Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice 2014

As I awoke this morning, I thought to myself, "Today is going to be a long day!" ;)

And then I started thinking about past generations who watched the patterns of the sky and learned to judge time without a watch, but instead by the position of the sun at different points during the year.

And then, I started realizing, that our generation, is largely disconnected from this type of observation. I marvel at the fact that there are entire civilizations who arranged the structures of their buildings and their cities to orient toward the rhythms of the sun in the sky, and while I don't want to find fault with the fact that we don't tend to be tuned in to these rhythms, I wonder how different our lives might be if we were tuned in.

Even as I'm writing these words, I'm writing them with my own personal realization that I'm probably not going to run out and build a sun dial or start mapping my yard with stakes for where I see the sun rise and set each day, probably because I don't see that as a productive use of my time. And maybe that's why we don't take in these observations as a society either.

But with or without these observations of the rhythms of our calendar year, with or without solstice celebrations of the longest day, might there be something we could benefit from with regard to giving a pause to our day to observe what is happening around us?

Our society moves really fast; it's something we pride ourselves on. We love to knock out projects, send out emails, and constantly be doing. But maybe we need to create some intentional spaces for slowness in our lives. Maybe those emails can wait. Maybe those phone calls can wait.

Over the last few years, I have felt more and more of a tug drawing me to not slow down, to not take time to observe the world around me, to not find a space for reflection. And yet, when I listen to older people share what they wish they took more time to do, they say things like, "I wish I had taken more time to reflect."

So today, I'm not encouraging you to start marking up your yard with where the sun rises and sets over the next few months, but I am asking you to take a step. And honestly, I'm asking myself for the same step. Let's start taking time to observe a little more. Let's hit the pause button for a moment. I believe that the solstice provides us a great opportunity since we have a little more daylight than any other day during the year. Maybe during those few extra minutes of daylight, we can all unplug, and soak in what is happening in our immediate environment. Who knows, maybe we can begin to cultivate a new habit.

Happy Birthday West Virginia

Yesterday, my home state celebrated its 151st birthday. West Virginia was born during the height of the civil war on June 20, 1863, and many believe its formation helped turn the tide of the war toward the union. Being born during a time of heavy conflict must have been hard on the folks who were here, but the 35th state presses onward. It is the only state created by Presidential Proclamation, so we, the people of West Virginia owe much to President Lincoln.

As I write this I'm sitting in the home of two other West Virginians who are currently living in Colorado (another beautiful state). It's fun to reflect on the fact that John Denver wrote songs about Colorado and West Virginia as I'm sitting here too!

I love my state. I love watching the cardinal (our state bird) when it flies among the sugar maple (our state tree) and the rhododendron (our state flower). In fact Jamie and I have a rhododendron that flowers each spring in front of our home.

My family has called West Virginia home for as long as we have had a family history. Long before our state became a state, we have called this our home, and perhaps that is why my parents instilled such a deep love for this place in my heart.

I can remember taking trips as a kid to places like Cooper's Rock in Morgantown or traveling through Pipestem near Princeton. In high school, college, and beyond, many were the trips toward Elkins, Davis, Thomas, and places like Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley, and Hawks Nest. And nearer to home, I can remember many days of riding my bike along the Ohio River, or going fishing at Mountwood Park with my dad, my uncle, and my cousins. We used to picnic on Sunday afternoons and all of us kids would rush off into the woods to explore, or into the creeks to catch crawfish.

And the people of our state, while we have an array of challenges before us, we also have an attitude of never giving up. Our state motto, montani simper liberi (mountaineers are always free), is one that I have often taken to speak toward not just our love of freedom, but of our willingness to persevere in adversity.

And so as our beautiful state grows another year older, I'm hopeful of her future, and I look forward to savoring many more moments walking along her forest paths, fishing in her rivers, and working hard toward an ever brighter future among these beautiful hills. Happy birthday West Virginia!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Training For A Marathon: Training For A Life

Running a long distance race has been something I've often thought about doing, but I always thought my first race longer than a 10K would have been the Parkersburg Half-Marathon. I guess I've never really been one to do something half way. ;)

Last October, Jamie and I joined 20 other runners from around the country to run the 38th Annual Marine Corps Marathon in an effort to raise funds and awareness for Nuru. And we are doing it again this year. It was a pretty incredible experience running through our nation's capital with over 30,000 runners from around the world. And it was an added bonus to have the support of the men and women of the United States Marine Corps as we journeyed along the 26.2 mile course.

This year, as we start training, we look forward to being joined in DC for the race by my best friend in the whole world, Willie, and possibly my sister, Becky. Willie has never run a marathon, but my sister has (and she flew!). A year ago I had never run a marathon, and neither had Jamie. I highly recommend giving it a try for anyone who has ever thought about it. In fact, it would be great to have you join us in running for Nuru in the future.

We found a training plan from a runner named Jeff Galloway. His plan boasted that it had helped thousands of runners train without injury. And the plan was available for free online! Back in the year 2000, I had started getting semi-serious about running, and I picked up a copy of a book by Jeff Galloway called Galloway's Book On Running. It's a great one if you are looking for a book to guide you in getting started running. Back in 2000, it was one of about five total books I could find on the subject at the bookstore. Now there are tons.

What I love about training for a marathon, is that it equips you not only with the discipline you need for running a long-distance endurance race, but also for the discipline you need to accomplish any major goal. You see, most people can't just go out their door and run a marathon tomorrow. They've gotta train for it; they must plan for it. When I started training, I had not run with any regularity in years, and the last time I had run, it was for about 2-3 miles and it was probably 6 months prior to signing up for the race.

Training last year started toward the end of March, and culminated at the end of October. Slowly and steadily Jamie and I added miles. We had to plan for even the 30-45 minute runs we did twice weekly. But the long runs required much more planning. I knew that if I wanted to have any chance at finishing a marathon, I had to be disciplined about getting out to run the longer runs. I had to block out hours of time for the longer runs. And I knew after those runs I would be really tired. So six months, three times each week, I needed to block out time to get ready, run, and rest. I needed to buy something to keep my energy levels up as I ran, so I bought Clif Shot Bloks.  It took planning, it took preparation, and it took discipline. And we all need that if we want to accomplish any larger goals in this life. Most people don't just sit down and read the Bible, they read a little bit at a time and get to their goal. Most people don't wake up and start playing the guitar. They practice, and little by little they build the skills to be able to play a song or two. It takes time. It takes discipline. It takes desire.

And that's why most people don't run marathons. Most people don't play an instrument. Most folks have never read the Bible. Most folks in the states have never planted a garden (not true for our global neighbors though).

So this year we planning to run another marathon. And that's another thing. Just because you have done it once, doesn't mean it is automatic. But, going through the process this time, we know we can do it--because we have done it. It isn't as daunting, but it takes just as much effort.

What is your big goal? It may not be to run a marathon, but whatever it is, you are going to need to map out a plan for it. Get to it. You are burning daylight. Every day you wait is that much longer before you complete your goal. You will be glad you started, and likely the world will be better because you took the time and applied the discipline to see yourself to the finish line. And, after you finish, the next goal will still take hard work, but it will be a little bit easier because you know what it takes to finish!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: Where Am I Eating by Kelsey Timmerman

Just as Nuru International was getting started, so was the writing career of a former diving instructor from who hails from Ohio but currently calls Indiana home. Back in 2010, I had the privilege of reading and reviewing Kelsey's first book, Where Am I Wearing?, and I had the additional privilege of sending signed copies of his book to some of our first monthly supporters at Nuru International that he and his publisher had donated.

Last summer he sent me a copy of his latest book, and I had the intention of writing a review of it last summer, but I never quite got around to it. And the real shame in that is that I had a hard time putting it down once I started reading it, and I really wanted to share my thoughts about it with others. Better late than never, right?

So first off, I was really impressed with Kelsey's first book and while I was expecting a variation on a theme with "Where Am I Eating?", I found that Kelsey's skill as a writer had developed, and the stories he shared were even more compelling.

I also admittedly thought I would read Kelsey's book and find it interesting and compelling, but at the same time I felt like I was pretty well informed on food. Jamie and I eat pretty healthy--she researches tasty recipes with healthy ingredients using Pinterest and other internet tools. We tend to buy local at the Morgantown Farmers' Market and belong to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) called Mountain Harvest Farm. If you live in/near Morgantown WV, you should join it next year! If not, you should find one in your community and support local agriculture!

In the meantime, let me tell you more about this book. Kelsey started his book with coffee. He traveled to Colombia with a Starbucks bag in an effort to connect with a coffee farmer who may have been related to the coffee he had enjoyed back in the US. The book starts here, and then Kelsey takes us on a journey with the farmers of Colombia who work long hours growing and picking coffee. He joins with these coffee farmers in their labor and does the same with banana, cocoa, lobster, and apple farmers as the book progresses. And as he labors and shares his story and the stories of the people he meets, I feel like as I read, Kelsey is taking me (and anyone else who has the privilege of reading his book) on a journey into the lives of farmers around the globe. And this is not an investigative journalist kind of journey. I believe that Kelsey walked away from each experience having made new friends, and having a better understanding of our global food economy than most people, and because of his writing, I may not have made friends, but I understand much better.

I don't know about you, but as informed as I think I am, I run through my daily life on a number assumptions. I want to trust that most of the food I see and/or purchase in the grocery store comes from the United States. But I feel like I made a number of discoveries in the book. I thought that Maine is the place where the majority of our lobster comes from. I was wrong. It's Nicaragua. I figured most apples and apple juice come from Washington, Michigan, or Virginia. They're grown in China.

I'm really tempted to go into detail on each section of the book, but I'll truncate this already long post with a simple encouragement for you to buy it, read it, and let it inform your choices about what you eat, and where you eat. Kelsey writes in a way that is winsome. He's not an angry protester. He's a man who is just trying to wrestle through wise decisions for himself, his family, his community, and his world. And maybe we all need a little nudge of encouragement to wrestle as well.

And Kelsey, please forgive me for this delayed review. The book was engaging, inspiring, and has left me and Jamie thinking deeply about where we are eating.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Back To the Blogosphere

It's been a while since I've been writing consistently, and I figure it's about time I work to change that. I've gotten word from a few friends and family members that they miss seeing my blog posts, and to be honest, I've missed writing them. There's been so much happening that I would have loved to have been writing, but I just have not been taking the time. I really appreciate the encouragement to pick back up again.

For me, in taking the time to write it is my hope that my musings, my reflections, and my journeys might be a source of encouragement to others. In my own journey through life, my own faith journey, and my travels, I've found that my own growth and development is spurred forward when others take the time to share stories and reflections, so maybe I could be helping others by writing.

At the same time, I must admit that I just love sharing stories. And in the sharing and telling of stories, whether they be about fishing trips or other personal experiences, reviews of books I've been reading, memories made, places I've enjoyed, spiritual reflections, or even reflections on the news, each time I write, I find myself in a place where I'm thinking more deeply about this beautiful messed up world. I also feel like these memories, reviews, reflections, and musings become more deeply and concretely etched on my own soul.

As I take up the habit of blogging again, it is my hope that I can move forward with a greater degree of consistency than I've shown in the recent past, and that in writing, I can contribute to the betterment of this world and of the lives of others. Thanks for reading, and may my posts be of good encouragement, and inspiration to enjoy this world, to take time to reflect, help make it better, and pursue the goal of being the best version of yourself that this world so desperately needs. Indeed that is my hope for myself as well as I write.

Thanks for taking the time to read. Let's keep pressing on to change this world and make it better!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reflections on my 2013 Goals

Well, as 2014 is well under way, I thought I would take some time to reflect on the goals I set in 2013 and see how well I did with them. For the last several years, I have attempted (not always in blog format) to take time to reflect on my past year, and set goals in the new year to help me become a better version of myself. Whether or not one believes in making New Year's Resolutions, it is incredibly helpful to set goals, and take time to look back on progress or obstacles. Unfortunately, I feel that 2013 was a year during which I did not attain many of my goals, and that was particularly frustrating for me.

Here are my top ten goals from 2013, and how I fared in them.

Carve Out Time For Reflection—I had hoped to carve out at least 5 minutes per day to reflect last year, but I just lacked the discipline to maintain this habit. This is definitely an area I WILL change in 2014. I have already made some adjustments.

Blog More Consistently—For the last two years I have set blogging goals and failed at them each year.  In 2012 I had the meager goal of 105 posts, and barely got past 75 posts.  I tried to attain this same goal in 2013, and ended up with 36 posts. I feel like this is a realistic goal, but it will require a degree of discipline, and I need to determine what I would like to write about. During my travels, I take photos with a goal of taking time to write and reflect on my experiences, but these end up sitting on my phone/computer waiting for me to write. 

Exercise—I nailed this in 2013. I'm really proud of this because in the past injuries slowed me in attaining this goal of consistency. In 2013 I exercised for an average of 30 minutes per day in some form. 

Lose weight—I started 2013 weighing in at 190 lbs. I finished at 195 lbs. I wanted to be at 180. I didn't make it.

Parkersburg Half-Marathon—I had aspired to run this race my entire life. On race day, instead of running it, Jamie and I did a 21 mile training run to prepare ourselves for the Marine Corps Marathon. I'm ok with not "racing" the half-marathon in Parkersburg, because I had fun running the course with Jamie and seeing the city.  We had planned to run the Marine Corps Marathon though, and we accomplished it!!!

Steward Our Resources More Wisely—In 2013, Jamie and I continued our trend toward lowering our footprint, shrinking our spending, and being more earth friendly. We hope to continue the trend in 2014. One of the best things we did was join a co-op. For $20/week we were able to enjoy a wide variety of veggies and help out some local farmers. 

Get Outdoors—In 2012 and 2013, I was able to spend at least 30 minutes outside almost every day of the year. I really believe that getting outside does wonders for the constitution, and I hope to continue this trend in 2014.

Connect—Jamie and I have been blessed with an amazing group of friends, and we hope to continue to stay connected with our friends both near and far as we venture out in 2014. We were able to see a ton of friends in 2013 and we even made some new ones. 

Plant A Garden—Every year we set this as a goal, but 2013 we did not have time to plant. According to some ancient Hebrew teachings on farming, it was probably good for the ground to lie fallow on this seventh year of gardening. 

Leave Margins—I’m terrible about leaving space in my schedule. In 2014, I hope that I can leave more time for unplanned spontaneity and epic adventures. My schedule did not have consistent margins in 2013. 

What about you? What were your goals for 2013? What habits would you like to make or break in the coming year?