Sunday, December 29, 2013

So How Was It?

Unwinding 2013's Watch!
Yes, it's the obligatory "year end" post.  It's been interesting to post every month and see how the journey toward my goals progressed.  I won't recap everything, but overall, I'm very pleased.  I'm exercising more, drinking more water, and my house is neater with less stress.  While things weren't without their glitches, I try to remember that this is a long road and pit stops and course corrections are part of the trip.  I think it was a good year and I'm excited about 2014 - I'll post about those goals once it's actually 2014; no need to risk jinxing things.

In December, I set the goal of trying something new every single day.  This turned out to be a lot of fun and I enjoyed sharing my "something new" with Facebook friends, who were incredibly supportive of my attempts.  (In fact, this challenge gave me two of my ideas for 2014!)  When I look back over the past thirty days, I noticed how many of my "something news" involved food in one way or another.  Let's see:

  • Day 1 - I went to my hometown's annual Christmas tree lighting.  Friends, merriment, and carols.  No food.  This was a trend that would not last.
  • Day 2 - Tried scallops.  Didn't work too well, but I tried.
  • Day 3 - Had a Black Forest smoothie for breakfast.  Yum!  OK, I'm going to work the food angle now.
  • Day 4 - Tried gourmet hot chocolate with cinnamon.  Again with the yum.
  • Day 5 - Had snacks at the campus bookstore for Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day and bought a ridiculously on-sale sweatshirt.
  • Day 6 - Cooked a comfort dinner and used the good china and crystal just for me.
  • Day 7 - Tried hot jasmine tea.  (See, only a week in and almost everything is food-related!)
  • Day 8 - Tried a Thai dish called "drunken noodle."
  • Day 9 - Bought a springform pan with the notion of making a "from scratch" cheesecake.
  • Day 10 - Made and tried instant cafe mocha.  Serious yum!
  • Day 11 - Tried the "blue" Toblerone.
  • Day 12 - Doughnut holes from my hometown bakery.
  • Day 13 - Winter pedicure.  (See - it's not all food!)
  • Day 14 - Tried an appetizer called "Crunchy Thai Noodle."
  • Day 15 - Explored the "Farm to Front Porch" local food project.  It, of course, came with samples!
  • Day 16 - Went to the community theatre show.  Hilarious!  (And yeah, there were snacks at intermission.)
  • Day 17 - Discovered a wealth of do-it-yourself spa treatments on Pinterest and made a salt scrub.
  • Day 18 - Unwound with hot tea and a homemade peppermint foot soak.
  • Day 19 - Made that cheesecake!
  • Day 20 - Elegant dinner at a friend's house, featuring roasted winter vegetables and a brined chicken.
  • Day 21 - Tried tortellini al forno.
  • Day 22 - Tried a fresh-made ginger limeade.
  • Day 23 - Browsed in a nice jewelry store while my engagement ring was inspected and cleaned.
  • Day 24 - Made cranberry-nut bread from my mom's recipe.
  • Day 25 - Had a home spa night with multiple "treatments."
  • Day 26 - Started "Couch to 5K" with my first jog in years and years!  (It doesn't look like it's related to food, but I'm pretty sure it's an indirect result!)
  • Day 27 - Watched the anime masterpiece Akira.
  • Day 28 - Made (and used!) a homemade "achy muscle" bath to treat my owowowowow! from starting the "Couch to 5K" program!
  • Day 29 - Tried a to-die-for chocolate truffle made with lavender, honey, and lemon.
  • Day 30 - Made a composting bin with the idea of composting yard and household scraps to enrich the garden.  (Again, an indirect result of all the food!)

Whew!  As I said, much fun.  May 2014 be a good year for all of us - full of opportunities, delights, and growth.

See you next year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Month of New!

About three weeks ago, I embarked on what I called "30 Days of New" with the promise that every single day I'd try something new.  At first, I saw it as a way to get out of some very comfortable ruts.  Then I started seeing it as a tiny, daily adventure.  What I never expected was how friends would help me along this new road - I've gotten messages of encouragement, recipes, suggestions, and a very nice gift basket crammed with all sort of sweet and savory delights (still have to try the "blueberry acai puffs") to help me along my month-long journey.

If there's been a theme to this, I think it's been "be kind to yourself."  While I didn't start out with a specific message in mind, I have to say - that's not a bad one.  The holidays last year were a rats-nest of self-inflicted stress and holly-trimmed hysteria.  I wanted things Just So and ignored the realities of teaching full time (the end of the fall semester is beyond crazy) and having a commuter marriage, then felt like a Grinchy failure when I didn't have cards sent out by Dec. 10th.  (Or at all, finally.)  Not this year, we both swore.  And so far, we've done a much better job of enjoying our holidays - yes, yes, they aren't Martha Stewart's or Alexandra Stoddard's and our house will never be mistaken for Biltmore.  That was never the point.

We decorated in small spurts instead of a marathon, stuffed our discounted tree (remember my family motto of "Never Pay Retail!") into the car, were entertained by the new kitty exploring the conundrum of outside things being inside, and overall, it's much calmer and more celebratory.  Amazing what sitting down with a calendar and saying "no" to some things can accomplish.  Oh, there's still work to do - we need to tighten the budget and I need to relax a little more about things not being Just So - but wow! what a difference!

Among the things I've tried during this "30 Days of New" - you can follow the daily posts on Facebook - have been:

  • Sampling local foods from the Farm to Front Porch initiative and figuring out how we can be part of this movement to shop local.
  • Exploring DIY spa treatments on Pinterest - I even invested in little Mason jars for this one!
  • Finally taking the plunge and buying a springform pan so I could bake a "from scratch" cheesecake that was an overwhelming success.
  • Discovering that yes, I still don't like scallops, regardless of the recipe.
  • Trying other new foods and finding some I really, really liked (the "Crunchy Thai Noodle" appetizer at Joe's, for instance).
  • And the biggest one - making time.  Time for a cup of tea drunk while sitting in a chair, instead of standing over the sink.  Time to go see a community theatre play (hilarious, by the way.  Beloved holiday classics ("BHC") in a blender.), time to firmly shut my office door and go take a walk.

To everyone who says, "Well sure - she could do it.  She doesn't have to deal with my [fill in the blank of personal obligations here].  I couldn't do that," I say (as lovingly as possible; we're always so hard on ourselves), you're spouting complete and utter hogwash.  I have too much to do and too little time to do it.  I also have too little money to spend lavishly and freely.  If I can scale back my holidays and find daily joy, so help me, so can you!  Of course you're valuable to your employer and of course you're important to your family and friends.  Of course you take on too much - it's a way we validate ourselves and it's a way we show our love for those around us.  But it so very, very easily slips into resentment - and barking "No, you can't help - you'll just do it wrong" is a guaranteed ouch!   No wonder people stop offering to help us and we wind up doing absolutely everything at work, at home, and in between, often while sighing deeply and wondering why no one is helping us out.

Let it go.  Sure, maybe the sheets won't have sharp hospital corners.  Maybe the whites will have a brown sock slip in there (that was me yesterday BTW.  Color-safe bleach saved the day.)  Maybe the tree will be decorated a little lopsided.  Maybe (gasp!) an heirloom dish will get broken.

It'll all be okay.  Someone will have helped with the chores to show you that they love you.  The tree will be done and gorgeous because it was done with love.  And - well, dishes break - even heirloom ones.  At least you used them instead of needing to dust them.  They're in your house, not a museum.

Go try something new.  Do it joyously and with abandon.  If it works out, fantastic!  If it doesn't (scallops), you tried it with a spirit of adventure.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eleven Month Check-In!

Yes, this is the post that goes to eleven.  I've been a fan of Spinal Tap for quite a while and I didn't even try to resist using that line for this post!

So - the check-in.  I looked back over the year's posts and I can definitely see progress.  It's weird - I've gotten some very good habits ingrained, but they aren't exactly super-good habits.  For instance, I walk everyday, but I'm trying for a half-hour of a "walking for exercise" pace instead of counting steps.  Yesterday, my pedometer told me that I broke ten thousand steps for the first time in probably months and I felt just fine about that.  Sure, I'd like to do more, but I think it's more important that movement for health is becoming a habit, even if my usual step count is way under what my goal was back in January.

Eating better - that's a plus.  Thanksgiving was surely a feast day, but again - looking at the big picture here, my overall habits are much, much better than they were a year ago.  Lots more plain, fresh water on a regular basis, too.  Taken together, these habits have caused my weight to . . . well, stabilize.  I really haven't lost weight this year, but I also haven't gained a bit.  I think I'm about four pounds lighter than I was at the start of the year.  Yet I don't see that as a failure, either.  I'm not overweight and my doctor is quite happy with the results of all my blood work and routine tests.  I just don't fit the profile of a Victoria's Secret Angel - meaning that when I turn sideways, you can still see me and tell I'm of the female persuasion.  And that I can live with.

House - well, here's the real news.  My house is certainly "lived in" - I'll never have a house that makes Martha Stewart clutch her pearls and say, "You simply must tell me your secrets!"  But it's a happy home.  It's tidier on a regular basis than it's ever been (FlyLady, baby.  FlyLady.  You really can do anything for 15 minutes and those 15 minutes add up over the months) and it's calmer as a result.

Case in point - last year, my holiday season was marked by stress, crying jags, and frustration that was entirely self-inflicted.  Yesterday, for the first time ever, I spent part of Black Friday calmly un-decorating from Thanksgiving.  Then, with FryDaddy's help (he understands the truth in the saying "if Mockingbird ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"), we brought down all the Christmas boxes.  I worked for 15 minutes on getting some of the holiday stuff out and I'll do that again and again until everything is done.  And I'm willing to bet I'll be more serene and peaceful and happy than I was last year - which is really what it's all about.

Also - I'm taking inspiration from the Facebook Nation who posted all through November their "30 Days of Gratitude."  Last year, my holidays weren't that great because I insisted on perfection.  This year, I'm trying something new.  In fact, I'm trying a lot of new!  Over the last month or so, I've really tried to make an effort to try some new things - food, activities, etc. - so yesterday I started my "30 Days of New" by making time to go see the lighting of the town Christmas tree, which was small-town perfect, complete with live music and horse-drawn carriages.

We'll see how it goes, but I'm betting it goes all the way to eleven!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mid-Month Musings

I know that technically, this isn't exactly "mid-month," but I like alliteration and literal truth is so limiting sometimes.  Now that we have that out of the way . . .

I've begun to Take Stock.  To recap, the whole shebang actually started during the 2012 holiday season, when I nearly went out of my mind with stress and unmet, unreasonable expectations.  I swear, I'd never let anyone else talk to me the way I let myself go off on me.  Nuts, and all the more reason to surround oneself with good friends who won't put up with me doing that sort of thing.  So when we had the holidays in our rear-view mirror, FryDaddy and I sat down and applied our oversized academic pointy-brains to our own behavior - what had we learned from the chaos?

Thus began the plan - with The List.

With The List as a guide, I've spent this last year really trying to reshape some fundamental aspects of my life and how I live it.  At the heart of this experiment journey has been the advice of Samuel Johnson - "To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition."  (I've got that written across my mantelpiece, by the way.)  Knowing that I have no control over large swathes of my life, what could I do to make my home happier, more of a haven against the random cruelties and small indifferences of the world?

Thus began January.

Not everything is sweetness and light.  I still get bent out of shape way too easily, BUT - I can report some rather sizable successes, and we still have about five weeks to go in the year.  I'll recap all of that in my usual monthly check-in, but for now, I'd like to just say this:

The holiday season is upon us.  Don't lose your cool.  The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, peace, prosperity, and All Things Good.  Maybe your year hasn't been the best - there may be illness to contend with, or financial distress, or loss, or a hundred other things that happen to good people.

Find joy anyway.

Do it on the cheap, if you need to.  But take it from me, you're so much better off than you probably think you are.  That's not to say you don't have troubles and that life sometimes isn't painfully unfair.  But if you're reading this blog, you've got Internet access, which probably means you've got four sturdy walls and a roof.  I bet you've got both reliable electricity and clean, hot water available at the turn of a tap.  You might even have a pot of soup bubbling on the stove and a friend to share it with.

If so, take it from me.  You're better off than so very, very many.  You don't have what your neighbors have?  Big deal.  They very well might not have what you're taking for granted.  Heck, I woke up this morning grumping at the amount of weekend work I have to do when, lo and behold, there was a knock at the door, and eight college elves announced their presence - they were here to finish some yard work they had started last weekend, but hadn't been able to finish before dark.  They were young, energetic, cheerful, polite, and were giving up their Saturday morning to rake a stranger's yard.

Not too shabby.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ten Month Check In!

October's been a mixed bag.  The good habits I've been working all year to integrate into my everyday life - regular exercise, drinking lots of water, eating healthier food, staying on top of housework, and regularly taking time for small indulgences for myself - all of those got left by the side of one road or another this month.  In a way, it was depressing to see how quickly the wilderness crept back in to my little clearing.

But it's not all been gloom despair and agony on me. So let's look at what's been going on and formulate a plan for November, ummkay?

Different months are made for different things.  October was the month made for writing.  The month started with the annual regional popular culture conference, which was held in the graceful and somewhat quirky city of Savannah this year.  Last time I was there, I was strapped into a walking boot due to an Achilles' tendon injury, so I didn't see too much - and FryDaddy and I made up for that this go-round!  Our papers were well-received, we both learned some new things and we met some very nice new scholar-friends.  So, an all-around success.  For this trip, we had the best of intentions and (yay for us) we stayed within a rather strict budget (didn't go Tasmanian Devil at the deeply discounted book tables) and we walked a lot, but no - we didn't eat the way we should have.  But Walls BBQ is a must.  A must, do you hear?  (Seriously, I'm in favor of any 5 booth eatery where I can't get my pound cake because "I'm sorry, ma'am, it's still in the oven.")

This isn't right?
We got home from that and it was back into the throes of work.  (It should be mentioned that this was my fall break and, enjoyable as conferences can be, you don't rest all that much.)  In addition to my work load of five sizable classes, we were in the final stages of completing the Wanna Cook? draft, including the "bits & pieces" such as the acknowledgements and the source list.  As we're drafting those parts, other parts are coming from Our Intrepid Editor for revisions, and then we also started getting bits from our copy editor for the final fine-tuning.  It gets confusing to turn around that much that fast!  And there was Halloween candy.  And a spa day with Barefoot to celebrate (we both had milestones recently that were best marked with cushy robes and gigantic out-of-season strawberries).

In the last week, I've started making a real effort to get back to my established good habits.  I'm not there yet, but I have a plan.  In the meantime, the book is very nearly finished on our end of things (and hey - we've got a publicist!  I'm not sure what to make of that.) and the past months of good habits meant the house isn't in total disarray.  It's picked up (aside from one "hot spot" on the kitchen counter), but needs a good clean.  We got off-budget this month, but not to the point of using credit cards, so that can easily be corrected this next month.  And I can start carrying a water bottle and using the walking track again.  And FryDaddy and I are inking in some "couple time" that wild mammoths couldn't interrupt.

And I did not go mad.

I'm telling you - that's more of an accomplishment than it may sound.  In the past, I was so tightly locked into the shackles of perfectionism that if I didn't get everything crossed off my list ("Drink 70 oz. of water, check.  Walk at least 30 minutes, check.  Eat 5 fruit/veg, check" and so on), the day was a failure and I was a Bad Person.  To be able to look at the dirty kitchen floor and say, "I'll Swiffer it after work Wednesday" is a HUGE step!

Much work to do, true. But it's worth acknowledging that much work has been done.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Savor. Yes, You. Right Now.

Yeah, you have to look closely at the picture to make out the scratched-in letters.  That's sort of the point, though.  Savoring takes time.  Usually, we don't savor very well - we're in too much of a rush.  When you get caught up in deadlines and last-minute "emergencies that aren't" (I'm looking at you, everything to do with information technology upgrades) to the point that you forget to eat, you don't savor the meal that you hastily unwrapped and inhaled.  Sure, you kept from getting so hungry that you made a royal ass out of yourself in the client meeting, but really - you want to count that as a win?

Aim higher.

Look, I know more than I like to admit about failing to find balance between work and life.  I eat too many meals at my desk, I answer too many e-mails when I'm supposed to be at home off the clock, and I fret far too much about things, people, and places over which I have no - zero, nada, zilch, nil - absolutely no control.

So maybe I'm the perfect person to tell you this.


Just.  Stop.  Not forever, but just for a few minutes.

In the last few days, I've reached a major milestone in a project that started more than 18 months ago.  It's not done yet, although I think that faint shimmer on the horizon is the finish line, so I can almost see it from here.  This is a project that I am button-bustingly-proud of and it is only right and proper to take some time to savor the accomplishment.  (Seriously - if you wait for the world to crown you, you're likely to be waiting a l-o-n-g time for that sash and tiara.  I'm telling you, go buy your own and call yourself the "Possum Princess" or the "Count of Accounting" or whatever suits your particular fancy.  Don't worry what other people think - mostly, they're jealous that they didn't think of the idea and very few people will say much of anything to someone confident enough to wear a tiara, especially when coupled with a heavy scepter.)

So I've been savoring.  With the help of my intrepid co-author and Savoring Majordomo, FryDaddy, I have or have plans to:

  • Take a day off - no work at all on anything.  No checking e-mail, no "just this one thing."  Nuttin'.
  • Sleep in on a weekday.
  • Eat a deliciously hearty breakfast brunch that would make any decent physician blanch with horror.  But tell me what makes bacon better than warm maple syrup left over from a thickly-buttered waffle.  Exactly.  Nuttin'.
  • Read a sword & sorcery novel that is so by-the-numbers that I can predict the ending.  Read to the end anyway.
  • Take a nap in the middle of the day with my husband.
  • Decorate the house for Halloween.
  • Consider the possibilities of pumpkin.
  • Have a long phone call with my parents, who have been short-changed during this last writing push.
  • Discover new ways to combine coffee and sugar.  (Cortadito, anyone?)
  • Spend a day in an undisclosed location with a girlfriend, a stack of glossy magazines, and a licensed esthetician.
  • Make dinner from scratch.
  • Daydream about teaching the cats the foxtrot.
  • Eat an entire pint of really good ice cream in a single sitting.
  • Take time.

Above all else, take time.  Look around and be sure you can answer the question, "Why do I do this?"  Sure, sometimes it's simply to pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door; I get that.

But life needs to mean more than that.

Our responsibility is to make sure that it does.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Nine Month Check In!

A few new things to report.  September's been an interesting month, with the Wanna Cook? book project entering overdrive for the final push - by the next check-in, the entire book will have been drafted and the final bits will have been turned in for editing.  Breaking Bad wraps up its broadcast run this Sunday and next week, I have a paper to present on Saul Goodman and legal ethics at a conference (said paper is still - ahem - in a state that can most kindly be described as "rough draft" form.  Saturday's a busy, busy day!).  FryDaddy is also presenting and we both have school/work obligations.  As you can imagine, that's a lot of plates to spin.

This is the very reason why routines matter so much.  By now, housework has (mostly) gotten to a groove - laundry and dishes are caught up and the house is reasonably free of dirt (although pet fur is a constant accent to our decor) and that's a comfort in the busy, busy days that have been September and that will continue for another two weeks or so.  I scaled a few things back this month - I realized I was overdoing it and then beating myself up for not hitting every goal, every day.  A "star" day right now is exercise 30 minutes total (doesn't have to be in one fell swoop at 6:45 in the morning), drink 70 oz. of water, eat 5 servings of fruit/vegetables, limit the junk food (twice a week and only reasonable portions then), and do something positive for my overall mindset (I've discovered short guided meditations just before bed to help my crazywhirly brain settle and unwind from the day).  That's enough, I figure.  I'm a little less stressed, even though I'm in the midst of a very stressful period, so I'm marking this down as a win.

The big change this past month is that FryDaddy and I got serious about a very taboo area - finances.  Like many Americans, we have credit-card debt and were working from a budget that was more of a glorified checkbook balance than an actual plan.  We'd gotten tired of the stress associated with constantly being on a shoestring and we knew that we ought to be doing better - our income is decent and, while I still have a big chunk of debt from law school (and he'll soon have grad school loans to pay - but not undergrad, thankyouthankyouthankyou Mom Squared), we don't have car payments and our mortgage is quite reasonable - but it took us a while to commit to change.

Now we have.  We're just at the beginning, but already, I see a difference.  We've got a budget that tells our money where to go, instead of wondering helplessly where it went.  Any change in the budget (like when I forgot to include a couple of items and when we underestimated the amount we'd need for grocery money) requires us both to sign off on re-jiggering the columns, which still have to zero out so every dollar is accounted for.  We've committed to not using credit and throwing every extra dollar that comes into our paws at our debt.  It won't be short, and it won't be easy, but it's going to be SOOO worth it!  I hesitated to bring this up here (while nearly every American has debt, it's not something I find easy to talk about), but the point of these monthly check-ins is to be honest and accountable and, for me, debt is a dirty little secret.  It feels great to have a plan, instead of just drifting along, hoping that I get lucky with Powerball or some fairy dust hits my retirement account.  (For those interested, we're using the Dave Ramsey "Money Makeover" system.)  Again, it's not a quick fix, but we didn't get into this mess overnight, so it stands to reason that it'll take a while to sort out.  Journeys start with the first step, right?


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Importance of Kindness

Today, FryDaddy and I met our friend Barefoot for lunch.  Nothing big - it was at a place where you unwrap your food as opposed to white tablecloths.  But the company was stellar and the conversation sparkled.  All of which reminded me of a few things.

See, life has been a little too hectic lately.  I know it's not the Universe being Out to Get Me, but pressure has been coming from enough different angles to make me feel a bit "squozed" lately.  Too much work, in too little time, with too little rest will do that to me.  Add to that the fact that the news stories lately have been dominated by accounts of humans acting as if they had been raised by rabid hyenas, and a certain world-weariness had begun to creep into my everyday thinking.

Things just aren't that bad.  Not really - not the Big Stuff.  So with the changing of the seasons, it seems like a good time for a short list of things that show me that humanity still falls on the "worth saving" side of the scale and that I've got it pretty darned good.  For instance:

  • I live in a neighborhood where most people wave back at me when I'm out on my almost-daily walk with Spooky.  Or even when it's just me.
  • On the tragic anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded of the prayer of Father Mychal Judge, who believed so wholeheartedly in the basic goodness of humanity that his desires were summed up as, "Lord, take me where You want me to go, let me meet who You want me to meet, tell me what Your want me to say, and keep me out of Your way."
  • For my vocation (from the Latin vocare, "to call"), I do work that matters that I usually enjoy.
  • For my avocation, I do work that I enjoy.  FryDaddy and I are partway through the final push on the Wanna Cook? project and, not only do we manage to write together without getting our egos bruised by the other's editing of our work, we have a book cover!  And a pre-order page on Amazon!
  • There are entire Websites devoted to spreading news of people doing good things, often anonymously.  They remind me that I can do that, too.
  • Postsecret - a great site that reminds me that humanity is silly, soulful, caring, whimsical, and sometimes in desperate need of a hug.
Most days, I remember that I'm worth taking care of and - here's the shocker - other people seem to agree with me on that point.  It's weird how willing most of us are to take care of other people, while treating ourselves pretty much like three-day-old fish.  Kindness should flow inward, as well as outward.  Now I know that not every problem in my life - or in anybody's - can be solved with a hot bath and a well-brewed cup of tea, but those things seldom make things worse and so often (so very, very often) it's all about realizing that every day comes with an ending, that situations are temporary.

It's certainly true that you can't control your circumstances - you may well have ridiculous work deadlines or asylum-ready co-workers or a deeply-hurting shoulder or more errands to run than you have time/money and the kitty clearing off your nightstand might be the final straw that day.  What you CAN control is your reaction to those circumstances.  Accept that things seem off, that the pressures are mounting and a release is necessary for the mental (and quite possibly, the physical) health of you and those around you.  Then go take care of yourself, in whatever way doesn't involve destruction (no fair scaring animals, children, or adults who live with you) and start over the next day.  Some favorite suggestions:

  • Gorge on dollar store candy while glaring at a salad (I recommend Sugar Babies or Red Hots, although I wouldn't sneer at a package of Reese's Cups)
  • Watch a favorite movie or TV show (I find Firefly and Casablanca to be strong medicine)
  • Take the phone off the hook (short term only, otherwise people who love you worry)
  • Shut off the e-mail and texting devices (again, short term only)
  • Take a break from the 24-hour news cycle
  • Go on a long drive up to the coast or out to the mountains with Motown blaring from the radio.  It doesn't matter if you don't get wherever "there" is, just change your scenery for a bit.
Life is worth living and it's worth living well.    Make it a personal mission statement to do just that - especially in the times of turmoil.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Eight Month Check In!

The fall semester has started back and FryDaddy has gone back up-and-over the mountain for his final year of work in his graduate program. So eight months in to this journey, where do things stand?

It seems that good habits have (mostly) taken root.  I'm continuing with my workouts and, while my weight doesn't seem inclined to change, I feel much, much better.  I have more energy and I'm at peace with the dread machine known as the bathroom scale.  It's normal for me now to get up and do a half-hour workout before getting ready to leave the house, so it's definitely a habit.  I vary the workouts between sweat-inducing cardio (there's a cardio ballet one that I really like, although I'm pretty sure I disturbed the ghost of Pavlova with my interpretations of classical ballet), some light weight training (mostly using my own body weight, sometimes supplemented with canned goods), and stretching for flexibility.

I have housekeeping routines in place that have helped me feel more in control - there's always room for improvement in that area, but the house is "15 minutes from company ready" most days, with the major areas picked up, clean dishes, laundry caught up, etc.  It's rare that I don't have my work things ready the night beforehand and most days, I manage to carve out time for myself, whether it's through a cup of tea sipped instead of slurped standing over the sink or a few minutes a reading non-work stuff before bed.  By the way, FryDaddy is very onboard with this and is more than willing to pitch in.  A less-stressed Mockingbird makes for a happier Nest and who doesn't like that?


Areas for improvement?  Well, I still need to rein in my rampant sweet tooth.  While I eat properly and well about two-thirds of the time, I want to increase that percentage.  And I want to up my workouts to a consistent six times a week.  They don't all have to be in the morning, but I feel better when I do them, so it makes sense to do them often.  For both, I know what I need to do and, just as I Got Serious in other areas of my life, I need to apply the principles to that area as well.

Also, last month FryDaddy worked to tape out the front room and Barefoot and I spent two days in all manner of awkward positions transforming that room from a pale green that I loved seven years ago to a changeable warm off-white that is bright and gorgeous!  FryDaddy and I deep-cleaned the carpet and re-arranged furniture.  We also had some light fixtures swapped around and ventilation fans installed in the two bathrooms.  After starting a "family wall" of photos in the hall, we stood back and marveled and the works we (with some help) had wrought.  Nice.  Very nice.  It's so important that this house be "our" house and to do that, we needed to change some things - it may have taken us the better part of three years, but we're getting there, inside and out.

It's good to work hard and then be content.  That hasn't happened often with me.

Goals for this month?  Keep up the good work, and (aside from a Labor Day cookout), curb the junk food.  I've used the movie show I co-host (now with 50% more FryDaddy   If you're local, check out TV19!) as an excuse to indulge in too much buttered popcorn and movie candy for too long.  Time to sneak in baby carrots and grapes.  It's not a hardship - I like baby carrots and grapes and the movie food has gotten to the point that it's not a treat anymore.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Seven Month Check In!

I very nearly called this post "Retreat!  Retreat!" but it sounded too urgent and a wee bit militaristic, which is pretty much the polar opposite of what this post is about, so I kept with the established "monthly check in" theme.

At the start of July, I added regular daily workouts to my (still developing) routines.  I've de-cluttered most of the house, so it was high time I began to take a look at the clutter I carry around with me body-wise.  As I said before, I know what I ought to eat, and I've made some healthy changes in those directions, but my sweet tooth leads me to despair sometimes.  But what really bugged me was that I just didn't feel strong - and I wanted to.  So I had started experimenting in June with workouts and quickly figured out a few things:

  • I had to be realistic - why was I doing this?  My goal isn't to become a runner (no offense to my friends who go that way) or bench-press my body weight - I want to get fit, lose that same fifteen pounds that insists on sticking close to me, and have energy throughout my day.
  • I needed to pick something that I could do in my house - past history has shown me that gym workouts don't work well for me with my schedule.
  • I needed something that didn't require equipment.
  • I needed something that made me break a sweat, yet was short enough that I could do it often.

So I settled on three days of half-hour interval training (short bursts of intense activity, followed by shorter periods of less intense movement) and three days of strength training (starting at one set and adding another set every two weeks - I'm up to three and am aiming for four).  I'm experimenting with substituting one day of yoga for one of the strength training sessions and my regular half-hour walk is still part of my daily round.  How to do this?  Welcome to YouTube!  I have a regular set of videos I use (there's a boxing one and [hangs head] one that's designed around 70s pop music) and I might expand those after I've done this routine for eight weeks (I'm just about to start Week Six) - we'll see.

Not much change in either weight or inches, but I have to say - I feel better.  More energy and I'm beginning to feel stronger.  I'm going to keep with it - I'll report back in another month.  And I've heard that no matter how slowly I go, I'm still lapping the me that sat on the couch, so there's that.

This past weekend, my routines were disrupted a bit as I kept a promise to a friend and went on a women's retreat in the mountains.  I've never done such a thing before and I wasn't at all sure.  (Seriously.)  I have to say, it was magnificent.  We stayed at a Catholic retreat center that was basic (not rustic - all the modern amenities were there) and far enough removed from the world that you actually had time and space to listen to the clamor in your own head and work to still it - I thought of it as dealing head-on with my mental clutter.  The center had extremely limited Wi-Fi, which turned out to be a godsend for me.  I've become a touch tech-dependent and I believe it did me a world of good to unplug for 40 hours.  I left the iPad plugged in and used it as an alarm clock and noted the amount of water I drank, but that was it.  No logging my food (yummy summer camp style food, by the way), no checking Facebook or e-mail or news.  (OK, I did call to check in with FryDaddy, but this was massive unplugging for me!)  Obviously, I'm plugged back in, but I think that's going to change some this next month - unplugging meant I paid more attention to the people around me, instead of being that Jimmy Buffett lyric about "taking Polaroid pictures that are never in focus/Just to look at when they finally slow down."

This weekend was marvelous.  And these women are inspiring - tough, funny, honest, and quick to see the best in you.  Really, I want to be these women when I grow up.  Thanks to their example, maybe I'm a little further along that path today than I was last Thursday.

It's going to be a good month!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Proper Use of Downtime

Following the lovely madness that was the Joss in June conference (and we're still in the "wrapping up" stage of that project as we collect comments from attendees and make some decisions about ongoing "best practices" for convening a conference) and the end of my two summer school classes, FryDaddy and I had decided to take some time off in July.  Some of that time is going to be devoted to a couple of home improvement projects that we've wanted to do for two years (funny how that works, isn't it?), but we also knew we needed a getaway to have a chunk of time that was devoted just to us.

I highly recommend it.  In our case, it wasn't expensive - remember that I work for a public educational institution in a state that is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of pay scale and FryDaddy is a grad student, so luxury vacations for us are something quite different than they may be for others - and it was wonderful.  Since I was a little girl, my parents have had a beach place at the upper end of the Redneck Riviera.  It's a 1960s motel that was cut up into condos (complete with knotty pine ceilings!) and, with a little planning ahead, we can usually get some time down there in summer.  This time, my sister was down with her two youngest.  (Other members of the family come and go, but my niece is doing a gymnastics camp, so she and my sister are the constants in July.)  Our schedules don't usually permit much down time to visit - we live about two hours apart and we're both insanely busy, so our visits are usually the stuff of holidays.

This was nice.

I still have trouble unplugging as much as I want to (and as much as I should, to be honest), but I did all right.  I kept up with my newfound resolution to exercise thanks to YouTube videos and a willingness to look a little foolish in the living room.  We also took our youngest nephew to see Despicable Me 2 and got him totally sugared up on Slushies and Nerds.  I had a walk on the beach with my niece during which she explained the intricacies of her level of gymnastics.  All of us worked on a gigantic puzzle that was bigger than the table it was laid out on.  There was sand, and sun, and surf.  There was coffee savored in the porch swing.  There were days that started closer to lunchtime.  There were bookstores to explore when it rained torrentially.  And there was that most precious of commodities - time.

Don't overlook that.  Time.  You don't know how much of it you get and, to my knowledge, on their deathbed, no one has ever said, "If only I'd spent more time at the office."  Yes, work matters, but remembering why you bother in the first place - that ought to be at the top of the list every single day.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Six Month Check In!


This is a couple of days late and once you hear about June, I think you'll understand.  This was a wacky, crazybusy month - Joss in June took up any spare time that wasn't already devoted to my two summer school classes (which wrapped up two days before the conference; grades were turned in yesterday) and that's a schedule I hope to never have again!!  Yes, I know - I'm the one who set it up, but I don't always look out for my best interests.

For a conference report, go over to the main blog (linked above) and let me add one thing.  Ensley served as social media contact & guru and this conference simply would not have happened so smoothly and so well without his efforts. Communication is key and he kept things up to date, which is a much bigger task that you might initially think.

Looked at in the cold, hard light of day (okay, it's July in North Carolina, so it's more like the "hot, humid, languid light of day," but that doesn't sound as dramatic), June was rough.  All the hard work paid off - not just with the conference, which is garnering rave reviews and warm fuzzies by the bucketload (all of which are greatly, greatly appreciated!), but also with my classes.  Five-week summer sessions are intense and there's just not time to fool around, something a few students always unfortunately fail to realize.  But these were really good classes - students were engaged, interested, creative, and attentive.  Still - it takes work and a tremendous amount of energy, so I had days upon days in which I tended to conference details before class, did six-plus hours of song&dance for my classes, then dove back into conference "stuff."  By the time I was done, I was done.  There was far too much collapsing on the couch for a couple of hours, muttering "Love you" to my stalwart husband who kept things running, then dragging off to bed to toss and turn over what hadn't gotten done that day.

While some habits are becoming engrained - through this madness, I kept up with my basic routines, drank my water, ate fruits/vegetables, and added in one called "me time" (see my previous "Twenty Minutes" post) - my exercise often consisted of running around with my hair on fire and my eating habits - well, let's say that stress causes me to eat very badly and leave it at that.

So in a lot of ways, I'm starting over.  But in a lot of ways, I have good habits already in place; they're just a little dusty.  Also, in the last two weeks, I started playing with adding in half-hour interval workouts (amazing what you can find on YouTube) and I found a couple of online coaches who don't yell at me, but instead encourage, cheer, and in general, make me feel good about deciding to try something that's both new and hard.  (Really.  "In shape" does not describe me, unless the shape of that of cookie dough.)

We'll see.  I've been here before, of course, so what makes me think this is different?

I do.

I understand far better than I used to the importance of recharging and rest in the process of working.  Oh, I've talked about it, sure, but I never really "bought into" the concept.  I deserve to feel good in my own skin and to feel soothed when I come into my house.  So a little strength training today, sweep the front porch and water the plants, all followed by a luxurious massage, and next week - an "unplugged" vacation with my darling, a stack of fun books, and a beach.

Yeah.  A girl could get used to this.  And I hope I do.  Hard work is a good thing, but too much of it for too long is not.  Rest.  Recharge.  Renew.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

About That Getaway . . .

In my last post, I listed "say 'yes' to something spontaneous and slightly crazy" as a way to pamper myself in my continuing quest to both enjoy life more and avoid burnout.  I said I'd go into more detail about that in this post.  Well, my idea of "spontaneous and slightly crazy" was put into motion by the incomparable FryDaddy, whose talent for knowing my moods and indulging my whims is nigh-uncanny.  He'd made a few plans and we'd tweaked them a bit, due to a prior commitment I had at school (New Student Orientation and Sushi Buffet Fish Fry Open House) and off we went for a whirlwind getaway to Durham, which was the only town in North Carolina to possess a theatre showing Joss Whedon's adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. (Turns out we were wrong about that, but by the time we knew that, we were already having fun in Durham, so there it is.)

When I say "whirlwind," I mean it.  We got to Duke Tower around 7 pm on Thursday and left by 8 am Saturday (remember the Sushi Buffet Fish Fry Open House?), so it was a short getaway, but all hands agree - it was a successful, much-needed one.

Highlights include:

  • Duke Tower itself.  This hotel/condo establishment was created from an old cotton mill - they kept one of the smokestacks and the old fire tower is now the site of a breakfast cafe.  (We slept in and missed it, but maybe next time.  And we hope there's a next time!)  The Tower caters to long-term guests - corporate execs, folks participating in various programs at Duke University Hospital, that sort of thing.  For the cost of a room, you get an apartment - good-sized living room, full kitchen and bath, and a nice-sized bedroom with plenty of closet space.  It's an older property and the shower head was low enough that I had to buckle my knees a bit and poor FryDaddy whacked his nose pretty well at least once.  All rooms overlook the central courtyard, which features a pool (very romantic on a warm summer's night), plenty of shaded sitting areas with comfy chairs, an oversized chess set (the pieces were about knee-high on an adult), shuffleboard, and even a nine-hole miniature golf course! FryDaddy had carefully packed provisions and equipment and we had a lovely flank steak dinner cooked "at home" that first night.
  • Much Ado about Nothing.  I'm an unashamed Whedon fan and I was stoked for this movie!  Full review details are found here, but suffice it to say it was worth a three-hour drive.  If you think Shakespeare is not for you, I beseech you - give this one a try.  The language sounds natural and the comedy is full and rich.  Give yourself a break from the boomboomblowemup and try this screwball comedy.
  • Seeing old friends - we got together with a dear friend who we don't get to see that often for dinner and the movie and (mostly) I managed to not talk about work.  Gotta continue to work on that.
  • Dinner with said old friend.  The hotel recommended Pop's, an Italian-style trattoria close to both the hotel and the theatre (more on that in a moment).  It turned out to be an excellent suggestion!  Pop's is the sort of restaurant that is upscale-scrumptious without being snooty-snobbish.  They pride themselves on local ingredients and the difference is obvious.  It was so delicious that FryDaddy and I returned for dessert after the show, where we managed to convince the amused wait staff to let us talk with the chef/owner Chris Stinnett.  Our goal was not only to compliment the food and service (which richly deserved the "attaboy"), but also to ask if we could buy a couple of the heavy diner-style coffee mugs.  Duke Tower is great, but the coffee cups are smallish and we are full members of the Caffeinated Tribe.  Chef Chris was taken aback, but graciously acquiesced to our wackadoodle request.  Seriously.  Pop's.  Go there.
  • The Carolina Theatre.  Much Ado was playing in a small screening room and it was marvelous to watch this movie with an audience of like-minded folk (who also understood that YOU TURN OFF YOUR PHONE DURING A MOVIE.  Sorry.  Pet peeve).  The Carolina is a theatre for movie fans.  They also have live shows, but just check out their movie offerings - and don't overlook their "special screenings."  Great stuff, picked by people who know their films.

Sure, I wish the trip had been longer - but boy-howdy! - am I glad we took what we could!

Thanks, FryDaddy.  I continue to maintain that you're the best decision I ever made.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Twenty Minutes

I've heard it for years - "you have to take care of yourself," "you can't give what you don't have," "put your oxygen mask on before you help someone else," and any number of other variations on the importance of self-care as a method of caring for others.  I've often written about my quest for less stress, but I've had a hard time getting the habit to take hold and I doubt I'm alone.  I think for many of us, the idea of taking care of our own needs conflicts with our desires to be taking care of others; that there's some inherent virtue in going last, eating the burnt toast, and taking the shower after the hot water's gone.

There's not.  If anything, that behavior borders on Martyr-Land, which is a dull and guilt-ridden place to visit.  Therefore, I've been trying to work "me time" into life on a more regular basis.  It's difficult at first, but all the books and magazine articles are right - why save all the good stuff for company that may or may not come?  I think Americans tend to go all out and not be good at all at balance - we work like dogs all year with very little downtime, then spend our rare holidays overdoing it.  Too much rich food, too much sun, too much play, too much of everything.

So how can I moderate pampering myself?  Well, this is still a work in progress, but here are ten I've tried:

  • Take 15 minutes in the sunny hammock when I get home from work.  Sprawl there with a book that isn't work/research related.
  • Actually use those flavored sugars I bought during our last spree at the spice shop in Asheville.  (I'm typing this with a cup of coffee fixed with a teaspoon of espresso sugar by my side - I think it's the coffeeist coffee I've ever had, and I'll probably have plenty of energy in my summer classes today!
  • Make a strong cup of tea and drink it from the good china teacups that never get used.
  • Meet a girlfriend for gossip and pedicures.  I picked a bright, clear pink, but next time, I'm going further and getting a little design on the big toe.
  • Tell the Scoldy Voice in your head (the one telling you that this relaxation stuff is a frivolous waste of time) to go take a long walk off a short pier - I deserve to be treated well, and that includes by me.
  • Get girly with a bubble bath, a homemade moisturizing mask (yep, that's where the end of the mayo went, FryDaddy), and my hair wrapped up in a towel to let the olive oil/egg yolk deep conditioning treatment sink in.  (Rinse well with this one!)
  • Turned off my phone, at least for a little while.
  • Say "thank you" to the people who keep my life running more or less smoothly - I have a husband who works hard for the family and does most of the supper cooking.  (Other household chores are split, but are often my responsibility, since he's away at school most of the time).  He cooks well and he appreciates it when I notice.
  • Tell the Divine "thanks" - we're guaranteed nothing in life and, speaking for myself, I'm stunned by the calculus I need to count my blessings, even on my snarky days.
  • Say "yes" to something spontaneous and slightly crazy - more on that in my next post.

The part of  this that has really shocked me is how long the effects of treating myself like company last.  Everything they're telling you about this is TRUE!  Carve out ten, fifteen, twenty minutes for yourself every day.  Have a list of things to do - even something as simple as "don't eat lunch at your desk" can count.

We're willing to try any number of crazy things in our quest to get more exercise, become slimmer, and dump our junk food habits - how about trying this for 30 days with the goal of getting happier, becoming more peaceful, and dumping some of that stress we carry around constantly?  Set a timer if you are afraid you'll relax "too long" or make a sticky note with a reminder to "tell three people thanks today."

Just try it.  You might like it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Five Month Check In!

Which way is up?

One thing I'm learning on this year-long journey is the vital importance of "course corrections."  While progress has been in the forward direction, not all days are "perfect," and that's a good thing for me to learn.  I have a tendency - and I think I share this quality with many, many people - to underestimate how much time something will take and therefore, to plan too much for each day.  Then when I don't manage to cross everything off my list, well . . . I have to fight the idea that I'm a lazy, backsliding failure.

Oh, how dark and dusty and cobwebby are our brains!

While May was a good month, it was also chock-full of Big Days.  It began with the third anniversary of the decision made by me and FryDaddy to solemnize our relationship and agree publicly that we were in this for the Long Haul.  May also contained the exam period for the spring semester, which means it also had the grading frenzy.  There was graduation, a few solitary days at the beach (where I discovered a series of steampunk novels that I began tearing through and am trying hard to take the time to enjoy now that I'm back in the Everyday World), registration for summer classes, a fun-packed, but also wearying, weekend presenting on Joss Whedon at the Birmingham Alabama Phoenix Festival, and then the start of a super-abbreviated summer school session which will last all through June.

As you can see - too much going on there.  And the Joss in June conference that FryDaddy and I have been working on for a year happens at the end of this month, along with the aforementioned summer school sessions, so June is likely to be busy, too.  In May, I fell way behind on my "star" days (in fact, it's been three weeks since I even put a star on the calendar) and quick, processed food was an easy lure to get me through my routinely 12-hour-plus days.

All the more reason for me to take time out and off.  I'm hoping this month to start with little things, like making time for a cup of tea after my last class is over for the day.  (I like tea.)  Not constantly eating lunch at my desk while looking at the Internet.  More walks in the sunlight and saying "yes" to fun things with friends instead of regretfully saying, "No, I have a meeting at 7 tonight, but maybe in two weeks??"  Trying out that backyard hammock and watching the garden grow.

We only have so much time on this Earth and I want to spend more of it with those I love rather than with those I grade.  So it's time for a deep breath and a new look at things.  I want to keep working on menu planning to reduce the amount of angst over "what's for dinner?" and "oh, no, I need three things from the store" (which, at least for me, always seems to turn into $35).  I want to get back to eating food I can pronounce and getting in at least mild exercise every day - rushing from appointment to appointment doesn't count.

New month, new start!

Saturday, May 18, 2013


 May has been quite a full month.  It begins with the anniversary of FryDaddy and me having the common sense to say, in front of God and witnesses, "Yep.  This one.  Done and done."  The traditional third anniversary gift is leather - FryDaddy gave me a gorgeous, vaguely-steampunked, leather-and-rivet-bound copy of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which is a re-telling of Kipling's The Jungle Book that I greatly enjoy.  I gave him tickets to an open-air Bob Dylan concert.  (While Dylan may look a little leathery, I'll admit the gift was a bit outside the traditional bounds.)  FryDaddy will probably don sackcloth and ashes when Dylan goes to his eternal reward, whereas I'd never seen him in concert before and was very much the noob.  (Although I did know "Tangled Up in Blue.") However, I had a great, GREAT time and would gladly see him again.  I hadn't been to a concert in quite a while and the open-air venue (a little rain, but not much) made for terrific people-watching.  Everyone from two groovy-girls to a couple of white-haired gentlemen still in business suits - and everyone seemed to be having a good time.  It made for a wonderful anniversary celebration.

May is also the end of the spring semester and it was the usual rushrush of suddenly-frantic students.  However, the tumult is over and I even managed to clear out a filing cabinet in my quest to go closer to paperless.  (My lawyer training pretty much guarantees that I'll never completely make the jump.  As a species, attorneys just like paper too darn much.)

My summer herbs and vegetables are going in the ground later today - when it's been dry enough to plant, I've been grading or writing (I just finished copyedits on the Breaking Bad book today), but I need to get that done, because . . .

Chair for one, please!
. . . I head to the beach tomorrow!  Just me and just for a few days, but I'm so looking forward to it, even if I also have just a touch of guilt about wanting a few days away.  I love FryDaddy and the Furs (now there's a name for a garage band!) and our house and our life together - but it's been a rough ride lately!  Too many commitments, too many deadlines, and a few too many demands.  Time to take the phone off the hook for a couple of 24-hours and flip through magazines, finally finish Season 6 of Supernatural and dig my toes into the sand.

I understand that, to many, the idea of vacationing alone (especially when I'm in a commuter marriage where we don't see each other that much) seems odd and maybe even peculiar.  And it's true that I'll miss being at home.  But sometimes, you need to be gone to appreciate what's there.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Four Month Check In!

A little more each day!
Time for the monthly check-in of those New Year resolutions and, I'm proud to say, the news is mostly good and in a way that I wouldn't have thought of as "good" a few months back.  I guess that's what you can call "growth."

See, I'm using a "star" system.  I have certain tasks to do each day and, just like in kindergarten, if I do them all, I get a star.  If I don't do them all, but made an attempt, I get a star of a different color.  That's it.  It's a "yes/no" system; I didn't want to get into a Madras-plaid color chart based on how many of the tasks I accomplished.  All = one color (it varies from month to month; April is green) and not all = another color (silver this month).  I have more green stars than silver this month, but I've had plenty of days where I didn't make my step count (you try 8,000 steps in an April monsoon!), or I failed to eat five servings of fruit/vegetables (tonight, for example, a horrible day of grading meant I not only fell off the "good eating" wagon, I performed a reverse 2 1/2 somersault in pike position to stick the landing with chorizo dip for dinner.  My lunchtime carrots are long ago and far away). That sort of thing.

Here's the funny part.  As recently as two months ago, I'd see a silver star as a failure, even if I'd gotten four of my five tasks done for the day.  Somewhere along the way, I picked up a nasty case of perfectionism and let me tell you - that sucker will kill you flat.  If I didn't complete all my tasks, I felt like I wasn't quite good enough and that, my friends, is a soul-killer.  It's one of the reasons I marvel at my new attitude regarding the cleanliness of the house and the tidiness of the yard.  In the past, cleaning the house meant yanking the furniture out of place to get at the baseboards, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing, running six loads of laundry, and yes, when I was done, the house would gleam and be scented with the sharp pungent clean of bleach.  Outside, it meant digging a flower bed by hand - starting with tearing up the grass, then mixing in heavy bag after heavy bag of compost, garden soil, etc., then planting - all in one session.  At the end of either, I was exhausted and usually badly out of sorts and I never wanted to do it again.

Honestly, perfectionism can paralyze you.  By being so persnickety about - well, everything - it becomes harder and harder to start.  "Well," you think.  "I don't have time to do it right and if I don't do it right, it doesn't count, so I might as well not try at all."  Further, you seldom give other people a break, insisting self-righteously instead that they're just not trying hard enough.  "No," you say.  "You can't help, because you won't do it right and then I'll have to go behind you to fix it and that just makes more work."  You are, in short, a stressed-out shrew of a human being, who is clinically unable to give yourself or others a moment of compassion.  Clutter and chaos gain another toehold while peace and calm retreat a little further.

But people can change.  Slowly, but it's possible.  Now, I do a little each day and a few simple routines every day to keep the hot spots I've cleared from flaring back up.  (Thank you, FlyLady!)  And the house is cleaner than it's ever been, I'm slowly getting more organized (plan-ahead menus and grocery lists are next month's additions to the Isle of Calm), and I'm less stressed about it than I've ever been.

It's also a matter of having the right tools.  I tell students this all the time - although a hammer and a screwdriver are both useful tools, they are hardly interchangeable.  Use the right tool for the right job - it's much easier.  Yet I refused to take my own advice when it came to caring for my home, which is supposed to be a haven from the nuttiness of the outside world.  Gradually, I've been investing in better tools and, as Stepford Wife as it may sound, it really does make things easier to do, which makes me far more likely to want to do them.

Is the house perfect?  Is the yard?  Oh, no.  Nonononono.  But it's cleaner and flowers may yet bloom and tomatoes may yet be picked.  What's even better is that things are distinctly calmer, for there is Great Truth in that old adage, "If Mockingbird ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Sing it, birds!

If Mock ain't happy . . . 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day

While not quite possessing the pomp of Groundhog Day (really - top hats and tails for a woodchuck with a magical shadow?), Earth Day has steadily become a semi-large holiday.  You can tell by how many retailers have sales and giveaways and every year, a few more "go green."

Alas, I am spending Earth Day buried under grading that must be done (although it's crossed my mind to do some composting with a few of the items, let me tell you), but I celebrated/observed early this year.  My mom came down to the Nest, bearing shovels, spades, boxes of plants, and a can-do spirit that both inspires and exhausts me.  We spent a large part of the weekend scheming, digging, mixing, planting, and watering - in between trips to the local Home Superstore for various bits and parts.

Before - bare, ugly and hopeless.
Two hours of hard work later
Look, the yard is an ongoing project, I'll admit that.  But it's farther along than it's ever been. With the raised beds, hammock on stand, groundcover, summer bulb bed, and cunning plastic flamingoes, it's downright livable!

That's what the realtors call
"curb appeal"!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Three Month Check In!

Which is the Cadbury one?
Well, I'm about 90 days into my "let's get real about overhauling things" journey and it's time for a monthly summary.  I'm pleased to report that things look much better than they did a month ago.

First up, after the Doldrums of February, I had to get re-committed to my goals.  I did this and yes, I'm back on track. I broke a weight-loss plateau, which was nice, but more importantly, I am able today to look back on a solid month of drinking the amount of water I'm supposed to (just water - I don't count anything else, like my daily coffee fix, or my occasional sodas or tea) and eating at least four servings of fruit/vegetables a day.  (I know that's not enough, but that was my goal and I made it.  In April, I'll shoot for five.)  As silly as it may sound, an app called Plant Nanny is helping with the water aspect of things.  Since mid-March, I've "grown" a pompadoured dandelion and a Devil's Ivy that looks like a very happy celery.  Yesterday, I just started a cactus and I had to give that puppy 24 ounces of water before he stopped sulking this morning.  (Yes, I know how weird that sounds.)

Walking has gotten easier.  I've missed my daily 8,000 steps goal four times this month, but that's okay, too. Remember that I don't take "days off" with that, so every single day I'm trying to fit in those steps.  Some days - whether due to work, play, or just weather (March is changeable indeed!) - it just didn't happen.  Then again, I've made it more a priority, which is especially good on those l-o-n-g office days.  Get up and move - it helps your mind shift gears.

The house - funny story here.  About five years ago, I had my old-school jalousie windows replaced with full glass ones.  I was all about them being far more energy efficient, but when the installer was trying to demonstrate to me how easy they were to clean, because they tilt inwards, I looked at him like he was extolling the virtues of eating buzzard guts.  Wash windows?  Crazy.  Until I gave it a try this month.  I need to call that guy - he's right!  It IS easy, it DOES let in more light, and the whole house looks better!  I'm trying to follow the FlyLady system of "it's good enough and you can do anything for 15 minutes a day" as I declutter and organize the house this year and with window-washing, all I'm doing is washing the windows of one room a week.

By the way, if you're feeling that your house is cluttered, dingy, crowded, and hardly a place of haven from the hurly-burly of the world, RUN, don't walk, to and click the "Getting Started" tab.  Then shine your sink.  I know, I know.  It sounds silly and irrelevant.  Do it anyway.  I found this system just before the New Year and it's mind-blowing.  It'll take me all year to get it down pat, but I've got the basics and I've decluttered a ton (probably literally) in 90 days and I've got my morning/evening routines in place.  And yes, I work full time.  You can still do this and your house can be a place that welcomes you rather than a place you want to hide from.  15 minutes a day.  Don't try to do it all at once.

In other news:

  • Easter is tomorrow!  I have an inexplicable urge to put on a flowered hat and this is an urge I shall obey.
  • There's no joyous Easter without the solemnity of Maundy Thursday and (especially) Good Friday.  On Maundy (Holy) Thursday, we are reminded of the call to serve others that is a hallmark of the Christian faith as the pastor humbly washes the feet of a congregant.  (It's a holdover from the Catholic Church and the newly-elected Pope Francis got this one right.  Wow! Jesuits. There may be some serious shaking up of things with this pontiff.)  My religious tradition also involves a Good Friday service that chills me as with each of the readings, the sanctuary gets progressively darker, until the final words "It is finished" are spoken, the Christ candle is extinguished, and the massive book of scripture is slammed shut.  Congregants then disperse in silence, a far cry from the usual chatter that follows my favorite benediction: "Go preach the Gospel.  Use words if necessary."
  • My drama class finished their examination of Macbeth by watching Kurosawa's Throne of Blood this week.  Yeah, everybody (and there were a few) who sneered and told me that my students couldn't appreciate/handle a black-and-white film with subtitles and even the ones who thought I should show it for the same reason parents give Brussels sprouts to their kids - they won't like it, but it'll be good for them - can please accept my invitation to go take a running leap into the nearest lake.  They got it, it was valued over the BBC "straight" version they saw last week, and several of them loved it.  That made my day.  It really, really did.
  • In scribbling news, a major milestone has been reached in the writing of Wanna Cook? the guide to Breaking Bad that I'm co-writing with Ensley (also known here as FryDaddy).  We have a detailed breakdown of deadlines for the rest, and the whole enchilada is due to be written, edited, polished, and (whew!) handed it for printing in mid-October.  It's going to be a wild six months, but I sincerely believe the bulk is done.  
  • It's a gorgeous, early-spring day, I've got a house that's decently in order, a husband who thinks I'm the best decision he's ever made, two cats with distinct personalities, a dog that could make Scrooge smile, more friends than my house can hold, work I enjoy, a weekly movie show, and a book contract.  On top of that, I have a spa day scheduled Monday with two girl friends and next week is spring break.
  • It's good to count your blessings and run out of fingers.
Happy Easter to all!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Praise of Hobbies

"Where the waving wheat
Can sure smell sweet . . . "
Last night, I went to see a community theater production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!  I have to admit, although there are other musicals I like more, I have a weakness for this show that goes all the way back to my fourteenth birthday when my parents took me to see a dinner theater production - believe it or not, I still have the program tucked in a box of mementos up in the attic.

I left humming snatches of various tunes - as I almost always do when I leave a musical.

It was a good production, too.  Musicals are tough to pull off in any event and Oklahoma! has a few special twists to it.  The show itself is historically important and is often cited as the first American musical to use the songs to actually propel the action forward, as opposed to being dropped in to the show to provide a thin excuse to have pretty chorus girls twirling about.  It's unashamedly optimistic and upbeat, yet has that oddly languid Agnes de Mille "dream ballet" sequence at the end of the first act.  It's loaded with stereotypes and a large part of the plot involves the "buying" of Ado Annie, which bugs me in a way that my 14-year-old self ignored.  Still - I like Oklahoma!  (The show.  The state's got some problems, especially in their legislature, which is fond of personhood and anti-science bills. So far, none have made it into law, but try, try again seems to prevail.)

And here's what I really liked about last night's show - community theater.  Look, it's not put on by professionals, and I likes me some Equity razzle-dazzle.  But - there's something gloriously pure about people cheerfully sacrificing their all-too-precious free time to learn their parts, sew costumes, build sets, shift scenery, hang lights, and the half-million other things that must be done by the time the curtain rises in return for nothing but applause and maybe a rose with a spray of baby's breath given by a family member after the curtain call..

We all need hobbies.  That idea of "all work and no play" making Jack a dullard is a good notion to hold up to the light every now and then.  Think of how much more interesting cocktail party conversations would be if they started with the question, "What do you do for fun?"  Not "What do you do?"  Almost everybody I know needs a paycheck and that, of course, eats up the majority of their time.  Not much choice there, so what someone does for a living might be interesting (and heaven knows that all too often we allow ourselves to be defined by our occupation), but what someone chooses to spend their rare free time on - that will tell you something deep and true about a person.

What do you do for fun?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Two Month Check In!

Also know as "Resolution Hangover."

At the end of last month, I posted an update on my New Year's "non-resolutions," and it seems like a good idea to continue - even though February was not a particularly "yay, team Mockingbird!" sort of month.

Things started off well - routines were starting to emerge and I was committed to making a number of gradual, yet ongoing, changes in my lifestyle.  Then - well, February happened.

I've said for years that February is only the shortest month in terms of actual calendar days.  I've often found February to be dreary and l-o-n-g.  Maybe it's winter hanging on with icy claws; I don't know.  At any rate, the second half of this month was beset by one little trouble after another that provided me with excellent incentives to cast aside my baby good habits.  Here it is at the end of the month and I can report that I need to re-commit and start anew.  I didn't take proper care of myself, allowing outside pressures and deadlines to loom larger than they needed to and I forgot what Meat Loaf tried to tell me:  "Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are."  I got behind, I had some minor dental work that had miserable complications, I caught the late winter crud (which turned into Gallumphing Bronchitis) which kept me from getting exercise and had me eating comfort food that was loaded with fat, sugar, and sodium, so I felt even less energetic - repeat dreaded cycle.

I got so wound up that I couldn't see straight - which is what it usually takes for me to actually (gulp!) ask for help.  On top of my usual workload, I'm "boots on the ground" for putting together a conference in June and I'm on Day 2 of the 30 Day Push to get the draft of the book project I'm co-writing in to the publisher.  It's too much all at once, even though I'm not solely responsible for either of those HUGE projects.  I'm told sensible people ask for help - it takes me getting my imaginary Supergirl cape caught in the phone booth door to see the truth of that.  But I did it and you know what? No one seemed to think I was a slacker for needing some assistance.

Go figure.

So here I am - blank slate.  Maybe I'll reach my walking goal today and maybe I won't quite get there, but I'm back to recording it.  Maybe I'll eat my "gold star" number of fruit/vegetable servings and maybe I won't, but (yep) I'm back to recording it. And maybe I'll go a little easier on myself and those around me.

That one's a definite.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One, Two, Three . . .

It's been a rough patch here at the Nest and I'm not pleased to admit that I've been engaged in a certain amount of unflattering whining.  I'm now heavily involved in resetting my attitude, so let me explain.

Two weeks ago, I was adopted by a skinny kitten who has since told me his name is Jazz.  We did not need another cat, weren't looking for another cat, but things sometimes sort of happen and I'm a marshmallow when it comes to strays, cold days, and busy roads.  Some random guy at the run-down apartment complex we were walking by offered us a beat-up cat carrier and my walking buddy and I took turns carrying our newfound friend a mile back to the car.  The vet declared him healthy (worm and mite free, no feline leukemia) and lo, the pack is officially censused at three.  It gets wearisome trying to keep the kitten's food for the kitten and Jazz doesn't yet know that we do not eat Mockingbird's hair at night (or any other time, for that matter). The house is hectic as the critters sort things out and I try to keep the peace and remind all the Furred Ones that they are special and pretty.

As a teenager, I had braces and, like many teenagers, I wasn't too diligent about brushing and flossing which ultimately resulted in straight teeth, but also a mouthful of dental work.  One of my back molars was more filling than tooth and when the twenty-year-old filling gave way, a crown was indicated.  Not a particularly pleasant morning, but the temporary crown was fitted to get me through the time while the lab made the permanent one.  Three days later, the temporary popped off and the dentist was closed the next day, so I've been limping along until I can get to the office tomorrow.  I know it's not serious, but it HURTS!

Also, we had an unseasonably pleasant day weather-wise and I rolled down my car windows to take advantage of that fact.  Now my passenger side window is proudly open to the elements which yesterday, included a beautiful couple of hours of fluffy snow.

Because of the tooth issue and the snow, I've thrown aside the good habits I'd been working so hard to develop - I haven't walked enough, haven't eaten the right foods, and didn't want to do much to keep the house tidy - and I felt pretty crummy about all of that.

Safe to say, I have not been a pleasant person to be around the last 36 hours or so.

It's so easy to get caught up in this sort of "poor me" thinking, but the fact is, it really isn't so bad.  Sure, I've been making do on yogurt and protein drinks, but you know what?  I have yogurt and protein drinks - and when I made it up to mac 'n' cheese last night - well, that was a cause for celebration!


  • A kitten with a sweet disposition and a distinct desire to be a cuddle-monkey has deigned to share our Nest.
  • The dentist will cluck over my discomfort and take care of me tomorrow.  
  • I have a husband who went out this morning and brought back pretty much the entire aisle of "tooth pain" medication from the drugstore.
  • I have friends who not only listen to me gripe, but then bring me homemade mac 'n' cheese.
  • Maybe I'm developing better habits than I think, if it's bugging me when I'm off-track.  And maybe I ought to ease up a little.  No one (well, no one sane, which probably lets me off the hook) expects someone who's under the weather to walk 3.3 miles and crunch carrots.
  • I have a reliable car and a trustworthy mechanic.

Blessings.  They're worth counting.  And there's nothing like a short run of minor misfortune to make me appreciate how lucky and blessed I am in my everyday life.

I just may dance a jig.  Well, probably not, but the idea is there.