Seeing the World With Fresh Eyes

I’m knee deep in puppy rearing, which is pretty tiring. It’s not QUITE as bad as human babies or toddlers, partially because the duration is much shorter, but there are still a lot of disruptions to sleep and interruptions. I’m lucky in that I have a really great puppy. She’s a wild bundle of energy when she’s awake and tries to get into everything, but she’s relatively easy to redirect and is a quick learner when it comes to training.

It also helps that both puppies are super cute and cuddly!

My husband and I can’t have more children, so puppies are kind of our way of adding to our family. Yes, it isn’t quite the same, but some of it is just close enough to soothe that little ache that’s there, wanting a baby in my arms. A puppy will cuddle up in my arms, cry to be picked up or played with, and has a scent that is somehow “new.” It’s a different scent than a newborn, but I find I sniff my puppies in a way similar to how I would just hold and sniff my kids when they were newborns. There’s just something almost intoxicating about the smell of a new little creature, fresh to this world. The logical part of me guesses it all has something to do with mothering instincts that get triggered to make mothers stay attached to their infants and in this case, my brain is confused enough to attach to another mammal’s baby. Happily, the puppy also attaches to me in a way similar to its mother, coming to me for comfort when she’s frightened or tired.

One of the most fun things, though, about spending time with a young child or a puppy is that I get the chance to see the world through new eyes. For my puppy, Roo, so many experiences are brand new to her. She is excited to explore the world around her and has an innocence that even a grown dog doesn’t have. She assumes everyone loves her and will pet and give her treats just like we do because she hasn’t yet been scared of anyone. She thinks everything is probably good to chew on because she hasn’t yet bitten into something sour or with a nasty texture. She also is sometimes afraid of things that are completely safe, like a strange leaf and she will tentatively explore it, jumping back and forward. It’s fun to see her little brain working, always trying to figure things out and yes, it all reminds me of my children when they were little and I would sit with them, watching them explore the world and enjoying seeing them like little scientists, experimenting with the big world around them, learning so much and so quickly, little brains just soaking it all up.

For me, this is a chance to let go of adulthood a bit and not be so responsible and serious. I talk to my puppies in a high pitched voice like I do children because both respond better to it. I can be playful and in fact, I need to be. I have to take breaks from my responsibilities to play tug or roll a ball or do a quick training session and even those are meant to be fun for the pup. I cheer and celebrate with them when they get something new right and I patiently redirect them away from doing things that aren’t good for them…or our house. I fall asleep with my puppy snuggled into my neck, her favorite spot to be, where my scent is the strongest and sometimes I stay awake watching her dream, knowing she won’t be this little long and I remember the way I’d be so exhausted with my own babies, yet still stay awake watching them sleep because I didn’t want to miss a single precious moment.

Raising puppies makes me feel older and younger both at once. With each puppy I raise, years have passed since the last and I forget how the late nights get a little harder each time. I drink my coffee and push along because I know this is temporary. It probably will only be a few weeks or months at most before both puppies are sleeping through the night. My husband’s puppy is bigger physically, so he can sleep through already, but little Roo just can’t hold it that long and needs potty breaks during the night. As she gets bigger, she will be able to go longer. When I think back to my own babies, I remember YEARS of disrupted sleep, so it’s quite a difference. I feel a little older as I roll out of bed in the middle of the night, calming a crabby puppy and taking her outside to go potty.

I feel younger again as I play games in the living room and laugh at the silly faces the puppies make. We all laugh a bit more, even as we rub our eyes a little sleepy. My teenagers act a little more like the kids they really are underneath those teenaged bodies as they cuddle and play with both puppies. They’ve helped raise puppies before and still I’m impressed with how good they are with them, similar to the pride I feel whenever they hold someone else’s baby and know how to be gentle and act silly to get a smile.

Our dogs are a part of our family in a way that’s hard to describe to people who haven’t had them. We know that they aren’t children and there are times we definitely don’t treat them like children, but they also aren’t like livestock or wild animals. They are companions and they are a big responsibility, too. When I decide to adopt a puppy, I commit to keeping that dog for life, no matter what it takes. If there are behavior issues, we’ll work through them and manage them. If the dog has health issues, we’ll take care of them. When we move, the dog will come with us. Much of our life revolves around what is best for them and it changes our plans often. With Sam, his behavior issues meant we couldn’t really have houseguests unless they were very comfortable with big dogs that were very wary of strangers. We also were limited in where we could go on vacation because he didn’t board well, particularly towards the end of his life and most hotels that allow dogs still don’t allow a big horse-dog.

Still, we adjusted our lives because he was part of our family in the same way we adjusted our lives for any issues our children had. I like to think our own kids learned a lot about responsibility and commitment from that.

I love sharing my life with dogs and they bring such joy and richness to my world. In the same way I used to sometimes wish I could fast-forward through the sleepless nights with my babies, I sometimes look forward to next year, when the pups will be past most of the puppy and adolescent dog struggles. Yet, in the same way I wished I could freeze time in so many moments with my children, I realize this time of tiredness and puppy nips is so short and I should enjoy it as much as I can.

So, I’m sleepily getting in workouts and walks and looking forward to my four-legged workout buddy joining me. Maybe I’ll teach her to do yoga too?

Fear Of…Success??

Recently, I hit a couple of big milestones. It’s been over a year since I began this whole “get my health under control because life isn’t messing around” journey. This past week, I busted through a number on the scale that meant a lot to me…I now weigh less than I did when I was running every day and met my husband. In my mind, that was a super light weight, a time when I felt healthy and a big part of me wasn’t sure I could get back there, let alone break through that barrier. I’m also less than 20 pounds from my goal weight.


Well, as often happens, another challenge has sprung up. I find myself almost inexplicably trying to sabotage my hard work at times. When I dig deeper, I begin to uncover all kinds of things going on there that I might not have expected. This week, I listened to a podcast that really brought the problem into focus. I actually have a fear of…success!

Logically, on the surface, it makes ZERO sense to be afraid of reaching a goal that you’ve been working really hard on, whether that’s losing weight, running a race, writing a book, or achieving something else. You set that goal and look forward to reaching it. Yet, self-sabotage because some part of you fears success is actually VERY common. It’s one of the most common reasons why people don’t reach goals once they’ve gotten past that initial hurdle of building the habits and getting momentum going. It’s also something we don’t often talk a lot about.

One of the biggest reasons people fear success is the fear that they won’t be able to maintain that success.

I know this is a big thing for me right now. I really don’t want to get down to my goal weight and then just bounce right back up again. I want to be able to maintain it and I do have a fear that I won’t be able to do so. As irrational as it might seem, sabotaging myself before I reach that goal can sometimes seem “easier” than facing that fear of not being able to keep the success. It’s similar to why many people don’t finish a book when they have a goal to write one. It’s sometimes easier to sit in that space where, “I could have succeeded at this thing, but I never really gave it a fair try” than to face the scary situation head-on and possibly have failure. If you never reach that goal of finishing the book, then you never have to face rejection letters from publishers and that book you never finished can always have been a best seller. The marathon you never quite ran could have been amazing. The promotion you never got at work of course would have been within your abilities. If I never reach my goal weight because I kept sabotaging my diet, then I never have to know if I could have kept it long term. In some weird, twisted way, my mind is trying to save me from future disappointment by keeping me from reaching my goal.

We also fear change, even when it’s change we think we really want.

Back to our book writing example. What if the aspiring author reaches their goal and smashes it and the book is a bestseller? Their entire life could change. They may suddenly find themselves on a book tour and with a contract to write another book. They may need to quit their day job. Suddenly, that’s a LOT of change in their life. Even positive change can be stressful and what if…what if once they’re there they realize that this new lifestyle really isn’t what they wanted or thought it would be? What if they’re an introvert and really don’t enjoy the work needed to promote a new book? What if the marathon runner realizes that they don’t actually enjoy all the hours required to run the next race, but now they feel like it’s expected of them? Just because you’re successful at something doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically also find it meaningful and fulfilling and often you can’t know what all being at that level will entail. One of my personal trainers recently won a body building competition. She worked for months to get her body fat down and build muscle and she won. Afterwards, though, she realized that she didn’t really like competing at that level. She didn’t like the extreme discipline she had to have over her eating and how it kept her from enjoying relaxed time eating or drinking with friends and she actually didn’t like her body as much when it was that lean. She missed having some more curves. As a result, she doesn’t plan on competing at that level again, even though many people might think she’s crazy to quit now that she’s been successful.

We tend to cling to an idea of who we are…even when it no longer fits.

I haven’t really gone clothes shopping since I lost a lot of weight. It doesn’t seem smart to spend much money on clothes until I’m close to my goal weight. As a result, I’m wearing a lot of clothes that really don’t fit me. Just the other day, I realized I could not keep a skirt up anymore and that it was sliding down! Yet, when I look at those clothes…that’s the size I think I am. In my mind, I am still the same size I was when I started. My trainers can see the progress. My friends definitely see it and give me encouragement, but when I look at myself, I see the same me I’ve always seen. In my own mind, I am a person who struggles with their weight. I’ve been heavier most of my life and that’s become a big part of how I see myself.

The problem with this is that my mind will tend to want to protect that idea of who I am and make my reality fit it. If I don’t shift that identity inside, then I will continue to sabotage my efforts to change it on the outside. Our minds don’t like contradictions like my body not fitting what I expect it to be so my mind will actually actively work to help make those two images fit by quietly subverting my healthy lifestyle efforts. In a strange way, my mind is trying to help make reality fit my own expectations.

It’s kind of similar to someone who has a story in their mind about their financial success. If they view themselves as someone who isn’t good with money and is always struggling to have enough…odds are whether they mean to or not, no matter how much money they earn, they will find it hard to manage it in a way where they aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. When we decide something about ourselves…our mind is very powerful at believing it and making it a reality…for positive or negative.

I’m sure there are other ways that fear of success rears its ugly head, like worrying about how it will change relationships or what other people will think, but these are the ones that are most present for me right now and they’re the ones I’m actively trying to work on. I realize I won’t reach my goals if I’m subconsciously trying to protect myself from them. I first have to conquer the fears attached to reaching them.

And in some ways…that’s proving even tougher than starting.

1 Year Working Out, 40 Pounds Lost, and 40ish Years Walking Wrong

It’s been a little over a year since I began working out heavily and eating healthier. I’m also now 8 weeks into my 6 month vegan bodybuilding program. I’m down 40lbs or so from where I began, probably a couple of sizes, and definitely a lot of inches. I can honestly say that my life is almost unrecognizable from what it was like before. I don’t feel the same and I don’t think I look the same, but even deeper, I don’t view the world the same. I’m more optimistic and more able to take risks. My work isn’t any less hectic or crazy, but I don’t feel the stress in the same way I did. I’m more patient with a much longer fuse than I had before I began.

Apparently, I’ve also been walking wrong this entire time, too.

Now, I met the milestone to learn to walk pretty much on time and I thought I had this all figured out. No one has ever mentioned that I walked wrong. I’ve even been evaluated at a running store for running shoes and I was told all I needed was neutral cushioning shoes because I ran just fine without support. Last week, I learned that was pretty much all wrong.

I’ve had foot pain most of my life and I’ve always had trouble finding shoes that were comfortable. As I increased my steps for my bodybuilding program, my feet began to hurt more and my teenaged daughter who is wise far beyond her years finally convinced me to go see a podiatrist. Ok, she patiently nagged me into it. I’ve never wanted anyone to mess with my feet and I’ve always been a little afraid that if I went to see a podiatrist they’d want to do surgery to correct a problem with my toes from a childhood accident. My whole life, I’d assumed my foot pain was due to some “funky” toes that I’d broken while very young and I really would rather have limped along than let someone hurt them again to make them better.

But…teens can be pretty persistent, so eventually it was worth it just to go get the x-rays and get my feet looked at.

It turns out my funky toes weren’t the problem at all, but there are some pretty serious issues with my feet that if I had NOT gone to see a podiatrist might have led to me needing surgery. Thankfully, because I went in, the problems are still easily treatable with new shoes, orthotics, and something called a “metatarsal pillow.” Basically, all these things force my foot to move in the way it was meant to move rather than the way I’d adapted to move it due to some weird anatomical issues I have probably always had. I spent over 40 years walking wrong and as a result, my feet became more and more adapted to walking wrong and now I have to learn to walk right with all these additional supports in my shoes and physical therapy.

At first, it felt really strange having all this under my feet when I walked. It’s like there’s something in my shoe, just behind the ball of my foot…because there is something in my shoe right there. This forces me to use my big toe more, which it turns out I’ve never really used to walk. It’s uncomfortable, but I quickly found that the pain I’d been feeling…disappeared! Since discomfort is better than pain, I am sticking with it.

This does mean that I can’t go barefoot unless I’m on my yoga mat or swimming and I probably will be limited in what kinds of dress shoes I can wear…in the short term, I may just rock the dress clothes and sneakers look since each pair of shoes will need orthotics and such.

It got me to thinking how I assume I know what I’m doing in other parts of my life. If I was wrong when I thought I knew how to walk, what other basics might I be getting wrong? In what other ways have I adapted to doing things in a way that really isn’t good or natural for me? I certainly see this play out in my old eating patterns, where food was comfort from stress as well as celebration or reward.

Change is uncomfortable, especially at first, but often its the only way to move in a direction that eases pain.

Product Review – No Cow Protein Bars!

Sometimes, no matter how well I try to plan ahead, I wind up in situations where I’m between meals, hungry, and there is nothing healthy or kosher within sight. Other times, I just need a break from protein smoothies and need something quick and easy to add to a meal that provides a big punch of protein. Those situations are where protein bars come in and I relied heavily on them while I was running through airports on my trip to Florida a couple of weeks ago. This is my review of No Cow Protein Bars and no, they aren’t paying me anything, but if they’d like to, I’m totally up for it.

I chose No Cow bars for a few reasons.

  • They’re kosher, pareve, and vegan. They are OU certified and have some vegan certifications as well. I liked knowing I didn’t have to worry about all that off the top.
  • The macros and calories fit what I was looking for. They’re just 190 calories, which is lower than many protein bars out there, but they have 21 grams of protein per bar and just 4.5 grams of fat. The carbs are a little high at 25 grams, but again, compared to other protein bars, that’s still pretty good and to be expected with a bar like this.
  • They have a TON of flavors! I wound up just getting peanut butter chocolate chip because that was the highest reviewed one, but they have s’mores, birthday cake, peanut butter cup…you name it.

So…the review…

First off, this is a protein bar not a candy bar. The texture is pretty sticky, so be ready to wash your hands if you pick at it. There is a little grainy-ness. Overall, though, the flavor and texture were not bad, particularly compared to other protein bars. The only bars I’ve had that were better tasting or had a better texture also had higher carbs and/or less protein. Trade offs have to be made sometimes. Like most protein bars, you’ll want something to wash these down with, like some water, but I did find that these helped keep me full without having to break my plan.

They were super convenient and I often paired them with veggies while I was on the go which worked great. You can get these in larger quantities on Amazon or directly from the maker and they have sample packs if you want to try the various flavors. I found they did well stashed in a backpack all day even in the Florida heat.

So…overall…these are a great option for convenience without sacrificing nutrition, but they are not going to be a tempting snack that you’ll want to binge on, which is ok with me. I’d rather not have a box of candy bars lurking in my pantry luring me anyway.

The Answer For When You Want a Smoothie, but Can’t Make One – Chia Seed Protein Pudding!

I start almost each day with a protein smoothie. It’s a quick, efficient way to get a bunch of protein down the hatch and I can mix in creatine or anything else I want. I toss kale in there and don’t even taste it. I love it and it’s quick and easy and fits into my busy morning schedule.

The problem is…there are some days I can’t make one and I need something prepared ahead of time, like on the Sabbath.

I tried just preparing a smoothie ahead of time and stashing it in my freezer. Let me say this…I tried this so that you don’t have to. Not only did it take me an hour to chip away at that thing, it also was not the tastiest. The texture just…changed. I also wound up with melting chips of protein smoothie everywhere as I stabbed it with my spoon. It was not worth it. I tried just using a shaker bottle. Again, yeah no. I had clumps of protein powder floating in the liquid-y mess that was my “smoothie.”

And then…I looked at a recipe for a chocolate chia protein smoothie on the blog Running On Real Food and eureka!

I used to make chia seed pudding, but those versions were all pretty high in carbs and sweeteners and low on protein. This version uses the protein powder I already had (I’m using Birdman Falcon right now…pareve and kosher) and I’ve found I can sneak in anything I normally would put into a smoothie into it, like creatine or other supplements or even kale or fruit. Best of all, the macros are closer to what my smoothie was and I can blend one up and put it in the fridge for the next morning without texture issues. The texture when blended turns out like a mousse and it’s nice.

I will say that you may want to adjust the amounts of sweetener or cocoa powder depending on what your protein powder tastes like. Just give it a test and add or reduce next time. Also, if you’re not into stevia, you can substitute any other sweetener here and be fine, just make sure you account for it if you’re counting calories or macros. You could also certainly vary the flavor by leaving out the cocoa powder and using different flavors of protein powder or adding in fruit.


I Don’t Do Yoga Because I’m Good At It…and You Shouldn’t Avoid It Because You Aren’t Good At It.

A few years ago, back up in Alaska, I was in a yoga class when the instructor admitted, “I teach yoga because I need it, not because I’m the best at it.” This resonated for me SO deeply and it came back into my mind again when I discovered an opportunity to get my yoga teacher’s certification.

You see, while I have come a LONG way in my yoga journey and I might look pretty flexible to some people, yoga isn’t something I was naturally skilled at when I first began. I have some hyper-flexiblity in some joints, but I never was a dancer and I never worked on what flexibility I had. I also have a tendency to have muscles that get REALLY tight, even to the point it’s caused me some injuries. Add to that the fact that I don’t have your stereotypical “yoga body” that’s advertised in yoga pants ads. I have curves and shorter, stockier limbs and I can’t get into some poses fully because my body just doesn’t do that. I can’t do a handstand (yet) because I don’t yet have the upper body strength. I’m far from the Instagram ideal of a yoga teacher.

But…I think that’s a great thing for my students and I’ll tell you why.

I want to teach the people who, like me, NEED yoga. We’re the people with soreness, tightness, and jobs that put us at risk for all kinds of problems related to sitting or poor posture. We’re the people who start yoga because we’re HURTING or stiff and sore when we wake up or we have trouble getting comfortable to sleep. We’re the stressed out, overscheduled, super tense people who need help even just getting an hour to relax and breathe.

I was stretching in Florida on my vacation a few weeks ago and a friend remarked, “Wow, you’re flexible.” What they didn’t know is the reason WHY I was doing yoga poses on the floor. I was doing them because weight lifting had tightened my glutes (butt muscles…hee, hee!) and my illeo-psoas (weird muscles in your lower back/pelvis) and that tightness was causing shooting pains down my sciatic nerve. I was not doing yoga poses to show off…I was doing them to relieve tightness and pain. I was doing them because I needed them.

I come at yoga from a place of not really being concerned about how deep I or my students get into a pose, but by how deep they get into their own body. For some people, any forward fold is challenging and just getting a hair closer to their toes provides some relief. I’m more interested in how yoga FEELS than what it looks like and specifically, how we can do yoga in ways that make our bodies feel better. I also want my students to see that you can do yoga no matter what your body looks like. You don’t have to look like a Lulemon ad. You don’t have to be young…or skinny…or tall. You can have old injuries or disabilities that mean you have to adjust things. You just have to have a body that might benefit from yoga.

If yoga doesn’t come naturally to you, whether it’s the flexibility, strength, or focus/relaxation parts…those are exactly the reasons why you need it, to work on those parts of it that aren’t easy for you, that don’t just come naturally.

It doesn’t all come naturally to me, either…and I like to show my students that it’s ok to fall out of balance poses and just laugh or it’s ok to modify poses as you need to. It’s ok to love and accept your body and it’s uniqueness rather than getting upset at it for not fitting a mold it was never made to fit.

I don’t do yoga because I’m good at it, although maybe I am nowadays. I do it because I need it. I don’t teach yoga because I’m perfect at it. I teach it because I want to share it with people like me who also need it and who might just find it a little easier to approach with an instructor like me.

When It’s Not About Size Anymore

I just completed my first month on a bodybuilding program. There were times I was tempted to give up, like when I was on vacation in Florida surrounded by delicious food or after my poor old dog passed away and I was craving the comfort of carbs like crazy. I’ve learned a ton and even been able to eat some treats that fit into my plan while staying on track. I’ve walked a gazillion steps and lifted heavy weights.

The biggest changes, though…haven’t been physical.

Sure, I’ve lost weight and busted through that plateau that I was stuck on. I’m only 20lbs from my goal weight now. The funny thing is…that number or even the size clothes I’m wearing has started to matter less and less to me. I’m still motivated to stay on my plan and keep counting calories and macros and lifting, but it has become much more about how I feel on the days I’m not as careful and how great I feel when I am. It’s become more about chasing after goals that have nothing to do with how much I weigh or how I look but about discovering what I can do with this 40-something year old body.

Exercise and eating right have just become one of the things that I do rather than something I’m always conscious about and striving towards. I get up and I either walk or do my workout then walk. I food prep, but it’s pretty simple now. I eat for fuel rather than entertainment. I exercise when I’m stressed or upset rather than grab pasta or chocolate. I move because it feels good to move and it feels icky to stay put. I am content at the size I am even as I work towards my goal weight.

I treat my body like I love myself rather than punishing it either with overeating, eating food that doesn’t make me feel good, or refusing to take it out and move it around.

Even when I was a runner, running was kind of something I inflicted on my body to force it to be the way I wanted it to be. It seems odd that bodybuilding would actually feel gentler, but it does. It feels like me caring for myself rather than beating myself up to fit a certain mold.

It’s no longer about what size I am or how clothes hang on my body or even about numbers that indicate a better chance of good health. It’s more about being kind to this body that has gotten me this far and giving it what it needs to be strong and healthy because I deserve to feel good.

And that change in itself feels good.

Lessons Learned Through Sam

Last night, I had to say goodbye to my furry shadow, my 100lb wingman, Sam the dog. He went downhill fast, his kidneys failing and he just couldn’t hold on any longer and he passed peacefully in my arms, being held and petted and told how good he was. We should all pass so peacefully and surrounded by love.

I returned home to a bed that felt far too empty. Not long after Sam was potty trained, he took up residence by my side at night and it feels weird having space to stretch out when usually we’d both sleep curled up together in a companionable tangle. When I woke, I decided to start today with a long, long walk…the kind he used to enjoy and as I walked, I reflected on his life and so many good memories as well as the struggles and all the richness he brought to our lives.

Sam was one of the best dogs, if not the best dog, I’ve ever had. It was an honor to share his life with him. Still, I would not say he was an “easy” dog. He challenged me to grow so much and learn so much and that was part of the strength of our bond to each other.

Sam had it rough from the start, the biggest male of a litter of 13 pups born to a St. Bernard in a one room cabin in Seward Alaska in winter. His mother had an anxious temperament and developed a mastitis infection so bad that she began to turn on her own puppies when they tried to nurse, so they had to be weaned at just 5 1/2 weeks, not the recommended 8 weeks. This meant that he missed out on all the socialization his mother would normally have given him, teaching him not to nip and to get along with other dogs. We rescued him and brought him home, choosing him in part because he was already eating food well and had a good chance of survival and the way our hearts melted when he tried to crawl into my husband’s beard.

Sam grew quickly, as giant breed puppies do and soon he was a LOT to handle. He ate an insulin pump and a cell phone, crunching them up with his powerful jaws. He nipped and scratched, not really knowing how to handle his high drive. I tried different training methods and finally, I turned to Schutzhund, which is a dog sport similar to police dog training and I found a wonderful training club to train with who really helped me so much with him.

Working with Sam, I learned patience and courage. It takes a certain amount of courage to train a 100lb dog to bite a target, particularly when you’re holding that target. Sam loved the training and quickly learned to channel his instincts and drive bred into him into something constructive and he became so gentle with us. I was amazed at his ability to track scents and his joy at doing what he’d been bred to do. He knew what days we were going to go to training or tracking and would whine with anticipation the entire ride there. He had the same enthusiasm for hiking or camping and would also whine a whine that was near ear-splitting and fidget whenever he knew we were going on a trip.

Sam taught me about acceptance. There were some parts of his temperament that I couldn’t fix. That might be due to my lack as a handler, but I learned to accept those parts of him even when they limited houseguests. I loved him and I’d committed to taking care of him for life, even if it meant our lifestyle had to adjust to fit him. Our vacations were mostly planned around things and places we could take a big horse dog and I loved seeing his happiness at being included with his family. All he ever wanted was to be right with his people. Even our vehicle choices were driven by what could accommodate him and my husband even got a trailer for his motorcycle so he could bring Sam along. When we looked at houses to live in, Sam’s needs factored right in with our own. I learned to embrace being covered in dog hair on a regular basis, loving him more than I did looking neat or the house being spotless.

Sam taught me about courage and loyalty. He always protected his family to the best of his ability, even if he often thought things were threats that really weren’t. The UPS and FedEx men never killed any of us thanks to his brave displays of strength and bravery. What people didn’t know is that Sam actually failed as an attack dog in training. He would bark and growl at the “bad man” and then get scared and jump behind me. His barking and growling was his fear, but he still did his best to keep danger at bay and I’m sure anyone thinking to break into our house would probably have chosen another once they met him. He also was our “fun police,” quick to break up any roughhousing he deemed too dangerous and he made sure we all stayed together when we went hiking. I can still remember how anxious he would get when the kids climbed on rocks on mountainsides in Alaska, pacing and whining like an anxious nursemaid. He bravely stood guard as we picked berries in grizzly country and accompanied each of us on walks in the dark too many times to count.

Sam taught me about compassion. He had such soft fur around his neck and checks and I think each of us has cried tears into that fur from time to time. He was always willing to cuddle or comfort anyone who needed it, becoming a gentle giant and a steady presence. I remember burying my face in that fur so many times over the trials of the past few years and finding comfort in the slow steady beat of his big heart. Sam kept everyone’s secrets and always seemed to understand what couldn’t be spoken, keeping confidences of two kids navigating from childhood into their teen years. He also had an uncanny knack for knowing when I was coming down with something and herding me off to bed, even before I knew I was getting sick. He tried to take care of everyone.

From Sam I learned about the lighter side of life, too. While he was a pretty serious dog, he also sometimes had a goofy side. It was more subtle than our corgi’s clowning. Sometimes he’d groan from under the table at just the right moment in a conversation and send us all into fits of laughter. He loved to romp and play in snow and would have preferred to stay outside in the cold. When he’d get playful he could clear a flight of stairs in 2 bounds or an entire room and turn on a dime. He wasn’t a big drooler, but when he did, it was usually pretty funny, as were his “floogies” that would happen in winter, long strings of drool that generally seemed to land on the exact person who was most trying to avoid them.

Last night, Sam brought me his last lesson as he laid in my arms, calm and trusting, and slipped away. He was teaching me how to let go with love, which is a hard lesson, but one that is so timely in my life right now as I slowly let my kids out into the world and also grow older myself. It’s a lesson I’m bound to repeat again and again as the years go on. Sam was a noble creature right to the very end, laying in my lap and trusting me as he breathed his last and passing without fear or doubt or regret, listening to words telling him he’d done the job of being a dog well. I couldn’t help but think that I could only hope that one day, when I’m very old and gray, that I will meet my end as gracefully and peacefully and with the assurance that I was good as well.

Rest well, Sam. You kept your herd safe and deserve a well-earned rest.

Every Spring an Awakening

What do you do when things start going well?

My family is growing more and more healthy all the time and the house is full of laughter again most days. Work is chugging along and the hours are a little less awful. I have a vacation coming up. I’m down over 30lbs from this time last year. I’m teaching yoga weekly and building my confidence.

Things are going well! So…

I decided it was time to try another level in my fitness and nutrition. I’d been toying with the idea of working with a personal trainer to provide more structure and I’d been feeling my seasonal shift toward eating more plant-based, so I signed up to work with a vegan personal trainer for an intense 6 month program. By doing this, I think I’ll not only get in better shape, but also learn what I might have been missing when I’ve gone vegan in the past, nutritionally, as well as what mistakes I might have been making in my weightlifting. I’m also hoping to bust through this plateau I’ve been in since winter.

The program is already pretty rigorous. Everything is measured and tracked, macros, calories, pounds, grams, steps…charts and all. For someone geeky like me, it’s pretty satisfying to see those charts and work to make them look the way I want. For 6 months, I’ll be living a very structured lifestyle, even down to daily journaling and books to read to get my mindset right when it comes to food and fitness. I’m excited to see the results!

In other areas of my life I’ve learned that when things become “easier,” it’s important to try to look at what I could improve. Otherwise, it’s easy to become complacent and slide backwards. I always try to keep moving onward and upward in each area of my life.

Are things going well for you? Is it time to shift down a gear to handle a rough period in life or time to shift up to move forward?

5 Reasons Why Your Plate Should Change with the Season

We had an unusual snow shower today, which means that yesterday my son helped me move my planter with our asparagus in it inside. I did my morning workout hopping around it and it got me to thinking about how my husband’s love of asparagus led to one of the first standoffs in our relationship…the great asparagus embargo.

My husband LOVES asparagus and, when we first met, he saw some in November or December in the grocery store and wanted to buy it. I think I must have looked at him like he had grown a third arm. It wasn’t that I don’t like asparagus. I like it very much. It’s just that there was no way I was drawn to buy the overpriced, shallow imitation of asparagus that you can get out of season rather than wait until spring to enjoy it fresh. He was confused, having no idea what season asparagus is harvested in or why he should wait.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone…most Americans aren’t in touch with where their food comes from or when it’s harvested. We’re just familiar with what is on the grocery store shelves at any given time. The problem is that there are SO many reasons to eat with what the season is where you live.

  1. Taste. For me, this is one of the biggest ones. Fruits and vegetables taste their very best when they are very fresh and haven’t had to travel far. Anyone who’s had a freshly picked tomato or peach knows that there is a WORLD of difference between that experience and what they’ll find in their grocery store. The natural sugars in fruits and vegetables begin breaking down the moment they’re picked, so the sooner you eat them, the better they will taste. When you’re eating something outside of its normal season near you, the odds are even higher than it isn’t fresh because it’s had to travel far.
  2. Cost. This is another big consideration for most families. When produce is in season, it’s often on sale because there is too much of it. This is why there are huge displays of strawberries in the spring and not at other times and the cost is lower for those berries that are sweeter than any other time. Eating what’s in season not only tastes better, it’s less expensive as well!
  3. Health. Just like the natural sugars that break down once something is picked, so too do all the wonderful healthy chemical compounds in produce. The fresher it is and the less it’s had to travel, the healthier it will be for you. Amazingly, things in season also tend to match what we want and need at any given time. Winter is the time of hearty, warming root vegetables and winter squashes and summer brings us tons of bright, light salad fixings. Eating with the seasons can help you eat healthier all year long.
  4. Supporting Local Farmers. This one is near and dear to my heart. Buying produce in season and checking to see that it was grown not too far away means that more of your grocery dollars stay closer to home. No offense, California or Mexico, but I’d rather my money go back into the economy where I am. Buying local means that local farmers receive the benefit of your purchase and then they spend that money in the community. Even better is shopping farmer’s markets or buying a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that skips the middle man and gives your purchase dollars directly to local farmers.
  5. Reducing your food carbon footprint. If you’re buying asparagus from Mexico, then that means that a big truckload of refrigerated produce had to drive all the way from where it was picked to you. Our fruits and veggies take far more road trips than we do and it quickly adds up. By eating local and in season, you’re cutting that back.

There really is NO downside at all to eating fresh, local produce in season, except that maybe you might have to wait for your favorites until they’re ready. In the meantime, why not try things that are in season that you may have overlooked while you were eating things that aren’t in season?