Category Archives: Self-Improvment

Is This Spring?

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The bright moon kept me awake last night, and I slept late this morning. When I got out of bed, I remembered that I was going to lose another hour. This is the day to reset the clocks for Daylight Savings Time. “Spring forward,” they say. We “fall back” in the autumn.

Could this be spring? It’s not due to arrive, according to the calendar, for a couple more weeks, but many signs are here.

The sun has shined brightly on Beaver Island for three days in a row. Open water is visible in the big lake. Temperatures are mild. There are patches of bare ground around trees and shrubbery. A warm wind carries the scent of earth and growing things. The Fox Lake Road, which yesterday was covered with a thick crust of packed snow, has turned into a path of mud and slush.

Though I was told my newest dog does not care for snow, he has braved the weather for our daily walks all winter long. Today, it looked like he was going to finally revolt. It seems it’s the wet he doesn’t like. He grimaced at every step, and picked up each paw to shake off the water. He gingerly made his way through puddles, from one side of the road to the other, searching for the driest areas.

Yesterday, the little dogs both leaped onto the the snowbanks and ran through the fields on either side of the road. The big dog sank into the deep snow, and could not follow. Today, that snow was too soft to support any of them.

At the hardware store, we have our new seed packets on display, and filled nearby shelves with peat pots, potting mix and other planting necessities. Here at home, I have a stack of seven seed catalogs, that have been showing up weekly in my mailbox since January, waiting for perusal. My neighbors have bright blue bags hanging from their maple trees, to collect the flowing sap.

If Aunt Katie were still alive, she’d be quick to remind me of heavy frosts and April blizzards. “This is just a teaser,” she’d tell me, year after year, “Don’t get your hopes up. Spring is still a long way off.” She was always right. I’m sure this year is no different. Today, though, it sure feels like it might be spring!

No Electricity

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Blackie Chan in deep snow

I woke up today to lots of fresh snow, with wind. My coffee was barely brewed before the electricity went out. Well. Immediately, that puts most of the morning plans on hold. No electricity means no internet and no computer. So, no time spent looking at social media, checking the news and playing internet Scrabble. No writing my Tuesday blog.

In addition, when the electricity is out, I have to be careful of my water use. No cooking. No lights, though that’s not an issue when the outage is in the daytime hours. I’ve hooked my land-line back up, so I have a working telephone even when the power goes out. The first thing I did was call to report the outage. The automated system informed me that they were already aware of it, and working hard to fix it.

Next, I made a few other calls that were on my to-do list. One, regarding vaccinations my dogs are due for; one to arrange for the mainland car at the end of this week. I called a friend to see if we could meet up on my way downstate this Friday; no answer, there, so I’ll have to try again later. I called my sister, to let her know when I’d be arriving at her house. She was out, too, so I left a message.

I wrote in my journal. With no distractions to pull me away, I wrote a whole three pages this morning. I wrote of my frustrations at how all of my habits, goals and resolutions were falling by the wayside. I renewed my intention to get back on track.

My yoga program was next. Right on cue, as it has been one of the things I’ve been neglecting lately. I have often been going through the first five exercises, basically the “warm up,” and calling it done. Today, I made my best effort at all of the positions.

I walked the dogs. That is a firm habit, almost no matter what the weather, and certainly not dependent on electricity. The road had not been plowed, though, and the winds were a little unnerving. Our walk down the Fox Lake Road is a walk between large stands of trees. When the high winds set those trees in motion, I get nervous. Still, we got a decent walk in.

Home again, and still no power. I took a cup of lukewarm coffee up to the studio. I added a few elements to a new collage, and contemplated how to finish the others I’ve been working on. I sorted a stack of collagraph plates. I pulled out a sketchbook, and found the pen I wanted to use. Rusty as my drawing skills are, I did a few “thumbnail” sketches, reminding myself that only practice will bring back ability.

I pulled out my suitcase, next, and unpacked it. I put my “vacation clothes” in it two months ago, when my sisters and I first planned our Florida trip. Now that it is less than a week away, I’ve been thinking I should do a review of what I was bringing. Try things on. make sure everything is wrinkle-free; determine that I have remembered all the necessities. I did a little editing of the contents, and set aside my choices to be tossed in the dryer to be refreshed before putting them back in the suitcase.

I’d purchased a new, lightweight, messenger-style bag to replace my purse. Large enough to hold all of my carry-on needs (wallet, toothbrush, journal, book, sketchbook, bullet journal, e-reader and earphones), but easy to carry and small enough to stow under an airplane seat. When it arrived, I was disappointed in the color. Not enough to send it back, but still. Today, I pulled out my needle and some fine wool yarn, and embellished it just a little.

By the time the power came back on, I was feeling pretty good about my days accomplishments. A day without electricity turned into a blessing in disguise!

Almost a Lousy Day

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All the contributing factors were there; everything pointed to it being a really lousy day. My little dogs were both having allergy-fueled ear issues, which kept them up scratching wildly at the itchy places, and kept me up rubbing ears and soothing them. When we slept, we didn’t sleep well. Until morning, when I slept right through the alarm.

It was a bitter-cold day: freezing temperatures with sub-zero wind chills. Too cold for our morning walk. The dogs didn’t protest when I cancelled. Frustrated already in my lack of persistence with my exercise program, this added fuel to my negative self-criticism.

I got to work late, and cranky. I’m not sure if my work partner was also in a bad mood, or if mine was enough for both of us. Usually, we get along well, and enjoy working together. On this day, all day, it seemed like we were barely avoiding conflict.

I learned, that day, of the recent death of an old friend. Though I’d seen Elaine only rarely in the last several years, we were young together once. And now she’s gone. Sad news to add to my already miserable attitude.

After work, I had to go to the grocery store. Having just paid a big bill, my checkbook had barely thirty dollars in it. I needed dog food, coffee and milk. Going up and down the necessary aisles, I was computing the cost as I went along. That old habit made me feel even more bleak. I don’t usually have to watch pennies that closely. What a crummy day!

Walking past the meat counter, I spotted a beautiful rib-eye steak in the case. Now I enjoy a steak on rare occasions, but I have never bought a piece of meat like that from our little market on Beaver Island. I’ve bought chuck steak, when the price is right, to cook like a roast and enjoy for two or three meals. Usually, I buy their good ground beef, or chicken. On this day, without a second thought to the $12.99-per-pound, I asked for that steak.

Quickly to the counter, then, before another impulse should throw my budget completely off track. As I loaded my few purchases onto the conveyor belt, I noticed bundles of cellophane wrapped miniature roses in many colors, right beside the cash register. For Valentine’s Day, of course. “How much are the flowers?” was out of my mouth before I could stop it. The price, $9.99 per bundle, did not stop me either. I chose a bouquet of deep red-orange, and dug to the back of my wallet for a hidden twenty-dollar bill.

Home, I greeted the dogs, and took them for a short walk. They felt the extreme cold, too, and were relieved when I turned around. I unloaded the car, and unpacked my groceries. I trimmed the stems of the flowers, and arranged them in a vase. I lit all the candles: the two pillars in the bathroom, the lemon-scented jar candle in the kitchen, and a half-dozen votives on the dining room table.

While the dogs ate their dinner, I prepared my own. As I cooked, I thought of Elaine. We travelled together, many years ago, Elaine, my sister Brenda, and I, to our college classes. We discussed our children, our love-lives, and our course work. We read aloud from our papers, wanting, at that point, only positive feedback before we turned them in. We reviewed our teachers, our classmates and our partners with cruel honesty that made us laugh hysterically.

I cleaned and sliced a big mound of mushrooms, and sautéed them in butter, with one small hot pepper, sliced thin. I seasoned the steak with garlic powder and lots of pepper, and put it under the broiler. When it was nearly done, I cut a large plum tomato into wedges, and added it to the pan with the mushrooms.

I lifted the steak onto my plate, and spooned the mushroom-pepper-tomato combination over the top. I pulled out my big book of modern female artists, to page through while I ate. A perfect accompaniment to an absolutely fabulous meal!

It could have been a really lousy day. It almost was. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t half bad!

It’s Okay to Rest

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On work days, I have to stay on track. Out of bed by 6AM, start the coffee brewing, turn on the heater in the bathroom, and drink one large glass of water with two doctor-prescribed pills while checking the morning news.

With coffee in hand, I sit down to write in my journal. I always start with gratitude these days, and sometimes that’s as far as I get. On good days, I continue on with “Morning Pages,” which is simply stream-of-consciousness, no filter writing. Then, I move on to my bullet journal to plot out my “necessaries” for the day ahead.

I take my second glass of water and third cup of coffee upstairs to the exercise room. There, I listen to a short meditation tape, then do a daily yoga warm-up sequence. On odd-numbered days, I do strength training; on even-numbered days, I do a longer yoga routine, Pilates, or any other exercise I choose. Next I shower, and get ready for work. Dressed, the dogs and I head out for our morning walk.

In the warm weather, when I walk farther and faster, and often throw in a few sprints as well, I walk the dogs before I shower. In the winter, on slippery roads and paths deep with snow, our pace is slower. We walk a mile, sometimes farther, but I don’t work up a sweat.

Home, I grind up the various dog-medicines, and distribute them into their dishes. I add one tablespoon of canned food to each, and mix it up. Until this moment, the dogs all thought they’d hate to see me leave; now they wag their tails in anticipation. I pack my lunch bag with a thermos of coffee, and soup or leftovers already packaged up for that purpose. I blend my morning smoothie of greens, fiber, fat and protein, and pour it into a lidded glass.

I rinse the blender, and put the dishes down for the dogs, admonishing each of them to “Take good care of things.” I gather up my purse, lunch bag and smoothie, and leave the house. If all has gone well, I make it out the door by 9:30.

My days off are different. I don’t set the alarm, and wake up when sunlight through the window, or a dog needing to go outside, alerts me to the day. On work days, I choose my coffee cup from a selection of sturdy or chipped mugs that can withstand being knocked around in the car and the hardware store. On my day off, I use a small, delicate cup with an image of blackberries that makes me think of summer.

On days off, though I still try to fit in all of my daily habits plus a dozen other plans for personal growth, home and studio, I’m much more lax about my timetable. Today, for instance: at noon, I made oatmeal for my breakfast. I have not yet gotten in a walk or even climbed stairs to the exercise room. I checked the news, at length, then watched a Ted talk, listened to a podcast, read a couple blogs that I subscribe to, talked on the phone with a friend, and now am writing this. I have almost finished a pot of coffee, and have hardly moved from this chair. And, I don’t feel guilty! It’s okay to rest!

Mid-December

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Though it looks and feels like winter here on Beaver Island, we’re actually not there yet, for a few more days. As the change of season approaches, as well as the coming transition into a new year, it’s time for me to take stock. Not of all the considerations going on in my life. My gosh, that would take more time and energy than I have today, or even this week! But one thing.

I’ve been participating in Rachel Hollis’s “Last 90 Days” challenge, with the plan to start the new year riding on recent accomplishments, rather than the failures and disappointments of the past year. The challenge came with five daily goals:

  1. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water.
  2. Move your body for thirty minutes each day.
  3. Write down 10 things each day that you are grateful for.
  4. Get up one hour earlier each day, and use the time for something that benefits your spirit.
  5. Give up one category of food or drink (thirty days at a time) that will help to make you healthier.

With two weeks left in this challenge, I’m looking at mixed results, and not much time to redeem myself. My assessment:

My weight is 130 pounds, so that means 65 ounces of water, which is about 60 ounces more than my previous usual daily water intake. Though I never met my goal, there were several days when I came very close. Even my worst water-drinking days (48 ounces, or thereabouts) were still a huge improvement over my old habits. I’ve noticed that I enjoy water more, and that I crave it. Also, I feel thirsty more often than ever before. So, this has been a positive change, and one that will continue.

I’ve always been a walker, though I’d grown neglectful. Last spring, when I added a dog to my household, I reinstated the habit of walking every single day, morning and evening. That pattern was well-established before I started this ninety-day challenge, so it was the easiest requirement. I had been doing a “walk-to-run” program for at least one of my daily walks, but cold and icy conditions have curbed that. Still, we go at a pretty good clip, and I get a bare minimum of thirty minutes of walking in, often much more.

Writing every morning was already part of my daily practice, so also easy to continue. Gratitude is fairly new, though. It has become easier to find things to be grateful for, the longer I do it. It changes the way I approach the world. As I’m watching for things to be thankful for, I pay more attention to small kindnesses, and appreciate more fully the beauty that I too often took for granted.

I’ve had mixed success with getting up an hour earlier. I managed it successfully for a while, and was using the time for writing, yoga and meditation. First a bout of the flu got me off course. Then, I let some joyous travel opportunities get in the way. A week of flying from one place to another left me with an inner ear issue that has temporarily affected my hearing. On several days, I’ve slept right through the alarm! I see the value in taking this extra time; it’s a habit I will continue to work toward.

For the month of October, I gave up alcohol. Feeling that that was a bit of a cheat, as I’m not much of a drinker (I had only had one alcoholic beverage in the month of September), I also gave up chocolate. My cousins came to the island, and invited me to join them for happy hour at the pub. I did, and ordered simply tonic water while we visited. My sisters came next, with several bottles of wine for the week. I doggedly stuck to my plan, and had water instead. Chocolate was more greatly missed, but I stuck to it.

For November, I gave up pasta. It was a healthful choice, and something I should be looking into anyway. As much as I hate the thought, I will probably be forced, before long, to adapt a low-carb lifestyle, for my health. So, November was a trial run. This was a difficult sacrifice, as pasta forms the basis of many of my meals. It fills the plate, and fits my budget. Giving it up forced me to rethink my menus and my grocery list. Even travelling around the holiday to other homes, even with several meals out in restaurants, I made it through.

For all of my high hopes that these healthy habits and good choices would make a difference on the scale, I saw very little improvement. I’d lose a single pound, then gain it back. Though the fluctuation did seem to be in a downward direction, it was still not noteworthy. Could I do better in December?

This month, rather than give up a food group, I changed a habit. After reading Body Love by Kelly LeVeque, who promotes a low-carb lifestyle without dieting, I committed to having one of her “Fab-Four” smoothies every morning, rather than my usual breakfast of yogurt, granola and fruit. In her book, she sites many success stories. There are people who lost 11 pounds in two weeks without making a single change other than replacing breakfast with the smoothie! What better incentive? If I could lose significant weight in two weeks, you can bet I’d be utilizing her entire program for the new year!

The “fab four,” by the way, are protein, greens, fiber and fat. The recipe I use, which is only one of the many variations she offers, is this:

  • 1 scoop of protein powder (protein)
  • 2 cups loosely packed spinach, kale, or a combination of the two (greens)
  • 2 Tablespoons ground flax seeds, chia seeds, or a combination of the two (fiber)
  • 1 Tablespoon almond butter or 1/4 avocado (fat)
  • 1/4 cup frozen raspberries or blueberries (flavor, and the saving grace for this smoothie!)
  • 2 cups almond milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Especially if you use vegetable-based protein powder (which smells like dried split peas), it helps to drink this with a straw. If it doesn’t keep you satisfied for at least four hours, add a little more fat, or more fiber. I’ve grown to like the flavor, though I can’t tolerate it without the fruit. It’s satisfying and healthy, and I plan to continue this as part of my morning routine.

As for the weight loss, nothing. Ah, well, the New Year is almost here, with new opportunities for fresh starts and diet plans. For my year’s end, I did what I could!

Things Get In The Way

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Note the drastic lean to the left!

It seems I’ve been writing “Finish painting the Floor” in the “Tasks” box of my Bullet Journal every month for a year! I know I’ve mentioned the project in several blogs, and bored many listeners with my snail’s-pace progress. With the summer season’s long hours, company and general “busy-ness” over with, I dove back into my project with renewed determination.

I have a small house. The entire downstairs floor is less than six hundred square feet. This should be a simple thing! And yet, it is not. For one thing, I live here, in this small space, with all of my furniture and accessories taking up space. With three dogs, and their dog beds and water dishes to work around. With the necessity to always maintain a route for the animals to get outside, and for me to get to the bathroom.

For another thing I, for some crazy reason, decided that deep-cleaning should be done simultaneously with the painting of the floor. So, the task of painting has been compounded by the sorting, organizing and purging of my accumulated stuff from every cupboard, cabinet, shelf and drawer.

It has, naturally, made the original goal much more elusive, but it has been rewarding nonetheless. How nice to have every drawer that I open be neat and tidy! Wonderful to have shelves clean, dust-free, and in good order! It’s a good feeling to be rid of much of the excess: unused, outdated and unnecessary stuff that has cluttered my space.

Then, there is life. A week ago, I noticed that my newly reorganized living room bookshelves were listing at a dangerously rakish angle. One of the vertical supports had given way. Obviously I’d accidentally missed the stud when I put the shelves up several years ago. All other progress had to stop while I tended to this.

a closer view of the cause

I had to remove everything from the shelves: television; stereo; speakers; baskets of CDs, cassette tapes and DVDs; and too many books. All of which had been recently sorted and arranged by category and alphabetically. With stacks of books now covering the living room floor, I ran to town to purchase wood screws, drywall anchors and spackling compound.

In my haste, I neglected to put the trash can up out of the reach of my big dog. By the time I got home, Darla had my plastic recyclables spread all over the laundry room floor. Just another detour along my route! So, first I got that mess cleaned up, then I patched the wall and rehung the shelves. Finally, I was able to replace everything on the shelves! I like the – slightly tweaked – arrangement even better than before!

After that lengthy roundabout, I got the flu. For two days, I’ve done almost nothing but make my way from the bed to the bathroom. Sleep twelve hours, sit up for two hours has been my routine. Bundled up as if I were on the North Pole, I managed the shortest, shivery walk with the dogs. I’ve been living on water, chicken broth and jello. Sipping hot tea and Thera-Flu.

Today, not yet feeling one-hundred percent, I am back at it. I’m continuing my slow progress, priming and painting small sections between dog walks and work hours and other projects. Too much time is spent simply waiting for paint to dry, but I’m getting there. Working my way toward completion. Hoping nothing else gets in the way!

As Long As I’m Up…

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Once again, I’m wide awake in the middle of the night. I lay abed until I could stand it no longer. I’ve had a glass of water, and took aspirin for a mild headache. Now I’m having a cup of herbal tea and debating the issue.

Shall I just stay up? It’s only three-thirty, but if it weren’t for the time change two days ago, it would be four-thirty. If it were four-thirty, surely I’d have given up on sleep by now, and the coffee would be brewing.There is plenty to do, if I find the energy.

I’m still midway through painting the floor. It’s a long and tedious job in a small house that is being lived in. Everything has to be moved out of the way so that, by sections, I can prime and then paint an area. The rooms are small, and the furniture is bulky.

The dogs get confused about which areas are off limits at any given time. Yesterday, Darla barged through my makeshift barricade to walk over the piece of kitchen floor I had just painted. She was trying so hard to do the right thing, I didn’t have the heart to scold her. I get confused, too. I pulled out the refrigerator, then found dinner preparation to be so complicated, I pushed it back in place without painting that area.

I haven’t tackled the studio yet. There, I have to organize stacks and stores of mat board and frames, clear shelves and sort through the contents of several totes to make everything accessible. It doesn’t sound so overwhelming when I write it here but, trust me, it is! When I was charting everything I want to get done this fall, under the “Studio” heading, I just wrote, “Ugh!”

Shall I just go back to bed? Maybe I should. A little sleep is better than none at all. If I can fall asleep. I’ll probably be more productive after I’ve gotten some rest. If I can rest. These middle-of-the-night dilemmas are always frustrating. I’m too tired to be ambitious, too wide awake for sleep, and too sleepy to debate the issue!