Self-Care and Green Smoothies

During stressful times, I always seem to throw self-care out the window. The next thing I know, my sleeping, exercising, and eating habits are out of whack, creating even more stress and dis-ease.

Although I’m honestly in no mood for any of it, I re-established some healthy routines this week including drinking a green smoothie every day. I’ve already noticed an improvement in my sleep, digestion, dark circles, and dry skin. I like the ritual of making the smoothie and knowing I’m taking positive steps to get my mojo back.

You can find plenty of smoothie recipes on Pinterest or Google, adding and subtracting ingredients as you wish. I tinkered with one and came up with this simple recipe that tastes fresh, healthy, and delicious.

Combine and blend until smooth:
1 cup oat milk
a big handful of greens (I use a mix that includes spinach)
1 green apple
1 banana
a dash of cinnamon
1 cup of ice

At the end of the day, we are each responsible for our own self-care. I hope you’re taking the time to take good care of yourself. I’m inspired by this anonymous quote, “An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” Cheers! §

The Elegance of a Prayer Garden

I walked to the prayer garden near my house this morning, recalling the day I discovered it about a year ago when everything in my predictable little life suddenly turned upside down. The details don’t matter. It was just life. Life, with a big Covid cherry on top. 

One blustery afternoon, when I was in the thick of it, I took a walk to clear my head. I left the concrete sidewalk along the busy road and headed a different direction across the frosty ground along the train tracks. As my feet kicked through thick crisp leaves, I heard myself let out a long breath I’d been holding for weeks. I closed my eyes briefly and opened them to find myself wandering into a small, elegant prayer garden.

The garden is situated on the edge of the grounds of a large church that wasn’t there when I was growing up. It’s a small area that’s simply, but well-designed. I sat on the cold stone bench, knowing what I needed to do.

Pray.

There was so much to pray about, but my thoughts blew and swirled around like the dry brown leaves trapped against the garden wall. I settled myself for some serious invocation, but instead focused on inconsequential details in front of me – moss growing on the large center boulder, the patterned brick below my feet, the low curved wall.

Okay, pray.

In the silence, my attention turned to the sound of the wind shaking copper leaves still clinging to their branches, the distant squawk of geese dotting the gray skies, the rhythmic scratching of a squirrel in a nearby tree.

C’mon, just pray.

I shook my head only to notice the abundance of acorns, hickory nuts, and broken shells scattered at my feet. I scoffed at my spiritual ineptitude as my eyes filled with hot tears that stung in the cold air. A train rumbled down the tracks, just feet away. The clattering of iron on iron came closer and closer, roaring louder and louder in my crowded mind.

Suddenly, I remembered the title of a book by Anne Lamott called Help. Thanks. Wow. In it, the author advocates three simple prayers – one of supplication, one of gratitude, and one of sheer awe.

I walked in a slow circle around the center of the garden, picking up acorns and placing them on stones to help me visualize each individual prayer. Instead of a train wreck of messy thoughts, my prayers were laid out in a neat, comprehensible pattern along the garden wall.

Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow.

The title of Lamott’s book reminded me to keep my prayers in specific, grateful, and humble balance. For every prayer asking for help, there’s another for thanks, and yet another for joyful praise of things like serendipitously stumbling upon a private and holy sanctuary just when it’s needed most. 

I walk to the prayer garden nearly every day now. It’s one of my favorite places in the town I call home again. This morning I realized every one of my prayers from last year has been answered.

Thanks.

Wow. §

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.”
~ 1913 Hymn, In the Garden

The Elegance of Resting Like a Fallow Field

Here in America’s Heartland, the farmers’ fields lie fallow now. Barren squares stretch out like a patchwork quilt gently covering the land while it settles in for a well-deserved nap. The scene makes me want to snuggle under a cozy blanket and enjoy the time of year when nature encourages us to elegantly rest like the fallow fields.

Fallow periods are traditionally used by farmers to maintain the natural productivity of the land. Leaving a field inactive for a time allows the soil to recover, restore, and rebalance itself. You see, the land becomes depleted and unproductive if it isn’t given a chance to rest.

Can you relate? What if we took a cue from nature and thought of this season of the year as a natural time to recover, restore, and rebalance ourselves?

I know, the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is the busiest time of the year. Maybe you’re in a season of life when rest seems impossible. A stressful job, child-rearing, caregiving, and other challenges can be exhausting. Keeping up with the daily news is taxing. Even fun-filled celebrations can leave us feeling worn out. All the more reason to rest.

My husband is the most steady and calm, yet efficient and productive person I know. He manages to get everything done and more, yet he’s the first one to suggest we stop and chill. It’s no surprise his favorite Christmas carol is Silent Night. Like my laid-back husband, the elegant song hushes and reminds, “All is calm. All is bright.”

Rather than waiting until the hustle of the holidays is over, let’s give ourselves the gift of rest now, when we really need it. Here are ten ways we can follow the fallow fields, even if just for a few minutes each day.

  1. Be still. Being busy isn’t necessarily being productive. Sit in complete stillness a few minutes every day to let your body and mind recharge.
  2. Stay home. Sometimes we stay on the go out of habit or fear of being bored. Be it ever so humble, home should be the most comforting place in the world.
  3. Renew your spirit. Read, pray, sing, create. Do more of whatever renews your soul.
  4. Turn down the noise. Do what you can to quiet your surroundings. Unplug at least once a day and experience total silence.
  5. Say no. We aren’t obliged to say yes to every invitation or request. Graciously decline an avoidable situation that’s likely to be more draining than fulfilling.
  6. Eat well. When a field lies fallow, the soil regains its nutrients. Be sure to consume healthy foods to replenish your own nutrition.
  7. Talk a walk outdoors. Not only is walking good exercise, the crisp air is a great way to clear your head.
  8. Practice self-care. Schedule a massage, a haircut, a manicure, or try some at at-home spa treatments. Take time to take care of yourself.
  9. Go to bed early. Sleep research shows human beings have a natural circadian rhythm that mimics the sun’s rising and setting. Shorter, darker days are a good excuse to get more sleep.
  10. Observe nature. Take a closer look at nature. Appreciate its beauty. Be inspired by its simplicity. Learn from its wisdom.

This morning at sunrise, a single bright star twinkled in the glowing horizon while the waning moon illuminated a frosty, barren field dotted with several deer. The elegant scene looked like a Christmas card sending sincere wishes for a beautiful, peaceful, and restful holiday season.

“It is precisely those who are busiest who most need to give themselves a break.”
~Pico Iyler

The Elegance of Breaking the Hurry Habit

In one of my favorite poems, My Symphony, William Henry Channing advises us to “hurry never.” As much as I’ve always loved that sentiment, it’s something I’ve been slow to learn. Breaking the hurry habit can be difficult, but it is one of the best things we can do to take better care of ourselves and to capture that elusive everyday elegance.

As a busy mother and teacher, I operated on two speeds for decades ~ a hundred miles an hour and passed out from exhaustion. Most days, I hit the ground running the second I crawled out of bed in the morning until the second I collapsed back in at night. During the five minutes between classes, I flew around like a whirling dervish, squeezing in as many tasks as I could before the next class began.

I don’t say this to boast. It wasn’t healthy or wise, and it was anything but elegant. Even after my children were grown and I was no longer teaching, I still found myself rushing. I walked, drove, talked, moved, and acted as if there was a sense of urgency when there was none. I had a hurry habit.

It seems the want to rush isn’t just a symptom of our modern, fast-paced lifestyle. These words were written in the 1600s by Saint Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

I sympathize with those in the hectic stages of childrearing, caregiving, homemaking, schooling, or career. I know it sometimes seems there’s no choice but to be in a hurry. I also know the toll it can take on our relationships, health, and inner peace.

We all want to be active and efficient, but we can learn to do so at a slower and more deliberate pace. As a reminder to myself, and to you, here are ten ways breaking the hurry habit can help us live with more grace ~

  1. Better Health ~ When I catch myself rushing, I feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Our bodies aren’t meant to be in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. Slowing down can improve our physical and mental health.
  2. More Beauty ~ I wonder how many sunsets or full moons I missed because I was too busy to notice. The more we slow down, the more we notice beautiful things around us.
  3. More Help ~ If our life truly demands us to constantly be in a hurry, it’s time to get some help. It’s smart self-care to ask for help when we need it. No matter what we’ve been taught to believe, nobody can do it all.
  4. Sweeter Memories ~ Have you ever been so busy that you felt you completely missed a child’s important milestone, a holiday, or a special event? Time moves on whether we’re aware of it or not.
  5. More Kindness ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down allows us to be more courteous, patient, and aware of others.
  6. More Productivity ~ It may seem counter-intuitive, but hurrying doesn’t always help us get more done. In fact, rushing often results in mistakes, accidents, and bad choices.
  7. Better Decisions ~ When we set an intention to stop hurrying, we find it easier to make decisions about what we can include in our lives. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something more important to us.
  8. More Peace ~ Think about the difference between frantically driving someplace and leisurely driving to your destination. A calmer, less rushed demeanor can bring more peace to ourselves and those around us.
  9. Better Planning ~ A school secretary I worked with had a sign over her desk that read, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” If we want to stop rushing ourselves and others, planning ahead is crucial.
  10. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. By breaking the hurry habit, we can calmly glide through our days with more elegance and composure.


“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
~ William Shakespeare

The Elegance of a Daily Walk

I have a penchant for novels and movies set during the 1800s. My favorite scenes feature characters gracefully strolling through the beautiful countryside. Without the invention of the automobile or the luxury of a horse-drawn carriage, walking was the only way most people could visit friends or go to church, school, or shops. These days, walking is primarily done for exercise, but taking a daily stroll has many more benefits that can add elegance to our lives. 

There’s no denying the simplicity of taking a walk. It requires no special equipment, it’s free, and we can do it on our own schedule. Whether walking through a misty moor or around the block, all one needs to do is put on shoes and go. We can even do as they did during the Regency era and “take a turn” around the living room after enjoying tea or a rich meal. 

Nature is the main reason I head out the door for my daily walk. Though my route may stay constant, each walk tells a different story with a unique setting that includes the weather and colors of the sky at that particular hour. One never knows what may appear in the unfolding scenes of a walk ~ a bunny in the neighbor’s yard, a fawn at the edge of the woods, Queen Anne’s Lace growing alongside the road. 

Walks can also provide much-needed solitude. One of my most beloved characters in literature is Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. This complex introvert frequently takes long walks alone to sort her thoughts and clear her head. About Lizzie, Jane Austen wrote, “Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk.” 

On the other hand, walks can provide a connection to our community. I often walk down the sidewalk of the busiest road in town. Hardly a day passes that I don’t run into someone I know who honks, waves, or stops for a quick chat. No one tips their hat or curtsies, as they do in my favorite movies, but walking in my hometown makes me feel grateful to be part of a place I love.  

Finally, taking a long solitary walk feels like a romantic nod to the past. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon strolling across a field of wildflowers, stopping under a large shade tree to read a book of poetry or write a few lines of my own. I usually walk in a baseball cap and sneakers, but I dream of the day that I confidently go for a stroll wearing a flowing dress and carrying a parasol. §

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

The Elegance of a Good Night’s Sleep

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had a lovely wish for us, “Be thy sleep silent as night is, and as deep.” Man has long understood the value of sleep. As one of our most basic biological needs, we know proper sleep is fundamental to our physical and emotional well-being. Maybe we should also consider getting a good night’s sleep a polite thing to do.

All of us have had to muscle through a long day after a bad night’s sleep feeling groggy, grumpy, and gross. It’s difficult to be bright and cheerful when we’re exhausted. We’ve also all been bitten by someone who is dog tired. I’m positive we’d see more dignified, tolerant, and elegant behavior if everyone took a nice long nap.

Poor sleep has many causes including waking children, work demands, care giving, and blasted insomnia. When that’s the case, we may have to ride it out or even seek professional help. Yet many of our sleep problems may have more to do with simply not placing a priority on proper sleep hygiene. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, good sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making our bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to ideal sleep hygiene.  

There are many ways to make our bedtime routine an elegant part of our day. It might include a warm bath, luxurious sleep wear, quality sheets, meditation or prayer, a journal, or some peaceful music. It probably doesn’t include watching Netflix until we pass out in our clothes, face unwashed, and unprepared for the next day. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of our most important personal responsibilities, and it’s something we must teach our children. As a teacher, I saw many students suffer from poor sleep habits. It’s no surprise that studies show both behavior and grades improve when children routinely get the nightly sleep they require. 

The National Sleep Foundation advises that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Children and teens need even more to support their growth and development. It’s important to honestly assess how much sleep we need based on our activity level and overall health.

I know I feel, look, and act my best when I get close to nine hours of sleep. If I get much less than that, my husband has every right to say, “Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Other times, I just let her sleep!” §

“We are stuff as dreams are made on. And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
~William Shakespeare