body, happiness, health, leisure, mind

renewable resolutions

abstract-sketch-of-woman-meditating-and-doing-yoga-vector-illustration_zJ196f_dAs the first month of 2015 comes to a close, I am renewing my resolutions for 2015. Notice I did not say my New Year’s Resolutions. I want to disconnect my resolutions from any particular day. Instead, I want to succeed, not fail, so I’m reframing the idea of making resolutions by setting out goals for shorter periods of time, goals I can measure as success, instead of milestones that I am bound to fall short of.

For example, instead of setting a milestone of walking at least 10,000 steps per day, a number that I have seen over and over as a reasonable goal for healthy living, I’m setting an achievable goal – one some might consider too low. But my own experience indicates my goal is doable and beyond what happens in my normal day. My goal is to walk at least 3,000 steps at least three times a week until it is so customary that I need to increase it.

Three-thousand steps may not seem like a lot. And back when I was commuting from my home to the office, it wasn’t. I walked from my house to the bus stop, from the bus stop to the Metro station, from the Metro station to the office, and I reversed this pattern on the way home. I was at 3,000 steps even if I didn’t move from my desk. But I did move from my desk, several times a day. I walked from my desk to the conference rooms where meetings were held. Sometimes those conference rooms were in another building so I walked between the buildings. When I wanted coffee, I had to walk to the kitchen or even all the way to the cafeteria. I even walked around to see people and chat about what is going on in their lives.

But now, my commute doesn’t even register on my Fitbit. I guess it requires a minimum number of steps to begin counting and the distance between the bedroom I sleep in and the bedroom I work in doesn’t get there. And now, when I join a meeting, I pick up my cell phone and dial a number. My sweetheart brings me coffee and breakfast in the morning, a mid-morning snack with tea, and then lunch at noon. Total steps walked each work day: 0.

At the beginning of 2015, I determined I would set renewal goals, the goals that I could renew or reset periodically instead of starting out with the end in mind without regard for the path to get there. But I foolishly set what I thought was a modest goal in January – 5,000 steps per day. Since that is half of the number I kept hearing should be the goal, that seemed modest. But not when the daily living minimum is right there at under 100. And that meant I was failing every day. So my goal for the month of February is 3,000 steps per day at least 3 days a week. I’ve already gotten more than 3,000 steps in three days this week, and I have the rest of today and all day tomorrow to do more. That’s success!

There are some overarching principles for my renewable resolutions:

  • Do what is healthy and avoid what is not.
  • Do what honors and respects those around me and avoid what does not.
  • Do what protects and supports my family and avoid what does not.

My other renewal resolutions must fit within those principles

  • Eat what is healthy for me every day.
  • Cut down on what isn’t healthy to eat at least three days a week until it is so customary I need to increase the number of days.
  • Do something that engages my mind – read, write, complete puzzles, play games – every day.
  • Keep all my activities in balance, even if it means abandoning one of the renewable resolutions on a given day if it risks breaking my commitment to the overarching principles.

No more resolutions to lose weight. When a number is the goal, it is too easy to do things that are unhealthy.

No more resolutions to write a novel by the end of the year. Novels are made up of chapters. Chapters are made up of pages. Pages are made up of paragraphs, and paragraphs of sentences. I need to start small and celebrate the successes not start big and fail each day.

I don’t need those resolutions because if I focus on my renewable resolutions, I will be doing what I need to do, within a framework and in balance, to get me to the goals I otherwise will fail at.


body, happiness, health, mind, soul

thank you nancy and genie

Robin Williams - May you Rest In Peace by !efatima, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  !efatima 

All of my life I have experienced mood swings. For years I thought my emotions were something I had to fight, to stop from appearing when anyone else was in the room. After all, in grade school my lack of control gained me the very unwelcome nickname Crybaby.

In high school and college, I attributed my mood swings to the normal process of growing up. I still found I would cry at the first sign of a sad story – or at a perceived slight from friends. My friends told me I was too sensitive.

Then I got married. And still the mood swings happened. I read somewhere that birth control pills sometimes caused depression, so I stopped taking them and instead settled for an IUD. But the periods of depression continued, followed often then by extreme happiness – euphoria. But I noticed the moods were cyclical, so I concluded the cause was chemical, hormonal. And I was happy enough to know that the depression would be followed by happiness and I thought nothing more of it.

But as I exchanged my stable lifestyle of living in the same community year after year for a career that required I move every two or three years, depression followed each move. I just waited for it to stop even when I couldn’t see the cycles any more. I just waited.

If I hadn’t ended up working in a place with two Registered Nurses, Nancy and Genie, my life would probably have continued with the occasional mood swings. And I would have clung onto the expectation that the depression would be followed by happiness. But when the dark moods hit, I would turn to Nancy and Genie to see if one of them had a cigarette (I had stopped smoking but I knew what comfort the first drag would bring me) or valium. Thankfully, the two of them realized neither was a productive way for me to deal with the moods or, as I insisted on referring to it, the stress. So without telling me, they called in an expert, the regional psychiatrist, to talk with me about the mood swings. He told me about options to deal with the swings – more specifically the depression – in less destructive ways. With my consent, he prescribed anti-depression medication.

That was in 1998. After about three months, I told Genie that I now knew what it was like to be happy. What I had considered happiness, except for those years when I experienced euphoria, was really just the absence of the depression.

I have been taking one anti-depression medication or another ever since, except for a couple of drug holidays that I took without talking with any doctor about. In both instances, I was fine for about two months, and then the irritability would return. And I would go back to taking the pills.

Yesterday I took part in a three-hour session at my church about depression. The suicide of Robin Williams was the provoking act for the session being scheduled. I hadn’t planned to attend. After all, I knew that the regional psychiatrist I met with back in 1998 said he believed that I could avoid being diagnosed with clinical depression by taking medication. So I didn’t think I was really depressed.

How deluded I had been. The presenter of the session yesterday is a clinical psychiatrist who talked about the full range of depressions – she was very careful to use the plural form during most of the session. And one of the conditions on the spectrum she described fits me perfectly – dysthymia.

Dysthymia is inherited. It presents in adolescence but is rarely diagnosed then because everyone knows adolescents are dealing with hormonal changes. And dysthymia is the only form of depression that does not respond to medication over a limited period of time. It requires taking medication over an entire lifetime. Drug holidays just don’t work for dysthymia.

So thank you Nancy and Genie, for noticing that my mood swings were not normal and that my handling of the darkness, the stress, was destructive. Thank you for bringing in an expert who could provide a solution. Thank you for caring enough to do something.

happiness, leisure, soul

fireside chat with audrey kletscher helbling

Today’s Daily Prompt from WordPress is “What person whom you don’t know very well in real life would you like to have over for a long chat in which they tell you their life story?”

Since taking part in WordPress Blogging 101 last November, I have been following a number of bloggers, all of whom provide food-for-thought on a variety of topics. But I find myself drawn most often to Audrey Kletscher Helbling’s blog Minnesota Prairie Roots. Reading her posts feels like sitting at the kitchen table across from a friend, with a fresh cup of steaming coffee and a piece of apple crisp in front of each of us. There is so much to look forward to: the warmth of the coffee, the taste of cinnamon and apples, and the promise of an interesting conversation.

Audrey’s posts include photos of everyday items – buildings she passes frequently, especially when she notices changes, such as the changes in a small town in Wisconsin. She includes photos of people, people who may otherwise may be unnoticed, people like Layton Fossum whose positive attitude inspired those around him during his too short life. Audrey’s posts remind me of home, the home I couldn’t wait to get away from for the first 20 years of my life and that I find myself longing for now that the average life expectancy of my ancestors indicate I am likely in the last 20 years of my life.

Audrey’s blog goes back to July 15, 2009. And her posts are regular – at least one a day. That’s impressive and inspiring.

If I had the opportunity to sit down around the fireplace to talk with Audrey, mugs of coffee or hot spiced apple cider in hand, I know it would be a long conversation. I have so many questions. One is this: just how does she do it, every day for more than five years?



happiness, mind, soul

roses and thorns

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Agree to Disagree.”

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Abraham Lincoln

This quote from Abraham Lincoln may not seem related to the topic of today’s Daily Post writing prompt, but it summarizes nicely how I approach those whose opinions differences differ from mine. I celebrate that we live in a country that allows us to express our different opinions openly. I hope this open-mindedness would have been part of the core of me no matter where I had lived, but I do know that living in Iran and then Romania in the 1970’s had a profound impact on how strongly I feel about our country’s freedoms.

In Iran, news was limited and controlled. I mentioned to my students one day that I was impressed by how much international news was covered in the newspapers and on TV. They pointed out to me that the only news they were sure to get was international news because almost nothing of what was happening in the country made it into the paper. They also pointed out it was obligatory for the newspapers to include a photo of the Shah, his wife, or his children on the front page each day. I had noticed the daily photos. I hadn’t noticed the absence of local news. I hadn’t noticed the pattern.

In Romania, my students told me a story of being at a rally where President Ceaucescu spoke, one where attendance was obligatory. All students were bussed from the dormitories to the central plaza. While the President spoke, there were loud bursts of applause and celebratory shouting at opportune times. But as the students looked around, they didn’t see anyone in the crowd clapping or shouting. They had to be there, but they didn’t have to be happy about it. Eventually one of them noticed a loudspeaker mounted on a pole at the side of the plaza.

It doesn’t matter that I think some of my friends are wrong and some of them think I am wrong. It matters that we can express those thoughts openly. For that I rejoice.

happiness, leisure, mind, wealth

the perfect purse

purse_1Setting aside the price, I found the perfect purse for someone of my age. You know, for someone who is facing fewer years in my future than the many years of my past. Years that promise increasing weakness, even feebleness, which improve the likelihood of being targeted by pick pockets and muggers. It is a black leather Calvin Klein.

  • It’s black – the perfect color for my wardrobe.
  • It’s leather – the perfect long-lasting material.
  • It has two side compartments that snap closed – perfect for temporarily stashing my cell phone when I need it to be handy. See the right arrow on the image above
  • It has a clip to hold keys on an internal leather strap just long enough for me to tuck the keys into one of the side compartments – a perfect way to keep the keys handy, but safe from being stolen. See the left arrow on the image above.
  • The straps are long enough for me to carry the purse over my shoulder – perfect for keeping it close to me and away from pick pockets.
  • It has two large zipper compartments – perfect for keeping what I carry in it like my wallet and eyeglasses out of reach of pick pockets.
  • Both the zippers close in the same direction – perfect for me to keep them in front of me when I walk, protecting the contents from pick pockets.
  • It has an open central compartment that closes with a snap – perfect for keeping what I need to get to quickly, like a pen, my business cards, and Kleenex.

If it weren’t for the price, it would be perfect. Now, if it lasts more than four years, the per-year-cost will bring it down to the price I have been paying for the imperfect fake leather purses that I have to give up because a handle rips off or a zipper breaks. Then it will be the perfect purse.