Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bright Lines

I have often found Gretchen Rubin's blog to contain useful life advice---the kind of stuff that should be common sense, but unfortunately is not universally noticed and executed. One topic I've been considering lately is her categorization of abstainers vs. moderators, described here. I always considered myself a moderator, because the thought of never having french fries or chocolate or wine ever again was a horrific thought. What I didn't grasp, though, is that it doesn't have to french fries or chocolate or wine. These actually happen to be things I moderate pretty successfully and have no need to banish from my life. For things I really do want to rid my life of, abstaining may end up being the most effective strategy for me.

If I want to waste less time playing internet games or surfing time- and soul-sucking sites, I need to commit to never going there. Because once I'm there, its hard to limit to 5 minutes or 10 minutes or even 30 minutes sometimes. I don't download any games for myself on my phone. There are a few sites that I DO NOT check ever, even clicking over from another blog, because they have proven to be addictive. I recently re-started my rule to not use my phone while in bed (it is upstairs with me, because we don't have a land line, in case of emergencies). I check Facebook only on weekends.

For food related things, I prefer to concept of hard and fast or "bright line" rules (also discussed by Gretchen, here). I love food and food/drink are an important part of many experiences to me (travel, celebration, comfort). While some foods are definitely not as good for me as others, in the absence of any medical issues (which thankfully haven't come up), I do not see the need to NEVER eat any type of food that I like. When I find myself overindulging in something I prefer to eat less frequently, it helps to create rules around when I can and can't have that thing.

When I worked in the lab, there was ALWAYS some sort of home-made baked good in the kitchenette. There were several women who apparently stress-bake on a nightly basis and transferred it all onto their co-workers waistlines. As much as I wanted to avoid the unnecessary sugar and calories, it was hard when you are walking by and its 2 hours until lunch. So I did "no baked goods" months" pretty frequently to get back on track and then would allow myself one treat/week. It was easy to abstain for the month because I knew there would always be treats later. I don't have coffee or caffeinated tea after 10 am. I don't drink the night before a workout or run. We don't keep ice cream in the house, but can go to the ice cream shop and have it anytime (which works out to maybe once every few weeks during the summer). I only eat high-quality (expensive!) dark chocolate.

I've been doing the FODMAPS diet for IBS and I could (and will, later) write a whole post on it. Bottom line, I haven't found it terribly helpful in controlling my symptoms but I did notice that the gluten-free aspect of it has pretty much removed any temptation for spontaneous junk food & treats. I went to two social gatherings and couldn't eat a single thing there---which was fine, I had eaten at home---but typically I would eat at home and then help myself to a massive "snack". I walk right by the pastries set up for morning meetings, and leave the boxed sandwiches (which themselves are not bad, but the box always contains chips & cookies for good measure!) at the conference in favor of the salad I packed. No need to bargain with myself or justify or even feel deprived. "I can't have that" is a really useful thing to tell yourself and others. Of course, I don't intend to stay off gluten for the rest of my life. First, it isn't helping. And second, that would mean NEVER having mac n' cheese or pizza (two of my favorite foods) ever again (no I do not want to try the gluten-free varieties---it defeats MY purpose in this). What I AM planning to do, is eat gluten-free 95% of the time, with the option of having gluten-filled goodness for special occasions (pizza from our favorite place, which we get once a month or less, dinner out---again once a month or less, and while traveling---just to keep it easier). Bright-lines.

I'm trying to figure out how to use this strategy to limit my internet time---my last nemesis. I've tried setting daily time limits, I've tried restricting to certain times a day. Nothing has really stuck long term. Thoughts? (BTW, see Sarah's recent post for a similar topic).

Monday, October 13, 2014

TID (three times daily)

I've been trying to get in the habit of noticing and recording the good things in life...a "gratitude practice" if you will (and no, I will not, I cannot say those words out loud without laughing). In  January I started a one-line journal, where I briefly listed 3 memorable events from each day. I can't remember why, but I quit after about a month of that.

I decided to write in the journal again, and will jump-start the habit by writing my three things for this weekend (both days) here; this'll double as a weekend update. On a broader note, the "restart" I noted last weekend with the boys really did stick, and the past week and weekend were so much more relaxed and pleasant. I could finally let out the breath I didn't realize I'd been holding. Instead of 5 time outs a day, there was one for each kid all week. All the time I'd spent yelling/nagging has given way to praising for good behavior. It was actually...dare I say...easy (ish) to be with them.

I had clinic in the morning, a fact that I was initially annoyed about. Once I was there, however, the frustration melted away as I immersed myself in the work. Listening, questioning, putting the mental puzzle together, educating, reassuring. I was doing good work and it was extremely satisfying.

I met the boys at B's friend's birthday party in a bowling alley. The kids had a blast. On my new diet, I couldn't eat any of the unnecessary food that was out there, which I consider a win. On the way home, we stopped by the new plaza in front of city hall, with water jets shooting out of the ground (not really a fountain---what do you call those?). B (who was cranky because he didn't want to leave the party & his friends) was calmed and mesmerized by the sight and sound of moving water, as was I.

G and B got off the bus early to run some errands and L & I went home to nap (he slept, I read blogs & such on my phone). They got home and came upstairs, which woke L up. We all went downstairs and the boys Skyped with grandma while I took the dog on a walk and then went to the liquor store (we were out of wine, and I wanted some). Instead of the little store in our 'hood, I went to the nice big one further away. They were having a wine tasting and I tried a few varieties before I realized the wine I was tasting was $50 a bottle and I had no intention of purchasing it. I got my $10-$15 bottles and walked home. It was a gray, chilly, drizzly day but I could still appreciate the fall-ness of the weather and the pleasant anticipation of returning home where it was warm and dry and full of laughter. I often dread returning home after getting some time to myself---because I usually return to chaos and shouting and mess, so this was a new and exciting sensation.

We took the dog and the kids and went for a "hike" and picnic in the park. The boys had invented an imaginary pet, a baby unicorn named Mary. Mary had gotten away from us and was running through the trails and they had to catch her. I loved watching the boys and the dog scamper on ahead of us, happily chattering and laughing in the brisk cool day, stopping to gather rocks and sticks (boys) and sniff the ground (dog).

We got home and G took L for a haircut while B and I stayed home. I worked non-stop in the kitchen, getting our food-prep done for the week. B decided he wanted to help and we put on rousing "work music" and he helped me empty the cutlery and pack snacks and fruits for their lunches. He was so proud of helping, and it made the work less drudgery for me to have a companion.

The boys then settled in to watch a movie and I finally had a chance to shower and try on some clothes I had ordered on line. I got a few sweaters and tops from Boden, and to get a sense of the look, I tried them on with my winter pants (i.e. not cropped or ankle-length) that I haven't worn since last spring. The pants FELL OFF. Like, I put on the cream pants, and they were sagging and held up solely by my hip bones. Then I tried the black ones, and walked across the room to get another shirt to try on and they were at my ankles. I don't know if its the HIIT work-outs I've been doing for over 2 months (I basically only do 2 30-minute workouts a week, I haven't run in over a month but have visibly gained muscle and feel leaner) or the highly restrictive FODMAPS diet (that I've only been on for 2 weeks, and still allows for large servings of tortilla chips and brie) or something else but I've clearly lost some weight.

Now to bed, tomorrow begins a new week.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Birthday weekend and other updates

L turned 3 this weekend. He was pretty excited about having "my birthday" but we soon realized that "my birthday" in his mind translated to "birthday cake". So it was a frustrating and confusing day for him since the cake was planned for after dinner.  We also had some meltdowns from B who just couldn't get his mind around someone other than him getting attention and presents.

Sunday overall was a really nice day, and I know the boys had a good time. We didn't have a party for L, but we did attend a picnic from my work, where they played with lots of new kids of all ages and sampled everything from the dessert table. We had inadvertently accepted a dinner invitation with friends and when I called later to ask THEM to come over instead because it was L's birthday, she insisted we come over anyways and just bring a cake. So he did, and the kids had a fun, if late, night playing with their friends.

Saturday wasn't quite so good. It started off dismal and rainy, G and I had a fight that simmered most of the day, the boys were in particularly bad spirits and at one point 3/4 of us were crying. We decided to "reset" by having the boys watch an episode of Dora and promptly leaving the house for the library, park, and dinner out. It worked. We were all doing much better by the evening.

After being successfully (suspiciously easily) potty-trained for over 6 months, L has hit some major regression. We are cleaning the floor with bleach a LOT and ended up buying pull-ups for him to wear all weekend because ewww and also every trip to the toilet ends up with tantrums and screaming and it became too much. He did successfully poop in the toilet again last night & this morning....maybe we've reset that button too?

I actually feel better on the low FODMAPS diet. But I'm having a hard time feeding myself dinner. I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every weekday (and just graze during the weekends) so that is easy, but dinner is a problem. We've got a macaroni & cheese casserole to go in the oven for dinner tonight but I can't eat that. I've been eating a lot of tortilla chips, fish, rice, oranges, and eggs. Maybe I'll have eggs and potatoes for dinner tonight. I'm going to continue the strict diet for 2 full weeks (so until Sunday) and then start the re-introduction phase which basically means trying small doses of certain FODMAPS classes three times a week, sequentially, to figure out which classes are causative for my symptoms. I'm hoping I can re-introduce legumes at the least, and certain veggies. I can live without apples and peaches and I know I am lactose-intolerant.  Gluten-free would be difficult but allover much healthier for me. Not eating broccoli, onions, garlic, asparagus, cauliflower, mushrooms, and beans just means I am eating more rice and potatoes.

I had my first visit with a new (after that ill-fated attempt last fall) therapist last week. I really like her. She is lively and easy to talk to, not just staring at me with cow eyes to "go on, tell me more". I also know what I'm looking for and she was very upfront about her style, and the fact that she will check in regularly and not be offended if I tell her this isn't working out. The first visit was more introductory, and I also had to tell her a little bit about ALL The things that are causing me anxiety. It was quite a list and just having to talk about all that stuff left me pretty shaken up, but I figure that is expected. BONUS---she has a background in working with children and child psychology, so she can also offer some suggestions on the issues we are having with the kids.

When I came home from the appointment, G mentioned he had also made an appointment with a therapist, regarding his inability to deal with some of the kids' behavior. He saw the same therapist a couple of years ago about similar issues and it seemed helpful, I think he needs a tune-up. The funny thing is, the things his therapist told him? Were the exact same things I was telling him. He just needs to hear it from an outside source I guess.

Still working on limiting social media time. I've eliminated a few of the biggest time wasters for 2 weeks now, which is great. I'm trying now to see how I can limit overall daily social media use---maybe 40 minutes max per day (20 minutes AM, 20 minutes lunch). That leaves enough time to read and comment on most of my regular blogs. Other than writing here or working, I don't want to jump back on the computer or phone after dinner.

It is still very much a work in progress and I'd appreciate any tips for limiting blog-reading, etc.. (I use leechblock)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ups and Downs

Despite the recent challenges I've been chronicling here, life is overall pretty good. I like the fall season, so much more laid back and expectation-free than summer. The kids are infuriating a lot of the time, but there are glimpses of real sweetness speckled throughout the day where I am amazed by their personalities and their relationship together.

The other night bedtime took twice as long as usual because they wanted to race down the stairs, L on his belly super-fast, and B bumping along slowly on his bottom. Then they held hands and went "round and round" until L fell down (always L) and cried. Then got up and wanted to do it again. Then I told B he was getting a time out (for swinging L around so hard he hit his head on the bed frame), and they ran off and shut themselves in the time-out room together (all the while giggling and shrieking "TOGETHER!!!"). L told B he wanted to sleep with him in his bed and B's face lit up like nothing I've ever seen...only to become sobbing and crestfallen when L changed his mind and went into his own bed to sleep.

The other morning we were all late getting ready because when I mentioned that L's goal for the day was not to have any accidents (he'd been accident free for >6 months when suddenly  he's been having accidents of the gross variety every morning). B got into the idea of "goals" and we each had to list and write down, and review over and over our 7 goals for the day. There were 4 universal goals:
  • Keep underwear clean
  • Don't yell or hurt
  • Try hard and learn
  • Listen
B added the following: eat a proper dinner, behave during stories at night, and don't pee in bed at night. L just kept repeating "my goal is not to poop my pants". It was actually kind of sad.

My MIL was here for 2 weeks. That was stressful in many ways, but this time we planned ahead and took full advantage and got a night away on the full weekend she was here! We left Saturday after swimming/dance class and came back Sunday before dinner. It was SO NICE to not have any worries about the time and to have enough time to do fun things but also to simply walk around and talk. It was that talk that prodded me to a) call the doctor to get referrals for therapists for my anxiety and b) start working very tentatively on changing my work situation (its a 5 year plan right now, but even THINKING about the plan is such a huge relief, its re-energizing). 

Part of my visit to my doctor also involving a discussion on some long-standing health issues. She ordered some testing which has so far come back normal, and also suggested trying the FODMAPS diet which is a seemingly random list of things to avoid, including beans, wheat/barley/rye, and high-lactose dairy but also certain fruits & veggies.  Monday will be Day 1 of that. I've planned out my breakfast (fried egg + gluten-free waffle), lunch (salad with lettuce, red bell pepper, shredded carrots, olives, home-made balsamic vinaigrette, and toasted walnuts) and dinners (baked lemon caper fish with wild rice and kale; hard tacos with chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and cheddar cheese; quinoa with stir-fried tofu and veggies). My plan is to do it strictly for 2 weeks and see how I feel, and then add back in things I don't think are issues for me (onions and garlic, wheat, apples) one at a time and see how it goes. I know that a large part of my gut issues are related to anxiety, but just these past few months I've been having issues even outside of high stress times, and I think certain foods my be to blame (a lot of summer fruits are on the FODMAPS no-no list, and I've been eating TONS of those).

L's birthday is coming up and I'm waiting for accurate weather reports before we plan the weekend, but it will be low-key as befits a budding 3 year old who still needs long naps and lots of snuggle time. We are planning (already booked car and hotel) a trip for Thanksgiving just to get out of town and NOT visit family.  We are also planning our holiday travel, after waiting too long last year and ending up paying too much for horrible flights not on the days we wanted.

One of my best friends just moved away. I'm thankful I got to attend all of the many going away events held in her honor. I will really really  miss her, we had lots of deep talks over lunch or wine and weekend brunch and shopping trips---we joked that we were pretty much the same person, we had so much in common. I am super excited for her and a bit wistful for that exciting time in life---all in one year she's had a wedding, got a great job (faculty position straight out of a pretty short post-doc!) and a move to a brand-new exciting location. Its brought back memories of when G and I moved up here, knowing no one, sleeping on the floor until our stuff came in and exploring the neighborhoods. It was really a fun time in our relationship. We realized that if we treated the changes in our life now with the same sense of adventure, I think it'd serve to bring us closer together rather than tear us apart.

That's whats been going on around here these days.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Add and Subtract

In trying to clarify the bigger picture of what I want my life to look like in 1, 2, 5, 10 years, I am also noticing some small changes I want to make. Notably, there are things I want LESS of and things I want MORE of; there are also, obviously, some things that are just right.

Things I want to reduce:
  •  Internet consumption (I use this word specifically to refer to "surfing" or reading things that are not impacting or influencing my life; reading and commenting on your blogs is different, as is using the internet as a source to learn or get ideas) 
  • Alcohol (I've actually done this, spurred by a nasty stomach bug 2 weeks ago...I just don't WANT the wine with dinner anymore, though I will want/have some if I'm out or being social)
  • Multi-tasking 
  • Procrastination
  • TV (I don't watch a lot, but for a while it was how G & I spent most of our limited time together)
Things I want to increase:
  • Spending time connecting with people I like (this includes my husband!)
  • Sleep
  • Making things (cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, painting---something---I'm not crafty and the final product will not be Pinterest-worthy, but I've recently realized that it is really soothing to work with my hands and occupy my brain with something other than work and worries)
  • Daydreaming---this seems strange, but I want my mind to wander when I'm waiting instead of immediately reaching for my phone. I've forgotten how to just BE with myself, its so easy to just pull out the phone and distract myself.
Things that are good and I hope to continue:
  • Reading
  • Writing here---I thought about shutting down the blog, as I way to reduce Internet time, but turns out I spend minimal time here. A few posts a week, a little back-and-forth on comments. THIS is not what is sucking my life away.
  • Exercise. I'm currently loving my high-intensity group workouts. LOVE. It is so f=ing hard that I can't even think for the 30 minutes I'm in the class. I want to continue going to 2-3 classes/week with a short run on the weekends doing intervals. 
  • Time with kids. I get a lot of time with my boys despite working full time. We have mornings, evenings and weekends to hang out. I don't want more and I don't want less.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Getting at the root

Thanks for your comments on the last post. I actually agree with Sarah, that I need to think clearly about what I want and may need to make big changes to achieve that. Defining what I want is harder than it seems. It involves a level of honesty with myself that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Out of necessity to get through the day, and a misguided idea that happiness could be created solely through a positive attitude, I've gotten used to covering up what I really want and feel and there are a lot of layers there.

One of the unifying themes I see in my life is the inability to be where I am, to focus and fully experience my life---whether at work or at home. I am so averse to feeling anything slightly uncomfortable that I quickly distract myself from any anxious or sad feelings. The behaviors that I really want to change are all responses to anxiety.

I have begun to waste a LOT of time on unfulfilling internet sites, online shopping, and stupid games on my phone. As soon as I feel a tiny flicker of anxiety, I pull my phone out of my pocket, or pop open the browser on my computer to just spend a few minutes (which obviously never lasts JUST a few minutes) until the feeling passes. The more I need to get done, of course, the more anxious I get, the more time I waste, the more anxious I feel, the more I need to distract....its an addiction of sorts.

 Before I can get anywhere, I need to figure out a healthier, sustainable way of dealing with my anxiety. I've tried visualization techniques, breathing, meditation---I can't seem to get anything to stick on my own so I know I need help. My recent experience with trying to find a therapist simply by searching through the listings on my insurance website was so frustrating and time-consuming that I'm getting help with that, too. I have an appointment tomorrow AM with my primary care doctor, and I strongly believe she will have some good referrals (because she is incredibly experienced and smart, and always seems to have the right suggestions).

Friday, September 19, 2014


I haven't written in a while. There are lots of reasons for this, most of which I'll ignore right now. But one is that I'm tired of writing the same problems and the same hopeful solutions over and over again.

I snap at my kids. I'm unfocused at work. I could use more connection with my spouse. I need a new hobby. I waste too much time on the internet. I could eat healthier and lose a few pounds. I need more friends.

If you go through my archives you will see these themes repeated over and over and over. And my posts are always full of potential solutions. And I try them. I really do. I  have the best of intentions. And isn't that what life is? Trying to be better, day after day? In the trying is the living, right?


The constant trying and not getting anywhere is failure. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how hard I try, if I can't make tangible changes. My kids don't care that I try not to yell at them. My superiors at work certainly don't care that I am thinking up new strategies for productivity. My husband doesn't care that I plan to be communicative and loving. And my body doesn't care how much I think about eating better and research the pros and cons of various diets.

All the plans and thoughts and strategies in my head are worthless if not executed. Its the results that matter...the actual PRODUCT that leaves your head and actually impacts others and the world.

I don't know what the answer is, but I suspect it involves getting out of my head and back onto the ground. I need to stop trying so hard and just start doing. How do I change this about myself? I have no idea. Even at my busiest or my happiest, I always seem to make time for analysis and over thinking. I want to try to lead, if not an unexamined, at the very least a less examined life.

And to actually get somewhere on this path instead of running in circles.