Things that Spark Joy

heath serving bowl ottolenghi tabbouli

With winter in full force today, I’ve been working on a list of things in my life that spark joy to ward off the winter blues. This is a variation of a gratitude exercise that I do with my coaching clients – and something I try to revisit on a semi-regular basis.

I often have difficulty reminding myself what things spark joy when I’m feeling symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many of my friends and clients do as well.

So it helps to do this exercise when I’m on an upswing, and be kind to myself when these things don’t seem like they’ll help. Sometimes the act of making the list is enough to spark positive feelings.

I write out a combination of big things and little things – when I don’t have the energy to travel or adventure, I may still find joy from slicing carrots with my sharp knife, stirring a pot of beans, or cuddling with my sweet puppy. The act of doing something small but satisfying helps to start a positive domino effect in my daily life.

Here’s my list this week.

My red Heath serving bowl, a birthday gift from Devon. And filling it with greenery, such as the parsley tabbouleh picture above. It’s this Ottolenghi recipe.

Chopping and slicing things with a very sharp knife. I purchased a new Kyocera knife as a replacement for one that chipped. At some point, I’ll get a new one with their warranty, but after stalling for a while, I finally just decided to bite the bullet and spend the $30 with industry discount at Sur La Table.

Planning trips, and traveling. I had a few big trips on my to do list this year: my favorites were Florida (twice) and Denver, Colorado! Every year I go with a small group of friends on a spring excursion. We’ve done DC, London, Disney World. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Disney. I’d like to go back this year. Bonus points for silly out takes from warm beaches.

Sam Tackeff

Helping other people find their passion in life. Life is too short to be drifting down the wrong path. There is a world to explore, and people in need to be of service to. For you Wellesleys out there: Sed Min for the Win.

The feeling of having written something. I do wish that I enjoyed the writing process more – but it’s often difficult to feel like I’m in the zone. That said, the joy of having written is strong!

The ocean. I’ve been blessed to have lived most of my life near the ocean. I love the vivid color of the sea, the lapping of waves, gathering sea glass and worn rocks. It’s a perfect place of contemplation. I like walking past others who walk on the beach alone, a brief nod of solidarity and of knowing.

Acquiring new books at my local bookstore. Or even the non-local ones – I like getting books on trips, and visiting bookstores in different places.

Adding a finished book to my Goodreads “read” list. It’s really nice to see everything I’ve read in one place, and to see the virtual shelf growing. Even on days when I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing, I can see that I’ve read and haven’t given up on learning and exploring.

My sweet bean, Bertram the Frenchie. I adore getting to spend time with him, head into the outdoors on adventures, and see him taking true pleasure in chowing down on whatever is in front of him. He likes sitting on my lap and watching the world. He loves people – it’s actually quite nice to have a social puppy that is different than my own nature.

Bertram the Frenchie

What would you put on your list?

Building a daily architecture based on feeding a creative mind

Joshua Waitzkin Quote.JPG

A few weeks ago, needing a new podcast to work through, I started re-listening to the Tim Ferriss show from the first episode. Tim’s podcast is focused on what makes the best, brightest, and most accomplished tick, and gleaning insights on how they live their lives. Tonight I listened to his interview with Joshua Waitzkin, the subject of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer (free on prime streaming video), and author of The Art of Learning.  As I try to do when listening to podcasts or reading books, I took notes. Here are some of the main points I found particularly interesting.

We begin with a question:

How do you go about building a daily architecture based on feeding a creative mind? 

Some of the tangible methods mentioned in the podcast that I’ve been working to improve or cultivate in my own life:

Meditation (deepening creative process, improving health, a multitude of benefits) For Joshua, much of his meditation is combined with movement – particularly the practice of Tai Chi. Tim discussed his own easing into mediation by sitting for 5-10 minutes daily. I’ve dabbled with meditation over the years, and I’m still looking to cultivate a better meditation process. It’s something that I’m looking to actively build into a habit.

Turn mind to creative work pre-input. This is to say, journal (or write) in the morning before checking your email, RSS feed, Instagram, and email, again. This is one of my worst habits, partially because I charge my phone next to the bed. To change this habit, I will move the phone from reach before going to bed tonight, and put my journal next to my bed.

Ending the work day with quality. This is something I struggle with – it’s easy to find the day ending in a little bit of a lull after a caffeine crash. By ending the work day with quality, you allow yourself to internalize quality overnight. On Monday, I plan to schedule in an important task at the end of the day 30 minutes before I leave. (Note, these do not need to be tasks you finish – in fact, leaving something to write the next day was also mentioned as a productive strategy.)

Similarly, ending a workout with a focus on quality. This means making those last few minutes count. For me, this is kicking it to 200% and sprinting through the finish. Or pushing through those last few minutes of a ride. By ending a workout with a focus on quality, you internalize precision and a strong finish. I’ve worked hard to cultivate this knowing that it drives coaches nuts when you give up in the last few minutes of a workout. I’ve noticed that when I finish on a high point, I’m much more likely to want to head in the next day or two for another workout.

Journaling. Part of my journaling ends up here on the blog, but private writing is important to build and work through complex issues. I’ve been trying to focus on spending more time writing in a physical journal.

Post mortem processes – asking yourself what are the core areas of complexity you are challenged with? At work I lead agile retrospectives with our teams – this practice is actually quite helpful at home as well, and can be as simple as asking yourself a few questions about how things went, what worked well, what didn’t work so well, and what you can improve. 

Finally, release your mind from work at the end of the day. I’ve always struggled with coming home with the intention of spending quality time with my family and friends, and the draw of unfinished work emails, or even the always tempting idea of “getting ahead of the work for the next day”. But shutting off is important, and something we all need to focus on.

Are any of these things that you’d like to focus and improve on?

Reading mentioned that I haven’t read but would like to: 

Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast

Robert Pirsig’s Zen + The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (Which I own, but have not read. Putting the book on the nightstand tonight, and I will finish it before the end of the year.)

Learn more about Tim’s podcasts here

When words fail you.

Bakesale Betty Ginger Molasses Cookies

I made cookies. A small batch, just two for each of us, and froze the rest of the dough. Ginger Molasses, from a Bakesale Betty mix – thinking about Oakland, about Ferguson, about the country as a whole. It’s hard to read the news here tonight in America. The anger, fear, disappointment. The terror. This can happen to the people you love. To listen to my friends hurt to the core – voices being silenced because of the color of their skin. Nobody should see their child killed and then be denied a trial to seek justice. There’s not much else to say right now. Heading to bed hoping that people stay safe tonight.

Endings and Beginnings

rainyday

Today it rained. It was cold and grey all day long.

I helped my friend Alexann pack what was left of the home that didn’t go into the two pods on their way to Colorado. We worked through the things to be tossed. The last of the cabinets. Her landlord fed us warm apple cake out of the oven. The back of the car was packed with the last of the closet items. That was an adventure that involved folding for a quarter of an hour in the rain.

There was cleaning. I felt inspired to go home and throw out the majority of my belongings to avoid the hassle of any future moves. I inherited a Swiffer. I adopted her violets. I really hope I don’t kill them.

And then, after some hours of good hard work, we were done. Just like that. The rooms were empty.

And so we rested. We drank tea, and coffee. We got carded at the wine store. “And how old are you today?” the woman behind the counter asked me? It took me a full minute to think about it. We left with a bottle of red, and parted ways, briefly, before heading towards another friend’s house to have one last celebration.

vinodivino.JPG

We had burritos.

We stood in the kitchen, watching Love Actually, but not really watching. We talked. For hours, about all the usual things. It was good.

We talked about blogging, about business, about creating something to support women and moms. About what it means to make a place for yourself on the internet in this day and age. I gave my best advice I could. If you want to really get into blogging. Write. Start writing now. Forget about the blog, web hosting, comments. Forget about it all, and just write. For days, weeks, months really. Write until you have enough content that you can go on autopilot and learn all the things you’ll have to learn to run a website, at least, if that’s what you ultimately decide that you want to do. I think there’s so much more out there though. A blog – it can be one piece of. But the internet, it can be scary. You have to learn, I think, about the hard things. The horrible comments. The trolling. I had to tell them about gamergate, about how the internet can be a violent place for women. It really pained me to share that. It’s a lot, really. But all this – it’s nothing to worry about. Start writing now. Just write.

I’m getting a little heavy here.

We drank wine.

Tonight I’m grateful that dear friends can be kept thousands of miles away. That the internet and modern technology bring us all together like never before. I’m looking forward to a weekly email chain. A book club where you read the books together, and don’t meet. (The inverse of our usual book club, which should have been called drink wine and talk about the gym club.) Although, on further thought this evening, I realized that we could just have book club on Google Hangout and each sit in our respective houses and crack open bottles of wine and talk about the book together. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Fresh Shell Beans

Fresh Shell Beans

Late night kitchen. I stand at my countertop, shelling fresh beans. It’s one of my favorite kitchen activities. Meditative. I also like cutting the tops off of string beans with scissors, squeezing limes, folding dumplings, and any other task that allows you to dip into that drowsy state as your hands and muscle memory take over the work.

Tonight, I listen to a podcast – Balanced Bites – Diane and Liz in an older episode, talking about how imposing order on yourself, be it strictness of diet a few days a week, a minimal wardrobe, or other arbitrary rules every so often can help reduce stress and anxiety, and help you do more, successfully. I know that I feel this way – imposing limiting structure every so often actually helps me be more productive – the key term being “every so often”. Abiding by food rules during specific times of year to reset my habits can help me recalibrate more quickly – it’s why I’m so fond of programs like Whole30 – they focus on crowding out your diet with real, whole foods, and encourage you to build good habits, such as cooking at home, which occasionally fall to the wayside of our busy lives, even those of us who love to cook! It’s not about restricting yourself from all the foods you love, it’s about committing to nutritious food, and letting your focus shift to other things. This also fits with the Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin’s theories of Abstainer and Moderators. Some people function better when abstaining totally, others are naturally capable of moderating themselves. I find that I alternate between both, usually preferring abstention when my life feels a little out of control due to external factors, moderation for all other times.

Tonight I’m savoring the last of the warm evening air with a mini pumpkin whoopie from Volante Farms. Maybe it’s just shy of 60, and the window is still open. The World Series is on. Funny how this Giants team feels so dear to me even though I’m so far from my temporarily adopted city. Soon though, to bed. Tomorrow is my last half marathon in Newburyport, before the big one: 26.2 in Savannah.

This place needs a facelift.

Sit down with me a second over this steaming mug of coffee. We have important things to discuss.

When I started this site, way back when, it seemed like such a big upgrade over my years of LiveJournal. I was going to write about food. Finally, I had a purpose!

LiveJournal was emotional and snarky, and one large inside joke. It ranged from inane “I keep forgetting to get my vaccination”, to angry rants, to moody song lyrics – apparently I felt the need to post Panic at the Disco lyrics. (It was a moment.) There were lists of classes I was taking, scribbled notes from trips to New York. There was food, too. Beets with butter and pistachios at Lupa! Quick recipes from my dorm kitchen, meals out with friends.

There were stories – weird, rambling ones.

“And, the guy who came in at 11:30 pm with a hat on and sunglasses, asked for a shot of rum, and then asked to pay with a cashiers check, then after he couldn’t pulled out a thick wad of cash. Mind you, after it was pouring and we couldn’t get a cab and we had one umbrella and there was a party on the subway (with tequila shots, a drunk dressed up Irish woman, a PDA drunk couple, etc….)I think that [memory] might actually be a combination of a few of the T rides that weekend, oh including the serenading poet man.”

I stumble across weirdos. Often.

Posts were most often uploaded at 1:36 a.m.

And there were hundreds of posts – 400? Maybe more?

Here I was with this quirky public offering that people could read – strangers even. My friends read my LiveJournal, my mother did not. It wasn’t good, but it was free flowing. It wasn’t edited. Nobody cared, so neither did I – sometimes it was messy, but often I’m surprised at my own observations. Sometimes I captured things perfectly – and that’s awfully special.

So, back to this space. It always feels a little ridiculous writing about the blog. After transitioning from free form to “blogging with a purpose”, I started to stagnate. I got boring. I got bored. It took me years to figure out that food blogging didn’t have to be a “quick few paragraphs + recipe”. I could write about food, I could write about a run, or a friend’s new business, or the novel I was reading. I could write about whatever I wanted.

Now forgive me for the following analogy. No seriously, please, please forgive me. If you’ve ever watched The Biggest Loser, there’s a week midway through the season that every contestant looks forward to – makeover week. They’ve lost the weight, and now they get the look to match. That’s kind of how I feel about this blog. I’ve finally made it a place I love to be, but the look, well, it’s a little shabby. It could use a bit of a facelift. So I’m going to start thinking about it. A header. Cleaner. Streamlined. And soon, I’m going to grab hold of this newness, and have it match the way I feel inside. And I think it’s going to be a lot better for all of us. Stay tuned.

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