Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Squashing the scales

Have you ever heard of the term 'butt buddy'? Maybe, but not in the way I'm about to describe it. A number of years ago my good friend P and I, on an endorphin fueled breakfast during a health kick, came up with a hypothesis about people's weight. It goes like this.

The world's population carries a determined amount of weight. As one person loses weight, that weight rather than disappear shifts somewhere else, specifically to another person (usually to their butt). Hence that person is their butt buddy. We hypothesised everybody has one.

We also joke that he and I can't be feeling 'up' at the same time. If all in life is going well for me, he says 'uh oh, I'm going down' and vice versa.

You probably are wondering where this is all going? Both these ideas carry with them the concept of finiteness. If I lose the weight, someone else gets it. If I'm up, my friend has to be down. What it does not suppose that the excess weight just disappears or that we can both be feeling happy at the same time.

I had a lightbulb moment the other day when realised the how much I actually think like this. I have been doing a lot of research into and experimenting with my diet and exercise regimen lately. I've lost quite a bit of weight fairly easily by making adjustments. Someone who I feel is always in competition with me noticed the change and asked what I'd been doing. Rather than share the information I was deliberately vague about how I'd managed to do it.

Thinking about it later I realised that I felt that if I gave away my methods to this person, they would have the information and therefore I would no longer have it myself. In my head it was a simple equation. Either I had the information or she had it.

I realise you're probably reading this thinking it's totally crazy, that it's irrational. You'd be right. Of course we can both have the information - me giving it to her doesn't mean I can't continue to do what's been working for me. If she loses weight following my plan, it doesn't mean I put weight back on. Its possible we can both lose weight at the same time. The weight is not bounded. It was quite a revelation.

Reflection is a wonderful thing. I have been thinking now about how many other areas of my life I attached this crazy rule to, and have decided it's high time I let go of it and stop concerning myself with others and holding on to this belief system. Knowledge isn't the power, it's what you do with it that's important. And the process of gaining the knowledge about what works for my health through trial and error has been a really important part of the process. It's up to me to keep it up, and even encourage others to join me rather than try and prevent them from doing the same.

And next time I see my friend P and he's feeling chirpy about life, I'll remember what's going well for me and celebrate just how very lucky we both are.

Acquired habits

(SYLC 30)

This year has been all about restyling my life. It's not so much out with the old me and in with the new, but about reconnecting with myself, what I love and what drives me, and shaping my life so that I'm thriving. While I was studying I put alot of areas of my life on hold including friendships, health, and creative pursuits. But I've had a quite few reminders that life can be short and that now is the time to act.

It's been really had to break some of the habits I formed over my studious years. This included late night snacking on chocolate, not putting time aside to exercise and refusing to take time out to relax and enjoy life. It's strange - six months have gone by since I sat my last exam and I still have times when I get the urge to rush home to some non-existent essay.

One of the areas of my life I'm focusing on right now is my health and taking time out. I've always been someone who worked through lunch (much to the disgust of a French friend of mine who thinks eating at your desk is a sin). When I go out at lunch time I actually feel guilty, yet most of my colleagues do and I don't begrudge them. I'm also very good at making excuses not to exercise, yet I feel great when I do.

So help me keep track of how I'm going, I created a progress bar of the habits I wants to make. I have it on my iPad in a drawing program and I put a cross on any of the squares that were achieved on any given day in a week. It helps me keep track and motivates me.

I plan to keep this going for a month to see if I've managed to form some new habits. My aim is to stay sugar free for a month, to eat minimal grains, to do pilates twice a week, ride or walk to work three times a week, and take at least an hour of downtime a day for me where I do something inspiring or restful.

I'm really curious to see how this will work for me.

Digital documentation

(SYLC 29)

If there's one type of clutter I hate, it's paper. It stresses me out. Piles of bills not knowing what needs to be paid, drawers of old tax records. It all takes up space in my apartment and in my head.

A little while ago I decided to go digital with information storage. I will admit I'm not quite there yet, but I do have a system I'm working towards. It includes all type of paper and information, including old photos of which I have a really large box full.

So, what works for me?

1. The dropzone. I have a box in my hall where any paper that comes into the house in the form of things like bills stay until they have been processed. This includes things that also have to go out, like mail to be redirected or cheques needing to be deposited. Nothing leaves this space until it's been dealt with.

2. The red box. This box sits in my spare room and contains everything that needs to be filed. Paid bills go in here, then every couple of weeks I go through the box and put away the lot. I only keep in my file anything related to the current financial year, plus other important docs.

3. Digital document storage. After my tax has been done for the year, every related piece of paper gets scanned and backed up (I have two mirrored hard drives). I got myself a feed scanner so I can scan items in bulk, which makes the process a whole lot faster. I have got my old two-drawer filing cabinet down to one small drawer now.

4. Evernote. I also scan things like ideas for haircuts and clothes, interior decorating, travel and recipes that I may have clipped from magazines or papers, and store them in Evernote. Using this I have pretty much every reference I need on hand wherever I am as it syncs across my phone, iPad and all my computers.

5. Photos and portfolio. I have a huge box of photos from when I spent three years travelling the world. I also have a couple of folios of old design work and drawings. I never look at any of these, not because I don't want to but because they are not really accessible. I'm getting the lot scanned and will have them on my computer with the rest of my more recent photos (with a backup of course). That way they can be tagged appropriately and I can take a virtual journey through France whenever I like!

6. Books. I love books and usually have about three on the go at any given time. But boy, do they take up space. I also tend to highlight sections in books for later reference, but never seem to remember which book said what. This has led me to reading epubs on my iPad, especially non-fiction, where I can search for things I may have highlighted. It also means when I travel I don't have to carry books with me, and can download a new one when I run out.

I've wanting to get my paper in order for years - my aim is to have everything in order by the end of this year. So far so good!

Micro vs macro cleaners

(SYLC 28)

Routines. I've said before that they are not my thing. I read somewhere that routines were the death knell of the creative mind. The fact is I get pretty bored doing the same thing over and over. And that's definitely the case when it comes to cleaning.

Cleaning and I have a love-hate relationship. I love a clean, uncluttered space in which to operate. If there's heaps of stuff lying around I can't concentrate well at all. I get distracted by mess and want to clean it up. But I also hate spending precious free hours scrubbing the bath when I could be reading, out riding my bike, writing, or having a pot of chai with a friend. So really, I tend not to do it until I get to the point of not being able to put up with it any longer.

I have a theory that people are either of the following two types of cleaners: micro vs macro. Micro cleaners are people who actually clean the windows and mop the floor on a regular basis. They can deal with piles of books and scattered toys, but they like the bathroom to be sparkling at all times, the  carpet vacuumed and the sink to have a shine to it. There may have piles of books, but there's no dust building up on them. Macro cleaners on the other hand are people who can put up with the soap scum and a bit of fluff on the carpet, but spaces must tidy and free of clutter. There is no pile of books unless it's there for a reason - and if there is one, it will probably be dusty.

I am definitely a macro cleaner. I have no problem spending five mins at the end of my day setting my place straight. I make my bed every morning, after I use something I put it away. It makes me calm and happy. However, I don't routinely clean the bathroom or the kitchen sink. I probably clean my windows once a year in spring when the weather warms. I dust when people come to stay.

And do you know what? I'm happy with these non-routines. My place is not sterile, but it's clean enough. The floors get swept every few days, and washed every few weeks when I can see they probably need it. The kitchen sink much less often. But to me it's not important. What is important is the time I spend following my passions - being creative, connecting with people. To do this happily, I need a clutter-free space to play and to entertain. But I personally don't need a sparkling home.

So there it is. My non-routine cleaning. I'm off to have join a friend for chai even though the bath needs a good scrub!

Note: if you're interested in alternatives to commercial cleaning products, this is a great post on home-made products.

Are you a macro or micro cleaner?

Anita Dufalla/Post-Gazette illustration

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How I start the day

Earlier in the year I decided it was time to overhaul my lifestyle, including my diet. I went to see a lovely naturopath who set me on the path of cleansing my system. She wanted me to give up grains and sugar for a few months. There was really no problem in that, except for the fact that I was addicted to carbohydrates. 

Dinner and lunch were less of an issue. I could take a protein packed homemade soup or salad with meat to work and have no problem inventing dinners. The main challenge was definitely breakfast. I loved the smell and taste of hot toast in the morning and scoffed a couple of slices with vegemite everyday (hardly satisfying - no wonder I was snack hunting by 10am). The other dimension to this is I eat breakfast at work so can't really be cooking up a plate of eggs in the office. What would I eat?

Thats when I came up with the following almond and yoghurt combo which I've been eating it every work day for six months, amazingly without getting bored. I do mix it up a bit - sometimes I add a swirl of coconut oil, sometimes chopped pear or berries in summer, and in winter some apple poached with cinnamon and vanilla bean. At the moment I'm eating it without fruit as I'm not eating any sugar.

An important component is the activation of the almonds. Activated nuts have been sprouted which mobilises the digestive enzymes that make them easier to digest. This helps with metabolism. My naturopath said soaking them overnight in the yoghurt works a treat, and saves some time too.

Almond, coconut and yoghurt breakfast

(Makes enough for five breakfasts)
You'll need 5 small containers (about 2 cup capacity). 

5 cups plain whole fat yoghurt (try and find one that does not contain milk solids, definitely NO fruit or sugar added to it!)
2 1/2 cups raw almonds
5 teaspoons flaked coconut (again, look at the packet and make sure there is no sugar added)
5 teaspoons chia seeds
Vanilla powder or pure vanilla essence
Ground cinnamon

2 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil
Ground ginger
1 1/4 cups chopped green apple, pear or berries

Make the following additions to each of the five containers

Step 1   Add 1/2 cup of almonds

Step 2   Add 1 cup of yoghurt

Step 3   Add 1/4 teaspoon each of vanilla powder or essence, ground cinnamon and ginger if using

Step 4   Add 1 teaspoon each of flaked coconut and chia seeds, and coconut oil if using

Step 5   Mix the whole lot together

Step 6   Add the lids and store in the fridge.

Grab one every morning and you're ready to go. If you're adding fruit chop and add just before eating.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pinned to the wall

It began lapping at my feet in about January. The waves were warm and made my toes tingle.


It was coming. I was so excited. I was ready. I couldn't wait.

In the mean time I got on with enjoying my study and freelance free life free. With my head down I ploughed on with a major work project I'd been working on for months. It presented me with some good and often challenging opportunities. I put in my all, and sometimes I put in too much but I was surrounded by an equally dedicated team of contract staff who made the work a joy. At home I tackled some nice little creative ideas and caught up on some reading. Nice times indeed.

I took off to Europe for the whole month of March. In Stockholm, surrounded by inspiration and with separation and time to contemplate, the waves of change rose dramatically. I only realised when I met with an old friend how much I had grown in twelve months. Things I had blindly accepted before I was no longer happy to stand for. I was looking at the world with fresh, stronger eyes and I was not only liking what I saw but how I felt.

Fast forward to July. The work project has wrapped up, the contractors have moved on and I feel like an athlete who's trained really hard, run their marathon and won, and is now sitting at the end of the track wondering what to do next. The waves of change is still coming at me, but instead of surfing freely I feel like I'm pinned up against a cliff by the breakers with no way to climb. 

It's so frustrating. I want the change, I'm impatient for it. But I just cant see what's next. I know the light and clarity is there somewhere but right now it's out of reach.
Some ideas have floated by me. I have contemplated writing a book, or perhaps designing some digital psych games for kids. I read about a role as an ethnographic researcher for a large tech firm and thought it sounded interesting. I even considered doing more of the same of what I've been doing, but ultimately my heart's not fully in any of these ideas.
I feel stuck.

Deep down I know part of what is pinning me to that cliff is that I'm being too rational about what I 'should' be doing with my life. I've spent eight years training as an art therapist and psychologist so I 'should' get my registration and go into practice. I'm good at managing digital projects and teams so I 'should' sell my expertise elsewhere. I'm a visual and user experience designer with a background in technology, so I 'should' use these skills to continue to make the digital space more engaging.

Should, should, should.

Yesterday I caught up with a dear friend J. We always seem to be in sync I love our brainstorming sessions - she's a total dynamite and so inspiring. As it happens she is having a breakthrough of her own she's put me onto a few techniques to help loosen the block. She also suggested I watch a doco called 'Finding Joe' essentially about Joseph Campbell's work on mythology and the hero's journey. It speaks the message that we need to be courageous and to face our fears so as to liberate ourselves from the a conformed life.

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

That's exactly what I need to do. Shed old images and schemas that I have of myself and my life. Open up and imagine. I ought not limit myself to repeating my past, the shoulds, or to taking what I think is available. I need to really listen to what makes me feel alive and believe I can make it happen. That includes my whole life - who I believe I am, how I live, and what I do with my life. I need not be afraid that I can't do it.

I feels like I it's time to take a big leap. I know staying still is not an option -  if I do I'll drown and I'm not about to do that. I know I have the courage and the determination. I just need to unlock the shackles that are preventing me from breaking through.

Watch. This. Space.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Something great

It's school holiday time and I've taken some time off work to catch up with family. Yesterday my 16yo  niece D asked if I wanted to go and see a movie. Being the second week of the holidays she'd seen almost everything released, so the choice was either Ice Age 4 or the Katy Perry film 'Part of Me'. Not being a massive fan of blockbuster animated films, I suggested we go with Katy. 

I assumed the film would be a bubble gum coated chick flick, and sure, there was a lot of sugar. But it was also a thought provoking documentary about a young woman who had big dreams and persisted in pursuing them despite the many obstacles along the way, including a very adult marriage breakdown. 

I've written previously about being in the middle of a wave of change. I'm questioning lots of areas of my life - my career, where I live, how I live, how I dress, how I am. Pretty big stuff. It's really exciting. Maybe I'm in the right frame of mind, but I admit I felt inspired by this sugar coated pop princess. Katy Perry demonstrated immense courage, bravery, vision, and determination. She obviously has a great belief in who she is and what she wants to achieve, but in moving towards her goals she was anything but selfish. 

Walking out of this film I was reminded to
  • Think big
  • Search out and snap up opportunities
  • Connect with people who inspire and love you
  • Embrace change 
  • Soak in the people and environment around you, assimilate and don't afraid to be transformed
  • Do not be afraid to be yourself
So thank you Miss Perry. You were an unexpected inspiration!
Flower Record Illustration by Andrew Lyons.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Drop zone

(SYLC 26)

In the simplify your life challenge we've spent a number of weeks focusing on decluttering. Although I'm an anti-hoarder, I was glad of these assignments as I'm doing a micro-renovation/decoration of my apartment and to make way for the changes I want to create I have to cull things that I've been holding onto but that frankly are of little use to me.

Our lives are overstuffed. I've been consciously trying to pare mine down for years. Initially the pains of multiple moves and travel made me want to cull, but I liked how simple my life was with less decisions to make and less stuff to manage. I had a friend a uni who's parents were yoga teachers. Their house was simple and minimal but in a really homely way. They were serene people; and their approach to life has stuck with me.

Most things in my life have a home. Keys, magazines, items like library books waiting to be returned all have their place. But the one area I'm not happy with is the drop zone at the end of my dining table. Mail, cycling gloves, glasses, discards from my handbag all get left there - and it looks horrible. I know its because I use my dining table for all manner of jobs, but it's become a mini dumping ground.
Before: Dining table dumping ground

At first I thought I'd put off fixing this "until I get the work bench built in my study" where I have planned a space for these things. The fact is I haven't even got a quote for the bench yet! I vowed this year there would not be about putting things off til the perfect time. There is no more perfect time than now!

So I grabbed a pretty box that I kept for paper and put it on the shelf in my entry area next to the things that are ready to returned. I then put all those bits and bobs off my table in it, now neatly contained in one place. This way I can grab the box when I need to and put it back when I've finished. I can also drop things like my cycling gloves in it as I come in the door.

Problem sorted. It will do as a solution until I get my spare room finished. Or perhaps this solution will stick!
After: 'Dump' box

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