Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Live Life on Your Own Terms

A few weeks ago I had an unpleasent encounter with a lady at the grocery store; the one who remarked, "You forgot to grow."  Recently, on a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, I was admiring some artwork in the hallway at the visitor's center when a man greeted me with a nod and smile as he walked by.  A minute later he returned and gently placed his hand on my shoulder.

"I had to come back and tell you . . .  you have had many struggles, right?" he asked and I nodded, a little wary but not much.  "But you don't let it stop you."  Then his voice cracked and he broke down.  "I think that's great."  Then he walked away.

On the one hand it was awesome that he noticed that it is very hard sometimes to explore the world, put a smile on my face and join in on outings and activities even though I'm tired,  or go out hiking when I've got these short legs and balance issues while my husband, Jim, and our exchange student, Naja, have long legs and an easier time of it.  The elevation at Bryce is a killer for me.  I get so out of breath up there, and not just from the breath-taking views!  I appreciate when people notice that I'm there, I'm trying, I'm doing.

On the other hand, it feels weird sometimes to be singled out as special.  "Oh, you're so brave." "You've got such guts."  You don't let anything stop you."  "You do so well despite your challenges."  I'd love it if they would just smile and say hi sometimes and leave it at that.  It would be nice to be treated like anyone else.

But the fact is, I do have issues.  I do need help on the hills and narrow paths when I explore.  If I didn't get help, I may possible trip on the slightest blip on the path and go tumbling down a mountainside, whereas others would be able to rebound and recover, or may not even notice that blip in their path at all. 

We each have our own path to take in life.  It is important to choose the one that suits us best as individuals rather than going along with the crowd.  Accept and decline help graciously when appropriate.  Follow your own path; don't let others choose it for you due to their own stereotypes or limited views, or even those who think, heck, you can do anything and convince you that you should try death-defying feats.  Listen to your gut.  Live your life on your own terms.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

You Forgot to Grow

I'm back after a bit of a break.  We welcomed Naja, a Danish high school student we are hosting this school year, on August 4, so we took some time off to get acquainted and show her around the area a bit.  We braved the Grand Canyon in the pouring rain, although the sun came out long enough for us to enjoy our picnic lunch outside under a canopy of pine trees.  Checked out a bit of Zion National Park, as well as the desert landscape of neighboring Nevada and Arizona.  Went to a birthday BBQ over the weekend, and, of course, ate a bit of  ice cream too.  :-)    We have so many ice cream places in our area!  The first year we were here (2007), we tried every single one of them to see which were our favorites.  Yum.  :-)  Naja also made us a delicious Danish meal last night.  

It's been a busy, fun week.  She is a lovely girl.  We have had a very nice time.  I think this will be a great adventure for us all.

Now, on to the subject of today's post...

Earlier in the week, Jim and I were at the grocery store, when a lady came up to me and joked, "You forgot to grow!  Bet you have never heard that before."

I was a bit confused at first, but then laughed it off.  I've been laughing this type of comment off for decades.

But it bugged me.  It hit me the wrong way.   Yes, I am short.  I get it.  But, come on folks, yes I've heard it before.  Many times.  You know I must have.  Sooo....

Cut it out!

It's not cute anymore.  It's not funny. 

I am who I am.  This woman is who she is.  Enough said.  Leave it alone and move on.

I'll probably keep laughing it off, being a good sport.  But my message to you is, be sensitive to others.  Chances are, if someone is short, they have already heard every short joke in the book.  Same for tall folks, heavy foks, people with big noses, bushy beards, unique gaits or birth marks, unusual accents or first or last names, and so on.  If they bring the subject up, okay, fine.  But leave it alone otherwise, especially if you don't know the person well.  

Is there something that people are always bringing up to you; that they won't let die? Something that you're tired of?  If so, how do you handle it?  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Memory of a Thunderstorm

My reaction to Florida thunderstorm--August 21, 1993.
Originally from a video.  Sorry about the poor quality.
Ever since I can remember, I have not liked thunderstorms.  No, let me rephrase that.  I have always been petrified of thunderstorms.  When I was a kid, I laid on the couch with my head covered in pillows whenever a thunderstorm came along.  Even with a house full of people all around me!  

My most harrowing experience with a thunderstorm came when we lived in Orlando, Florida in the early 1990s.  Jim and I decided to take a walk at one of our favorite nature centers (Osceola County Schools).  It was near Kissimmee.  There were boardwalks meadering through lush tropical vegetation.  By the time we got there, the clouds in the sky were that bluish grey that always means trouble is coming.  I even heard a rumble of thunder in the distance.  But Jim convinced me we had time for a walk.

Ha!  We got halfway down the path when the heavens open up.  The rain poured down and the thunder was deafening.  I totally panicked.  I wanted to turn around, but Jim said it was too far to walk back to the car.  We'd have to find some sort of shelter where we could wait out the storm.

We came across a covered overlook by a pond.  No sides, just a roof and support beams.  Oh lovely.  And we were right on the water, one of the worst places to be in the thunderstorm.

I sat on a bench there, covering my ears and praying that I wouldn't be hit by lightning, while Jim delighted in taking videos of the storm.  Jim loves thunderstorms.  He finds them fascinating. not.  I find them dangerous and frightening.  Whenever there is even a hint of a storm on the horizon, my heart pounds, I start sweating, I unplug electrical appliances, shut windows, and run for cover.  Well, I couldn't do that out in the middle of the park.  So, I just sat there with my eyes closed and feared the worst.  

The rain pelted the usually serene pond, as the wind howled through the trees, and the thunder reverberated off the roof overhead.  Lightning bolts hit all around us.  I was in hell.  I willed the storm to stop, just stop, but it went on for at least an hour. 

And we survived it.  Ahhh!  Relief!

I got my fear of thunderstorms from my dad.  As he was milking cows in the barn on the family farm as a youngster, the barn was hit by lightning, electrocuting the cow he was tending to at the time.  The cow fell on top of him.  For the rest of his life, my dad was also petrified of thunderstorms.  He was a workaholic, but he would not milk the cows if it was storming.  Everyone stayed safely in the house until the storm blew over.

I've gotten better at dealing with storms over the years.  I still do not like them one bit, but I no longer cover my head with pillows at the first sign of a "thunder boomer."  I go about my business, for the most part, but stay inside.  Jim heads for the windows, and sometimes outside, to check out the sky, the clouds, the wonder of the storm.

Thunderstorms are a part of life during the spring and summer months.  We just have to deal with them.  Don't let them take the fun out of life.  If thunderstorms leave you paralyzed with fear, you might want seek help from a qualified professional to get some relief.  

So, do you love thunderstorms or hate them?  Do you spend time worrying about them or looking forward to them all winter?  Have you ever gotten caught in one?  I'd love to hear about your adventure.     

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Benefits of Volunteering

Jim and I have done a lot of volunteer work over the years, usually at animal shelters (cleaning the cat rooms and socializing with the kitties mostly).  We've also helped out at area sporting events such as bike races and triathalons.  We enjoy volunteering during the holiday season, too, shopping for toys then wrapping them.  

We took a long break from volunteering when Jim's mother died in late 2013.  Our hearts just weren't in it anymore.  We needed a break.  We also came to the realization that we were spending more time at the animal shelters than we were with our own pets who came from shelters.  That's not right.  There needs to be a balance.  We had to regroup.   Our latest volunteer adventure will be hosting a high school exchange student for the school year.  We are beyond excited about this and can't wait to begin. 

You may think your life is too crazy-busy to possibly allow for volunteer time.  But volunteering provides significant benefits, and is definitely worth looking into.   Many organizations rely on volunteers to provide valuable services that would otherwise be done by paid employees.  Friends and neighbors can benefit  from an offer of a helping hand as well.  But they're not the only ones who reap rewards from volunteering. Volunteers benefit greatly from the experience, in mind, body, and spirit.  I'll mention just a fraction of the ways volunteering your time can put you at an advantage.  Here we go.

1.  New skills:  From bookkeeping and computer operation to carpentry and customer service, volunteering has the potential to provide you with opportunities to learn a variety of new skills.  This can not only potentially help you in your current job, but also in discovering a new hobby or a new career.

2.  More time:  Okay, you're probably thinking, "No way!"  But once you start volunteering, you may get the feeling that you're spending your time in a more valuable, productive way, instead of wasting it in front of the TV or on the Internet.  So, you start looking out for more ways to help within your community. Years ago, I interviewed a lady for an article on pillars of the commuity.  She said that if you want something done, ask a busy person who is active in their community.  They will take on more, while others opt for idleness and claim they have no time.  

3. Better health:  Volunteering can help you live longer, reduce heart disease and chronic pain, boost your mood, give your brain something new to process and figure out, reduce depression, and get you moving.  It's much harder to feel sorry for yourself, for example, when you're helping someone who is down on his luck or suffering from a debilitating disease.  Or even volunteering at a marathon or a community festival can make you feel good.  All that energy helps fuel your self-esteem and make you feel happier.

4.  New friendships:  The longer you volunteer at a specific place, the better chance you have of developing friendships there.  You may form strong bonds that last the rest of your life.  Close friendships are a key element to a happy and healthy life.

5.  New business contacts:  Volunteering is a great way to network.  You may get to meet important business contacts that help further your career.  For example, if you have a dream of starting a web design business you may volunteer to help out at a business fair booth and run into another web designer who offers to partner with you.  You never know.

6.  Better social and relationship skills:  Volunteering is a social activity.  You're almost always working with someone for a common cause.  It can help you become a better speaker, ease shyness, relate better to and work better with a variety of people, and feel more comfortable in crowds.

7.  Fun!:  Volunteering can be a lot of fun.  Pick a cause, sporting event, activity, or organization you feel passionate about and ask if you can help.  Knowing you are helping support something that is near and dear to your heart will make the experience more fun and rewarding.  

8.  Break from routine:  If you find yourself on a treadmill of sorts, going to work, coming home, rushing through dinner, and falling into bed exhausted, volunteering might be what you need to shake things up a bit.  Choose volunteer opportunities that are tied to activities you love to do.  For example, if you enjoy camping, you could sign on to help out at a summer camp, if you love animals, you could walk dogs at a local animal shelter on weekends.

Getting Started
  • Figure out why you want to volunteer
  • Decide what your skills are
  • Decide how many hours per week or month you would like to volunteer
  • Figure out what expenses you'd incur as a volunteer
  • Decide what you would like to do
  • Decide where you would like to volunteer
  • Visit local organizations to find out what volunteer opportunities are available
  • Check out volunteer sites on the Internet to see if you can volunteer online from home, if you would prefer that
  • Visit with staff and volunteers at local businesses to see if you click with them
  • Ask neighbors and friends if they, or anyone they know, need a helping hand
  • Talk to your family about possibly all joining in on a volunteer project together

Where to Go to Find Volunteer Opportunities

There are many non-profits and other businesses who welcome volunteers.  Here are just a few:
  • Community theaters
  • Libraries
  • Senior centers
  • Youth organizations
  • Sporting events
  • Religious organizations
  • Animal shelters
  • After school programs
  • Nursing homes 
  • Hospitals
  • National parks
  • Schools
  • Exchange student organizations (host a student)

  • Readiness to take on volunteer responsibilities
  • Don't overdo it.  Sacrificing health, sleep, family time, "me" time, and the like to help others can lead to burn out and resentment.  A little means a lot.  Stick with what's manageable.
  • Make sure you pick a volunteer position that you will enjoy
  • Make sure you know what you are expected to do
  • Ask questions about he position before you start and anytime new questions come up
  • Do you prefer to take on a position where you'll be moving around a lot, standing, or sitting still?
  • Accessibility to the venue or office building
  • Move on if the opportunity is no longer fulfilling
  • Commute distance

Do you volunteer?  What do you love about it?  What are some challenges you've faced?  I'd love to hear from you.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Choosing A Personal Trainer

A personal trainer can help you toward your fitness goals.  She provides accountability, program design specific to your needs, motivation, and professional advice regarding exercise and basic fitness nutrition. But how do you choose the trainer who is right for you?  Here are some tips.

1.   Personality:  Would you rather work with a trainer who is quiet and reserved or outgoing and perky.  Make sure the personal trainer you choose fits your personality preference.  

2.  Location:  Pick a personal trainer who works at a gym or has a private studio close to your home or work.  Some trainers will come to your home for sessions, or work with you via the Internet as well.  If your company has a fitness center, personal trainers may be available on-site.  Your personal trainer needs to be conveniently located to help keep you motivated to show up on a regular basis.

3.  Gender:  Do you prefer working with a man or a woman?  Does it matter?  Take that into consideration when making your choice.

4.  Professionalism:  Choose a personal trainer who is profession.  Make sure she dresses neatly, shows courtesy toward you and others, let's you know at least 24 hours in advance if she has to cancel or reschedule, and shows up on time and prepared for each session.

5.  Certification:  Make sure your personal trainer is certified by an organization that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).  Examples are National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

6.  Cost:  Look at your budget and see how much you can reasonably afford to pay a personal trainer, then research several in your area.  Personal trainers who work at box gyms or community centers are generally less expensive than those who have their own studios.   Be sure to take into consideration what is included in the fees of each trainer.

7.  Specialty:  Do you have a specific goal or issue to consider when picking a personal trainer?  If, for example, you have a specific health issue such as diabetes, you may want to work with someone with experience training clients with health issues.  Or if you're training for a marathon, you may want to work with a trainer with experience in that area.

It's a good idea to work with several trainers before choosing the one you would like to work with on a regular basis.  You have a right to do so.  Many gyms provide a free session with a trainer with membership.  Let each trainer you work with know you're considering other trainers before signing on with one in particular.   Personal trainers at gyms are available to assist members in general, not just paid personal training clients.  And, remember, you can always work out on your own, at home, too.  The Internet has some great fitness resources.  One of my favorites is the American Council on Exercise's website.  They have tons of information, including exercises, workouts, fitness facts, and recipes.  
I hope these tips help.  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stay Present

In this crazy busy world, it's hard to stay present.  You're cooking dinner, talking on the phone and answering your kids' questions at the same time.  Or commuting, listening to the news on the radio, and texting at the same time.  Ah, multi-tasking.  You may pride yourself on your ability to do it, but it's robbing you of living your life in the present; of experiencing what's going on around you and noticing how you feel moment by moment. You may also have a tendency to worry about the past or anticipate the future without enjoying the moment you are actually in right now--the only one you really have any control over.  I'm familiar with that one, believe me.

Another name for staying present is "mindfulness."  It involves paying attention to what's going on in your life and inside yourself right this second.  The scent of the flowers outside your open window wafting in, the sounds of your children laughing upstairs, the sight of your cat curled up and napping peacefully on an easy chair next to your desk, the grumbling of your empty stomach, the feeling of being rushed to meet a deadline--anything.   You notice what's going on, enjoy your life, accepting it as it is, not reacting absently or negatively.   It's the opposite of living on "autopilot."  

Getting Started

There's nothing fancy about mindfulness.  You don't need any special equipment.  You can do it anytime, anywhere by taking some deep breaths periodically throughout the day. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, holding for a second between the two.  You can practice mindfulness by silently repeating a mantra as well.  Examples are:  "Breathe," and "I am in a good place."  You can also start by going for a walk and looking at and listening to what's going on around you.  Stay present.   Acknowledge negative emotions that come up but then let them go, and return to the present.  Mindful eating is another great technique to adopt.  Savor your food, chew slowly.  Notice the taste, smell, and texture of the food you're eating.  Are you eating because you are hungry, or because you are bored or worried?  Notice the sensations you're experiencing without judgement, and then let them go.  

Other mindfulness techniques include:

1.  Losing track of time:  Getting totally lost in what you're doing means you are super-focused on it.  You're living in the moment.  This is what happens to me when I write.  I'm so engrossed in what I'm doing that I am unaware of what else is going on around me.  I'm in "the zone."  If Jim come in, bringing me out of that zone, I feel light-headed and admittedly, sometimes a bit grouchy.  I like it in "the zone."  You might be saying, well, I thought losing track of time was a bad thing.  It's not advantageous when you're so crazy- busy that you don't know what is going on around you.  You go from one chore or meeting to the other; you're in hyper-drive.  Mindfulness is different.  When I'm losing myself in my writing, I'm totally into it.  I'm concentrating on the moment of writing, the pleasure of it.  You can't force this state, it just happens.  And, oh boy, does it ever feel awesome!  That's the opposite of crazy-busy.

2.  Move toward, not against, an antagonist:  When you try to fight negative feelings, they tend to keep mounting, am I right?  So, how about trying to face what's bothering you instead?  Accept it for what it is in the present moment, feel it, own it, and then gently put it aside. For example, you've recently lost a loved one and the feelings of grief are so intense that you think you will never feel happy again.  You just want this terrible feeling that has engulfed you to go away.  Again, accept it, feel it, own it, grieve, cry, do what you need to, to heal, then move on.

3.  Embrace the "newness":  Do you travel the same route to work or school every day?  Do you go for a walk at the same park all the time?  This can cause mindlessness.  It's the same old, same old; so much so that you don't even notice what going on around you.  Time passes and you're suddenly at your destination and you don't remember anything that happened on your journey.  It's time to inject newness into your routine.  Make a point to notice changes along the way.  Hey, did the neighbor paint his house?  Wow, look at the way the sun is shining on those mountains!  Doesn't that cloud formation look like a camel?  I love looking at clouds to see what figures and faces I can find in them, by the way.  

Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is accessible.  Anyone can do it.  There are also books and DVDs on the subject if you want to learn more about it. 

There are many potential benefits of mindfulness including improved ability to face adversity; less worrying, over-thinking, and regret; reduced chronic pain and stress; increased happiness, self-esteem, empathy, and feelings of security, improved immunity function and sleep; reduced risk of heart disease; and increased perspective regarding irrational thoughts.  It also encourages alertness and attentiveness and may be used as a weight maintenance tool.  Mindful meditation is also used in the treatment of:depression, as well as eating, obsessive-compulsive, and anxiety disorders.

How about that!  Something so relatively simple, yet it packs a powerful punch when it comes to improving our health and well-being.

  • Staying in the present takes practice.  It won't happen overnight.  Be patient.
  • Mindfulness requires letting go of what you want and just "being."  Of course we want rewards, but we need to let go of those desires in order to reach mindfulness.
  • Start out with 20 minutes of meditation and work up to about 45 minutes 6 days per week.
I admit my attempts at meditating and being mindful over the years have not been very successful.  My mind insists on wandering all over the place.  I haven't been able to stick with it for any length of time.  Maybe I'll try it again sometime; or maybe not.  I have the DVDs already.  I just have to decide to do it.  Or not.  That's the way with anything, isn't it?  We can do anything we want to do.  We spend hours absently surfing the Internet, puttering around doing busy work, and  watching TV.  But dedicate 20 minutes to mindfulness?  Nope, too much work; or too freaky.  Okay, I hear you.  But switching gears may be just what you need to shake things up and get on the road toward living a more fulfilling life.

Do you practice mindfulness?  Do you meditate?  For those of you who don't, I challenge you to give mindfulness and meditation a try, and I will too.    I will report back again soon on my progress, and I would love to hear about your mindfulness journey as well.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Goal Setting: Get S.M.A.R.T

To make desired changes in your life, you need to set some goals.  Not just any goals, but S.M.A.R.T goals.  S.M.A.R.T goals can be used to tackle anything you want to change.  Here, I'll give examples of how to set weight loss as well as independence goals.

Specific:  Goals need to be clear.  Pare your goal down.  What exactly do you want?  

Weight Loss--"I want to get fit," is not specific.  There are many ways to get fit.  You'll want to choose something along the lines of, "I want to lose weight," instead.  

Independence--  Compare "I want to be independent," with the more targeted, "I want to find an apartment."  Wanting to be independent could mean many things, while switching to "I want to find an apartment," focuses your attention on the specific.  Key on the specific goal you want to achieve. 

Measurable:  Goals also need to be measurable.  How will you know you've reached your goal?  This involves picking a number.  

Weight Loss--How much weight do you want to lose?  Keep a weight loss journal to log your weight regularly.  Weigh yourself once a day or once a week, whatever you prefer, as long as it's done on a regular basis.  Keep track of your progress. 

Independence--How many apartments will you look at per week?  Two?  Five?  Ten?  Keep track of your progress in your apartment hunting journal.  You can also note in your journal the plusses and minuses of the cost, location, and amentiies for each apartment you look at.  
Attainable: Set a goal that you can reasonably shoot for.  Go for what you want, but make sure it's something you actually can do.

Weight Loss--Say you want to lose 100 pounds.  That's tough and will take a long time. Instead of concentrating on the whole amount, break it down into more manageable 20-pound increments. "I will lose 20 pounds," is attainable.   

Independence-- "Find an apartment that is wheel-chair accessible," is a doable goal, although it might take time.  Be patient.  Also, do some research to find out how much money you'll need for rent, utilities, and any other services you require.  Resources such as grants and special programs may be available to help with those expenses.  If so, check them out and see if you qualify.

Realistic:  Set a goal that you really can commit to.  Choose a goal that is meaningful to you. 

Weight Loss--Losing weight to reduce your A1C level is an excellent and realistic goal, while losing weight because your spouse thinks you should, is not.   You need to want it, crave it, eat it, sleep it, breathe it, own it.  It can't be someone else's goal for you; it has to be your goal for yourself.  

Independence--Similarly, searching for your own apartment because you are ready to strike out on your own and you crave independence is realistic, while doing so because you don't want to be laughed at for living with your parents as an adult, is not.  You need to be ready to make the move.  Don't rush it.  

Time:  Set a time by which you will achieve your goal.  This helps you stay accountable and moving forward toward your goal.  

Weight Loss--If you want to lose 20 pounds, a reasonable deadline would be 4 months since a healthy weight loss rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week is recommended.  It may not seem like much but, added up, it makes a huge difference over time.  Think 52 weeks a year--yep, in a year you could lose 52 to 104 pounds, if needed, at that rate!  That is amazing!  And, you're more apt to keep it off too.  So, I urge you to be patient.  You will reap tremendous rewards opting for slow weight loss.

Independence--When do you want to be settled into your new apartment?  Before Christmas?  By summer?  Six months from now?  A year from now?  Setting a date by which you will be living on your own keeps the goal alive, helps you stay on task, and brings a sense of urgency you wouldn't have otherwise.  

Okay now, how S.M.A.R.T. are your goals?  Have you used this strategy to set goals for yourself?  How did it go?  Let me know.  Comment below or send me an email at  I'd love to hear from you.  Take care.