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

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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.

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!

A Simple Way to Brighten Your Mood

“A smile confuses an approaching frown.” – Author Unknown

In a funk lately? Lifting your spirits may be easier than you think.

All you have to do is smile.

Sound too simplistic? Maybe. But the beginning of any journey always starts with a single step, and a simple smile might just be your first step to a more positive outlook.

I put this into practice at the place I find myself the most: work. Like most, I am at work 40 or more hours a week. Some days are better than others, but on my very bad, stressful, overwhelming days, I force myself to act in complete opposition to how I am feeling by smiling at every single person I pass in the hallway.

It might sound silly, but every reciprocated smile boosts my morale just a teensy bit. And every “good morning” or “hello” or “how are you?” that accompanies those smiles boosts me just a little bit more. When my coworkers meet my gaze and return that smile, I feel acknowledged. Each smile puts a piece of my humanity back until I no longer feel like an insignificant cog in a cold, unfeeling wheel. I am me. Skylar. I am a human being worth smiling at.

Conversely, this restorative effect is nullified by every unreturned gaze and every unreturned smile. When I pass someone in the hallway and they refuse to even look at me, let alone spare me a slight smile, I can’t help but wonder what has happened in their life to make them feel the need to ignore a simple, positive human interaction.

It’s so easy to let the day-t0-day bog us down until we’re barely staying afloat. We can feel the stress building like a balloon expanding in our lungs until we can barely breathe anymore. Soon we’re taking that stress home, trying to release all that air by blowing it out onto our loved ones.

But maybe, just maybe, we can get that stress under control right from the beginning by taking a deep breath and channeling that negative energy into a positive gesture. And who knows? Your smile may just be the tiny gesture that nudges someone else out of their funk. Wouldn’t it be nice to know you might be paying-it-forward to at least one person every single day? Now that’s a great way to turn a negative into a positive.

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!

Setting Goals for the New Year

After a week on a vacation to Hawaii followed by a quick trip home to clean out some of my stuff from my parents house, I came back to Dallas with the idea of jumping back into blogging. Then got the worst migraine I’ve had in ages, missed my first day back at work, and I’m still feeling kind of sketchy today.

But, I just came across this video from a YouTuber that I follow and thought I would share it here. She has some great points on how she’s setting her goals for the year and the steps she’s taking the achieve them. It fits great with the theme of this blog, so I thought I’d share it.

Be back soon with some new posts for the new year!

Happy 2013!
Anthea