Ask + Listen + Borrow = a Formula for Finding Vibrant Health

Fining Your Own Path

By JiJi Russell

I want to offer you a “story starter.” The idea comes from kindergarten classrooms, where teachers ask newly reading and writing students to continue a given sentence or fragment. The starter might be something like, “When I am really hungry . . . .” The student creates the rest of the story, sometimes drawing an illustration to go along with it. The starter provides a gateway into creative thinking and writing.

The story starter I offer you should serve as an inquiry for you, not an intellectual or mechanical exercise. It will require some thought, perhaps some dialogue with someone close to you—maybe some writing. Most of all it will require you to cultivate awareness of what you are doing to contribute to or detract from your overall health each day.

The Back Story

I recently aged into a new decade, while also working my first full year for American Public University System as the wellness coordinator serving more than 2,000 employees. My story of health and those of many people I have gotten to know at work have helped me recognize an old maxim: good health is a participatory process.

Sure, some people are born with a more robust “health account” than others, but taking time to discover and honor your own unique blueprint for achieving optimal health holds many rich rewards. Good health can offer you an enhanced ability to bring greater energy and positive contributions to your family and friends, your community, your work, and the causes you support.

After 12 years working in alternative health and wellness practices, I have observed that when people accept primary responsibility for finding their own source of health and vibrant energy, they tend to be more successful at fulfilling health-related goals. I’m not suggesting a completely “go it alone” strategy. Indeed, sometimes a veritable team of helpers is needed. For my part, I have leaned on the guidance and therapies of chiropractors; a health coach; an herbalist; spiritual teachers; physical therapists; an acupuncturist; my parents; my husband; and others. I also have learned by working with such a diverse group of people that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. This is why personal inquiry—your story starter—is so important.

It’s the Little Things

Sometimes health inquiry and discovery is a wonderful exploration; other times, particularly during health crises, it can be wrought with frustration and setbacks.

Personally, the last twelve months have been more challenging than any other year of my life. I have had to dig deep to cultivate practices and habits that are most supportive to recovering my energy, patience, and stamina. I’ve learned wonderful things along the way, and have come into contact with some extraordinary people through the work I do. I have learned that those who want to find true, deep health often have to work hard to bring it to the fore. They have to make lifestyle changes; they have to develop new habits; they sometimes have to let relationships go if they are not supporting their greatest health.

It is not one peak experience that establishes or reestablishes good health. It is what we do every day. It is the way we eat; they way we connect with others; the way we sleep; the way we approach our work. It’s all the little things that matter. All the little things can, and often do, lead to a large shift toward a higher plane of health and wellness. In my work, I often refer to a quote I once heard, one often linked to Zen Buddhism: “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” Do you get up in the morning with a mere 20 minutes to shower, dress, eat, and prepare yourself for the day? Does the rest of your day reflect this truncated way of “doing”? This is but one example of how you might start thinking about your life’s details in order to reveal the larger story of your health and wellness. If you trust that you are the one who can best reveal your own path to vibrant health, start your story today (see sidebar).

Your Story Starts Here

Begin with a question: What is one thing I can do to improve my health? If this seems too vague or complex, you can simply frame the question around your energy level and focus on today: What is one thing I can do today to improve my energy level?

Ask yourself the question either mentally or aloud, and simply listen for a moment while you take a few deep breaths. You might jot down words or images that come to mind. After the first idea or ideas come forth, ask yourself the same question again. See what comes. You might discover repeated words or images from your first round, or something completely different. It’s all okay. Just “be with it” for a few deep breaths.

Once you find one or two words, images, or concepts that you can accept, create a positive statement for yourself that utilizes this information. Repeat this statement in the morning, afternoon, and evening every day until you feel you have integrated it into your life.

Need help? Put the question to your partner, your best friend, a trusted health provider. Or, find someone around you whom you admire for his or her energy and way of living. Ask what works for them. See where that leads you. The idea ultimately is to find your own path, but the entry point can surely include borrowing good stuff from others.

JiJi Russell, a writer, yoga instructor, and Integrative Nutrition practitioner, currently serves as the wellness coordinator for American Public University in Charles Town, W.Va. She can be contacted at

The Family Supper

One Little Meal, One Momentous Accomplishment

By JiJi Russell

Try this little experiment: Close your eyes, and ask yourself, “What’s for dinner?” See what kind of response the question elicits for you. If you experience anything akin to stress: a racing mind, body tension, anxiety, agitation, or difficulty breathing, this article’s for you.

Creating nourishing meals every day, at the end of the day, can challenging. After all, most of us have been working all day, many of us outside the home. Our modern schedules and demands can deplete our energy and enthusiasm for this important time of the day called “dinner” or “supper,” when many families come back together with great hopes and perhaps expectations of relaxation.

I have been working outside my home for almost a year now,  having transitioned from at-home mom to professional mom. When I gather my youngsters and head home after work, I have the most noble desire for a truly enjoyable dinner, from prep to table.

As a nutrition coach who has worked with people struggling with food-related complications, I know the importance of eating well. I also have been a yoga practitioner for 16 years, and an instructor for 11. In the Ayurvedic tradition, yoga’s sister science from India, it is taken for granted that one’s health is absolutely bound to one’s digestion. And even with all that immersion in healthy lifestyle learning and living, the question of “What’s for dinner” too often confounds me.

Julie Harden, a mother of four girls between 20 and 12, grew up in a family that ate dinner together every night. “That’s my ideal,” Harden said. “but that has not happened.” Between the work schedules that she and her husband maintain, the girls’ various sports and activities, and visits to her mother who lives in Winchester, evening time compresses.

Recently, Harden saw an opportunity. Her 14-year-old daughter Grace loves to cook and bake, and is reportedly quite good at it. At the same time, the teen Harden girls are health-conscious—leaning toward whole foods and healthy eating habits. So the Harden parents asked Grace if she might like to take the task of cooking dinner as one of her family chores.

Grace took the job.

“We live on a farm, with chickens, alpacas, dogs, and cats, so some of the other chores might not be as attractive,” Harden said. One recent day Grace asked her mom to bring home some good French bread. She had made homemade chicken salad with nuts, grapes, and celery to put on the baguette—and a fresh fruit side salad. Sometimes simplicity tastes so good.

Maryam Tabatabai, a healthy eater and great cook, is a wife and mother of two boys (ages five and seven). Here’s her principle when it comes to dinner: “There’s no magic. You have to put away the pressure, and replace it with preparation.”

Indeed, her workday as a doctor of pharmacy puts the squeeze on Tabatabai’s schedule, and she has taken it upon herself to become a better planner. She not only plans the family’s meals—sometimes up to a monthof menus at  a time—but also plans takeout or eating out into the schedule to eliminate last-minute stress on busy days.

Another more subtle tack Tabatabai takes is to discover foods with her children. They love olive oil, she says, so she will incorporate it as a dip or into a dip. Her children, and many others I’ve heard about over the years, like to dip. Why not blend up something nutritious, and let them go at it?

Ultimately, the pragmatic Tabatabai follows the wisdom of a pediatrician, who said that if children have opportunities to understand how hunger feels, they’ll eat. If you have children of your own, and can discover where that “sweet spot” lies between a healthy appetite and a meltdown, use that information wisely.

In my family, I’ve started a regular practice of laying out small dishes and bowls, containing chopped vegetables and nuts about 30 minutes before dinnertime. Those “crudités” are there for grazing during dinner preparation, so that my children (ages 4 and 6) are not sugaring up the bloodstream with quick-absorbing foods like crackers and fruits. If they munch down so much chopped fennel and pistachios, that they don’t eat as much dinner, so be it. At least they’ve gotten good fiber, protein, and fats.

Onlookers to dinner at the Shinabery home might find something surprising: dancing. Marci Shinabery,  a wife and mother of a five-year-old boy and twin seven-year-old girls, recalls with enthusiasm the meals she ate with her host family when she studied abroad in France. During these long, multi-course meals, lasting up to two hours, the only reason one got up from the table would be to dance or use the restroom. Back in Berryville, the Shinabery family does eat together “pretty much every night,” while the music rolls. They have experimented with the multi-course style of eating, and enjoyed it, but found it impractical for every day. Sometimes they dance, though.

Like Tabatabai, Shinabery puts a lot of stock in planning. She does the shopping for the week every Monday, and prior to that, sits down to make a meal plan. She tries to pull in one new meal every one to two weeks for variety, and she involves her children in the process of making and setting up dinner.

Involving children in the kitchen has been cited in numerous books and articles as a way to encourage healthy eating habits that stick. In my family, I always invite the kids to help during dinner prep time. The rule is, they can either help me out or move out of the kitchen and keep themselves busy. It’s actually working. Usually one child will take me up on the offer, and then I determine which of the five or so tasks I have to do (washing, slicing, squeezing, mixing, etc.) would be the best fit. I don’t mind the mess at all, as long as we’re having fun.

Recently, we were expecting a babysitter to arrive. She was going to eat with the kids while my husband and I went out. Suddenly, my son got very busy in the kitchen. About five minutes later, he had prepared a beautiful vegetable appetizer for our guest. It was such a thoughtful expression, featuring a lovely combination of chopped and shredded carrots, with some nuts, all arranged in a flower-like pattern on the plate.

Shinabery, who is a stay-at-home mom, consults her activities for the week in order to take note of busy evenings—a PTO meeting, for example. For those nights, she plans ahead for a slow-cooker recipe or plans one of her “go-to meals,” which take little more than pulling a few ingredients out of the freezer and pantry, and tossing them together.

Shinabery designates one of her children a “helper” for each day. This child sets the table and does various preparation tasks like spinning the salad or turning on the blender. The helper gets to determine where everyone sits that evening, a role accepted with much satisfaction, says Shinabery.

“I think when the kids are involved, it holds you more accountable to getting something on the table,” Shinabery said.

So, take comfort that others find something as simple as preparing one daily meal a challenge that deserves much attention and consideration. We all want to do what’s best for our families. May we find our own special formula for success . . . and stress reduction at the dinner hour.

JiJi Russell, a writer, yoga instructor, and Integrative Nutrition practitioner, currently serves as the wellness coordinator for American Public University in Charles Town, W.Va. She can be contacted at

 Dinner Strategies

Combined Wisdom from Cooking Moms, JiJi Russell and her Aunt Jane Turner

Make up a weekly menu. Make your grocery list from there.

Plan “momentum meals” that can easily roll from one day to the next, like chicken on Monday and rice and bean burritos with shredded chicken on Tuesday.

Double or triple recipes when you can, and freeze leftovers.

Use carry out and/or prepared foods as “add ins” for busy days so you don’t end up relying on them.

Create a short list of quick-prep meals that you can crank out in a pinch.

Plan the days’ meal in the morning.

Cook on weekends.

Involve children in making food. Mushrooms can be cut with a butter knife!

Re-think your idea of sides and main courses. Simply put out a bunch of bowls and plates with single, healthy options that don’t involve a lot of preparation. For example, carrot “matchsticks”; brown rice with a sauce or seasoning; celery spread with peanut or almond butter.

Geo Derick’s Herbal Apothecary

By JiJi Russell

Visiting herbalist Geo Derick at her rural Clarke County apothecary transports me to the fascination of my childhood, when I spent many open-ended afternoons walking the deep woods discovering tiny flowers, plants, and stones that I suspected had special powers. Derick, a clinical herbalist and organic gardener, believes in that specialness, and brings it right down to earth. She combines a vast knowledge of clinical science with a seemingly keen intuition to do what she does best: “cultivating life.”

Trained to work with the medical community to serve clients’ health goals, Derick has worked with everyone from cancer patients to toddlers with allergies, using a wide variety of customized herb-based therapies. She trained at Tai Sophia Institute, which recently achieved University status, and is now known as Maryland University of Integrative Health. Indeed, the goal of “integration” pervades Derick’s work.

“A basic premise in integrative health is that the symptoms we experience are important signals telling us that something is out of balance or under siege. Paying attention to the symptoms and learning from them—rather than suppressing them—are key points of holistic healing,” Derick said.

She believes that herbal medicines, the core of her practice, help our bodies find a natural balance. One key difference between herbal medicine and pharmaceutical drugs, according to Derick, is that the former is comprised of a whole plant with dozens to hundreds of active, synergistic ingredients, while the latter are comprised of a single constituent or synthetic molecule.

Said Derick: “Herbal medicines will attach to the same receptor sites as a pharmaceutical drug, but will ‘let go’ after a few hours and engage in hundreds of biological reactions before our bodies are done with them. Their side effects are basically nourishing, as they support structural components and functions, as well.”

What is it that renders one little plant so potent? According to Derick, the plant’s own biological need to survive. “The plants have been protecting themselves from predators, bacteria, viruses, and fungi for billions of years. The chemicals that they produce for self-preservation also serve to protect the animals and humans who ingest them,” she said.

Derick does have several favorite go-to herbs, but she cautions that one herb does not fit all. She recommends custom formulas for people with health situations that are chronic or not responding to a particular herbal product that generally is found over the counter.

“People often ask me which herbs they should use for a particular issue, such as chronic migraines or high blood pressure. Have you ever met a migraine or blood pressure reading that does not have a person attached? I find that the most effective strategy for achieving lasting results is to treat each person individually, rather than as a symptom or disease state,” Derick said. “Custom tailored formulas are much more effective. Of the 20 or so clients that I’ve seen for migraines, none have had the same protocol, and only one has gotten ‘the migraine herb’ feverfew included in their formula. Yet, all have enjoyed success in being nearly or completely, migraine-free.”

But most of the time, she said, “A custom formula is not always required for success.”

Derick’s picks for “seven safe medicinal herbs” that people can easily incorporate in their daily lives include the culinary forms cinnamon, ginger, garlic, rosemary, turmeric, thyme, and cacao (chocolate). These kitchen herbs and spices contain nourishing and immune-enhancing anti-oxidants. Many are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory as well. Additionally, all have been shown to interfere with various types of cancer proliferation in many research studies and clinical trials, according to Derick.

Attention gardeners: Of the millions of plants on the planet that are both nourishing and medicinal, here are some valuable local plants that grow wild here, according to Derick. Those she uses clinically include dandelion, chickweed, yarrow, stinging nettles, American ginseng (over harvested), poke (poisonous; must be used in small, controlled doses), and all the clovers. Knowing which parts to use, when to pick them for medicinal value, and how to prepare them are critical to their effectiveness. As a rule of thumb, Derick says the leafy parts are best harvested before flowering; flowers are picked when freshly opened and after the dew has dried in the late morning. The roots are most potent in the late fall as the plant top dies back and their chemical compounds settle downward. She cautions: Always identify your plants positively, prior to harvesting.

When herbs don’t work: If you have tried herbs for your condition and have had no success, (eg., Echinacea for colds), there are generally four reasons for failure, Derick says.

Number one: The product was made using the non-medicinal parts of the plant.

Number two: The product or herb was no longer fresh, and/or out of date.

Number three: Your dose was insufficient. Or,

Number four: It was the wrong herb for you.

If you have a ragweed allergy, for example, you may have a reaction to echinacea and chamomile, along with other plants of the Compositae family. So not only will it not work, but it can make your symptoms worse.

Most retail brands under dose their product on the directions for use, according to Derick. Many herbs need to be dosed more heavily and more frequently than people realize for a therapeutic effect. Echinacea is most effective at preventing colds and flu if taken in doses of 2,000 mg every two hours, up to seven times a day. However, Derick cautions, it is important to know the safe limits before assuming more is better.

Safety Concerns: As a clinician in a rural area, Geo believes it is critical that her work is both safe and effective—if she hopes to continue a successful career. Occasionally someone has an unfavorable reaction to a plant, or just can’t manage their protocol. This happens when using pharmaceutical drugs, as well. But the non-poisonous herbs rarely present a life-threatening danger, she said.

As far as safety is concerned, herbal medicine has a pretty good record. According to Dr. James Duke of the USDA, statistics on the likelihood of death from various sources places herbs and supplements as the safest (1 in 1,000,000).

As for drug-herb interactions, “We are in a continual learning state on this subject,” Derick said. “Most often, the herbs enhance the drugs, as they nourish the cells and support intercellular communication. However, people on blood thinners must be most careful. Since certain herbs are also blood thinners, bleeding episodes can occur when combined. Herbs like St. John’s wort activate the excretion of toxins and medications, so they are rarely compatible with pharmaceutical drugs. Certain foods are actually more of a concern than herbs, as they are taken in much higher doses and share many of the same actions,” Derick said.

“The plants have been on the planet for billions of years. We humans have been here for a few million years,” Derick said. “We rely on plants for life itself: oxygen, water, soil, food, energy, shelter, medicine. As for medicine, they are all we ever had until we began using heavy metals, single constituents (since 1802) and synthetic pharmaceuticals (since 1945). I call herbal medicine, original medicine. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be here as a species!”

Geo Derick offers office consultations, phone and Skype consultations, and has a booth at the Clarke County Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings from 8am till noon, May through October. Visit or contact her at or 540-955-4769.


JiJi Russell, a writer, yoga instructor, and Integrative Nutrition practitioner, serves as the wellness coordinator for American Public University in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at

Geo’s Triumverate

Schisandra: low thyroid, weight loss, energy and liver/gallbladder support that strengthens four body systems: immune, nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular.

Usnea: a broad spectrum anti-biotic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic that does not kill friendly gut flora. Geo uses it in cold and flu formulas for children and adults, and has found it effective on strep, staph, mono, MRSA, even herpes. And there are no reported drug-herb interactions with it.

Turmeric: her favorite herb for the cardiovascular system, as it “goes to the source of cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol to reduce vascular inflammation.” She believes it is a wonderful analgesic for arthritis, joint and tooth pain, a natural Cox-2 inhibitor, and a powerful anti-cancer herb.

Experiencing a Health Set-Back?

Experiencing a Health Set-Back?

Experts Say Remain Practical, Yet Open

By JiJi Russell

Most of us have experienced a health setback at some point in our lives. Maybe a recurring back injury limited your activity level more and for longer than you had hoped; or perhaps one of those recent tenacious flu strains snagged you and subsided only to give way to a sinus infection. Or maybe you’ve experienced a more grave situation, like a cancer diagnosis that required aggressive therapy. Whatever the details, a setback in health can prove challenging on many levels, and can put you through your paces both physically and emotionally.

I thought I’d put the question of health setbacks to four area health and wellness practitioners to see what insights they can to offer on how to move through those times when your health falls below par.

A common theme that emerged was the importance of self-education, which is to say learning as much as you can about your condition so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed. Another theme relates to exploring your options. There are many therapies and modalities available in our times. One person’s path to wellness might look very different from the person next to him, even if they share a similar condition.

Let’s see what the experts have to say.

Madhur D. Solanki, DO; Family Physician, Valley Hospitalists, PC (Winchester, Va.).

“Knowledge is an indispensable tool in dealing with a setback in health. Taking the extra step from having access to information to actually educating oneself about a particular condition is key. This education process can have the effect of reducing anxiety, creating realistic expectations, and allowing planning for the near or distant future. A commonly rushed 10–15 minute office interaction with a physician will likely be inadequate, but at least can be the start of the process of obtaining resources in the pursuit of gaining knowledge.”

Geo Derick, M.S.; Registered Herbalist, Nutrition and Health Coach,, (Berryville, Va.).

“Take simple steps forward. Choose ones that you can manage in your particular situation that will allow your body to heal, such as nourishing and hydrating yourself. Allow yourself time to rest. Ask for and accept support from others around you. It often takes focus and intention to heal, which can require great patience. Healing takes time. We often discover habits or behavioral traits that led us to a health crisis. This discovery can prove an essential part of healing our mind-body-spirit. It can be transformational.”

Kathy Stewart, M.D. Oncologist with Shenandoah Oncology Associates (Winchester, Va.).

“Compromised health, major or minor, can be among the most stressful challenges we face. After many years in medical practice, and witnessing thousands of patients and their families travel through health crises, I am convinced that the most healthy approach is the pragmatic one, especially in the initial stages. You must first clearly define the health issue that faces you and understand it as much as you can by speaking with your healthcare professionals and reading reputable sources of information.

Once you have a handle on the diagnosis and accept it, the next question is, What can I do about it? You need to determine a plan of action, put one foot in front of the other, and start walking. As human beings, most of us who face these kinds of situations simply do what we have to do to get through them. The last piece of advice is to treat yourself with the same empathy that you would someone else in your shoes. Don’t be afraid of asking for and accepting help from family and friends. In the end, it really does take a village.”

Celeste Krawchuck, D.C. D.I.C.C.P. Doctor of chiropractic with Berryville Family Chiropractic,

“Learn what all of your options are so that you can determine what is best for you. Keep a positive attitude, as your state of mind ultimately will affect your outcome. Chiropractic adjustments help not only with your physical level of comfort, but with your overall health and emotional state as well.”

My own personal recommendation is to try to incorporate deep breathing and meditation into your day, even if only for five minutes. Both practices can help provide a calming effect to your nervous system and can help you gain clarity when you most need it. “

Stay tuned for an upcoming overview of healing arts modalities and practitioners available in and around Clarke County. 

Before things start getting crazy around here

By JiJi Russell

As the holiday season picks up momentum, I have been pondering many topics of health and wellness to find a nugget of advice that might help people find balance and ease during the “season of joy.” When I consider the landscape of copious social interactions, abundant food, busy shopping—and keeping pace with an unusually packed calendar—one idea rises to the top: over- stimulation.

If your tendency during the last push of the year is to over obligate yourself, this one’s for you. I suggest you figure out ways to select and filter the stimuli you take in, rather than simply diving in, then cleaning up the mess (you!) afterwards. The more-of-everything norm that often characterizes this time of year (social engagements; packed schedules; shopping, etc.) can cause a hyper-stimulated state, amounting to an affront to your nervous system.

If you continuously tell yourself that you need to go faster, do better, and accomplish more, you might be setting yourself up for elevated stress. When our bodies perceive stress, our nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. This “signals a cascade of events to help us survive a life-threatening situation,” says Geo Derick, MSc, a registered herbalist, who teaches workshops on dealing with stress naturally. So, what happens when the “fun” we think we’re trying to have overwhelms us and our nervous system? “Our heart rate and blood pressure rise; our vessels constrict; we become hyper alert,” Derick says.

Ok, so maybe we’re a little amped up. Any harm in that? According to Derick, yes, because in this state, “Our adrenal glands produce adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol & aldosterone, all of which allow us to respond to emergencies swiftly, to maintain homeostasis of our critical body functions, and to perform in a crisis, Derick says. “In small doses it is good and necessary as a survival tool and learning mechanism. In continual excess, it can be damaging, causing chronic and acute health issues ranging from heart disease to cancer.”

The decibel level of parties, musical events, and kid-related activities; the visual stimuli that we take in when we shop or attend social events; the pressure to entertain; socialize; or eat—it can quickly add up.

If you’re tired just from reading this, take heart. There is good news: You still have time to take a step back and create the season you want. Here are some ideas to consider before saying “yes to everything.”

Parties: Give yourself permission to say no. I pick no more than one large social event a week during this season. Ask yourself if the proposed party will provide both strength (cohesion with your colleagues, for example) and levity. Ideally, it should be both fun and meaningful.

Shopping: Limit the to and fro. Choose to shop locally, in your own town or nearby, where you can walk outdoors from store to store. Fill in the gaps with online purchases. Forget the shopping malls. They can be highly overstimulating for the eyes, ears, nose (that perfume lady will get you!),  all the while challenging you to be meek and mild as someone steals your parking space.

Cooking: Ask for collaboration. If everyone brings a dish, no one person gets stuck in the kitchen.

Apart from limiting stimuli, Derick suggests, “Maintaining good blood sugar regulation by eating a good breakfast with protein, good fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables goes a long way to stabilizing our stress response.” She suggests centering practices like meditation, yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi to keep calm.

Derick also says using adaptogenic herbs like ginsengs, rehmannia, holy basil, schisandra, ashwaganda and licorice root help modulate our internal stress response and strengthen our adrenal glands.”

Awareness is a good first step. Become aware of your schedule and to-do list, and the demands each could place on your senses and your energy level. If you know, for example, that you will be in a louder-than-usual environment—think musical events, restaurants, parades, or exercise classes at a gym—consider wearing earplugs. Take the standard foam ones from a drug store, and break one in half. The half-plug will barely be visible, and will muffle sound rather than block it out. The noise at such places is typically loud enough to hear through the “muffs,” so you won’t be cut you off from the fun.

The main idea is to think of ways to limit the stimuli in your surroundings. There is so much extra “stuff” out there demanding your attention this time of year. You don’t have to let it saturate you.

This holiday season, choose your interactions consciously and judiciously. You can have the energy and attentiveness to enjoy the people and events that make for joyful moments.

In The Saddle

by JiJi Russell

Once Christy Dunkle sets her sights on a priority, chances are she will move it forward. Berryville’s town planner, who believes strongly in community involvement on issues of health and wellbeing, has lately focused considerable attention on several efforts that could positively alter the landscape and fitness culture of Berryville. The efforts center around infrastructure changes designed to encourage more pedestrian and cycling activity in town and around the county.

“Berryville is a great town to walk and ride,” Dunkle said. Indeed, many townsfolk have probably spotted Dunkle power walking through Rose Hill Park during a lunch break, or saddled up on the Bike Share Bicycle that the Town and County received last June through a grant from Bike Virgina.

Dunkle, who serves on the board of Bike Virginia, believes it will take a village of cyclists to effect real change in our driving-dominated culture. “In order for safety issues to become more highlighted, we need to have more people out there on bicycles,” Dunkle said. She believes, however, that “we are definitely on the way” to a more viable cycling and pedestrian community.

According to Dunkle, the Virginia Department of Transportation and their consultant coordinated a pilot program to develop a concept design along Route 340, which would enhance cycling and bicycle facilities along the corridor from Berryville to Luray. Dunkle’s office worked on a number of items, primarily safety and aesthetics, along the corridor, she said.

Also on the horizon, and perhaps even more meaningful to local families, a federally funded revenue-sharing project with VDOT could produce better sidewalks and other infrastructure elements in key pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares as part of the “Safe Routes to School” program (SRTS). According to the VDOT web site, the SRTS “assists interested localities and schools in the development of plans, activities, and infrastructure improvements to make bicycling and walking to school a safe and appealing transportation option for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.”

Berryville’s SRTS team is hoping to secure a grant to fix one stretch of sidewalk on Swan Avenue next to Johnson-Williams Middle School. According to Dunkle, a public meeting will take place November 26 with the middle school’s Health Advisory Committee in an attempt to gain public input on the proposed project. The meeting will be held in the AB Meeting Room of the Government Center at 2 p.m.

One motivating force behind Dunkle’s personal commitment to health and fitness lies in her love of travel. She stays fit so that she can enjoy yearly international adventures, which have included much hiking, walking, and cycling in Europe over the years.

The small-town planner loves the energy of urban environments. “Outdoor public spaces in these cities are so vibrant and fun,” she said. “My current favorite city is Glasgow, Scotland, and Buchanan Street is one of the best public spaces I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. [There is] so much going on: music varying from a grandmother playing the accordion, to big hairy shirtless guys playing the bagpipes, to one guy playing acoustic White Stripes,” she said.

Dunkle, who holds a Master’s degree in landscape architecture, appreciates the “amazing architecture and history in those [urban] walls,” she said. “It’s a little edgy, a little grungy, but you can feel the creativity there.”

Her passion for travel, coupled with the early death of her parents at age 56 (both died of cancer), keeps Dunkle honest about staying well. “Wellness to me definitely encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual . . . including diet, exercise, and lifestyle,” she said.

If, or perhaps better stated, when Dunkle’s civic priorities for Berryville come to fruition, perhaps the town’s landscape will more closely resemble those of the European towns and cities, where citizens would rather walk and ride than drive.