Time spent in the wilderness soothes the soul and boosts physical health better than any pill ever could.
The powerful, tangible energy that surges through rivers, swirls among trees, gusts across mountains, splashes onto beaches, rejuvenates us in a way that nothing else can. Especially after we've been cooped up in sterile office buildings, surrounded by concrete jungles or watching belching factories, for months -- or even years -- on end.
Unfortunately, not all of us have the ability, time, or opportunity to get out into nature as often as we need to.
But OrganicConsumers.org covered a 2018 study that showed physical health improved the more time people spent in nature. Study participants were exposed to "greenspaces" and examined by doctors who reported they had measurable drops in everything from blood pressure and stress hormones to heart rate, Type 2 diabetes and premature birth, much more so than people of similar groups who were not exposed to "greenspaces."
Meanwhile, author Dr. Joseph Mercola explains, "When other health outcomes were factored in, between 66 percent and 100 percent of the studies showed that increased greenspace exposure was associated with better health, including improved outcomes for neurological disorders, cancer and respiratory mortality."
And now, as the Guardian recently reported, we know that even just two hours of exposure to nature significantly increases the quality of a person's life: by boosting mood and reducing stress.
All of this I can attest to: I just returned from a week in the remote valley community of Eldora, Colorado, with my family. During this too-short time, mountain vistas, ice-cold burbling streams, and slabs of granite replaced our electronic gadgets and plastic toys.
Neighborhood elk and hummingbirds took the place of our annoying-but-adorable house cats. White-barked Aspen trees danced and shimmered all around us, tickled by the wind, as though they were sharing happy secrets at a cocktail party we might be lucky enough to get invited to.
The kids flourished, too, with their hands in the dirt each morning, exploring the Columbine, Astor, and paintbrush flowers, scrambling up rocky hillsides every afternoon, building fairy houses and swinging each other on the hammock instead of begging for more Temple Run 2 on my iPhone.
A full moon and unobstructed view of the stars reminded me how small and insignificant we are in this vast universe. Fluttering moths and chirping grasshoppers reminded me how powerful and large our lives and influence could be, if only we didn't confine ourselves so often to the daily minutiae of to-do lists and chores.
Stress reduced, mind cleared, energy revitalized, we've settled back in at home to urban Pittsburgh. The day after we landed I had my followup mammogram; you know, the one you have to schedule after getting that ominous phone call, where a nurse tells you they've found a "significant mass of extremely dense tissue" in your breast from the images on your annual visit, and that you'll need to come back for further imaging: 3D this time, even an ultrasound.
I've been down this road several times before, and it's always followed by a biopsy, a few days of tenderness, and weeks of anxious waiting to hear whether or not it's cancerous.
For more on wellness and spiritual growth, visit The Reductionist's stories on Inner Peace.
Lucky for me, this time my appointment went smoothly. As the nurse splayed my flesh into that squishing torture machine, I closed my eyes and, instead of letting the worry overcome me, I imagined myself swaddled in the healing light of the mountain sunshine.
I took my mind back to that gushing, ice-cold Colorado stream that was dappled in mossy rocks. I envisioned those glorious mountains and that carpet of wildflowers spread out before me.
The procedure was quick and (almost) painless. After a second, then third round of images that day, and then an ultrasound just to be absolutely sure, the radiologist told me, "It's only a cyst. See you in a year!"
This is certainly no scientific evidence, but it's proof enough for me that a week in the wilderness did me and my body a world of good.
And now I find myself reaching for any slice of blissful Colorado that I can carry with me, hold in my hand whenever I need to feel the powerful earth energies more tangibly.
Souvenir T-shirts just aren't cutting it. And I'm certainly not going to nail the skull of a big-horned sheep to my front door. (Pittsburghers just don't do that sort of thing.)
But natural elements, sprinkled throughout my home, I can pull off.
Surround Yourself With Nature Right In Your Home With These Easy Elements
The possibilities are endless, really. Many are free and simple, too. Just be sure you're not stealing critical life-giving pieces of the natural environment: It's against the law to take rocks or sand from many national parks, for instance. And old oyster shells lying on the beach are actually great for helping new oysters to grow, so you may want to think twice before helping yourself to them for a DIY home decor project.
By Janeen Ellsworth
My dad, Jim, who's 75 years old and vibrantly healthy, is an amazing human and also one of my closest friends. It's statistically proven he's one of the most warm-hearted people you'll ever meet. I swear.
The last thing I want is for him to get taken advantage of, or to suffer.
Unfortunately, I'm only able to prevent one of those things from happening. So I'm going to cook my heart out for him like I've never cooked before.
A Navy veteran, former salesman for Bell Telephone, and once a driver for a local trolley tour service, my dad was the first wacko in Pittsburgh's old-school Lawrenceville neighborhood to make "jogging" a sport.
In 1961, no one, and I mean no one, would be caught dead running up and down Wickliff or Keystone Street, unless they were being chased by the fuzz. They didn't run for fun, and they certainly didn't do it for exercise.
But my dad did, in his Navy-issued, steel-toed boots. (Bricklayers' sons didn't know about athletic footwear, apparently.)
He also biked across the U.S. post-retirement, and still loves to pedal the roads now, twenty years later. He skis, and he hikes with his BFF, another Jim, regularly, and he would love-love-love the chance to sail his 17-foot sailboat, Helena, this summer, if only tragedy hadn't struck; if only he had a first-mate; if only it weren't such a chore at his age to get her onto the trailer and up to Lake Arthur for a sunset cruise.
A lifelong Catholic, my dad's actually gotten heavy into Buddhist meditation lately. While he's hilarious, ballsy, charming, a major flirt with everyone and always smiling, he's also one deep dude. He sings quiet, bedside, angelic hymns with an a capella group for folks in hospice care.
He volunteers at the Veterans' Hospital, never afraid to shake the hand of a dying soldier. The latest book he's been trying to get through, which has sat on his kitchen table unopened for the past month, is titled, "Advice for Future Corpses."
The dude has been processing grief, learning how to accept death, to not be afraid of it, and finding ways to make it easier for others his whole life. Something just draws him to deepening his already-deep well of compassion.
Why do I tell you all this?
Because, since he's such an amazing fellow, I've taken on Operation Nourish Dad Duty.
You see, nothing, NOTHING, could've prepared him for what happened this summer. His wife, my stepmother, had a catastrophic fall on June 2nd that's left her paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator, probably forever.
He's spent nearly every single day since then with her at different hospitals and rehab centers (the one day he didn't go was spent visiting nursing homes that might be able to house her, and talking to lawyers and financial advisers).
His days at these places are long and taxing. He spends them petting his wife's hair, kissing her cheek, telling her it's going to be alright, crying into his hands out in the waiting rooms or trying to make all of us visitors feel at ease.
Making us feel good.
Ordering a home-delivered meal kit actually started back in May, when my stepmom was just sick, not hospitalized, and they both needed support in the nutrition and grocery department.
Now, with her never coming home again, and him spending all his days at her bedside, my dad figured a meal kit would at least provide him a decent meal to come home to each night.
Here's how it works: You sign up, choose a general meal plan (like Vegetarian or Classic), decide how many meals per week you'd like to have delivered and for how many people, and then you peruse the offerings that are available under that plan for that week.
Make your selections, and then a week later a box of food shows up at your house that contains the ingredients for all of those meals in a brown bag (e.g., a red pepper, an onion, a packet of spices, a quarter-cup of rice you need to boil, a package of raw sausages, etc.), along with instructions for how to prepare them. All told, prep ought to take you about 30 minutes.
I hear this system works for young professionals who hate standing in grocery store lines. Or for single parents who don't have time to shop. Or busy people who still want the benefit of a "home cooked" meal but don't really know their way around a supermarket (or around a kitchen, for that matter).
I can imagine a meal kit might work for lots of folks in different situations. But it's not working out for my dad.
Dangit, the man is too tired to cook. Too distraught. Too overwhelmed with life.
What he needs is nourishment, along with comfort and lots of pampering. Unfortunately, a meal kit simply isn't what that offers.
It's my heroic sister, Liz, who goes to his house to prep these meals a couple of times per week so he doesn't have to, which is wonderful of her and which he so appreciates because he is beyond exhausted. Liz doesn't have kids, and she has a flexible schedule, so she's stepped up as Most Dutiful Daughter in this slow-motion train wreck. Thank you, Lizzy.
Our oldest sister, Gael, lives farther away but still local, and she's not just our protector, as she's always been. She's our ace in the hole when it comes to both prayer and research. She keeps us all informed as far as the complicated medical issues and financial considerations we need to make sure Dad takes care of. She also texts us the minute a dove flies across her path or any other biblical, symbolic miracle appears, making sure we know what it all means. Thanks, Gaely.
Shana, number 2 in the sister lineup, lives in California, which is a blessing. So does my dad's closest sibling, sweet Uncle Fran. The two of them, both with their golden hearts and smiling Irish eyes, stand sentry on the West Coast, shoveling prayers for healing out into the Pacific and beyond. Shana steps in as the voice of reason for us, too; a clarifying, objective person we all dump on when it's just gotten too real here. She feels torn because of her distance in all this, but she has no idea the comfort she provides in just being able to offer perspective. Thank you, Shana.
Even our mom, Pat, whose marriage to my dad disintegrated 30+ years ago, keeps making him blueberry pies for the sheer comfort of it. I think she knows, deep down, that her pies were some of the things he probably always liked best about her. What else could she do?
Our step-brother, who probably won't want to be named here because he's an internet security guy, is frantic on the inside, understandably, but has designated himself his mom's number one cheerleader. The dude is unshakably positive. He's at the hospital with her and my dad almost every day, too.
My role in this? After the first two weeks, when we were all together with him at the hospital for several hours every day, I stopped visiting regularly. I just couldn't: kids, summer camps, work, schedules, life. Instead, I visit once a week or so. I call and text him every day to check in, send him encouraging quotes of the mystical sort, send him prayers.
I made sure he got to church this past Sunday. I've brought lunch to Dad some days to supplement his nutrition, make sure he's keeping his blood sugar up. I've set alarms in his Android to remind him to take his blood pressure pill, which can become terrifyingly high under stress like this. I'm still not sure he's taking it on time most days, because hospital time pivots quickly: doctors and nurses appear out of the blue, at the most random moments, to deliver urgent, often life-altering news that washes over him with a whole new level of sad.
I'm also the one going into his online meal kit account to place (and oftentimes cancel, because it's just too much) his weekly orders. He doesn't have the patience for and can't figure out their not-intuitive platform.
For instance, I can't seem to take a look at all the meal choices on my own that are available until I commit with a credit card. And the 'cancel subscription' button is somewhat buried (I found it, but my aged, exhausted dad couldn't).
Plus, while they're pretty tasty (Liz vouches for that), Dad feels like the menu choices are often too spicy, they upset his GERD, and I think they probably contain too much sodium for his high blood pressure diet.
He also says the menu offers way too much meat: there's an abundance of choices for Italian sausage and pork chops and tilapia and steak and chicken--there's even duck!--but not nearly enough meatless choices for anyone who's ever heard the phrase Meatless Monday.
Unfortunately, with this particular service, there's no option to have a meal delivered for just one person. Now that my dad is eating alone every night, barely able to hold his head up long enough to get a fork into his mouth, what with all the mental and emotional anguish he's going through, it seems wasteful to have so much food coming in that he doesn't have the will to prepare.
All this costs about $54 per delivery, which comes once a week and includes the three meals for two people, plus $6.99 in shipping. He just knocked that down to two meals per week, but the shipping costs went up a dollar.
Dinner at home shouldn't cost this much. A quarter-cup of rice and a red pepper with some seasonings we already have in our spice cabinets, maybe with a little meat, ought to amount to about $4 per meal, which is the national average of a decent meal made out of grocery store food.
Compare that to the average $10 my dad is spending per meal, and it's easy to see this is a grotesquely expensive system. And it's also burning a whole lot of fuel and requiring a lot of packaging, so it's not an environmentally sound way to live.
It also deprives Dad of one of his great joys in life: a waltz through the aisles of his local Aldi, or the the East End Food Co-op or Trader Joe's to see what new foods are out there that he might like to sample.
Not that he has time for any of that these days...
Seniors who are taking care of other seniors, or who are barely able to take care of themselves, need nutritious, healthy, not-exotic, medically-appropriate, fully prepared, single-serve meals they can zap in the microwave the moment they remember to eat.
Luckily, Meals on Wheels already thought of this, decades ago. They've been delivering meals to low-income seniors--and thereby providing companionship as well as an extra pair of eyes to see if folks are okay and alive, even.
If you have disposable income, consider donating to MoW. They do truly good work. My late grandma, Mimi, used to volunteer there, building sandwiches and cooking soups for seniors, before she became a MoW recipient herself.
Dad probably doesn't qualify for Meals on Wheels (yet), but that doesn't mean he's stuck with this meal kit delivery service, either. Which is why I'm taking charge of his dinners from now on.
I've designed a starter menu with some of my family's favorites, things I know he likes, too, and we'll double every recipe, freeze some in containers he can thaw when he's ready, and we'll set aside manageable, single-sized portions for him, bringing whatever fresh toppings, breads, or sauces need to be included at delivery time.
Feel free to download a copy for yourself, if you're feeling stuck on meal plan ideas or if you have a person you'd like to prepare meals for. Recipes aren't included, but ingredients are. Maybe you'll find it useful. Maybe you'll save some money.
Wishing you and your family peace and health today and every day.
Check back soon for individual recipes! Or check out some others here.
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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