Focused Living, One Month at a Time

Monday, December 31, 2012


'Tis the season for delicious excess...

I will try not to spend any money, on anything (did you notice the emphasis on try?).

“Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are.”   -James W. Frick

I have been thinking about trying this for a while, and want to thank Leo for the nudge I needed to choose the most consumption focused season to focus on it – the month when people BUY MORE STUFF and so many companies are urging us to BUY EVEN MORE, for others and ourselves!    So why am I fighting it?   I basically wanted to become more conscious overall about what and how I spend, and this was a serious way to address this issue.  Although I have been fairly frugal in the past few years and set up a monthly budget here that I stick to for the most part, I still find myself occasionally making purchases I obviously don’t need, and sometimes regret - sound familiar?  Especially during the holidays when temptation lurks around every corner…

How it went
I planned ahead.  I stocked up on household groceries (including several frozen items), filled up the gas tank, and bought some Christmas gifts, stamps for holiday cards, and made a donation to one of my favorite charities.  November 30 was quite the shopapalooza day, including lunch with a friend.  I spent the big bucks, and it was exhausting.  By that night I was eager to get started and give the credit cards a well deserved rest for the month. 

My rules were simple:  Try not to spend any new money (cash, check, or plastic) on anything.  Recurring necessary expenses that were already set up for auto-pay, like cell phone, Netflix, etc were exempt.  This was pretty unrealistic as I discovered and I ended up allowing myself a $100 emergency fund for new purchases.  Generally I resisted temptation – especially the holiday shopping special emails, which were instantly deleted from my inbox before even reading them.  I noticed more of them than ever this year – it seemed every company I had ever bought anything from online was trying to entice me back into their customer fold.  I also avoided physical stores even more than usual.  What was difficult was going to a charity event the first week of the month where raffle tickets were sold and not buying one.  And not chipping in at the monthly dinner with friends (I am going to cover next month instead).  And no occasional splurging - like lunch, or a new shirt, or anything else just because I think “I deserve it.”

Cool FREE Stuff
Yay for free parking (after meter hours) in the City of Angels!
Not shopping freed up some time in my schedule, and I took the time to appreciate all the freebies, like:
·      Walks on the beach - cliché yes, but so much better than a walk through the mall, and less risky too
·      Connecting with friends and family in person, just sharing stories and spending time together
·      Online book recordings and streaming TV shows (I only watch a few of the good ones, really)
·      Parking in downtown Los Angeles – I hunted for a (metered during the day) spot at night, and actually found one
·      Holiday cookies – they were everywhere this month, and alas I took full advantage!

The Downfalls
Although this experiment was mostly a success, I did exceed over my $100 limit a bit:  I spent $50 on an early entry to a running race next year and saved over 30% by doing so, $20 each on gas and groceries, and $15 on a Groupon to one of my favorite local restaurants (splurge weak moment on Christmas eve).  A few other small purchases included $1.95 for a domain name (a screaming deal!) for my upcoming website, and a few more dollars to send a holiday package to a friend in Italy, a few dollars for a tip on a gift card meal, and a few quarters to a friend for her parking meter for a total of  $122.73.

A Shout Out to our Major Sponsor
A few friends helped me along the way in various situations this month which I sincerely appreciated, and I have to especially thank my other half for his patience and extra help with the household groceries, as well as expenses during our travels to visit family for Christmas - I couldn’t have done it without you!

Overall I found it hardest to resist the truly useful bargains, but easy to resist so much else.  And each of the purchases I did make were thoughtful and conscious, which I intend to carry forward.  How about you - want to try something like this?  What's your motivation, and your rules?

P.S.  I did accomplish the 30 hours of working on my new website task leftover from last month - including (finally) deciding on and buying the domain name.  I had some excellent help and will be moving forward and launching this project in the new year, so stay tuned...

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I will work on my new (currently in incubator stage) dive-travel-fun website for 30 hours.

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." 
 - Jacques Yves Cousteau

How it went (or rather didn't) 
Remember when I didn’t quite finish the first meditation month, and had to extend it to the next month?  Well, that happened again.  I didn’t have the time.  I didn’t make the time.  I had a lot of work to accomplish.  I didn’t make it a top priority as I should have, etc, etc, excuses o’plenty.  I realistically only worked on it seriously about four hours, making minimal headway.   BUT I did actually GO diving (yay!), and led another great trip of REEF dive volunteers counting fish in the British Virgin Islands, check out the photos.

I mainly simply had a case of trepidation trying to figure out exactly where to start.  The dream board above was done in October, to summarize in a visual nutshell what I want to accomplish with this website that has been floating around in my head for the past four months or so…I want to share the wonder and fun and beauty of diving (and all of the great places to do it) and create an engaging community for sharing these experiences, but I just didn’t seem to have the head space available to get going.  So, here I am at the end of the month with not much to report (are you still reading? thanks!), but serious intentions of getting a lot more done in December, and meeting this thirty hour total goal.  I have started a list of action items to accomplish, I have cleared out time on my calendar each week for working on it, and I actually hired a web strategy consultant (who I am really excited about working with) to help me. 

Oh, and yes I am also doing another challenge for December – it is about NOT doing something rather than doing something, so it shouldn’t take any time at all.  I will report back on this as well at the end of the month.

P.S. If you are here because you clicked through via LACOT or (the generous and thoughtful) Jennifer Miner from the Vacation Gals - thanks for stopping by!  I hope to meet you at the Passports with Purpose event in downtown L.A.  Or to see you around the internet 'hood otherwise sometime soon.

P.P. S. Happy Holidays and all that jazz - I am truly grateful for so much this season, I hope you are as well.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Challenge #16: SUNSET SIGHTING

Yes, I did have to run up behind them to get this shot

I will get outside every day and mindfully watch the sunset.

“Never waste any amount of time doing anything important when there is a sunset outside that you should be sitting under!”   
 - C. JoyBell C.

This month is a companion to last month’s sunrise every day challenge – pausing to go outside and take notice of a simple daily event.  The only real “challenge” was to mindfully plan for it in advance, or as I figured out, use the handy trick of setting an alarm on my smart phone for about ten minutes before sunset to remind me to get out there - it worked!
Why did I pick such an easy focus for this month, even easier than getting up for the sunrise?  Planning on (and definitely experiencing) a very busy work month was the main reason.  It only takes a short amount of time, and actually slowing down to get outside at the end of the day and close out (most of) the work from my brain helped me appreciate these moments even more than usual.  I am lucky to live a few blocks from the beach and like last month, this is where I traveled to watch the show most evenings.

How it went
Yes Virginia, there is a green flash…and I saw four of them this month, including two on consecutive nights!   This October happened to be a perfect month for this challenge, with exceptionally warm weather so it was truly pleasant to be outside at dusk each night, and the clear conditions most nights made for some good photo opps, mentally or digitally.
Planning my schedule around the sunset was fairly easy, but I did miss a few of them - two nights I simply forgot (didn’t start using the alarm idea until halfway through the month) while I was involved in something else, and two nights I abandoned it purposefully due to fog.  The sun was obviously going down through the fog, but there would be no show - no great change of light and color and texture which had accompanied most of the other evenings.  I didn’t bother going to see the wall of pure gray out over the ocean, if I could have even seen the ocean from the strand.

The People
Front row seats
Like the morning people last month, I noticed the evening people.  The regulars who were out walking their dog, or enjoying their glass of wine on the deck, or sprinting across the sand, board tucked underarm, to catch a few refreshing waves before dark.  Fewer of them were working out like the morning people, but they definitely had their routines.  I saw many of these sunsetters from my usual perch on one of the two benches at the end of my street.    Once I overheard a father telling his son “Look isn’t that pretty, the sun is about to evaporate into the ocean.”  The 5 or 6 year old urgently replied, “What does evaporate mean?”  Which took the father some time to explain, and I think he actually regretted his word choice.  I giggled to myself listening to their conversation for the next five minutes. 
A few times I walked while the show was going on, and noticed how so many tourists (lots of German, French, and Japanese these days) captured the moment with their devices, and it reinforced my appreciation for living in such a beautiful area where I could watch the often idyllic scene unfold just about anytime I desired.  

A sunset with the other half in Kauai (not this month)
Almost half the time my other half joined me, and the ritual became a great way for us to connect together at the end of our day.  My favorite was in Cambria, where we celebrated ten years together at the Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill, sitting at the railing table outside where we could both face west and watch the sun melt slowly into the calm central coast sea, while enjoying a great meal - highly recommended experience. 

Local youngsters
It was also fun to randomly run into people we know at sunset, like on the pier the first night when the director of the Roundhouse Aquarium, and his family opened the cooler in the back of their truck and showed us what they had collected on their dive that day – baby halibut and lobster – very cool little creatures I had never seen this size before.

What I learned
Overall, the (almost) full month of sunsets was another good exercise in slowing down and taking time to enjoy the beauty of nature outside every day.  The most rewarding days were when I was actually walking on the beach at water’s edge listening to the gulls and terns, and waves, and watching the light change, the moonrise, and the tide coming back in, along with the main show of course.   It’s calming, and rewarding, and well worth it to carve this sort of time out of our busy days, don’t you think?  Can you make a point to do more of this?  I’m going to try...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Challenge #15, September 2012: RISING & SHINING


I will get up every day and get outside to mindfully watch the sunrise.

“Each time dawn appears, the mystery is there in its entirety.
-Rene Daumal

What up with this “Challenge”?
How hard can it be, seriously - set the alarm and get up EVERY single day before sunrise in order to throw on some sweats, splash water on my face, make coffee, and walk down the street to catch the show streaming live from the east?  Not so hard if you’re used to it, but that wasn’t me.  My work (and workout, and travel) schedule varies, and I have been known to sleep in past 8-ish on occasion… 
So getting in the habit of rising early and outdoors was indeed a challenge for my scheduling consistency, which is a topic I wanted to improve on.  Happy to report it worked - eventually. I did actually miss 3 days out of the first 15 due to inexplicable forces, but after a few weeks it got a lot easier – and totally worth it. My brain plans to stick to the early rising; I hope my body will concur.

Dawn Patrol
Transforming into (yes, it did happen!) a “Morning Person
Tai Chi Class
involved being out there - my usual routine was to walk out the pier and sit or stand and watch the sky, the ocean, the beach for the changes taking place as the sun showed up to claim the day.  One of the first things I noticed was A LOT of members of the dawn patrol out there, every single day. A few folks seemed to be doing something along the lines of what I did, but most of them had their own routines and whether they walked, ran, cycled, swam, surfed, SUP'd, boot-camped, tai-chied - the dawn was just a temporal backdrop.   Some of the days I was one of these active types too, ocean swimming and watching the sun rise over the hillside as I breathed to the right, or running on the strand, grateful for the morning’s coolness during this scorching month. A few other regular cast of morning characters included metal-detector guy, recyclables-collector guy, and the pair of elderly ladies who sat on the same bench every morning, chatting and probably solving the worlds most pressing problems, or at least those of their kids and grandkids.

Surf PE - lucky groms
These morning people seemed friendlier too, maybe because they were not yet engrossed in their busy day or face down in their smart phones.  I truly appreciated the simple interaction of exchanging an eye-to-eye “Good Morning” with neighbors, friends and random strangers I encountered along my walking route.  And I especially enjoyed the time appreciating all of it with my partner, who is already by nature a morning person.  Several times we walked together, and when I would marvel at something I hadn’t noticed before like the subtle lighting changes across the sky, or the pelican peloton gliding just inches over the glassy swell, he simply sighed and exclaimed, “Welcome to my world.” 

 Worms Caught
A few of my favorite early bird moments, in no particular order:
  • Walking all the way down to the Hermosa Pier way before the official Coastal Cleanup Day  started 9AM, just doing my own personal cleanup along the way – any bottles, papers or whatever in my view shed was picked up and put in a nearby trash can.  I think the pelican at the end of the Hermosa pier whispered thank you to me, but I can’t be 100% sure.
  • On that same walk, along the way I stopped to take part in the Wishing Box – a wooden mailbox with a notebook and pen attached, and a sign encouraging us passersby to drop a wish in the box.  I did, and it has partially come true already.  Just something unexpected I wouldn’t have likely noticed otherwise, just a cool random idea.
Wispy-ness and Puffy-ness
  • The clouds, all wispy and puffy and shape-shifty – they were awesome!  Most days (except for a few foggy un-rises) they changed color from rosy-peach to cantaloupe to lavender and finally to their paper-white standard, against solid blue.
  • The one Sunday I ran at dawn then ocean swam just after – when the sky was so clear and the ocean visibility was equally amazing.  We saw so many bat rays, and silvery sardines flickering around us, it was simply an awesome morning to be outside for so many reasons.
  • The lighting change as the month progressed.  On September first, sunrise here was 6:27AM, by the end of the month it was at 6:47AM.  My alarm settings therefore changed periodically, from 5:50 AM the first day to 6:10AM on the last day.  The worms got to sleep in a bit more by the end of the month, and so did I. 

  • And today, the last day of the month, I watched the full moon set behind the pier at just about the same time as the sun rose over the hill from the other direction - simply magical.

How about you – any early bird observations?  Are you a card-carrying member of the dawn patrol?  And I hope you enjoy the additional pictures this month, just too many great moments captured to pick just one!  As always, comments are most welcome.  And thanks for your time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Challenge #14, August 2012: COUNTING CONTENT

I will write 10,000 words total -  all new writing for current and future endeavors

“Writing is learning to say nothing, more cleverly each day.” – William Allingham

Why "10,000" Words?
As I mentioned in the intro, one of the reasons I started this blog was to do more writing, and producing a new post (even if only once a month at this point) is a way to be accountable to this goal – even if I am a bit tardy for August, whoops!  Along with everything else going on (who isn’t busy these days?), I discovered that I really needed to sit down and explore and learn some new focusing methods in order to really get it all done – the writing here, the writing I do for work, and all the writing to come for future projects I have in mind.  These posts are usually about 600-900 words so doing 11-15 of that length over a month (an average of exactly 322.6 words a day) words of new content should be manageable, right?  write?  Hmmm.

How It Went
This isn’t the first time I’ve written as a challenge, but a word count goal is much different than a time goal like the previous version - where I could count all those minutes of massaging and thesaurusizing and rearranging and editing and re-editing.  Nope, this was getting it all out there, no matter how long it takes.
The first 3 days no problem – met (went over actually) my daily goal of 323 words a day.  Then I started slipping and missing days and reconfiguring the new word per day average needed and would catch up by busting out a few 12-1300 hundred word sessions and then I got busy with work and was too mentally exhausted to try and generate new creative stuff also and then I got over, and then, etc.  Let’s just say that by the last three days of the month I had to average more than 1000 words a day to get it all done, which I did.  While on vacation.  In Kauai, Hawaii.  Distraction much?
The hardest part wasn’t sitting down and starting (although that was daunting on a few days), but rather staying focused while writing.  Fortunately I tried a new method that really helped with this – the pomodoro technique. For me, twenty-five minutes is just about the right amount of time to solidly focus on one task before needing a little break.  I will keep using this technique in the future.

What I Actually Wrote
The majority of the actual content will be shared at a another venue in the future, after a bunch of much needed editing…But here’s a brief sample of one piece, from a contest I entered (never heard back):  tell a travel-related story in exactly 50 words.
I plunge into the blue at Ni’ihau.  Eighty feet down the scene unfolds; a curious monk seal plays with our stray bubbles, dozens of colorful fish flutter and nibble on a swirling eel carcass, a sandbar shark circles casually nearby.  Splendor in action, awesome to behold.  Breathe in, breathe out.
The rest of the 9550+ words were a combination of a few other travel essays and planning for my next blog – stay tuned by email or RSS for details early next year…all 5 of you out there.  :)

Unexpected Results and Findings
·      Over 6,000 of the 10,000 words comprised one piece – a story I had a lot of fun writing, actually a rewrite of a famous fairy tale for modern (and slightly wackier) times.  When I started I had no idea it would be that long, but it all seemed to want to spill out of the keyboard, so I went with it.  Did I mention how fun it was to write?  And getting it DONE (I had been meaning to do this for a while) was the most satisfying accomplishment for the month.
·      I really can write anywhere – the couch, the dining room table, the bed.  It really didn’t matter where, it was just keeping my butt down there and focused for a while (and occasionally turning off the wireless connection helped too)
·      That feeling of being in “flow” that creative types describe, I got there a few times, and it was indeed glorious – lost in making something new, with disregard for how it really ends up, but just loving the process itself, gotta go for more of this, it’s better than even a great martini or two or three.
·      Writing a significant volume of creative, high quality content isn’t easy for me, must keep at it regularly to get better and more efficient (duh!).

So who’s the Rooster?
Ahaaaa, I thought you might ask!  Bruce is his given (by me) name – he was the subject of the final piece I was writing, the very last night at 9PM Hawaii time on the 31st - thank goodness I had those extra three hours there instead of being on the west coast!  It was late, and we had paddled and hiked and swam and mai-tai’d and seen more than a few wild roosters and chickens along the way throughout our stay so far in Kauai.  I started thinking about the island from his point of view, Bruce the Rooster, and my last few hundred words composed the beginning of that story.  It needs work, but the subject matter kept me awake and still clicking away drowsily on the keyboard until I got to 10,000 and exclaimed COCK-A-DOODLE DOOOOOOONE! 

And you, any word count or writing stories?  Deadline pressures?  Thanks for sharing, all 5 of you...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Challenge #13, July 2012: EAGER VEGAN

I will eat only vegan this month – no dairy, eggs, or other animal products.

“It is deeply moving that the same food choices that give us the best chance to eliminate world hunger are also those that take the least toll on the environment, contribute the most to our long-term health, are the safest, and are also, far and away, the most compassionate towards our fellow creatures."  
-John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution

A Little Background
Since I turned vegetarian about 30 years ago, I have always wanted to experiment and try this further step.  My original reason for going veg was an episode of the TV show  20/20, which showed me the slaughterhouses and harsh conditions cows, pigs, and chickens are raised in, and I instantly decided to stop eating meat. Eventually I gave up fish too, as I got more into scuba diving over the last 16 years – it’s way more fun to look at marine life than to eat it, for me at least…The more I have read and researched about the environmental impacts and personal health impacts of eating meat over the years, the further I am convinced that I had made the right choice for me and my values.  I certainly don’t expect or advocate that everyone go veg, but for me it makes sense and I simply think that that most people (and the planet) would be better off if everyone tried to eat a little less of it – okay, end of mild rant.  Taking the next step to veganism was definitely worthwhile, and I learned a few things along the way.

How it Went
As an ovo-lacto veg, I do eat eggs (about twice a week) and dairy - basically cheese, many days a week – one of my biggest weaknesses!   On cereal, in smoothies, or for baking I use either rice, almond, or coconut milk, my current favorite, so no change required there.  And I don’t eat sour cream, cream cheese, or yogurt anyway.  I did miss eggs, less than I thought I would, and I definitely missed cheese –more on that later.  I enjoyed exploring and trying some new vegan recipes, like the amazing pizza in the photo.  It seems almost sacrilegious, a decent pizza without cheese?!  But this highly recommended flavorful fresh alternative really impressed me – I will definitely be making it again. 

A Few Hiccups
·      Label Reading – Do you have any idea how lengthy and surprising many of the popular energy bar ingredient lists are?  Sheesh!  I gobbled down a ZONE bar while driving the first day of the month, then when I parked, read the ingredients – corn syrup, milk solids (oops!), and other assorted not-so-natural items on the list – yuck!  So that experience made me start reading a lot more labels closely this month. 
·      Honey – It’s in sooooo many foods I like - granola, some energy bars, muffins, etc.  It is definitely an animal product, the excess of what bees are producing for their own consumption.  I actually ate a little of it as I enjoyed a KIND almond and coconut bar when I was at the office and starving with nothing else available – oops! Other times I needed a sweetener agave and stevia came to the rescue.
·      Cheese Cravings – yes I dearly missed it! I missed the flavor and texture, and I really thought this food would be my downfall.  But every time I got a hankering, I went for a few olives or a spoonful of peanut butter instead which helped.  Sorta.

Things I am Really Glad are Naturally Vegan
·      Most bread, crackers, potatoes and rice - yay carbs!
·      Earth Balance buttery spread – been using it for years and appreciated it even more this month
·      SOME dark chocolate – read labels carefully on this.
·      So many wonderful fruits and vegetables – really enjoyed all the extra helpings of delicious summer produce this month, thank you Farmer’s Markets.

Yes, as a matter of fact I did feel lighter (lost a few pounds without really trying) and actually more energetic – some of my longer and more strenuous workouts were not so tiring.  I now understand how and why some professional athletes like Brendan Brazier and others promote veganism, and can now easily answer that ubiquitous question, “So, how do you get your protein?   For me, this month made me realize going vegan isn’t difficult.  I will likely be eating less cheese and fewer eggs than previously, cooking vegan more often, and feel healthier because of it.  How about you - curious to try going vegan?  Why or why not?