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Focused Living, One Month at a Time

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Challenge #30(!) - Wrapping Up


So long, sun (and this project)
“You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path.  Aim high.  Behave honorably.  Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure.  Persist!  The world needs all you can give.”

-E.O. Wilson






So this was going to be THEEE month, the “third time’s the charm” (I’ve tried this challenge a few times before), the final challenge in this project to get the new website up and running with a fancy new logo and content-rich and photos and functioning technically optimally and growing the number of pages and site visits and time spent on the site, and steadily expanding an email list and sharing and posting and commenting and responding and promoting it all across all those social media channels, etc, etc, etc and you guessed – didn’t happen.  I did start off the month with some enthusiasm and worked on it a bit, but work and the holidays and other assorted life events (like spending a few weeks on a beautiful tropical island) interfered and basically sucked up my priority management and focus ability, sigh.

Bright Side:  Now that this project is ending, for 2014, the new entire focus will be on the new site – different aspects each month so I will take my time and not feel so rushed to perfection (like each time I have tried during this very varied monthly project).  So there you have it. 
 

Meanwhile, here’s a brief list of things I learned overall while doing this project, a summary of sorts.

1.     Workouts, of any kind, are easiest in the AM - no question.  And I always feel better all day afterward.

2.     The months that consisted of small habits every day like watching the sunset or running at least a mile were (generally) easier to complete.

3.     The months that had one big overarching goal such as writing 10,000 words, were a lot more challenging.

4.     Corollary:  I still have a tendency to procrastinate the big unfamiliar, unpaced stuff, usually by cranking out the little easy stuff that isn’t nearly as important - I will always be working on this.

5.     Meditation and yoga do work, I need to make them a regular part of my life, and green smoothies are awesome, for so many reasons.

6.     Getting in the ocean every single day was a joyous privilege, and I need to stay connected to it this way.

7.     Life gets interrupted regularly, every single day – making lists of (at least) the top 5 priorities every single day helps me stay generally on target and efficient.

8.     The number 30 now means a lot more to me: I use it to count in workouts (30 sit ups, push ups, etc) and count backwards from it when I can’t fall asleep, among other things.  Yes I’m adopting it as my lucky number.

9.     Outwardly focused challenges, like talking to strangers and especially giving thanks were a few of my favorites because they helped me step outside of my default introvert self – another thing I will always be working on.

10.   And finally:  intention is good, action is better, but completion is definitely best.



Thank YOU sincerely for reading whatever posts you may have explored over this 2 ½ year journey, I deeply appreciate every single page view, each comment, and all the encouragement along the way. May 2014  bring you much joy (and some good challenges) too!  :)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Challenge #29: Smoothly Satisfying

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Before, hmmm...

I will eat a green-ish smoothie every day.




With all the conflicting information on diet, what makes sense?  Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, larvicides, genetically modified organisms, chemical fertilizers, microwaves, pasteurization, homogenization, hormonally injected animals, color dyes, artificial additives, and high fructose corn syrup? 

Or raw, organic, sun-ripened plant food? “

- David Wolf







Background

They are all the rage, you must have heard by now…Green smoothies, cold-pressed juices, and all kinds of variations on this theme.  One website I came across recently boldly stated, “Green smoothies are the new coffee.”  That may be overstating it a bit, but there is definitely a trend going on here. The rules for me this month were simple (since I get to make them up myself, I like to keep them easy):  I will have one blended drink that contains both vegetables and fruits every day.  Why this challenge?  Some months ago, I did a three-day juice only “cleanse” with a friend, and that was tough – by the last day I felt bloated and otherwise gastronomically uncomfortable, and we both really missed chewable food.  But I lost a few lbs, and really did feel “cleansed.”  This month would be different – just adding one of these drinks into an otherwise reasonably healthy diet, to see if this makes any huge health difference or adds any other benefits that so many are raving about these days.



During, whoa...
The Hardware and the Contents

Green smoothies specifically seem to be defined as ones that include some kind of leafy green.  Most of mine did, but a few did not.  My go-to ingredients turned out to be:

·      Veggies - kale, spinach, green leaf lettuce, cucumber, celery, red bell pepper and carrots

·      Fruits – Pineapple, apple (usually gala or granny smith), raspberry, lemon, tangerine, tomato

·      Herbs, etc – Mint, cilantro, ginger and the occasional onion

All of these were used frequently, in various ratios, and I’m certain no two were exactly alike. My hardware was simple too – no fancy juicer or super-duper ninja blender needed.  And no specific recipes, but I did get some great ideas and tips from this excellent book.  Just a high quality (yes over $100) blender did the trick: no matter how much frozen stuff I had in there, it worked great once through on the “Smoothie” setting. Clean up was fast and easy too. My other standard piece of equipment was a steel straw with a spoon end – great for stirring up these concoctions, which separate quickly between sips. 



How it Went

This was fun.  It turned into a creative outlet each morning, coming up with different combinations, and then discovering the subtle flavor differences.  One of my favorite parts was the fresh scent that burst out of the blender as I poured it into a glass. And the taste was usually just as good. 

One major exception:  Once I tried adding a bunch of fresh (from my mini-garden) aloe. I took a large stalk and peeled it, tossing the slimy innards into the blender with all the other usuals.  YUCK!  The oddly different smell didn’t warn me enough, and the taste was overwhelmingly bitter – I am seriously almost gagging remembering it right now.  To try and save the batch, I added a bunch of pineapple juice and whipped it all up again.  It was tough, but I managed to down about 8 oz. of the new version and threw the rest out, lesson learned:  just say no to aloe!

Another misfire occurred while traveling. As you know, trade shows are generally not the healthiest eating settings. Although a handy market near my hotel offered Odwallas (the only greenish type juice available), they tasted too darn sweet to me!  They were overpowered with high-sugar fruit, compared with what I had been blending at home.  So I had just two of those, and the other three days I just tried to make sure I had some fruits and vegetables.  By the end of the trip I craved my own smoothies again.

Overall, I honestly didn’t notice any radical health changes or benefits, but I did feel good mentally each time I downed them, knowing generally how many natural vitamins, minerals and healthy fiber I was ingesting, and I will keep consuming these regularly.



After, YUM!
A Few Tips

If you want to try incorporating smoothies into your daily (or occasionally) eating habits, here are my brief recommendations.

       Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Cut up vegetables and fruits ahead of time and keep them handy, including the greens and herbs. A good chopping session once a week should do it if you want to try daily smoothies.
 
       Use your freezer!  I like cold smoothies, and a good way to keep just about all the items you are going to use fresh is to cut into smallish pieces and freeze them.  Even leafy greens, herbs, whatever, really.


        Try “savory” smoothies  - a few of my favorites were the bloody-mary-without-the-vodka style, like: tomato, celery, kale, cucumber, arugula, shallot, lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne pepper.  Not as pretty green to look at (mine were kinda pale brownish), but delicious in their own way!



I’d love to hearing about your adventures juicing and/or smoothing, any experiences?  Meanwhile, on to December – THE FINAL MONTH of this project (gulp), hope you’ll stay tuned!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Challenge #28 Diving (a bit) Deeper

Soooooooooooooo...I was all set (again) to work on my "new" website (focused on scuba diving) this month, and launch (softly) on November first. Didn't happen.  BUT, I made some progress (not nearly as much as I would have liked).  I met with my graphic designer friend and made serious logo progress, spoke with another friend about website traffic and her blog, and then I actually went on a dive trip (it had been way too long!).  It was the coldest, windiest, unfriendliest tropical weather I had ever experienced, and although we did dive (not nearly as much as I would have liked), I salvaged the sunny gorgeous final day of the trip with a great snorkel outing with my divemaster Josh.  And like the weather, I salvaged the 28th (wow, almost done!) month of this project by writing the following post. So here is a sneak peek (lucky you!) at one of the first items you'll see over at divethetropics.com.  (And yes I do realize there are too many parens around here, thanks for dealing with it this time)  :)

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Yup, this was the forecast (plus wind) and I left on Sunday
The Top 7 Things To Do When The Weather Sucks
(And you can’t go diving)

It’s been raining nonstop from mice and kangaroo rats to cats and dogs to the occasional cows and horses. Nothing but rain here in Fiji for the first 56 (and counting) hours…

Let’s face it, you paid darn good money to be here and those sugarplum visions of sugar white beaches and dead calm warm turquoise seas (with perfect visibility of course, have been dancing in your head for months, and are what you expect) - damn it!  You followed the recommendations about when the best time to travel here, but sometimes Mother Nature unfortunately doesn’t care - she has her own agenda, no matter what history or anyone says the weather SHOULD be this month, this week, or today.  She may just need to cry it out, blow it out (or even hurricane it out) all over your vacation, and you are stuck with it. So here are some ideas about how not to get your swimsuit in a wad and deal with it like a grown-up…you may even enjoy yourself in the process – bonus!

Even the Myna birds were squawking about all the gray skies!
1.     Go Local - Learn something about the country, region, and town where you are, right now. Pick up the local newspaper or read it online – there are often facts and current events that may surprise and interest you.  If you watch TV, don’t do just CNN.  We listened and learned to appreciate the accent on Bonaire while watching local coverage of “Orkan (Hurricane) Ivan” in 2004.
2.     Gear Up – So that new camera you got for this trip, or your dive computer you wish you knew better?  Take this down time to study the manual, or go online and watch videos of how to use it – there are multiple resources on YouTube now for this kind of stuff.  The more you know the better prepared you will be when you get underwater again. And that camera, take the time now to download, organize, and edit photos you have already taken - you know you won’t ever have enough time to do it all when you get back home…
3.     Flora and Fauna – What is the name of that bird that loves your breakfast crumbs, or that beautiful flower you want to share with your friends back home? Look them up online and enjoy learning about nature’s bountiful diversity in the tropics.  If you are a fish-watcher like me, it never hurts to brush up on your Fish ID – studying always helps to prepare you for the next dive, no matter when it may be. 
4.     Work Out – Even if your hotel doesn’t have a gym, yes you can do it in your room – even just 20 minutes a day of calisthenics, yoga, or even just jogging in place will help you stay fit and healthy.  Your body will thank you for this, especially after eating all those banana pancakes and mai-tais…you know who you are.
5.     Pleasure Read – That novel on your Kindle you haven’t gotten around to, the unexpected book from the borrow library in your hotel, the magazines you haven’t had time to read at home. Just read for the sake of reading (and taking your mind off the weather).
6.     Treat Yourself - If you’re at one of those fancy resorts, indulge – get a massage, facial, pedicure (got dive booty toes anyone?), whatever strikes your fancy.  Or just take a long relaxing nap; you’re on vacation, remember! Relax and appreciate your vacation, even if it isn’t quite turning out exactly as you planned.
7.     Go Local (In Person) – Go hang out at the bar, the restaurant, the dive shop, and talk to the friendly locals.  Learn about their perspective on life here, diving and everything else.  This is the best way to get to know a place, and maybe make a new friend in the process…enjoy!
And finally, here’s what I recommend NOT to do: complain - to your spouse, your travel mates, the hotel and dive staff, and even to yourself. There is ultimately nothing you can do about the weather, so make the best of it and show off your good karma - Mother Nature may indeed be listening...

Monday, September 30, 2013

Challenge #27 Living Lightly


The Colors of Paradise
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
-Socrates







I have to admit, my enthusiasm for this overall project is waning.  It may be a combination of work overload or general life overload – both of which is can be a good thing sometimes, but not as a full time status. I am finding it harder to concentrate on the daily, weekly, and monthly deliberate focus this project requires, as my brain is fuller than ever of unceasing work demands (which I am indeed grateful for) and larger personal goals (which will not be manifested for several months, but still demand regular attention).

Anyway, pressing on –I actually had a really good plan for September several months ago when I bought a plane ticket for Kauai, and decided to call it “Living on an Island” – fun, right?  Along with my other half, we were going to take a full 30 days (!) and live (remotely) and work (and play), and soak up as much of this paradisiacal (yes, it’s a real word) island as possible.  Didn’t happen. Life, as it is prone to do, had different plans for us.  The month turned into two (still wonderful) weeks on Kauai by myself, then a week in Virginia to be with my other half and his family for his father’s funeral, then a last busy week of catching up on work and other activities at home. This month totally flew by – can you relate?

How it Went
As the month obviously took its own course, but what came to me throughout were observations on living with, and being satisfied with, less in all kinds of ways.  After spending most of the time outside my home, without all my stuff and the supposed “comfort” that all that stuff brings people – clothes, books, d├ęcor, furniture, knick-knacks, whatever! - I found I just didn’t need the usual things around me to feel comfortable, I adjusted to the other new spaces accordingly, and explored more outdoors as well. It was truly lightening for my spirit, and I came home the last week wanting to dispose of more and more of the stuff around here that I know I don’t need or want, but is rather just weighing me down.  This feeling came to light especially going through other people’s stuff as part of both trips this month– like closets full and pantries full and boxes full of all kinds of household items: extra hairdryers, irons and ironing boards, dozens of towels and other linens, kitchen gadgets, huge amounts of food (much of it expired), outdated paperwork, books and music, photos and memorabilia, and so much more…it was all a bit overwhelming at times – why the attraction to having so many things? 

Are we a measure of all we collect and accumulate in our lifetimes?  Or rather are we made of our experiences and memories?  I prefer the latter.  I am now committed to simplifying, downsizing, and minimizing even more than I already try to do, not only for myself but for anyone left behind who might need to pick up or clean up after me – it is just not fair to them.

Fresh produce from the Kukuiula Farmers Market
Even lightening up on food was a part of this journey – I found that being out of my usual eating patterns, with less of the usual food around at home was good for losing five pounds, without much effort. I simply found myself craving unprocessed healthy foods even more than usual, and being more conscious about eating less of the food that I know does not serve me well. I more easily dismissed the unhealthy foods, because I thought more about the fact that I just don’t need them weighing me down.

So yes, the month veered into totally unexpected territory, but it was one that I am truly appreciative of, for all I learned along the way about living with less.  And although this blog is only “lightly” read among all the thousands of other blogs out there, your comments are always welcome and appreciated. Thank you for reading. Onward, just three more months to go.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

WTF happened to Challenge #26?!

Hi and thanks for stopping by!  So I actually took a time out for August 2013 - I guess my summer vacation was in effect.  Wanna read something?  Please feel free to check out the archives over there on the right...I'll be back on September 30th with a real post.  Meanwhile, here's a picture I took today.  #unfocused  #distracted  #sunbrained  #lifeinkauai  #turtlesrock




Thursday, August 1, 2013

Challenge #25 Regular Running


 
My constant companions

"Play not only keeps us young but also maintains our perspective about the relative seriousness of things. Running is play, for even if we try hard to do well at it, it is a relief from everyday cares."
- Jim Fixx






Putting one foot in front of the other, faster than walking.  Bouncing along the sand, the wood chip trail, or pounding the concrete strand or local sidewalk.  That’s all running is, and the pace is totally up to you.  Or rather up to me, every single day this month.  It’s going back to creating habits that stick - healthy routines that need to happen every day without fail in order to generate a full sense of accomplishment and ritual and habit.  I got it this month, and it felt damn good.  But I'm ahead myself.


The Goal

In late June I realized the Kauai Half-Marathon is creeping up again, sooner that I had thought – September 1st is just around the friggin’ corner!  I signed up for the third go-around on this challengingb but scenic course in paradise, and I want to improve my time again (under two hours would be great for this hilly adventure).  So it is beyond time to get back to this sport I have been neglecting lately.  This sport that is not natural to me - I am much more comfortable swimming, always have been and always will be.  So I’ll make it a challenge to get back in the habit of running, and kick off some reasonable training for this race by running at least a mile every day AND accomplishing an overall monthly goal of averaging at least two miles a day.  Yes that’s 62 miles - modest maybe to you serious runners out there, but it’s waaaaaaay more mileage I have run in a long time, and I am quite sure that I have never run more than three or four days in a row.


How it Went

I planned well, that was half the battle.  Wrote it down on my To-Do list every day.  I knew how long a mile run was, as well as 2-5 mile runs so it was easy to keep track of, and I wrote it down every day.  It was interesting to run on different surfaces and at different times of day.  The strangest runs were in a hotel, on a treadmill in the overly air-conditioned fitness room two days in a row because it was just more convenient, and the one night I ran in place in my living room at 10:45pm for about 10 minutes (to cover at least a mile at my slow pace) because I didn’t feel like going outside that late.  The most common one-mile loop was out to the Roundhouse at the end of the pier and back to my house.  The runs were always enjoyable (no matter what kind of mood I was in to start), and worthwhile every single time.  To break it up a bit on the longer 4-5 mile (yes I know that isn’t long enough for half-marathon training) runs I listened to music and did “lamppost intervals” along the strand:  run about two blocks (two lamppost distance) fast then one block slow or walking, then two more fast, and so on for a few miles.


What I Learned and What I Noticed

Mostly I noticed the regulars out there, like Ernie who runs with his dog in the stroller, or the guy who runs barefoot on the strand, or all the other committed runners like the lean speedsters that look like they were born to run (and don’t eat any cheese, bread, or beer), and the slow pokes who were huffing and puffing and chugging along (and probably do partake in the occasional pizza and PBR) - no matter the pace they were all getting it done.  It felt good to be a part of the greater running community again, and I found myself smiling at anyone who I could catch eyes with when we crossed paths. I did get faster and feel better – it was just a lot easier, and I felt like I was floating by the end of the month.  My new heroine Donna, although I don’t know her, was a great inspiration to me this month - I love how she tells what running has meant to her, and that her “job is to motivate people.  What I do, I do by example.”  Simple but powerful stuff there, check her out.


Now What

I found my runner’s high again, woo-hoo! I did 64 miles this month – that’s two marathons, a 10K, a 5k and a few extra miles for good measure. And although I won’t keep up with this every day, 4-5 days a week now sounds easy to manage, and longer runs are easily in my future over the next month as I prep for Kauai.  But I also want to get back into yoga this month, I miss it. How about you – what kind of active summer training are you keeping up with?  Any serious running, how often?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Challenge #24 (S)talking to Strangers

 
I will talk to a new person whom I have never met, every day this month.

“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.”
-Francis Bacon







Why Do This
My intention was to genuinely connect, face-to-face and eye-to-eye, with someone new who was outside of my usual contacts, no matter if it was just a few words or a few moments, but sometimes it was much more. Years ago I worked in retail sales, where this was a part of the job, but I am definitely out of practice these days. Does this sound ambitious for a naturally shy person? Yes, that’s what made it a good challenge. So the simple rules were even if I had talked to the person on the phone, or emailed, but never met in person they would count – it’s a totally different interaction with someone in person, right? Some days it was harder than others to make a connection, and that’s when it started feeling a bit like stalking…in a good way. Usually.

A Head Start
I picked this particular month for this challenge knowing that I would be attending and working at two out-of-town conferences for the first nine days – a perfect opportunity to jump in and practice those introduction skills. And it worked! I met a few fellow bloggers in Canada, then a whole bunch of old and new environmental advocate friends in Georgia. Even though I was extremely busy working at the second conference, I made the point to slow down when talking to someone new and give him or her my full attention for as long as I could, and it was a good feeling.

Some Highlights
The best total stranger interaction this month was completely unexpected: my cab driver in Atlanta.  We spent a glorious half-hour in non-stop thoughtful conversation about a multitude of subjects including the political strife in his home country, Guinea, including the power struggles, resource and environmental battles, and how these issues play out to some degree or another in every country, including the U.S. We talked about the importance of travel to learn new perspectives and why he, like me, works for himself so he has flexibility in his schedule and his life.   He speaks seven languages (English very proficiently, French is his native) and he is close with his sister and brother who he visits in Guinea for a few months every year. As I stepped out of the cab, he gave me his card and concluded with “if you have a good heart good things will come.”  It was the best cab ride. Ever.  
Other top experiences included inspiring conversations with renowned figures such as Walter Munk and Reverend Gerald Durley who I met through my work, and am grateful for every moment I got to spend in their presence. I also got to interact in Spanish a few times, both with adults and children, which was a lot of fun to practice again.  
The “stalking” aspect of the challenge came out usually around sunset when I realized I hadn’t done my daily duty yet.  I would slink down the street to the strand and out to the Manhattan Beach pier, sending out the “I’m normal, I hope you are too, I just want to talk for a minute” vibe and hope that some one would pick up on it and come over to me. That never happened. I had to initiate conversations, mostly with folks standing still like the fishermen, which happened a few times.  I usually asked them about their bait, and what they were most hoping to catch - sharks was actually answered a few times, to my dismay.

Who I did NOT talk to
So there were some types of folks when I went walking/stalking out on the pier that I just didn’t even try to start a conversation, including the obvious headphone-wearing runners, the moms who were totally focused on their toddler(s), and the excited foreigners snapping surfer photos and speaking in German to each other. Also off limits were the “head down entranced by my smart phone so don’t bother me” types – there seem to be more and more of those around lately. I also did not talk to (but I certainly stalked and watched for a while) the Pigeon Man on the pier, who I really wanted to connect with because he looked like an interesting character, but I could tell he was way more interested in feeding and connecting with his birds than me, or any other human.

A Relevant Observation
This month Bob Meistrell passed away. Bob and his brother Bill are legends in their industry, and founded the iconic Body Glove brand and who did so much for their community. I had the brief pleasure of meeting Bob at an event a few years ago, just because I had the gumption to go up and talk to him. He was as enthusiastic as I had heard, and didn’t appear to be slowing down at all as he approached his eighties. This month I was glad to have had the privilege of shaking his hand and chatting for a few moments. It has always been worth it to say hello - you never know where the conversation may lead, and you never know when the person may be gone, so why not connect when you can?

Lessons Learned
I succeeded in conversing with strangers on 27 of the 30 days of June, and am going to call that a success. I do think it would have been easier if I had a dog (especially a puppy) to connect with people on the strand – people love to talk about each others dogs, EASY stranger chat bait!
This was a great experiment and has strengthened my confidence in doing this most basic of human skills. It is when we connect in person to each other and seriously listen and learn that we truly start to understand each other, I believe this now more than ever. How do you feel about talking to strangers?  Oh, and if you ever need a cab driver in the Atlanta area, I highly recommend the service of Cherif at S.C. Transportation. You can reach him at (770) 572-1659 to arrange your ride.

P.S. I’ve been doing this for two years now; it is actually hard to believe there are only six months of challenges left.  The months are flying by faster than ever it seems, aren’t they?  One of the insights I am most clear about after 24 months is that I do better at the challenges that are designed to be practiced every single day, as a habit, rather than a “get something big done this month” kind of challenge, which I would tend to procrastinate.  Are you making any habit changes these days?   What works and what doesn’t?