Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Creative Living (Part One)

Rare night-time blog!  Rare because my desire to do anything at all productive almost always goes down with the sun, which should also explain why this week's blog is basically a link to a video.

This is a Part One because I will inevitably purchase and read (and I'm guessing - love) Elizabeth Gilbert's latest, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and inevitably write about it.  However, this amazing little gem popped up through the magic of Facebook earlier this week.

There's a 18 minute video of actor and playwright Tracy Letts giving his advice for living a creative life, accompanied by an annotated list of his 10 top pieces of advice.  Because my attention span is as short as I'm guessing most people's is these days, I just read the list at first, but, at Marc's recommendation, I've now watched the video as well, and it's well worth the time.  Just think of it as 6 three-minute cat videos or Hamilton clips or whatever it is you typically waste your time with and it won't seem so big and intimidating.

His first piece of advice, for me, is the best one - Do Nothing.  He's not saying to meditate, just...Do Nothing.  Don't listen to anything.  Don't watch anything.  Don't mess with your phone.  Just. Sit.  Let your mind wander.  As he says, "...pretty soon you'll stop thinking about your problems or your schedule or your failings and your mind will start to wander and you'll start to fantasize.  You will start to daydream."

It's incredible how rarely we do nothing.  I'm honestly hard pressed to find a moment of my day where, if I'm not doing something, I am consuming something.  Podcasts, TV, music, a book, the news.  I can feel that my brain misses that freedom because there are times I'm walking down the street listening to a podcast and I realize I haven't been paying attention to the last five minutes - and then, and only then, do I turn it off and just walk.  I wait for my brain to beg for it and tell me out loud that it needs some free time.

It doesn't have to be a long time.  He advocates a half hour, which I'm ashamed to admit sounds terrifying and impossible to me.  But how glorious for our brains to get that space and that freedom!

Here is the link again, if you didn't click it up above.  If nothing else, give the list a read.  It's fantastic advice for tuning into your creativity - and whether you're an artist or an accountant, our own personal creativity helps all of us lead happier and more successful lives.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Whole30, Take 2

Happy Tuesday!

I had originally planned on doing a book report entry on Gretchen Rubin's Better than Before, but I loved the book so much that I feel like it deserves a second, closer look before I write about it.  It's so densely packed with fantastic, helpful information that it needs a better entry than I could write at the moment, as I'm a bit short on time.

Instead, I'll write about what many people are probably sick of hearing about - my second Whole30!

This is my second Whole30, but my first time doing it with friends who actually live in the city.  That's been a fantastic boost to the overall experience - in addition to sharing recipes and tips and commiserating with my awesome mom, who is doing the Whole30 with Jim, I can do the same with besties who live right here in Queens.

There are way more soups and fewer salads this time around, as opposed to gloriously warm June.  I have more kitchen toys to play with and have roasted and trussed my first few chickens - a delicious way to stretch my Trader Joe's dollars!

My favorite thing about the Whole30 - even more than feeling lighter and having more energy - is the mental affect it has on me.  First, it frees me from the daily mental battles I have with myself when I'm not eating Whole30 of how much and when to eat chocolate, cheese, tortilla chips, wine, and my other vices.  It's a constant battle between my desires and my manager-self and it goes on 24/7 in my head.  Gretchen Rubin actually talks about this - moderators vs. abstainers.  Sadly for me and my sweet tooth, I function much more happily as an abstainer.  More on that in the book report!

Second, it keeps me hyper aware and hyper accountable.  There is no room for cheating or slip-ups if you're committing to the Whole30 as written.  There's no crazy portion control or calorie counting either, but in terms of what you eat - no wiggle-room allowed.  This helps me to notice my near reflexive-like reach to the chip bowl at a party, it helps me to notice that I don't need alcohol to have fun and I don't need dessert after a meal.  So much of people's social identity tends to get wrapped up in what they do and don't consume and the habits therein - it can be scary to go a different way and buck expectation, but it's so freeing.

Tomorrow brings a new Whole30 challenge I have not yet faced - Traveling on the Whole30!  I'll only be gone for a day and a half, but I'm a little nervous about my plans for feeding myself while I'm gone - and my first ever opening night party with Marc without a celebratory drink! (or five!)  Luckily, I have an incredibly supportive husband who is well versed in the Whole30 rules by now, and I'm confident it'll go well.

Today is Day 18 of 30 - more than halfway there!  If you're interested in doing your own Whole30 or just learning more about it, check out http://www.whole30.com

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 - The Year of Kindness

Well hello!  Just under the three month mark - yikes!

Upside of a warm Thanksgiving in Jersey
Appropriate that my last pose was at the end of October, considering Halloween always ushers in the period of absolute madness.  Everyone's lives get more rushed and busy around the holidays, but with my family, we also have birthdays and milestones and just...madness.  From my sister's birthday, Marc's and my dating anniversary, to sweet Caleb's birthday, and Thanksgiving all in November, we then move to December for both of our birthdays and Christmas and New Year's.

This cutie pie turned 1 in November!
This year, we added another thrilling milestone to celebrate every December - our third beautiful nephew, my sister's third beautiful baby and second son, and our FOURTH niece/nephew overall (in under 17 months!!!) - Kai Arthur Arel was born on December 2nd, 2015.  He was a whopping 10 lbs and absolutely beautiful, looking like an combination of Jeremy, Jeremy's dad, and my sister.  So in addition to regular holiday travel, I left for South Carolina to meet this big chunk of love the day after my birthday - after nearly a week of celebrating my birthday by welcoming one of my all-time best friends ever from California, the incomparable Katie Parker, to stay with us.

Needless to say, 2015 went out with a bang, a full heart, and so much celebratory food and drink.  I'm so thrilled to say that I'm on Day 9 of my second Whole30 and it's going really well so far.  Marc's not around to be my accountability man this time as he's in Philly, but I have two close friends who are also doing it, which means girl dinner dates!

Zoe's in heaven (we were too)
More than that, I read and just finished this morning another fantastic book by the author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, called Better than Before.  I definitely plan to write a "book report" post about that, so stay tuned if you're an absolute self improvement/habit nerd like I am.  Between the natural New Year's motivation to have good habits, the book, and Whole30, I've been feeling very virtuous and like 2016 has gotten off to a great start.

Every year I also choose a word or a phrase to strive toward or use as an overarching guide for how I want to think or feel or act.  I've been doing this since 2009 (which holy crap is seven years ago now) and some themes stick better than others, but I keep the practice up anyway.  More often than not, it's something geared more toward living happier, living healthier, being more disciplined - but it's always inward focused.  It's always about me.  This makes sense, as most people's New Year's Resolutions are about how they want to live their own lives.

My hair is delicious
I got to thinking, though, that there's a big danger of isolationism (for an introvert like me) or just plain narcissism in relentless attention to self improvement with nothing to balance it out.  So, I settled on a word that benefits me by helping me to treat myself better and be the kind of person I want to be, and more importantly, benefits others at the same time - and that word is Kindness.  Toward others, toward myself; in action or just in thoughts (for instance, not automatically spewing mental impatience and silent insults toward slow walkers...that one will take some serious practice!), I want more kindness.

Lord knows the entire world could use more of it, in its current fraught state, and since the only thing I can control is me - there you go.  There is a tendency for some in my family and in my city to be judgmental, to focus on the negative, and to complain, and that's not the kind of person I want to be.  That's not the example I want to set for my future children - or the kids I work with now, or my niece and nephews.  I believe even though I have that side of my nature, I also have an incurable optimist's nature as well.

Through reading Rubin's book, there were many other words and phrases that leapt out at me that would be great words, but I'm sticking to my guns (so to speak) and trusting that using the idea of Kindness - even if it means one tiny change in how I might think or speak a day - is what I need for this year.

Finally, before I close, I want to say how absolutely beyond grateful I am for sweet baby Kai's health, for my sister and her husband being spectacular parents, and for my mom and Jeremy's parents being such loving parents & grandparents.  I am so deeply, deeply grateful to my husband, his family, and my friends for their support and prayers past week when we had a big scare with Kai's health.  I've never been more frightened in my life than I was this past Wednesday, and never more relieved than I was yesterday.  Life is so precious and ridiculously fragile, and it's too damn short not to be kind.

Sweet Super-Kai, feeling strong.