Thursday, July 26, 2012

Domestic Bliss -- A To Do List

On a day when the children are very tired and not fighting too much, finish a book you've been plowing through for three weeks.

Add one handsome husband and 1-2 glasses of very good red wine.  Kisses helpful, but optional.

Quietly and peacefully make your favorite simple dinner. Linger. Especially if the children are being quiet.  (Suspiciously quiet is OK if you've had enough wine.)

Call the children to the table. Refill your glass. Put only their favorite vegetables on the table.

Turn on the Glen Hansard channel on Pandora.  Ask everyone about their day.  Sit back and enjoy your meal.

Then put the children to bed.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Fifteen Minutes

This is my house.  Tidy.  The dining room & kitchen; I'm standing in the living room. 

This is my house.  Tidy.  The dining room and living room; I'm standing in the kitchen.

This is my fifteen minutes of glory.  I'm enjoying it.
(When Charlotte heard the title of my post, she snickered and said "Five minutes is more like it." But then we sent her to bed.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I have been living in 1470 square feet with three children for four months now.  For the most part it's going well.  But I'm not sure this is how I want to live for the rest of their childhood.  Or, frankly, even much beyond the end of our current lease.

I don't want much.  I want maybe a foot more space in each room.  I'd like some delineation between the dining area and the living area.  I'd like a little more space for the children to play -- especially now that my six year old has become totally obsessed with Beyblades and had to be restrained from shouting "One... Two... Three... Let 'er RIP!!!" at six in the morning, and the sound of battle tops hitting the wood floors at seven on a Saturday morning is hard to sleep over.

I would love to have a kitchen where I can open the refrigerator and the dishwasher at the same time.  With enough counter space that the kids and I could stretch a really good cooking project, or playdough, or art, or... well, just about anything.  But I would like to have enough room for more than a single person in the kitchen.  It doesn't have to be huge, just roomy enough for us to spend time together.

I'd like to have a separate office from my husband's.  The mostly-empty bookshelves behind his desk cramp the room up and make me a little crazy, as I'm sure my piles make him.  I've tried, but I've never in my life managed to live without them. I know he'd love for me to figure that out. Or we could just work apart.

I'd like to be able to host book club at my house without waking up the children with our wine-fueled conversational catharses.

So much for the minimalist dream.

I'm sure some of my squeezed feeling is left over from the quiet I was able to experience escaping to a quiet couch in the upstairs of the house my entire family shared in Hilton Head, or the peace of hanging out in the screen porch at my in-laws' house.  And that summer vacation can make even the most harmonious families a little short with each other. But I would really love 300 more square feet and a garage.

Is that so bad?

I'm feeling a little torn. Proponents of responsible, sustainable living advocate for smaller houses and we're reminded by authors of money-management articles like this October, 2011 article from U.S. News & World Report that big houses are expensive in more than just the mortgage payment.  "Do you really want to live in a home that's 2,500 square feet or larger?"

Yes. Yes, I do.

But, chides the article,
If you take a quick look back, you'll see that historically, smaller homes have been the norm for most of us. In 1950, the average home size was 983 square feet. In 2004, at the height of the building boom, the average home size was 2,340 square feet. That's an enormous difference just over the span of a few decades.
I'm going to take slight issue with this.

First off, if people actually liked living in tiny houses, the houses wouldn't have grown. But they have, and not only the new houses; the 1939 house we bought in Falls Church, Virginia had an addition tacked on to the side that the previous owner had added in the 1960's. That addition consisted of a master bedroom & bathroom, a large family room, and a screen porch.  The kitchen had been remodeled in such a way that the refrigerator was moved into a walk-in pantry just outside the kitchen; it was arranged this way so they didn't have to change the basic footprint of the kitchen when enlarging the counter space and adding a dishwasher. The basement, which isn't included in square footage but which is a major bonus to living space, had been subdivided to provide an "illegal" bedroom for one of the couples' two daughters.  When we stripped the wallpaper from the original upstairs secondary bedroom, we noticed a head-shaped dent in the plaster wall and joked that the daughter must have been exiled to the basement after a massive adolescent fight between the two girls.

When we remodeled the house in 2004, the previous owner stopped by with his daughter and asked if he could see what we'd done.  I was a little nervous about this; we'd stripped the house, for the most part, back to the foundations, and built off the original footprint, out the back, and up, to double the size of the house as it had previously stood in all its dated, slanting horror.  (I guess I'm showing that my interest in minimalist living is pretty recent).  This was partly necessary, because the fabric-coated wiring and DIY addition weren't aging well, and it was partly... well, because we could, and we wanted to.

But as Joe, by then in his 80's, and his daughter, who was probably in her early 50's, walked through the house, all he kept saying was, "Yes, this is what I had in mind.  Yes, that's what I was going for.  Oh, I see you put the kitchen on the screen porch; that's exactly what I was going to do."

The daughter asked to see the basement, and when we got to that tiny illegal bedroom, she sighed and said "I really loved that room."

"Really?" I asked, speechless.

"Oh, yes," she answered. She was glass-eyed remembering the past. "I was so happy to get some space away from my family."

Joe bought that house in 1962.  He wasn't appalled and looking back at the glory days of a happier, simpler time.  He wanted what we had managed to build. And we were able to build as we did because of the floor plan he put together during the time that big living was supposedly anathema. I'll tell you something else: Joe didn't build the house bigger to hold more stuff. The closets were never the best part of that house. In fact, the coat closet next to the 1939 front door couldn't even handle regular hangers, because it was too shallow for the door to close if I put a coat on a hanger (it did have a hanger bar, which I never understood). When Joe tacked the addition on to the side of the house, he built a new front door as well (right next to the original front door, which we always thought was hilarious). But he didn't add a coat closet. His family didn't care about stuff.  They just wanted space to stretch their legs a bit. That's true for all the other many, many World War II era houses that were built in the DC metro area that have little box additions tacked on to the side or back (trust me, that means most of them).

And then "average size" is a meaningless statistic.  What does it include? My first studio apartment in Atlanta? The 18,000 square foot, eight bedroom mansion for sale in San Francisco (and all the other estates like it) right now?  Let's be specific, people! Tell me how houses have changed for a specific kind of household in a specific part of the country -- and tell me how those people are living now, too. There might be good reasons for living smaller, but "because that's how they lived before" is not one of them, especially when that assertion is poorly supported.

I realize that I'm writing contrary to "Simply Richer Living." I'm sorry. I'm trying to process what is beginning to feel like mutually exclusive states of being: The desire to simplify my life and the desire to live more easily and fully. I want my little guy to wake up early in the morning and practice his passion.  I also want to be able to sleep till my appointed wake-up time (and for my four-year-old to do so as well).  I like being close to my kids wherever we are in the house, and I also want to be able to get a little quiet for some part of every day so that I actually want to talk to them. I want to be able to entertain my friends at home, not at a restaurant.

These desires are new in a historical sense. An interesting paper, "Housing: Then, Now, and Future" by Moya K. Mason points out that:
The novelty of our age is that how we use the space in our homes is continually evolving. And, as we transform these spaces, they transform us. These transformations are the result of demographic, economic, lifestyle, environmental, and technological changes and pressures. Home offices and media rooms are new spaces, while old spaces like living rooms are now being used as computer rooms. Video entertainment, games, computers, and the Internet serve to isolate, and also demand more personal space, separating us from the people we live with.
Bill Bryson's At Home makes a similar case with much more entertaining language, for anyone who is interested in the history of our home space. But essentially: Living rooms are computer rooms now, because we use computers heavily in most of daily life, and because we entertain more casually, with friends welcome in our "family" rooms and our kitchens. Home offices are the result of a greater diversity in the work force, including women who work from home, and a greater complexity in home management needs.  The new configuration of our homes serves both to isolate us, but also to make more of our relationships less formal, more genuine.

Certainly isolation is a danger of a larger home space, and for sure that's not what I want. But my family and I don't live the kind of life people lived in 1940 or earlier; we live now. Part of living now is that people actually live quite a lot in their homes.  Kitchens were smaller because frozen dinners were supposed to do away with the need to cook every night, and a more elaborate food network meant that you didn't need to have the skill or space to preserve at home. Our reliance on the car and the decay of community means kids have to live at home instead of out prowling the territory that could be covered on a bicycle (without a helmet). What I want is to figure out how to create a lifestyle that is consistent with my values of creating intimacy with the people I care about while still having the space to recharge and be the sort of person with whom they want to be intimate. I don't want to be obnoxious about the fact that I can have these things. I just want a little leg room.

OK, it doesn't have to be 2500 square feet. Am I asking for too much? In a world where way too many people live in poverty and the earth is going to hell speedy-quick, then definitely yes. In the world I live in... I don't know what is right. What are my obligations to the world, and to what extent am I entitled to live, well, selfishly? I don't know. I hope I figure it out some day.

In the meantime, a basement would ease things here significantly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Omphaloskepsis: July 17

Reader, I have brought in additional assistance.  I bought a FitBit, and I signed up for a StickK contract.

I said before you can't lose weight just by deciding to; you have to take action. I needed a little bit more information about exactly how small decisions were impacting me.  I had a FitBit before and found it really helpful; unfortunately, the day after I started wearing it again I lost it while out on date with my husband.

That wasn't intentional.  Really.

I upgraded to the FitBit Ultra this time around and I'm really pleased that I did.  A few years ago when I decided I needed to lose weight I put together a huge complicated spreadsheet that kept track of calories in, calories out (determined by the FitBit), daily weight and weekly additional measurements, including body fat and waist, hip, and thigh measurements.  I was successful, but there was still a certain amount of guesswork involved in how I timed my meals, and the system itself required a TON of record keeping.  It probably eventually failed when we went on a trip.

The FitBit comes with a cool website that keeps track of all that information for me, with very pretty and informative graphics, and it updates every fifteen minutes. Or sooner, if I really need it to. Likey.

Before you think I'm advocating this for anybody, I'll just say -- I personally require a lot of information to satisfy the control-freak elements of my personality. I personally find this level of information helpful for understanding that yes, that little bit of chocolate really will make a difference to my success for the day.  Even if I'd like to say that it won't.

The StickK contract holds me accountable to the tune of $10 per week if I don't lose a pound on any given week.  I still haven't figured out how to circumvent that snacking habit, and I found that my desire to work through it was fading a little bit, though my impatience with myself wasn't so much.  So for $10 per week, if I don't succeed in losing a pound that week, I'll keep figuring out why I absolutely can't spend an afternoon not snacking.

This afternoon I tried to take a few minutes of quiet for myself and was interrupted every forty-three seconds by Duncan insisted that I absolutely had to see the contortions he had made to the Wii characters he was playing with.  After ten minutes of bouncing up and down I finally snapped and said that I could not get through the afternoon without fifteen minutes of NOT LOOKING AT THE DAMN WII.  (OK, I restrained myself and didn't say damn, but I thought it.  Hard.)

I think that part of my problem is that because I feel like Jeff is at work all day long, that I also ought to be "at work" with the kids all day long, and the idea of spending a bit of time in the afternoons recharging before crazy hour begins feels forbidden. Meals are permitted -- he gets lunch breaks.  Ergo, if I'm eating it's OK. With my newfound $10/week motivation I'm going to see if just saying "this is my quiet time," even if I only say it to myself, makes it easier for me to relax without consuming anything.

Hopefully this works.

In the meantime:  Yay me!! I lost ONE POUND!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Where Do You Get Fashion Advice?

My favorite fashion magazines are InStyle, People StyleWatch, and Lucky magazine.  And I can't say I like them very much.  They tend to feature girls almost half my age wearing four-inch heels and mini skirts, with fur vests or dresses that cost $1,200.  But they are useful for seeing what shapes and color schemes are trending, so I still pick them up occasionally.

I'm actually a "charter subscriber" to Lucky, because I subscribed in the first couple of months that magazine was published, and haven't let my subscription lapse in twelve years. (Yikes! I just looked that up. Time to cancel.) Back when the magazine first came out, it featured a couple of very trendy, creative looks, then recreated each one with items found in a wide range of sources and price points.  Everything from Old Navy and Target to high-end labels were represented in these looks. It was the democratic nature of the magazine that billed itself as "The magazine about shopping" (as opposed to "the magazine about clothes, or advertising, or whatever Vogue is supposed to be about") that appealed to me and kept me renewing my subscription for so long.

Fast forward twelve years and here I am, a twenty-two year old girl in a forty year old woman's minivan lifestyle; Lucky has aged a lot worse, from creating looks that anyone can adapt for themselves to showcasing $1,500 black slacks and four-inch-long miniskirts from Forever 21.  These are not styles a forty-year-old mom of three can wear to the playground.

I have yet to find a magazine that offers style advice -- and only style advice -- for a woman with an active, not athletic, lifestyle.  I don't want a magazine like Cookie (now defunct), which claimed to be for hip moms (I'm not sure how hip I am, but I'm willing to try... sort of) and interspersed celebrity parenting advice with Ralph Lauren tie-and-jacket ensembles for toddlers and pencil skirts, rather than minis, for the moms. Uh, no.

I may drive a minivan, but believe it or not, I am actually interested in looking stylish in my own right.  My kids are cute, but I'm not throwing in the towel on myself.  When I set out to learn about new trends  I don't want to accidentally run into an article that reminds me that the kids are watching too much TV, that the white bread I put in their lunchboxes is some day going to kill them, and that I didn't put on their sunscreen... again.  No, I want to see if bootcut jeans are back, find out what the season's color palette is, and figure out how to repurpose the stuff in my closet so that it looks all brand new.

Since I have yet to find a magazine that will give me that information without also including a recipe for chicken broccoli casserole, I've had to branch out a bit. There are a few great fashion resources on the internet that I've found useful.
J's Everyday Fashion updates daily and is budget-aware.  J is on Facebook as well as at her own site, and is generous with answering questions on her FB Wall. She encourages followers to post pictures of their own outfits on her Facebook page and offers suggestions for how to accessorize for specific situations.  She has a web-show in which she gives fashion advice for real women, J's Everyday Fashion (3 episodes recorded as of this date); her advice isn't just buy this or that, but here's how to remix your wardrobe to stretch it in ways you hadn't thought of before.  Episode 2 and Episode 3 (yet to be aired) feature... wait for it... moms who want to look great even when their kids are around.

The one thing I don't totally love about J's Everyday Fashion is that since she is a very trim size 4, what looks good on her (skinny pants and short shorts) aren't necessarily going to be great for me, and to a certain extent I have trouble compensating for that.  But I love the way she puts colors together and her suggestions for how to duplicate or adapt looks found in catalogs and magazines. I appreciate that she periodically takes time out to share how she creates a shopping list for clothing and how she makes decisions about how she manages her clothing budget -- $100-$200 per month (J is newly single and child-free).

Fashion At Forty is a cool fashion blog maintained by a real woman with actual curves.  Niki seems very sweet.  Her outfits are sometimes a little trendy for my taste (I really don't like the high-low trend), but that's occasional; she tends towards preppy, for the most part. She's also pretty up front about her own reservations about what works and what doesn't. Her blog is about how she makes her fashion fit her life, and so her choices are budget conscious; unlike J, in addition to lots of retail options she shops at consignment shops, eBay, and Etsy to find higher-end and custom pieces without spending too much money.  Niki is a working wife with no children, but her outfits are wearable even for those of us who stay home, and she is on-trend with color combinations and accessorizing. Like J, she's very responsive to questions and comments.  She also has a blogroll (J doesn't) that includes more fashion resources. I have to admit I've only skimmed a few of them because I haven't found them to be as comprehensive as Fashion at Forty, and I really like Niki's tone.

I have to also credit Niki with a book recommendation.  Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion will be my next book review, and most likely will change the way I approach my wardrobe as well.  But that's a different post.

My other favorite sources for fashion inspiration are Pinterest and Polyvore. I follow several fashion-heavy pinners on Pinterest.  I found Outfit 31 through her blog, which she doesn't appear to be updating anymore.  She still pins outfits, though, and her outfits are totally playground ready.  Note that though a lot of her repinned outfits include high heel pumps, there's no reason they have to be duplicated with the pumps, a cute wedge or loafer would do just as well for the vast majority of the outfits shown.  I also use the search function on Pinterest to figure out what to do with what's already in my own closet -- for example, I searched on "gray blazer" to get some ideas on how to mix up the underworn gray blazer in my closet and found images that dress it down in ways I might not have thought up when just staring glass-eyed in my closet.

I'd like to mention that my husband's cousin had the brilliant idea of organizing her fashion pinboards by color (using, very cleverly, lines from songs for board titles) and I sure wish I had thought to do that before I accumulated 250 pins to the "My Style" board... live and learn.

Polyvore is a little bit more labor intensive than flipping through a fashion magazine, but just as informative and a lot more adaptable. It's basically a Facebook for fashion with a Q&A section for people with fashion dilemmas.  I find it difficult to use for my own purposes, but most of the best images on Pinterest come from there, so if you've got the inclination to work through it (and please, share with me if you do), then it is a great shopping resource. One of the blogs I have listed in my blogroll, Outfits by Stacy Gustin, I found on Polyvore. The images are attractive, but she's light on text, and since I'm a text kind of girl I'm going to find it a little less compelling than chattier bloggers. Stacy Gustin is a mom of three, however, and the outfits generally seem wearable, so it's worth checking out.

If you Google "mom fashion blog" a decent list of blogs will pop up and you can peruse those at your leisure.  I've checked out a few and ruled them out for my own use, primarily because of the cost of the items pictured, or because the moms are so posh that I rarely find their articles useful. Also, I'm happy with my current resources. There is only so much time available for hanging out online clicking through outfits. But fashion is personal. Maybe you've got a runway ready figure, or a job where heels are daily requirements, or a way better night life than I have. Go crazy! Share what you find! And most of all, have fun dressing yourself, not just your kids, because, let's face it... they got their good looks from you.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Not to Write a Novel

This is a blatant attempt to distract you all from the measurements I posted in my last update.

I've been working on a novel for a while now.  The basic story is the origins of the narrator in "Lennon's Glasses," although the novel actually revolves around the Bloomsbury Group, featuring Virginia Woolf and her crowd.  I have started the first chapter a couple of times, but each time I make it through the first scene and then get totally stuck on what should happen next.  So I decided that I am the sort of writer who needs to work from a pretty extensive outline. Like many writers, I have a ton of writing books in my personal library, so I've been working my way through all the ones that address plot planning to try to find a model that would work well for me.

I'd narrowed it down to three:

  1. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
  2. First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner
  3. The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
I put the question to my husband, who immediately voted for The Plot Whisperer, as I've been telling him about it as I read it.  Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel (not the workbook version) is a pretty interesting deconstruction of what makes successful novels; I read that book, and then also read several of the "breakout novels" he identifies, and agreed that they were pretty compelling reads, sometimes even against my own inclination.

Who doesn't want to write a breakout novel? I picked up the workbook and opened it to the first sets of exercises to read them aloud to my husband. 
Exercise:  Adding Heroic Qualities
Step 1: Who are your personal heroes? Write down the name of one.
Step 2: What makes this person a hero or heroine to you? What is his or her greatest heroic quality? Write that down.
Step 3: What was the moment in time in which you first became aware of this quality in your hero/heroine? Write that down.
Step 4: Assign that quality to your protagonist.  Find a way for he or she actively to demonstrate that quality, even in a small way, in his or her first scene.  Make notes, starting now.  (note that there are two lines allotted for this step)
Follow-up Work: Prior to the climactic sequence of your novel, find six more points at which your protagonist can demonstrate, even in a small way, some heroic quality.
Exercise: Opening Extra Character Dimensions
Step 1: What is your protagonist's defining quality; that is, how would anyone describe your protagonist? What trait is most prominent in his personality? What kind of person is she? Write that down.
Step 2: Objectively speaking, what is the opposite of that quality? Write that down.
Step 3: Write a paragraph in which your protagonist actively demonstrates the opposite quality that you wrote down in step two.  Start writing now.
Follow-up work: Define a secondary character quality; write down its opposite; write a paragraph in which this character demonstrates the opposite secondary quality.  In the same way, open third and fourth additional dimensions to your protagonist.

I'm not totally sure I could name my personal heroes off the top of my head, or that my personal heroes are even remotely relevant to my protagonist's journey, but the entire thing sounded dry, mathematical, and arbitrary.  Jeff wanted me to toss it right out.  

I can't toss a book, but if anyone wants the workbook and the companion text (which is much better and more fully fleshed out), speak up and I'll get it to you.

For the time being, I'm going with Martha Alderson, The Plot Whisperer. The book is full of useful worksheets for planning a novel, and she has a workbook out that I might investigate as well. Since I'm in reinvention mode, I'd like to really kick my novel into gear now and ratchet up the word count on the first draft.  

If you are interested in following my progress, I'll be posting more of my fiction work at Cindy Ash, Writer.  That site is more of a journal/tracking site than a proper blog, so the only links and pictures that will be posted there will be for my own convenience, although friendly types are welcome to follow along and share encouragement, advice, and gentle suggestions.

Are you working on a big project?  What resources have you found to be laughably unhelpful?  Please share them in the comments!

Omphaloskepsis: July 14 Update

My efforts to disrupt my reading-while-eating habit have met with mixed results so far.  I had two successful days in a row of managing my mid-day portions, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the book in another room.  The success was in committing to a specific lunch and eating only that amount.  I just can not seem to relax without the book.

For the coming week, I'm going to try making myself a cup of tea or a glass of cider vinegar tonic (a tablespoon of Bragg's apple cider vinegar with a couple of drops of stevia in a tall glass of cold water) and reading my book while I sip my beverage, then put the book away for my meal.

The only exercise I got this week was a hike with the kids.  It was a nice amount of exercise, and if I could do that three times a week it would have been great.  Next week I will exercise at home, using my DVDs, the Kinect, or the Wii, at least three times.

I'm not thrilled to be posting these, but perhaps it will spur me to not cheat for next week:
Weight: 161 pounds
Narrow part of my waist: 31 inches
Hips: 41 inches
Thighs: both are 23.75 inches

I'd like to lose 2.5 inches each on my waist & hips, and a full inch on each thigh.

Be kind, people, I'm having a moment here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Back in the day just a bit...
(arriving in Hawaii in December 1998)
Sunday night we got home from a two-week vacation visiting family on the East Coast. I'm especially happy to be living out of my closet again, rather than a suitcase, as I finally figured out how to pack pretty much appropriately for a long trip.

In preparation for our trip, I spent a lot of time on Pinterest and Google trying to figure out how to pack most efficiently.  We spent one week in Hilton Head with my family, where the dress was primarily swimsuits, with a couple of very casual outfits for meals and biking on the beach, and three rather nicer occasions when we went out in couples, took my parents out to dinner, and had a "Ladies' Day" with my mom and sisters-in-law.  The second week, spent with my husband's family, was a little bit less casual -- I wore at least a little bit of makeup every day -- but also more consistent in terms of wardrobe requirements.

Typically when I pack for this annual trip I am edging past 48 pounds on my suitcase (for the outbound).  I pack ten outfits and 4+ pairs of shoes, not including sneakers & flipflops, way too many toiletries and quite a lot of acessories.  Add in shopping on the trip and I usually spend the night before departure frantically reallocating weight among the family's suitcases to get the four of them to weigh in under 50 pounds.

Oh, and to spare any of you the pain I have felt when checking in a bag only to find -- after the other three have been sent down the conveyor -- that my bag is 52 pounds, I recommend a luggage scale.  (I have this one and have had no problems with it, but I don't want to recommend something with such poor reviews).

If you have ever tried to use Pinterest to get pointers on how to pack for a vacation, you've most likely come across this picture, which has been spammed from here to eternity:

I'm pleased to share the actual source of this image:

I love the concept, but I didn't feel like this method was going to work for me on this particular trip.  For one thing, my activities from one day to the next were going to be fairly uniform, and the wardrobe laid out here was actually too varied for my purposes.  For another, I am addicted to lots of color, and two weeks of neutrals leavened by only one color... well, I can think of no quicker route to shopping mayhem than to restrict myself to one color, even if it is a favorite.  And finally, I'm sorry, but there is NO WAY I'm wearing a scarf of any kind in South Carolina in July.

Since my thighs are no longer worthy of short shorts, I decided on a wardrobe of 4 daytime dresses, 2 pairs of very casual shorts plus a couple of t-shirts, one pair of white jeans (which I wore on the plane with a cardigan and a tank top) and two tops to alternate with the jeans, and two very old t-shirt dresses which doubled as swim cover ups.  For shoes, I wore a pair of very comfy slip-on sandals with a two inch wedge and brought my favorite wedge sandals (seen here) a pair of Privo! sneakers similar to these, except mine are awesome orange and about six years old, and a pair of black flip flops.

Lands End Ponte
Doesn't this look fun?
My trip wasn't quite so glamorous.
Lands End Linen V-Neck Dress
mine was navy
Lands End Cotton Dress
mine was the toffee dot
Lands End Linen Caftan

So how did it work out?  Great!  With the caveat that I did have to do laundry near the end of each week. Which was fine because when I used to overpack I was doing laundry for the kids anyway, and I always had unused things at the bottom of my suitcase that didn't seem to quite work.  I could have used one extra pair of skinny jeans to bridge the gap between dress and shorts for the second week of our trip, but not so much that it would have been worth making the purchase.  (BTW, I have just about decided that the skinny jean trend needs to die almost as badly as the platform wedge, but since I still have hopes of regaining my youthful figure I'm not all the way there... yet.)

Toiletries and accessories are another area where I usually run into trouble, but this year I managed to keep the toiletries to a reasonable quantity, all things considered.  Accessories I reduced to very near nothing at all; I could have brought nothing but two pairs of earrings and I would have been just fine.  

For the kids:  this year I let my daughter pack for herself, and only looked back through her bag to approve her choices.  She overpacked.  Perhaps someday she'll read my blog and learn from my mistakes. (!!)  For my boys I did pack too many shirts, although considering how difficult it has been to civilize my sweet older son it's not unreasonable to think he might go through 3 shirts a day.  I had almost enough shorts for each of them, but since they are overlapping a little in sizes and my husband never could tell whose were whose, they ended up wearing one another's clothes interchangeably and it worked out.  In fairness, the boys don't seem to know whose clothes are whose either, so I might be a little nit-picky in that regard.

I can't describe what a win it feels like to have finally packed a successful suitcase. I felt as light as when we got the gigantic donation picked up from our driveway and I knew I wouldn't have to worry about caring for all that stuff any more. Each year that we travel I feel slightly less like a sherpa.

And one more time, THANK YOU to all our fantastic family for putting us up and feeding us and giving us such wonderful memories.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Omphaloskepsis, Part 1

After a lovely two-week vacation during which I gave myself permission to eat the potato chips (and pretty much everything else that crossed the threshold), it is time to return to ordinary life.  Including, alas, facing the fact that all of the pictures that were taken for our parents' Christmas cards are going to include me looking pretty saggy.

Good thing Christmas comes every year.  I have some time to do something about it, assuming the Mayans were wrong about 2012.

I did take the time to identify several habits that are contributing to the things about my figure that I find unsatisfactory.  And I should take a moment to point out that while I'm complaining about my appearance in the family portraits at the moment, what I am also unhappy about is my overall fitness.  I am not an athlete, but I have had periods in my life when I was very fit and pleased with what my body could do.  For several years I took yoga classes, which was awesome not only for my flexibility but also for my sense of calm and my feelings of connectedness in my spiritual life.  At several different times in my life I have been a fairly strenuous walker, at my best covering as much as 6 miles a day, three days a week.  When I trained for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3 Day, I walked 6 miles a day during the week, and then 10-17 miles on Saturdays.

What has happened to me?

Here are a few habits I have fallen into that keep me from being the person I want to be:

  1. Not exercising regularly.  This is bad for me not just because I'm not burning off the bad food choices I make, but because I'm depriving myself of the satisfaction that kept me from overeating in the first place.  I gradually gave it up when the house was on the market, after one too many notices that the house was going to be shown during the time I had designated for exercise.
  2. Reading while I eat.  I definitely, definitely overeat when I'm not focusing on my food.  I noticed this one the most while I was on vacation; the thought of not reading while I munched my lunch, quietly, away from other people, was so uncomfortable that it almost sent me into a panic.  This is where I will begin applying what I've learned from The Power of Habit
  3. Not having a plan for my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.  I have no problem with portion control at dinner time, but my earlier meals are sometimes a little haphazard.  Because of poor planning during those times of day, I often go too long between meals and then end up starving and shaking so badly that I feel like I have to stuff myself during the mid-afternoon.  I'm hoping that the measures I'm considering for Item #2 will help alleviate this problem.
  4. Too much alcohol.  It's only a glass or two a night, but considering what sugar does to one's metabolism, and also the fact that I can't drink when I'm training for something because it makes me feel horrible, I probably should cut back.  A lot.  Although that might be a habit I tackle later, when I've worked out to do about the reading while I eat thing.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes a habit loop, whereby a cue triggers a behavior or routine, which, when completed, is rewarded by a kind of neuro-chemical shot.  The initial description of the loop is established by recounting an experiment in which a rat is placed behind a closed gate, which opens with a click.  The rat then makes its way down a very simple maze to find a bit of chocolate, which it then eats.  Over time, the chocolate becomes associated with the click, in what most people would describe as a Pavlovian response.  Duhigg illustrates it thusly:

In my case, the need to eat a meal when I am alone (or when I wish I were alone) is the cue or click.  Reading the book while eating is the routine.  I have identified that a sense of relaxation is the reward, and that when I am anxious or reluctant to take on a project (like the laundry) that is on my agenda, then I will stretch out the experience of relaxation by adding portions to my meal.  Sometimes, a lot of portions.  The challenge will be to figure out how to meet my need for relaxation (in spite of the difficulty I find in relaxing generally) without continuing the problematic behavior.

According to Duhigg, you can change a habit, but you can't kill it.  So I won't be able to simply stop reading while I eat and expect that to go well.  Neurologically, I need something to disrupt the routine part of the loop while retaining the reward.  To do this, I'm going to have to poke around a little bit.  

Duhigg also stresses the importance of having a plan for tackling a behavior.  I don't really have one.  But lucky me, some of the other ingredients for successfully altering habits are including a community and Belief.  You, lovely readers, are my community, and Belief... well, that is going to have to develop.  (In the book, Belief generally came about as a result of some sort of crisis.  I'm not sure unflattering family pictures are enough of a crisis to generate the belief necessary to make this happen, but here's hoping.)  

By tomorrow I will have a Plan A to share, as well as a few measurements to incite me to victory.  I will also share some highlights of going on vacation for 2 weeks (I flew with an underweight suitcase, hurray!!) and of coming home (I still love my baking soda and my reusable grocery bags!).  And later this week, I will be introducing a new tab to the blog... are you on the edge of your seats?

Thanks for being my community, friends!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Putting It Into Practice

So I found The Power of Habit to be pretty empowering.  Just how empowering, I'm ready to put into practice.   Here's the deal:  I'd like to lose eight pounds, and if I'm successful, then an additional eight pounds, for a total weight loss goal of sixteen pounds.  I know from the last few months that simply wishing the weight away doesn't work.  Unfortunately.  However, I think that this time I have a better understanding of what I need to do to succeed.