Sunday, September 1, 2013

September Resolutions

Well, August was kind of both a success and a failure. After one week of hanging out with family a lot, we then had another week of hanging out with family a lot--this time, my husband's side. And it's still going! Things aren't going to slow down around here until school starts. It's been fun, but I'm ready for a routine again, I think especially for the sake of my resolutions. I did my best with August, though, and that's what counts.

I'm really excited for this month because I've decided to focus on Intellect. It's the first month of school, and I want to make a great start. But I also want to be motivated intellectually outside of school.

Here are my resolutions:

1. Start school assignments the day they're given out. 
Too often, I wait until the last minute to start an assignment. If I get in the habit of starting things right away, even if I don't finish them, I'll stay one step ahead.

2. Go the extra mile. 
Extra credit, extra reading, extra study, whatever it is--I want to do just the little bit extra that will put me ahead of the game.

3. Look for new knowledge. 
If I read about or hear about something that doesn't really interest me, a lot of the time I'll just let my eyes glaze over and forget about it immediately. I want to appreciate learning new things and recognize that there are no uninteresting subjects, only uninterested people.

4. Read the news every day. 
College students are sometimes really uninformed about current events, and I'm certainly no exception. I want to read the news every day, even if I only read one article, just to know what's going on in the world. On campus they give out a free copy of the New York Times every day, which is fun to read (not that I read the whole thing!) but I could also read news online or even the student newspaper. I want to mix it up a little bit so I get local news as well as national and international. (I'm voting in my city elections this year and I want to stay on top of that, too.)

5. Write every day. 
This is fast becoming one of my most important resolutions. I added it at the last minute to August, and it turned out to be a big success. Now I'm adding it to September, too. It can be really hard to write every day when I have a lot of other things on my plate, but even if I'm just writing in my journal, it will count. I'm also going to count my book blog now, because I'm trying to do a better job with it and it's kind of my main project.

So, those are my official resolutions! It's kind of a lot, but August turned out to be almost too easy--not that I did everything every day, but when I did, it didn't feel like as much of an accomplishment as it did when I got all the check marks on a day in July. (I don't know if that sentence made any sense at all...) Also, I like the mixture of very specific goals ("read the news every day") and more open-ended goals ("go the extra mile"). I like having both--if they're too specific, then I get nitpicky and frustrated.

Here's to September! I'm excited!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What this month has turned into.

I haven't posted here in a few weeks, but I have been keeping up on my resolutions (except for a few days when I went out of town).

At first, my resolutions were easy, in contrast to last month. I actually found my goals to be, in a way, liberating--a breath of fresh air. I loved reading scriptures every day and trying to enjoy days filled with the Spirit.

But after my trip, when I allowed myself to relax on the resolutions and enjoy time with my family, I've had a difficult time getting back into it. In a way, this month has become more about discipline and obedience than spirituality. I've had to really push myself to read scriptures and write every day. But you know what? I've been doing it. For the past few days, I've been able to put a check mark on each resolution, each day. And that feels great.

At first, I was a little upset with myself for how half-hearted I felt about everything. I wanted this month to be extra-spiritual, and instead I've found even a few minutes of scripture reading to be difficult. Why is it so hard? But even though it hasn't gotten that much easier (yet), I've realized that it's okay if this month is not necessarily "extra spiritual." (What exactly would that look like, anyway?) What's important is that I'm doing the things that I know are right and that I know will make me happier in the long run. And if I can do it when I'm not feeling it, it will only become easier and easier. Eventually, it will become a habit, and that's really what I wanted to accomplish this month. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue having the discipline to do the things I want to do.

Friday, August 2, 2013

August Resolutions

For the month of August, I've decided to focus on Spirituality. I'm a deeply religious person (which anyone reading this probably already knows), and I knew going into this that coming closer to God and Christ would be vital to my happiness. But I feel like I learned this more during my Body month as well. I realized that even a good goal can turn into a monster if I'm not guided by the Spirit. I had to be really careful when focusing on improving my body that I didn't start hating myself if I messed up.

I meant to post my Personal Commandments on my wall next to my Resolutions Chart at the beginning of last month, but it never ended up happening. I just did it a couple days ago, and it has really made a difference! If I don't see them every day, I just don't think about them, and I've realized how important they are to my happiness project. I discovered that several of my commandments focus on accepting and loving myself, and being okay when I make mistakes. "Be Me." "Change what you can, accept what you can't." "You can't be perfect, just be better." "Enjoy failure." I didn't always do a good job of remembering all these things last month, but this month I want to do better. It's OKAY to be inadequate. In fact, inadequate people are the ones that Christ loves the most. I'm not going to get help unless I recognize how much I need it and humbly ask for it.

So with that in mind as I start my month of Spirituality, here are my resolutions:

1. Increase daily, meaningful religious study.
2. Pray more meaningfully.
3. Write every day.

The first resolution (increase daily, meaningful religious study) is a crucial resolution, especially in light of the fact that I'm not too proud of how lax I've been toward daily scripture study. I've decided to mean this to include anything that I consider "religious." That could mean Anne Lammott's Help, Thanks, Wow or a Church magazine or the scriptures or Church manuals or anything, as long as I feel spiritually enriched by it. (But I do want to spend time in the scriptures every day, even if it's just a few minutes.)

The second resolution (pray more meaningfully) is near and dear to my heart. I have always prayed. I've rarely ever been so mad at God or mad at myself that I won't pray. But my big praying weakness is getting too repetitive, saying the same things day after day, or not really meaning what I say. I feel that if I'm not involved in my prayer--if I'm just "getting it over with" or going through it like a habit--then I might as well not pray at all. This month, I'm going to just let myself pray however I want to, even if it doesn't feel "real" or "respectful" (that is, what I've been led to believe by others is "real" or "respectful"). I want to do whatever it takes to get spiritually and emotionally involved in prayer--every single day, not just every once in a while.

The third resolution (write every day) actually only got added to the list a few days ago, when I realized how important it is for me to write. It actually lets me see into my soul, discover new things about myself, and makes me think more deeply. However, this doesn't include just any writing. Here's the list of exclusions: academic writing, writing on my book blog, writing emails or other such emotionally detached writing. I want this writing to actually deepen my understanding of myself. So some of my options would be journal writing, writing on this blog, writing on my writing blog, writing for my creative writing class, or any kind of creative writing. Writing is so important to my understanding of myself.

So, there are my resolutions for this month. I don't have as many as I did last month, but that's okay. I'm hoping that my focus on spirituality will also lead to other things I can do to improve in that area, not just these daily goals. I originally had more resolutions written down, but I whittled it down to these three so I could keep it narrowly focused.

It's going to be a great month!

Friday, July 26, 2013

What Eating Healthy Means (For Me)

One of my resolutions this month is to eat healthy. I left this vague on purpose because, to be honest, my idea of "eating healthy" gets redefined almost constantly. This year I've been suddenly super-motivated to study nutrition more, and so I've been thinking about it a lot and reading a few books on the subject. I've also been to see doctors more this year than I had probably been in the ten years before that. Each book and person and expert has a slightly different approach to nutrition.

Here's the deal: I now know the consequences of eating Western. I know that the diet I ate for years, which I thought was relatively healthy, really wasn't very healthy at all. And now that I'm an adult, I'm realizing that not too many years from now, I'm going to be facing the consequences of whatever goes into my body right now. I don't want to end up regretting eating too much candy, ice cream, or even too much white bread or red meat.

But I'm also unwilling to completely change my diet. It's unrealistic to think that I could spend the rest of my life eating meals of quinoa, Greek yogurt, and cauliflower. I like healthy food, but I don't like the idea of entirely giving up the things I love, which have become ingrained into my life, culture, and even myself. I don't like the idea of eating a diet so strict that I can't enjoy a hamburger with family members or friends.

I want to eat "healthy," but I also want to eat "normal." I want a balance. So for the past month, I've been trying to do that, and I'm hoping to keep up my efforts after July is over.

So I've been sort of cherry-picking the advice I want to take from the books I've been reading. Opt for a hunter-gatherer-style diet? No, thanks. Eat more fruits and vegetables? That, I can do. Eat fish twice a week? I really don't like most fish. Avoid processed and fast foods? I'm on board.

I've been sort of inching my way into a healthier diet. At first, I could hardly even think of not eating meat every day. Now, meat appeals to me so much less than a perfectly-seasoned, crisp-tender zucchini.

Here have been the basic guidelines I've been doing my best to follow since day one: Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Eat when I'm hungry, and stop when I'm full (or almost full). Eat breakfast. Avoid sweets.

Of course, I haven't done as well even on these as I would hope, but I've been getting steadily better, to my surprise and gratitude. Usually, I'm really gung-ho about a certain diet (note: not a weight-loss diet, just a particular way of eating that I feel is healthier) at first, and then I eventually taper off and get steadily worse until I just abandon it altogether. I'm really happy that I'm finally actually improving with time when it comes to how I'm eating, even though I've only been doing this for about a month (but really, I've been trying to eat healthier for a few months now).

This past Monday, the 22nd, I decided to abstain from sweets for the rest of the month. I know it's not a lot of time, but I have a serious sweet tooth and I have a hard time going even a week without a cookie. So far, it's been going great.

Next week, I'm planning all vegetarian meals. That's right. No meat. But I have to say this: It's not because I'm against meat. Far from it! I doubt I will ever be a vegetarian, because it can be hard to keep up with important nutrients without eating meat. However, from the reading I've done, I've also learned that while meat can be important to keeping up good health, I really don't need a lot of it. I certainly don't need to eat it every day. It would probably be best if I ate it once or twice a week (which I learned from one of the books I read is called a "flexitarian"--it's something I'm considering trying). I've also discovered that I enjoy vegetarian meals just as much as meals with meat in them (which definitely wasn't true two years ago). I'm not speaking for everyone, but I don't believe that my body needs much meat.

I promise I'm almost done with this rant--but one more thing: I'm still really unsure of how I feel when it comes to supplements. Obviously, they can be good, but I also know that they can sometimes give too much of a nutrient, that nutrients are not as easily absorbed from supplements as they can be from food, and that sometimes people taking supplements begin to think that they don't need to eat food with those nutrients. But then again, it does seem like supplements can be a good thing. There's only one supplement that I'm seriously considering taking at this time in my life (which I want to research a little more first), and that's fish oil. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm really not into eating fish. I eat it every once in a while, but I certainly couldn't eat it once a week. But fish are a really important source of omega-3s. I'm also probably going to start eating a lot of walnuts. Anyone with strong opinions on supplements out there? What do you think?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My New Mantra

In the world we live in, I've found that loving my body is not always a piece of cake. It's hard to be aware of every single lump, bump, and imperfection and still be able to say, "I love this body!"

I wanted a defense mechanism, something I could use to combat the negative thoughts I often have about my body. I tried thinking, "I love my body" and "I'm beautiful." They were good things to think, but not quite right. Finally, I hit on the one thing I could say to myself that makes me feel warm and fuzzy every time:

"I have the body of a Greek goddess."

I'm not sure why I like this so much--probably because I've seen my fair share of ancient statues of beautiful women, and none of them were particularly thin. But they're all undeniably lovely. So "I have the body of a Greek goddess" is now my mantra--and it hasn't worn out yet.

Friday, July 19, 2013

On the road to self-sufficiency!

Four little plants have joined the little family on our balcony:

It all started last week at the farmers market. We met a gardener there who was selling baby plants. (I know they're probably called "seedlings" or something, but I don't know exactly, and "baby plants" is both cute and descriptive.) I got a little bit excited because he had a sign up about raising non-GMO plants, and I'm heartily against GMO. (That's if plants are genetically modified.) I was interested in looking at the tomatoes, because I had homegrown tomatoes all growing up and I love them. He showed us the varieties of tomatoes he had, and they sounded so cool! Orange glow, zebra cherry, yellow pear, golden egg. I thought about buying one on the spot, but I didn't want to make an impulse buy.

The gardener gave us a business card and invited us to come tour his garden. He said he gives tours on Thursday, once an hour.

So on Thursday, we showed up, not really knowing what to expect.

And this guy's was amazing! I've seen cool gardens before, but most of the time they feature flowers and shrubs, and edibles are kind of a side project. Not this one. Here, the edibles took center stage. (And stage left and right. I think flowers might have been allotted a corner upstage left...) The guy had plants everywhere. And not just on the ground space he had--but on the roof, and spilling off the sides of the house. He utilized every single inch of space. He had his own ponds for water. He had a watering system that he had built himself (yes, it went up to the roof). He composted and "made" his own gardening soil. He grew all kinds of varieties of vegetables, fruits, and any kind of summer produce you can imagine.

I don't know if we'll ever reach that level of self-sufficiency (it certainly wouldn't be possible for another several years), but it inspired me to try to get started learning more.

The wonderful (healthy) thing about growing your own food is that you know exactly what's gone into it. You know what you've used to make it grow; you know whether you've sprayed it to keep the pests away. Plus, it's about as local as it can get. You picked it when it was ripe; it hasn't been shipped from several states away.

One thing that excited me more than I would have thought was the idea of growing the different varieties. Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle opened my eyes to the hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits there are. Sadly, GMO produce is crowding out these colorful and flavorful varieties.

I said earlier that I'm against genetically modified plants. The truth is, it hasn't always been this way. I never saw anything wrong with genetically modifying plants. But now that I've educated myself just a bit more on this topic, I'm against it for several reasons:

1) GMO plants are engineered not to be better for the consumer, but to be better for the producer. They're designed to produce easily, look pretty, and have a long shelf life. These things aren't necessarily bad in and of themselves, but it's not the consumers that the GMO folks have in mind. (Read on.)

2) GMO foods are often less nutritious than non-GMO. There isn't evidence (yet) that GMO foods are bad for you, but they have less nutrients than foods that aren't genetically modified. This is pretty much because the more nutrients the produce has, the more attractive it is to pests and the quicker it rots. So it makes sense for those who produce the food to take out those nutrients as much as they can.

3) GMO foods crowd more unique varieties out of the market. This is the real kicker for me. If some people wanted to sell and buy GMO food and it wouldn't make any difference, I wouldn't care. However, a lot of the coolest and healthiest varieties of plants are becoming irrelevant, and people are less interested in growing and buying them. In a grocery store, you'll probably see, at most, three different kinds of tomatoes, all that look more or less the same. Same with potatoes, onions, and mushrooms. With cucumbers, zucchini, brussels sprouts, and chard, you'd be lucky to see more than one variety. And don't even ask about fresh basil--you'd be hard-pressed to find a single variety of that in your average supermarket.

Maybe I'm just a sentimental person, but I think it's a tragedy that so many of these wonderful varieties are being grown less and less, perhaps even going extinct in our country.

So that's my little rant. Here's what my plants are:

On the left is my little cucumber plant. I wasn't even planning on getting one when we first went to the garden, but after we got out I started really wanting a zucchini plant, since Doug and I both love zucchini. The gardener said we would probably need more space for zucchini, which was a little more of a commitment than we could make with our limited space and funds. He said that cucumbers would be a great choice for us, though, so I decided to get one and just see how it worked out. (I like cucumbers a lot, too.) 

In the pot to the right of the cucumbers are the tomatoes. The left tomato plant is a "golden egg" variety, which is pretty descriptive of their size and color (according to the gardener). The right tomato is a green zebra cherry, which sounds really fascinating to me--it's like a striped tomato, apparently. (I'll be really interested to see what they look like!) 

Next to the tomatoes is the basil. I decided to get another basil plant, even though we already have tons of basil (but I wanted a cool variety). Our original basil is, I think, just regular Italian large-leaf (we got the seeds from Target). The new basil is a purple blend, which has a stronger, more unique flavor. (And yes, the leaves are a little bit purple.) 

To the right of that is the pot the basil used to be in. It shared the pot with chives and parsley, but the chives and parsley weren't able to compete with the basil. The gardener told us that we were probably overwatering for the sake of the basil, and getting the others too wet. So we took the basil out of the container and put it in with the purple, filled the pot back up with soil, and we're hoping the parsley and chives might make a comeback. 

I'm so excited to start getting tomatoes and cucumbers! I'm hoping it won't be too long (for the tomatoes, at least). 

If you're interested, here's the website of the garden I visited, if you missed it at the top of the post: 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Big Breakup.

I'm breaking up with my scale.

No, not because I am at my ideal weight and have complete confidence in myself to stay there. Because I've noticed that the more I check my weight, the less happy I am with myself. Knowing I weigh more than I want to doesn't motivate me to change. Once I see that number on the scale, I start identifying myself with that number and thinking about it. And that only makes me more likely to stay there.

And when it comes right down to it, this month isn't about my weight anyway. It's about being healthy, feeling good, and being in the right shape to do all the things I want to do in life. It's about having a good relationship with my body so I can focus on higher things.

So the number on the scale shouldn't mean anything. Even though it does mean something. It means comparing myself to other people and thinking I'm not good enough.

That's not loving my body; that's hating it. And if I hate my body, I'm just going to end up sabotaging it. And ending up with an even higher number on the scale. It's a vicious cycle.

But there's more to it than just that the truth makes me unhappy. It's also that after reading up a bit on nutrition this year, I've decided to stop blindly trusting the experts when it comes to "ideal body weight." I just don't believe in BMI anymore. It may work for other people, but to me, it's just taking loads of people with varying different body types and putting them into a box. I'm short, but I think I have a larger frame than many women my height or even taller. Also, I've noticed that my body naturally puts on a lot of muscle when I work out; I don't usually find myself skinnier when I exercise more, just more toned. I think I have more natural muscle than a lot of women do. So that could easily be a factor in weight gained for me, at least.

The point of that little rant is just that we're all different. When it comes to weight, I trust my own understanding of my body better than anyone else's. I know better how I'm eating and exercising, and I know how I feel and what kinds of things I can do. A doctor might look at a chart and say I need to lose weight, but in most cases that doctor barely knows me and hardly takes one look at me.

I'm not trying to say that I couldn't benefit from losing a little weight. But focusing on it just isn't good for me, right now at least.

It's not you, Scale, it's me.