Zen and the Art of Landscaping

One of the most frustrating things about my mystery illness is my weakness and fatigue. I am a relatively active person. On a normal, healthy day, I get more that 12,000 steps in and at least one type of exercise in. On weekends, I’m hiking or kayaking or doing some major project around the house. I am no couch potato.

But when the fatigue strikes, my whole routine gets thrown for a loop. During my last flair up, I laid on the couch a lot. During this flair up, I’m trying to be better. Some days are harder than others. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m physically exhausted and sprawled out on my couch, but I feel like I’ve earned some relaxation and couch time.

You see, Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, an amazing fall day, and there was some landscape work around the Loebick cabin that needed doin’. We have a nice little flower garden area in our back yard – two in fact. They’re lined by piles of rocks. Previously, we had cleared one of them out, unburying and moving every single rock, and filled it with pinestraw. For weeks, our yard was out of balance. Luckily, I was feeling well enough to help finally finish this task.

Illness be damned.

I was able to do a lot of the work sitting down. Digging the rocks out and moving them about a foot out from the border line was exhausting, but Greg did most of the heavy lifting (though some of those bigger rocks required a team-lift. That was a bit rough on the weakened system). The second flowerbed was a bit more difficult than the first, because we had a large Japanese Maple and a shrub thingy to work around. That Japanese maple is one of my most favorite features about my yard.

As a kid, I hated yard work with a passion. I didn’t understand why my mom planted flowers and vegetables. I didn’t know why she and my dad spent so much time outside building and maintaining flower beds.

But now I get it. I take a certain pride and ownership in my home, my refuge from the world. I want it to look beautiful, and I want to do that work myself. There’s a certain zen I feel while doing work. It’s difficult. Rocks are heavy and dirt gets everywhere. My hair gets icky and my feet hurt. But I can fully engulf my mind into the work at hand. At the end of the day, that hard, honest work is worth it. I can sit back (after a hot shower) and allow myself to be overwhelmed at the prideful satisfaction of a job completed and well done. Of seeing the before and after, and knowing that I’ve improved that parcel significantly.

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I am grateful that I had enough energy to accomplish this task.

I am grateful for my beautiful home in the woods.

 

 

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A Jaunt Through the Woods

The North Georgia Mountains typically experiences one weekend of perfect Autumn weather a year. This weekend was that weekend. It’s that weekend where, no matter how bad or weak I’m feeling, you can bet I’m going to be outside in one form or fashion. Yesterday, I spent most of the day helping Greg to landscape work where I could (more on that tomorrow), but today we partook in some much needed hiking therapy.

Our reasons were multiple. Both Greg and I wanted to get out and enjoy the day. We also took all three dogs to the vet on Friday for their checkups and vaccines. Twinkie, Scotch, and Beans had all gained a significant amount of weight, and while that’s good news for Beans, the growing puppy, it wasn’t so much for Twinkie and Scotch. Especially Twinkie, who had gained almost 15 pounds since her last vet visit. I knew she had put on some matronly weight in her old age, but I never realized how much!

It was eye-opening to say the least.

So we’ve made a promise to ourselves to give the older pups more activity, so that hopefully they can slim back down to a healthier corgi weight.

So we harnessed up all three pups, which is an epic task within itself, and schlepped them over to Unicoi State Park where we walked the lake trail. It’s the perfect trail for the old fart corgis who don’t do well on long or hilly hikes, and for Beans’s first ever hike. It’s also great for me, who has a finite amount of energy to spend while experiencing a flair up of the mystery illness (I’ll post an update on that later this week).

Half of the fun is constantly untangling the leashes of this bunch

It was actually a bit misty when we first started, but quickly cleared up. I think the short, 2-mile hike did everyone some good. The pups were super happy to be out, and even Twinkie, who is quite lazy, kept pace and seemed to enjoy it. Greg and I got to actively participate in the one perfect autumn weekend, for which I am most grateful.

So now we sit back and wait for winter to arrive next weekend. Autumn in the mountains is an elusive and fickle thing.

My (Current) Mantra

Mantras are statements that you say to yourself to focus and empower yourself. Mantras can be simple “I am…” statements (I am important, I am valued, I am strong, etc), or can be multiple sentences — whatever you need, personally, to fill empowered.

I’ve posted my current mantra on here before, in my Fighting an Unknown Enemy post.

I am strong.

I am wise.

I know my body.

I will overcome.

I will persevere.

And I will be better for it.

I repeat this to myself several times while I’m meditating. I breath in deep and then say each short piece on the out breath. I also write these words down every morning into my journal when I first get to work.

And I mentally repeat it as I sit in the waiting room of the doctor’s office.

This is not a mantra that applies to my life as a whole. Right now, it’s something that I find strength and focus in while I’m struggling with this mystery illness. It’s what I need right now. When my body is well again, I will change my mantra to something more appropriate.

In fact, one of my mantras that I constantly find myself reverting back to in times of health and happiness is:

Think Lean. I am fit and productive.

I repeat this one to myself all the time, especially at work. It’s a constant reminder to stay on task and to avoid the snack stand. Cut the fluff, cut the fat. And for goodness’ sake, stay off Facebook.

 

 

 

Gratitude Rituals

Grateful people are happy people. Appreciating what you have and how far you’ve come is one of the foundations for living a more mindful, more meaningful life. Gratitude rituals are present in the teachings of so many wellness gurus that it almost feels cliche. Since I’ve started my intentional journey into mindfulness and wellness it seems that every person, every book, every podcast, and every article that talks about how to be a happier person tells you that gratitude is key and that ritualizing it creates a habit of thankfulness.

So it’s not really cliche–it’s something that actually works.

I’ve incorporated a couple of different gratitude rituals into my daily life. I’ll probably delve into each item much deeper in follow-up blogs. Here are some of the things I do to celebrate life and achievement:

  • During yoga, I’ll do gratitude sun salutations. With each routine set, I focus on one aspect of my life that I’m thankful for-home, marriage, family, financial stability, etc.
  • I keep a simple journal at work that I use as a daily planner. In it, I write out, in long form, three things that I am grateful for each morning before delving into my work day-coffee, corgis, upbeat music
  • During my lunch break, I often take a walk through a graveyard that’s around the corner from my office. My first lap around the path is always mindfulness focused, and part of my mindfulness practice during this walk is to once again think on those things that I’m grateful for that day.
  • I’m currently practicing a meditation method taught by Vishan Lakhiani that guides you through 6-phases. During one of these phases-the aptly named gratitude phase-you are instructed to think of three things your grateful for in your personal life, three things you are thankful for in your professional life, and then three things that you love, or are grateful for, about your self.
I am grateful that this isn’t my sock.

I think my practice here may be a bit extreme, but I want it to become second nature for me to be happy with what I have in this moment.  So when the big sucky situations happen, I’ve exercised and toned that gratitude muscle, and I can focus on the positive instead of the temporary negative of those moments.

I never want to take my life, my felicity for granted. I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am, and I’m going to get even better.

In her book, The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane has several exercises to express gratitude. One that I loved is to sit down with a pen and paper and write out five things that you can see in the room with you that you are grateful for. I am grateful for my cell phone that connects me to so many people. I am grateful for air conditioning because I live in the south and OMG the humidity. I am grateful for windows, so I can see the outside world. I am grateful for my chapstick, because it keeps my lips soft and healthy.

There are so many ways to get into the habit of gratitude. It’s all about taking a moment to stop and ponder on the joys of right now, no matter how small or how bizarre. Just allow yourself to be pleased with your progress and to be happy.

So tell me, what are you grateful for today?

 

Compassion for Corgis

I guess I’m kinda a hipster when it comes to my dogs. I liked and owned corgis before they were cool, but my affinity for animals – especially dogs – started long before my first corgi.

Growing up, the two dogs that I had for most of my childhood were Peanut the Cocker Spaniel and Oreo the Shih tzu (my affinity for naming dogs after food started early, too). Peanut always felt like she was covered in baby powder and she audibly farted a lot, but she was loyal, sweet, and un-freaking-breakable. This dog got ran over twice, had a tree fall on her, got hit in the head with a huge rock, and fell through the ice into the middle of a pond. Oreo was the first pet that was “mine.” I always wanted a Shih tzu, so my parents finally gave in and got me one. I named her Oreo because my dad was dieting and I was a smartass kid who knew naming a dog after something he wasn’t supposed to eat would taunt him. Oreo was a smelly pup, but she was a super cuddler when you needed her to be.

Fast forward to 2004, less than a year into marriage and Greg and I were just settling into life at Fort Campbell, KY. I’m pretty sure we were in our “permanent” housing for less than a week before we made the decision to get me a dog as a companion to prepare for Greg’s inevitable deployment. So we did what you did back in 2004 and you wanted a puppy – we picked up a local newspaper and hit the classifieds! Low and behold, right there in black and white was the perfect pup, exactly what I was looking or – a Shih tzu! And below that, an ad for some corgis. I saw the ad for the corgis and went, “oh, that could be fun,” but I wanted that shih tzu. So we called the number and were met with disappointment. The shih tzu had been sold.

Well, balls.

But hey, corgis were cute, with their giant ears and stubby legs. And they were a novelty for sure. So we thought, why the hell not? and called up the number. We met the breeder at his place out somewhere in the country near Clarksville, TN and soon brought home Waffles – A Red Brindle Cardigan Welsh Corgi – and the beginning of my corgi collection.

Waffles as a puppy and later in life

Waffles was my puppy to spoil. She was incredibly smart and equally stubborn.

A few years later and a couple states south, we added Twinkie to the family. A few years after that, Scotch joined and completed the Loebick corgi trifecta.

Twinkie

Each corgi had their own separate and distinct personalities. Waffles was the old fart who kept the other two in line. Twinkie was the anxious one who loved attention and cuddles. And Scotch was the boy – rambunctious and care-free.

Scotch

 

 

When I meditate on compassion, my pups come to mind. They are the embodiment of unconditional love. They crack me up when they play. They cuddle with me when I’m feeling down. And they help remind me of the simple joys in life – eating, playing, and relaxing. I swear, Corgis have healing powers. Or maybe it’s just the happy cuddletime oxytocin that gets released. Anyhoo, they definitely make me feel better, at least emotionally. Waffles, though not a lap dog for sure, always knew when I was feeling down and she would come lay beside me while I was sick.

A rare photo of three of the original Cabin Corgis together

Last night, I had a bittersweet dream. You see, Waffles died on July 6 of this year. She had an almost four year battle against degenerative myelopathy, a disease that slowly weakened and paralyzed her. I don’t remember much of my dream, but I do remember the part where I began lucid dreaming, because she was there. I knew I was dreaming the instant I saw her because I understood that she was actually dead, but I embraced the dream and snuggled with her, savoring the time because I knew it was only temporary. I remember feeling joyous that I had that extra time with her.

Today has not been a great day for me healthwise. I went grocery shopping this morning and have been near couch-ridden the rest of the day. Twinkie, Scotch, and the newest member of the Cabin Corgis, Beans, have taken up the torch. They’ve been with me all day, helping me with their mystical healing powers and keeping me company while I watched way too many episodes of Psych as I recover my energy. I even had both Twinkie and Beans napping on top of me as I completed a meditation while lying down. Their combined snoring was actually relaxing and gave me something to center my intentions on.

 

Cuddling with Beans
Beans, Scotch, and Twinkie posing for me.

I love my pups.

On Meditation: Part One

Meditation is the art of reaching a state where you are free from thoughts, emotions, and stresses —

Yeah, right.

That, my friends, is not meditation. That is nirvana, enlightenment, or whatever you want to call the ultimate phase of the human soul. Very few have ever reached this state.

No, meditation is a journey or an exercise. Meditation is simply acknowledging that for a few moments, you can let go of all the stressors in your life. You can detach yourself, and in doing so, can allow yourself to observe the now. We spend so much of our lives worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, that we don’t allow ourselves to feel the present.

Meditation has great benefits, both mental and physical, that I won’t go into here. Just know that every once in a while, you need to stop and just be. It’s kind of like when you work out–you don’t actually build muscle until you allow yourself to rest. It’s the healing of those torn muscle fibers that allow your to gain form and strength. The same is true for your emotional well-being. We can’t learn or grow as a person unless we give ourselves time to rest and and heal from the little tears that happen everyday to our non-physical being.

Even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Stop, take a few moments to observe your breath, observe how your body feels right now. Allow yourself to be quiet. And if your brain or your heart starts screwing with you, tell those pesky organs to calm down. Label the intrusions as thoughts or emotions – or be more descriptive. The more specific you can be with your labeling, the easier it is to push those interruptions aside and you can refocus on the here and now.

My meditation hammock

You can meditate anywhere at anytime. There’s no strict rules. Personally, my favorite time to meditate is in the evenings around dusk. I love to go outside and listen to the sounds of nature – crickets, treefrogs, the distant ducks and geese. I meditate in my hammock, on my porch swing (which is where I am now), or on the deck adjoining my bedroom while I sit on a pillow. I meditation anywhere from 5-15 minutes usually. From the time I close my eyes until I take that last deep breath and reopen them, the change in the sky and my surroundings is drastic and inspiring.

So I encourage you, find a place where you are peaceful and comfortable – a room in your house, on the bus on your commute, on a cushy bed of moss under a willow tree (beware of chiggers!)-and give meditation a shot.

Fighting an Unknown Enemy

Sneaky, awkward selfie while sitting in the waiting room.

I’m currently sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. It’s a familiar site for me. This is my fifth visit here over the past month, in addition to a sojourn to the emergency room for heart palpitations.

There’s some off in my body.

Now I sit here, waiting to be called back for an ultrasound sound on my gallbladder, and I know how strange it may sound, but I sincerely hope they find something.

The pains, the fatigue, the shortness of breath, the foggy mind–I thought I had beaten this last year–The illness that threw me for a loop for three months. Three months where I, a decently active individual, had my life disrupted. I stopped working out, I stopped hiking, I stopped eating right (frozen meals take less energy to make).

When my symptoms finally disappeared, it was a still struggle to get back on the wellness horse,  but I did it.

Now here, 15 months later, I’m smacked down with similar symptoms once again, but this time  I have a renewed resilience. I’m attacking with vigor, trying to find the truth of what’s going on inside my body.

And if it is my gallbladder then finally I can put a face to my enemy, so to speak. I can fight to take my body back,  and restore my best life. I can plan, I can treat, and I can cure myself.

I am strong.

I am wise.

I know my body.

I will overcome.

I will persevere.

And I will be better for it.