We've just ratcheted things up a notch in the Stevenson Family Get-Healthy Endeavor. We signed up for a race. To run. And in true, cruel-parent fashion, we've roped the kid into it...the fur-kid, that is.
But that's okay this time, because in the Mutt Strut to benefit the Greenville Humane Society, fur-kids (well, dogs) are encouraged. And let's be honest here - Luna's a better runner than either B or me, anyway.
Let's put aside for the moment the fact that I generally only run when something's chasing me and that I have serious doubts about my ability to run two miles, much less in August in South Carolina. Let's focus on the "Mutt" part of this. This race, as I said, benefits the Greenville Humane Society...and it's no secret we have a HUGE soft spot for them. The facility is beautiful and always clean, but that's not why we love GHS. We love them because they take such good care of the animals while they wait for their fur-ever parents.
GHS is the largest 100% no-kill shelter in South AND North Carolina, as I very recently discovered. They frequently rescue pets from other shelters who might be euthanized, and they deserve major props for that. Unfortunately, they're a not-for-profit entity and do not receive funds from the city, state, or national animal welfare groups. This race, like so many of their other events (and they have lots!), is about more than just the fun. It's a way for them to raise money be able to take on more sweet furballs and to take their time to find them loving, permanent homes.
Below are some stats on what it might have cost them to take in our sweet Luna and house her until we came to get her:
If you have a soft spot in your heart for four-legged friends or you're just looking to do a little good this summer, consider sponsoring us using this link (just type in one of our names). Greenville Humane Society is 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so all donations are tax-deductible. Look at this furry face - how can you resist helping her, or others like her?
After all, love is a four-LEGGED word.
If I say the word "yoga," what comes to mind?
If you're like most people, you probably think of some insufferably skinny blonde sorority chick doing the latest workout fad. Or some unbathed, unshaven, hippie-dippie dude wearing tie-dye. Or some deeply spiritual Hindi/Buddhist Eastern individual twisting himself into a pretzel.
I bet you don't think of a 50ish-year-old lawyer. Or a guy in his 60s whose friends come with him to yoga because he had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and the doctor suggested yoga. Or a first-grade teacher. I bet you don't see a 30-year-old woman who started yoga almost 8 years ago because her job was about to give her a meltdown. I really bet you don't think the yoga instructor is a former Episcopal school teacher.
But if you show up at North Main Yoga on Tuesday night at 7:15, that's what you'll get (hint: I'm the 30-year-old woman). I've been doing yoga for what will be 8 years in April, and I have seen a crazy amount of variety when it comes to who takes my yoga class. There are men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages and races, with a variety of careers, hobbies and health concerns.
In other words, all of your preconceived notions about yoga are probably wrong.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says to me, "Oh, I hate you, you're so skinny" (and I get this fairly regularly). When I then tell them what I do to stay healthy and I bring up yoga, there's invariably some argument. I'm not sure why everyone pooh-poohs yoga, but they do. So please, since this is my blog, allow me now to invalidate all the reasons why you think you can't do yoga.
"But I'm not flexible!"
This is definitely the most common argument I get. Now let me give you my rebuttal: IT DOESN'T MATTER.
Once more, with feeling: IT DOESN'T MATTER. The teacher is not going to make you turn yourself into a pretzel and then kick you out if you can't.
Let me tell you a little story. When I first began yoga nearly 8 years ago, I was obsessed with perfecting my downward-facing dog. If you're not familiar, it's the pose where your hands and feet are on the floor and your butt is in the air, kind of an upside-down "V." For me, there was just one problem: my heels didn't touch the floor. And so I worked and stretched obsessively, trying to be able to do DFD with straight knees and feet flat on the floor. I'm your standard type-A firstborn, after all, and I wanted to do it perfectly. I felt like my yoga was sub-par because I could not perfectly perform this basic pose.
But here's the thing: I don't HAVE to have my heels on the floor in order to stretch the things DFD is meant to stretch. I don't have to have straight knees in order to reap the benefits. The benefit of yoga is not in perfection, it is in the action of doing the poses and doing your best deep breathing while you do them. If you're aiming for perfection, you've already lost the main point of doing yoga.
So I have tight hamstrings and calves, the result of years of gymnastics and cheerleading. Guess what? I have an incredibly flexible spine and hips, also the result of gymnastics and cheerleading. My heels are still nowhere near the floor in downward-facing dog, but pigeon and cobbler's pose are ridiculously easy for me and I frequently do the level 3 versions of these poses or else I don't feel any stretch at all.
It doesn't matter what your yoga poses look like. As long as you are getting a good, healthy stretch (not pain!), then you're going to be perfect at yoga. And unless you're going to a really bad studio, no one is going to judge you. Everyone's body is different. Stretch what you've got, and don't look back.
"But I have to do cardio!"
Don't get me wrong, it's good to get your heart rate up. But I've read several articles that say long-term weight loss and maintenance is better served by weight training. And what better form of training than using your own body as the "weight"? Besides, I'm a little partial to this strategy because it's worked so well for me.
When you go all hardcore on the elliptical for an hour after work, my guess is that you're starving when you get home. Some of you may eat an appropriate portion of grilled chicken breast and steamed veggies, but I'm willing to bet that most of you eat more than you normally would because you're so hungry, and are more likely to crave fattier foods.
I know I eat ridiculously less food after yoga than after the gym. I'm usually not very hungry after yoga - that's how Tuesday Night Salad Night got started for B and me. I just don't want anything heavy. I want something light and healthy.
Yoga is also easier to stick with. For me, there's less dread in going to yoga than the gym. It's easier to maintain. And this is probably the most important thing I'll have to say about exercise: it's better to do something less intense you can stick with than something super-hard that you can only manage to do for two weeks. I'm not a runner. I never will be. I cannot stand it. But I love to bike. Maybe it doesn't burn as many calories as running, but if I can maintain it over a month, a year, a lifetime, then I'm better off than if I tried running and lasted a week. Yoga is easier to maintain.
Again, this is not to say I don't believe in any cardio. I do a half-hour on the elliptical or bike a couple of times a week at the gym. But adding yoga won't make you fat. Conversely, I think you'll find that over time you'll start making more mindful eating decisions.
And if you don't think yoga gets your heart rate up, try holding Dolphin pose for a while and then let's talk.
"But I go to yoga classes at my gym!"
There are a couple of gyms that have decent yoga classes (SportsClub here in Greenville is one). But if your gym's yoga class is extremely fast-paced and focused mainly on the poses, with little to no attention paid to your breath, that's not a yoga class. I call it "yoga-robics," but whatever you want to call it, it's not what you should be doing.
Find a yoga studio that ONLY does yoga (the yoga/pilates combo places tend to be aerobic-focused, as well...that's where you tend to find the sorority chicks). Make sure your teacher has attended a reputable in-depth training program.
I'm a little spoiled - in fact, I don't think I'll ever be able to leave Greenville because I don't think I can ever find a better yoga studio anywhere on the planet. I've been going to the same class, with the same teacher, for almost 8 years. I have cried in yoga more times than I can count, and haven't felt a lick of self-consciousness while doing it. It's a fantastic, supportive community atmosphere. The teachers truly care about their students as individuals. There is no judgment. The focus is always on the breath.
That is not to say you'll instantly click with every teacher. I LOVE my teacher. I want to be her when I grow up. She and her husband own the studio. While he is a super teacher as well, his classes don't quite match up with my needs. If you go to a studio and don't like it, be sure to try several other classes and teachers. One bad teacher can ruin yoga for you.
If a studio is more concerned with your body than your overall well-being, get out. NOW. You can thank me later.
"But yoga is anti-Christian."
Yes, I have actually been told this before. No, I don't know what the person who said it was smoking.
I don't know any other way to respond to this but to laugh. You are breathing and stretching. Yes, meditation is involved. No, meditation does not make you a Buddhist or Hindu. I like to ride bikes on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. This does not make me Lance Armstrong.
How yoga affects your mind and spirituality depends on where your mind and spirituality are before you get on the mat. You don't lie down on a rectangular piece of rubber, do some stretches, and then poof, suddenly you're a Buddhist. It just doesn't work like that.
I personally think yoga makes me a better Christian. During our final meditation in class, I often use that time to pray. More specifically, I use it as a time of thankfulness, to thank God for all I've been given. Yoga quiets the mind and minimizes the everyday stresses, and that helps cultivate gratitude. I have grown so much and become such a calmer, kinder person, and I think yoga has a lot to do with it.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting some of the kindest, considerate, friendly people I've ever met. When you're around positive, uplifting people, they make you want to be a better version of yourself, no matter your religion (or lack thereof, in some cases). And that is something worth celebrating.
"But, but, but..."
There are a thousand reasons not to do anything. It's scary trying something new for the first time. It's hard to take that first step.
If you're nervous about going somewhere new, bring a friend. That's what friends are for.
If you think you're too out of shape, take a beginner's class. Everyone starts somewhere.
If you're known for slacking off, buy some cute workout clothes and a nice mat. It's amazing what some new workout clothes did for my motivation.
Just try. Throw the excuses out the window and try. Imperfection is part of life, and it's also part of yoga. Embrace that, and get out there on the mat. I'll see you out there.
...to bring you this very important public service announcement. And today's announcement is brought to you by the letter E. E is for Emily. E is for excited. E is for....ENGAGED!
So I'm sure you can understand why you'll have to wait until tomorrow for a review of the butterbeans, no?
It happened yesterday, August 10th. We were going to go hiking at Paris Mountain and take Luna, but it had monsooned again on Friday and we were afraid it would be super muddy and then we'd have to give her a bath (and for the record, bathing a reluctant 85-pound Labrador? Not fun). So we left her at home. Off we went...and I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it, either. I kept saying, "Let's just take a short hike. We have to go to the Farmer's Market to get groceries. We'll have to eat lunch too late," and on and on and on. And my B just smiled and said, "Sure, we can take a short loop today." Spoiler alert: he was lying :)
The trail we typically take starts at the top of the mountain and the middle point of the trail is in a valley at a lake. Right after we cross the dam over the lake, there is a little clearing in the shade by the lake with a bench that we use to rest and stretch and get some water before beginning the uphill part of our hike.
Our spot :)
We reached our bench as usual, stretched a few minutes, and then B sat down on the bench. I thought he was going to pull out his phone to see how far we'd hiked, but instead he pulled out a piece of paper. And then he said, "I have a note for you." The minute he said that, I knew.
B reading me the note :)
He read me the sweetest note, which was so incredibly written and so amazing that I think he may have been lying all this time about not liking words. And then he fished the ring box from the bottom of his backpack, got down on one knee, and asked me to marry him.
B standing up so he could get down on one knee :)
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
I love him, so ridiculously much.
I think I said "Yes!" like 12 times. I just wanted to make sure he got the memo :)
And then - well, then there was clapping behind us in the woods. I thought it was just some random hiker who had happened to stumble upon us and witness the proposal, until Brian said, "Say hi to the camera." It took me a good 30 seconds to realize that the guy clapping was his friend and coworker James, who was hiding out in the woods to take pictures of the proposal.
I know - it sounds so creepy, but it was hilarious. Especially when he told us that about five minutes before we had gotten to "our spot," a family of five had been hanging out there. He had popped up out of his hiding spot in the woods, scaring them to death, saying, "No! You have to go! My friend is coming here in a few minutes and he's going to propose to his girlfriend. You have to go NOW!" To which they had replied, "Which way? Where do we go?" and he said, "Anywhere! Just get out of here!" Pretty sure I'm going to be laughing about that for a long time. That poor family. I think if I had been them I would have wanted to hide out in the woods with James to see the proposal.
So what did we do after the proposal? Well, first we had to do the uphill portion of the hike to get OUT of the woods. During that time I managed to call my mom and dad, my brother and his fiancee, and my best friend. Once we finally got out of the woods and to our car, I called my great-grandmother and my grandmother. We went to the farmer's market to get produce (I wasn't kidding about our need to go food shopping!). And then we went back to B's apartment, where we cleaned up a little and busted out leftover Mexican food and a fresh bottle of champagne to celebrate. We then proceeded to call remaining family and friends whom we hadn't been able to get in touch with before. And then B turned on the golf channel, snuggled up with Luna (who is thrilled her parents are going to be married and she will only have to live in one house instead of two), and we all took naps.
For dinner, we just went to one of our favorite sushi restaurants, and then we went back to Trappe Door, where we went for our first date. It was all pretty low-key, and that's the way we both wanted it. That's what keeps striking me the most about this. I always assumed that when I got engaged there would be thunderbolts and trumpets sounding and angels descending from heaven to witness this momentous event. But it's just normal. It is incredible and I'm excited and SO happy. But it's really just normal and comfortable and feels like exactly what we should be doing. B is my best friend and the person whom, without a doubt, I want to spend the rest of my life with and raise babies with and all that stuff. I couldn't ask for a better person to be by my side. So while I'm DYING to start planning my wedding and I cannot stop looking at my ring (seriously: so sparkly. So, so sparkly), the most important part of it is that I officially get to spend the rest of my life with the love of my life, and THAT is a major WIN.
B and I both love living in Greenville. Neither of us is a native (we've been here 8 and 7 years, respectively), but here is where we want to make a home. Sure, there are things that are annoying. For instance, QUIT BUILDING THINGS ON WOODRUFF ROAD! The only time you can get down that road without your brain imploding is between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. The powers that be are running out of room. But I digress.
One of the greatest things about Greenville, in my opinion, is the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Basically, it's an old, abandoned rail line that they turned into a walking/cycling trail. If you're one of those people who wants to know what it's made of, exactly how long it is, and all that kind of jazz, you can check that out here. If, however, you just want to know why I'm writing about it in the first place, stick with me.
It's FUN. It's shaded, which is really all you can ask for any sort of trail in August. Furman University (B's alma mater) is on the trail, so we often stop by there. There are restaurants and stuff along it. And you meet a lot of nice people. We even had a little "pay it forward" experience today. We had already biked up to Travelers Rest (TR to the locals), gone around Furman and took pictures, and were on our way back to Greenville when we passed a man with a little girl on his shoulders, wheeling a bike with a very obviously flat tire.
My sweet engineer and apparently Bike Whisperer pulled out his repair kit and spare tire and proceeded to fix this guy's bike, no problem. We didn't even exchange names - the only name that was shared was that of the little girl: Isabelle, called Izzy. When B finished, the man asked us what we owed him, but my B just asked him to pay it forward. And then we all went on our way. I hope the bike held out until they could get home.
Right before we reached our "exit" on the trail, there was a new bike shop that had opened. We decided to stop and get a spare inner tube for the tire before we forgot about it and one of US had a problem. When the guy at the cash register asked B why he was buying a spare tube, B explained about helping this guy and his little girl. The guy at the counter was so impressed he gave B 30 percent off of his spare tube.
Nice people. Seriously, nice people all the way around. I think that's one of the reasons I love Greenville. Sure, you meet jerks. There's really no escaping them, unfortunately. But on the trail, and in our city in general, we have met an awful lot of incredibly wonderful people. We have also seen a lot of pretty views and gotten a LOT of exercise (21 miles biking today!). See pics below of our adventures.
One of the prettiest, shadiest portions of the trail.
Our lunch spot...super little cafe in TR.
Bikes outside the Cafe at Williams' Hardware.
Gorgeous flowers around the lake and Furman's Bell Tower
It's not Carolina, but in lieu of being in my beloved Chapel Hill, Furman is a pretty nice second choice.