Coincidence

I wish I could remember all the times when I read an article or passage of Scripture that absolutely spoke to me exactly where I was. There have also been numerous times when I heard a song that was perfectly suited to my situation.

Sometimes these coincidences speak words of comfort, sometimes conviction, sometimes simply let me know I am not alone in my particular situation.

Coincidence is defined as follows:

co·in·ci·dence
[koh-in-si-duhns]

noun
1.
a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance: Our meeting in Venice was pure coincidence.

2.
the condition or fact of coinciding.

3.
an instance of this.

I am not convinced that all these occurrences are mere coincidence. I think they may be one way that God speaks to us.

I recently shared a Maya Angelou quote that I appreciate. “When you know better, you do better.”

The very next Bible study I attended included the following:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
~Ephesians 4:22-24

Another way of reminding me to keep moving forward and doing better as I learn. Whether providential, or simply coincidence, I appreciate these moments, and I think this message is worth repeating.

The Poetry of the Earth

“The poetry of the earth is never dead.”
– John Keats

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life forms on earth.

Sometimes I like to consider the details that allow different life forms to function in different ways, to survive in different conditions, to interact with each other.  Fascinating, really.

Sometimes, though, I simply notice the beauty that exists all around me.  The contrast of color and texture among these evergreen trees captured my attention on a recent run.

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”
– e. e. cummings

A Healthy New Year!

I have been participating in the 6 Weeks of Bliss challenge through Bliss Connect, and this post was written for the week four challenge.  The question this week is, “What diet and fitness tweaks will help make 2012 your healthiest year yet?”  I’ve already mentioned some of my goals for the new year, but I will take a moment to consider my goals through the lens of this particular question.  Who wouldn’t want to achieve her healthiest year yet?  🙂

First of all, let me share what “healthy” means to me.  I do not define health by a number on a scale.  I do not define health as perfectly adhering to a particular diet or rigidly following an exercise program.  That being said, I do believe that wholesome foods and exercise contribute to my healthy lifestyle.  Likewise, I do acknowledge that keeping to a healthy weight range for my height and frame will help stave off a number of health concerns.  But there is an important concept that I think needs to be added to the mix.  Balance.  Feelings of deprivation or burnout will not help me maintain a healthy lifestyle in the long run, and that’s why I think it is important to find a good balance.

I should also note that health, to me, pertains to more than my physical health.  Health in body, mind and spirit are all important goals to me.

So how will I make 2012 a healthy year in body, mind and spirit?

Consistent exercise.

I am currently following a marathon training plan.  As I did last year for my first half-marathon, I am following a Jeff Galloway plan, which takes a pretty conservative approach.  One of my biggest goals in my marathon training is to avoid injury, and the Jeff Galloway approach, which calls for a slower training pace and includes some walking, worked very well for me last year.

Although it can be tempting for me to stick to running alone, I will be making a point to include strength training in my exercise routine.  I will give special emphasis to core strength, due to my history of back problems.  A strong core is my back’s best friend!

I have also had the tendency in years past to drift away from exercise at certain points in the year, usually in the fall.  It is my goal to stick with it through my busiest seasons.

Don’t get derailed by an off day (or week).

This could be considered a sub-goal to the above.  Yes, I intend to workout consistently in 2012.  And… life happens.  Illness happens.  Crazy days get the better of us sometimes.  Injuries happen (knock on wood).  If I find that I’ve gotten off track during sickness, travel, etc., I will not let that become my new habit.  I will not beat myself up about it, but I will get back on track as soon as possible.  I know I feel better when I do work out, so why wouldn’t I get back at it as soon as possible, right?

Food.

Eating food should go without saying, but I specifically mean that most of what I eat will be recognizable as food.  I will include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and try to avoid eating items with ingredients that I do not recognize.  Since I am not a big meat-eater, I will take care to eat enough protein.

Reading.

Nourishment for my brain.  I will read at least one book per month.

Feed my Spirit.

Some of my preferred methods are worshiping with our church family, reading my Bible, and praying.  Time well spent with friends and family certainly nourish my spirit, as well, and I intend to use all these activities to keep my spirit refreshed in 2012.

Rest.

So important, and sometimes so hard for me to do.  I will try to make time for the rest I need to restore myself in body, mind and spirit.

These are some of the things that I plan to do to make 2012 a healthy year.  What about you?

Christmas 2011

(photo of the nativity set my daughter made this year)

I hope everyone out there has enjoyed their holiday celebrations!  We had a nice Christmas at home this year.  We started early, I suppose, by watching The Polar Express with the kiddos on Friday evening.  It’s sort of magical.   After the kids were in bed, my husband I watched Rocky.  Maybe not the most Christmasy movie, but so good.  It took him years to talk me into watching it, but once I did, I just loved it.  I fantasize about going to Philadelphia someday to run up the stairs like Rocky.  😉

On Saturday morning, I went out for a lovely 7 mile run.  I normally take it indoors in the winter.  I run at an indoor track, mainly because I worry about slipping on ice and snow.  Oddly enough, that is not an issue right now.  White Christmases are pretty standard here in Minnesota, but we did not get one this year.  Clear trails meant that I could run outside without worrying about slipping.  I really enjoyed myself!  I’ve already grown accustomed to the artificial always-flat-always-55-degrees conditions of the track, so the real-world conditions of hills, wind and cold were a bit challenging.  I loved it!

On Saturday afternoon, the whole family headed outside to set up our luminaries, so they would be all ready to light when dusk arrived (my hubby went to light them when the time came), and I headed in to start cooking our Christmas Eve dinner.  Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing and carrots.  We had an early dinner to allow time to get ready and head to church.  My husband’s parents met us at the Christmas Eve candlelight service.  I didn’t grow up going to church very often, so this is a relatively new tradition for me (11 years, I believe).  I just love it.  Singing “Silent Night” by candlelight nearly gives me chills.

We all headed back to our house after church, and everyone opened one gift.  We stayed up to play together, perhaps a little too long, but it was nice.  On Christmas morning, my daughter and son were ready to open their remaining gifts and peek in their stockings.  As I’ve mentioned, one of our traditions is to give our children three gifts for Christmas, which reminds of of the three gifts that the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus.  We headed out to church again for our Christmas morning service.

When we got home, we immediately began cooking.  My daughter wanted to make Shepherd’s Pie with a recipe from her cooking class.  She especially wanted to make it while Grandma & Grandpa were visiting.  We ended up with four of us working in the kitchen.  There were many jobs to do, and many hands made the work lighter.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law both got in on the Shepherd’s Pie action, helping with peeling and chopping, melting and mixing.  Little M. was head chef, and the three of us carried out our various tasks to help her put it all together.  I also threw together a salad, a relish tray, and a new batch of Cranberry Avocado Salsa.  It was an eclectic meal, you might say, but the Shepherd’s Pie was great, and it was nice having some lighter foods on the side to go with such a filling main dish.

As I told my father-in-law, part of me wanted to tell them they shouldn’t have to be doing all that work in the kitchen.  They should go relax.  But the part of me that won out saw that this was a memory in the making.  I think my daughter will always remember the year that she cooked Christmas dinner with the help of not only her mom, but also Grandma and Grandpa.  What a special memory that is!

Meanwhile, my son was also enjoying himself, having daddy all to himself.  They played while all the meal preparations took place, while occasionally wandering over to check the progress.  Once Christmas dinner was eaten and cleaned up, we spent the afternoon watching a movie and playing games.  Oh, and enjoying some cookies and pumpkin pie, which my mother-in-law and father-in-law had brought.  Supper consisted of a batch of Chicken and Rice Soup, along with veggie leftovers from earlier in the day.  The soup came from my son’s recipe and some of last night’s roast chicken.

It was a nice Christmas.  Oh, and if you’re wondering, I did get my Christmas wish.  I don’t think I will have time to try it out today (I’ve got running on the docket today), but I do look forward to trying my new Bob Harper workout.  🙂
I hope you had a nice weekend!

(Can you believe that another year is nearly gone?  Where does the time go??)

Tips to Make Gift-Giving Meaningful this Christmas

We’ve all heard complaints about the commercialism that has largely overtaken the Christmas season. With people getting maced at Black Friday sales, who can argue? On the other hand, it is so fun to give gifts to the people closest to us (and sometimes well beyond). How can we strike a balance? How can we make gift-giving a part of our holiday celebrations without going overboard or losing sight of the meaning of Christmas?

Well, first of all, I must say that the appropriate level of gift-giving is something we all need to decide for ourselves. We all have different traditions, different budgets, and so on. These are some ideas to make gift-giving meaningful based on my own experiences. If you find an idea that will help you, hurray! That’s why I am sharing! If you have other ideas to share, please do so in the comments. I would love to hear them! Now let’s get started.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

We give our children each three gifts for Christmas, in remembrance of the gifts that the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus. The gifts themselves have nothing to do with gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it’s just the idea that, “We get three presents just like baby Jesus!” For us, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and we try to reflect that even in our gift-giving.

Want, Need, Wear, Read

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is an idea I’ve heard from other moms that is intended to keep the gift-giving to a reasonable level. Parents out there, isn’t it oh-so-easy to buy things for our children? I know I am more likely to splurge on something for my kids than myself. This gift-giving plan is another way to curb the temptation to buy every cute outfit, every enriching toy, and every fantastic book we see. I really like this idea. It encourages a bit of practicality and a bit of splurge. Sounds like a good balance to me! 🙂

Drawing Names

Drawing names among family members or friends is a great way to include everyone while reducing the shopping frenzy and expense involved with buying something for everyone. If you have fewer people to shop for, you might also be able to put more thought into your purchase to make it a more special gift for the recipient. In an ideal world, we could find personally meaningful gifts for everyone on our list, but the reality is that takes a lot of time and thought, and it can be hard to accomplish that level of meaning many times over. It is also a way to include children, whose funds are usually pretty limited, giving them the opportunity to choose one thoughtful gift for someone they love.

Hand-Made Gifts

This is another way to include everyone in gift-giving without breaking the bank.

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Here are some ideas of things to do instead of or in addition to gifts within your family:

Heifer International

Donate in a loved one’s name for the purchase of a sheep, goat, chickens, or a variety of other items in an effort to end world hunger.

Samaritan’s Purse

Similar to Heifer International, Samaritan’s Purse allows you to donate in a loved one’s name to feed a hungry baby for a week, support an orphanage, contribute to building a school and so many more possibilities.

Operation Christmas Child

Pack up a shoebox of gifts that will be sent to a needy child overseas.  This is one that we like to do, and my children enjoy choosing items to give to a girl or boy their own age.

World Vision

Again, similar to Heifer International and Samaritan’s Purse, this is another opportunity to donate in a loved one’s name to contribute to a community in need.  Some examples are a share in a well, goats, chickens, and business loans for women.

Toys for Tots

Help the Marines provide toys to children in need.

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There are many more possibilities, from adopting a local family to volunteering at a soup kitchen to sending care packages to troops overseas.  There are so many ways to brighten someone’s holiday season, and it really makes the season more special when we look beyond our own four walls.

Wishing you peace and joy this holiday season!

When I Worry

Have you ever been expecting someone at a certain time, only they don’t show up and you can’t reach them? At what point do you worry that something has happened?

Have you ever received bad news from a doctor concerning yourself or someone you love? Do you find yourself worrying in such a situation?

I’m guessing most of us have been in these kinds of situations, and others, when it is hard not to worry. You may remember me telling recently that I couldn’t sleep one night due to worry. I’ve had some things going on that have me worried. I try not to worry. What purpose does it serve, really? Worry, in and of itself, accomplishes nothing. Although I suppose there could be something to be said about it, in that our feelings may spur us to action.

When something is bothering me, worrying me, I try to do what I can and let it go. Often, it seems the action centers around arming myself with information. Being in the dark about something that affects me leaves me feeling powerless. Even if the outcome of a situation is uncertain, it still helps me to know the possibilities and to know my options. Even imagining a worst case scenario can be helpful when I’m worried, because I can picture myself dealing with that worst case scenario and moving on. Believing that I can deal with whatever is coming my way makes a difference to me.

Beyond my own research, preparation, and action, I can also find comfort in prayer and in the Bible. Take a look at these words:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet the heavenly father fees them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? ~Matthew 6:25

Now, I don’t believe in just leaving everything to chance, or just waiting for God to provide. I believe in work, in doing what we can to take care of ourselves, our families and our communities. Still, these words do speak to me. Yes, life is more than food. Yes, the body is more than the clothes it wears. Yes, there will be hard times, but it can help to take the focus off the given worry of the day and remember the things that matter most. Love. Friendship. Determination. Compassion. Strength. Even in difficult times, we can lean on our loved ones (or give them a shoulder to lean on), and we can continue living out the values and character traits that make us who we are. Strength, for example, may look different when we’re sick from the way it does when we’re healthy, but it is still there. And bottom line, no you cannot add a single hour to your life by worrying. So, I will stick with doing what I can and doing my best to let go of worry. It’s not always easy, but that’s my goal.

If you have worries that are dragging you down, I wish you peace of mind. What a tremendous difference that makes in hard times, don’t you think?

A Quiet Place

We went camping over the weekend with a group from our church. This was our fifth year to go on the church campout. Our children were four and two the first time we went, and that was the first time we worked up the nerve to take them camping. In the old days, before kids, my husband and liked to go backpacking. We would bring only what we could carry and hike (sometimes miles) to a campsite. While we haven’t gone to any remote spots with the kids, we have enjoyed camping together, and I think we’ll try backpacking with them someday, when they are a little bigger and better able to carry in their own clothes and sleeping bags.

The location for our church campout was perfect for our family. From our campsite, we could walk to a beach and a playground. And since there was a group of us, we could also visit each other’s campsites to chat, sit around the fire, and make s’mores.

Here was our home sweet home for the weekend.
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Here are my kiddos on a walk to playground.
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Here is the lake where we enjoyed swimming. This picture was taken early one morning, when there were hardly any other people out and about. In the middle of the day, though, the two beaches were packed and there were a lot of boats on the water.
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One fun thing we do for the church campout is to gather for a devotion and potluck dinner. Everyone brings their own meat to grill (I’m pretty sure everyone present ate meat, anyway), and a side item to share. I’ll share my salad, and then I’ll share a bit from the devotion.

Green & Yellow Bean Salad

1/4 cup salt
2 pounds green and/or yellow beans, tipped and tailed
1 pound sliced cucumber
4 scallions, cut into 1/4 or so inch slices, including the tender part of the stems
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill (from my herb garden – love that herb garden!!)
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

* Bring large pan of water and salt to a boil. Add beans. Return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain beans and put into ice water to cool quickly. Drain again.
* Combine cucumbers, scallions, cooled beans and dill. Add oil and lemon juice shortly before serving.

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As for the devotion, our Pastor spoke of a time when Jesus’ disciples had been preaching and were hungry and exhausted. There were so many people coming and going that it seemed they would not be able to take time to rest or even eat lunch. Jesus said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

He spoke about how our lives tend to be so busy that we often find it difficult to take time to rest and to spend time with Jesus. He pointed out that this problem is nothing new, that this tendency has been going on for many many years, as we could see in the Bible passage. We were lucky to be in a beautiful park for a weekend of rest and refreshment. After the short devotion, we prayed and sang a hymn together. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) We then shared a wonderful dinner and enjoyed a time of rest together.

I think the “find rest” carried over into Monday for me. While I was very busy and had a lot of things on my to-do list, I decided that I would wait to share these photos and memories here. Trying to get them loaded up yesterday would have had me pretty frazzled, and I thought better to allow myself a smoother day and get this ready a day late.

For me, personally, finding a quiet place to rest with Jesus resonates. Time spent in prayer or reading the Bible can truly refresh me and calm my nerves. Whatever your beliefs, though, I think we can all agree that it is important to take time to rest and refresh.

I hope that these words will encourage you to find a quiet place of rest when you need it.