What exactly is a “highpoint?” It is indeed a “best moment,” “best part,” “climax,” “the highlight” or the “high spot.” In the case of hiking, highpoints are actually all of the above, with a “high spot” closest to the real definition. “Highpointers” are people of all ages and backgrounds who seek out the highest (altitude) location in each country, state, or county. Depending on your ambition, highpointing can produce a hefty bucket list of peaks to climb. Yes, it’s actually a sport, a passion and a hobby all rolled up into one – a fever that has risen in my family over the past few years. And, to nobody’s surprise, there is also a Highpointer’s Club to join to learn more and feel a part of the growing movement. The graphic below is taken from their website and shows the locations of all the state highpoints, rating their difficulty.
A “benchmark marker” is a plaque placed on each highpoint, denoting the triangulated highpoint location as credentialed by the United States Geological Survey or other authority and includes the name of the highpoint and official altitude. Yes, my husband has a collection of these replicas. I have one from Mt. Elbert on my desk to remind me never to quit
My husband, Steve has his list of his highpoints to conquer and I’m a tagalong for many of them. I found my limit at 14,433’ (see my blog, “Pushing Beyond” about climbing Colorado’s high point, Mt. Elbert, rated a 7/10 difficulty) a few years ago. Steve and I just experienced some beautiful lower state highpoints in Illinois and Wisconsin last week. We started with Eagle Mountain, rated 4/10, which was a 7-mile rocky and rooty hike in northern Minnesota near Grand Marais. The lushness that is Northern Minnesota is something to experience in itself. The depth of the forests, parks, lakes and the extreme body of water, Lake Superior are to be taken in while planning your Minnesota high point experience. We didn’t leave enough time to explore all the nearby parks, only wading into Cascade Falls State Park to see the waterfalls, so are already planning a return trip when we have more time.
My highpoint count is up to 5 so far: AZ (Wheeler Peak), CO (Mt. Elbert), MN (Eagle Mountain), WI (Timms Hill), and IL (Charles Mound) and my husband has 8: adding in CA (Mt. Whitney), TX (Guadalupe Peak) and NH (Mt. Washington). There are many more highpoints to look forward to and to keep up busy, so I’ll add highpointing on our official list of “things to look forward to.” Our strategy is to knock off the hardest ones while we are “youngish” and in better shape. If I decide not to climb, I’ll happily be on the support team back at base camp. Highpointing pairs nicely with our desire to visit all the National Parks (yet another bucket list). We decided that doing what we love while we can still do it is a priority, not letting an arbitrary stage of “retirement” dictate when to get started.
If you want to get started, visit the Highpointer’s Club website and also do your homework at Summit Post. If you are going all in, you may want to purchase a National Park Pass as well and if you are on Facebook “like” Highpointer’s Club to get some inside stories.
We are all weary from the bad “it” has created, encapsulating us in isolation, spreading illness and claiming death. Yes, the COVID undertow pulls us out daily and it seems easier to ride in on the negativity wave. But in the midst of our pandemic, have you tried looking for the good from “it?” Perhaps we need to buckle up our life vest, swim harder and shift our mindset.
Choice. It’s ours everyday, so this day I’ve decided to look beyond the frequently overwhelming bad to focus on the good of “it.” Sitting on my front porch, I can focus on things more easily. From my corner wicker chair, life has become a bit of a spectator’s sport; here’s what I’ve witnessed over the past four months.
Seeing the good.My question to you is: Have you used this pause to see the good? I mean really “see” it? The kind of witnessing that a researcher would experience or ethnographer would chronicle, not just watching the daily news feed go by in an incomprehensible blur. Your ability to see is part of humanity’s chance to do a hard pivot on so many things, including our values.
The joy of cancellation. When life’s daily obligation’s with coworkers, friends, family and colleagues abruptly got cancelled by “it,” we found ourselves temporarily suspended in time. The once inked-in events, fundraisers, concerts, meetings, trips and life’s daily churn screeched to a halt in mid March. And we were all left wondering how and when life would resume. Busyness was erased as easily as a maintenance person’s nightly cleaning of a whiteboard. Disappeared. At first “it” caused disappointment – vacations cancelled, schedules interrupted, appointments postponed “until further notice.” Uncertainty debuted and dug in its’ heels. For many, uncertainty has been overwhelming, but in reflection it became freeing. For me, finding the joy in all that has been cancelled has been a quest. Each of us has been “knighted” by “it” to look and act beyond what was to what could be.
Helping others. The immediate human reaction to imminent threat is twofold: keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe, and then helping others. After securing our home spaces, many of us wrote checks to non-profits and joined in local efforts to acknowledge front line and essential workers. Others not in the “at risk” categories have found ways through volunteering to do our part: helping out at food banks, running errands for the elderly, and doing thoughtful turns for neighbors. “It” felt good and right and I found myself wondering what took me so long to meet my neighbors’ needs up close. We need to keep helping others to see and experience more of the good.
New ways to socialize. Humans crave different levels of socialization. For introverts, staying home has not been such a burden, but for the social butterflies, it has clipped our wings. We’ve had to be creative in maintaining friendships and in growing new ones. Checking in on family, friends and neighbors has taken on a whole new meaning. Whether phone calls, video meetings, porch sits or keeping our physical distance, we’ve all created a routine within our “COVID circle.” Building this new routine has helped us all get through “it.” In fact, I’ve never seen folks so friendly, waving and shouting hellos in an effort to socially connect and fill up our voids.
Life looks inward. Too many times our individual needs fall last on the list: our thoughts, our health, our emotional and physical needs. It’s good to have this time to focus inwardly. The self-imposed busyness of our lives tends to leave our own well being low on the list of priorities. Suddenly, our well being was front and center. First phase: fear and anxiety. Next phase: lack of self-care. Third phase: self-improvement. Time away from our regular routines plays tricks on us individually during isolation, sometimes acting as a cruel teacher and other times as a blessing in disguise. Let’s focus on the latter and use “it” to motivate us to be better for ourselves and for those who love us.
Life at home. Never have we collectively spent more time at home for such an extended period of time. Family. Home. Yard. Our world suddenly shrunk. After an initial fixation with the news, (as happens during catastrophic events) we were left looking at our immediate surroundings with new eyes…stay at home eyes. And our surroundings soon began to bother us. The passage of time, a “stay home” order and life with COVID started working its’ black magic. People, fueled by pent up energy, anxiety and frustration, began cleaning up the corners of their lives that had previously been neglected “until tomorrow.” Tomorrow became today – yards now look the best they’ve ever looked, homes are being repaired and renovated, and people are finding joy (or other things) in tidying up the inside of their homes and getting things in order.
Noticing nature. A lack of commuting to work for those of us staying home means seeing what happens here when we are normally “at work.” Either from the comfort of our home or while enjoying outdoor time, it seems there is more wildlife outside our four walls than we’ve ever previously noticed. A variety of birds and mammals live among us once unseen and now are welcome distractions. Hummingbirds are now observed daily. Flowers that were there, but never fully appreciated are finally seen, cut and arranged in vases to enjoy. Gardens once untended are rediscovered. Yes, noticing nature is part of the good I see in “it.”
Outdoor escapes. My happy place has been the great outdoors for over five decades. And now, in the relative safety of fresh air and the outdoors, people have flocked in record numbers outdoors. My husband and I marvel at the droves of people filing by on our neighborhoods’ sidewalks: biking, walking, strolling, skateboarding and running. For some, it is their first time venturing on long walks, hiking through the woods, or visiting our local, state or national parks. Bike trails are crammed with novices and veterans alike all eager to shatter the sheltering routine, bust boredom and exert energy. Thoreau would be thrilled (or maybe appalled) with the throngs out enjoying nature. Now the challenge is to find times that the masses are not outdoors alongside me.
Work and learn from anywhere. I’ve long known work and learning can be productive from anyplace, anytime, but employers and schools needed convincing. The good in this pandemic is that excuses why not to allow virtual participation have been silenced. I’ve known for decades that some of my best work has taken place from home. But it took a pandemic for others to realize you can work or learn from home or anywhere, which is as disruptive as it is freeing. The effects of this adaptive hard pivot are chapters in books not yet written. The effects of “it” on our use of and thinking about physical space are long lasting and still unfolding. Don’t misunderstand me; I still value in-person the most. The lesson “it” taught us is that we now collectively know we can be physically apart and virtually still get things done.
Time to read and reflect. A couple of months ago I stopped binge watching TV and a few weeks ago I started reading again. First, “Little Fires Everywhere,” then “Where the Crawdads Sing.” Now another book is underway with one in the cue. Perhaps it is escapism, but through the busyness of life I’ve forgotten how much I love to read. Yes, reading is back on my list of priorities, where it should have been all along and the boob tube is turned to sparingly as a mindless respite.
Time to build. Time is a gift. And what we have is time on our hands. Maybe now is the time for the world’s innovators to get to work, to build and invite others to co-create our future. Simply waiting for “it” to pass is not an option and a waste of time. We are not going back to the same world. Bad leadership will fall. Marginal businesses will close and life will find a new way forward. But the new that is being built has a different feel to it. And we wonder what community will look like once “it” passes. Yes, as cliché as it is; only time will tell. So reclaim yours today.
Hope for the future. Yes, the fatigue beast has crept into our lives and we all long for the return of normal. But “it” isn’t going away anytime soon. What we do have control over is our attitude – seeing the good or only the bad. Hope is part of the powerful prescription needed until we are all vaccinated. Hope just doesn’t appear one day; it is channeled and fashioned every day. Now is the time to call a friend, to set up a physically distant porch visit, to surprise a shut-in with flowers or to move forward with building that new idea. You are responsible for helping hope find its way.
Be the ripple. We are living a 2020 live stream version of David versus Goliath and some days I’m not so sure who is winning. Unless you have a front row seat to the virus in your personal circle, “it” seems surreal – like watching a movie, maybe “Groundhog Day” where we are all stuck on repeat. Or maybe we’re starring in our own version of “The Truman Show,” where everyone is home watching everyone else, but nobody knows really what’s going on, whom the star is and what will happen if we break out of the bubble. We all need to tune our personal antennas to what our neighbors’ needs are. Our outlook can be contagious and impacts those around us in ways we may never know. There is a silver lining if you look for the good in “it.” We need a wave of positivity about now and you can help create the next ripples.
For those who have had medical challenges in your life, you have already played the waiting game. Maybe you are unlucky enough to be experiencing it right now and have the added concern of dealing with COVID-19. Or maybe it is the virus or you think it is the virus and now you wait.
Waiting to see if you feel better.
Waiting to talk to/see the doctor once you decide you are not well.
Waiting for test results (excruciating).
Waiting for a diagnosis.
Waiting for a treatment plan to come together.
Waiting for treatment to start.
Waiting for treatment to be completed.
Waiting for more test results to see if the treatment worked.
Waiting for the next appointment to see if your malady has returned, you are in remission or “cured.”
Yes, the waiting game sucks. And now more people know about this place of personal hell.
Today much of the world is waiting. Paused. On hold. Fear grips us instead of hugs. Panic shopping prevails instead of social outings. Hand washing replaces hand holding. For now at least.
As we self-quarantine to wait out the virus storm that is sweeping across our country and the world, we need to take a deep breath to remember what’s important – family, friends, faith and the well-being of our neighbors, including those on the front of this pandemic.
We can wait in fear or wait with purpose. Some will turn inwards in a self-preservation mode and shut out the world while others reach out to help those who are also waiting, but don’t have a home or food in their waiting room.
You can do both.
Stay at home if you are vulnerable and isolate. Engage with ways to help virtually or at home. Or be part of relief efforts practicing good hygiene and social distancing if you are able. Donate to local charities on the front line of this fight to help them secure needed resources now.
We can all do our part. What’s your plan? #doyourpart
Things keep perking along in “Normal Land” until something reminds me that normal is the place I should want to be. Because sometimes I forget that almost ten years ago I was diagnosed with DCIS, Stage 0 breast cancer. I remembered recently when I made my annual appointment for a yearly physical. My remembering checks me into this weird waiting room space, where my brain starts to go places it shouldn’t go. The “what if’s” and “maybe’s” of the la la land I live in when I remember.
Yes, sometimes I forget. Until I gaze into my nephew and niece’s newborn baby girl’s face, which causes me to remember my sister-in-law, Nancy, that little girl’s grandma. A grandma she’ll never meet, only knowing her through our remembering by sharing stories I don’t want to forget.
And sometimes I forget how blessed I am to live in a wonderful, caring community in the beautiful Midwest where the seasons change. That is, until I allow myself to gaze out the window at the stillness and beauty of a winter snowfall. Or indulge in a sit on my beloved front porch to just enjoy the gentle whisper of the wind upon my face. Nature lets me get lost in my thoughts and always helps me remember.
But then there’s the Sunday afternoon when I pick up the phone to call my dad, like I did every Sunday for 35 years after my mom died. Because I forgot for a moment that he passed away two years ago. Putting my phone down, I reach for a wooden cross that was once dad’s. I grasp it, breathing in memories of him, feeling the presence of his fingerprints.
Sometimes I forget why I like to bake or make certain foods. Until the aromas waft throughout the house. A smell from the bread maker triggers delicious childhood memories of my mother baking break on a Saturday morning. Closing my eyes, I can see her in standing at the kitchen counter, expertly kneading the dough. A warm slice of homemade whole wheat bread, slathered with butter and drizzled with honey was my prize for waiting, albeit not so patiently. A taste of home. Remembering what I’ve forgotten makes me feel safe and loved.
And sometimes I forget the carefree days of my youth, until I hear Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” which puts me right back at age 12 listening to the very first song on my very first radio. Listening to it over and over, the words are now memorized, etched into the far corners of my brain, ready for instant recall.
So now I’m wondering why does the mind forget? Is it because returning to “normal” is normal? Is living in the present the desired state? Is my mind protecting me from the pain of past memories? Because forgetting our pain from the past doesn’t really mean it’s gone. Each painful thing I’ve “forgotten” is like a layer, a scab, that eventually turns into a memory scar. Not something visible, but part of me, a chapter in my story.
I haven’t figured out if ripping off the scab is reliving the pain, preserving the past or is honoring its impact on my life. Or is remembering the “forgotten” just useless time wishing things could be different? Adding to my emotional mix tape, forgetting also makes me feel guilty that I haven’t remembered.
So perhaps the answer is there is no answer.
Except that time does soften the scar and makes the wound less painful. The scar becomes part of me. I guess it’s up to me how I interpret forgetting and remembering and what I carry with me moving forward. I don’t want to dwell on the fact that sometimes I forget, but rather bring my past to a future where I’ll forget what needs to be forgotten and remember what’s important.
Sometimes great resources lay undiscovered until we are in need. Three years ago I was introduced to Fox Valley Food For Health (FVFFH) when a good friend of mine was battling Stage IV cancer and we were searching for meal resources. Fast forward to fall of 2019 when I was faced with back surgery and six weeks of “no” restrictions for bending, twisting, knee bending or lifting more than 10 lbs. Meal preparation (and shopping) seemed like a daunting task. Week one after back surgery I enjoyed meals prepped prior to surgery or those brought by friends. Standing for any length of time or bending over to cook was an immediate challenge. And my husband was in a heavy traveling cycle, so timing was not optimal for in-home help. Kicking off week two of rehab, a week’s worth of prepared food was ordered from a meal delivery company. When half a week’s food arrived in an extremely large and heavy box, I cancelled future orders, appalled by all the packaging waste (not to mention mediocre and expensive food).
Sharing my food dilemma with
the same friend who used the gift of FVFFH during her cancer treatment, she
suggested I call FVFFH. After a home visit from one of their client care
coordinators to review my home environment and medical condition, I was given
the gift of Fox Valley Food For Health for the remainder of my six-week
limitations. Typically, meal sessions are 8-12 weeks; I was happy to make a
donation to this wonderful non-profit rather than support the meal delivery
company with wasteful packaging practices and so so food.
As today marks six weeks post surgery with restrictions now lifted, I’m able to prepare meals on my own. Better yet, I’m an ambassador for FVFFH and want to share their mission, story and how it made a difference in my recovery. As I transition out of their care and my Delivery Angel has picked up the last of my reusable containers, I send my heartfelt thanks to the teens and adult volunteers, staff and donors who make Fox Valley Food For Health possible.
“WE COOK, WE CARE, WE CONNECT”
Just how did Fox Valley Food
for Health get started? Cofounders Susan Leigh and Mary Fremgen launched their
dream in 2013 after meeting each other in the nutrition-cooking program at
Living Well Cancer Resource Center years earlier. They knew that the right
foods are medicine and play an important part in recovering from major
illnesses. They also believe that today’s teens need to learn how to cook
properly. Fittingly, FVFFH’s mission is to promote a nutrition-focused
community through teen education and service to those struggling with a health
Every week, many Fox Valley Food For Health
volunteers join together to prepare, cook, package, and deliver their delicious
and nutritious meals. Teen chefs, working with adult mentors, learn cooking
skills and increase their knowledge of nutrition, healthy eating behaviors, and
The meals they provide are nutrient-rich and
primarily plant-based, with an emphasis on organic and sustainable ingredients.
FVFFH chefs prepare vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits in a variety
of creative ways. They include a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables that
are rich in phytochemicals, plant chemicals that act as antioxidants and have a
vital role in preventing and fighting diseases. High quality protein foods,
such as fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy, are also incorporated into FVFFH menus.
Thanks to the commitment of community farmers
and volunteer gardeners, FVFFH are able to organically grow fresh vegetables
and herbs for use in their kitchen. They even prepare and freeze some of this
produce to infuse menu items with a “fresh off the vine” flavor over the winter
months. A wonderful touch is that the meals are delivered by volunteer
“Delivery Angels” on Wednesday mornings to client families between 9:30 am and
11:00 am in snap lock reusable containers. My delivery angel, Chris, was also a
former recipient of FVFFH when she was battling cancer. The meals are portion controlled,
nutritious and absolutely delicious. And their chef shares some of the recipes
with you each week to help encourage making healthy menu choices that help your
body heal. I felt like I had my own personal recovery culinary team.
Their model, designed by the cofounders for
Fox Valley Food For Health is a win, win, win. First, it is a wonderful organization that teaches our teens
about how to grow, harvest and cook healthy food. Second, it provides
meaningful adult mentoring, volunteering and “Delivery Angel” opportunities. And
third, it provides nutritious and healthy food for those families struggling
with a health crisis. If you are looking for a Fox Valley cause that makes an
immediate difference in the lives of families, consider volunteering for FVFFH,
attending their events or making a donation. Checks
may be sent to FVFFH, PO Box 532, Geneva, IL. 60134 or give online at www.foxvalleyfoodforhealth.org. Cheers to healthy eating
and my new family of friends at Fox Valley Food for Health!
Everyone will visit at some point in your lives. Struggle City. Some of us are frequent flyers and a few are lucky to rarely pass through town. Maybe you are visiting or living there right now. If so, you know the vacancy sign is continuously lit. We all know someone who is struggling – health challenges, work or lack of it, financial woes, addiction, depression and worse. Yes, we struggle because we are human.
I’ve recently taken up temporary residence on the outskirts of Struggle City in my Airstream pulled by Steve’s dreamy, fully loaded pickup. This visit is prompted by my back surgery and includes an all-inclusive six-week recovery. Before my departure, I was a student at Rush-Copley Hospital’s Spine School. Staff navigators gave me needed information to pack the Airstream and walk me through my hospital stay, plus a nose swab for good measure. Yes, seeing all the equipment I had to acquire for my upcoming trip was both sobering and motivating. My first reaction was, “I won’t need that” to the grabber, squatty potty and other suggestions that looked like they belonged in a nursing home. Well, I was wrong.
The realization that I should plan for and journal while on the road trip inspired me to take action. I hadn’t visited Struggle City in a while, but packed extremely well for this trip thanks to my medical team at Rush Copley and friends with equipment stowed for such occasions. Good thing I didn’t fly… I needed the trailer to pull all the items for a safe recovery: walker, tray tables, shower chair, bed rail and yes, even the grabber. I did pass on the squatty potty and made due with my grandmother’s needlepoint stool. Nobody ever said constipation is fun, but why not go with designer when you can?
My stay started nearly three weeks ago. I barely left the
trailer the first week – it was a chore just to get around and take care of the
basics. Not to mention picking up the many items too heavy or slippery for the
grabber. Solid pre-trip planning
lined up a cast of family and friends to stay or visit me to make sure my basic
needs were met. My first adventure outside the Airstream was navigating the
walker 50 yards to the stop sign, then down the block 200 yards and then around
the block. Yes, it is fall in Struggle City with yard work not to be done and rules
to follow: don’t bend, don’t squat, don’t twist and don’t lift more than 10 lbs
until October 30. Slow and steady is thy name.
I practiced my impending disability before surgery, but
nothing is more real than actually parking the trailer in Struggle City for a
non-negotiable, non-refundable six-week stay. Block walking has since made way
to miles and the walker has been replaced by hiking poles as my medical team
gave me the green light to briefly leave the neighborhood with a 1-2 hour pass.
Progress is being made and the disabling L4 back pain I had prior to surgery is
all but gone. For this I am so thankful.
I’m halfway through my stay in Struggle City, with the worst weeks behind me. The leaves are starting to change and I’m actually noticing their display each day instead of groaning when they need to be raked up. What is my secret to the best stay you ask? First, I asked for help from family and friends before surgery. People are happy to help when you give them plenty of lead-time and are specific about the help you need. Creating a calendar of care is critical; especially to make sure they can all fit in the Airstream. All this groundwork has led me to realize that the upside of being down is spending time with people whom you want to be around. Thank you to my friends and family for making my stay the best it could be.
Is there a second secret to making my stay in Struggle City
easier? Why yes there is! Preparation. I got really, really
organized with everything from food preparation to house cleaning and from
countertop organization to pajama shopping. If you can take the bypass around Struggle City, why
wouldn’t you? So yes, in my
downtime I’ve written up a 10-page manual, “Back Surgery Prep and Recovery.”
Highlights include equipment reviews, preparation checklists and tips to make
your recovery easier for you (and those around you). Very “Britta,” I know. Seriously,
I can’t help myself. Optimization is encoded in my DNA. I’m compelled to share,
so if you or someone you know wants a copy, message me and I’ll get you a copy
of my work in progress or add you to my Slack group.
A note specifically for those of you making a planned or
unplanned trip to Struggle City… use your voice to advocate for yourself and
invite allies when you need us. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather an
invitation to be present. If you don’t ask for help, how can people know you
need it? Here’s wishing you only
brief stays in Struggle City with good friends to share the journey and help
carry the load.
As for me, I’ll be back home soon, rested up and ready for
my next adventure. That is as long as I don’t drop my grabber, cell phone and
P.S. Is there someone in your life who has taken up residence in Struggle City? You can help shorten their stay or brighten up their day by taking initiative instead of waiting to be asked to help. The residents appreciate a supportive text, note of encouragement, ride to the doctor, healthy meal delivered, or short visit to just listen. If you are currently dwelling in Struggle City, look me up and be encouraged to reach out to your family and friends and local resources for help.
As an athlete, I was led to believe in order to achieve you had to experience pain. Not the broken leg type of pain, but the internal exhaustion when you’ve pushed yourself to your absolute limits – physically and mentally. A place where grit overtakes the will to give up. A time to intentionally break myself down so that I could be built back up. Yes, pain was a friend sought out as a hallmark of progress. No pain, no gain.
As an adult, with my athletic days far behind me, pain is not something to be achieved, but rather to be relieved. My aging body sounds off, retaliating for years of athletic overuse, leaving me to now wonder if the price of greatness in youth means payment in doses of pain in adulthood. The repetitive nature of high caliber sports – particularly swimming and volleyball, have left behind hallmarks of arthritis and degeneration. A January snow shoveling “twitch” triggered my avalanche of problems. The bottom line is pain and once you are held in its tailspin, getting out consumes your thoughts. Believe me, I’ve spent many months trying to reduce my back pain: Rest, ice, heat, physical therapy, oral steroids, lumbar injection, CBD oil, and even dietary restrictions to work on inflammation from the inside out. But I’m still left with pain that refuses to cease. Disabling pain that prevents me from climbing mountains, hiking, standing and walking any distance – all activities that have both restored me and defined me for decades.
“Pain is like a song you can’t stand on continuous replay, drowning out the melody of your favorite tune. And worse yet, you simply can’t figure out how to change the channel.”
I now better understand those of you who live in pain every day. I empathize with you and know what it means to have good days and bad days. Depression envelopes me while looking back at what I could do just one year ago as I stew in what I can’t do today. Then I am buoyed up while counting the many blessings of family and friends, of a beautiful home, garden and front porch to write this blog. Yes, pain plays mind tricks and tests you constantly. I get it now, some 8 months later. Pain is both a reminder that we are alive and a warning flare that something is wrong.
This message is intended for those of you struggling with your own pain – be it physical or mental – the type that rarely gets relief , that gnaws at you daily, hourly. I get it now. Sure, I’ve been through many bouts of pain after childbirth, surgeries and injuries. But they were temporary, not a constant drumbeat that refuses to be silenced. Pain is like a song you can’t stand on continuous replay, drowning out the melody of your favorite tune. And worse yet, you simply can’t figure out how to change the channel.
So what do you do when pain is winning and you don’t know what to do? Get help. So I’m putting my trust in a surgeon to fix my back. Little does he truly understand the importance of recovery for me as a person. How can he? I’m just another back, another surgery, another fix. The potential for his skilled hands to transform my pain into living life fully again is palpable. Counting down the days, I am actually looking forward to feeling the pain of surgery as that intentional infliction means the possibility of resuming life as it was. Life without pain that I took for granted. So many times I’ve put my trust in a talented doctor to fix my broken body and have been healed. It’s time to do so again as options are all but exhausted.
Trust. Pain. Gain. It’s all a part of living. To those of you still in pain, whatever it is, seek help. Explore your options. Try everything for your one body and one precious life. For now I understand, first hand, that living in pain is not fully living; it is time to get back to the business of living.
As an avid gardener, I know a key to yard work is to regularly schedule my time to maintain gardens. Planting and harvesting get much of the attention, however a hidden secret to a successful harvest lies in weeding. Yes, weeding is cruicial, not just for the look, but because pesky weeds steal away nutrients and water from the good things we are intentionally growing. Weeds are manageable if you pull them at frequent intervals. Tweny minutes a week is not too bad once you have a yard under control. But if you are gone for a month and come home after a rainy and hot June, guess what greets you? A forest full of happy weeds. You can either let them grow and lose control or get to work.
Just like our gardens, we need to stay on top of things that creep, unwanted, into our lives. That means doing regular maintenance of things we may not want to do or pruning back parts of our lives that have gotten out of control. Once you begin working on your personal gardening, you’ll realize the benefits to all parts of your life.
How do we start weeding out? First, you have to be ready (emotionally and physically) to get weeding. Second, identify the weeds in your life and prioritize them. Third, grab your gloves and get weeding!
So what do you weed out first? Is it bad habits? Friends who wear you down more than bring you up? A cluttered house? Toxic relationships (personal or professional)? An unhealthy work environment? Whatever it is, you are your own master gardener, so own your gardens and get to work. All you need is a pair of nice fitting gloves (in case you run into particularly prickly weeds) a bit of time and the right mindset.
In the spirit of personal gardening, I’ve taken this last year off from paid work, focusing on a personal sabbatical to do my own weeding. And the benefits have been many. A year of trying new things, cleaning out the house #mariekondo style, painting, gardening, traveling, sharing 69 cups of coffee with the community, spending time with friends and family, reading and writing. Yes, lots of me time. And it has been such a gift. And now I’m ready for the next big thing in my professional life because I did the weeding I needed to do. For me. I encourage you to do the same, whatever that looks like for you in your life at this moment.
Are you motivated to start your own personal garden weeding? Here’s a weeding exercise if you are ready to get to work. Answer these three questions (really, get a paper and pencil), then prioritize your lists.
What (or who) are the “weeds” in my personal life that need attention? (Think physical and mental health, friendships, life surroundings – home/garden, and groups I associate with or volunteer for regularly). These are things in my life that suck out my energy or invade my time, leaving me too busy to focus on things I really want to do or be someone I’d really like to be.
What (or who) are the “weeds” in my professional life that I am in control of pulling? Work is never perfect. Even if you work for yourself. So what parts can you weed out or delegate to make time and space for the things you are really good at and love to do?
If I could weed out things in my life, what would I like to do with new found time and energy?
So what did you learn about yourself? Your “home” self versus your “work” self? Is it time to start plucking the weeds or should you grab the pruning shears? What is holding you back? The weeds are only getting thicker and sucking away the nutrients you need to live a happy and healthy life. Remember, you are the master gardener of your life. Whatever weeds have crept into your life, you only have to open your eyes to see them, squat down and start pulling. Even if it is a field of weeds, you start by pulling the first one. With each weed pulled, you will gain satisfaction and eventually, reclaim your garden.
Once your weeds are under control, you can look forward to spending more time at your happy place doing things you really want to do. For me, it is sitting on my front porch with feet up, favorite beverage on hand and hours ahead with no set schedule. I hear the birds singing, the lawn mowers humming, the softball girls in the park cheering, have books to read, a journal to fill and a blog to publish. Here’s wishing your garden gets free of weeds soon.
10 Ways to Improve Your Health and to Minimize Your Risk for (Breast) Cancer
Throughout the past decade, I’ve tracked the latest research on behalf of DCIS MyStory and Breast Cancer MyStory. This post summarizes health risk factors into “The Ten.” These are personal choices – actions – to stay/get healthy and to minimize your risk for disease, especially breast cancer. Though there are other factors, like your family history you cannot change, there are ten lifestyle choices you CAN control. Invest in your future by reading this post, then making the changes you need to live your best life. The Ten is an inventory for living a healthy lifestyle, period – not just regarding breast cancer. Skim it or read in detail and follow the links to be on your way to making more good choices in your life.
Note: Below is the summary
if you just want to scan the list and do a personal inventory. If you want more
information and research to back the recommendations, read the entire blog.
Yes, grab a cup of coffee, scratch paper and pencil and keep score of where you
need to get to work. You have only one life and your body is keeping score.
1.Make healthy food choices.
2.Obtain and maintain ideal
4.Avoid all tobacco
6.See your physician
regularly and follow recommended screenings.
8.Manage your stress levels.
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep
each night; avoid working nights.
Here are my reflections on The Ten with research and resource links as the base of my thoughts.
1.Make healthy food choices. What we put in our mouth fuels our body each hour of each day. Good stuff in, healthy body out. Junk in, problems out. Processed food, meats, snack foods, sugar, soda, artificial sweeteners, fast food and convenient foods we’ve introduced into our diet the past few decades catering to our lives of convenience are to blame. Our growing desire for easy and fast food preparation becomes the culprits of chaos when it comes to our food sources being the “good fuel” to stoke the human fire. Check out this article that backs me up on the benefits of eating healthy: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322268.php and this one too: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322550.php
2.Obtain and maintain ideal body weight. When we carry extra weight, we are just asking for
problems. Whether wearing out our
joints prematurely, eating ourselves into diabetes or fueling cancer cells, your
body weight matters. Use a BMI or
body mass index to guide you – your height and weight factor into a number
(preferably in the range of 18.5-24.9) that is the indicator you’ve got the
right weight on your type of body frame. Officially, body mass index
(BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult
men and women. Here’s the translation:
Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
Overweight = 25–29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
My conclusion? Work with your health care
professionals to attain and maintain a BMI under 25. Yes, you CAN do it and it all starts in the grocery store
with your choices there and learning how to decode and order food when you eat
or order out.
3.Exercise regularly. Since the first two on the list have to do with food and weight, here is a way to keep your weight down and your physical strength, muscle mass, bone density and fitness up. You don’t have to be an athlete, but you do need to develop a regular routine to follow that works for you, your body, abilities and lifestyle. Always seek a doctor’s advice before starting any new program and join a class or get a workout buddy for motivation. As I’ve been a life-long athlete, exercising is not a problem for me, but rather when I have physical limitations and can’t workout, then the pounds (and my bad attitude) surface. Recent research reveals exercise increases well-being by improving gut health https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324193.php and more research from the Current Sports Medicine Reports here: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/FullText/2017/07000/Exercise_in_the_Prevention_and_Treatment_of_Breast.15.aspx. The bottom line is get moving and stay moving.
4.Avoid all tobacco products. I think we all know this is not healthy and creates
multiple problems from health to finances. Don’t start and if you have, seek help to stop. Too much research on this to pick just
one, however take it from the Surgeon General and stay away from tobacco
altogether. Research published in Breast Cancer Research from the Generations
Study cohort concludes: “Smoking was associated with a
modest but significantly increased risk of breast cancer, particularly among
women who started smoking at adolescent or peri-menarcheal ages. The relative
risk of breast cancer associated with smoking was greater for women with a
family history of the disease.”
More from that research found here: https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13058-017-0908-4
5.Avoid alcohol. Yes, you may talk yourself
out of this one, but enough research has shown that alcohol not only packs on
the pounds, but may also fuel disease. The solution? Don’t start drinking or quit if you have. I quit on 12-31-18 and haven’t looked
back. Here is my blog about quitting alcohol if you need reasons why or some
inspiration: https://breastcancermystory.org/resolute/. Do you need research to back this up? Though the final
verdict may still be out, we do know that alcohol causes inflammation and
contains high levels of sugar, both which should be avoided or limited for good
health. Here is more information from the research front: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324442.php
I guess I just like to crunch my calories now
more than drink them…
6.See your physician regularly and follow recommended
screenings. This will vary depending
on your gender and age. It starts with visiting your physician annually and
following through on recommended tests and screenings. If you don’t, you have nobody to blame
but yourself. Here is a background
doc from the American Cancer Society that may be helpful: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-screening-pdq
As new screening technologies come on the
market, they will help us diagnose and treat diseases earlier and more
7.Perform monthly self-exams. An
extension of visiting your physician, it is up to you to monitor your body and
report to your physician any changes you notice. Don’t rely on the Internet docs to diagnose yourself. Visit
the real MD’s who know you and your body. This seems logical, but it seems we
are either embarrassed or afraid (or both) to share changes in our bodies that are
uncomfortable (for us) to verbalize. Remember, your doctor has heard it all and
can only help you if they know what’s going on with your body. Here is information on breast self-exam
and awareness from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237
8.Manage your stress levels. This one is easier said than done. Sometimes we think we are managing stress – work, illness, death of a loved one, financial pressures, but they just manifest themselves in other ways – binge eating, deprivation, isolation, self harm, depression, twitches, declining health. Your body takes its cues from our mind and if you are on overload and not dealing with “it” in a healthy way (think yoga, physical exercise, meditation, talking to a professional or a friend, etc.) it will manifest itself in ways harder to deal with down the road. Think of stress as a dandelion in your lawn. It sprouts up and calls attention to itself as a nuisance. Once it appears you can either ignore it by mowing it down each week, spray it or dig it up. But if you dig it up, you MUST get all the roots, or the weed will pop up again and again. The same goes with stress. Here is research about stress using mouse models that shows that stress hormones can help breast cancer grow, spread and diversify, making it harder to treat: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324720.php
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night; avoid working nights. You can
convince others you only need 6 hours of sleep, but your body needs time to
relax and recharge daily. Don’t
shortchange yourself, your family, your coworkers or friends by picking up the
slack by cutting down on your sleep.
Here’s more to convince you to head to bed earlier and rise earlier: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323571.php
10.Reduce environmental risks. (Pollution, lead, radon…) The environments we live,
work, eat and play in can and do affect our body. Pay attention to your
surroundings and minimize exposure to things like lead (think paint in an older
home and water in older pipes), toxins from yard chemicals, air pollution,
radon (especially important in older homes with basements) and even the
non-organic food we purchase at the grocery store. It seems a pain to wash our
melons and fruits, however the more our farmers have to battle Mother Nature,
the more our food needs to be questioned and prepared properly. Here is a
background document from the National Institute of Environmental Health
Smile, laugh, enjoy life and do the best you can to control what you can. This
blog was not meant to make you paranoid, but rather to share knowledge so you
can be more aware. Remember, you are the author of your life and are writing
your next chapter now. I am hopeful it is a very long novel and you have the
needed information to make the best choices you can in the pages ahead.
“Busy” seems to be an entirely acceptable answer today to
the standard question, “How are you?”
But busy is only a state we put ourselves in. A frenzy. Busy is the
whirlwind of places to go, things to do, people to please and its power over
you makes you a slave to the busy god. As if busy was something to aspire to be
or a status to achieve. Is busy somehow an indicator of success and not being
busy failure? Nope. As a past
subscriber to Busy, Inc., I know it well. And now I’m here to share with you
the value of becoming “unbusy.” As I write this blog on my beloved front porch,
I revel in my unbusyness. I know
it won’t last forever, but for now, it is the time I need to recover and
recharge for the next big thing.
Last summer I made the decision to move on from a job that
kept me very busy indeed. Add in volunteer work, family life, friends, home and
health challenges and that word – THAT word, “busy” was a joke among my family
members about me. “Mom can’t do
that because she is too busy.” Busy became an excuse and a source of contention.
In becoming unbusy, I realized that busy should not be something to be achieved,
but rather relieved. In part due to the timing of a career shift and also
because family matters needed to be attended to, I made the conscious choice to
leave busy behind and focus on new priorities.
The timing of a former student reaching out to
me around the holidays was not coincidental. In fact, that same person mailed
me the book, “Essentialism” that put my feet upon the path of becoming unbusy
and gaining focus. It was my
unbusy primer. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit
of Less – shares that “success
brings new problems – the undisciplined pursuit of more. The anecdote of that
problem is the disciplined pursuit of less, but better.” So what gives? Sometimes
all we need is a nudge.
The book “Essentialism” was my nudge delivered at just the right time. I created space to think and to see the bigger picture of my life and how my talents could be shared in my next chapter. Essentialism also teaches the art of saying a slow yes and a quick no. Too often we say yes without really thinking through if what we are taking on distracts us from what we should be doing or is a step that moves us closer to our intended goal. Focus on the few things. Say no when other people say yes and follow the disciplined pursuit of the essential. The idea of saying “no” does take practice. It means whittling away commitments to the core few. It means looking more deeply into yourself to start imagining a future path that focuses on leveraging your strengths and values.
Remember, you are the author of your own life and in becoming unbusy, you take control of the most valuable asset you have – your time.
Becoming unbusy was, and still is challenging for someone
who thrives on being busy. But it
is amazing how much of your day can be filled with meaning when your purpose is
self-prescribed. Life is full of unexpected
potential when you can spontaneously say, “yes” to coffee or lunch with a
friend. Or when you can make dinner for neighbors on a weekday, babysit your grandchild
and run errands at 2 pm on a Tuesday. Yes, the busy life would have crammed all
that into one jam-packed weekend in between mowing the law and doing laundry.
Becoming unbusy is truly transformational. It allowed me to binge watch season 1 of
Marie Kondo during the polar vortex and in turn to reorganize our entire house.
Yes, our entire house and it took me some three months, concluding with a
garage sale, trip to Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and family artifacts
distributed. The feeling of
lightening the load just adds to the gifts that becoming unbusy bestow. Some
have asked me if I’m retired. No, I am not retired, just taking a life
sabbatical, a gap year or a pause. This time of unbusyiness is a gift supported
by my loving husband who has patiently helped me navigate the waters of work
and family life for over three decades. Thank you Steve.
I wish for everyone the time you need to pause, to learn the
art of the quick no and the slow yes and to welcome the opportunity to become
unbusy. Even if it’s an hour a
day, a day a month or focused time away, revel in just being present with your
thoughts. Put away your technology, shut off the TV and turn inwards instead. Spend
time with no agenda, write down your dreams, start a journal and be guided by
your ideas. Becoming unbusy allows
dreams that have been buried, latent for years or decades, to resurface and be
revisited. You are worth the investment and will find your better self once you
allow vulnerability and boredom to make an appearance.
Remember, you are the author of your own life and in
becoming unbusy, you take control of the most valuable asset you have – your
time. As for me, it’s time to read
and write more, for personal inquiry, for family and friends and to dream about
what’s next. I hope to see you on the
road to unbusy soon and if you get there, ring me up for coffee or stop by for
a chat on the front porch. The invitation
has been extended, how will you respond?