Friday, January 29, 2016

The Habit Cycle

Coincidentally, I was doing an online "healthy habits" thing my employer offers (with a modest cash incentive to complete) and I chose the one about Managing Stress. A lot of the little slideshows & articles associated with that were about mindfulness and habit change. And it was shockingly helpful! There was a lot about the "habit cycle" phenomenon, and how habits are comprised of the Cue-Response-Reward cycle.

The cue is the trigger that sets you off toward your bad habit---it can be: location, people, emotion, situation, time. And the response is, of course, the habit. The reward, also obvious, is how you feel after, the benefit you get. Like when you its 3 pm and you think "snack time" so you head to the vending machine for a candy bar and you get a nice break in your afternoon and some energy. Or you go to a restaurant with friends and always order fries and nachos and get social interaction.  Or when you are stressed out by your kids fighting bedtime and you eat a bowl of ice cream and feel comforted. So to break the habit cycle you have to find another way to respond to said cue, but it has to be something of similar benefit. You can't just IGNORE the 3pm internal alarm and power through. You need to create a new ritual that gives you the same feeling of energy & relaxation. You need another coping mechanism for your bickering kids and another way to socialize with your friends that isn't unhealthy food. You know, the usual. There is nothing new here.

But I think directly applying this thought process to my current habit-change challenge may prove useful.  What triggers me to jump onto facebook or blogs? And what benefit does it give me.

Triggers: boredom, wanting connection, feeling stressed/anxious/sad, brain needing break
Reward: feeling connected, entertainment, numbing/distracting from negative emotion, mental break

Lets explore these triggers a little. Boredom is self-explanatory on the surface but there is complexity in its depths. When did I become so uncomfortable with just my own thoughts? Why do I feel the drive to pick up my phone even while waiting 30 seconds for the light to change? Connection is something I seek a LOT at work and fairly often at home. I am in my office many days for 8-9 hours with no real connection to anyone. Sure I may have go to a lecture or attend a conference call and I call patients back most days but there is no actual social interaction with peers. Sometimes you just want to laugh, commiserate, tell someone about your day, ask someone about theirs, share a cup of coffee and get out of your own head. I have no one to do that with in my current situation, so I hop on the internet for that. And yes, my brain does need a break. I can't keep intensely focused on a task for hours at a time, its good to step away and refresh.

So how can I meet those needs in other ways? I haven't completely figured this out. Things I'm going to try: daydreaming, just BEING bored and letting my mind wander. Sending emails to friends and family during my breaks rather than just clicking through facebook or reading blogs, and at home, texting or calling  (nope not a phone caller anymore). Taking an actual break from the computer altogether. Going for a little stroll to run a work-errand (drop off forms, talk to someone in person instead of email), or just to clear my head. Doing 5 minute of meditation. Productive procrastination---clean my office, submit FSA reimbursements, figure out what's on those 10 flash drives I found in my bag. Go to the break room and make myself a cup of tea and drink it there, enjoying the view from the wall-length window rather than back in my office on the computer.

Another point the tutorial made was that it was fundamentally important to understand WHY you wanted to make a change in your habits, or you were unlikely to succeed. The answer to the question you will ask yourself a million times as you white-knuckle your way through the day without cigarettes, or junk food, or facebook: "Why the F am I doing this again?". "Because its good for me" isn't good enough.

The answer to this has changed for me, and become more honest and (hopefully) more motivating. Its not just that I'll be more productive and more present to my family. I'll also actually enjoy my work and home life more. I LOVE those times at work when I can be deeply focused, in the coveted "flow state", and same at home with a project or task. I am so happy when I can lose myself in play with my kids (or even better, just watching them play, and reveling in the cuteness!) or conversations with my husband. I also love blogging and reading blogs and keeping up with friends & family on FB; its a hobby that I'm not planning to quit anytime soon. But instead of keeping it confined into certain periods of my day like I do with my other hobbies, I'm letting this bleed over into all aspects of my life. Spending so much time checking on facebook posts, blog comments, and emails is preventing me from enjoying my life! 

 I'm gathering up strategies and debating how drastic I want to be with this challenge. I'll post my action plan on Monday!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

No more excuses or...The Good Girl's Guide to a Mid-Life Crisis

I'm a little freaked out about turning 40 in a few months. This surprises me; no other milestone birthday has affected me in any way. On the contrary, I was really excited to turn 30---I had just gotten married a year ago, and was finishing up residency (my last overnight call was on my 30th birthday actually). G and I were ready to set off on our grand adventure, moving 1000s of miles away and starting fresh for my fellowship. We were making plans to get a dog, and discussing (more vague and long-term) plans to acquire human dependents. The birthday only confirmed the new stage in life I was entering. I no longer felt like a person "in my 20s" and had no qualms about leaving that decade behind.

This feels different somehow. 40 might be the new 30, but its still forty, you know? It just seems...different. I think of 40 in the age range of 40-59, and that is way way different than 20-39, right? I don't feel 40. I feel like a 40-year old woman should be wiser, more mature, more self-assured, calm and centered. Not constantly second-guessing herself, suffering from acute imposter syndrome in every facet of life, wondering how anybody could really be fooled into thinking she's an adult. Not irritable, still prone to episodes of anger & yelling & pouting and numbing & distracting when life doesn't go her away.

I know its ridiculous. A birthday is just a date, not a magic gateway into a more enlightened state. Just like children, adults develop at different paces and many sadly plateau somewhere in the middle. It is and will continue to be a constant work in progress, my strive to be more zen, more confident, more grounded.

The other part bringing me down is of course the more obvious one...I'm getting old. Half of my life is behind me, and not all of what is ahead really seems all that appealing. Time is coursing by so quickly. I'm feeling an urgency, a kick in the pants and an insistent voice in my ear "if not now, then when?"

If I'm not happy with something in my life, gritting my teeth and waiting it out is no longer acceptable to me as the default option. How much more of my life do I need to sacrifice to unhappiness, simply because I was too lazy or afraid to try to make it better? No. If something is truly bothering me, I need to A) change it or B) accept it and (if possible) embrace it as my reality.

I'm trying to get some practice on option A, starting with the little things. I recently wrote about bad habits in my life. These are the things that I keep half-heartedly trying to change, giving up, making excuses, feeling guilty and ultimately ending up back where I started. My goal for the next few months is to tackle them. I know I can do. In fact, I've already done one---I've virtually eliminated clothes shopping from my life aside from a few planned purchases. The shopping ban method really works for me. I've got the exercise thing locked down. I even made it through a month of a low-carb diet (4 more days!)

All of these things? They were things I'd told myself I could never do. I could NEVER just not shop for clothes every few months. I could NEVER wake up at 5:30 to work out. I could NEVER give up carbs and breakfast & dinner or my precious precious crackers. And of course I could! I just...decided to do it and I did it.

We all know people who want to make changes in their life, yet come up with a million excuses for why they can't do any of the things proven to work, right? Its incredibly annoying when you're listening to it from the outside. Yet most of us make excuses for our own behavior, and it feels justified to us because no one else understands, and we really CAN'T do this or that, like give up cable or stop eating fast food or walk for 20 minutes a day.

What has worked for me is pushing back against those excuses. The more I tell myself I "can't" do something in service of a goal that is important to me, the more I need to challenge it. And then just F'ING DO IT for a set period of time. If I was right, and I really can't keep it up? Great, I tried it, I can quit. Move onto the next strategy (or recognize that this is the time to employ option B and just let that goal go) But excuses were just my laziness and fear getting in my own way. The thing I "couldn't" do? That I just did? It wasn't even that bad.

I'm reading posts about it all over your blogs lately, and its obviously something I want to change, so my first "No Excuses" challenge is going to be limiting social media. I'm gathering up strategies (and the more I feel "I can't" do those things, the higher on my list they need to go!) I'll still read your blogs and the sites that I find inspiring and educational, but I don't want to lose more of my life to mindless scrolling and constant intake of information that doesn't enhance my life, and actively keeps me away from the activities that do.

Hit me with your strategies for limiting social media. Anybody want to join me for accountability?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snowy Weekend

We got a pretty good dumping, about 2 feet. The snow-weekend madness began Friday when G & I, after an unsettling appointment with B's therapist, skipped our planned sushi lunch date and went to every store in a 5-mile radius (it seems) to find snow boots for B. We completely didn't think to buy him any, and when we tried them on Thursday night (even though we KNEW about the snow for over a week), they were 3 sizes too small (they sort of fit L, though, so we were 50% in luck). Not one child-sized snow boot remained anywhere! I had already asked on the local mom's board, our neighborhood Buy Nothing group, texted several friends, and even desperately posted to my Facebook wall, to no avail. Too-small rain boots were our only option.

The snow began Friday night. It was beautiful. There was a foot and a half Saturday morning all clean & fluffy and it kept coming down on & off all day. I couldn't help grinning like a kid and frolicking in it when I took the dog out for her morning walk. There is something about the first snow fall of the season that will never fail to amaze this southern girl. I walked for a long time. The city is so uncharacteristically CLEAN and quiet and peaceful. It just sounds & feels different covered in snow. Everything is equal---the streets and sidewalks blend together and you just walk wherever. People are friendly, no one in a hurry to get anywhere.

The boys wanted to get out there before they even finished their breakfasts! We played in our back yard, built a little snowguy that B promptly kicked over, then headed indoors for hide-and-seek, legos, book reading, skyping with grandparents, etc... before heading out again, to the park with the lid of a giant plastic bin as a "sled". We decided to go to the bar across the street for dinner, just for fun and because no one wanted to cook or clean. Road block opiate? Maybe. But I'm not against strategically utilized pain medication when warranted.

It was wonderful to have an entire day without any chores to do, or anywhere we needed to be. Even the gym was closed, so no workout or swim lessons. Just playing together, all day, indoors and out.

Sunday was more of the same, but I did do laundry, grocery shopped, and prepped a bit for the week. We watched a movie with the kids in the afternoon---another anomaly, since we usually take advantage of their movie time to get chores done. I didn't feel like cooking again so I ate nuts & cheese for dinner (7 more days of low carb, and I'm sticking to it, though I did have some nachos & chicken bites at dinner Saturday).

B's school is closed, so G has to stay home. He didn't feel like trekking across town to take L to daycare, so all the boys will hang out. When I left, they were all headed to the gym; the boys were going to the childcare while G worked out. They had plans for lunch out & library later. I'm a bit jealous, but I've got stuff to do. I really really hope school is open tomorrow or B is going to have to go to daycare with L.

The beautiful winter wonderland is on its way to becoming a disgusting muddy, dirty, trash-covered hell that will last the next 2 months. But I'm glad we got to enjoy it while it lasted!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Three Things I Wish I Didn't Enjoy

Social Media Self explanatory for most of us here, right? Imagine all the good I could do in the world if I spent even half as much time on FB or blogs. There is definitely a negative correlation between how much time I spend on social media and my mood...BUT...I haven't determined the "causation" here. I know being anxious/upset leads me to distract myself, but also spending too much time reading things that are depressing or make me feel inadequate can turn a perfectly good mood into some FOMO/what-is-the-world-coming-to bitterness. I really like Mel's strategy of asking myself WHY I'm picking up my phone (or opening up my browser). Its all about being intentional with your usage, which will hopefully limit the mindless checking. The problem is that I keep forgetting to ask myself anything until its a little too late!

Booze I do sort of envy the "oh, I just don't care for the taste" or "I maybe have a drink every few months" types. If it weren't unhealthy for me, I'd have a drink most days (but it is, so I don't, but I still always feel like I should cut back even more). I like the taste, I like the celebratory feel, and I really like the loosening in my shoulders when I have a glass of wine at the end of the day.

Clothes   Call me shallow, but I like wearing nice clothes. What I wear affects my mood. I refuse to wear dirty stained raggedy sweat pants around the house as recommended by your favorite uber-frugal bloggers. Blech.  And of course, liking clothes often does lead to buying clothes! (Yes, I am "shopping my closet", but that doesn't really eliminate the desire for new things once in a while.) I love browsing online or through catalogs and seeing all the beautiful things that could be mine (and then making them mine!) I wish I only wanted one pair of shoes & didn't mind wearing the same thing for years at a time and only bought new things when old ones wore out.

To balance this out, here are three things I'm glad I like: exercise, reading, vegetables.

What do you wish you hated?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Long Weekend Update

Its official. Posts about money are absolutely the biggest draw. Too bad I have little more to say on the topic at the moment. So you guys get to hear about my unexciting weekend!

It was actually a great weekend. It started off on Friday night with a really great conversation between G & I about the book I've started reading (No Drama Discipline) and the idea of connecting with your kids. And then how HARD it is to connect with them when they are acting up and how to let go of our expectations and not get so ANGRY. Which led to discussing the LAST book I read (10% Happier) and how meditation and mindfulness is the best technique I can think of for retraining your brain to respond logically rather than react emotionally, and to become less attached to outcomes. We decided to work on it this weekend.

Did it work? Or were they just better behaved in general? I don't know, but it was pretty great. Its so much easier to have patience with B's antics (grumpiness, complaining, demanding, crying) when they are once in a while and not ALL DAY LONG every second of the day. This is going to sound awful but...he's a lot better behaved when he's sick. He had a cold Saturday/Sunday---no fever, just tired and coughing/sneezing. That decrease in energy from constant wild animal frenzy to...normal kid boisterous made him seem downright docile.

Other highlights:
  • I went to the gym Saturday & Sunday for INTENSE workouts
  • friends we haven't seen in a year over for breakfast Saturday to catch up
  • Date night to bowling alley with restaurant Saturday night---I had carbs! So worth it!
  • Children's Museum Sunday (me & boys); we didn't have a membership last year so it's been a while and they played for 4 hours (until 3 minutes after official closing time!)
  • G took kids to "Dinosaur Museum" Monday and I had about 4 hours to myself. I did some work-work, some cooking, and watched Gilmore Girls (ugh, Rory, really?) and scenes from Harry Potter that made me cry. 
  • Spreading out our usual chores over 3 days made each day way more relaxed.
  • I played "Star Wars" with the boys for 2.5 hours Monday morning. I still dislike it, but they are so happy. I kept reminding myself that the years are short. One day they will stop asking me to play with them.
  • Did not leave the house yesterday. Heard it was freakin' cold out there (was pretty cold inside, too). Stayed in with layers of coziness and endless mugs of tea.
  • Sunday night L was up most of the night because his legs hurt and he needed them massaged (we'd already given him pain meds and it didn't work)---I ended up sleeping in his twin bed with him because he kept getting up, crawling to the door and SCREAMING. 
  • Our washer started leaking. We thought we knew what it was (too expensive to fix) but weren't 100% sure so called a repair guy (which was why I got to had to stay home Monday). Yup, it was the tub seal/bearing and fixing it costs as much as the cheapest new washer. Did OK not freaking out about the cost (may not even need e-fund to cover), but still annoying because its not even 10 years old!
Hope you guys had a nice weekend! I've got strict internet/social media limits for this week (lots to do!) and my time is up.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

This and that, Part 10002839

I'm on a roll with these lunch & post sessions this week! No real topic today, just random bullets
  • I finished 10% Happier this morning. I really loved this book, a memoir written by a total skeptic who learned about, laughed at, and eventually embraced mindfulness meditation and Buddhist teachings and how it changed his life, particularly his work life in a demanding and competitive field. I almost abandoned it early on because, well, he was an asshole. But there is good stuff in here, about the science of meditation and mindfulness, and its written in an easy-to-read and digest manner. I will likely buy a hard copy of this so I can go back and highlight/underline, because there is a LOT of material that I've already forgotten! 
  • Low carb: going well, feel fine but no better than usual (i.e. no amazing energy or lack of hunger. yes the bigger breakfast keeps me full longer but its obvious that eating 500 Kcal rather than my usual 250 Kcal for breakfast would have that effect! no magic!). On the plus side, it is inspiring creativity in meal-planning and has broken down my assumptions that I "need" carbs at each meal. Not sure if I will  lose weight or gain it with all the nuts and cheese I am eating. If I end up needing to count calories and be hungry, the whole experiment has failed! Do plan to keep it up for the month with an exception for a date-night.
  • A young woman in my workout class mentioned looking for sitting gigs so I am taking her up on it for a date night, hopefully this weekend (waiting for her reply, otherwise 2 weekends from now). Not sure what we will do, even going to a local bar and having a couple of beers & food sounds good to me. We can't be the only ones that feel like we never have time to talk and then go out on date night & suddenly have nothing to talk about, right? Maybe I need to plan topics, the way a med school friend of mine did before dates (he read up on current events, pop culture, etc.. so it wouldn't be evident that all he did was study for a million hours a week in the med school library).
  • We (well, I) made a "fun list" for the winter. I listed: ice skating, Children's museum, Science Museum, nearby library, central library, making cookies, something I can't remember. So far we've done: making cookies. Made chocolate chip cookies (this recipe) with the boys Sunday evening.Did not eat any. Ideas for what else to add to this list? 
  • Breaking Bad is really good, but freaking disturbing. Their marriage...whoa. I also feel really really lucky to have never gotten into drugs (ha! the thought seems ludicrous, I'm pretty square; but it can happen to anyone). Crack is whack, yo.
  • I hosted my book club on Saturday and one of the women brought her famous home-made toffee. I did eat a small square (and then another) and it was well worth it! 
  • The boys are so obsessed with Star Wars right now. I bought them Star Wars pajamas and underwear (they needed those things anyways). All they do is play with their light sabers (G made them from rolled up vellum paper & paint) and look at their Star Wars books. We have watched episodes 4-6, and 1. We will watch episode 2 this weekend. They love Darth Vader. I ask why they like the "bad guy" and I get "but he isn't ALL bad, mommy! He turned good in the end and saved Luke, and he was good at the beginning". Wow, nuanced understanding of the grey areas between good & evil, huh? 
  • The problem is that they want US to play light sabers with them instead of playing with each other (because one hits the other so the other is "mean" and they don't want to play together anymore). I'm just not the play-light-sabers kind of mom, you know? I can do it, but its...painful. I'll read you a book, do a puzzle or lego kit, play a boardgame, cook/bake with you, take you anywhere in the city but you want me to pretend to be Chewbacca or Darth Maul for half an hour? 
  • Patriarchal BS often turns women against each other. (reminder to self)
 OK, I've scraped the bottom of my low carb salad. Back to work. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My workouts

generic post title because I just couldn't with "gettin' my sweat on" or the like.

Someone asked for me to write about my workouts, so here you go! If you don't care about my exercise habits, you can skip this one!

I do not work out every day. I aim for 4 times a week. This is for several reasons. First, on weekdays I trade off with G to go to the gym. He goes M/W/F and I go T/Th. I also go Sat/Sun. Second, I have to wake up really early to work out so its nice to have a little more sleep on the other days. It allows me to stay up a bit later, too, so I'm not going to bed immediately after the kids every night and I can read, watch TV, work, or hang out with G. Third, I think my body does better with some rest days.

For the past 17 months I've been doing Les Mills Grit 3 days a week (T/Th 6:15 AM, Sun 9:30 AM) at our local Y. Its a 30 minute high-intensity interval training class. Its supposed to be "small group training", but the group size varies from 2 to 20, depending on the day. Its broken into 8 week sessions (with a week off after) and you alternate weeks of strength, plyometrics, and cardio. In reality, all 3 are combined into each workout, but the for strength you have a heavy bar for certain moves, plyo you have a bench and more jumping over/on the bench, and cardio has no extra equipment (for all 3 you also do moves with a 10 lb plate).

Its very intense. You warm up for 3 minutes, and then do bursts of maximum effort with very short breaks. the last 3 minutes you do core work. My heart rate is up the entire time, and my legs/arms feel like jello often. You really do use your entire body---core, shoulders/back, chest, thighs/glutes. Not much focus on calves, biceps/triceps so if you want to build those up, you'll need to do your own there.

There are many "releases" so during a given week you may do 3 different workouts, and thus, multiple different exercises. It seems like each release is getting harder & harder; there is a new release every 6 months or so. Your old favorite burpees, push-ups, lunges, clean & press, and squat jumps will keep repeating, though.

There is a really good vibe with the group. You do the cheesy hand-in-the-center at the beginning and high-five each other on the way out. There is friendly competition encouraged during the work-out; i.e. "Ana is beating you guys with the mountain climbers! come on, catch up!" The coach comes around and corrects your form, or pushes you harder pretty frequently since its a small group and we circle around---its not like the huge classes where the instructor is in the front and there is a sea of participants in the back.  Its about 50/50 male/female participants and we currently have one male & one female coach (they do different days, but often show up to work out on their "off" day). There is absolutely ZERO "bikini body" nonsense being spouted which I always hated about female-heavy workout classes. The pep talks are more about "being an athlete", and building strength and speed. There is no mention of  diet/nutrition (unlike Crossfit) other than, "you will be hungry after this. Feed your body!"

I love it because its quick---30 minutes early in the morning and I've gotten an entire, intense, full-body, high- calorie-burn workout. Its also really increased my strength---I could barely do push-ups before, and now I can do them by the dozens, all kinds! I can lift heavy stuff over my head, and carry L on my shoulders for miles. I've gained a lot of confidence in what I can do with my body. The class pushes me way out of my comfort zone, something I have a hard doing when I'm just running or even strength-training on my own. There is no way to "half-ass" this work-out. You just wind up going all in, no matter how tired you are when you show up. When I was running, I would catch myself running too slow, just ambling alone, lost in thought. which brings the best part---I CANNOT think during the class. No matter what anxieties/sadness/stress I was ruminating on when I got there, it all goes out the window and my mind is completely empty. Bliss.

I've also met a diverse and interesting group of people. Everyone is friendly, and I chat with people before & after class. Its a neighborhood gym, so I'll see them out & about, which is cool. If I'm on vacation and gone for awhile, I get asked about it. Its nice to be a "regular' somewhere.

One downside is that it can be hard on the joints. Lots of jumping & lunging, that leave my knees a bit sore some days. Also, as I mentioned, the workouts don't focus on certain muscle groups. To address that, I've been adding one day of BodyPump to my schedule. Occasionally, I'll do a 3-4 mile run for my 4th workout (though after years of running being my primary form of exercise, and LOVING it, I sort of despise it now...I hope I'll come around again because I enjoy being outside).  I really want to try a Barre class, and might do that this winter instead. I'm intrigued by on-line & video workouts but I've never been successful at maintaining an at-home routine, and its even harder with kids around. Going to the gym in and of itself is a nice break, so I think I'll stick to classes. Its like going back to my roots, I started doing group exercise classes in college, all through med school and had to quit in residency because, well, residency. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it!

While I'd love to do something most days a week (I did 6-7 days/week for years, pre-kids and not during residency!), 4 days a week is good compromise for me.  I've tried to convince myself to wake up earlier on Monday and Friday (I go into work really early Wednesday) to do some at-home exercise, but I just can't do it. I do plenty of walking every day, so I'm getting activity. Another area in which I'm accepting my imperfection!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Is Frugality a Virtue?

(I suspect this is what Nicoleandmaggie would call a "deliberately controversial post")

My answer? No.

Its a choice. A very sensible choice, if you are trying to pay off debt, build up an emergency fund, and save for the future (retirement, kids' college). Its certainly good advice to do those things.  But it does not  make you a better person.

I'm naturally pretty frugal. I like efficiency and despise waste, so by extension, I don't want to spend more than I absolutely need to on things and I don't like buying things we don't need. But I also guiltily unapologetically enjoy some luxuries in life. Every once in a while, I want something pretty and new for myself. I like gifts, and I haven't a real gift from anyone in years. I may ask for one for my birthday. Sometimes I just really want to have a fantastic dinner at a restaurant with drinks (gasp!) or I don't want to cook & clean up & want take-out. Or be pampered on a relaxing vacation. And that does not make me a bad person. The people spending $400/month to feed their family may have some mad skillz (and probably a lot of time to coupon/shop around), but they are not inherently better people than the ones spending $1200. 

I think saving money is awesome and leads to security and freedom, both things I value. But you may not value those things, and that's OK. Or we may value them at different levels. The person whose lifelong dream is to retire in her 30s has different priorities than I do. It makes sense for her to save every single penny and forego every possible luxury for a few years. This is a choice. That is very far from my goal, which actually involves working for a couple more decades and trying to enjoy my family and personal life as much as possible at the same time. Sometimes, this involves spending money on unnecessary things.

I am more than OK with that. My whole goal of tracking my spending and making a budget was to know where our money was going and making sure we were spending to our values and priorities. To be "intentional" about it, if you will. But as I delved into personal finance and got sucked into the extreme frugality world, it had an unintended consequence. I started fretting about every last penny, guilty about any inessential purchase, and involuntarily playing (albeit not so well!) a game in which saving more and more and more (and spending less and less and less) is "winning".  In this game, pretty much every purchase is considered "losing", and it's pretty demoralizing to feel like a loser day after day. Furthermore, all this led to an even worse and even more unintended consequence of passing judgement on the spending habits of others.

Other people spending money in ways that don't align with my habits is not "stupid". Even being completely financially irresponsible, while it may lead to some increased stress in your life, does not make one a bad person. You can be an amazing person, doing lots of good for the world, and have debt. You can be living an incredibly fulfilling life and spreading your joy to everyone you meet, and not have an emergency fund.

I do think there are some "right" and "wrong" things to do in regards to finance, just like there are "right" and "wrong" ways to approach nutrition or health. But just like I wouldn't judge someone who binges on cookies or chips, I don't want to judge someone who spends on seeming frivolities or accumulates consumer debt. If they choose to change their habits (eating or spending!), I can support them & give advice, but its ultimately their choice.

In my life, right now, my ultimate financial goal is to save a certain percentage but spend the rest in ways that enhance our lives. Our children won't be this age forever---there are experiences we want them to have. Relationships need nurturing NOW, I want to have the date nights and the girls' trip and occasional lunches with friends. I want to feel confident in myself, and I will pay for the amazing haircut again, and the gym membership and more expensive healthy food (OMG, our grocery bill on this low-carb diet!) My time & energy are precious resources, and we outsource what we can afford of our most dreaded tasks.

I'm happy to be frugal in certain areas of life and luxurious in others. I don't like buying stuff that will clutter our house & ultimately end up in a landfill so shopping less, trying to fix things, minimizing food waste---all of that has the dual purpose of saving money & being a good steward of resources. We tackle all the low-hanging fruit---refinance mortgage, shop around for better deals on phone plans & insurance, avoid unnecessary "fees" ...there is no need to throw money away.

I'm OK with being "sort of frugal", I don't need to be "the best".

Monday, January 11, 2016

Tidying Up

I finally read the KonMari book this weekend. I figured I'd already read/heard so much about it that there wouldn't be much new to the book, which was mostly true, but I did find it a quick & engaging read. Here is my brief review:

  • I like the term "tidying". It rolls of the tongue & encompasses both "cleaning" and "decluttering" none of which feel enjoyable; together, as "tidying" it is a satisfying and somewhat soothing endeavor
  • DEFINITELY discard before you organize. I like that she advises strongly against buying specialty "organization" products. If you get rid of most of your crap, you don't need to go buy drawers and boxes and shelves
  • Go through things by CATEGORY rather than space. Yes. I cleaned out some bins in our living room, bought more envelopes & tape, and then realized we have duplicate items in the study. Similarly we keep some kitchen items in the pantry---if I really want to know all the baking supplies we have, I need to gather them from all over.
  • Storing things so you can see them all. Ever since I heard of her clothes-folding method, I started rolling up my clothes in my drawers (her vertical folding method is too complicated). LIFE-CHANGING for real! I can see everything at once, which makes me more likely to wear certain things (I used to just continuously wear whatever was on top) and no more having to fling clothes all over the place hunting for that one black camisole I need to wear under that one top. Also, I sometimes open the drawer, see something I haven't worn in a while and chuck it into the give-away pile. I now want to roll my tights into cinnamon buns, too. Better than the "tangled noodles" method I have going on!
  • The idea of keeping only what "sparks joy" really works in regards to personal items, like clothes/accessories/make-up. I had a tendency to keep things "just in case" or because I felt guilty about buying it and not using it (I've begun to embrace the "sunk cost" mentality) and then I'd force myself to wear a dress that makes me feel frumpy when I have 3 other perfectly confidence-boosting joy-sparking dresses in the closet. Who has space in their life for that? doesn't work so well when it comes to kitchen goods but I guess you consider the joy that is sparked when you use a proper tool for its given purpose.
  • The idea of "thanking items for their service" is really out there. Who TALKS TO their clothes? But...the foundation behind this advice---to acknowledge that the item has served its purpose and thus feel comfortable letting it go, makes sense to me. This works especially well with gifts---the purpose of the gift is for the giver to feel the joy of giving and for you to experience the thrill of opening. What happens after should not matter; you aren't under obligation to keep it forever. A clothing or jewelry item that you ended up not liking may teach you to hone your style or to not let your friends talk you into purchases. 
  • And this is a big one: I completely and totally disagree with her central assertion that you can tidy your whole house ONCE and be done FOREVER. HOW does this make sense? The only way you would never again need to purge clothes or toiletries or medications is if you were continually doing a micro-decluttering every day so that things didn't build up. Of course clothes are going to wear out, stop fitting, become out of style after a few years, even if your tastes don't change. You are going to accumulate things---through buying or receiving---and unless every single gift and purchase is 100% spot-on and you use it until completely worn out, you will have to get rid of stuff again. I'm not even mentioning kids' stuff here because that is of course a given.  
  • Her views on paperwork are a bit cavalier. Really save NOTHING? No one would EVER need to read a manual for an appliance? (she didn't say find the e-version or scan it in, she specifically said no one ever uses them). You can save a ton of money looking up minor fixes and parts. I keep the manuals for all of our appliances. I also keep paperwork on any repair done on the home (even if not under warranty), any medical tests/procedures on any 2-4 legged inhabitant of our home, I actually had to submit my college transcripts when I applied for credentialing here---I am so glad I had them! We've pared down a LOT, but we do have one drawer of a file cabinet filled with "keep forever" and another drawer of "keep for a year" that we chuck after taxes as well as "tax documents" that we file away with a copy of our return for 7 years in case of audit.
  • Some of the out there stuff is just plain weird. Like saying hello to your house every day, or how your things "need to rest" so you need to empty your purse every night. I'll admit that maybe that is a relaxing routine for her, to greet her home, remove everything & gently put it away as a transition period from work to home. But its weird advice to give EVERYONE. The section about women who declutter their home having "bouts of diarrhea" that somehow indicate a kind of physical cleansing---"and then they lost weight!" "found a new job" "met a new boyfriend!" WEIRD (and gross!)
  • She is overly averse to bulk buying. She told supposed "horror stories" of women that had 2 years worth of toothpaste or 3 months worth of toilet paper. How only having a few of items ended up spurring her clients to "being more creative with substitutes" when they run out. Sure---makes sense when you are talking food and being creative with recipes. I do not want to know of how one can be "creative" when you run out of toilet paper or toothpaste, however. Those are the exact 2 items I ALWAYS have a stock of, I have a real scarcity mindset here and want back-ups for my back-ups!
  • The waste. The lack of a single word about the environmental impact of throwing away tens of 45L plastic trash bags worth of stuff from a single room. Not a single admonition to change your buying practices to avoid such disgusting waste in the future. No mention of recycling, donating, passing on, upcycling or otherwise finding a way that everything doesn't end up in a landfill. And how to assuage the guilt you feel about this if you really do need to shed this stuff from your home.
What I actually found most fascinating about this book was the brief glimpses into her psyche. At the age of FIVE she was "tidying" her house and classroom. She came home from school and immediately began tidying EVERY DAY. Clearly she was an anxious child and this activity was soothing in some way. She mentions how others often use tidying to delay tackling something else---like studying for a test, or ending a relationship---but she never explicitly discloses what existential need her compulsive tidying fills for herself. Not sure if she lacking insight or just brushing away the clear fact of her neuroticism (then why talk about the childhood stuff in the first place?). I also found a particular story about meeting a client on a hike to do "waterfall mediation" (you apparently stand under the waterfall and let it pummel you) really interesting. She made some parallels between the mediation and the way she felt while tidying---that it was a form of meditation for her---that I kind of sort of related to? I've definitely had periods in my life where I "stress tidied"---stayed up late sorting through, getting rid of, and re-organizing things during stressful times. I haven't done that in years---I have no energy for that anymore! But I get it.

If you haven't read it, consider borrowing a copy. Its definitely a fast & amusing read. Life-changing and magical---no. I have no plans to do an extensive whole-house tidying jamboree. But I will incorporate her methods when I do sporadically tackle our excess of stuff.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The boys, right now

totally stealing this idea from SHU, when I realized I haven't really posted much about my kids in a while. This is, of course, mostly intentional---I don't feel as comfortable sharing their lives as they get older and own their own stories. But I also love looking back at what I wrote and remembering how it felt, so for memory's sake, here we go! (wow this is long, feel free to skim or skip, this is for me!)

B, newly 6, looks and sounds like a BIG KID
School/Activities: Kindergarten at our local elementary, then aftercare program a few blocks away where 4 day/week does a class (karate M/Th, gymnastics/tumbling T/Th) the rest of the time until pick up (and on W) he colors. Some issues initially with behavior at aftercare that have completely resolved. Doesn't get "perfect" behavior grades at school mostly because he is squirming/moving/making random noises all the time, but otherwise got all good marks on report card (knows all necessary skills, moved up to higher reading table & getting extra math HW)
Sleep: 8:30-7:30 weekdays, hasn't napped regularly since 2, not a single nap since 3
Eating: LOVES eating and can eat more than me when its something he likes---we have to cut him off and slow him down, he'll stuff his face. he likes: Pizza, meat (chicken, turkey, bacon, fish), nachos, pasta with WHITE sauce only, pancakes, turkey sandwich on SOURDOUGH bread only, chicken/hummus wraps, thin & crispy omelettes, oranges, peas.  His favorite snack is orange cheese doodles (like cheetos) and cheddar popcorn. His favorite treat is: donuts (but he will not refuse any other sweet or candy!)
Likes to do: LOVES coloring things we print for him off the internet (mostly Disney princesses) and will do this for hours, listening to music, watching shows/movies (including some non-cartoon movies like back to the future and star wars), Lego kits (he is REALLY good at this, and has put together 450 piece kit with very minimal help), playing "Star Wars" or "Princess game" (acting out the stories), being read to, scootering & playgrounds
Loves: glitter. disney princesses, Star Wars (favorite character is Darth Vader)
Hates: not getting what he wants, baths, brushing, bed time, the cold, the rain
Skills: 100% independent with bathroom needs! (huge!) learning to read! doing basic math. Swimming progressing (can swim 1/4 length of pool). Very good memory, and has a great sense of time (always knows what day it is, including date and how many days until X happens or Y happens, can figure out what day we are in the year (i.e. this is the 155th day of the year). Language is incredibly mature, but still has adorable little mistakes like "ting" for "thing". still doesn't have good sense of his body in space---often steps on us, knocks things over, etc... and isn't doing well in karate or gymnastics (though he loves it). Developing a sense of humor, sometimes makes me legit laugh.
Personality: VERY ACTIVE. never sits still, can walk/run/scooter miles. walks around/jumps/falls during school and when eating. Distracted---selective deafness, can't carry out simple instruction (just forgets), skips parts of HW, forgets to bring home book to read, etc... Sensitive--cries often. Very low tolerance for disappointment/frustration and tends towards negative glass-is-COMPLETELY-EMPTY OMG I NEVER GET ANYTHING EVER mentality that leads to MAJOR anger and tantrums. Does get really excited about things in an adorable way before hand, though. VERY inquisitive and gets really focused on certain things & wants to know everything, asks million questions during movies, and afterwards, to really get the story. But also completely and rudely uninterested if its not something HE brought up that we are trying to teach him about. Though he still likes princesses & his favorite colors are pink & purple, he also asked to cut his hair, get blue (instead of pink) shoes, and no longer says he is a girl. Does like other people and is not shy to chat with adults, but is awkward with kids & hasn't made good friends yet in K.

L, 4 3/12. still very much a little kid in my eyes. sucks his thumb, likes to cuddle, high-pitched voice with lisp
School/Activities: Same daycare, now in pre-K class with the same teacher B had for 2 years who we adore! Still gets in trouble some for hitting, spitting, etc... but is also very eager to please the teacher (and us) & is proud when he gets a "good job" sticker, so its improving. Refuses to do ANY sports or activities saying he is "too little" even though he actually is quite skilled and I think would do really well in any sport.
Sleep: 8:30-7:30, plus naps at school and the rare stroller/car nap on weekends
Eating: not a great eater. Loves oatmeal, egg white omelettes & scrambled eggs, apples/berries/mango, carrots, red bell pepper, pasta with RED sauce, pb&J sandwich, plain rice, chicken/hummus wrap, tacos, "bars". Favorite snack is pretzels. Favorite "treat" is candy (but won't refuse anything else sweet). he is my kid that drinks the syrup and leaves the pancakes. he only eats the frosting off the cake.
Likes to do: "play", which is a complex and incomprehensible pretend play he can do with action figures, cars, whatever he's in to or can find. Making small random lego creations. Coloring---but only for 15-20 minutes. Watching movies/shows (curious george current fave). Playing "superheros" or "star wars". Playing WITH someone (i.e. i have to be Chewy, or roll cars around or make the lego structures he then plays with/breaks)
Loves:  his thumb, superheros, star wars, Donald Duck/Winnie the Pooh/Pound Puppy that are on his bed.  SNOW (asks for it daily, since November) Wearing superhero shirts.
Hates: non-superhero shirts, brushing (esp. flossing), baths, dinner, walking (likes sitting in stroller or being carried, gets tired REALLY quickly), socks being on wrong/sleeves not reaching past his wrists
Skills: speech has EXPLODED in past 6 months, can have a conversation! Lots of cute mispronunciations, phrasing ("taking for a lot of time" instead of "taking a long time") and lisping (can't say "J" sound, so "jumps" is "drumps"). Can count to 10, but gets hazy after that. Can't yet identify all letters, but can do the letters in his name. very hazy sense of time---everything in past is "yesterday", everything in future is "tomorrow" and can't tell days of week/month. When he's not tired, can run & scooter fast, can do a couple monkey bars. Very creative at drawing things & making up stories. Very aware and attentive---can carry out several part instructions without problem, will notice what needs to be done and do it without asking. I think he's the class clown, he does funny faces & dances all the time and tells me his friends laugh. Aware of his body and can manipulate it to kick, throw, dance, taught himself really well-done somersaults & karate kicks/punches just by watching B once or twice.
Personality: happy and grateful, interested in everything. loves to help with any and everything. never asks for or expects much. Loving, snuggly---he'll give us random hugs or "I love yous", we get gushing thanks for every hand-me-down that no longer fits B. Also very strong-willed and stubborn. If he wants something he doesn't get, he will hit/spit/call you "stupid" and "mean". Can be REALLY clingy and whiny when he doesn't get a nap (i.e. all weekends/holidays). Shy and distrusting of others, even family, until he warms up he can give a wicked side eye & refuse to engage.

together---Very recently I noticed that they were getting better at playing interactively & cooperatively. Its super cute when they work together, even when they are scheming against us (they aren't that wiley, they won't get past us...yet!). They still, however, fight a lot. I don't like them to be together without adult supervision (especially after B maybe/maybe not pushed L down the stairs last month; L insists he did, B denies, I didn't see). L provokes B (taking or ruining his things, teasing/taunting him, flat out hitting him) and then B lashes out and hits/pushes him and L gets hurt & cries and B gets in trouble (though we are trying to also discipline L if we see that he was provoking)

As challenging as it is in the day to day, sometimes I want to freeze time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

But every book in it is a friend...

First, thanks for all your comments on your last post. So: diet and money posts get the most comments. Interesting. I'm feeling great today, I think it was the zero carb breakfast after working out and then super late lunch that made me feel icky. If it happens again after 2 weeks, I'll add in a little carbs to post-workout breakfasts, but I also feel like I may get used to it with time. Today I didn't work out & had some peanuts mid-morning so I wasn't so carb-deficient. No real benefits yet, but its way early. I do hope to make it a full month, which is why I've set myself up for success and not completely restricted everything I like to eat.

I've been reading a lot the past few years. After of years of reading hiatus for studying and training and babies (and the resultant exhaustion that made "reading in bed" laughable) I've gotten back into the habit and then some. When do I read? Mostly in the evenings, for 10-60 minutes depending on what I'm doing (sometimes I go straight upstairs after I get the kids down and I read all evening, other times, I may manage to read a few pages before I turn out the light or none at all). Earlier in the year, L still napped on weekends, but only ON one of us, so I would grab my Kindle and read for 2-3 hours with him on my chest/head/belly. He stopped doing that for better & worse! Vacations, especially now that the kids watch movies on the plane, I can read. During our holiday trip I didn't even finish  one book, but on our beach trip, I read 4. Any downtime I have, like waiting for an appointment. Occasionally a few minutes in the morning while I drink coffee. If I'm reading something really really addictive, I'll keep reading when I brush my teeth, dry/straighten my hair, and cook a meal and any second I have that my mind & eyes don't actively need to be elsewhere!

I read on my Kindle, mostly, unless I really want a book from the library that they have only in paper form. With my Kindle I can read in bed with the lights off, and can carry it one-handed to read while I do other things. Its also so light & easy to travel with or bring along anywhere. I get >90% of books from the library, though I'll occasionally buy something if its really cheap ($1-$3) or I want to support the author or I know I will read & re-read it. If I do buy a book for full price, I'll tend towards buying paper. I usually read one book at a time, but I may combine fiction with non-fiction or Kindle with paper or just go back and forth if I have a bunch due back at the library soon.

What do I read? Mostly popular fiction. Some non-fiction (currently I'm juggling/skimming 3 non-fiction books: 10% Happier, the Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up, and No-Drama Discipline). I read books that are recommended by my sister, friends, & blogs. I also read a few books a year for my book club, which was on hiatus for 6 months but we are resurrecting.

My favorite books that I read in 2015 (in no particular order),
  • Big Little Lies Liane Moriarty
  • 11/22/63 Steven King
  • The Blue Castle LM Montgomery
  • Station Eleven Emily St John Mandel
  • The Light Between Oceans ML Stedman
  • The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
  • Lexicon Max Berry
  • Ready Player One Ernest Cline
I actually expect to read LESS in 2016. Without L's nap time, I lose a big chunk of weekend reading time. I'm also trying to use my evenings in different ways (we'll see how that goes, that has been a goal of mine for YEARS) instead of just passive entertainment (books/TV). I want to try more challenging material, outside my reading comfort zone and to reread things I haven't revisited in years (some classics, some things I am hoping to get my kids into soon).

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


One of my goals for this year was to try low(er)-carb eating for a month. So many people I know (including a lot of you guys) tout the low-carb or paleo type diet as a great way to lose weight and increase energy but it never seemed right for me, for lots of reasons (reasons 1-100=I LOVE carbs, 101=generally averse to meat, 102=don't really like eggs, either). And I sort of figured that any diet restricting a major food group sounded gimmicky and apt to fail (remember low-fat in the 80s and 90s guys?  I was eating cereal and pasta by the bowls and always always hungry!). In typical questioner mode, I really had no reason to actually believe this type of diet would do anything more for me than simply eating more reasonable portions of the healthy, real foods I love (with occasional unhealthy and/or synthetic treats because #YOLO).

I tried counting calories 2 separate times, for about a month each. And it was really helpful to figure out a calorie goal and realize what foods I could fit into that goal. But it was not sustainable to monitor and record every morsel that passed my lips. So I quit each time after about a month. Plus I never lost the weight I was trying to lose, and when I tried to lower my calorie goal for faster weight loss I was too hungry. I had pretty much given up and resigned myself to having a little extra padding.

In December, I decided to read Gary Taub's book "Why We Get Fat" because Gretchen Rubin was always going on about how it changed her life and overnight (!) motivated her to completely give up carbohydrates. I had not intention of being motivated, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was---several of the commenters on her blog mentioned they had similar epiphanies.

The book COMPLETELY changed my worldview. Haha. No, just kidding. I'm still skeptical. BUT. What he proposed (and backed up with research, though I'm sure there is also contradictory data that he obviously didn't cite and I haven't taken the time to hunt down) is not just that low-carb eating is "natural" (i.e. the paleo dogma) or causes you to lose weight more than other diet methods (this is actually NOT true and has never been show in larger human clinical trials) but that eating carbohydrates sets of a chain of molecular/hormonal events that leads to...hunger. (and also insulin resistance, adipose tissue dysfunction and other health consequences in some people). and also, the carbohydrate intake led to decreased ENERGY and desire to be active/move (in rodents).

guys, I am ALWAYS hungry. I eat way more than most women my age. I am not overweight but I have recently started to put on some weight and I KNOW its because of my eating habits. I just haven't been successful in "eating less". I'm also quite active, and obviously the activity makes me even hungrier. I exercise because its a tremendous benefit to my mental health, and I love feeling strong & fast & fit, but my current exercise regimen (which does not include many calorie-burning miles) is weight-neutral at best. I've also been really really tired lately; I even asked my doctor to test for things like thyroid, iron, and vitamin D, and all were normal, so I have no reason and thus no quick fix.

So, like a true questioner, since I was trying to increase my energy and decrease hunger, I decided to test it out. I'm on day 2 (of 28). My diet is not completely carb-free, I've just self-created something that works for me (in Taub's book, he mentions that everyone is different, and while a obese diabetic may want to eliminate nearly all carbs for the quickest and largest effect, an otherwise healthy person can experiment with what level of carbs works best). I am eliminating: all grains, potatoes (sweet & white) and corn products. And candy or sweeteners of any kind, obviously. I am allowed to have legumes and a little bit of fruit. Cheese and plain yogurt is OK. I don't drink milk/cream but that would be out (sugars). oh and booze is allowed, because...because I said so?

Guys, I know its only been 48 hours, but I feel AMAZING. Haha. No, just kidding. I feel terrible. I have a nagging headache, I'm queasy in that morning-sickness-all-day way, and I am walking way slower than before (and could barely get through my workout this morning). I also have...GI distress...which may be unrelated (its GI virus season, after all), but suspiciously timed. I guess I'm less hungry? I am eating TONS of fat, not counting calories in any way, and eating when I'm hungry.

I know these are all normal symptoms. I've usually quit around this time, when I've tried to eat lower carb in the past. This time I am determined to stick to it (because its an experiment, and its way too soon to see the results). What I need to figure out is the logistics; specifically what will I eat for dinner? This week we are having turkey chili (which we usually eat with break or tater tots or corn chips), but we don't have too many meals in our repertoire that don't include grains, potatoes or corn products. This is what I've eaten so far:

Sunday dinner: turkey chili (with beans) with cheese on top. Hungry later, ate chunk of brie and nuts and still hungry so ate chunk of sharp cheddar and nuts
Monday breakfast: coffee. hunk of cheddar and peanuts.  Lunch: lettuce, olives, artichokes, walnuts and blue cheese (with olive oil & balsamic vinegar) from cafeteria salad bar with the chicken/feta/hummus I scraped off a tortilla wrap (G made my lunch and it was too sweet for me to throw back in his face). Side of carrots/celery/bell pepper. 4 pm snack of 3 clementines and 1/2 cup pineapple. Dinner: turkey/bean chili with cheese on top. 2 glasses red wine.
Tuesday: worked out. Breakfast: coffee. 2 gooey eggs fried in butter with cheddar cheese & 2 pieces bacon. Lunch: "salad" with hummus, chicken, feta, carrots/celery/bell pepper, spinach/kale yogurt dip (TJs), walnuts and jalapenos. (I'm eating this in between typing, quite late because I was meeting with some people from 1-2:30)

So breakfast and lunch are easy enough---particularly since I"m eating them alone, and because eggs and salad work for those meals. Dinner is challenging. We try for all of us to eat the same thing, doesn't always work because kids are picky & annoying. Things we eat include: Indian curries (veggies, lentils, chicken) with rice/Naan. Tacos or quesadillas with beans, +/- chicken, veggies. Fish with side of veggie and bread or rice (I'm ALWAYS hungry after this meal). Pasta with veggies/chicken sausage, spinach/ricotta stuffed shells, veggie lasagna. Stir-fry (veggies/tofu) with noodles or rice.

If I just "skip the bread" part, I  need to substitute something else, or I'll be hungry/unsatisfied.
Anyone eat this way? Any ideas or recs for websites with good recipes that are lower carb but not paleo (I eat a lot of the stuff paleo doesn't allow, and way less meat than paleo recipes usually push).

I'm not sure I'll make it the next 26 days. You'll find me in the corner shoveling Cheez-Its into my mouth.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What worked and didn't work in 2015, plus highlights

Again trying to squeeze 2 posts into one on a short break!

What worked for me in 2015
  • My group exercise workouts. I do the HIIT 30 minutes 3 X a week and also added a bodypump class once a week (which is long and boring but effective)
  • Shopping ban. 11 months of not buying myself any clothes/shoes/accessories, and then a few weeks of filling gaps in my closet. I'm doing it again this year, but maybe I'll make my exception around my birthday this year, so I can balance this years fall/winter upgrade with a spring/summer upgrade. 
  • YNAB. Love tracking the spending. I've got 3 weeks to enter & reconcile this month, though, which I'm not looking forward to. We seem to always fall off the wagon on vacation, and it falls to me to go through our credit cards (and my memory) to fill in the gaps.
  • therapy. I thought about quitting this summer, but realized I am still getting something out of it, if nothing else, a reminder that I still have work to do, and anxiety can resurface anytime.
  • My new shorter haircut. I chopped about a foot off my hair this fall and I LOVE IT. will be going back to keep it this length every 4 months. I liked my long hair, but I had no time/inclination to do anything but pull it into a low ponytail every single day. Now that its too short for a ponytail, I take the few minutes to straighten it and it frames my face much better.
  • Reading. I read over 50 books this year. I'm planning a post with my favorites from this year. Almost all were from the library, read on my Kindle, and recorded on GoodReads (because my friends/sister are on it)
  • Paper planning. Love my Uncalendar, especially the copious free space to write thoughts and track goals, to-dos, blog post ideas, etc... 
  • Gratitude Journal. I have a 5 year journal with a few lines for each day. This fall I started writing 3 good things from each day. I did take a break over the holidays but will get back into it next week.
What didn't work 
  • Fitbit/My Fitness Pal. I walk a lot, tracking steps didn't really change my habits. And counting calories is really not something I want in my life long term. Not saying I will never do a month or so again, just to make sure I haven't crept up  my intake but I'm really hoping for more sustainable and intuitive changes to my eating.
  • Meditation. Well, it worked very well, actually...when I DID it. Still haven't found a way to make it a near-daily habit, but will try again.
  • Frugality. This is a post (or two) in itself. Lets just say that counting and pinching my pennies was making me very cranky. Allowing for a little extravagance to save family harmony is well worth it. I've been much calmer the past couple of months when I stopped stressing about every $5/$10 that didn't need to be spent.
  • Limiting internet/phone time. Still a goal, but not one I've found a way to achieve. Work in progress.
  • any kind of reward system to encourage behavior in my kids. Several things were tried and worked initially, and then failed when the novelty wore off. 
 And, for posterity (and my own faulty memory), highlights from the past year
  • Mother-son dates with B to post-karate dim sum in Chinatown.
  • Our family trip to San Diego, the beach & Legoland (probably my favorite memory of the whole decade, it was perfect)
  • Beach trip with my family, including a wonderful birthday at the beach and getting hilarious cards from my kids/niece/nephew
  •  Kid-free 3 days, when my parents took the boys to my sister's house
  • Serving a week of jury duty on a murder trial. It was really eye-opening.
  • A few days as a family of 3, when B stayed with MIL. It was so relaxing & refreshing to be able to focus on L and not give all my energy to the "difficult" child.
  • Late summer
  • Road trip to visit friends while we were at my parents house.
  • 2 of said friends coming to visit us in December---my kids LOVED their "new aunts" both of whom LOVE kids and got along great with mine. Very fun.
  • Halloween. Dressing up for the first time in 15 years, trick-or-treating, sitting on our porch drinking wine & eating candy, and then running around the 'hood with B who couldn't get to sleep after all said candy.
  • L's birthday and his superhero park party.
  • The unseasonably warm fall we had, including Thanksgiving weekend. Lots of park time, an ice cream outing in December because it was 80 degrees. 
  • Decorating our home for the holidays, outings to see friends, our late & limited gift giving to the kids...i.e. the parts of Christmas I controlled and executed.
  • G and I seemingly getting our relationship back on track the past few weeks. Its been really good between us, and I feel really hopeful. 
I'm sure there are more, I may edit if I remember them, so I can come back 12 months (and 24, 36, etc...) to see how our lives have changed. No low-lights for this year, sure there were plenty but I'll dwell on the light side!

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 Word of the Year and Fun List

how's that for a clunky title? trying to get this out quickly while eating lunch in the middle of rounding. Not a terrible morning but not as easy as I had hoped. I don't mind, though. This has probably been one of the best New Years Eve and day in a while, and it was all due to the lack of expectations and abundance of SLEEP. We watched the fireworks at 6 pm, with some take-out, took the bus home, got the kids to bed early (by 8!), watched 2 episodes of Breaking Bad (on the one hand, WHY did we wait this long; on the other hand, so happy we have something amazing to watch again!) and then I went upstairs, finished up the last 5% of my book (Ready Player One, so so good) and started a few pages of my next book (10% Happier, I'm sure its great but it made me drowsy last night) and didn't even wake up to hear the supposedly loud "festivities" going on outside.

I'm a cliche cheeseball, but I like choosing a "theme" for the year. in 2015, I chose "Strength". Did I achieve it? Physically---YES. I've gained a ton of muscle all over, especially in my back/shoulders. I can lift & carry heavy stuff for once in my life! Mentally---maybe? I still feel full of anxieties and fears and doubts, but I think I'm making forward progress. I can't expect this goal to ever be fully "met"---its going to be a constant work in progress and as long as I'm making even the slightest forward progress I'm calling it a win.

I thought I'd chosen my 2016 word a few weeks back when I commented on Gretchen Rubin's post about wanting to focus on noticing the good & wonderful things around me. SOmeone suggested "delight" and I loved it! Who wouldn't? What a great happy word! But in really thinking through my goals for the year, I changed my mind. My word for 2016 will be: Lighter.

Yes, I want to lose a few pounds this year (and more on how I hope to do that later), but I also want to lighten my mood, my mind, my stuff, my rigid organized ways. I want to lose even more of the fears and doubts and anxieties that are keeping me from living the life I truly crave. I want to worry a lot LOT less and have my mind feel less heavy and my shoulders less tense. Physically, emotionally, mentally---I want to move through life less bulky and clumsy, less weighted down by things that don't matter.

I also made a "Fun List" for 2015. Lets see how I did, shall we?
  • Vacation, just the 4 of us Our San Diego trip was AMAZING
  • Orchestra performance
  • Summer concert in the park
  • Museum exhibit without the kids
  • Do an "activity" date---take a class, go bowling, etc... We went bowling in August
  • Find 4 new bands/artists that I like
  • Ice-skating, with B (G refuses, L is too little) Took B in February
  • Host a party at our house
  • Celebrate birthdays in big (yet small) waysAll 4 birthdays were celebrated
  • See Fourth of July fireworks Sort of, we all lit the little fireworks at my sister's house, but hte kids fell asleep before the city fireworks went off since they delayed them for rain for over an hour
  • Weekend away without the kids  We had two one-night trips alone in March & then December, and had a 2 night trip to visit friends when staying with my parents in September
Not too bad? My list for 2016 (its a fun + not-so-fun list, I guess; more "non-work goals")
  • Vacation just the 4 of us
  • Establish near-daily meditation practice
  • Ice Skating with BOTH kids
  • go to the beach
  • Eat low carb for at least 4 weeks
  • Weekend away without kids
  • 40th birthday trip with friends
  • Keep in touch with 4 good friends from out of town (totally lost touch with one, but need reminder to stay in touch with other 3)
  • Organize all the digital pictures we have from 2009-2012 (I'll tackle 2013-2016 next year)
OK, gotta go staff a new consult. Happy New Year to you and yours!!!