I’m moving!

Follow my travels through Ecuador and Spain over at michaelawanders.wordpress.com ! 

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Peaceful Observer

“You are not your mind, your emotions or the circumstances of your life. You are the peaceful observer of your mind and emotions that allows life circumstances to pass through and around you for your evolution to finally come to a place of total acceptance of all that is. Only the peaceful observer remains after all else fades away. Only the peaceful observer in total acceptance of what is can take action towards effectively changing anything. You are only this peaceful observer – everything else is as fleeting as the blink of an eye, choose happiness and don’t buy into it.”

Jackson Kiddard

My dear friend, mentor, and older sister sent me this quote yesterday based upon a conversation we’d had earlier this weekend. She called to “check in,” on the pretense to make sure I was feeling better after she got me sick two weekends past. After a few minutes of talking, she revealed that, while she was concerned about my physical health, she was concerned more about me. Now, let me give a bit of background to her older-sisterly consideration.

Two weeks ago, my sisters and I went out to see the baby. THE BABY, folks! It was the first time I had met my precious, precious nephew, and the first time the four sisters had been together since THANKSGIVING.  Image

To use Glennon Melton’s (bloggee over at Momastery), my sisters are my lobsters. According to Glennon (via Phoebe from Friends), soon after lobsters are born they find a partner, lock claws, and walk together for the rest of their lives. My big sisters are mentors, best friends, wise, loving, talented super-awesome women. I love them, and can’t imagine life without them (which we have to do creatively, considering that the four of us live in four different states. More on that later.)

As excited as I was (which, believe me, was a dramatically squealing level of anticipation) I approached this weekend with some consternation. As much as my big sisters are all the above and more, I’ve had a history of comparing myself to these wonderful ladies. Throughout a bit of my life, I’ve looked at myself in terms of my sisters. Am I as pretty? Creative? Smart? Driven? Am I as exotic or sweet or loved or kind or sought after?

Part of which is natural, part of which is just plain toxic. So I approached that weekend away with my sisters mindfully, carefully. This summer, I’ve made it a practice of letting my emotions be. I don’t try to reason them away or invalidate them. Neither do I let them control me with undue power, swaying me to their whims. My emotions are allowed to be: I look at them, examine them, and pause to wonder at what is flooding through my mind and body. Then, I evaluate them: why do I feel this way?

By allowing my emotions to be, I’m not forced to try and deal with them. I’m not trying to force them away, cover them up, replace them with happier feelings. In the past, when I encountered bad feelings, the methods I used to try and make them go away usually just intensified whatever darkness I was feeling.

I am not the sadness that sometimes pervades me. Nor am I the ecstasy, the desire to withdraw, the overwhelmed, the happy, the gleeful, the enthusiastic, the stressed. I am the peaceful observer. I accept what is, looking forward to the future while living into the present.

I think part of what my sister picked up on was that quiet introspection of what is. There is a quietness and seriousness that accompanies me when I tenderly look within at my emotions, feelings, desires and foibles.

Do not be overwhelmed by what is, friends. Remember that you are the observer. You are the peaceful one, able to choose what you will allow in and what will flow out.

(Good Enough To Eat) Brown Sugar Scrub

I’ve been plagued with bumpy, red arms my entire life from a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. It is really common, affecting as much as 40% of the adult population. Essentially, the body makes an excess of the protein keratin, which gets stuck in the hair follicles and causes small red bumps. As a kid, I was never super aware of it until a friend would brush up against my arms and comment on their “sandpapery” quality. Luckily for me, my freckly self makes it hard to see, but I hate the way it feels: I’ve always wanted smooth, silky skin like that of my friends.

Not much has eradicated it, but I’ve found several things that seem to help. Along with diet (some people seem to find a correlation between gluten and their aggravated skin, mine gets worse with dairy) the best method of treatment I’ve ever done was to exfoliate and moisturize well.

Enter this gem:

After using this in the shower yesterday and today, my arms feel . . . almost smooth!

It is super simple, and I don’t have exact measurements for you all because I simply eyeballed it myself.

Good Enough To Eat Brown Sugar Scrub
Brown Sugar
Olive Oil
Honey
Essential Oil of Choice (Optional)

1. Fill a glass jar not quite full with unpacked brown sugar (I used an old natural peanut butter jar–you can see part of the label is still there!)


 2. Pour olive oil into the jar, about 1/4 the amount of brown sugar used.

3. Next, add your honey. Add slightly less honey than you did olive oil.

4. Add 10-15 drops of your favorite essential oil. I love minty things, so I added 10 drops of peppermint and 5 of spearmint.

5. Stir it all together:

And enjoy your smooth, moisturized, happy skin!

Do you have any DIY beauty favorites?

To see another homemade beauty product from my old blogging work at The BindingBee, visit this post.

This post is shared on: Teach Me Tuesday.

My First Taste

Travelers, yesterday I sampled some of the local cuisine. For the first time in over four years, I had a taste of meat.

Crazy, huh? It was chicken, and just a bite at Greenbrier. Since I’m working there, I get to see how the chickens live, and sometime this month I may get to see how they die. They live like chickens–skittish and slightly stupid, but seemingly happy out on the pasture.

I’ll have to post a series soon on my reasons for eating vegetarian, vegan, and now being open to some good farm raised animal flesh. Even eating it, I don’t think I’ll ever prepare meat for myself. Maybe when it is offered to me on the farm, or when I’m with my sister preparing her chickens, or if my other sister cooks some quality meat from the farmer’s market to share with the family . . .  But it isn’t something I particularly want.

I actually only ate about a third of the chicken showing here, if that.

It tasted fine, nothing spectacular or anything I felt like I needed. And even though I only had a bite, I felt slightly sick to my stomach about an hour after. I guess my body wasn’t acclimated to it yet.

When I got to the farm, we headed out to harvest some more spinach for the CSA that was going out yesterday. Much of my day yesterday was bagging and prepping for the CSA. I got to leave early, which was nice! I’ve been working hard, and haven’t been working out. By the time I get back to the house, I’m usually super tired. Yesterday, though, since I was done early I got to walk around the farm a bit. It was great to get a whole picture of it, and appreciate it for what it is–beautiful. I’ve been so enmeshed in washing greens, I feel like I haven’t been outside beyond the morning harvesting.

Be excited for tomorrow! I have a super tasty dish to share with you that I’m preparing for some friends tonight.

Are you particular about where your meat comes from? 

 

Financial Plan, Part 3: Investing

Today, as per promised as one of my goals for financial health, I continued researching investment options. At the moment, the only real investment experience I have is with Kiva, a micro-loan organization (and a topic for a future post!) I was planning on purchasing into a mutual fund and showing you all the process, but since the market closes in approximately a half an hour,  I decided to not  rush it.

First things first: I want my first investment to be in a mutual fund because they typically offer good returns with less risk. They’re professionally managed, and offer a diverse portfolio with a single investment.

I had to find one that I could feel good about. Thanks to my good friend, Google, I found a few lists of mutual funds that promised to be environmentally and socially responsible. I picked one, Appleseed, and then turned to Morningstar and Scottrade to find out what I could about it. (No, Morningstar is not the veggie burger manufacturer, though I did think it was the first time my dad mentioned it!)

Here is the information I found from Morningstar:

You have to be a premium member to get any analysis worth anything on Morningstar, it seems. Phooey!

I do like the one bit I can see--fund managers buy into their own account. I don't know a lot about investing, but that seems promising.

I also got this graph, which was constant from all the sites I saw:

I see green, growth, and stars. That's good, right?

Everything I saw seemed promising. I googled APPLX some more, and found a website called The Street which gave APPLX an A+, BUY! rating. Since I honestly don’t really know anything about this and didn’t want to be rash, I called the one person I knew would give me solid advice: my father.

Daddy? I’m trying to purchase into a mutual fund, and wanted your advice before I did anything rash. Morningstar gave me nothing.

Have you looked at its individual holdings?  From my silence, he inferred that my answer was a no, so he directed me to Market Watch.

For those of you that know anything about investing, suspend judgment for a moment!

Do you see the individual holdings tab? Yes, but those are just the top investors, right? Not the ones the company is investing in?

No, Michaela, those are the investments, not the investors. You see why I called him? Noble corp is a gas and oil company. Avon, you know what that is. The makeup company? Yep. Now let’s look up Mabuchi. I have no idea what they are. We clicked it, and it had no information. So, I went back to ever trusty Google, from which I found their website. They are a small motor manufacturer who purports to be environmentally friendly.

So, should I buy it now? Since the market closes soon? At 12.88, and it’s 2,500 minimum buy in… Well, you won’t necessarily get it at that price. You get it at market closing price, which is called NAV or Net Asset Value. 

Hold on, pops. I’m writing this down. But it still looks pretty good, right?

Hold on. Look at the Lipper Rankings. Do you see them? 

Yes. Ok, so right now it has a 9.62% return, which translates to a 7.62% return because they take two percent for fund management. It has a good ranking. Look at the one year: it lost a little less than half a percent, but the other funds in its category lost almost 7.5%. Ok. So that’s good!

Yep. But, look at it compared to the S&P. It’s trailing in pretty much every category. Bless my patient father: What’s the S&P? The S&P is comprised of 500 stocks that are meant to mirror the US economy. But, it’s still ok that it’s not better, right?

Yes, but we want to get you a fund that does at least as well as the S&P. But, does that mean it’s riskier? Higher return on investment, higher risk? Typically, yes. But not necessarily. How do I find one? We’ll talk about it later. I have to get back to work. 

 I still don’t understand half the symbols or indices or graphs . . . but I’m learning!

If you’re an investor, how did you first learn to understand all of the abbreviations and different terms? 

If you don’t invest, are you considering it? 

Financial Plan, Parte Dos

Afternoon,

I’ve tackled one of the goals set forth in my last post: creation of a budget.

This will probably change, as the month of May I won’t be in school! Woop! I will be living in a house for intentional Christian community located about a mile off of campus, and will be paying rent and purchasing all my own food. I have to talk to the parentals about finances and see if I’m going to be completely fiscally independent this summer, or if they’ll be helping out and in what capacity.

This budget makes more sense for the school year, so I’ll have to see in what ways to modify it this summer when I won’t be on any type of meal plan.

I think this is realistic for a month when I’m in school. After talking to my parents, I’ll be changing this! After looking through my spending habits, I decided that $150/ month is realistic. Out of this, food accounts for about the most: $65 between restaurants, coffee, and groceries. I allotted $40 for my compassion international young woman, Archana. Miscellaneous refers to exactly that: toiletries, clothing, books, gifts, etc.

This budget makes sense for me. I’m not out on my own yet–I’m at school with a meal plan, no rent, parents who pay for insurance and gas on my car. I am very blessed in this sense. Practicing making a budget now, however, while I have limited expenses and limited income will help make it simpler when I do have that control.

I’ll let you know about the evolution of the budget, as I’m sure it will for May/June-August.

Next on my list? The other goal from last time . . . investment options!

Do your budgets ever vary? 

Beloved Aunties, Beautiful Pizza: Self-Love

Last week, as you all know, was my spring break. Woop! On the way back to Greenville from Florida we stopped to spend the night at one of my friend’s parents home in Georgia. After a delicious meal of make your own pizzas (yum!) we all stayed up late talking to the momma putting us up for the night.

Throwing the pizza, Italian style...with a lot of flour!

This thing was a beauty, and I ate it ALL! In stages...it didn't all fit at one go! Part pesto, part tapenade, part sauce for the base...filled with every veggie in the house! YUMM!

In the heart of the home, we covered the gamut of topics–the non-dating atmosphere of our school, problems with education in our country, body image. Which prompted a discussion of what we liked best about our own bodies. It was interesting–as my friends talked of what they liked best, and what they didn’t, I thought about my own body. I’ve spent so much time degrading it and treating it as an enemy, rather than a friend. Body, I’m sorry. I promise to love you better and treat you kinder.

Our favorite attributes ranged–I like my cheekbones, jaw, and lower back best. One friend likes her feet best, another her nose, one likes “the composite” of all her parts. And while my friends listed numerous parts, the house momma encouraged us to continue: “Who here likes her ankles? What about calves?” And I continued contemplating the parts of my body. My feet are odd–large, with tiny round toes. But they are unique, and I can’t imagine another set completing my legs. I was so happy to find that I kept mentally stumbling over little bits of me that I find beautiful, or quirky, or that I can simply affirm that “I like that.”

While there’s a thin delineation between self-confident appreciation and narcissism, I find that many women don’t even toe the line. We focus on what we hate about ourselves rather than what we love, and speak so spitefully and hurtfully to the image we see in the mirror, I’m surprised our bodies don’t up and leave us or rebel. I wouldn’t stay with someone who was viciously hurtful to me. Come to think of it, I think many of our bodies are rebelling from a lack of love, appreciation, and good care. We think and say things about ourselves we wouldn’t dare speak to a friend–how can we treat ourselves so lowly?

Without self-love, “love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t really all that appealing to those around us. After all, who wants to be told they are ugly, useless, lazy, or fat and then abused or deprived as a result? If that’s the way you’re going to love me, Neighbor, you can take your love elsewhere.

What are your favorite attributes? 

*The Aunties: Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies, (I recommend it!) says she decided to treat her thighs as elderly aunties, because then she could less easily be unkind or ungracious to them.

On being human

Sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight and sticking my entire hand into my coffee cup to get the foam from my soy latte, I’m experiencing some pretty judgmental stares from my fellow travelers. Seriously, how do you get out your foam, people? For real. I’m not going to leave the perfectly good, delicious foamy remnant of my coffee drink that I drank much too quickly. This way, I can pretend that I savored it slowly–still enjoying it fifteen minutes later!

Anywhoooo, I have to say this one is a bit difficult. That openness, honesty thing? Difficult. Sometimes, I like to pretend that I’m not human, because to be human is to be imperfect. When I was in high school I did a really good job of pretending to be perfect: I made the best grades, took the hardest classes, had a part time job, modeled on the side, was a student athlete and the president of every club. On the outside, I was golden–envied by my peers and lauded by my teachers. I convinced everyone, and on good days could even trick myself.

But I’m not perfect. To pretend to be is disingenuous, to try to be is perilous. This blog is about health, yet I am not removed from my struggles to be healthy. In this way, in being real and open and honest, I hope others can be encouraged. It’s ok to drop the facade, and in fact impossible to heal and grow when we’re clinging desperately to a false image of ourselves. I still struggle with food, with body image, with compulsive eating. One bad choice can lead to another and another, spiraling me into darkness. On the other hand, one good choice can break me from my weakening chains and lead to several weeks of freedom.

To be human is to be imperfect. I am learning to be healed, to embrace healing. Sometimes it is scary, and it is always hard. The other night I ended my journal entry with “I am still struggling,” and then realized that to struggle is to fight. Because I struggle, I have not given up, and I will not. I’ve entitled this a pilgrimage, and that is exactly what it is: a journey with hardships, joys, struggles, and happiness along the way. It is discouraging to fail. It is hard to pick myself up, to wage war against the chemicals in my body and the lies of the deceiver. It isn’t a question of willpower, which I think many people don’t realize. It is bigger than willpower, the forces waging are not simple and easily controlled.

My pilgrimage continues.

How do you stop a bad choice from becoming a series of bad choices? What good choices lead to good days for you?

On Falling

I hate running on treadmills, roads, and tracks. On treadmills, I get bored much too quickly. Roads stretch too far ahead of me, taunting me with their length, and tracks are monotonous circles. I love running on trails, however—windy, twisty, trails that constantly change direction and incline to keep me on my toes. Yesterday on my beloved, wooded trails a large root sent me sprawling to my hands and knees. I popped up immediately, looked at the dirt now staining my person, and took off running again. If I paused too long, the pain would have set in and I would have been distracted away from my run.

These are, in fact, my knees after my run yesterday.

It’s easy to pop back up from a stumble on a run, harder to get back up when you fall in life.

I know all to well from personal experience. After restricting my food intake and upping my exercise level to shrink myself to industry standards, my body rebelled. Crying out for nourishment, I began to experience episodes of bingeing several months after I became underweight. I was able to control it for a while—my binges were infrequent, only occurring on weekends when no one from my family was around. When I began to distance myself from the industry and when I finally separated myself completely, my bingeing got much worse.

It was scary. In the middle of a binge, I felt completely out of control, like some foreign invader had taken over my body and was desperate to take me captive. Since I was allowing my body to experience foods (and amounts of food) it had not had in a long time, it desperately tried to grab as many nutrients as it could. After being conditioned to less than enough food, my own body didn’t trust me to feed it well.

It took me awhile to get back up whenever I fell down. Even after experiencing healing from my disordered eating patterns, certain triggers could still send me sprawling, much like that tree root did. I was mad and frustrated—I didn’t understand how my body still didn’t trust me, now that I was treating it well and feeding it abundantly.

While in the healing process, I saw a sign at a farmer’s market that said, “If you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” So simple, but sometimes so hard.

When you fall, get back up as quickly as you can. Whether your struggle is food, or drugs, or anger, or depression—get back up. And if you don’t have the strength to stand on your own, reach out to someone. Someone that first sits with you where you’ve fallen on the ground, then tenderly but assuredly wraps their arms around you and pulls you back to your feet. It’s hard, I know. It’s hard to be vulnerable and open up to others, to drop the façade that you are perfect, competent, autonomous. I believed I was, for awhile, until I realized I was just sitting, broken and bleeding, in the dirt by myself.

The world will benefit when you stand. Stand, whether you are wobbling, unsteady, or afraid. It gets easier (and you get stronger) each and every time.

Nourishing our Happiness

There are many facets of health. Some are internal, such as spiritual or mental health, while others, like physical or social health, are external.  Because of the liberal arts nature of the school I attend, students are required to fulfill general education core requirements. One such requirement is “Wellness Concepts,” a course I’m currently enrolled in. It stresses the use of “wellness” over health, because the definition of health is “the state of being free of illness or injury.” Wellness, so says the argument, goes beyond simply not having health impediments but attaining an optimum level of well-being.

Health connotes well-being to me, and I don’t wish to nitpick over the differences. There have been times in my life when I have tried to separate the different aspects of health, such as when I only focused on eating well and exercising. I was nourishing my physical body, but I neglected my emotions and social connections. Health is all about balance, and can’t be broken up into little, isolated pieces. Treating our physical selves well is definitely a huge part of being healthy individuals, but we can’t focus on our bodies and neglect what feeds our minds, spirits, and souls.

Do you think I’ve used the word health enough yet? Yeah, me too!

 To shift gears just a bit, today I fed my happy self. Since I was a child, I’ve had a tender affinity for plants. Plants fascinate me—the way they emerge, timidly at first from the soil, slowly gain confidence from the sun and then stand proudly as if they’ve conquered the world. Which in a way, they have. Growing up in the country with a mother who let us have patches in the garden (but also held us accountable to weeding them!) fostered my love affair that continues to this day. What can I say, I’m a biophiliac. Indeed, when “I grow up,” I want to be a farmer. I participated in 4H, as many Midwesterners do that live in the country, and aside from the family history of dominating in the rabbit department my niche was plants. One year, I proudly took home best in show in three different categories: tallest sunflower, best flower arrangement, and best gladiolas. My thumb’s been stained green ever since. 

When I moved to Texas and was desperately yearning again to commune with nature and the outdoors, I started a garden. Unfortunately, the wiles of school and the heat of Houston summers often seduced me away, but I would seek refuge there on occasion. I found purpose in plants, in tending to the earth, in weeding and nourishing the life I’d placed in the soil. When I began my tiny oasis in the desert backyard (our property has a fair amount of sand and iron ore), we placed a pear tree in the back. I’m not ashamed to say that I would go out and not only chat with my little tree, but give it massages. With nutrient rich, compost-tea esque concoctions. It was loved. And, it’s now producing pears without another tree nearby. . . spontaneous reproduction, brought on by a babyhood of nourishment? I’ll take the credit!

You can see the dry soil, my pear tree, marigolds, tomatoes, and eggplants!

Now, I work on the organic garden at my school. Our farm manager noticed my affinity for excessive connection with the plants in our garden, and has thus put me in charge of growing the seedlings for spring and summer. Or maybe I was just a terrible ditch digger, and he wanted me somewhere my talents wouldn’t go to waste 🙂 . I’ve spent four hours this week in the biology department’s greenhouse, tending to this creation of life.

All the soon to be seedlings!

I already have some sprouting that I planted last week!

Health. It isn’t just about exercise and eating well.