Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Whirlwind

What a week! The forsythia is beginning to bloom and I already have yellow daffodils blooming in the front flower bed.  Tulips are coming up, day lilies are coming up, and I even have a budding hyacinth.  


Where's winter?! 

We usually have at least one or two big snows but we have barely had anything this year at all.  I miss Big Snow--the thrill of waking to a blanket of white, the inevitable sledding down our neighbor's hill.  We have had a couple of blizzards in March before, so we'll see.....maybe winter will give one more last hurrah. 

My days are full now that my husband is back at work and I'm attempting to settle into a more "normal" routine.  Therefore, I'm delaying my next post on my "daily dozen" habits until next Monday.  I barely have any breathing room this week, and I feel pinched.  

In the midst of it, I'm still trying to exercise, eat well, rest (I'll admit nighttime sleep is more elusive this week than I'd like...sigh), and teach my children.  Oh, and sometimes I practice violin with the front door wide open and the gorgeous spring-like fresh air streaming into the house......

but alas, not today.  

Maybe tomorrow!

Monday, February 19, 2018

My Daily Dozen: The Habit of Exercise

Do you see a theme so far with my daily dozen habits posts? I'm hitting the basics here--I'm dealing with the most fundamental needs of the human body. Not all of the dozen fall into this category, but because I believe caring for our basic physical needs is so important, that's where I decided to begin. 

It's not big news that exercise is important, but do we realize how important it is?  I'm not going to go into all the nitty-gritty details, but the fact of the matter is that active people live longer, healthier lives and activity is protective against many different ailments, from depression to heart disease.  Plus, it just makes you feel good.

Exercise should change as life's seasons shift. When I was in college I loved to get up at 5:30am and go jog over to the health center where I'd swim laps for 45 minutes (no, I'm not kidding).  There's no way I could pull that off now!  I go to bed later, need more sleep, can't jog to the fitness center, can't exercise at 6am outside of my house.....it's impossible. So I work with the season I'm in *right now* and honestly, I think that makes exercise more interesting.

There have been periods of my life when I ran five days a week.  There were periods, before children, when my husband and I would hit the gym for two hours in the evening.  There were times when I used a tae-bo kickboxing video.  There was a season in life, when Annie was a baby and toddler, when I got dinner started, and then as soon as my husband got home, I'd go to our basement and do push-ups, jumping rope, etc. or use our elliptical trainer while he watched the children and dinner finished cooking itself.  It worked for me in that season, but I've no desire to structure things that way anymore! I had a season when I did an online pilates video most days each week. Things do change, and I think it's smart to work with the changes in life and not against them.

Exercise doesn't have to look like exercise, either: gardening is exercise, and so is taking a walk with your children, or doing some vigorous housework.  Exercise can be dashing up and down the stairs at your house a million times a day (just hold the rail).  It can also be parking the car and doing errands in town on foot, if you can.

My own situation is that exercise has become absolutely non-negotiable in my life, simply because without it I live with chronic pain.  I have idiopathic scoliosis, was in a back brace by the age of 6, had a double spinal fusion at the age of 13, and have 2 fiberglass rods in my back and part of my left hip fusing my thoracic spine. I have dealt with excruciating, searing pain and I do not take pain medication; what I discovered, though, was that the pain dwindles when I exercise.

So I take exercise like some people take medicine!  I also love that exercise helps my mood stay stabilized and gives me more energy and optimism.  Who doesn't want those things?

During my current season of life, my exercise routine is--

*20 minutes of toning/strengthening exercises 6 days a week, which I do at home, whenever I can work it into the schedule

and

*10,000 or more steps every day (I just use a pedometer that attaches to my skirt or trousers...no Fitbit here), which I achieve through walking or hiking outside, using my elliptical trainer, dashing around with my children, doing chores, and jumping on my beloved mini-trampoline (600+ steps in 5 minutes!!! I love that thing).  For instance, today I did half an hour on the elliptical--20 minutes this morning while breakfast baked and 10 more this evening after the children were in bed, walked up and down our lane twice this afternoon with my children, and jumped on the mini-trampoline twice, for 5 minutes each...once after piano lesson and once while the children were getting ready for bed. And I did my housework!  I got over 10,000 steps this way and it doesn't feel like a grind.

On Sunday mornings very early I sometimes go to the gym and use the treadmill, the spinning bike, and lift leg weights (these help my back a lot).  That's the only day I actually go to the gym...I don't have time on any other day during the school year. 

We also love to go hiking on the weekends!

*            *          *
Today between the walk, the elliptical, the trampoline, and the strengthening, I spent 80 minutes exercising. What's funny is that because it was 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there, 5 minutes elsewhere....it didn't feel like that much.  When I added it up and saw "80" I was shocked!

I am well aware that these pockets of time that I use for exercise could be used for other things, and in choosing to exercise I'm taking time away from other activities. Sometimes this is hard for me to do, but I'm quite driven by the clear benefits that exercise has on me personally--primarily the drastic reduction in back pain.

Exercise is like anything else: if you can establish a habit of doing it, you'll begin to do it without thinking twice!  And you don't have to start with a lot: set a very small goal to just walk around the block or around the house a few times, and decide you'll stick with that no matter what for one week. Or find a short exercise video online that you would enjoy doing and that matches your fitness level.  Or decide to do some vigorous gardening or housework for half an hour every day.  Whatever it is, just make a tiny, daily commitment to increasing activity and that will get the ball rolling. (Don't go for a huge commitment...it will be too overwhelming. Keep it tiny at first.) Get that momentum going.

 Because once you have momentum, the habit becomes automatic!

And that's my pep talk on exercise, another one of the daily habits that I think everyone can benefit from incorporating into life.  I'm much healthier when I rest, eat well, and exercise!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Stuff Management

I love to purge my things, but this year, in this season, I've purged more than usual.  After Christmas I went through a huge purge of my children's items and some household items....and an enormous quantity of fabric (most of it passed-along or thrifted or leftover from a project I'd already completed).  Once my husband had surgery and was home in recovery I did not pursue decluttering, because I was busy caring for him and then spending time with him! 

He went back to work on Tuesday and we're starting to settle into a more normal routine again, so I'm picking up my decluttering again. 

I don't need more stuff. 

I keep thinking about how Stuff, and Stuff Management, can seriously interfere with our relationships.  Excess stuff can cause stress and chaos, which then disrupts the peace of family life. Who wants that?  Who wants a less peaceful family in favor of stuff?

Purging is one of those things at which I have excelled in my adult life.  I have been called in to help other people purge, because I love it so much.  I'm a purging queen by nature! (I'm by no means a true minimalist, however.) 

But now I'm asking myself: can I do more?  Am I holding onto too much?  What else can go? Does a family of four really need to have four and a half sets of china?  (The jury is still out on that one, y'all. I love my china.) Should I keep that cute, quirky book that I enjoyed a few years ago and haven't picked up since? Should I really keep all of my mother's old scarves, simply for sentimental reasons, when I don't wear them?  

I'm trying to work out the right rubric for determining what to keep.  I love Marie Kondo's "does it spark joy?" question, but even more to my own point, I think, it something more centered around relationships.  But I haven't quite nailed down what that standard is for me right now. 

What I do know is this: I aim to have a peaceful, *much* more streamlined home life, and I'm willing to work hard to achieve that, although I'm still not sure where to draw the line....especially with books.  

And china!


Monday, February 12, 2018

My Daily Dozen: The Habit of Eating Well

I didn't mean to go an entire week without posting, but it happened!  We were busy last week, because my husband is still home from work and recovering (the doctor ordered him home for four weeks), but he has enough energy to do fun things--like spend all day at co-op with us on Thursday, or have a big Friday fun-day (art museum + Indian food + big hike up a mountain!). My sister visited for four nights as well.  And we had ballet, piano, a Session meeting, violin lesson.......etc.

Continuing my posts on the habits that undergird my life right now, I decided to post this week on eating well.  Everyone eats and sleeps, so we'll get these basics out of the way first.  

Everyone eats, but everyone doesn't eat well.  And the habit that I value and want to continue to develop is the habit of eating well. 

Eating is often not respected in our American culture, and we have an international reputation!  When we were in Finland, my husband and I had dinner with a Swiss lady who was staying at the same bed and breakfast where we were, on the edge of the country near Russia.  My husband and I commented on how lovely dinner was (it was very basic Finnish comfort food--think root vegetables, a soothing warm pot pie, a pickled beet salad) and the Swiss woman said "yes, I guess you don't eat this stuff at home, do you? It's all McDonald's."  

We processed this for a moment, then laughed with surprise.  My husband assured her that he'd grown up eating foods very similar to the meal we were enjoying: vegetables from the garden, home-cooked meals.  And of course, we cooked together at home!  She was surprised. (This woman also told us she never wanted to visit the United States because "there's nothing there to see."  An image of the majestic Grand Canyon immediately popped into my head.  We tried to tell her what a beautiful country it is, and how diverse....but she was resolute!)

Our dinner partner that night clearly stereotyped Americans, but the unfortunate truth about stereotypes is that they exist for a reason. In general, a stereotype exists because it reflects some reality about life.  And this is true: Americans sure do eat junk, and a lot of it.

So, what is eating well?  I think we can each consider that question and formulate our own answer, but for me it consists of three basic ideas:

1. Eating fresh, natural, and unprocessed foods

I don't think that I need to mount a strong defense for this practice!  We all know that the best foods for us are fresh and unprocessed or minimally-processed.  I'm passionate on this point because I have seen the damage that a constant diet of fast food, canned foods, and packaged foods can do to the human body.  Besides that, to be honest, those foods often taste terrible.  

I think that if a person is used to eating highly-processed foods, those foods taste good.  But you can change your taste buds. I'm not kidding when I say that typical quick packaged snacks do not appeal to me at all, but I distinctly remember the summer I spent eating Little Debbie's Nutty Bars every day as a teenager.  (My mother was horrified when she discovered this habit.) I wouldn't touch a Nutty Bar with a ten-foot pole now.  I love my big salad for lunch each day, I love my Greek yogurt, my oatmeal, my roasted vegetables.  I'm not trying to manufacture enthusiasm for these things: they are genuinely delicious.  I don't eat packaged junk foods or drink soda and I am not missing out. Every single thing I eat every single day is something that I love.

(Actually I don't eat sugar, any sugar, even dark chocolate (!) at all right now, but that's a whole different blog post.)

2. Eating with ceremony and delight

The second element of eating well is eating with ceremony and delight. I think that if you have any background of disordered eating, whether it's an eating disorder or over-eating, this element is essential to embrace in order to create a healthy relationship with food.

 What this means for me is, first and foremost, always eating at a table. I have always been one to eat each meal at the table, but when I had babies and toddlers I got into the bad habit of eating while standing up in the kitchen!  I wouldn't eat a full meal that way, but I'd get quite hungry before a meal and then nibble on food while I cooked or stand and graze to ease my hunger...which of course spoiled my appetite for dinner.

So now I have a hard-and-fast rule to only eat at a table and never eat standing up.  Never.

Another aspect of eating with ceremony is using real plates and silverware.  This isn't something I've consciously decided, because I was never in the habit of using paper plates and plastic silverware.  I understand that there are seasons in life which may necessitate that, but it just feels better to use real plates and silverware.  A few years ago I got rid of my "everyday" Pfaltzgraff china and my stainless steel flatware.  Now my "everyday" china is jadeite from the 1950s, which I collected in the years before we had children. I used to only use the jadeite at Christmas and special holidays.  Now I consider every day special enough for it!  I pulled out my husband's grandmother's silver-plated flatware, which I had never even taken out of the box, and now we use that every day, too. We also use real napkins 100% of the time, although I know that is not feasible for everyone.

I think another element of eating with ceremony is presenting the food beautifully.  I'm the first to admit that I have slung hash onto my families' plates before without a second thought, especially when I'm in a hurry! But I've tried to take a lesson from my husband, who excels at presentation.  Pretty, well-presented food slows us down, allows us to admire the meal before we eat it, and makes us feel that even a little dish of yogurt is celebratory--and I actually do have a crystal dish exclusively reserved for my yogurt breakfast!

Finally, I think it's important to enjoy every bite of food.  It's difficult to genuinely enjoy the food if we're staring at a screen--a TV, a phone, a laptop--so screens and meals don't mix for me.  I know other people may not be bothered by that combination, but I have noticed that if I'm scrolling through my phone while tucking into my lunch, I just don't seem to enjoy my lunch that much.  And honestly, if I'm taking the time to sit down, use real plates, silverware, and napkins, and present my food attractively....I should dignify the situation by eating mindfully and enjoying each and every bite with gratitude. 

3. Eating less, or eating delicately, or dining 

Finally, eating well for me actually means eating less than I used to eat.  I find that I enjoy food more when I'm eating a little less--I get hungrier faster, and hunger makes me enjoy a meal so much more. (I still say the best meal of my life was the hospital breakfast I had after Finn was born.  At that point I'd endured 23 hours of labor--8 of which were in transition, had slept only 2 hours over the course of 48 hours, and had not eaten in about 36 hours. Needless to say, I was ravenous. I would have considered that meal dreary and unappetizing under normal circumstances, but it was manna from heaven to me that morning!)

I sometimes like to trick myself into thinking I'm not actually eating less, I'm just eating delicately. Something about that is appealing to me: it makes me think of enjoying an elegant tea in a formal tearoom, or indulging in the cuisine at a top-notch restaurant. I've only had those experiences a few times, but the portions and our manners were delicate indeed, yet we didn't leave feeling hungry!  Eating less food but eating it mindfully can leave me more satisfied than eating half a bag of Oreo cookies while watching a movie (ask me how I know this...ugh). I think this approach is actually how I lost weight last year, and perhaps I'll lose more this year!  We'll see. One thing is for sure: eating delicately is an infinitely more appealing way to control my weight than counting calories.  I like to think of it as something even more elevated than eating; it's dining! 

*               *              *

Another thing to mention about this habit of eating well is that it takes much more time than I ever thought it would when I was a younger person envisioning my future life.  It takes time to make three meals each day and clean the kitchen each time, it takes time to grocery shop and plan a menu.  Although healthy eating can be simple and easy, it still takes some planning and effort. And if you add cooking for a family into this mix, it really does take a lot of time!  I bump up against this reality constantly, and I have to make peace with the fact that I spend a fair amount of time in my kitchen. So I try to enjoy cooking, and I try to set my kitchen up in a way that I enjoy, using items I like.

The final thing I want to say is this: be mindful of your season of life.  I am currently in a pretty easy season: my children are old enough to be helpful and semi-independent and our schedule is not particularly hectic. But when I had babies/toddlers/preschoolers it was different!  Give yourself grace to live within the season of life you're in right now, don't wish it away, and do the best you can....but never impose perfection on yourself.  (You know  I don't believe in perfectionism!) There are seasons of life when it's a challenge for a mother to find time to shower and make the bed; if that's your season, then streamline kitchen work and figure out what "eating well" means for you right now.  It's more important to eat with peace and thanksgiving than it is to hyper-fixate on presentation or "fancy" meals.  Keep it simple and tuned to your current life circumstances.

*                     *                  *

I haven't planned the order in which I'm going to post these twelve habits, and I picked eating because I thought it would be easy to write.  A few days ago I planned our menu for the upcoming week, and it struck me as I wrote this that it might be fun to post my meals on Instagram.  So each evening this week before bed I'll create one post with all of that day's meals on it.  I haven't planned meals with this in mind--so you'll get a real slice of what my eating is like during this season of my life, realistically, every day.  (Although this morning I did have a much fancier-than-usual breakfast, inspired by a photo I saw in a cookbook last week!) The only thing missing is the daily dose of dark chocolate, alas!

My Instagram page is here, if you'd like to follow along.

Happy dining!

Monday, February 5, 2018

My Daily Dozen: The Habit of Rest

In keeping with my idea to post about the habits that undergird my life right now, I submit the first: the habit of rest!  I'd like to focus on three components of rest: sleep, rest and relaxation, and Sabbath. 

Sleep is what most of us think of when we think of rest.  For years I shortchanged myself in the sleep department, and I continue to struggle with this.  I remember surviving on 5-6 hours of sleep per night in law school; it's no wonder I barely remember some of those cases I read.  I was too tired to process them! I finally realized a couple of years ago that I need 8-9 hours of sleep per night to feel really good.  That's a lot of sleep!  (Not everyone needs that much, but when I don't use an alarm clock, I naturally wake up 8-9 hours after I go to bed.) I used to resent it, but the truth is, sleep is essential to good health. 

The body repairs itself during sleep.  I believe our brains can work out problems during sleep (have you ever had a dream that helped you solve an issue that was aggravating you during your waking hours?).  Sleep helps with learning, weight loss, staying cheerful, and immune function. I have decided that I can live with the limitation of needing 8-9 hours of sleep per night, because the health and psychological benefits of getting sufficient sleep outweigh the time I forfeit by going to bed early or sleeping a little later. 

Rest (or relaxation) during the day is helpful; it's the pause that refreshes.  My husband has always been a champion napper; I've frowned upon this as being a waste of time.  But over the past couple of years, I have come to value a well-placed nap!  (I think having a second baby is what did it for me!) For me the perfect nap is one that lasts about 30-45 minutes and is followed by a nice cup of PG tips tea.  It's so refreshing and it re-energizes me for the last part of the day. I recently read that people who take regular naps have a much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than non-nappers.  See! Napping is healthy!

I don't nap most days, but I do try to rest every day.  Rest is more nebulous, but for me "rest" entails sitting down, preferably with my feet elevated, drinking tea and/or eating a piece of dark chocolate, and reading a book or toying with my journal.  No one has time to rest--we are all too busy to take fifteen minutes or half an hour to stop and relax.  But I agree with Richard Swenson, who wrote "we do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it."

I recently read a thought-provoking book on longevity.  One thing I noticed as a theme throughout the book was how universal rest is as an idea in cultures where people live healthy, long lives.  Hard work followed by a siesta of sorts, and then more work later in the day, seems to be a reasonable rhythm for many people around the world.  As Americans, our rhythm seems to be get up, work hard, work harder, work really hard, and collapse into bed for five or six hours of sleep.  This is not a recipe for great health!  Having an afternoon rest is good for the body and the mind, and if you don't do it, I encourage you to begin with only 10-15 minutes.  It's worth every second.

Sabbath rest almost seems unheard-of in our culture.  Case in point: yesterday my husband walked into the house with a package from Amazon.  It was delivered on Sunday.  I was floored! Of course, I'm not sure why I'm so surprised; everything is open on Sundays these days, and I know kids on sporting teams who have to play sports on Sundays as well.  My husband and I side with Eric Liddell on this, though: Liddell was the famous Olympian who refused to run on Sunday.  My husband doesn't run on Sunday, either. (He's a serious runner--he doesn't "go for a jog"--it's WORK every time he's out there!)  I do go to the gym or otherwise exercise most Sundays because I find exercise refreshing, so we don't have a hard line on this point.  We just think that it's important to have a Sabbath rest--and for my husband, that means a rest from work and running.  For me, that means a rest from cleaning house and homeschooling. 

But God clearly created a day of rest in the Bible, and he created in us a need for rest.  I have learned so much from my traditional Mennonite (Beachy Amish) neighbors.  They do Sabbath right!  On Saturday they prepare for Sunday by cooking--there's always a potluck meal after church--and ironing their Sunday clothes.  One Saturday night I was at my neighbor's house and someone was ironing, and I said "oh, going somewhere?" And she said "yes, just ironing for church tomorrow!" And I had a flashback to all those Sunday mornings when I ran to the laundry room to hastily iron a shirt 20 minutes before leaving for church.....sigh.  

I have written before about our Sabbath and how I prepare for it.  I haven't done a great job at this lately, so I'm inspired to begin again with Saturday prep work. 

I believe the most important thing about a Sabbath rest isn't about obeying "rules" surrounding the Sabbath, but instead to take it seriously as a day to rest, relax, unwind, nap, putter around, take a hike.  

Finally, how I incorporate a habit of rest into my daily life

I aim to get to bed by 11 and up around 7.  Truly my ideal would be bed by 10 and up between 6-7, but I have a 10-year-old who doesn't always settle to sleep very quickly, and tends to use those later hours to ask Big Questions about life, God, and all sorts of other things that really do need my time and attention!  It's very important to me to be available to him when he needs to talk; these days are precious and these years go so quickly. 

I try to either nap or rest with my feet up for a little while each day. Some days I do take a real, full-blown nap: I get in bed, read for a few minutes, then SLEEP for half an hour or 45 minutes or so. If I'm not that tired, I'll just read, drink tea, and relax.

And finally: we try to rest and simply enjoy our Sundays.

*                *                * 

Rest is truly the cornerstone of a healthy life; we spend at least a third or so of our lives in a state of rest, so it's important to prioritize it and make rest a solid habit.  

I hope that this will encourage you to rest without feeling any guilt about it!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

My Daily Dozen: 12 Habits I Try to Practice Each Day

Lately as the pace of our lives has slowed, I've thought about daily rhythms and routines.  Everyone has a daily routine, whether it is recognizable as productive or not!  The person who wakes at 5 am to exercise, read, shower, and clean house has a routine, but so does the person who sleeps until noon after watching television until 4am.  

A few years ago I wrote about my "ten essentials"--the 10 things I feel are essential to my happiness at home.  More recently I wrote about a few smaller things that lead to peace for me. 

I've sketched out a collection of a dozen habits that truly serve as the foundation for my life during this season.  If I miss one or two of them on a given day or two, it's no big deal, but if I continue to miss them for a long time, I feel the structure of my life getting weaker.  

Instead of writing them all in one long blog post, I think I'll post them one by one, so that I have more time and space to talk a little bit about each one.  And I'll also talk about how I'm choosing and trying to be sure they're "scheduled" into my day, although I eschew strict schedules.  Instead, I suppose you could say I've tried to "routinize" these important aspects of life....so that they truly become habitual to me.

One thing I will also add is that prioritizing a dozen things each day really ends up meaning: that's your day.  In other words, I am a finite being (this never ceases to shock me) with a finite amount of time in each day (this always seems to surprise *and* disappoint me!). When I build my day around these twelve things that are important to me, there's really not that much time "leftover." I have to make peace with this reality--with the reality that each season of life has limitations. I spent years denying this simple fact and as a result I spent years allowing myself to live with much more chaos and stress than was healthy. I was raised by a couple of free spirits, so the idea of having routines was quite foreign to me, and as an adult I've had to learn how to incorporate them into my life.

But that's the beauty of prioritization: if you can tease out what is truly most important during a season of life, and comfortably disregard the rest, you'll build your life around the things that matter most to you.  And I think that's a pretty wise way to live!

I plan to post on this once per week, on Mondays, and I hope you'll enjoy reading these posts and will chime in with any wisdom you have from establishing your most important habits, too.