Thursday, December 4, 2014

Don’t Let the Weather Make You SAD: 5 Tips to Make Peace with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Don’t Let the Weather Make You SAD:
 5 Tips to Make Peace with Seasonal Affective Disorder

One Saturday, on a cold, wet and dreary Ohio day, I posted this on Facebook:
“After being challenged by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) for many years, I can finally see the beauty in these cold, wet, and grey Ohio days. That's not to say and I wouldn't rather have the sun, but by staying present (and dressing appropriately- thank God for my Mountain Hardwear shell!) I can still find peace in the scenery and accept grey as just another color that paints the sky. (Wow, my slightly enhanced meditation practice must be paying off!)” 
I was surprised to get over 30 “likes” and several comments. 
Realizing I was definitely not the only one to take an emotional dive as the temperatures dropped, I figured that it might be helpful to share a few tips on how I have been able keep my spirits up during the winter. (According to, and estimated 10 million people in America suffer from SAD, and that number doubles when looking at a milder form of the disorder).
Before I begin, let me be clear…I can in no way say I have fully overcome SAD, especially considering it is only the beginning of December and I have many months to go.  However, I can say I deal with the season much better than I use to.
[Back track a few years, and many a winter’s night you’d find me alone in tears.  In one instance in college, I can remember myself curled up on my futon not ever wanting to move until a friend “saved” me by knocking on my door to go to dinner at the school cafeteria together.  It really is the little things!]
I’m about to share with you my main 5 tips and then I’ll elaborate on each one.
Here are my 5 Tips:

1. Listen to your body.
2. Get outside.
3.  Accept what is.
4. Stay Present
5. Find a Guru (or friend)

 Sounds simple right?  Well yes and no.  The tips are pretty easy, but they take a whole lot of practice and dedication.  Just like running for me, if I want to get better I have to train almost every day. 

Let’s get started and take our first step into our journey…

1. Listen to Your Body

I am dividing this step into two parts: sleeping and eating, our basic necessities!  Most people’s issue here is that they try to fight our bodies’ natural tendencies.  Here, we are going to learn from our ancestors.
1a. Sleep More- Anyone else crave more sleep in the dark, cold months?  The alarm goes off and you snuggle deeper into you sock monkey bed sheets instead of preparing for the morning’s run with the dog?  Well, that’s normal. Very few people get enough sleep anymore, especially in the winter.  This is not because people are sleeping less in the winter than they do other months, but because it is natural to sleep more in the winter!  “Back in the day” before electricity, people lived from by light of the sun.  Sure they stayed up a little past dark with the fire going and a candle to read by, but not the additional few hours with the home lit up and a bright computer screen shining in their eyes (totally guilty of that right now).  So take rest, hibernate for a while, and let your body heal with some additional rest.

1b. Eat Hearty Foods- With all the holidays, it’s hard not to eat warm, rich foods and maybe gain a few extra pounds.  And guess what? That’s all totally fine!  Of course, I don’t mean  eat creamy, fatty foods full of butter and animal products.  Those foods definitely DO NOT help one stay happy (read more HERE).  For me, this means enjoying lots of warm, delicious soups made of winter squashes or my favorite chili recipe from Scott Jurek.  I also indulge in lots of nuts and seeds, from pecans to homemade pumpkin seeds.  As for the gaining extra few pounds?  Well it’s cold outside!  My body is just trying to protect itself.  Winter is also the time of year where I take time off my normal running schedule, so I view these extra calories as nourishment to help heal body.  – I also don’t get on the scale at this time of the year (or barely ever do anytime of the year for that matter).  Unfortunately, this does not include the additional 5 lbs put on from indulging in too many holiday sweets- that is a completely different matter.

2.  Get Outside

One of the big things for me has been immersing myself in the cold, in the rain, in the grey landscape.  By being in it, taking a moment to truly see it and my place in it, I can see the beauty.  As I run the trails near where I live, I try to take the time to notice the barren trees, dripping with the glistening and melting snow.  I look past the trees to the hills across from me with the grey sky looming ahead to see a quiet peace in the stillness.  Suddenly, the dark and lonely world changes.  It becomes a beautiful place of serenity and reflection.

I see it as no coincidence that as I traded basketball for running, and indoor sport for an outdoor pursuit, my symptoms of SAD also decreased.  While I usually get a gym pass for 2-3 months during the wine, I still make sure I get some fresh air into my lungs, even during the coldest time of year hear (to the disbelief of many whom know my body is not a fan of the cold).  Last year with some many 0 degree days in a row, I had no choice…I put on many, many layers, covered my face with a Buff, put on my mittens, put on Pacer’s mittens, and took to the trails.  So whatever it is you like to do, don’t let the weather stop you.  Push yourself off the couch, get on the proper gear, and play!

3.  Accept What Is

What use to get me most, even more than the cold, was the constantly dark, grey skies. It was like the clouds were telling me to mope, be sad, lie in bed, and cry.  What I recently uncovered, however, was that it was never the skies telling me this, just that little Negative Nancy voice inside my head. 

After all, grey is just a color.  In many other ways, I like the color grey.  Many my favorite shirts are grey after all.  Then there’s my boyfriend…he just painted his office GREY!  My first thought was that it looked like a jail cell.  I didn’t think he actually picked the color out until he proudly confirmed with me later that it was he who picked it out.  Then I thought about it a little more…he didn’t paint his office with the bias so many of us have of the color.  He just really liked it!  (And he did later “brighten” it up with a beautiful picture our sunshine, our beautiful blue merle Australian Shepard.)

Another tip is to just think of it as the sky changing her shirt.  Some days she wears blue, sometimes grey. Sometimes later in the day she even changes into a beautiful evening gown of pink, orange, and purple before changing one last time into a midnight blue.  Whatever the color is, pretend you picked it out! Luck for the sky, she looks great in any color she wears.

4. Stay Present

As always, this one is easier said than done, but really focusing on the here and now can keep your mind at ease.  This point also ties right into point #2 of getting outside.  When you take the time to stop and notice your surroundings (aka “smell the roses”), you see so much more beauty. 

When I first practiced this running, I had to remind myself about 100 times to stay present, but usually when I did I saw a blue jay or other beautiful bird fly by.  I can’t imagine how many I must have missed when I was lost in the pointless chirping inside my own head.  I am slowly getting better. 

This is also a great tip for the holiday season.  Don’t miss the magic and love being spread around worrying about having the perfect party, making the perfect dish, or buying the perfect present.  The best present your can really give to yourself and to others is by being fully present (pun intended) in the moment.

5. Find a Guru

No, I don’t mean you have to go to India and start following some master teacher (though that’s fine too if that’s your thing).  All I really mean is to find a good friend who will listen.  A plus is a good friend who will listen and give great, nonjudgmental insights (note: I did not say advice.  Usually, you are your own best advice giver.  A bit of guidance is all that is needed).  Here I am exceptionally blessed.  I was born next to my own spiritual guru, my twin.  I can tell her anything, even thoughts totally run by my ego, and she will not judge me.  Sometimes after I text her my current issue, she’ll shoot me a text back with mantra that rings truth and leaves me at ease. 

For more insight, browse the self-help and spiritual sections of your local library or bookstore.  Some of my favorite guru authors are Gabrielle Bernstein, Kris Karr, and Gretchen Rubin, but there are so many!  Feel free to browse “My Reading List” tab after your done reading this blog.

Having a “guru” can be a big help in guiding you to find your light in the darkness of the day.


My main advice here is to keep practicing!  Maybe try to see it from your favorite animal’s point of view.  I always look to my dog to show me the way...she never cares what the weather is like when we go for a run...she starts going crazy in my car either way.  

Please feel free to share favorite tips of your own in the comment box below.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Carb Up with Squash This Fall

Walk into any supermarket right now and one of the first thing’s you’ll see is a  very large assortment of squash.  Some of you may be wondering what to do with those hard and odd shaped fruits.  Never fear...I am here to help! From replacing your pasta noodles to making feel-good soup after a brisk Fall run, I’ll show you how to use a few of my favorite squash and harness all of their nutritious benefits.

Favorite Squash #3: Spaghetti Squash

I first learned about the amazing spaghetti squash 2 years ago.  While I still occasionally go back to rice pasta noodles, the two are really interchangeable.  The squash may be a tad messier than the alternative, but just as simple.  Here's how to use it:

If using an oven, cut squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and place on a baking sheet.  Then simply put it in the over at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour.

For the microwave, simply prick holes all around the squash (otherwise it will explode in your microwave- not that I know from experience), put it on a place, and place in microwave.  The time will depend on the size of the squash, but I usually like to start at 5 minutes and check from there.  It should be tender when done.  Let it cool off a bit the cut in half and scrape out the seeds.

After that, all you have to do is take a fork and scrape the innards of the squash into a pot.  They will come out as strings, just like spaghetti.  Once you scape out as much as you can into the pot, add the pasta sauce (plus some other veggies like kale and mushrooms) and put to low heat for a few minutes.  Then, eat just like spaghetti.  Bon Appetite!

Favorite Squash # 2: Butternut Squash

There is nothing like coming back from a chilly run and enjoying a bowl of nice warm soup.  However, I'm usually too tired and hungry in the evening to go through the process of making a soup with a long list of ingredients.  Plus, I'm not a fan of some of the ingredients in many canned or boxed soups (even the organic ones).  Lucky for me, butternut squash soup is now easier than ever to make with a few simple ingredients and a good blender.  Here is one of my favorite recipes from (No need for the butter. Just use a bit of coconut oil or water to sauté).

Favorite Squash # 1: Pumpkin

Fall means pumpkin, and pumpkin everything!  Pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin seeds (which are a great source of iron), pumpkin dog treats (I honestly believe my dog looks forward to these every season), and of course, pumpkin pie!

Here is a recipe from Oh She Glows for one of the tastiest and healthiest pumpkin pies you will ever eat! (Please note that when I say "healthy" it does NOT mean less calories.  I simply mean natural sugars and no fake ingredients): 

Runner Up: Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is a great an easy side.  Just cut in half, scoop out the seeds, sprinkle on some sea salt and cinnamon and out in the over at 375 for 45 minutes.  Or, feature it as your main dish by scooping you favorite quinoa mixture inside. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

BT50k: The Dark Side

Recently, I posted a blog "Running: Just Another Addiction" and there I briefly mentioned the dark places you can go while running.  However, I mainly referenced that to 100 miles, or the low points you feel during the race.  What I forgot to talk about was the low, disappointed, and grief-stricken feeling you get when a race does not go the way you planned....and that is what this blog is about.

This was the third year I ran Buckeye Trail 50k, there area's second most popular trail race (after Burning River 100).  As for many locals, it was my first ultra.  Then I was just happy to finish.  2 years ago I ran it in 5:07.

At the beginning of June, I felt like I might have the chance of breaking 5 hours this year.  Starting 2 weeks or so ago, I wasn't feeling on top of my game and my confidence slipped.  I decided to not wear a watch and go by feel, usually a pretty good strategy for me. I figured maybe around a 5:15ish, depending on the day and the mud.  At the very worst, I figured I'd finish under 5:30.  I finished in 5:35.  Ouch.

Also, to describe a slight embarrassing situation, I was finishing halfish mile road section with a big downhill and of course my hip wasn't having it and before I got to the hill I stopped to stretch to hopefully stop the limp.  I looked back and saw a woman pop from behind a corner, probably some 150 years back.  "O f*ck" I thought.  I had thought earlier she was an early started, although moving well, but how could an early starter catch up to me.  So down the hill, trying to pick it up, I started yelling to myself "C'MON RAY!" while the occasional whimper as I felt something move in my hip.  I could lose my 3rd spot now.

The last stretch I totally lost my smile, wincing in pain, nearly in tears at the finish (partially because of the effort, partially because I saw my time).

Then Steve told me she actually was an early starter.  Great.

Anyway, I was quite upset.  For the most part I was able to contain myself while in public, trying to brush the nasty comments in my head into the background until I got home.

Only then (and after stuffing some salty Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Chips down my throat) did I go home, turn on the shower to muffle my sobs, and cried.

Yes, I know there are much bigger things to be upset and cry about then a silly running time, but I knew that to my inner self the race had been important and I need time to grieve.  Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to let go of it, and I definitely did not feel liking hanging on to that for a long time.

As I let my tears flow in the shower (only a few tears were shed for the water touching my chaffed areas) I let all of my egos negative comments come to surface.  You probably know most of them "you're not good enough" "wtf went wrong" "you should have run harder" "why do you suck so much?" "you're a disappointment and should probably never a race again" and a few more that were equally delightful. 

For awhile, these comments made me cry harder, and then tears just stopped.  That was it.  I didn't even have anything to do with it, the tears just stopped coming.  All in all, this probably last 15-20 minutes.

Of course, I'm still not happy with my time and wish things would have been better, but I don't feel like my heart is clenched.  I don't feel like a total loser.

And while Im still unsure if I want to race again this year (if I did good I was going to sign up for MMTR-which is totally not happening now) I don't totally hate running.  I'm simply question what went wrong, from a more scientific approach.

My training schedule was great coming off of Cumberland Gap Trail Marathon, so that wasn't it. Possibly nutrition?  I felt a few lbs overweight before the race- but with ultra running sometimes its hard to tell where the mistakes come in (and sometimes not eating enough can make you gain weight-but I doubt that one).  Or maybe sleep?  I tried to get 8 most of the week (though only slept 7 or so the night before the race) but maybe I need 8.5. Maybe it was getting my blood tested twice last month (the defaulted on my iron test the first time-go figure)? Should I have crossed trained more?  And is there anything I can do about my hip!?!?!  (I talked to one supefit woman who dropped at mile 20 because the arthritis in her hip got bad-out of all the people I've talked to, only her symptoms seem even close to mine.  I'm only 26...I cant have arthritis can I? If so, Im kind of screwed).

My head wasn't totally in it either.  I have no idea why.  Could I meditate more (my meditation practice does kind of stink).

And, to be perfectly honest, a lot of people's times at BT50k this year were a lot slower than usual. Plus, I still managed to hang on to third.

Okay, enough with that what is the point of this dark side to running?  Why do something where you can feel so utterly disappointed at the end?  (Even after "surrendering your time and finish place"-hmmm, maybe I need to fully commit to that one). 

Honestly, I'm not 100% sure yet.  What I can say is that running mimics life in many ways, and in life there are many highs and lows.  If everything was easy and smooth, are job on earth would probably be done.  Maybe the same is true for racing...if it were easy all the time, what would we really get out of it?  There has to be some reason for it....but I'll have to keep thinking about that one.

P.S.  Sorry if there are a lot of typos in this blog.  I just kind of pounded it out the evening after the race and am too tired to re-read it.



Update from a few days later:

Thinking about it even more, I'm glad I tried.  I am proud of myself for having the courage to try.  Like the saying goes, it really is better to have tried and "failed" (I don't think I can really call it a failure) than to not have tried at all.  This didn't kill me either...after some time off, I know I will have the courage to try again.

Second, I realized driving today that in my thought that I can only do races with little to no trail, that with that thinking, I was in fact holding myself back.  If I decide not to do a race simply because there are 2-3 miles of road in it...I am letting my hip, my discomfort, hold me back.  If I sign up anyway, sure I may have to run really slowly or even walk, and possibly lose a few spots in the results, but how much does that really matter?  I will still be in a race, on a trail, that I want to experience.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Running: Just Another Addiction?

Running: Just Another Addiction?

Running is often called an addiction by many- both by the running critics (aka wannabe runners) and by runners themselves, sometimes even with the same forlorned tone. You can even get “high” from the pure act of it- or fall deep into its darkness.

             So  is running a drug?  Should it be classified with our addictions to sugar, crack, sex, and alcohol? 

But don’t doctors recommend some physical activity, like running, each day?  20-60 minutes of activity a day with a healthy diet should lead us to optimal health, but what happens when those 60 minutes turns into 2 hours. What about when it turns into 20 or more?

Where is the line between good health and crazy?  Is it definable?

Can you really be addicted to running?  And if that answer is “yes”, can addiction possibly be a good thing?
This blog will be a guided account of some of the answers I have unearthed for myself in my first marathon of life.


If truth be told, I know several runners…actually, “quite a few” may be more accurate…. who are recovering addicts, whether from drugs, alcohol, or a past life of bad choices. Actually, I myself am a recovering addict of a young girl’s need to feel good enough, mixed with an obsession to food that led me to restrict calories and drop well below the recommended weight, mixed with symptoms of OCD, perfectionism, anxiety, and depression. Yes, I am an anorexic turned ultra-running, plant-food junkie (and I’m not alone in the arena of former eating-disorder runners either). I very well know that some people, and probably quite a few psychologists, would consider this my version of regressing into my past symptoms.

But that’s not how I see it.

At least that’s not how I see it now. I would be lying to say I never transferred “my addiction” into running in a not-so-positive way. Yes, I have crossed that very fine line in the ultra-trail world of taking my running too far, training too much, ignoring my body and the little voice in my head telling me to rest.  

However, I have been able to take a step back and onto the other side of the line again and pursue my personal path of well-being (again, I’m sure some psychologist would say I am lying to myself), running for the same reasons I started in the first place: to feel free and to see where my potential lies. Running 45-75 miles a week (plus my various cross-training activities and dog-walking) has been my version of health this year, letting my body stay strong and, more importantly, letting my mind stay well.

In the sport, we say that running is 10% physical and 90% mental.  I’m not sure if that is totally accurate, but I agree with the basis that running is very much a mental thing. A race isn’t so much proof of the physical shape we are in, but how mentally prepared we are to accept the pain and discomfort in our bodies and break through perceived limitations. On the other hand, our mind may also tell us it hurts too much and we slow our pace, only to finish knowing we could have pushed harder. The mind can certainly be a beautiful or a very destructive thing. It really depends on how we listen and respond to it. 

O, and don’t forget your heart…to get the best performance out of your mind, you must use your heart.  That part is key.

With that, I believe that it is not simply the mileage we are running each week that defines the crossing of the line from health to addiction, but the mentality and heart we put into our training. 

When training, do you listen to your body when it says it needs a rest, or does your mind push it to complete that 100 mile week?  Do you run on an injury because you can’t bear the thought of taking a few days or weeks off?  Or, when you become irritable and find yourself becoming short-tempered with loved ones, do you still head out the door at 5am to get in your run instead of getting that few extra hours of sleep so you can show them the loving compassion they deserve? When is that extra run to skip a party worth it? When is it not?

As you may be beginning to see, I believe this is all a very personal thing. My 70 mile week would definitely seem like nothing to some people, but put someone else way over the edge of being healthy. 

In the end though, those are some of your basic overtraining principles.  They are still only touching my question on whether or not running is actually an addiction.

My personal answer?

 Yes, running for me is an addiction. But I don’t believe addictions are always bad either. 

When I was overtraining, yes, that was very bad…there was absolutely no good reason for me to be short-tempered with my boyfriend, family, or kids I worked with.  None. 

However, I have since found my balance, and when you find that balance, running once again returns into a beautiful thing. 

Because of running, I know what it is like to live.

It is in the search to live meaningfully, to experience life at its fullest, that running has become my sweetest addiction and one that I hope to never quit.

In a way, running is like an art. The movement of my body running through the trees, over rocks, and splashing through creeks has let me see my own beauty and strength.  Before, I had trouble seeing my body this way.  It was always lacking. Now, as I run through the woods I feel a connectedness to the life around me, to the breeze in my hair, birds singing in the trees, and even the other sweaty bodies I sometimes run with.  I am part of the bigger picture. I am part of the extraordinary, complicated, and yet simple work of art the Creator continually strokes with Her light and brilliance.

I may be wrong, but I believe it’s something like that, that draws in my other former drug, alcohol, and food addicted friends. It is not that we have covered up one addiction with another, but that we have gone from something to cover up the misery in our lives to fully loving and experiencing life through our desire to be free in the act of moving our bodies in magnificent surroundings.  In essence, our addiction is not in running, but of living.

As for getting high and seeking deeply into the darkness?

Well, somehow that “runner’s high” thing always seems to elude me.  However, I do often get a spark like the one I did this morning as I was running with my dog.  We were chasing sun spots in the dirt, running to the shining, golden spaces where the morning sun was coming through the trees and trying to soak it in.  And I do feel pretty happy after some of my races (exercise is proven to increase endorphins after all),  but it is a natural happiness filled with pride and joy for what I accomplished and what I have been blessed to be able to do. 
Then there’s the darkness.  That’s probably what most non-runners don’t understand.  Why do something that will take you so far down into the depths of pain, fear, and into your mind?  Why not ask why live?  For isn’t when we fall, and fall deep into the abyss, that we learn the most, get stronger, and come away a better person for it?  Plus, if it wasn’t for knowing darkness, would we really be able to fully appreciate the light?  I have surely crashed hard in some of my 100 mile races, but I truly believe I have become more beautiful for having overcome and survived those scary places. 


So there you have it. Yes, I am addicted to running.   And honestly, if I had to quite I probably would go into a slight withdrawal. Still, it is a very different addiction than one that leads to a path of self-destruction. As long as you maintain a strong balance and always refer to your heart for guidance, this addiction is a good thing. This addiction leads to happiness and freedom.  My running addiction is an expression for my love of life.

(And if I had to, I suppose I could always take up cycling or some other sport…)

Run Free,


Friday, July 4, 2014

GREEN Part 2: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

GREEN, Part 2: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
It's been quite some time from when I started part 1 of this mini blog series, partially because I was a bit busy, but mainly because I haven't done that much.
In the spring, I had great expectations of coming home from a run or bike ride and working on the garden.  But then I always seemed to be behind on things or have something going on in the evening.  Plus, I really didn't know what to do after I planted the seeds.  

But, I (and Steve) have done a few things since May:

One:  I bought my organic seeds at Krieger's and did some planting!  I had to pick plants that only needed part sun, so I went with: kale, chives, parsley, and cilantro.  I also ended up buying some tomato seeds, but I don't know if that is going to grow as they really need full sun.

Two- Not knowing how often I needed to water the plants, I started to water them.  However, in the past month or so, we have had enough rain every week where I haven't had to worry about it.  (If I ever do become a gardener, I may invest in a rain barrel.)

Three- Once we has a few plants starting to sprout, we put the chicken wire around the garden box! Otherwise the deer would have gobbled everything up.  We still did this a bit late however, as a certain furry 4 legged, black, white, and grey creature with, lucky for her, and adorable face, decided to play in the garden box and scattering some of the seeds.

It's tiny, but there is something growing!

This required me taking yet another trip to Home Depot to buy more stakes.  (We only bought 1 at first, not really knowing what we needed it for.  As it turns out, we needed one for each side of the box- I should probably insert a "duh" here.)

Then came the fun part of cutting the chicken wire to wrap around the was not that easy.  (I am determined to believe it was not the lack of strength in my hands, but a dull blade.) 

This is where I came to my dilemma.  I couldn't get the silly chicken wire to stay straight as I was trying to wrap it around the stakes, meaning it would crush the precious few sprouts we had growing.  So, I laid it down and waited for Steve to come home :)

Eventually, we got it done! Steve isn't exactly happy with it as it's not the nicest looking thing in the world, but after checking out other people's gardens and their fences, ours really isn't that bad.

Pacer checking out what we were doing outside without her...

After a few weeks of not doing much, I had some things growing. The problem was that I didn't know what was a plant and what was a weed, so I left it for another few weeks. 

(The big green thing in the corner is an organic mint plant...I totally should have bought all plants for my first time around.)

This leads me to step four- weeding.
I still really wasn't exactly sure what I was growing, but I had an idea at least of what were weeds at this point.  So I pulled those out, tried one plant that I was fairly sure wasn't a weed, found out it was cilantro and tasted pretty good, and dug out my note card that I had written earlier that told me what should be growing where.
I'm pretty sure at the far right end of the box I have some kale growing, though I think it should be bigger by now.  A few of the leaves looked like they had some bug damage, so I made a small spray of water with dish soap to spray on them.                                                                  Then I figured I might as well use up the leftover seeds in the packets I had to fill up some holes.  Whether they grow or not, I figured it wouldn't hurt as the seeds would be no good in a year.


And from here, I will continue hoping and praying that something grows and Steve and I didn't waste a ton of money on buying all the materials and organic dirt for a box. 

It's right under the window to my dream room, so it should be getting some good, positive energy! 

Hmmm...maybe I need to pick up my meditation practice more.... (it has definitely been lacking).

I guess we will see what happens in the next few weeks.  I'd really love some kale!

 Peace. Love. Grow.

-Rachel, the Green Thumb Wannabe


It looks like the flowers in my shoes died...the smell must have been too much for them.
Pacer, on the lookout for squirrels and deer...I also gave her a bath after I was done gardening.  She promptly ran away in the middle of it rolled around in the dirt, and then inside the garage.  Eventually I got most of the soap off her.



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

GREEN: A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening (Part 1)

GREEN: A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening

            I’ve been wanting to garden for quite some time now.  Two and a half years ago, my mom got me a potted herb garden for Christmas…I kind of tried, and very much failed.  Last spring, I had every intention to start a garden.  I even dragged Steve to a gardening club talk at the library to learn more.  But after still not really knowing where to begin, those ideas went nowhere.
Then last fall, we moved.  With the house came a big, beautiful backyard complete with lots of trees and a marsh in the back (so no one can build behind us!).  After a trip to Bed, Bath, & Beyond to get some stuff for the house, we also bought our first trash can compost with the idea of having some great soil to add to our garden in the spring  (that part didn’t work so well as none of it decomposed enough to use, but anyway…).  I skipped the building the compost part, but have nice little pile going in the back.
This spring, I was determined.  I would start small, but I would do it. 
Unfortunately, our big backyard did not provide a great space for gardening as there are so many trees.  Then Steve gave me a kind “no, maybe next year” to my request of using the only decent spot of at the landscaped/flower area that actually gets sunlight in the back.  This left me to a spot next to the house that only gets sunlight for part of the day.  But hey, I could work with it!
Phase One: Planning
Okay, so I had the location picked out (or, approved of by Steve).  With that came the question “Now what?”.  I still didn’t know where to begin.  So I threw out the question on Facebook  (I love Facebook for questions…I have some very intelligent and informative friends!).  My one friend told me all he did was throw some soil on the ground and add seeds.  Maybe I was making thinks more difficult then they need to be?

I did some other research on the computer too.   I found some plants and herbs that could grow in partial sunlight…thank goodness kale was one of them!  I also looked up a few videos on how to build a garden box…Steve was not a fan of the idea just throwing organic soil on the ground.

Phase 2, Part 1: Implementation-Building the Garden Box

Finally, it was time for some action.  One Friday evening as Steve and the kids were shooting hoops outside, I took a shovel and started to churn the soil where the garden was to be.  I really ended up churning a bunch of clay.  I thought it would soften up, but it did not.  In other words, this ended up being a complete waste of time.

We also measured how big our garden box would be.

A week later (after visiting a garden store, I found out that I was way ahead of schedule and even they have very few plants available), Steve and I took a trip to the Home Depot to buy the lumber to build our garden box, plus organic soil to build it up with.

After walking around the garden center and pretending to look like we fit it, we started asking the employees some questions. Soon, a very kind young woman pointed us to a garden box kit, where all a person needed to do was slide the wood into slots.  I kind of felt like this was cheating, but Steve was sold-plus, he was the one paying for it.  It wasn’t the cheapest thing in the world (I think around $90), but it was really easy to put together and looks quite nice.  (I would have been much less elaborate, buying some would plans and nailing them together.)

Before checking out, we picked up 4 bags of organic soil and some chicken wire (We get a lot of deer where we live.  While I love them, I do not want them eating my food).  The bill was well over $100 dollars, in case anyone is working this into their budget in the future. 

We also took a few minutes to take silly pictures (further proving to anyone watching that Home Depot was not a natural hangout spot for us)

Then it was back home to start building!
But not so fast…we realized we needed to first level the spot where our garden was going to be, so we had to shovel out the dirt/clay into a big pile. Our first thought was that we were going to be able to put some back in the garden box with the organic soil.  Once we got honest with ourselves, we realized that was definitely not an option.  Nothing was going to grow from that dirt!
We put together our garden box with relative ease, pet Pacer for a bit, and filled half the garden box with our 4 bags of soil...

...which meant we had to go back to Home Depot for 4 more bags (plus a tiny “top” piece for the aesthetic nature of the garden box that was missing.)
Home Depot , Take 2

With that, we drove back home, filled up the second half of the garden box, put in the final screw (after looking around for it for 5 minutes) and were done for the day! 

(I somehow managed to forget to take a picture of the finished product)

While this really only took a few short hours, we were still pretty tired so took some time to relax with Pacer:
I then talked to some friends and realized I shouldn’t plant anything until mid/end of May to assure there would be no more frost, unless I wanted to star growing in pots indoors (I did not).  So the garden box has sat untouched (except by Pacer) for the past few weeks.

I hope to start planting this Sunday if I have any energy left after the Girls on the Run 5k, so hopefully Part 2 will be coming soon!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Surrender + Sensitivity = Strength

Surrender + Sensitivity = Strength:
 How Letting Go of My Edge, Competitive Drive, and “Shoulds” Have Led to a Stronger Me

I am naturally a hard worker.  It has been in my blood since birth- I am simply wired that way. 
However, in the past few years, I haven’t felt like I have been working that hard.  I wasn’t working hard, because I didn’t know what I was working for.  In the past, I was competitive.  Then about 2 years back I began to lose my competitive side.  Now it is almost completely gone.
[Competition- I remember sitting in a neighborhood leadership class a few years ago, pondering “why am I twin?”  Sandi and I had been competitive with each other for years, which almost destroyed our relationship. At that time of the class, Sandi had been living in Colorado for over half a year.  All the anger and hurt we had caused each other over the years was melting away.  Now we were missing each one another, leaving only love behind.    Suddenly an answer came to me.  Being a twin helped me to realize competition does not matter.]
And this is where it all started to fall apart for me…and grow anew.
If you have been following my writings and FB posts over the past year or so, you may have noticed a few things.  Mainly that I have been quite lost about my life, work, and running.  I was searching for meaning, but only skimming the clouds in a sky of answers.  
I will admit I still do not have all the answers (and I probably never will), but I am getting closer.
How do I know? 
For one, I am happier.  Two, I am starting attract my passions.
But…I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s back track a bit and explore what else I lost…and gained, with losing my competitive side, edge, and "should". 

In the past, I worked hard so I could “be the best” and to “prove myself worthy”.  But for what reason? And to whom? Now that these questions were there, they weren’t going to go away easily. 

I also lost my “edge”.  No longer did I have a cool and tough exterior.  Now I was the one to cry at movies.
With the loss of these two things, I grew frustrated with life and then with running. (As I have always found running to be a metaphor for life and vice versa, this made sense for me).  I couldn’t find satisfying or truly meaningful work, and at the same time felt guilty for not having a job to complain about like half of the population (even those people were at least contributing to society, right?).  Plus running wasn’t going all that well either.  At races, my competitive drive would at times still kick in, making me think of “beating” the next woman, leaving me not only dejected when I didn’t beat them but darkened by the thought.  Nor was I winning anything. Simply doing my best wasn’t doing any good either…I was still stuck in the “should be better” mode. 
I questioned my life and running.  I knew I wanted to live, but what was the point without feeling I was fulfilling a greater purpose?  As for running, could I still race hard without the desire to be the best or beat someone else? 

This all left me feeling pretty far off my trail.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I didn’t know my reason to continue, let alone work hard.  I had lost my sense of purpose.
It wasn’t until recently that I have found my way back.  (Luckily, I have had enough love from others and intuitive sense to keep going in the meantime.)

I dived to deep in to books and discussions on purpose and meaning, reading the works of Gabrielle Bernstein, Marianne Williamson (“Return to Love”), grazing on ideas from the “Sedona Method” and other works.

I reflected, meditated, and wrote.  I talked to my Twin.

A few words always seemed to pop out at me: love, Universe/connectedness, and surrender.
New words, no.  But, words I began to see in a new light and fresh perspective.

Perhaps…perhaps I was put here to love, and that all I really am...all that we really are… is love.  Now my job is just to break down all the walls I’ve built against it.  Perhaps I was simply worthwhile just by being here, from the minute I was born.  This thought was very consoling. I may not know or at least fully understand my purpose for being here, but if I didn’t have a purpose, I probably wouldn’t be here.   
If we are all connected, and I believe that we are, we all have an effect on the Universe and each other.  My being unhappy did not service to the world.  My being happy, vital, and loving does.

As for the “how”? Well the “how” is actually of very little importance on my part.  I found out that the word “surrender” doesn’t mean white flags and giving up.  It does not mean one is weak.  It is actually a word full of strength and trust.  I learned that surrender really means letting go of the “hows” and “shoulds” and trusting in my Inner Compass and Higher Power so I could start living and realizing my potential.
By letting go of my competitiveness, edge, and “shoulds”, I now had room for these more powerful thoughts and feelings. 

I also became way more sensitive.  Like surrender, it is often thought of as quality of someone who is weak.  I found that not to be true either. 

Yes, I do cry more.  I tear up during sad stories.  I balled my eyes out reading “Half the Sky”.  I choke up when singing “and if I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free”.
I can no longer watch violent movies.  I can’t open up my PETA emails or watch ASPCA commercials.  Dogs and animals are too pure to me, I can’t stand seeing or thinking about them in pain.

When I let myself think about it, I shudder that men still kill men to solve problems instead of using their brains and hearts. 

Yes, the injustices of the world could bury me in a pit of despair.
But what good would that do?  Instead, I use my feelings and emotions to help me connect with others and fuel my light against the darkness.  Because I am sensitive, I can love more.


So far, I have very briefly outlined 2 pages of what I’ve learned in the past few months.  You may be thinking “That is all very nice Rachel, but how have you put that into practice?”   Well, I will tell you!
Let’s back track a few months to New Year’s Day, 1/1/2014: Steve, Pacer and I were taking a few days of vacation in one of my favorite places, Black Mountain, NC.  I was pretty tired that night but I stayed up for a bit to reflect and write my thoughts down in my journal.  Here is part of what I wrote: “Hopeful I will be guided to a good opportunity (job). But, I surrender my path to God- my job is simply to make the most of whatever that path is.”

The next night, 1/2/2014, I again stayed up to browse jobs and other updates on the internet.  While I was at it, I decided to check out the Girls on the Run of Greater Summit Webpage, thinking about either signing up to coach again or become a SoleMate.  Not really thinking about it, I happened to click on the “News” section of the page.  Then appeared a brand new listing from that day, stating a position was open for a Girls on Track & Volunteer Coordinator.  “OhMyGod!” I thought, really meaning the “God” part and exclamation point.  I quickly scanned the position description and qualifications…I figured I was mostly qualified (my confidence wasn’t fully there yet), and I applied that night, deciding against writing a business cover letter and writing a heartfelt one instead.
By 1/14/2014, I was hired.  I was beyond thrilled.  Finally, I was working for an organization that I loved and believed in.  Finding something I cared so deeply about, I was once again ready to work hard.
(My ego still played some tricks on me after that, but I know you don’t want to sit here forever reading).
Running was actually a bit tougher for me in terms of sorting my thoughts.  I had taken nearly 6 months off of racing and training, just going out on the trails with my dog.  Eventually I felt the itch to get back in to training and working hard again, but I still wasn’t sure of my “why”.  Why put myself through the workouts?  Why race if I don’t want to compete?  Why run if it doesn’t benefit anyone but me (and Pacer)?
After checking out what a few of my friends had to say and a conversation with Steve that almost left me in tears, I again turned to my journal and wrote: “Help me to find my “Why”.  What is the point of doing my best, especially in terms of running?  Is it selfish?  Is there reason and meaning behind it?  I feel I should do my best, that there is something more to it- I just need help in figuring out what that is.”

Here are some of the answers I received, both from books and intuitively:
·         -Doing my best inspires and allows others to do their best.

·         -Because God gave me the gift of endurance and it would be a shame not to use this gift, even if I don’t understand the purpose behind it.

·         -The Universe deserves my best.  To NOT do my best would be selfish.

Now I will also add: Adventure and running are passions of mine.  Passions usually indicate that you are doing something you are meant to do.  Following your passion  should make you happy and allows you to shine your brightest.  One person’s happiness does have an effect on our world, as we are connected with everything else in it.  Yes, it may be a little selfish and I am still working on that one, but I am going to go with the Thais on this one and not overthink it.
I also had to ask myself the question: Could I still race without the desire to beat the next woman in front of me?  In the past I have talked about the thrill of “counting ponytails”, but I no longer wanted that thrill.  I wanted to cooperate with the other women, to urge them to do their best by doing my best.  But could I really, honestly do this? I finally decided that yes, I could do it.  It was just going to take some practice and meditation.
With those answers I was ready to start training and knew that this time around I could use some help.  I asked Sandi to be my coach, and she graciously agreed.
I cannot explain what a huge relief having a coach has been to me.  By surrendering over my running schedule, I was able to get out of my own head games that have always led me to over train.  I didn’t have to worry about how many miles to put in or when I should rest.  I simply tell Sandi my schedule, how I’m feeling, what the trail conditions are (half the time she knows the weather report before I do) and I do what she says.  How freeing!

As for racing…  It just so happens that I had my first mini race of the season today, Fools 25k.  My main goal was to enjoy it. ..I really had to pull my tools out of the bag to prepare!
Yesterday I spent about 5 minutes releasing any competitive thoughts, with myself and others.  Then I spent another 5 sending love to the race directors and volunteers, to the race course, the trees, the mud, the snow, and the other runners. 
Today I was still tested, and actively had to put everything into practice.  I meditated for a few minutes in the morning, again focusing on feeling love.  As I warmed up, I thought loving thoughts on myself and others.  Gathering for the start, I sent love to the crowd around me.  And I smiled…the smile rarely left my face the whole race.  (Just and FYI: the trails we a big sloppy slushy muddy MESS!).  I laughed to myself as we started out through the muddy fields…I was the one who chose to be a trail runner after all! 
Just like always, I and a few other women leap frogged a bit until we fell into our natural pace and I reminded myself that we were not competing but cooperating. I sent them love and thanked them for urging me to do my best.
Running through the mud and slush but with the sun shining through snow covered trees, I remembered that the same light that shined from the sun also shined in me.  I did my best to shine that light on others.
Then, it hit me.  I again needed to surrender.  I surrendered my time and my place to the Universe.  When I surrendered that, my only job was to do my best and enjoy the run.  Again, I had “found my free”.  (I should mention, I have an awesome shirt designed by Sandi that says “Find Your Free”)
This may all sound a bit…okay, really…corny, but I don’t care.  It worked for me.  I haven’t been that happy in a race for a long time, and I felt good and finished strong, the smile still on my face.
I saw the time, and eventually checked the stats.  It would be a lie to say I didn’t have any thoughts of “I should have done better” but this time I could let them go and not have them affect my mood for the rest of the day.  As I write this, I am happy.

Final thoughts:
Surrendering is not easy.  It is not something that comes naturally when for most of my life I have practiced otherwise. 
I still worry about the future all the time.  My anxiety drives me bananas.  Every day I repeat the affirmation “I move forward with confidence and joy, knowing all is well in my future”-Louise Hay. 
One thing I absolutely know is that I am supposed to work with Sandi in some way.  I know it because I can feel it down into my core.  Steve says it is just a twin thing, I know it is not.  I believe with all my heart we were put on this earth together for a reason (other than her being my best friend and keeping me doing when I am down).  Again, I am just not sure exactly what.
This too involves surrender and trust.  I try to let go of planning and instead try to remain open to whatever comes our way whenever that time may be.  It is also an effort not to focus on the absence of Sandi and missing her when she is thousands of miles away, but instead focus on the feeling of what it will be like when we work and go on adventures together.
Like any trail, I continually have my ups and downs, but I can climb up much faster from any down period. In addition, I continually as my Higher Power for help.  I ask “Help me to see this differently” and “Inner Compass, please guide me”.  It helps knowing that I am never truly alone.
To end this very long blog post (thank you for staying with me this whole time), I will leave with a song that was just shared on Facebook.  I hope you enjoy it: