Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
~Jim Rohn

It's hard to believe, but the first month of this shiny new year is nearly over. Even though I didn't make any resolutions, I have been working on developing sounder lifestyle habits. I am trying to do a better job of keeping my house presentable, putting nutritious meals on the table for my family at dinnertime, and improving my overall fitness.

With the encouragement of the FlyLady, most nights I go to bed with a shiny sink; most mornings I wake up and make my bed and empty the dishwasher and swish and swipe the bathrooms. But I'm not following her instructions to the letter. For example, one of her directives is to lay out your clothes the night before and get dressed as soon as your feet hit the floor in the morning down to lace-up shoes. Here I draw the line. I enjoy staying in my pajamas and fuzzy socks while I complete my morning routines of journalling, housekeeping, music practice, and writing;  then I throw on my exercise clothes and do my daily workout before taking a shower, choosing what I want to wear, and starting my teaching day. Yes, I am mortified on those occasions when I am forced to answer the door wearing sweat pants and no make-up. But this happens very rarely and the pleasure of lounging in my flannel nightgown far outweighs the risk involved.

Also thanks to the FlyLady I take the time to ask myself the question, "What's for dinner?" every morning, when there is still time to pull an item out of the freezer or run to the grocery store for an essential ingredient. Granted, it would be better to ask myself this question over the weekend, then plan meals for the entire week and do all my shopping at once. The closest I have been able to come to that ideal is to pull out my overstuffed recipe box, select two or three recipes that I want to try, make a list of the things I need to prepare them, and take it with me when I go shopping. But even with my haphazard approach, I have managed to put a hot meal on the table almost every night, and the leftovers tide the boys over on those evenings when I am teaching too late to be able to sit down and eat with them. Click HERE for a couple of my favorite new recipes.

Finally, I am really excited about the new running program I have started. My sister-in-law SeDonna and I are training for the Zooma Atlanta Half Marathon in April and yesterday I started an adaptation of this training schedule to get ready. But I did a minimum of thirty minutes of walking/running or elliptical machine 22 of the 31 days in the month of January, so as far as I am concerned I am well on my way.

The excess fluff is coming off slowly; although I am down 4.8 pounds for the month - about what I gained during the month of December - during the past two weeks I have lost a total of exactly ONE pound. That is a little bit frustrating, considering all the chocolate I have resisted and all the hours I have logged at the gym. The inches aren't disappearing, either. Sometimes I think life is nothing more than a struggle not to gain weight. But I must not give in to these feelings of discouragement; I have to believe that slow and steady will win this race like it wins so many others. Another 4.8 pounds and I will be in a smaller dress size. I think I can.

You might think that with all this housework, cooking and exercising I don't have time for anything else besides teaching. Somehow, the opposite is true. I am practicing my music; I am adding new pieces to my Etsy store.  I am reading; I am writing. I am spending unprecedented amounts of time with friends and family; I am sleeping better than I have slept in years.  At the end of January I usually wish I could dig a big hole and bury myself in it. This year I feel like dancing. I must be doing something right.

How are you faring on this 31st day of January? Any tips from the trenches?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spinach, Spinach Everywhere

As 2011 came to a close, I had to admit that the boys and I were eating too many frozen pizzas, microwave dinners, and processed soy foods.  In my defense, I teach piano lessons straight through dinner time Monday through Thursday. But this is a problem that can be solved through advance preparation. So one of the habits I have been working on this new year is meal planning.

One of the best weapons in my arsenal is my crock pot. I have made this bean soup recipe (click HERE) twice. Sunday I had chili waiting for my family after our 5K run. A little bit of mushroom soup and some chicken breasts cooked on low all day come out juicy and tender and are great served on top of some steamed rice with a side of mixed veggies. I bet you have your favorite crock pot recipes, too.

I don't know if my iron count is low or what, but this week I have been craving spinach. So Monday morning I baked a spinach quiche, cooled it, sliced it, and stuck it in the refrigerator. After I finished teaching, all I had to do put together a tossed salad and zap each slice of quiche in the microwave for a couple of minutes. We had a meal in minutes, and it was delicious.
Spinach Quiche

2 tablespoons butter
1 package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1 cup half and half
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
9-inch pie shell (I use Pillsbury)
1 cup shredded swiss cheese

Melt butter; add cooked spinach and onion; saute until tender and very dry, 3-5 minutes; set aside and cool. Add cream and the next four ingredients to spinach mixture; stir until well mixed. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line pie plate with foil and fill with uncooked rice or beans. Bake 8-10 minutes; remove foil and bake 3-5 minutes more. Remove from oven. Sprinkle cheese on crust. Carefully pour in spinach filling. Return to oven and bake for 30 minutes or until set.

On Thursday I say goodbye to my last student at 6:30, early enough to do put together a meal if I have assembled my ingredients ahead of time. So last night I tried a recipe for a simple pasta, spinach and bean dish that has been sitting in my box for almost ten years. It was a big hit with all of us.

Pasta with Spinach and Beans

8 cups fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
10 ounces spiral shaped pasta, cooked, drained and hot
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can white beans, drained and warmed
1/2 cup shredded Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. The spinach will wilt and the cheese will melt slightly from the heat. Top with extra cheese and fresh ground pepper if desired.

How do you manage to get fresh, hot meals on the table every day? Any tricks or recipes you would like to share?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Put one foot in front of the other.

Jogging is very beneficial. It's good for your legs and your feet. It's also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed.
~Charles Schulz, Peanuts

I have wanted to be a runner for a long time, although my background consists primarily of walking. The first event I ever attended was a Crop Walk in my hometown of Mt. Carmel, IL way back in October of 1974. I don't remember much about the day; I don't even remember how far we walked - just that it was far enough that I was in a world of pain the next morning. Overweight and out of shape, I could barely navigate the flight of stairs down to the basement of my church, where Sunday School was held.

Has it really been almost FORTY years?
Four Octobers later I was in college, thinner and leaner, running occasionally with my friend Pat, who convinced my roommate Robbin and me to do a 5,000 meter run (5K) with her. Although both my friends left me in their dust, I believe I ran more than I walked and don't remember suffering as much the next day.

Pat and Robbin
October 22, 1978
Then just before I graduated from college, my service fraternity organized an event for the March of Dimes called WalkAmerica. Again, I don't recall many of the particulars, but I know I finished the course and had a great time doing it.

I'm the third from the left.
April 25, 1981
Since my divorce, my exercise regimen has consisted primarily of walking a three-mile route in my neighborhood, although the past couple of years I have also gone to a nearby Fitness 19 and run on the elliptical machine there. I enjoy it, but I not as much as I enjoy being outside, especially on the many beautiful, sunny days we have here in metro Atlanta. Inspired in part by my friend Denise, who calls
running "my prayer, my moving meditation, my saving grace, and now an opportunity to love myself,"(click HERE to read her delightful blog post on the subject), I have decided to mix running with my walking. Eventually, I hope to be strong enough to run an entire event.

Aw, who am I kidding? I would be impressed if I could run an entire MILE without stopping.

On New Year's Eve, my brother, his wife, and my fifteen year old discussed our fitness goals for 2012, and we agreed to do a 5K together every month. We started on Sunday with Lakeview Academy's New Years Resolution 5K up in Gainesville, GA.

Nathan and me.
The designated path was hilly, the weather was cold and drizzly, and I was not well prepared for either. Still, I managed to finish in just under 42 minutes. But the point is I FINISHED. I may not have a clue what "runner's high" feels like, but I get a little thrill every time I get out there and go for it, pushing my body a little bit harder than I did the day before, running longer and longer stretches. And I'm trying not to complain about my aching muscles; they're just letting me know I'm getting stronger, right?

I have big plans. My sister-in-law I just registered for a half marathon in April, and I may actually try to run (instead of walk) the Peachtree Road Race this July 4th. Yes, I'm hoping I shed a few pounds and lose a few inches in the process. But it's really not about the numbers. It's about gratitude for two strong legs, flabby thighs and all; for the sunshine on my back, the wind in my face, and the natural beauty that surrounds me wherever I go; and for a family that loves and supports me enough to run with me.

How are you going to challenge yourself physically in 2012?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kitchen Art

When I stumbled into the kitchen to make my morning coffee a few days ago, I found myself eye-to-eye with a bearded stranger.

His resemblance to an old boyfriend of mine is uncanny.
For  past kitchen surprises, click HERE.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two weeks into it

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways. 
~ Stephen Vincent Benet

Here we are, just a little more than two weeks into the New Year. How are you doing with those resolutions?

Don't ask me about mine, since I DIDN'T MAKE ANY.  Instead, I have been working on developing better habits and routines for the sake of my health and my sanity. I have gone to the gym or worked out to an exercise video every day; I have cooked dinner for my family at least three or four times a week.

Tuscan Bean Soup with Shrimp, inspired by The Pioneer Woman.
Click HERE for the recipe.
With the encouragement of the FlyLady, I shine my kitchen sink every night; ; I swish and swipe the bathrooms every morning; I spend at least fifteen minutes de-cluttering every day. Now my piano studio looks like this:

The room feels a lot bigger now. 
And my beading area (back in my bedroom) looks like this:

All my beads and supplies are sorted and the drawers and bins are labeled. It's great being able to actually find things when I need them!
I am working on a new line of jewelry to add to my Etsy store, revising The Wishing Box for submission to a writing contest with a February 1st deadline, and plotting my next work of fiction. I am taking Bob Mayer's Write-It-Forward online workshop and gaining a much better understanding of my goals and motivations as a writer. I am practicing the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor on the piano, the first movement of Saint-Saens' Clarinet Sonata in F Major on the clarinet, and looking forward to a lesson with a bonafide mandolin teacher on Saturday. And I am helping my piano students get ready for a piano festival on February 11th. It is thrilling to hear their progress from week to week and to help them find solutions to the problems they are having with their pieces.  

It's what I do. But it's not who I am.

I am mother and daughter, sister and friend, artist and musician. There are a few pieces missing in this puzzle that is my life, but for the moment I am quite content living with the empty spaces. As a matter of fact, I have too much gratitude to complain about much of anything right now, thanks to a scare I had a couple of weeks ago.

It was every woman's nightmare. My Pap smear came back "abnormal," necessitating a follow-up procedure and a biopsy. Thankfully, those results were negative, but during the long days of waiting there was plenty of time to mull over past decisions, time wasted, and all there was to lose.

A couple of days ago, I read a blog post in which the author shared the sweet experience of making the final payment on a large debt incurred as the result of a previous terrible relationship. I am in a similar situation, owing several thousand dollars in credit card debt accumulated on behalf of my ex-fiance and his children, and wonder if I will ever get to the point of being debt-free. Her now-happily-married conclusion? "You get what you settle for. So why settle for anything less than amazing?" Which is exactly what a follower said in response to this blog post of mine: "Never settle for less than what you know you deserve....You deserve the love you are looking for."

So now that I have a (relatively) clean bill of health, I am more than ready to accept this sage advice. Until Mr. Right comes along, I am doing just fine, thank you very much, with my boyfriend TiVo managing the remotes and my dog Karma sharing my bed with me.

How are you feeling two weeks into 2012? Are you pleased with your progress so far? Wishing you could start over? You can, you know. Every sunrise offers an opportunity for reinvention. I look forward to hearing about your journey!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mrs. Duck's Lovely Day

Mrs. Duck's Lovely Day, written and illustrated by Vivienne Blake, is a Rand McNally Junior Elf Book I owned as a child. I have no idea what happened to my original copy, but I stumbled upon another in a used book store at some point in my adult life and snapped it up. I had forgotten all about it until last weekend when I was packing away several boxes of children's books to make room for my growing collection of women's fiction and romance novels - just in time for my first review for the Books That Made Me Love Reading Challenge.

"Yes, it was a very warm summer at Valley Cottage," the story begins. Everyone is pleased about the blue skies and sunshine - everyone, that is, except Mrs. Duck. The hot sun eventually reduces her small pond to a puddle of mud, and Mrs. Duck doesn't know what to do about it. She reaches her breaking point when Mrs. Hen invites her to go for a dust bath, snapping at her friend and huffing home. So that evening she decides to go to the seashore, knowing there will be plenty of water there; she packs her bags and hops on the first train.

She is thrilled when she first arrives; she sends Mrs. Hen a box of salt water taffy by way of apology and writes postcards to her other friends. But her days at the beach prove to be very disappointing; the waves are too much for her and she misses everybody back home. To her delight, she wakes up the next morning to the sound of raindrops on her roof; she hustles back home and finds her pond filled to the brim and topped with a rainbow.

This book brought back many happy memories. I love the cheerful retro artwork and the book's gentle messages about the the value of friendship and the virtues of home, even when the situation is less than ideal. Thanks, Emlyn Chand, for giving me a reason to revisit this little gem!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dreaming of Books Giveaway Blog Hop

I am participating in the Dreaming of Books Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Martha's Bookshelf. This hop is scheduled to run January 13th through 18th. To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment at the end of this post. For additional entries, you can follow me on Twitter (click HERE), and "like" my Facebook fan page (click HERE). Leave an additional comment for each additional entry. At the end of the week, one lucky winner will be chosen by a random number generator to receive a $10 Amazon gift card. Be sure to leave your email address with your comment so that I will know how to contact you should your name be selected. Click HERE for the links to 200 or so other blogs that are also doing book-related giveaways. All contests begin at midnight Eastern time tonight; any entries received prior to that time will not be included in the drawing.

Good luck and happy blog hopping!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Books That Made Me Love Reading

Blogger Emlyn Chand has come up with a wonderful challenge for this New Year. In her introductory post, she encourages participants to discuss why we love reading, list some of our favorite books of all time, and to re-read one of those old favorites every month and write a review sharing why we loved it then and how we feel about it now. I am delighted to have an excuse to lose myself once again in the pages of such classics as Bambi, Little Women and The Hobbit. Read on!

I was one of those kids who read under the covers by flashlight long after I was supposed to be asleep. My elementary school librarian introduced some of her favorite authors, like Carolyn Haywood, E. B. White, and Lloyd Alexander; Betsy and Billy, Wilber the Pig (from Charlotte's Web), and Taran, Wanderer became as real to me as my classmates. I wept when Sikes murdered Nancy; I couldn't for the life of my understand what Scarlett saw in Ashley Wilkes. I was one of the few kids in my class allowed the privilege of checking out books from the adult section of the bookmobile - after I devoured all the children's books on the shelves - and I thoroughly enjoyed my stint as a volunteer in the middle school library. I taught my dolls how to read, shared all my favorite picture books with my baby brother, and had a hard time choosing which three books to order each time the Scholastic Book Club brochures came home from school.

The truth of the matter is that, in my experience, the reading and the writing were inseparable.  I have vague memories of shaping letters with big, fat pencils on Indian Chief tablets, stringing the letters together to create words and eventually arranging the words into sentences. Oh, the power! I wrote poetry, short stories, and essays; I kept a diary and composed long letters and sent them to my pen pal in Japan. Is it any wonder that I'm writing novels these days?

The longer I think about it, the more books come to mind, and the more excited I become about revisiting them. If you think you might like to join the fun, simply click the badge at the top of this post and you will be directed to Emlyn's introductory post containing guidelines. Otherwise, just keep following this blog for my reviews.

What were some of your childhood favorites?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

You can go your own way

Today I want to reply to some of the comments I have had in response to my last blog post, to those of you who claim you wouldn't be able to function without goals or to-do lists. You know what? Neither would I.

I have no choice when it comes to list making. There was a time in my life when I could keep track of everything in my head. But that ability left me along with my youth. And like everybody else, I have schedules and deadlines that I must adhere to - most related to pursuing my passions, but some simply the consequence of being a human being living in a complex society. So I use the calendar on my iPhone to keep track of appointments and meetings; I have a teaching schedule posted in my piano studio; and I refer to a short list of morning and evening routines around housekeeping and exercise every day. But I don't think this is contradictory to living freely.

Because at this point my big-picture goals are so much a part of who I am that I can't NOT pursue them, whether or not they are itemized on piece of paper. No matter what else is going on in my life, no matter how busy I am, I somehow find time to create every single day, whether it's making music with my students, writing in my journal, or designing a new piece of jewelry. It's what makes me feel alive. But I want to remain open to adventure and possibility. And I can't do that when my every waking moment is accounted for before I get out of bed every day. After functioning that way for many years, I reached the point that I almost didn't WANT to get out of bed. I was so burned out NOTHING brought me joy. And that is no way to live.

Yes, I dream of being a published author, and I realize that dreaming about it isn't going to make it happen. But since I have abandoned daily word count goals, I am actually writing more - and better. Monday, for example, I got stuck on a paragraph and wound up laboring over it for a long time; as a result, my total for that day was less than 200 words. Tuesday, though, the words were flowing, so I kept working until my first piano student arrived, at the exclusion of everything else, and I added over 3000 words to my manuscript. Previously, I would have stopped the moment I hit my randomly selected number for the day, whether it was 500 or 1000. Then yesterday I had brunch with a friend and spent the rest of the morning running errands and I didn't get around to writing at all but I was okay with it, whereas before I would have beaten myself up for missing a day.

I understand that every writer's process is different and I'm not suggesting that anyone else should follow my lead. And that applies to everything else, too. What practices bring YOU closer to fulfilling your purpose on this planet? For me, it used to be New Year's resolutions, short and long term goals, and a rigorous daily schedule. Now, it is simply waking up every morning, listening to my heart, and following its path.

I wish you joy on YOUR journey!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Living without goals


On New Year's Eve, I tried to explain my decision to forego making resolutions this year, choosing instead to trust myself as a creative individual, to follow the leadings of my heart on a daily basis,  and work on developing better daily routines. 

Then my brother sent me a link to a wonderful post by Leo Babauta (click HERE) in which this inspiring individual explains why goals as a system usually result in failure. It resonated with me so deeply that I am absolutely convinced I am on the right track. It's a little scary for a compulsive list maker who has gotten through many difficult periods by looking ahead to a planned vacation or a major holiday to contemplate a life without goals. On the other hand, I love surprises, especially the good kind. And please understand that this decision isn't the result of an inability to focus or the lack of a work ethic. On the contrary: I know what I want and I am willing to work hard to get it. I am simply give myself permission to pursue my passions as a lifestyle as opposed to relegating them to items on a to-do list. And, like Mr. Babauta, I have found myself "achieving more than if I had goals, because I'm always doing something I'm excited about. But whether I achieve or not isn't the point at all: all that matters is that I'm doing what I love, always."

After just a few short weeks of this new way of thinking, my spirit is in a much better place. Much of my negative thought-buzz has disappeared; I feel balanced, motivated, and (dare I say it?) happy. So, inspired by Eydie of What We Create (click HERE), I have chosen a "little word" for myself for 2012, a word for contemplation and meditation, a word to help guide me as I move through my days . That word is RELEASE. Finally, I am ready to let go: of relationships that take much and give little in return; of goals and expectations that impose limits rather than lead to success; of a daily grind that steals my precious time and robs me of my joy. 

Of everything that has kept me small.

If this sounds threatening to you - and a year ago, it would have sounded downright ominous to me - then it might be something you need to examine. Check out the tips for living without goals on the Zen Habits website, and try spending just a few hours exploring your passions without a predetermined agenda. You might be amazed at what you will discover.

Happy New Year!