Moving Toward Morning

We just finished the first week of September and I feel all the things: a little melancholy that summer is waning, excitement for the start of a new season, and the sense that I am myself as this is my birthday month. Transitions–endings and beginnings blurring together–are always difficult, even when you are looking forward to the new.

I don’t know how the weather is where you live, but here in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, we are experiencing pleasant weather in the high 60s to mid- 70s (Fahrenheit). Although it still is warm, there is a tinge of a chill, and the nights fall a little earlier with each passing day. My daughter began eleventh grade this week, my stepson twelfth grade, and I am in my second month of Ayurveda school.

How I start my day determines how successful the rest of it will be, so I wanted to talk about morning routines. What does yours look like? Mine varies quite a lot. On Sunday, my wake-up time depends on whether my husband and I have a music gig or not, but most of the time I can sleep in.

Monday through Wednesday during the school year, I get up to drive my daughter to school. My choice is to either get up at 7 and launch directly into making breakfast/coffee/tea, and then drive her to school, or I can get up early at 5:30ish and meditate, journal, practice visualization and affirmations, exercise or do yoga, shower, and then start making breakfast, etc. The latter is my ideal.

Even the rest of the week–Thursday through Saturday–if I get up early and get all of those important soul-nourishing pieces of the morning done before the rest of the house wakes up, I feel amazing! I have a positive outlook, feel confident, and am ready to face the day. This way I can begin work, meet the needs of my family ,etc., without resentment or trying to figure out how to squeeze in a workout.

It might seem crazy to contemplate getting up an hour or two before everyone else. That obviously means going to bed earlier. As a certified lifelong night owl, it is challenging for me to stick to this. And I am not religious about it. If I don’t have a good night’s sleep, am not feeling well, or if I go to bed late because of work or a special occasion, I don’t get up super early and I don’t beat myself up about it. But as soon as I can realistically get back into my morning routine, I will.

So my hat is off to you if you’re already an early bird and rise before the sun to do what you need to in order to make your day a success. But if you’re like me and are still moving toward your ideal morning, that’s great too! The best thing is to ask yourself why would you want to do this and then write down a good long list of reasons why. The more reasons you have, the more likely you will continue working toward your goal. If you can display your list of reasons somewhere visible to motivate you, all the better!

Design the morning that works for you, at this stage in your life. And like I said in my Facebook and Instagram Lives on this topic, please, if you’re a young mom with a baby or toddler, or you’ve got an elderly parent or sick family member you are caring for, or anything else that is super demanding, this is not the time to begin a new routine, to get up early, etc. Be extra gentle and kind to yourself and take time for yourself when you can.

This particular advice comes from this episode of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happier Podcast: In order to get your family on board when you are starting new habits, be consistent! They will get used to it sooner if you stick to your routine.

And since I am always looking for ways to share what I learn about aromatherapy with you, here are two diffuser blends that are great for mornings. They are motivating, positive, promote confidence, perseverance, and a bright outlook.

Morning Blend 1:

1 drop Basil

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

Morning Blend 2:

1 drop Tulsi

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Orange

Alright, I’d love to hear about your morning routines: what works, what doesn’t, and what new habits you’re incorporating into your life this September.

Slowing Down for Sunsets, Sleep, and Smiles

My motivation and energy have been a bit tapped out lately. I’m guessing the combination of end-of-year school activity and a bout of anemia is mostly to blame. And a very full workload. Naps have become a part of my daily routine and I haven’t produced much in terms of music, writing, and new products for my business. I’ve read plenty of books, but that’s about all I have to show for the past month.

Usually, when I get into a phase like this, I just push myself harder and talk myself out of the slump. But this time, my intuition told me it was more important for me to recharge and take time for recreation. And to take an iron supplement. The second definition of recreation, according to Lexico.com, is the action or process of creating something again. What I’ve been needing to recreate is my sense of growth and expansion.

A few years ago, I had a two year period when I tried a lot of new things, took chances, and changed my life in dramatic ways. But it is so easy to get comfortable and settle into familiar routines and, basically, to shrink. Which is what I’ve been doing. I realized I needed to challenge myself to grow in new and different ways and do more things I’m afraid of. But before that, I took some time for rest and fun.

Alan and I just had a few days at home sans kids for the first time in three months. Rather than simply working harder, unhindered by family responsibilities, we decided to spend most of the time together doing enjoyable things like listening to live music, sitting in the gazebo as the sun went down, taking a walk and run together, watching a couple of films, and generally taking a break from our regular work schedules.

I admit to staving off guilt when I thought of all the tasks I was allowing to pile up. I thought of how far I need to climb to become a success on social, with my online shop, with this blog. My tendency has always been to work harder, but this time I knew it was time to breathe, laugh, relax, sleep more, and slow down.

At the end of our long weekend, before sitting down to write, I took a walk in the twilight. Redwing blackbirds sang in the cattails, the orderly fields with their rows of soybeans and corns rested, the trees at the edges exhaled, and I felt more connected to the universe and to myself with every step. I felt my imagination stir, and, as I turned back up the hill and headed home, I looked forward to work once more.

If you’re feeling burnout, I hope you can find or make pockets of time to relax and recover. Maybe you can’t take a weekend, but maybe one day or even an hour a day to do something you enjoy. If you have favorite ways to avoid burnout, please share in comments!

Monday Meditation

I sat cross-legged on my yoga mat one morning at the beginning of practice and began to cry. The instructor was guiding us toward the place we wanted to be and told us to focus on that, rather than the stuff in our heads, and the things that were wrong.

I was weighted by much that was wrong–real and imagined. Things I have continually heaped on myself since my divorce and things that I wanted to change about my own life and surroundings. Ways I attempted to control circumstances so I could bring order to places in my mind and body that I felt were lacking. I was a mess–full of anxiety and wrapped tightly into a cocoon of sadness and guilt and darkness.

On the mat, I began to moved through the poses. The focus was on strength and the idea was that we are stronger than we think we are. The poses became more intense. I shook in holding poses, (planks, especially) and felt fatigue hitting me in waves as I did yet another vinyasa. But as I continued through the difficulty of the practice I felt stronger and calmer and more assured that my life was a thing of complicated beauty.

Off the mat, several hours later, I began to meditate on empowering thoughts. Then I wrote them down. You know what? All that anxiety and guilt and regret and need to control my surroundings just melted away! It was such a relief!

This was so helpful to me that I wanted to share my list with you. I encourage you to make your own–it’s actually kind of fun and I think you’ll feel anxiety slip away and a sense of calm and strength center you.

I Can

I can be my best self today.

I can tell the truth today.

I can enjoy my life today.

I can be kind and generous to myself today.

I can be kind and generous to others today.

I can bring ideas and solutions to work today.

I can accomplish what I need to today.

I can listen today.

I can say I’m sorry today.

I can release the past today.

I can learn today.

I can be enough today.

I can matter to others today.

I can love people today.

I can take care of my body today.

I can take care of my soul today.

I can love my children today.

I can love my husband today.

I can stay in the light and not hide today.

I can be a good friend today.

I can drink enough water today.

I can get outside and let Nature embrace me today.

I can laugh today.

I can communicate better today.

I can improve on yesterday today.

I can say no when I need to today.

I can say yes when it’s wholehearted today.

I can make mistakes and grow today.

I can be God’s child today.

How to Make Cashew Milk

I am going to show you how to make the easiest nut milk available! As someone who lives dairy-free, I have attempted to make my own nut milks before. Almond milk is great, but it requires the dreaded nut milk bag to strain the bits of nuts out of the milk. Which requires cleaning said nut milk bag, which is quite tedious and a definite mental hurdle to me making almond milk on a regular basis. 

Enter cashew milk: it requires no nut milk bag and no straining, which makes it a breeze to make. The only equipment necessary is a high speed blender such as a Vitamix or Ninja so that you won’t have bits of nuts floating around in your milk.

This makes an amazing coffee creamer, as well as a treat with a gluten free graham cracker or biscotti!

So here is the recipe:

Cashew Milk

(yields approximately 6 cups)

2 cups raw cashews, whole or pieces

4 cups filtered water

2 Medjool dates (optional)

2 Tablespoons vanilla extract (optional)

pinch of sea salt

Place cashews in bowl and cover with water. Place a clean dishcloth over bowl. Let sit on counter for at least 4 hours. (It was more like 10 hours for me because that’s when I got around to making the milk.)

In a colander, strain out the water and rinse cashews. 

Place cashews in blender with 4 cups water, dates and vanilla (if using), and sea salt. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes.

Place in clean mason jars or glass pitcher in fridge and drink it up within 4-5 days.

You can always cut the recipe in half if you can’t drink it as fast. And you can always add more water to the recipe to thin it out if it’s too creamy for you.

Let me know what you think! 

 

I Still Struggle with Excuses after 30 Years of Exercising

Here I am working out in my messy bedroom.

It’s true. I’ve never been a natural-born exerciser. Until age 8, I suffered with chronic nosebleeds, so I was discouraged from engaging in any activity that was too strenuous, and was unable to participate in gym class. My siblings and I were also anemic (a hereditary condition) so I didn’t have a whole lot of energy. I spent free time reading, drawing, writing, and crafting.

At 12, I began learning about health and fitness and decided I needed an exercise routine. With birthday and Christmas money, I purchased a few workout videotapes (this was 1988!) and worked out every day in our living room. With my low energy levels, it was a challenge each morning to follow through on my exercise plan. I tried running during this time as well, but had trouble breathing, so I didn’t run often; I didn’t learn until I was 38 that I had asthma!

All through my teens, I lifted light weights, walked and hiked, and did cardio and interval training workouts at home. Whenever I’d feel bored, which was every few months, I’d buy a new workout video or try a workout from a fitness magazine. I did all of this on my own steam: no family member or friend encouraged me, supported me, or worked out with me. That would have been great, but it wasn’t my story. The ways I encouraged myself, were reading books and magazines on health and fitness as well as reminding myself how good I felt after working out each day.

Enter my twenties and raising two kids: working out was still my normal. I had a treadmill and walked or run/walked as well as working out in my living room. The infant phase was rough because I would often be on the treadmill with a baby in a bouncy seat wailing while I walked, which was no fun. But they eventually got used to entertaining themselves for an hour a day while I worked out. And since we homeschooled, when they were school aged, I would feed them breakfast, do a couple of subjects with them and then assign them a few things to do on their own (like their spelling list or math page).

My thirties were a bit smoother because I didn’t have to deal with babies, but I had a full schedule with homeschooling, church responsibilities, and family expectations, so it was imperative to keep exercising to avoid going completely crazy. Although my energy remained low, often with me taking short naps in the afternoons, I continued exercising.

Let me just say that each and every morning it is the same. I wake up with the intention to exercise. I am tired, always tired, so the excuses start in.

Here are some of the best of the best:

(You might recognize a few!)

“You don’t have energy to exercise today.”

“If you exercise, how are you going to do everything else you need to do today.”

“You have so much to do today: you really don’t have time for this now.”

“It’s so unfair that so-and-so is naturally slim and has never exercised a day in her life! And you exercise all the time and what good does it do? You might as well give up.”

“No matter what you do, you’ll never look good. What’s the point of trying?”

“You’ve been wanting to lose this same ten pounds for two years. This isn’t doing anything.”

“What if you injure yourself again? Doesn’t your back feel tight already? If you throw your back out again, you’ll be back to square one. Maybe you should just stretch and call it a day.”

After I go through the litany of excuses each morning, I remind myself why I need to work out:

I will have more energy afterward.

My mood will get a boost.

My heart and whole body will be stronger.

I don’t want to be an out-of-shape middle-aged woman whose body is always breaking down.

The act of doing something I don’t want to do that’s good for me will help me follow through in other areas the rest of the day.

This is the only earth suit I have and I need to take care of it.

The most successful and busy people in the world work out every day, so you can too.

Then I choose to put on my workout clothes and either head to the gym to walk/run on the treadmill, I do a Barre3 class or Glo yoga class in my bedroom, or do a cardio interval training video in the living room, just like the old days.

My favorite video workout can be found for free on Youtube. It’s from the 90s and features Elle Macpherson and Karen Voight. It was filmed in Hawaii and is one of those not-too-hard and not-too-easy workout that works every major muscle group, has three cardio and three strength sections and a great stretching segment at the end. If you’d like to do a retro workout, give it a try!

So readers, after you go through your morning excuses, I hope you’ll throw on your workout clothes, lace up your sneakers and go for a walk, run, work out with a video online, or just dance around your kitchen. The most important thing? Just move your body every day!!!

Evening Poetry, April 15

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin, With the Sweet Grass (This poem is in seven sections, so I am going to spread it out through the week.)

2.

Eat bread and understand comfort.

Drink water, and understand delight.

Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets

are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds

who are drinking the sweetness, who are

thrilling gluttonous.

For one thing leads to another.

Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.

Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star

both intimate and ultimate,

and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:

oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two

beautiful bodies of your lungs.

This poem can be found in the collection Evidence.

The Hardest Promises to Keep

I don’t know about you, but I have a lifetime of breaking promises to myself. Of telling myself one thing and doing another. Of agreeing on a course of action only to face the unpleasantness and lack of novelty of follow-through and fizzle out.

Last summer, I was made aware of this while listening to a podcast by Rachel Hollis. She talked about how so many people are in the habit of starting and stopping things, about the lack of commitment to our own priorities, about how breaking promises to yourself makes you not trust yourself. And how no one would flake out on another person the way we often flake out on ourselves. That idea–of keeping promises to myself–was one I hadn’t really thought of before. I don’t know why.

Although I neither blame my parents or the Christian culture I was raised in, my life–the way I think and live– has been affected. Sometimes it’s been very positive, sometimes not. One of the “nots” would be this rather irksome saying my mother used to quote to me when I was a child: “Jesus first, Others second, and You always last. That spells JOY!” Sorry, Mom, but it ain’t necessarily so!

The whole concept of living to serve God and others is a noble one and I am not suggesting that now I have seen the light and only serve myself. I believe that a human who lives only for self winds up feeling empty and dissatisfied, lonely, and worthless. We all need to be investing part of ourselves in that which is greater than us, in that which may not serve us, but which will benefit others.

But in the past few years, I have begun to see how damaging the above concepts can be for women who think that God wants them to spend their entire lives putting aside their needs and/or desires, because someone else’s needs or wants must always come first. And as much as I hated to admit it, I had done a good deal of this as well. Until age 39 when I fell apart. My experience is not so unusual, really. As Brendon Burchard says, “Living incongruent to what you believe is the greatest form of unhappiness.”

So after I had my mid-life crisis, as it’s aptly called, I reassessed everything. I began to catch myself when I would say yes to something that I really didn’t want to do. I had to remind myself often of the Jen Hatmaker quote, “If it’s not a Hell, yes, it’s a No.” And this past year, I have begun to deal with my lack of consistency in many areas of my life and make myself do what I told myself I was going to do.

Commitment to myself is tough, but I know it is right! That means if I have time scheduled to write or work or exercise and one of my kids wants me to drive them last minute, or a friend wants to come over, I have to say no. It’s hard to disappoint people–I hate it!!! But I’ve had plenty of practice disappointing people in the past few years between leaving church, getting a divorce, getting remarried and living differently than I did before. (I am starting to warm up to the idea of writing more about this difficult season I’ve been in.)
If you have a habit of breaking promises to yourself, it’s going to be a process to turn things around. Begin with something small, but be on the lookout for places in your life where you constantly shove yourself aside to please others. You put things off, change your plans, let personal growth and wellness goals fall by the wayside because someone else is demanding. Again, I’m not saying live to please only you, but there has to be some place for you in this life. “Your one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver says. I will leave you with her poem The Summer Day. Happy Monday, friends!

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper I mean–

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand.

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life.

–Mary Oliver

Three Feel-Good Films For Monday Nights

This is my current Monday schedule: get up at 7, make my daughter breakfast, make coffee, make a smoothie, leave the house by 7:40, drop her at school by 7:55, and arrive at my Monday morning cleaning job by 8. After I’m done cleaning, I head home, make lunch, do yoga, shower, work in my office, and pick up my daughter at school by 2:55, head back home, work some more, make and eat dinner, clean up, work until 9:00/10, and then enjoy reading or a video before bed.

It’s not a bad day, it’s just full. And I like work, but the constant forward motion of Monday is what makes me long for, say, a Thursday, when I often have a little more breathing room.

One of the ways I make Monday better for myself is having things to look forward to throughout the day. In the routine above, I can point out three different times I look forward to: doing yoga, eating dinner/having a glass of wine, and reading or watching a video in the evening.

For you, it might be taking a walk at lunch time, enjoying a cup of tea in the afternoon, playing a game or going to a park with your family after dinner, or taking dance lessons with your spouse. If you don’t yet have built-in bursts of happiness in your Monday, then start thinking about what little things you can add into your day to liven it up.

If you have children or if you prefer surprises, you might come up with a “Fun Jar”, which is what I did with my kids when they were small. We came up with activities that were free or very inexpensive, wrote them on slips of paper, and put them in a mason jar. We came up with things like “eat dinner on a blanket on the floor, picnic style, and watch an old TV show”, “go to the playground at the park”, “go out for ice cream”, “game night”, “go to the Sciencenter” etc. If we were getting cabin fever in the winter, or if someone needed cheering up. we would pull a slip of paper out of the jar and do something fun.

In the spirit of feel-good activities, I wanted to recommend three older films that I recently watched for the first time. (I know, I know, but I’m a reader first, so I’m forever behind the times.) Each one feels like cozy pajamas at the end of a long day. You may have seen them already, but they are films to reach for when you want a little comfort. Especially on a Monday night!

The Jane Austen Book Club is lighthearted and funny, but there is depth as well. It deals with real relationship drama, just as Jane Austen’s books do. I instantly wanted to be part of this book club!

How To Make an American Quilt caught me off-guard with the richness of each woman’s story, the heartache or loss that each one experienced, their strength, both as individuals and as a group, their love for each other, and the joy that they each allowed to rule their lives.

Music and Lyrics is just fun. You’ll smile at Drew Barrymore’s quirky, sweet character and laugh at Hugh Grant’s funny quips and mannerisms. You have to see this one!

I would love to hear how you bring fun and positivity into your Mondays!

Eating Frogs, Spring Cleaning, and Other Fun Things

A long time ago, a dear friend of mine had the habit of cleaning her home on Mondays. When I asked her why she chose Monday as her cleaning day, her practical answer was that Mondays are a day that no one looks forward to. So she felt that getting the cleaning out of the way paved the way for a happier outlook for the rest of the week.

This is the mentality found in Mark Twain’s frog quote: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

We all have places we want to go in our lives: personal goals and dreams that we are reaching for. But we have to do the hard and tedious stuff first. It’s necessary! Whatever it is you don’t want to do right now (and these are on my list this week): call the insurance company, get a new social security card, find a way to make a wireless printer work with my new 5G connection…just do it. Quit procrastinating! Use Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule if you need to…Make that dentist appointment, finish a sewing project and ship it, declutter the back room, clean the bathroom…just pick one and do it first thing in the morning. I promise you will feel better knowing you did that hard thing first.

In her book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis shares a pretty clear message: you have to do the work and be the hero of your story. No one will do the hard things for you. Dreams are important and you need them, but, as Rachel says, you can’t live on hope. To make those dreams a reality requires a lot of uphill effort. In her podcast episode 72 about the daily practice that changed her life, she tells us we should write out our dreams, like it’s already reality, and then begin to reverse engineer what it will take to get you there.

So make your list and eat a frog first thing tomorrow morning!

And, in case you are doing some cleaning and want to know what cleaning products and tools (and a few books on home organization/care) I use, here’s my list of favorites. In my own life, having a clean and organized environment is necessary for my mental and emotional health. I am with Marie Kondo on this–the more clean and uncluttered your living spaces, the more you will enjoy your life.

Home Comforts

Organized Simplicity

Biokleen All-Purpose Cleaner

7th Generation Glass Cleaner

7th Generation Wood Spray

7th Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Rubbermaid Reveal Spray Mop

Shark Steam Pocket Mop

Microfiber Cloths

Share your frogs and cleaning adventures in comments!

What to Tell Yourself When You Feel Like a Failure

Let me be honest: it is a challenge to walk the wellness path I encourage others toward. It takes lots of time and dedication to the dreams I want to manifest. It takes willpower, grit, gumption, tears, motivation from many sources and plenty of failing forward. I have many areas I still want to master. In the spirit of transparency, here are some of the things I am working on this year:

I need to be dedicated to daily writing, daily meditation and yoga, daily practice of my instruments. I have an irregular schedule, so I’m thinking that the best way to make these things happen are to make appointments in my calendar app and then follow through. I am not a morning person and do not think clearly enough to write first thing, except morning pages, perhaps. But maybe yoga would work in the morning.

Here is the emotional/mental/spiritual aspect of myself I need help with the most: being grounded in my body enough that I can be calmer, less anxious. I startle easily, am a “Nervous Nellie” as Alan calls me, and am often on the verge of panic. I am taking an herbal blend and use essential oils in the diffuser to help with this, but there are more pieces of this puzzle to be found.

The relational and personal growth-type of area I most need help in: being able to stop what I’m doing and focus on the other person, whom I love, without being preoccupied with work and wishing I wasn’t interrupted. It is really hard for me to change gears, let go of my plan, and be present with someone when I think I really need to get back to whatever I was doing.

I may fake it as well as I can on the outside, but inside, I’m fuming at having to live someone else’s plan for myself. Sometimes I can tell them that now isn’t a good time, but plenty of other times, I need to let this be my life: giving my time, energy, love and attention to the other person.

After all my years serving at church, reading books on selflessness and about being more like Christ, I wonder if I’ve progressed at all? I still like what I like and although I can be a grownup and do all the responsible, giving things on the outside, on the inside I am often willful and rebellious, smart-mouthed and sarcastic. It’s a good thing we can’t hear each other’s thoughts!

So, what do I tell myself? Do your best today! That is my aim everyday, as I’m sure it is yours. We aim to be our best selves, we sometimes miss the mark, but we reassess and keep going after the goal.

How do we treat ourselves after falling on our faces? Plenty of negative, critical self-talk, right? To care for yourself, though, and to promote inner emotional and mental health, you need to be kind to yourself. If you, like me so often, tend to beat yourself up with your thoughts and inner talk, then switch it up! Be encouraging. Find things to compliment about yourself. Remind yourself that mercies are new every morning. Tell yourself “I love you and you deserve to be loved”.

For Lent this year, I gave up negative self-talk about my body and my actions. Every time I catch myself getting ready to unload the mean words gun, I am amazed at how natural it is. It feels weird saying “I love you” to the parts of my body that I’ve never liked much. It feels weird to not criticize the way my jeans fit or my face looks on live video. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s stretching me in the right direction!

So today, assess your life and be honest about where you need to grow, be more consistent, be kinder, let go, create space, or boundaries. But notice the way you talk to yourself and if it tends toward the negative, then begin to sweeten your tone, be encouraging and kind, and tell yourself you are loved and lovable. Because you are!