Monday, February 28, 2011

Setting the Stage for Success

I couldn't WAIT to get back with you today. I have been keeping a list of things I wanted to write about, and am anxious for your tried-and-true input and your personal experiences. I have loved the comments that you've left here on the blog, as well as emails, messages on my facebook page, and face-to-face insights that you've shared. After just one week, I am convinced that we've got something goin' on here!

So, first things first. Following, in italics, are some of my thoughts about "spiritual creation", as promised from last week's post:

When we commit ourselves to work toward a goal, there are things we can do before we start, and in the early stages of accomplishment, to better our chances for staying on the desired path long-term. Some time ago, while in the temple, the Spirit began to teach me about preparing spritually before starting a task physically. If we use God's creation of the world as a template, we see that He Himself did just this:

"...For I, the Lord God, created all things of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth...And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water or in the air;..." (Moses 3:5 - Pearl of Great Price)

For me, to "spiritually create / prepare" means to spend a good deal of time pondering my goal: what EXACTLY is my ultimate desired result? What are the tools I will need to get there? Who in my life could be a support to me? What steps will I need to take, large and small, to get to the end that I desire? What will I do when this temptation or that overpowering urge confronts me? How can I have joy in the difficult journey ahead? How will it feel when I begin to progress toward success?! Visualizing (in great detail) myself succeeding can be a whole lot of fun and can propel me forward.

A natural next step after deep pondering is to begin to write. This is something I have always loved to do: my mom says from the time I was tiny, I walked around the house with a notepad and pencil, asking her to write down words that I could copy. I am often able hear Heavenly Father speak to me through this practice, and I try to write down promptings I receive, day or night. Before long, a solid plan can start to take shape, tailor-made just for me. I have had success tackling other big projects by starting first with its spiritual creation.

Something I am trying NOW is to take a little time to spiritually prepare for each day in the early morning. I pre-plan my meals, my exercise, and the other things I want to accomplish that day. I find that I am SO much more likely to accomplish the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS if I plan ahead. Then, as I "check back in" with Heavenly Father at the end of the day, I can report on how I did. Imagine, a personal daily plan created for us by the Creator Himself!

On a lighter note! I had two MAJOR TEMPTATIONS this past week, and both involved cookies. The first: my daughter and her friends decided to bake chocolate-chip cookies in my kitchen. The old me: "Sweet! Cookies for Mama!" The new me: "Dang! This is going to be tough!" As I stood momentarily paralyzed by the fridge, and starting to imagine the chocolatey goodness that would soon be before me, I put my hand on my hip, and, (to self) "Wait! What was this?! I do believe that my hip feels a little less chubby!" That was all I needed ... I bolted upstairs, making The Great Escape ... physically removed myself from temptation, calling dramatically downstairs to the girls to wrap up any extras and "Take them away!" and attributed that brief moment with my hip a tender mercy from God. Whatever it takes, right?!

The second sketchy moment? Girl Scout cookies purchased by my sweet husband as we were out-and-about on Saturday. I caught my hand in mid-air reaching for the Samoas, and instead oh-so-quickly unwrapped a Clif Bar. (made with brown rice syrup) I actually enjoyed several bites of the bar, and whew, I was over the sugar hurdle. These successes went into my mental file of "What To Do When Tempted By Cookies": 1. Physical removal of self, and 2. Have a healthy snack alternative handy!

Other tools that are becoming important in my 40-Week Excellent Experiment: a pair of GOOD running shoes, Harry Doodle and his leash, my yellow tablet and a pen, my Camelbak waterbottle, the bathroom scale, a cozy, private area for morning spiritual prepping (complete with a lovely little antique Chinese stool), my hometown gym membership card, an orderly kitchen pantry, and a clean fridge. Also, a folder for inspiring things I come across. Click HERE for what I'm studying this week...fabulous!

Finally, in case this could be of help to you, here are our dinner menus from last week. I am eating what my family is eating, only in smaller portions. I would love to know what your favorite healthy dinners are!

Slices of baked BBQ chicken breast
Smashed red potatoes with parsley and chives
Asparagus with fresh lemon juice
Sliced oranges

Whole wheat Spaghetti Pomodoro with fresh basil
Fresh pineapple

Beef Soft Tacos (corn tortillas)
Black bean/corn/cilantro salsa

Foil-steamed Red Snapper with lemon and herbs
Brown and wild rice mix
Mom's Caeser salad

There you have it! I'm now into Week 39 of my Excellent Experiment and am feeling strong. Truly, thank you for your support, and if you're joining me in any way on this journey, let me know how things are going and what is working for you! Until next week.

51 - 16 - 52 - 40 - 42 - 6

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Macy's 40-Week Excellent Experiment

"But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words." (Alma 32:27)

Well, I have awoken and my faculties are aroused. I have a particle of faith, a desire, and I believe. The experiment? To regain my physical health, to get fit, and to lose the weight that I have allowed to slowly creep onto my body over the past ten years ... and to do it with daily guidance from the Lord, through the promptings of the Spirit which are tailored just for me. Time frame? May 16 (my 46th birthday) for my first short-range goal. August 6th (family vacation) for my medium-range goal. And forty weeks, or December 25, for my long-range goal. I figure the result of this excellent experiment will be about the best Christmas present I could give myself.

Why go public with such a personal pursuit? Because I feel I must. The Spririt has been working on me for some time, laying the groundwork for how this is going to work. For some reason, yet unknown to me, this new blog is to play an important role in the process. To hold me accountable? For my own support? To share insights and tips with others? This is the beauty of giving this struggle over to the Lord ... He is light years ahead of me, with full perspective. I am putting my trust in Him, giving everything I have to the process, and expecting miracles. I believe that somewhere down the road I will know why it is important to blog about this, but in the meantime, I will share all I can, "the good, the bad, and the ugly"!

So, the details. Here's what's on the top page of my little yellow tablet. These inspired guidelines came to me early yesterday morning after fervent prayer, and are specifically for the next four weeks. I started immediately after I was finished writing.

*No refined sugar (I had to throw out the remaining pink and red Hershey's Kisses and the brownie mixes that were such a "good deal" ... how good a deal are they REALLY when I'm the one eating most of them?)

*Weigh myself every morning (I found my old scale in the garage, under a bag of old clothes designated for Goodwill. I cleaned it up with a little Fantastik and it now holds a place of honor in our bathroom. I actually like seeing it there. It makes me feel like I'm in control.)

*Create my path spiritually before I carry it out physically. (see Moses 2 in The Pearl of Great Price) This may be the most important bullet-point on this list. More to come on this topic in the near future.

*Make smart food choices. I know what they are. Eat half of what my "normal" portion has been.

*Write a blog post chronicling my successes and setbacks every Monday. (You may notice that I'm already a day behind!)

*Drink 64oz. water daily. (My husband gave me this cool Camelbak waterbottle that will be perfect for tracking this ... I will drink three of these per day)

*Exercise five times per week. Preferably outside and with the dog. Working out at the gym is my back-up plan if the weather is just too yucky.

*Break out the old pedometer. It needs a new battery, but is terrific at keeping track of the steps I take. Strive for 10,000 steps each day. This is a stretch and it may take a while to work up to this. Thank you, Julie, for this brilliant tool.

*Have hubby take "before" pictures of me in my exercise clothes, from the front and from the back. I may get brave and share these here one day, but not yet.

*No snacks after dinner. Once the meal is over, that's it for the day. (Last night was a beast. When we got home from a movie, I felt myself on auto-pilot toward the pantry ... had to physically remove myself from downstairs to keep away from the microwave popcorn.)

*See my doctor.

The second of my two guiding scriptures in the beginnings of this experiment is:

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)

Isn't this the most hopeful scripture you have ever read? I am going to be holding onto this with everything I have.

I truly hope that something I have shared here has inspired you in some little way. I would love to hear what your tips are for healthy living. If you share a comment with me, I will email you back ... perhaps we can make this journey together! I have more unrelated things to post this week, but I will see you back here next Monday for the update on the Excellent Experiment.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Please, Sir, May I Have Some Mo'?"

Come in and sit on my kitchen stool while I prepare dinner! I have discovered a way of cooking fresh vegetables that is new to me. I'm anxious for your help and suggestions.

I've collected several recipes over the years for "Roasted Vegetables", but have never actually made any of them! I love the idea, but have shied away from them because they usually include sweet potatoes or pumpkin which I have not yet embraced. But a friend recently told me that you can roast ANY vegetable. Any at all! So I've been trying some different combinations ... here's a favorite of my family's:

A variety of fingerling potatoes (or any kind of potato), cut in small chunks
Cauliflower, cut in chunks
Asparagus, cut on the diagonal in 2" pieces
Carrots (full-size have more flavor than baby carrots), peeled and cut on the diagonal in 2" pieces
Onion, peeled and cut in chunks
A couple sprigs of fresh rosemary, snipped into 1" pieces

Put the veggies into a large mixing bowl and add a couple tablespoons of olive oil, some chopped fresh garlic, sea salt and freshly-ground pepper. Toss together and spread in a single-layer on a cookie sheet.

Bake uncovered in a preheated 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, lower temperature to 375 degrees, toss vegetables, and return to oven for another 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove rosemary and discard.

"High-temperature roasting CARAMELIZES the natural sugar in vegetables and concentrates the flavor. Cooking time depends on the density and size you cut the vegetables." (The Essential Mormon Cookbook)

Serve hot from the oven. As I serve Roasted Vegetables tonight, I will let them be the main course, and will serve 2-3 slices (per person) of marinated, grilled steak alongside as a side dish. A bowl of fresh raspberries on the table will complete the meal, and add some beautiful color to our plates.

My daughter has taken a second helping of these delicious vegetables each of the three times I have made them lately! Also, the leftover veggies are delicious the next day for lunch, cold from the fridge.

I know that most of you have roasted your vegetables for years and years. Tell me, what combinations are your favorites? What do you serve them with?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Big, Harry Blessings

My friend Julie was trying to help me get excited about our soon-to-arrive puppy: "My sister LOVES her Labradoodle! He's part of the family ... he goes with her in the car every day on her errands!"

My head fell back, my eyes rolled, and an audible "uuuugh!" escaped. I was thinking: "Thanks but no thanks, Julie. I will never be that woman." We were getting a dog despite my years of protesting. I was not a dog person. Never had been since I was three years old and chased on the beach by a yappy monster nipping at my heels. Dogs to me equalled a slobbery, smelly, shedding, barking mess, and really, why would you sign up for that? But our oldest daughter had been away at college for a semester and our youngest daughter (and, okay, my husband and I) were really feeling the void left in our family. My hubby was sure that adding a puppy (two weeks before Christmas!?) was just the answer. And so, ready or not, he was coming.

Fast forward three years. If you were to see me driving around town, this (above) is what would be peering out of the window behind my seat. And I couldn't be happier. Or love this Big Guy more. My friends think I have completely lost it, or as Jennifer says, "gone to the dark side". But after 42 years of complete ambivalence toward dogs, or any animals for that matter, I now love them all. I seek them out and talk to them in a voice I never knew that I had, that only comes out for them. I am a dog lover, and it is a miracle.

Here's what happened:

My husband had purchased a puppy on-line from a breeder, and the puppy had been with a trainer for a couple of months so that he was housebroken when we got him. (My husband really WAS looking out for me. But did I mention that it was two weeks before Christmas?!) Being a woman of faith, I started praying fervently that I would love this dog. I had to. Husband and daughter would disappear to work and school, and then guess what? I'd be left at home with a dog that I didn't want. So I prayed. And prayed again, desperately. I prayed that I would somehow find within me a little bit of love for this beast that would soon share my living space.

I remember pulling into the parking lot of the restaurant and seeing the car of the dog trainer. Husband and daughter jumped out (I slumped out) of our car as the trainer opened a little kennel in her back seat. Suddenly, the heavens parted, the sun shone a little brighter in our parking spot, and I thought I heard the Hallelujah Chorus as THE CUTEST LITTLE GUY I HAD EVER SEEN leapt from the car. My family melted away and it was just me and the Doodle. Like in the movies. I knelt down and hugged him. For a long time. The trainer said, "That's just the way to bond with him. He will feel very secure." He smelled sweet from a morning bath and he stood there patiently and let me hug him. I think I cried a little. And that was it. It was absolutely, unequivocably love at first sight. Blessing #1: God hears and answers our prayers, even the ones that involve brown curly-haired puppies named Harry.

Blessing #2: Harry is a chick magnet. And a dude magnet. We cannot take him on a walk without others approaching us with big grins on their faces. Cars have even screeched over to the curb with their drivers yelling out "What kind of dog is that?" Harry has grown into a 75 pound Big Boy, and half of his hair has turned prematurely grey. But children's comments when they see him sum it up: it is either "He looks like a cartoon character!", or "He looks like a stuffed animal!", or "Hey, he looks like a sheep!" Harry suffers from no self-image issues, though. His best friend is Dante, the Rhodesian Ridgeback (Beth's muscle dog), and while Harry prances and Dante cooly struts, Harry couldn't be happier with him. People leave Harry with smiles on their faces, and we have made many new friends in our community through him.

Blessing #3: Harry has strengthened our relationships with our running shoes. He loves to "go for a run" and was my husband's ever-faithful running buddy as he trained for a marathon two summers ago. Even when the man himself wasn't sure he wanted to hit the road for his hilly training day, or "the long run", Harry danced around his leash and got him out the door. And then stuck like glue to his master the rest of the day, pretty much saying "Remember what we did today??? Wasn't that great??? I love to run!!"

Blessing #4: You will find us on many an evening sitting on the living room floor surrounding our Prince Harry. We start out laughing at him and his funny antics, then realize an hour has passed and we've talked through our days and caught up with each other again. Harry has been stretched out in the middle of us...usually our daughter is laying on him, while he languishes in having his paws rubbed, or his belly scratched, or his face nuzzled. I guess he's a family magnet, too, and is filling his job description of trying to fill the void of one less daughter in the home. Hubby was right.

I would like to think that I have become a better person since I have become a dog lover and have acknowledged my Big Harry Blessings. My friend Missy says, "Just wait, one of these days you will be the lady that buys dog costumes", and I laugh and say, "No way. I am not that woman!" Then my daughter reminds me that hanging in the closet are Harry's Yankee Doodle bowtie and his Christmas Jingle collar.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stephen R. Covey Changed My Life

I have a special shelf in our living room library. Here, I gather my favorite books: the ones that have been so influential in shaping my daily living, or have spoken so personally to me, that they deserve this place of honor. One of these from "Macy's Top 20" you (hopefully)see above.

(Sidenote: this was my first successful attempt at uploading a photo from my camera. Ever. Happy Dance!!)

I bought "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" in 1991, when I was newly-married and serving in a leadership position in the Golden Gate Ward in San Francisco. At age 24, and a fairly new member of the Church, I figured I needed all the help I could get. I remember devouring this book, marking it up, and going back and pulling quotes from it to use various places. It is not an exaggeration to say that Stephen R. Covey's easily-digestable formula for "getting out of the thick of thin things" and into joyful and very present living changed my life.

The principle from "7 Habits" that I still use the most has to do with trying to spend most of my time in what Covey terms "Quadrant II Living", or "putting first things first". Sounds dry and boring, doesn't it?? Here are what SRC's Quadrants mean, in a nutshell:

Quadrant I: Crisis living, cramming for deadlines, dealing with pressing problems, always running behind;


Quadrant III: Less-important activities;
Quadrant IV: Trivia, busy work, time wasters.

Goethe (love him) concurs with Covey: "Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least." Truly, great minds think alike.

Let's add another supporting observation. From E.R. Gray: "The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don't like to do. They don't like doing them either, necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose."

Not many days pass in my life without my thinking (seriously!) about getting and keeping my life into that preventative, productive, joyful Quadrant I. This takes a lot of discipline, and a lot of prayer, and a lot of listening to the Spirit's promptings that day / minute, but I do know this: I am happy when I work hard to stay ahead, to do today what I could put off 'til tomorrow, and "put first things first."

Example: This morning, my almost 13-year old daughter's voice awoke me from a deep sleep: "Mom, it's 7:35! You've got to take me to school!" I jumped out of bed, threw on my glasses, brushed my teeth (my minimum requirement for leaving the house), and groggily drove my girl to school. Not much conversation. Her breakfast: a Clif Bar in the passenger seat.

Contrast: Yesterday, I was up early and dressed. A steaming bowl of oatmeal with berries and brown sugar was waiting for my girl at the bar in the kitchen. On top of a seasonal placemat! Her soccer clothes were clean and folded, ready for her backpack. We touched base on her concerns for the day: science test (reviewed a couple of definitions)and friend issues (encouraged her to always try to be kind regardless of others' choices), and I reminded her to pack her ensemble music for orchestra. Prayer was said together, cementing our good foundation for the day.

I know this much about myself: the success of my day starts the night before. If I "put the house to bed" (unload dishwasher, tidy up) and turn out my light so that I'll get eight good hours of rest, I wake up ready to roll. Doesn't this principle apply to most other areas of life? What habits do you have that, when practiced, make you more efficient and calm and joyful?

I think I'll go clean out that cupboard over my washing machine...why wait??!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Honor to the Table

"All great change in America begins at the dinner table." (Ronald Reagan)

Opening Disclaimer: We have our share of dinners which consist of bagels and bananas eaten in the car on the way to soccer practice, and spaghetti slurped from bowls while on the sofa in front of the BYU Men's basketball game.

But! My family has "enjoyed" far too many of these chaotic dinners lately. I am on a quest to reclaim family dinner time, to even (dare I say?) ELEVATE it to where I feel it belongs: a touchpoint in the day where we can come together in an unplugged setting, breathe sighs of relief, recharge, and regroup. And maybe even have some good conversation. And some belly laughs. Then hit the world running again for meetings, activities, homework, music practice, etc. with the security of love of family and full tummies.

Here's my mental plan so far:

1. Set the stage: part of setting a simple but pretty table for dinner is mainly a matter of having a few of the right things on hand to choose from as my mood dictates. On these long wintery nights, I reach for 2 or 3 votive candles to cluster in the middle of the table. Flickering candles just emote coziness. On a summer evening, it might instead be a little nosegay of buds from the yard or green clippings from whatever shrubbery catches my eye. The point is to take a moment to add something that says, "this is a special".
I have a couple of sets of basket-weave placemats that I love, and my white dishes that are basic and classic. To this backdrop, just adding pretty glasses or goblets can go a long way. Every now and then I use real cloth napkins just for fun.

2. Turn on some soft, beautiful background music. Anything calming and inspiring. No TV blaring, headphones, texting, ipadding ... the idea is to leave open space to easily reconnect with each other. Wish me luck on this one!

3. The dinner itself: I do like to plan menus for the week, mainly so I'm not dashing off to the grocery store at 5pm for missing ingredients. Also, knowing at 10am what I will prepare for dinner that night is incredibly freeing. Simple homecooking is my favorite style of dinner fare ... finishing touches that take most dishes up a notch are finely-chopped fresh parsley and/or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and/or freshly-ground pepper. Tonight's menu is Broccoli-Cheese Chowder with Crusty French Bread and a simple Winter Fruit Salad. Super easy, but major comfort food.

4. Here's my big challenge: easing into a habit of having good conversation, not just "dining and dashing". I'm going to lead out with "What was the best thing that happened today?" and see what happens. Will report back!

Thanks for popping in! Do you have any tried-and-true ideas for elevating the dinner hour, whatever your current station in life? Do share!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm Leaping into the Darkness (with my eyes closed ...

...but with a smile on my face)... I made it! That wasn't hard, and I must admit I'm feeling a bit giddy inside. The POSSIBILITIES of a long-dreamed-of, (literally) Spirit-prodded, cozy little private residence in the blogosphere are thrilling to me. Though I may be talking to only one reader (my devoted daughter), I welcome you here and hope you will find something happy or inspiring that you can use in your own life. And I hope you will share your insights with me, so we can have a delightful, bloggy friendship. So come on in: I've got something to share.

Do you have days where you feel off-center, off-course, and out-of-sorts? I do, and I have come to learn over the years that that usually means I'm forgetting to do the important daily things that make me happy and peaceful, and feeling fully engaged in life.

On the first page of my 2010 journal, I listed these non-negotiables as my "dailies", and I turn back to this page often. Some you may agree with, others may seem silly, but nevertheless, these are the things that I try to incorporate into my daily living. I hardly ever do all in one day, but if I'm doing most on most days, life seems a move along quite nicely, even when the big bumps in the road inevitably come.

Here they are, my "dailies", in no particular order:

1. Write and send a hand-written note
2. Listen to classical music, turned up a little too loud
3. Eat a salad of fresh greens, and berries in some form
4. Not just read, but SEARCH the scriptures
5. Take a brisk walk with Harry-Doodle (you will meet him soon)
6. Read from a good book
7. Pray first thing in the morning
8. Make the bed and leave the bathroom clean before going downstairs
9. Listen for and act on promptings of the Holy Ghost
10. Sweep front and back porches (Thanks, Mom)
11. Have a good conversation with a family member AND a friend (really LISTEN)
12. Drink lots of water
13. Wash and put away all dishes after every meal
14. Put on a pretty apron while tidying the house (I know this sounds very "June Cleaver", but this makes me happy and helps me take my home-keeping job seriously)
15. Keep a running checklist of things to do and things done. Look at it often and congratulate myself on how productive I am!
16. Keep the camera handy ... look for perfect moments and try to snap one photo each day.

So there it is. These things get sandwiched in between everything else that keeps my life hopping, and with any luck, fun! What are some of your "dailies"?

Come visit again soon. It's good to be home.