two can go—leave me in the car and I will happily read.”

That didn’t last long. The bear-warning signs seemed to be everywhere, even posted on short hikes along a lake. So I went in three high-frequency bear areas that next day. Mary and Ken let me take the middle spot most of the time. We figured a bear would be more likely to attack the first person or the last.

glacier national park pic 2 for blog

Hiking behind Mary at Glacier National Park – Photo by Ken Ekins

But I had anxiety and insomnia until we left the mountains several days later.

I don’t know what makes some of us more fearful than others. Neither Mary nor Ken was afraid of heights or bears. And my friend Julie had recently gone to Zion National Park. She climbed up a very steep path, two feet wide, with drop offs on both sides and only a chain to hold onto—and she described her trip as “very relaxing.”

We’re all different. I remember as a kid, driving with my family on mountain roads without guardrails, and my Mom covering her face with a hat. Maybe I developed my fear of heights from her anxiety during such experiences.

We all have different tolerances for fear depending on our histories, and that’s OK. But we can’t be afraid to live. I know people who are afraid to leave their homes. One friend suffers from chronic pain and seldom goes out. I asked her if she goes outside in her yard for fresh air. No, she doesn’t. An acquaintance doesn’t walk, even around the block—she is “more comfortable” at home.

We need to make our own decisions about what fears to confront and what risks to take. I did have options during the trip. I could have been more assertive and refused to enter areas with warning signs about bears. I could have insisted we buy bear spray. However, although we did see a couple of bears from the safety of our car, we never did see any bears as we hiked.

I am not recommending anyone take life-threatening risks. That is not a healthy way to live. But Glacier National Park says this, “Just to keep things in perspective, bear encounters are very rare. Consider that roughly two million people visit Glacier each year, and more than one million venture into the back country. On average, there are only one or two non-lethal bear incidents in a given year. And there have only been 10 bear related fatalities in the history of the park. Only three of those fatalities involved hikers, and at least two of those were solo hikers.” The risk I took was slight.

I am glad I confronted my fears and hiked in the beautiful parks out west. If I had given in to my fears, I would have missed seeing stunning scenery and experiencing fun times with Ken and his sister.

bison pic in front of old faithful

Bison in front of Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park – photo by Ken Ekins

What are you afraid of? Are your fears reasonable? Have you faced any fears recently?

Posted in Challenges, Healthy living, Nature, Proactive | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments