Daily Checklist: Living a Methodical Life

September 16, 2009

As promised, here’s what I’ve been doing to try to get myself going down the road to Happy Julie Life Land. As part of living life more methodically, I came up with four things I wanted to do every day: exercise, write, clean the house (or some part of it) and a general category I’m calling “housekeeping” which basically means anything related to running the business of our lives, from budgets to house renovations to researching various entrepreneurial ideas Dave and I come up with.

This is my list. It might not work for you. It certainly won’t if you work outside your house every day. But I’m going to tell you all about it, because maybe something about my thought process will help you to figure out what you want to do every day (alternatively, it will make you think I am a loony nutbar who’s full of herself and needs to get her priorities in order).

There was a great article in this month’s issue of Body + Soul magazine about breaking habits, and that’s essentially what I’m doing here (though maybe not so much breaking bad habits as starting good ones). Listen, I’ve known for a long time that I’ve wanted to do these things, but it’s time for me to buck up and just do them. Part of breaking habits is setting the goal, and part of it is just doing the right thing, every day, until that becomes your habit. The whole article seemed really relevant to what I’m trying to do here, but this part in particular screamed at me:

Take it step-by-step. One metaphor that adequately portrays how habit works is this: Picture yourself taking a sled down an untouched, snowy hillside. When you climb back to the top, you have a choice: Go down the same path or start a new one. If you go down the same track, the ride is faster and easier, and after a while it’s tough to get out of. That, says [Lenora] Yuen, is a lot like habit.

To change the direction and shape of that path, you have to be patient enough to forge a new one, and use it enough times that doing so becomes faster, requiring less thought and effort.

Ok! So I’ve been doing this for about three weeks, and it is slowly making a difference. My first thought every day is, “What am I going to do for exercise today?” (ok, that’s my first thought after, “Ugh, when will we ever get enough sleep?”).

Here’s a little more about my list (you asked, right? you didn’t? well, here’s a little more anyway):

Three times I’ve been pregnant, and three times I’ve gotten back down to my fighting weight, but each time my body is different: softer, wider, pillowy. And it takes longer each time. But Zuzu is fifteen months old, and not only do I want to look better in clothes, I also want to just have that daily habit of exercising. Because I never have, and I know my life would be better if I did (plus it’s a good model for the kiddos). A few weeks ago I saw this Helena Rubenstein quote: “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones” and while she was talking mostly about cosmetics, I feel like this is true of exercising also. Someone all cheeky with the glow of exercise looks lovely. Someone pasty with the pallor of chips on the couch, not so much. The quote is fairly unfeminist when applied to makeup, but I really like it as a life lesson. Meaning: get out there and DO something, Julie! Don’t be a lump!

Now, when I say “clean,” I don’t mean doing dishes, or picking up daily clutter, making beds, or unloading the dishwasher. Those things have to happen every day. What I’m talking about is doing one extra deep cleaning thing. Because I was doing the dishes and picking up the clutter, and corners of my house are still appalling. It’s too overwhelming to do it all at once (plus: impossible), but if I do one thing a day, it works. Things on this list include: wiping down the baseboards in one room, mopping the floor in one room, cleaning the shower curtain, dusting, walking around with glass cleaner and a cloth and wiping away any obvious hand and nose prints. Also clearing clutter out of some area that has gone to seed, like my dresser or the mantel.

Like I said, this is a broad category that just means doing something to keep the business of our lives moving forward. Financial things fall into this category, as do house renovation things, and have-been-on-my-list-awhile things (like figuring out a way to attach the bike trailer to my bicycle even though we can’t find the connector bracket thingie). Anything in this category supports our family and moves us forward.

I really love this advice from DIY Planner: “The secret to writing every day is to write every day.” Exactly. If you really want to do it, find a way. Stay up a little later, get up early, hide in the bathroom, do what it takes. When I write every day, it’s like I’m exercising some little writer person in my brain, and then that little Bartleby is on high alert and keeps throwing out more little writerly sentences, more and more every day, and then I have notebooks scattered throughout the house so I make sure to write the things down when I think of them. And the writing every day just happens, then. But you really need to write every day in order to write every day. (Coming next week: more obvious advice! If you want to eat healthier, eat healthier! If you wish you read more books, then read more books!)

So there you go. What’s on your list?


So maybe you only have 8 minutes

June 30, 2009

My summer exercise program usually consists of trying to get outside for a walk, or, on days when the planets align, a run. Since it has rained every day in June (and we’re almost at July), I’ve been forced to continue my winter exercise routine of workout videos, mostly the 30 Day Shred.

But you know, sometimes you get a little sick of Jillian, and maybe it’s 7:00 and the drywall contractors are showing up at 7:30 and you really want to get some sort of exercise in before you shower. (Ok, not “you” so much there, but me, last Saturday.) Self magazine had a little feature called “8 Minutes to Slim” which was totally what I needed; it’s like the Reader’s Digest version of 30 Day Shred. Whole body strength moves, short bursts of cardio, children talking the whole time and climbing on you during ab moves. Clearly, it’s better to work out for as long as possible, but if you’re time crunched, and you’re not sure what to do, do the 8 minute thing. I definitely felt it.

(And I was able to get it all in before the drywall guys came, though they did arrive while I was showering, and let themselves in, which either speaks to the friendliness of Maine, or is something I should be massively concerned about.)


CATEGORIES: exercise

That’s ok, honey, I kind of hated it too

June 3, 2009

Today I was walking back home along the Greenbelt, with Zuzu in the stroller and Eli walking next to me looking at everything through a pair of old binoculars we’d just scored from Goodwill. A woman came toward us who had both her dog and her kid on leashes, and she suddenly started up a monologue:

“Oh, look! Look at the baby! See the baby? [Her kid obediently walks over to Zuzu.] Oh, and can you say hello to this little boy? What’s his name? Oh, Eli, ok, ok, so say hello to Eli. Shake his hand! Shake his hand and say, ‘Hello, how do you do?’ [Boy obediently walks over to Eli and holds out his hand. The woman grabs both of their hands and shakes them up and down. She is sweating.] Say, ‘Hello, how do you do, I’m Tristan!’ Say hello, Tristan! You shake his hand and say ‘how do you do?’ Say, ‘Hello, Eli, how do you do?’ [Tristan says nothing, and wanders back over to Zuzu.] Pretty baby! What’s her name? Zuzu? That’s so cute! See the baby. Oh, he loves babies. Look at him looking at her! She’s so pretty! He loves babies! [Tristan at this point is stroking Zuzu’s leg in a way I’m not feeling super comfortable about. I start inching the stroller forward.] Ok! Well, have a nice day! We’ll see you later! Bye! Say, ‘Bye!’ Tristan!”

We got about ten feet past them and Eli turns to me, smirking hugely, and says, “I hated him.”



Self Challenge: I’m doing it, kinda sorta

March 11, 2009

So the Self Challenge has started, and I’m mostly just paying attention to it, but not really doing it. It somehow seems like way too much work, keeping meticulous track of calories in and calories out. I’m doing a kind of free-form version of it, which is to work out every day, and to establish an eating plan I mostly think of as, “Don’t be an idiot, Julie.” Meaning, maybe I shouldn’t bake so many cookies and eat so much chocolate.

I’m also kind of obsessed with the very logical idea put forth in this article I read in Glamour (I don’t usually read Glamour; it was on the free magazine table at the library). Basically, you can lose weight just by sleeping more. If you get 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep a night, then your body is able to go into some kind of deep sleep fat-burning zone. And also, then you have more of the hormone that tells you to stop eating, whereas if you don’t sleep enough you have more of the hormone that tells you to keep eating, and to keep eating simple carbohydrates. It’s all fairly common sense, but when you’re as sleep deprived as I am, you need common sense articles to remind you how to be a human.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to work out every day, but the prospect gets easier as the snow melts and I can start to go on stroller walks again. What has totally been saving me is the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred DVD which I’m embarrassed to say is the DVD of the trainer from “The Biggest Loser” (which, to my credit, I didn’t realize until after I got it). But the workout is only 20 minutes, and at the end of it I’m all sweaty and my muscles are shaking (I initially wrote “I’m all sweater” which is really more what I’m like these days). And there are three workout levels, and I’m still on Level One, and I can barely do it. And it’s only 20 minutes. So even though it’s painful and hard and sweaty, I figure I can do any workout for 20 minutes, right?

There is one aspect of the Self Challenge that I’m going to try to do, which is the “soul goal” of creating an inspiration board. I think I’m just going to draw on a piece of paper, and maybe glue on some of the buff chicks from the Athleta catalog or something. I know there’s all that stuff now about books like The Secret and Write it Down, Make it Happen, so I figure I might as well try it for myself. Can’t hurt.



Body + Soul Challenge, Last Day

February 8, 2009

Ok, so now is the time for me to confess that I kind of blew off the last two weeks of the Body + Soul Challenge. It’s not that I don’t need mindfulness and stress relief and energizing, it’s just more that the more important part of it for me is losing baby weight and getting back in shape. I do want to revisit the activities of the last two weeks at some point, but at this point I’m grateful for getting back on my feet and starting to exercise again.

One great thing about starting an exercise routine in January in Maine is that if you can actually stick with it, then working out when it gets warmer is going to be a breeze. Also, there is the notion that, in May, when I peel off all these coats and sweaters, there’s going to be a buffer me underneath there. Although I was just saying to Dave yesterday that every time I work out, I kind of expect to be All Done at the end of it, and then I’m stretching or doing crunches and I see that the flab is still there and each time I’m surprised. I mean, I just worked out! Shouldn’t I be visibly thinner?

I did lose 7 pounds in these five weeks. Hurray!

Eating: I actually liked a few of the parts of the initial detox week (randomly). I’ve started to eat oatmeal with cinnamon and almonds for breakfast (I’ve always been a Cream of Wheat girl, but the instant oatmeal Henry likes is actually delicious, and to quote Henry when we give him new foods, “It turns out I love this!”). And I also have been making a big pot of brown rice and then just having it in the fridge. Then I microwave the brown rice and some spinach and some black beans and garlic powder. Which sounds like the World’s Most Boring Lunch, but somehow is really good.

And my big recent revelation is that I eat a lot of the time to procrastinate. I could get a lot done in the time it takes me to stop, decide to have some chocolate, sneak away, and eat it. And a whole lot more done in the time it takes me to make and eat cookies. And it seems like whenever I’ve got something to accomplish, I detour toward the chocolate drawer instead. Believe me, I’m still eating that stuff, but I’m a lot more aware of it.

I’ve been doing a kickboxing DVD, which is both ridiculous and also kind of fun. And also somewhat hazardous with children running about. Plus I feel a little hypocritical since I’m always all anti-gun and anti-violence, and now I’m punching in the air while the instructor lady says, “Imagine you’re hitting your opponent in the chin.” But this is the only one that has really made me sweat so far.

Ok! On to the Self Challenge tomorrow!


CATEGORIES: exercise

Body + Soul Challenge: Day 23

January 28, 2009

Right now we’ve got giant snow mountains everywhere (outside, that is, my house hasn’t gotten so bad that we have mountains of snow inside, yet). It seems to be physically impossible for Henry to walk on the ground. He needs to climb the snow mountains and navigate his way to school from as great a height as possible. And, frequently, to throw himself down and slide to the sidewalk. While this can be very annoying when we’re late to school, or when it’s one degree out and we’re heading anywhere, I completely admire his desire for climbing and sliding, and, really, exercising. Though of course it’s not exercising to him; he’s just having fun. But when I watch him approach a snow mountain with the confident, loping, graceful stride of an Olympic high jumper, I envy the way he is exerting himself so joyfully.

I have gone through periods in my life when I was exercising regularly, going to the gym before work most every day. Those days are long ago, before kids. But I do think that, even then, I wasn’t that into it. I went because I was supposed to, but not because I wanted to. And, in fact, I don’t think I liked any bit of it at all, except for the part about not getting fat.

But something in me is different this time. It’s all about the mental shift we were talking about before. For the first time I’m not doing this for anyone else but me. I have made a lot of excuses in the past (“the children” is a good catch-all), but now I don’t want to make excuses. Yes, it’s three degrees outside, yes, Eli freaks out if I leave him anywhere, but there is always a solution if you really want to do it.

And so I have gotten four exercise DVDs (see links at the bottom of this post — they were really pretty cheap), and I have to say that it’s perfectly easy to do an exercise DVD at home in my little living room with children scattered about and playing along (mostly at the jumping jacks part, but also using little cans of beans for weights, which is very cute until I realized with horror that there was the possibility this might actually make Eli stronger and good lord what then? he will be Paul Bunyan by the time he’s 12 I swear it). It’s actually fun. And while I’m not yet all sleek and sculpted (the paper tells me it will take six months), it feels darn good to have sore muscles.

I’m not sure how you can get the mental shift until you’re ready for it. I think a huge part of it for me is knowing that I am done being pregnant and so let’s just get a regular body back and be able to fit in clothes, already.  The food issue is still a sticky one for me. The baked goods, really. Somehow it just happens that this week I have made two cakes and a batch of cookies. Plus of course the siren song of dark chocolate. Though I have to say I can feel a weensy shift in that regard too; roundabout the second fistful of chocolate chips, I start to feel gross and regretful and like I don’t want it (which is a change).

I am also happy to have realized that the Body + Soul Challenge transitions seamlessly to the Self Challenge, which officially starts on February 9.



Body + Soul Challenge, Day 10

January 15, 2009

Well, the thing that has become most abundantly clear from this Body + Soul Challenge thing is that I am addicted to chocolate. I think there was one day where I didn’t have any chocolate. And although I started the Challenge by having one square of chocolate per day, I’ve upped that a bit in the past week. I’m trying, really I am. But it’s the only caffeine I have. I do my best to make it to 11:00 a.m. before having any, and sometimes I make it until 2:00. And I’m not proud of the fact that often I plot when the children are going to be occupied and out of the kitchen so I can sneak some, and that if you substituted “alcohol” for “chocolate” in the above scenario this would not be comical at all but would be cause for real alarm. I do at least make sure it’s all dark chocolate (so it’s medicinal! *hic!*). But I realize pretending that a handful of dark chocolate chips mixed with a handful of nuts doesn’t make it a healthy snack (or…does it?).

Otherwise, I’m doing fine on food. I actually ate ok already. This week is all about cutting out bad foods and substituting good ones (like healthy proteins instead of big burgers) and it’s been a breeze because it turns out I was already doing all the good things.

And I haven’t done real exercise (except the stupid piddly walk to school and hacking at the ice) in a few days, but I’m feeling like I want to, so that’s a good thing. I ordered a pair of running sneakers this weekend, after having the fun and somewhat silly errand of going over to Scott‘s house and running on his treadmill so he could do a gait analysis (and yes, he did burst out laughing as soon as I started running) (he was kidding). And then he very helpfully browsed the shoe possibilities at Runner’s Warehouse and chose a pair for me. All this for a package of quinoa (it seemed like the most logical barter).

I got a pilates DVD out of the library but haven’t done it yet. Which is why I got something out of the library before buying anything, because I wasn’t sure if I’d actually do it. Dave also helpfully set up the bike trainer in the basement, but I haven’t done that yet either. I will, I promise (especially now that I’m writing it here for all the world to see). I inter-library-loaned a few other exercise DVDs, because, besides the pilates DVD, the library here has the lamest exercise video collection in the world. There were only two other DVDs and they were (I’m not joking) Belly Dancing and Tai Chi for Beginners. I know Belly Dancing can be a real workout, but I thought I’d stick with more of a known quantity before I went out on any kind of branch.

The other thing is that I realize that as soon as you are really, honestly, totally ready to make a change, it happense pretty quickly. I’ve lost a few pounds now, and I think it’s all been from the mental shift of, “Ok, it’s time to have my clothes fit me again.”



Body + Soul Challenge, Day Three

January 7, 2009

Here I am on day three of the Body + Soul Challenge, and I am already not keeping up with the writing requirements (but also not letting myself feel too guilty about it). Really, the biggest thing about this for me is eating better and exercising again. I think I actually eat ok, but I do have this wee chocolate habit. So the triumph thus far has really been having just one small square of dark chocolate a day rather than eight squares. Or twelve.

I also completely understand everyone saying they can’t cut back on coffee. I don’t do caffeine anymore (except for all that chocolate), but that sort of happened when I was pregnant and then I realized I was a lot calmer without it. (I have read recently that decaf coffee has all kinds of bad chemicals in it, so I stopped drinking that, but now I do really miss the taste and ritual of coffee, so I’m not sure how to get that back.) But I don’t think you really have to give up caffeine to do the Challenge. I’m sure some people are going to be all precise about it, but I think most people know what areas they really need to work on. Are you drinking too much coffee? No? Then don’t worry about it.

I will also happily report that I went running (jogging) for almost an hour on Sunday, for the first time in six years, and I didn’t die and I managed to keep up running (trudging) the entire time. And I was only moderately sore in the aftermath, which confirms my suspicions that my life is a bit of a cardiovascular workout all on its own. And then I went running (merrily bounce walking) again last night, and I felt almost springy and even vaguely runnerlike as I started off (a feeling that faded, but it was easier the second time than the first to keep moving the whole time).

My biggest issue with exercising is logistical: How do you exercise with a bevy of kids in tow? And snowbanks and/or subfreezing weather? I take them out in the stroller when I can, but I don’t want to freeze the little nose off of poor Zuzu’s face. I’m mulling trying the Y again. I love our local Y, but Eli most decidely does not, and tends to freak out and scream until they come get me, so then I am frantically doing the elliptical and getting more and more jumpy every time someone walks into the room looking around searchingly, thinking they’re looking to find me to come calm down Eli, and then finally someone does just that and I sigh and have to go calm him and assure him that I’m still there. Though at this point the whole thing is feeling frankly manipulative on his part. But also, I don’t want to traumatize him. And, not to bake up the world’s biggest excuse cake here, but the time the childcare is open at the Y directly coincides with Zuzu’s nap. My only other thought is doing some kind of exercise video in the living room. Have any of you tried that route?


Body + Soul Challenge

January 4, 2009

Yeah, so I’ve been feeling a little leaden lately. And kind of annoyed by the over-the-jeans bloopage. I know I only had a baby six months ago, but right about now I get frustrated by my regular clothes not quite fitting right, and feel like it’s time for Action to be Taken.

So I am all about the Body + Soul magazine challenge. (Body + Soul is this Martha Stewart magazine that’s about food and living and balance and hippy crunchiness, and I have to say I really like it. I’ve almost let my subscription run out a few times, mostly because I subscribe to too many magazines and feel like all I do is read magazines and never books anymore, but then I decide that I really like what this magazine has to say, and the photos are lovely and always give me a chance to explain some new fun food to the kids, like turmeric or rutabaga.) I’ve done the Self magazine Challenge in the past, and that has definitely been helpful, but I am appreciating the whole mellow tone of the Body + Soul one right now. It seems to be more about holistic balance and mindfulness (not only eating whole grains and exercising, for instance, but also writing), which is totally what I feel like I need right now. I feel like the holidays made me into a bit of a shrieking exhausted chocolate eater (ha ha! you tell yourself that, Julie! Sure! It was the “holidays” if by “holidays” you mean “children” and by “shrieking exhausted chocolate eater” you mean “the usual loonbucket that you normally are”).

This challenge thing officially starts tomorrow, so I’m letting you all know that I’m doing it, in case you wanted to do it too. Not that I’m actually asking for buddies in this, but I didn’t want to mention it two weeks from now and have you all wishing you’d started it too. Of course, this is very presumptuous of me and assumes you care about my every in-breath and out-breath, but there you are. Perhaps you do. So: tomorrow we start by cutting back on caffeine and sugar, preparing for the dietary cleanse (which is basically eating whole grains with vegetables and beans), drinking a lot of water, and writing for 20 minutes about diet. The whole challenge lasts only 35 days, which I totally think I can handle, and which should also be a nice way to start the year.

I will also say that I do so much better with a magazine telling me what to do than having to actually be self directed, or (heaven forbid!) having an actual person in my life telling me what to do. I don’t know what it is in my makeup that is more likely to follow the advice of magazine editors than of the people who actually know me and care about me, but luckily for me, magazine editors seem to be a limitless font of directive advice.