General News


I am just back from a lovely week in Alaska visiting family and driving to the end of the road in Denali National Park. Our daughter won the “road lottery,” something the National Park offers after the main tourist season has ended and the shuttle service is winding down. If your name is drawn, you get from 6 AM to midnight on a designated day to drive all 92.6 miles back into the park. The road literally ends then. We had a lovely time seeing wildlife and the vast expanse of Denali, which gets only 350,000 visitors per year! A wild and wonderful place.

Meanwhile, I continued to try to eat more vegetables, move as often as I could, and limit my daily calories, a hard list to follow when you are traveling! The big thing was for me to enjoy the moment and now focus on get backing on track here at home.

As we continue our discussion of the Blue Zone, those habits of centenarians throughout the world, we now look at  surrounding ourselves with what Dan Buettner calls “the right tribe,” that is, people who share your same values. These are people you see regularly for coffee or to talk with on the phone. It is the social network that keeps you from feeling isolated. They are also the people who keep you grounded in reality when you are feeling sad or discouraged. These are people who keep your mind stimulated and who you can laugh with on a regular basis.

Part of having a strong social network is being likeable yourself, the kind of person other people want to see frequently. This is an interesting concept to ponder since on the plane home, I read Velma Wallis’s classic Athabaskan legend, Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival.” This is an ancient story of two old women who tend to complain a lot and expect others in the village to take care of them. During a lean time, when the whole community is in danger of starving to death, they are left behind when the people move to find desperately needed food. The woman have a choice to wait to die (the tale begins in the fall) or to “die trying to survive.”Image result for free photo two old athabascan women

The book teaches a strong lesson without being moralizing and very much illustrates the point of this Blue Zone characteristic. We must build good social networks outside of our family relationships throughout all the stages of our lives but especially as we enter “old age.” Those people who surround us really can make a life-or-death difference to us.

It has been a very full but good week. Fall colors are beginning to peak and with the full moon last night, it has been Nature at her best here at this old house.

Two weeks ago, we began looking at the Blue Zone, those characteristics of people around the world who live healthy lives until they are 100 and beyond.  The first week’s task was to find ways to move more in natural ways throughout our days: taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking when possible instead of e-mailing or riding your bike instead of driving. This past week, we focused on hara hachi bu, the idea of eating 20% less at each meal. I found that to be a useful benchmark; when I was 80% full, I stopped. I did struggle a few times with being hungry a few hours later but all in all, I felt like I was more mindful of my food intake and my body is beginning to adjust to not being fed until stuffed at every meal.

This week, we will examine what is called “the plant slant.” As Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones, says, “Another common denominator of centenarians in the world’s five Blue Zones is that they’re all cut off from food culture influences so they’ve never really had the chance to eat processed foods or salty snacks. And they rarely eat meat, either because they’ve made choice to avoid it or because they don’t have access to it.” These centenarians eat a diet based on beans, whole grains and vegetables, often grown in their own gardens. Image result for free photo of vegetables

Personally, my body does better eating some meat. Some of us with blood sugar or other issues may not be able to thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The point is not to judge someone else but be in touch with what your body responds best to.

That said, the recommended portion size of meat at a meal is no larger than a deck of cards. Also, most Americans do not eat enough vegetables each day; some go days without eating a vegetable at all. The recommendation is five servings of fruits and vegetables daily with vegetables outweighing fruits. We must shift our thinking, whether we eat meat or not, that vegetables are the basis of a healthy diet.

The challenge for this week, in addition to moving more and eating until you are 80% full, is to find ways to include more vegetables in your diet. Pick a vegetable you like and do an Internet search for recipes that include it. There are a number of great cookbooks available devoted to eating vegetables that are in season where you live. Consider getting one and using it to help you connect with the produce of the earth in its various seasons.

By eating seasonally (and locally, as much as possible), you will be getting the freshest, healthiest, tastiest produce possible. You will also get a good variety as some go out of season and others come into their prime. Shop at your local farmers’ market as they will be selling what is in season for your locale. Make it a treasure hunt to find a new vegetable to try this week. Again, the Internet is your friend if you don’t know what to do with it when you get it home!

Mainly, be mindful of what you are eating. If you need an afternoon snack, could you have an apple instead of a candy bar? Can you have a veggie burger one night instead of a meat burger of some kind? Can you ask for extra veggies on your sandwich at lunch? Do what you can, not what you can’t.  Your body will thank you if you do.

I look forward to hearing how your lifestyle changes are going each week!

 

A beautiful fall day here at this old house! Mornings are cold; days are warm. Leaves are just beginning to turn colors. A shift is seasons is definitely in the air!

I hope you all enjoyed last week’s goal from the Blue Zone challenge we are doing. Last week, we sought to move more throughout our days. One way I tackled this was to work “inefficiently.” For example, I would purposely make multiple trips up-and-down the stairs rather than saving items and taking them all in one load. How did you do?

This week, we will tackle “hara hachi bu,” which roughly translates as “stop eating when you are 80% full.” To be successful with this, we will have to slow down how fast we eat each meal as it takes a normal brain about 20 minutes to determine how much food has been taken. When we eat too quickly and/or multi-task while eating, we are in danger of overeating because we don’t really know how much we have taken. How many times have any of us gotten up from a meal and realized after a few minutes that we had really eaten to the point of being “stuffed”?  Our brain was finally catching up with the signals the stomach was sending it. We need to turn off the electronics and eat mindfully, intentionally, savoring each bite so that we know when to quit. And we need to not “clean our plates” or finish off that “last little bit.” Often times, those are the bites that put us over the 80% and even 100% full line. When we cut out even 10% of the calories we would have normally eaten at a meal, we will lose weight automatically! Image result for free photos slow food movement

One way to not feel deprived is to use a smaller plate or bowl. When we fill up a smaller plate,  our minds register a full plate but it will be with less food. Then, if we chew each bite 30 times, as recommended, focus on our meal companions, and take time to enjoy the food, we will automatically and painlessly be reducing our caloric intake with each meal. We will walk away with less food but a deeper satisfaction in what we have eaten.

Make a game out of how many bites you can get out of something. Instead of big mouthfuls, see how many bites you can get out of the food on your plate. Set a timer for 20 minutes; see if you can make your meal last that long. Of course, this won’t work if you are eating in the car or at your desk. In those cases, order one less item at the drive-through or put half of your lunch out, eat it and then wait 15 minutes before seeing how much of the rest you really want.

Truly stopping and praying before eating will also help with this idea.

This will expose how much eating we do out of boredom or to suppress difficult emotions. That 20% fewer calories may open up some unpleasant feelings or memories. Try to find ways to process those that don’t involve stuffing them down with food. A good friend or spiritual director can be useful here.

So, here is to a week of mindful, grateful eating. As always, I look forward to your thoughts.

 

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone! I hope that you have moments of fun and rest during it. Be sure to stop and give thanks to God for good work at some point. Work is a gift from God, though many don’t view it that way. We were created to “tend the Garden” and we have all been trying to get back to that original vocational call ever since.

Work and vocation are not the same thing. Work is what you do to pay the bills; vocation is the reason God created you and involves your gifts and talents. Some of us are blessed to have the thing we love to do bring in sustainable income. Others of us must find a way to practice our vocation while working a job to sustain body and soul. Fortunately, in Christ, our job status does not define us. Thus, all honest work is good work, regardless of how society places that job in its “success hierarchy.” As we focus on work this Labor Day, let us praise God for all things and remember that we are of infinite value no matter what we do for a paycheck.

One of the things I have discovered and written about before is the idea of doing “New Year’s resolutions” more frequently than just January 1st. I have been having good success with a “resolution of the month.” Trying to plan for a whole year was useful if it was a broad principle and not a specific action but I do much better assessing at the beginning of each month where I am at and what I need to focus on now.  For example, maybe I need to focus on self-discipline with food or spending for a month. For another month, I may discern that I need to focus on being present. I thought some of you would like to join me in this idea.

I saw an article called “9 Secrets to Long Life,” a discussion of research on people who live in “the blue zones,” as defined by Dan Buettner’s 2012 book “The Blue Zones.” In the book, Mr. Buettner showcases five locations in the world with the highest percentage of people living well into their 100s. He identified nine lifestyle principles that were common elements of the lifestyle and diet habits as well as the overall outlook of each centenarian in each location he visited. Lisa Truesdale in the August 2016 Delicious Living magazine distilled each point of the book, which I will quote each week for us to focus on.

Want to join me?

The first principle is “Move Naturally: Be active without having to think about it.” This principle is about moving every chance you get. In addition to regular, intentional exercise, it means taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting up to adjust the volume instead of relying on the remote, walking to a colleague’s office instead of sending an e-mail, parking your car in the farthest spot at the mall, walking the golf course instead of riding in a golf cart, and the like. It means being intentional about moving your body in your everyday life in every way you can, being aware of times when you can “choose to move” vs. ride in a conveyance. The centenarians sighted lived in a hilly location and walked those hills daily going about their business. What might your equivalent be?Image result for free photos walking to work

Use the comment section to report your progress. We can be our own support and accountability community here online, encouraging each to do what they can and not worry about what they can’t do.

I look forward to hearing how it goes!

 

Slow church. At breakfast this morning here at this old house, we were talking about spiritual formation through literature and the stages of creativity: formation, passion, expression. As part of that discussion, one person talked about “slow church.” Like the slow food movement that seeks to return us to the enjoyment of real food locally shared mindfully, so the idea of slow church is less hoopla and numbers driven and more communal “breathing together.”

This past week, I read somewhere (Facebook?) that in England, there is a rise in attendance at traditional choral evensong services. Christian or not, people are hungering for silence in a beautiful space, surrounded by good music sung by a trained choir and the ancient words of the Christian Vesper service. A capella singing. A slower pace. Not seeker sensitive but, like the slow food movement, presenting the Scriptures in spoken and sung word, letting people get what they get and leaving the rest to mystery.

“Evensong … is a very tiny fragment of something else:  it is a fragment of the worship which is offered to God by Christian people every hour in every part of the world. When you come to Evensong here it is as if you were dropping in on a conversation already in progress — a conversation between God and people which began long before you were born and will go on long after you are dead.”      http://stpaulsivy.org/wp-content/uploads/spi-choral-evensong-A-booklet.pdf

That is so antithetical to the mega-church movement, to the contemporary Christian praise band, to so many of the church leadership conferences on “growing your church.” It is simply putting the Gospel out there in a beautiful but more subdued way. Despite the lack of glitz and glam, people’s dry souls are watered.

A vision of church was then shared as part of the morning’s discussion: the Church is like an oasis in the desert. You can build a 5-star hotel at the oasis, you can have a taco stand, the palm trees are nice but not necessary. The only thing that makes the oasis thrive is the life-giving water it offers. Period. Without that water, no oasis.

May you find a cup this week to quench your soul’s thirst and may you find a place that allows you to drink from that cup slowly and deeply.

 

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