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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A different kind of journal.

About two years ago, I stumbled across Jenny Firth's journal work while wasting time on Pinterest.  I was totally captivated by her artwork (she makes it look so easy!) and felt like I found a kindred spirit in someone who loved to doodle in their planner.  A long-time fan of the planner, I often find myself writing encouraging words or making small, simple doodles, but never anything as intricate as Jenny does.  Maybe someday...

While poking around on her website, I found her gratitude journal work.  I'm not sure when I first heard about a gratitude journal, but the concept is pretty simple: you devote your pages and entries to things you are grateful for in life.  Her pages are beautiful, intricate illustrations of the things she is grateful for - you can see a recent one here - but it can be something as simple as making a list.  I was intrigued by this idea, and started to do some research on it to see what the general guidelines would be, and the most common suggestion is to do set aside time each day (usually at the beginning or the end) and write five things you are grateful for that day.  It can be something as simple as the cup of tea you just had, or more elaborate like overcoming an obstacle or achieving something, or even just that the sun was out.

Ultimately, the idea is to encourage an environment of gratitude each day, regardless of how good or bad things can be.  One school of thought is that if you do this, if you spend each day writing five things you're grateful for, after a certain amount of time you will be a generally happier person than when you started, and you will automatically become accustomed to recognizing the things you are grateful for, whatever they may be.

I strongly doubted this, not because I'm a non-believer, but mostly because there wasn't concrete evidence to confirm it.  Regardless, I jumped on board, because hey, who couldn't stand to practice being more grateful?  As of today, I've been doing this consistently for a little over two weeks.  Like any other Tuesday, I got up this morning, a little tired but otherwise fine, and settled into getting to work.  I jumped on the phone with a friend for a good 45 minutes, just playing catch up, and afterwards, the craziest thing happened.

I was hit with a ton of gratitude bricks.

That is the only way I can accurately describe it.  It was like a cloud was lifted, and I was suddenly re-energized, emotional, thankful - all of these emotions all at once - and deep down, totally grateful.  Grateful for a healthy life, for amazing family and friends, for a gloomy cool Tuesday morning, for everything.  I started putting together a meal in the crockpot and found myself thinking, 'I am so grateful I bought chicken a few weeks ago and froze the extra so I could make soup today.'  I mean, I literally thought it.  Insane.

I'm not saying that I am going to wake up every day feeling this way, because I think that's unrealistic this early on in this journey.  But the feeling I had this morning, that came totally out of left field, was so wonderful, I wanted to bottle it up and ship it to all of my friends.  I'm pretty convinced its come just from focusing on the good, rather than the bad, even if its only five things a day.  I'm looking forward to seeing how else it manifests in my life, as I'm sure this won't be the last time I'll feel like a ball of gracious energy.

If you have considered starting a gratitude journal, I highly encourage it.  I picked out a simple leather journal from Target, and set aside time at the end of each day (right before I get ready for bed and usually while I have a cup of tea) to write.  Sometimes they're long sentences, sometimes its just a list.  Often I have to sit and really think through my day and reflect, but even then, I always find something, even if its literally being grateful for being able to actually write.  I find myself looking forward to it and picking up on things throughout the day that probably would have passed me by before.  Its a wonderful tool and I'm really grateful (see?!) that I started working on it.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Challenge: Pile on the Miles (and hopefully not the pounds)

Last week, Jillian mentioned she was joining the Pile on the Miles challenge, and the concept totally intrigued me - pick a total goal of miles (or minutes) you want to walk/run in the month of November, set your goal, and return to the blog to keep yourself accountable.  Since I do far better with goal setting and challenge than I do with arbitrarily going for a run or doing pushups, this seems like its feasible.  Bonus: its not even competitive, its just focusing on yourself and your goals.  I picked a goal of 31 miles, one for each day, plus a bonus for good luck, very well knowing that I most likely won't get out and do a mile each day, and I'll certainly have miles built in when we head to San Francisco for Thanksgiving, but it will give me something to work towards.  It'll be nice to watch those numbers creep up throughout the month!

Speaking of numbers, we spent Saturday at the Breeders Cup.  We went to Santa Anita earlier this year, on a much cooler and less busy day, and had a great time, so when the Breeders Cup rolled around, we jumped right on the bandwagon.  I've always wanted to go to Saratoga or to the Kentucky Derby, put on a pretty dress, wear a big crazy hat and drink mint juleps.  (I should mention here that I hate whiskey and have never actually had a mint julep, so the likelihood of me enjoying one is pretty slim, but when in Rome, right?)  Since we're only about half an hour from Santa Anita, the Breeders Cup felt like a surefire way to curb my imaginary, Southern-comfort itch.

We had a great time, despite my severe wardrobe malfunction right before we left.  (Note to self: try on dress to make sure it fits still before trying to force yourself into it and busting the zipper.)  It was hot, it was crowded, and I picked a pair of shoes that I've only worn once, and only for about twenty minutes, and there is a reason for that.  (Thank goodness for a life-saving girlfriend with spare flipflops in her clutch, and the foresight to pack a pair of flats 'just in case.')  I also had some not-so-wonderful run ins with belligerent "gentlemen" and witnessed far too many revelers being carried out by their friends.  However, despite all of those things, spending the day with great friends was wonderful, and my $2 bet on the winning horse on the last race netted me a whopping $8 which I prompted spent on a cup of tea for the ride home.  Perspective, people.

I fully intended to get out to yoga yesterday morning, but I woke up with my feet barely functioning, thanks to the aforementioned poor shoe choice, so I took it as a sign for a rest day.  Even though I was enjoying laying around on the couch, I did notice that I felt a slight twinge of disappointment that I couldn't even get out for a quick jaunt around the neighborhood.  (The shoes also left me with the largest blister I've ever had... ever.  I'd donate these bad boys but I would hate for someone else to get just as much pain out of them!)  I don't know if I've ever felt bad for not getting in a workout, so perhaps the winds are finally changing and I'm becoming a little more fitness inclined?  We shall see.  With the time change, it should be easier to get out of bed this week to finally get back to T/W/Th early morning yoga classes, and I may boogie my way back to belly dancing Thursday night.  Does an hour of belly dancing count as a mile of walking or running?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bold Moves October: one step at a time.

I finally got around to taking that belly dancing class last week, and totally intended on writing about it, but each time I sat down to do so, all of the basic elements were the same - fun. concentration. sweaty.

Last night, as I deleted yet another draft about belly dancing, I came across a video of a guy who was determined to hold his handstand for three seconds.  I think there are two types of yogis in this world - those of which handstands come very naturally, and then the rest of us, like me and this guy, who struggle with it because we have no arm strength, or we freak out once we're up there, or we convince ourselves we can't do it.  Yoga teachers say you'll get there eventually - it is a practice, after all - but its hard to ignore your ego when you've been at this for a few weeks and you're still falling down like a baby trying to walk, except it hurts more because you're getting older.  But one day, like some kind of miracle, you'll do that handstand.  Yoga is crazy like that.

A little over a week ago, on a very bright Sunday morning, I woke up earlier than I wanted to.  Not wanting to get out of bed, I turned on my phone to find a message from my mom with just the words "call me."  Knowing something serious had happened, I called her immediately, expecting all of the worst things when you have an ailing grandparent, a sister in high school, a cat that has used up her 9 lives and then some.  It was none of those things.

Our twenty year old neighbor was in a terrible motorcycle accident.  As of today, he has lost both legs below the knee, after many days of wondering if the second knee would hold.  A guy who was studying to become a state trooper and spent his summers surfing and his winters snowboarding, he is, by all accounts, in good spirits, and determined to do all of the things he did before.  He's being moved to the same rehab that the Boston Marathon bombing victims were patients at, and my neighborhood is rallying and supporting in whatever way they can.

When I think about our friendship, it is a flurry of interesting moments - crazy nor'easters where we'd both be outside shoveling and snowblowing ours and our neighbors' driveways and sidewalks; walking him around the school he'd end up attending, and taking him to my favorite wing spot for dinner after; visiting his family's beach house and me, totally wiping out on the skim board, while he mastered it gracefully.  Its strange to think that so many of those things that seem normal and uneventful will now become events in his life once again.  He'll face many challenges and have a whole new future of firsts - walking, running, surfing - and it will no doubt be a long road, but I have zero doubt that he will succeed.  He just has that kind of attitude.

Looking at this guy, who is determined to hold that handstand, and our neighbor, who is just determined to walk again... its a lesson in patience.  Practice.  Accepting that wanting to overcome this obstacle is half the battle.  Each time that I try to get into my down dog, or my hand stand, and get frustrated, I have to remember that a year from now this will be easier.  A year from now I will be able to do this and will move on to the next challenge.  If these two guys, one a stranger and one not, can overcome a challenge, then so can I.  I just have to take it one step at a time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bold Moves October: just do it.

Back in the spring, I was eager to get out of our hiking rut.  There are so many great places to hike in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, but it can sometimes feel a little daunting to pick a new route, especially if the research you do says "its an easy hike" and afterwards you feel like you just climbed Everest.  (This happens to me more often than I would like.)  Since we live so close to Griffith Park which is filled with trails, we finally settled on a hike I read about that sounded easy.  3ish miles, "rolling hills" and being able to stand at the absolute top of the park with a 360 view of LA.

The first time we did this hike, we admittedly got a little lost as first, and we ended up doing the "easy" part - practically zero inclines, relatively short (maybe about a mile, mile and a half) - and I felt like I was dying.  It didn't help that the path had zero shade and it was 80 degrees.  We realized afterwards that this could not have been the hike we had intended to do (even though I was perfectly happy with it) and vowed to give it another shot.

The next time we tried it, I brought my MapMyFitness app along to log distance/pacing/etc.  It ended up being an almost 4 mile hike that took about an hour and a half, with an elevation of over 600 feet.  When I look at the elevation map that MapMyFitness gave me it looks like a slow incline up and a slow incline down, but let me tell you, it does NOT feel that way.  Its more like steep incline, plateau, steep incline, plateau, like whoever built this path realized that some people will need to take a breather or two.  The day we did the whole thing, it was crazy hot, and my post-hike headache came roaring on even before we made it halfway down.  I felt awful afterwards - nauseated, overheated, and about ready to chalk it up to a loss.  Yes, I did it, but instead of feeling like a conquered the world, I instead felt like I had come down with the flu.  No fun.

C has still been doing this hike pretty often, and I ended up tagging along, only to bow out of the big hike and only doing the shorter, easier one, making sure I did an out and back and paced in a few 1 min runs here and there to make it worth my while.  I hadn't been feeling well all that week and knowing how I felt the last time?  Wasn't interested.  Yet as we left the park, I sort of felt like I hadn't made enough of an effort.

This past weekend, he was up for it again, and I decided that I was going to do the whole she-bang.  I hydrated like crazy the morning of, bought a few Vitamin Waters for post-hike rehydration, and made sure I wore my Red Sox hat this time.  Even though I stopped a few times, C remarked that he felt I stopped WAY less than the last time I did this hike, and kept up a faster pace.  (Unfortunately I forgot to use my MapMyFitness app, so I have zero proof.)  Normally while hiking, I find myself seriously huffing and puffing up the steeper inclines, and taking longer to catch my breath, just to go through the cycle all over again.  This time, however, it felt like my recovery was quicker, my legs burned less, and even better, I had ZERO post-hike headache.  Say what!?

I'm not sure if there is any one thing to point to as my success - I'm finally getting back on the yoga mat tonight after an awful 2 week hiatus, I haven't done that hike in MONTHS, and the only thing different this time was the fact that I was wearing a hat - but whatever it is, I'm glad it happened.  At a time where I was really not feeling a hike, or anything active, I felt like I overcame a huge obstacle, both physically and personally.  And, not to sound cheesy, but after an epic 10 second Patriots touchdown and a Big Papi grand slam yesterday, I'm going into this week feeling a little bit more eager to take on some challenges, and, you know, make some bold moves.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bold Moves October: paying it forward.

Our power went out at 4:30 am this morning.  Ever have that happen in a large apartment building?  If you have, you've probably noticed that the emergency exit signs give off a high pitched, consistent noise that needs to be manually shut off.  When your onsite manager is out of the country and has someone temporarily taking her place, that doesn't happen right away, which means you've probably been awake since 4:30.  Or at least, I have.


In addition to that, I had to get bloodwork done this morning at 9 am, which meant no eating or drinking anything - not that I could have, because the power was still out - but it meant my crankiness was in overload.

When I got to the office, there was only one open parking spot, and I saw it long after I passed it.  I quickly turned around, but by the time I got back to it and put my directional on, another woman had pulled up.  She took one look at me, one look at the spot, and took it.

I immediately became crazy annoyed, shooting dirty looks in her direction, until I realized a spot had opened up three cars away.  Had I taken a deep breath and recognized that she knew this before I did, and therefore knew I'd have a parking spot, all would have been well.  But I didn't.  I fumed and fumed, and then passing her in the walkway, made a not-so-nice remark, which I immediately regretted but was too embarassed to face.  I went to my appointment and spent the entire time feeling so utterly guilty and awful for behaving such a way.  Was she a total stranger and did her opinion matter?  Yes and no.  But when you're trying to put good energy into the world and you're a work in progress, sometimes you slip.

On my way back to my car, I realized she hadn't left yet, so I quickly grabbed a piece of paper, wrote a very quick "I'm sorry, bad day, you were right, hope this covers your parking, have a great day", stuck a few bills inside the folded up paper, and popped it on her windshield.  First step?  Admitting I'm wrong.  Second step?  Trying to rectify... well, sort of.

On my way home, assuming our power wasn't back on (which it wasn't), I got in the crazy long Starbucks drive thru line, desperate for a latte.  When I approached the window to pay, I asked the barista if I could add value to my Starbucks card and then pay for my drink, and he said he'd be happy to add the value, but my drink was already paid for.

Say what?!

Turns out, today Starbucks started their Pay it Forward program, and the woman in front of me bought me my latte.  The barista asked if I'd like to keep it going, and I said absolutely!  (I used to do this religiously while driving to camp every weekend by paying the toll fare for the car behind me, before EZ Pass was invented.)  He mentioned I was the 6th car in a row to do this, and he was interested to see how long that chain could last.  The other barista working with him was totally jazzed to hear another customer had participated, and it was so wonderfully refreshing to see people championing such kind acts, especially in an industry that can sometimes be more demeaning than rewarding.

When I got home, I realized I spent the entire drive beaming, not because of my free latte, but because I bought a total strange breakfast.  When facing a bad day or things that can be annoying, its hard to remember that elation that comes from random acts of kindness.  So today's #BMO?  Paying it forward, and remembering to do it often.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bold Moves October: better late than never!

I have been severely unmotivated lately.  It started with not feeling well, which caused me to miss a few yoga classes, and then it snowballed from there, and its been driving me nuts.  I finally took a step in the right direction last night and made a new recipe (easy one skillet lasagna; its so easy and SO good) and bought art supplies over the weekend, so I am slowly (but very surely!) trying to motivate myself to do anything.

Last night, as I was scrolling through my blog feed and keeping my fingers crossed for a Dodger win, I came across a post regarding Bold Moves October.  I am probably the last person on the planet to be aware of any sort of blog-related movement, but the post in question was about allowing yourself to say no so that you can open up space for more joy, and I was intrigued.  Doing a little digging this morning, I came across the source, and now that I've read a lot of entries, I am totally into it.  I love the idea of challenging oneself - I've always loved a challenge - and facing a fear or an anxiety and really noticing, what is the big deal?  What is the worst that could happen?

Everyone has definitive regrets in their life.  I do my best to not focus on the things I should have done, but rather the things I can control moving forward, but sometimes you get stuck in the downward spiral of "why didn't I study abroad? why didn't I reapply for that position?"  And, even in the face of knowing you may regret NOT doing something, it can sometimes be difficult to find self-motivation to do it in the first place.  This kind of daily challenge is exactly what I needed, when I needed it.  (Again, I say - ask the Universe, and you shall recieve!)

I have made a few choices recently that I'd consider bold moves, but for starters here, I'll mention that I'm planning on going to my first belly dancing class Thursday night.  I've never been to a belly dancing class, and thought about going last week, but totally chickened out.  And for what?  What is the worst that could happen?  I make a fool out of myself? I do that on a regular basis - at least I'll be burning some calories while doing it!

I'll keep track of my progress and am interested to see what comes out of this crazy little experiment.  After all, as the rules say, the first week will be harrowing and the last will be enlightening, and I could use a little enlightenment.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blogtember: Put the phone away.

Saturday night, we went to the LA County Fair.  I've never been, but my idea of a county fair is the local on back east - dirt field, carnival rides, fried dough, and weather that necessitates a sweater and a knit hat.  Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the LACF ("the largest county fair in the world," C reminded me,) to a Disneyland-esque parking situation, complete with a tram to the entrance, and tons and tons of people.  (And 80 degree weather.)

I decided that before we went, I would take one or two pictures with my phone, but that was it.  No checking it to see if I got a random text message, no scrolling through my news feed, nothing.  In the past few months I've really been feeling like my phone is such a cop out, and Louie C.K.'s recent discussion on Conan that's gone viral has really, really gotten me thinking about it.  (Here's a great yoga-centric post about it from YogaDork.)  I originally planned on having phone detox Sundays, but that became a problem when football season started and I needed to keep an eye on my Fantasy score.  I then decided that I'd just ixnay the phone usage after 6 pm on Sundays, substantially easier now that Breaking Bad is almost over and most of my news feed are east coast watchers.  (Yet, that said, Breaking Bad IS ALMOST OVER and that means after next Sunday I'll need to find a new excuse.)

While we were at the fair, I did only take a few pictures, including cute bunnies who were snuggling together in their pen, and a photo and video of C bungee jumping (BUNGEE JUMPING!).  I managed to avoid Facebook altogether, and unsuccessfully tried to post a photo to Instagram.  I noticed I was much more aware of what was going on, how I was feeling, and what we were doing, so much so that now, three days later, I'm still remembering details that I would have definitely forgotten by now had I been engrossed in my phone.

The irony is not lost on me that last night I got to a chapter in Yeah Dave's "Living in the Moment" about the exact same thing.  The idea that time you enjoy wasting isn't actually wasting time.  (Or something like that.)  In a society where we equate productivity with success, its easy to fall into the 'I have to check my email, I have to call this person, I have to do this thing,' to feel like we've accomplished something.  Take it from me - my office phone is an iPhone and it pretty much follows me wherever I go, so no wonder I've been contemplating running away to a cabin in the woods with a bunch of books and no internet in sight.  But some of the best moments in life are truly the ones where we stop to take in what's around us, what's happening, and how we're feeling.  And that can be scary.

My summers spent in Maine used to be like this.  When we first started camping there, I'm pretty sure they didn't have wifi yet, and I certainly didn't have a cell phone or a laptop.  Days meant going for long bike rides, reading by the lake (one weekend I read 4 books, and I still remember doing it!) and playing cards on the picnic table.  Even in the more recent years, when I did have a smartphone, it was far easier for me to ignore it in that environment.  It meant I was out making memories and spending time with people I cared about, rather than taking photos of said memories to then post to the world.

The more this lesson keeps popping up in my 'sphere, the more I become aware that I miss the days where smartphones didn't exist.  Sure, its a great tool in many ways, and by no means am I regretting having one.  (The paranoid 'what if there's an emergency?' part of me outwins that battle every time.)  But I am going to be much more cognizant about how much of those calm, quiet moments I waste scrolling my news feed or playing Tetris.  One of my favorite things to do on Saturday mornings post-yoga is to open our balcony door, listen to the birds, and drink a cup of coffee in silence.  I just need to remember that feeling whenever I feel the 'grab the phone' itch.