Sunday, June 13, 2010

More on Intuitive Eating: Getting Rid of Your Scale

If you are interested in learning more about intuitive eating, Wikipedia has a short article that you may want to look at here.  The article mentions a number of different authors and titles, many of which I have checked out from the library and am starting to work my way through.

I finished reading Geneen Roth's book (Women Food and God) on the plan ride home from Tampa.  During the next week I worked to apply the concepts I had learned from her:

Geneen Roth's Seven Guidelines to Natural Eating

1. Eat when you are hungry. (Truly hungry, body hungry not mind hungry)

2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.

3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspaper, books, intense   or anxiety producing  conversation and music.

4. Eat only what your body wants. (Big difference from what your MIND wants!)

5. Eat until you are satisfied. (This is different than full).

6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.

7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure. 

I lost about six pounds without ever feeling hungry or deprived (or sick or depressed from overeating).  The next week, Eli & Dan had their back-to-back birthdays and I made a bunch of chocolate cupcakes and brownies.  I pretty much ate those things all day for two days and gained some weight back and felt sick and unhappy.  Each time I weighed myself and saw that I was not continuing to lose weight, I felt like my new eating goals were not working.  At about the same time, I started a 14-week Biggest Loser Competition with some friends.  The starting weight I entered was my new low weight, pre-birthday-chocolate-binge.  After a week, I weighed in at +0.5 pounds.  I tried to feel happy about the fact that the six pounds I had initially lost were still gone, but I was sad that I hadn't lost another six pounds the second week, and I started thinking that this new system was failing me (or rather I was failing the new system). 

The third week I pretty much gave up and weighed in at +3.5 pounds, still down from when I first returned from Florida, but sad nontheless.  I started reading Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  Where Roth speaks from personal experience as one who has struggled with compulsive binging and dieting throughout her life, Tribole and Resch are registered dietitians who discovered many of the same eating principles by working with clients in private practice. 

There is a section in Tribole and Resch's book called "The Scale as False Idol":

"'Please, please, let the number be...'  This wishful prayer is not occurring in the casinos of Las Vegas, but in private homes throughout the country.  But just like the desperate gambler waiting for his lucky number to come in, so is it futile for the dieter to pay homage to the 'scale god.'  In one sweep of the scale roulette, hopes and desperation create a daily drama that will ultimately shape what mood you'll be in for the day.  Ironically, 'good' and 'bad' scale numbers can both trigger overeating--whether it's a congratulatory eating celebration or a consolation party.  The scale ritual sabotages body and mind efforts; it can in one moment devalue days, weeks, and even months of progress...Weighing in on the scale only serves to keep you focused on your weight; it doesn't help with the process of getting back in touch with Intuitive Eating.  Constant weigh-ins can leave you frustrated and impede your progress.  Best bet--stop weighing yourself" (pages 66-70).

This description of what the numbers on the scale do to me is right on.  Regardless of how good I feel about my efforts to relate to food in a new way, regardless of the progress I might be making, I get on the scale several times a day and feel like a failure.  After reading this, I took my scale down to the basement and have not gotten on it for nearly a week.  I have noticed this week that without the scale, I am more able to turn my focus inward on how I am doing with my new eating goals.  When I eat too much of something that makes me feel sick (usually sweets), instead of rushing to the scale to confirm my worst fears, I can be more philosophical about how, in spite of telling myself that the sweets will comfort me in some way, they really just make my stomach (and my heart) hurt. 

Tomorrow morning I am supposed to weigh in again for my Biggest Loser competition.  I don't think this competition is exactly in harmony with the things I am trying to learn and change in my life, but I don't want to bail out on my friends.  I feel anxious for tomorrow, knowing that if the scale is up from last week I will feel like a failure.  I know that feeling like that is not helping me--is harming me, actually.  I am not motivated to "eat better" by a high number on the scale.  I feel like the number on the scale tells me whether or not this new philosophy is "working" (i.e. making me lose weight), that this (what I see as) enlightened way of thinking about food is true if I lose weight, and not if I don't.  But in my heart I feel that it is true and good for me to learn to live and eat this way, regardless of what the scale says, and according to the adherents of this philosophy, over time I will lose weight.  But it is a process.  Each "failure" is a learning opportunity, a step in the right direction.  As I write this, my stomach is upset because I ate one too many Lindt truffle balls an hour ago.  I am thinking about my weigh-in tomorrow and how that truffle ball is going to tip the scale in the wrong direction.  Without the scale, I think it might be easier to learn a lesson from the extra truffle ball and keep moving in the right direction, toward wholeness, toward wellness, toward freedom from some of the demons that plague me.

I am not an artist, but in my mind's eye I can see a reptilian monster with open mouth and sharp fangs.  He is trying to put me in his mouth.  The scales that cover his body look like the one on the floor of my bathroom, the same unacceptable number in each little window on each little scale.  I think this guy does belong in the basement, or maybe even at Salvation Army or a land fill somewhere. 

Intuitive Eating

Written May 30, 2010:

Dan and I recently took a trip to Tampa for a conference of his on Clearwater Beach.  We enjoyed our time together, but realized we probably don't need more than 24-48 hours of alone time before we're ready to be reunited with the little ones.  By the end of our five days we couldn't wait to see them.

I read a new book on our trip that was recommended by a friend called Women Food and God by Geneen Roth.  Roth is a leading voice in the anti-diet/ normal eating/ intuitive eating movement.  Adherents of this way of thinking claim that dieting (and the binging it inspires when the diet fails) leads to obesity and negative self-image.  She encourages people to stop dieting, to stop thinking of foods as "bad" or "good" and instead to learn to really listen to their body.  Feed your body when you are hungry, and stop eating when you are satisfied.  Eat what your body is craving.  Eat sitting down, pay attention to what you are eating, focus on the experience.

Roth's book deals a lot with emotional eating, eating that has nothing to do with the body's need for food.  I really recognized a lot of what she was talking about.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


The boys' fingernails had become a source of shame and embarrassment for me and Dan.  They are usually long and dirty and the cuticles ragged.  We do trim their nails, but they just get so dirty and they grow so fast.  A few nights ago while Dan was reading them a chapter in The Great Brain, I had an idea.  I brought a bowl full of warm soapy water, a nail brush, hand towels, cuticle butter, and my favorite lotion out to the living room and announced that I would be doing manicures while Dan read.  One at a time, I had the boys soak both hands in the warm water and then I went to work gently scrubbing and cleaning and moisturizing.  It was really fun!  The boys enjoyed it as well, until I started pushing back their cuticles and nipping the dead skin.  I nicked Adam once and Eli twice and they bled like crazy.  That sort of ruined the mood.  After that I promised no more cuticle nipping.  These nightly manicures are already making a huge difference in the way their hands look.  Now I feel happy when I look at their hands, knowing that I am helping to take care of them.  Adam loves the Burt's Bees lemon cuticle cream.  And I can't help but think of the Savior washing the feet of his disciples as I rub the lotion into their hands at the end.

P.S. If you are a Veggie Tales fan and know the song "Barbara Manatee", you might be amused to know that the boys are now calling me "Barbara Manicure."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Two prayers with one slice

A few nights ago my friend brought me a delicious 5 point dinner (we are doing Weight Watchers together)--grilled chicken in a pita with hummus and veggies.  I ate it and then sent Dan to buy pizza for everyone else for dinner.  I was doing yard work (pulling dandelions in a somewhat obsessive manner) so Dan and the children ate pizza together and I came in later.  After the children were all in bed, I started to feel hungry again and discovered that there was a box full of leftover pizza on the stove--a lot more than usual.  I helped myself to several slices of the deep dish pepperoni, figuring it was my portion that I hadn't eaten earlier in the evening.

The next morning when Adam came to our bed to snuggle, he started talking about how excited he was to eat his remaining three pieces of pizza that he was too full to finish the night before.  Doh.  I told him that I was pretty sure I had eaten those pieces and he went ballistic.  He was crying and screaming about how I always steal his food, and Dan told me later how he was picturing Adam in therapy the rest of his life working through this issue.  When I realized what I had done, and then saw how Adam was reacting, I started praying that by some miracle I had left one piece of the deep dish pepperoni in the box, although I was pretty sure I hadn't.  After a few minutes I told Adam that there were a few pieces of the regular cheese pizza left, so he went out to the kitchen, still wailing, to have one of those.  When he opened the pizza box, there to our astonishment, was one last piece of deep dish pepperoni.   Dan said, "See Adam, God does love you."  But I was pretty sure He had conjured that miraculous piece of pizza, perhaps fashioning it out of a leftover crust, because He loves me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Can I Help?

Naomi has reached an age where she will no longer lay quietly on her back while I change her diaper.  She squeals and writhes and does her best to flip over and crawl away.  It is almost impossible to change her, unless...I give her a wet wipe.  As soon as I hand her a wet wipe of her very own, she redirects her energy toward using it to wipe her own little bum.  When she first began making it clear that she wanted to hold her own wet wipe, I had to be sure to give her a fresh clean one (she'd try to grab the used one from my hand) because it would go straight into her mouth.  The next step was that she would try to wipe herself with it and then put it in her mouth.  But now she will just do her best to wipe, and then let me throw the dirty wipe away with my wipe when we're done.

Tonight as we were going through this ritual, and I was marveling, again, at how quickly she transforms from fighting me to helping me when I give her that wipe, I remembered a talk by Kenneth Johnson, "We All Have a Father in Whom We Can Trust."  In it, Johnson tells two stories.  First, as a boy of five, he loved to watch his dad working in the shop in their back yard, building furniture for the family:  

He invited me to help him by passing a hammer, a screwdriver, or some other tool. I was convinced that my help was necessary and that without me he would not be able to complete his task...As I look back and reflect upon those wonderful memories, I realize that my contribution was not necessary for my father to complete the work he was engaged in. I was the beneficiary, as through these experiences I came to know him and to love him.

In the second story, Johnson is now the father of a five-year-old son.  One day he had prepared their front door for a new coat of paint.  Just as he was about to start painting, Kevin asked if he could help:

I hesitated before responding, considering what effect this would have on the fulfillment of my dream, or alternatively how he would feel if I declined his offer. It was almost as if I heard someone else say, "That would be a great help. Thank you."

Providing him with an old shirt of mine that covered him completely, almost touching the floor and with sleeves rolled back several times, we went to work on the door that secured the main entrance to our home. He was applying paint to the bottom panel as I worked on the top section. I noticed that because of his age and physical stature, he wasn’t able to spread the paint evenly and that beads of paint were resulting. Each time he bent down to recharge his brush, I would hastily smooth out the paint on the bottom panel, returning to my assigned area so that he would not realize what I was doing. After a while I decided that more important than a first-class paint job was the opportunity to work with my son. On reflection I realized how well he was doing. Thereafter, every time I approached the door and saw the distinctive style of decoration, I was reminded of what is really important in our lives.

Johnson compares both of these experiences to our relationship with God.  God invites us to help him in his work, not because he needs the help, but because of the relationship it allows us to develop with him. 

Now I'm thinking about the work I do around the house, and the role my children play in that work.  The easiest way for me to "get something done" is to stick the kids in front of a movie.  Then they are so quiet, and I can concentrate and work quickly and lose myself in the task.  Alternately, I can leave them playing, try to get some work done, and be constantly interrupted by them, the frequency of the interruptions having a direct correlation to the urgency with which my task needs to be finished.  But this talk suggests a way that I rarely, if ever, employ, in which I ask the children to help me with the task I am trying to accomplish.  Then, instead of having the completion of the task as my main goal, the goal becomes getting to know my children better, spending time with them, teaching them, loving them.

I really like the idea of this.  It is so hard to do in daily life!  For one thing, it requires that you have a much smaller list of things to get done, because working with children can be slow.  It requires changing your expectations--the door doesn't look as nice when you are done painting it if you let your five-year-old "help" you.  I can think of so many times when I've been hurrying to make dinner and a child comes into the kitchen and says he wants to help, what can he do to help?  And I say, essentially,  "go away, that would help me the most."  Ouch. 

Now, to be fair, Johnson was not taking his five-year-old to work with him at the office every day and letting him help there.  The help was invited for weekend projects when he was home from work.  As a stay-at-home type, I do not have an office to go to where I can "get my work done" without the children.  But what if I think of the work as being the children, not the meals or laundry or cleaning or errands?  Now that changes things.  If my work at home is raising children, not housework, then involving them in housework is getting my most important work done. 

What do you think?

Chinks in the Armor

Reporting back on our lives without television.  Remember how one of the benefits of only having a computer is that its use is password protected?  A little problem with this occurs when I am trying to take a nap and the boys are home from school.  They have discovered that if they awaken me from my nap, and ask for my password,  I will usually give it to them, roll over, and go back to sleep.  When I wake up, I am surprised to see them on the computer.  "Hey, I thought your screen time was over," I say.  "It was," they reply, "but you gave us your password so that you could keep sleeping."  Hmm...

Things like this happen: Dan brings Adam home from an outpatient surgery to remove a growth on his lip.  The stitches are causing him extreme anxiety, and he is hysterical.  Dan suggests that the thing Adam needs most is to be "plugged-in."  I immediately cave, with only the weakest breath/ just the half-formed thought of protest sounding faintly in my mind. 

Eli spends two days home from school with pink eye.  He begs for computer time because he is "so bored."  I agree to 30 minutes.  When it is over I hear him asking his three-year-old sister if she wants to watch some cute pink Pokemon.  The next thing I see is Eli logged-on to Esther's account, using her 30 minutes to watch some more of his movie.  When that time ends, he wants to know if he can have Adam's time, or if I will just let him use my account during the 2-3 hours of naptime in the afternoon.

When I say no, there will be no screen time today, or no, we will not extend screen time past each child's 30 minute allotment, one of the most common responses is that it is not fair that I get as much screen time as I want.  When I tried to explain to Eli earlier this week that I do not sit around playing computer games and watching movies when I'm having screen time, he said, "can I have more screen time if I promise not to play any games or watch any movies?"  He wanted to do Pokemon "research"--he is creating recipes using fruits and berries from the Pokemon world.

I'm kind of spineless.  I do not like it when my children are angry with me.  I don't like having to say "no" to them over and over and over again.  I start to question I being too extreme?  Would it really hurt them to have a few more minutes?  Can I survive this day without my nap?  Would I be willing to give up using the computer so that I could ask them to do the same?

The system that has been working pretty well is that they cannot have any screen time M-F, but then the weekend often turns into a free-for-all screen orgy.  This is not exactly how I envisioned things.  Because of all the begging, pleading, whining, cajoling, related to screens, I would really just like to throw this computer out the window sometimes so that I can get some peace while, at the same time, sticking to my guns.  But it is such a beautiful iMac!

When I got rid of the television and DVD players, I also got rid of nearly every DVD and VHS tape we owned.  I kept the "Sunday" viewing...movies made by the church, or about the scriptures.  If I then restrict library trips to Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, and then return all the DVDs they've checked out Sunday or Monday morning, there is less temptation in the house.  But as long as we have internet, there is always plenty for them to do online (and for me), even without owning a single game, Wii, X-Box, etc.

I have tried a system in which I promise to have no screen time until they are in bed for the night, after 9 p.m.  This kind of works, as long as I'm consistent.  But I like my screen time, too, and I justify it by saying that I need the computer to run the bills, look up phone numbers, communicate through email, store and order photos, do family history research...

We've gotten off track recently because the last week of February was midwinter break and then the first week of April was spring break.  Regulating the screen time is much harder for me when the boys are home all day.  They really struggle to take "no" for an answer, and I really struggle to be consistent.  Summer is right around the corner, and I really want to figure this out.  This morning both boys are back at school, and here comes Esther asking for her 30 minutes of screen time.  Just a week ago, she had completely stopped asking for screen time on weekdays, because I just said "no" every time.  Darn that pink eye of Eli's and that mouth surgery of Adam's.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sorry for all these ancient posts

I was going through my post archives tonight and noticed a number of drafts from a long time ago that I had never published.  I published a bunch of them, thinking they would show up way down in the blog according to the date that I started writing them (several years ago).  But they all showed up here at the top, so now it looks like they are current posts.  I'm so unsavvy.

Soporific Sudoku (written in 2006)

Although, like most people, I had been aware of the existence of Sudoku for some time, I did not successfully complete my first puzzle until August of this year. After that, it became a kind of addiction for me. Now I use Sudoku to help myself fall asleep at night.  There's nothing quite like a number puzzle to get the worries of the day out of your mind.

Eli & Adam's Other Mommy (written November 2006)

Michelle told me this week that her kids refer to Leslie as "Eli and Adam's Other Mommy." I would say that this is a very apt description of her. Leslie is Dan's 25-year-old sister. She sleeps in a cold, dark bedroom in our basement, affectionately referred to as "the ice cave." While Leslie claims to be living with us in order to save money while she attends school, I think she may have been hired by an altruistic philanthropist to inject an element of fun into the boys' otherwise dreary lives. Leslie, for instance, is the creator of the multiple rainbow layered birthday cakes that are becoming a thing of legend among the boys' friends. Eli's birthday was in May, after Leslie had left for the summer. Knowing this, she made his 7-layer birthday cake several weeks in advance, freezing each layer, so that we could put it together on Eli's big day. When we cut into it at his party in the park, the kids and adults were amazed. It was so tall and colorful. Adam, of course, wanted his own, so for his fifth birthday in October, Leslie made him a 5-layer version. Leslie and Adam have the same birthday. Last year and again this year, Leslie crafted an amazing balloon festive masterpiece. This year's is depicted above. For Halloween last year and this year, the boys got to draw whatever they wanted on their pumpkins, and then Leslie carved it for them. Right now, as I type, Leslie is behind me in the kitchen making gingerbread cookie batter so that they can make gingerbread men together after school tomorrow. She is planning an ice skating trip with them before she goes West for the holiday. Leslie takes the boys on bike rides. She downloads pictures of Harry Potter and Legolis and Lord of the Rings and gemstones and whatever else they are interested in.  If only all children were so lucky as to have Leslie as their other mommy.

Trippin' in the District (written April 2007)

Last Friday (April 6), Dan came home from work early and we all piled into the car and drove to Washington D.C. We were planning to leave around noon (2 at the latest), so of course we left at 4:30. In spite of our late departure, we still arrived by 1 a.m., so I was pretty impressed with us. Dan drove the whole way, and we only stopped once...that is almost unbelievable, considering we had three children under the age of 8 in the car with us. We spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights at Dan's sister's house in Falls Church, Virginia. We were planning to sleep on an air mattress in the living room, but Melinda's roommate spent the weekend with family, so we had her king bed all to ourselves. Esther was comfortable in her portable crib, and the boys slept on the floor in Bug's room.

We were planning on spending Saturday visiting the museums with Dan's cousin Carma and her family, who were down for the weekend from New York City. When Melinda talked to them Saturday morning, they were headed to the Air and Space museum, and we were just waking up. She told them we could probably be there in 90 minutes or so. We first drove to Rockville, Maryland, to pick up my brother James and get a quick tour of his house. He had an ultimate frisbee game that afternoon, and had left his cleats at work, so our next stop was the World Wildlife Fund headquarters downtown. We found a parking spot just across the street from the entrance. James took us up to his cubicle, where he had some presents for the boys. Then we went down to the exercise room in the basement and played on the balls there. When we finally left it was a little after 1, and James had to catch the metro back to Maryland for his game. We got back in the car and went to find a parking place. This, of course, took a long time, and by the time we had parked, everyone was starving. Melinda had invited a friend from the Ukraine to meet us on the Mall, so we tried to find her in the Botanic Garden. It was hot and muggy inside, and the people were packed together like sardines. We were trying to maneuver the giant, unwieldy blue jogging stroller (which Esther refused to sit in), so everything seemed to take twice as long. Our next stop was the Museum of the American Indian, where Melinda had told us we could get all kinds of Native American foods in the cafe. Dan was craving a Navajo Taco, so we stood in the 30 minute line to get in. Esther was beside herself by this time, so I sat and nursed her while everyone else went to get food. We finally hooked up with Carma and Greg at the outdoor sculpture garden near the museum of African Art. They were exhausted by this time, and headed back to their hotel, after spending the day waiting for us to arrive. The kids ran around together for about 15 minutes, and then we parted ways. Our next stop was the Museum of Natural History.  So much for meeting up with them in about 90 minutes.

Latest Favorites

First on the list of our latest library book favorites is The Dog Child by Simon Black, illustrated by Honorio Robledo. I thought this book was cute, and a little bit weird, but it was a big hit with the boys. It is about a couple who treats their dog as though she is their daughter, even sending her to kindergarten. Finally they have a human baby, and the dog gets to go back to being a regular pet.

The next book that merits mention comes with a warning. I am not actually recommending this book. This is by far the most violent picture book I have ever laid eyes on. I actually couldn't believe what I was seeing. Because of this, I have been showing it to everyone who comes over. That has launched the book to celebrity status in our house, and Adam has begged for it ever since. I actually don't recommend that you read it to your child, but you might want to look at it just for shock value: The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas.

My third recommendation is this nonfiction book about a group of children who grew vegetables together one summer: A Harvest of Color: Growing a Vegetable Garden by Melanie Eclare.

Ode to Leslie (written June 2007)

Yesterday morning, Leslie left us. Right now, it still feels like she might just be gone on an overnight trip to Muskegon, or even a week-long vacation in Utah. But she is not coming back, and that is very sad. Leslie is one of Dan's baby sisters. Adam was born on her 20th birthday. Leslie moved into our basement in late summer of 2005. She spent two school years with us, while completing a Master's degree in viola.  Those two years were a gift to me and my children that I'll always be grateful for.

2nd Visit with New Counselor (written July 2007)

Since I'm going to see my new counselor for the third time tomorrow, I thought I'd best hurry and record the highlights of my session last week. Here are some of the things we talked about:

1. "Positive Intent" This is a phrase that came up over and over again. My counselor kept telling me that every negative emotion has a positive intent. She said that actually, according to the theory of positive intents, every action has a positive intent as well. Instead of focusing on how bad if feels to have a negative emotion, she encouraged me to try to figure out what the positive intent of that emotion is...what it is trying to get me to do.

2. We talked a lot about my messy kitchen. We made a plan that I will focus on keeping 4 things clean as my first priority, because with them, I can usually make dinner: a knife, a cutting board, a pot, and the table. If the table is clean, we can sit down to eat, Adam can work on his writing, I can have a place to cut up things, and I feel less overwhelmed.

3. I received the assignment to research Daniel Goleman's concept of emotional intelligence so that we could talk about it next time. I haven't done that yet.

4. I received the assignment to search for research jobs on the LDS employment website.

We talked a lot about my plan to go to nursing school, and how that may not be the best plan for me. We talked about the fact that I may be using school as a crutch. Instead of relying on school to get me motivated to accomplish things, it would be good for me to figure out how to motivate myself to accomplish the things I want to do, like writing for a living. We talked about the three things I'd most like to do in a job, namely writing, research, and teaching. I guess I should add talking to people.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Anne Lamott: Sit Down and Write

I would like to start out by thanking my friend Eileen for recommending that I read Anne Lamott.  I had never heard of her, but Eileen gave her such a rousing endorsement that I took notice.  I got Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life, read some (or all?) of it, laughed a lot, and forgot about Anne Lamott for a season.  That was many years ago.

More recently, while searching The Readers' Choice: 200 Book Club Favorites by Victoria McMains for titles to recommend to my book group, I noticed Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son's First Year by Anne Lamott.  It looked good, and I remembered having heard of her before...(see how keen my memory is?)

I read the book.  I almost wet my pants I was laughing so hard in places.  I also found great comfort in it, and hope.  You will not want to read the book if you try to avoid profanity as a rule.  But you will be missing out on one of the truest accounts of first-time motherhood I've ever read.

Now I'm in the middle of reading Bird by Bird again.  This time I have not forgotten who Anne Lamott is.  When I read something that I want to remember, I try to write it down.  But I'm not sure where to start writing or where to stop with this book.  I think I just need to memorize most of it.  On the second page of the introduction, Lamott writes of her father, who was also a writer:

"He could go anyplace he wanted with a sense of purpose.  One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore.  Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.  Writing taught my father to pay attention..."

Have you felt this as a blogger, an historian, as a diarist or journal-keeper?  When you are in the habit of writing things down, do you find that you notice more of what is happening around you?  How frequently do you say to yourself, "this will make a great post" and pay special attention, or get out your camera, just to better capture the moment?  If I write something down, I remember it.  The rest is lost.

Lamott's father got out of bed every morning at 5:30 so that he could spend a few hours writing before the rest of the family woke up.  She tells her writing students that in order to write, they need to sit down.  "You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day.  This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively" (6).

I was reading something recently about making sure that we are not so caught up in the busyness of life that we neglect the most important things.  I asked myself, what important thing am I neglecting?  The answer came in a flash, and it was unexpected: Writing.  The answer surprised me because writing is something that brings me a great deal of pleasure, so I don't usually think of it as important.   I like thinking of it as something that I am supposed to do, something that God has given me to bring me happiness, something that he wants me to spend time on.  I like the idea that by doing something I love to do, I could also be doing something good for others.

So I am going to try to sit down a little more frequently to write, instead of waiting until I think something "blog-worthy" has happened.  And if you enjoy what I write, please let me know.  And keep reading!

Books, Books about Books, Lists of Books

I like to read books.  

I like to read books about books: Nancy Pearl's Book Lust is a great example.

I like to make lists of books that I've read.  Unlike my sister Karen, who keeps her book list in a dedicated journal, I have always made my lists on random pieces of paper that get lost.  Now, however, I keep track of my books on a website for readers called, which, hopefully, will never get lost.

I like to collect lists of books to read in the future.  One of my favorite Christmas presents of all time is a list my above-mentioned sister Karen made me of her ten favorite books in each of 6 different categories.  If you have a list of favorites to share, please pass it on!

Besides lists of favorite books made by friends, I have a special affinity for "must-read" lists made by  book "authorities" of some kind.  One I recently discovered (and spent over an hour perusing) is Time Magazine's Best 100 English-Language Novels from 1923 to "the present" (list published in October 2005).  This is a particularly nice list as it gives a brief synopsis of each book, alerting me to the fact that I do not actually want to read Lolita, no matter how many times I've seen it listed.

One of my mental hobbies is thinking up different reading lists or themes for imaginary book clubs.  Here are some of my ideas:

*Books about by authors from a different country each month.   I just found a blog tonight for a group in Scotland that does this very thing: Round the World Book Group.
*Books that have been made into movies.  I might start with The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham or The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.   
*Books in thematic pairs.  One pair of books I'd like to read and discuss is Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar (some say Martel plagiarized Scliar).   Another pair I've been thinking of is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy with Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (married women having affairs and committing suicide).
*Dystopian Fiction: 1984, A Brave New World, The Giver, The Handmaid's Tale...
*Books with strong religious or spiritual themes
*Multiple books by the same author
*Books about the craft of writing.  The one I'm reading right now and loving is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Car Accident, Bike Wreck, Pink Eye, Teething

This has been quite the week, and we are ready to put it behind us.  Monday night Dan's car started to hydroplane as he rounded a tight corner on a freeway on-ramp.  He overcorrected and the car slammed front and then back into the concrete median wall dividing his lane from the rest of the freeway.  He came to a stop facing the on-coming traffic, which had all come to a stop in time to avoid hitting him.  Dan was able to move the car to the shoulder and walked away unscathed.  The same could not be said for his car, affectionately known as Venus.  Venus was the first new vehicle we bought together.  She joined our family just a few months before Adam did, and has been a trusty and reliable friend ever since.  We had dropped her insurance to liability and the body shop came back with an estimate of over five thousand dollars to fix her.  The cost, along with the fact that she had almost 200,000 miles and no AC, led us to the difficult decision to say goodbye.  Wednesday Dan cleaned her out and removed her license plate.  We are selling her for $350 to someone at the body shop who plans to sell her parts on eBay.  She's a DNR and an organ donor.

Tuesday on his way home from school, the chain slipped off of Eli's bike, causing an accident which resulted in a sad, scraped-up boy claiming that both arms were broken (although one was worse than the other).  Being the kind, angelic mother that I am, I was dubious.  I called the nurse and she said to give him some Tylenol and see if he felt better in an hour.  I kept an eye on him.  He seemed to be using both arms somewhat, and there was no visible swelling, but on the other hand, he was trying to keep the worst arm close to him and kept saying he thought it was broken.  Dan offered to take him to the ER when he got home from work, and lo and behold, the left arm was indeed broken.

Wednesday night Esther's eye started oozing goo, and Thursday morning it was sealed shut.  That meant a trip to the Pediatrician and a prescription to fill.  Friday morning her other eye was equally bad, but I made an executive decision to just use the drops on both eyes, which she takes like a champ, and by now is almost 100% better.

Meanwhile, Naomi spent the week toddling around the house crying, probably due to an entire mouthful of new teeth coming in.  Normally she plays happily with her dollies and the curtains between the back of the couch and the picture window in the living room, but this week there was no happy playing.

And what did I do this week?  I decided that it would be the perfect time to dive back into one of my most addictive, obsessive habits: family history research.  If I could do this in moderation, it would be fine, but when I get on the trail trying to hunt down missing information, it is really hard for me to stop or to limit myself.  So I spent most of the week up until 2 or 3 in the morning doing research until my eyes crossed.  It was a Little Caesar's week for sure.

Yesterday I got to a good stopping point and put the genealogy away in the basement.  Today I took two excellent naps.  We are getting closer to a decision on Dan's replacement car, and time is healing his sorrow and frustration over the accident.  Eli goes to the orthopedist tomorrow to get a cast, hopefully one that will allow his elbow to bend.  Naomi is back to her quiet playing behind the couch, and Esther's eyes are clear.  Friday is a holiday for Dan and the children, my brother is coming to town, and it is almost Easter.  Here's to a better week!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Walking. Very. Slowly.

I may finally be maturing enough as a parent to allow my three year old to set the pace for our walks. Or maybe it is because my darling friend picks me up every morning at 5:45 so that we can work out together before child duty calls, that I can take a walk later in the day without feeling desperate to call it exercise. Today was the second time this week that I have taken the girls out on a nature walk. We walk very slowly around the block together looking for signs of spring. I told Esther to keep her eyes out for two signs in particular: buds and shoots. On our first walk of this kind, we saw a few buds, no shoots, and then a whole yard full of pine cones, several thousand of which we wanted to gather and take home.

Today we took a different route and found an exciting display of shoots, some really big soft furry buds that we petted gently, and...a sign of spring I hadn't expected... CROCUSES! Yay! The object of passionate collecting today was a yard-full of spikey dried brown ball things that had obviously fallen from the tree above. I did not know what they were or what the tree of their origin was called, so later in the day I tried to look them up. Striking out several times, I finally found a very helpful blog post from a naturalist in Princeton, NJ, who suggests that you identify the trees in your neighborhood by looking at what is on the ground beneath them. And low and behold, there he had a picture of some of the very same little objects that we collected so many of today: the seed ball of an American Sweetgum, affectionately known as a "gumball" or "monkey ball." As it turns out, this is an unusual tree to see in Michigan, because its range does not usually extend this far north. Right here in our very own neighborhood. I feel a new interest in tree identification coming on...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The FlyLady Teaches Me About Perfectionism

One thing that I'm starting to realize about myself is that I have some perfectionist tendencies and they get in my way. This perfectionism does not take the form of "I will work myself into a frenzy and my stress level will go through the roof to do this task perfectly," but rather, "I don't have the strength, time, motivation or resources to do this task perfectly, so I won't do it at all. In fact, I may just do the exact opposite of this task. But don't worry, I won't enjoy myself, since the task I am avoiding is hanging over my head the whole time."

One of the things that sold me so quickly on the FlyLady's book was her understanding of this whole mindset and how it affects something as simple as cleaning the house (simple for you, maybe). Here are some of my favorite things she says about it:

FlyLady: "I have found over the last 2 years that perfectionism is the main reason our homes are in bad shape... Perfectionism is the reason we are depressed and perfectionism keeps us from making things better" (14).

PotatoGirl: Intriguing possibility. (evil voice: Handy excuse, too.)

FL: "What!? You are not a perfectionist! As strange as it may seem, I will guarantee that you have traits that those so-called perfectionist, Born-Organized People (BO) have. There is a fine line that separates you from BOs and it has to do with where we measure up on the perfectionism tally. BOs tend to be compulsive about getting it clean and keeping it that way, while some of us won't even start a job unless we have enough time to do the job correctly. So we do nothing! Or we are trying to do too many things at once and nothing ever gets finished so we just give up and say, 'What's the use?'" (16).

PG: [Nodding in agreement about doing nothing, giving up, saying "what's the use?"]

FL: "You may have picked up this book in your never-ending struggle to find the magic formula to fix your family and your home."

PG: I can't count how many books I've read on this topic.

FL: "But, sweetie, the problem with your home has nothing to do with idleness on your part."

PG: Really? But don't you find it problematic that instead of working on that pile of dishes in my kitchen, I am sitting here on the couch reading this book? That seems like idleness to me.

FL: "I hear what you hear over and over again--the reason your home is trashed is because of your laziness."

PG: This woman is reading my thoughts. "Lazy" is one of my favorite mean labels for myself.

FL: "I know for a fact that I have never been lazy and I will wager the same about you."

PG: That is kind of you, but I'm not so sure...again, look at me sitting here reading this book, ignoring the disaster that is my kitchen.

FL: "Your problem is that you don't know what to do first and when you decide on a course of action, you are continually spinning your wheels and unable to finish anything. By the end of the day you are exhausted, the house is still trashed, and you have accomplished nothing."

PG: [Somewhat stunned]. This is exactly how I feel. FlyLady and I are the same person! I feel like a chicken running around with my head cut off most of the time. I feel paralyzed by the chaos and by the thought that no matter where I start, I won't finish everything that needs to be done, and in the meantime, the kids will be messing it up more. I find myself walking into the kitchen, determined to face it, taking one look at it, turning around, and going back to the couch and my book, completely overwhelmed yet also disgusted with myself.

Okay, well I'm tired now and I need to go to bed. I'm sorry to leave you right here in the pit of my perfectionism-induced despair, but stay tuned for a hopeful ending!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Goodbye Television, My Nemesis

It all started with an icky feeling that letting my children sit, jaws slack, eyes glazed over for hours at a time in front of a flickering screen, was not the best choice I could be making as a mother. But fighting them was so hard, and the peace and quiet purchased at the cost of my aggravated conscience was so guaranteed, so total, so immediate, it was nearly impossible to resist. I have given away television sets before, only to buy new ones a few months later. I have canceled our cable and not tried to use bunny ears to get a picture. I have set rules and systems governing amount of screen time, type of screen time, timing of screen time. I have agonized over content, wondering what is too violent, what is educational, what makes them more hyper or more prone to fight with each other. But in the end, if I am tired, if I "need" a break, if I want to escape, I let them at it and enjoy (with a guilty conscience) my vacation.

If you know me, you know that I like to do research. Screen time became a pet topic for me, and in my trolling of the library holdings on the subject, I came across The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn:

It sat with its companions on my shelf at home for a long time until I finally took it with me on a road trip in read it in the car. The book changed my life. I am not prepared to tell you everything I learned reading this book (it is late and I am tired), but it did help me understand the guilty conscience I've had about using a screen to babysit my children all these years. Since I finished the book in August, I've been wanting to get rid of our television, but I keep talking myself out of this move for being too drastic. Besides, I reason, our lovely computer plays DVDs, so there would really be no point in getting rid of the TV because we could just abuse the computer screen instead.

Last week was a busy one for me, and I was counting on Friday to get a lot of housework done. Friday morning Eli woke up vomiting. That sort of threw a wrench in my day, and I ended up plunking him down in my bed with the television and a stack of movies. Esther, of course, made a bee line for the bed, and Naomi is a little angel child who never fusses or cries, so I sat down at the computer, freed from the demands of my typically needy children, to "check my email." The day went poorly for me. We watched our separate screens virtually all day long, and the next morning I was mad. I was mad at myself and I was mad at that screen for stealing my day and my children away from me. Now, getting rid of myself would be a bit tricky, but I knew I could get rid of the screen. So I finally sat down and wrote an email offering my television, DVD/VHS player, and DVD player to anyone who would care to take them off my hands. By Sunday afternoon the television and DVD/VHS player was gone, and today I dropped off the second DVD players at a friend's.

To be truly screen-free, we would have to get rid of the computer I am using to write this post. I honestly cannot picture doing that, although there are days when I wonder if it wouldn't be worth the extreme inconvenience. But one nice thing about the computer is that I have child locks on it that allow each boy 30 minutes of screen time a day. When that time is over they cannot get back on, even if they are being supremely sneaky, because they don't know my password. Another nice thing is that with only one screen in the house, I can't stick them in front of one and then stick myself in front of another. With the resource more scarce, we're going to have more competition for it, and hopefully less mindless wasting of hours and days.

If this post sounds radical to you (it kind of does to me), it is probably because I have not taken the time to walk you through Marie Winn's wonderful book and all I learned while reading it. It is not a radical or guilt-inducing book. It is a thought-provoking book, and I've given it a lot of thought. The things she says in her book ring true to me, and give form and weight and deeper meaning to many of the upsetting feelings I've had about the relationship our family has had with television over the years. I have been trying to implement things I learned from her over the months, and explaining my actions to my children as I go, so there wasn't much of an outcry this weekend at what I'd done. When Esther and Adam saw two big boxes of movies get handed from the back of our van to the back of another, there was a moment of panic, but they were easily pacified by the reassurance that the other family would give the movies back to us if we wanted them (no need to mention that I don't want them back). Dan, with the wisdom gained from watching my television purges of the past, did ask me to sign a statement promising that a certain amount of time would elapse before I went and bought yet another new television. I assured him that since reading Winn's book, I have no plans for such a purchase until the baby is a teenager and her brain is safely developed, free of "the plug-in drug."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Marla Cilley, The FlyLady

I have just finished reading Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley, aka The FlyLady. A friend recommended this book to me several years ago. When it was obvious I hadn't done much with her recommendation, she loaned me her copy of the book. The book is pink, rather hard to miss, and it has been sitting on a shelf by my bed for several months. Untouched. Let's face it, there is a giant picture of a stainless steel kitchen sink on the front cover and it is about cleaning your house. Not exactly what I've been in the mood for. In January, while Dan and I were on our vacation, my mom read the book while watching the kids. I must admit, her admonitions upon my return that I read it were kind of a turn off, but at the same time, I was intrigued, and I can always use more suggestions in the homemaking department.

When I finally decided to read the darn book, it took less than a chapter to realize I had found a new soul mate. I don't know if Mormon women are really particularly good at balancing the care of a large family with the keeping of a beautiful home and the maintenance of a cute figure, but it seems like they are to me. I can't help but feel like a bit of a dysfunctional ugly duckling. I have often wondered if I am the only (Mormon) woman in the world who can't keep her house clean, and I'm not talking about the kind of deep cleaning that is only visible to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I'm talking about you drop by to visit and it looks like our home was recently struck by a tornado. As Dan likes to say, "the good thing about our house is that if a robber broke in, he would take one look at the living room and assume that someone else had beat him to the punch." Ah, the ransacked look. So cozy. So inviting.

So, back to my new soul mate, the FlyLady. There is so much about her to love, but my favorite right now is the fact that she knows I am a perfectionist, she knows that my perfectionism gets me paralyzed with indecision ("Where to start...I know, I'll sit on the couch and look out the window!" ), and she says set a timer for 15 minutes and tackle one small job until it goes off. The 15 minute approach has really been helping me, and the boys like it too. She also says that cleaning your house the "wrong" way still blesses your family, and describes imperfect cleaning methods that work just fine, like wiping off the bathroom sink with the dirty hand towel at the end of the day. She is also encouraging me to get rid of anything in our home that is not blessing us. Dan is thoroughly enjoying pointing out things that are not "blessing" our home, such as the broken floor lamp that has been propped up next to the dresser in our bedroom for several months (in the garbage, baby, oh yes), or a bottle in our kitchen cupboard that Naomi wouldn't even drink out of when she was small enough to use it (um, not in the garbage yet, come to think of it).

If you ever find yourself feeling like your messy house is going to bury you alive and you don't know where to start, I highly recommend making friends with the FlyLady. You may find her website overwhelming at first, so start with the book if you can.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Coronado Island

Many months ago Dan noticed that a law conference was going to be held on Coronado Island during the week of my birthday. He began the process of requesting permission to attend the conference, and finally received approval for full funding, including his airfare, meals, and 4 nights at the famous Hotel del Coronado, where the conference was being held. He also received permission for me to share the room with him, on condition that he not skip out on any of the conference. That is how I ended up spending my 35th birthday in a beautiful warm place, far away from the stresses of home and family life (not to mention the Michigan winter).

My mother and sister kindly agreed to fly out to stay with the children while we were gone. Dan was in meetings most of each day, so I got to explore on my own, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although the California natives that I ran into were horrified by the weather we experienced while I was there (rain and temperatures in the high 50s/ low 60s), I found it delightfully warm and the scenery green and lush. One morning, as I was walking along the beach, a warmly bundled local stopped me and asked if I was from out of state. "Yes," I replied, wondering how she knew. It was my shorts.

Although I enjoyed a trolley tour of San Diego, walking in Balboa Park, exploring Old Town, a dinner in Little Italy, watching Avatar in 3D, and a long train ride and walk to the old San Diego Mission, the highlight of the trip for me was the time I spent on Coronado Island. I loved walking through the neighborhood near our hotel. The homes were so nice, beautiful landscaping, new plants that I wasn't used to seeing, lovely, diverse architectural styles...I loved eating breakfast at a little cafe on Orange Street, eggs scrambled with fresh tomato, onion, and cilantro. I loved sitting on a small balcony at the hotel right up at eye level with the top of a palm tree rustling in the wind. I loved the blue sky, and watching how quickly the clouds blew in and it started to rain, and then the clouds blew away again for another patch of blue. One night after dinner, Dan and I walked down to the ferry landing and enjoyed a beautiful view of the San Diego skyline across the water, all lit up.

Here is our hotel:

San Diego skyline from the Coronado Bridge:

A beautiful tree at Balboa Park:

Friday, February 5, 2010

The baby is 14 months

Naomi turned one in November, and almost to the day I felt the cloud of first year baby haze dissipate. It has recently occurred to me that I used to post to this blog, and there is no reason that I could not start to do that again. In the past I wanted a separate blog for every aspect of my life, and I created "Healthy Potato Girl" about my quest for fitness, "Depression Club" about my struggles with my mood, and various blogs to post old journal entries from times I spent abroad. I have pulled all of these old posts from different blogs together into this blog, and I am going to start blogging about everything in my life that I want to talk about right here. Everything except my children. I did actually create one new blog, a private blog where I record family activities, interviews with the children, et cetera. If you are just dying to read about my kids and their glorious escapades, let me know and I will send you an invitation to their new "Tater Tots" blog.

P.S. The long list of links to friend & family blogs at the right of this page has gotten a bit unwieldy for me, so I'm going to start getting rid of links as I move them to my google reader. If you are still using my blog as your gateway to other friends, please make note of those peoples' addresses before they disappear!