A Quiet Christmas

StPaulsChristmasEveAt church on Christmas Eve, several people asked me what my plans were for Christmas Day.  Most were surprised to find out that my husband and I would be spending a quiet day at home with our animals. Our only plans were to meet my mother at IHOP for lunch.

Today is the fourth day of Christmas, and my husband and I have both gotten the question, “What did you get for Christmas?”  Again, people are surprised when we either dodge the question or admit that we didn’t exchange gifts on Christmas.  People are surprised to learn that we haven’t put up a tree in years.  Not since the children were small enough to want to make Christmas decorations.

Most people assume that we have something against Christmas or that we have bad memories and don’t want to celebrate.  Neither are necessarily true.  We care very deeply about the holiday, but we both prefer to focus on the Christian holiday rather than the common American traditions.  In fact, the older I get the more I feel like the traditional trappings of Christmas distract from my ability to appreciate and celebrate the Christian meaning of the holiday.

Nativity_tree2011More and more, I find myself wanting to deeply embrace the religious experiences of Advent and Christmas.   I want to spend the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas not at parties or out shopping but in contemplation and reflection.  I don’t want to give or to receive material things but rather want to give and to receive acts of kindness and love with no monetary worth.  On Christmas, the only activity I really care to participate in is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the communion with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

For some, this may seem restrictive or puritanical, but I’m finding that more I allow myself to indulge in this desire, the closer I grow in my relationship with Christ and in my communion with others.  I’m finding that finally admitting my feelings about Christmas and being with a spouse who shares my feelings is incredibly liberating.  I am free to simply be, living in the knowledge that God is the gift of the season.

What did I do for Christmas?  I sang to the Lord, serving in the choir of my church with my husband and daughter in the congregation.  I spent time with my mother, who is missing her childhood home, her siblings, her other children, and her grandchildren.

What did I get for Christmas?  The Lord our God became incarnate, so he would understand our life, our pain, our joy, our sin, and our death.  In the days ahead, our God will exist with us as his Son, our Savior Jesus the Christ.  Our God will sacrifice his only son to pay for our sins and to create a new covenant with us.  What more could anyone ask for?

Embracing the Gray

TanyaWithGrayHair-1I recently mentioned that I have been on a journey to be more authentic version of myself.  That journey has involved a lot of soul-searching about what I value and what I want in life.  It has involved a lot of listening to try and understand God’s plan for me.

One of the changes I’ve made is to stop coloring my hair.  I started going gray at 16.  With the exception a year while I was in college, I’ve colored my hair consistently since.  That’s 23 years of coloring my hair.  I wasn’t even sure what my hair looked like under the color.  The last time I had seen it was 2003, and I had a gray streak down one side.

I started considering the change the last time I was sitting at the salon getting my hair colored.  The expense wasn’t an issue, because a wonderful friend at church had been trading hair coloring for helping her daughters with math.  I was getting the better end of the deal; I love her two daughters, so spending time with them was a pleasure!  As I left the salon nearly two hours after I came, I wondered why I was spending so much time on something that just didn’t matter to me.  It was a beautiful day, and I could have been riding my horses.

TanyaWithBrownHairWhat I found most interesting was people’s responses when I vocalized what I was thinking.  My husband was his usual loving, supportive self, telling me that I wasn’t beautiful because of the color of my hair.  Other men I knew said that gray hair was sexy, pointing to beautiful women like Jamie Lee Curtis.  The women I know, on the other hand, were significantly less supportive, arguing that there was no need for any of us to look old.  After hearing many different opinions, I decided I had to be true to myself and give it a shot.  If in the end, I didn’t like it, I could always go back.

Two months ago, I cut off several inches of my hair to try and cut out some of the color.  I prefer long hair in the summer.  I’m outside a lot and like to be able to throw my hair in a pony tail, so I’m letting it grow back out.  I’ll cut the last of it off when I have enough I can lose the 3-4 inches but still have a pony tail.

It’s been interesting to see people’s faces when they see my gray hair.  Some have said I look 10 years younger; others have questioned my sanity.  Personally, I like it.  My father was gray at 28.  My brother is as gray as I am and still very handsome.  It’s a family trait that I’m proud to carry.  Best of all, my husband loves it and thinks it’s beautiful.  In the end, I still want the man I love to think I’m beautiful.  😉

To some, it may have been a small thing, but to me it was an important step in making decisions based on who I am and who I want to be rather than other people’s expectations of me.  Are you being held back by the expectations of others?  If so, what’s stopping you from breaking free?

The Mayo Clinic Diet

In the last two weeks, I’ve had several people ask me either how I’ve managed to lose nearly 30 pounds or how I’ve managed to make it through the holidays without gaining weight.  To understand my choices and my success, you have to understand the journey.

A little over five years ago, I received a call from my doctor, or rather, I received a message from the nurse at the doctor’s office that I need to call her back.  When I called, she delivered the bad news.  My cholesterol was VERY high for a woman my age.  The doctor would be sending me some information on my new diet.  At the time, I was in decent shape and weighed in the mid-180s, so I basically just needed to lay off the red meat and eggs and eat more beans and fish.  I was a little overweight but not by much.  I’m 5’10”, so even when I was in the best shape of my life, I weight 170.

Two years later, I had lowered my cholesterol and even dropped a few pounds. I was around 180 when 18 months of loss, grief, and depression kicked off with the sudden loss of my horse Penny.  That was followed by my grandmother’s death, my father’s death, the unexpected loss of one of our family dogs, and the quick and unexpected loss of my oldest brother.  During those 18 months, I powered through and stayed strong for everyone else.  When it was all over…  I lost it.  Completely.  Not only did I push away family and friends, I packed on more than 30 pounds.  I went from actively riding and training my horses to the occasionally barely-break-a-sweat, 20-minute ride.

In May of last year, I’d had enough.  When I had the chance to product test the Withings wifi scale, I jumped at it.  It was time to get back into shape and actively back in the saddle.  I wanted to feel good again.  My husband had bought us a pair of Garmin Vivofits over the holiday, so I would have an activity tracker and a scale, I just had to choose a diet.  For me, it was a no brainer.  When I had to switch to a low-cholesterol diet, I chose the May Clinic Diet.  I didn’t want some fad diet, pills, or quick fix.  I wanted a diet that was about changing habits for the better.  I was able to maintain the May Clinic Diet for two years with minimal effort.

Why the Mayo Clinic Diet? It isn’t a fad.  It isn’t a pill.  It’s a way to change your habits, to change your life.  It’s designed to be the last diet you’ll ever need.

There are two phases: Loose It and Live It.  In the Loose It phase, you jump start your diet, loosing 6-10 pounds.  In the Live It phase, you transition to maintaining your new found habits, losing 1-2 pounds per week until you reach your goal weight.  You have to add 5 habits, break 5 habits, and adopt 5 bonus habits.

Add 5 habits:

  1. Eat a healthy breakfast.
  2. Eat vegetables and fruits. 4 or more servings daily of vegetables and 3 or more of fruits, fresh or frozen only.
  3. Eat whole grains (whole grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal).
  4. Eat healthy fats (olive and vegetable oils and nuts).
  5. Move! Walk or exercise for 30 minutes or more a day.

Break these 5 habits:

  1. No TV while eating and only as much TV time as time you spend exercising.
  2. No sugar.  Only what is naturally found in fruit.
  3. No snacks except fruits and vegetables.
  4. Moderate meat and low-fat dairy.
  5. No eating at restaurants unless the meal fits the program.

Adopt these 5 bonus habits:

  1. Keep food records.
  2. Keep activity records.
  3. Move more! Exercise for 60 or more minutes every day.
  4. Eat real foods.  Only fresh or healthy frozen.  No canned or processed food.
  5. Write down your daily goals.

It took time to really live the Mayo Clinic Diet, but if you take the book’s advice and change your shopping habits, it makes it much easier.  You find after a while that you stop craving sweets and unhealthy snacks and start looking for new healthy recipes.  You find yourself sleeping better and feeling better, which becomes a strong motivation to stick to it.   The weight loss becomes a wonderful side effect to being a better, healthier you.

AfterRiding

If you decide to give the Mayo Clinic Diet a try for yourself, I recommend getting 3 things: an activity tracker, the Mayo Clinic Diet book, and The Mayo Clinic Diet Journal.  I also recommend making sure you have a friend to diet with you.  Having accountability and support make it much easier!

Please excuse the quality of my before and after shots.  I don’t do selfies, so they stink.  😉  But you can see I’m making progress.  My real after picture is yet to come.  My original goal was 175, but I’ve decided to shoot for 170.  I have 14 more pounds to go and intend to be there by summer.  I’m looking forward to a long, healthy life of riding horses.  What’s your motivation to get/keep healthy and fit?

Welcoming in the New Year

Every New Year, I inevitably get asked, “What are your New Year’s resolutions?”  Answer?  I DIDN’T MAKE ANY!  Why you ask?  Because they don’t work, and they leave you feeling deflated and unsuccessful.  What fun is that?  Is that any way to start a promising new year?  Of course not!  😉

I do, however, firmly believe that the start of a new year is a great time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going, which is exactly what I’ve been doing the last few days.

goalsAt the start of 2015, I found myself very restless and frustrated.  I felt like 2014 had been a year of rocking back and forth but not really getting anywhere.  I spent most of the year reacting to situations and doing what others thought I should do rather than what I wanted to do.  My mission for 2015?  Clear the clutter.  Figure out what I really want in life.  Become my authentic self.  Let go and let God.

As 2015 came to a close, I finished the year feeling really good about where my life is and what I’d done with the previous year.  I made a commitment to get back to the healthy, fit person I used to be.  I’m now 27 pounds lighter, a dress size smaller, exercising every day (even if it’s only doing barn chores!), and eating much healthier.  I haven’t just lost weight; I’ve committed to a healthier lifestyle.

In an attempt to clear the clutter from my life, I’ve given somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 boxes of books, movies, and other things to Goodwill, family, and friends.  My husband and I have gotten rid of the TV, furniture we don’t use, and anything else that hasn’t been touched in the last year.  We’re making plans to sell our house, buy a piece of land, and live in a travel trailer while we build our dream house.  The barn will naturally be built first.  😀

goals2I’ve made some other changes.  I’m seeking more time for my ministries and for leadership training.  I walked away from a job that just wasn’t very fulfilling.  It was a difficult decisions because I worked with good people, people who were hard to walk away from.  But I am now in a position and at a company that are more inline with my long-term goals and my personal philosophies.  Last but not least…  I’ve stopped dying my hair.  I’m letting it go gray.  I’ll explain that later, but it is a part of becoming a more authentic me.

2015 was a good year.  It wasn’t an easy year, but it was definitely a good year.

Looking forward to 2016, my goal is to continue to be a healthier, happier, more fulfilled, more authentic me.  I love the path my life is on, and I want to continue.  I want more simplicity, more deep relationships, and more time to be me.  Here’s how I plan to start:

  1. Commit and act of kindness every day.
  2. Loose 16 more pounds.
  3. Increase my exercise goals.
  4. Eat more foods grown at home.
  5. Find and master a planning/goal tracking/journal system that works for me.

I will of course keep you posted on my progress.  😉  I am sure there will be bumps along the way, but I am confident that if I am on the right path, God will provide.  In the end, it’s the progress that matters most.

What did you accomplish in 2015?  What do you have planned for 2016?

Merry Christmas

Yes, you read that correctly…  I said Merry Christmas, because us Episcopalians are still celebrating Christmas.  We have 12 days of Christmas, ending on Epiphany (January 6).

In our home on Christmas morning, there was no tree, no unwrapped gifts, and no big plans.  My husband was under the weather and napping.  I had a sinus headache from the wonky, stormy weather we’re having in Middle Tennessee.  BUT…  I couldn’t have been happier or more grateful.

We live a very blessed life, and the only thing that could make that first day of Christmas more perfect would be some sunshine.

Here are just a few of the reasons this is one of the best Christmases of my life:

  1. We’ve been married for 7 years and have never been more in love or more devoted to our marriage.
  2. Our children and grandchildren are healthy and happy.  In fact, there is another grandchild on the way!
  3. We have three of the most wonderful dogs you could have; they make us laugh, cuddle with us when we’re sick or sad, and love us unconditionally.
  4. We have three awesome horses that keep Mom happy.  (Happy wife, happy life, right?  😉 )
  5. We have two cats…  We think they love us.  They’re cats, so we’re not sure.
  6. I have a great job working with good people doing good things in the world.
  7. We want for nothing; we have a roof, 4 walls, food, clothes, and tons of love.
  8. I’m an Episcopalian, so we have a loving, welcoming church family that extends beyond our church through out the Diocese of Tennessee and even into a few other states.
  9. We each have a purpose, a calling to drive us and to get us up every morning.
  10. I have friends that are kind, generous, beautiful people; they make others lives better by really connecting with and doing for others.

Bear
There are so many people in the world that don’t have simple things like a home or food or a closet full of clothes.  There are so many more who are lonely or unhappy, dealing with illness or abuse, or just lost.  We are none of those things.  Our life isn’t perfect.  No one’s is.  We have ups and downs and bumps in the road just like everyone else.  BUT…  We have everything we need to face any challenge that comes our way and more love than either of us could have ever imagined or wished for.  How could we be more blessed?

The saddest part about the commercialization of Christmas has been the focus on what we don’t have.  I don’t have an expensive car, and he definitely didn’t go to Jared’s!  I don’t have a fancy home fit for big holiday parties.  I don’t have the best truck and horse trailer.  I don’t wear expensive clothes.

At the end of the day, who cares?  None of those things will make me happier or more fulfilled.  The things that give me the greatest joy are already present in my life, and knowing that is what make life good.

The secret to real happiness?  An attitude of gratitude.  An acknowledgement that you are blessed and have everything you could ever need.

What are you grateful for this Christmas?  What has brought joy into your life?

Pasta Salad – Easy, Healthy, and Cheap

My goals over the last few years have included two things: becoming my healthiest self and making more time (and money) for the things that matter.  As part of that process, I seek out recipes that are quick, healthy, and inexpensive.  We’ve been making our own condiments or seeking out all natural and vegan alternatives for popular brands.  Most of our food is locally grown/raised.  My husband, being a retired engineer, has turned our dining room into a hydroponics project to start growing our own tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, etc.

Since eating is essential, saving time and money in the kitchen is great.  Nothing is better than a meal that’s easy to make, healthy, delicious, and inexpensive… Except a meal that does all that AND allows for options AND leaves leftovers.  One of the best things about pasta salad is that it’s all those things.

Having high cholesterol, my meals are usually vegan.  I will occasionally have grilled fish or hard boiled eggs, but most of what I put it my body is free of animal products.  My husband and daughter still partake in things like mayonnaise, so it’s nice to have a meal that can be finished both vegan and non-vegan.  The pasta salads pictured are just that. Vegan to left and non-vegan to right.

Pasta Salad:
1/2 whole grain pasta
2 cups steamed mix vegetables
2 diced Roma tomatoes
1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
2 tablespoons creamy horseradish sauce
2 tablespoons honey mustard
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Vegan Pasta Salad:
1/2 whole grain pasta
2 cups steamed mix vegetables
2 diced Roma tomatoes
1 cup sweet relish
2 tablespoons vegan honey mustard
2 tablespoons vegan Parmesan cheese

For either salad, mix ingredients.  Season to taste.  Refrigerate.

The total cost? $1.29 for whole grain pasta.  $0.75 for the tomatoes.  We had all the condiments on hand.  You can easily mix it up by swapping things out for your favorite flavors.  For a little protein you could add hard boiled eggs or tuna.

Total prep time was about 20 minutes.  We had enough to feed a family of 3 for two meals.

Preparing the Way

More and more, I pull back from the traditional American Christmas. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years. I used to let the kids pick out the tree and make all our decorations. When they stopped being interested, I stopped decorating. I no longer make a Christmas card list and diligently send out all my cards by the second Sunday in Advent. I no longer make a list of everyone I need to shop for and/or bake for.

Instead, I have been focused throughout the year on letting the people I love know that they matter to me. I don’t wait for a holiday to send a card or a gift. Every day is a day for Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love, and the 4 weeks before Christmas have truly become a celebration of Advent.

In my daily email from dotMagis, I found a lovely reminder of what Advent is:

Advent DoorWhereas the spirit of Lent is penitential, Advent has a gentler way of getting us ready for the Lord. A friend once described it as a time when God tenderly breaks through all of our defenses. Advent is a time of slow surrender to the Lord.

My family and I enjoy hiking, and for longer trips, I like clearly marked trails. A compass and a good map are handy, too. But our Advent journeys are much more like going “off road.” In Advent, God is inviting us to explore the interior forest of our own hearts with God: places that are light, and shadowy and dark spots, sweet smelling pine beds and thorny thickets. It’s a season to deepen intimacy with the Lord by allowing him to walk with us into all of our interior spaces.

Author Marina McCoy perfectly summarizes the journey I make each Advent. Every year, I work on deepening my connection to God, which inevitably deepens my connection with the people in my life in the coming year. I do that by focusing time each day on contemplating where I am and where God is taking me. There are days when I spend time writing reflectively, sorting through my feelings and through what is God’s will and what is my own. Other days, I read from my Ignatian Book of Days and sit in contemplative silence. Some days result in an action item; others result in waiting. The goal is always the same–break down the barriers that keep me from a deep personal relationship with God.

We’re having a door decorating contest at work. I’m no artist, so I’m not in it to win it! But I did take the opportunity to share the messages of Advent. As I decorated the door, I read the Advent prayers and spent some thinking about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

  • How do I experience Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life?
  • How often do I pray for those Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love?
  • What do I do in my day life to be an instrument of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in the world around me?
  • How do experiencing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring me closer to God?

PeaceWhen I think about where my life was 5 years ago or a year ago or even 6 months ago, I know that I have purposefully made choices that have increased the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life. I am certainly a work in progress, but I have made a considerable difference in my quality of living. I’ve gone from high stress working environments to a high-performing but intentionally fun, low-stress working environment. I have eliminated toxic relationships. I have improved and deepened the remaining relationships. The majority of my time is devoted to those things that bring me closer to God. Hope and Peace have certainly become constants in my life.

What I’m praying for most this Advent is to open my heart to greater Love and to learn how to experience Joy more fully. I still struggle with both. At the moment, I am actively focused on loving more fully, reaching out to those I love, and taking every opportunity I have to connect with others. As an introvert, I find this very challenging, but as I pray for guidance, I am finding that even an introvert can find ways to reach out to others.

What are you experiencing this Advent season? What do you need most in your life?