I’m not feeling it

cactus with bird's nest
This cactus is fascinating to us. Right in the middle of it is a bird’s nest. How safe must they be!

Everyone is writing about their goals, their resolutions and how motivated they are for a new year. I’m not feeling it at all. I’m finding it difficult to get out of bed and to get outside for my daily walk. I’m feeling sad. This weekend I’m flying to help my son post his second surgery in six months. My daughter is angry with me. I said something to her that I wish I could take back, but I can’t. I can only apologize.

It’s not an auspicious beginning to a new year. Maybe I’m feeling a let down after our big Christmas vacation that we had planned for a year. Or, maybe it’s too cold outside. Maybe I’m still grieving the deaths of two friends. Or, maybe I worry too much about my kids. Neither my son or daughter is in a great place right now and it hurts my heart.

nest buried deep within a cactus.
Can you spot the nest in the cactus? I’d like a nest like that where everyone would leave me alone.

Sorry to be so negative. I’m mostly a glass half full person, but like I said — I’m not feeling it. I think I need to get out my gratitude journal and get to work.

What do you do when you feel blue? Are you able to snap out of it? Any helpful hints would be appreciated.

 Unexpectedly.

cloudy morning sky
Cloudy morning sky.

We picked up my dad at the airport on Wednesday. Thursday I cooked all day and we had friends over for Thanksgiving dinner who moved from our old home town to one mile from us. It was a fun evening of friendship and family.

Then the text came in at 2 a.m.

We’ve been worried about our friend Mark. He lives down the road from us and got a cold that turned into pneumonia earlier this month. He couldn’t breathe and was coughing so hard that he went to the hospital two weeks ago. This past week the doctor put him on a ventilator and induced a coma. He tested negative for COVID.

Everyday we waited for news from his son who came down from Seattle. Every day the news wasn’t good.

Mark left us Thanksgiving night at 2 a.m.

My husband said, “What do we do now?”

He talked to Mark every single day until Mark was on the ventilator. I don’t think we’d be living in Arizona if it hadn’t been for Mark. We visited him in Arizona after he moved here from Seattle several years ago. Mark introduced me to my husband 37 years ago. Mark introduced us to our realtor and he went house hunting with us on the day we found our new home. He introduced us to other friends who are moving to Arizona from Seattle. They will stay with us for Mark’s service this week.

The last time we saw Mark was a few weeks ago before he was in the hospital. He seemed healthy. We invited him over for dinner and ping pong. I cooked one of the best meals of my life.

Now he’s gone. I feel raw and fragile. We pushed through the weekend, trying to carry on. We had to entertain my dad. Saturday we went to the ASU UA football game with a group of friends from my kids’ Palm Springs swim team — their former teammates and parents. It was a good distraction for a bit.

But now what?

I can’t express how much we miss Mark. How hard it is when someone dies unexpectedly who is one of your close friends. It’s surreal how they’re a big part of your life one day and then leave a gaping hole when they’re gone.

Benefits of Old Friends

friends reunited wearing face masks
Me and my best friend from college, showing off our masks at Pike Place Market, during a visit a few months ago.

I read an article today in the Wall Street Journal that made me feel good. It was about the power of friendships. It stated that reconnecting with friends from our past helps our mood. I looked back on my visits with college friends and I agree. I do feel better after connecting with my close friends. It gives me a lift that is more powerful than getting together with new friends. According to the article, we feel that someone from our past understands us, knows us better. I have a few people in my life that fit that bill including two friends from college and a couple from our early married lives. Whenever I get together with any of them, I feel warmth and peace.

My husband has a few friends like that, too. We reconnected with his best friend from grade school through high school when we visited our daughter while she went to college in Utah. Their laughter and fun stories are contagious when they are together. It was such a joy.

Here’s an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal Article by Elizabeth Bernstein:

The Secret Power of Reconnecting With Old Friends
There’s a special boost that only old friends can give us. Here’s why we need it now.
Missing old friends? You’re not alone. Pals from our past can give us a sense of stability in turbulent times.

Research shows that psychological distress often causes nostalgia. People tend to experience this sentimental longing for the past when they are feeling sad, lonely, anxious or disconnected, or when life feels meaningless or uncertain.

“Covid represents a big sense of discontinuity in our lives. We’ve lost a sense of who we are,” says Clay Routledge, a psychologist and professor of business at North Dakota State University, who has studied nostalgia for 20 years. “Recalling cherished experiences from our past can remind us who we want to be, who we want to be around, and what we feel is important in life.”

Nostalgia increases positive mood, self-esteem and self-confidence, according to studies conducted by Dr. Routledge and others. It makes us feel more socially connected and optimistic. It helps us feel that life has more meaning. And it’s highly motivating, pushing us to pursue goals, reconnect with people who were once important to us, and make new relationships.

We can become nostalgic about any period in our life. But it’s most common to feel a longing for our adolescence or early adulthood, likely because that’s when we developed our sense of identity and forged our own relationships.

Dr. Routledge says that most people feel nostalgic about social experiences, typically with family or friends. We may long for their support or feel we can trust them. Old friends—especially ones from our youth, who may also know our family—are often the people we believe truly understand us.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-secret-power-of-reconnecting-with-old-friends-11637069401?mod=hp_listc_pos3

Do you have people from your past that make you feel good when you reconnect? What do your old friends mean to you?

college friends reunited
Reunited with a college roommate.

Random Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

Brilliant sunrise in Arizona
Sunrise yesterday morning. It felt like it was going to be a good day.

When I woke up Tuesday morning to this sunrise — I felt pure joy. How could I not? This is the view from our master bedroom and backyard. I grabbed my husband’s iphone — because he has a better camera on his — and began snapping away. Once I captured the moment, I stood quietly in the backyard as the colors enveloped me.

I’m on my second week of NaNaWriMo and if I were to describe the experience? A pain in the neck.

My neck really hurts. My shoulders hurt too as they hunch up to comfort and hang out with my sore neck. I complained about this last week, and boy howdy! It’s only gotten worse with each passing day.

I took one bit of advice from blogger extraordinaire LA. She said she has a lavender neck wrap that heats up in the microwave. I jumped on Amazon and voila! I now have one and it does help.

I was talking to my daughter on the phone and I complained about my neck.

“Your neck always hurts,” she said.

“But not like it does now. It’s the NaNo challenge that’s making it worse. I’m hunched down over my laptop for hours every day.”

“I know what you need,” she said.

“I already got the lavender neck wrap,” I answered.

“That too, but it’s not what I was going to suggest.”

This was her suggestion:

lap top stand and a work area with a view.
A laptop stand so I’m now working with my screen at eye level. This is my view from where I work in the casita.

I hope it helps. It should. You can now find me wearing a lavender neck wrap working on my raised laptop. I’m impressed with Amazon to get me these items within 24 hours. As much as I don’t like Amazon, I’m also thankful for their convenience and speed.

I took a break and sat in the backyard watching the quail fly onto the patio roof.

My other random thoughts about NaNoWriMo:

I don’t regret the challenge and I’m enjoying starting something new. It was just the thing to get me going on a new project. The words poured out faster than I could type the first week. I’ve slowed down on week two. I’m following my 9-point plot map. But I’ll get through all nine points in 25,000 words which means I need to add more to hit 50,000 words. I think I need more conflict between my characters and more depth in my characters.

What are your thoughts about Amazon? Are you a fan or a foe? Did you use it more during the COVID shutdowns? What are your easiest parts of writing whether it’s blogging or writing a novel? What do you find to be the most difficult?

Have you heard of “text neck?”

Arizona back hard with pool and pool bar.
My favorite place to read is in a zero gravity chair with this view. I’m looking up, not down.

I hadn’t heard of it. But I’ve felt it. It’s a pain in the neck. I ran across this term last week and since the back of my neck hurts, I wanted to find out more about it.

Text neck is caused by looking down at our phones. I find I look down not only at my phone, but when I’m on my laptop and reading a book, too. I spend too much time doing all three of those. I wonder if I have text neck or if I’ve been sleeping wrong? The other culprit may be the crunches that I’ve added to my exercise routine. Crunches strain my neck.

Here’s an excerpt of an article from NBC that talks about text neck and offers four exercises to help with it called 4 exercises to combat ‘text neck’ by Brianna Steinhilber.

“Looking down promotes a forward head posture. For every inch forward you hold your head, the weight carried down through the spine increases by 10 pounds” says Dr. Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC and Mumbai. “Looking down puts pressure on the front of the neck and gaps the back. This is especially troublesome as it can cause intervertebral discs to migrate backward, thereby increasing the chances for disc bulges. It also strains the back of the neck as the muscles on the backside are in a constant state of contraction, trying to pull and support the head (which weighs 8-10 pounds) in this too far forward position. That leads to muscle strain and pain on the back of the neck.” And it doesn’t end there. Wu goes on to say that text neck also “creates tightening on the front of the neck and chest which then leads to discomfort or dysfunction into the shoulders and middle of the back.”

“Because people are so reliant on their phones, they mentally are so lost in their work that they lose track of their posture. If you spend a long time in the ‘text neck’ position, you have to spend at least the same amount, if not more in the opposite position in order for the neck to stay in balance,” says Dr. Wu. “These exercises increase flexibility in the tight muscles (chest), restore postural alignment and increase firing of muscle stabilizers. Wu says we lose 10 percent of our height due to spinal compression and “this one exercise helps to unload our own joints and increase the space between the vertebrae (spinal bones).”

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/4-neck-exercises-will-counteract-effects-texting-ncna840291

If you click on the link, you can find out about the exercises to combat this pain that is in the back of the next, shoulders and back. I’m wondering if I should find a better place to be on my laptop than the tiny kitchen table in the casita. Maybe I need to raise up the laptop or get a lower seat so I’m not looking down.

Have you heard of text neck? Have you experienced it? What have you done about it? When you’re on your computer or laptop, are your eyes level with your screen? Any other suggestions to combat text neck?

Yikes. Maybe this was written for me?

view of saguaro against the sky
A majestic saguaro I stopped to admire during a hike on Sunday.

I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Six Exercises to Help Seniors Build Strength, Improve Balance and Prevent Falls” by Jen Murphy. My first thought was my 89-year-old dad. He’s active and does physical therapy to improve balance and strength. He’s always working on getting stronger — especially post shoulder and ankle surgery. He’s worked hard to be where he is today, golfing several days a week, remote yacht racing, and taking ukulele lessons.

I clicked on the headline with the plan to forward him the article, without reading it myself. The photo of a fit woman who was approaching middle age stopped me. Wait a minute! I might benefit from this, too! In fact, maybe I’m considered a senior now? Maybe I’m the intended audience. YIKES. Hold that thought.

It turns out the photo of the woman was of the fitness instructor who works with seniors, not a “senior” herself. Here’s the opening of the article:

Exercises that help us perform everyday activities become increasingly important as we get older.

Our balance declines and we lose muscle, making ordinary activities like climbing stairs more difficult, and increasing the risk of injury and falls, says Rachael Holden, a fitness educator who specializes in older people. She recommends “functional exercises,” which replicate the movements people make in daily activities.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/six-exercises-to-help-seniors-build-strength-improve-balance-and-prevent-falls-11634378400?mod=hp_listc_pos4

I read the article and realized I can incorporate these six exercises into my daily routine. The first one was “Sit to Stand.”

Why: As we age, weak legs, poor balance and stiffness in the back and ankles can make sitting down into a chair and standing up again challenging, says Ms. Holden. The sit-to-stand exercise is a beginner-friendly alternative to a squat and will build lower-body strength and stability.

How: Sit in a chair or on a couch. Keep your spine tall and arms long by your sides. Push down through your feet to stand tall. Slowly lower back down to a seated position. Perform 10 repetitions. “You can do these during commercial breaks when you watch TV,” says Ms. Holden.

Okay. I can do that. Another exercise was “Step Ups.” That was something I did in PT after my knee surgery. The six exercises were simple but should help with functionality. I am not as fit as I was pre ski accident. My balance isn’t great and I could benefit from these “senior” exercises. I’ll admit it. I was believing that because I walk at least 10,000 steps a day, hike on weekends, do my stretches and crunches that I didn’t need “senior” exercises. But they sure can’t hurt. After I’m done, I’ll forward the article to my dad.

What do you do for your balance and strength? Or is it something you’re concerned with? What age do you think is considered a senior?

hiking trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The Stagecoach Trail at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

It’s a Game Changer…

Lentil recipe with veggies.
Red lentils with veggies that I cooked Sunday.

Saturday evening, after watching a show on Netflix called The Game Changers, my husband announced he wanted to go on a plant-based diet. He said the show talked about the health benefits and that we should try it several days a week. Not go full vegan, but cut out meat three to four days per week. The movie featured professional athletes and Olympians who went plant-based and got stronger and gained more endurance. It argued against theories we’ve grown up with that to be strong you need to eat animal protein. The movie explained that plants also offer complete proteins.

When our kids were young, my husband told them that if they wanted to grow up big and strong they needed to eat something “with a face.”

At the exact time my husband said he wanted to cut out meat, I was charring a giant tri-tip on the barbecue that I found half price at the store. I also sauteed shishito peppers in sesame oil, cooked green beans from the farmer’s market and heated up mashed potatoes. It was a delicious meal. Yes, we eat a lot of meat. Would I be able to give it up? Or cut back? I crave protein and eat beef, chicken, pork and fish.

Charred rare tri-tip, green beans and mashed potatoes.
Last night’s dinner. Tri-tip charred on the outside, rare inside and veggies.

I watched the show on Sunday and thought I could try it a few days a week and see how it goes. We’re both feeling aches and pains we didn’t a year or two ago — and if a plant-based diet makes us feel better and healthier, why not? So, I cooked a batch of lentils. My son introduced me to lentils a few years ago and they are a staple in his diet. He’s not a vegan, but he definitely doesn’t eat meat every day.

I tried a different type that that I haven’t used before, fast cooking red lentils, and I simmered them in vegetable broth for 15 minutes. The package said one cup lentils to three cups liquid. They need to be rinsed before you cook them. Then I prepped garlic, onion, peppers, carrots, celery and cherry tomatoes.

Red Mill red lentils
The lentils simmering on the stove.
lentils draining after simmering
Red lentils draining after 15 minutes of simmering.
onions, peppers, celery, carrots and cherry tomoatoes
The best tasting and most beautiful part of this dish.

I sauteed garlic and onion and spices in avocado oil. I’m an avocado oil fan because it cooks at a higher temperature than olive oil. It cooks faster and hotter.

garlic and onions sauteed in avocado oil
Sauteed onions, garlic and spices of cumin, ginger, ancho chile powder, turmeric, salt and pepper.

The secret is to come up with a blend of spices that you love and season it well. The lentils pick up the flavors of their surroundings.

It was filling and delicious. I sent my husband to a friend’s house with a big slab of the tri-tip roast. I’ll enjoy the leftover tri-tip on a non-vegan day, but if I’m going to try going meatless three days a week, I don’t want it sitting in the fridge staring at me.

Should I try going plant-based three days in a row? Or, mix it up?

Have you tried a plant-based diet? How did it make you feel? I’m not known for a lot of will power. Do you have any tips or recipes I should try? Is it cheating to eat cheese or use butter? Would you give up meat? Why or why not?

Here are some plant-based recipes from the The Game Changers website: CLICK HERE.