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.

picture of the bridge by the lake IMG_2759

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.

picture of the lake IMG_2755

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?

Posted in Beauty, Nature, Proactive | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

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

Celebrate and Enjoy Life

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” – Oprah Winfrey

If you’re lucky enough to be alive, you should use each birthday to celebrate what your life is about.” – Mary Steenburgen

Each year, my husband Ken and I host Easter and a couple of Marriage Encounter meetings. That’s about all the entertaining we do. But this year we both turn 60, and we decided to throw a party. We are in good health. We’re blessed with beautiful grown children and the ability to travel. Life is good. Why not celebrate?

For a few weeks, the party was our top priority. We spruced up the house and yard and arranged for a tent and for a caterer to bring dinner. We bought decorations and party goods. I made desserts ahead of time, froze them, and picked recipes for appetizers.

I had some anxiety, as I often do. I worried about who to invite—we couldn’t invite everyone we knew. Where would we put everyone if there was a thunderstorm? We’ve lived in the area for decades and are blessed with a lot of family and friends. I was also stressed because we sent out invitations by email, and several people said they never received them. I laid awake at nights worrying.

Then Ken showed me a photo album he had created of our 40th birthday party. So many of our guests at that party are now deceased—all four of our parents and some close friends. Other friends and relatives have moved far away, and we rarely see them. This put the party into perspective. We would celebrate no matter what and enjoy the people who came. I put the party in God’s hands and relaxed.

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We held our party on a beautiful evening in August, and it was nice to see so many friends at a happy event. Ken and I had a lot of fun and were glad we did it.

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Daughter Mel, my sister Mary, daughter Katie, son Jim, me, Ken, my sister Nancy


for sue's blog photo under tent DSCN9056

A couple of other recent incidents helped cement my resolve to enjoy life while I can. An older friend, Carol, passed away a couple of years ago, and her husband recently moved to assisted living. The family held an estate sale. Carol was a great cook and owned a tea shop for many years. I looked at her knick knacks, kitchen goods, and cookbooks priced at 25 cents, and thought, “Is this what life is reduced to when you’re gone? People haggling over your treasures?” This was true when my parents passed away too. We put many of their goods out to the curb when the town had a free pickup day.

But no, the stuff left behind is not all that’s left. What’s left behind, the real treasure, is the love our dear ones had for us and the love we had for them. At the sale, Carol’s daughter had tears in her eyes when we spoke of her mother. And so, when I wear Carol’s scarves and look through her cookbooks, I will think of her smile and how nice she was to me and to everyone. I will remember seeing her at parties, celebrating.

I often run a route along a river with a friend, Kristin. Most days, we see a woman with a rolling walker who struggles to take each step. We run past her with a cheery “Good morning!” I have often remarked that she is a good role model, because walking is difficult for her, yet she keeps at it.

The other day, Kristin spoke with the woman after our run. The woman struggles to speak. She is 80 years old and had a stroke two years ago. She has been working hard to walk and straighten out her arm. She said, “You never know when something might happen. Never give up.”

What inspiring words for us! What inspiration to enjoy our lives now. Run while we can, walk while we can, speak while we can. Celebrate while we can.

What have you celebrated recently? How are you enjoying your life?

Posted in Celebrate, Friendship, Inspiration, Proactive, Running | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Good Enough versus Perfect

Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance.” – Brene Brown

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” – Julia Cameron

I seem to have problems making decisions lately. Even picking a topic for this blog post was difficult. Some of the ideas I had were on subjects I’ve written about recently, like attitude. Or people would know who I meant if I discussed a certain situation. Or . . . .

I couldn’t come up with the perfect topic. However, I’ve made a commitment to write a blog post each month, and this is July 31. I had to tone down my perfectionism and pick a topic that was “good enough.”

In thinking about lessons I’ve learned this month, I realized that word “perfectionism” applies to several of them:

  • My close friend Georgia and I were meeting for lunch and a walk along a river close to where I live. I spent well over an hour trying to pick a restaurant and came up with a list of ten. Even I realized that was a little crazy. Couldn’t we just walk around and see what looked good? Or I could have brought three options. Instead, I had to find the Perfect Place, and if I couldn’t do that, I had to provide several great options.
  • On Saturday afternoon, I went for a run at a forest preserve. The day was warm and the path was not shaded. I walked as much as I ran. I thought, “What is wrong with me? Can’t I motivate myself to run when I’m alone?” But later, I realized this was a back-to-back run—I had run four miles the day before, and on this day, I walked/ran for 3.3 miles. That was nothing to scoff at. It’s being active. I mentioned this incident to a runner-friend and she said, “You ran on that hot afternoon? Wow, you are motivating.” I was grateful for her perspective.
  • My husband and I have been to many concerts this summer, along with a picnic and potlucks. We are making the most of this season. Often, I pack up food to bring to these events. Unless I pick standbys like brownies or fruit salad, I pore over cookbooks deliberating over what to bring. “I’m missing a protein, like chicken. But how do I keep it at the right temperature? And will people like what I bring?” I spend too much time fussing over the food.

And that is the problem with trying to make things perfect. It takes up too much of our time and attention and prevents us from getting things done. Besides, it is stressful. It is better to admit we’re not perfect. We don’t know everything. We make mistakes. And that is OK. It is part of being human.

I hope my reflecting on lessons I’ve learned doesn’t imply that you should be hard on yourself, like I used to be. I’ve always been analytical, and my goal is to learn from my mistakes and to share my lessons learned with you—not to beat myself up. Nowadays, I view my faulty self with more compassion that I used to. I may not be perfect, but I am good enough.

In what ways has perfectionism affected your life? Are you able to view your faults with compassion? What lessons have you learned recently?

Posted in Perfectionism | Tagged | 8 Comments

Adjusting our Attitudes

Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, faultfinding, and a negative, judgmental attitude.”  Joyce Meyer

In last month’s blog post, we talked about enjoying our lives and appreciating moments of happiness. Sometimes our own attitudes keep us from being happy.

I have rather an ironic example. I’m in a book club in which we read and discuss books for self-improvement. We met a few months ago to discuss the first few chapters of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The book describes Ms. Rubin’s yearlong quest to become more happy.

Regrettably, I read the first couple of chapters with a chip on my shoulder. I thought, “This woman is a former lawyer, a published author, in a good marriage with a lawyer husband and two kids. She lives in Manhattan. Why is she not happy enough?”

That chip on my shoulder is especially ironic when you consider that her way of thinking is consistent with the Women Making Strides theme. “A woman who makes strides appreciates being alive and takes active steps to care for her body, mind, and spirit. She accepts challenges along her path and uses her God-given talents to better the world.” I encourage everyone to be the best they can be. That includes happiness.

At the book club meeting, it was obvious everyone had loved the book. We talked about deriving our own personal commandments; for example, Ms. Rubin’s “Act the way I want to feel.” We talked about decluttering as a way to happiness. And what about asking for help instead of being overworked?

I left that evening having resolved to reread those chapters without the chip on my shoulder. Would I enjoy the book more if I read it with a better attitude? I also decided to purchase a copy rather than read a copy from the library. This way I could highlight what I thought was important.

I’ve read through chapter six and attended a second book club meeting based on the book. And guess what? I’m amazed at the wisdom it contains. I find the concept exciting and life-enriching. Think about what makes you happy and what makes you feel bad. Use this information to create resolutions that will help you feel more happy. Keep track of how you do, and periodically check whether you are happier. Genius!

I no longer begrudge Ms. Rubin for seemingly having it all together. After all, who better to teach about happiness than someone who is happy? She comments, “I have such a good life, I want to appreciate it more—and live up to it better.” She also says, “Working on my happiness wouldn’t just make me happier, it would boost the happiness of the people around me.”

Recently I noticed another example of an attitude affecting happiness. My husband and I went to hear music at an outdoor venue. We loved the music and thought the band members were very talented. All four played one or two instruments, and they took turns being lead vocals. After awhile, we saw a couple we know, and the woman said, “This band doesn’t light our fire. We’re leaving.”

For a moment, I almost let that negative comment affect my mood. I thought, “I guess the band did play some songs I didn’t know. . . .” But I decided to ignore the comment and continue to enjoy the music. The couple looked tired that evening, and maybe that affected their enjoyment. I didn’t need to let it affect mine.

I will close by recommending you design your own happiness project. I am doing this also. And I know just the book to help us do that—The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

What keeps you from being as happy as possible? If you’ve read The Happiness Project, please share your thoughts about the book.

Posted in Attitude, Happiness, positive-thinking | Tagged , , | 5 Comments