Posted in about me, hope, mindset, thoughtfulness

My word

My school district does something at the beginning of each year for staff, to try to give us a common inspirational thing that in theory would carry through the year but rarely lives for more than a week or two.

This year, we were each to engrave a word on a “my intention” bracelet.

It was supposed to be our focus word for the year; we each chose our own.

This is the kind of thing that I get stuck on.

I needed to choose the perfect word. And while I had lots of ideas about what that word might be, perfection is found in a feeling—it’s not cognitive so much.

With many things to work on both at home and at work (I am a constant work in progress), I had many possibilities.

Flow. Trust. Yet.

Focus. Risk. Innovating.

Enough. Believe. Breathe. Margins.

Nurture. Connect. Nourish. Cultivate.

All fit, but none were quite perfect.

And then I read this blog post. And I loved it. And immediately I knew that my focus word is shamash—the candle in a menorah that lights the other candles.

A shamash is not part of my religion. Not part of my culture. Not part of my world in any direct way, really. And yet, it resonated.

I don’t know if I’ve heard the word before. I learned a fair amount about Judaism in and after college when I dated a few guys who were Jewish. I’ve been friends with Carla (the author of the linked post) for a while, and this post was not written this year.

It’s likely that I read it when she first published it and it just didn’t stick. This time? Resonance. Ah-ha! The feeling that I have found the perfect word to remind me what path I want to be on.

Works for me with students, with colleagues, with friends, with family, with strangers.

That said…

There’s a lot of life going on over here. My mental energy is sometimes depleted and often low. I haven’t spent a lot of energy on this yet. Working on it a little. Will continue to work on it. Will continue to figure out what I want it to look like. Hoping that with the seed planted, once the stuff that’s going on now passes, it will have space to grow and bloom.

Shamash. Be the candle that lights others.

Posted in exercise, food, know better do better, mindset, physical health

You can’t outrun a bad diet

The other day, I talked about how diet and exercise aren’t opposite sides of a balance, that each has its own unique benefits to health.

Even if we’re ignoring all health ramifications beyond weight, most people are still unlikely to “win” the diet versus exercise game.

I’ve worked with a lot of people over time, both one-on-one mentoring, in classes, as well as just casual conversations, and by far, the most common reason given for not exercising is not having enough time.

If you don’t have enough time to exercise at all, how are you going to have enough time to “work off” all of the extra food?

But what about the athletes? The people who are already making time to exercise? Especially the ones who are training for endurance races and the like?

The Climbing Daddy was recently diagnosed with a fatty liver. The two most common causes of a fatty liver are too much alcohol and too much sugar.

The Climbing Daddy has also done a handful of IronMans. For those who don’t know, an IronMan is a triathlon where participants first swim 2.4 miles, then bike 112 miles, then run a marathon (26.2 miles). They have 17 hours to complete it.

He happened to be wearing his finisher’s jacket at his appointment with the gastroenterologist. She had something to say about that.

“You cannot fix this even if you run three IronMan races. You have to fix your diet.”

When I gave the class at our Wellness Expo regarding sugar (recap still to be posted), there was a woman in the class who wanted a way out and asked about mitigating the effects of a high-sugar diet with exercise.

No matter how much exercise you do, your body has to process what you eat.

You can’t outrun a bad diet.



Posted in food, mindset, physical health

Labels that are not synonyms for healthy

Food production companies are looking to make money. They’ll put whatever is legal (and push that boundary) on the food packaging to get people to buy it.

The following are commonly used but not necessarily healthy.

  • all natural
  • organic
  • vegan
  • gluten-free
  • dairy-free
  • fat-free (or low fat)
  • sugar-free (or low sugar)
  • GMO-free
  • low-carb
  • whole wheat
  • high protein

This is not to say that these labels have no value—some of them do, particularly if you have food allergies or sensitivities or if you recognize that food shopping is a political act. But they’re not necessarily healthy.

I will do a post about each in the coming weeks, but for now, let these labels raise a red flag for you.

Posted in mindset

The Great Thigh Muscle Migration

From an email, promoting a webinar: “How to keep your thigh muscles from turning into belly fat in one minute or less.”

I’m picturing hamstring and quadricep cells migrating, like the westward expansion, until finding a comfortable spot in the belly where they assimilate and become belly fat cells. (I wish my sketching abilities let me draw that out.)

Even without that ridiculousness, once a cell is specialized (e.g.: a muscle cell), that’s the only kind of cell it can be. (That’s why stem cells are so highly valuable—they’re not yet specialized.)

So migration or not, muscle cells don’t and can’t turn into fat cells.

Often, we lose muscle and gain fat at the same time because of simultaneous changes in diet and exercise (or reduction in exercise with no corresponding reduction in diet), but they don’t turn into each other.

You can lose muscle and gain or not gain fat.

You can gain muscle and gain or not gain fat.

They are independent of one another.

The other piece to that original sentence is: in one minute or less? How often? I’m not going to the webinar to find out! But I’m sure it’s not a once-and-done, even with a horribly click-bait-y title.

My advice for keeping your thigh muscles from turning into belly fat? Use them. Walk, run, hike, climb, swim, dance, squat, lunge, etc. Often.

Posted in know better do better, thoughtfulness

Concert etiquette

I am a classically-trained musician.

I hate the custom of not clapping between movements of classical works (regardless of the ensemble performing them) and I think we should go back to the old way (which, from what I understand, was changed by Mahler).

But people, when you’re in the audience at a formal performance, be quiet.

At the beginning of every school concert that I’m the teacher for, I make an announcement explaining that it’s hurtful to the children when the audience talks, because they think the audience isn’t listening. And it’s distracting — playing an instrument takes a lot of concentration.

These things are all true, and explaining them has helped the noise level.

For the performances I run, the songs are between 10 seconds and 3 minutes. It’s really and truly not that hard to be quiet for that long. Really.

When The Kid was younger, he could sit quietly through the first half of a formal performance. (We haven’t been to one recently.) We went to see the Phoenix Symphony once. We went to see The Tall Daddy perform quite a few times. We went to other performances as well. Often, there were adults sitting near us who were not as well-behaved as my two- or three- or four-year-old.

Just stop talking.

There are announcements at the front end of performances to turn cell phones off (“vibrate” still makes noise!) but we’re not told to be quiet and apparently need to be.

Whether the performance is young kids, teens, adults, music, theatre, dance—be quiet.

Respect the performers.

It’s hard. No, not hard to be quiet—hard to perform. A lot of work to have the skill to have something worth presenting to an audience. It’s scary to stand or sit on a stage in front of people.

Due to the acoustics in the space I most recently performed in, from the stage, we could pretty clearly hear people whispering on the balcony. It was maddening and distracting.

Not interested in the performance? Daydream. Without your phone, and without sharing those dreams until intermission.

It’s not a sporting event. It’s not a band in a bar or ambient music at a restaurant. Different events call for different behavior. Adjust accordingly.

[curtain closes; you can talk now]

Posted in exercise, food, know better do better, mental health, mindset, physical health

Diet vs. exercise: the balance

The title is bait. They don’t balance. They’re not on opposing sides.

Exercise is not punishment for eating.

What you eat fuels you, affects your hormone balance and contributes to the maintenance and eventual regeneration of most cells. (Not all cells regenerate, and almost all body functions are controlled by hormones.)

I know a growing number of people who changed their diets (just to “healthier”—nothing extreme) and were shocked at how much more energy they had.

Yup. And it seems that until you do it, you don’t believe it, but the sugar, the highly-processed carbs, the alcohol, the fried and deep-fried—as a regular diet, they all have tangible negative effects on your body, in addition to the long-term ramifications.

Exercise stresses bones and muscles, which is a good thing! It helps them to become and stay strong. It maintains or improves cardiovascular health. It sometimes increases flexibility and/or balance (which are both important). It has profound impact on our brains, in terms of mood, of mental health, and of mental acuity. (We have better moods, better mental health, learn better, work better when we exercise regularly.)

So diet does things that exercise doesn’t, and exercise does things that diet doesn’t. Both are important.

Exercise can’t counteract all of the things that happen in our bodies when we eat a lot of junk.

Eat well. Exercise daily. You need them both.

Posted in about me, exercise, vulnerability

Discomfort and growth on fake rocks

In April, I volunteered at an event at the rock climbing gym where I’m a member.

It was a bouldering event (short walls, no ropes) which is not something that I had done at all, but there were all sorts of fun, silly climbing (taller walls, with a rope) stations as well—one-handed, an obstacle course, a route made of old (looking) metal things, a “balance the ball on the spoon” route.

I decided that I would learn to boulder so that I could participate next year.

So…they changed it up a bit and are having a series of mini-competitions—all bouldering—and if you enter three of those (no charge for members), you can automatically enter into the Big Event in April.

I was mostly still at the “can’t get off the starting holds” stage of learning.

I decided that once I could climb ONE route to the top, I was going to sign up.

Two weeks ago, I did it!

Last night was the first event after that accomplishment, and so I went.

Let me share bits of “in my head” with you about this.

As I mentioned before, I am a recovering perfectionist. I have always been good at school, but I don’t volunteer unless I’m certain to be right/successful. Failing with an audience is shameful (“I am a failure” vs. “I failed”).

I’ve been working my way out of all of that—so many missed opportunities due to fear—and this event was a GIANT step outside of the comfort zone in the direction I want to go.

(People at Shumway: riding the backwards bike was a big deal.)

Unfortunately, this event is one where you sign up the day of. (I’m a big fan of registering while enthusiasm is high and then feeling obligated when I don’t want to follow through later.)

Shortly before it was time to get changed and leave the house, I sent two friends this text:

I'm scared

(Side note: bouldering isn’t any “less real” climbing than what I usually do.)

I sent a similar one to The Climbing Daddy.

Their responses were perfect:

reply 3

(This is true. There’s never been an athletic community that I’ve been part of that hasn’t been supportive. Running, triathlon, climbing. People are happy you’re into what they’re into, and they’re happy to help. As long as you’re decently pleasant to be around.)

reply 1

(This is true. Much like the above, it’s not making a fool, it’s taking a risk. The only people who would think me a fool—if I were to run into any—are the people who are insecure in their own skills or risk-taking. And their opinion doesn’t matter…)

reply 2

(It was not that long ago that I couldn’t get off the ground—or off the starting holds. But I can now, even on routes that I can’t complete.)

So I changed clothes and went.

I talked to the guy running it and found out what to expect.

I signed up for a time.

I waited a while.

And I climbed.

I made it up the first route.

Someone I didn’t know cheered for me the second half of the route.

I didn’t make it up any more routes, though I tried two several times. (It would have been much nicer to be there by myself attempting those, instead of in a room full of people with much higher skill, but that’s just my self-consciousness.)

Also, the route that I climbed successfully is one grade harder than the one I completed a couple of weeks ago, so there’s that as well. (V.0- tonight vs. 5.8 the other day, for those who understand that.)

All in all, people were either friendly or didn’t take notice of me, both of which were fine options.

The next one is in January. Maybe I’ll make it up two routes. And not freak out before it’s time to leave.

As far as stretching my comfort zone? Mission accomplished.

Posted in mental health, mindset, physical health

December is rough

This time of year is, for many people, brutal.

Schedules. Expectations. Hopes. Dreams. Memories.

Parents. Kids. Spouses. Friends. Other communities.

Decorations. Gifts. Meals. Sweets. Parties.

Religion. Other religions. Politics.

Please, for your mental and physical health, first trim the lists, then trim the lists again, then delegate.

Ladies, as a generalization, we are bad at this. Share the load with other people in your house. And when the jobs are done not quite the way you would have done them but they’re good enough, say thank you and leave the job done as it was.

It doesn’t feel good to be berated after doing something for not having done it to spec, or to do something and have someone else redo it. Let it be good enough.

Unless it’s dangerous (electricity and water, or undercooked poultry, for examples), let it be good enough. (I might write more about just this another day…)

Don’t do chores for your old-enough-to-do-it-themselves children. (That is year-round, not just December. And delegate holiday work to them, too.)

I find that giving options works well. On Sunday (which was not a no-work Sunday, sadly), my 7-year-old had three options and he had to choose two: clean his toilet (this is a weekly chore for him), help pull weeds outside, fold the recently-washed napkins, placemats, and kitchen towels. He chose two, was super-happy not to have to clean the toilet this week, and didn’t complain a bit. I was happy to have help in the yard because what he got done takes longer than it takes me to clean the toilet. Win-win.

In trimming lists, trim the to-do. Keep what you need for it to “feel like Christmas” and ditch the rest. Trim the to-go. There are so many events and things to do. There were three things going on this past weekend that I had on the Maybe List that we didn’t get to. The weekend was full enough that I never even looked at the Maybe List.

It’s OK not to do it all*.

Just like at Thanksgiving, you are more important than the stuff. Trim the lists so you can enjoy it.

*Side note about skipping stuff this weekend: I didn’t tell The Kid that any of those things was a possibility, so he wasn’t disappointed to miss them. The Climbing Daddy wasn’t super-interested in any of them (but amenable to all), so there was no sadness other than: we all wish there was more time.


Posted in mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Personal creative work

I was chatting with a colleague the other day about writing and teaching kids to write, and how difficult it is. We came to the conclusion that the majority of us are afraid to be vulnerable (and creativity is extremely vulnerable), and that we can’t just do our own thing without comparing our output to others’ output.

Unless we’re directly competing for something that is valuable to us, there’s no need to compare our creative output with others’.

It’s OK for what you create to have flaws.

It’s OK to try but not have your finished product look or sound amazing.

It’s OK—it’s more than OK—to create just for the sake of creating, without intention of doing anything with the final product. You don’t have to record it or perform it or show it to anyone.

(And in the vein of comparison, in the words of a good friend, “Just because you’re the best doesn’t mean you’re good.”)

I am a writer. I am a musician. When I do these things just to enjoy them, when I don’t worry about the judgment of others (or of myself!), they’re fun. Sometimes healing. A good way to spend time.

When I judge them against the work of others, or worse, against what I think my output should be, they’re stressful and not at all enjoyable.

(This is different than constructive work simply to improve. In general, people enjoy getting better at things, even if it’s just incremental as we go.)

I enjoy drawing and painting. I love taking pictures. I’m not great at them. They’re still enjoyable. (Usually.)

There are so many outlets for creativity. Pick something you like, or something you’d like to try, turn off the inner critic, and do it.

A side note on the inner critic: for most of us, the inner critic is the voice of someone else(s) criticizing us when we were kids. (I know far too many people who were told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing.) In addition to telling those voices—sometimes out loud—that their opinion doesn’t matter, please see to it that your voice doesn’t become someone else’s inner critic.

Be creative. Let others be creative. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be.

Posted in know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

The value of creative work

There’s a strongly held cultural belief that people who engage in creative work are poor, deserve to be poor, and, in many cases, need to be poor in order to continue to do creative work.

This is all bullshit. Well, except that many are poor.

We scoff at degrees in the arts. We tell people who want to pursue creative careers to get real jobs or to have back up plans.

Creative work is necessary for all of us. It’s part of what it is to be human. But that’s an argument I’ll flesh out more on another day.

Other people’s creative work is infused in our lives. We take it for granted and don’t realize how grey our lives would be if all of those people “just got real jobs.”

Writing: no books. No magazines. No blogs. No movies (someone has to write the script). No plays or musicals.

Graphic arts: no paintings (works hung on walls, works painted on walls). No mosaic works (various outdoor spaces, tabletops, walls). No book or magazine covers. No photographs (family portraits, places and things you’ve seen and not seen, wedding and other special events). Because I wasn’t sure where else to put this: no flower arrangements.

Live performances: no plays or musicals. No stand up comedy or improv comedy. No musical performances in bars or restaurants. No concerts in concert venues. No talk radio.

Recorded performances: all of the same as live performances plus: no movies. No podcasts. No audiobooks.

Music: no CDs/records/mp3s/streaming subscriptions/music radio. No background music in movies. No ambient music on the phone, in offices, in shopping centers, in the gym, at events.

Clothes and accessories: no “cute” clothes or shoes. No pretty scarves, hats, gloves, ties, jewelry, sunglasses. This category runs deep enough—I can’t say no clothes or shoes or bags, because we have made rules that we have to wear clothes and for general functionality, we need some sort of carrying cases, but it’s hard to imagine what the choices would be with no creative work involved. Also: no costumes.

Culinary: No decorated cakes or cookies. No new recipes. No food with good presentation.

I’m sure that list isn’t exhaustive and there are many others I missed. Hit me up and point out where I’ve left holes, and I’ll come back and add a list of things I missed.

Do you really believe that none of those are worth anything? That the people who have spent their lives creating so we can consume the arts should have gotten “real jobs”?

I encourage you to notice today and this week everywhere you consume creative work. And then to advocate for this work to be seen as real, to be paid like any other, not to be stolen on a regular basis. (While a handful of people who do this work are extremely wealthy, the majority of people who do this work are not.)