Feeling Sassy and Full of Joy

The week after Thanksgiving when I stepped on the scale to see where I needed to go for the new year, and to see why my blood pressure was so high—I’m trained, like you are, to blame it on my weight, not stress or anything else it might be—I was shocked to find myself sitting firmly at 260 pounds. I’m 5’3″ tall, so 260 pounds is quite a little load to bear for someone of my stature.

I also looked in the mirror and saw someone who had recently come through a really bad depression, and when I say really bad, I don’t say that lightly. The details of that depression are fodder for a different essay, somewhere else, in another time when I am further away from that period in my life. I saw someone who was really stressed at work and who didn’t believe in herself the way I had always believed in myself.

I looked in my exercise journal and saw that I had been faking it at running, always having an excuse: my foot hurts, I’m too tired, or I was standing at work all day. I looked more deeply and saw that I was faking it at trying to play soccer. I played on Monday nights, minimally. I loved it, but I wasn’t pursuing it. I wasn’t swimming, biking, strength training, doing yoga, or anything that I wanted and needed to be doing. I wasn’t doing a lot of what I love.

I was simply existing. Unhealthily existing.

I’ve noticed lots of patterns in my life where I realize I’m drowning inside myself, so I throw out every life preserver I can think of. I change my diet, I exercise like a fool, I quit this that and the other all at once, and then I fail. The failure then makes me feel like I am drowning all over again.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to wallow.

The week before Christmas, I decided to cut out caffeine as a first step toward healing. I chose caffeine first, because I realized I was having difficulty sleeping, even if I quit drinking coffee before 11AM. I also realized that a lot of the caffeine I was drinking was in the form of really sugary coffee drinks, so I figured that would help with my January plan of cutting a lot of sugar out of my diet.

In January, along with caffeine, I cut out most added sugar. I say most, because I do indulge in one sugary snack each day, to allow myself some pleasure. I know me. If I don’t have some pleasure, I will fail. I’ve tried moderation before, and even failed at that, so I get one treat each day. Usually I choose a small hot chocolate with dark chocolate, no whip, and almond milk, but it’s getting too sweet for me, so I’ve switched to a Ghirardelli dark chocolate square with blueberry in it. Yes, I know chocolate can have caffeine, but less than half the caffeine in a double espresso or cup of coffee.

In January, I also joined with my brother to commit to 30 minutes of exercise each day. During the first couple of weeks, even 30 minutes of exercise seemed like hard work, but in February, I added another 30 minutes of exercise each day for a total of an hour each day. I am being very intentional and careful about what exercises I do each day, so that my muscles get a chance to relax and recover between days.

For March, I am adding in strength trainings. See? I’m trying to progress incrementally. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I bike and swim. One Tuesdays and Thursdays, I strength train and walk, and on Saturdays and Sundays, I walk with my wife.

There are four main changes, aside from the above mentioned diet and exercise changes, I’ve made that have made a difference in my mental health, my physical health, and my spiritual health. I quit drinking alcohol. I meditate more frequently. I eat lots of good food. I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace.

I quit drinking. I didn’t think it was a problem in my life, but it was, and I wanted to be perfectly sober for the next four years if you know what I mean. I met with my priest—I say my priest, but I rarely attend church anymore—just to chat about my depression. We met in late July or early August. When I told him about what was going on, he said, “Well, have you tried not drinking? Alcohol is a depressant, you know.” Since he is “only” a priest and not a mental health practitioner, I didn’t heed his advice until January 19, and I haven’t had a drop to drink since then, unless you count the minimal alcohol in kombucha.

For me, alcohol was a huge stumbling block to joy. Did I have a hard day at work? Have a rewarding beer! Did someone piss me off? Have a Scotch to right things! Instead of dealing with the situation that upset me, I’d just drink until it felt better. I’m not sure that makes me an alcoholic, but it sure made me dependent upon a substance for healing when there are so many other things that are better for me.

I meditate more frequently. Whenever I swim, I treat my time in the pool as meditation. I focus on my breath and my form. Since I have my handy Watch to count my laps, I am free to simply focus on the silence of the water, the breath that comes in and goes out, the way body moves in the water, and the way the water feels against my skin.

I also meditate when I am not swimming, using an app called Insight Timer. If you’re reluctant to try meditation, you should check it out. There are guided meditations preprogrammed, and you can set your own program. I sometimes spend time in prayer after meditation or before, and I have to say that people notice a difference in me. A coworker asked me if I was okay the other day. I said yes, why. He said, you just look so calm and centered.

I eat lots of good food. I watched a video courtesy of our wellness group at work, and the nutritionist talked extensively about fixing a broken metabolism by eating enough good fuel. She said that many of us have broken metabolisms from low-calorie diets, from over exercising and under eating, or simply from not eating food that provides sustainable energy for our bodies.

Whenever I have wanted to lose weight before, I have always cut calories and exercised harder. This time I used the Mifflin-St. Jeor calorie calculator, which she suggested in the video, to figure out how many calories I actually need. I was surprised to find out that with my level of activity, I need about 1900 calories per day to promote fat loss. I’d been cutting to less than 1000 to try to lose weight, but according to the nutritionist, that is a level where most people’s bodies think they are starving, so adding calories is way to jump start our bodies into thinking we’re well fueled and can sustain our levels of activity.

I’m seeing my body change, and I am eating food to fuel that change. I’m eating food as fuel and for pleasure. This is a whole new way for me to relate to food. And I like it.

Finally, I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace. There are days when I mess up, when I treat people poorly, when I don’t exercise, when I eat things that aren’t particularly good for me, when I don’t meditate, when I wish I could be anywhere else besides where I am, where things are all joy and puppy feet and rainbows.

More often than not, I am in the moment. I am present. With myself. With others. With my pets. With nature. With [Them]. I. Am. Present. There’s a line in The Alchemist that says, “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.” I have found this to be true. Instead of looking for what will be, I’m learning that relaxing into what is and improving on what is, brings an eternity in and of itself.

Most days I am filled with joy, because why not be? If a small bit of joy can be found in front of me, why not revel in it? Why not try to use my joy to make others joyful as well?

And finally, I am giving myself grace. One thing about living in the present is recognizing that when I am not present, or when I do not have joy, or when I behave in a way that doesn’t recognize and honor the divine spark in those around me, I can be vulnerable, honest, gracious, and refocus. I can come back to being present. and I can improve on that present.

I’m learning a lot of new things about myself on this new journey.

The New Year Has Begun: Goals

As you know I set some goals on my 42nd birthday last July. They were running, compassion, paying it forward, leaving social media and increasing creativity, and managing my finances better. I’d like to simply talk about these goals and how my new year is shaping up.

Running 

My goal was to run a marathon on my 43rd birthday this coming July, but because of a variety of things, I won’t be doing that. I’ve been dealing with some plantar fasciitis in my right foot that gets exacerbated with anything over a 5-mile hike. Hopefully, I’ll be able to start running again soon and build from there.

Instead of running, I am focusing on getting in 30 minutes of some form of exercise each day for 2017. So far, so good. I’m trying to alternate between walking/jogging, biking, swimming, and stretching/strength training/yoga, so that I can heal my body instead of breaking it down more.

In other running news, I am having difficulty losing any weight and I just keep hovering in the 250s. Not good. I’m trying to watch what I eat, and I’m focusing on cutting out alcohol, unless I go out, cutting down on unnatural sugar, and eating more vegetables. I checked my blood pressure and it was high, so I am drinking more water, eating a banana a day for the potassium, and hoping the 30 minutes of exercise each day will help bring it down. I’m also taking vitamin D, because my levels of vitamin D were very low.

Compassion

My goal for compassion was to maintain a vegan diet, but I am settling for being firmly vegetarian for now. I try to limit my consumption of animal products at all, but I have been eating yogurt for breakfast each morning, along with some cheese throughout the day. We do buy our dairy and eggs from a local grocery store who buys them from local farmers, most of whom practice more ethical farming. This is certainly an area of improvement for me.

I’ve also been trying to meditate more, but I admit if there is something I need to cut out of my morning, meditation is the thing that goes. And meditation should be the thing that I insist upon doing each day, just after my 30 minutes of exercise, because along with the vitamin D, they are the things that keep me mentally healthy.

Pay It Forward

I was thinking I would volunteer with an organization that helps with domestic violence, or sexual assault, or women’s rights, but I’ve found myself attracted to a place called First Nations Kitchen, where I can go after work on Sundays to help serve if I get there in time, or help clean up when I work until 6. We volunteered there on Christmas, and I loved working with the volunteer coordinator and the people who came for dinner, so I decided that would be my place each Sunday night. I start on a regular basis on January 29, so next Sunday.

Social Media and Creativity

My goal was to leave social media and to be more creative. I have been reading much more, about a book a week, but I haven’t been writing or doing art like I wanted to, so this is still an area of opportunity for me. And, I am still entrenched in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What I need to figure out with Facebook in particular is a way to use my account to network with friends and family, but to not be sucked into the meanness, argumentation, and general ridiculousness of it. I can’t stand watching my friends speak to each other the way they do. We’ve forgotten that we can disagree, have a civil conversation, and actually listen to each other. Instead what I see is a bunch of name-calling, sucker-punching, and extreme hatefulness. I understand that people are passionate, but there are ways to discuss, protest, and change people’s minds and lives without the anger and vitriol.

Finances

I am diligently working on my finances. They are out of control and it is hard. But I am working on getting them under control. I haven’t charged anything on a credit card since some time in October, so that is a start. And I am paying more than the minimum payment on the cards, which is another start.

Evaluation of Goals: Mid Year

I guess my middle of the year evaluation of my goals is that I am doing okay, but that there is room to improve. I’d like to say that by my 43rd birthday, I could lose about 40 pounds, have written a couple of things to send out for publishing, and have kept up my 30 minutes of exercise and 10 minutes of meditation each day. The most important thing for me is that by July, I’d like to be mentally and physically healthy. I’d like to not revisit this past July and August as far as mental health goes.

Here’s to all good things. Peace.

Snowman Cookies and Holiday Shopping

This week I traded shifts with a coworker, so that I could have a much needed day off today. He was supposed to work last night, and I was supposed to work all day today. I figured that working 6 hours at Caribou yesterday morning, and then 6 hours at the Fruit Stand last night, would be a good trade off for a day completely off of work.

I slept in and woke up at 10 o’clock, then I went for a short, slow, “recovery” run. I’ve been using the Nike+ Running Club app with my new Watch, and so far I am pleased with the workout rotation. Their workouts seem to escalate at a good pace, and they are varied enough that I am not getting bored. Tomorrow I have 400 repeat workout, which I am unsure how to accomplish without a track, but I am sure I’ll figure it out. The one thing I don’t really care for with the watch and the Nike+ app is that I can’t start a specific run for my plan from the watch. I’ve been using the coaching feature to train for a 10-mile run I’m doing in March, but I have to start it on my phone in order to have it follow the plan. I hope in future revisions of the app, the developers allow the plan to show up on the watch, because it will encourage people like me to use the app more regularly. The plus side is that there is a way built in to the plan to credit any runs you do toward your plan.

I spent a bit of time this morning playing with my dogs, and I’m reminded that Lily and Sydney aren’t getting any younger. Sydney shivers almost nonstop, because he is very skinny and his kidneys don’t work well, but he still plays and runs, herding the other two dogs around the yard like a champ. Lily’s face is almost entirely white, and her back legs sometimes give out when she goes up and down the stairs, but she plays like a puppy and still likes to whoowhoo her blanket to procrastinate going for the morning walk.

When I play with them, I am reminded that all good things will end, but that each day is what you make of it. They are both 13 years old, but they are joyful and loving. At the risk of being one more person who says it, at the risk of being a total cliché, I learn something from my dogs every single day. How to forgive. How to have unbridled joy. How to play. How to give love, so much love. Man, I’m going to miss those two goofy pups when they’re gone.

Last night around 1:30 or so, I decided I should do my holiday shopping today, so after playing with my dogs, I headed to Woodbury to the Barnes & Noble. Surprise, everyone, I bought literature for Christmas! I just think books are never a bad idea. I bought some magazines for some folks, some books for others, and some Mo Willems Pigeon books for some small folks in my life (I’m looking at you Dubs and T-Bean).

Don't let the pigeon play Santa.

Don’t let the pigeon play Santa.

After I finished getting books and magazines for people I love, I stopped at the Starbucks across the parking lot to have a Holiday Spice Flat White and a Snowman Cookie. Or two.

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I knew I wanted to write today, so this was the perfect place to do it. I’m using this space here, this blog, to write for now. I know I need to work on some side projects that aren’t published here, and I know I need to start working on some serious pieces to send out to try and get published in legitimate literary journals. I know.

Now my time for myself is up for today, and I have to head home to shovel the driveway. Being outside in the quiet snow is a huge relief from the chaos at either of my jobs. The dogs will bark at me through the fence, and the kids will be playing in the snow at the park, but those are welcome, happy sounds.

I’ve started this post a million times…

or so it seems. I usually know with a certain level of accuracy how to express what I am feeling, but this week I am at a loss for words. I’m unsure what to say, and I’m unsure what to think, and I’m unsure what to do.

I’ve heard people say that the election resonated with them in the same way that the Pulse shooting resonated with them, but that’s not quite it for me. I’ve heard people say that they feel like a homeless person, because their home has been taken from them by force, but I can’t say that because I’ve never been homeless.

There are countless other ways people have described their disappointment, including a customer who came in, in tears, because she fears for her autistic son’s well-being and the loss of Arctic animals because of climate change. I, too, am scared—no terrified—for my GLBT+, non-white, non-“Christian” friends and the earth. I’m pissed that we are in a war in Standing Rock, North Dakota with indigenous people who are trying to protect the tiny bit of land that they were given by our government. This article by Code Switch is an excellent article about what’s going on there.

I feel like I am inside some bad trip, where nothing makes sense, and someone is trying to help me down, but I can’t come down. I’m just stuck, here, in an alternate world where nothing makes sense and nothing adds up. People, who I previously considered friends, intelligent friends, say things that make no sense, things that don’t follow any kind of consistent ethic, and that don’t align with their previously stated morality.

I keep seeing these things posted on Facebook walls of people who voted for Donald Trump, and I can’t wrap my head around how people can reconcile this bit of Scripture with the running platform of our President Elect:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Everyone around me is angry or sad, and those who aren’t angry or sad are elated and willing to tell me so. Over and over again. People I don’t know post hateful things on my Facebook timeline.  I spent fifteen minutes yesterday with a customer who told me all about how the next four years are going to be the best of his life. When I said, okay, he said, your products are going to be made in the US again. I said, okay, and he just kept talking about how P.E. Trump is trying so hard to establish himself as a good president. I said, okay.

I’m tired. I’m taking a break.

*

About four months ago, on my 42nd birthday, I set some goals. The older I get, the easier it is for me to just ignore my goals, to not care about meeting those goals, or to just be lackadaisical about accomplishing them.

On this coming Sunday, Advent begins, so I think I might try to accomplish my goal of going to church. I think I need it. I think you need for me to go. I say this because I have not been my best self for the majority of November. Maybe a baby Jewish refugee in a wooden cow trough, who was birthed to an unwed teenage mother and father, who was brought gifts by “foreigners,” who was worshipped by the working class, and who was later saved from infanticide at the hands of the ruling class will be just the miracle to bring me around.

Anyway, I set a couple of other goals, too: running, compassion, pay it forward, social media and creativity, and finances.

I am working on running, while also playing soccer and nursing my plantar fascia on my right foot. I won’t be running a full marathon again next summer, but I am going to run a 25K trail race at Afton; 15 miles is a more accomplishable goal for me this year.

Compassion, which includes going to church, seems to be going the best right now, since I am trying so hard to understand what makes people do what they do. I’m also trying to work at allowing myself to be in someone else’s shoes; I’m hoping that maybe I will somehow be able to better understand my fellow humans. I’ve also been a bit of a slacker when it comes to meditation, so I need to refocus on this aspect of my life as well. I can really tell when I practice mindfulness and when I don’t. I’m not so mindful right now. I’ve been vegetarian, but not vegan, which is something I will fix at the new year.

I still haven’t worked on paying it forward, and I’d love to find somewhere to volunteer every week, even though my schedule is a bit wacky, I could just RTO time each week for volunteering.

The social media and creativity goal is the one that I should’ve kept working on with diligence. More than any of the goals. I find that being on social media is really damaging to my psyche. People are mean. I should’ve been drawing or printmaking, instead of spending all those hours on Facebook, getting angrier.

Finally, my finances are slowly improving. I’m paying more on all of my credit cards each month, and I have a separate savings account, where I deposit all of my wages from Caribou, for vacation spending. We went to New York and I paid for all but the dog boarding with cash, but I quickly paid off the dog boarding upon our return.

So, while I’m not making major headway, I feel like I am making some. I’m also taking a break. Until after the holidays. Peace. Grace. Joy. Love. Hope.

Roasted Vegetable, Goat Cheese, and Balsamic Pizza

There are days when I want nothing more than to create a beautiful pizza pie, pretending that one day I’ll have my own pizza café where I can wow my guests with unusual combinations of toppings that they couldn’t imagine should be on a pizza. Yesterday was one of those days. I worked all morning at Caribou Coffee and built an appetite for the pizza I was creating in my mind: Roasted Vegetable Pizza.

I began by heading next door to the Cub store and poking around for vegetable that would taste good roasted. I’d have preferred some beets on my pizza, but my wife doesn’t like beets, so I went with Yukon Gold Potato as the root vegetable. Next time, I’ll try half the pizza with beets, like a beet salad, if you will. I also chose a red onion, an orange bell pepper, shiitake mushrooms, and two small zucchinis. I though I had garlic at home, so I didn’t get any of that, but I did pick up some arugula to put on the pizza after it cooked.

Then, one my way home, I realized that I hadn’t actually purchased any cheese, nor did I think that we had any in the refrigerator, so I stopped at the Cub on my way home in Cottage Grove. I don’t like going to that Cub, because I’ve had some less than pleasant interactions with employees there, but I had to pick up a prescription anyway, so I stopped for cheese. I was thinking I’d do a nice asiago, but then I saw the goat cheese. I’m smitten with goat cheese, so that’s what ended up on the pizza. It was amazing.

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Crust

I have two go-to recipes for pizza crust and you can find them here and here, or if I am doing gluten-free, I use Bob’s Red Mill and simply follow the directions there. If you have a favorite crust, use it. I use the first recipe, the beer crust, for lighter pizzas or if I want a slightly sweeter crust. I say slightly, because it isn’t really sweet, but it isn’t as nutty and hearty as the second one, the wheat one. Bob’s gluten-free crust is actually pretty delicious, so I use it, even if I am not really concerned about gluten-freeness. I make them all vegan if I can; Bob’s has the vegan recipe right on the bag.

I always par-bake my crust for 5-7 minutes or until it’s firm enough to not get soggy when I add the sauce. I hate squishy crust, so this is important to me.

Sauce

For this pizza there really wasn’t a sauce. I did brush it lightly with a mix of butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Turns our we didn’t have any garlic at home, or this would’ve had roasted garlic, instead of garlic powder.

Toppings

I cut the vegetables, except the mushrooms, into fairly equal pieces, tossed them in the same butter and olive oil sauce, covered them with more salt and pepper, and roasted them until the potatoes were edible soft and the onions were getting sweet. That took about 40 minutes this time.

I made a balsamic reduction by putting a bit of brown sugar into some balsamic vinegar and let it bowl down until it was fairly sweet and viscous. This I reserved for after the pizza was out of the oven.

I used the arugula, cheese, and mushrooms with cooking them first.

Putting It All Together

I used the beer crust, but with water instead of beer. After it was finished proofing, I cut it into equal thirds. One third I froze for a pizza next week, one third I used for this pizza, and one third I used for garlic knots. I par-baked the third I used for the pizza tonight for 5 minutes before adding any toppings.

First, I coated it very lightly with some garlic butter sauce. I then put on half of the goat cheese, the roasted vegetables, the mushrooms, a very light drizzle of the balsamic reduction, and the rest of the goat cheese.

I baked the pizza for about 15 minutes, or until the sides of the crust were a light brown color.

After baking, I took the pizza out of the oven, spread it all over with arugula. Then I used the rest of the balsamic reduction as a drizzle over the top.

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I also made some garlic knots from the other half of the crust.

Basically, I just roll the third of the crust for this into a log. I then cut it into 6 or 8 equal pieces, deepening on how many people are eating the knots and how much the crust rises and proofs up.

I take each piece and roll it into a snake, then tie it into a knot. I place them on the baking stone and brush then with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasonings.

I bake them for about 10 minutes, then brush them with some melted butter, and then bake them until they are a nice light brown color. They will likely be a bit doughy, which is how I like them.

You can make a sauce to dip them in, but I think they are nice, just as they are.

When I cook, I don’t really measure or use recipes, so you can do whatever you need to for taste. Best of luck to you. If you have questions, feel free to comment and ask! I’ll be happy to try and help.