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  • Always a little grief

    Always a little grief

    Most of my dreams seem completely random, based on whatever I've been watching, reading, or happens to be crawling around in my brain somewhere. 

    But there are a few recurring themes that pop up every once in a while. One of those revolves around grief. 

    At some point during my dream, someone I've lost - usually a pet, but sometimes a grandparent - is alive again. My brain doesn't make a big deal about this at first. It's perfectly natural that Maggie is hanging out with Mikenna, Aeris, and Gwen. Duh. Or maybe we're at my grandma's house in upstate New York, and I'm showing Matt around. 

    But at some point, my brain starts to catch up with things. This isn't right. They shouldn't be here. I don't know why, and I actually resent my brain a little bit for it's desire to straighten this problem out. After all, I dream about all sorts of highly impossible things, why not let me have this? 
    Alas, there's always the shift. 

    Where I didn't notice it before, Hannah's hair is now patchy and she is very frail. Maggie is hiding and I know it's because she's dying. My grandma is lying in bed. I know that my time is short with them. 

    Mercifully, my brain always stops short of the actual death, but it's always emotionally jarring to go from being so happy to have someone, to understanding that they're going to die - again.

    Though as morbid and sad as this is, this is actually a bit of an upgrade, because for a very long time, I had dreams where we would realize that our dog, Max, had not actually died, but we had buried him in the backyard. So I would frantically run to the yard to dig him up before he suffocated. 
    OR, for whatever reason, I would dream that we had saved him from suffocating to death, but he was still sick with heart failure, so he was only going to die again soon anyway.

    Thanks brain. Thanks a LOT.

    If I could just have the parts of the dream where those I've loved are alive and well, I would love it. But as it is, I'm always sad when I wake up from those dreams. They're an emotional wringer, for sure. 

    But these dreams tell me that somewhere, I'm still grieving their losses. Max died in 2003, Maggie and my grandma, 2004, Hannah, 2005. It's been a while. Here and there, I've even dreamed about a dog, BJ, who died when I was no more than 5. 

    Does this mean that some part of us will always grieve losses? I don't know. Much as I hate these dreams, I'd rather have them and know that I remember them than to have forgotten them completely. 

  • No Sweat: It all matters

    No Sweat: It all matters

    Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about a book I read recently, called No Sweat by Michelle Segar. It's an amazing book, and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

    Humans tend to avoid things that make them feel bad. So, if we want to make exercise something that we can sustain for the rest of our lives, exercise needs to be something that makes us feel good! 

    When you think of exercising, how does that make you feel? Does it fill you with dread? Do you feel bored? Or maybe you're invigorated. 

    For me, when I think of exercise, I think of cardio - like running. I think of my legs hurting, my lungs barking at me, and it makes me not want to touch that with a ten foot pole. But when I replace running with thoughts of Piyo - I feel a lot differently. I imagine feeling strong, feeling like I've accomplished something. 
    Even within exercise, how we feel about it can change!

    I have a challenge for you: Make or find a list of various types of exercise and decide whether those things make you feel positive emotions or negative. 

    For me, going to the gym is a positive thing, as are walking outside, exercise dvds, yoga, ballet beautiful.
    Ice skating is a huge negative. Running? Negative. Group sports, definitely negative.

    See what kind of patterns emerge, as these might help clue you in as to what will work for you!

    When you enjoy exercise and have a meaning for it that is personally motivating, it is far more likely to stick. If you don't know what you enjoy, feel free to try out a bunch of different things! Pay attention to your body while moving - does it make you feel good while you're doing it? How do you feel after? If you hate every moment of it and don't feel the reward after, you are not going to stick with it. So find something that excites you. 

    Now, fact of the matter is, lots of us exercise because we want to change our bodies. But is this a good, lifelong motivation? Science tends to suggest that it's not. People who exercise for the purpose of body shaping describe their thoughts about exercise much differently than those who are being physically active for enjoyment. The body shapers use say things like they are "feeling winded and uncomfortable" whereas the non-body shapers focus on how good it feels to be moving.

    Even more interesting, 

    We wanted to know whether these groups of women did differing amounts of exercise. They did: the women with body-shaping motives exercised almost 40% less than those who were not exercising to shape their bodies.

    So clearly, the why of changing your body is not a good lifelong motive! 

    When your whys for exercising are body shaping or achieving weight loss, it frequently leads you to exercise at higher intensities even if you don't like to exercise that way because your objecgive is to burn as many calories as possible.

    If you want to lose weight, you are more likely to treat exercise as a form of torture, and "punish" your body with exercise. That is not sustainable in the long run. 

    So what then? 

    One secret is to count all your movement. Exercise is not just 50 minutes on the treadmill, it's not just hot yoga, it's not moving until you're so sweaty and sore that you can't function. 

    The truth is, we undervalue the act of moving around, and the little things that we do throughout the day. It's actually just as good, if not better, to keep our bodies moving in little ways than to have one block of 'exercise' - because if we are making a point to move around often, we are sitting less. 

    The update that the duration of physical activity needs to be at least ten minutes long to benefit health was based on not having methods sophisticated enough to measure physical activity that was less than eight minutes long. There is growing support, using advanced measurement technologies, that shorter amounts of movement can benefit health and energy levels, and that being sedentary promotes physiological changes that harm health.

    I'm not saying that you can't go for a daily run if that is what makes you happy and what makes you feel good. But, don't discount the little things you do throughout the day. Look for reasons to move around a little more, to take the long cut instead of the short cut. These things add up, just like exercise. 

    Make your body happy, and give yourself more credit for the things you do. It all matters!

  • Favorite Songs: We Are the Champions

    For a fleeting period in my childhood, I claimed that Queen was my favorite band.

    I loved to belt this song out at the top of my little lungs.

    I'm not sure where I picked it up from, but it might have been from D2: The Mighty Ducks. I loved that movie.

    Freddie Mercury has got a great voice. Ugh. Shame he died so soon.

  • *FREE* Printable Weekly Meal Planner!

    *FREE* Printable Weekly Meal Planner!

    Meal planning is so important.

    It helps keep us from eating out constantly, keeps our budgets in check, and provides some stability in knowing what's to come. (At least for me. I thrive on knowing what's going on.)

    I've looked around for a printable meal planner for a while now. There are lots of good free ones out there - but none that are my Cinderella slipper.

    I wanted it to be simple, something I could take a quick glance at. Many planners have an area for writing your grocery list on the same page, but that doesn't work for me. I work off of a separate grocery list.
    But I wanted it to have all three meals on it, because I find that if I don't write down breakfast and lunch, there's a good chance that I won't eat them!

    So I sat down and played with photoshop for a while. I'm happy with the results. If you'd like a copy, I'm linking the file here. Feel free to download it and print as many copies as you want. If it's useful to you, that makes me happy!

    Use this link, don't download the picture above - it'll be way too small. :)

    Printable_Meal_Planner.pdf

  • No Sweat: Why your Why Matters

    No Sweat: Why your Why Matters

    Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about a book I read recently, called No Sweat by Michelle Segar. It's an amazing book, and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

    Knowing that you should do something - even if there are many good reasons that you should do it - is not enough. The obligation mentality will fail us more often than not. 

    On page 34 of No Sweat, Michelle Segar says,

    We develop our perceptions and understandings about things over our entire lifetime, based on our own idea of how the world works that we've constructed from specific experiences and interactions, especially emotional ones. Whatever Meaning you ascribe to exercise, for example, is completely unique to you because it has been constructed from your interactions with physical activity.

    That means, your best friend may have an entirely different Meaning for exercise than you do, because they have been exposed to it differently. Maybe you grew up in a family who was constantly moving, playing sports, and exercise is really more 'movement' than an aerobics dvd. Or perhaps you grew up looking at magazines of perfect bodies and feeling that there was no way you could ever make it through these complicated routines. It is totally unique to you. No one can tell you how to perceive anything, because they aren't you.

    When someone tells you that you must do something OR ELSE, we certainly aren't very motivated. Perhaps we'll get that room cleaned, but OR ELSE doesn't make us want to keep the room clean. In fact, OR ELSE is more likely to make us do the exact opposite when we're left to our own devices. So when looking at exercise, if our relationship is based on OR ELSE or YOU SHOULD, it's probably a stressful relationship. 

    It all boils down, scientifically, to the self-determination theory. According to sdt, we feel no ownership when we are told that we must or should do something. It's when we want to do something because we place our own value on it that we will take ownership, and feel satisfaction from it. (So when your company promises lower health insurance premiums for people who walk x steps on a daily/weekly basis, they are actually preventing you from taking ownership of your health.)

    Changing your relationship from a should to a want isn't easy, but it's not impossible. Understanding that it is in fact a choice and can be a gift is a good place to start. 

    On page 42, Segar says,

    If the underlying reason for the behavior feels like something we should do (i.e., the Wrong Why), it leads to a chore-based Meaning, and as a result, it is more likely to make performing the behavior depleting and increases the chance that we will not have the desire or energy to stick wtih it. We are more likely to sustain behavior like physical activity when we view it as a gift, something that is fun or personally meaningful.

    (Emphasis mine)

    Segar suggests that we look at our Why as a source of fuel. Filling your tank with low quality fuel will only cause you to sputter out before you get where you're going. So we need the Right Why - something personally meaningful.

    But just to complicate matters, having LOTS of Whys is actually more detrimental than having one good solid Why. Multiple motives actually decrease motivation because we get distracted by competing outcomes. Is it for weight loss? Feeling better? Looking good? Getting healthy?

    Segar says on page 47,

    Marketers understand this perfectly. Consider how the most popular companies market their products to us. They don't give us three different reasons to buy their product; they brand it with one primary meaning. they know that to really get us hooked and coming back for more, again and again, they need to identify a very strategyic, emotionally focused benefit from using their product or service that we'll focus on and desire to keep having. One make of a car, for example, may be "sexy", while another is "sporty." We want one or the other, but probably not both.

    So if you want to change your relationship to physical activity, start to consider:
    - What is your current relationship to exercise and fitness? What messages have you grown up with and internalized? Are they positive, negative, both? How have they impacted you.

    - What is your current why? Does that work for you? Do you have too many whys?

    - What do you want your why to be? 

  • Favorite Songs: I'm the Only One

    I am 99% sure that this one is my mom's influence. She had a cassette tape of it when we lived in Colorado. I have no other context for it other than that - somehow it stuck in my memory.

    I'm also relatively sure that this one of my favorite songs that Matt doesn't like. Also, if I try to sing it without music, because my voice isn't all rough and edgy, it sounds like a disney princess. I don't have the chops for Melissa Etheridge.

  • What's in a name?

    What's in a name?

    I went down the rabbit hole the other night as I laid in bed, thinking about how my trio of troublemakers ended up with their names. 

    Mikenna Oncha - When I brought home this tiny westie puppy, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. At first, I dubbed her "Fiona" after the character in Shrek. I'm not sure what made me think of that, but I know my mom wasn't crazy about it. Must be they knew I wasn't completely set on the name, because sometime later that night, my dad showed me a post it note with some names scrawled on it. He said that they were Welsh, Scottish, or something close to what her breed was from. It was almost thirteen years ago now, so I don't remember that detail exactly. Nor do I remember most of what was written on that post it. For all I know, my dad made up a bunch of stuff. 

    The name "Kenna" was on there, beside it, the alleged meaning "Beloved". Being in spanish class at the time, I thought I would be really clever and drop the prefix "mi" in front of it to make the name mean "my beloved". I've never been able to verify Kenna meaning beloved, but at the time, that's what I thought it meant and I thought it was really clever. 

    Also on that list was "Oncha", supposedly meaning "Mighty dog" - which again, I totally can't verify now. So she became "Mikenna Oncha" - my beloved mighty dog. Even if those words mean nothing like what I thought they meant, she has certainly lived up to the intention. 

    Aeris Beatrice - I had a tiny six week old kitten in my arms and a big problem: my husband didn't like cats. Here I was, bringing one home. I knew I had to make my husband fall in love with this cat if she had any chance of sticking around. So I thought, what if I named her after a final fantasy 7 character? We had been playing through that game, and I knew he loved it, so maaaybe that would work. 

    She was so quiet and sweet, I thought that Aeris would be the best fit. 

    In hindsight, I think Tifa or Yuffie would have been more appropriate for her personality, but at the time this seemed perfect. I even suggested the Japanese version "Aeris" rather than the Americanized "Aerith" because I was that dedicated to keeping this kitten. 

    I don't know if the name played any role in her staying, but it stuck. Her middle name came somewhat later, when I discovered what a little bundle of jumping and energy she was. I kept calling her a jumping bean, and wondered what would a good name that kinda sounded like "bean" would be. Somehow, Beatrice popped into my head and that also stuck. We've had Aery Bean long enough that I no longer associate her video game origins with her. 

    Gwendolyn Stacy - I relinquished naming control to Matt for her, which was hard for me, because I was afraid he would pick out the worst name ever. I love picking out names. If I could sell my services as a professional baby namer, I totally would. 

    Matt has been into comic books for a couple years now, and one thing he had talked about was how they brought back Peter Parker's fridged girlfriend and gave her spider powers in an alternate universe. He wanted to name her after Spider Gwen.

    I think the name fits her perfectly. 

    Honestly, I think all their names fit them. I can't imagine calling them anything else. 

  • No Sweat: Exercise is good BUT

    No Sweat: Exercise is good BUT

    Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about a book I read recently, called No Sweat by Michelle Segar. It's an amazing book, and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

    We know that exercise is good for us. We know that we should do it. While there are studies upon studies that contradict each other - coffee is good, coffee is bad, meat is good, meat is bad - one thing remains the same: exercise!

    And yet.

    We don't. At best, many of us struggle with it, and lots of us don't even try. We're too busy, we're too tired, we don't like it.

    On page 5, Segar talks about an experiment with breast cancer survivors. She says:

    We split the participants into two groups, one that exercised and a control group that did not exercise. The results were as we expected: The survivors who exercised showed significantly lower levels of both depression and anxiety than the control group.

    She goes on to mention that the people in the experiment talked about how good exercise had been for their health. But three months later, nearly all of them were no longer exercising.

    We can see tangible benefits in exercise - lowered anxiety, better mood, more energy - and yet.

    Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we go through these cycles of failure, only to give up on something that is so good for us?

    One answer lies in our relationship to exercise. What does exercise mean to you?

    What messages did you get from friends, family, the media about exercise? How do you feel when yout hink about exercising? What motivates you to exercise, and what keeps you away from it?

    One of the first things I think of when I think of exercise is the mile. Starting in fourth grade, everyone had to run the mile once a year for gym class. I've heard stories of other schools training the kids for this event. Ours didn't. I distinctly remember the mile changing my relationship to gym class. We went from playing dodgeball and diving under a colored parachute to the dread of this incredibly un-fun, oppressing thing.
    The day that we actually ran the mile was bad. I didn't come in dead last, but I know I was close. I hated every miserable step of it, I hated feeling bad at something. I remember being overjoyed when I was homeschooled the next year because it meant that I wouldn't have to repeat that experience.

    So when I think of exercise, I think of failure and inadequacy. Exercise is the punishment for not being good enough. When I'm honest with myself, it makes sense why I wouldn't be too keen on sticking with it!

    I suspect that I'm not alone, and that many of you have your own stories of exercise baggage.

    We need to change our relationship to exercise if there's any hope in turning it from a chore into the gift that it's meant to be. That's right, I said gift. It may be hard to believe right now (and I wouldn't blame you for scoffing), but moving our bodies is not meant to be punishment.

    It may not be an easy task, but it's a worthwhile one.

  • Favorite songs: Material Girl

    I'm back with another of my favorite songs.

    Now, when I was sixteen or so, I liked to dance around to this in the living room when my parents weren't home. Somehow, I'd come into possession of a little plastic tiara and a feathery boa, so I threw those on and made my own music videos. (Sans camera)

    There are the songs that stir you to to the depths of your soul, and there are the songs that make you want to dance around like crazy. This is the latter.

    Madonna, I think, is a result of my mom's influence? She doesn't listen to a lot of music, but I think the Madonna cd I borrowed was hers.

  • Hitting the ground

    Hitting the ground

    On our way back from Michigan, we said - we are going to hit the ground running.

    We were tired, but excited to get back to our 'real lives'. Both of us felt antsy after not having gotten anything done on the projects we care most about. So when we got home, we were going to make it count.

    At least we had enthusiasm.

    It didn't go as planned. At all. Yes, we were tired, but left to our own devices, I think we could have pulled off a pretty strong week. What we didn't take into account were the trio of troublemakers we had left behind.

    This was one of the longer trips we've been away from them, and while they have my parents to care for them and keep them company, they clearly missed us.

    Aeris in particular is the vocal and clingy one of the three. Almost as soon as we walked in, she launched into a chorus of meows that lasted a good three days. Any time one of us would leave the house - or even her line of sight - she would launch back into her vocal objection session on our return. I can't translate cattish, though I imagine her tirade was something like this:

    HUMANS. YOU LEFT ME. YOU LEFT ME FOR MANY SLEEPS AND WAKES. YOU LEFT ME WITH SISTER CAT WHO DOES NOT WANT ME TO GET TOO CLOSE TO HER. BY THE WAY I AM SORRY ABOUT THE SCRATCHES ON HER NOSE. YOU LEFT ME WITH THE HUMAN WHO COMES TO FEED ME. BITING HIM DOES NOT BRING YOU HOME FASTER. I WAS VERY LONELY AND NOW YOU ARE HOME AND YOU HAVE A LOT OF PETTING TO MAKE UP FOR.

    On and on.

    She has also been extremely cuddly. As I write this, she is firmly wedged between my arms on the desk. I really think she has kept a mental tally of what she is owed and intends to collect on it.

    Even, and especially, in the middle of the night. She's been going back and forth, walking over us, meowing at us, curling up on us, then switching. A restful night's sleep? No.

    And then there's Mikenna, who has mysteriously (but I suppose not surprisingly) had stomach issues of the rather repugnant, startling, and behind kind. You don't leave her in a room alone because good heavens, that's probably when she will explode.

    Or as I made up earlier today: Every 1 D20 hours, she has bowel issues that do 1 D6 mental damage and 2 D10 carpet damage. You can attempt to make a perception check to get her outside in time and negate the carpet damage, but it's your perception versus her stealth, so you need have at least a 30.

    We're tired, the cat won't let us sleep, and the dog is sick pooping everywhere.

    It's also super rainy, which doesn't help me anyway.

    But we've tried. I mean, except for the night we got home, I've made supper every night, which is some sort of small miracle. It may not be hitting the ground running, but we didn't hit the ground and sprain both ankles.

    Sometimes you do the best you can with the cards you're dealt. It's not the ideal solution, but you do what you can.