Check-in

Dear Blog and Readers,

I have not forgotten nor forsaken you. Though I have been absent for a couple weeks, its not for lack of desire, simply from lack of bandwidth. You see, instead of making a mere refinement to my routine, I upturned the apple cart and took my career into a new direction. Well, it was more like a return to an old direction, but it’s a new direction nonetheless. Anyways, this has required a lot of focus and writing and social media content creation on subjects new or recently unpracticed. It has been awesome. It has been crazy. Sometimes it has been a little overwhelming, but it’s also exhilarating. It has also meant that my posts here have simply not occurred.

Rest assured, my writing will continue. My thoughts on improving my own life bit by bit will continue and hopefully sometimes they will be helpful or encouraging to you as maybe-possibly-I-really-hope they have been before. Lyz has continued to write a whole bunch of Foodie Friday posts on cooking which totally rock. My intermittent pep talks of the usually non-culinary variety will resume shortly.

I hope you’re all well and that spring is finally coming to your neck of the woods.

“See” ya again next week,
Anthea

That One Box

Today’s blog is about something that I’ve been carrying around with myself for a while: That One Box. You know the box, the one that sits in the back of your closet or in your basement? It hangs around and comes with your move after move, never being opened, yet somehow filled with “valuable” possessions that must be kept.

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That One Box in process

For me, That One Box came in the form of three boxes that I literally packed at some point at the end of grad school in 2009 and came with me from Texas to Illinois and back to Texas without ever being opened or completely sorted through. The craziest thing about this is I moved back to Texas with only what I could fit in my car and still I chose to bring those three boxes with me.

I’ve been in a brief time of transition in my life, and so I decided to tackle That One Box last weekend. You guys, it feels so good to have it done! Yeah, a large percentage of it was junk, but I also found sweet cards and handwritten letters from years ago. I found notes from classes that I’d like to reference and classes I’d rather forget. But most of all, knowing that space in my closet is clear and I’ve cut down on the clutter is a great.

Do you have That One Box hanging around? Consider this my personal encouragement to you to take a bit of time and sort through it. I bet ya it will be worth it.

The Art Assignment

Today’s post combines a few of my favorite things: friends, art, and YouTube.

As you may or may not know, according my college, I’m qualified to be a musician. I have spent countless hours of my past in rehearsals, lessons, practice rooms, and performing. I’ve always been inclined to be creative, experiment, try something a little outside of the box, but, goodness gracious, sitting on my couch and consuming someone else’s content is so much easier than pulling out my oboe, or my camera, or a blank Word document and making something my own! This blog is definitely part of the effort to bring some of that creativity back into my life regularly, and even that can be difficult for me to do sometimes. So, while I’m “artsy” in nature, my practice of creativity has somewhat waned recently.

But, I’m also one that likes a challenge, especially one that is creative but that I can also an accomplish. Enter The Art Assignment, hosted by curator Sarah Urist Green (wife of everyone’s favorite NYT Bestselling Author and Nerdfighter John Green) and co-produced by PBS Digital Studios.

The concept is simple: they enlist artists to give us all a creative project each week and post the video on their YouTube channel explaining it. The first assignment was just posted a few days ago, and the idea is to find a friend, choose the exact point halfway between the two of you, and meet there while documenting your journey to share it, too!

I’m really excited about this project, and can’t wait to see what they have in store for future weeks. In the meantime, who wants to meet in the middle with me? I think we could have some fun with this and add a bit of creativity to our lives to boot!

For more information, find/follow The Art Assignment on:

YouTube: youtube.com/theartassignment
Twitter: twitter.com/artassignment
Tumblr: theartassignment.tumblr.com
Facebook: facebook.com/theartassignment

Bringing back “You’re Welcome”

Today’s post is a day late (Did you know I try and post on Tuesdays? Because I do. Try.) and it’s recycled, but it’s been rolling around in my head again recently and I thought it would fit in here. So, without further ado, here is a repost of an old blog entry from 2011 on a long-abandoned blog of mine. You can thank me later. (I’ll try and respond appropriately.)

You’re Welcome
(written March 18, 2011)

I’m on a few committees for different organizations and events, and I went to one of them earlier this week. We were meeting to discuss where our little committee was going to put its efforts next and brainstorming ideas. We had a new guy show up (and participate!) for the first time, and after the meeting was over I thanked him for coming and he responded, “You’re welcome.”

His response surprised me. Not because it was in any way wrong. In fact, it’s exactly what my mom taught me to say (and I think she’s right). When someone thanks you, you say, “You’re welcome,” because the person was indeed welcome to your help/time/etc. It surprised me because it’s a phrase I’ve heard and said(!) with less and less frequency over the years, and I’d been thinking about its disappearance for a while.

Instead of letting the person thanking me for whatever it is I did for them know they were welcome to my help, I shrug it off. “No problem.” It’s fine I did something nice for you, because it wasn’t a big deal anyway. It sort of implies that it’s not special to me to help you. Or that I only do it because it’s easy. Or, conversely, that it doesn’t even matter (to me) that I helped, because my time/effort has no value (in my eyes).

The other response to “Thank You” I hear/say is… “No, thank you!” This one is sort of ridiculous, like falling over ourselves to prove who is more grateful. This is the opposite of “No problem.” It implies I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to do something nice for someone else and you finally gave me the chance to put the gold star on my chart for the day. Yay, me!

I think “You’re welcome” should make a come back. I’d rather my friends and colleagues know they were welcome to my help, and that’s that. No discounting myself and no puffing myself up. It seems like the best choice.

Sleeping with the Enemy

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a really, really hard time getting up in the morning. Even with my fabulous, wonderful, amazing sunrise alarm clock, I still struggle to get out of bed (after waking up a little easier thanks to said clock) and will come up with any and every excuse to stay between the covers even just 30 seconds longer.1108252_59818138

One the absolute worst facilitators of my late rising each morning is my phone. My phone with all it’s “important” information (AKA distractions) such as work email, personal email, Facebook alerts, Instagram updates, and full Candy Crush lives is capable of keeping me glued in bed until I happen to glance at the time and realize I should be leaving the house in 20 minutes. I pick it up each day with the noble purpose of checking the weather so I know how to dress, but the reality is I spend time perusing Facebook and then check the weather for 0.2 seconds when the lateness panic hits.

I struggle with my relationship with my phone quite a bit, and will probably expound upon that more in the future. It drives me nuts how much I check it, and having it be the last thing that I touch at night and the first thing besides the snooze button that I touch in the morning seems like not the best choice for my mental state.

1131636_79596033So, what did I do to combat this? Two simple things:

  1. I got an alarm clock that is not my phone. This eliminates the need to grab my phone.
  2. I started plugging my phone in across the room. This eliminates the ability to grab my phone.

The first few days I plugged in my phone across the room were an adjustment. That nagging need to know what was up before I was up pulled on me pretty hard. But, after a few days, I was downright free to wake up in peace, without the pressure of overnight work questions (they waited this long, they can wait until after I’ve showered), mindless surfing, and the resultant shame of wasting time. By the way, if there were an emergency and someone called over night, I would still hear it and could answer.

Full Disclosure: I have recently fallen back into the habit of plugging in my phone bedside, but I realized today when I pried myself away from Facebook and my bed at 7:25 when I should be leaving the house at 7:45, that it’s time to take back my morning again. Friends, I love you, but I can “like” your statuses with my first cup of coffee.

Keep Your Self-Critical Mouth Shut

Today’s post is mostly an admonition to myself after I realized something I do pretty regularly. The title really says it all, but I’ll elaborate. It wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I didn’t!

See, I recently moved and I’ve been really trying to make this new apartment seem more like “home” and less like someplace I’m going to watch TV and sleep until my lease runs out. There are so many things I love about this unique apartment, and with a great landlord and a fabulous friend living in the same building, it really is a joy to live here. I have loved many apartments I’ve had over the years, but this is by far the best place I’ve ever had to myself.

So, after a couple years living in a comfortable but minimalistic place without a single knick-knack or decoration besides some pictures on the walls, I decided to buckle down, think through some decorative choices, invest in some bookshelves and furniture, and assert a little more of myself into the space. A few trips to IKEA and some relatively painless building time, I had myself a nice TV stand and a little set of shelves – some of which we put some glass doors on to make them “classy” – and I opened the long-packed boxes of books and random treasures and started to find them new homes in my new place.

I’m sure you’re wondering where the “shut up” part of this story comes, since all I’ve done is gush about how much I love my apartment so far. Well, it comes next when the occasion came along for a couple friends and I to meet to discuss a project we’re taking on and I thought it would be fun to host the meeting so I could show them my new place.

Perfectly Fine Imperfect Shelves

As I busied myself around the apartment before them came over, cleaning the sinks, shuffling things around the shelves, folding blankets, etc, I caught myself pre-emptively making excuses for the things I didn’t quite think were “right” yet. Serious thoughts came into my head like, “Oh, I can just tell them that the junk on the bottom shelves still needs to be sorted”…”I can mention how I think I probably need new sheets to match the new bedroom”…”I can point out the dust on the windowsills I didn’t clean yet and comment about how gross I am”…Wait, what?! *cue record screeching halt*

STOP.

STOP STOP STOP.

Here I am in a place that is not perfect, but that I still love and am proud of. Why on earth would I point out its flaws when I can share the things I truly love? Why criticize myself when I instead can take a little bit of pride in what I’ve put together? Will my friends notice the random un-done stuff? Maybe. Will they care? I truly doubt it. Does it matter? No. Right then and there I decided to not voice a single one of those thoughts.

Bathroom

Bathroom Peacocks. For reals.

When my friends showed up, I showed them the new shelves, and the peacocks on the bathroom walls (true story), and the washer and dryer (YOU GUYS. I have a washer and dryer!!), and I kept my mouth shut about the flaws. I shared my vision for things I didn’t have yet, but didn’t make excuses for not having them. They ooh-ed and ahh-ed and shared my excitement; I felt better about not tearing myself down. I consider that a win.

Even now, I still have sorting and arranging to do. I have bedroom furniture to buy. But I also have a great place to kick up my feet and enjoy, and now it even comes with a little bit of positive self-awareness. If you visit, there might be dusty windowsills or a dirty kitchen floor or a haphazard pile of sheet music on my book shelf, but I’m gonna do my best not to point them out to you.

Step Right Up!

Anyone else have a job that keeps you sitting at your desk all day? Anyone else feel like a lump who never geTin Tin Takes The Stairsts up and on her feet? Not just me, right?

There are a number of reasons why getting up and about is a good great idea during the day, and any number of reasons why you might not. But, one really ridiculously easy thing that I’ve been doing for the last few months to get myself up and about at work is taking the stairs to the bathroom anytime I need a break.

I have the mis/fortune of working on the 7th floor of my building, which means its a bit of a stretch to take the stairs all the way up (though there are impressive people with whom I work who do this!), but there’s plenty of room to go up or go down during the day. So, I’ve experimented with all my options within the range of +/- 4 floors before I settled on my current choice: Floor 4. Three floors down and three back up at 20 stairs a floor – you know I’ve counted! – that’s 60 extra steps up per trip, and I’m covering somewhere between 6-12 extra flights of stairs a day without much effort or thought. I started with one floor, then added another, and now I’m up to three.

This isn’t going to make you crazy fit and toned or lose 10 pounds, but it will get you into the habit of moving around more in an otherwise sedentary day and can help “refine your routine” towards some other healthy habits. I’m definitely finding those three flights of stairs getting easier over time, and might even start going for four soon. You can even mix it up with a variation like skipping a step on the way up to really work your legs.

Pro-tip: If you can do this, take the stairs down to the bathroom. If you go up and you get the blood pumping, you may find yourself breathing a little extra hard in the bathroom which I imagine could be pretty embarrassing if someone else is in there. Not that I would know. Definitely never happened to me. Nope….No way…

If you don’t work in a multi-floor building like I do, maybe take the long way around, park an extra couple floors up in the parking deck or find some other way to put a few extra steps in your day. Take a look at your typical day, identify an opportunity to do a little bit more and then try it. Start small and build on that over time.

Do any of you fellow office workers have suggestions on how you’ve added a bit of fitness to your work day? Skylar wrote a while back about her Stability Ball Chair, which still sounds intriguing to me, though I haven’t tried it yet. And, has anyone figured out how to avoid the office snacks yet?? I could really use a magic trick to build resistance to those sugary temptations!

5 Tips for the Overwhelmed Newbie Cook

I have spent the greater part of the last year attempting to learn how to cook. It has always been something that I figured that I probably could do but wasn’t sure where to start, and the sheer number of ingredients that are required to cook even basic things when you have an empty spice cabinet, pantry, and refrigerator makes even a basic meal “expensive” when it requires buying a whole bottle of chili powder, for example. Those of you who really cook may think that’s crazy, but I’m betting I’m not the only person who has found herself in the kitchen clueless about where to begin.

I’m sitting here a year later with the ability to read a recipe and realize that I have everything on hand or I only need to run to the store for a couple items on the way home. It’s a huge change and it took a long time to get to this point, so I thought with the new year I would take a look back and see if I could take a few lessons from the experience.

Note: I am by no means an expert, an expert cook, or have a perfect pantry. This is just my own newbie experience. 🙂

  1. Start small. This probably seems obvious, but I had to learn this the hard way. Look for basic recipes that include only a few ingredients so you don’t have to shell out $30 just to make a chicken breast with a chili garlic white wine reduction (Is that a real thing? I just made that up, but it sounds kinda good…) when all you own is salt and pepper. Find a recipe that includes garlic or chili and start from there to keep your grocery bill and your chances of things going wrong down.
  2. Stick to Google; avoid the shiny Pinterest beacon. I know everyone is Pinterest obsessed these days, but I’ve found that a lot of the popular/delicious looking pins are links that go nowhere or end up being the notorious chili garlic white wine reduction chicken. Instead, try a simple Google search for “garlic chicken” and see what your search savvy fingers can find! I’ve had a lot more personal success with Google than Pinterest. Also, I personally find Pinterest to be a time suck and by the time I’ve pinned 25 salmon recipes that sound good, I’m so over the idea of cooking salmon.
  3. Think small in the bulk foods. I’m very lucky to have a Sprouts grocery store near my apartment, and one of the things they have is a huge bulk foods section. Now, despite the name which sounds like you should be buying Sam’s Club-sized quantities, bulk foods means that you can buy tiny amounts of stuff of which you don’t need an entire container. If you want to try a quinoa, but you’re not sure if you like it, grab one of those plastic bags and scoop yourself a 1/2 cup from the giant quinoa bin and only risk a few cents instead of a few bucks for a prepackaged 1 lb. bag. Sprouts also has a bulk spice section which really helps cut down the cost on spicing up a recipe when your spice cabinet is bare. Whole Foods also has a sizeable bulk foods section if you don’t have a Sprouts.
  4. Pick an ingredient and start there. I found I had the most success when I started with an ingredient and looked around to see what I could do with it. For a couple months, I was quinoa obsessed and found a few recipes that were built on it. When I started with the entire world of cooking open to me, it was too much to figure out, but choosing a base to start from and expand from there was enormously helpful in giving me some focus.
  5. Have fun and make leftovers! Yes, cooking is a practical and life-sustaining skill, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, too! Don’t be afraid to try new things, make mistakes, and have enough leftovers to sustain your week in lunch. If you’re going to spend a solid chunk of your evening chopping vegetables, might as well make enough to take a couple extra meals for later.

I hope these were tips were at least mildly helpful. If you have any other suggestions for someone just starting out with cooking, leave a comment and maybe we can even build this list out more!

Also, stay tuned for a lot more great food-related content on the blog! Starting this Friday, Lyz is joining the Routine Refinement team and will be sharing her much more seasoned (see what I did there?) insight on all things food! So, be sure to check back on Friday! I can’t wait to see what she has to share!

Don’t Break the Chain – Goal Tracking Calendar

Hey everyone! How are those New Years Resolutions going? We’re a couple weeks into the new year, already…

If you watched the video I linked to a few weeks ago about goal setting, I loved what Nikki had to say about setting small, routine refining goals that are achievable. Goals that are so small it seems silly to not do them because they’re so easy. I liked that she set some of her goals to literally just 2-5 minutes a day. In other words, don’t be afraid to set the bar low and let these things become habit and then amp them up to something bigger later on.Don't Break the Chain

One of my new years resolutions is to bring back a habit I literally had my entire life until a few years ago and I’ve had the worst time regaining: reading. Since I could read, I’ve always spent my last waking moments each day with my nose in a book. I dropped the habit for a while and have struggled ever since to read more and get the ball rolling again. I’ve put a few measures into place that are helping that I’ll probably go into more later, but today I’m talking about tracking the goal I set for myself: 5+ minutes a day reading.

So, how do I track whether I’m actually doing this reading every day? I found a great little gimmick, also thanks to YouTube, called the Don’t Break the Chain Calendar. The concept is simple: make the longest “chain” possible by checking off the days on the calendar as you do your goal. I’m keeping it right by my bed with my book so I can see my progress and check the days off as I do my reading. It’s simple, easy, visual, and gives me a little extra reminder to just crack the book for a few minutes before shutting off the light. Plus, anyone who’s attempting to keep me on track can check at any time. I could even put these up in a public place for more pride and/or shaming, if that’s what it takes.Do you have any tips for how you track your goals? Let me know, I’d love to hear them!

Grab your own printable calendar from Karen’s blog here: Don’t Break the Chain Calendar 2013
The calendar was designed by the ever-talented Karen Kavett and inspired by the so-cool-like Charlie McDonnell. I recommend checking out both of them on YouTube and/or the myriad of other social networks they frequent!

Product Review: Philips Wake-up Light

Confession time: I am a snooze button abuser.  At my worst, I can need up six or seven snoozes to wake-up enough to actually get out of bed. Yes, that’s an hour or more. An hour I could use doing almost anything and it would be a better use of my time. Six times I roll over and realize I just. can’t. wake. up. Hit the alarm. Repeat. Ugh.

Philips Hf3470 Wake-up Light

Maybe a year and a half ago or so, my friend Amanda told me about her new alarm clock she had purchased after she moved into a basement bedroom and had no natural light coming into her room in the morning. This magical clock was one of the best things she’d found to help her get up in the morning. I looked into this mythical, morning-saving wonder, and soon enough I had my own Philips Hf3470 Wake-up Light gracing my nightstand. I’ve never looked back.

Basically, the concept is simple. We naturally want to wake up as the sun slowly rises and gently eases us out of sleep. But, we’re almost never on the same schedule as the sun. The “wake-up light” or sunrise alarm is basically an alarm clock with a ambient lamp that slowly begins the “sun” rising in your room about 30 minutes before you have your alarm set to truly wake you up. The light gradually increases over that time, helping to ease you out of your sleep and into your day.

Think for a moment about how much waking up to pitch blackness sucks in early mornings and then imagine waking up to a gentle, not-too-bright, light instead. And, instead of a blaring alarm jarring you out of sleep, my Philips Wake-up Light also has birds that chirp slowly with more joining in over time in a somehow-not-annoying chorus of chirping! Are you convinced yet? Another benefit I’ve only very recently realized is that if/when I wake up in the middle of the night, I have fallen out of the habit of checking the time. If I wake up and it’s still completely dark in my room, I know it’s the middle of the night and not close to time to wake up and I simply roll back over and go to sleep. No focusing on how frustrating it is to be awake at X hour or habitually checking my phone; I just go back to sleep.

I will give you fair warning, though, these are not cheap clocks. I think I spent about $80 on this (just looked it up and the price has increased to $100!) and I got the one with the fewest features. But, the amount of pain and suffering it has saved me this year is well worth the cost. It’s not the most attractive bedside lamp, but it’s not ugly either. You can use it as a lamp at any time if you want, though it’s not very bright. Lately, I have also been using the radio as I get ready in the morning. Gotta keep up with those traffic reports! There are other versions or similar concept clocks that include iPod docks, CD players, and even aroma therapy. Mine is just a clock radio with a [optional] bird chirp alarm, and a light. You can set the alarm to go off without the light, too, if you want.

Overall, I cannot recommend this clock enough. I’ve never had any problems with it and it truly does make my mornings less painful. I’m hardly skipping and dancing out of bed, but I’m at least in a better mental place and that’s the most I’ll ever hope for out of my mornings. 🙂  The only downside is the price, but like I said, it’s well worth it. I did see on Amazon today that someone has released a SunRise Traveler Clock that is only $50, so that might be worth trying if the full-size Philips clock is beyond your reach and you really like the concept.

I think this wraps up my first product review! If you know me in real life, it’s possible I’ve already talked your ear off on this subject, but I wanted to share it with you blog readers as something that’s helped me make a bit of a refinement to my routine, if you will.

To sunnier mornings,
Anthea