Thursday, December 29, 2016

This I can get behind

I’m still struggling a bit with my plans for 2017—I have the eight priorities, but it’s hard to translate every single one into a resolution that inspires me (I’ve been trying). In some of those categories, I’m satisfied and don’t really need resolutions. And I have another goal in my head for 2017 that does inspire me but doesn’t really fit with any of my alleged priorities.

There’s also the backfront-of-my-mind worry that things are about to get super ugly in the world, and that maybe I need to be thinking about holding on hard to my nearest and dearest and just forget everything else.

I also realized something JUST THIS VERY SECOND. It’s probably that aforementioned ugliness in the world and its repulsively stupid “Make America Great Again” that has me rebelling against the word “GREAT.”

That settles it. New framework:
  • Service
  • Heart
  • Imagination
  • Toughness

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A manifesto for 2017, part 2

OK, exciting new thought on monthly resolutions!

Since I have a set of eight priorities for 2017, I’m going to have a goal, rule, exercise, affirmation, or task related to each one of them every month. This way I can make some resolutions big and some small, some challenging and some not, but at least I’ll keep everything in mind for the whole year.

It may turn out that eight priorities is too many (and it’s certainly too many to blog about in the way I’ve been doing), but here’s the full list right now:
  • Exercise my creative muscle.
  • Give more to the world.
  • Stick to a healthy diet.
  • Exercise in a way that makes me happy and strong.
  • Minimize digital distractions/optimize human interactions.
  • Keep my house cleaner and cozier.
  • Memorize scripture.
It spells nothing, and I don’t know how I feel about that.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A manifesto for 2017

Just wanted to jot down some thoughts for 2017, since my 2016 manifesto was pretty useful to me. (I did everything on the list to some degree, and I am happier for it!) Anyway, these are my priorities for the new year:
  • Everything on last year’s list is still important to me.
  • I want to exercise my creative muscle more. I have some projects in mind, and I’m thinking that it would be an interesting discipline to blog more, maybe even every day.
  • I want to give more to the world. I’ve already set up a monthly donation to Speak Up for the Poor that begins Jan. 1, and I am thinking hard about a volunteer opportunity I heard about recently.
I also want to keep doing monthly resolutions, but once again I don’t know if the GREAT (goal, rule, exercise, affirmation, task) framework is working for me any more. I could change what the letters stand for again, but maybe I need to change the letters altogether to make it something less cheesy. Or maybe—gasp—I could just write some monthly resolutions without a framework.

Anyway, something for that creative muscle to get started on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The rest of the resolutions (sorry, no further miracles)

Just to wrap up this blogging miniseries about my December resolutions:

My goal of “Never be busy,” of course, is just a state of mind. But the book deadline I was worried about has been pushed back twice, so that has certainly helped. Or at least it has postponed any big temptation to get “busy.”

The no social-media-before-4 rule I have not been sticking to so well—but my awesome new morning routine does keep me away from it very effectively until lunch, at least. More importantly, I feel like I have broken the grip it had on me, and the habit of checking the first thing in the morning. If the news (and the people) in the world were not so infuriating, I would be all good on this front. But it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

The affirmation (“What you really want is the good tired”) I am just pondering. Might be the basis of big plans for 2017.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A yoga Christmas miracle

Today I want to tell you about my exercise resolution, which was “Daily yoga.” It gets miracle status, first, because I’m starting to feel great from it. But also! The practice of doing morning yoga has made an entire morning routine fall into place around it accidentally—something I had been trying for years to achieve with no success.

Here’s the schedule:
  • Get out of bed when I hear Mik returning from morning swim practice (around 6:15). 
  • Put on yoga clothes. 
  • Kiss my men, make tea, and do whatever needs doing in the kitchen until Mik leaves for school.
  • Write out a to-do list or a schedule of what I want to accomplish that day. 
  • Go downstairs, light the candles, and do a yoga video. End with a handstand. 
  • Do a tennis-ball massage (which has all but fixed my shoulder). 
  • Have some breakfast. 
  • Take a shower, get dressed, make the bed, hang up any clothes that aren’t. 
  • Work until lunch (or do whatever other task is on the schedule).
Of course, my best-laid plans sometimes fall apart a bit after lunch (and sometimes not!). But when you’ve gotten that much accomplished before noon it’s hard to go too wrong with your day.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A drywall Christmas miracle

I thought it was about time to do an update on some of my resolutions for December, especially since I said they were valid only through Dec. 21. (It is probably not a good sign that I had to go back and look up what they all were. Ahem.)

So first the task, which was “Fix the walls.”

Short story: Apparently the thought of my messing with drywall on my own alarmed my dad to the point that the next day he was over at my house with a bucket of supplies to help. The “help” was that he fixed most of the holes, scratches, and dents himself while I handed him things. But I did pay close attention to the process, and he tells me that I’ve now attained apprentice status and am qualified to touch walls on my own. I find it to be a fun job and am glad to have had his expertise at my disposal. The end.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

GREAT resolutions for December

I am learning that my attention span for monthly resolutions is really more like three weeks, and that the presence of a major holiday tends to derail me anyway. So these thoughts apply to Dec. 1 through 21, and all bets are off after that:
  • Goal: Never be busy. It is December, and I have a book deadline, but if I stay diligent I should never have to feel rushed, and I should never be too busy to schedule something fun.
  • Rule: Use social media only after 4 p.m.: I know it seems ridiculous that my social-media limits keep getting more and more lenient, but this is a tough realm for me (and maybe the secret to everything), and I’m hoping that 4 p.m. is a compromise I can actually stick to. More importantly, it allows me to reserve my after-dinner time for more pleasant, less rage-inducing pursuits…which might be a good idea.
  • Exercise: Daily yoga. This was November’s resolution, but it was so good that I’m going back for more. (Plus my mom found a stash of like 20 candles she doesn’t want and gave them to me, so I’m all set for the foreseeable future on the candlelight front.)
  • Affirmation: “What you really want is the good tired.” This is a quote from a podcast episode I enjoyed recently, and what it means is that satisfaction in life comes from finding some good work to do and doing it hard. Not sure what that specifically means for me right now, but I am inspired to figure it out.
  • Task: Fix the walls. I keep noticing spots in our house where something has dented the drywall or chipped the paint. I think I’ll go around with plaster and paint (and whatever other tools Google tells me I’ll need) and try to repair some stuff. It’s called expanding my skill set, skeptics.
At some point I should go back and look at the 2016 manifesto I wrote to see how I measured up, but I suspect that it’s been a pretty good year overall.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November wrap-up

Just a few quick notes, since I’m finding it harder and harder to blog in Donald Trump’s America:
  • Goal: Knit M.H. a hat. I knitted him fingerless mitts instead, because that’s what he preferred. I think I will still do a hat for him, though, since I’m on a roll.
  • Rule: Use social media only after dinner. This started off well, took a hit on Nov. 9, and fell all to pieces around Thanksgiving. However, I did manage to break the dreadful habit of checking social media first thing in the morning. Must continue to fight this fight…
  • Exercise: NaYoDoMo. I started every single day with 20 to 40 minutes of yoga, and it was glorious.
  • Affirmation: “I intend to feel free, light, and strong.” Woo, yoga!
  • Task: Come up with a simple, bare-bones daily housekeeping schedule and then stick to it. This started off well, took a hit on Nov. 13 (the day it said “Clean out the fridge”), and fell all to pieces around Thanksgiving. I’m still very glad to have done as much as I did.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Breaking my own rules

Blog silence is mostly due to work overload, but I was also devastated by the election results—to the point where I got so angry that I unfriended a bunch of people and decided it would be prudent for me not so say anything about it ever again, on any forum. In fact, I reached the conclusion that a result like this can only have been the result of a vast group of people having a backlash to being told how stupid they are all the time by people like me, so my recent thoughts have been particularly unhelpful.

(I also broke that no-posting rule long enough to tweet: “If you voted for the biblical definition of a fool, DO NOT turn around and tell me we should ‘pray for wisdom’ for him”—which is something I’ve been hearing lately that makes me blind with rage.)

Partial list of people I’m furious with: right-wing media, the con man himself and his family, Republicans who didn’t take an immediate stance against him and stand by it, Christian supporters, protest voters, Bernie Sanders, and deplorables of all stripes. (If you’re not a Christian, but are a decent person, and don’t hear the news much, and actually thought that Trump better aligned with your politics, I’m just resigned to your existence. Oh, honey.)

But there I go, and this is why I should not talk.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day

I feel strangely calm about Election Day—or, I should say, I am concerned about who will win, but compared with some people I know, I am an island of serenity all up in here. Even Mik, who generally does not speak in the mornings, told us, “Um, be sure to remember to vote” before he left for school. (“Um,” in this case, translates to “For the sake of my entire generation.”) Done and done, minor child.

Breathe deeply, everyone. It will be over soon.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Home stretch

The time change messed with me a bit—I was up at 5:15 (felt like 6:15, but even so—early). On mornings like these I’m so pleased that the Julie Van Keuren Center for Yoga Excellence is in a fairly isolated part of the house. I don’t have to turn on a bunch of bright lights or bother anyone else; I can literally light a few candles and off I go! Recently I’ve picked up a few tennis-ball-rolling tricks for tight shoulders and neck, so I’ve been adding those in as well. And I end every practice with a handstand, which is something I hadn’t been able to do for quite a while because of my shoulder but am easing back into now. All in all a delightful morning.

By the time I was done, the sun was starting to come up, so I figured it was time to turn on a light and get to work. The big deadline I’m working toward is on Wednesday, so this is the home stretch…

Thursday, November 3, 2016

NaYoDoMo and other revelations

I’m only three days into the “NaYoDoMo” challenge, and already I can’t believe I’ve never tried this before. Why was I doing exercise that I didn’t enjoy that much, when instead I could have just been doing yoga, by candlelight, in front of a glowing fireplace, EVERY SINGLE MORNING? My days lately have been wall-to-wall work, but at least I sit down at my desk feeling fabulous.

For my “housework every day” challenge (it helps to call everything a “challenge”) I made a list of 30 things I’d like to do over the course of the month and then just plopped them onto my calendar semi-arbitrarily. So far so good, and I’ve got three things cleaned that otherwise would still be dirty (a bathroom, the kitchen floor, and the front yard [I cleaned it of leaves]).

For my “staying off of social media until after dinner” challenge, I’ve noticed that I’m approaching Facebook and Twitter with a bit different mind-set after being away for so long. I feel distanced from everything that everyone is posting, and the political stuff just rolls off me completely. I was surprised (for some reason) to discover that everyone is exactly the same as they were a month ago—talking with the same voice, making the same types of jokes, sharing the same types of stuff. It’s just not as interesting to me as it was, but I think that’s probably healthier.

M.H. has a theory that checking Facebook/Twitter first thing in the morning plays tricks on your mind—giving social media some kind of subconscious importance that it doesn’t deserve and then sucking you into a cycle of keeping up with it all day long. He has been joining me in turning the chatter off until after dinner, and we have both been so much more productive.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

GREAT resolutions for November

The November manifesto:
  • Goal: Knit M.H. a hat. He needs a new one, and I’m pretty sure I have enough yarn and can make it not suck.
  • Rule: Use social media only after dinner. This is the compromise I reached between “social media is evil, addictive, and bad for my brain” and “social media is really fun, and I like to see what’s going on.” I’ll use the same caveats I had last month—that I’m allowed to see Facebook and Twitter at other times when I need to for work, or when I need to look something up, or when I need to communicate with someone.
  • Exercise: NaYoDoMo. M.H. is starting a new book for NaNoWriMo, so it seems like a good time for me to invent/observe “National Yoga Doing Month,” i.e., 30 yoga workouts in 30 days. It might mean I skip my weightlifting and sprinting more often than not, but that’s OK—I’m getting more out of yoga right now anyway. And it’s fine to do yoga in the morning when it’s pitch black outside BECAUSE I CAN LIGHT THE GAS FIREPLACE AND MY ROW OF CANDLES AND DO YOGA BY WARM FIRE GLOW. Why, yes, I do welcome the changing of the seasons.
  • Affirmation: The series of yoga videos I’m doing actually has an affirmation for every day, so this month I’m setting a yoga-related intention instead: “I intend to feel free, light, and strong.”
  • Task: Come up with a simple, bare-bones daily housekeeping schedule and then stick to it. I feel like some general fall cleaning is needed, and walking around dusting things or whatever can substitute for walking around in the bitter cold outside.
I just finished my first candlelight yoga video, M.H. is clickety-clacking away on his new book, a mostly-blank housework calendar is before me, I have a full day of work ahead, the sun is coming up, and I feel fantastic.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

End o' month check-in

Kind of (very) swamped with work, but I should be able to spare 10 minutes to blog on a Sunday, for heaven’s sake. So just checking in to talk about how much I loved some of October’s resolutions and hated others.
  • Goal: Start three knitting projects. Love! Even though I’ve started only two projects so far, one of them is done, and one is three-quarters done. It was so nice to have something to do with my hands this month, and knitting really stirs up my creative juices, because I never actually follow a pattern all the way. (I usually just start with some concept from a pattern and then go crazy. It works or it doesn’t, but it’s a lot of fun.) And knitting a lot almost felt like a tribute to my grandmother, because I was using mostly her needles. Although she wasn’t the type to go off pattern much. :)
  • Rule: Stay off Facebook and Twitter. Unqualified love for this one. I needed so badly to get my brain back. And, since I have been extremely busy with work that requires focus, the timing could not have been better. I am letting myself get back on social media next month, but I am NOT letting it take me over again.
  • Exercise: Take a morning walk. Ugh. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a morning walk in theory, but it turns out that October mornings in Montana are dark and usually cold, and when I did this, it wasn’t always pleasant. And I probably didn’t take a morning walk even half the days, although I did take several evening walks, which is just a better time for me. 
  • Affirmation: “I have everything I need.” Meh.
  • Task: Deal with digital photos. I did do a few things I had intended, but I just can’t tell you how much I hate dealing with digital organizing—or maybe it’s actually photo organizing I hate, since my physical photos are not in such great shape either. This is going to be a perpetual, nagging “to-do” until I can get myself together. Maybe 2017 is the year that happens.
I have big! plans! for November.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I voted

My absentee ballot came in the mail today, and I filled it out immediately and with glee—glee, I tell you! I usually research every race and end up voting for mostly Democrats and a few Republicans, but this time I just went straight Democrats—I am so mad at the other party for what they’ve inflicted on the world that it might be years before I ever vote for one of them again.

Actually, that’s not quite true. This being Montana, there were a few races that were uncontested, with only a Republican running. In those races, I did do some research. If the candidate had ever said anything positive about Donald Trump, or indicated that he might be in that camp, then I wrote in his primary opponent rather than vote for him. Just out of principle. But I did end up voting for one lovely-sounding Republican who was running uncontested.

I have railed against third-party and write-in voting recently, so before anyone calls me a hypocrite: I have nothing against protest votes generally; I just think it’s incredibly stupid and damaging to use one in the presidential contest this year.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Month of Blissful Ignorance: Day 13

It’s been a tough couple of weeks around here, but the funeral is over, and I am starting to feel some energy coming back. I basically just chucked all my resolutions for the month—I’m still staying away from Facebook and Twitter, but other than that…oh, well. (I think don’t-do resolutions must be easier to keep than the do-do resolutions when you’re already busy, drained, and exhausted.)

I am noticing the positive effects of staying off of social media, though: The “twitch” to check it every time I get the slightest bit bored/sad/challenged is going away. And, while I’m still aware of certain political idiocies, I’m not particularly riled up about them. All of that is really good, because I’m entering a busy period of work and can’t afford to waste massive amounts of time worrying about things I can’t control.

On the other hand, I’ve definitely decided that I don’t want to give up Facebook and Twitter forever. I miss knowing what my friends are up to. And sometimes you need to veg out a bit, and I could argue that Twitter is actually a better use of my time than a couple of the other choices I have been making lately (*cough*“Steampunk’d”). So I need to think of a good way to corral my social media checking and keep it away from my workplace. Am thinking of making it an only-after-dinner thing…

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Today in “Wanted to Share it on Facebook but Couldn’t Because I’m Not on Facebook”:

This true and beautiful thing.

I come down on the side of generally against abortion, by which I mean I am horrified by it and can see some good arguments for it being made illegal in many cases. But I also see a huge swath of gray area—and I’ve come to believe that people who see NO gray area, whichever side they are on, are not really thinking about abortion very clearly.

But we should all be able to agree that it would be great to reduce the demand for abortion, and the fact that so many Christians are actively working against that—whether they realize it or not—is infuriating. (I also know some Christians working actively for that with a program that gives supplies and advice to young parents—those folks are bearing fruit, and they rock.)

But if the main reason you are voting for Trump is because you want Roe v. Wade overturned, please read the link and give it some thought.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Month of Blissful Ignorance: Day Six

The ignorance I’m experiencing from not being on social media is kind of blissful—I don’t think I’m unaware of anything I really need to know about, but it’s kind of nice to not be caught up in whatever new thing everyone is enraged over toady. I miss not reading about that stuff about as much as I expected: It was good entertainment, but it wasn’t vital to my life.

What I do miss more than I expected is having an easy way to express myself and talk about things. For example, The Atlantic had this glorious endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and all I wanted to do was share, share, share. “[T]he most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency”? C’mon. I need that on my Facebook page! Who wants to discuss?

The other thing I’ve noticed is that Facebook in particular is absolutely dastardly in its efforts to win you back once it realizes you’ve left. A few days ago, I got an email informing me about some random thing some friend had posted, which I don’t remember ever happening before. There was an Unsubscribe button, so I clicked it, and it brought me to…Facebook. So I was able to unsubscribe, but not before they had made darn sure I was aware that I had 14 unread notifications! Plus, maybe it’s my imagination, but the number of alerts I’m getting on both my phone and desktop seems to have increased. I don’t want to bother turning them off, because I’ll just turn them on again in November. But Facebook clearly misses my business.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Month of Blissful Ignorance: Day Four

It seems stupid to talk about something as frivolous as my social media challenge in light of my grandmother’s recent death, but it raises some interesting questions for me.

By deliberately not telling my social network about her passing, are there people who would genuinely like to know who will not find out at all, or not for a while? Would I get some comfort from posting about it on Facebook and receiving a flood of sympathetic comments? Is this an occasion where it makes more sense to break my resolution long enough to let my friends know? The answers are I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know.

I seem to remember that when my grandfather died in 2009, I didn’t do anything more than post the obituary I had written as a note on my Facebook page. (Oh, and since he was also my Scrabble buddy, I challenged all my friends to tribute games of Facebook Scrabble.) I can’t remember whether either of those things helped.

A final thought: I’ve noticed before that I automatically twitch to Facebook or Twitter whenever I encounter something hard, something boring, something frustrating, something annoying. I can now add “something sad” to that list—there are other (healthy and unhealthy) ways to numb pain, of course, but it’s shocking to think how much I would be using social media for that if it were an option.

Monday, October 3, 2016

To mark a passing

Joan Mae Haiston O’Brien, 92, died in her sleep Sunday, October 2, 2016. Joan was an original member of the Billings Symphony Orchestra, for which she played the harp for 50 years before retiring in 2001. As one of the few harpists in Billings, she continued to teach private lessons well into her 80s. She loved the sound of the instrument and was often told, “You’ll play first chair when you get to heaven.” Joan had lived in Westpark Village retirement community since 2010 and was a longtime member of First United Methodist Church.

Joan was born December 27, 1923, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Frank Edward Haiston and Lula Donnie Vieth. Joan’s father died when she was 2, and her family moved in with Joan’s maternal grandparents in Oakland, Iowa. Joan’s beloved grandmother died when she was 8 years old, and she often missed her mother, who taught school in a town six miles away—which was such a long trip on dirt roads that Lula was able to come home only on the weekends.

Joan graduated from high school at age 15. She received an associate’s degree from Christian College of Columbia, Missouri, in 1942, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1943. She met James Richmond O’Brien on a blind date while both were attending the university. They were married in 1944 and, after World War II, settled in Billings, where Jim worked as a civil engineer. Jim preceded her in death in 2009, just a few weeks short of their 65th wedding anniversary.

When the oldest of her four children started college, Joan also went back to school to get certified to teach in Montana. She started teaching English and basic math in Worden in 1967 and then taught speech, English, and drama at Lincoln Junior High School in Billings from 1968 to 1985. She was an avid golfer and a member of the Yellowstone Country Club. She also led Girl Scouts and was active in the Billings chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. In her free time, she enjoyed crossword puzzles, bridge, pinochle, baking, needlepoint, knitting, and correcting the grammar of her children and grandchildren.

Joan is survived by her children, Teresa McCombs and her husband, William, of Wichita, Kansas; John O’Brien and his wife, Peggy, of Billings; Barbara King and her husband, Corey, of Snohomish, Washington; and Kathleen Joan O’Brien of Portland, Oregon. She is also survived by nine grandchildren, Carolyn Hill, Janet McCombs, Julie Van Keuren, Jennifer Jasper, Christine Brittle, Renee King, Christopher King, Hilary Contolini, and Jack Wittrock; and 10 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her older sister, Doris Hoffman, in 2007.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday, October 10, at First United Methodist Church, 2800 4th Ave. N. The Rev. Tim Hathaway will officiate. Memorial donations may be made to First United Methodist Church.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Month of Blissful Ignorance: Day One

A few weeks ago, I tweeted “Just a friendly reminder that Hillary Clinton is the only person who can save us from a Trump presidency and that if you don’t vote for her you’re dead to me!” I thought it was funny, and I sincerely believe the first half of it—plus it got a handful of retweets and likes, which for me signifies a killer tweet. I pinned it to the top of my timeline and planned to leave it there for the month of October.

Then, on Day One of my no-social-media resolution, I got on Twitter for 15 seconds and—squinting so I wouldn’t see anything else—deleted it. It had taken all of four hours away from social media to realize that it was so mean that I couldn’t stand to have it sitting there. Holy detox.

Summary of Day One activities:
  • Becoming nicer.
  • Googling “what stupid thing did donald trump say today” just to be sure I wasn’t missing out.
  • Meditating to try to slow my racing mind.
  • Picking fruit, making kale chips, composting, and taking a sunset walk—because why not just go full earth mama at this point?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

GREAT resolutions for October

The October manifesto:
  • Goal: Start three knitting projects. Starting is always the hardest part for me, so I figure that if I just get a few things going, I can get some actual knitting done for a change.
  • Rule: Stay off Facebook and Twitter. This is to keep myself from going insane as the election gets closer, but it’s also going to be so insanely hard. The one mitigating rule is that I can look at things that other people show me on their feeds; I just have to stay off my own. That way at least I won’t miss out on big news from friends and family. Oh, and sometimes I also have to check something on social media for work purposes (true story), but that doesn’t count.
  • Exercise: Take a morning walk. My thought is that it could be just 5 or 10 minutes if I want, just so I get out every day. (M.H. already walks at 4:30 in the morning, but mine will be at more like 6:30.) The rule is that it must occur before noon (hence the name).
  • Affirmation: “I have everything I need.”
  • Task: Deal with digital photos. I was trying to think of some overdue cleaning task for this resolution, but to be honest, our house is in order right now—literally. The yard’s not too bad, either. Really, the last great remaining mess in my life is my digital photo collection. I have some specific things in mind, so this resolution is not as vague as it sounds, but anything at all that I can get done this month would be great.

Friday, September 30, 2016

End-of-the-month dilemma and a wrap-up

Last day of the month and I’m STILL debating whether I will actually dare to give up Facebook and Twitter in October. I feel like, with my current level of addiction, and all the crap going on in the world, it will be really tough—maybe the emotional equivalent of training for an Ironman.

On the other hand, if I’m not on social media at all, there’s a good chance I won’t even hear about most of the crap and will emerge into November happy, cleansed, and not having strangled anyone. That is the dream.

Anyway, here’s the wrap-up of September’s excellent resolutions:

  • Goal: Sit down for a family dinner every weekday. Mik has a ridiculous schedule that makes this a rushed affair on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and there was one day when I really had to work through dinner, but other than that, this went well. I’ve taken to telling certain employers I’m not available between 5 and 7, which gives me plenty of time to help with cooking, eat, and clean up. That doesn’t actually stop anyone from emailing me during those hours to request things, but at least I don’t feel guilty for ignoring them.
  • Rule: Take a full day off every week. I did this faithfully, too, and it gave us a couple of free days where it seemed like the only logical thing to do was to go to the mountains. 
  • Exercise: Stick to the schedule. LOVE this schedule. It’s not that hard and doesn’t take much time, but I feel stronger and more energetic.
  • Affirmation: “I welcome the changing of the seasons.” Honestly, I think this affirmation has helped my attitude about a lot of things, including literal seasons.
  • Task: Clean Dex’s room. Done and then some, since the purging and rearranging frenzy spilled over into a couple of other rooms.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A plan to de-stress October

I’ve re-warmed to the idea of doing monthly resolutions—probably because September’s are going so well. Other than missing a couple of family dinners when I absolutely had to work, I’m at 100% compliance. Even more telling is that I’m already pondering some resolutions for October.

In fact, I’m thinking of going big for October—like giving up Facebook and Twitter for the whole month big. That sounds drastic to me, and I think it would be really hard, given my current usage. On the other hand, news about police brutality, racism, and the election—and the idiotic opinions I keep running across—are driving me bonkers and stressing me out. And, frankly, even when I agree with what’s being said, I’m sick of the implosion of our whole stupid country being turned into “outragetainment.” 

If anyone has hit upon a strategy to consume social media in a limited and sane way, I would really like your advice. Otherwise, I think 31 days of abstaining could be a useful experiment that would be good for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hike to Broadway Lake

I scheduled my day off last week for Saturday, and since it happened to be a gorgeous day, we decided to spend it hiking in the mountains for what I suspect is the last time this year. This hike was off of Lake Fork Road, south of Red Lodge, and it was a nice, easy trail—a four-lane highway by Montana trail standards, really. It was also really crowded, but that could have just been the fact that it was probably one of the last good hiking weekends.

My favorite thing to do while hiking is to take pictures, so here they are:

Hillside dotted with aspens


Color along the trail
Nice day
The lake itself is no big deal, actually!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Morning routines

Work has been so slow that it’s pretty easy to take one full day off each week. But I have to remind myself to still plan the day off—there’s actually a pretty big difference between taking a day off and simply having no work to do.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and cooking, and also putting the finishing touches on the Center for Yoga Excellence. In fact, I had put some candles in there and so did my morning yoga by candlelight (and glowing computer screen)—it was still really dark outside, even though I am now by far the last one to get out of bed. In fact, by the time I get up, M.H. has typically made two breakfasts for Mik and gone on a 90-minute walk—and Mik has had 90 minutes of swim practice.

Beasts, these two.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Welcome to the…

After hearing me muse about whether I should call my new space the “yoga corner” or the “yoga nook,” M.H. suggested “The Julie Van Keuren Center for Yoga Excellence,” and it made me chuckle for so long that that’s definitely what I’m calling it.

I tried some yoga there first thing this morning; I might need to work out exactly how to fit all my moving parts into the relatively small area, but I think overall it’s going to be great. I feel much less exposed than my previous location, which was in full view of anyone who came to the front door. The fact that there is carpet all around, and some empty walls, means that it will be easier to start practicing handstands and headstands again. When it gets cold and dark in the mornings, I can flip the switch for the gas fireplace that’s right there and do warm yoga by firelight. AND it’s going to be nice to just leave the mat and blocks and stuff out all the time.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day projects

Today seemed like a good day to take on the task of cleaning out Dex’s room. I caught M.H. in a mood to help, and we cleaned and rearranged everything so that it’s still Dex’s room, but it’ll also be a pretty nice place for guests to stay. It wasn’t as depressing as I imagined—the reports from college are good so far, we’re happy that he’s happy, and so we are all adjusting.

I told Mik (to tease him about his own room) that it looked like we had two sons, but one of them was just very neat. Mik said it looked like I had two sons and one of them doesn’t live here at all, which—OK, FINE, BE A REALIST.

We have a little more house rearranging going on, because I’m building myself a new yoga area (yoga nook? yoga alcove?) and moving the board-game shelf and game table that were in that space into the play room. Then the play room needs some sort of overhaul. Most of the toys are purged, but I’m hoping I can somehow turn it into a place more appropriate for teenagers to play.

Here’s the basis of the yoga…corner—it’s made with some leftover laminate flooring and duct tape:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

GREAT resolutions for September

OK, I’m going to go ahead and do this! Here are my resolutions for September:
  • Goal: Sit down for a family dinner every weekday. The one (sort of) silver lining of Dex being away at college is that there is again a time when everyone living under this roof is actually available to have dinner together. We started this on Monday, and I am happy about it.
  • Rule: Take a full day off every week. I don’t always work every day—but I usually do work at least a little work every day, and typically I’m “on call” most of the time. My intent with taking a day off is to be more productive with my work time, more aggressive about limiting my schedule, and more creative about finding fun, restful things to do. (I already started this, too, actually.)
  • Exercise: Stick to the schedule. I don’t see anything coming up in September that should prevent me from keeping to the plan I’ve laid out for myself, which is this: Lift weights on Mondays and Fridays, do sprint workouts on Wednesdays, and do yoga on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. And walk every day.
  • Affirmation: “I welcome the changing of the seasons.” Metaphorically, too, this time!
  • Task: Clean Dex’s room. He left everything in pretty good shape, but someone needs to go in there to dust, vacuum, air it out, make up the beds, and have a good cry over the inevitability of the passage of time. 
This GREAT framework, while still amusing*, is pretty limiting. I’m completely over the affirmations (A). I feel like ideally I would just keep this same exercise (E) plan every month. There are months when my resolutions should probably be just a list of tasks (T). And obviously my goal (G) is just a rule (R) in disguise. This nonsense may have run its course in its current form. Hmmm.

* To me

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hike to Beauty Lake

The purpose of this post is to 1) brag about having actually planned and executed a hiking trip and 2) to record it for posterity because we might want to go back someday.

M.H. and I headed out yesterday morning for a hike to a place called Beauty Lake. It’s up over the Beartooth Pass on the Wyoming side (Beartooth Lakes trailhead, trail #621) and also passes another cool lake called Crane Lake.

The hike is not a long one—we probably did six or seven miles total, and only because we did so much wandering off the trail—but it has its moments of difficulty. It is steep in places, and the elevation makes climbing fairly brutal! The views are crazy, though; here are my favorite photos:

A mossy creek draining Crane Lake.

Exploring around Crane Lake

Crane Lake in all its glory

Sticks, scenery and Beauty Lake

OK, it’s not bragging if you call yourself “Beauty Lake.”

Friday, August 26, 2016

Oh, yeah, alarm clocks

Having a school-year schedule seems like a nice idea, but I have identified a flaw in the plan.

So this morning the alarm went off at 6—kind of early because Mik has an early class, but not nearly as early as it will be going off next week when morning swim practice starts. I stumbled out of bed, attempted unsuccessfully to be helpful with various tasks, and then plopped down at my computer and mindlessly read Facebook and Twitter for an hour.

The flaw, I’m saying, is that my sleepy brain isn’t really going to be equipped to handle anything that I might conceivably put on a morning schedule. Unless it is and I just need to adjust to having an alarm go off again?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Loose ends

The resolutions hiatus became a blogging hiatus, so I’ll just tie up all the loose ends I left hanging this summer:
  • The eldest child did indeed leave for college before we knew it. (The worst.)
  • I stopped messing around with other infused water combos and just drank a never-ending stream of lemint all summer.
  • I made it to the mountains exactly once, which is pathetic, but early September is also a lovely time up there, so all hope for technically-still-summer fun is not yet lost.

…and I guess that’s it. I’m feeling the usual overwhelming desire to get myself on some sort of schedule as soon as school starts, but that’s tomorrow (a Friday) for some reason, so I think I’ll hold off on any such plans until Monday. I’m still pondering whether I want to do September resolutions at all, but I’m leaning toward making some easy, concrete ones. As nice as it was to have a break, it’s also nice to set some intentions, and it usually results in at least one thing being done that otherwise was never going to be done, so that’s a plus.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What passes for midsummer fun

I know the masses are surely crying out for reviews of amazing infused water concoctions, but to be honest I’m in a bit of a rut. I decided that the satisfaction of walking across the dewy grass in the morning to hack away at bits of my mint monstrosities outweighs any desire to go shopping for more creative ingredients—and, anyway, mint is really good. Here’s what I can tell you:
  • Mint + apple slices: Tastes like apple juice to me, though admittedly I haven’t had actual apple juice in several decades. 8/10
  • Mint + peeled orange slices: Just OK; oranges don’t seem to work that well in general. 6/10
  • Mint + pitted cherries: Interesting! 7/10
(I think mint + peach could be a real winner; I’ll let you know next time I own a peach.)

I haven’t managed to get any non-domestic fun on the schedule yet: Several of my clients are either busy sending me work or busy jerking me around. Trying to set boundaries while remaining the helpful, available, willing, cooperative freelancer they know and love…

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Updates on life and lemint

I think I maligned the lemon-and-mint-infused water before. It’s really refreshing, I’m starting to “get” the flavor, and I keep making more and more of it. Revised rating: 8/10

I also tried a couple of concoctions with orange slices, but I didn’t think they were good at all:
  • Orange slices and a cinnamon stick: Cinnamon water is very weird, and it seemed like the flavor from the orange was all peel. 3/10
  • Orange and lemon slices: Same deal with the orange peel, though less weird overall. 5/10
When I’m not infusing water—oh, who am I kidding. I’m perpetually infusing water now.

Along with all this water infusing, I have been crazy-busy all June with work and travel and major life events, starting with my eldest graduating from high school. (Say what??)

My people
On Thursday he heads off on a road trip with some friends, and the next thing we know he’ll be off at college. He won’t be that far away, and I know he’s going to love it, so we’re probably as emotionally prepared as we can be. I think my job right now is to not interfere too much as he has these last-splash events with his high school friends and deals with all the leaving-the-nest tasks.

After graduation, we attended a three-day college orientation with separate programs for the parents and students. It was pretty fun, but I’m not sure it was strictly necessary for the parents. Probably just the university’s sneaky way of forcing us to practice the big drop-off ahead of time.

After that we did two weekends in a row of swim meets, with me working frantically in the days in between to meet some deadlines.

Now I’m realizing that there’s one month of summer gone already, and if I want to make the most of what’s left, I’m going to need to do some serious fun-planning for July and August. Fun is GOING ON THE CALENDAR.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A minty diversion

I don’t know why this might be, with everything going on in the world and in my life, but today I’ve decided to drop in on the blog to talk about…

…infused water!

This is a sprig of spearmint, a sprig of peppermint, and two lemon slices. In water. It is so dang pretty and refreshing and basically solves all of my problems. Or, to be more precise, my two small problems of 1) having too much mint in my yard and 2) drinking too much tea and not enough water.

(Honestly, it doesn’t actually solve Problem #1 because, who am I kidding, that’s about one-millionth of my mint. And I don’t know if Problem #2 is a real problem, but if you knew how much tea I drink, you would probably advise me that it couldn’t hurt to cut back.)

Review: As much as the world keeps insisting that lemon and mint go together, I still don’t buy it. You taste the lemon and mint separately, not as some cohesive blend, which is too bad, because we could have called it “lemint.” Still, ridiculously cooling and refreshing. 6/10

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Resolutions hiatus

If I’ve learned anything about making resolutions, it’s that they work out better when I put a lot of thought and care into them. Otherwise I’ll change my mind or lose interest before the month is over. Just a fact.

So today is June 1, my May resolutions were only sort of halfway kept, I’m swamped with work, and I’ve given zero thought to what I want to do next. I was going to think some up June resolutions anyway, but I could tell that it was going to be pointless. Then I decided I should just reprise my favorite ones from the previous 18 months, but that was no fun and also pointless (since the best of those habits are still going strong anyway). 

Plus, looking at the calendar for June, we have house guests, a big graduation party, Dex’s college orientation, an out-of-town swim meet, an out-of-state swim meet, and the usual infiniwork. July is almost as busy, and August’s planned activities include driving from Montana to California and back and taking our firstborn to college.

So new plan for the summer: Take a break from resolutions! Time to think (and blog) about other stuff. I think it’s the right decision, because it sounds really fun. :)

GREAT report card for May

Can NOT believe it’s June today. This nonsense is all a day late, but May overall was nuts, and I had real-life things to attend to, like successfully meeting a book deadline (woo-hoo!). And this:

(Don’t you hate it when multiple people are taking pictures and in every photo everyone is looking at a different stupid camera? Scourge of modern society.) 

Anyway, here’s the wrap-up:
  • Goal: Memorize Psalm 46. I was still telling myself that this was short and that I had plenty of time right up until last week. Read it a lot but memorized nothing. F
  • Rule: Start every day with a plan. This was so incredibly helpful that I started making weekly meal and vitamin-taking and exercise plans as well. More about that later maybe. A
  • Exercise: 30-second flexed arm hang. On the plus side, I am a bit stronger now. Otherwise, total joke. C (with a generous credit for “effort” due to the callouses on my hands) 
  • Affirmation: “Fix your gaze directly before you.” This was a good one. A
  • Task: Digital decluttering. I barely scratched the surface of the photos on the computer. It feels pretty good, though, to have cleaned out my work files and password program, including deleting a bunch of old user accounts on various websites. C 
GPA: 2.4

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

In praise of the schedule

I’ve been quiet here through most of May, and I just realized it’s because of my new little habit of writing up a daily schedule. Nothing like mapping out a plan for each day to make you realize how little time you actually have! No time for trivialities like blogging! (I’m writing this at the end of a block of time vaguely labeled “Work,” which I realize is stretching the definition quite a bit.)

Scheduling is an interesting habit, though, because it’s making me really deliberate about what activities I choose for myself. And when I’m supposed to work (usually), I work, because I know there’s a limited amount of time allocated for it. It’s helpful this month that I have an enormous project from one client (can’t remember what I named them, maybe Bashful) with no real deadline. So I always have something to do during my work time—and if something else pops up, I do that instead.

I’m also learning to make sure that I don’t get too optimistic about how much I can accomplish in one day—or how long I can focus on work in one stretch. That means I have lots of breaks built in for things like yoga, walking, meals, and reading, and therefore I always have something to look forward to. It feels kind of awesomely decadent to hit something on the schedule like “Go outside and read in the sun.”

Unfortunately, I have one client (Sneezy) with the habit of occasionally blowing up my whole schedule by sending me urgent work at random times, but that’s OK. It’s not written in stone, and if I can’t stay on schedule, I can at least use the thing as a to-do list.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The angel and devil on my shoulders

We had to go to a swim-team-related banquet last night, and even though it would have been relatively easy to stay close to the AltShift plan, I made some poor choices regarding sugar. It started when I accepted some lemonade (I was starving, dinner was still 45 minutes away, and I reasoned that it had life-sustaining calories) and ended with…oh, just trust me when I say it ended badly. I had not had that much sugar in quite a while, and I felt pretty awful a couple of hours later and even more awful the next day (i.e., now).

It’s not really such a mystery to me why I might do this, but here’s my question: How can I learn to associate this awful feeling with sugar so that it no longer appeals to me? How do I burn this into my brain so I can stop using willpower to stay away from the stuff?

It occurs to me that I have the reverse problem, too, in that going for a walk and doing yoga both leave me feeling utterly fantastic, and yet sometimes—often—I have to force myself to do them. I have literally never regretted deciding to do yoga, and yet it’s still not half as appealing as a cookie.

I sort of feel like the whole point of meditation is to help you make these angel-on-your-shoulder choices; maybe I need to up my game.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

GREAT resolutions for May

I haven’t had a dud resolution all year, so I really hope I don’t end up regretting this impulsive “30-second flexed arm hang” thing. Here is the full May plan:
  • Goal: Memorize Psalm 46. An exciting foray into the Old Testament!
  • Rule: Start every day with a plan. Short story: There was one day in April when I had about 12 things I needed to do, I had no idea what to even start with, and I could tell that I was heading for paralysis. So I asked M.H. if he would make a schedule for me, and I agreed to stick to whatever he said I had to do. I wrote down all my tasks with time estimates, and he gave it some thought and came up with a nifty little plan with breaks built in. Then he made his own schedule with the same breaks. It worked like a charm for both of us, and since then we’ve been tackling our toughest days by making coordinating schedules. I don’t need to go to those lengths every day, but I think it would be interesting to see what happens if I at least set some intentions every morning for how I want the day to go.
  • Exercise: 30-second flexed arm hang. I find it ridiculous that I’m still not strong enough to even hang from a bar, let alone do a pull-up. I think a 30-second flexed arm hang should be achievable if I focus on it for a month. (I also plan to keep up with yoga and walking and lifting weights, but not everything can be a resolution.)
  • Affirmation: “Fix your gaze directly before you.” Those clunky “I take care of myself” meditations weren’t working for me, so instead I’m going to try some prettier words of wisdom from Proverbs.
  • Task: Digital decluttering. Specifically, I want to delete useless photos from my computer and phone, delete useless passwords from my password organizer program, and clean up my work files. If I get on a roll, maybe I’ll add keywords to photos or something, but that sounds scarily ambitious. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

GREAT report card for April

Here’s how my resolutions for April went:
  • Goal: Keep flowers on the table. This was an easy one, and it worked out just as I hoped. A month of increased loveliness, total cost less than $15. A 
  • Rule: Do some yard work for 15 minutes every day. I skipped this when the weather was dreadful, but I did 25 minutes most other days, and the yard is awesome and virtually weedless. (Except for the mint, which is pretty much unstoppable.) A
  • Exercise: Walking/cleaning/yoga. Yoga rules, and I wish the weather had been better so there could have been more walking, because cleaning isn’t nearly as enjoyable. A
  • Affirmation: I take great care of myself and my family. I took a normal amount of care myself and of my family, but mostly I forgot this affirmation existed at all. I need something catchier. D
  • Task: Get the ring appraised. I texted my sister the results of this yesterday, and she texted back “Just under the wire.” Yep! A
GPA: 3.4

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In praise of YouTube yoga

I thought I was making a moderately large sacrifice when I switched from amazing-human-instructor yoga to YouTube-in-the-dining-room yoga, but I’m not so sure. Now that I have the benefit of several years of amazing-human-instructor yoga experience under my belt and know what to do, there is almost no downside to YouTube-in-the-dining-room yoga. In fact, here’s the complete list of the advantages of each:

YouTube-in-the-dining-room advantages:
  • Free
  • Get to choose my class every day
  • Can be done on any schedule
  • Can be done for any length of time
  • Can be paused at will
  • Can be done wearing anything I want
  • Impossible to forget my ponytail holder
  • No peer pressure to do or not do anything
  • No driving
  • Always get my “spot”
  • Can meditate immediately afterward for as long as I want
  • Can make tea right before starting so it’s ready as soon as I’m done
  • Natural light and proximity of pretty flowers
Amazing-human-instructor advantages:
  • Get to chat with amazing human instructor
  • Opportunity to ask questions about poses if needed
  • Don’t have to watch a 15-second ad
  • Don’t have to worry about UPS coming to the door
  • Other very nice people to talk to
I was kind of afraid that the awesome yoga high I got after class was from chatting with all the very nice people, but I see now that that’s mostly just the yoga itself. I may still go back to class one day to visit, but DANG this other thing is working out well.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The urge to purge

I got the sequel to Marie Kondo’s book from the library and am having a delightful time reading it—though just a bit at a time, because I am still very, very busy and have a child to put through college in four minutes. If you haven’t read one of her books, I recommend them, for three reasons:
  • Her view of tidying as her sacred calling is sweet and unintentionally hilarious.
  • Her personification of inanimate objects is sweet and unintentionally hilarious.
  • Her method works really well.
It’s not that I actually believe that my possessions enjoy being used and treasured or that my kids’ old toys are sad because they’ve not been played with for a while or whatever. It’s that choosing to act as if you believe those things makes a real difference.

I kind of equate it to some of the sillier things that are said in yoga. If I’m in Warrior II and someone tells me to shoot energy out my fingertips, well, it turns out I can get more out of the pose if I shoot energy out of my darned fingertips. I don’t think there’s actual energy shooting out my fingertips. It’s just that it’s a sort of beneficial shorthand to pretend there is.

Anyway, I expect a renewed energy to purge the aforementioned toys is on its way to my house.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Worth it

Just another post because I’m procrastinating from the horrible work I’ve been doing for a week and a half. I know I should be reminding myself that I really do love working from home—and oh by the way I have a child to put through college starting in about five minutes—but instead let’s admire my dining room table:

Lovely, right? This is a $5 bouquet from the grocery store, still going strong after 11 days.

Just behind the closest chair there is my new yoga studio—in other words the spot in the house I’ve chosen to do my YouTube class every day. It’s in full view of anyone who comes up to the front door, so I am always hoping no one chooses that moment to drop by unexpectedly. (Of course, every other minute of the day I would be fine with unexpected visitors, just because I want them to be impressed by my purty flowers.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Podcasting weather

Our weather has been pretty nice, so I’ve been diligently getting outside to work in the yard—which is also starting to look pretty nice, if I do say so myself. It helps that I usually do more than the mandated 15 minutes, but I have a couple of podcasts I like that last around 20 to 25 minutes, so I usually stay out until the audio is finished.

I don’t know if you’ve picked up on the fact that I’ve become a podcast… uh, maniac? in the past few months. The ones I like tend to mention other ones I will like, and the must-listen roster keeps growing (I just checked, and it’s at 13 podcasts, even after a recent pruning of the list). It’s gotten so that if I utter the word “podcast” in front of my family, their eyes glaze over immediately—as if they weren’t just about to have their lives enriched. Weirdos.

It kind of reminds me of the early days of my triathlon obsession, when I started a blog literally just to have an outlet to talk about the sport so I wouldn’t have to drive everyone around me insane. This is different, though, because it’s not like it’s the form of podcasting I’m obsessed with. It’s more that the constant stream of information and ideas keep me in New Life Plan mode constantly, which is my idea of fun.

Friday, April 1, 2016

GREAT resolutions for April

It’s April, and the 10-day weather forecast is delightful, which means it is a great time of year to be without a gym membership—why, what a coincidence! It’s also a great time for some enthusiastic, spring-y resolutions, which are as follows:
  • Goal: Keep flowers on the table. Dex gave his girlfriend a bouquet of flowers last month before prom, and since she needed to put them in water and was not going home anytime soon, they ended up living on our dining room table. It was lovely. And I realized there’s no reason I couldn’t spend a few bucks a week to feel like the dining room is lovely all the time. 
  • Rule: Do some yard work for 15 minutes every day. Every spring I put forth the theory that the yard and tiny garden could be well-maintained in just a few minutes a day if one were diligent about it. Time to test it out. Free sunshine is a bonus.
  • Exercise: Walking/cleaning/yoga. I’m trying to keep up most of my old resolutions even as I add new ones, but the fact is you can’t do everything every day. So what I want to do this month is try for two out of the three of the above every day. No time limits on anything—just deliberately set aside some time to walk and do yoga. Or to clean house and do yoga. Or to walk and clean house. You get it.
  • Affirmation: I take great care of myself and my family. It’s not that I can’t think of any other affirmations, just that this one is so important that it’s worth another month of focus.
  • Task: Get the ring appraised. My sister and I have been trying to figure out what to do with a diamond ring our grandmother gave to us, and the first step is getting it appraised. Which we’ve been putting off for, I don’t know, three or four years now? I have it in my possession, and this is the month it finally happens.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

March report card

Here’s how I did on my March resolutions:
  • Goal: Memorize 1 John 1. Pretty easy in that it was short—but also pretty hard in that pretty much everything John says, he says three times in three different ways. I want to memorize something else, but maybe a month off first while I work on other goals. A
  • Rule: Start each weekday with an hour of diligent work at my standing desk. I learned that the ease or difficulty of this depends heavily on the kind of work I’m doing, and I had a few days when I absolutely needed my two monitors side by side and had to settle for an hour of diligent work while sitting. Still, this was a good rule, followed, oh, 92 percent of the time, and I get an A.
  • Exercise: Explore some more sources of yoga. I explored quite a bit and found a handful of free YouTube classes I liked. It will take months and months of actually doing them to find out which ones I love, but overall it was enough to make me feel pretty darn good about my decision to quit the gym. A
  • Affirmation: I take great care of myself and my family. I was not so great about this, frankly. But you can’t fail “Affirmation” if you did the affirming. B
  • Task: Purge and clean the desk area off of the kitchen. I did this in stages, but I didn’t actually get to all the stages. I think I’ll just finish up next month, because April’s task is a lot less time-consuming. C
GPA: 3.4

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The update before the storm

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, which means updates are probably in order before I launch into my end-of-the-month/start-of-the-month posting flurry of report cards and new goals and whatnot. Actually (go-getter that I am), I’ve already written the bulk of those posts. I’m convinced that having thought through a set of priorities for the year has changed this whole GREAT exercise from a hilarious novelty to something actually useful, and I am psyched about it.

Anyway, Update One is that I’ve been taking ibuprofen for my shoulder for going on three weeks now, and it is feeling much better. The law is that I have to do it for eight full weeks, no matter how good it feels, to make sure it’s healed. So that’s a bummer, but it will be so worth it in the end (you know, unless it causes kidney failure or something)!

Update Two is that I have not worried about one single thing once since deciding that I would worry at 11:08 a.m. every day. What happens is, if I start worrying at night, I reassure myself that I can worry at 11:08. Then 11:08 arrives—and even if I notice, which I don’t—I can’t get worked up about anything anyway. So that’s convenient.

Update Three is that I swam with the group at my gym one last time before my membership lapses on April 1. It was really fun, and I can still join them for $5 on any given Monday if I want, but it hurt my shoulder just enough for me to realize that I should not be swimming yet. Plus, I hate what chlorine does to my skin and hair. I’m just going to have to move to a warmer climate and swim in nature.

Update Four is that I also attended my last yoga class at the gym. That was kind of sad but, again, I can pay to go once in a while if I want ($10 in this case). I do like YouTube yoga, but it is definitely not the same.

Update Five (and then I’ll stop) is that the lousy Smarch weather has made me realize that walking really is going to be pretty difficult here for a lot of the year without access to a treadmill. So I made a New Life Plan that when I don’t feel like braving the hail, sleet, wind, or whatever, I’ll spend an hour or so cleaning or decluttering my house instead, just to be moving around. Win-win! If I can make myself do it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A time to worry

I’m not traditionally a big worrier, but lately everything I read about global warming makes me sick to my stomach. And the political…um, landscape (to put it more politely than the word that’s in my head) has been making it much worse. I find that if I wake up in the middle of the night for any reason, my mind goes straight to the landscape we’ve all got ourselves in, and I may well worry straight through till morning.

Not that these aren’t truly excellent things to worry about, but as one person with two compost bins in a state with three electoral votes, there’s really not a heck of a lot I can realistically do about anything.

So I was really glad to hear Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast this morning while I was making the bed—and, by the way, she’s also the reason I tend to make the bed every day. (Told you she was my spirit animal. Although The Minimalists are lately making a run for the title.) Anyway, the podcast suggested an interesting tip: Schedule a time to worry. In other words, go ahead and worry if you’re going to anyway, but try to set an appropriate time—and time limit—for it.

Frankly, I don’t know if I will be able to “worry on demand” like that, but I think the idea is worth trying, if only so I can tell my 3 a.m. self that I don’t need to worry now because I’m scheduling it for later. (I’m thinking 3 a.m. self is probably groggy enough to fall for it.) Election Day is November 8, so I think I’ll plan to worry starting at 11:08 every day. I can write down a couple of things I’m particularly troubled about, stew over them for a few minutes, and get on with my life. Sounds great in theory.

Wanna worry with me?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Another swim

In a fit of minimalist resolve, M.H. and I went to the gym earlier this week and canceled our membership. M.H. thinks he might join up again—or maybe find a cheaper option—when the weather turns bad next winter, but I think I’m going to try living without this particular luxury for a while.

Since my easy-access-to-a-pool days are numbered, I went back the next day and tried swimming again. It wasn’t terrible! I didn’t attempt butterfly, but I can do the other three strokes with minimal pain. On the other hand it wasn’t no pain, so I ended up doing 800 yards of mostly kicking.

Because my shoulder seems on the verge of being cured, now I’m contemplating trying another round of taking Advil for eight weeks to see if I can get it the rest of the way there. Ughhhh, but it would be so great if it works!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Resolution fallout

Another one of my March resolutions was to “Explore some more sources of yoga.” I assumed there must be a ton of stuff on the Internet, but the first thing I noticed while looking around online was a recommendation to check out “Yoga with Adriene.” I did, I found out she has oodles of videos on YouTube, I did one, it was awesome, and now I’m set for life, even if I never find another source of free yoga. Which is unlikely, since I’ve spent about two minutes looking for it so far.

So that was nice, but it made me face something I’ve been in denial about: Aside from the one yoga instructor I really love—and the swimming group starting up again soon (assuming I can swim)—I don’t think there’s much value for me in my gym membership anymore. Here are the arguments for giving it up:
  • I hate subsidizing all the super-intense hour-long cardio classes they keep adding that I truly believe are damaging to people’s health in the long term.
  • I don’t like the feeling that the only way to get my money’s worth from my membership is to make “fitness” a hobby, as I see tons of people doing. I want exercising to be a means to an end—good health—not an end in itself.
  • Every time I walk in the door I feel pressured to buy better workout clothes, because they sell them right in the lobby, and literally every woman there has a full wardrobe of adorable flowy-yet-functional yoga stuff that they bought for one million dollars.
  • Related: I really like working out at home, where I don’t have to deal with my hair and can be an unshowered hot mess in peace.
Their are arguments on the other side, of course, but I just don’t think I can justify spending the money anymore. I think I’ll cancel—and if I change my mind I can always uncancel.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A helpful tool for work focus

All my March resolutions are turning out to be not just GREAT™ but actually great—I have something to say about every single one, but for now I’ll just mention that my rule of starting each workday by doing an hour of actual diligent work at my standing desk has been a surprisingly helpful discipline.

The standing-up part has not been as much of a challenge as I expected; I’ve actually already built up a lot of standing-desk endurance, and I move around and stretch quite a bit to keep my back from hurting. The more difficult part is not getting distracted for an hour straight. What tends to happen is that as soon as I hit a tough decision of some kind, or something I need to take time to figure out, or something out of my comfort zone—and it is crazy how often one of those three things has been happening (note to self: Get smarter and more skilled and expand your comfort zone ASAP)—I have to fight an impulse to run straight to Facebook. And then Twitter. And then a bunch of blogs. And then Facebook again.

A couple of times I’ve had to take a deep breath, go make myself some tea, and read a book for a while before going back to my desk and facing down whatever the trouble spot was. (The resolution specifies that I’m allowed to take breaks as long as they don’t involve the Internet.) One day last week I knew I had a particularly ugly task in front of me, so as a means of procrastinating I sat in the living room sipping tea and knitting for an hour or so before, fortified and strengthened, I went to my desk to Just Do It™.

That’s probably not as good as getting right down to work, or maybe it is, but I know for sure it’s a lot better than cycling among social media feeds and following links until guilt or deadline pressure forces me to get a grip on my life.

This might be that “mindfulness” thing I keep hearing about. Weird.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

GREAT resolutions for March

I’m kind of excited to be starting fresh with some new resolutions, but I also want to keep going on a bunch of my old ones—meditating, walking, doing squats, eating well—and I have a sense that it might be getting to be a big much. Better find some motivation quick.

Here’s what I settled on:
  • Goal: Memorize 1 John 1. This should be fun: John’s writing has a completely different vibe from Paul’s, and this chapter is waaaay shorter than Ephesians 4.
  • Rule: Start each weekday with an hour of diligent work at my standing desk. The intent is not only to work for a solid hour before even thinking about Facebook but also to be on my feet the entire time. I anticipate that a full hour of standing might be challenging at first, so I’m allowed to break it up if I need to, as long as I stay away from digital distractions.
  • Exercise: Explore some more sources of yoga. My gym has been slowly converting all its good yoga classes into annoying “yoga pump” type things where the instructors shout at you and make you wave pink and purple weights around. There is still one excellent instructor, but I can usually get to only one or two of her classes a week, and I’d like to find something that I can do at home on some of the other days.
  • Affirmation: I take great care of myself and my family. This is code for “I cook stuff and do my part to help us all to get to bed at a decent time.”
  • Task: Purge and clean the desk area off of the kitchen. This area includes photo albums, shoeboxes full of greeting cards, art supplies, tons of papers, dust, and…miscellany. It will be a pretty big job but can be done a bit at a time. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

GREAT report card for February

Here’s how I did on my February resolutions:
  • Goal: Memorize Ephesians 4. This turned out to be a tough one, given that it’s a pretty long chapter (and a pretty short month). I got to the point, though, where I could type it out with a couple of quick peeks and a handful of wrong words. I’m fairly satisfied. B
  • Rule: Meditate for three to five minutes per day. I was really good about this because, strangely, three minutes feels a lot shorter and is a lot easier to commit to than five. I’m also beginning to master the fine art of thinking about my breathing while still actually breathing, so that’s nice. I’m not making a specific resolution to meditate in March, but I think I can keep the three-minutes-a-day thing going regardless. A
  • Exercise: Reintroduce myself to the squat. I read up, watched some videos, got my form as perfect as I could, and worked on squats several times a week for the whole month. Plus, I get extra credit for noticing early on that my right quad was starting to feel strained, not playing through the pain, taking a few days off, and then carefully starting up again. A
  • Affirmation: “I take great care of myself by practicing moderation.” I had a lot of trips and  celebrations and events in February, and I had hoped I could eat whatever I wanted and then snap right back to healthy eating habits after each one was over. I forgot to take into account that junk-food events lead to junk-food leftovers, and also that I am not really the moderation type. On the other hand, I was pretty good about actually saying this affirmation, which I’ve decided should count for 80 percent of my final grade. C
  • Task: Install a shelf in my closet. On February 8, we had a 60-degree day that coincided with a light work day, and BAM! It’s so beautiful. A
GPA: 3.4

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Annotated essay about the back of my sock box*

Our washing machine broke down recently, and when we did the math on getting the replacement part shipped to us, we realized we’d all have to go about two weeks without doing laundry, unless we were OK with some flooding, which we were not. No big deal, really. Someone who will not be named** ran out of underwear three days early, but other than that, the budding minimalists and the fashion-indifferent alike all had plenty of clean clothing to get through the ordeal.

Speaking of minimalism, I did find something interesting in my decimated sock box:

Behold the five pairs of socks that DEFINITIVELY spark the least joy! I decided that three of these*** will be hitting the pavement on Monday, along with another big stack of books I removed from the guest room shelves and some other odds and ends. I’ve been listening to The Minimalists' podcast a lot lately, and they always say stuff like, “If an item is no longer bringing you pleasure, why not release it back into the world so someone else can get pleasure from it?” That phrasing kills me every time, but thinking of it like that does make a lot of sense. I mean, it doesn’t probably apply that much to used socks. But the other stuff will find homes with people who will be glad to have it, and in the meantime it will be nicer for me to have a little more breathing room in the sock box.

I was about to say that, ha ha, I’d be in trouble if there was a three-week laundry emergency, but then I remembered that it is actually possible to wash clothes without a washing machine.**** That epiphany would have been more helpful during the Underwear Situation.

* No kidding, this has to be a new low in terms of blogging about the trivia of my life. All uphill from here!
** But not me.
*** I do sometimes get in the mood to wear the absurd blue striped ones, and another pair may have been unfairly lumped into the group because it was in the back.
**** Shaking my head at this ridiculous example modern-convenience blindness.