#MindBodyMat and "things I don't do."

Do you want to become stronger and learn better self-care?  I do.  I recently discovered The Balanced Life website and online Pilates classes with Robin Long, and they've helped me so muchI first heard about Robin through one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, and then I recently starting following Robin's Instagram feed and doing her free, short (8-10 minutes) Pilates videos regularly.  Now I'm participating in her current challenge - 21 days of free Pilates and self-care called #MindBodyMat.   Especially after growing and birthing two humans from my body, I need to be encouraged with a healthy perspective, not one that focuses on being a certain size or weight.  What matters is taking care of myself so I can better serve others, becoming stronger and healthier, living life to the fullest.  It's my faith that drives this - life is a gift, and I want to treat it that way.

Week 1 of the #MindBodyMat challenge is over, but it's not too late to join in!  All the past workouts are available on Robin's website or you can just start with week 2.  The great thing is they're super short yet intense.  In fact, I was completely exhausted on day 2 of last week and in the craziness of the day didn't get to the workout.  So I took 20 minutes the next day and knocked out both workouts at once, and then my arms were trembling - ha!  But I didn't want to get too far behind and am glad I stayed on track. 

The short workouts are totally doable, but it's still a little comical with two little ones at home.  Here's a photo of day 1 - my baby crawling all over me and 4-year-old trying to do the video next to me on a bunch of towels and later using my mat as a cape. But I got it done and that's all that matters!


The other aspect of the #MindBodyMat challenge is self-care - so each day, Robin includes a simple, practical self-care challenge to go along with the workout.  This was my favorite one from the first week...

I actually first heard the idea of making a list of "things I don't do" from Shauna Niequist in her book Bittersweet, which is one of my favorites.  Since reading it, I've always wanted to make the list for myself, and this was a great chance.  So here we go...

Things I don't do:

  • I don't run.  At times in my life, I've thought about jumping on the running bandwagon, but it's just not me.   I'd much rather take power walks, do yoga, Pilates, or swim.
  • I don't do drama.  Want to see me head for the hills?  Then start stirring up confrontation and conflict and dissension that creates problems for myself and others.  Genuine disagreements can be worked through, but constant drama is another story, and I just can't handle it.
  • I don't do canning & preserving.  Maybe it's too technical and overwhelming for me, but I'm perfectly happy to cheer on my husband and our close friends who love to do it...and then enjoy eating the fruits of their labor 6 months down the line!
  • I don't diet.  I did Nutrisystem in high school, ate all their fake food, and lost a ton of weight.  Then I gained it all back once I started eating "real" food again.  Nothing has brought me more freedom than making a decision to never diet again and just eat and enjoy real, whole foods in their purest form the way God intended
  • I don't do competitive sports or follow sports teams.   My history in following sports teams can be summed up in a NY Yankees and Philadelphia Flyers obsession in 1993 when I knew every single player and his stats.  And trust me, you don't want me on your team. 
  • I don't do white walls.  A white wall is just a blank canvas to me!  I've painted almost every wall in my house a different color and must live surrounded by color - it just makes me happy.
  • I don't do water-skiing.  The thought of being pulled by a boat just makes me shudder.   But I'll jump off a boat or a cliff with no problem.  I just don't want to be attached to something - ha!
  • I don't make beds {very often}.  Yeah, there's the day once in a blue moon when I feel like making the bed look lovely, but in reality, this is a bed-sharing house and half the time a child is in our bed, or we're in Luci Belle's bed reading books.  So I don't put pressure on myself to make beds.  I do, however, have a wide selection of decorative pillows, and those are staying!
  • I don't do chaos.  I've embraced the fact that I'm a social introvert, and I love going here and there all week long, getting together with friends.  But there's a fine line between that lovely kind of fullness and the kind that sucks the life out of you - chaos.  When it crosses over into chaos, I start to break down.  The kitchen being a disaster is also chaos.   Peace, peace, peace...this is what I want to fill my life and home.

Well, that felt good.  Saying no to these things creates room for me to say yes to...

Things that bring me life:

I live a simple life with my husband and daughters.  I treasure my children.  I homeschool.  I nourish my body with real food and feed everyone well who enters my home.   I walk, I hike, I love the outdoors.  I do yoga and Pilates.  I drink lots of tea and read lots of books at one time and stay up late.  I breastfeed my children for much longer than the "norm."  I try to do my part to fight for justice and care about children in places like Iraq, India, and Africa.  I write and take photos.  I paint and color and draw and do crafts and make things for people.  I strive to live a life of gratefulness, and "I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift."

If you're doing the #MindBodyMat challenge, let me know in the comments and we can keep each other accountable.

Here's to being stronger, healthier, and more vibrant every day.  Life is a gift, my friends.

Bread & Wine: a review and a dinner party.

As I mentioned before, Shauna Niequist's people were kind enough to include me in the group of bloggers reading and reviewing advance copies of her latest book, Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table.  Last month, I decided to invite a bunch of friends over for a dinner party to taste several recipes from the book. 

I needed a little distance from the evening to do an honest recap.  I didn't want to write something happy-go-lucky; I wanted to write something honest.

So, here's how it went...

~ ~ ~

The day of my Bread & Wine dinner party, I was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. It was just one of those days we women have sometimes - my face felt puffy, my jeans were extremely tight, and I just felt like I was taking up too much space in the world.  It's the worst way to feel, you know, when you're about to have people over for a feast.  I could feel my excitement about having close friends over for a special night being stolen away quickly.

The truth is, I've been having a hard time lately - emotionally haywire, physically "off."  While I'm working with a holistic doctor to even out these imbalances, underneath I'm struggling with the same old body image stuff that's plagued me my entire life.  Even as I type this, I know it sounds shallow and trivial, but in the moment, it feels real and crippling.

So all afternoon that day, I asked the Lord to help me let go of my self-absorbancy.  I wrestled internally, speaking truth to myself:

You are not defined by how you look.

Don't let your insecurities ruin this special night.

Embrace what's real - these friendships around the table.

No one cares about the size of your muffin top.  Seriously.

And that leads into why I love this book.  Bread & Wine is about food and delicious, easy-to-share recipes. But it's about so much moreBread & Wine is about balance. It's about appreciating food for its sustenance, yet not being afraid to admit that you enjoy eating, that you're hungry, that life is too short to never eat bread again for fear of gaining a few pounds.  It's about finding the balance between "feasting and fasting" (one of my favorite chapters), knowing when it's okay to indulge a little and when it's time to step back and restrain.

In the chapter "swimsuit, ready or not," Shauna says something that really resonates:

Shame wants us to be deeply apologetic for just daring to exist.  I want to dare to exist and, more than that, to live audaciously, in all my imperfect, lumpy, scarred glory, because the alternative is letting shame win...

I'm not going to let a lifetime of shame about my body get in the way of living in a rich, wild, grateful, wide-open way.

I cannot tell you how much these excerpts helped me, as I chopped ingredients for Green Well Salad and methodically stuffed dates with goat cheese.

I thought about how vulnerable we all are.  We are invited to share a meal with someone.  We choose our clothes, maybe some makeup and jewelry.  We make the choice to put ourselves out there.  As we offer ourselves and our hunger and sit at another person's table asking to be fed, we are at that person's mercy.


So as I was chopping and prepping, I had a realization: what an honor and privilege I have tonight.   Every time someone gathers around my table, I get to offer my own vulnerability and meet them in theirs.

What people are craving isn’t perfection.  People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home.  If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd.

If there's anything I want my home to communicate, it's that.  Because Christ gives me that freedom, and I want others to have it too.

So, I stopped trying to "feel myself" and instead focused not on my weaknesses but what I have to offer:

I can be vulnerable. 
And I can feed people.

So I put the prepped dates in the fridge and moved on to setting the table for my guests.

~ ~ ~

Our farm table was set simply - white butcher paper sprawled down the center, juice glasses filled with crayons scattered about (because no day at our house is complete without coloring of some sort), and a few candles.  The placecards were made with memorable quotes from the book mounted on corks.

Here are the recipes from the book that we chose to re-create:

  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates
  • Green Well Salad
  • Mar-A-Lago Turkey Burgers
  • Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee

And of course, bread and wine...

The Bacon-Wrapped Dates were divine. With only three ingredients, these are a great appetizer I'm sure I'll make again and again.  People were lingering around the plate, which is always a good thing.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

The Green Well Salad was crunchy, creamy, and sweet.  Since then, my daughter has fallen in love with red grapes and wants them at practically every meal.  Score.

Green Well Salad // Mar-A-Lago Turkey Burgers

And the Mar-A-Lago Turkey Burgers?  I'm gonna go ahead and use the "M" word: they were MOIST.  Yes, moist.  And that's hard to say about a turkey burger, which is usually slightly dry and lackluster, right?  The best part about the burgers was the "Special Sauce" made from ketchup, mayonnaise, and mango chutney.  The Special Sauce was the star of the dinner.  As in, {slightly panicked} "Where's the Special Sauce?  I need more... "  And, "What is IN this Special Sauce?!"  And, "I could drink an entire VAT of Special Sauce."

Finally, for dessert - Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee.  To me, toffee has always seemed like something one purchases, not something one makes at home.  But this book encouraged me to give it a try, and I had no idea how simple it is!   In all fairness, my husband did have to rescue me about halfway through stirring the toffee because I started to freak out that it was turning into a lumpy mess.  He beat it into submission while I hovered over his shoulder, and all was well.   Just a few bites of this decadent toffee crumbled on top of Jeni's Ice Cream = perfect.

A few variations to the toffee recipe: Melt the butter first, then add the sugar and bring it to a boil.  I dumped the butter and sugar in together and I think that was part of my problem.  Also, I used Pink Himalayan sea salt on top, so there were some small flecks of salt and then some larger pieces.  So good.

Overall, the recipes were easy to make and delicious.  And thanks to Shauna's humorous and helpful blurbs before each recipe, you get tips on how to cook it, serve it, and make it part of your repertoire.

The back of the book also has some handy entertaining tips, such as:

"I think it's totally OK to have the food undone [when the guests arrive], as long as there's music and candles, and the host is ready.  It's not OK to come to the door in a towel, even if the food is ready."

Not that I've done that before or anything. Ahem.

~ ~ ~

Here are the precious friends who gathered around the table...

The night was special, but it was also normal, if that makes sense.  Sharing meals around the table has become so much the rhythm of our home, and for that I am thankful.

So, I would consider our Bread & Wine dinner party a success.  We laughed and enjoyed delicious food.  All the recipes turned out wonderfully.  We had full bellies and full hearts.  And I had a victory that evening in the ongoing war with my body image, because I decided to live wide-open and vulnerable. 

When the night ended, I realized that "feeling myself" has less to do with how my clothes fit and more to do with surrounding myself with people I love.  The absolute worst thing I can do is be "too scared to open the door."  The best thing I can do is gather with them.  Again and again.

* If you haven't yet read Bread & Wine, you can purchase it here on Amazon. 

* This post includes Amazon affiliate links.


I re-read this passage today in Shauna Niequist's book Cold Tangerines and nearly wept...

"There is a way of living, a way of harmonizing and hitting a balance point, a converging of a thousand balance points and voices, layering together, twisting together, and there are moments when it all clicks into place just for a split second - God and marriage and forgiveness and something deep inside that feels like peace - and that's the place I'm trying to get to.

I have glimpses every once in awhile of this achingly beautiful way of living that comes when the plates stop spinning and the masks fall off and the apologies come from the deepest places and so do the prayers, and I am fighting, elbowing to make more of my life that life.  I want that spirit or force of happiness that is so much deeper than happy - peace that comes from your toes, that makes you want to live forever, that makes you gulp back sobs because you remember so many moments of so much un-peace.  I search for those moments the way I search for beach glass, bits of glitter along a desolate expanse of sand, and I want those moments to stretch into hours, into days.

The word I use for it is shalom."

One of the shalom moments I experienced that still shakes me to this day is when I was in labor with Luci Belle.  There was a specific moment of labor - hour whatever of 36 - when I was conscious of being stripped to the truest and most naked part of my soul.  It was such a strange feeling, because I was truly fighting to bring her into the world, but I felt such deep peace.  I remember my husband laying next to me, holding me on the bed at the birth center, and hearing my life anthem, Caedmon's Call's "Lead of Love," playing on the iPod and weeping, because I felt so happy, so grateful to be in that moment.  Her birth didn't turn out at all like I'd planned but it was just right - just what I needed it to be.

And here I am today, at almost-thirty-five-years-old, uncovering deeper darker parts of my personality that I really want to change.  Once and for all, I want to learn the art of letting go.  Gracefully.  I want to stop carrying resentment and bitterness with me, or a heart of perfection and blame.   I want to learn true humility rather than the fake kind that pretends everything is okay when it isn't and then resorts to defensiveness and pride.  I want to continue opening myself to love others better. 

Yes, I want "more of my life that life."

Shauna goes on to say...

"To get there, I'm finding, is the hardest work and the most worthwhile fight.  Shalom requires so much, so much more than I thought I would have to sacrifice, and it scrapes so deeply through the lowest parts of me, divulging and demonstrating so many dark corners.  It's something you can't fake, so you have to lay yourself open to it, wide open and vulnerable to what it might ask of you, what it might require you to give up, get over, get outside of, get free from.  It feels, sometimes, like running farther than you thought you could run, legs shaking and lungs burning, feeling proud and surprised at what little old you could do."

I could quote the entire chapter, but I hope you'll read - or re-read - it for yourself, because I dare say there's not one person among us who isn't searching for more shalom.

My lender copy of Cold Tangerines is ready and waiting for its next borrower - who's it gonna be?