Mindfulness

The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis – Merriam-Webster

I have never been much for meditation.  I have tried it several times in the past few years and it’s never seemed to click for me.  I find I either am too mentally stirred up to quiet my thoughts or am too tired to focus and start to fall asleep.  The breathing portion of it I have found relaxing at times, but as far as an overall daily practice – not exactly my cup of green tea.

For me mindfulness is something entirely different.  While I’m sure those who regularly engage in meditation would consider the two interconnected, I don’t see mindfulness as something I need to practice but rather something that just happens naturally.  Sometimes I become so lost in it that I don’t actually realize that I’m being mindful at the time.

The most recent example was last evening while sitting on my zero gravity chair in the yard.  My husband pointed out several bumblebees flying to various flowers.  We have concerns about the declining bee population so we like to point out when we see them in the yard.  We sat there for several minutes just watching the bees.  At one point I said to him I wonder how many other people do similar activities, just sit in their yards and watch nature.

We weren’t attempting to be mindful; it just happened.

I would like to say that I’m blessed in having time to smell the roses, or in my case, watch the bees, when so many others are busy working overtime, raising children or going back to school.  In reality though I just make quiet time a priority in my life, and I believe that allows for more opportunities to be mindful.

Every evening through the week that I make dinner I sit at the table to eat.  My husband works 2nd shift so I’m alone, but I rarely turn on the TV or touch my phone.  Often I will find something to read such as a magazine.  The important thing though is that I don’t allow myself to be distracted by news, social media, etc.  It’s almost like a time out of sorts that allows me to reset for the evening.

When I go for a run I never wear headphones.  Safety is a primary reason, but even on the rail trail I choose not to.  Instead I tune into the world around me.  Nature.  The other people near me.  My body’s reactions to the temperature, terrain, intensity of the run.  I allow myself to get lost in my own thoughts.  It’s not uncommon for me to come back from a run and want to write; the increased blood flow seems to stir creativity within my mind.

I don’t believe true mindfulness can be scheduled.  While taking time out of each day to relax is certainly beneficial for people’s health, it doesn’t necessarily cause one to become aware.  I think the more often we choose to disconnect whether it be in the literal sense from our phones or TVs or the figurative sense, the more likely we are to become lost in the quiet moments of life.  The moments that may not seem overly important or special, but that bring us inner peace just by being part of them.  That to me is true mindfulness.

My First Season Coaching the Wildcats

I coached jr high cross country for my former school district for the 2008-2010 seasons.  It was very difficult for me to give up the position when I obtained a full time job; one whose hours would not allow me to be off work early enough to get to practice.  I was fortunate in that my dad actually took over my position and has been enjoying it ever since.

This past fall Jason came across a posting for an assistant varsity track and field coach at our local high school.  Having taken a position in the spring that afforded me flexibility in my work hours I made the decision to apply.  In Feb. I was hired to coach hurdlers both on the varsity and jr high teams.  The ability to float between the teams was both a fun challenge since I had hurdlers of all skill levels, and also a tad exhausting as it resulted in having more away meets to travel to.

From March through this past weekend I have not had much of a life outside of work and coaching.  There were many nights that until I got home from practice, completed my own workout, showered and made dinner, I was eating at 8pm.  Refusing to rely on concession stands for dinner every week, I fine tuned my meal planning ability and increased my list of crock pot recipes.  Jason’s chore list grew longer, the cat’s dinner time became erratic, and my parents likely felt that they only had 1 daughter instead of 2 most of the spring.  The extreme temperature changes throughout the early part of the season caused the worst chilblain breakouts I’ve ever had on my fingers.  Snow squalls, rain, wind, heat and humidity all made me feel that I was a postal worker at times.

Everyday I coached though was worth it.  For 2-2.5 hours a day at practice, all evening for meets and all day or night invites I forgot that coaching was a job.  To be part of a team, to have athletes who enjoy working with you and to see them succeed is something that completes me as a person.

Our varsity boys’ team went undefeated at 6-0 and our girls’ team had a winning season at 4-2.  I had 2 hurdlers medal in the county meet and one who continued onto compete in the District 3 championships.  I had 2 jr high hurdlers place in their year end invitational.  I saw improvement in every one of my athletes and their dedication grow with the season.

As a new coach at a new school it can be intimidating not knowing how the athletes will accept you.  After many years of bleeding blue and gold I wasn’t sure how blue and white would suit me.  Fortunately the majority of my hurdlers took to having me there very well, and I received plenty of hugs throughout the season and at our year end banquet.

I am grateful for the opportunity to continue coaching high school athletes; it has always been and will always be a passion of mine rather than a job.  I have a great group of kids returning again next year and can’t wait to see what the future holds.  I learn from them as much as they learn from me, and they remind me of what’s really important in life.

10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Disclaimer – I am not a professional nutritionist, medical practitioner, personal trainer or anything else that would make me certified to recommend lifestyle changes.  I am simply someone who reads a whole lot about food/nutrition/wellness and am an avid runner.  I advocate for eating real food and am anti-GMOs.

I have recently been asked to provide someone with tips on how to eat healthier without spending a lot of money.  I’m sure if you do a Google search on this topic there are more than enough websites with responses that some may question why add another, but I figure if people value my thoughts enough to ask for advice then I’m surely going to give it.  Here are 10 tips and yes, I either regularly follow them or have tried them.

#1 – MEAL PLAN.  Honestly I don’t know how people grocery shop without knowing what meals they are going to make.  I have never even attempted it.  Every week I look at my planner for the week ahead and figure out what nights I have more time to cook and what nights may need a quick option.  I typically come up with 4 meal ideas as I tend to cook Sun. – Wed. and use Thurs. and Fri. to eat the leftovers.  Sat. is usually a free for all (ie pb&j, eggs, etc) or eating out.  Meal planning saves time (no more wondering what to make for dinner or rushing out to buy an ingredient) and money (no or fewer impulse buys) and results in healthier eating.

#2 – DRINK WATER.  Water is the cheapest and healthiest option available.  Too bland?  Try adding some lemon or look up how to make fruit infused water.  Soda and diet soda are the worst options in terms of your health.  If you truly need a caffeine fix stick to one cup of coffee that you make at home – Starbucks everyday does not save you money!

#3 – START SMALL.  Choose one area to improve such as finding healthier snack options or adding more fruits and veggies to your plate.  A few years ago I vowed to start making homemade pancakes to freeze and I haven’t bought a box of Eggo ones ever since.  You’ll never be perfect and that’s ok.  Every healthy decision you make is one better decision towards a healthier overall lifestyle.

#4 – BUY IN SEASON PRODUCE OR FROZEN VEGGIES.  Try to visit local farmers’ markets for better deals than the grocery store, but if you don’t have time at least buy what’s in season.  If you’re craving strawberries in January be prepared to pay a lot more than in June.  I will always recommend buying organic particularly when buying the “dirty dozen” and I realize that it is more expensive, but if you can afford even a few items that are organic then go for those.  Frozen veggies have just as much nutrition as fresh and you don’t have to worry about them going bad and wasting your money before you get to use them.

#5 – BUY WHOLE WHEAT PASTA, RICE AND BEANS.  Pasta is cheap, so choose the healthiest option and go with whole wheat.  I will admit the texture can take some getting used to and you may want to mix it with regular pasta to make the transition.  Rice is cheap as well and comes in a lot of varieties.  Beans are not something I eat (the texture bothers me) but they’re a great source of protein for not much money.

#6 – LIMIT RED MEAT.  Steak and ground beef are expensive.  Choose chicken or turkey to save yourself money.  It also helps the environment, but that’s another topic.  Use ground chicken for tacos, make meatballs with ground turkey… my dad is a hardcore meat and potatoes guy and even he admitted my recipe for turkey burgers had more flavor than he expected.

#7 – FIND YOUR WEAKNESS.  There is at least one or two foods that all of us crave that will cause us to gorge no matter how much willpower we have.  Don’t buy those foods; it’s as simple as that.  I adore Taskykakes, but you will only ever find them in my house once a year – in the fall when the spice cake krimpets are out for the season I will buy one box and indulge.

#8 – LIMIT FAST FOOD.  Burger King, McDonalds… their food is chemical garbage.  I can attest to it because if I eat it I literally am sick on the stomach the rest of the night.  If you can afford it choose places like Panera or Chipotle.  If you can’t then come up with a list of quick and easy meals that you can make on super busy nights so that you’re not tempted to go through a drive through.  I’ve had many late nights this spring with coaching track and rather than rely on concession stands or fast food for dinner I plan ahead and rely on crock pot meals.  To hold me over until I can eat late I pack a pb&j and healthy snacks.

#9 – MAKE CROCK POT MEALS.  Crock pots allow you to buy cheaper cuts of meat such as roasts and chicken thighs and still cook delicious meals.  Many recipes have short lists of ingredients which saves money as well.  Plus it saves a lot of time for those busier nights.

#10 – READ INGREDIENT LABELS.  Too often people focus on the nutrition labels on packages because they’re concerned about fat and calories.  For people who have legit medical concerns such as diabetes I would agree that is important.  For the average person with no major medical issues though, read the ingredient label instead.  If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients it’s likely full of unhealthy chemicals.  Beware of “healthy” snacks that claim to be “all natural” – even organic gummy snacks can be chock full of sugar.  Avoid artificial flavors and colors whenever possible.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts, ideas or recipes that are both healthy and low cost!

The Highs and Lows of Cooking

I have mentioned before in a previous blog Eating – A Necessary Evil that I am not a fan of cooking because in short, I am not a fan of eating.  Today I told my sister and a friend that were it not for my health conscious lifestyle and desire to save money I would likely live off of frozen or microwavable meals and take out.  I do tend to cook 4, sometimes 5, nights a week.  The fact that I have a husband to feed ensures I can’t just make a big pot of pasta and eat it all week long.  I suppose this actually ranks me higher than most Americans when it comes to cooking homemade meals.

My disdain for cooking and my average skills in it results in me having a lot of ups and downs in the kitchen.  The first time I made Pan Seared Pork Chops Topped with Brown Sugar Apples and Bacon (recipe here) I was more excited than when I completed my first 5k.  Mind you I was in the kitchen for an hour and my husband, Jason, devoured the meal in less than half that time, but I was so proud of what came out looking like a restaurant quality meal.  I now refer to the recipe as “fancy pork chops” because it is the closest to gourmet cooking I have ever come.

I feel accomplished when I’m able to try out a new recipe and have it be successful enough to make again.  It gives me a boost of confidence that I can’t achieve from any other activity.  I suppose it comes from doubting my abilities and instead having impressed myself with my success.

I have had many failures in the kitchen as well.  This goes as far back to when I was a kid and made Kool-Aid for the first time.  My poor father had the displeasure of discovering that I had forgotten to add the sugar.  A few years ago I tried making a tortilla encrusted salmon that came out horribly wrong and caused me to cry.  Jason didn’t understand why I was so upset and said we could just get pizza.  To me though it was such a waste.  Of time.  Of food.  Of my efforts.

Then there are nights like tonight when a recipe just doesn’t turn out as good as it sounds.  I had planned to cook some penne and throw it in vodka sauce, but the back of the pasta box had a recipe for a creamy garlic cheese sauce.  As luck would have it I actually had all the ingredients on hand so I thought why not?  I followed the directions to the letter and every step was completed, but the sauce just did not impress me.  It was such a letdown given how wonderful the description of it sounded.  I’m sure a more advanced chef would know the best ways to tweak the recipe to enhance the sauce, but all my hours spent watching Food Network have not instilled in me those same skills.  Next time I’ll stick to the vodka sauce.

I have chosen to take on the challenge of hosting Easter brunch this year for my parents, sister and her husband and my in-laws.  This will be my first attempt at a holiday meal as well as cooking for that many people.  Truth be told I’m doing it as brunch because I have much more confidence with cooking breakfast foods than I do anything else, and my mother has already generously offered to make a ham to bring.  I wasn’t about to attempt that myself and homemade mashed potatoes are out of the question (a 5 year old could probably peel potatoes better than I can).  My ability to time multiple courses to finish cooking around the same time is still a weakness.  Eggs, pancakes and bacon are much more in line with what I can handle.  After all you have to crawl before you can walk right?  Wish me luck!

Dear Trump Fanatics

Hi, my name is Tracy and I am a moderate.  I felt it necessary to write you a letter explaining what exactly that entails as it often appears that you make assumptions about those of us who are not constantly adoring your darling elected President, Mr. Trump.

When I became a registered voter I was listed as unaffiliated.  My views tend to overlap both the Democratic and Republican parties, and I never felt strongly enough about either one to want to vote in the primaries.  In 2008 and 2012 I voted for Obama.  This was after watching all the debates and listening to all the candidates’ viewpoints on various issues.

I was never an Obama fanatic.  There were decisions made by his administration that I did not think were the best, and I never felt it necessary to defend him against those who opposed him.  Were there times when I defended certain policies and/or corrected mistaken beliefs about those policies?  Yes.  Did I feel it was my duty to defend every decision he made and blindly support him even if I didn’t agree with him?  No.

This election season I changed my affiliation to Democrat in order to vote for Bernie Sanders because I was strongly against Hillary Clinton.  I watched all the Republican primary debates, however, and actually thought having Donald Trump run as a not-a-typical-politician type could even be a good thing.  Unfortunately the more I listened to him the more I questioned his ability to be a solid leader.  The whole “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” concept just was too illogical to me and made my eyes roll anytime I heard about it.

With that said I will concede that when it came down to Clinton vs Trump the media was quite often very biased against Trump.  They rarely painted Clinton in a negative light.  The debates between the two were so much more “he said she said” matches that it was hard for me to even discern their viewpoints on issues.  The issues they did discuss were always the same ones, and I went into the election not knowing where either truly stood on topics such as education and the environment.

Because of my unease with both candidates I voted third party knowing full well my candidate would not become president, but feeling content knowing I voted my conscious.  I was very skeptical upon hearing Trump had won, but I had hope that he would surround himself with quality people who could help make good decisions and keep him in check if needed.

Two weeks into President Trump’s administration and already I cringe whenever I hear him speak.  I’m starting to think the whole political world is turning into a reality show as I know when he gives speeches they’re going to grate on me, and yet I continue to watch them.  I am not ready to say he’s unintelligent.  I have a difficult time believing someone who runs successful businesses could be a complete moron.  The fact that his wife is versed in several languages and all of his children seem intelligent says to me that he can’t be an idiot.

It’s his lack of vocabulary, however, that continues to make me shake my head.  The interrupted sentences.  The repeated basic words such as “special” and “great”.  The constant wandering from the topic at hand as demonstrated by his mentioning of The Apprentice’s decreased ratings during the prayer breakfast today.  Part of me feels that he just has to know how unintelligent he sounds and must be doing it for show.

My inability to tolerate his speeches does not mean I assume he cannot better the country.  I was very pleased in hearing that he ensured the US would not be part of the TPP.  I’m curious to see what his plans are for NAFTA and future trade deals.  His lack of concern for the environment primarily through his denial of global warming is of great concern to me though.  His desire to revive the coal industry and his approval of major oil pipelines worries me tremendously.

As a moderate I am afforded this luxury of agreeing with some of his changes while critiquing others.  I cannot wrap my head around those who choose to be 100% Republican and treat President Trump as if he can do no wrong.  I also cannot understand those being 100% Democrat and criticizing every decision he makes.  Extremists on both sides of the aisle are ignorant in my eyes.  Neither is willing to read or listen to anything that doesn’t support their beliefs or look for facts that counter what they believe to be true.

In summary, next time you want to call someone who doesn’t support President Trump’s every action a liberal, just remember there are those of us out there who are moderate and are willing to play ball with anyone who can agree to be civil.

Unfriending Ignorance

I never thought I would unfriend people on Facebook for any other reason but us not being friends anymore whether it would be due to growing apart, realizing we weren’t really that close of friends, etc.  I survived election season with only removing one person and that was because her husband was using her account more than she was, and I didn’t know him and his posts annoyed me.  I made it through election night and the days thereafter and even inauguration day by just overlooking posts which bothered me.

This past weekend, however, my tolerance level broke.  Two people are now unfriended and one I have stopped following due to their sheer ignorance in posting.  One’s posts against abortion filled my news feed.  While I respected his opinion on the issue, his inability to realize that the marches that occurred across the country and the world were about more than just that one issue was too much for me.  Another person’s immature memes were beyond juvenile for someone her age.  She erroneously thought that all the people marching were protesting Donald Trump as president.  If she had only watched some of the interviews conducted at the various marches she would have realized that while yes, there were certainly people marching for that reason, there were plenty others who sought to bring attention to various issues, not just protest.

The final person irked me the most.  A lady who I considered a very kind and caring person posted an article about Madonna’s speech and how her words sounded like a terrorist threat.  I will certainly agree that Madonna should have chosen her words more carefully and anyone who uttered them who wasn’t a celebrity surely would have been arrested.  Below the article several people had written comments and this person wrote back stating that she had neither read the article nor listened to the speech.  I can only infer that she drew her conclusion based on the article’s headline.

I was dumbfounded.  Why would anyone share an article that they hadn’t even read?  I recognize that too many people rely on their news feed as a reliable source of information instead of investigating issues and stories themselves, but to not even read something before posting it?  I felt like it was solid evidence of the inability for people to think on their own anymore.

Where does this ignorance originate?  Is it a lack of a quality education?  Is it an upbringing that relies on skewed viewpoints and a lack of exposure to other ways of thinking?  Is it the main stream media whose main goal it seems is to divide the nation with their biased reporting instead of providing solid journalism?  Is it social media where “information” can spread like wildfire with more people interested in propagating falsehoods than fact checking before posting?

With ever increasing uncertainty of truth from a biased media I think it is so important to truly analyze issues before forming opinions.  My husband and I will regularly alternate between CNN and Fox News because it is very apparent to us which way each of the two leans, and we do our best to listen for facts instead of opinions.  We read a wide variety of websites as well, often finding a story on one and searching for more information on another site just to look for similarities and discrepancies.  It can be tedious and it’s quite disappointing that it has to even be done, that what you read and hear from the news can’t be taken at face value but always with a grain of salt.  It is, however, the only way one can even attempt to find out the whole truth.

Trump supporters think Trump protestors will destroy the country.  Trump protestors think Trump and his supporters will destroy the country.  I think ignorance by both is what is destroying the country.

The Hate in Debate

All throughout the news coverage of the inauguration today I kept hearing the newscasters say how historical of a day it was.  I will admit that I have never watched an inauguration, and the only reason I saw/heard pieces of this one was due to my husband having it on TV.  I’m not sure if it is said every four years how historical of a day it is or if that phrase was unique to today.

In any case I will agree that history was made today.  A man whose main qualities seem to be arrogance and immaturity is now in charge of our country.  I’m not writing this blog to promote my views or spark controversy.  Rather I want to draw attention to something that has grown exponentially throughout the election season – the hatred within debating differences of opinion.

I remember the first time I watched the political debates on TV.  It was my senior year of high school, fall 2004, and I would miss the opportunity to vote by a few weeks given my birthday falls on Nov. 22nd.  Most of my classmates did not have the ability to vote either, but that did not stop us from turning our AP Chemistry class into a full blown debate zone.  There were only about 10 of us in that class, but 2 students became very passionate on the issues and were the key debaters given their strongly held opposite viewpoints.  Mr. Conley, being a genuine educator, allowed us to spend most of our class time the day after a debate aired discussing the various topics.  It was a very enjoyable and thoroughly educational experience.  At no point in time did anyone get nasty with each other, even the 2 who had the most heated exchanges.  The debates stayed in that classroom and when the bell rang we all rushed to lunch, taking with us expanded knowledge but never any resentment towards those with differing opinions.

In college I took a few philosophy courses and one was focused on contemporary moral problems.  Controversial issues ranging from the death penalty to abortion to stem cell research were discussed and debated.  One of the key elements to the class was formulating solid arguments, not just spewing personal opinions.  We were taught to find evidence that supported our viewpoints as well as learn the arguments of the opposing side.  There were some very opinionated and passionate people in that class and sometimes the professor had to interrupt, not because people were being disrespectful, but rather we would run out of time and need to move onto another issue.  Again we all left the class with more knowledge than we had when we arrived and no animosity towards anyone who argued the other side of an issue.

If high school and college “kids” could have civil debates with each other why does it seem adults find such difficulty in doing so now?  Is social media completely to blame due to it ease of attacking nearly anyone whether they be friend, family or complete stranger?  I have been utterly disgusted this week by the posts in my news feed from people on both sides of the political spectrum.  Not only is there a lack of respect for one another, but the full ignorance of the facts is appalling.

I do blame mainstream media for providing opinion based news rather than true fact based journalism, but everyone has the ability to research issues on their own.  I could also point out how often you see people arguing with one another on mainstream news shows with no respect for what another person has to say.  They talk over one another, they interrupt each other and worst of all they write off the other person’s views the moment they realize they are not in agreement.  This year’s presidential debates displayed much of the same behavior.  This just helps reinforce the idea that this is acceptable in debating with another person.

Am I irked by certain posts made by people with opposing viewpoints from my own?  At times and usually because I know they have done no research on the topic.  Do I feel an overwhelming need to attack them for it and try to force my thoughts upon them?  No.  My in depth political discussions are reserved for those who are close to me.  Those who respect me enough to not degrade me for simply not agreeing with them.  Apparently the vast majority of our society has not reached that level of maturity and decency that they feel the need to attack one another for no legitimate reason other than to reinforce their opinions.

If we are to truly “Make America Great Again” we need to start with learning how to decently communicate with one another.  To respect differences in opinion.  To not let one’s differing views define the relationship we have with them.  To stop disregarding what someone has to say the moment we detect they do not agree with us.  To act like civil human beings instead of self centered jerks.  To stop the hate when we debate.