Confessions of a Fitbit Addict

5 12 2015

Yes – I admit it – I am addicted to my Fitbit.  I certainly didn’t think I would be as dedicated to it now as when I first got it. I don’t even really remember at this point what motivated me to pick it up. I do know that wearing it every day pushes me to be less lazy and walk more.

I have never been a goal-oriented person.  In many ways in my life, I have been anti-goal – feeling goals were two restrictive, that you might miss out on great opportunities because you are so driven on following a certain set path.  So why do I live to exceed 10,000 steps each day? Well – I may not love goals but I love games. (You should see my iPad! ) The great thing about the Fitbit is part of the fitness revolution using what is called “gameification“. It uses things like badges for achievements, challenges against others, and social interaction to spur encouragement and competition and help you achieve goals.  And for most of us – this works really well. I love my badges – I was so excited a few weeks ago when while on vacation in New York, I got my badge for exceeding 25,000 steps in a day (that is nearly 11 miles). I have a badge for climbing over 125 floors in one day (the day we moved from Malden to the South End – lots of flights of stairs at both ends). I have my Nile badge for walking 4,132 miles – the length of the world’s longest river – since I first clipped on my Fitbit.

It is amazing how this can work on you in subtle ways. The more I make my goals, the more I want to make my goals. It pushes me to constantly to make  the choice to walk instead of taking the subway or bus somewhere. And I have moved on as well to tracking my workouts and especially my sleep on it as well. (With two cats who diligently work to keep me from my sleep some nights in pursuit of food – it is good to know how much real rest I actually got during the night). Another great use is tracking your water consumption. I know plenty of friends who say how hard it is for them to drink enough water each day.  I drink water a lot, but without recording it was really unaware of if I was drinking enough. 

Walking is one of the simplest and easiest things we can do for our health. It’s is good for your heart and lungs, it burns calories, and it is good to prevent loss of bone density. If you need something to push you, get a Fitbit or other exercise tracker.  Challenge yourself – or challenge your family and friends. ( I am currently in a Work-Week challenge my cousin sent me and several friends – with a Weekend Warrior Challange awaiting me tomorrow!)

Making New Year’s Resolutions Early

30 11 2015

It’s the holiday time – and I know that most of us go a little off track with eating and drinking in the 6 weeks from Thanksgiving to New Years. So I’m not going to say you should be changing your diet now. Lost Cause! But rather – start looking at the options and consider doing one in January.

When I talk about why I now eat a more paleo/primal/gluten free diet, I always ask people one question – Do you find yourself needing that mid-afternoon boost of caffeine at work ? If the answer is yes – then I highly suggest trying to eat a clean diet for a few weeks, to see what effect it can have on your life.

A few years ago, I was working with a Nutrionist and the number one thing she kept pushing me towards was – eating more fruits and vegetables. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – we hear all the time how we would be healthier if we altered our diets to include more of this fresh produce. But, as I learned in the month that I went Vegetarian – the options if you need to buy food out are really slim, and so you have to be creative and cook a lot more. So I was struggling.Until I realized I had another option. But it would mean giving up something I really really really loved.

For some time there has been a mini-revolution going on in my office against certain carbs. A few members of our group had gone Paleo – this is a diet which is supposed to mimic our diet before the agricultural revolution. So – no processed foods. No wheat-based anything – bread, pasta, etc. No rice. No legumes. For many Paleo folk – no Dairy. You are really just left with Meat, Fruit, and Vegatables. Another member of our group, inspired by the Paleo concept, but not ready to go that far, just gave up Wheat.

Now – I am not a huge pasta freak, and I only like sushi rice and don’t eat it that often – but I am a bread-aholic. So the idea of giving that up was pretty scary. But in looking at my diet, I realized what a huge percentage bread played – I love sandwiches! So if I took the first small step of just giving up Wheat – what would be the impact on my diet?  If you aren’t eating bread, pasta or rice, something has to fill in the gap. And that something is Vegetables.

If I could do Vegetarian for a month, I figured I could try eating without wheat or rice for a month and would see how I felt. It was very surprising. The first thing I have to say is Thank God for Pinterest. It really helped me find recipes to make this experiment work. And I love cauliflower pizza crust – who would have thought that would work? I ate lots more fruits and vegetables. The only time I really miss bread is similar to the issue I had going vegetarian – the lunchtime dilemma. I never realized how central bread and rice are to the majority of restaurants around my workplace. If I bring lunch, I am fine. And it is easier in summer, when I feel more like eating salads.

The biggest surprise came after about a month on the diet. I was out and figured I would treat myself to some Real pizza. So yummy – but then my body rebelled. I felt like I had to burp but couldn’t – and this terrible bloated feeling lasted from lunchtime till I went to bed! Others had told me my body might have this reaction to wheat after being off it for awhile, but I was still shocked. It also made my decision easier.  It amazes me that there are still some doctors out there that insist that gluten- sensitivity isn’t real. I know that I have tried a few times since to eat small amounts of gluten heavy product ( pizza, breakfast rolls, etc.) and each time suffered the same adverse reaction.

If you really want to know how to fine-tune your body, try the Whole 30 diet.  There you are really pairing down to see, if you add something back in after, what disagrees with your body.  If you are not that ambitious – try giving up wheat, or wheat and rice. (Most people don’t think about the sugar content in rice – which can also cause that post-lunch glycemic crash – and frankly doing “cauliflower rice” as a substitute works great …and is healthier and a fraction of the calories). There are lots of different options out there, and a lot more resources to help support you in making great and easy meals – for you and your family.  Trying one if these, even for a short time, will definitely change up your relationship with vegetables – and since we all know we all need to eat more of them – that is a great thing!

Why Write

28 11 2015

February 2010. The world was a far different place. And I was a different person.

I started this blog as an outgrowth of discussion with my Accupuncturist. I had come to her in a very bad state- I was “stuck” (very damp in Accunpuncture terms) – I was unhappy with many things in my life, but the list was so long I was paralyzed with where to start making changes. She helped me see how to make those changes – and part of that for me was having a creative outlet to help people.  And thus this blog – about small steps that one can take to create change in your life.

I posted for a couple of years – and then I stopped. Why? Good question. I certainly didn’t feel the compulsion the way I did when I began.  And other things took up my time – including reading and helping edit works for my significant other – who is a true writer – one who is disciplined and gets up every morning and creates. He has that drive, compulsion, creative flame.  Me – I have always been quiet a bit on the lazy side.  Plenty of ideas, but no discipline to get them written.

So why am I coming back to write posts again? Part of it is the same motivation to help that I had originally – helping people.  I actually in one day a few weeks ago had three different collegues tell me they loved how when they meet with me, they always “learn something “. In fact, all three at one point during our conversation took notes to remind them of what I said. That really made me stop and think.

The other reason I am back to writing posts is to take another “small step” in effecting change in my life towards the goal of …being less lazy and more disciplined. Never to late to start! I have found that there is a lot more I would like to do, and I was telling my good friend about how torn I was in choosing between two large projects I wanted to tackle, and she said “Why choose? Why not do both?”  This never occurred to me – most likely because doing “just enough to get by” was my default mode all through my schooling.  But she was right – I shouldn’t have to choose – but to do both things I will need to be more organized and disciplined.

So Why Write? For me – it is because I have something I want to share, I like helping people help themselves, and writing helps me achieve my goals of getting together what it takes to do all the things I want to do.

The Importance of Meditation and Retreat

11 05 2011

At the close of my last session, my acupuncturist asked if I had fallen asleep on the table – which can happen if the treatment really relaxes you.  I said no, but I did have a lot more ideas!  This, actually, has been a side-effect during many of my treatments.  As I sink down into a very relaxed state, letting go of all that has been going on in my day, all sorts of interesting and creative ideas end up popping into my head – some work related and some on the personal projects side.  I think this is because often my treatment is very like meditation for me.

Similarly, I have experienced something like this at times during a Yin Yoga practice – especially if I do the practice at the end of the day.  There is something about going through an experience where you are focused on letting all the daily chatter, the crazy stuff bugging you, the traffic of the “monkey mind” fall away and become distant , that then allows all the other thoughts, the more constructive and creative ones, pop to the surface like a cork.  If you have a problem you are having trouble solving and are really stressed, doing a gentle yoga practice, mediating, or doing meditative actions, like swimming, walking, rowing, etc., can help clear out the chaos and allow the solution to come forth.

Sometimes, however, this isn’t enough.  If you have been going through a really hectic and stressful time, whether as a result of work or personal issues, you can reach a state of toxicity.  All of that negative energy builds up till it feels like it is embedded in your tissue.  When things get that bad, meditation or meditative practice is not enough.  At that point, you really need to practice retreat.

It helps in doing a retreat to get yourself to a place that helps you cut off from all the distractions in your life and really focus on clearing and cleansing yourself.  That is probably why most people choose to do retreats in rural settings.  There is a literal “stillness vibe” that emanates from the country – the opposite of the “energy vibe” that many feel when they are in a large city. I will never forget my first trip to real rural territory here in New England – I went with my roommate Sarah to her family cabin up near Lake Sunapee.  When I walked onto the backyard porch and lay back in the hammock there – at first the quiet unnerved me a little.  As a city child, it just felt a little unnatural.  But after an hour or so, laying there and relaxing, reading on and off, sometimes just looking out over the meadow – a sense of stillness descended upon me – it was so tangible I could feel the weight of it on me, like a blanket.  It is that still energy that is needed to lose the hold on you of the noisy chaotic energy and allow you to get back to that place where creative energy can break loose and make it back up to your conscious mind.

If you go on retreat – do remember to toss in a bag deep in the back of your suitcase that phone or laptop (or not bring them at all!)  It is important to cut off communication with others so that you can communicate with yourself!  That is not to say that you can’t do a retreat with a group of friends or co-workers, or with your significant other.  In fact, going with others can be very rewarding, once you are back in touch with your creative energy, since it is a great time to brainstorm ideas and to have clear, meaningful discussions.  Just make sure that first, though, you dedicate the time to the cleansing and clearing of your minds so that when you all do reconnect it will be productive.

If you have never done a retreat – I highly recommend one.  Chances are you really need it!  It doesn’t matter if it is a cabin in the woods, a religious retreat, a spa in the countryside, or a secluded beach – just find an environment that supports wellness and peaceful thought and contemplation. If you have done at least one – try to make it a ritual, like doing it once or twice a year.  Frequency should help keep the toxicity of your everyday crazy life from building up too much.  And if you can, try to incorporate into your everyday life some sort of meditative practice or action to help you routinely clear your mind.  It can help keep you grounded, and help keep those creative juices flowing

My Month as a Vegetarian

2 05 2011

Well – April is finally over – and my April “intention” of eating as a vegetarian for the month is complete.  I have to say, it was both easier and harder than I thought to accomplish.  The end result is that, going forward, I have broken the meat cycle enough that at least 50% of what I eat will be vegetarian.  But there was a point when I thought this post would be titled “My Month of Eating Cheese Pizza”.

Far and away – the most difficult thing about eating vegetarian is the limited choices you have when not eating at home.  My breakfasts were pretty easy to modify – no sausage on that egg and cheese muffin! – but lunch at the beginning stumped me big time. If I wasn’t going to be eating a lot of salad, my choices eating at the many places around my office looked small.  I had the hummus sandwich and the TBM at Cosi – I did a broccoli and cheddar potato at Wendys (this was when I was getting desperate), and there of course was cheese pizza. And dinner out – well, my nephews came to visit me before Easter, and I ended up eating some strange combinations off the appetizer menu when we ate out (French onion soup and spinach artichoke dip?)  The one thing that saved me (at lunch) was the discovery that the Milk Street Café, across the street from where I worked, was really kinda “vegetarian-in-disguise”. They are kosher – which for them means no meat is served – only veggies and fish. They have a great variety, and once I found this, I ate lunch there every day.  But in general – there really are not a lot of good or interesting options for vegetarians at most restaurants that are not 1) pizza, 2) pasta, or 3) mac and cheese.

Eating dinner at home was the easy part.  I made several great recipes out of my new Ming Tsai cookbook “Simply Ming: One Pot Meals”.  The miso stew was such great comfort food – he was right, miso gives you the feel of meat without the meat.  I found several great recipes online – and cooked several Indian dishes (which had lots of vegetarian options – including my fav Food Network star Aarti’s Lentil recipe of her Mum’s Everyday Red Lentils – very hearty!).  I know have a decent list of vetted “go-to” recipes that I can throw together that do not need meat.  I also realized it was great not needing to worry if I remember to defrost something (a problem I always have with my meat meals – I can be forgetful in the mornings!).

By the end, I was definitely craving some meat.  But I appreciate it much more now!  For the first week of May, I planned 2 meat based meals, one that had meat and seafood, one seafood, and 3 vegetarian. My breakfasts on the weekdays will revert slightly – 3 days no meat, two days with meat. And I will keep doing lunch at the Milk Street Café, eating their veggie options and sometimes seafood, maybe venturing a couple of times a month to have lunch elsewhere (like my favorite treat – Chacarero). But much like January, where going through the exercise of doing yoga everyday has allowed me to continue a routine of yoga on a regular basis where it is most effective for me (on workdays), eating vegetarian for a month helped me discover new recipes and new places to eat, so that as I move forward, I am eating healthy and better overall, and that I have a better balance in my overall diet than before. I encourage everyone to give this a try sometime – hey- you can do anything for just a month!  And you just might be surprised at what you learn.

Why Everyone Needs a Spa Day

16 03 2011

To celebrate my birthday this weekend, I took Monday off and treated myself to going to the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel downtown. I had never been there, but was impressed by the descriptions on their website and decided to give it a try.  I have been to several spas over the years – from Vegas to Scottsdale to Florida to New York – and I have to say that my experience at the Mandarin was the best I ever had.  It really made me think about the fundamentals of what makes a truly wonderful spa experience: ritual, relaxation, retreat, rejuvenation. The best spas fulfill all of these criteria, but you can also achieve them by creating a spa-like experience at home.

  • Ritual– I loved two things they did for me.  The first was when I came in, they served me tea, and swapped my shoes out for spa shoes – symbolizing leaving the outside world at the door.  They also performed a Japanese foot cleansing ritual, that ended with the sounding of chimes, like in yoga class, bringing you into the experience of the moment, again with a mental separation from the outside. At home – lighting candles, maybe some incense and make yourself some fragrant tea or maybe some wine or champagne to relax you and get in the mood.
  • Relaxation – Isn’t that what this is all about? Really letting go and feeling all the stress and tightness leave your body?  I loved that the spa I went to had a Jacuzzi type tub, a steam room, and an “experience shower” – and smartly had a huge bowl of crushed ice nearby to help you cool down after warming up. All around, lovely ambient music played softly in the background. At home – well, that’s where wonderful fragrant bath salts and a hot tub come into play. And be sure to put on your favorite tunes that help you chill out.
  • Retreat – Part of the true spa experience is that you are cut off from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.  No cell phones, email, or texting allowed!  I was able to sit back on a lovely chaise and just rest and let my mind let go and tune into the calm and serenity.  At home – well, the key to doing a spa day at your house is getting rid of everyone else!  Send everyone out to do something for the day, make sure you mute your phone, and unplug the landline.  Do whatever it takes to turn off those outside disturbances, even for a short time, so that you can recharge in the peaceful absence of interruption.
  • Rejuvenation – Facials, massage, body wraps and scrubs, manicures and pedicures – you find all of these at your typical spa.  I got a body scrub, getting rid of that dry winter skin, and then being rehydrated with beautifully scented oil and moisturizing cream to replenish.  I then went on to get a long-overdue manicure and pedicure.  These treatments help to make you feel revitalized and renewed.  At home – get a great Face Mask treatment. Indulge in some new body scrubs and creams to try out.  Pick a cool new color to paint your fingers and toes.  Do something different and fun – maybe that would even reflect a change of mood with the change of seasons (brighten up for spring!)

Whether you are going to your favorite spa, or creating a wonderful spa like experience at home – the important thing to remember is to do it more often!  This experience is one that soothes both the mind and the body, and it is important that we make it a priority to do both on a regular basis to maintain our healthy well-being.

Life is Easy….Writing is hard

4 03 2011

In looking back at my February intention of writing every day – I have to say it was really hard.  Since I live with a writer, I’ve seen up close what it is if you truly have that inspirational fire running through you.  For him – writing is more like breathing – it is something he has to do, and definitely something that makes him happy.  For me – when I get in the zone, I love writing. It is a great high when the words just flow through you.  But I am not someone for whom that comes easily.

Midway through the month, I was looking at writing in a very different way.  When I started, I thought that my writing would be focused on creative writing – my blog, or stories, or something like that.  But as it happened – I had a lot of stuff to write for work.  I really didn’t think of it as using my creativity then –but I do now.  In comparing, say, one of my blog posts to the presentation I wrote for a webinar, I would say the presentation took a lot more of my creative juices.  And, as I mentioned in my post on the death of long form writing, I was creating other pieces that really called on all my writing skills to get a message across clearly and simply.  These are things I previously took for granted, but I don’t now.

Looking back, I realize that generating creativity takes a lot of energy and focus.  The days which were hardest for me were either long physically taxing days, where I felt tired at the end of the day, so that when I thought of writing, my mind was just a blank, and the days that were busy with multiple tugs on my attention – lots of meetings, phone calls, emails, things that all tugged at me and left me feeling scattered.  The best writing days were ones after I had a good meditative yoga practice, or after my acupuncture sessions.  (I get a lot of writing ideas while lying on the table with the needles in me). I think that really relaxing, focusing on grounding, helps me clear my mind of clutter so that energy and ideas can flood in.

Writing is hard – and I have the greatest respect now for those who actually do it for a living.  If you having something to write, and are having a hard time getting the energy flowing, maybe try 10-15 minutes of yoga or meditation to clear away the cobwebs.  If you are at work – definitely close out your email before you write to avoid the distractions. (And if it is a long email you need to write – try writing it in Word first –then when you are done, you can copy it to an email.) Getting as many distractions out of the way will help make the writing a little easier.

My Academy Award Acceptance Speech

28 02 2011

Watching the Oscars has always been a big deal at my house. We root hard for our favorites, fill out our ballots, keep count to see who gets the most ones right (even in the obscure categories!) – and of course critique the show. Last night was not as exciting as many years past, but it had some bright spots. I loved Aaron Sorkin’s admonition to his daughter that her guinea pig had to give him more respect now. And what a great story by Tom Hooper of how his Mom found the King’s Speech. And Christian Bale giving props to Dicky Eklund? (The local news commentators kept repeating the theme that this was a very “local” year for us at the Oscars  – what with The Fighter and also Jeremy Renner up for The Town).

Ever since I was little, I have often imagined what my Academy Award Speech would be. I’ve played it many times in my head. It has changed some over the years – it used to be for accepting the award as best actress ( I was originally a theatre major). Later on I imagined what I would say if I was Best Director, and lately, it has been for Best Screenplay. With Best Screenplay, I always open with thanking my Mom because she is the one who has always said I was a great writer – and then I say the award is therefore going home to sit on her mantel (it would be safer at her house anyway – in my house, I know the award would end up as a glorified cat toy. No place is safe.) Anyway – I usually rattle on in my head through a long list of people  who influenced me and made me who I am today (can I include my 9th grade geometry teacher?  will the orchestra start to play me off if I do?)

It’s always touching to hear these speeches about who helped along the way – the lists of people – and it’s great that these folks get a chance to publicly thank them all. But it also reminded me of how often we neglect to thank those people in our lives. We may assume that we know and are really grateful for all they have done for us, for helping us be who we are or helping us achieve our goals or dreams.

Why wait till you win an award? Why not have everyone at your next family gathering perform their own version of an academy award speech? It could be lots of fun – and it will give everyone insight into who you think has helped you along the way, as well as give you a forum to make sure those closest to you really know how grateful you are for all their love and support.

Amazon vs. Netflix

24 02 2011

I saw a headline yesterday about the “war” between Amazon and Netflix, now that Amazon announced their unlimited streaming video service and made it a benefit of your Amazon Prime membership. Even more amazing, some thought that the yearly subscription of $79 dollars, as opposed to offering a monthly payment subscription would be a barrier for some people.  Really?  I feel guilty as it is as a Prime member for taking advantage of Amazon as we do. Last year – I shipped over 50 packages using Amazon Primes two-day free shipping.  Oh – and two of those “packages” were bicycles (for my nephew and my sister). How much money to you think I saved on that!  And that is just me!  Since Prime shipping covers the household, that means all the packages my guy bought were free as well (and there were definitely more that 50 of them).  It is a huge cost savings for us.  So throwing in free steaming video is just gilding the lily. (You can see why for years I have been advocating to my friends the benefits of signing up!)

Obviously – Amazon is at a disadvantage in terms of inventory – that will take time to build up.  But getting the service and the shipping seems like a great deal to me.  Now – that is not to say that we are leaving Netflix.  Netflix has a lot going for it – their extensive catalogue being most important, and the fact that you can have a membership that allows you to both stream and rent DVDs is key.  I can see if you were only watching the latest films, that wouldn’t matter much – but we love to watch documentaries, foreign films, and older classic films – all of which are not likely to be available in streaming format any time in the near future.

We are clearly coming upon a change in the way people watch.  Streaming video works so much better for, say, watching episodes of TV shows.  When you get into watching them, you don’t want to have to stop to wait for the next disk to get mailed to you.  More and more of my friends are watching most of the movies and some TV shows “On Demand” via their cable provider.  And of course most of are now addicted to our DVRs.  The concept of being able to watch What you want When you want and Where you want (TV/PC/Tablet/Phone) is much closer to a reality.

So – I don’t think at the end of the day either Amazon or Netflix will “win”.  I think competition between the two (or three, if we throw in where Apple is going with iTunes) just means that we, as the viewers, will end up with more options and more choice to pick what really fits our lifestyle the best.  And so we winner of this smackdown really is….us.

The Death of Long Form Writing

16 02 2011

My February intention of writing every day has me not just writing, but reflecting on the different kinds of writing in my life.  While something like blogging taps into my creative side, I have found that  some of the writing I have had to do for work this month also was pulling from my more creative side.  It’s a question of short vs. long.  I think most of us can shoot off a paragraph-long email without a sweat.  It’s when we are tasked with something longer that some people start to freak out under the pressure.

I can understand that.  I have seen co-workers who hated writing even more than a few sentences in email.  I used to feel much more pressure about it before I adopted the zero-inbox strategy. I found that my move towards organization freed up a lot of energy that made accessing the creativity to write longer pieces much easier.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are just overwhelmed with information and that this is shutting down people ability to write – and most likely read – long pieces of writing.

Everything is getting shorter.  I found this out in the creative fiction realm when my significant other decided to write a few short stories.  If you look up the definition of a short story, you will see that most sources say it is a piece that runs somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 words.  But then try to get a short story published!  Most magazines are looking at 3,000 words max!  I was really shocked – character development is hard enough at the 5,000 mark – but 3,000?  And then there is the rise of “flash fiction”.  These are pieces that range from 1,000 to as low as 300 words.

Blogging is certainly a symptom of our ADD take on writing and reading.  There are plenty of blogs out there that are just a few hundred words per post, but even the longest blogs you read are still way under that short story threshold of 3,000.  And of course where we used to write each other multi-page letters, then moved to several paragraph emails, we are now down to a couple of lines in a status update or 140 characters in a tweet.

It is the rise of minimalist writing and short attention span reading.  Is it good or bad? What does it mean for the future?  Some things just can’t be adequately summed up in short pieces.  All surface, no depth.  I was actually thinking back this morning to Stephen King ‘s recent novel, Under the Dome. This was one of the first 1,000 page books I read on my iPhone (pre the creation of and my obtaining an  iPad).   It struck me that that novel would have worked well in serialized mode – a ‘la Charles Dickens.  Maybe our future is a blast back to the past.

I do think there will always be a niche for long form writing – and people who want to read it – but in our age of information overload and TMI, I think reading and writing in shorter and shorter bits is taking over and will soon reign as king.