Nifty November Experiments

New month, new habits. My November experiments are ambitious in the sense that they both require taking time to do something every day, and as we all know, days can get surprisingly short as the holidays approach. But I have pretty strong intrinsic (#1) and extrinsic (#2) motivations, so that’ll help. Here’s to optimism and perseverance.

Experiments_Nov15

Drumroll for experiment #1: Do yoga every day. Either following along on Youtube (I love Yoga with Adriene and Fightmaster Yoga), going to a class, or freestyling things up by myself. I actually cheated and already started this experiment – I just got so excited about it. Plus, I figured it was a good way not to feel “meh” about myself going into winter, so I decided to put that momentum to good use. During the last two weeks, I only missed one day, and I love it. I feel so much better about myself, my body feels healthier, and I think my mind is quieter, too. And for the first time in my life, I did yoga without someone telling me which poses to do, but listening to my body and doing what felt necessary and right. Major yogi win.

Drumroll for experiment #2: Study at least 15 minutes of French ever day. I’m going to study abroad in France in the spring, and while I’m taking a medical French class and doing a tandem, I want to get my brain more into it. Either I speak, follow along with my online class, study vocab and grammar, or read French. Anything to get those brain cells used to a third language. And hopefully prevent nervous breakdowns on my first day in the hospital (hence the extrinsic motivation).

Are you starting any new habits in November? Check back on Monday for a review of October’s experiments! I know you’re dying to find out how eating slowly and the Minimalism Game went…

Daylight Saving #BlogBattle

Here is my second story for the BlogBattle, enjoy reading and check out all the other wonderful stories! Read my last story hereGenre: Contemporary

Delaware ParkToday is another day, they tell me. The sun has risen yet again, despite my efforts to keep it down. Now, in mockery of my desire for eternal night, it is blasting as if it were still August. But don’t you worry, sun – daylight saving is today. That’ll show you.

But for now, the nurse comes barging in, asking me for the 137th time whether I would like to join the others for breakfast. For the 137th time, I decline politely. No. I have the intention of declining politely, but politeness and I are not on the same team in the early morning, especially not when the sun is this motivated. Why can’t the clouds do their job today?

I get my tray and sit on my bed. For the 137th time, I wonder who decided that breakfast in bed was luxurious and wonderful. Every night, I battle the crumbs of bread that was already stale and decidedly non-luxurious in the morning. Another item to add to the List of Things I Do Not Understand.

Now it is time for rumination. The only thing I do here, since I refuse to partake in group activities and my therapist refuses to see me more than once a week. Some bullshit about limited budgets.

Maybe I’ll be ready to leave this place at some point. When I control the sun. Then, controlling my life will be a piece of cake. People will finally treat me the way I deserve to be treated. Things will no longer go wrong. I’ll be functional, just like everyone else. And who knows what will happen outside?

Maybe there is love lurking in the corner. Who says it always has to be danger, the mad ax men, and statistically improbable rapists? Maybe, as I turn this corner on my path of life, the darkness will recede and finally, someone will let in the light. Open those black velvet curtains in front of my eyes and let me see this life that I have been hearing so much about from my friends. And I’ll no longer be alone.

Maybe I’ll remember my thoughts for my next appointment. Unless tomorrow’s ruminations are more interesting.

Today is daylight saving. For the next six months, I get to steal an hour from the sun.

The Grocery Game

Of course we know we’re supposed to make a grocery list and stick to it like it’s the law of the land. We also know that we’re not supposed to go shopping on an empty stomach. And yet, sometimes, even when sticking to these golden rules, our grocery cart does not match our good intentions.

Grocery GameBut there is a way out. It’s easier than self-control and way, way, way more fun. It’s a game you start playing when you fill your cart, and at the checkout line, you’ll find out whether you won. Here’s how: you compare your grocery haul to what everyone else in line got. Whoever has the healthiest stuff wins.

Sometimes, people buy very unhealthy things, like chips and coke – then victory is easy. Sometimes I buy these things (that’s how I recognize a really bad day). On those days, I admit defeat before even going inside. Another example of leaving my ambitions at the bike rack: buying the shockingly high amounts of chocolate and sugar required for my Grandma’s brownies. Usually, I throw in fruit and veggies to at least secure a bronze medal.

Since you are both judge and competitor, you’re going to have to do your utmost to be impartial. But you also make the rules: if you believe bread is unhealthy, then deduct points from all bread buyers, yourself included. If you think sugar is a curse from the devil, make that known in your (silent) ratings. Gluten? Lactose? Animal products? Frozen meals? You judge their worth.

Variations in the amount of groceries purchased can make ranking tricky: You’re in a good position if you’re only stocking up on fresh produce and comparing yourself to the person who seems to plan on hosting seven teenage boys for a week. But what if you’re only buying a head of lettuce and the person in front of you gets the complete ingredients for a vegetable stir-fry with brown rice and tofu? You cannot subsist on lettuce alone…

Your choice of grocery store will affect the likelihood of your victory. The better the organic produce selection, the harder you’re going to have to work. Winning at a lower end store may be largely due to privilege, whereas Whole Foods is akin to the Olympics.

This will change the way you shop – it was a game changer for me and my friends. If you buy whole foods, fruits, vegetables, rice, whole grain bread, cheese, etc. you are pretty much guaranteed victory. A candy bar and a bag of chips can be detrimental – so you’ll think hard about whether you’d really like to trade in your victory for a short-lived sugar high.

Which incentives do you use to shop healthier?

Cooking Lessons #BlogBattle

This is the first time I participate in the #BlogBattle, I hope you enjoy reading my story!

Genre: Magical Realism

People usually haven’t heard of the town where my grandmother lived. Unless the read their Mars wrappers very closely: in the corner, it says “Masterfoods, Viersen.” Of course no one but me thinks about Viersen while not eating candy. I’m not even sure if the Masterfoods factory still exists. But neither does my grandmother, so what does it matter.

She used to call us children Schafchen, “little sheep.” Not as a descriptor, but as a collective nickname, for all her grandchildren, or maybe for children in general. We probably were a lot like sheep, first walking around carefully as if born only yesterday, then running across the street without looking left or right.

I stopped being a sheep when she taught me how to make her special pumpkin compote. When I was seven, she woke me at midnight during the October full moon and took me to the garden. I was to harvest my first pumpkin, precisely as the shadow the moonlight created was the smallest. The pumpkin was heavy and the stalk was woody, so I had difficulty cutting it fast enough. But I finished just before a lonely cloud obscured the moon. “Pumpkins harvested without moonlight don’t work, Schafchen,” she told me and helped me carry it inside.

A drop of sweat fell on the pumpkin while I tried to cut and carve it. “It adds your essence, Schafchen.” I had to cut the pumpkin by myself, she told me, because that was when its soul escaped and only one person could come in contact with it, just like only one person could add her essence to the fruit. Cutting and carving was akin to slaughter, and slaughter – my grandmother was very adamant about this – was a solitary activity. The meeting of two souls where only one could triumph. I cut my thumb, and four drops of blood joined the sweat. More essence.

“Small pieces, Schafchen. Like a dice. And think about what you’d like to accomplish while you cut. Who you’d like to help.”

Then she gave me the spices to add. Some I recognized from her regular cooking, others from her Christmas baking. But most I had never seen and have not encountered since. The smells of cinnamon, cloves, pepper, comfort, and a time long gone wafted through the kitchen. My grandmother closed the window, lest the essence escape. She steadied my hand above the pot – not a cauldron, as it had been in my imagination. “Just let your hand hover. The pumpkin knows how many spices it needs. It will take them.”

The last and most important part was the stirring. This was where the magic happened. “Now think about the people you wish to serve the compote. Let your thoughts tell the pumpkin your good wishes for them. But remember: no dark thoughts. The pumpkin will turn black and the magic will work against you.”

I thought about my friends. Susanna, who should never lose her beauty. John, who should always remain the fastest runner in school. Marie, who would keep her infectious laugh forever. Jill, whose success in school would continue throughout her life. My parents, who would always remain together. My sister, whose nightmares would stop.

But I was young, I hadn’t considered my grandmother’s mortality. As her brain cells died one by one, faster and faster, the pumpkin seeds turned black and rotten. The pumpkins she planted the next year didn’t grow. The year after that, she no longer remembered who I was, and my mom forbade me to ask for the seeds so I could sow them myself. When we cleared out the house after the funeral, we found supplies sufficient for decades. But not a single seed was viable, I checked them, one by one. They were all black and deteriorated right in front of me. Without knowing, I had cooked and distributed the last of the magical pumpkin compote. It is for the receivers to judge the efficacy of the magic.

Self Care Priorities

What are your self care priorities? SelfcareThe things you absolutely must to feel like you have been kind to your
self on a given day? The non-negotiables of caring for body and soul? It helps to think about these, because they give you a list to tick off when you’re wondering “Did I really take care of myself today?” Then you can either relax into your accomplishment or know exactly where you need to start to make things better.

Here are mine:

Number one definitely is sleep. I’ve learnt to prioritize eight to nine hours a night during my first year of college. It is simply astonishing how much easier and more enjoyable life is when you are running on enough sleep. Everyone knows this intellectually. But try it for a few weeks, and I guarantee that you’ll be surprised. Fun things are even more fun when one is awake while doing them, and not so fun things go from “Ugh I hate this, what did I do to deserve this?” to “Oh, this is actually not so bad.” Sleep enough, and your mood, and in the long run, your health, will do a 180. To achieve it, make bedtime nonnegotiable: at least 8.5h before you have to get up, to give yourself some time to fall asleep.

Next up are two items on equal footing: eating well and exercising. If somehow I can’t do one, I use the other to pick up the slack and not feel too bad, but to feel great, I need to do both. Eating well daily, but not necessarily at every meal, exercising almost daily. And if not true exercise, at least some form of movement, like walking.

The next is my favorite: reading. This is caring for my soul. When alone, that is my favorite thing to do. If I haven’t had a lot of time to read, be it due to school, or friends visiting, or just the general hectics of life, I almost feel a physical craving to sit down with a book. Once I do, I can finally breathe again.

A close second to reading: spending time with loved ones. For obvious reasons.

Writing. Reading soothes my soul, but writing keeps it untangled.

The last and least item on this list is grooming: I’m not really into makeup (but when I do use it, I feel like a self care superhero), so it comes down to manicure (DIY, sans nail polish), pedicure (DIY, currently red), reigning in my eyebrows, and washing my hair at a socially acceptable frequency. The basics.

If I do the first three on the list, I know I don’t need to worry. If I do the first five, I know life is good. If I do them all, I’m truly proud.

What are the most important parts of your self care routine?

In Defense of the Default

Defense DefaultWe’re unique, and we want everyone to know it, too. So we customize. Monogram our purses, redesign our blog templates, search for that perfect one-of-a-kind vintage shirt no one else will own. We google recipes for the perfect pumpkin pie, even though the muffins we usually make take a third of the time to bake and would have been just as satisfying. We carefully curate the perfect outfit for the meeting even though we suspect no one will notice. Shopping is our version of hunting: we hit the mall and in the 27th store, we find jeans that we believe to be different from the ones everyone else is buying. That will mark out our uniqueness for the world to see.

This takes time, money, and brain space. All of which can be used in better ways. Decision fatigue is real, and we’ve all had to deal with the lack of time and money. Therefore, I suggest we start using the default and honor other people’s general intelligence by assuming that they know everyone is unique, without our special bells and whistles telling them so.

Some areas where you could forego uniqueness in favor of the default, i.e. things you don’t need to customize to prove you’re human:

  • The background picture on your computer
  • Your clothes – the internet got so excited about uniforms for a reason. Pick one outfit, once and then wear a version of that every day. Currently, mine is jeans, t-shirt, cardigan, and a scarf.
  • Your blog template
  • Your meal at a restaurant. Order a set menu or a special and see what happens.
  • The things you bake/cook for events – I’m known and loved for my brownies and scones, and no one has ever so much as mentioned a lack of variety.
  • Where you shop. Buy the same pants/shirts/socks/whatever from the same store whenever they are in need of replacement and stop searching for the holy grail of uniqueness.
  • The fact that you shop at all. Start a shopping ban and make not shopping the default. Take some time off from purchasing decisions and live a minimalist’s dream.
  • Your hair. Pick a couple hairstyles and alternate instead of being confronted with a million options of braids, waves, and chignons. Or go short and pick only one.

The default doesn’t have to be boring. It means choosing things you love once and deciding to end the search for something better (that is unlikely to come around anyways). It’s fully embracing “good enough” and basking in saved time, money, and brain space.

In addition to that, we can use the default in our favor: it’s a great tool to build new habits. Pick one exercise class that you will go to as a default. Put it on your calendar, marked “non-negotiable”. After a while, not going won’t even feel like an option. Add 15 minutes of something you’ve been meaning to do forever to your morning or evening routine: writing, reading, cleaning, yoga, cuddling, knitting, the options are truly endless. This works for food, too, e.g. when you are trying to abstain from something: when I was a vegetarian, I made that decision once, and since it was the new default, I was never tempted to eat meat. Establish a new healthy breakfast default. A default grocery list comprised of all things healthy. Need I go on?

Embracing the default helps us make decisions once and then eliminates the need to think, because we’ll be on carefully curated autopilot and use that brain space for the things that matter. Eliminate decisions, add life.

On Not Wearing Makeup

I pretty much stopped wearing makeup during the past year. Mostly out of laziness – sleep is a precious resource, people. It was not some kind of experiment trying to counter the ridiculous beauty standards society imposes on us. But it may have gone off in that direction a little bit.

ElleIt wasn’t very hard. If it was, I would have gotten over my laziness. But once you start asking yourself “Am I going to feel like taking this off tonight?” you know your makeup bag is going to get a nice long break.

I did wear makeup for special occasions, some parties, but not all, some concerts, but mostly the ones where I was on stage myself, a 10 k race (it came with my race pack and instantly doubled my makeup inventory). I was going to put on makeup for the first day of my internship, only to realize three days later that I’d completely forgotten about it. No one commented on my face, ever, except for my mother, saying that I was right to finally follow in her footsteps and chucking the mascara that fails to deliver on its promises of angelic beauty, steamy sex, and true love.

I got very used to my bare face. I have never used copious amounts, and some products just confuse me – I would not know where on my face to put blush, or how to wear lipstick in everyday life. Additionally, my glasses are very prominent, obscuring my eyes quite a bit. I also like being able to say that I don’t wear makeup.

I must also admit that I have been blessed with natural coloring that lends itself to this experiment: dark lashes and eyebrows, not too pale, very clear skin. So I never felt the need to use makeup to cover up my insecurities – I used clothes for that, and so far, I have not adopted a naked policy on that one. This explains how not wearing makeup didn’t feel like giving anything up – it felt like gaining time.

And yet, sometimes I wonder if I am selling myself short by choosing not to beautify my face. Whenever I see an exceptionally beautiful woman on the street, I notice whether or not she is wearing makeup – she is. They all are. Is it the makeup that makes them exceptionally beautiful? Are exceptionally beautiful women more prone to using makeup? Have I forgotten how to appreciate natural beauty, no longer recognizing it when it passes me on the streets? Can I blame the media for perpetuating a heavily madeup and photoshopped version of beauty? I recognize natural beauty in the mirror, but I’m biased. Would others recognize it in my face?

I wonder how and if things will change once I no longer wear glasses after getting lasic surgery later this week. Will the two-week period of makeup verboten be enough for me to get used to my new face so that I won’t feel the need to break out the paint jars? Will I start having fun with makeup because my glasses no longer hide it? Or, worst-case scenario, will I use it every day because I’ll feel too plain without it?