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Staff Blog

October 29, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #10 Be accountable  

Accountability. It's a terms that's bandied around quite a bit these days. It almost seems kind of trendy, but as a concept it's really nothing new.

My dictionary says that accountability is the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions. It also says that the word was first used in 1794.

I would argue that the concept is much older than that. When Moses came down the mountain with two tablets and Ten Commandments, God was asking us to be accountable to him — and to one another.

When we stand in worship on Sunday morning and are asked to consider our shortcomings from the week ahead, to confess our sins, we are asked to be accountable for our actions. Sometimes that accountability seems to go against our human nature.

In my work in the area of starting new congregations, we ask our mission developers in the field to complete monthly reports so that we can track what is going on in the new ministries around the country. In other words we ask them to be accountable for their work.

For many years, this was generally viewed as a suggestion rather than a requirement and so it was often ignored. We weren't able to gather usable data from the scant reporting that we received. We weren't able to understand what was really happening out there. The number of new starts was growing but our information wasn't.

Eventually, we got serious about asking the developers to be more accountable. There were logical consequences for not completing reports but at the same time, we made the reports easier to access and more simple to complete.

Most developers responded quickly and with great appreciation. They could see how completing the report was beneficial to them as well as to us; that it gave them a snapshot of their ministry that helped them make decisions about next steps and moving forward.

But a small number were still very resistant. The excuses were amazing! One person emailed to say they couldn't do the online report because their computer was down. Another emailed to say they couldn't do the report because their electricity was out. Several felt the basic questions didn't apply to them because their ministry was unique — and so on.

In the midst of the excuses, it didn't take me long to realize that there seemed to be a correlation. Leaders who understood and responded to the necessity of accountability seemed to have healthier, stronger ministries. Leaders who avoided accountability seemed to have more challenges in their ministries.

Accountability keeps us in relationship with those around us. We are not lone rangers whose work and actions have no connection to that of others.

Those two tablets and Ten Commandments hold us accountable, through them — and in many other way — we hold each other accountable and ultimately, the accountability we have with God helps keep our lives healthy, connected and headed in the right direction. 

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September 20, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #9 Serve and seek justice

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a global fundraising event called Yoga Aid. This event brought together yoga communities from all around the world to benefit four different yoga charities: Off the Mat, Into the World, Yoga for Youth, Africa Yoga Project and 4 One World.

Each of these charities seeks not only to help people in need but to teach skills needed to create change that will, someday, eradicated the need. Off the Mat, Into the World uses the power of yoga to inspire consciousness, sustainable activism and grass roots social change. Yoga for Youth brings yoga and meditation to urban schools, community centers, detention centers and jails to help youth learn positive ways to meet life's challenges. Africa Yoga Project uses three key aspects of yoga to create lasting change in African communties: unity, non-violence and possibility. 4 One World helps children read and write by providing educational aid to disadvantaged children in Africa.

So, for the sake of a better world, I made the commitment to do 108 sun salutations in a two hour period. I took donations and raised a bit of money for Africa Yoga Project.

 Today my body is a bit sore but each time I move one of those tender muscles, I feel a smile in my heart because I know that I was part of an event that will help to create change in our world. The energy and spirit in the room during the practice told me that I was not the only one smiling. Everyone there seemed thrilled to be able to serve in this small way, to be able to help by giving up a few hours of their day, to be able to do something that would make a change in our world. I felt deeply connected with the other yogis in the room and I also felt deeply connected to the yogis around the world who made the same choice with their time. Mostly, I felt deeply grateful that I was able to serve God and those in need while working to make the world a better place at the same time.

Scripture reminds us "So let each one give as you purpose in your heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Like so many who gave of their time and resources to serve others, I feel as though I received so much more than I gave yesterday, feeling cheerful about it just comes easily.

Namasté

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September 3, 2010

Learning from moose

Last month, my fiancé James and I went on vacation in Isle Royale National Park. The park is an island in Lake Superior, and many visitors to the park hope to see one of its 500 moose.

We saw three moose — a cow and twin calves wading in Washington Harbor.

However, our closest encounter with a moose involved sound — not sight. One night we camped at South Lake Desor, an interior lake near the center of the island. I awoke at midnight to the sound of branches breaking. I woke James and said: "I think there's something outside our tent." I often wake James when I hear noises, which usually turn out to be birds or squirrels. "You're imagining things again," he said and went back to sleep. The snapping of branches continued, and was followed by scraping noises and huffing. When I woke James a second time, we both heard the moose sneeze.

By now, James' curiosity was piqued. He unzipped the tent's vestibule and looked out, but because there was a new moon he couldn't see the animal. He was about to turn on his headlamp, but I stopped him. The moose seemed very close to our tent — so close I could smell it, a musky scent reminiscent of wet dog. I didn't want the moose to become spooked by the light. I worried that if the moose was frightened an errant hoof might trample our ultralight tent. So we lay still and silently for the next fifteen minutes, listening to the moose chew foliage as it meandered through our campsite.

When we woke the next morning, we examined the leaves and branches the moose had browsed. It had lingered only five feet from our tent. 

I didn't expect to learn anything about my own health — or others' — from a moose.

A highlight of the trip was the opportunity to hear a talk by Candy and Rolf Peterson. During the summer the Petersons live in a cabin across the bay from the popular Daisy Farm campground. Twice a week they paddle over to give talks to the hikers and boaters staying at Daisy Farm.

Candy is an educator with the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study, and Rolf has been its director for the past 40 years. It is the longest-running study of any predator-prey system in the world.

Candy talked about the island's moose and wolves, their inter-relatedness and the challenges facing each population. While we were on the island, one of the findings from the wolf-moose study made national health news via an article in The New York Times ("Moose offer trail of clues on arthritis," August 17).

According to the study, many of the moose on Isle Royale have arthritis stemming from nutritional deficits early in life. Scientists think human osteoarthritis might also be linked to nutritional deficits early in life.

I'm grateful to the many moose (and to Rolf and Candy for their research over the years) for teaching us something about how our early nutrition might affect diseases that manifest later in our lives.

Recommended reading: Candy Peterson's memoir A View from the Wolf's Eye introduces readers to the island, the study and a faith that is marked by seasons and lived out by exploring the natural world, serving others and sharing knowledge.

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July 21, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #8 Pray

©istockphoto.com/nodmitryRecently I was asked to be part of the faith practices team at the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago.

This group was formed to evaluate the discipleship initiative of the last decade and to determine the next steps for the ELCA. We are evaluating whether we should continue to focus on discipleship as a culture through the seven faith practices originally lifted up (pray, study Scripture, worship, invite, encourage, serve and give) or to explore other ways of bringing additional faith practices to the wider church. We have a retreat coming up during which we will consider this big question, along with data gathered from folks who were much more involved in this early on.

One of the things we will do at the retreat is a faith practices icebreaker. I have to say that I'm not much on icebreakers and this one is probably no exception. In the handout to prepare for the icebreaker, we're asked to evaluate the frequency, comfort level and priority of each of the seven faith practices. Well, I got stuck on the first one - pray. Actually, the sheet says "pray frequently."

Of course, I think prayer is important and should be one of our core faith practices. But I get hung up on what I think others think it should be, what prayer should look like or sound like, how I should pray.

Martin Luther suggested reading the Small Catechism, the Lord's Prayer, the creeds or simply praying the Psalms. But most importantly, he said to do it. When asked about prayer, Luther said he had to make time for it every morning or he would end up postponing it until the day was gone and all opportunity along with it. In other words, just do it. And I get that part. Just do it. Then I wonder, do what? Do I need to sit, stand, kneel, pray alone or with others, use my own words or written prayers - and on goes my uncertainty.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote that he breathed his prayers: "The wind comes through the trees and you breathe it." That is a "how to pray" that makes sense to me.

Each morning I begin my day with yoga. An integral part of yoga is focusing on breath. Without breath yoga is just exercise, but it has always been more than exercise for me. Yoga is an intentional connection with my higher power, my creator and the breath of the Spirit moving through me. When I stand in tree pose with my hands extended toward the sky, praise and gratitude rise up in me as if I was singing one of the Psalms. When I close my practice with the savasana pose, I surrender my life and day to my Lord and Savior anew.

When I look at it that way, I realize that prayer is as central to my life as my very breath. I don't need to worry about that icebreaker. I'll do just fine. I just need to let go of what others think about the "how" of prayer and just do it my way. I'm as sure as the breath that is within me that God is just fine with that.

Amen!

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June 30, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #7 Seek community/worship

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry
Simon and Garfunkel sang, "I am a rock, I am an island."

In this age of individualism, I suppose that many people still live by that credo. We live in a time like no other when people choose a church based on their experience, what they like, what they didn't like and how they feel as they walk out the door.

But I think John Donne was more accurate than Simon and Garfunkel when he said "no man is an island." He wrote about the great interconnectedness of us all; that when one person dies, the world is the worse off for it. Rather than stressing the experience of the individual, Donne was really speaking about the need for community.

Since coming to my position at the ELCA churchwide offices, I have struggled with finding a church home. Unlike most pastors, I served three congregations within eight miles of my home and so, now, none of those three congregations can be my family's church home.

Other congregations are embroiled in conversations about the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly and, for some reason, my husband and I feel out of place. We wander about on Sunday mornings looking for what has begun to feel a bit like Oz — a wonderful place that only exists in our imaginations.

And yet we haven't given up, because we believe in the importance corporate worship — and the importance of being part of a community.

In the best sense of the word, when we come off our islands and into community, community holds us accountable, keeps us on track in life and relationships, supports us in the midst of challenging times and provides an opportunity for us to look beyond our own islands to see the needs, the celebrations, the lives of others.

The yoga studio where I teach has an incredible community of positive people who are open to change within themselves and change in the world around them. In Sanskrit its called kula: a grouping together of people. While anyone can practice yoga alone, it is within the kula that deep transformation takes place. The kula is a safe place to explore emotions that come up during practice. The kula is a safe place to explore the more spiritual side of yoga.

Healthy leaders realize that everyone needs at least one kula and most people need more than one. We aren't islands and while Dorothy said "there's no place like home," it was the kula that gathered on the yellow brick road that made the trip worthwhile.

I love my yoga community but I will keep looking for a church home.

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June 22, 2010

How much of health is our guts?

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry Last week an article in the Chicago Tribune caught my eye: "Make this recipe and call me in the morning."

I laughed, because essentially, it's what two wise doctors told me earlier this year.

They didn't offer to refill megadoses of naproxen or ibuprofen I'd been taking for years. Or the promise of a nice, cool cortisone shot. Nor the threat of having my knee painfully drained, yet again.

Tests were negative and diagnoses elusive, until finally, a food intolerance test revealed a severe allergy to casein (a protein found in all dairy) and eggs. The joint inflammation and chronic sinus infections went away when I stopped consuming dairy and eggs. This was kind of a big deal, since for most of my life, the typical day's menu included 3 glasses of low-fat milk, morning yogurt, cheese, and probably about one egg a day. It's hard to eliminate all traces of milk and eggs, but the more I can do it, the better I feel. 

Other nutritional choices could also reduce the inflammation, the doctors said, adding that anyone with arthritis, or any type of inflammation can benefit from an anti-inflammatory (sometimes called Mediterranean) diet. And indeed, much about health may just be about our gut, as a Time article asserted last year.

So now, instead of preventing me from walking, my allergies actually help me stay on a healthy path of feeling better and losing weight. At least, that's my gut feeling. 

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June 19, 2010

Backsliding in Scranton

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry


I'm posting this blog update from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport in Pennsylvania. I just finished representing The Lutheran at the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly in Wilkes-Barre.

I had a blast at the synod assembly. I met some amazing Lutherans, heard about some incredible ministries (look for future articles in The Lutheran) and had the opportunity to lead some focus groups with Susan Williams (principal of Susan Williams & Associates) who is doing some research into how to better position The Lutheran to serve its readers.

As usual, I'm returning home from this assembly more fired up than ever about the mission and readership of the magazine.

I was very grateful for the "lunch/dinner on your own" options during the synod assembly, which allowed me to make healthful meal choices. The one meal provided by the synod was an outdoor barbeque with choices such as baked barbeque chicken, a spicy corn dish (almost like grits but better), salad and fuit

Two hours ago, I got to the airport on time for my 5:30 flight — only to find out it had been delayed until 7:15. That's when it happened.

I figured I better eat before getting on the plane. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport is small (but it has wi-fi!), and food choices are limited. The only thing that appealed to me was the mozzarella sticks and fries. It has been three months since I've eaten an entire meal of fried food and cheese. (I used to love french fries — just ask my cousins, who insist it was the only food group I would eat as a child.) Today, I ordered and immediately regretted my choice. The fries tasted so greasy — not at all yummy like I'd remembered.

In the end, I ate the mozzarella sticks and skipped the fries.

But I learned a valuable lesson: Time away from unhealthy food decreases its appeal. I'm unlikely to order either again, now that my body is used to vegetables and foods that aren't fried. This one moment of backsliding will probably keep me from noshing on fried foods in the future, so for that I'm grateful.

I'm off for now — it looks like the plane that I'll be taking back to Chicago has arrived.

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June 10, 2010

I can do this

spring

Last week I represented The Lutheran at the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod assembly held in Rosemont, IL. One of my tasks was to speak at the plenary on behalf of the magazine. Since public speaking isn't one of my strong skills, I was pretty nervous about addressing about 600 people.

In the days prior to the assembly, I rehearsed in an empty room to get my timing right and be able to speak to folks rather than just read to them. Even with this effort, I needed some courage to do it.

On the day I was to speak at the assembly, I drew on my yoga practice for help. One of the things I learned in yoga class when learning a new pose is that if you say "I can't do this" you probably will not be able to. If you tell yourself you can you may surprise yourself and succeed.

As I sat in one of the speakers' seats next to the stage a few minutes before I was to address the assembly, I  kept telling myself "I can do this." I also practiced the deep breathing I learned in yoga right before I was called to the podium.

When I addressed the assembly, the phrase "I can do this" kept running through my head. I was able to stay focused and kept going without stumbling until I was finally done and heard applause. Thanks to yoga, I found courage and showed myself "I can do this."

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June 7, 2010

I did it!


©istockphoto.com/nodmitryI wrote last week about the "moment of truth"  — going in to get my blood drawn for my three-month follow-up cholesterol and glucose screening.

Today, at my follow-up appointment, in the presence of my doctor, I discovered my results.

 I was nervous on my way to the appointment. I'm always nervous when I go to the doctor ... maybe you are, too. I value my health and well-being as a gift from God. When we started this blog, one reader suggested that we were promoting body-worship. I was gratified that other readers chimed in that we are to honor our bodies as temples of God's Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and that being good stewards of God's gifts means being mindful of what we consume.

After three months of being more intentional about my choices, I was ready to discover whether they'd made a difference in my test results. I was nervous — maybe I hadn't made enough of the right choices. Or maybe my genetics would prevent me from being able to attain good results, even with the right choices.

My doctor and I compared the numbers. In the past three months, I've lost 21 pounds. My total cholesterol has gone from 29 points outside of the normal range to just one point outside of the normal range. My HDL cholesterol (what's often referred to as "good" cholesterol) has increased. My LDL cholesterol (often called "bad" cholesterol) decreased. My fasting glucose levels have dropped six points and are again within the normal range.

I was delighted. So was my doctor. She and I talked about willpower, the necessity of a support system and remembering that making healthy choices is a lifestyle change, not a quick-fix. She reminded me that as a result of managing my health better, I'll save hundreds of dollars that I otherwise would have used for medicines to control my cholesterol and glucose levels.

As staff of The Lutheran, we are enrolled in the ELCA's health plan for employees (administered by the ELCA Board of Pensions). Staying healthy keeps us off medications, reduces the need for doctor's visits and, as a result, drives down the cost of providing health care to all ELCA pastors, lay rostered leaders and congregation staff who participate in the plan.

Thank you, blog readers, for being part of my support system. This is an ongoing process, so if you have wisdom for me (or others), please feel free to comment below.

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June 3, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #6 Healthy leaders are wrong sometimes

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry (a.k.a. forgiveness is a virtue)

We have all heard the saying, "To err is human, to forgive is divine." But I know that there are times I would rather be human than do the hard work of forgiving — even if that means carrying around the heavy weight of a grudge.

At my yoga teacher training last December, we spent as much time working on ourselves and working out our issues as we did working out on the mat and learning how to teach. Actually, we may have spent more time working out our stuff. You see, its hard to be an authentic, genuine teacher, leader or person when you are working so hard to hide the fact that you're carrying around grudges like a basket full of bowling balls!

One day at the training we were asked to think about an "unfinished relationship" in our lives. It was a nice way of saying, "Where do you have unfinished business? Who do you need to forgive? Or from whom do you need to ask for forgiveness?" A painful relationship came to mind right away. It was unfinished, alright. Seven years worth of unfinished business had been allowed to pass over — well, who knows — a difference of opinion, I guess. So, we thought about our unfinished relationships, then we were asked to write the story. How did it happen? How did you get to this place? Okay, journal the story, check. Then we were asked to read our story to someone else and, understanding that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional, determine whether or not we were still suffering. Read the story, check. Still suffering? Nope! Not me. This was old business. I had been dealing with it for years. I swore I wasn't willing to suffer over it anymore. At that point the leader said, "Okay, now go and call that person you wrote about and ask for forgiveness."

Fear literally grabbed my heart. Tears sprang to my eyes. Maybe I was still suffering. As for forgiveness, what had I done wrong? I suppose I had dug in my heels for one thing! I went back to my room and made the call. For years I could have sworn that this person needed to ask me for forgiveness but in the moment when I said I was sorry I found a new sense of freedom, I felt lifted by grace. I was reminded of the prayer of St. Francis, "It is in pardoning that we are pardoned."

This person never asked for my forgiveness, but that didn't matter. Nor did it matter whether or not they accepted my apology. I realized that I had finally, after far too long, done the right thing. I put down my grudge. I humbled myself. I allowed myself to be wrong. And it was alright.

My world may have been rocked that day but the world didn't come to an end or open up and swallow me whole. No. But in that moment I truly believe that Jesus reached down and poured me a tall, cool glass of salvation. And it went down so easy.

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June 2, 2010

Summer is here!

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry 
Summer may officially arrive June 21. But for many of us, summer is that span of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Here’s a good reminder to care for ourselves and the planet during these months. The wisdom below comes from Josh Judd-Herzfeldt, administrator at my congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago, in our weekly e-newsletter:
 
“As we become fully embraced by the warmth of summer, be sure to take time (whether you’re busy or not) to fully enjoy the beauty around you. Slow down, take a breath, pause, and enjoy all that creation has to offer. Sit in a park, do some gardening, climb a tree, stop and ‘smell the roses’ (or any other flower!), take off your shoes and feel the grass, sand or dirt — the earth — between your toes.

We take for granted all that this planet has to offer. There’s no better example of this than daily updates on how much oil is pumping into the Gulf of Mexico — threatening our planet, our wildlife and even our livelihood. And this is on top of concern over the effects of global climate change and other issues facing our planet. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by it all. It seems like nothing I can do will change anything. This is not true.

This summer, make an effort to do something, anything, no matter how small. Every little bit helps, and the more we, as a healthy, vibrant, thriving community of faith can model positive and life-sustaining behavior, the more these actions will catch on. Develop some simple habits:

• turn lights off after you leave the room;
• unplug appliances like toasters, microwaves, mixers, etc;
• plug TV’s, VCR’s, DVD players, video game consoles, computers, sound systems into surge protectors with a switch and turn it off when not in use;
• buy produce at local farmer’s markets;
• walk or bike instead of drive whenever possible;
• set the heat 2 degrees cooler and the AC 2 degrees warmer;
• hang clothes to dry instead of running the dryer.

Doing even one of these things will have an impact if we all start to do them. And once these habits are in place, they’ll be passed down and expanded upon by future generations. Take the time to see what you can do to help, and enjoy the summer!”

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June 1, 2010

You go, girl!

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry

Amber, my neighbor to the south in our quad-pod of cubicles is making great strides with her health and wellness goal. It's encouraging to see how the steps each of us take impact others.

For instance, there used to be a regular procession of fattening treats or leftovers displayed on the top of the low bookcases that run along one side of the cubicles. Not anymore. Water bottles can be seen on some desks. Two days a week, churchwide employees carry yoga mats for Lunchtime Yoga at the Lutheran Center. When folks are talking, frequently it's about trips to the gym, hiking, Wii-exercising, fishing, the lake, etc.

Still, many days I find physical health so much easier to care for than the spiritual side of things. Today is no exception: The magazine's on deadline. The week's child care arrangements for our oldest fell apart and had to be reconstructed anew. Over the weekend our youngest had another trip to the doc and needed to be camped out near a washroom, so I missed my hubby's sermon and some badly-needed spiritual re-fueling. An upstairs sink is mysteriously clogged and the garbage disposal is broken.

Sigh. It's just the list of everyday things that make you skip a workout, cut out time for prayer and devotion, eat a plate full of cookies, etc. So I'm feeling pretty good that despite the list and the deficits, I've lost another two pounds and found some good devotionals in my reading here, for the magazine — grace that I didn't expect.

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May 27, 2010

The moment of truth

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry
Three months ago my doctor ordered me to make lifestyle changes to reduce my overall weight, cholesterol and blood-glucose levels.

For the past three months, I've been avoiding fried foods, cheese-based dishes (a difficult task for someone originally from Wisconsin), starchy foods and refined sugars.

This morning, I had my blood drawn for the follow-up lab tests.

Over the past three months, I've lost 20 pounds from eating healthy, modest-portion meals and exercising. I'm hoping that the labwork numbers have also improved.

I should know within a week.

Update: I made dessert once over the past three months, the chocolate-orange ricotta cheesecake from Clean Eating magazine's May/June issue. The verdict: Some of the ingredients (agar agar and dutch-processed cocoa) were hard to find, but the recipe was easy to follow. I thought the crust was especially simple and delicious (rolled oats, honey and cocoa combined in a food processor). I thought the final result was quite good, but my boyfriend (who is a far more experienced baker than I) could tell at once it was a no-bake cheesecake and had some issues with the texture. I'll make it again — but I'll keep it for myself.

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May 18, 2010

Healthy travel

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry

Traveling away from home is an understandable cause for diet and exercise lapses. You're captive to schedules and menus not of your own making. There may be more stress, more sitting, and most of the time, you're socially "on." The Lutheran's nine staff are together visiting 27 synod assemblies this spring/early summer, so this was a bit of a concern for me.

What a pleasant surprise I found at the Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly this past weekend! I was on my feet at the display table about half of the time, and we had plenty of traffic. At this assembly, there were a mere handful of people who passed by, avoiding eye contact or making a quick, silent grab for the treat dish. Most people stopped to chat, check out materials, or offer feedback/comments.

Meeting in Akron, Ohio, assembly-goers were served a healthy lunch (chicken caesar salads, vegan sandwiches, water, fruits, [not huge] oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip cookies). American, Middle Eastern and Italian restaurants in the area were within walking distance (under .5 to 1.5 miles), and had healthy options as well as fattening ones. A stand-out was Vegiterranean, a popular Vegan restaurant owned by a '70s rocker named Chrissie Hyndes. After the trip, my weight had held steady. I've had much worse consequences, believe me. 

From the ELCA Board of Pensions, Sandy L. Rothschiller (filling in for Fana Teklé) spoke about the variety of overall health improvements members have made, from choosing generic medications to exercising/dieting in ways that have saved the overall plan millions of dollars. I wish I could remember exact numbers, but I was next up at the podium, to speak about The Lutheran, and doing yoga breathing so as not to panic. The breathing helped a lot, as did a great introduction from wonderful, funny Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. Her sense of humor has got to be one of the greatest assets for this synod. : ) And the talk must've been alright, because afterwards a few people came over to say they'd start individual or congregational subscriptions

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May 14, 2010

My exercise burnout

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Like many people, one of the problems I've had with exercising regularly is boredom with the same routine week after week. It often led to burnout and I would eventually stop exercising for months at a time.

Last year I began to experience this again. I had been going to a local women's health club for several years. The routine was very set and programmed and while I enjoyed the convenience and camaraderie, I knew I had to move on and diversify my routine.

I began going to a larger health club where there are many more activities. I alternated between a cardio workout certain days and weight machines on others. Occasionally I do both. There are also group classes available if I wish to attend. Alternating days and activities has been working well.

In February, Mary Frances, a colleague at the ELCA who is also a yoga instructor, started lunchtime classes twice a week and brought yoga into my life. I've gone to every class including a special two-hour workshop and have enjoyed learning something new and different. Several of my colleagues at The Lutheran and I had never practiced yoga before and now we really look forward to it. It also gives us the chance to build community with colleagues from other floors in the building.

When spring finally arrived this year, I got a passion to go bike riding down the paths in the forest preserve across the street from where I live. A month ago I bought a bicycle, my first in many years, and will try to ride as often as the weather permits.

Now between varied activities at the gym, yoga class at work, walking and bicycling I am exercising almost every day, am never bored and am enjoying it.

Oh — and did I mention that in June I will begin going to Zumba classes on Saturday mornings? I can hardly wait!

Let's hear your ideas about ways to avoid exercise burnout.

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May 13, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #5 give and give thanks

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry
We all know that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7 ) and Paul exhorts us to give thanks always (1 Thessalonians 5:18) but how does this play out in real life? Sometimes in absolutely wonderful ways.

On Tuesday night I had the opportunity — the privilege — to assist at a yoga class for patients with multiple sclerosis. This event was part of a national tour for the MyMSYoga DVD that was recently released. This DVD shows three different yoga sequences for people with MS. There is a basic class, one a big more challenging and then one that is all about restoration. After a brief introduction, about 100 MS patients (along with their friends and family) moved onto their mats.

Some people stayed in their wheelchairs or motorized scooters. Some sat in chairs. Others got down on the floor. But each one entered into the practice to the best of his or her ability. In fact, I would venture to say that each person moved a bit beyond what he or she thought was the level of their ability.

As the leader, Baron Baptiste, led them through the poses, I saw faces light up and smiles all around the room. After each pose, spontaneous applause erupted and people encouraged one another to continue the practice.

All around the room, yoga teachers who had left their studios to come into the city for this event assisted and supported the new yogis. High fives and thumbs up abounded.

At one point I looked around the room and felt tears come to my eyes. The MS patients were so grateful for what they were receiving. And Baron and the teachers were so thrilled to be able to give — that they too were grateful. It was one big cycle of giving and giving thanks. The givers were thankful for the opportunity but more than that, they were thankful for the true joy and excitement that was palpable in the room. And the MS patients were happy to receive, thankful for the class but they, too, gave as they shared blocks and straps and support chairs with one another.

While all of this was inspiring, it was not surprising. Research shows that people who give are happier. People who give have lower levels of stress and higher levels of those good feeling endorphins (happy hormones). Giving comes out of our sense of giving thanks and promotes more giving and more thankfulness — which in turn promotes less stress and better health. Sounds like a win/win all the way around.

At the end of the class, all the new yogis were asked to lay on their side in a fetal position and Baron asked them what they were — "A little ball of....what?" People began to call out their answers: "Light!" "Happiness!" "Hope!" "Energy!" "Potential!" "JOY!"

Joy! We were all little balls of joy....celebrating what we could give to each other resulted in pure joy!

Each week I give yoga classes to my colleagues at The Lutheran Center. I don't know that I could have put it into words before but now I know why I do it .... giving is pure joy!

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May 10, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #4 Care for your body

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Growing up I wasn't into sports. In high school, the only physical activity I did outside of gym class was Pom-Poms. So as an adult, I didn't have a great attitude about working out. It was something I did only because I had to and then, as little as I had to. As a parish pastor, it was easy to find reasons not to do it at all. Meetings, weddings, funerals, first communions all took precedence to taking care of my body — until my body started to break down. An ache and pain here and there became full-fledged inflammation in my joints and throughout my body. Something was very wrong.

After some time of alternating between denial and seeking help, I found the right doctor. She told me that together we could put things right — but that it would take effort on my part: back to a healthy diet, supplements and exercise. First through the miracles of medicine she helped me get me out of pain enough so that I could exercise...then my body took over.

A daily dose of yoga is what keeps me going now. No need for lots of pills and prescriptions. And as long as I take care of my body, I find that my body takes care of me. As I keep up with my yoga practice, I find I have more energy, clarity of mind and a sense of balance in my life. I am less reactive and more forgiving. In general, I feel like I am becoming not only healthier but more and more myself all the time. Taking care of my body allows me to be a better pastor, wife, mother, daughter, friend — well, a better person. Namasté.

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May 9, 2010

No eggs, no oil, no sugar... how could it be any good?

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This weekend I made vegan waffles out of a cookbook from the library, The Joy of Vegan Baking. The recipe called for no eggs (flaxseed provided the stickiness), no oil and no sugar. Could this really be good? I wondered. Better make a 1/2 recipe. So I did.

But the waffles were stunningly good... our whole family thought so! Probably the best waffles I've ever had. They didn't last, and the kids refused to eat the generic version of Eggo waffles this morning.

I checked out the cookbook on a whim. We're not vegans, but I recently discovered I'm allergic to milk and eggs, which wreak havoc with my immune system if I eat 'em. How do you get around that? With a vegan cookbook. 

Now I'm thinking I'll make a triple recipe next time, freeze a bunch, save money and make the kids happy. And after I try a few more recipes.. .I think I'll go ahead and buy the cookbook on Amazon...

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May 3, 2010

Weekend eating

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I've been trying to eat more healthily for the past two months.

For the most part, I've done pretty well. I've increased the amount of fiber I eat, I try to get enough protein throughout the day and I am limiting my intake of carbohydrates and sugars.

I've lost 13 pounds. Don't misunderstand me, the numbers on a scale aren't terribly important to me. I think physical fitness is more important than a person's weight.

However, as someone with specific health concerns, those 13 pounds represent steps toward lower cholesterol and blood glucose readings. I won't know for sure until my follow-up bloodwork in a month, but my guess is that my positive life changes will be reflected in those numbers, too.

Although I've done fairly well overall, this past weekend was difficult for me. On Friday night, I had a hard time pacing myself on tortilla chips at a favorite Mexican restaurant. For Sunday lunch, I grudgingly (and crabbily) opted for whole-grain bread when I really wanted white bread on my submarine sandwich, and Sunday night I had a strong craving for sweets (especially chocolate). I gave in and had one Thin Mint, followed by a large slice of honeydew melon.

Weekends are hard, because they're a time of leisure. Our society associates leisure time with food: popcorn at a movie; snacks in front of the television; peanuts and beer at the baseball game; dinner dates with our loved ones; leisurely Sunday meals with our families; coffee-hour treats after worship.

As I've tried to eat more healthily, I've had to work hard at de-emotionalizing food. It's been a struggle, but having made (mostly) good choices despite temptation this past weekend, I know I can keep it up.

Oh, and my first issue of Clean Eating magazine arrived on Friday. So the next time I'm having a difficult weekend of cravings, I can whip up a no-bake chocolate-orange cheesecake that weighs in at 166 calories (and 13 grams of sugar — from raw honey) a slice. (I'll let you know how it tastes in a future post.)

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April 26, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #3 Learn something new

A couple of years ago my continuing education project was to brush up on my Spanish. After taking Spanish for four years in high school and one year in college, I really should have retained more than I did - but you know the old saying: If you don't use it, you lose it.

The brain is kind of funny that way. Its natural inclination is to get all comfy and settled but it seems that is the worst thing for us. What we really need is to be challenged, to learn and be stimulated.

I heard a piece on National Public Radio the other day that offered up surprising results of research that shows that we don't actually have to lose brains cells as we age but our brains continue to grow as we stimulate them.

It seems that healthy leaders know this intuitively. We all know people who are life-long learners. It seems they are literally sponges for new information and this serves them in many way beyond continuing to multiply that gray matter.

Life-long learning creates a curiosity, a hunger for learning and an openness to new things. Life-long learning promotes flexibility, adaptability and an openness to change.

Healthy leaders do more than keep up with the crossword puzzle in the newspaper (which is really just reprocessing what has already been learned), they read new books, take courses, travel to new places and explore and take up new adventures.

While the Español has been slow in coming, taking up yoga turned out to be a great new learning for me. It has called on me to learn new poses and postures, all the while learning new things about my body and myself. There are many times each day where I realize that this practice has made me more open to new things and less reactive off my mat as well.

So while yoga is trimming my body and making shifts in my soul, apparently my brain is growing new cells to replace all the ones I killed off in my younger days! There are definitely benefits to this life-long learning stuff.

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April 23, 2010

How clean is our air?

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Our health and the health of our planet are intertwined. Today, for Earth Day, someone forwarded me a story from The Root, about how climate change disproportionately affects the health of African American people. It's a perspective piece from Jacqui Patterson, an NAACP staffer, about a civil rights aspect of climate change, global warming and pollution.  

While some parts of this perspective piece made me wonder (really!? are you serious?! what's your source for kg of carbon dioxide emitted by ethnicity? and is this really helpful?), there are studies that correlate race/ethnicity and location of toxic facilities.

And all of us who live in Chicago and its near suburbs—of whatever ethnicity, class, age, or other background—are affected by industrial pollution. A 2008 Chicago Tribune article called it simply "Chicago's toxic air." Even Forbes magazine, the EPA and the American Lung Association agree that the Stinky Onion isn't sweet.

We can carpool, use alternate modes of transportation and recycle our hearts out. But don't we also need to advocate for better standards for the industries and machinery we use to make our lives easier, healthier and well?   

Click here to see how clean the air is where you live (by county or address).

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April 16, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #2 Don't take things personally

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A couple of weeks ago I was teaching a yoga class at the studio near my house. My husband, who has become a regular participant, was in the class. It was a hot, sweaty, fast-moving class and while I wasn't looking for compliments, several people said afterward that it was a great class.

When I got home, my husband asked why I was picking on him in class. Not only was I stunned, I was stumped. I hadn't pointed him out, made any jokes at his expense or even given him an adjustment that he could have taken the wrong way. Picking on him?

It turned out that he had taken it personally that the class was challenging to him. My instructions were directed at the entire class but when some of them struck a negative note in his heart due to his inability to comply to the level of his expectations, he took it personally.

It happens more than we probably realize. We overhear part of a conversation and think it's about us. Someone cuts us off on the highway and we think it's intentionally meant for us. Someone doesn't greet us in the way we expect, give us credit for an idea, or praise us for hard work and we take it personally.

But healthy leaders learn how to move into a different mind-set. Healthy leaders seem to have a filter that lets all the noise of life fade away so that they only pay attention to what is really important. Healthy leaders understand that reactions are most often about what is going on inside of us rather than what anyone has said or done to us. And what people say or do is usually more connected to what is going on inside of them than having much to do with us.

So I have decided that unless someone says that something is specifically meant for me, I am taking everything I hear with a grain of salt. And next time I teach yoga class, I just might pick on my husband ... I mean, just a little, all in good fun.

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April 15, 2010

Salmon, anyone?

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Mmmmm. I'm thinking about making fish for dinner tonight. Salmon is a crowd-pleaser in our household. It's tasty (unless you don't like fish) and replete with Omega-3s, which are good for everything from your immune system to your joints.

Salmon with lemon & vegetables  

1. Spray or spread a light layer of olive oil into a casserole pan.
2. Chop up onions, carrots and potatoes into chunks. Scatter these on the bottom of the pan.
3. Place the raw salmon on top of the vegetables. Cover with slices of lemons ( I use two lemons.)
4. Season with pepper, fresh dill and a smaller amount of sea salt. If you have some white table wine, go at it!
5. Add one cup of water to the pan.
6. Cover the top of the dish with foil.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

It should be tender and flaky when you take it out. It sort of steams in there, and everything is very flavorful when it's done.

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April 14, 2010

Good health means less screen time

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry In our effort to lead a healthier life at home, our family is trying to be less attached to electronics. This is mostly directed at our kids, and specifically 7-year-old Peder, who is just too attached to his Nintendo DS.

We've banned weeknight TV, taken the DS away and for now Wii can only be used as a family activity. All three kids can earn TV and electronic game privileges back in moderation (weekends) by doing household chores and reading more. We're still fine-tuning this "points" system.

As an alternative, we brainstormed things to do sans electronics. Peder wrote them all down on pieces of paper and put them in an empty Diet Coke fridge pack box: "play at the park," "game night," "puzzle night," "neighborhood walk," "invite someone to dinner," "go out to dinner," "have dessert." A few things are reserved for weekends nights and may involve a screen: "camp out in the living room" and "family movie night."

Tuesday was our first night with the activity box: outdoor treasure hunt. We made a list of 10 things to find or do in the neighborhood, including "picking up litter" (we filled a bag) and "make a new friend." It was a success. The kids were so excited when they returned with their crossed off list, they wanted Oliver, 4, to draw an activity for tonight. So if you need me after supper, I'll be playing in the park.

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April 13, 2010

Busy hands and a prayerful mind


©istockphoto.com/nodmitryDuring my sabbatical last year, I realized that I needed to do more to nurture my creativity.

I'm lucky to have a creative job. Many of my daily tasks involve visual thinking. Because most of my creative work happens on a computer screen, I decided to take a course in three-dimensional art.

I found a lost-wax casting class at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago. I'd always been interested in lost-wax casting, the process of carving or molding a sculpture or piece of jewelry in wax, making a plaster mold of the object, then using a centrifuge to fill the mold with molten silver or bronze.

Some waxes are soft enough to mold with your fingers. Others are hardened with plastic so they must be shaped with a knife, dental tool or file.

After taking classes for four months, I've discovered I really enjoy working with hard wax, the kind that needs to be filed. There's something very meditative about filing. Without even realizing it, I filed my first piece of wax down to nothing.

Something about the repetitive movement of the hands that makes the mind still. Even though I've never done woodworking or knitting, I suspect those pursuits have a similar effect.

Making time for my mind to be quiet is something I don't do well. When I was younger I'd sit in quiet prayer for long periods at a time, but as my mind has become more and more cluttered, I've lost my discipline for just sitting and listening for God. It's something I've rediscovered through my class.

As I file, my hands are busy and my mind becomes more detached and open to the Spirit's counsel. This is not what I expected from my class, but it is a welcome benefit.

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April 7, 2010

Priorities

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I like food.

My two dearest friends live in Austin and New York. When we vacation together (or visit each other) our itineraries revolve around what and where we'll eat. We joke: "That's why we're friends."

I also like cooking. Unlike my boyfriend, I can't dream up delicious recipes on a moment's notice. But I can follow a recipe (or adapt it to my taste).

I've always struggled to find the time to cook from scratch. Before I started watching my cholesterol and sugar intake, I'd get carry-out or pop a prepared meal in the oven when I didn't have time to cook.

Now that I've made eating more healthily a priority, I'm cooking from scratch almost exclusively. Last night, I made a delicious (and healthy) chicken marsala with grilled carrots. (Recipe courtesy of Clean Eating magazine, to which I just subscribed at Mary Frances' suggestion.) But it involved going to two grocery stores (the dried porcini mushrooms still eluded me) and more than an hour devoted to preparation and cooking.

My other priorities are suffering. Last night, by the time I had finished shopping, cooking and eating, I had very little of my evening left to work on my homework for the children's book-illustration class I'm taking.

This is not a challenge unique to me. I'm a single woman who lives alone, and most of my time is my own. I can't imagine how difficult it is for families (especially single-parent households) to devote the time necessary to obtaining nutritious food and preparing it in a healthy way.

What are your tips for eating well with limited time? I'd love to hear your suggestions for weeknight meals that are quick, yummy and healthy.

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April 7, 2010

10 traits of a healthy leader: #1 Laugh and the world laughs with you

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The executive staff of Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission went on retreat yesterday. In the midst of sharing hopes and dreams, someone let loose with a wild comment. It was a funny joke in the midst of a serious conversation that broke a few things loose. But then someone else picked up on it and carried the joke a bit further and then someone else hit the grand slam. Soon we were all holding our sides, wiping our eyes and catching our breath. Laughter is not only good for the soul — it is good for the body as well. That good belly laugh gave each of us benefits that last far beyond the actual humorous moment.

Laughing relaxes the entire body as well as boosting the immune system. When we laugh we trigger our endorphins which gives us an overall feeling of well-being and happiness. Stress is lowered, our heart works better and negative emotions begin to dissolve.

So imagine the benefit of laughing at yourself! As I think about the healthy leaders I know, I realize they just don't take themselves too seriously. I love to cook and recently made (from scratch) some cauliflower and potato soup. The recipe sounded tasty with lots of good seasonings and cilantro but once it was complete it was a bland, gray mess. My husband and dinner guest (yes, of course someone else had to be present for this debacle) were kind but I knew it really was pretty awful. And so I laughed. I just laughed it off. I could have reacted any number of other ways that would have made this little molehill into a big mountain but I chose not to. I chose to laugh. And then what could my dinner partners do but laugh right along with me?

Spontaneous laughter is great but I think we get even more benefit every time we take a split second before reacting and chose laughter as our best medicine.

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April 6, 2010

Diet transplant

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Near the beginning of 2009, I had a diet transplant. I switched to soy milk, whole wheat flour (no white/refined flour), brown sugar or honey for sweeteners, and olive or grapeseed oil in cooking. No fried foods, very little red meat. Since I'm the main grocery buyer for our family, we all switched to healthier eating. We threw out the white sugar & a variety of unhealthy snacks. It's actually a less expensive way to eat, given that we shop at Aldi, Trader Joe's and Costco (organic soy milk, fish and chicken in bulk).

After weeks of being "off" an unhealthy food, I didn't seem to crave it anymore. Between meals we and the kids try to snack on fruit, nuts, popcorn and the like. But I was surprised this Easter when our five-year-old picked out the chocolate eggs from his Easter basket. He said they tasted too sweet.

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April 5, 2010

Healthy leaders

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(Editor's note: The Lutheran staff has invited Mary Frances to blog as part of our "Spring into life" series. Since February, Mary has been leading lunchtime yoga at the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago.)

I started practicing yoga several years ago, trying first one style and then another, but mostly settling for what was available at the local health club. Two years ago a new studio opened near my house and I made a beeline for the front door. The style at this studio was power vinyasa - not my favorite, I thought, but better than nothing! Once I got over the initial soreness, I felt my body and my attitude begin to shift.

As I grew stronger and leaner, my spirit began to appreciate the various aspects this style of yoga offered me: an opportunity to build strength and flexibility; the change to meet myself on my mat, shortcomings and all; and the openness to experience a physical practice as a spiritual expression of prayer and worship. In short, I got hooked.

Last December I was fortunate enough to spend eight days in Mexico for an intensive teacher training. The time was an interesting balance of the basic elements of the practice—the nuts and bolts—as well as time to explore who I am as a teacher and practitioner.

Out of my time at the training, I began developing a list of traits for a healthy leader. It started out as the Seven Habits of Healthy Leaders and has now turned into the Ten Traits of Healthy Leaders...and with your input...who knows where this could go? Over the next weeks I will share with you, one week at a time, my thoughts on what it means to be a healthy leader in the church and in the world today. I look forward to the conversation with you.

Blessings!

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April 1, 2010

An appointment with Dr. Yahoo

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I get the "Spring into life" focus but I think some people should refer to it as "spring cleaning." You know the promises of the swimming suit, reunions and wedding commercials — all of those things are coming up this summer and we have to get ready now.

Like three months are going to make a difference!

Myths dispelled

I have read with amusement some of the confessional postings about gaining weight and getting into tight jeans. Either a) leave them on so you know something is going on or b) figure out a way to use a trampoline, hanger and harness to jump into them.

In a recent conversation I had with Dr. Yahoo, I was surprised to learn about some of the myths we live with. Dr. Yahoo informed me that:

1) Exercise is not good. Your heart is good for only so many beats ... take naps.

2) Alcohol is good. Wine and beer are made from fruits and grains.

3) Chocolate is good. It is from the cocoa bean, another vegetable.

4) Swimming doesn't help. Have you ever seen a skinny whale?

5) Sit ups don't prevent a soft middle. Exercise makes muscle which makes your stomach bigger.

I confess that Dr. Yahoo won't be included in any future health program (or current ones) and you won't find any of these tips on the ELCA Board of Pensions or Mayo Clinic website — but you will find answers to everything else.

Now for my confession. I went to dinner with my daughter the other night and she paid. My pants were too tight to get my hands in the pockets.

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April 1, 2010

Celebrating 35

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Nope, that 35 is not a birthday, but weight I've lost since February 2009. My effort to "spring into life" really bloomed after I began having some difficulty with one of my knees. Taking some weight off was bound to make a difference. 

There's no way I could've done it without God. My husband and I have together put on a small person since the wedding. We both felt the need to improve our health, so we could better serve. We knew what to do, but it was hard committing to it. Then the Holy Spirit blew:

* our congregation had made health and wellness a focus, and members began cooperating to offer healthy snacks (instead of cake/cookies/doughnuts, etc.) after worship.

* My husband's sister prayed for us, shared her own weight loss success, and lent us a video about healthy eating that shared concerns about various aspects of the typical American diet.

* We made regular time for prayer and Scripture.

* We did more walking, from one to three miles.  

* My doctor cheerfully aspirated water off my knee a few times. When the needle hits bone, you can't rely on Lamaze breathing. I guess doctors can't numb bones. For me, having a baby without any pain medication was preferable. My fear of this happening yet again, was probably the most motivating factor. 

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March 31, 2010

A no-brainer: use the lunch hour


©istockphoto.com/nodmitryFor the better part of the winter, I was in the habit of doing (at least) two things that aren't healthy: I was eating at my desk, and I wasn't exercising. At all.

With three kids at home and winter darkness, it was nearly impossible to exercise in the morning and evening. And to make up for lost morning time (again, related to carting kids around), I'd often work through the noon hour while munching on something at my desk. One of the downfalls of this, of course, is that I could literally spend my workday without social contact. I'm an introvert, but this was ridiculous.

And my health suffered — both physically and emotionally.

So my Spring resolve is to use the lunch hour for exercise. It's the most obvious, yet creative, use of time I can think of. Because a colleague at the Lutheran Center is offering Lunchtime Yoga two days a week, that's what I do two days a week. The other two (weather permitting), I take a brisk walk at the forest preserve just across the street from the Lutheran Center. Unless it's really warm (as it is today), there's almost always a chance of seeing deer-always a bonus.

Of course doing these two things over the noon hour doesn't leave much time for eating, but I think that makes it OK (and necessary, I'm afraid) to eat at my desk. And, on the fifth day of the work week, I try to line up a lunch date out of the building. Fridays are particularly good for this! Any takers?

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March 28, 2010

My indulgences


©istockphoto.com/nodmitrySince my doctor encouraged me to adopt a more heart-healthy diet, I've made some drastic changes. 

I'm no longer eating fried foods of any kind. I've switched from cow's milk to soy milk, and I'm eating as few processed foods as possible. When I eat breads and cereals, I opt for whole grains. I'm eating way more vegetables than ever before.

There are a few things, however, I'm counting as "indulgences" — little treats that make healthy eating a bit more enjoyable:

• Black coffee: I'd given up coffee last November, but when I started to eat more healthily I found I wanted a little something to perk me up in the mornings. Because I don't use cream or sugar, it's a low-calorie choice. It's also is a bit of a hunger suppressant, so it's made cutting back on calories a little easier. And at one to two cups a day, I'm definitely enjoying my joe in moderation. (For more information about the health effects — good and bad — of coffee, check out "Coffee and health: What does the research say?" at the Mayo Clinic web site.)

• Bison: A restaurant I frequent has locally-sourced bison on its menu. Low in cholesterol and saturated fat, some sources (such as the National Bison Association) claim that bison is healthier than boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Given these benefits and bison's tasty, juicy flavor (no ketchup or steak sauce required), my once-a-week red meat is sure to be bison. Even better, it can be found fresh or frozen at most of the groceries and meat markets I already frequent.

• Red wine: As I prepare more evening meals at home, I'm finding that a glass of red wine is a nice accompaniment. According to this article at the Mayo Clinic, red wine might be a heart-healthy choice.

• Sweet potato fries: My boyfriend and I enjoy cooking together on the weekends. Tonight, we're making oven-baked sweet potato fries as one of our side dishes. The Mayo Clinic considers sweet potatoes one of "10 great health foods for eating well." Who are we to argue?

What are your healthy (or at least not too unhealthy) indulgences?

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March 26, 2010

Children and snacking

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I grew up in a household where there were plenty of salty snacks and homemade baked goods. After school and before bed snacking was an everyday habit. By the time I was 13, my habits showed up around my waist, stomach and hips. After wearing a size 16 dress for elementary school graduation, I began learning about healthier eating alternatives that summer.

Today children consume more unhealthy snacks than ever before. Snacking now accounts for more than 27 percent of their daily calorie intake, according to a recent study. The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina, surveyed more than 30,000 children and found that on average they snacked at least three times a day on candy, salty chips and other junk food. Unhealthy snacking added almost 600 calories a day to children's diets — up by 168 calories from 1977 to 2006. For some, those extra 1,176 calories a week could amount to as much as 13 1/2 pounds of body fat a year. The largest increase in caloric intake from snacks was found in children ages 2 to 6.

Researchers offered the following advice to parents:

• Don't let your children snack out of habit. Make sure they are actually hungry.

• Set a good example by snacking on healthy foods yourself.

• Stock the kitchen with healthier snacks that taste good such as yogurt versus chocolate pudding or apples versus cookies.

• Go for the grain. Whole-grain snacks can give your child energy with some staying power.

• Restrict snacking to the kitchen. If your child needs to snack on the go, offer string cheese, yogurt sticks or fruit.

Source:  ABC News Good Morning America, March 12, 2010

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March 25, 2010

Heeding the signs

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry My body fat had a party after I stopped playing volleyball almost two years ago. In January, I began in earnest to send the partiers home. Some people look at me and say, “Don’t worry, it’s not that bad.” My reply: “Thanks, but I see myself naked.”

I believe God sends us all signs that we need to start paying attention to our health. At my yearly physical my doctor told me that I “may want to do some aerobics in addition to yoga.” Your parents pull out their overflowing “weekly pill reminder” box (could that be me one day?). The Board of Pensions’ wellness test notes that your BMI is too high—as does the Wii (please stop saying “Uh-oh” when I step on the board). The tin lid won’t come off the can of Pirouette cookies (is someone telling me I don’t need this crème-filled, sugary deliciousness?). Or you have to lay on the bed to zip up your jeans.

But it’s up to us to pay attention to the signs. And it’s easy to ignore them, especially if exercising isn’t your thing. When I want to sleep in instead of exercising, I use this motivation: I pat my wiggly belly or stand in front of the mirror for a second. Yep, I see myself naked. Time to work out.

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March 24, 2010

Making changes

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The launch of this "Spring into life" blog series is timely for me.

I had my yearly check-up in early March. (Preventive services such as yearly physicals are covered by the ELCA Board of Pensions, through which I have health insurance.)

My doctor ordered routine bloodwork. When the results came back, my doctor advised me that I need to get my cholesterol (high) and glucose levels (borderline) under control.

She gave me three months to make positive lifestyle changes. 

As a journalist, I love deadlines. They're something to work toward, even if they're difficult sometimes. So I've made healthy living a priority. And with a firm deadline of June 7, I'm motivated to meet my goals.

I don't want to have to manage my health with medicine if I can achieve good results by being mindful of what I eat and how much I exercise.

I'm looking forward to this blog as one more way to support my goal of living healthier.

Over the next three months, I'll be blogging about my journey to better health.

As we go along, I (and the other bloggers here) are looking forward reading your comments about positive changes you've made in your life. Let's encourage each other!

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March 22, 2010

Happy spring!

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry

As the days grow longer and warmer, the staff of The Lutheran are back to blogging, under the theme of "Spring into life." For the next three months, we'll blog about health of the body and the spirit.

The ELCA Board of Pensions has long been encouraging us to "live well." The board's Web site lists 10 good reasons:

1. To be a more effective leader for the sake of the world
2. To model healthy behaviors for our children
3. To have a healthier relationship with God
4. To endure hardship with resilience and grace
5. To feel better in mind and body
6. To avoid lifestyle-related illness
7. To better steward gifts given by God
8. To age with strength and dignity
9. To lead my congregation toward wellness
10. To help decrease overall health care costs and increase mission dollars

Perhaps we can all encourage each other on the journey to better health. After all, research now shows that living well (everything from kindness to self-control) is contagious and can spread through social networks.

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