Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Great Lenten Experiment

So, I've been thinking a lot about what to give up for Lent, and I haven't been able to figure any thing else out.  Most of my go-to stuff is either not an issue this year because I've already pretty much given them up (Starbucks for instance), or because I have to use it for work this time around (Social Media).  So, I've been racking my brain for what to give up for Lent.

Usually, I take something on and give something up--I read a book, add a prayer discipline, etc. in addition to giving something up. It is because of Lent several years ago that I still refrain from listening to music in my car on the way to work: I use that time for prayer instead.  I have also had some drastic failures...One year, I gave up all land animals for Lent.  I was able to make it through lent, but I hate fish.  I ended up eating a lot of tuna and meat-less meals.  I don't think I touched tuna again for close to a year!!!  Since then, I have set my sights on things that are less weighty: it has become a reset time for me.  I give up those things that I know are items that tend to eat up more and more of my time as time goes on--For many years, it was TV, and then it became Facebook/Social Media and Starbucks.  But, I have already cut Starbucks this year, and I am in charge of a contest at work that is using Social Media during the month of March.

Even though I'm feeling the creep of social media,  I can't cut it completely, so that isn't really a good Lenten discipline this year.  So, I think that I'm going to try something that I've always wanted to try...I'm going to make Lent a "Buy Nothing" Month.  Of course, I know that I will still need to buy food and gas, but basically, unless it is a necessity, I'm not going to buy it. My goal will be to stay under $200 for necessities each month for the (almost) two months of lent. Even then, I suspect that I'm not going to need much from the grocery store during Lent--My pantry is fully stocked, and I keep buying things that are already in the pantry because I don't know what is in the way back!

Really, the hardest part is going to be refraining from eating out, as I eat out more than I should--I often don't feel like cooking when I get home.  I think that I'm going to need to be better about cooking on the weekends so that I can eat the leftovers all week long.  I'm also going to need to be better about telling friends no when they mention going to eat after running.  At least I will have the excuse of, "Sorry. I gave it up for lent."

Ash Wednesday is March 5th this year

The real question is what to do with the money that I don't spend...One of the traditional disciplines of Lent is almsgiving, but it would also be nice to pay off more of my debt, so I can't really give it all away.  However, I will be upping my giving from the money that I'm saving.  This is going to be fun and very informative.

The three traditional disciplines of Lent in Preparation for Easter: Fast, give, and pray.

What are you giving up for Lent?  Are you taking anything on?  How do you prepare for Easter?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The benefits of having a treadmill, or why I have running on the brain.

Me at the finish line to the El Paso Half-Marathon this past Sunday. My official time was 3:12:07.99, which is 19 min and 17 seconds slower than last year.  My shirt says, "Forget the glass slipper. This princess wears running shoes."
Last night at about 11pm, I realized something rather disturbing, and it was that I have running on the brain.  I came to this conclusion when I had been laying in bed for close to 2 hours, and still wide awake.  At that moment, I started thinking, "hmm. I wonder if going for a quick run will help me to get to sleep.  Maybe pounding the pavement will help me to relax my brain enough to quiet my thoughts, and then I will finally be able to drop off."  I even got out of bed long enough to think about the logistics of running at that time of night:

  1. Find sports bra
  2. Put on running clothes
  3. Tape feet
  4. Put on shoes
  5. Find some sort of light to run by
  6. Think of route that would be safe at this time of night
  7. Remember house key...
I even thought that Ginger might be egging me on, because she kept getting in my face like she was expecting me to play with her--I obviously wasn't asleep.  After standing in the middle of my room for about 5 minutes of indecision, I crawled back into bed, mainly because I don't have a light that I could run by.  At that moment, I realized that treadmills have a valid place in the grand scheme of things--had I had a treadmill, I seriously would have run for a few miles.

I have to admit, though, that I have a hate-hate relationship with treadmills.  I can run around a track with impunity, and run on a road/local running trail for hours.  And this is in spite of the fact that I often will go out and back several times to get the mileage that I need.  But, put me on a treadmill, and all of a sudden, I feel like this:

Treadmills seem to have copied the same concept for human consumption...
Or maybe like this:

Look at 1:37 of this clip to understand... (on a side note, I really like this movie, especially the Georgio Moroder version which was set to classic rock).

I can run 5-6 miles easy when I am running on the road, but when I step on a treadmill, I end up struggling to finish just one mile!  On top of that, treadmills act like clothes hangers for me--they accumulate clean clothing on their arms and other horizontal spaces, and eventually, they look something like this:

Yes, I owned a treadmill once.  I decided that more hangers used up less space.
So, I'm probably not going to run out and buy a treadmill any time soon.  However, I am planning on buying a head lamp with my next paycheck on the off chance that I get the notion to go running at 11 pm some other night.  Come to think of it, I may just create a bundle of running clothes in one of my drawers so that it is easy to find everything on another night of chronic insomnia.  I need to try it at least once, just to see if it will really help me sleep!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Listening to Silence

Before I went on my Camino, music was an integral part of my running routine.  I was always looking for that next song that would motivate me, help me keep my pace, and to be perfect for singing along to.  The idea of running without music sapped a lot of the joy from the idea of running.

My Compostela.  It is now in a frame, but I have yet to figure out where I'm going to hang it.  Part of me thinks it belongs in my bedroom, and part of me wants to bring it to work and hang it over my desk.

Then, I walked the Camino, and I spent 21 days in the quiet of my surroundings.  I learned to still my thoughts as I walked, and I found that having nothing on in the background was a blessing.  So often, we fill our surroundings with noise--sometimes so that we can drown out other sounds/noises, and sometimes so that we don't have to deal with the internal dialog.  When I am working, I actually prefer to work in silence, but because I work in a lab setting, I usually listen to music in order to block out the distractions of conversations, etc., going on around me.  It is why I like working in a corner where people don't always see me.  In doing so, I'm able to cut even more distractions around me.

My ear-buds--they are made to stay, even while running, and I love them! It doesn't hurt that they are purple, either!
When I first got back, I would turn on my music because I thought I had to in order to use my iPod Nano to record my run, then I would tuck my ear-buds into the strap of my bra.  It meant that I couldn't check my distance easily mid-run (my nano tells me through my ear-buds), but it allowed me to run with no music.  Instead, I could listen to the cadence of my feet, the crunch of the leaves, the flow of traffic, and the ebb and flow of my own thoughts.  Then I found a new setting--there is a "No Music" option!  So, now I run with at least one ear-bud in, but most of the time, there is no music playing.

This can be problematic when I am running with friends, as I tend to be more chatty without music playing, but the quiet is just another layer to the joy I find in running, especially when it is just me, Ginger, and the road.

As you can see, this is the standard response when we are about to go running, and it is heartbreaking when I have to go without her.  I'm convinced that she is mad at me for the rest of the day if I leave her behind.

When I am silent, I also find that I am attuned to things that I might otherwise miss.  Earlier this week, when I noticed that the plum trees outside my office were beginning to bloom, I also noticed that the local bee population had also found the blossoms.  Close to the tree, you could hear their buzzing, and I would have missed that if I hadn't been quiet both physically and internally. 

A bee visiting one of the plum trees near my office
Come Sunday, I will be running a repeat of the race that was my very first half marathon, and I'm of two minds about whether to listen to music or to run in the quiet.  I'm already looking forward to our footfalls on the pavement sounding like the sound of a hard rain hitting the roof, and the blessing of once again pitting myself against 13.1 miles.  I'm not expecting any major insights, but I also know that, when I listen to the silence, God will often whisper to me in that space.  It is when I let noise for the sake of noise creep in that I lose focus and balance.  I think that is also why many cloistered religious orders have some sort of rule about being silent for at least part of the day.  It carves out space where God can whisper to them.  May we all carve out spaces for silence in our lives, and may we listen to that silence.  Who knows?  Maybe the Lord is just waiting to speak!

This post is in response to the weekly writing challenge at .  Go there to find out more, and/or add to the conversation!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Economics of Toilet Paper

One of the staples of life...
There are some days when you think of the craziest things.  Remember those dispensers from High School?  You know, the ones with the single sheets that had the consistency of tissue paper and you needed a hundred sheets to keep your hands from getting wet? Weeeelll, one day as I was using the restroom here at work, and I started thinking about toilet paper, and how, when you buy the cheaper stuff, you end up using more of it.  There has to be some sort of balance between being frugal about toilet paper and getting a soft, cushy experience when doing your paperwork.  While I will grant you that the experience is of some importance--I don't want to be using crepe paper--it is also important not to be spending more for my toilet paper than I need to.

This is similar to the toilet paper that I used while I was in Mongolia, although that really DID look like mauve crepe paper!

So, I have seriously been thinking about doing the great toilet paper experiment...Buying one roll of all of the options of toilet paper from the store and seeing which lasts the longest for the lowest amount of money, and which makes doing my paperwork bearable, if not a joy.  I'm not sure I will actually do it, but it is interesting to contemplate in those moments when there is nothing else to occupy my mind.  ;-)

remember these?

Friday, February 7, 2014


Sunrise Sunday Morning in Sedona.
Back in High School, I spent a lot of time reading and writing poems--some of that is due to the fact that I was the poster child for teenage angst, and some of it due to my AP English classes.  Amazingly, the only snippet I remember of all that poetry is these lines from Keat's poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn:
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all             
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
 Even in High School, I had a hard time thinking that the truth of homelessness, world hunger or poverty was beautiful.  The seedy, shady, and stark truths of living here on earth just don't seem very beautiful, but Keats seems to believe this is true if we take his lines at face value.  At the same time, there is something intuitive about the beautiful that points us to something beyond ourselves.

Some trees along the race course in Sedona
It is why certain vistas in nature take our breath away, and why most of us look at great buildings, pieces of art, and listen to certain songs in awe-filled contemplation.   It is why we love to look at Gothic Churches and their stained glass windows, regardless of how you feel about the Midieval politics behind the building of them.  The majesty of good art turns us away from navel gazing to the transcendent, the Divine.

Another Sunrise picture from Sedona
And that is what I have the hardest time with when it comes to our society's construction of beauty.  By those standards, I am probably a 6 or a 7 on a scale of 1-10 because I am overweight and on the downward side of 35.  I'm not a nubile young thing anymore, and because of that, I have crow's feet, grey hair, and less tolerance of suffering for the sake of fashion.  By those standards, I will never be as beautiful/pretty as I was when I was in my 20s unless I choose to wear make-up, wear revealing clothing, and possibly go under some plastic surgeon's knife.  On top of that, I burn easily and don't always remember to wear sunscreen on my hikes and runs--because of my sunglasses, I have an almost perpetual raccoon tan on my face!  It doesn't really bother me, but I know that it adds nothing to my ability to be photogenic.  It also means that I will likely never be successful at online dating--it is entirely geared toward visual beauty/attractiveness.  (I'm not talking about taking care of yourself, or trying to look your best--that is a matter of respecting yourself, not about beauty.  I'm not advocating wearing sweats to work or failing to brush your teeth--I am just saying that there are some major flaws in our society's construction of what is and isn't beatiful.)

Unlike this Lorikeet at the Ostrich farm, most of us aren't born with such pretty plumage!

I'd rather have the kind of beauty that comes from within--the kind that shines through because of who you are, not what you look like or what you wear.  I had a roommate in college like that.  She positively glowed because of her relationship with God and the beauty of her spirit.  And, as long as I continue to strive in that direction, where I am right now is the ugliest I will ever be. With this kind of beauty, all of us have the potential to be a solid 10! This kind of beauty is much harder to achieve, though, as it requires being painfully honest with ourselves about our flaws--our personal pettiness and habitual sins--and opening ourselves up to letting God help us build the kind of virtues that overcome those flaws.

Some sort of flower on one of the trails around Sedona.  
This kind of inward beauty also means that I become like a beautiful work of art or a gorgeous vista in nature--I become someone who points to the transcendent, the Divine.  I don't know about you, but that is a goal worth striving toward.  May we all reflect the Truth (John 14:6) with our beauty.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On Running

Sunrise from my Porch on Jan 31st.
There are very few things that will get me out of bed early enough to see the sunrise from my front porch, and the prospect of running a race is one of them.  It is funny, because I've always had a love/hate relationship with exercise: In college, I knew that I had to trick myself into exercising, or it wouldn't happen. Since that time, as long as it isn't more than 3 flights of stairs, I refuse to take the elevator; I try to park so that I can get more walking in; And I am constantly trying to figure out other ways to add exercise to my life. I needed something that is a better motivator than, "I need to be in better shape and I'd like to lose X pounds."

A picture from the road trip to Sedona.  It is much more fun when you can laugh and talk the miles away!
That's the thing--since I have begun running, I have gained 15 lbs, not lost any.  Mostly, I suspect that it is because I tend to give myself permission to eat more calories than I have burned.  As an inveterate snacker, this is one of my (many) Achilles heels, and I have begun working on fixing this by monitoring my calories again.  I hate calorie counting, but it is the only reliable way that I know of to keep track of how much I'm eating.  I'm thinking that banning between meal snacks will be a good Lenten discipline for me this year.  I'm also working on cutting out how many times I go to Starbucks, but that is ongoing.

All of us before the race.  I don't know who of us crossed the finish line first, but I was the last to finish.
I don't know that I've ever had a runner's high, either.  At the same time, running is its own motivation for me in ways that other exercise isn't--it clears my mind and I just feel incredibly refreshed after a 3-6 mile run.  It is like the little bit of speed that I can muster blows away the mental cobwebs and I begin to think more clearly about those things that I have been gnawing on.  It must be all of those glorious endorphins that one secretes while running.  My scientific friends would say that this happens with all exercise, but it sure doesn't feel like it!

Just past the half-way point.  Still feeling pretty good at this point!
All of us after the race. My chip time was 3:20:37. I'm hoping to shave at least 10 minutes off of that for the El Paso half.
So, after my adventure in Sedona, I am 1 half-marathon down for the year with at least 5 more scheduled for the year.  I likely won't see another sunrise again until I get up for another race, but that's ok.  I get to sleep a little bit later, and then spend evenings with family and friends.  As a night owl, the fact that  I live close to a trail that I can run safely in the dark is one of the best things about where I currently live.  Having friends who run with me, even if I am the turtle of the group is just cake.  It still blows my mind that it is no longer a chore to run more than 3 miles at a time, but that longer runs feel normal.

My friend Karin on our early morning hike the next morning before we started for home.  Another glorious sunrise!
Maybe someday, other forms of exercise will feel as wonderful as going for a run does.  If not, then at least I have learned to like one exercise enough to embrace the sport and make it a part of my lifestyle.  It only takes one, right?