My 2015 Personal Revolution

personal revolution jim morrisonI am not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because I haven’t been the person who really takes them seriously. Does anyone really exercise more, lose weight, make more money? I haven’t. Or at least not much past January. December would find me in glum panic as I realized that my high hopes in January had simply faded away without notice. Last year I made a decision to find a way to keep track of changes I wanted to make. It made sense that if I kept track of small wins, I might be able to focus on my goals for twelve months.
This is my second year of personal revolution. Last January I chose four categories I wanted to improve in my life. I then made a list of all the changes I wanted to make and aligned them with the overall categories. The resulting grid was my 2014 Personal Revolution. I highlighted one change in each category that was most important.
My categories for 2015 are: Financial Security, Social Choices, Physical Health, Spiritual Awakening.
1. Financial Security is anything to do with my spending habits, budgeting, and savings. I’ve noticed that financial security also spills over into physical health, social choices, and spiritual awakening. I’m much less stressed and feel more in control when I’m following my fiscal plan. I’ve known the sick feeling of overdraft charges or missing payments. Getting control of my finances makes me feel better emotionally as well as in the wallet.
2. Social Choices reflects how I spend my time with others. I need to limit my social outings to two-to-three times per week maximum, and choose to spend time with positive people. My friend choices need to be people who lift me up, not pull me down. I like to be active.
3. For me Physical Health is more than simply weight and exercise. I include nightly sleep goals, daily water intake, bringing my lunch.
4. I’m not overly satisfied with the term Spiritual Awakening, but haven’t come up with anything better. This is the part of me that’s not physical, and includes reading books, letter writing, meditation, writing, gratitude journal, etc. When these parts of me are missing, I am definitely not happy.
“Supporting actions” make these categories happen. Some have remained constant: meditate daily, evaluate friend choices, spend time with positive people, drink 100 ounces water daily, use cash instead of my debit card, stick with my budget. Others have changed to reflect my current situation. I prefer “be active daily” to 300 minutes fitness weekly.
I did not meet all my goals. I didn’t write two letters per month but I wrote several. Opening the mailbox to find handwritten letters from friends means I make the effort on my end. The most profound achievement was locating and contacting two half-siblings I’d never met. My “new” brother and sister are an indescribable blessing. By the end of the year, I hadn’t met my goal of losing 30 pounds but I had taken off (and kept off) 14 pounds. In all categories I definitely made progress. And that makes me happy.
Why do I go to all this trouble? I want to make a difference in my own life. At the end of the 365 new days I’ve been given, I want to feel that I made good use of that gift.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions or goals? Why or why not? If so, what works for you?
For a sample of my Personal Revolution spreadsheet, send me an email request at penandplow@yahoo.com.

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Yoga and the A-Student

yoga posesI’m not skinny. I’m not overly graceful. I’m also somewhat of a perfectionist, in that I don’t want to do anything where I might look stupid or possibly fail. That doesn’t leave many options, especially in the physical activity category. As someone who spent many years being “too busy to exercise” and generally a few pounds overweight, yoga class isn’t where I would have imagined myself

You may believe that yoga is for people who want to sit cross-legged and chant. Or that it’s just stretching. It’s stretching in the same way that gymnastics and ballet are stretching. Yoga is bodyweight fitness, with funny names for positions (poses) usually involving movement combined with balance and strength. Think planks. Side planks. Or camel, which is sitting on your knees doing a backbend and touching your hands to the soles of your feet.  A dozen downward facing dogs, pushing your hips in the air by pushing the floor with your arms through your palms, and trust me, you know you’re doing more than stretching.down dog

But somehow I ended up loving yoga. Hot yoga. Hot yoga means sweat. The heat means my body is more pliable, my muscles and joints less resistant, and my workout more intense. And when you go to class, it’s called practicing. As in, “I try to practice four days a week.”
I set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. to get ready for the morning class. An hour later I’m on my mat getting used to the ninety-five degree temperature. I stretch, drink water, talk, and work on quieting the tiny dread that always appears before I begin. It’s kind of like that feeling of going up the first hill on a rollercoaster, even if you know you’ll love the ride.

All the physical benefits mean I look better now than when I began. My legs and butt are firmer, leaner. When I undress I see more abdominal definition. My clothes definitely look and fit better. Best of all, people who know me have noticed. I’m not ready to wear snug yoga pants to class yet but I’m getting close.

My mental benefits have been even more surprising. I have learned to let go of my expectations, just focus on my breathing and what I’m doing at the moment. My only reference for comparison is myself. A lot of people in class have been practicing yoga longer or maybe they were just in better shape when they began. Either way, if I look around and feel bad because I can’t keep up or start wishing I looked better in my yoga pants, I turn a great experience into a pity party.

I feel good when I’m active every day. Making my fitness a priority is doing something important for myself. I’m reinforcing the fact that I’m valuable, and my health and fitness are valuable. I made a list of “meaning markers”, from Shawn Achor’s Before Happiness. Meaning markers are those areas where I want to focus on what’s important. And it’s no surprise that “active daily” is one of mine.

What’s important to you? Find a handful of your own meaning markers and go for it. Even if it means you show up in short black pants and sweat for an hour, show yourself that you are important. Your body and life will love you for it.

Walking Away From Summer

I’ve often said that I’m warmest when I’m out walking in the winter. This coming season will be my fifth year of walking my dog throughout the winter – continuing our three, four, and six mile treks even when the sidewalks are packed with snow and we have to climb over  snow-plowed ice and snow every time we cross the street.

The Swedish proverb, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing” is spot-on when preparing for winter walks. The difficulty for me is the transition from fall to winter, with Michigan temps in the 30’s and 40’s. I tend to warm up quickly when I’m out walking because we keep a brisk pace. Too many layers and I have more to carry – too few, and I spend the first two miles wishing I’d turned back.

Yesterday, our Michigan weather was overcast and windy. The temperature hovered around 30° all afternoon. We don’t have snow so I’m still wearing my mesh Brooks walking shoes. I wore my cross-country ski pants that are like thick, warm leggings; I misjudged my upper-body clothing. Even though my short-sleeve layer was lightweight wool, my long-sleeved shirt combined with my fleece jacket didn’t make up for the extra layer of “bare” arm. I’d added a light knit hat, cotton gloves and at the last minute, ear-warmers. Thank goodness. I spent the first ¾ mile shivering and reminding myself how much I enjoy cold-weather walks.

When I arrived home yesterday, I still wore my hat and gloves, having removed only the ear-warmers, curling them on my wrist. I didn’t even unzip my jacket.

What I would have changed:

Either kept the short-sleeve layer and exchanged the long-sleeve shirt for a thermal-type (Hot Chillys is one of my favorites) or worn two long-sleeve shirts.

I should have looked at the weather more closely to see the wind-chill temperature and worn insulated walking boots or swapped my ankle-socks for light-weight wool socks.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t repeat the cold-weather rule: Cotton Kills. Cotton layers absorb perspiration and moisture and hold it in, causing chills and potentially hypothermia. The key is that once the core is warm, the rest of the body warms as well. Warm feet provide additional body heat. I’ve walked without my gloves and hat in temperatures below zero on sunny days with no wind, after my walking pace created enough internal heat.

All in all, I relish the feeling when I realize I’m no longer shivering. The pleasure of warmth is almost worth enduring the cold. We now have three more miles under our belt, my dog and I. I’m looking forward to the colder weather, especially snowy days and the red flash of a cardinal in the woods. I love the moon-lit nights when the reflection of snowy fields creates so much light I could almost sit and read a book, or the sudden aroma of burning wood that makes me glad to be outside just for the chance to breathe it in.

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air this winter. You will be amazed at the beauty. More importantly, you’ll be amazed at yourself, how much you can conquer and endure when the winds blow and the chill wants to move through your bones.

Share your favorite tips, stories and recommendations!

Do It Anyway

Hiking in the dark and setting up my tent alone was easy. Making my first “just add boiling water” meal was easy. The first full day I hiked with my backpack was like a shortened version of pregnancy: exciting, tiring, emotional, exhausting, draining. And I still loved it.

My lack of hiking experience became apparent within a half mile of rigorous hill-climbing. I didn’t have the same pace as the more experienced hikers. Fortunately for me, Larri, the same woman I’d driven up with, was interested in photography as much as the trail and she was happy to have someone keep her company. She was also a very experienced hiker, pointing out flattened grassy areas where deer had slept, looking for footprints and signs of passage when we weren’t sure we were on the right trail, and showing me how to spot deer and elk skat and the difference (size) between the two. I didn’t realize the trail was marked with blue blazes on the trees but once I learned, I happily went ahead on my own, watching for swaths of blue paint until it became second nature. Larri gathered wintergreen leaves for tea after dinner. Watching me on the rocky sections of the trail, she found two sturdy branches for me to use as walking sticks.

We fixed our lunch when the sun was overhead. I was still highly entertained by the thought of walking across a remote wilderness with my world on my back. In other words, I still had energy and expected to catch up with the rest of the group in short order. I didn’t conserve my water, counting on getting to the meeting point where we could borrow a water filter and replenish our supply. Rule number one: if you don’t take a water filter, at least keep some purifying drops on hand. (There were at least 6-7 water filters in the group and my friend was one person who decided to leave the extra weight back in the car. I was filter-less and drop-less, having agreed to depend on someone in the group.)

The day wore on and we talked less. Larri took pictures of bear claw marks on the trees and I found a circlet of birch bark that I wore as a bracelet. Watching for blue blazes was as natural as breathing.

I ran out of water.

We knew we were on the right trail, we just couldn’t tell from the map where we were exactly. When there’s nothing to do but walk, all you can do is keep walking.

I resorted to counting to 100. That’s what I do when I’m out walking with my dog, adding up miles as part of my marathon-walking training program. When I can’t fathom continuing and stopping is impossible, I can handle the time it takes to count to 100. I counted over and over again. My walking sticks kept pace with the numbers, left, right, left, right.

Up and down rocky hills. Walking on narrow wooden planks elevated above the marshy bog. Watching my step through a tangle of exposed tree roots far below the thick tree-tops that would have otherwise seemed enchanted, had I felt comfortable enough to look around.

Larri let me drink some of her water and we both commiserated about leaving the water filter behind. She was about to run out as well.

By now I just followed where the trail led, without thinking beyond my legs moving forward. My mind turned inward. I wondered if I would be able to make it to camp. I knew there was no way to stop. One, two, three, four …

Larri now felt as close as a sister and I depended on seeing her ahead of me. I watched for the flash of her backpack, knowing she was where I would be also.

It seemed impossible to keep walking. But I knew that anything less than optimistic cheer would take my focus from finishing. I had to depend on myself to keep pushing me. Then I tripped on a rock and fell over on my back. Frustrated and tired, I’d shrieked like a little girl and Larri came back to help. I’d already unstrapped my pack, feeling too much like a turtle stuck on its back, and she watched as I stood again, shifting my pack back into place and re-attaching the straps.

“Remember when I told you there would come a time when you’d have to dig down and push through? This is that time.”

I wanted to cry but I laughed instead. “I know; I can tell.”

She turned back to the trail and I followed. I lost track of time. I wondered if I would just walk until I dropped, and if I dropped, what would happen then. Mostly, I counted.

We finally found the rest of the group. It happened suddenly. We were on the path and then there they were, tents and a campfire and a relaxed somberness in the trees. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t even hurry. But I definitely accepted water and a couple ibuprofen before I set up my tent. We fixed dinner and I had wintergreen tea. I had another day ahead of me and I was ready to crawl into my tent.

But for now, I’d survived.

“You know, I knew you could do it. When I told you it was time to dig deep, I could tell you wanted to cry and you smiled instead. I knew you had it in you.”

I nodded. I’d tested myself and proven that I could be counted on not to give up.

What have you done that you weren’t sure you could finish? What did you do to make it happen?

Feel the Fear

Reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild propelled me in a whole new direction in terms of physical challenges. I’m captivated by the idea of the relationship between physical endurance and mental/emotional strength. I joined a local hiking group and went on two fairly rigorous hikes before I signed up for a weekend backpacking trip in northern Michigan.

I was a virgin backpacker.

Sheer excitement carried me through three weeks of planning. I bought a lightweight tent – costing $250 – a hefty investment for a new hobby. Boots I’d already acquired, along with a Camelbak hydration system. My Boy Scout son agreed to let me borrow his winter sleeping bag and I snagged his backpack as well, the heavy-duty kind with a frame.

Two days before the big adventure, I searched the internet for ideas for backpacking meals. I found my breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes at Wild Backpacker, intending to cook oatmeal with dried cherries, slivered almonds, a dash of brown sugar and a couple tablespoons of dried milk each morning – adding boiling water to the mixture in a Ziploc freezer bag. My Saturday dinner would be another freezer bag and boiling water added to angel hair pasta and mixed with two pouches of tuna with olive oil. I added ¼ cup parmesan cheese, and 1 teaspoon each basil and oregano. Lunch would be a whole wheat tortilla spread with cream cheese and a pouch of salmon.

Clothing was simple. I planned on wearing the same shirt the entire weekend, adding a long sleeve layer along with my son’s outgrown zip-off Boy Scout shorts. Toiletries were even simpler: a travel pack of facial cleansing cloths, a sample tube of moisturizer, toothbrush and toothpaste. And deodorant.

With a full three liters of water, my food, clothing, tent, sleeping bag, and the book I insisted on bringing, my pack was at 30 pounds. Thirty pounds is on the verge of getting heavy – there are many backpackers who are closer to 20 pounds, and that’s when every ounce is weighed for necessity. I still didn’t have a water filter or camp stove as I was planning to depend on the group instead of making the financial investment.

My son insisted that I set up the tent on my own at home.

Friday night we headed north to the High Country Pathway. I didn’t admit to being nervous. I just wanted to blend in and not look like an amateur. Hiking in the dark? Sure! I stretched my headlamp around my head, tightened my pack and followed the leader. I quickly realized I have much less depth perception in the dark, even with my light. Our narrow trail had tree roots, rocks and even a fallen log to climb over. I repeated my personal mantra, created from three years of marathon training and refusing the fall. I remain upright. I remain upright. Chatting on the trail, I found I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t previously hiked in the dark. Now we were all officially night-hikers. After a mile and a half we found the perfect spot for all nine of us to camp for the night. My tent went up without a hitch.

Alone with just the flicker of my headlamp, I changed into my fleece PJs and wool socks, wriggling down into my sleeping bag, thankful for my camping pillow and sleeping pad. Sure enough, after a couple hours I awoke and wondered if I could last the night or if I should get up for a squat in the dark woods. After an hour of trying to sleep, I knew the answer. Unzipping the bag and pulling on my cold hiking boots was the worst part. Once outside and facing away from the rest of the tents, I flicked on my headlamp and headed to the nearest tree, hoping the underfoot crunch of leaves and branches wasn’t too loud. Returning to my sleeping bag, I curled up and slept like a log, not waking again until I heard the hiss of my neighbor’s camp stove.

Ready for my first Ziploc bag breakfast, I pulled out my food, found the oatmeal mixture, grabbed my plastic cup and a teabag. Looking around as I ate, I realized there would be no lingering. Tents were already coming down and getting folded, campsites disappearing once again inside the pack. Yikes! The last thing I wanted was to be struggling with my gear while everyone watched. I chewed quickly then dove inside my tent to dress and get packed.

I silently thanked my son for making me take down the tent two days earlier.

Packed up once more, boots tied, hair braided, teeth brushed – I’d finished my first official backpacking overnight stay. Now all I had to do was hike.

What have you done for the first time? Were you nervous? How did you prepare?

The Happiness Project

ImagePeople tell me I’m so busy. They say that I just “go, go, go.” My response is that we are all busy. Just ask someone who’s watching TV. If they don’t want to be interrupted, they will tell you to leave them alone; they are busy.

Rather, I am active. I am living my life, as alive and purposeful as I can remember to be.

Just read the newspaper or watch the news and remind yourself how short life really is. How many of us plan our last breaths? I want to wring my life out like a sponge and enjoy every possible moment.

In fact, I recently told a friend that I collect moments. My moments with him, specifically, were on my mind, because he is interesting and distracting enough to take my thoughts from the day. After the first conversation we had I felt as though I’d been on vacation for an evening. I’d been totally engaged. That’s a moment to collect.

Which brings me to my Happiness Project.

A little background is in order. I grew up feeling guilty about being happy. Being happy could bring about disaster … why, I don’t know. Laughing and/or having too much fun was practically a misdemeanor in my home. Being baggage that doesn’t make sense, I hauled that with me for years. Then as a high-achieving, career-minded, single mother, I poured my energy into making others happy, forgetting about myself in the process. Yes, part of the idea of making others happy is the contented glow I felt in knowing I’d done the right thing. (Notice I’m not calling this my Contentment Project.)

So, now I’ve decided to do exactly as I wish and pursue what makes me happy. Is not my pursuit of happiness my right?  I’m going for it with all I’ve got.

What am I doing as part of my project?

  1. Reading as much as I can. I’ve finished seven books in less than three months, reading late in bed, carrying my books with me, hanging out at the book store and best of all, joining three local book groups. This leads to …
  2. Meeting more people who share my interests by joining local meet-up groups. So far I’ve met new people in the book groups as well as an urban exploration group that toured an old cemetery so fascinating that I’m going back to spend more time wandering. There’s a hiking group, French language group, movie fans group … I’m already blessed by new friends (still love my other friends, by the way).
  3. Renewed my art museum membership.
  4. Renewed my local botanic gardens membership.
  5. Went to the midnight movie opening of The Dark Night Rises. My son and I chose the marathon package, beginning at 6:30pm with Batman Begins, followed by The Dark Knight, followed by the midnight movie. We got home at 3:30am. I worked the next day, going in a little late, but completely exhilarated from the fun of it all. My only regret is that I didn’t at least wear a Batman T-shirt.
  6. I really smile at strangers.
  7. I make every effort to call each person by name – isn’t that why people wear nametags?
  8. I’m not waiting for people to call me. I’m not waiting for people to reach out to me first – no, I’m making the first move. That’s how I ended up listening to jazz in the local park earlier this week; I called a friend and he had the great idea. I said yes.
  9. My friend Leah taught me how to do the hustle. Yeah, that one – the line dance that everyone knew how to do but me. I’m getting better with the tricky parts.
  10. I remember that life is short and that next week, month, summer or year may never arrive. I’m finished with putting off what can be enjoyed today, especially when it means time with my son.

And so if I’m busy at all, I’m busy being happy as much as possible. More to the point, I’m actively pursuing happiness. Perhaps some would consider my project selfish. Let them. For me, the self I have to offer is happier, more relaxed, more appreciative. If that’s selfish, I’ll take it, but I will definitely share.

What makes you happy? What would you do as part of your Happiness Project?

Loved and Lost

Picture a woman who looks a lot like me – funny and smart, talented, a real go-getter …

The story goes that she’d been in love with a guy for about a year and a half; the feelings began as infatuation but developed into love as their friendship grew. That’s really as far as the story went, for a long time, so there wasn’t much to tell.

Recently, though, she decided that she needed to tell him how she felt. She’s not a person who takes a risk, especially when it comes to blurting out feelings with no idea of what to expect. But the idea wouldn’t go away; it hung on like a pebble in a shoe.

This chick practiced what she would say, rehearsing out loud and in her head so often the words became a chant. And there were the considerations. What would he say? Could she take the rejection, if that’s what happened? Was she willing to put the friendship on the line – potentially saying good-bye to love and like?

“Don’t you want more? Why don’t you find out how he feels? Find out what it would look like if you two were together.” Advice from a friend.

“I do want more. But I also don’t want less.” The rather pathetic response.

The big moment arrived. The words tumbled out just like they had so many times before, except this time there were listening ears.

Woman: “You know you’re one of my best friends and I have to tell you that I’m in love with you and I want to know if we can have a romantic relationship.”

Man: “That’s one of the sweetest things anyone has said to me. All day.”

Woman: laughs, and goes on to explain exactly what she means, as though the concept could have been unclear.

Man: “Please deposit twenty-five cents.”

Woman: laughs again.

The conversation went nowhere, if it’s not already obvious.

Another man told her that men use humor when they don’t know how to respond. “He’s thinking about what you said, make no mistake.”

But as a couple weeks went by with nothing more than a couple meaningless conversations, it didn’t take much imagination to figure that he had responded, without words.

And so the silence continued, loud and clear. The friendship evaporated.

I should have kept my mouth shut.

No, I had to say something. I had to be true to myself.

I can’t take this.

The jury deliberated, until the foreman emerged.

“Not guilty. We agree that he needed to let her go if he had no intention of loving her. She deserves the chance to have a loving, open, intimate relationship with a man who wants the same thing and can offer her love.”

Indeed.