August seems like a great time to detox!

Hello! Blogging world.  It’s Troy’s wife, Melanie.  He’s mentioned me in a few blogs and I’ve always PLANNED to join in the fun, but alas never took the time to write down my thoughts.  So here goes, my first blog… please be gentle 🙂

Troy and I just took one of our amazing trips.  This time with the 2 younger boys for their vacation before they go back to school.  Jackson has been playing baseball all summer making it difficult to go on a vacation.  This year, I thought we could just keep it simple and go to Louisville, KY, about 4 hours from our home.  I hope to make time to write a review of Louisville, but this blog is about getting back to a normal / sustainable routine.  When Troy and I travel, we enjoy a little bit extra most places.  We eat desert, have the coffee, try the new item on the menu and all that fun stuff.  We buy the kids ice cream and let them eat fast food more than usual.  And usually, I come home with the attitude that I need to get my life and decision under control.  While it’s fun to relax and enjoy, those unhealthy decisions wake me up in the middle of the night, make me cranky, and sluggish all around.  We try to keep active by hiking, climbing, and running, but I can’t keep up with the extreme schedule in either direction.

Also, I’ve been listening to Cait Flanders book a “A Year of Less” which is my second time listening.  She makes great points and the book reviews what we all know which is if you want to lose weight, eat less, if you want to save money, spend less, and so on.  Cait explains how she personally tackles spending less for a whole year.  She holds herself accountable by writing a blog and sharing with the world her successes and her opportunities to improve.  Ugh, and man do I HATE holding myself accountable publicly or honestly even formally.  I won’t even write it in a journal so there’s always a way to wiggle out of a goal.  With that being said, I reach my goals usually.  Over the past 9 months, I’ve lost 30 pounds.  I’ve started running consistently again planning for a 1/2 marathon in November.  I’ve started consistently climbing (something that was never a goal, but satisfies weight training).  i reach goals for the most part, but I don’t make big vision boards and document the progress.  I guess until now.

I have 10 more pounds I want to lose.  I want to do that while training for a 1/2 marathon and not being so reliant on Optifast to get there.  I want to move into the phase of eating that is my new normal and that I can control myself.  I would also like to reduce my spending.  I previously listened to Cait’s book and really curbed my spending on clothing and small, impulse buys, but when I lost weight, I opened my budget to replace my closet and well, that needs to get back under control.  I haven’t re-filled my closet completely, but I wanted to keep it minimal and it’s kinda not.

So, starting today, I am coming up with my rules of engagement for the rest of 2019 for spending.  I am also coming up with my healthy plan for the month of August to be renewed in September.  I have some travel happening in September that will take some special consideration.

Spending through 12/31/19:

  1. Can buy house hold items that need replaced or are non-existent now
  2. Can buy items to finish decorating the boys rooms
  3. At the beginning of each month, thoughtfully determine the 3 wardrobe items that make the most sense – get rid of what they replace if they replace items
  4. Determine a plan for Christmas
  5. Can buy items for the boys that they need, such as sports gear

Current items I want to buy:

  • Black blazer for work – thinking I will wait for a labor day sale at WHBM
  • Climbing shorts – because the ones I have are too big and I climb ~ 3 times a week
  • Running shorts – because I have 2 pairs now and would like a 3rd for a whole weeks worth of running shorts with pockets
  • A traditional jean skirt – because I think it’s cute

This list can be updated, because I’m sure I did not think about everything…. Also, I want to review my spending history to make sure my gut feeling is right that I’m spending most of my money on clothing.

Weight management for the month of August:
Goal weight = 140, current weight 155 (Louisville weekend was super fun, and wow! I just published my freaking weight, uh, that hurts 😉

  1. Drink alcohol only once a week (usually, Monday night climb and wine)
  2. Go to Conci regularly to check in and progress off the Optifast diet
  3. Plan a meal strategy at the beginning of every week – this week I will be finishing the Fresh ’n Lean meals for lunch and salads for dinner
  4. Track calories using My Fitness Pal
  5. Weigh myself daily
  6. Continue with the Garmin running plan, climbing for fun, and add to the fitness routine Ab workouts

I will check back in next week for an update on my progress.

When Suffering, Smile

So let’s get started with all the appropriate waivers: I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, seek professional medical or psychological help if you’re feeling an emergency situation, 9 out of 10 dentists probably do not recommend this, call your mother, and my dog ate my homework. That being said, the past several days have been rough. I haven’t felt exactly ill, but I certainly have not felt well. Pile on the work, add a dash of extra stuff to do around the house, and there we have it: a sour mental state.

My wife and better half has even lovingly told me over the past few days, “You’re very abrupt.” I think she used the term ‘mic drop’ in there somewhere, but she made the point. When we kicked off the day yesterday (Monday), I would say I had a full case of the blues. I was contemplating not going to work, which for me, is a serious matter. I actually sat down for a little while and did not move. I felt the pull of inertia rooting me to the spot. After several moments of staring at the fan which was blowing air into my face in front of me, a quote popped into my head, “When you’re really suffering, you have to smile.” “What a dumb thing to say,” I mentally responded to the quote.

After a moment’s mental searching, I realized where I had heard it. It was advice given during an interview with an ultrarunner – you know, these crazy people who run 50k, 100k, 100 miles, and even more. I don’t remember the exact ultrarunner, but honestly they all say about the same thing. Their point is that unless you’ve really done some serious injury to your body, you can overcome the general suffering (muscle aches, random internal pains, etc.) of hours and hours of continuous movement. Overcoming the suffering starts with the mind – sort of. There are some great books and studies on the market covering this in much greater detail, but in essence the science behind endurance says that action and thought are very much linked. So, smiling for instance, actually lifts our spirits and enables us to endure more. Score one for the long distance running crazies.

Yesterday morning, I smiled. I also dressed more professionally than usual. I didn’t have any important meetings on the day, but the professionalism of the clothes also helped propel me forward. Silly, I know. Here is the funny thing: I had an extremely productive day. I had a breakthrough on a topic that had been weighing me down. I had some new administrivia come up and instead of kicking the can down the road, I faced it head on and came to a nearly immediate solution. On the whole, I’d say that I won the day.

So here is to ‘smiling when suffering,’ ‘faking it until you make it,’ ‘a body in motion stays in motion,’ and all the other conventional wisdom for overcoming a bit of adversity. Wishing you a smile filled, roll-that-rock-up-the-hill kind of a sunshiny day.

Why Not Inner Peace Solely Through Christianity?

Over the past year or so, I have somewhat frequently touched on my mindfulness practice and how I have essentially grown into a Zen Buddhist. In my post, From Middle America to Zen Buddhism, I talked about the seeds that were sown throughout my early life and how my mid-life challenges sealed the deal. But one aspect I haven’t covered is, why not seek inner peace through Christianity? After all, it is the faith of my family and my childhood. So first, let’s get this out of the way. Zen Buddhism is not my religion. Zen can be – and is often the case in Asia – practiced while holding true to another, or multiple other faiths. Among many things in Zen Buddhism, the “and” instead of the “or” appeals to me. But not so fast, let’s break it down.

Focus on the mind

Probably the biggest thing that pulled me into Zen is the focus on the mind. While Zen – which is a subset of Buddhism – offers plenty of instruction on behaviors, it is well more focused on taming the wild mind than Christianity. Christianity offers the hope of redemption in the afterlife for believing and following in Christ in this life. Those are admirable goals. However, in my search for inner peace, I was looking for ways to sort out the messiness of my mind in my life right now. The Bible offers learning through parable and the story of Jesus. Zen offers learning and guidance through the direct experience of right now.

A lot of Westerners think that Zen is all about getting blissed out in a hippie dippie fashion. Not at all true. In fact, Zen practitioners rarely talk about enlightenment. It also isn’t about going all Type B personality with a “whatever” attitude to accept things with resignation. Again, not true. Rather, the idea – in my novice words – is to stop putting ourselves through the weekly, daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute torment that our minds are seemingly naturally wired to do. I’ll imply this a lot throughout this post, but I can easily see Zen philosophy and Christian faith working in concert in my inner life.

Writings that don’t take themselves too seriously

The next thing that I appreciate about Zen is that practitioners aren’t expected to believe every single word as the absolute no-questions-asked truth with a capital T. I have a cousin who is a Southern Baptist preacher. I love him dearly, and as we grow older in life, we plan to spend more time together. This winter, he asked me to read a book by Tim Keller called Making Sense of God. The book got bogged down into the historicity of the Bible, among other things. This approach does not appeal to me. I think there are just things we humans can’t know for certain, and that some things should be taken on faith without too much wrangling or backing into facts and figures. It feels cheap to me when I hear these kinds of arguments.

In Zen, practitioners have a concept called “fingers pointing at the moon.” In this case, the moon represents the Truth, which in my novice words, is kind of the individual goal in Zen. The fingers represent the writings and other messages from practitioners. Zen recognizes that some writing is parable, some is fable, some is historical, and some is a mix of all. But the idea is that there is something for everyone. If parable gets you closer to your own Truth, great. If picking apart historical facts and figures are your gig – that’s cool too. Use it all to find what works for you. This aspect of Zen actually helps warm my heart to the Bible when I hear people tell me that Creationism is an indisputable fact and Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark. I respect your right to believe that, but I reserve the right to doubt it.

Compatible behaviors

Finally, what I really love about Zen is that the expectations are compatible with world religions. So practicing Zen – which in my humble opinion is pretty much ancient psychology – can be held in the same head and heart as a devout Christian. This was perhaps the bridging notion for me to delve further into Zen from the secular and generalized “mindfulness” practice. Zen is a peaceful, sensible, and effective practice that doesn’t try to extinguish other Truths.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zen Buddhism, here are some really great resources:

Being a Beginner

Several weeks ago, I posted that I am Learning to Climb. This week, I continued learning my new hobby by watching some instructional videos and continuing to apply the lessons at the climbing gym. I learned about static versus dynamic climbing and a few ways to move the body to reach new holds without relying on shear power. I went to the gym this morning eager to apply the lessons, which after about 60 minutes of bouldering, left my wimpy runner’s forearms and hands absolutely shredded. I took a break and while I did, I watched a couple of young teens easily scale the routes that had left my hands and forearms throbbing and nearly useless. Rather than being daunted, I cracked a smile. Just a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize how much better these teenagers were than me. I didn’t know to follow routes or attempt to climb with any technique. That realization prompted a thought: I love being a beginner.

I didn’t always love being a beginner. In fact, I hated it. In my youth, if I wasn’t naturally pretty good at something from the start, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I see this same tendency in our younger children. It is difficult for them to have the confidence to try something and look silly in the process. I’ve read before that this is one reason adult learners have a harder time picking up addtional languages – they have gotten to a point of mastery in their first language and don’t want to make silly mistakes while starting anew. These days I’m quite happy to put on a dunce hat and try something new. To a point. You’ll still never see me strap on a set of dancing shoes and hit the club – that is simply not my scene. However, in many, many other things I am happy to try and fail and try again. So that realization prompted another thought – especially in light of inspiring our kids to try something new: what changed? 

Best I can trace it, I think it all started when I went back to college as an adult learner to pursue another degree. In this case, I was motivated by the potential for advancement in the workplace, and – let’s be honest – the money that comes along with it. I went into a business program at a local liberal arts college to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Management and Leadership. The experience was life-altering. Up until that point, I had boxed myself into adult life with a wife and kids and kind of thought, “This is it. I’ll go to work, come home, sit on the couch and watch TV, play with the kids and then go to bed.” Rinse and repeat. I assumed development was now in the children’s boat. But my time in college courses exposed me to philosophy and interesting reading; to class room discussions about ethics and professional development. I built confidence through writing papers and giving presentations. I was way better at this stuff than my first go at university. Soon, I was developing in other parts of my life as well. I joined an adult soccer league. I started running to be a better soccer player. I got into much better physical shape, which made me eager to try more new things.

As I consider helping our kids find their passion for becoming beginners, I am a bit flummoxed. My motivation was intrinsic because I wanted to make more money and help the family continue to progress. It was an internal decision that no one asked me to make. The kids don’t have families or anything else depending on them to grow and develop. So I guess that’s the lesson. People develop at their own pace and I don’t know that there is much to do to speed it up. I will just continue to expose the kids to new things and maybe something will click. And… well, maybe it won’t.

What’s your approach to getting out of your comfort zone? Do you have any tips for helping younger learners be confident enough to try new things?