Try Something New Every Day

When was the last time you stepped past the edge of your comfort zone?  When was the last time you tried something new?

If the answer is, “A while ago,” it’s time to step up your game!

A world without risks is a world without joy

Once, when I was kid, I had a thought that fundamentally changed the way I approach new things.  We were having one of those classic parent-child exchanges. “Just try a little bite, you might like it…”

I like ice cream, I thought, staring doubtfully at the stuff in front of me.  This is not ice cream.

But suddenly, I imagined it was ice cream.  Here was someone urging me to try it, and I was refusing.  I would go my entire life not ever tasting my favorite food because it was unfamiliar and I was stubborn.

I caved and tried the new food, which of course did not taste anything like ice cream.  But I had realized something new.  Those who stay in their comfort zones may be missing out on some of the wonderful things life has to offer.  I have since been much more willing, and even a little afraid not to, try new things.  I have found that overall it pays off.

Is today a copy of yesterday?

It is all too easy to get stuck in a rut in life.  We drive the same car down the same roads, eat the same foods, and talk to the same people.  I’ve found I even gravitate toward the same seats in a church building or a restaurant.  Familiar is comfortable and safe.

But what does that do to us as living beings?  Have you driven somewhere and not remembered much of the drive, because it was so familiar?  Doing familiar tasks allows our brain to go on autopilot, freeing us up to think about other things.  But it also robs us of experiencing what is right before us.

When we have similar experiences, like driving to work everyday, our mind starts to lose the distinction between them as separate occurrences.  Why would your brain need to remember each of the 47 times you went to your favorite restaurant and ordered the exact same dish?  The memories start fusing together and fading.

New experiences keep us present.  They keep us engaged.  They form distinct memories.  They allow us to come off of cruise control and really be in the moment.  Personally, I don’t want to live the same day over and over again until I die, barely telling one day apart from the next – even if it is my favorite restaurant or favorite food.

So I push myself.  I try to remember to try new things occasionally.  Even small things.  To sit in a new seat.  To take a different route to where I am going.  To talk to a new person.  To try a new type of food.  To do something different on a date night.  The point is to form memories and enjoy life, and not let it just fly by in a blur.

Expanding our horizons

When I think about familiar things versus trying something new, I imagine myself as actor on a dark stage in a spot light. Everything in the light is what I have already experienced.  It is already clear to me, whether it is good or bad.   I am trying to go up to that edge and stick my toe over the line.  Each time I go into the darkness, it becomes visible too.  My spotlight expands to show that area too.

I’m probably going to give away how many computer games I’ve played here, but I also imagine that I’m peeling back the shroud in a game.  Wherever you haven’t been yet is covered in a shroud.  As long as it’s dark, you don’t know if it is something to be avoided, or something that you really need or want.

When we are familiar with things, or when we have already experienced them, we can choose to repeat the experiences we enjoyed and avoid the ones we didn’t.  But the fact is that some of the things you might enjoy the most may still be outside of your range of previous experiences, beyond what you already know.  Staying within our circle of light helps us stick to what we know we like, but it can never offer us anything new.

Note:  I want to be clear, I don’t use this reasoning to justify risky or detrimental behavior.  I want to make my life more amazing, not limited by addictive behavior, substances, or poor choices.  I’m trying to expand my horizons, not decrease them.  When in doubt on what to try, it’s always safe to look at the experiences of others.

Here is my lunch from the other day.  A curry lemongrass tofu Vietnamese baguette sandwich, and one small leap of faith on the side…a red bean sweet bao.  Something I’ve never tried before and might love or hate.  But it stops this visit from being a carbon copy of the last time I came.  And the sandwich?  I absolutely love it!  But I never would have know that if I hadn’t taken the chance to try it the first time.

I don’t want my life to be one big blur of sameness, wandering through it half awake (very easy to do in my shoes…one giant blur of diaper changes, meals, and car rides to activities).  I want to meet life head on, with eyes wide open.  And so, I try to remember to try something new every so often.  It just might end up being a new favorite.

What have you tried lately?  Anything that you found out you liked?

Designing a Life You Love

Recently I picked up a book from the library called “Design the Life You Love.”  I have really been wanting to change and improve my life, and its cover caught my eye.  I always come home from the library with more than I bargained for.

The thing I liked about this book was the unique approach it took to creating a plan.  The basic theory is that to design something, you have to deconstruct what you already have and examine the pieces.  Then, you thoughtfully put it back together, give or take some pieces, in a new way.

 

Why this was novel to me, I don’t know,  but when I think about my dream life, I had never thought about first looking at where I was starting. I had also never thought of my life as a whole, to be designed.  I had always looked at one small piece and tried to change it directly (ie. “I want to lose weight”).

The author likens life to a recipe.  You can look at what you are already doing, and how it is turning out, and then start tweaking the ingredients and the processes.  I really struggled with this, since I don’t feel very positive about my life, and I didn’t feel like I have a lot of other options available to me, but I tried to just be open and follow her lead.  What could it hurt to try?

The style of the book is a workbook, with many different exercises to get you thinking about what your life is, and why.  She recommends working on it for about twenty minutes at a time, and starting each session with a small exercise to get the creative side of your brain warmed up, like sketching.

The book uses a lot of mind maps.  I made mind maps upon mind maps.  It was kind of relaxing.

 

You examine the elements of your life, your priorities, patterns or revelations, and the balance of the different areas of your life.  I swallowed my pride and did almost every exercise in the book, even the ones that felt pointless or ridiculous.  I could tell I was getting somewhere, so I decided I would trust the author.   I had to stifle some eye rolls.  Especially when it came to creating a metaphor for my current life and my ideal life….like being trapped in quicksand vs flying? Yes, I even have a letter to my future self.

The book also covers identifying who your mentors are, and what it is about them you admire.  Then, you try to imagine yourself with these characteristics.  Seems simple, but I found it to be challenging and enlightening.  I realized I admire Dwayne Johnson.  I wouldn’t have guessed that before!

After half a million mind maps and thinking exercises, I came up with this…

There was a problem though.  At the end of the book, I found myself thinking, “now what?”  Although her insight on evaluating and re-imagining your life is excellent, I found myself wanting more.  I still wanted a how.  I have a vision, but that’s not the same as a plan.

So I’m not completely sure what the next step is, and the book didn’t really give any hints.  I’m thinking the best thing to do is to look at what I want my life to become and define some goals or habits that will help me get there.  Still, I found the book a worthy read and incredibly helpful in knowing which directions I want my life to head in.

Have you ever thought of yourself as the designer of you life?

 

 

The New Year!

Ok…  For years I have been the type of person that is practical.  Why put down some resolutions I’m just going to fall on my face at in a few weeks?  I love planning, but New Year’s resolutions just seem doomed to fail.  But this year?  I just feel the burn to do it.  So I thought I’d share, to give myself a little pressure!

First though, I had a different thought.  What makes a year so special?  I make goals all the time.  The fact is, I’m scared to fail, and be the exact same person in the same spot next year.  I thought of myself looking back the same time next year and being exactly the same.  Am I the same as I was last year?  No!  So I don’t think my fears will manifest.

This year…I had a baby.  Number six, all natural water birth again.  We sold our house, and moved.  Because of the move, my kids got into an amazing school.  I made new friends.  I lost some closeness with old friends (sorry guys :<).  I read some books that touched my life.  I experimented with whole food plant based eating.  Because of that, I lost 20 pounds.  I gave into my love of cheese and gained half of it back :P.  I’ve struggled with depression again.  This year has been a whirlwind, and for the most part an amazing success.

My plans for this coming year?  I want to start blogging (Tadah!).  I want to start exercising at the gym, lifting and walking.  I want to eat even healthier, and maybe start packing lunches for the kids.  I want to make more new friends.  I want to turn my new home into a little slice of paradise.  I’d like to read some more books.  All around, I’d like to be a happier, healthier person.

Happy New Years!  I hope you can see me along on making this year amazing.

What are your hopes for the coming year?

-Steph

Healthy Eating Challenge

My late night snack
I wanted to share my latest hair-brained scheme…I’m trying to go meat and dairy free for a month!  

I feel like I need a disclaimer- I’m not that kind of person!  I never thought I’d find myself staring at a menu looking for the little “v” that marked entries as vegan.

It started out with reading a book called “How Not to Die” by Dr. Greger.  About two chapters in, I realized it didn’t matter how much research the man threw at me, I just couldn’t imagine how to eat day in and day out without meat. (For anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, it’s fascinating, but I’ll spoil the punchline…you will live longer and healthier on a plant based, whole food diet).

I had previously read “Eat to Live” by Dr. Fuhrman, and knew relatives who swear by his book and have lost fourty pounds.  I gave it a try, and felt great, but couldn’t keep it up.  Psychologically, I couldn’t do it.  It wasn’t hunger, or cravings.  It was the mental pressure of changing my routines and habits.

What I love about Dr. Greger’s book is all the research.  He doesn’t just tell you what to do to be healthy, he spends most of his time talking about the why, studies and research, in a captivating writing style.  I found myself chucking through the chapter on colon health.

While you may not think I would be particularly concerned about my health, the issue with most of our leading diseases and killers is that they take time.  They don’t just happen overnight.  And by the time you have noticeable symptoms, you have been building up issues in your body for a long time.

The real issue for me is that I believe in the research.  But, if I believe in it, I would have to change my diet.  A lot.  Dr. Gregor cites studies where eating meat as little as once a week or less still has a negative impact on your health. When I read that, I realized the problem.  My brain said, “There’s no way I can do that!”

I’ve actually been growing more averse to meat with every pregnancy, so it’s not such a big leap to consider reducing my meat intake.  I just couldn’t imagine a lifestyle without it completely.  Because it’s what I’ve always known.  It’s what I plan my meals around.  It’s habit.

When I realized I had this mental block, I immediately decided I wanted to challenge it.  I decided to see if I could go 21 days without meat, dairy, or processed foods.  During that time, I would try to develop the habits I might need if I really wanted to enact and benefit from these doctors’ advice.  (Btw, I consulted my family doctor first, who I trust immensely, wanting to make sure this wasn’t just some fad.  I believe he may have called it (Eat to Live) the best diet on earth.  Or something like that.  Anyways, he was for it.)

I am now on day 6 of this project.  I’ve found it a struggle to have time to prepare the food I need.  I haven’t felt hungry or deprived though.  Consulting both the books, I decided to make it my goal to eat daily:

  •  3 cups of leafy greens,
  • at least 1 cup of beans,
  • at least 1 pound of vegetables total,
  • a fourth cup of nuts or seeds,
  • at least one cup of whole grains
  • 1 cup of berries and at least three servings of fruit total
  • 1/4 cup avocado 
  • At least 60 ounces of water 
  • A tablespoon of ground flaxseed, and
  • A quarter teaspoon of turmeric 

The purpose of the eating plan is not just to remove foods contribute to poor health, but to make sure your body is getting the things it really needs.  So everything on the list has a reason, which is covered in the two books.

This has been a ton of work, and my fridge is stuffed to the gills with fruit and vegetables.  I don’t always hit every mark during the day, but continuing trying is the most important thing.  I feel great, and haven’t been hungry.  I don’t even want to eat junk anymore.
As for habits, I’ve learned that I have to clean the kitchen and do food prep after the kids go to bed, or I have nothing to eat the next day, and the tools I need are dirty.  I also have to set a timer to go in and make lunch, because I don’t get hungry until 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

I feel like this has been the product of using the Konmari method on my books and my kitchen.  Because my books were so thoroughly tidied, I finally felt comfortable going to the library and bringing something new and interesting home to read.  And because I’ve been working on my kitchen, I’ve had to really ask myself what my vision is for my kitchen and my eating habits.  I realized, even before I stumbled across this latest book, that I want to eat mostly whole food, and that having a cluttered kitchen was getting in the way of that goal.

I’m still working on the last little corners of the kitchen, and I want to be completely done before I share.  But hopefully that will be soon.  And as you can see, the progress I’ve made so far has already opened up opportunities for me to pursue my dreams of healthy eating and homemade meals!

Baby Gear – A Veteran Mom’s  Essentials

It’s no secret at this point – we’ll be having our sixth (and probably last) child in a few short months.  This is one of the big reasons I have been busily dejunking my house.  I need some order if I’m going to survive!

After going through the first categories (Clothes, Books, and Papers), I will admit I hit a wall.  My housework had fallen by the wayside as I tackled the categories, and people were running out of underwear and hot meals.  

But I also wasn’t sure where to focus next.  “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” calls for the next project to be “Komono,” meaning miscellany…but that meant almost everything else in the house!

I worked on a small project here or there.  I tried to work on the sub-categories she listed, but it just didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.  I went through my CDs, all 8 of them.  I now have three. 

I felt like I had lost my drive and direction.  So I focused on getting caught up on the laundry, and just putting everything back in the home I had assigned.  

Each day I would go through and “reclaim” the areas I had already done.  Books would be returned to the shelves, papers to their pile to be gone through, and clothes washed and folded.  Pretty soon, the house was looking quite neat on a daily basis.  I felt like I should be moving on. Instead of continuing in order, I decided to work on what I felt motivated by – baby stuff!

All of the stuff for our upcoming child, in one glorious pile.
Thanks to the generosity of my cousin, my room had become baby central.  Clothes, cloth diapers, and all other baby paraphernalia lined every wall in our room.

After collecting all of it, I sat down and made a list.  Not of what we had, but what I knew I needed.  See, I’ve learned something after five kids: you don’t need much. Certainly not this much!

 So I’d like to share my must have list, after almost a decade straight of having little people ruling my life.  Here are the only items I’ve found I really need for taking care of a newborn:

  1. Carrier – My carrier has been indispensable.  I’ve tried out at least 6 different ones, and settled on an Ergo.  Because of the weight distribution to the hips, I can easily carry around the 20 month old if I need to.  A carrier allows you to carry a fussy baby and still have your hands free to get something done, or leaves your stroller free for the next oldest sibling.  Most importantly, it keeps baby close for bonding with you.  I’ve also found strangers are much less willing to get in my baby’s face when he or she is in a carrier, as opposed to a car seat or stroller (a definite pet peeve of mine).
  2. Diaper bag – This might seem obvious, but save yourself some money on all the other trinkets you might have purchased and use it to buy a bag you love. This is your workhorse, and you will carry it around with you daily for at least a year or two.  It took me 5 kids to finally figure this out!  I splurged on a Matt and Nat diaper bag, so it looks like a purse and I can just keep using it indefinitely.
  3. Car seat – Another obvious must.  We prefer one with a detachable base, so you can carry the baby in the house without waking them up if they are taking a nap.
  4. Clothes – Don’t go overboard!  I see so many awesome clothes at garage sales and second hand stores that were worn only once before they were outgrown, because they had so many.  I stick to a handful of outfits and bodysuits, and keep a couple spare onesies on hand in case of a laundry emergency.  Shy away from investing in many small clothes, since I’ve heard many moms that either skip the newborn size entirely, or zoom through it in several weeks.  And keep in mind that people will want to give you gifts!  In terms of particulars, I’ve gotten to the point where I only buy long sleeve shirts with the fold over hand covers.  They work much better than the mittens and preventing your newborn from scratching her face up.  And I skip on shoes until the child is walking, usually around shoe size 5.  Baby shoes are cute, but that’s all.
  5. Blankets – I swear by wrapping blankets.  I have never tried the commercial swaddling blankets, but I sewed some simple ones out of flannel, and they have worked wonders.  They are not a cure all, but I’ve found that they help babies sleep better and longer, and be less fussy.  I aim for 3-4, so I have a spare if a diaper leaks at 3 am.  They double as nursing covers.  I also keep one or two heavier blankets for warmth, and for tummy time on the floor.  So it’s a plus if they are a little padded or have an interesting design.
  6. Toys – This is more applicable to the 3-9 month range.  My basic toys: one rattle that is small enough to be grasped by the tiny hands of a 3 month old, one toy that will roll (such as a ball that jingles), a small soft lovey, something black and white with strong contrast, and a teething toy of some sort.
  7. Diapers – We have tried cloth and disposable.  It’s easy to get sucked into the idea of saving money with cloth, only to pay for expensive cloth diapers and then switch to disposables when you are sleep deprived and overwhelmed.  Just be warned, it happens.  You can do quite a bit of research on this topic, and there are pros and cons to each.  I won’t judge whatever you chose!  I’m picky about the brand of disposable diapers – I prefer Pampers up to size 2, particularly the Swaddlers with the indicator line.  My second choice would be the Costco brand. At size three I find regular Huggies work better.  But I would encourage you to try different brands, as they have different fits, which will change how often your diaper leaks or blows out.  I’m thinking about doing cloth again though, since I already have everything.
  8. Swing – This is the one and only piece of baby gear that I have found to be a keeper.  We have tried everything, from exersaucers to Johny-jump ups, to play mats and bouncers, to boppys and more.  The only one I have left after 5 kids is the swing.  Everything else just didn’t merit the space it took up.  Swings have come a long way in the last ten years.  My electronically gifted father had to alter my first swing to plug in to the wall so we could stop paying a fortune for D batteries.  Now most of the swings are sold with a plug (and you definitely want one).  We have Fisher Price papasan swing we love.  Honestly, I could get by without it if I needed to, but I find it helpful, especially in the first few months.  By the time the baby can roll over and sit up, the swing’s usefulness is pretty much over.
  9. A crib – We have used the same crib for all six kids.  I would maybe recommend a teething guard, but since mine is already decorated in teeth marks, I haven’t bothered.  I’ve also found crib sets to be a waste, since specialists recommend removing such items to reduce the risk of SIDS.  The bumpers never prevented my kids from getting a limb stuck between the bars, but helped them get leverage to catapult themselves out once they could stand.  So I just stick with sheets and a mattress protector.

And that’s it!  I have tried, and discarded, almost everything else on market.  If you’re thinking “But what about…,” no, we probably don’t have it.  I won’t even have a changing table this time.  It just ends up being a glorified storage unit.  I plan to put a changing pad on my dresser.  After the baby learns to roll over, I feel more comfortable changing them on a blanket on floor, anyway.

I feel like marketers love to prey on new moms and their hopes and fears, and exhaustion.  All your baby really needs is you.  No amount of gadgets will override that.  And seriously, you will survive without a wipe warmer!

The baby gear that remains after the purge.
After making the list, I was able to face my own growing pile and remember that I don’t need to be worried. I already know what I need!

Konmari Adventures: Papers


Papers.  I’m pretty sure they have reproductive qualities.  Every time I turned around, I kept finding more!  And they don’t take up much space, so there’s not a huge visual impact to dejunking them.  Needless to say, this was my least favorite category so far.  I am itching to get going on the rest.

Konmari’s basic idea is that paper doesn’t spark joy and should pretty much go.  The only papers you should keep are what you are using now and classic keepers like birth certificates and tax records.

The first thing to go was all of our manuals.  I realized I had never needed them once, yet I had faithfully stored and organized about thirty or fourth of them.  I even had one for my bike trailer, my clothes iron, and my griddle!  I figured if I really needed to know, the information was probably online.  Into the recycle they went.

I found that many of the papers I was keeping only had one or two pieces of information I needed, mostly about events.  So I took the time to finally order a new planner.  Once it came, I was able to enter the relevant activities and recycle those papers. Another large stack gone.

On a side note, I got my planner from intheleafytreetops.com.  This is my second year having one of their planners.  So far it is the only planner I have been able to stick with using, so I wanted to give it a thumbs up.  They are also $5 off and free shipping right now, since I waited so embarrassingly long into the year.


Here is my remaining pile.  It includes my planner, my journal, and a small notebook I found to keep my daily to do list.  I probably could have written my to-dos in my calendar, but for me, the notebook sparks joy. (I bought a second one for when I fill the first).

Below that is a 3 ring binder for our currently in use papers.  But after some thought, I’m not sure I will keep it.  My idea was that this would be my “inbox” to deal with new papers, but right now it is just holding a chore chart for the kids that I have yet to use.  Seriously, that’s it!

I probably recycled a total of two or three paper grocery sacks worth of papers.  It may not seem like much of an accomplishment, till you consider that these were papers I had been saving for one reason or another.  Some papers I had been holding on to for 5, 10 and even 25 years! So I feel relieved to finally be able to let go. 

 On a side note, Jeff outdid me again.  He cleared out a whole plastic storage tote of all sorts of papers that he has had since we got married.  I broke out in a rash on my arm when I tried to help gather them up to put in the recycle.  Those papers had been in our garage for a LONG time.  I’m so proud of him for being able to let them go!

I’m hoping that following Kondo’s method of having all the papers in one place will keep them from piling up again.  I’m also really excited to move on!

Konmari method: Our Amazing Book Transformation


Okay, I failed yet again to get an accurate before picture. But let me just wow you with the after picture.  This is ALL my books.

For the record, I love books.  I love to read.  So you can imagine what a process this has been.  We started out with 9 large shelves bulging with books.  Two of those shelves were solely mine.

See that box, it’s full of books too. I think there were even books piled on the floor!

Following the advice of Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I piled all the books in one place.  This is just my books and the kids’ books.

 Before this, I had already decided to sell all my homeschool books, since we decided to put the kids into public school once we moved.  My homeschool stuff took up an entire shelf.  So those didn’t make it into the picture.

After asking myself which books “sparked joy” for me, I was left with a modest pile.  I asked my oldest daughter, an avid reader, to come and look through her books.  She chose only one book, one series, and her scriptures to keep.  She felt that since she had already read everything there, she could let it go.  I was impressed.  After that, I boxed everything for the move. 

Our books, boxed and ready to go.
Five shelves were reduced to three full boxes before the move.
 Admittedly, there were still quite a few left, including my husband’s books.  Once we moved, he suggested that maybe we should let go of books we could check out at our new library.  I unpacked the books and went through them again. 

A second go-through.

Knowing that I could go pick up the books at the library gave me the push I needed to let go of the rest. I realized I was holding onto them because I feared not having access to the information they contained, not because they really “sparked joy.” So I was left with two books and my scriptures.  For the kids, I kept our absolute favorite books and bedtime stories.  We plan on going to the library regularly.

I also asked my husband to go through his books.  He had started with three full shelves.  He was graciously willing to part with over half, making it possible to fit everything neatly on the current bookshelf.

After picture- our books put away on the shelf
The final product, our books that “spark joy.” I love it!

The books are currently living in our room to keep them safe from the toddler.  She loves books too, but doesn’t really grasp the concept of being gentle yet.

I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish so far.  I’m especially grateful for my family being willing to chip in and participate.  It has made an amazing difference.

I’ve moved on, following Kondo’s plan, to working on papers.  I will share when I get it finished up!

Latest Adventures: Konmari and Moving 


Sometimes I wonder if anyone’s life is hectic as ours.  We may have five kids and one more on the way, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from grabbing life by the horns. In the last several months we have sold our house, and moved to a new city. This has been a period of incredible change for us.

Yet, while all of this was going on, I got an idea.  Dangerous, I know.  

I knew that we had stuff that we didn’t use or need, or even want. Pretty soon, we would have to move it all. That just seemed wasteful to me.

To egg me on, I found a wonderful book. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.  I devoured it, despite some of the stranger parts, and went to work.

Here are the results…

First I rounded up all of the clothing category, as she suggests. It doesn’t seem like there’s much here, but there is, I promise.  I’m not sure I got everything, and most of what I wear regularly was in the wash.


After two passes, my clothes fit in two drawers, with a couple of hanging coats.  The strange thing is, with maybe half of the clothes left, I feel like I have at least twice as much to wear. I haven’t had problems with running out of clothes, even though I have six tops and three bottoms left.

Before, I was holding on to a lot of clothes that didn’t fit or weren’t comfortable or didn’t look good.  It’s been a relief to let them go. 

As you can see, I tried her folding method, but by the second drawer I gave up. If I folded my clothes her way, it probably wouldn’t even fill the second drawer halfway.  And with all the other changes we’ve been through in the last little while, I felt like having to fold my clothes differently might send me over the edge!

I also went through shoes and jewelry and bags with the clothing.  I don’t have a before picture, but I got rid of probably 3/4th of my jewelry, simply because I never wore it.  This is what’s left.


 As suggested in the book, I am only going through my own items, and the kids stuff.  To be fair, Jeff has been surprisingly motivated since we moved.  He produced two garbage bags of clothing of his own, and graciously parted with over half his books and all his old college papers.  He says he wants our new place to be our dream home.  I really hope we can do that.  Frankly, moving has been a hot mess.

Currently, I am working on the books.  I will share once they finally get put away.