Stories

How to be present with God

Finding motivation to read the bible daily

By Leziga Barikor

In Christian faith circles it seems the constant question or area of spiritual growth people are working towards is how to be consistent in reading the bible. It is a spiritual discipline we feel like we should be doing it, but by the numbers and personal anecdotes it just isn’t happening the way we’d like. But creating a habit of bible reading won’t happen if we approach it like reading any other type of book. I’ve gone through periods of consistent reading and inconsistent reading, and what I’ve found to be most helpful is to not approach the bible as something you read alone but as a time of fellowship with God. Creating that fellowship time isn’t obvious or natural to us, so here is my method to creating a bible reading habit you won’t easily break.

To be alone with God

In Genesis we get the most beautiful and tranquil picture of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and it’s an idea repeated in Psalm 23 as David describes God as leading him beside quiet waters. From these passages, we can gather that before you can even begin to effectively build in a bible reading habit you need to carve out uninterrupted time.

Between appointments, at the end of you lunch break and other short transitional periods aren’t usually going to be the best times especially if you know these fluctuate day to day. You can’t be in a hurry while trying to be present with God. Mornings are the best time I would recommend, but you know your schedule and body best. Maybe not right at 5 a.m., but at 7 a.m. you can have free time and be a functioning person. Nighttime routines and patterns also need to be adjusted to make mornings be effective and productive.

Next you need to consider your environment. Does it resonate with the idea of quiet waters and green pastures? You don’t need to hike out to the countryside, but finding a space maybe in your bedroom, the kitchen counter, your back porch or some place else where you can sit comfortably for a while and not be distracted is key.

Lastly, you need to start with silence. This is the most awkward and difficult step towards being more present with God. But it’s important because we know God is already with us. The real issue is we live so utterly unaware of his presence throughout the “normal” every day functions of our life that aren’t spent in church. The promise Jesus made to be with us always in Matthew 28:20 is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

As A. W. Tozer writes, “The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition” (The Pursuit of God). He also writes that our souls have a “conscious personal awareness” of God. So taking time to sit in silence helps us catch up to what our souls are already aware of daily.

In Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS), he describes in detail his method for spending time with God which he calls a Daily Office. He builds this into his schedule for multiple times in one day which is a super cool commitment, but also a lot at once if you’re trying to just start staying consistent for at least once a day. He incorporates a short mindfulness meditation before silence. So pausing, taking deep breaths and being attentive to his environment.

I think mindfulness also helps you focus your attention before going to God with that essential step of silence. As Scazzero translates in his book, the still small voice Elijah heard in the cave in 1 Kings 19:12 is better described as silence heard from God. One way to incorporate that quiet meditative time, is start with an open ended prayer for God to make his presence known to you. As simple as that one request, or perhaps phrasing it in a declaration “God you are here,” and let that be your only words of prayer as you sit in silence breaking only to repeat it if your mind starts to wander.

Reading the Word of God

The bible in its entirety is worthy of reading, but the next problem I think people can run into with being consistent is not knowing where to start or how to read. There are so many methods and resources out there, but what is most important is that you have a plan and stick to it.

I know for me in times when I was able to be most consistent, I had a specific plan or idea of what I was going to be studying. I usually prefer depending on the book to take it one chapter at a time, and my bible plan was to finish reading this one certain book. People often jump right in with Genesis, and I honestly love it and find the histories to be really interesting. But sometime that can get to be too much and confusing for people who don’t have a lot of background knowledge or a reference bible to easily tie in new testament themes.

Reading anything in the bible the most important thing to remember is that it is ultimately God’s story and each book while having global and eternal implications were written for a specific people for a specific time and place. The Bible Project website and app Read Scripture is really helpful for explaining the extra context that isn’t obvious to modern day readers.

Remembering the context and the fact that it is God’s revelation of himself to humans is helpful, but it is also good to remind or acknowledge for yourself that you’re reading in light of your present circumstances and life experiences. The book EHS is really helpful for getting you to realize ways your life experiences are affecting the way you read the bible and interact with God.

An easy example I think a lot of people can relate to are the passages where we are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:15). It’s easy for me to think of that as just trying to be perfect and then go into the mindset of comparing myself to others who I consider to be better at certain things than me. But that’s a horizontal perspective, whereas the scripture is actually calling us to look up to God and his standard for holiness. And before I get completely disheartened, that causes me to remember God’s grace for all the ways I fall short of his standards.

Lastly, it is okay to try different studies from devotional books or other blogs, but before you switch reading plans make up your mind. For anyone who just likes reading in general or watching TV on streaming services, you may have run into that weird lull where you end up not watching or reading anything for a while because you don’t know where to go next. Don’t let that happen with your bible study time, figure out what you’re going to study next while you’re still in the middle of your current study. The transition will be smoother and you avoid breaking the habit.

Decide who you are going to be

This last main step for creating consistent bible time may be a little confusing, but it is the most important step for building any habit. You need to take ownership of it, whether that means calling your time in the bible something more personal to you than “bible time,” “quiet time” or “God time.” A lot of those phrases exists within the American Christian culture, but they don’t say much about your personal faith journey.

People with hobbies define themselves by them all the time. From runner’s clubs to different entertainment fandoms, people tie their best and worst habits to the identities. Like habits they may want to break, such as thinking and saying you’re a person who always runs late. For people who identify as Christians in America, that means a lot of different things and interestingly enough doesn’t always reflect lives much different from their self identified secular counterparts. Whatever your denomination is, if you want your personal faith journey to include bible reading that needs to come out of the identity God has given you as his child.

James Clear wrote is his bestselling secular novel Atomic Habits, “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

So with each day that you get up early and decide to spend time with God, you are making a vote towards your identity as a follower of Jesus. Or a child of God (John 1:12), or a redeemed woman once caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), or a formerly blind beggar (John 9) or a cripple now seated at the table of the king (2 Sam 9). Wherever your faith journey has brought you from, God has found you here and longs to walk with you in the cool of the day. It is only by his mercy and grace that we’re invited at all, so there’s nothing to fear. He’s with you at every step.

The Minimalist Approach to Slow Living

By Leziga Barikor

Being a minimalist in many ways can become a narrow goal until you incorporate the idea of slow living. Minimalism and de-cluttering are challenging pursuits, but if you’re committed you can get them done. But once they are done, it can hard to keep up the motivation to maintain your minimalist space.

This is where slow living comes in.

What is slow living?

The pursuit of slow living is very close to simple living and has been going on around the world for ages. Some people point to lives of Jesus or John the Baptists as examples of minimalism by living nomadic lives with few possessions. From the church to secular philosophers, the idea of living simply is hardly a new concept.

I think one thing that has become slightly new is the trend of minimalism as its own pursuit. Marie Kondo’s highly successful book was merely the tip of the iceberg brewing in the blog-sphere surrounding minimalism and tidying up. But the idea of minimalism was never meant to exist outside of a broader perspective of changing your lifestyle holistically.

A slow living lifestyle is the difference between minimalism to get your house clean or as interior design and minimalism to change the way you live and consume products. It is choosing to live with less in every area not to deprive yourself, but as a way accepting and acknowledging you don’t need a lot. Especially in Western countries, we all have so many basic needs provided for so why do we keep buying more?

Slow living invites people to live in constant awareness and thankfulness for what we already have. In contrast, living in constant pursuit of more, bigger and better means consuming faster than we even have time to appreciate.

How do you slow down your lifestyle?

Once you can see slow living as the natural foundation to practicing minimalism, it then becomes a question of how does slow living apply to my life besides minimalism?

First slow living requires assessing how you currently live your life in the areas of time and attention. How much time do you spend thinking about what you don’t have or what you want? How much attention do you give to things that don’t matter to you or the life you’re trying to build? Do you even pause to reflect on the type of life you are leading? Basically the first step is practicing mindfulness in your daily life.

Slow living can also be called intentional living. Then it’s no surprise that from Henry David Thoreau to Bon Iver that time spent living in simple conditions leads to much introspection and fantastic art. You can’t passively live your life with intention. So ask yourself some hard questions. Maybe a good first one is how busy are you?

It may be hard to see yourself as passively living your life if you always think of yourself as busy. But even when I was at my busiest working, studying at college and volunteering, I still had a lot of time and opportunities I let go by passively. A free moment spent on social media or money spent on snacks I didn’t need. Nothings wrong with those things in themselves, but their only purpose was to pass time. Filling time just for time’s sake isn’t intentional, it’s just wasteful.

Minimalism for slow living life style blog green graphic with tree on green wall

The minimalist and simple living

The connection between minimalism and simple living are so close it can almost be seen as interchangeable. To live simply is to apply minimalism to your largest asset in life — time.

You may have heard it before, but it can never be overemphasized that life is short and unpredictable as we’ve all learned with the recent world events. Outside of your adolescence, you are given more and more control with how you use your time. How long would you want to keep scrolling through social media if you knew your tomorrow wasn’t coming?

Maybe that’s a bit dark, but on the opposite side of the spectrum what would you be pursuing if you had all the time and resources in the world? I still don’t think you’d be aspiring to hit refresh just one more time in that scenario either.

Using minimalist practices on your time is the best way to get close to achieving even a little bit of the goals you may have for yourself. Can you turn off your phone for a few hours? Pause your latest TV show binge? Or maybe you don’t even know where to begin finding all the time you don’t think you have?

One of the best ways to see where your time actually goes is to track it. You can find many time trackers online that go from hourly to every 15-30 minutes. Time tracking is the minimalist equivalent of taking all the items from your rooms and cupboards to see what really belongs and what you can do without.

Now the best time to time track is going to be when your life is most “normal” so possibly on a Monday through Wednesday during a regular week. Not during an appointment filled week or holiday season. Even in this social distancing time period, you’ve probably built up a routine within this madness that’s similar to your usual routine. I think it’s easy to try and save this for a “Saturday project” when you have more time, but what you really need is a fresh record of how you actually lived your life in at least a couple of days.

Now doing an honest time tracking sheet is important, but don’t get mad at yourself about it. Spending three hours watching “The Office” isn’t always a bad thing and does not make you a bad person. More likely you’ll find that your free time is filled with activities that you find quite satisfying in the moment. For me that can be a lot of YouTube videos. The next objective isn’t to simply get rid of everything you do enjoy, but to leave space for change.

For deciding what to cut out of your schedule, take the time to think and reflect over what you would like to do with your time. Maybe it’s easier for you to just attribute a positive or a negative sign to an activity. Or if you want to go deeper about your habits ask yourself these questions and maybe journal about it:

  • How is this benefiting me?
  • Is this in anyway harming me?
  • How do I feel after this activity?
  • What’s something I’ve wanted to do but never felt I had the time to?
  • Why do I spend time on this?
  • Is this to avoid boredom or silence?
  • Do I like even like this?

Consider what activities you want to still be a part of your life and make a new schedule that includes that in much smaller doses. What I recommend is going through your time track sheets and calculate loosely or specifically how much time is spent on unnecessary activities (not work or basic life necessity related). Then see if you can dedicate at least half of that extra time to one new hobby and more intentionally spend time with your usual hobbies. What to do with the other portion of your newly found free time? Here’s an idea — nothing.

Well not just nothing, but especially for people who feel constantly busy and may not have that much time even with cutting down on activities they find to be a net negative it can be really freeing to see time in your schedule for you to do nothing.

For other people, you may categorize a lot of the activities you filled your time tracker with as habits that you may not want to continue or engage in with more moderation. Maybe you’ll find limiting some habits give you more time to accomplish things you usually don’t get around to doing. Simple living in itself is a habit that needs to be developed and honed to start doing more of what you actually love and less of what you simply tolerate.

Now in all honesty, I know this applies much differently for people with families especially with young children. But there’s still plenty of slow living resources out there, if you’re interested in finding out how to make that work for your specific situation.

What does living simply mean?

Another major component to living simply is gratitude. Minimalists realize that when you are appreciative for the things you currently have, you no longer desire to purchase more things.

The best benefit to simple living is a higher sense of gratitude for your daily life. Living in constant pursuit of the next weekend or vacation isn’t much of a life. Simple living allows you to maximize your days, so that they don’t feel wasted. An hour spent doing something you really enjoy versus doing something mindless will have immediate benefits to your day.

And by pursuing slow living, you are committing to a process on the journey of life. It makes minimalism less of a monthly chore and more of a reflection of the person you are. You don’t just have less things, you enjoy what you do have more. It’s not something you’ll get perfect overnight, but that’s okay because you’re changing slowly.

If you feel like you’re failing, it’s okay I’m failing too. But once you get started, you’ll be surprised to see how much you can accomplish. I hope you keep reading, so we can make progress together.

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Mindfulness Matters More than Ever

Try this mindful coping idea for COVID-19 worries

By Leziga Barikor

It is very rare that a news event has as far reaching impact and implications as what has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. To even find an event comparable, we have to go back over a hundred years to the 1918 flu commonly known as the “Spanish flu” and it still doesn’t come close. According to professionals, the best approach we have to maintaining the least amount of lost lives is social distancing which has uprooted many of our daily routines.

From record breaking job losses, to closures of schools and many of our favorite non-essential businesses, and, for the spiritual, the inability to gather in community can have many questioning what is left? Sure spending unlimited time on streaming platforms and sleeping in has it’s short term appeal, but it quickly becomes clear that isn’t all most of us want out of life.

And to top it all off, the pandemic itself — as daily reports pour in about positive cases and deaths and constant reminders to wash your hands, it can be overwhelming. The immunocompromised and otherwise at risk make up more of our friends and family than we ever thought to worry about, but now we are. Worried. And it’s during a crisis like this that we need to be practicing mindfulness more than ever.

Worry and anxiety in the COVID-19 era

To be clear, I’m no psychologist or medical professional, and I highly recommend you seek one out if you’re feeling daily life has become unmanageable. But today I am writing as a person with worries when it comes to COVID-19, and I hope some of my coping strategies can help you during this difficult time. This pandemic has put us all in the unique position of having many of very real and valid fears. Will I loose my job, will my mother get sick, will my friends get sick, how will I ever find toilet paper all comes to mind.

So how do we practice mindfulness when our anxieties all cover a range of various valid possibilities? Well first, I think we need to get a better understanding of mindfulness and what our brains and bodies are doing during times of high stress.

Now mindfulness can have many different definitions and applications, but for my purposes, it is the practice of using your five senses to fully be in the moment whatever it is and wherever it is. It’s a practice most commonly associated with therapy, but need not be limited to professional settings. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but they aim at the same goal of accepting without judgement your current state of being.

The major issue we’re facing with this pandemic is an uncertain future, and anxiety is often related to concerns about the future. What a lot of us are experiencing is natural response to an common enemy — the unknown. Not knowing what to anticipate is both frustrating and scary, and that’s okay. You don’t need to fight or immediately make these feelings go away. To practice mindfulness is to let yourself be and feel whatever is happening in the moment, and actually allowing yourself to feel the worry won’t make it worse. It instead gets you further on the process to feeling better.

Mindfulness in the midst of real chaos

Now I feel like a lot of well meaning blogs discussing mindfulness require people to jump into the deep end and start by recommending meditations. I do meditate and find it very useful, but besides carving out 10-20 minutes of your day for calm, that still leaves time for stressers to pull you back down again.

The battle against racing thoughts is at a fever pitch when every inconvenience or negative consequence of the pandemic is making daily life challenging. So the first step towards mindfully quelling daily worries and anxieties is to notice them and how they’re making you feel. Accept the feelings but challenge your thoughts. Consider what the location is in time and space for these thoughts being mindful that anxiety is often future focused.

  • Asking what ifs. . . (What if that person who just coughed has it?)
  • Thinking in absolutes. . . (This quarantine is never going to end.)
  • Future forecasting. . . (First I coughed this morning and again right now, I must have it.)
  • Minimizing the positives. . . (My work is keeping us all home, but I’ll probably get sick at the grocery store.)
  • Conclusion jumping. . . (They just announced a case in my parent’s town, it must be them or their direct neighbors.)
  • Should/shouldn’t. . . (I should’ve bought toilet paper when this first hit the news.)

There are plenty more models you can find to help you identify anxious thoughts, and that’s an essential first step to changing your mindset.

What your body needs after going through these feelings is for your autonomic nervous system to reset. The various physical responses you have to anxiety are seen in the autonomic nervous system without you ever thinking about it like regulating your breathing and heartbeat. The sympathetic division is where your “flight or fight” responses come from, and the subsequent calm at rest state is managed in the parasympathetic division. But since a virus isn’t an enemy we can fight or run from, our body’s next resort is a freeze response.

Freeze and turning location services on

Since we can’t flee or fight the threat this pandemic poses, freeze responses, essentially having your body shut down, is the next place you could go. This may be reflective in you losing focus, having a lack of motivation and desire to just sleep all the time. And honestly, get the extra rest. And take a deep breath to help kick start your parasympathetic nervous system to calm mode.

The next way to get through the anxiety after you’ve paused to accept your negative emotions and identified your thought patterns is to turn on your location services. Not on your phone, but with your present environment. Where are you, what is your current outer environment? It may seem silly at first, but answering those questions in your head very specificially can help pull you back into a more mindful state all without having to take a mediation break.

The physical reactions we have to anxiety are all to deal with danger, so you have to tackle that question to move forward. Your body doesn’t think you are safe and wants to protect you, so you have validate that internal concern. This great podcast episode gives four questions to ask yourself to get into a more mindful state, and I’ll paraphrase a few here.

  • Are you safe here and now?
  • What are your five senses telling you about how safe you are now?
  • How does your body feel now that you’ve established your physical environment is safe?

Now the fourth step is to savor that feeling of okay-ness. And things are going to be okay. The next time you notice yourself worrying excessively, you can use the same location setting questions to pull yourself back into the present. Are these thoughts based in a present reality or a future concern? Well if it’s a future concern, then it’s time to check back into the present moment.

Why mindfulness

Now the goal isn’t to ignore very real problems you may be facing because of this COVID-19 crisis, but to give yourself a better mental framework to operate in it. My job is very focused on the topic, and our normally daily routines have been disrupted in ways we could’ve never imagined. But practicing mindfulness reminds us even through this mess, we can still find things to be grateful for and we are resilient enough to meet the challenge.

Once you find your own inner calm, your friends, coworkers and family members will be drawn to it. You’ll find taking care of yourself not only gives you the benefit, but those you socially distantly interact with will experience it too.

Stay safe, and if you can, stay home.

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The Capsule Wardrobe for the Fashionable Minimalist

How to know when to shift your capsule wardrobe

By Leziga Barikor

So you’ve already completed your journey of minimalism and have an amazing capsule wardrobe. Your life feels less hectic, and your closet is finally order. But as the seasons change, and your life changes too, you might begin to question the reliable of your capsule wardrobe.

Maybe you don’t even see it as that. Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself using less and less of your clothes and doing your laundry more and more. Perhaps the old shopaholic twinge suddenly goes into overdrive now whenever you see a new trend piece. You may push the thought away and remind yourself how French women didn’t become style icons through following trends.

But these all may be signs that your capsule wardrobe has now reached time-capsule status. Simply old memories of the fashionista turned minimalist that you used to know.

Maybe it’s time to bring your shopping totes out of retirement.

Sparks Joy? The New Closet Purge

You might’ve already realized that you needed to re-Marie Kondo your closest, but depending on your lifestyle that can still be a difficult process all over again. Me being ever the early adopter, created my capsule wardrobe in 2016 before starting my sophomore year of college. I’ve always loved fashion, but I loved it even more as I recognized people consistently giving me compliments on outfits they’d already seen me wear!

If you’re still new to minimalism and the whole capsule wardrobe idea, let me assure you it definitely works. No one notices that you only have 2 pairs of jeans and 4 rotating tops. They’re far too busy worried about their own appearances. But after merely three years with my own wardrobe, I’ve begun to recognize a lack of love for my old go-to items.

That was just one tell-tale sign that things needed to go a new route. Along with big life changes (hello graduation!), job changes and natural wear and tear, it was clear I’d let my small wardrobe once again turn into a huge hassle. Here’s a list of questions to ask while you consider purging through your own capsule wardrobe.

  • What clothes do you avoid wearing?
  • What has the most visible signs of wear and tear?
  • Has your figure change?
  • Has your career/lifestyle changed?
  • Do you even like it anymore?
  • Was this a maybe item you still hadn’t gotten rid of?
  • Has your taste/color pallet changed?

After you go through and find all the items that you no longer want in your capsule wardrobe, set them aside for donation or trash if they’re not resalable.

Get in loser, you’re going shopping!

Does it make me a bad minimalist to enjoy shopping, even a little? If you’ve ever questioned that, rest assured its less the action of accumulating things and more the experience of something new. The best part of a good capsule wardrobe is it allows you to try new outfit ideas often without buying new things. But if you’re jeans got a little too tight or baggy, then it’s time to treat yourself to something new again.

I did my best to mainly subtract and fill gaps when it came to having base clothing. The basic white tee and blue jeans haven’t failed me yet. But my far too trustee green jeans just weren’t looking as bright as they used to. Take this time to really plan out what you want to wear and subsequently buy. Remember that you only need to fill in gaps left by getting rid of your main items whether it’s a new office blouse or a nicer pair of slacks.

If you decided your statement pieces or accent colors are too outdated for your tastes, this is the perfect opportunity to redefine your style. Try out new colors in the changing room. Remember the rule of versatility and basics. Don’t get sucked into whatever the current trend is, but if you do find something trendier catches your eye don’t be afraid to see how you could incorporate it long term.

Sustainability for life and your lifestyle

One great natural benefit to minimalism is that it allows you to lower your carbon footprint by consuming less and throwing away less. But it can be easy to get sucked into a self- sacrificing pit of holding on to things far too long just for the sake of not throwing things away.

I am not living a zero waste lifestyle currently, but I commend those who do. It’s a worthwhile long-term goal as a global citizen of planet earth. Sometimes despite our best efforts, the journey of personal style discovery isn’t a straight line. Even though I essentially crafted my capsule wardrobe three years ago, I’ve added and subtracted different types of dresses in the mix. Why? One reason is I love dresses, and find it difficult to attend multiple major life events wearing the same one. But I’ve also switched career paths and gone from a student to young professional which necessitates some wardrobe changes.

Your personal style is just that. Personal. So taking the time to figure it out may not be as sustainable as you would like in the moment, but it will get there once you do. Being honest with yourself during the process will help as you can be quicker to donate or possibly gift items gently used so they get another chance.

You should also take responsibility for your shopping habits when it comes to human trafficking. At this point, it’s textbook knowledge that the people working on your iPhones are working in conditions so mentally horrible that suicide is a common workplace occurrence, but don’t let other brands fool you into thinking that’s simply an Apple problemConsider shopping secondhand consignment, locally or from sustainable brands who are clear about their business practices.

The beauty of minimalism isn’t just for what it does for you in simplifying your life. But it’s the beauty in what it fights against. Fast fashion and consumerism culture has a negative global impact, but your choice to step out of that absolutely matters and has an impact too.

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Creamy Garlic Tuscan Shrimp

Gluten Free, Dairy Free

Here’s a simple but delicious recipe for those of you who like good food, but don’t have the patience for it. One of my favorite things that I miss about eating dairy is creamy foods. With a few tweaks, this recipe turned out great!

If you’re about simplifying things, don’t feel obligated to use all fresh ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (or butter substitute of your choice)
  • 6 cloves finely diced garlic
  • 1 pound of shrimp (cooked or uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 yellow medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup of coconut milk (or 1 can)
  • Salt and pepper for taste
  • 1 teaspoon of curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon of red chili flakes
  • 3 cups washed baby spinach leaves
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons dried herbs of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Instructions

  1. Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. First melt your butter substitute and then add garlic and fry briefly till fragrant. If you’re cooking shrimp, now’s the time to fry them in the garlic mixture. Regardless set aside your shrimp till later.
  2. Next fry the diced onion in the garlic mixture left in your pan. Add your cherry tomatoes and fry them for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Lower heat to to low-medium and add the coconut milk (shake first) in a medium sized pot. Allow it to simmer and stir occasionally. Add salt and pepper for taste.
  4. Throw in spinach and allow it to wilt. Bring it to a simmer again. Here add cornstarch to thicken the mixture as well as the tomatoes and what’s left of garlic mixture.
  5. Toss the shrimp into the pot and add the herbs and any other spices. Stir thoroughly.
  6. It’s ready to serve over rice or gluten free grain of your choice. Use steamed veggies if you’re looking for a more low carb option.

Try this recipe? Please let me know on social media with the hashtag #HNAFeats. Comment down below if there are any recipes you’d like to see next.

Mindfulness for outdoor adventurers

Lessons from the leading medical doctor in nature and forest therapy

By Leziga Barikor

The practice of mindfulness and outdoors sports would seem to oppose one another, but for Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller M.D., they make the perfect combination. Bartlett Hackenmiller serves as the medical director for the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and leads workshops that combine outdoors sports with forest bathing. She has spoken nationally and internationally on the topics of nature therapy and integrative medicine.


See my full interview with Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller here.

Starting nature therapy

Bartlett Hackenmiller’s journey to becoming the leading doctor in nature therapy and integrative medicine didn’t start until after she had began practicing medicine. She is was and still is board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but as her personal life grew more hectic, her journey into mindfulness and nature therapy began.

“I practiced that [OB-GYN] for several years and found myself to be fairly burned out in the late 2000s,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “And it was about that time where I learned about integrative medicine and that there’s a fellowship in it.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller then went on to start and complete the fellowship in integrative medicine through the University of Arizona finishing in the winter of 2013.

“But along that time my husband was dealing with lung cancer and ultimately passed away from lung cancer in 2012,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “He was part of my journey for sure, into how this all happened.”

“I found myself after his death trying to reconcile death and dealing with kids and dealing with my practice that I was still kind of struggling through, conventional medicine and all of that. And learned about this idea of forest bathing, during the same time that I was spending a lot of days outdoors in outdoor adventure.”

As part of her treatment for grief and burnout, Bartlett Hackenmiller was spending a significant amount of time outdoors doing activities like hiking, mountain biking and trail running. It was during this time that she became aware of the pros and cons of outdoor adventures and mindfulness and found the balance between the two activities.

“I learned of this idea of forest bathing in about 2014 and started kind of dabbling in it shortly thereafter,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The Japanese practice of forest bathing also known as Shinrin-yoku is one activity that Bartlett Hackenmiller has specialized in and leads various workshops. She is certified with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy as a forest therapy guide.

“Now I serve as the medical director for that organization,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy certifies guides all over the world and there are currently several hundred guides internationally according to Bartlett Hackenmiller.

Forest bathing

On Saturday, April 20 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Bartlett Hackenmiller led a workshop at the Hartman Reserve in Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. The guided meditative walk encourages people to engage with their surroundings. The workshop was limited to 20 participants.

“It’s always fun to take people out for the first time,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The basic rundown of a forest bathing experience involves mindfulness.

“It’s about taking in nature through the various senses,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

She described the standard sequence that guides go through which is to take participants deeper and deeper out of their everyday conscious which she refers to as the “monkey mind” and into the subconscious mind which she calls the “liminal state.” The whole process takes at least two hours.

“We don’t cover a lot of ground,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “It’s not a nature identification walk or a hike for physical fitness or anything like that, it’s a very slow mindful walk.”

During the walk there are various pauses called “counsel” where participants share what they’re currently experiencing. It helps solidify the memories in their mind, according to Bartlett Hackenmiller. The forest bathing also always ends with a tea ceremony.

“We actually forage a plant from the woods,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

It is also during this time that she explains the herbal and medicinal properties of the tea that they begin to brew. All this knowledge comes from her background in herbal medicine.

Bartlett Hackenmiller has completed a 500-hour course in herbal medicine with the well established Dr. Tieraona Low Dog. Low Dog is a founding member of the American Board of Integrative Medicine, has worked for health related bureaucratic government committees and authored various books and research articles on integrative health.

“There’s so much that we can use from nature for healing whether it’s taking it in and using plants medicinally or just the chemicals that are emitted from plants as we’re out in nature,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

A post from Bartlett Hakenmiller’s blog explored the long term effects of forest bathing walks. She cited various attendees from her workshops and conducted a survey with the participants. According to her research 61 percent of her participants reported improvements in both depression and tension after the forest bathing activity. She also cited that 65 percent reduced their feelings of anger and 70 percent felt more vigorous.

New book for outdoor adventurers

Even while actively practicing medicine and leading workshops, Bartlett Hackenmiller has had time to write a new book on the topic of forest bathing. Her book, “The Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide to Forest Bathing,” is set to release on July 1 and can be pre-ordered today.

“It’s a combination of all the things I love,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

She was contacted a year ago by Falcon Guides a year earlier and asked to write about forest bathing. As she started working with her editor on the book, the idea of looking at various types of outdoor activities through the lens of forest bathing was one they both liked.

“It’s something I do on a regular basis whether I’m out kayaking or biking or hiking or trail running,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The activities which will be included in the book includes those mentioned above and cross-country skiing and climbing. People interested in various activities from paddling, hiking to biking can find a forest bathing guide including in this book.

For each activity, Bartlett Hackenmiller includes an invitation of forest bathing and she also combines what she calls “plant wisdom” to it as well. She said that she hopes people will be able to experience the medicinal qualities of plants more in depth than they might usually when on an outdoors adventure.

Healing outdoors

There is a challenge Bartlett Hackenmiller faces with having to practice medicine indoors when, as she writes, her heart “physically aches to be outdoors.”

“I think I’ve often felt very confined seeing patients in four sterile walls of an exam room, and often thought ‘Why can’t we just take this outside?’” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “I’ve spent some time in a third world country in the South Pacific where they had open air clinics.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller continued: “I’ve always kind of clung to that feeling, ‘Why can’t we be outside? Doesn’t greater healing take place outdoors?’”

She explained a story about a patient she had who had autism. This patient was agitated in the examination room, leading the doctor to suggests to the caregivers going outside for the treatment. The results after a few minutes outside were drastic.

“A calming came over her and she took my hand at one point,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “That was very monumental to her parents and we were able to get to the bottom of what was going wit her and at least come up with a plan.”

For Bartlett Hackenmiller, that was defining moment for the idea of healing and the outdoors being connected. She said that she doubts there would have been progress had they continued indoors.

Nature therapy and outdoor adventures

In another story, Bartlett Hackenmiller recalls helping a group of adults with intellectual disabilities forest bathing. She ran into the challenge of some of them having wheelchairs.

“We managed to do it on a paved sidewalk behind the conference center we were at where there was a grove of trees and there was a garden of wildflowers,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “And it was a really great experience for me, and also I believe the participants.”

She also includes ways to get people in special populations in her upcoming book.

Getting outdoors daily

For most business professionals facing the challenge of fitting in an experience like a forest bathing workshop could make it seem like an impossible task.

“I feel like forest bathing is something that’s accessible to just about anyone and you can do it in a city, do it at a resort, you can do it in a courtyard, I’ve done it on a golf course with people,” Bartlett Hackenmiller. “It’s something that as long as you don’t take ‘forest’ too literally, as long as there are some elements of nature you can make it work.”

Taking even a brief moment to step outside of the office and walk can give people therapeutic nature health benefits .

To encourage more people to do just that, Bartlett Hackenmiller started the hashtag #OutdoorAdventurer365. The goal of the challenge is to go out for maybe 10 minutes a day and enjoy nature. She has seen a good amount of feedback from the tag on Instagram.

“I just think that there are ways that we can take little tiny breaks even in our day and appreciate nature and I think it does something for us when we do,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

For more information on the doctor and her workshops, visit her website here: https://integrativeinitiative.com/

She sees both patients both in Webster City, Iowa and online through eVisits.

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Waterloo’s largest family flea market

Shopping in community

By Leziga Barikor

WATERLOO, IA

Cars were parked in packed rows already for the first day of Waterloo’s Largest Flea Market event. Although from the outside appearing to be the typical flea market event, for those involved this was more than a chance for bargain shopping — it was a function with family at the center.

“There’s a lot of family here,” said Ellen a vendor who has participated in the event for man years. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Launching things off on a brisk Thursday morning, the event ran from April 18-20 running from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Thursday Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

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The owner operator of the event, Shirley Sommerfelt said the help from her family was essential in putting together the event from setting up the canopies throughout the 5 acres of land it spans to its future.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Sommerfelt said. “I enjoy doing it. And even though I’m 77-years old, and I think I’ve only got one more flea market in me… then my daughter and my granddaughter are going to take it over from there.”

Sommerfelt has been holding this flea market event every year since 2002. It happens twice a year with one in April and another in September. This April was the largest it has ever been with over 40 vendors.

“We’ve got every spot filled,” Sommerfelt said.

Sommerfelt said they usually have a food vendor and then people who sell clothes and antiques, collectibles and other items. But this year, she got a new type of vendor join her flea market.

“I do have a gal who does fingernails,” Sommerfelt said. “I’ve never had that before.”

The early morning customers gathered around Maria Spilde’s small, but impressionable vendor table for Color Street Nails. Customers were able to get a free demo of her product in the form of a manicure. Fighting against the wind, Spilde put Color Street Nail product on an attendee

“It almost goes on like a sticker, but it’s real nail polish strips and then they adhere dry,” Spilde explained for the customer.

The product that is also available online had a lot of appeal for people who may already spend a lot of time washing their hands and see painting their nails as more time consuming for the fading effect.

“Wow, those are pretty,” one attendee said after her nail job was complete.

This flea market being broad in size offered potential customers many options from the new to used to handmade items.

One vendor was holding down the fort alone with his handmade items. But these weren’t solo projects.

“My wife and I both do [handmade items],” Gary said. The vendor explained how their collection of rugs, potholders and bags were all made by themselves at home.

Gary is rather new to the crafting game by about a year and a half.

“She’s been selling all her life,” Gary said of his wife.

With such a large assortment of items, one could assume it required a big time commitment.

“Some do, some don’t,” Gary said. “The rugs take quite a while.”

Gary’s family isn’t the only one that came together to showcase original works. Jesse Henke although setting up alone had family help with his items as well.

“[It’s] all homemade from a barn I tore down with my dad,” Henke said.

His items varied from furniture to home decorations and all made with parts from that torn down barn.

“The tin roofing, I cut out, the animal shapes and stuff like that,” Henke said. “And I built the tables with a majority of the wood. And then I used plywood and pallets for some of the other stuff too.”

Where some people use flea markets to sell original works that took, others use them to display items they may not have made themselves but invested years into nonetheless.

People like Ellen, who’s table featured many old toys from a golden era. Specifically original Barbies that would be difficult to track down now.

“[The] 70’s, 80’s is when I was collecting them,” Ellen said. “There’s a lot of them and I stuck to special ones: Easter ones, Valentine ones, Halloween, Christmas.”

Unlike Stilde, Ellen prefers to keep her business outside the eCommerce realm and besides this flea market sells them at the occasional garage sale.

This year’s flea market saw the return of a lot of veteran vendors like Ellen and some new people like Henke. But it’s not simply the commerce opportunity that keeps people coming.

“Oh you get to meet lots of different people,” Barb said.

Barb has been attending Waterloo’s Largest Flea Market as a vendor to around 5 to 6 years now. She sells a wide variety of items from antiques, to essential oils, home and beauty items. She also visits other flea markets across Iowa to sell her items.

The flea market also has its repeat customers year to year. Mother and daughter Laura and Elizabeth visited the market early Thursday morning to peruse the various vendors. Laura said they usually go for items like pictures and mirrors.

“Stuff for the house,” Laura said.

“I have a lot of regulars and I have a lot of new ones [customers],” Ellen said.

Although this year was the largest that this flea market has ever been, not all the regulars came out for this April event. Ellen’s two uncles who usually set up as vendors weren’t there this year. And yet, Sommerfelt anticipates continued growth for her flea market.

“It gets bigger and bigger,” Sommerfelt said.

The September flea market usually takes place in the third weekend, but this fall it will happen in the second weekend. The September event tends to be even busier than in spring.

“We had to move it up,” Sommerfelt said. “So hopefully, it will be a good one too!”

Information on Waterloo’s Largest Flea Market can be found on local flyers and through an accompanying Facebook event.

Cover Photo by David Izquierdo via Unsplashed

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