It All Makes Scents (aka: Aromatherapy)

Step into my living room and take a deep sniff.

Smell that?

Yeah. It smells like Christmas. More specifically, my living room is filled with the sharp, pungent smell of noble fir tree, mixed with fresh-baked sugar cookies, and the fragrance of First Frost. Do you know what first frost smells like?

Neither do I.

But, according to Bath & Body Works, it smells like this $10 candle flickering on my TV stand, along with Caramel Apple Cider, Winter Wonderland, and Autumn Woods. If I were light them all, then I could bottle the new scent and label it, “Holiday Overload.” Better yet, I could call the combination of scents, “Childhood Christmas,” then ship it to my kids when they’re all grown up and living away from home.

Our scents…I mean sense of smell is pretty mingled up with our memories and emotions. More so than our other senses, as the olfactory bulb is pretty well connected with the parts of our brains that process emotion and memory. That’s why, when we smell a freshly sharpened pencil, your memory evokes the stern face of your 4th-grade teacher. Or why a whiff of fresh, damp mint may suddenly whisk you back to that group hike through the woods one summer thirty years ago. I tend to associate the stench of cigarettes with family road trips when I was a kid, hanging my head out of the car window to gulp in breathable air while my mother chain-smoked.

Smell is such a powerful thing. Do you know that sniffing certain essential oils can treat pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, insomnia, sore joints, and dementia?

Neither do scientists.

But that hasn’t stopped people from turning to aromatherapy as a form of alternative treatment for thousands of years. Need an energy boost? Inhale the scent of lemon or tangerine. Fill your home with lavender to boost memory, or ylang ylang to enhance intimacy. 

Despite the fuzzy science, I enjoy being surrounded by good smells. I shower daily in sunshine and daisies (according to to my favorite body wash), then lather my body with Happy Vibes skin cream. Every now and then, when no one is looking, I lift my wrists to my nose and inhale deeply. Maybe little bits of fragrance are actually releasing some feel-good chemicals in my brain, or maybe it’s totally psychological. All I know for sure is that when everything around me smells good, I feel pretty good, too. It all makes scents.

Commas from the Universe (aka: Forced Pauses)

Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.

The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.

I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.

But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.

Pause.

Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?

Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.

A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.

But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.

Rock tower

I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.

I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.

The Energizer Bunny is My Spirit Animal (aka: Energy!)

Energy!

Energy!

The word itself demands an exclamation point. Caps, bold, and italics, even. ENERGY!!

As it now Friday afternoon, and many of you zombies are slumped over at your desks, waiting for the weekend to kick in, the word energy is more like an expletive. Or a plea. Or a complete unknown. Energy? What on earth is that?

That’s when I pull out my cheerleader megaphone and do a few cartwheels to encourage you all.

I’ve got energy, yes I do! I’ve got energy, how about you?

(Okay, you didn’t have to use your last remaining reserves of energy to throw tomatoes. How rude! )

Energy is one of those things that so many people wish they had way more of. But like free time, like money, like low-calorie meals that fill you up and taste great, it’s one of those things that always seems to be in short supply for many people. That’s a real bummer, since it takes energy to do so many of the things we want to do. To climb out of bed each morning. To focus at work. To shuttle kids around to activities, and clean the house, and cook healthy meals, and get to the gym, and plan social events, and weed the garden, and schedule that dental appointment we keep putting off. Ack! No wonder everyone’s so exhausted.

I wish I could tell you that there is some magical way to acquire more energy. After all, it has always come naturally to me. Ever since I was very young, I’ve had this inner well of mental and physical energy that makes it very, very hard to mesh with you couch potato types. I become very restless if I don’t exercise daily and push my mental and physical limits on a regular basis. I am definitely the get-up-and-go type. Laziness does not come easily to me. The Energizer Bunny is probably my spirit animal.

energizer_bunny_still_going

According to recent scientific studies, my high energy levels are most likely hard-wired in my genetics. Which is funny, because I grew up in a family of TV-loving, exercise-shunning, sleep-in-on-weekends couch potatoes. Clearly, I was born on Jupiter and swapped at birth.

So I’m sorry to say that, if you were not born with lightning in your veins like me, then you probably struggle to find enough energy to do everything that you want to do. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to boost your energy levels, even if your spirit animal is a sloth.

SLEEEEEEP I can’t emphasize this one enough. Way too many Americans don’t get enough good, regular sleep. 7-8 hours per night, peeps. That does not include time spent in bed reading, watching TV, or other…um…nocturnal activities. Improve your sleep by setting a relaxing routine during the hour leading up to bedtime. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Make your bedroom comfy and relaxing. Bottom line: want more energy throughout the day? Go to sleep!

sleepytime

EXERCISE It may sound counterintuitive. I mean, how are you supposed to go for a run, or ride a bike, or hit the gym after work when you don’t have the energy? But exercise itself actually gives you energy. Remember mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cells? Well, they also produce this chemical called ATP, which your body uses as energy. So guess what happens when you work out? Your body produces more mitochondria, which means more ATP, which means more energy! So if you’re facing a sluggish moment in the middle of your work day, go for a walk. Climb some stairs. Hit the gym near your workplace for a midday pick-me-up. It’s more effective than coffee.

CUT THE SUGAR If you have a sweet tooth like me, this one is soooo hard to do! But sugar and simplex carbs (think white bread) are the enemy of lasting energy. They’re fine for an immediate boost of energy, but you’ll crash quickly and feel more tired than you did before. If you want carbs for energy, go for yummy whole grains, fruit, or veggies.

CHOOSE ENERGETIC HOBBIES If you center your free time around couch potato activities, then you’ll be stuck in the same inactive rut. Once you’re engaged in a good TV show or video game, it’s hard to make yourself stop and go for a walk or work in the garden. But if you work active activities into your schedule, and give those first priority, then it’s easier to convince yourself to do them, even if it’s just to “get it over with.” Who knows? You may get so used to being active that the couch seems a lot less appealing!

running going motion energy athletic

THINK ENERGETIC THOUGHTS I believe that the mind, body, and spirit are strongly connected. By focusing on how tired you feel, how difficult it is to exercise, and on the hundreds of little excuses you’ve made up for why you’d rather lie around the house, you are encouraging your own energy levels to drop. When you shift your thoughts in a positive way about your energy levels, you will experience a positive increase.

Well, this post is getting a little long, and my body is already anxious to get up and move. If you try these tips and still find that your energy levels are low, be sure to check in with your doctor. Sometimes, low energy levels can indicate low iron levels, sleep apnea, or other underlying health issues. But if they are effective, then great! We can start a club for Energizer Bunnies, and keep it going and going and going…

Get On Your Feet (aka: Training Your Tootsies)

Take a deep sniff. Smell that? No, it’s not a bag of stale Cheetos™.  It’s the oh-too familiar whiff of a very hard-working, under-rated part of our bodies.

That’s right. Our feet.

Most of us are born with two of these babies. Most of them have ten toes, sometimes long and skinny, like fingers, and sometimes short and stubby, like plump little balls. Some are flat and stompy, built to be encased in wide sneakers. Others have a delicate Barbie-arch that slides perfectly into high heeled shoes. Many are somewhere in between.

Do you ever think about how important feet are? Those of us who have them often take them for granted. We stuff them into cheap, too-tight shoes, then trudge through shopping malls, and across parking lots, and around the fields where our kids play sports. Then we complain when our poor tootsies get all swollen and blistered. Some of us torture our feet by making them run long distances on hard pavements. Many other people spend hours every day with their feet sitting on the floor beneath their desks, forgetting that feet, like dogs, need to take a walk, sometimes.

We put our feet through a lot.

Now some people, women especially, pay all kinds of attention to their feet. They worship their feet. They take them to spas and pamper them with professional massages and long, hot soaks. They have pedicures, getting their toenails all purtied up with bright coats of paint. They rub them with scented lotions, then dress them in cute, expensive shoes the way some people dress up their little frou-frou dogs.

I’ll bet feet love people like that.

One of my favorite things to do to nurture my feet is to let the experience nature. Undressed. Unshackled. Just the bare skin of my soles sinking into the warm sand at the beach. Letting the cool ocean waves wash over them. Getting them tickled by blades of grass at the park. Hearing them squelch as they’re sucked into gooey, oozy mud. My feet love that. Well, as long as I stay away from sharp rocks. And bees. And hot asphalt surfaces that make them sizzle like burgers on a grill.

Feet are marvelous things.

Did you know, that if you train them right, they can climb mountains? For real. They can also climb a few flights of stairs every day, if you let them. They can walk all over town, and the best part about that is that you get to see things you may have missed otherwise. Just yesterday, my feet took me along a river trail I’d never taken somewhere near the downtown office where I work. And do you know what I saw? Goats. Like, fifty goats, kids and all, chewing up the grass along the walkway. Right there, in a major metropolitan area. What the what? It was super weird, and a pretty cool sight. And I never would have seen it if not for my trusty feet. (Good girls). Unfortunately, my feet also led me to a coffee shop, where I wound up buying a delicious, fresh-baked cookie. So I guess they still need some more training.

Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this. The only thing you want to do with your feet is prop them up on an ottoman while you watch TV. I’m not judging, nor am I pointing any fingers at specific readers. But you know what they say — if the shoe fits…

All I want to do is remind you that, if you train your feet and treat them well, then they’ll reward you. They’ll show you new sights and take you to meet interesting people. They’ll work with your body to get it stronger, fitter, healthier. They’ll remind you that you have these two amazing things attached to your legs to be grateful for every morning. They might even get a little naughty and lead you to a coffee shop that sells yummy, fresh-baked cookies. You’ll never know unless you move them.

Where have your feet led you?

Move It Move It (aka: The Fitness Discussion Again)

If you are reading this right now, then chances are you have some sort of New Year’s Resolution in mind.

Yes, you, readers. All five of you.

It may be something subtle, like, “Eh, I probably shouldn’t eat so much fast food this year.” Or some more ambitious goal, like, “This year, I shall lose fifty pounds!”

Um, good luck with that.

According to Nielsen, the two most popular New Year’s Resolutions year after year pertain to weight loss and fitness: losing weight, keeping it off, and getting physically fit. It’s almost as though we actually recognize that our bodies aren’t meant to lie around on the couch as we feed them Cheetos and root beer (ew).

good health New Year

So how do we achieve these goals? Do we switch to one of those all-meat-no-bread or all-bread-no-meat diets? Invest a few hundred dollars in a membership at that fancy health club with all the high-tech workout equipment? Buy a FitBit? Pin up inspirational magazine pics of fit, skinny people around our work cubicles?

Well you can, if that’s your thing. But here are two things that will probably work a whole lot better:

  1. Consume fewer daily calories (No way!)
  2. Move your body a lot more (*Gasp!*)

I know, I know. These two things are like, physically impossible. But know what? They work for a lot of us. Now, you can join a fancy gym if that’s what works for you, and you can afford it. But really, there are a lot of activities you can try which will help you in your journey, whether your goal is weight loss or maintenance, physical fitness, or just overall enjoyment of life. Here are a few ideas:

Health club/Gym (This means actually going several times a week and like, using the equipment)

Yoga / Zumba / Pilates / Cardio Kickboxing class

Adult sports leagues: Soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball (Especially soccer. Try that one first)

Frisbee

Tennis (try looking for a local meetup group if you need a partner)

Hiking

Dancing (classes or casually)

Roller skating / ice skating / inline skating

Running (Try Couch to 5K ® if you’re not sure where to begin)

Swimming / water aerobics

Paddleboarding / kayaking / rowing

Cross-fit (Some people love the group experience and varied routines)

Cycling (You don’t need an expensive, fancy bike to enjoy biking, and it’s great local transportation, too)

running sports fitness

Just remember: What works for one person may not work for another. I, for example, wouldn’t play basketball if you paid me. But I am crazy about soccer, Frisbee, and tennis. Also, don’t be too quick to decide that a physical activity is not right for you. I was once adamant that my body was not built for running. But I made a commitment to try it for six months, and guess what? I ended up with a body that was built for running. Go figure! At the end of the day, it’s all about which type of exercise will motivate you to get up and move on a regular basis. Every little bit that you do is a step toward achieving your health and fitness goals.