Book review: Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

NOTE: I was given an advance copy of the book Hannah, Delivered (affiliate link) in exchange for my honest opinion. Review and opinions below are my own.

"There's three things to learn about labor. It's work. It hurts a lot. And you can do it." - Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

When I got an email from a publisher with the subject line “Midwife Fiction”, you know that I was in! I am a bit of a natural birth junkie. I just love to hear how women learn to trust their bodies and how they discover their strength through childbirth. I actually visited my midwife just last week for my annual checkup and fell in love again with the entire practice. The old Victorian house, the cloth robe and cover, the corner of the exam room filled with toys for the kids, the comfy chairs I sat in while we chatted, with the sunlight streaming in the huge windows…So far removed from what I’ve heard about OB/GYN offices. I just love sharing the stories of my first natural birth and my second natural birth.

The mind-body connection espoused by midwifery is not so far removed from what we practice in yoga. The book that I was given a chance to read definitely delivered (if you will excuse the pun) on that reality. The book is called Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew (affiliate link) and it is about a young woman on her journey to become a midwife. She has built a safe, secure life for herself working in an administrative position at a hospital and one evening is called to assist in a birth. She accidentally ends up catching the baby and BAM! catches the midwifery bug. She will have to leave everything she knows: her job, her relationship, her state, and her security to train as a midwife, only to return to practice in a town where midwifery is only barely legal. Is that how this really happens? BAM!, just like that? To a woman who has never been a mother herself? I am not sure. I didn’t know much about birth, myself, until I read the book Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy (affiliate link) almost 10 years ago. Shortly after, I also read Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (affiliate link). To say those two books shook up my idea of what my body was capable of and how our society has treated women would be an understatement. Some of these same injustices, mistrust, and misinformation are touched on in Hannah, Delivered. It is plausible that activism is a response to correct a wrong. But more importantly, Hannah’s journey to midwifery is a journey that has a goal of creating what is right: assisting women in the positive aspects of birth and allowing them to be free. The book is about how Hannah delivers herself from her old ideas of what she “should” be or isn’t, and allows herself to be born into what she is meant to be. She struggles with her place in the world as well as her own spirituality and the spirituality of her parents. It’s definitely not a Christian book, as the main character remains agnostic throughout the book. But I did not feel uncomfortable with it as a Christian, either. The Christ-followers in the book were presented in a positive and loving way.

The characters in the book were believable and I found myself caring what happened to them. There was enough of a twist for me to wonder what was going to happen, but enough of a reassurance that I didn’t feel the need to skip to the end to keep from getting anxious (not that I ever do that…) . I also found the end satisfying, unlike some of our recent Book Club books. I would happily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good fiction, whether or not you are a natural birth junkie.

Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

So if you’re getting ready to build your summer book list, add Hannah, Delivered — and let me know what you think!

Being Conscientious During Christmas

Ever since a few years ago when we kind of cancelled Christmas due to a housing situation, we haven’t looked at Christmas the same way. That year, we had not one but 2 Secret Santa boxes show up at our door and bless our children with gifts. Neither that year or even last year did we actually buy our children gifts from us. They had plenty to open thanks to BlogHer toys and toys from their grandparents and other family. I can guarantee you that a (then) 1 and 3 year old never noticed the difference between 4 toys and 14 toys. And even this year at 2 and 4 years old, we will continue to share with them that Christmas is not about getting, but about giving. Last year we even had the opportunity to be a Secret Santa to another family in a situation similar to ours.

I shared on my blog Facebook page this graphic from my friend Stephanie:

The fact that stores are even open on Thanksgiving day this year, forcing already low income workers to go to work instead of spending time with their families, is a sign of our severe consumption addiction in this country. We are not even willing to let retailers rest. We are asking them to serve us rather than thinking about who we can serve in our own abundance. Something I want us all to stop and think about.

Operation Christmas Child

If you’re looking for a way to give back this season, one thing we have enjoyed doing as a family and with our community group is Operation Christmas Child. Run by the nonprofit ministry Samaritan’s Purse, this program distributes shoebox-sized boxes to needy children across the globe. The fun part is that you get to pick the age range and gender of a child and fill the box with suggested items for them. My kids have had so much fun participating in this each year! Our boxes just went out today, through our church — we save on shipping if we send them all together.

There are a lot of different ways that you can abstain from consumerism and instead opt to give back. Will you take your “down” time this holiday to think about how you can turn the tide in your own family?

Yoga without sanskrit?

Elephants checking that this book's got the Sanskrit vowels right
photo courtesy of florriebassingbourn, flickr

I have this crazy dream that one day, when my kids are in school, I will do my 200 hour certification to become an adult yoga instructor. Who knows if by that time I will still have the energy to do 200 hours of anything! Aside from the time committment, there is one thing that I worry about the yoga instructor process: learning sanskrit.

I’ll admit, I was first introduced to yoga 12 years ago in a class at a gym. As you can imagine, classes at a big national gym chain are pretty generic. There isn’t a lot of meditation, there isn’t talk of “the energy we are creating”, and there was very little use of the sanskrit names for poses. But the great thing about yoga classes in a gym is that people who might otherwise never step into a yoga studio are exposed to the strength, balance, and beauty of yoga. It was just what I needed at that time in my life and I’ve been in love with the practice ever since.

When I finally branched out and started attending classes at yoga studios, there was a little bit of a learning curve. I was accustomed to warrior pose, table post, chair pose, cobra pose, wheel pose….now instructors were throwing out words like virabhadrasana, ardha purvottanasana, utkatasana, bhujangasana, and urdhva dhanurasana.

I seriously had to cut and paste those pose names just now, you guys, because…whaa??

In the last 6 months I’ve been taking Ashtanga classes sporadically. In Ashtanga, there is a set flow and the instructor often counts in sanskrit and uses NO conventional Americanized names for the poses at all. I feel like a dork and I have to watch the people around me.

To further complicate matters, I teach yoga to kids 3-4 times a week. With kids, we ONLY use the Americanized names. The ones I learned early in my practice. Because a chair makes sense to a kid, but utkatasana means nothing at all and is impossible for a 3 year old to pronounce. I also teach Pilates on the Megaformer several times a week, in which boat pose (or navasana) is actually called Angel Facing The Back.

Can you see why I have a problem??

Nevertheless, I have this internal impression that I’m just not a “real” yogi unless I can remember all the sanskrit names. In fact, sometimes I blank out on even the American names.

What do you think? Is knowing the sanskrit names, counting in sanskrit, etc. necessary to be a “real” yogi?

What is orthorexia? Do I struggle with it?

what is orthorexia: a fixation on righteous eating

The first time I heard the term “orthorexia”, I Googled “what is orthorexia?” and found very little information aside from a short Wikipedia article. That was probably 4-6 months ago. Just last month, I decided to try to pinpoint the origins of my stomach problems by keeping a photo food journal. The ridiculousness that this effort created inside my own head had me Googling “orthorexia” again. This time, I got significantly more results, from reputable sources such as the National Eating Disorders Association and The Mayo Clinic. It sounds like this disorder is starting to be recognized as valid in the health and medical community.

Some of the definitions of this disorder I agree with, and some I don’t.

We DO need to be careful about what we eat.

The facts are, a huge portion of our food supply is undeniably contaminated by genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), pesticides, lead, and antibiotics fed to animals whose meat, eggs, and dairy we consume. So it is actually important to be aware of the risks and make wise choices, such as eating organic vegetables that are in the EWG Dirty Dozen and trying to stick to organic milk products. The risk can be reduced by a great deal just by taking these simple steps and attempting to eat foods that are as close to nature’s original product as possible. So when articles like the one from The Mayo Clinic claim that people who attempt to avoid toxins at all actually have a mental disorder…I’m sorry, but that is just not true.

But then it starts to get complicated.

A large portion of the population is gluten intolerant. There are nut allergies. Have you heard that dairy is only for baby cows? I have. Over and over. But how “natural” is it for us to take a coconut and smash it up, process it, and call it “milk”? Soy is almost always a GMO product, so we need to avoid that, too. And unless you know how that cow, pig, or chicken lived its life you probably shouldn’t eat it either, because it could be full of antibiotics and GMO corn. Fruits and vegetables might be nearly impossible to buy organic at an affordable price in the winter months, but how else are you going to make your green smoothies? And what about the carbon footprint of those organic berries you buy in December? Should you even be supporting that kind of waste? You can stick to nuts and seeds, but how were they sourced? Are they ecologically responsible, fair-trade, and did you buy them in plastic containers that might have leeched chemicals into them?

The body needs nutrients, but there are reasons we “shouldn’t” eat nearly every item in our fridge or pantry.

When you start to get (too) informed about how and what kind of foods you “can” and “can’t” eat, it starts to consume the mind. Or, at least it does for me.

Here are some signs of orthorexia, according to the National Eating Disorder Association:

  • Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
  • Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
  • Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
  • Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
  • Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
  • Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?

The best way to illustrate what goes on in the mind of someone who is at least borderline orthorexic is for me to give you a little window into my thought process when I think about whether to eat a peanut butter sandwich.

What goes on in the mind of an orthorexic person when considering a peanut butter sandwich.

The bread – It’s a carb. Carbs are bad (fitness instructor part of my brain). If it’s processed, it contains GMO oils and who knows where the grains came from. Fortunately, I make my own bread so I know where all the ingredients came from and there is no refined sugar. Still, it has gluten. I’m not gluten intolerant, but all the crunchy people tell me gluten is bad. How many times have I had gluten today? At this point I start considering putting peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla, but I hate corn tortillas and flour tortillas have all the same problems.

Peanut butter – If my only option was a traditional brand like Jif, I’d rather starve, honestly. It’s so full of hydrogenated oils, added sugar, and even high fructose corn syrup that I wouldn’t put it into my mouth. My peanut butter here at home is just plain peanuts, smashed up. No oil, no sugar, nothing added. Still, I’ll be thinking in my head about how many times I’ve had peanut butter today. If I’ve had any peanuts at all, I might talk myself into almond butter instead, even though I don’t like the way it tastes, because my naturopath told me that eating the same thing too often causes food intolerances. There are no peanut allergies on either side of my family, but still. Paranoia.

Jelly – Honestly, jelly has a lot of sugar in it so sometimes I just go straight to honey because honey is a more natural form of sugar. Jelly is usually made from a berry, and berries are in the EWG Dirty Dozen, so I won’t eat them unless they’re organic. If my only option for jelly was conventional jelly with all the high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and non-organic fruit, I’d refuse to eat it. That’s not even a food, I’d say to myself. The jelly we buy is actually jam and it’s organic, but it does have added sugar, so often I just choose local honey.

Is that normal? Do I have orthorexia?

I am not sure if I would say it is full blown, but I definitely have a tendency toward it.

I’m no stranger to addictions, as I consider myself to be in lifelong recovery from several of them. Addictions don’t go away. Addiction is the state that your mind returns to if you don’t deal with the other things in your life in a healthy way. My #1 addition is CONTROL. And orthorexia, like anorexia or bulimia, is about control. Attempting to control my own health, and on a larger scale, my life. The only way to deny the power of the addiction is to release control. According to the 12 Steps, we release it to our Higher Power. In my case, God.

Ongoing maintenance for an addiction, once you have gone through the 12 Steps (which I have, for other things), is to make sure you avoid triggers. For an alcoholic, not going into bars is a good idea. A lot of times, people with anorexia/bulimia need to stop weighing themselves, at least for a time. For me, I can’t do food logs. It’s a horrible idea because it causes me to judge myself and to open myself to judgement from others who don’t have the same caloric or nutritional needs as me.

Everyone’s body is different. It’s OK for me not to eat like you do. It’s OK that you don’t eat like I do. I believe these things in my heart. In my mind, it doesn’t always work.

Eating awareness, Day 1

I had quite a lot of stomach problems about 7 years ago, before having children. I’d had them all my life but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I realized that most people do NOT feel sick all day long. Going vegetarian helped some, as meat seems to be the #1 way to make my stomach upset. But I was still living with cramping, bloating, nausea, and what I call “churniness”, every day, regardless of diet. For years my MD had told me that I probably just had stress ulcers, but didn’t offer anything except “be less stressed” or go onto OTC meds (which did NOTHING). Then I went to a GI doctor who put me on several food elimination trials and did an endoscopy . He found no signs of me ever having ulcers or reflux There was no scarring on my stomach wall or esophagus as there would have been from either of those. Despite the fact that there was no sign of anything wrong, he diagnosed me with GERD (gastroesophagal reflux disease) and put me on a prescription medication. I think I was on these for 2-3 years. When I became pregnant with my first child, I went off the medication cold turkey….and found that I didn’t need it! When I had reflux during my pregnancies, which didn’t occur often, I would just take papaya enzyme for my GERD. Or whatever it was.

Since I was pregnant and breastfeeding back-to-back for around 3 years, I didn’t really have to worry much about the GERD coming back. The hormones seemed to keep everything in fine working order! But now that my youngest is 2.5…it’s baaaack. Good times. Oh, cramping, bloating, nausea, and churniness — I did not miss you.

Only now I am not interested in prescription medications. I am not interested in masking the symptoms. My body is trying to tell me something and I want to know what it is.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources right now to do electrodermal screening, which I think would probably provide a lot of answers. Side rant: why the heck won’t my insurance pay for EDS? It will pay for unlimited years of $40/month prescription meds with side effects that would cause me to go on MORE meds, but it won’t pay for $800 in treatment that would take care of everything at once? Health care in the U.S. is stupid.

Anyway.

The only thing I can do is wait for an appointment with a slightly holistic doctor in our area who takes our insurance and doesn’t have a new patient appointment until the end of November. I get to feel this way until after Thanksgiving. HOORAY.

Meanwhile, I am taking several supplements (future post? perhaps.), going to the chiropractor every two weeks, and experimenting with a higher calorie and higher fat diet. I am starting to suspect that the amount of calories I burn doing and teaching Megaformer classes 5 times a week is exceeding the amount of calories I am taking in. In essence, my body might be attempting to burn muscle and other needed resources for fuel when it doesn’t have enough. All I know is that my stomach feels better when it’s full (just like it does in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, for me).

Obviously, this is just a theory, but I have been really trying to consciously eat enough to keep myself from severe hunger symptoms. Yesterday, I took a picture of every item of food I ate. You might notice that there is some absolute crap in here because I ran out of the house in a hurry several times and did not pack snacks. Hey, I’m just being honest!

What I ate one day, in pictures (Day 1)Related notes:

After drinking the kefir smoothie at 8:30am, I felt horrible all morning. REALLY BAD. All the nausea, cramping, churniness.

I became rabidly hungry by 10am (as usual) but we were at a children’s consignment sale and I had given all the snacks in my purse to my kids and not brought anything for myself. Hence the bad-for-me drive-thru smoothie at 11:30am

I felt a little better after lunch, had to lie down while the kids napped because the cramping was so bad. It makes me very tired also.

I was at a friend’s house after dinner and all she had was cookies. Since I get ravenous every 2-3 hours, I had to eat 2 cookies while I was there.

Obviously I made poor choices after 8pm. I went to bed feeling bloated.

And yes, I have been tested for celiac and it came up negative. I have also done gluten elimination and it made me feel WORSE. Any time I take carbs out of my diet, the churiness part of the problem becomes overwhelming. REALLY BAD. I cannot express to you. Seriously. I cannot live with it. So do not leave me comments about being gluten intolerant. I cannot handle the amount of churniness. My son is gluten sensitive so we have plenty of gluten-free options around the house but they make me feel horrible. Weighing my stomach down seems to be the best treatment for the churniness portion. Has no effect on the cramping, though.

So there we are. Still on the journey, no end in sight yet. This post isn’t informative or helpful, as far as most of my posts often go, but I wanted to bring all my readers in on this journey with me (haha, you had no choice! You didn’t know I would be doing this!), because I think you are all very wise.

I’d love to hear your experiences, suggestions, and ideas!

6 Tips for Getting Back to Fitness: my fitness journey leading up to now (Part II)

A few months ago, I shared my past fitness journey — what made me passionate about health and fitness initially, in my 20’s. That post ended when I was single and learning to alter my lifestyle and to listen to what made my body feel good or bad. At the time, that was the most fit that I had ever been in my life. However, I can safely say that now — at 35 and after having 2 babies in 2 years — I am actually in even better shape than I was back then. How did I get here from there?

It certainly wasn’t consistent! There were many periods of slipping back. When my husband and I were first married, we kept biking together, walking around White Rock Lake (because we lived right next to it and could cross the street and just walk!), and going to the YMCA together. During my pregnancy with Little Sir, I did prenatal yoga nearly every day, even when I was on bed rest. It was the only thing that helped with the crazy bad hip and back pain! I sat on a balance ball at work to maintain my core. Christian and I walked and walked and walked (largely to try to get my labor going, since I had prodromal labor for weeks).

It was after Little Sir’s birth that things really went downhill in my physical fitness. Sure, I lost the baby weight fairly quickly, but I was very weak and lacking the energy that physical fitness would have given me. I went back to work full time working 10 hour shifts, and LS didn’t sleep through the night until he was 10 months old. By then, I was more than 4 months pregnant with Little Lady and so exhausted and stressed that “working out” was the last thing on my mind. I was eating…whatever I could find around the house. When Little Lady was born, I was so completely buried in babies that I couldn’t even figure out how to fit exercise into my life. Again, I lost most of the baby weight, but that was mostly due to the fact that I couldn’t figure out out how to find time to eat! When I did eat, it was leftovers from the kids’ food or sugary, fatty foods that didn’t boost my energy level in the long term or provide essential nutrition.

So when my sweet friend Amanda told me that her friend was opening a studio teaching a Pilates-based workout and I could go through the training with them to be come an instructor, I said yes! It came at a good time for me because Little Lady was finally sleeping through the night (which happened at around 13 months), and I was staying home full time.

I’m not just voicing marketing material when I tell you that the Lagree Fitness workout is PERFECT for moms who want to get into shape in the most effective way possible, with the least amount of time and in the lowest impact way! I really believe in this workout and love to teach it because there is nothing else like it. Here’s a picture I took of the machines in the studio last week after class:

Lagree Fitness Megaformers at Ultimate Pilates Plano

As you can see, these aren’t your mama’s Reformers. These are Megaformers, which add additional resistance to every move we do during the workout and challenge the balance, activating the core, while at the same time taking the stress off joints and back so that they’re perfect for clients with injuries or difficulties doing traditional mat Pilates. I could go on and on, but here are my favorite aspects of the workout:

  • 50 minutes (some studios have even more compact 45 or 40 minute workouts)
  • complete cardio
  • full body strength training
  • low impact (great for people with joint or back issues)
  • only 3-4 workouts a week are sufficient due to the full body muscle exhaustion and need for recovery between workouts

Can you see why I love this?

In the last 6 months, I’ve also returned to my yoga roots by taking classes at We Yogis studio in Dallas, where they offer childcare for every adult class. This is also where I took certification to teach Kids YogaI’ll be teaching a Kids Yoga class at the Richardson rec center(s) in the Fall — either Heights or Huffhines. I’ve been teaching outdoor classes in my neighborhood and with Little Sir’s playgroup and other neighborhood children, and it’s been so much fun! I have found that yoga really opens up my chest and shoulders where I had started to see some damage from doing Megaformer workouts more often than is typically recommended. See, you should always follow your instructors’ suggestions! I should follow my own suggestions and make sure I rest fully between workouts.

6 Tips For Getting Back To Fitness After A Break

What have I learned about getting back to fitness after being derailed by childbirth and having young children?

  1. Make time for yourself. I wasn’t helping myself any by neglecting workouts because I was robbing myself of the energy boost that a workout supplies!
  2. Let go and trust your partner or childcare provider. When I started making the conscious choice to step away from my children and trust my husband to care for them for an hour in the mornings while I teach, I had to let go of control. Both Dad and the kids benefit from the time together and learn about how to live with each other without my interference. Does he feed or clothe them the same way I would? No, but that’s OK. Releasing my control frees all of us to learn and grow.
  3. Eat, but eat wisely. With this workout in particular, the metabolism takes a huge jump almost immediately and you will be STARVING. I tell my clients to listen to their body and eat when it is hungry, but be wise about food choices! Don’t go out and scarf a whole cake. Have some carrots with hummus, listen to how you feel. Take a break from eating and wait for the feeling of fullness to hit before eating some more.
  4. Listen to your body. When ramping up to a new fitness routine, it’s important to listen to your body before, during, and after a workout. Your body will help you discover what other aspects of your life need to change. For example, if I eat badly the day before I do a workout, I can feel the sluggishness in my body and I can see a definite lack of strength. On the other hand, I can tell when I’m eating well and getting enough rest, because I am stronger.
  5. Get enough rest. If you have to choose between getting enough sleep and working out on some days, listen to your body — sometimes it is better to choose sleep. Just make sure you schedule that next workout in advance so you don’t start the slow descent into apathy.
  6. Take the next step, challenge yourself. There was a point where I started receiving feedback that my workouts were too easy. I had lost context and wasn’t really pushing myself or my clients to the next level. Everything was easy for me because I’d gained a lot of strength, so I started to plateau. I appreciate feedback from my clients in this area because it really helped me ramp up my routines to make them more fast-paced and challenging for everyone. If you’re getting bored, change your routine or tell your group fitness instructor you’d like to see some new moves.

I’ll be doing one more post on my current yoga journey in a few weeks, including some ideas for fitting in fitness when you care for children full-time!

What are some ways that you have eased back into fitness after a time away? I’d love to hear about your journey too!

 

Note: I was NOT compensated by any of the studios or companies for mentioning them in this post, although obviously I do work for Ultimate Pilates Plano and I substitute teach Lil Yogis classes at the We Yogis studio occasionally. I work for them both as an independent fitness instructor and do not receive commission for directing anyone to their studios.

My past: my fitness journey (Part I)

Me doing yoga

My real health and fitness journey started somewhere around 2001 or 2002 when I first moved to Dallas from East Texas. I was single, starting my career, and searching for answers about life and love in general. I had a lot on my mind — a lot of internal demons to face and spiritual questions to answer. I trusted very few people. I was slowly starting to give up some lifestyle practices and relationships that had occupied most of my time and energy for years. What to replace these things with in my life? Like a lot of young, single professionals, I bought a gym membership. It changed my life.

I wasn’t overweight, but stress, poor eating, binge drinking and other lifestyle habits had drained my energy significantly. I now had huge pockets of time to plant myself on the elliptical machine and read through books that were formerly daunting like “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. Sometimes I could only read a few sentences at a time and then spend the next 45 minutes on the machine processing what I read. I would pray. I would think.

One week I decided to drop in on the gym’s Power Yoga class. I found a huge blessing there in the form of a yoga instructor named Delia. Namaste to you, Delia, wherever you are. She was the perfect balance of challenge and down-to-earth acceptance for me. She was the first person I ever heard advise me to “trust my body” when going into a pose. She taught me how to breathe relaxation down my body, something that served me for years during both my natural childbirth experiences. No one had ever suggested that I do those things, and they were life changing. Here is what those two small things mean to me.

Trust your body. Our bodies are so amazing. If you are really in tune with how your body feels at its optimum and you spend time just sitting still to listen to it each day, you will know far before you start experiencing symptoms that you are fighting off an illness. You can tell if you need more sleep. You can sense your own tension and do something to treat it. The key to trusting your body is to trust it enough to obey what it is telling you. If it tells you that you need more sleep, you do. Make room in your schedule. Cancel something. Get a sitter. Have a bath. This practice serves me greatly with the added tool of essential oils, because the oils can facilitate the healing that my body is requesting. Listening to your body is also very important in parenting to supply you with the energy that you need, even when you are a “slightly older” parent like I am.

Breathe. We breathe automatically, right, so what’s the big deal? I knew from years of singing in choirs and individually that the way we breathe makes a huge difference. The kind of breathing that we do when we are stressed is a shallow, gasping type of breath. It supplies oxygen at the bare minimum. The most effective and supportive type of breath is the deep breath that comes from your stomach and lifts the diaphragm. In yoga, there is also the cleansing ujjayi breath which goes in and out of the nose with force. Just taking the time to breathe deeply can make such a big difference in your serenity. I like to do deep breathing and pray. I have a very excitable nature and I honestly believe that knowing how to breathe this way has allowed me to step back and surrender more of my natural tendency to control.

Those years were the start of my journey to fitness. As I listened to my body more and more, I realized that I felt sick after eating some supposedly healthy foods. Meat was something that consistently made me feel slow and heavy, and left a kind of pit in my stomach, so I became a lacto-ovo-pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats eggs, milk, and fish) in 2003 and have been since.

I expanded my healthy activities to rollerblading on the nearby Katy trail, cycling with my boyfriend-and-then-husband, and lots and lots of walking and more yoga during my pregnancies. As you might have noticed, my fitness journey has had very little, if anything, to do with my weight. It’s true that I’ve maintained a pretty steady weight for the last 10 years, although my muscle tone levels have come and gone. But for me, my journey is truly more about the mind than the body.

That is the past of my fitness journey, Part 1. I’ll share Part 2 — what’s going on now — at a later time, if you are still interested. If you are, please let me know!

Thoughts on Sandy Hook shooting

I never post late on a Sunday night but, according to various bloggers, either tomorrow (Monday, Dec 17) or Tuesday, Dec 18 is a Blogging Day Of Silence in honor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. I don’t know which day it actually is, but I will just go ahead and forego posting either one of those days.

I’ve been thinking all weekend about what I should post about this.

First of all, of course, I am sad. There are no words. Many of my friends’ kids are starting school and these children were the age of their children, whom I see every week. The age of my niece, the very first child I have watched grow up from a baby.

I have read the I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother blog piece, and I have thought a lot about what it must be like to have such a violent and unpredictable son that you nevertheless love, and for whom you want to believe the best, and then you find in your last moments on earth that your trust was misplaced. Even before I knew he had documented mental issues, I was thinking about the kind of society we have created in which his mother and those around him were so isolated that they were not supported and he was not known well enough by anyone to be stopped. What a terrible isolation we have allowed in this society.

And, of course, the gun issue…why in God’s name does any private citizen need a semi-automatic weapon? Why do we even allow these to be sold to private citizens? For the armed services, understandable. For police officers. But a private citizen?! Do not even tell me that it is for hunting — a deer is not going to shoot back, you don’t need a semi-automatic weapon to obliterate a deer. No one can hang a rack of antlers when there are no antlers left.

Twitter was not a good place to be these past few days. The words that I would use to describe the reactions would be: horror, fear, despair, hopelessness, panic, followed by blame and anger.

I’m going to backtrack a little in my own life to give you some context for my reaction before I attempt the ridiculous task of trying to describe it. Most of my life I believed that I had to do and be a lot of things in order to control the world around me, so that things would go the “right” way — my way. The way I felt in my head that things should go. If something went wrong, it was my fault. If someone else was upset or unhappy or anything negative, I internalized it and blamed myself. Control is an illusion. It was always out of my grasp. After wallowing in several addictions for a few years, trying to cover up my inability to control everything, I let go of my stranglehold on life and gave up control. Gave it up to, as the 12 Step Programs say, A Higher Power. Every day since then has been tiny baby steps to continue giving up the need to control things. To let go and trust God more. It’s been an awesome journey, as He has never disappointed me. He is always there, and He is always enough.

I know that not everyone who reads this blog believes in God or Jesus, and I hope that this a place for everyone to learn to live consciously rather than a platform for my beliefs. But I will tell you that I did not panic, and I was not incapacitated with fear about the future when I understood what happened at Sandy Hook even thought it is indeed very close to every one of us. After all these years of practicing trusting in a God who is powerful and in control, when the unthinkable happened and we were all swamped with feelings of sadness and horror, I did not feel responsible for fixing it all right now or everything would shatter, if that even makes sense. My mind wasn’t overwhelmed with thoughts of the hundreds of ways I need to protect my own children from anything like this every happening because I know that I cannot. Nothing I can do can keep them safe from cancer, car accidents, or random acts of violence. These are evil things, but our God has overcome evil. If something like this happens to me or my family, my heart and mind might explode but my God will remain the same. My life will change but He never will.

Please hear me say that this does not mean I think what happened was OK or excusable or that it was “God’s will”. Hell, no. Literally. The heart of the God I read about in my bible was broken along with the parents and friends of those children on Friday. He knows what it is like to have a Son who He loves die a horrible death at the hand of evil men. But He also loves every human being so much that He allows us to have free will, despite how terribly we misuse that gift. Adam Lanza had free will. He used it for evil. God has an ultimate plan for evil, He will not allow it to continue forever. Adam Lanza is accountable for his actions, as we all are at the end of our lives. Perhaps Adam was mentally ill and incapable of making that kind of decision, but I also trust that God knows his heart.

I guess what I am saying is that, although I spent all weekend with a heavy heart, hugged my kids more tightly than ever, and had more than a few thoughts about gun control laws and mental illness, I felt comforted by God. Not that He has made anything better or that things will get better, but just that He is there. Crying with us. Sad for us and what we have done to this earth and this society. In spite of it all, He is present for my family and my community, no matter what evil is out there. Our job is to just keep fighting that evil, whatever that looks like for us our everyday lives. I also trust that He will show us how to fight that fight, and give us the strength to do it.

For me, for now, I think that means to keep showing my children how to live as Jesus lived, in love and peace and wisdom toward others. I will raise them that way as long as God sees fit for me to have them in my house. I cannot control if they choose to believe what I believe, but I can live in front of them and share with them. I guess a lot like I do with this blog. You can choose to do whatever you will with the things that I share. It’s OK. I trust that it is not my job to control the outcome.

As you can see, this is a post about my own personal state of mind, and not the way I think anyone else “should” feel. I am just sharing with you a small victory in my own life as I am slowly moving from a place where my mind was out of control to a place where, now, I can see peace seeping in. I pray this kind of Peace for everyone in our nation and our world.

NOTE: I have disabled comments on this post. If you have any questions about the faith aspect of this post, please feel free to contact me directly jenny {at} conscientiousconfusion {dot} com.

Work History Meme Part 1: before and during college(s)

Several of my friends have done a meme where they list their work history. I thought it was really interesting to read other peoples’ histories and I want to participate too! Unfortunately, I have worked so many jobs over the years, often simultaneously, that I had trouble remembering them all. I realized after typing for about 30 minutes that I still hadn’t even gotten past college. So this will be a two-parter.

Part 1 – all the jobs I held before and during college(s)

1st job – probably babysitting. I took a Red Cross CPR course when I was 12 and started babysitting at around 13 for younger kids at our church. I did this up until shortly after started college in addition to whatever other jobs I held. I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid even though I was way too old for it, so if the kids went to bed I would watch that movie on VHS.

1st real withholding-paycheck job – Golden Corral in Kilgore, TX. I was just 16 so they wouldn’t let me be a waitress (you have to be 18 I guess?). So I was Salad Bar Girl, which meant I restocked the salad bar and ran the cash register. The Golden Corral closed suddenly for no apparent reason. I was so unimportant that they actually forgot to call and tell me. The only way I knew was that someone at school mentioned it and I was like “What? I was supposed to be working tonight!”.

Mazzio’s Pizza – salad bar stocker and cashier again. They wouldn’t let me near the pizza oven much. In retrospect, I kind of think that my extraordinary clumsiness was a factor in me not being allowed near dangerous things. My weirdest memory from this job is how one night we had an after-hours employee meeting and the manager had one of the shift leaders stand up and she described how this shift leader had dropped out of school to work at Mazzio’s and we should all strive to be like her. My best friend and I were like, “WHAT?! Did she just tell us to drop out of high school to work at Mazzio’s?!”. Yes, yes she did. A week later that “star employee” had a huge fight with her boyfriend on the Mazzio’s premises and quit under suspicious circumstances. Sure is a good thing she dropped out of high school for that. What a role model.

Law Office intern – over the summer after my senior year of high school and before college, I worked as  peon at a family law office. I did a lot of xeroxing and answering phones and taking messages. I got really bored sometimes and used the typewriter to write funny poetry.

Allstate Insurance in Kilgore – receptionist and sales. This was a real job in that I was the only employee other than the agent. I was 18 by then and I could take payments, print ID cards, and make policy changes. My boss was a chain-smoking good old guy who listened to conservative talk radio all day. Being forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Doctor Laura all day made me realize that I completely disagreed with everything they said. It was the first time I recognized that I was not politically conservative like everyone around me. I immediately hid that fact because, hello, I was living in East Texas. My boss would disappear for hours and leave me in charge, but he would bring me back Dairy Queen blizzards, which was super nice of him. I used the typewriter there while he was gone to write funny poetry about how people were stupid, and sometimes poetry about being bitter about living in East Texas. Still, the insurance agent was a very nice guy and when he died of lung cancer (all the chain smoking) a few years ago and my parents told me about it, I was really sad.

Music library at Kilgore College – At the same time as Allstate. This job consisted of me sitting in a room full of CD’s and LP’s up at the community college so that if one of the music majors came in and wanted to listen to music or check out something to take home, they could. I slept a lot and studied. Once a dead bird flew into the window* and its body decomposed on the ledge where maintenance couldn’t reach it (or didn’t try). Noting the decomposition of this bird was a major activity for me and one of my friends for quite a while.

Barista at local coffee shop – At the same time as Allstate and the music library. I have actually forgotten the name of the shop. It was run by a couple who also lived above it. All my friends and I hung out there and some of us also worked there. The lines were blurry. I don’t think I was super great at making coffee but I was good at drinking it, and I loved hanging out there. They had live music on weekends.

Hastings Music – Also at the same time as Allstate, the music library, and being a barista. I was  going to school full time during all of this as well. Hastings lasted all of a week because I had a breakdown from too much working after they left me at a cash register for 8 hours straight without a bathroom break. It was the week before Christmas, sure, but I kept asking to leave and they kept putting me off. I had to go straight to my next job at the coffee shop. When I got to the coffee shop, my boss there was so mad at Hastings that he called and griped them out. Obviously, I had to quit after that. I didn’t really mind. From this job at Hastings I learned just how many albums Linda Ronstadt actually made. It is unbelievable, really.

Allstate Insurance in Nacogdoches – Sales Representative. I actually did a lot of similar things at this office, only there was a lady who was above me but still reported to the insurance agent. So the office was 1 person larger. No chain smoking and no talk radio, thank goodness. I had to be more professional. This was during my weed-smoking and drinking years. I had to hold myself together for work and for college, which is probably why I didn’t become a complete pot head at that time. I quit after 2 years but then there was a scandal with the other lady and the insurance agent called me back after she had been spontaneously fired, so I came back to work for them for a few months while they looked for a replacement. I really enjoyed working there, aside from the fact that I had to sell insurance. This job taught me 1) how to deal with insane people, 2) how to talk to someone without promising or committing to anything, and 3) that I hate Sales and should avoid all jobs that require sales or operate on commission.

Waitress at Casa Tomas, Huntsville TX – I lived in Huntsville for 3 months one summer with a crazy assortment of random people I had met in the past few years. The original plan was to get a summer internship in nearby Houston, but when that didn’t work out I just fell back on waitressing. I actually made pretty good money, since this was the “nicest” restaurant in Huntsville. Huntsville, where they execute criminals in Texas. They killed someone accused of a hate crime while I was there, and most ordinary people in the town sort of go on lockdown in case of riots. Eventually they let me train to be a cocktail waitress in the bar part of the restaurant, which is where you make all the money. Also, they would give you shots sometimes.

Waitress at Casa Tomas, Nacogdoches TX – I went back to Nacogdoches for the school year, and there was a branch of Casa Tomas there too so I just transferred. The bar in Nacogdoches was smaller so I got to cocktail a whole lot more. Much better money, and they also let me have drinks a lot more frequently. I believe this is also where I learned how to swear in Spanish. The only words I know in Spanish are swear words. Which is actually very helpful in a restaurant environment.

SFA newspaper web master – At the same time as Casa Tomas in Nacogdoches. My job was go in to the school paper offices late at night the night before the paper was published and put all the content from the newspaper onto the web site. I was their first webmaster, they’d never been online before. I created a discussion forum on the web site as well, which immediately got controversial. The editor loved that. I really enjoyed hanging out with the journalists, they had the best sense of humor. I also got to work on a Mac computer for the first time ever.

~~~
That takes us through the college years. I left out the time my best friend and I cleaned houses, but who cares about that? Also, I was doing freelance web site design off and on for several years in Nacogdoches. But that’s difficult to quantify.

Tune in tomorrow for more of my ridiculously complicated work history!

* at first this was a typo but I left it because this is actually how we referred to the bird. See note in the comments

6 Things – My Past

Since it is NaBloPoMo and I am pretty desperate for topics, I am going to take a cue from my Twitter friend LaurenACarlton and do “6 Things” which, as best I can tell, is 6 random facts about yourself that people possibly do not know.

These 6 things are about my past because I think some of those things are more surprising than anything from my present.

1. I have two tattoos and I still like both of them, despite the fact that they are faded and need to be redone, and one is in the stereotypical “tramp stamp” location.
2. The guy I dated in high school was eerily similar to my husband in personality, life experience, and even religion. I really believe that I was so attracted to him because I was looking for Christian and didn’t know it yet.
3. There was a time in my life where I smoked a lot of weed, basically in lieu of antidepressants.
4. I also smoked menthol light cigarettes for 3 years. People were always surprised when they found out I smoked menthols, like that was hardcore or something but I thought they tasted good. Now cigarette smoke makes me nauseated.
5. I bailed one of my boyfriends out of jail for a DUI. He was driving less than a mile from the bar to his apartment, he could have walked.
6. In my 20’s I had a job at a luxury automobile dealership where I got to take home a Porsche several times and once a Mercedes SLK convertible. I used to know a lot about performance cars during that time in my life.

Questions?