One big and two small thankfuls this week

This is Labor Day weekend and I’m so happy to have an extra day off. To start on the right foot, I wanted to share a few of my thankfuls from this week.

Here’s the big one…

My handsome boy models his new leash and collar. That’s a smile for sure!

• Barley’s fancy new collar and leash. I’m just beside myself at the thoughtfulness of one of my Twitter friends, Gail. She had a collar and leash made for Barley. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s green and has little schnauzers on it. I am so thankful to have such kind friends. Barley is the best dressed person in my whole family now!

Here are two smaller ones…

• Satellite radio is back! It’s another free preview weekend and I’m so excited to have Doctor Radio again. This morning, I learned about breast reconstruction. It was fascinating. I’ll try to remember more of the cool things I learn so I can share it here with you. I love medical stuff!

• I’m reading a book on natural eating and wanted to share something I never thought of before. The author equated eating to peeing. Whenever we have to pee, we don’t think too much about it. We feel it, we go pee, and we resume what we’re doing. It’s refreshingly uncomplicated. Then she asked us to imagine if we were told we have to pee exactly four times a day and one cup of pee each time. Imagine how much stress we’d have about peeing! What if you had to pee more or less often? Would you force yourself to go? And, how hard would it be to pee exactly one cup each time? Eating is the same, she argues. We should be able to go about our business, feel hungry, eat what we want, then go back to our lives without another thought about it. I really like that idea. If babies can do it, maybe we all can.

Have a great long weekend! Stay safe!

Be the Seaweed

Back in high school, during my one required year of PE, we had a substitute teacher who actually made us dress down (that’s high school code for changing into gym clothes and actually doing an activity). Since there were no planned activities, she had an idea. She’d make the boys play basketball while the girls did an aerobics video in the mat room, where the wrestlers rolled around and cultivated exotic strains of bacteria. Clearly, this was a violation of rules against gender bias, but, beyond that, I learned a valuable skill.

I learned to be the seaweed.

As the headband-wearing leg warmer aficionado  explained in the video, being the seaweed is the perfect combination of exercise (I’m sure people who have just returned from space or who’ve been in years-long comas would find it physically draining) and stress relief. Simply reach both arms overhead and sway your whole body from side to side in a seaweed-like motion. You’ll notice that being the seaweed looks very much like dancing at a Dead show. It’s the same sort of rhythmic, transcendent motion.

As hilarious as it was then and now, it actually works. In fact, I rarely have to do the motion, it works so well. I just need to imagine myself doing it and I suddenly feel more seaweed-like. Just rolling with the waves, ignoring my belly jiggle, and feeling the calm. I suspect this is why fish never get wrinkles. They’re so darn relaxed from all the undulating waves.

Feel free to use this trick as needed. Just be the seaweed, man.

A tiny orange-scented win

I’m failing at happiness and a host of other things right now. I blame seeing candid photos of myself from an event on Saturday. I can’t wear shorts in public again. Or eat food. Or leave my house. I need to warn people not to look directly at me. Not good at all.

At the same time all this is happening, I’m reading a book about natural or intuitive eating. The theory is that diets are what make us fat. I think it might be true. I always get significantly fatter (very quickly) after getting thinner, mostly out of fear and deprivation and the realization that nothing makes me happier than food does, even if it is fleeting. I don’t know what to think about if I’m not thinking about food. Who am I if I’m not planning a diet, on a diet, or on a binge after a diet? It’s a very difficult situation.

I don’t have a solution.

I do, however, have a recipe to share. This was in an Oxygen magazine booklet I got in the mail last week. It’s really delicious and, since part of intuitive eating is eating what you want and learning to trust yourself to make good decisions, this is my one small win this week. I ate this because I wanted to, not because I felt like had to and it was a healthy decision.  (Note: The orange flavor is very mild; it’s hardly noticeable.)

Quinoa a L’Orange (from Oxygen Magazine)

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated orange rind
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add quinoa. Return to a boil and simmer until water is absorbed, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a large mixing bowl to cool.

Add tomatoes, celery and parsley to the bowl. Mix together with quinoa.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients to make dressing. Pour over salad and toss well to combine.

A brief reference to something incredible

Yesterday, I happened upon a very powerful story written by David Foster Wallace called “The Depressed Person.” So much of the problem of depression is that it’s impossible to explain. Even those of us who use words constantly have failed to even skim the surface of how it really feels to struggle with this illness. We all put on such good faces and we hate to burden those we care about, so we eventually stop talking about it, stop reaching out, stop letting anyone know we’re having a hard time. That’s how the trouble starts, I suspect.

Wallace’s story explains it better than most. So much of depression is rooted in guilt and shame, and I think non-depressed people never see that side of it. They only see the needy, self-absorbed side, which is certainly a piece, but only a piece of a very large problem. The essay is worth reading. Wallace is a brilliant, challenging writer. He struggled with major depression for much of his life and hanged himself on the patio of his California home in 2008.

Here’s the link to the story, which appeared in Harper’s Magazine.

I’m doing fine, that’s not why I’m posting this. I’m posting it because I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately and how to get there, and how it may be the hardest thing some people ever do, and how some may never get there in spite of really, really wanting it, and how difficult it is for those people to believe they deserve it. I’m not trying to be a downer; I just read something incredible and wanted to share it.

Have a great weekend!

Happiness is a tall order

I’m two days into my happiness challenge and it’s not as easy as I anticipated. I took on two tasks this week. I wanted to smile spontaneously, with eye contact, to at least three strangers per day (preferably with a hello for those in my immediate space) and write down three things for which I’m thankful.

Day one was pretty easy. I was thankful for Doogie kisses during the final relaxation pose of my yoga video (picture me laying flat on the floor like a sweaty cadaver). I was thankful for surviving through to the final relaxation pose of my yoga video. And, I was thankful for being able to take my dogs for a walk before work, even though it’s getting darker and darker outside. Simple stuff.

The harder part was the smiling. I was fine making eye contact and smiling at women, but it made me really uncomfortable to smile and lock eyes with men. So, I chickened out and avoided eye contact with them. I didn’t say hello to anyone. I felt too silly.

Today is only day two and I’m feeling defeated and cranky. I spent too much time on my hair, although it looks like I had a hot date with a light socket. I have a big zit on my cheek. My pants feel tighter than they should. My knee is killing me. I need a vacation. So far, I’m only thankful for hearing “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads on the radio on my way to work and for the cheese in my lunch. So far, I haven’t smiled at anyone.

This happiness thing might be harder than it looks. How are you faring so far?

Flexing my happiness muscles

Do you guys ever watch the self-help lectures on PBS? They’re usually about healthy living or making significant life changes. I’m a sucker for them. I’ve seen most of them and they always motivate me to temporarily think I’m capable of something incredible. I don’t usually do anything about it, but I still watch.

Last night, it was a smiley Ned Flanders type who said you can reprogram your brain for greater happiness. He argued that there’s actual research indicating only 10 percent of happiness is from external circumstances. The other 90 percent is all you. So, how can a natural “I’m going to believe the glass is empty so I’m not disappointed” gal trick herself into happiness?

He listed five practical things you can do to retrain a gloomy brain in 21 days (the amount of time, he says, to make new habits stick).  These things need to be done every day.

• Write down three things you’re grateful for from the last 24 hours.

• Give three spontaneous smiles.

• Dedicate 15 minutes to fun.

• Spend two minutes describing a meaningful experience from the last 24 hours.

• Write a two-minute note of thanks to someone in your social network.

He advised against starting all of these things at once, noting that lasting changes are made gradually. Do you think it could work? What about starting a new thing every week? That might be fairly painless. The smile thing is pretty easy, though he elaborated and said it would work even better if you vowed to make eye contact and smile at everyone who comes within 10 feet of you and say hello and smile to everyone who comes within 5 feet. That’s a whole lot of friendliness, but what if it made a difference? I could certainly afford to scowl less. I’m getting forehead wrinkles!

I think I might try it, starting with two easy ones: smiling and writing down three things I’m grateful for each day. I’ll let you know if I do the 10-foot/5-foot thing. I’m a bit shy, especially with good-looking people, and I don’t want anyone to think I’ve escaped from the loony bin. Plus, there’s a fine line between friendly and Starbucks barista. I do not want to cross that line.

Does anyone want to take on the happiness challenge with me?

Is it hot in here? Is that my bra?

I think the heat is getting to Dougal. He went a bit mad while I was at work today and chewed the straps off a bra. I’ll probably be able to fix it with some creative stitching, but I still think he’s a little weirdo.

In spite of the wounded bra, it’s been a productive day. I had the office entirely to myself, so I celebrated by putting the WKRP theme song on a continuous loop. I worked on my dance moves and churned out the two stories I’d been putting off all week. They turned out okay, too.

I also crossed two items off my to-do list. After work, I went to find a fan. Did I mention today is the hottest day of the year? Duh. No fans. I’m taking it off my list anyway. The other item was to get my hair done. I’ve been having self-esteem issues, so I decided to get it done by a pro at a fancier salon in Olympia. My appointment is Sunday and I’m doing the whole nine, cut and highlights. I’m very excited. I already feel better. I hope it turns out really well and gives me the boost I need to get out of my funk. (A shower wouldn’t hurt, right? Haha!)

Have a great weekend! Stay cool!

Five things I need to do

Half dog, half barnacle, Dougal rules the river.

1. Buy a new fan. It’s supposed to be in the 90s here for the next few days, which, if you’re familiar with this area, is very, very hot. I have two fans, a cheapie box fan that barely moves anything and a pricey remote control fan that churns out some seriously cool air. Guess which one Doogie chewed up. Yep, the fancy pants fan had its cord chewed completely in half. Captain Underpants strikes again! Needless to say, I need to buy a new fan. My crappy box fan just won’t cut it.

2. Get my hair done. My hair is getting thinner and thinner, and I’m being a baby about getting it cut. This is how Michael Bolton happened. I know cutting it might make it look fuller, but I really just want a magic potion for growing thick, beautiful hair. I saw a girl the other day with a huge, thick braid and I really wanted to trip her. It’s no fair.

3. Write more. Sure, I’ve been blogging regularly, but I need to be a writer, whatever that means. I’m not making good use of the skills I have. It’s bumming me out a bit to be stagnating mentally. I need to do something worthwhile with my time.

4. Eat veggies. My fridge is stocked with veggies I’m not eating. I hate when that happens! My rational brain says veggies are healthy. My emotional brain says veggies are depressing. There’s simply no joy in squash. How does one find joy in squash? Or, perhaps the better question is, how does one separate food from joy? Shouldn’t other things be more joyful than food? I can’t think of any that are. That’s probably bad.

5. Stretch. I did yoga Tuesday and Thursday for the first time in a few months. It kicked my stiff, ol’ butt. I need to get back into doing it regularly. I use videos, so I have no excuse not to do it. I’d really like to take an actual class, but I’m too scared just yet. I need to work up my confidence. Maybe that’s the sixth thing I need to do.

I’m fairly certain fair time is the best time

Ironically, the county fair where I live is the most traditional county fair I’ve ever attended, in spite of the fact that I live in an urban area with very few actual farms. It’s quite strange. But, fair time is one of my favorite times of the year. Here are the reasons.

Best ‘do in the chicken barn

1. The dog barn. The big thing here is 4-H and, in 4-H, kids can show dogs. There are no requirements that the dogs be purebreds or adhere to any ridiculous age or other restrictions. My favorites were the border terriers, which are incredibly rare here, and the varieties of spaniels, especially the cocker spaniels. They have the softest coats and sweetest eyes. Don’t tell Barley and Dougal, but there were no schnauzers this year. I think joining 4-H would remedy this oversight. I think Dougal would love it.

2. The chickens. I got to watch a round of chicken judging and it was fascinating. The kids had to pick up their chickens and maneuver them around in all kinds of odd and uncomfortable ways, including a round of turning them completely upside down and blowing air into their butthole area. It was very, very strange, but I was mesmerized. The variety of chickens was astounding and I found myself taking note of chickens I need for my future farm. When I’m in 4-H (barring any age restrictions), I might have to show a chicken and a schnauzer. I should also note that there was a crazy chicken named Diablo, who had a big sign on his cage (written in marker), “Please do not tease me. Owner will feed,” next to a poorly-drawn red devil pig. It was fantastic.

Excuse the blurriness, this was taken mid-baa. So loud!

3. The world’s loudest, angriest sheep. Over in the sheep barn, there was one sheep who would not be silenced. He was wearing one of those bizarre sheep covers and he was baa-ing like the barn was on fire. He was so ridiculously loud that every time he opened his mouth, I laughed hysterically. I couldn’t get enough of him. The sound was so obnoxious and horrible, I wanted to hear it forever. I could definitely take him home and name him Travis.

My favorite horse of the day

4. The fjord horse. I’m not a horse person, but I love the fjord horse. The one this year was especially handsome and had a lovely mohawk. I was too shy to ask to pet him/her, even though the girl had him out and she probably wouldn’t have minded. I need to stop being a weirdo.

5. The kettle corn. Even if I’m not in the mood for kettle corn (it was hot on Saturday), I will still eat kettle corn out of a sense of duty. It can’t be helped. Kettle corn is required eating for fairs and festivals. I may try to resist, but it’s an inevitable purchase.

A bit too much about sandwiches

Just three quick things from the weekend…

• As I mentioned in my last post, my first foray into gluten-free bread was this weekend. I made one of Betsy’s delicious garden sandwiches with toasted Rudi’s original bread. It’s made in Colorado and, as I explained before, it was the lightest loaf of gluten-free bread available at my grocery store. I’m so excited to have sandwiches now. I want to thank SadiePetunia for the great advice on choosing a potato-based bread. I think I made a great choice right out of the gate.

Betsy’s garden sandwiches are so simple and delicious. Bread, cream cheese, and any kind of veggies you have. I used tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers, red onions, avocado, and lettuce (though I forgot the lettuce and avocado at home today). Betsy also puts a sprinkle of seasoning salt on hers, but seasoning salt isn’t gluten-free, so my sandwich goes naked. So, so yummy.

My great tip for sandwiches is to bring the ingredients to work in separate containers. Onions in one dish, tomatoes in another, bread in another, and so on. I hate soggy sandwiches and assembling everything right before eating is the only strategy that works. It’s probably a bit messier to make a sandwich at my desk, but the extra labor is worth it.

• The other big news from the weekend (yes, I consider a sandwich to be big news) is that I got a new computer. I still have to get it home and figure out how to make it work, but I feel better knowing the shopping is done. Actually, I didn’t even do any shopping, to be honest. I bought it at a silent auction. It felt like kismet. This computer needed a forever home; I had just put my old computer to sleep. We found each other.

• Finally, I went to the county fair over the weekend and I want to do 4-H now. Is there an age limit? I’m sure I’d look silly out there with all the kids, but I’m fine with it. 4-H was so dorky when I was that age. Now that I’m older and, subsequently, always dorky, it doesn’t seem like it would be that damaging to my image. In fact, it might raise my stock a bit. The fella judging the sheep was pretty cute. More about the fair tomorrow.