Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More Great Books

Here is the latest set of books that the boys and I all love:

The Problem with Chickens by Bruce McMillan.

Eddie's Garden by Sarah Garland.

Edwina by Mo Willems.

Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg.

The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman.

My Other Blogs

While I'm mentioning Dan's new blog, I thought I'd also put in a plug for my OTHER blogs.  There is something very appealing to me about having a different blog for each topic I want to write about.  And since blogs are so easy to make, I indulge myself.  Potato Girl in Michigan is where I write normal every day family things (I think).  My Depression Club blog is where I write about...depression.  I separated that blog from this one because it might be a bit heavy at times, and I don't want my reader to have to slog through that if he/she doesn't want to.  I also made it a separate blog because some day I hope to write a book about my experiences with depression, so I use Depression Club as a place to collect ideas for that.  In case you used to check that blog but have given up because I haven't posted in months, I just posted again yesterday.

I made a brand new blog this morning called Healthy Potato Girl.  This is where I'm writing about my struggles to lose weight and be more healthy.  Again, my mind works better when I can organize things into different categories, and I think it will be helpful for me to have a separate place just for this.  There are two new posts there, if you are interested.

Finally, I have my blogs Potato Girl in Japan and Potato Girl in Manila.  I rarely post to these blogs, but when I do, I am just transcribing my journal entries from when I was 1) an exchange student in Japan and 2) a missionary in the Philippines.  I kept very detailed records of those experiences, and I wanted to digitize them and share them at the same time, hence a blog for each.

I guess I shouldn't neglect to mention the blog that I started called Relief Society Notes (Relief Society is our church's organization for women).  That is a place where I have tried to record what I can from each Sunday's lesson.  I created this blog especially for my friend Kristi who had a calling in the Nursery at the time, and never got to attend Relief Society.  I wanted her to have a place to read about our weekly lessons so that she wouldn't feel quite so isolated.  I have invited all of the women who are serving in the Primary or Young Women, as well as young mothers who are in and out with babies, to use this blog.  I have really been struggling to keep up with my good intentions, however, and as week after week goes by that I don't post, I have been feeling worse and worse.  I have finally decided to retire from this self-imposed duty, and am hoping that someone out there will want to replace me.  

Well, if any of these other blogs are of interest to you, please feel free to link to them from the side bar.  Happy reading!

Small Steps

I am taking a class at the YMCA right now that was developed by a team of Stanford University researchers to help people make healthy lifestyle changes.  The course runs for 10 months, and yesterday was our halfway point.  We were asked to re-evaluate our long term goals and write about what kind of progress we've made.  The long term goal I made 5 months ago was to lose enough weight to move from the "overweight" category on the body mass index (BMI) scale to the "healthy weight" category.  I am currently in the 170s, and for my height (5' 8") I need to get down to the 150s.  

I have made no progress (at least in terms of weight loss).  I was really hoping that by adding more activity to my day I could lose twenty pounds without changing the way I eat, so the goals I've been working on since the summer have revolved around walking more and swimming more.  I am walking about one hour a day 4 to 5 times a week, and trying to swim for 30 minutes every Saturday.  I get my walking done by marching the boys to school and back M-F.  Each leg of the journey is about 15 minutes, so that gives me an hour for the day.  In the warmer months I was taking Esther on long walks down by the river on the weekends, but since the weather has gotten colder, we haven't been doing that very much.  

What I admitted to my group yesterday is that I don't think that I will be able to achieve my goal of reaching a healthy weight without changing the way I eat.  But whenever I think about restricting my food in any way I am filled with dread.  As a teenager I was in great shape.  I ate whatever I wanted, but I also swam, did ballet, lifted weights, and rode my bike all over town.  I probably exercised 3 to 5 hours a day on average.  As a mother, it has been hard enough for me to get into the habit of walking 30 to 60 minutes a day, with a swim thrown in every now and then.  It is not realistic for me to expect to find the time to exercise as much as it would take for me to lose weight and continue to eat with abandon.  

Our teacher at the YMCA, Diane, reminded me yesterday that to lose one pound a week I only need to reduce my daily calorie intake by 500.  This could be 250 less calories consumed in food, and 250 more calories burned in exercise.  She pointed out that I may be feeling hopeless about changing my eating habits because I'm picturing a much more drastic change than I actually need to make.  I was reminded of a time a few weeks ago when I decided to eat a bowl full of roasted vegetables before eating my normal lunch of rice and beans.  The vegetables were delicious, and I was full after only 1/2 cup of my second course (I would usually eat a cup or more).  I rarely eat vegetables, and I know this is one of the biggest weaknesses in my eating habits.  So yesterday before lunch I ate a bowl full of frozen corn and peas.  And today for lunch I had a bowl full of edamame (soybeans in the pod).  Now I'm not feeling hungry at all, and I haven't even eaten my "real" lunch yet.  

I'm really hoping that by increasing the amount of vegetables I eat each day, I'll be able to reduce my total calorie intake without having to calculate and measure every single thing I put into my mouth.  That is exhausting and does not feel sustainable.  I am looking for changes I can make that are small enough to not be overwhelming, but will still make a difference for good over time.  I want to make changes that will last.  

If you have found any small steps toward a healthier lifestyle that have worked for you, I'd love to hear about them.  

French Toast

This morning I made french toast for the boys for breakfast.  I had some, too.  I feel sick now. Note to self: although french toast with butter, syrup, whipped cream and chocolate sauce looks and tastes yummy, it does not feel good to eat.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A New Blog

Last night my Dan was up very late on the computer.  He was working on the first post for his new blog, Unravel Every Riddle.  It is a beautiful tribute to Gordon B. Hinckley, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who passed away on Sunday night.  

Dan and I have an interesting dynamic in our relationship.  I have always been a person who says every single thing that is on my mind.  Compared to me, Dan is practically a mute person. The way information passes between us is rather lop-sided.  Here is a typical conversation at the end of our day:

Dan: "What did you do today?"
Potato Girl: "Well, this morning I woke up at 6:15 and went into the kitchen.  I turned on the light.  I grabbed a string cheese out of the fridge because I'm trying to eat less carbs in the morning...remember how I was telling you about that goal of mine?  Then I went into the bathroom to take a shower.  I was so cold that after I washed my hair, I filled up the whole tub with water and took a hot bath.  [20 minutes of uninterrupted narrative elapse]...And then right before you came home Adam said to me, 'Mom, I just don't understand this earth life.  I mean, why are we here?'  So I was of course trying to answer that when we heard the keys in the door and you were home.  I think you know the rest.  What about you, what did you do today?"
Dan: "Oh, nothing."

One of the reasons I am so happy that Dan has become a blogger is that now I will get to find out lots more about him and the inner workings of that big beautiful brain of his.  I can't remember hearing any of the stories in his first post, for instance, and found them all delightful (well, I do remember the part where we were married in the Vernal Temple).  So I highly recommend that you take a look at his new can link to it from the hypertext in this post (above) or from my list of blogging friends on the side bar.

Welcome to blogger, dearest darling!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Second Chance

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from a woman in Canton (who got my number from good friend and mentor, Linda J.), asking if I would come and speak about depression at their Relief Society Enrichment Meeting.  I am home from church this morning with a sick baby, and working on my lesson, which I will give this coming Tuesday, the 29th.  The last time I spoke about depression in a church setting (May 2007, Ann Arbor Stake RS Conference), I had planned to cover two sources that have helped me battle depression.  The first is David Burns' work on the 10 cognitive distortions associated with depressed thinking (see previous post).  I covered that rather well in my May talk, but ran out of time before getting to the second source which has helped me.  That second source of help is a group of articles I've collected that address spiritual perspectives on depressed thinking.  I felt very sad after my May presentation that I never made it to discussing what I've learned from those articles, and I am happy that this coming Tuesday night I will have a second chance.

In preparing for that second chance this morning, I am re-reading an article by Steve Gilliland: "'Awake My Soul!' Dealing Firmly with Depression", published in the Ensign magazine in 1978 (a link to the full text of this article is in a previous post).  Here are the parts of Gilliland's article that are particularly meaningful to me:

1. "I'm aware, from my experience with people, that they can change their lifestyle and take the steps of repentance without having peace of conscience.  Many times the Spirit of the Lord has spoken to repentant and worthy persons, but like the Lamanites converted by Nephi and Lehi, 'they knew it not' (3 Nephi 9:20)."  

I (Potato Girl) have felt unable to sense the Spirit's presence at times when I have been depressed, and I've spoken with others who have experienced similar feelings.  It feels like God has withdrawn himself from me in disgust, and I used to believe that was the case.  I know now, however, that that is never true.  I used to believe that the feelings I was having about myself were the same feelings that God had about me.  I have said "prayers" acknowledging how much God must hate me, and telling him that I wished he would kill me and send me straight to hell. At these times in my life, I was doing everything I could to live in accordance with his will.  I was not sinning in any egregious way that I was aware of.  My sin, it seemed to me, was that of existing.  My sin was being a horrible person (but in a general way, not being able to identify any specific horrible behavior that needed to be changed).  

I have a dear friend who has struggled to pray and read her scriptures daily, for years, without feeling any sense of God's love, or any whispering of the Spirit's voice in her heart.  I remember a time in my own life when I went to the temple weekly, hoping to find the refuge and peace that so many feel there, only to spend each 90 minute session consumed by thoughts of putting a gun to my head.  

Depression can make it very hard to hear the Spirit, and untreated depression can go on for years.  Can you imagine what it would do to your soul, to your faith, to your relationship with God, if you were trying to be a good person and you were feeling nothing but self-loathing? Can you see how easily you might come to a mistaken belief that those horrible feelings were coming from God?  It was during my mission to the Philippines that I first began to imagine that my assumptions about God's hatred of me might not be accurate.  That was eleven years ago, and I am very happy to report that I now know, without a doubt, that God and his spirit are NEVER the source of those dark and ugly thoughts and feelings we have.  This leads me to the next section of Gilliland's talk that I love:

2. "Each of us has many voices within, criticizing and praising, encouraging and discouraging, desiring and warning, reasoning and disregarding.  We've all wondered at some time which voices were from the Lord and which were from Satan, which came with us from premortal life and which we've acquired since birth."  

Gilliland goes on to describe the way many of the voices in our head come from our childhood, from the things parents, teachers, and others said to us in our formative years.  In my own case, I remember a childhood filled with love, praise, and support from the adults in my life.  The negative voices in my head, I believe, are a result of the twisted thinking habits that I developed during the years I lived with untreated depression.  

Regardless of where the negative voices may be coming from, I like what Gilliland says: "You cannot easily erase those destructive voices from the past, but you can recognize what they do to you and turn them off.  You can rid yourself of these voices by replacing them with positive feedback and experiences that build self-esteem."  

Now I'm out of time and energy, so I'll just include the rest of the statements I especially liked without commenting on them:

3. "Discouragement is not the Lord's method--it's Satan's.  Satan emphasizes your weaknesses; the Lord, your ability to overcome.  Satan urges immediate perfection to make you feel inadequate.  The Lord leads you toward perfection." 

4. "If the voice you hear leaves you feeling weaker, more doubtful about your capability of overcoming sins, if it continues to remind you of past mistakes and sins that you have already repented of, then it is not of the Spirit of the Lord.  The Lord seeks to strengthen you, to give you the power to overcome problems.  He wants you to recognize your weaknesses and then do something about them."

5. "Suppose you're thinking about a mistake you've made.  Ask yourself: Is this helping me deal with the problems I'm now having or is it making me feel more inadequate?  If it's dragging you down, push it out of your mind or crowd something else in front of it."

6. In answer to the rhetorical question, "Isn't there some value in punishing myself enough that I won't repeat my sins?" Gilliland writes, "No! Nowhere in the scriptures do I find any license to punish myself...It's much better to reward ourselves for what we do right.  This helps us focus on our strengths and moves us more in that direction; punishment focuses on our weaknesses and doesn't teach us any new behaviors.  If I immediately start tormenting myself for my weakness when I find myself dwelling on an unworthy thought, I don't have enough strength or determination to resist the next temptation. If, instead, I thank the Lord for showing me that the thought is unwholesome and helping me shift my mind away, I leave the situation closer to the Lord, grateful for the strength I have, and praying for greater strength in the future."

7. "Ask yourself, what are these thoughts and feelings doing to me?  Are they helping me improve?  Are they leading me to repent?  Can I help other people when I feel this way?  Are they making me feel weaker and more inadequate?  If the thoughts aren't productive, then really fight back...Instead of being angry at yourself, be angry at those discouraging voices. Satan may disguise them as the voice of conscience, but they're really his.  Turn them off.  You'll need the Lord's help doing it.  Pray for strength to cast them out of your mind..."

8. "Search for your good qualities, your strengths.  Think of the good things you have done and those times when the Spirit has whispered peace to your soul.  (Fight off that satanic reflex that says, 'Yes, but you didn't do...') Enjoy the good that you are.  Express your gratitude to the Lord for these good things.  As he helps you cast out evil, defeating thoughts, fill the vacuum with productive memories."

I hope some of these thoughts are helpful to you.  They have been very helpful to me, as long as I can remember them.  I need to be reminded of them often.  Wish me luck for Tuesday night!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Family Traditions or Mom's Dream Tree

I know that Christmas has passed, but I'm not done posting about it, so oh well.

In my family of origin, here is the way we get our Christmas trees.  My dad pays $10 for a permit that allows us to cut down one (1) tree in the Boise National Forest.  We drive up to Idaho City in the truck with a hacksaw.  We climb a mountain covered in snow, seeing virtually no trees that are small enough to even consider cutting.  All the while, we are thinking of our mother back at the ranch, praying that we will bring her a tree that will not be a total embarrassment.  We cut the prettiest small tree we can find, carry it back down the mountain, and load it into the truck.  When we arrive back at home and proudly show mom our tree, she proclaims it (accurately) to be just as un-Christmas-tree-like as last year's, and asks (again) why we can't just get a pretty, normal tree like everyone else.  Then we decorate it as best we can, and endure several weeks worth of neighbors and friends coming to the house and making comments on how they've never seen a tree quite like ours.

This year, Esther and I got to spend a weekend in Boise and accompany my dad in the truck up to the Boise National Forest to get the tree.  Here I experienced another of my family traditions.  That is the tradition in which we go hiking with my dad, he gets tired of how slow we are going, or of how many of us there are, and he tells us to wait for him for just a minute while he goes off to scout something or other.  So here I am stranded on a steep snowy mountain with a heavy, writhing toddler (and no stroller or backpack to put her in), waiting for my dad to return.    Finally I hear his voice from a distance.  My heart stops, thinking that he has fallen and that Esther and I will need to drag him to safety somehow.  He is several hundred feet below us (completely unharmed), and tells us not to come down directly to him because it is too steep. He tells me to find the gully that he is walking along, and then he keeps walking, away from us, and completely out of sight.  You have got to be kidding me!  Esther is hungry, she is cold, she is fussy, and I am exhausted.  My arms are shaking from holding her, and there is no place to sit down that is not covered in snow.  We don't even have any snacks.  I was honestly picturing this trip very differently, I can assure you.  So I begin to hike back down the ridge, looking for the entrance to the gully my dad had referred to.  Meanwhile, Esther starts folding her arms the way she does when we say a family prayer.  I can only assume that she is trying to initiate a prayer, and I'm starting to feel a bit scared, so I say a little prayer with her.  She folds her arms like this at least 4, 5, 6 more times, and I say a prayer with her each time.  I am yelling to my dad as loud as I can and he is not answering.  We are fighting our way through deep snow, over downed trees, and there is a steep slope on either side of us.  I am on the verge of tears when he suddenly appears around a bend, hacksaw in one hand, cut pine tree over the other shoulder.  He begins to ask me to take a look at the tree, to tell him if I think mom will like it, or if he should go back and try to find another one.  I'm nearly fainting with relief to see him again, to not be lost on a mountain with my baby in the middle of December.  "The tree is great!" I say.  "Let's go!"  He guides us back to the car.  We are much farther away than I thought, and there are many steep slick spots that he helps us through.  I am so happy to have him back, I have already forgiven him for leaving us in the first place.    

By the time we get home, I am so happy to be alive and safe, I could care less what the tree looks like.  As dad points out all of the tree's great qualities, mom looks exasperated.  He is wondering if he shouldn't have gone back and tried to find a better one.  Mom points out that the moment he bought that tree permit, her hopes for a beautiful Christmas tree ended.  He tried to find one mom would like, but let's face it, there are no trees in the entire forest that look like the kind you buy at a Christmas tree lot (or a Michigan Christmas tree farm, for that matter).  She wants fullness.  She wants triangular shape.  She wants postcard.  He brings her a scraggly little wild animal.  

For me, the annual tree squabble between mom and dad is part of my beloved Christmas tradition.  I've always been proud of our Boise National Forest trees.  But this year I finally realized that this is not a happy tradition for my mom any more than being abandoned on the side of a mountain is for me.  She really does mourn the Christmas tree of her dreams.  And I realized this year for the first time that dad gets his dream tree every single year.  So this year I'm campaigning for mom's dream tree in '08.  Dad, give mom the tree SHE wants.  Who knows, maybe you'll have to come to Michigan to get it.