Beauty For Ashes: Grieving Loss During a Pandemic, And How To Rise Up in the Face of Hardship

Do not try to change anyone, you will fail. Instead, try to help everyone

– A hand-written letter my Papa wrote to me before passing away from Covid-19

Filled with personal memories and goldmines of knowledge, it is one of the greatest gifts I have been ever given. My Papa was 81 years-old when he passed away. Words cannot describe the void I immediately felt upon hearing the news of his death, and I immediately retreated to my bedside table to read his words over again with tears spilling down my cheeks onto his beautiful cursive text. Emotions flooded over me: sadness, anger, disbelief to name a few. Happy memories began to dance with the negative emotions, and the roller coaster of joyous memories and bitter loss has not stopped.

As I cried over the loss of my grandfather, I was jolted back several months to the inexplicable and unexpected loss of my nephew, Titus Daniel. My eldest sister, Danielle or “Nel” as we call her, almost passed away from the complications during childbirth. She consoled my grieving grandmother that our Papa will be the first family member to hold baby Titus in heaven. The loss of an infant child and a wise, loving grandfather is… trauma. Trauma my family feels, my friends and enemies feel, the whole world feels. To add to this trauma, we are forced to grieve apart as the world continues to battle Covid-19. In a small way, writing this reflection is my way of memorializing and celebrating my loved ones until I may pay my respects in person.

Death is never fair, or easy to understand. A stark reminder we are mortals and our time, too, will come. The gravity of how one will be remembered when it is our time to go is humbling and heavy.  Will we be cherished, wept over, celebrated…forgotten? Will our relatives drop to their knees and weep, frame our (tear-stained) letters, and find comfort in the wisdoms we’ve instilled in them? There are no answers, nor is there a timeline to feeling “normal” after a death. Quite simply, its ok to not be ok. Its ok to feel angry, confused, sad, and blessed all at once.

The playbook for grieving death is to be written by the individual experiencing it. The raw emotions we endure are unique to humans; emotions that separate us from other species of animals. Our intelligence and awareness of our own inescapable and certain demise, is a heavy burden to bear. It’s a shock to the system to realize that any life, be it 9 months old in the womb or 81 years old, can be taken from us. Loss may serve as a reminder to quit wasting time comparing on futile things, such as comparing yourself to others or holding a grudge, to name a few.

My most recent tattoo reads “Beauty for Ashes” and reflects the concept that great things can rise up from the ashes of destruction and death. My hope is the loss we experience may bring out the best in us while encouraging us to capture each moment in memories, to cherish your time on Earth, and to impact others as significantly as those we grieve impacted us. My Papa was so proud of his grandchildren, and his words are becoming my new mission statement.

In his final words to me, my Papa encouraged me to do a few simple things. I’d like to share those things with you as a way to honor him and bless you, the way he blessed me. I offer them as encouragement and light if you are experiencing a loss or heavy emotions. He was a man of few words, and he always thought long and hard before speaking. Papa made sure I knew he wasn’t trying to tell me how to live, rather that he “fully understood” how I feel, given some of our shared childhood experiences. These are excerpts from his letter to me, written one month ago:

“If you try to change someone, you are going to lose… Don’t try to change anybody but try to help everybody.”

“Do not live in the past, focus on the future…None of us can change the past, but live for the future.”

“Forgive. (don’t forget completely…Forgive, it’s good for your soul. Don’t completely forget or you will get hurt again.”

“Obey all 10 Commandments. one being Honor your Father and Mother

These are just a few of his “Papa-ism” he blessed us with. There are thousands more encouraging words and phrases he spoke quietly to each of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren over the years. My most fond memory must be the day he took me, a small child at the time, to the horse barn and allowed me to break in a young horse bareback. He made me feel special that day, and in many other ways in years to come. I know he had experiences like this with all my extended family members.

He taught me how to ride a horse, show a pony, and how to care for the great animals. He taught me how to treat animals with love, respect, and authority – and that every man ought to have himself a dog. He taught me how to dedicate time and effort into hobbies (his was woodworking). He taught me how to be myself by encouraging me to pursue my talents and passions. (“Make me a pie, dear Becca!” he would say to me in a sing-song voice, knowing I make the best pies…ever!) He taught me to wear Sunday boots to church, not dirty riding boots, because the Lord deserves your best. Yet the most important lesson he taught me, perhaps without ever knowing it, was when I was a child after I’d been bucked off a skittish horse. Within seconds I was placed right back upon its back. He literally taught me to get back on the horse, no matter how scared, worried, or afraid you are.

What a man: The last of a dying breed, a true gentleman, and a real cowboy.

What an angel he will make.

May you grieve in your own space, at your own pace. I hope my Papa’s words bring you comfort if not inspiration. I struggle with emotions and loss, and I welcome this time of toiling with my emotions. I know I will grow during this time, rise from the ashes of the past years hardships, and (like Papa taught me) try and help everybody.

Thank you for reading this.

Love,

Becca


New Video- Functional Strength for Endurance Athletes

Join me for a fantastic workout geared towards endurance athletes! Equipment is optional, but may enhance your session. The primary goal of this workout is to improve function and balance while strengthening the glutes, core, and upper body muscles specific to endurance athletes. This session is appropriate for all levels, just choose your weights wisely if you use them! If you’re not an endurance athlete, I invite you to give it a try anyways, as the movements we do reflect activities of daily life and may reduce your risk of injury. Lastly, if you want a full 40 minute workout, simply start the session over. Enjoy!


New Workout – Holiday “Burn” # 4: Stretching!

The holidays (and life/working out in general) can be VERY stressful; it is important to slow down and mindfully connect with our bodies. This session specifically targets flexibility and mobility in all joints and muscles. I’m excited for you to try it! Enjoy this session daily or once a week, but the more you do it the better your flexibility will get! 🙂 Cheers! You will need a towel and a chair or table for today’s workout.


New Workout – Holiday Burner #3: Medicine Ball

Hey guys! Let’s keep it moving (literally) this holiday season with simple but effective core-based workout. I’ll do the entire workout, as usual, with you and provide options for all levels. I loved the way I felt after this core-focused -but-still-total-body session! I used a 10# ball, but feel free to modify and adapt based on what you have and where your fitness is. Cheers!


New Workout Video- Holiday Burn #2: Kettlebell

Join me for a 25-minute total body kettlebell workout! I recommend using a light to moderate bell (#5-#20) This session includes single leg, single arm, and multiplanar movements, put together to improve motor function, balance, coordination, mobility, and muscular endurance. I hope you find this a simple but effective session during the busy holidays!


DIY Christmas Presents – Inexpensive, sustainable gifts with a personal touch!

Christmas is just around the corner, and in a continued attempt to express my love for both the environment AND my family/friends, I’ve set out to give all 100% homemade gifts this year. I hope this DIY guide helps you spend less, love more, and give from the heart!

1. DIY Candles

Supply List: ½ cup coconut oil, ½ cup all-natural beeswax ($14 on Amazon or Hobby Lobby), 10 drops essential oil of your choice, #4 wicks (less than $5 on Amazon or Hobby Lobby), glass container (repurposing an old jelly jar is my favorite!)

Directions: Place coconut oil and beeswax in a large microwave safe bowl. Heat for 1 minute at a time, stirring after each minute until completely melted and blended. Stir in essential oil. Place wick in empty, securing in place with two chopsticks so it stays in the middle. Pour liquid slowly into jar, adjusting wick if needed. Allow to cool, trim the wick, and enjoy!

2. DIY Hand Lotion

Supply List: Shallow glass container, ½ cup jojoba oil, avocado oil, argan oil, or any other liquid oil (I use a combo of all 3!)  ¼ cup coconut oil, ¼ cup natural beeswax ($14 on Amazon or Hobby Lobby), 2 T. shea butter ($10 or less depending on size from Amazon or Hobby Lobby), 7-10 drops essential oil of choice

Directions: In a microwave safe bowl, melt coconut oil, beeswax, and shea butter for 60 seconds at a time, stirring frequently until completely melted. Add in ½ cup liquid oil(s) and essential oil, stirring well to combine. You may choose to use an emulsifier or blender. Pour into shallow glass container and allow to cool. This gift goes well with a wooden scooper and pairs nicely with a matching DIY candle of the same scent. They’re easy items to make together, especially since they require similar ingredients! Wrap in re-usable beeswax wrapping, along with the recipe, to make a fantastic, functional and sustainable gift.

3. Scrapbook

Supply List: 30+ photos, a scrapbook ($10 or less on Amazon or Hobby Lobby), non-acid glue stick, scissors, 15+ sheets of cardstock, protector sheets that fit the scrapbook you purchased (some scrapbooks come with these), fine tip pen, stickers (optional)

Directions: Print the photos you wish to include in your scrapbook. Once printed, arrange on cardstock to your liking, trimming photos if needed. Once you have your pages laid out in the design and arrangement you like, glue to cardstock. Allow to dry for 30-60 minutes before decorating with stickers and/or writing messages below and around photos.

4. Cookie in a Jar

Supply List: 1 ¼ cup flour, ½ cup brown sugar,  ½ cup granulated sugar, ½ tsp baking soda, dash of salt, 1 cup chocolate chips, large Ball Jar, notecard for instructions.

Directions: Using a funnel, layer the flour, brown sugar, sugar, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips in the jar. Screw the lid on and write the following directions on a note card: ”Preheat oven to 350* Pour contents into a large bowl. Melt ½ cup of butter and blend with 1 egg until fluffy. Fold into dry ingredients until mixed. Bake at 350* for 10-12 minutes. Merry Christmas!” Attach to jar with a festive ribbon and/or bow!

5. Christmas Ornament

Supply List: Plain plastic ball ornament from the Dollar store, decorative ribbon and/or rope, Epsom salts for snow, small photo or toy car

Directions: Pop ornament open and arrange the photo or contents of your choosing into the ornament. Add ribbon, Epsom salt “snow,” miniature toy tree, etc. to the ornament before closing. If desired, use paint pens to write a message like “Merry Christmas” or the year on the ornament. You may choose to hot glue a decorative ribbon or rope, or perhaps a small pine cone, around the outside as well.

6. DIY Painted Ceramic Mug

Supply List: Plain white ceramic mug from dollar store, acrylic paint, brushes, acrylic paint pain (optional) Polyethylene spray paint (optional)

Directions: using a small brush, paint your choice design onto the mug. You may try using an acrylic paint pen to write messages, too! Allow the paint to dry for 24 hours. Place mug(s) in your oven and turn to 350* Bake for 30 minutes, then shut the oven off. This will help the paint seal to the mug. If you want, you may choose to coat your design with a poly finish. I used both the baking method and a spray top coat (Krylon brand), allowed to dry 24 hours, then washed thoroughly by hand. Avoid spraying the top portion, where you would drink from, if possible.

7. Homemade Yeast or Sourdough Bread

Supplies: Flour, salt, yeast, water

Directions: If you have sourdough starter, opt for a homemade loaf instead of traditional cookies and sweets for a gift. Wrapped in re-usable beeswax or decorative paper, its healthier and more unique touch! For a great guide on how to get started on sourdough baking, visit here .  For homemade yeast bread, follow my favorite weekly bread recipe and bless a neighbor with some delicious bread! Reminder: wear a face mask and gloves when preparing food for someone outside of your household during Covid-19

Becca’s Favorite Homemade Bread

A simple and delicious way to reduce plastic packaging while investing in producing the foods you eat. Kids may enjoy helping knead the dough as part of a fun kitchen experiment!

*Whole wheat flour can be used in place of flour, too!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water (should be warm to the touch, not boiling)
  • ½ cup sugar (I use white sugar but plan to try with brown raw sugar soon!)
  • 1 ½ T. active dry yeast
  • ½ – 1 T. salt (I like Himalayan salt, and prefer more salt)
  • 5-6 cups flour

Directions:

In a medium mixing bowl, combine water with sugar until dissolved. Add yeast and stir continuously for about 5 minutes. The mixture should look combined and froth a little. Add salt and stir for another minute. Add flour one cup at a time. (I usually add about five cups, and then beginning lightly kneading, adding pinches of flour as a go until the dough isn’t sticky to the touch). Knead for 7-8 minutes. Place in a well-greased bowl and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place. I usually Once the dough is double in size, punch down (the fun part!) and divide into two greased 9 x 5 loaf pans. Let the dough rise again for about 30 minutes. Be patient, the bread will turn out at about the height you put it in at! Bake at 350* for about 25 minutes, or until a cooking thermometer reads 190-200*. Brush with butter, let cool, and slice with a serrated knife. E N J O Y!

I’ve enjoyed giving my friends and family all kinds of combinations of these items. I like to include some homemade soap, lotion, and homemade hair conditioner in small, reused plastic tubs (saved and washed from restaurant pick up) so they can try the products first. I’ve also gotten into oil painting, and plan to give some of my best work to my close family members. Time is certainly more valuable than money, and I hope you can share the beloved resource of your time with your loved ones this year with some of these healthy, sustainable DIY gifts!

Happy Holidays!

Becca Kawaoka


New Workout Video – Holiday Burner #1: Bodyweight

Welcome to the first of a new series: Holiday Burners! The holidays can be busy and stressful, so I designed a session that can be done in a pinch with minimal equipment. 25 minutes – including a warm up, functional bodyweight main set, and cool down stretch. There’s options for all levels, so I’m excited for you to give it a try! Stay tuned for weekly sessions to keep you on track this holiday season.


Food & Fitness, Sleep & Stress: Balancing it All

The four pillars of a healthy regimen: Food, Fitness, Sleep, Stress. All four pillars must be given equal attention and intentional planning. We’re going to deep dive each pillar with the goal of gaining more energy, more productivity, and (as always) a more sustainable lifestyle.

Food

One cannot think well, sleep well, or love well if one hasn’t dined well.

– Virginia Wolf

The problem: It’s common knowledge that a healthy diet is the foundation for feeling good, performing well, and living long. So why are 40% of American obese? If its common knowledge, why are three-quarters of Americans struggling with a weight issue (obese or overweight)? America has the highest percentage of obese adults. I can tell you why. Bigger portions, a boom in meat consumption, dieting (you heard me) and inactivity. Americans are eating a lot more, especially meat products, and moving less. They’re also confused on what to it and when. Conflicting diet guidelines are everywhere, and Americans want results fast. People are willing to try anything that works, especially if they saw their friend do it. We’re being pumped full of trans fats and artificial sweeteners while jumping on any fad diet we can get our hands on for fast results. Futile, at best.

The solution: Start by determining a specific, realistic long-term goal. Example: “I’d like to lose 10 pounds by November 2021, increase my muscle definition, and feel more energetic.” Introduce 1 daily ritual each month that will help you progress slowly towards this goal. Examples: Drink 2 liters of water each day. Eat 2 fresh fruits and 2 fresh vegetables each day. Eat 25-50% vegan or vegetarian. Refrain from drinking soda, alcohol, or smoking during the week. That’s a solid start if you can commit to it. From there, try cooking more at home. Eating out is expensive and generally unhealthy in terms of how the food is prepared and the portions you’re given. Not to mention, your far more likely to contract Covid-19 if you eat out (even if you pick up curbside). Lastly, do not be afraid of fat or carbohydrates. They have somehow gotten a bad rep in America. 50% of your diet should be carbohydrates. They’re linked to longevity and provide energy. My favorites are sweet potatoes, organic pasta and rice, and fresh fruit.  Fat is also important for several reasons, but my favorite is they’re filling and satisfying. Avocados, olives, and almonds are fantastic foods that provide rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Don’t be duped into thinking protein equals skinny. Protein plays an important role in metabolism, but if you want the most balanced and sustainable nutrition plan, you need carbohydrates and fats too!

Fitness

Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.

– Jim Rohn

The problem: Inactivity, plain and simple. A lot of working Americans are sedentary, and technology has provided us with everything we need to be inactive. We can order online, take a vehicle anywhere, and eat all our meals without raising a finger to grow, prepare, and/or clean up. I’d like to cite a lack of patience, too. As previously stated, Americans want results fast. That just doesn’t happen in reality. Functional, realistic programs take time. There is no end point. Our bodies should constantly be on a path of self-improvement and growth, challenged with new stimuli and tested.

The solution: Start small. If you aren’t training regularly, start with walking for 30 minutes 3 times a week. If you stick to that, and work on your diet/sleep, you will slowly gain energy and lose weight. Try that for a month, and then think about slowly progressing. I have 70+ videos on YouTube for FREE you can try. They’re fantastic for all levels! If you’re already exercising consistently, good on you! I recommend increasing your intensity, or frequency (minutes per week), 10% each week to find improvements. This may mean adding intervals to your cardio or adding a little weight to your strength routines. A coach may be beneficial for this purpose. My training philosophy centers on balance, literally. All my athletes train to improve balance, then mobility, then muscular endurance. It’s essential to have a stable foundation before beginning a periodized overload program or you will just build strength on existing weaknesses and further imbalances. Training deep core muscles starts at the beginning, as I’ve learned to train from the inside out. Stability first! From a stable platform you can launch into a more aggressive program. Starting with stability is not only a wise and sustainable way to begin, it’s also approachable. If you’re overweight and just looking to make a change, beginning with walking a few times a week and some light balance/core training is a lot easier to stick to then getting crushed at bootcamp- which can be embarrassing. You’re far less likely to get injured this way, and far more likely to stick with it to see results.

Sleep

Sleep is the best meditation.

– Dali Lama

The problem: Americans are steadily averaging less sleep, an inverse relationship that directly correlates with a steady increase in weight gain. According to the Sleep Foundation, Americans get about 7.5 hours of sleep/night. Most people go to bed around 11 pm and wake up at 6:30 am during the week, and sleep about 40 minutes longer on the weekend. Ideally, we get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night. (Some people need more than others, mind you) Lack of sleep can lead to cravings and metabolic dysfunction, as hormones like ghrelin and leptin are affected by sleep deprivation. Then there’s the simple notion that staying awake longer presents more opportunities to eat. The more tired you are from missing out on sleep, the less energy you will have for physical fitness, too. Childhood and adolescent obesity are linked with sleep deprivation, the link likely being skipped meals like breakfast and increased sugar / salt consumption. As an athlete, you’re more likely to get injured if you get less than 8 hours of sleep.

The solution: GET. MORE. SLEEP. Make a plan on when to go to bed and wake up so you’re at your best. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is helpful, as big swings in your sleep regimen can reduce your insulin sensitivity (elevating blood sugar) and cause changes in your metabolism. iPhones have a setting in which you can program reminders on when to head to bed and when to wake up. Avoid snacking late, as this is can cause weight gain and instigate sleep issues. Good old-fashioned discipline is required to turn off the TV and stop scrolling on Instagram. Try reading for 30 minutes before your goal bedtime and sleeping in a dark room.

Stress

It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.

– Hans Selye

The problem: According to The American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans experience stress that affects their physical health, while 73% report experiencing stress that affects their mental health. Those experiencing the most stress are ethnic minorities, women, single parents, and people responsible for their family’s healthcare decisions. Top causes of stress are money, work, and the economy followed closely by family responsibilities, relationships, personal health issues, and housing costs. Side effects of stress are irritability, low energy/fatigue, lack of motivation/interest, anxiety, headaches, feeling sad or depressed, acid reflux, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and appetite changes. Many people also experience sexual problems, weight gain, GI issues like constipation or diarrhea, and forgetfulness. Whew.

The solution: Start by identifying the signs of stress listed above and/or any stress triggers. Getting plenty of sleep (as mentioned before 8-10 hours) and regular exercise (start with 3x 30-minute walks/week and some light stretching!). Practicing relaxation skills like meditation, journaling, or diaphragm breathing (nose inhalation to belly for 4 counts, hold 4 counts, exhale 4 counts). You may try setting 1-2 goals, defining your personal priorities, and forming 1-2 daily habits, like we’ve talked about. Spending time with people you love and doing activities you enjoy, like knitting, baking, painting, and reading, are important to minimize stress.

Putting it all together

  1. Set a long-term goal
  2. Form 1-2 daily rituals to exercise and eat well. Think sustainable and balanced. Progress 10% when you’re ready!
  3. Make sleeping 8-10 hours a priority.
  4. Identify stress and work to relieve it.
  5. Be patient. Nothing happens overnight.

There is probably nothing in this blog that you haven’t heard before. This is a friendly note to get back to the basics and invest in yourself. Fuel yourself well, treat your body like a temple, and rest the amount you deserve.  There is no fad diet, sleeping pill, or hack that will do the work for you. You’re going to have to sacrifice some social media time to cook, set some boundaries in your personal or professional life to decrease your stress and/or make time for exercise. I know you can do it, and I promise you it will be worth it.

Best,

Becca



New Workout Video: Ankles, Knees, and Hips – Stability, Flexibility & Mobility

This workout starts with a basic balance test (Stork) that you can use to track your imbalances, and weekly progress! This session is a fantastic injury prevention and prehab routine, as it incorporates stability, flexibility, and mobility in all three planes of movement. Work to build a solid foundation from the bottom up, inside out all in just under 30 minutes. Complete 2-3 times a week for best results.