Resting Like a Fallow Field

IMG_1762The cornfields lining the country roads to our home 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 this time of year when nature encourages us to 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? Could you use a fallow period? Maybe this stretch of time before the holidays arrive is a good time to recover, restore and rebalance yourself.

You might be in a season of life when rest seems impossible. Stressful jobs, child-rearing, caregiving and other challenges can be exhausting. Just keeping up with the daily news is taxing. Even fun-filled celebrations can leave us feeling a little worn out. The dormant fields are encouraging all of us to use these quieter, darker days as a time to replenish ourselves.

Here are ten ways we can follow the fallow fields  ~

  1. Be still. Being busy isn’t necessarily being productive. Sit in complete stillness a few minutes each 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. Take a walk outdoors. Not only is walking good exercise, the crisp air is a great way to clear your head.
  8. Practice self-care. Get a massage, a haircut, a manicure, or try some 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 falling. Shorter 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. §

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5 Ways Nature Inspires Healthy Eating

As a nature-lover, I lean towards a more natural lifestyle. I prefer to wear natural colors, decorate with natural objects, and use natural beauty products. In theory, I like to nourish my body with natural foods. So I feel like a real poser when writing about nature while artfully eating a small stack of Oreos.

Do you have an unhealthy food or beverage habit you’d like to break?

Do you want to make healthier eating a priority?

We have three more months to make good on those long-forgotten new year resolutions. It’s time to rally! Let’s hear it for more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed sugar, fat and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

So how can nature inspire healthy eating?

The first step is to spend more time outdoors. Shake off the artificial sights, sounds and smells of indoor environments. Use your senses to get in touch with nature. Take a quiet, meditative walk and consider these five ways nature encourages us to make more nutritious choices.

  1. Nature’s Abundance ~ Most of us get our food from grocery stores, cafeterias, restaurants, vending machines and drive-through windows. Think about the original source of our most nutritious foods. Contemplate the miracle of food growing up from the ground and hanging from branches. Gratefully enjoy the healthy foods nature generously and abundantly provides for our sustenance.
  2. Nature’s Simplicity ~ Mankind has invented some pretty awesome things, which may or may not include double-stuffed Oreos. But when it comes to healthy eating, can anything top the simplicity of an apple? Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.”
  3. Nature’s Wisdom ~ In 2018, the U.S. weight loss industry was a 70 billion dollar market. Like so many things, we’ve made eating unnecessarily complicated. In Genesis 1:29, it is written, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” There is such wisdom in nature, and I trust it far more than any celebrity peddling the latest fad diet.
  4. Nature’s Beauty. When I take a walk, I’m shocked by the amount of litter that spoils nature’s beauty. My trash bag quickly fills up with beer cans, chip and candy wrappers, fast food containers, plastic cups, lids and straws. Imagine how much less trash there would be on our planet if we didn’t purchase the unhealthy food and beverages that come wrapped in all that packaging.
  5. Nature’s Purity. The more time we spend in nature, the more attuned we are to what we eat. We connect with the seasons and cycles of our ecosystem. We notice the artificial colors, fragrances and flavors that are a normal part of the modern diet. We find the junk and gunk in processed foods distasteful. We long for pure, clean food as much as we long for pure, clean air.

Nature has always provided valuable answers and inspiration for our nutritional health. In 400 BC, Hippocrates said nature was the best physician and encouraged a natural diet to prevent disease. The father of medicine is attributed to this piece of advice, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Easy for him to say. Hippocrates was never tempted by an Oreo. §

Steel Magnolias

I grew up in a small Midwest town on Magnolia Avenue, named for the tree that graced the entrance to our modest neighborhood. Every year, we waited for our magnolia to announce spring’s arrival by bursting into a profusion of pink and white blossoms and spritzing the whole neighborhood with its delicious perfume. I loved that tree, that neighborhood, and the memories that come flooding back when I catch a whiff of its familiar fragrance.

As an adult, I lived in Tallahassee, Florida where southern magnolias decorated the landscape with bold silky white flowers. The magnolia of my childhood was a saucer magnolia, commonly known as a tulip tree, and it was just as lovely. In fact, there are more than 200 species of magnolias. Not only are they the essence of delicate beauty, they are also tenacious survivors, hence the term steel magnolias.

Fossilized specimens date back to 95 million years ago. Magnolias have adapted to changing geographical regions and climates, and some magnolias are thought to live up to 300 years. To avoid damage from pollination, the magnolia’s carpels are extremely strong and durable. A carpel, by the way, is the female part of the flower.

It was on Magnolia Avenue that I first learned lessons from my mother and her coterie of friends that have stayed with me until this day. They were, and still are, my steel magnolias. I still think of them as youthful middle-aged women, even though I am nearing sixty. They collectively taught me lessons I can only hope I passed on to my daughter and the thousands of young women who sat in my classroom.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown. On a drive through the old neighborhood, I was thrilled to see our magnolia tree was still there and just beginning to bud. Rooted at the base of that tree are lessons of my youth. It’s not too late to revisit them and renew my resolve to cultivate the traits of a steel magnolia.

Grace. Grace is defined as simple elegance, refinement of movement, and courteous goodwill. My mother and her friends are never tacky. They speak, dress, move, and act with a natural and simple elegance. More importantly, they treat others politely and with kindness.

Loyalty. Just as we could depend on our magnolia tree to bloom each spring, my mother and her friends could always count on each other. They’ve seen one another through good times and bad, sickness and health, sadness and celebration.

Dignity. Growing up, the kids in our neighborhood loved to climb trees, but we never climbed the magnolia tree. In hindsight, I suppose we respected it the way we respected the moms and older ladies who lived in our neighborhood. They garnered our deference by consistently behaving in an honorable, dignified manner.

Wisdom. The magnolia innately knows when and how to grow, bloom, and rest without advice from anyone. My mother and her friends not only ran households, but also managed companies, classrooms, committees, and campaigns. Perhaps it’s woman’s intuition or sage wisdom, but they’re smart chicks who never play dumb.

Beauty. Magnolia blossoms come in a myriad of colors and shapes, and each one is a beauty. Since I was a young girl, I’ve admired my mom and her friends’ attractiveness. They took pride in how they presented themselves, their homes, and their work. They had a special way of adding a dash of flair to everything they did.

Strength. A steel magnolia possesses an admirable combination of femininity and fortitude. Call her brave, plucky, resilient, intrepid, or one tough cookie, she has the strength of mind and spirit to endure pain and adversity with courage. As Annelle Dupuy Desoto resolutely said in the play, Steel Magnolias, “Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.” §

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Starting the Year on the Right Foot

When I signed us up for the First Day Hike, it sounded like an exhilarating way to begin the new year in the peace and quiet of Brown County State Park, but the experience proved to be more challenging and eye-opening than expected.

When Mike and I reached the trailhead where the New Year’s Day trek began, we were surprised to be joined by more than 200 hikers. There were loud hikers. Pushy hikers. Slow hikers. Hikers on cell phones. Hikers with unruly yapping dogs and children. So many children.

I looked at my husband like a deer in the headlights. “This might be the hardest two-mile hike I’ve ever been on,” I whispered unnecessarily, as he knew exactly what I was thinking. We almost bailed on the First Day Hike before it even began, but I felt it might be a test, not of my endurance, but of my tolerance.

I used to have a wealth of patience. When I was a teacher and mom to young children, patience was my superpower. For more than 25 years, I willingly trapped myself in a small square room with more than a hundred middle schoolers a day. Although I’ve always enjoyed time alone, I loved interacting with students, co-workers, neighbors, family, friends, and even strangers.

Now I’m retired and live in the boonies. I go days without talking to anyone save my easy-going husband and the forest critters. If not for the necessary task of grocery shopping, I would happily remain in the woods like a hermit. I’ve admittedly become a tad intolerant of my fellow man.

We fell into line with the army of hikers who snaked single-file through the hills of Brown County at a steady comfortable pace. I noticed how nature worked its magic to cast a spell of courtesy and civility over the group. While navigating the rugged trail covered in wet leaves and squishy mud, we chatted quietly, as hikers often do, about the weather, foliage and fauna, wildlife, and other favorite hiking spots.

I talked at length with a loquacious teenage boy whose mother seemed to welcome the break. I discovered one of the hikers was from the same small Illinois town as my dad. I petted a cute scruffy dog whose owner had come to the event alone with her rescued pup.

Our First Day Hike was over before we knew it. We said goodbye to our new friends and wished each other a happy new year. Hiking is often a chance for solitude in the great outdoors, but our walk in the woods with 200 other nature-lovers gave me a feeling of community and comradery I didn’t realize was missing from my life.

My new year got off on the right foot with a burst of energy, an appreciation for nature, and most surprisingly, a reminder to have a gracious and open heart towards all of the people I meet on my path along the way.