Focused Living, One Month at a Time

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Challenge #6, December 2011: CLOSET CLEANSING

I will give away an article of clothing for every day of the month (a pair of socks or shoes only counts as one).

Just around the corner in every woman's mind - is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her.  ~Wilhela Cushman

The Why, and a Bit of History
I used to work in the fashion biz.  In another lifetime, before I became envirogirl passionate about ocean conservation I wanted to work in the apparel industry, quite possibly forever, or so I thought.  A few years out of UCLA I switched gears from the sciences, worked at Nordstrom and went to FIDM and earned a degree in Fashion Merchandising.  I soon started at a major swimwear manufacturer as a fit model - not your typical way of jumping into the industry, but it worked thanks to my measurements at the time (over 20 years and 10 pounds ago).  For six years I helped make several popular brands of women’s swimwear fit better, look better, and sell better.  I worked my way up to the “Advertising and Public Relations Manager”. It was all so exciting for quite a while, and leading a team of professional models, photographers, graphic designers, printers, and everyone else, in order to produce catalogs and ads was personally rewarding and fulfilling, for a while. During this time, I pretty much lived and breathed this business – I read every women’s fashion magazine and knew every trend, and I cared about my own wardrobe.  I owned countless swimsuits and a fairly extensive wardrobe of clothes to go out dancing and clubbing in, did a lot of that in my late twenties…Alas yes, a few pairs of M.C. Hammer-pants were featured prominently in my wardrobe, I wore the black ones much more often than the purple ones though.

Since then and especially in the past few years, I just don’t really care very much about clothes – as long as they look decent, are totally comfortable, match, and are not Hammer-pants out of date, I am generally okay with them.  I do enjoy a nice new piece every now and then, but I usually won’t buy anything unless I can see it fitting in with and enhancing what I already have, or if it will serve as a replacement for something I need to get rid of due to wear and tear, and often only if it is on sale as well. But I noticed recently that I was keeping too many things in my closet that I am not wearing regularly, and really don’t see myself needing or wearing anytime soon – sound familiar?

So this was actually a pretty easy month – I actually parted with more than 31 (35) items, most without any hesitation, like the 3 pairs of white socks and 4 pairs of pantyhose I never wear anymore.  And the knit top that had all the buttons down front curving slightly to the right that I always felt self-conscious wearing  - what if somebody notices!  The two t-shirts from a triathlon and a 10K run I did a few years ago, races that I enjoyed the memory of doing them when I looked at the shirts, but were uncomfortable – over it!  And the long sleeve one from September’s swim race in La Jolla that was NEON LIME GREEN – soooooo not my color!  This was fun and definitely  cleansing, and at the end of the month my t-shirt drawer was finally not overflowing anymore - nice!  One of the most memorable giveaways was the raisin colored corduroy pants - they just didn’t fit well anymore (too baggy after the recent droppage of 6 pounds) and I was definitely okay with that.  I didn’t have a whole lot of tops to go with them anyway. 
I also realized I don’t have much of a cold (anything below 40F) weather wardrobe, and I am actually just fine with this, most of my travels are to warm tropical locales anyway.  But by borrowing from a friend and my mom, I was able to outfit myself just fine for the first weekend of the year in Deer Valley in the snow.  Borrowing clothing is a good thing for exactly these kinds of situations – why own something you will only wear once or twice a year anyway?

The Best Item I Gave Away
We went up to Nor Cal for a few days before Christmas.  I wasn’t planning on giving away (nor acquiring) any apparel during this time, however…we visited a lovely second-hand store and I fell in love with a deliciously soft cream colored cashmere sweater and a pair of deliciously soft and fuzzy pink UGG slippers, both barely used and my size – and both ended up being a surprise Christmas gift from my boyfriend on the spot.  When we returned to my boyfriend’s parents home, his mom tried the slippers on (we wear the same size) and remarked how good and stable they felt on her previously injured heel.  She delighted in them and mentioned that she also wanted a pair.  For the next day and a half she was determined – doing her research online and at the local shoe shop, but they were 3x what my boyfriend had paid for them, yikes.   I really liked them while wearing them around their house, but it soon became quite obvious to me that the universe had other plans.  So I wrapped them up and gave them to her for Christmas, for which she was very grateful, and I got to enjoy her reaction.  I am happy to report that my perfectly acceptable utility grey kinda fuzzy slippers (recently washed) are still in service as I write this, and they have no idea of how close they were to being replaced – I’m not telling them.  All is well in the slipper universe, and I got to count this as my favorite clothing giveaway of the month!

Net Clothing Flow and Take Aways
-35 that I purged, but +4;  the cashmere sweater, a T –shirt from running a 5K race on Christmas, a very cute mermaid t-shirt (gift from my sister), and a new very cute and very practical grey jacket I bought, for a total of -31, so I am okay with this!  Taking the bags of clothing I discarded to the Goodwill store was very cleansing, and I feel like I am really committed to keep the net wardrobe flow down to zero, or negative is okay too – keeping extra stuff I don’t wear or need is not my style.   Easiest challenge yet – on to something more difficult for the New Year!  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Challenge #5, November 2011: GIVING THANKS

I will write and mail a hand written thank you note every day to someone I am grateful to.


“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
—Melody Beattie


How it went
This has BY FAR been the most rewarding challenge yet, and the most fun as well.  My goal was to send a personal old-fashioned (snail mail, NOT the all too convenient email!) letter to 30 people in my life, including a thank you for something.  Instead of just a one day obligatory American holiday where we all mainly express our brief gratitude at the table before stuffing ourselves with our families, I wanted to turn Thanksgiving into a month of connecting with people, most who I knew fairly well but some not, to personally express why I am grateful for something they have either done for me, or for others, or for the world in general.  
I had so much fun at the beginning of the month picking out the cards I was going to use - each one different and many of them collected over many years, of various sizes and styles.  Most were blank inside, with nothing to start from, only the empty page awaiting my message.  What I found the most rewarding was to literally stop and focus on the person for the ten or twenty minutes (or a few times more than that), and think about what I was grateful to them for and how to best express it to them.  Most of the time once I started, the text would just flow and it was easy to then fill up the page.  And I mailed them all with the perfect accent piece:  a colorful groovy heartsy-flowery love stamp!

I thanked my mom and dad in advance for not worrying about all my upcoming travels over the next six weeks, and included copies of my flight itineraries.  I thanked a woman who I had met a few months ago for the wonderful recipe she had sent to me, told her how I had adapted it a bit, and sent her one of my own favorites.  I thanked a new dear friend for loaning me her trail running shoes while camping in the Grand Canyon when my ancient hiking boots fell apart the second day of the trip - it was pure luck that we wore the same size!  I thanked my boyfriend’s mom for being such a good mother to both of her sons and such an amazing care-taking role model.  And I thanked other people I knew in various capacities for the work they do and how carefully and thoughtfully they do it, and let them know that it was recognized and appreciated, by me at least.  One of the most unusual notes I wrote was to a friend who’s dog had recently died, and who he was very close to.  I transformed a sincere sympathy note into also a thank you note, by appreciating his generosity toward animals through all of the philanthropy and support he gives to animal and conservation organizations throughout the world – that was an interesting one to write.
Probably my favorite was the very last letter to a man I met in person just once. He may well have accomplished more than anyone to protect California’s amazing coastline over the past 30 years.  He is a thoughtful, dedicated, peaceful man who is now retired and battling cancer but I wanted him to know how much his life’s work was appreciated by me and no doubt so many others.
I found that instead of doing one card every day, it was easier to get in a gratitude mood and group about 5 or 6 of them together at a time.  The feeling I had after completing a batch often lasted a few hours or more, so it was like my own personal pick-me-up – it was like taking a happy pill with only good side effects – others were likely benefiting as well.  Who doesn’t like to be appreciated, for whatever reason?

Take Away
Sometimes I heard back from the folks I sent notes to, more often I didn’t.  This didn’t matter to me either way – as I said, it just felt good to me to think that I had possibly brightened the recipients day when they got the note.  The people I did hear back from were universally appreciative, often surprised, and for me getting that reaction was like a second dose of the happy pill, this could get addicting!
Overall, I just think many of us may have lost the practice of simple, noticeable, daily gratitude to others in our lives, and this month was a rousing success for me as a way to bring that back in full force into my own life.  I also rediscovered that I enjoy handwriting - haven’t done much of this since I have become addicted to my laptop.  It is quite a different thought process vs. slapping the computer keys and instantly editing myself.  I will continue to write more of these kinds of notes more often – I think they are valuable, definitely to me and hopefully to the recipients as well.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Challenge #4, October 2011: DRYING OUT

I will not drink any alcohol this month

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”  ~F.  Scott Fitzgerald 

This was less challenging than last month, but still not easy for me.  I was going to go on the wagon, abstain, teetotal, get sober and experience my own personal prohibition. Even while watching the calories last month, I was still in the habit of a glass or two of wine or beer almost every night.  And before last month, occasionally even more than that in a single night.  Logically I know this isn’t good for me and definitely works against my generally healthy active lifestyle, but I had just fallen into this habit.  Actually instead of a muffin top like I referred to last month, I think I have more of a “wine waist” – a noticeable pooch made up of too many unburned glasses of pinot noir and chardonnay, at least that’s what it feels like.  So it is time to try and change this habit and reduce consumption - get out of this unhealthy rut.

How it went
All good for the first 6 days – more club soda, water, tea, etc.  I had even strategized to sample the non-alcoholic beers (Becks tasted the best) and wines (both the red and white I tried were not much more than vinegary glorified grape juice – a bust!).  I was feeling good, less fuzzy in the mornings overall, and my workouts definitely went better.  But I finally guess I just had a craving for something, and poured myself a shot of rum on the seventh day.   It tasted extra alcohol-ish, like rubbing alcohol almost but with a better nose to it, and not especially good although I did finish it, and then I stopped.  Most evenings after that were fine, except when I just wanted a sip or a half glass of good red wine once in a while, which was 3 nights.  One of them was a special birthday dinner for my boyfriend, so it was sort of excusable but not really – I felt guilty afterward.  And one night home alone I actually went for the bottle of cheap champagne that was lurking in the back of the fridge – quickly sucked down a small glass, then another, burped heavily, then dumped the rest down the drain.
So 26 out of 31 days sober, not perfect but better than my 1500 calorie a day record so I was somewhat satisfied.  I have already been thinking, that later on in this overall project it may be worthwhile to redo some of these months that I don’t get a “perfect score” on – this may well be one of them.  Or at least maybe make up for the 5 off days by going sober for another 5 days at some point, that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Key Observations
·      My mom decided to join me on this month, and maybe because she doesn’t drink much anyway, this was pretty easy for her.  The only time she had a drink was after a long day of driving up in Central and Northern California on curvy Pacific Coast Highway, and just wanted a glass of wine to calm her nerves a bit – highly excusable!
·      As I said, I like to eat.  I realized that yes I definitely like to drink alcohol too, but the benefits aren’t really worth the costs overall, and less is definitely better for me and how I like to operate.  During this month I went on two extraordinary trips:   Esalen for a weekend writing workshop, and the Grand Canyon on a rafting trip with O.A.R.S. over the end of October and beginning of November.  Both adventures were full of new and exciting sights, experiences, and actions – none of which needed or would have been improved by alcohol – I found myself consciously recognizing this.  However…after only mint tea and hot chocolate each night in the 30 degree evenings camping along the Colorado River – I did appreciate that newly allowed glass of red wine on November 1st, it definitely had an extra warmth and satisfaction about it.
·      Watching the final season of Rescue Me during this month with a heightened awareness of alcoholism – Tommy Gavin’s constant battle with his demons and the depth of his disease were fictional and unfamiliar to me, but I could understand the challenges to his willpower at times.  And I noticed that watching the disfunctionality of so many of the characters on that show actually made me want a drink, hmmm...interesting.  I certainly don’t want the drinks I drink to start taking their own drinks, as F. Scott points out above.
·      Even though I drank somewhat less, I didn’t lose any more weight – stayed at exactly the same as the previous month.  Will keep working on this too…

Friday, September 30, 2011

Challenge #3, September 2011: LIGHTENING UP

I will eat about 1500 calories a day, and track them, to lose some excess weight.

“Life itself is the proper binge.”  ~Julia Child

What it was about
This month was really hard for me, I sincerely like to eat.  And I don’t usually/often keep track of how and what I am eating.  A vegetarian for over 25 years, I have a generally healthy diet and work out regularly, but I do feel like I could afford to lose a bit of the muffin top (and muffin bottom) that has accumulated over the past several years. I want to be even healthier and be able to perform better in my workouts and races.  It is no fun carrying around that extra ten or so, jiggling all the way…I almost decided to make this month’s challenge just “Lose 10 Pounds” but that was actually daunting and I couldn’t seem to commit, so I stuck with the daily 1500 calorie goal instead, hopeful that I would end up losing about 10 pounds or so anyway.

How it went
So I tried, and tracked pretty much every calorie on (highly recommended for tracking, and weight loss motivation), but I had a tough time keep it to under or at 1500 most days, especially when I worked out.  The harder I worked out the more difficult it was to refrain from going over.  Most days I averaged around 1600-1700 calories, but there were 3 days that I totally busted out and binged – probably over 2500 calories, it was too depressing to count them all exactly so I just estimated.  One of the binge days was the day I ran the Kauai Half-Marathon, which was in the first week of this month.  That day I felt it was pretty excusable to go over - I honestly don’t think it would have been wise or healthy to eat only 1500 calories of energy on a day of 2+ hours of intense running – I think I probably burned more than that during it.  The other two days I binged, I really didn’t have a good reason, and I simply fell short of the discipline I was trying to maintain – did I mention, I like to eat?   My workouts were not as often or intense as in July when it was every day, but I was still doing about 4 days a week at least of running, biking or cardio/strength combo – which always made me extra hungry soon after, and which was the toughest time to not go overboard on calories.

What I was very conscious of this month was trying (most of the time) to eat the healthiest, most fulfilling calories possible, and how just a few cookies or a few glasses of wine can REALLY bite into a strict calorie budget - and they are basically most of the time simply not worth the indulgence.    Note: at 240 calories a bag, Skittles are definitely not an effective lunch or snack – yikes!

The keeping track part was a big part of the discipline as well – every time something went in my mouth I had to remember to go online and log it, and if I couldn’t do this right away, I had to write it down and keep track somehow.  It was especially challenging out on a dive boat all day in Kauai, with no pen and paper handy – it was all I could do to remember the cookie and granola bar calorie counts from the packages as they added up. So this was a good focus exercise, and made me realize that sometimes I could catch myself and stop from grabbing a snack, simply because I was lazy and didn’t feel like thinking to hard about figuring out the calories and logging it – it just wasn’t worth it.

Also, this month the international news was filled with stories of hundreds of thousands of Somalis suffering from famine due to severe drought.  This news put my “gee I really want that extra slice of muenster or another sourdough roll but it isn’t worth the calories” self-talk into perspective:  How do I really deserve to have such choice, luxury, and abundance available when so many in the world don’t - and probably never will?  The news certainly made me think about this a lot, in relation to what I was trying to do I don’t profess to knowing how to help the Somalis, but certainly I could try and exercise a bit of self control regarding food while keeping this in mind, couldn’t I?

The results
I consciously decided not to weigh myself until the end of the month so I didn’t know how it was going or what to expect.  I did know my pants were looser, and there was definitely a bit less jiggling when I ran.  Overall, I lost 6 pounds and felt somewhat lighter. The 10K run I did on November 1st felt better than and was faster than I had done in quite a while, not quite my goal of 50 minutes, but close enough that I know it is within reach.  The continued challenge with this is KEEPING IT OFF and going for that other 4 pounds that is still hanging around – it really isn’t serving me any purpose, except slowing down my runs - not helpful.  So I will keep working on this.