Whole House Purge

When my husband and I dropped our kids off at college in September, my first reaction was to miss them both dreadfully and feel sad.

My second response was to dive into decluttering and cleaning my home.

I’ll admit that I became that intrusive and annoying mom who invaded her kids’ rooms to tidy up. Just for the record, they both thanked me when they returned home at Thanksgiving.

My son settled comfortably into his space, glad to be able to simply throw his clothes into his drawers and wardrobe without having to clean them out first, and to be able to set his laptop on his desk without having to make space first.

My daughter had a similar reaction to her clear closet and tidy dresser drawers, although she was more effusively verbal with her thanks.

So, yeah, they would have had a right to be mad. Except they were not, in fact, mad. They were glad.

But I digress. My real point is that cleaning their rooms is what set me off on my latest decluttering quest. I was amazed at how effective I felt in the aftermath, and I felt empowered to tackle more. I decided that I would keep going until I’d done my entire house.

Am I done now?

Well, no. But I’ve made a lot of progress. The dining room was the space I tackled next, and in the course of my work there I discovered a new book on decluttering by Dana K. White.

Decluttering at the Speed of Life

I’m so glad I stumbled upon Dana’s book, because I suspect I’d have stalled out without it. With it, I’ve been powering forward: kitchen, living room, bedroom, and the ever-so-dreaded study.

Are these areas perfect? No. But they are ever so much better. And as Dana says, “Better is better.

You may remember that a few years ago I was excited about Marie Kondo’s method. I still love her method for clothes. It really worked for me, and my wardrobe and dresser drawers have remained tidy and clutter-free ever since I konmaried them.

But her method for books stopped me in my tracks. And every time I tried to detour around my books to the other three categories—paper, miscellaneous, and sentimental—I felt overwhelmed and ground to a halt quickly.

Dana K. White has gotten me past the previous road blocks. Yay! Because her approach has proven so helpful, I want to tell you about it (as well as recommending Decluttering at the Speed of Life).

Your House is a Container

She starts by introducing some general concepts. Two especially stood out for me. The first is that your house is a hard limit. It has the number of rooms that it has. It has space for a certain amount and no more. If you try to keep more in it than will fit, things will get unmanageable.

The container concept also goes for smaller containers within your home. A closet or a cupboard will contain only so much. Ditto a shelf. Ditto a drawer.

If you want to be able to move freely in your home and to easily access the physical tools of living, you need to also value open space. And you must honor the limits of your containers.

Go for the Visible Areas First

I remember once thinking that I should declutter my storage areas first, so that when I tidied the living areas I would have places to put things I wanted to store. It made logical sense, but it didn’t work. I ran out of steam quickly.

Dana explains why.

If you put in three days decluttering a storage room, you’ve just worked very hard, but you don’t see any immediate benefit in your day-to-day life. In fact, you don’t even see that beautifully clean and organized storage room, because most of your time is spent elsewhere in still-chaotic spaces that sap your energy.

When you start with the most visible areas—the most visible surfaces of the most visible room—seeing the progress energizes you to do more.

5 Steps

Okay, those are two of the handful of concepts Dana introduces right up front: 1) the container principle, and 2) prioritize the visible.

From there, she presents the 5-step process that you will follow again and again in each space you tackle, whether it is a shelf, a surface, a cabinet, a drawer, a corner, or a room.

In the body of her book, she discusses some of the specific challenges posed by the different kinds of spaces. I found those specifics very helpful, but I am not going to try to summarize them here. Instead I’ll describe the process that is the core of Dana’s method.


At the start of a decluttering session, start with the easiest of the easy stuff: trash.

You may think that there isn’t any, but you will be wrong.

In a pile of paper, there will be expired sales offers or scraps. In the pantry, there will be empty or almost-empty bags or boxes of stale food. In the coat closet, there will be mittens missing a mate. In the living room, there will be packaging from the bird feeder you ordered and set up in the yard.

Throw the trash in the trash bin or the recycle bin. The space will feel better immediately, and you will get a little burst of energy from it.


Look for items that belong somewhere else and that have a home. Take them there straight away.

Yes, you can glance around to see if there is something else that belongs in the same place. No, don’t hunt. Just grab anything obvious and go. Yes, you will be getting a lot of exercise this way. But there is a reason to do the putting-away-of-easy-stuff in this less efficient way.

When you get interrupted, you don’t leave a mess behind. The trash has gone directly into the trash/recycle. These easy items have been put away. You leave the space better no matter what.


Next look for items that are obvious donatables.

These are the things that make you think, “Why on earth do I have that?” or “Why in the world did she give me that?” or “Yikes! I don’t want that in my home!”

Put them into a donatable box or bag.

If you fill up the box/bag, take it out to your car straight away and get a fresh container as you continue to declutter.

These first three steps will reduce the mass quite a bit. Sometimes that spot—shelf, surface, corner—will be done. All that remains there will be things that you want to live there. But if some problem items remain…

4—Ask the 2 Decluttering Questions

• If I needed this item, where would I look for it first?

Not: where would I or should I stash it? Not: where would this logically go. No.

Where would you actually look for it?

If you have an answer to this question, take it there straight away. If you have no automatic answer, ask the second decluttering question.

• If I needed this item, would I even remember I had one?

If you wouldn’t remember, if you’d assume you would have to buy or borrow one, put it in the donate box. It’s clutter if you wouldn’t pull it out to use it, and it does you no good at all to hang onto it.

5—Make It Fit

This is where the container principle comes to the fore. The shelf is the size that it is. The drawer is the size that it is. After steps 1 — 4, the items you have left all belong here. Do they fit?

If they do, you’re done with this space.

But if they don’t, you’ll need to decide which ones to keep and which ones to discard.

To help you decide, put like with like.

Put all the sauce pans together. Which ones are your favorites? Donate the one that is always too big for making the stir-fry sauce, but too small making tomato soup. Or, if you use and love all four, look for a frying pan or a stock pot that you never use to discard. Something has to go, because the space you have for pots is the space you have for pots.

One In, One Out

And there you have it.

I have found that going after trash breaks my log jam of overwhelm. Once I’m moving, it’s pretty easy to identify things to donate.

I have a little more difficulty with easy things that have a home, because I tend to be good at putting things away. If I encounter something that is not put away, it’s usually because the place it goes is too full.

Dana says that when this happens, identify something in the home-spot that is less worthy of keeping than the item you are trying to put away. This is logical, and clearly works for her.

But I have found that the home-spot usually is a decluttering project all on its own. And I know that abandoning the spot where I’m decluttering to tackle this new spot is a recipe for disaster. Luckily I haven’t encountered this situation too often.

Sometimes I can do the one-in-one-out dance. Otherwise I place the loose item on top of the shelf unit or cabinet where it goes. Obviously, if this happened a lot, I’d be making a bigger mess or else just shifting the mess.

But, so far, I’m generating huge piles of bags containing donations and recycling, and getting them out of the house.

Using Things Versus Useableness

Using Dana’s process has generated an attitude shift in me.

I’m no longer asking myself, “Is this a useful item?”

As she points out, creative people can always come up with a good way to use most things. So anything can look useful to me.

The better consideration for me is: Do I have a specific plan to use this? Or a specific occasion or a specific time?

So when I encountered a “tapestry” art project in my study, I considered. Was I really going to finish it? Did I still love it or was I over it? When would I finish it?

Well, I did still love it. I couldn’t bear the idea of throwing it out. But I didn’t want to let it sit on top of the project shelves gathering dust. So I scrutinized it with an eye to making a definite plan to finishing it.

I was astonished to discover that I needed only to fasten three remaining horizontal stands and attach the bronze piece I intended to place at the top of the fringe. So little! How had I let it sit unfinished for 13 years?!

I put the task on my immediate to-do list, and had it done within the week. Now it is hanging on my wall and I feel happy every time I set eyes upon it.

I used the same mindset when I tackled the box of kids’ art that I’d saved with the intention of framing some of it and hanging it. With each piece, I considered whether I really intended to frame and hang that one. Most of the art went into the recycle bin. But I did save a dozen. And I ordered framing materials for four of them immediately.

Not everyone will have art as the category of things that will acquire greater clarity through action. But I suspect many of us have something.

If it is clothes, make yourself wear the items your usually don’t wear. If it is cooking gear, make some meals using the unused stuff. If it is coffee mugs, drink from them. If it is books, start reading your way through the books you haven’t read in years.

It will soon become clear which items you really do want to keep and which items you really don’t want to keep.

There’s More

Dana has lots of tips regarding specific spaces in your home. The kitchen has some challenges unique to it. Ditto hobby rooms. Ditto closets. If you want new energy and inspiration to do some decluttering, I highly recommend you get her book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life.

In the meantime, I’ll report in with my own progress in decluttering from time to time. I’d love to hear about yours, if you feel inclined to share. 😀

*     *     *

For more on decluttering, see:
Getting Started with the KonMari Technique



Lawrence Block on Success

I’ve blogged about Lawrence Block and his book Write for Your Life before. I have immense respect for him, both as a person and as a writer, and I’ve continued to do the exercises he presents in Write for Your Life.

Most of the exercises are one-and-done. I’ve completed those and found them valuable. But I am still at work on a cycle of affirmations designed especially for writers.

As a writer himself, Block has been observing writers and the writing life for decades. He’s seen writers with only moderate talent build successful writing careers, while more brilliant writers fail to do so. And vice versa, of course. But talent does not seem to correlate with success.

He’s seen writers who work only moderately hard find success, while some writers who work ridiculously hard fail. And vice versa. But beyond a certain threshold, hard work doesn’t seem to correlate with success either.

What does correlate with success? Block says that what a writer believes in her heart of hearts about herself is the key. And one way to change that belief—if it is negative—is to work with affirmations.

Several of the exercises in Write for Your Life are designed to help you unearth the central negative belief you hold about yourself, so that you can challenge it and change it. But Block has observed that most writers also hold other beliefs in common.

So he created a constellation of 30 affirmations to challenge those beliefs. Try it for a month, he recommends, focusing on a different affirmation each day.

That’s what I’m in the middle of doing.

Block says that for writers, writing is particularly effective, so the exercise is to write each affirmation 20 times.

Here is today’s affirmation:

I CAN ALWAYS AFFORD TO TAKE CHANCES. It’s safe for you to risk rejection. Taking chances makes you certain of success. The more you take chances, the more you know you’re safe.

Now, I have not been using Block’s affirmations verbatim. I adjust them as needed to speak to my inmost heart. This one became:

I can always afford to take artistic chances.

And my thoughts about it are a little different as well.

It’s by taking artistic chances that I will be most authentic. And it is my authenticity that appeals to readers. By appealing to readers, my readership will grow.

I’ve made one other change. Block suggests that one simply write out the affirmation 20 times. I find it hard to keep my mind focused for that many identical repetitions, so I write the first 5 in first person, the second 5 in second person, the third 5 in third person, and the last 5 in first person again.

Block himself suggests this format for another exercise in Write for Your Life. I thought that was very clever, so I borrowed it for this exercise.

I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.

     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.

     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.

Care to join me? 😀 C’mon! Let’s try it together!

I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.

Fill in your name now!

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.

     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.

How do you feel?

Lighter? More positive? With more energy? Stronger?

I do, but this is an affirmation that dovetails with my inner beliefs. I already believe that taking artistic chances is the best way to go. So repeating this affirmation brings my own optimism to the fore, and I feel good.

At least two of Block’s cycle of 30 affirmations drew up my pessimism instead. On them, I chose to use yet another tool that Block presented: writing out the inner protest called up by the affirmation.

The idea is that writing that protest gets it out of your subconscious and into the light of your conscious self, where you can challenge it. I think it works like the broken-record technique one sometimes uses when trying to sort out a conflict with a loved one.

Instead of escalating the conflict by making an extreme response to an extreme provocation, one simply repeats oneself.

Like this:

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     Not sure that’s right.

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     Is it safe?

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     Won’t someone hurt me?

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     I want to be nourished.

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     I wish.

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          I doubt it.

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          Why then have I been so impoverished?

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          I’ve been nourished emotionally and spiritually,
          but I’d like to see some financial nourishment!

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     Yeah, well, she could use some nourishing now.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     I was struck today by how God has cared for us over the last year.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     I feel trust right this moment.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     But I’m still scared of other people.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     Yet people can be God’s hands in the world.

This affirmation-and-response pattern closes with just a repetition of the affirmation.

     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.

If you found yourself fighting today’s affirmation—I can always afford to take artistic chances—try it again with a response. The response can be anything. Blurt out the first thing you think of, and carry on.

I can always afford to take artistic chances

I can always afford to take artistic chances

I can always afford to take artistic chances

I can always afford to take artistic chances

I can always afford to take artistic chances

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.

     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.


I hope so. But if not, maybe this affirmation challenges one of your core beliefs. In which case, you might try working with it for several days. You might be amazed at the freedom you gain.

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be peaceful. May you be free.


For more about Lawrence Block and Write for Your Life, see:
Lawrence Block and Unforgettable Characters—Take 1
Lawrence Block and Unforgettable Characters—Take 2



Tackling Hip Pain

Last Friday, I talked about back pain and using myofascial release for relief. I also promised to share this week what I was doing to relieve the hip pain that had flared up anew in response to my at-home exercise program.

This post is the promised hip-pain post.

It builds on last week’s post, so if you missed that one, go read it first. I’ll wait! 😀

Here’s the link.

So…hip pain. It can occur in a lot of different spots around the hip joint. When I was 16 or so, I pulled something in the front of my left hip joint when straightening up from sitting in the car. For nearly two decades after that incident, if I straightened incautiously, I pulled it again. Each time I pulled it, it grew more susceptible to pulling the next time. The problem spread to the right hip. And both sides began to hurt more and more.

I eventually solved the problem by doing leg lifts religiously. Three times a week, without fail, I would lie on my back and lift the left leg 10 times. Then I did the right leg. Three sets of 10 repetitions for each leg.

It worked! My pain diminished, and re-pulling the muscle happened less and less often.

But it is not front-of-the-hip pain that is bothering me now. Nope. The pain is at the back and deep in the joint.

Let’s take a look at the muscles on the back of the hip, since that’s important both to understanding what is happening, and how to fix it.

The biggest muscle, and the one that gives the derriere a lot of its shape, is the gluteus maximus. This is the muscle that should be doing most of the work when you straighten from sitting to standing. I suspect that mine has been shuffling off some of its work to other muscles that are not meant for it, and that is where my pain is coming from.

(We’re looking at the hips from the back in the images at right.)

Beneath the gluteus maximus is the gluteus medius. The gluteus medius controls rotation of the hip, allowing you to turn your leg inward (pigeon toes) and outward (ballet first position), as well as allowing you to lift your leg to the back and side. It also holds the hips stable when you stand on one leg.
Beneath the gluteus medius is the gluteus minimus. The gluteus minimus helps the gluteus medius do its jobs of hip rotation and keeping the hips stable when you are standing on one leg. Now that I’m a week into working on the pain in my hips, I suspect that some of my discomfort is coming from the gluteus minimus.

But the majority of my pain seems to stem from a cluster of much smaller muscles underneath the gluteal muscles.

The prime villain is the piriformis muscle.

The piriformis muscle attaches at the front of the sacrum (the base of the spine), and runs sideways at a slant to wrap around the outside of the greater trochanter, the knob at the top of the femur (thigh bone).

At the start of the week, the path of pain mapped quite perfectly along both my right and left piriformis muscles.

So that is where I placed my Miracle Ball. One side at a time, starting at the spot where the piriformis emerges from the sacrum, I lay on the ball, letting it rest at each aching spot along the piriformis for 2 or 3 minutes until I reached the spot where the muscle wrapped around the trochanter.

The relief was amazing. It had that “hurt good” sensation while I lay on the ball. And afterward, my hips felt both less tense and stronger.

I found that changing the angle and rotation of my body as I lay upon the Miracle Ball was helpful for digging into different spots where the fascia was restricted. Sometimes it was quite a balancing act! I let my intuition guide me.

Now that I’ve been doing this process for a week (as I type this), I’m finding that the piriformis muscles are calming down. The right piriformis is still tight right at its center, in the “belly” of the muscle and at the end where it attaches to the trochanter. So that is where I focus my efforts.

The left piriformis is problematic largely where it attaches to its trochanter.

But I can now feel that the three muscles beneath the piriformis are painful (on both sides), both in the belly of each muscle and where they attach to the trochanter.

These three muscles are: the superior gemellus, the obturator internus, and the inferior gemellus.

Additionally, the spot at the end of the gluteus minimus where it attaches to the trochanter is painful.

So when my Miracle Ball reaches the outer end of the piriformis, I walk the ball in a semi-circle around the top of the trochanter.

Here’s a video that gave me some ideas for how to position myself on the ball. Notice how the gentleman is balanced on one hip with the opposite hip angled into the air. Once the ball moves away from the spine, the other hip has to rise so that you stay balanced.

Here’s another that gave me ideas for where the hotspots are located, and how to move the legs while on the ball.

The patient is passive and lying on her front. But seeing how the therapist performed the various releases helped me figure out variants for myself. (The release work starts at minute 10.)

The relief is incredible. I can feel the inflammation going down, and I have great hope that not only will the pain resolve completely, but that I’ll eventually be able to walk for exercise again.

I love walking. But every time in the last few years that I’ve tried taking the long walks I adore, this deep hip pain has flared up. Now that I’m using myofascial release on the area, I think I may arrive at a long-term resolution of the problem. Fingers crossed!

I suspect there may be two more pieces of the puzzle, however.

1) Myofascial release of the quadriceps.

2) Mobilizing the gluteus maximus to do its job.

But first things first. Right now I’m focusing on myofascial release of the hips. Wish me luck!

I’ll continue to blog about this particular adventure as it unfolds, but it may be a while before I get to the experiences beyond the piriformis and company.

Important Disclaimer: I am not a medical person in any way. I’m just sharing my journey with the idea that it may point you toward some good questions, if you too suffer from hip pain. Good questions can lead to good answers; coming up with the right question is often the hardest part of solving a problem, in my experience. Just remember that what worked for me may not work for you. Seek out the right experts for help, if you need treatment!

Here are the links to the videos on YouTube:
Activ Chropractic on the Piriformis
iBody Academy on Myofascial Release

Here’s more about my own experiences with myofascial release:
Conquering Back Pain



Conquering Back Pain

For most of my life I’ve dealt with back pain—upper and lower.

Over the years, I’ve discovered ways to lessen the pain: yoga, strengthening specific core muscles, putting a latex topper on my mattress, etc. All of these, especially in concert, helped a great deal. But when my sister-in-law shared her positive experience with The Miracle Ball Method by Elaine Petrone, I listened.

And I put the Miracle Ball Deluxe Kit on my wish list for Christmas 2017.

My dear father choose to give me the kit as one of his gifts, and I’ve been using it ever since.

I’ve been delighted with the results. I rarely experience low back pain these days. And the doctor who I see for my joint issues said that the scoliosis of my lower spine (sideways curvature) was entirely gone!

My upper back continues to challenge me, but it is much better than it used to be. And some extra time on my Miracle Balls always resolves the worst of the pain.

I learned recently that the Miracle Ball Method is really a form of myofascial release. I’d been using the method because it worked, without really worrying about why it worked. But my new qigong practice began creating pain in my hips. In pursuit of a solution for that, I encountered…a bunch of new information.

What is myofascial release?

John F. Barnes (at myofascialrelease.com) describes it as “a hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the fascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.”

And what is the fascia?

Wikipedia’s definition…

A band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs.

A video from the Life 360 Summit gives an excellent view of what the fascia looks like and how fascia can cause serious pain and range-of-motion problems when the fascia is tight or restricted.

Minute 6 is when Fascia-man first arrives. And 15 seconds later we get a good close-up of him, if you want to skip ahead.

The way the Miracle Balls work is that you lie on them, and your own body weight applies the sustained pressure that releases the fascial restrictions. The more you are able to relax, the better they work.

In the diagram at right, you can see how I “walk” a single ball up my spine from the tail bone. At each location, I pause the ball for 2 or 3 minutes, until I feel the restriction release.

Across the shoulders, I use the balls in a pair, one placed on each side of the spine.

The whole process does take roughly 40 minutes, but it is so worth it to be pain-free. 😀

The kit I received included the Miracle Balls themselves, a how-to book, a how-to CD (which I haven’t used), a hand pump, and a plastic nozzle for the hand pump. The plastic nozzle did not work for filling the balls, but we had a steel needle for a bicycle pump that fit the hand pump perfectly.

My son tried my Miracle Balls this week after his weight workout and liked them so well that he requested some of his own. I purchased him a smaller kit that included only the balls and the how-to book. (We don’t need 2 hand pumps in the house—he can use mine.)

I meant to tell you all about my adventure with Miracle Balls after I’d used them for a few months. I figured I’d test them well before reporting back. The problem with that plan is that I tend to be most excited when something is new. That’s when I shout about it from the rooftops. Once several months pass…it’s old hat.

I kept saying, “Next week I’ll blog about it.”

But now that I’m using my Miracle Balls on hip pain, they are new and fresh again, so here I am shouting. 😉

So what about my hip pain, which set off this new learning odyssey? I’ll tell you about it—and how I’m fixing it—next week!

For your convenience, here are some of the links from all of the above:
Miracle Ball Deluxe Kit on Amazon
Pump Needles on Amazon
Miracle Ball Basic Kit on Amazon
Fascia-man Video on YouTube

Here’s more about my own experiences with myofascial release:
Tackling Hip Pain

Important Disclaimer: I am not a medical person in any way. I’m just sharing my journey with the idea that it may point you toward some good questions, if you too suffer from back pain. Good questions can lead to good answers; coming up with the right question is often the hardest part of solving a problem, in my experience. Just remember that what worked for me may not work for you. Seek out the right experts for help, if you need treatment!



Exercise in the Time of Coronavirus

My exercise routine has centered on the gym for many years.

I love my gym. The natural wood and stone of its foyer soothes my senses. The numerous large windows on the exercise floor and at the poolside let in floods of uplifting sunlight. I feel happy and content when I am there.

Nice as the environment is, it’s what I do there that keeps me healthy.

Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening, I lift weights with my son.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I water walk, if I’m recovering from injury. If my joints are healthy, I swim.

Of course, right now my gym is closed.

I’d stopped going a week before it shut its doors, because I want to protect my husband, who is in three of the high risk categories for coronavirus.

I’ll confess that I didn’t immediately figure out what I would do to replace my gym attendance. I wasn’t yet thinking that far ahead and hadn’t envisioned being homebound for months and months.

But now that I’ve been inactive for too long, I’m determined to find a way to exercise safely.

My husband and daughter—lucky them!—can go on long walks. I wish I could go on walks, long or short. But I can’t. I love walking, and every time I try it in the amounts necessary for exercise, it trashes my right hip joint.

But never mind that. Aside from a bit of envy, I wasn’t considering walking. Instead, I had another idea.

Just before I stopped going to the gym, I attended a qigong class. I was hoping it would teach the qigong form that I learned (and subsequently forgot) roughly 12 years ago. I loved that form! Why did I ever stop doing it? Was I crazy? Who knows.

But I wanted to relearn it.

So I went to the class.

And was disappointed.

The class focused on a different form, one I didn’t like nearly as well, and one that was problematic for my body and its particular constellation of weak points.

However, I spoke with the teacher after class, and he was able to suggest which form I might be seeking. (I’d forgotten its name, as well as its content.)

Then along came coronavirus, and my attention went entirely elsewhere.

This week I’ve returned to pursuing physical fitness.

I googled the Eight Brocades of qigong, and—what do you know!—that’s the one.

So I am relearning it at home.

As I write this post, I’ve learned Supporting the Heavens, which is already doing wonders for my shoulders.

I’ve also learned Separating Heaven from Earth. I’m not seeing any immediate benefits from that one, but that’s not really the point for me. I’ll be delighted by any physical healing that comes my way, but I’m doing this as a way to exercise safely.

Well that, and because I enjoy it.

I am seeing that doing a qigong brocade as a break from writing works much better for me than just getting up to walk around the house. Strolling the house is dull, so I tend to put it off. Which means I sit for too long.

“I’ll just do one more paragraph. And one more. And just one more. Then I’ll get up.”

But I look forward to qigong, so when it is time to get up and move, I do.

Those of you who do not practice qigong yourselves might wonder what exactly are Supporting the Heavens and Separating Heaven from Earth.

Here’s the video I’m watching to relearn all this stuff:

Mimi Kuo-Deemer is very clear and has an enthusiastic and inviting demeanor, so I’m enjoying learning from her.

I remember the first time I learned the Eight Brocades, I formed a false impression from the first two brocades. “This is easy,” I thought.

Since I wasn’t then aiming for fitness with it, I wasn’t perturbed. I was learning the form simply because the teacher strongly recommended it as a pre-requisite for tai chi. That’s what I had set my sights on; I wanted to learn tai chi.

No doubt that played a role in why I dropped qigong when I discovered that my chronic hip injury would prevent me from trying tai chi for the foreseeable future.

(Okay, I was nuts. So what if I couldn’t do tai chi? Didn’t I realize I’d come to love the Eight Brocades for their own sake? Apparently not.)

But I’m digressing. Back to my point.

Supporting the Heavens is easy. But when you perform it 9 times, it grows harder. And when you perform it 24 times (I never have), I suspect it becomes quite challenging. Some qigong masters do indeed recommend 24 repetitions for each of the Eight Brocades. Start at 8 repetitions and then increase as you are able.

Just so you know: I’m currently doing 3 repetitions of each brocade as I learn it. My body tends to get injured far too easily. I plan to increase slowly and carefully.

Increasing the repetitions increases the exertion, but there’s more.

Drawing the Bow and Big Bear Turns to Side require horse stance! Some practitioners do Clenching Fists with a Fierce Gaze in horse stance as well. Horse stance is a killer! When I was 23, I could manage it for many minutes on end. Now? Not so much.

Right near the end of my earlier qigong career (before the kidney infection that drove the final wedge between me and qigong), my teacher guided her class through a complete Eight Brocades in which we performed 5 repetitions of each brocade. Believe you me, it was a workout!

So qigong builds.

It starts out easy and just gets more challenging as you become stronger.

Gotta say, I am excited about this. I hope that qigong will become a beloved part of my day, just like my morning daylight (when I sit on the porch and journal, or write scenes from the current short story) is a cherished part of my day.

Okay, I’ve been sitting for a good hour as I write this. Time to go do some qigong!

Before I leave you, let me share another video with you. I find the previous video (above) especially useful as a learning tool. But the video below, the Eight Brocades led by a master of Shaolin Temple Europe, inspires me.

Wow! That just blows me away. I wish I had the power, control, presence, and grace that he does!

*     *     *

Here’s the links to the videos, if you want to view them directly on You Tube:
8 Brocades of Qigong Practice
Ba Duan Jin from Shaolin Temple Europe

And here is a list of all 8 brocades:
Supporting the Heavens
Separating Heaven and Earth
Drawing the Bow
Wise Owl Gazes Back
Big Bear Turns to Side
Touch the Bubbling Spring
Clenching the Fists with a Fierce Gaze
Bounce the Heels

For more on health, see:
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep
Sunlight as a Source of Vitamin D



Why Calcium Isn’t Enough to Build Strong Bones (and What You Can Do About It)

Several months ago, when I wrote about my experience of gaining weight while drinking milk, and losing weight while eschewing milk, I promised I’d blog about how to keep your bones strong without the dairy products.

This is that post. 😀

Conventional wisdom – and lots of advertising – tells us that milk is the foundation of healthy bones. But like so many other bits of conventional advice about nutrition, it turns out to be wrong.

Here’s why.

1 • Calcium alone cannot give you strong bones.

Sure, calcium is an important building block for strong bones. You do need it. But you also need all the other building blocks: vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, and trace amounts of chromium, silica, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, and potassium.

Taking a calcium pill – or drinking extra milk – won’t ensure that you’re getting all the substances that go into strong bones. It might even harm you, since too much calcium can lead to impaired kidney function, kidney stones, high blood pressure, and possibly even an increased risk of heart attack.

Additionally, if you ingest too much calcium, then your body must adjust its stores of other vitamins and minerals in order to process the excess calcium.

2 • Calcium intake is irrelevant, IF your body is not absorbing it and building with it.

People living in the United States ingest far more calcium than those living elsewhere, and yet US residents also suffer more osteoporosis.

What gives?

In addition to having all the building blocks on hand, the environment must also be right for actual building to occur.

Imagine trying to build a house in the midst of a snow storm. You might have all the materials on hand – bricks, mortar, wood framing, nails, etc. – but I doubt you’d get much building done.

Your hormones and your inflammatory status play large roles in determining whether conditions in your body favor the building of strong bones. Or not. High blood sugar and chronic inflammation both speed up the breakdown of bone and slow down the creation of new bone cells.

The foods you eat also influence the building conditions in your body.

Grains possess a lot of phytates (to protect the seed), and legumes possess both phytates and oxalates. Phytates and oxalates chemically bind to the calcium present, both in the grains and legumes themselves, and in other foods present in the digestive tract, carrying the calcium out of the body entirely.

Soaking and sprouting grains and legumes helps to reduce the volume of phytates, but cannot reduce it sufficiently to where its presence ceases to leech calcium (and other minerals) from your body. Additionally, from my previous post on insulin, we know that grains yield high blood sugar for a significant interval after you eat them.

If you don’t eat enough protein, you’ll get the same accelerated bone loss that high blood sugar and inflammation produce.

And if you don’t eat enough healthy fats, you won’t be able to assimilate vitamins D and K, because they are both fat soluble.

Bottom line: in addition to having all the building blocks on hand, conditions within your body must also favor the building and maintenance of strong bones.

3 • There are better sources of calcium than milk.

I remember seeing lists of calcium rich foods several years ago and being skeptical that anything could be better than milk. I was a big milk proponent. Sure, 8 ounces of kale might have 180 milligrams of calcium, but 8 ounces of milk has 300. And I can easily drink 3 glasses of milk every day, but I sure won’t be eating 3 cups of kale every day!

Ah, but!

The key is not how much calcium is present. The key is how much your body assimilates. The reason our RDA for calcium is so inflated is that most of the calcium from milk and pills goes right through. But the calcium from vegetables like kale and mustard greens and others gets absorbed and used. It is more bioavailable.

I went looking for some of the recent studies on calcium from plants versus calcium from milk and landed on the Harvard School of Public Health site with an interesting paragraph that I will quote below, since it occurs in the middle of a hugely long web page.

In particular, these studies suggest that high calcium intake doesn’t actually appear to lower a person’s risk for osteoporosis. For example, in the large Harvard studies of male health professionals and female nurses, individuals who drank one glass of milk (or less) per week were at no greater risk of breaking a hip or forearm than were those who drank two or more glasses per week. When researchers combined the data from the Harvard studies with other large prospective studies, they still found no association between calcium intake and fracture risk. Also, the combined results of randomized trials that compared calcium supplements with a placebo showed that calcium supplements did not protect against fractures of the hip or other bones. Moreover, there was some suggestion that calcium supplements taken without vitamin D might even increase the risk of hip fractures. A 2014 study also showed that higher milk consumption during teenage years was not associated with a lower risk of hip fracture in older adults.

So…if slugging down gallons of milk or dozens of calcium pills is not the answer – and it isn’t – how do we build and maintain strong bones?

I want action points! 😉

First of all, don’t look to bone density drugs such as Fosamax® and Boniva®. These deposit long-lasting compounds (alendronate and ibandronic acid, respectively) within the bone matrix, which give the illusion of greater bone density. But they do not form the normal matrix that actually makes bone strong. In fact, taking biophosphonates leads to bones that are more brittle and more likely to fracture! Talk about irony!

Okay, what does work?

1 • Avoid the foods that result in chronic inflammation, elevated blood sugar, and that remove nutrients from your body.

Highly processed foods and sugar-laden foods are especially bad. Grains and legumes become more and more problematic as we get older.

I hate to start with a “don’t,” but it’s a pretty important don’t. If your bones are currently strong, if your weight is normal, and your health is good, then you might be able to get away with skipping this #1 and leaning hard on #2, #3, and #4.

But I’ve got osteoporosis, I’m still carrying some extra pounds (even after the 23+ that I’ve lost), and I don’t have quite as much pep in my stride as I want. Action point #1 is critically important for me!

2 • Eat meat, seafood, and eggs, cooked with clarified butter, coconut oil, lard, or tallow to get adequate protein and adequate fats.

These are nutrient-dense foods containing many vitamins and minerals, in addition to the protein and fat. They help keep your blood sugar levels within the optimum range. They do not promote inflammation.

3 • Eat kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli rabe, cooked spinach (many of the nutrients are not bioavailable in raw spinach), sea vegetables, bone broth, sardines, anchovies, shrimp, oysters, and canned salmon.

More nutrient dense foods that are high in calcium and the other building blocks for strong bones. You’ll get what you need without having to worry about balancing calcium with magnesium and potassium and all the others, the way you would if you were trying to get it right using pills. Plus the phytonutrients that may be a part of why calcium in plants is more bioavailable than from other sources are present.

4 • Lift weights.

Or do heavy yard work regularly. Or do yoga poses, many of which build strength as much as they increase flexibility. Engage in physical activity that is weight-bearing.

The compression of working against gravity stresses our bones in a healthy way, triggering them to build more of the structural matrix that can support the load.

I’m a swimmer, which is not weight-bearing. It has all kinds of other benefits, but strengthening my bones is not one of them, alas. So I lift weights in additional to swimming.

And there you have it.

Eat meat, seafood, and eggs.
Eat green, leafy vegetables.
Do weight-bearing physical activity.
And avoid foods that produce high blood sugar and inflammation.

I’ve been trying a lot of new-to-me recipes over the last few months, and I plan on sharing them with you as I continue to blog. I’ve also got a few more health hacks to write about. Stay tuned! 😀

For more about health and nutrition, see:
Test first, then conclude!
Let’s Talk Insulin
Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic
Thinner and Healthier
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous



Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic

When I first encountered that word, insulinogenic, I completely garbled its pronunciation. In-su-lino-whadya-hooya? What the Hades?

In-su-lino-gen-ic. Right.

So what does it mean? It means something that stimulates the production of insulin. In the context of milk, it means that milk produces a much bigger insulin response in the human body than it has any right to, given the amount of carbohydrates present in milk, mostly in the form of the milk sugar lactose. Milk punches so high above its carb content that it produces an insulin response like that of white bread!

Why is this of concern to me?

Well…when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, I really stepped up my milk intake. I didn’t know that milk was insulinogenic, and I did know that my bones could use all the help they could get.

I found it difficult to drink 4 cups a day, so I began adding a pinch of stevia along with cocoa powder to my evening milk. Yum! It tasted like dessert!

Meanwhile, my weight had been creeping up. There seemed to be several obvious reasons for that. I had two health problems in sequence that kept me away from the gym for nearly 2 years. I’d allowed pasta back into my menu, perhaps once every 10 days. And I was getting into my middle fifties. I didn’t like the upward creep, naturally.

I was relieved when I resolved my health problems enough to return to the gym in May 2016. And I rededicated myself to kicking the pasta back out of my menu. Remembering when I tried Phil Maffetone’s 2-week test with such stellar results, I expected to see the start of a drop in weight. Imagine my surprise when I continued to gain!

“How can this be?” I asked myself. “I’m swimming three times a week. Lifting weights two or three times a week. I’m eating fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day. My calorie intake is modest; I’ve never been a big overeater. What the Hades gives?”

This unfortunate upward trend continued. “I wonder if it is the milk?” I asked myself.

You would think I might have done some more reading about milk, but I didn’t. I was attached to my milk. Besides, it was healthy milk from grass-fed cows lovingly tended by my local farmer, who had managed the apprentices at the famous Polyface Farm. It couldn’t be the milk!

But I suspected it was.

I tried to cut down and found that I couldn’t. Oh, oh! Was I addicted to milk?

Finally, in November 2016, after months of “quitting milk” and then “I’ll just have one last big glass tonight,” I decided I needed support. I’d visited a website devoted to the Whole30 way of eating some while back and noted that the Whole30 was the way I wanted to eat and that the site had forums. A forum sounded like exactly what I needed.

And it was!

Hanging out with a bunch of others who were eating the same way I wanted to eat – and posting on my progress – enabled me to give up the milk and ditch the last remnants of pasta. I saw almost immediate results. I had an annual exam scheduled with my doctor 3 weeks after I started my Whole30, and I found I’d lost 7 pounds. Without counting calories. Just by waving goodbye to milk. (Since I doubt my previous once or twice a month indulgence in pasta was the key to my previous weight gain.)

I also found my energy levels increasing and my mood improving. I felt good!

After 30 days of no milk (and no grains, no legumes, and no sugar – none), I’d lost 9 pounds. I decided to carry on as I was. I liked how I felt, I liked all the new meals I’d learned how to cook, I liked everything about my new routine. So far, I’m still losing weight, 20 pounds and counting at about one-and-a-half pounds per week. My yoga pants are beginning to get too loose!

It was only after these stellar results that I did a little researching on milk and learned that it is highly insulinogenic. Even my healthy milk from a local dairy farm run by a super careful and informed grass farmer.

When I was younger, I could get away with eating insulinogenic foods. At least, they didn’t pack the pounds on me, although – looking back – they did have other more subtle negative effects. But as I’ve gotten older, insulin in my bloodstream started to have the effect that it does in many, acting as a one-way gatekeeper that packs fat into the fat cells and doesn’t allow any withdrawals of that fat for energy. No more milk for this lady!

But what will I do for my osteoporosis?

That’s another blog post. Which I will write. I also plan to share more about my adventures with the Whole30 in future posts. But this is enough for now. 😀

For more about the effects of insulin, see:
Test first, then conclude!

For more on nutrition, see:
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous
Thinner and Healthier
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!

Can’t wait for my future posts to learn more about the Whole30? See:



Mantra for Success

I first heard the middle school mantra for success in either the spring or summer of 2014. My twins were headed for 7th grade in the fall, and we were attending an orientation at Buford Middle School.

Be in the right place,
at the right time,
with the right tools
and the right attitude,
doing the right thing.

I’ll admit I wrote it off as simplistic and a blatant control move by authority. Admittedly, getting 500 students and 50 teachers and staff all pointed in roughly the right direction must be challenging. The administrative staff has their work cut out for them, and every bit of leverage helps.

But I didn’t pay much attention to the Buford mantra until today, more than 2 years after I heard it, and with my children now in 9th grade and attending high school.

So why did I think about it this morning? And why did I suddenly realize it possessed some useful ideas?

Confession time.

I love writing, but you already knew that. I love world building. I love making up characters. I love getting to know those characters and following them through their adventures. I love the hard work that a novel requires and the feeling of satisfaction that comes when I complete one.

But I have one guilty secret about writing that hides in the thicket of all of the above.

I like the way writing tends to automatically organize and prioritize my day. Because here’s the thing: when I’m not writing, I often have an uncomfortable, nagging feeling that I’m not doing the right thing, whatever the right thing might be. And I don’t know what the right thing actually is.

Oh, sometimes I know what the right thing is. But often, I don’t. And I hate that feeling. Hate it!

I’ve always tackled quelling the feeling that I’ve chosen the wrong thing with a straight attack, using logic as my tool. What should I be doing right now? Sometimes that works.

Voice of Reason:“I should be emptying the clean dishwasher, filling it with dirty dishes, and running it again.”

JM:“Uh. Okay.”

:: goes and does the dishes chore ::

loading the dishwasher

More often, that doesn’t work. At least, not for me.

Voice of Reason: “I should revise the cover copy for Livli’s Gift.

JM: “I’m brain dead right now. No can do.”

Voice of Reason: “Okay. How about KonMari-ing that cabinet in the bathroom?”

JM: “I could. And it does need to be done. But I’ve got a lot of more important things on my plate right now.”

Voice of Reason: “Okay. How about working on the new cover for Skies of Navarys?”

JM: “Fine. It doesn’t feel like the right thing, but it does need doing, I do have the mental wherewithal to do it, and it is important.”

:: goes to work on that cover, feeling all the while that something is not quite right ::

Three airships over landscape, feature size

Since I sent my current novel off to my first reader on October 4, I’ve been having conversations much like that second one for the last twenty-six days, and very uncomfortable has it been.

I’ve done a little writing on a short story. But, really, the weeks when I’ve finished the first draft of one novel and haven’t yet started the next one are the ideal time for me to get caught up (or at least make progress on) other priorities in my life. Because I definitely get behind on them when I’m writing.

When I’m writing, the conversation goes like this:

JM: “What should I do today?”

Voice of Reason: “Write the next scene of the novel. Then go to the gym and swim. Then help your son with that big school project. And then you’ll be tired. So read, if you’re in the mood. Or do some drawing.”

JM: “Great!”

:: pulls out computer and starts writing ::

laptop silhouette

So the bathroom cabinet does not get organized via the KonMari technique. I don’t develop a new dinner menu to add to the roster. I don’t mend the tear in that sundress. I don’t write a new “blurb” for Livli’s Gift. The garden does not get weeded. And many other tasks go undone.

But I feel like I am doing the right thing. Writing and going to the gym always feel like right things. Which is a relief.

Last week I tried talking with a friend about my problem of feeling like I’m doing the wrong thing. I was not very articulate about my problem. And I ended up sounding like I was a workaholic. But I’m not really.

Just yesterday I found myself roped into helping my daughter figure out a costume for a Halloween party she was invited to. I ended up pulling out some dresses of mine that I’d saved for her: a pink-flowered prom dress that my grandmother originally sewed for my my mother, and that I wore to go swing dancing in the 1980s; a teal velvet gown that my mother sewed for me and that I wore at feasts for the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was in college; a yellow chiffon gown that my father and I sewed together when he realized that all our father-daughter projects had been “boy things” (model railroads, model rockets) and none of them “girl things.”

(My dad is cool! What can I say?!) 😀

My daughter and I had a blast as she tried on all those special garments. And I had no desire to be working or doing anything other than what I was doing that afternoon. It was perfect. And it felt right.

So has lying in the hammock on a beautiful summer morning felt right. Or re-reading a favorite novel by Georgette Heyer.

backyard hammock

I have no problem enjoying non-work activities, and engage in them fairly frequently. That’s not my problem.

My problem is that I have difficulty consistently identifying what activity will feel right for any given interval of time. And, more often than not, I don’t succeed in identifying the right activity. So I do something else. And the nagging sense of “something wrong” drags at me, and dilutes any enjoyment I might feel.

I get things done. But I’m not getting as much done as I would if I weren’t continuously fighting the “something wrong” feeling. And I’m not enjoying living as much as I might be.

I’ve thought about this problem ever since I was old enough to make choices about how I spent my time and energy. I’ve journaled about it. I’ve tried to talk about it with friends and mentors, but I’ve never felt like I was able to communicate about it very adequately.

I’ve tried various organizational systems: Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, simple to-do lists, and lately my bullet journal. I’m still loving my bullet journal, but organizational systems don’t really address an immediate feeling of meaning.

When I sent my current novel off to my first reader, I tried to plan a way that I could occupy myself meaningfully while I awaited her feedback. The best thing I could come up with was that I would start the short story I had in mind. I did start it, and I’m excited about it. But writing more doesn’t really solve the problem of choosing meaningful activities when I’m not writing.

beautiful morning

So, this morning, while I got my morning sun on the front porch, I wrote about my difficulty in my journal. And while I wrote about it, that middle school mantra for success came to mind.

What if it did have something to offer me? What might I learn if I reconsidered it?

One thing I grew very aware of while I journaled was that I often don’t have the resources I need for the task I contemplate tackling. The most typical resources lacking are mental alertness and oomph or physical energy. But there are other resources missing at times: know-how and helpers are others that appear regularly.

What might I see if I took a prospective task through the mantra, instead of going straight to the knockout-punch question: Is this the right task?

The Right Place

For a lot of living, identifying the right place is very straight forward. If you are in school, are you in the right classroom? If you are working for an employer, are you in the right office or the right meeting room or the right site for a site visit?

If you have more control over your location, the answer to “am I in the right place?” can grow more complex.

If I’m cooking, clearly I need to be in the kitchen. If I’m doing laundry, I need to be in the corner of the basement that holds the washer, the dryer, and the drying racks.

But I have plenty of memories of doing something in the wrong place: trying to draw a plan for a work table while lying on my bed; using an x-acto blade to cut paper for a photo album while sitting on the bed; doing sit-ups in the narrow bit of floor between the bed and the bureau; spinning lettuce in the salad spinner on the dining room table, instead of the kitchen counter. I could go on.

I managed to accomplish all those activities in the less-than-ideal place. And half the time, there was a good reason for the non-standard location. But half the time, I just dove in where I was on whatever. And once I was well started, it seemed silly to stop while I relocated.

The question of the what the right place is may need only brief consideration, but skipping it altogether is unwise. For me, at least. And it’s not just because I might end up doing something inefficiently.

Skipping consideration of the right place means that I might miss the first clue that whatever I’m considering isn’t the right thing for me at this time.

For example, the times I’ve spun the lettuce in the salad spinner on the dining room table have been times when the kitchen counter is too full of dirty dishes. Sometimes, that location is the best one. If I’m in a hurry to throw together a salad and don’t have time to clear the kitchen counter and eat the the salad, then yes: table. If I’m too tired, and don’t have sufficient energy for both, then yes: table.

But I might also be better served to change my schedule and rest for 10 minutes. Or eat carrots and dip plus ham rolls, instead of salad, if I’m that rushed. Feeling the pull of a non-standard place or an inconvenient place is something to notice, not something to ignore.

The Right Time

Really structured environments tend to provided automatic answers to: “Is this the right time?” But my environment is highly unstructured. I must structure it. And this is an area where I go astray often.

It’s the morning, and I would feel good if I were writing. But instead I’m checking email.

It’s the morning, and I will be most comfortable if I eat breakfast before going on with my day. But I had a great idea for the next scene in my novel, and I wanted to get it written down before it eluded me. So I jumped on the computer and got lost in the writing, only emerging at 11:30 am, long after I needed breakfast.

It’s 12:30 pm, and the best window at the pool for swimming is from 12:45 pm to 2:00 pm, so I would be well-served to be getting ready to swim and then hopping in the car to drive to the gym. But I never did get breakfast, so now I’m starving and must eat before I do anything else.

It’s 3:30 pm and the kids will be arriving home from school in 45 minutes. I would do well to wrap up the scene I’m writing and rest a little before they get here. But I was late to the gym and didn’t get home until 2:30 pm, so I’ve only done an hour of writing in the afternoon, and I don’t want to stop.

Now, I’m not always doing the right thing at the wrong time, but often I am.

For me, the solution is not get rigid with my schedule. For one thing, it doesn’t work. I feel rebellious and rebel, with the result that my schedule is more disorganized, not less. Or else it does work, and I’m being marvelously efficient, but I’m not generating that good feeling of doing the right thing.

But I think that asking myself the question: “Is this the right time for this?” will heighten my awareness and improve my decision making, with the result that I feel good about my choice of activity, whatever it is.

The Right Resources

Okay, this one is huge for me. At least, I think it is.

Being able to do something without the right resources is a useful skill. It’s not always possible to gather those resources, and if the task is important… well, flexibility and ingenuity are your friends! 😀

But somethings just cannot be accomplished without the right resources. Or can only be accomplished so poorly, that it would be better to shift the activity from doing the thing to seeking the resources that will make it possible.

Currently, I see five categories of resources worth considering.

• tools
• know-how
• energy
• interval of time available
• helpers

I could discuss each of those categories and why they are important. But as I’ve been typing this blog post, I am seeing more clearly what first came to light when I was journaling this morning. These questions I’ve borrowed from the middle school mantra could be used for basic organization. But – for me – their utility is in raising my awareness.

If I lack the size of screws needed to attach the bar of hooks to my son’s door, then should I really be tackling the hook project right now? Maybe I would feel better if I shopped for the screws, scheduled the actual project for a different day, and then went on to get my swimming in.

If I am feeling lonely, but can’t watch a movie with my spouse that evening, because he must attend a soccer orientation with our daughter, then I lack a helper. So maybe I should call a friend and talk on the phone instead. Or maybe I should go with spouse and daughter, even though I neither play nor coach soccer! 😀

If I lack a resource, I would do well to consider either acquiring it or doing a different activity that does not require that missing resource.

The Right Attitude

Do I really want to do whatever it is that I am considering? Can I commit to it? And if I cannot, why can I not?

I suspect that if I ask myself these questions in order – Is this the right place? Is this the right time? Do I have the necessary resources for this? – I will reach clarity before I arrive at the question: “Do I have the right attitude?”

But if I answered, “Yes, yes, and yes,” to the first three questions and then find I do not have the right attitude, the attitude question will halt me before I head off in the wrong direction.

Maybe I don’t actually have the resources I need. In which case… back up and reconsider.

Or maybe there is something else that is a higher priority than what I am considering, and I know it in my heart of hearts, but have refused to consider that more important something. “Do I have the right attitude?” will alert me when I’m considering the wrong activity for me.

The Right Thing

Is this activity the right one? That’s the question that I very much want to be able to answer. And my hope is that by asking myself about the right place, the right time, the right resources, and the right attitude I will tease out what really is the right thing for me at a given moment.

the end of the day

Will it work?

Why am I even telling you about all this before I’ve truly tried it?

I think it is worth trying. I used it a little bit today, and I’m pleased with how the day went. My bio-rhythms are a little off. I read a really good book several days ago, and it was so good that I stayed up until 3:00 am to finish it. So I allowed myself to sleep in the following morning. Which meant is was hard to go to sleep the next night. I’m getting back to the sleep-wake times that work best for me, but I’m not there quite yet.

So I got up at later today than usual. I went outside for my half hour of morning sun and wrote in my journal about wanting to be able to choose the “right thing” more reliably and about the middle school mantra for success.

And when I’d done that, I asked myself: “Is this the right time for more journaling?” And it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. But the greater awareness produced by the question made me very willing to move on to the thing that was right: cooking a late breakfast for everyone.

It felt good. It felt right. And that right feeling is what I am seeking.

Thoroughly tidying up the kitchen after eating breakfast felt right also, so I did that. And then I thought about what would feel right next. I became aware that if I wanted to swim, I’d best do it soon. I’d lose the opportunity if I waited.

my son in the cherry treeBut the pause for mindful consideration using the mantra bought me something I might not have realized otherwise. Instead of just diving into swimming (my apologies for the bad pun) – or insisting that my son and I start work on his project right now – I would feel better if I consulted my son.

“I want to swim, and I want to help you with your project. I’d prefer to rest for thirty minutes ” – the kitchen work had tired me – “then swim, and then help you with your project. But will that work for you?”

He liked that schedule, so that’s what we did. And it felt good to me. It felt right.

So the mantra-generated questions worked well today. Much better than simply asking myself, “Is this the right task for right now?” Whether the mantra will work well over weeks and months remains to be seen. But I’ve learned that the time for telling others about something new that I’m trying is when it is new. I’m excited about it. I want to tell others.

If I wait until after I’ve thoroughly road-tested it, the communication becomes a chore. I still want to share, but I don’t have as much energy for it. Best to share while it’s fresh. I can always write another blog post later to report on how it’s working over time. And add an ETA (edited to add) to this post, along with a link to subsequent posts, to communicate the additional info.

Is this the right place?
Is this the right time?
Do I have the right resources?
Do I have the right attitude?
Is this the right thing?

I suspect not many people are so troubled by the sense of “doing the right thing at the wrong time” or “doing the wrong thing at the right time” as I am. I wouldn’t have gotten so many blank looks over the years when I tried to talk about this, if that were the case. But if you happen to be someone who has wrestled with this, I’d love to hear your experiences. What has worked for you? What hasn’t? And, if you give this middle school mantra a try… how do you feel?

ETA 11/10/2016

I’ve been working with all of the above for roughly ten days, and I’v discovered something really interesting to me. The very first question – without any of the follow-ups – is often sufficiently illuminating all on its own.

I’ll ask myself, “Am I in the right place?”

And then I’ll just know that I’m not. And I’ll know where I need to be and why.

A typical example:

I continue to love sitting outside in the morning for half an hour. It’s beautiful, and I just feel good. So good that I tend to linger a little too long. It’s okay to linger an extra ten minutes. Heck, sometimes even a full extra half hour is okay. But much more than that isn’t.

What I find is that I start getting an uneasy feeling after I’ve lingered for a bit. And when I use that feeling to prompt myself with the first question – “Am I in the right place?” – I raise my awareness sufficiently to know what would feel right for my next step.

I see now that when I planned my day in the past, I tended to think I’d done all the planning necessary. And when I went through that day, I could make the obvious adjustments (obvious to me), but I wasn’t making the less obvious adjustments. With the result that I would realize I’d gone wrong only after I’d been going wrong for quite some time. It’s a lot harder to fix that all-wrong feeling after it’s been building a head of steam.

“Am I in the right place?” helps me catch myself much sooner, with the result that I’m feeling a lot more satisfied with each day.

I’m going to keep working with this and see where it leads me. But I’m excited about the results thus far.



Osteoporosis, Be Gone!

Osteoporosis_LocationsFive years ago, I was diagnosed with osteopenia. The literal translation is “bone deficiency,” and the diagnosis meant that my bones had lost mineral density, making them weaker and more prone to breakage than optimally mineralized bones.

This was not a good development, but few doctors prescribe medicines to prevent further bone loss at this stage of things. Instead, they instruct the patient to get plenty of weight-bearing exercise and to be tested again in 2 to 5 years. The hope is that the osteopenia will not worsen to become osteoporosis.

When my bone density was assessed a year ago, that hope was not realized. My bones had lost more density, arriving at the threshold (just barely) that marks true osteoporosis, literally “porous bones.” My doctor prescribed Fosamax, instructing me that I would need to remain vertical for 2 hours after I ingested the medicine in order to prevent heartburn.

I filled the prescription and only then realized I had a problem. I was dealing with a chronic pain issue that kept me lying down the majority of the time. I was going to find it tough to find 2 hours when I would be upright continuously.

In fact, I never did find them. I beat my chronic pain last December, only temporarily, alas. It crept back during my battle with my retinal tear. Not nearly as severely as before. I am able to be active now. I swim 400 meters three times a week. I could take the Fosmax. But the thing is that I want to build bone density, not merely slow further bone loss. The Fosamax won’t do that. But there is one thing that will:

Weight-bearing exercise.

But not mild weight-bearing exercise. I needed strenuous weight-bearing exercise. And preferably exercise that utilizes the whole body, rather than working muscles in isolation. Which meant I needed bodyweight training.

Bodyweight training would improve my coordination and balance by engaging groups of large muscles all at once, together with small stabilizing muscles. Plus it would work my heart muscle, because engaging many muscles requires much more aerobic support than engaging just a few.

I liked the idea that if I were to trip and fall, not only would my bones be stronger and less likely to break, but also that my muscles would be stronger and more capabale of catching me before I hit the ground, and my coordination would be better, giving me a chance to prevent the fall altogether.

Body by YouSo I went looking for guidance in books. Quite a few praise bodyweight training, but give only the most cursory descriptions of how to do specific exercises. I wanted detailed instructions. I found what I was looking for – and more – in Body by You by Mark Lauren. Lauren is an expert, who has trained thousands to good effect. His book provides the detailed instructions I sought, as well as step-by-step progressions for moving from the beginner versions to more challenging exercises and on to the most challenging of all.

I’ve just started, a mere 19 days ago, and I’m very de-conditioned from all the medical issues that have derailed me over the past few years. So I’m starting with the absolute easiest beginner exercises. But I can already feel a difference, so I’m hopeful that I will improve steadily, if slowly.

Lauren categorizes his exercises into five different types: pulling, in-line pushing (parallel to your spine), perpendicular pushing (perpendicular to your spine), squatting, and bending.

The easiest pulling exercise in the book is called a “let me in.” It works the muscles of the back (lats, spinal erectors, rhomboids), arms and shoulders (biceps, forearms, rear deltoids), and the core. Laren demonstrates the “let me in” in the video below using a door, but I would recommend against a door as your prop. Most doors are not made for this kind of abuse. Over time, you’ll destroy your door and be hurt when it fails altogether.

I use one of the metal support pillars in my basement, sunk into concrete at its base and bolted into a major floor joist at its top.

My husband cautions that not all such support pillars are fastened at their tops, and he has seen them slip. If you try this, check your support pillar to be sure it is secured, not just held in place by the weight of the house.

The easiest in-line pushing exercise is the military press with hands elevated to hip height. It targets your shoulders, triceps, and core. I use the chest freezer in my basement. It’s currently full of frozen meat and really heavy. It’s not going anywhere, even when I lean hard on it. 😀

The easiest perpendicular pushing exercise is the classic wall push-up. It works the chest, triceps, shoulders, and the core, especially the abdominals. The key for me is to find a stretch of wall clear of bookshelves and wide enough that my elbows don’t bump into anything. 😀

Lauren structures his workout so that you alternate between in-line pushing and perpendicular pushing. So, today being a Friday, I’ll shortly be doing “pull me ins,” wall push-ups, “good morning” bends, and squats. But on Monday, I’ll do “pull me ins,” military presses, “good morning” bends, and squats.

Bending exercises work the legs, glutes, back, core, and – depending on the specific exercise – the shoulder and triceps too. The easiest bending exercise is called the “good morning.” It is almost too easy for me, so I suspect I’ll be moving up to the version with the hands held straight overhead soon.

Squats exercise the glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, core, and calves. The very easiest squat is the “therapy sumo squat,” done with the toes and knees turned outward at a 45º angle. That doesn’t work for me, because it trashes my hip joints. So I am doing a basic squat with my toes and knees facing forward. I’ve not yet advanced to the hands overhead version shown below!

I’m pleased with how the bodyweight training feels so far. I’m making progress, and I haven’t yet injured myself! Always a concern. 😀

As I advance – crossing my fingers that I will – I’ll look for videos of the modified exercises to share with you.

Time to go exercise now! (I spent most of today writing the current scene of Tally and composing this blog post!)



The Secret Behind Midnight Snacks

It’s a classic, isn’t it?

You’re reading a fantastic book, and you keep saying to yourself, “Just one more page!” Or your best friend forever is visiting from out of town, and you talk late into the night, heart to heart.

Big Ben Clock FaceSuddenly you realize that it’s midnight and you’re starving.

I never gave the classic midnight snack much thought. I’d heard health experts recommend against it for various reasons: it didn’t give your gut a chance to rest; calories ingested at night got converted to body fat more readily; etc.

I’d also read that the food-to-body-fat superhighway was nonsense: it didn’t matter when you ate, rather that how much you ate overall was the key.

But I never paid more than cursory attention to all the discussion.

When I was younger, I happened to be one of those lucky people who maintain an ideal weight without much attention or effort.

Now that I’m older, my metabolism has slowed – as most people’s do – and I pack on extra pounds much more easily. So the pros and cons of midnight snacking hold more interest for me than heretofore.

But I’ve also learned that the simplistic calories-in-calories-out model (calories expended must match or exceed calories ingested) still touted by much of the medical establishment grossly ignores the action of the hormone insulin on the body.

My blog posts Thinner and Healthier and Test first, then conclude! go into this more extensively, if you’re interested. But the bottom line is that most people become much more sensitive to the effects of insulin in the bloodstream as they get older. The hormone packs fat into the fat cells and, once we’re over 50, makes it more and more difficult for any of that fat to be removed and used for fuel. While starving yourself on super-low-calorie diets merely deprives your body of needed nutrients and lowers your metabolism further. Catch-22!

But I digress! 😀

Sleep SmarterThe reason I bring this up is because of something I learned in Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.

When you are sleep deprived, the amount of glucose reaching your brain dips.

Brains run on glucose. They must have it. However, there’s no need to eat sugar to fuel your brain. In fact, don’t do it! Your liver can make all the glucose your brain requires, without you ever ingesting any sugar at all.

In a sleep researcher’s lab, where the amount of sleep deprivation induced for the purpose of study is extreme (24 hours), glucose reaching the brain dips by 6%. But suppose you regularly get by on only 6 or 7 hours of sleep. No doubt your glucose dips much less, but it still dips.

Even worse, the reduction of glucose to the brain is not distributed equally. When the reduction is 6% overall, the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex lose from 12% to 14% of the glucose they should receive.

Why is that important?

The parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex are the areas of the brain we use for thinking, for discerning the differences between potential actions, for social interactions, and for knowing right from wrong.

When the parietal lobe and prefrontal are short of their necessary fuel, our decision making suffers.

That’s why you might do something really unwise late at night and then wonder in the morning: “What was I thinking?” In fact, you weren’t thinking, or not very well.

On top of this, your brain late at night – desperately seeking glucose, due to the growing dearth of this necessary fuel as the hour latens – knows perfectly well that a shot of glucose is conveniently at hand in a bag of potato chips or a bowl of Cheerios® or a few scoops of ice cream.

That’s why those foods prove so irresistible at midnight!

I took away several things from all of this.

1 • If I’m asleep before the glucose dip arrives, it will never even happen. Asleep, my body will be in the repair mode that occurs most intensely between 10 PM and 2 AM. (That’s another fact I learned from Sleep Smarter.)

My brain chemistry will be exactly as it is supposed to be, initiating repairs, instead of losing glucose and frantically seeking a resupply by prompting cravings.

(Unless I am chronically sleep deprived; in which case, the glucose dip occurs even in sleep and can actually wake me up!)

2 • It’s not that eating late at night is a problem in itself. It’s that such snacks are usually extra and often composed of sugar or simple carbohydrates. I’ve already ingested all the food I truly need at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Whereas, if I fall asleep somewhere between 10 PM and 11 PM, I’ll never even get hungry at midnight, let alone go seeking extra food.

3 • If I do happen to stay up too late – which will happen at times, because I’m a night owl – I have the perfect hack. I’ve tested it, and it usually works, although not infallibly. The brain in search of fuel is pretty fierce!

Curse of Chalion 300 pxHere’s the scenario: I get to re-reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my absolute favorites, and – whups! it’s midnight!

I realize I’m feeling really hungry, hungry enough that it will keep me awake, even though my eyelids are falling closed with my fatigue.

In the past, I’ve poured a big glass of local, farm-fresh milk and stirred a little stevia and cocoa powder into it.

The problem with that is that I’m getting an awful lot of carbs in the lactose (milk sugar) contained in that milk. On top of that, the sweetness of the stevia will trigger a larger insulin release into my bloodstream than would the lactose alone. And, on top of that, the big glass holds twice the amount of milk that I would normally drink in one go. So I’m getting a huge lactose hit with little else to cushion it.

While I was fighting my sleep schedule in the aftermath of my retinal detachment – before I read Sleep Smarter – I drank that huge glass of milk nearly nightly. And I gained 10 pounds. Not good!

(Chronic sleep deprivation all by itself causes weight gain, without any big glasses of milk, so some of my gain of ten pounds was no doubt due to several months of sleep loss.)

These days I’m usually asleep by 11 PM. Plus I’m finally visiting the gym swimming pool again after a long layoff. So I’m hoping to take those 10 pounds off! (Fingers crossed.)

But on those nights like last night, when I was absorbed in The Curse of Chalion and got hungry, this is what I do:

FIRST, I remind myself that my sensation of hunger, while powerful, is due to the dip in glucose to my brain. This actually does help, although it is not enough without my next step.

SECOND, I eat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

coconut oilCoconut oil is made up of largely medium-chain fatty acids that are not normally stored in the body’s fat cells at all. Instead they are quickly converted to energy. Additionally, coconut oil acts as a slight appetite suppressant for many people. It certainly does for me.

Anyway, it’s a much better option than the huge glass of milk. That 2 tablespoons of coconut oil diminishes my craving for food at midnight just enough that I can get to sleep. And it gives me a slight energy boost – not a frenetic boost like caffeine, but a calm can-do feeling – just enough oomph for me to go brush my teeth, spray some magnesium oil on my legs, and turn out the light.

CAUTION: If you decide to try my coconut oil hack and see if it works for you, be a little careful. The short- and medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil don’t require bile for digestion. But coconut oil also contains some long-chain fatty acida, and those do require bile for digestion.

If you’ve been eating a low-fat diet for a while, which many people do these days, your body hasn’t needed much bile for a while and has adjusted by not making much. It won’t suddenly produce more when you abruptly dump 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in! Which means you’ll feel nauseated and maybe even experience diarrhea.

So start with a quarter of a teaspoon and work up slowly to give your pancreas and gallbladder a chance to ramp up.

(I’ve blogged about the benefits of coconut oil in Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!, if you’d like to know more.)

The bottom line? It’s really best to be asleep long before midnight!

But I found the why of the midnight munchies to be fascinating, so – of course! – I had to share it with you. 😀

To read the blog posts I mentioned in passing, see:
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!