automated food

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how to automate the parts of my life that I don’t want to waste brain space on (a la Sherlock Holmes).  The reoccurring thought here is that automating my food rituals would create a lot of freedom for me while also removing some of the things that make my life difficult.

I can’t eat complex carbohydrates.  This means I can’t eat sugar in most of its forms.  While I did really great abstaining for about 6 months (it’s hard to want to eat it when you are made so sick by it that you lose your appetite), I have not done so well lately, and it’s led to a lot of swelling; my stomach rebels by bloating in ways that make me appear 5 months pregnant.  So I’m avoiding sugar–again.  And it really should be a permanent thing.  But when I think about food and what I want to eat, I start weighing whether it is worth it to just have a little sugar.  It’s a slippery slope.

If I make meals routine, I’m likely to avoid some of that by knowing what I’m eating rather than considering choices that include no-no foods.  I can save time because I don’t have to put the thought into a meal, and it would make grocery shopping simpler.  Now I’m not talking about eating the same thing for every meal or even everyday, but rather eating the same meals each week, with the possibility for occasional variation or “kid’s choice” weekend dinners.

However, I want to make breakfast the same, because I’m usually not hungry but need to eat in the morning.  In the interest of time and health, I’ve decided mornings will consist of eggs over veggies with coffee on the side, maybe some fruit.  Since mornings can be hectic and will become more so once I move, I think that starting this routine now will help with creating a true routine once my mornings consist of getting the kids to two schools on opposite sides of a city–one walking, one busing–and then commuting to a neighboring city.  (Yes, I could make life easier if the kids went to neighboring schools or I lived in the city I work in, but these choices were made with great care and for reasons I may explain later.)  I’ve also been working on making my wake up time earlier this morning so I can work on writing and/or workout in the morning versus at night.

Lunches, then, are likely to consist of the same types of things since I’ll be taking lunch to work: meat, veggies, and a starch like sweet potatoes or plantain, possibly a piece of fruit.  I have been taking nearly the same lunch to work for a year now, with very little variation, and I’ve found that it does make life much easier to eat the same thing each day.  It requires no thought in the morning, and I’ve perfected which meals are easy to eat while sitting in an office with limited access to kitchen items.

It’s dinners that have me stumped.  How do I automate dinner to where it’s simple, requires little thought, but doesn’t become boring for everyone in the family?  I’m still pondering this.

sherlock holmes and mindfulness

A couple weeks ago, as I was walking with my son and SO to his ball field, I noticed a new playground area created for bodyweight exercises.  “Look! The city put in a new playground!  When did they do that?”  Both laughed.  “Mom, that’s been there for a long time,” my son said.  “It has?” Later that evening, SO pointed out that I had noticed the playground the very day that I submitted the remainder of my obligations for the semester, for the department at which I worked, and to the school.  He didn’t think it was coincidence.

I began reading Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, and I was struck by how her descriptions of the process of memory requiring a meditation, in-the-moment type state of mind.  From Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet:

A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.  Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.

Konnikova writes that Sherlock’s thinking is admirable because he is able to focus on the moment and to follow a single train of thought with utmost focus.  She says, “he has taught his instant judgments to follow the train of thought of a far more reflective approach” (23).  She then cites Sherlock again: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.”

I was immediately struck by this.  Imagine all that goes into that tiny attic space and becomes trapped in there, sucking up room that I’d love to put to better use!  Do I really need to know which celebs broke up?  Nope!  A thousand life hacks for removing stems and such from fruit.  Nope!  I want to store memories of my children experiencing new things, the sight of seeing Yellowstone’s mud pots for the first time as an adult, the smell of the ocean, and the image of the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico.  That’s not to say that I never want to watch TV shows or read the news; instead of reading and watching mindlessly, I should be mindful of what I am consuming.  For instance, I sometimes stream a show just to have background noise, and that leads to my mindlessly watching thing that I am not remotely interested in.

Since reading Konnikova’s description of the mind as “a space in your head, specifically fashioned for storing the most disparate of objects,” I’ve been a bit more mindful of what those disparate objects are.  What will I remember?  Konnikova says that the memory is the basis of our thoughts.  “Out memory is in large part the starting point for how we think, how our preferences form, and how we make decisions” (29).  If our memory leads to our decisions, then it also leads to our actions.  This lends credence to the saying “What you think, you become.”

(For those who want to read more, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life similarly suggests a positive thinking and a meditation-like process as a means of becoming a more organized thinker.)

a damn fine feeling

To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be.
–Cheryl Strayed

Over the past four years my life has changed in ways that simply telling the story cannot explain.  I’ll try to do so by giving a few examples.  I take fewer pictures now because I’ve learned that taking the picture often requires my focus to be on the angle, on the shot, and not on the moment.  I’ve come to care less about how I look and more about how I feel; how can I enjoy the moment if I’m focused on looking good at the expense of feeling free?  I’m more likely to dance in public when I get the urge to dance, or to break out some yoga when I’m feeling stiff, even if it means that–gasp–people might see me.  In doing that, I find that I am content in the moment, that I “find” happiness without looking for it.

Cheryl Strayed’s quote from Wild jumped at me, tugging at my recent experiences and understanding.  To say that life is enough, that it is enough to simply live and not have to grab at life, it reflects where I am right now.  I think it’s a pretty great place.  The thing is, I know I’m still spending a lot of time hung up on things that don’t matter, and that means, if I can continue living with intention, life will only get better.  That’s a damn fine feeling.

I’m a newbie to the idea of living life with intention.  I want my life to reflect my values, and in order to do that, I have to remind myself that I need to live those values.  I sometimes forget that, in order to do this, I have to refill my own cup, give myself time. The big intention I’m working on right now is to be accepting.  I need to accept others for who they are, and I need to accept myself as I am with the understanding that accepting myself does not mean that I am perfect.  It also does not mean that I cannot improve.

This time last year, I would have said I was accepting of myself approximately 10% of the time.  It’s now reversed, for the most part.  I have moments of self-hatred, if I’m to be honest.  I get sucked into fraud syndrome, just like many women.  But they are moments and not days, and that’s progress.  I am working on building my confidence, because I deserve it.  I am not a fraud.  I am intelligent, and, more importantly, I am kind and caring.  Those aren’t traits of a fraud, but instead they are traits of a person who is worthy of accepting herself.  That’s a damn fine feeling.

on letting go

My significant other (hereafter SO) has not been feeling well for months.  The feeling of unwell has increased to the point where he sought help, a major feat for him.  High blood pressure and low blood sugar were wreaking havoc on him.  Before taking on a medication routine, he decided to cut out his favorite daily habit: coffee.  The change has been drastic for him.  His blood sugar occasionally becomes too low, but not to the point where he can’t control it.

At the same time he’s quitting coffee, we’re attempting to get back to our values: eating local, unpackaged, whole foods and consuming less waste (plastic, etc.).  It’s not that we ever abandoned those values, but life sometimes gets in the way of remembering what you (want to) stand for.  I learned of my new, upcoming job in late March, and since then we’ve been decluttering: we had a large yard sale, sold off large things on Craigslist, listed books to Amazon, and are currently selling off various odds and ends on eBay.  I’ve been guerrilla giving: placing things I value but can’t take with me in people’s mailboxes, on their desks, and in public spaces.  When I leave here, the SO and I plan to have only the van and a small trailer.  It’s simultaneously scary and exciting.

This past week brought with it the end of my last semester as a full time college student.  I’m not done entirely–I have a dissertation to write–but I’m done with the sitting-in-class-and-turning-in-homework part.  I’m definitely ready to let go of that part of my life.  With that said, there are so many things I want to do when I finish my dissertation, and one of those things is to take more science classes, perhaps even completing the biology degree I originally began.

While letting go, I’m also trying to hop on: I’ve dusted off this blog, deleting old things that revealed my attempts at trying too hard, reading books I’ve meant to read for years, and promising myself 500 words a day on here as a means of practice and accountability.  I’m attempting to mix up my fitness routine to create something more holistic and tailored to who I am.  I’ve spent more time on yoga in the past month than I have in my entire life combined, and I’m feeling it pay off in ways that are indescribable to others.  I feel that there’s more of me to put forward in the word.  And it’s the good parts of me.  My family is noticing the changes and will do small amounts of yoga in hopes of gaining some of the benefits.

There’s a lot to be said about all that is gained from letting go.

learning to act with intention

I’ve spent the past couple years with my email provider as the “home” page for my browser.  I’d turn on the computer, pull up the internet and bam! There’s my email, staring me in the face and asking me to react to anything I’d been sent.  As I worked on other sites, read the news, etc., I would leave my email open in a tab.  When I would see a new message come in, I would immediately read it, attempting to respond as quickly as possible.  The smartphone hasn’t helped.

It’s no wonder I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with email.  At the end of each semester, I unintentionally for 24-48 hours without logging onto a computer or reading my email.  That day or so without checking email goes by without effort.  By that point, the freedom of not having to check seems freeing.  But there’s still an addiction component.  I recently, excitedly, told two co-workers that I was down to 9 emails in my inbox.  I’ve been reflecting on how crazy this thinking is.  On one hand, it’s nice to not let things pile up, particularly when they are small things that require quick responses.  Though this post on Zen Habits says to complete things that take less than 2 minutes, I find that I constantly used that as a reason to take away from bigger tasks because something will take less time and I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.  In other words, the Getting things Done (or Zen to Done, as Leo calls his version) was not working for me.

So what does work for me?  Well, I don’t know, really.  Right now I’m practicing not checking my email for distractions.  I’m examining all of the ways I obligate myself to various things: email, work, kids (and their commitments), volunteerism, etc., and I’m asking what I can cut out in order to give myself less to check.  I’m asking myself if it’s okay for email to go days without a response. I like the idea of processing my inboxes once a day–all of my inboxes.  What would it look like if I set a time each day to respond to emails, return phone calls, check Facebook and then… log off.  Maybe I’ll try for checking twice a day, and then I’ll back off from there.

All of this to say that I think technology creates a much more re-active person than a reflective person.  Since I am focusing on learning how to think before acting, I am recognizing all of the things that cause me to react rather than to act with intention.  I am trying to decrease multitasking and instead embrace one thing at a time so I can bring all of me to a task.  Most of the time, I’m not successful.  While lifting, practicing yoga, or going on a walk, I’ll think of something that needs accomplished.  At one time, I would have begun that task, but lately I’ve told myself that it will have to wait until my current task is complete.

(Apologies. This should have been yesterday’s–May 17–post, but I left for a bike ride before I hit publish.)

baseball: we’re in this together

note: I first wrote this over two years ago.  I saved it as a draft and recently pulled it up.  After a recent baseball game, I thought it was still quite appropriate.

A woolly cloud hangs over the field threatening to wash out the game.  Grandparents, charged with raising children long after their own have grown, make up most of the adults.  The wind carries hints of old cigarettes  from the fabric of a child’s uniform.  All different kinds congregate in a small patch of shade lying to the side of one of the eight chainlink-divided dugouts.  There are hippies, politicians, teachers, secretaries, farmers, unemployed, nurses, the silent, and the unknown.  (One woman’s bumpersticker proclaims: “Proud GOP Woman!”  Of interest: her husband, roughly 75 years old, recently was put off when I placed my chair near his in the valuable patch of shade.  He grunted and moved his chair elsewhere.  I guess he’s okay with talking to me, but he doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea…)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a fan of baseball–or softball, another sport that’s become part of my life since I began writing this.  But I’ve never known a place where so many people get along so well.  As a child I looked forward to evenings at my dad’s baseball games.  Folks came from all over and would sit in the damp summer air to watch the game.  I mostly caught crawdads or played on the swings, my friends and I attempting to see if we really could make the swing go higher than the top of the swingset bar.  (Occasionally we’d sneak in the building to see if someone had left a pool table unattended.  Children weren’t allowed, but the only punishment was to be sent outside.)  When we tired of running around, we’d climb into the tower of the ball field and heckle the batters for the other team, cheering on our fathers and avoiding our mothers.  Everyone got along.  I played with children I didn’t know, kids whose fathers played on the other team, and so on, and I’d generally just have a good time.

Now that I’m watching my children’s soft/baseball games, those same experiences are happening but without the crawdads.  Things are significantly more manicured than they were when I was a child–there’s actually grass at this ball field–but there’s that same spirit of community present, even amongst the families of competing teams.  Young kids run around, inadvertently placing their hand on a stranger’s leg for balance before looking up into an alien face that’s smiling at their innocence.  There are also the dogs.  (Last night there was a golden retriever puppy that was cuter than I recall my kids ever being… Is that wrong of me to admit?)  There’s sometimes that one person who yells at the ump’s every call against their child’s team (there was one of those parents at my daughter’s softball game last night; a post for another day: baseball is helping me come to terms with my kids’ and my imperfections.  I’m learning a lot about being at peace with vulnerability), but overall there’s a strong camaraderie–we’re in this together.

 

more beautiful than silence

Open your mouth only if what you are about to say is more beautiful than silence. –Arabic Proverb

I have high standards, and I expect others to live by them.  But that’s not fair, because I can’t place my standards and values on others.  Not only that, but I’m beginning to realize that I shouldn’t hold myself to these standards either.  I need to make more time for play and silence; life doesn’t have to be all work.

As I prepare to move to a new place, with a new job, new colleagues, and all that jazz, I’m asking myself what things I can leave behind and what I should take with me.  Is it possible to leave parts of yourself behind?  I don’t know that it is, so I’m trying to make small changes now so I can take a better version of myself with me.  However, I do believe that Buddhist thinking is correct in forwarding the idea that people are always changing.  In the recent past someone commented that a former colleague had reinvented themself after leaving.  The comment was said with some suspicion, and I’ve thought about it many times since.  Is it wrong to reinvent oneself?  I don’t think so; I think people are constantly reinventing who they are, looking for a version of themselves that work better for the life they want.  After troubling over it for awhile, I think that it would be more of a concern if someone failed to change over time, or if someone didn’t recognize the ways in which they change.

Along those lines, I’m reinventing myself.  I’m paying more attention to the things I discuss with others.  Is it productive for me? For the other person?  Is what I say potentially hurtful?  I’m trying to accept moments of discomfort and vulnerability. This means I’m trying to be me even when it may lead to moments of judgment or embarrassment.  I’m trying to encourage my kids to do the same.  (Side note: There’s been a lot more laughter and fun since consciously letting go.)

Lastly, I’m trying to let go of negative body image.  I have spent two and a half years working out nearly every night in an attempt to meet unattainable goals.  I’m wickedly strong now, but I’m not any happier; if anything, I mentally beat myself up more than before.  I’ve been doing more yoga, less lifting; sitting in silence more, less distractions; walking more, high impact less.  I’m mostly at peace with this, but I still have moments when I internally fight myself on whether I’m doing my body image more harm than good.  As with the idea that I need to watch what I am saying to others, I also need to watch what I am saying to myself.