Trackers tracking trackables

I track my workout time, type, intensity. I track what and how much I’m eating. At the end of the day I get a nice little report that shows I’m above the tolerable upper limits for vitamin A while the bar for iron and vitamin D is barely visible. I track my steps and am disappointed at the end of the day at how low the number is. I swear one of these days I’m going to quit my desk job and become a mail lady (with a walking route!).

Last week, as I was entering my food, trying to find the closest match and making edits because I didn’t include cream cheese when I made that recipe, I realized how stressful it was. It’s stressful to go over my calories because I had a muffin at work. And it’s stressful that no matter how many black beans, dark chocolate squares and spinach-steak salads I eat, I can’t seem to get enough iron. Ever!

My cardiologist told me to make sure I cool down enough after cardio exercise, meaning bringing my heart rate to around 120 before hopping off the treadmill. My trainer also told me to get a watch to make sure I take the proper 60-second break between sets. So, I started looking at all the newest, coolest trackers. They track heart rate, sleep, iron levels, hopes, and dreams! They buzz when you don’t get up enough.

Then I decided no! I don’t need more things telling me what to do or what not to do. I’m pretty good at that already. And to fill in any gaps, I have a boss, trainer, and cat who don’t have any hesitation to tell me when I am not doing enough. I know instinctively if I’ve cooled down enough at the end of a workout because I know what that feels like. I know that I feel light-headed when my protein is depleted. I don’t need a fancy bar graph to tell me how I slept last night. I was there. I know.


Dream day

IMG_2195I’ve had a rough week. After a whirlwind trip last week, I came home to a challenging assignment for class, a huge project kicked off at work, and I generally have too much on my to-do list. Two evenings in a row, I was crying at my computer while working on that challenging assignment.

But I really knew it was bad when I forgot about a training session I had scheduled at the gym. That’s my breaking point: When I forget something on my schedule. I’m usually really good at that.

Then, Nick was rubbing my shoulders while I was working at my desk. He could feel the knots and tension. He told me I should take a break and go get a massage. “I don’t have time,” I sobbed. Being unreasonable was sign 2 for me that I was overloaded.

He urged me again to take a break, reasoning that when you continue on in times like this, you just make it worse because you make careless mistakes. I told him I was just going to work until 8:30, then I’d be done for the night. I even set an alarm.

At 8:30, I closed my book and went upstairs. Lying in bed, I opened Health magazine, where they often have guests share their idea of a perfect day.  It doesn’t even have to be reasonable. It could start with breakfast in Napa, include a show in New York, and conclude with sunset snorkeling in Sydney.

I started thinking about my perfect day. It wouldn’t be as extravagant as teleporting around the world.

It would start with sleeping in until I woke up naturally, then getting up and having coffee and maybe a croissant outside by a pool, lake or ocean. Then I’d read for a bit. Doesn’t even matter what. When I got around to it, I’d do something physical: a hike, paddleboarding, or an outdoor yoga class.  I’d eat lunch that someone else made for me. And have dessert, too, because it’s my dream day.

In the evening, I’d like to do something with my favorites. Let’s rent the ice arena just for us and all go ice skating and then go out for drinks.

Then I’ll go home and snuggle up with Nick because that’s when I feel my most relaxed.

Gracious like Grandma

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my grandma on the phone. She was at her house in Minnesota and told me she was so grateful for her furnace. I loved that she was so grateful for something we often take for granted. It also resonated because Nick and I had our heaters replaced before the first cold of the year. When the wind was blowing outside, I was grateful we had new heaters to keep us warm.

I spent last week with Grandma and she showed her gratitude so many times. Each time she ate, she first blessed her food, then blessed and thanked all the people who got the food to her. She took a moment to appreciate the farmer who grew it to the food, the grocery store stocker, the person who cooked it, and everyone in between.

Being gracious improves health in multiple ways. It helps us feel more optimistic, deal with adversity, and build relationships. Also importantly, it helps us get through difficult situations. I don’t have any scientific research to back it up, but personally, feeling grateful gets me out of my own head. It helps me see the bigger world and stop being so damn selfish.

You can meditate or keep a gratitude journal. I like to get gratitude out of my head and share it with others. Say thank you. Show appreciation. Say it out loud. Thanks for the lesson, Grandma.

The unhealthy news cycle

This is me leaving the office on my last day in news journalism.

On December 14, 2012, I got up from my desk and walked out the doors at Microsoft to the women’s room. I needed a break. I was a news editor and after long months of reporting the news of shooting after shooting, the Newtown shooting at an elementary school was unbearable to me. I did the best I could to turn off my empathetic human side and be in full journalist mode all morning, but once a backup team was in place, I had to get out of there.

And I don’t just mean get out of that day or that story. I had to get out of that career.

The 24-hour news cycle was hurting me. In those days, I’d wake up in my New York apartment and look at the breaking news alerts on my phone before I even got out of bed. While getting dressed, I’d stream NPR, so I’d know the basics before sitting down at my desk. While walking to the office or waiting at the bagel cart, I’d read headlines scrolling by on neighboring news buildings. When I got to my desk, I’d turn on the TV next to me to a cable news channel where it would be in my peripheral all day.

Back pre-cable news, we gathered around our TVs once a day for the evening news. The format was the same: The biggest stories came first. The heartwarming story about a missing turtle returning home closed the show. 30 minutes and we’re done.

Now there’s no top of the broadcast or close of the broadcast. If you’ve ever had a delayed flight and watched CNN Airport News over and over, you know what I mean. There’s no scheduled time when the theme song starts and the broadcast begins. Viewers drop in and out all day. That means for ratings, the show has to be exclusively made up of those big stories that once came first. Everything got more sensational and dramatized.

Increased television news has been associated with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t think you need me to tell you that none of those things are healthy.

So I was enthusiastic when I saw that LifeTime Fitness, a Minnesota-based gym, has decided to stop broadcasting cable news in their locations

The decision “was based on many member requests received over time across the country, and in keeping with our overall healthy way of life philosophy and commitment to provide family-oriented environments free of polarizing or politically charged content,” Natalie Bushaw, a Life Time spokeswoman, said in The New York Times.

I worked out at some chain gyms during my recent holiday travels and the line of TVs in front of me showing disturbing photos and alarming headlines was my biggest complaint. I tried to position myself on a treadmill in front of a Rachael Ray episode to avoid unpleasantness but still left feeling shaken by what I saw on the other screens.

It’s been four years since I left my news journalism career. I’ve turned off all but the NPR and Seattle Times breaking news alerts on my phone. I don’t watch television news. I get my news from reading NPR (sometimes listening, but I prefer reading on their app), The New York Times, or the Seattle Times.

And I’m healthier for it.

How much can I commit to?

You probably know by now that I love to say yes. Not to please other people, but because I genuinely love to do things. I want to participate in the new year’s weight loss competition at the gym. I want to go to drinks with you on Friday night. I want to watch the hot new Netflix series. I want to volunteer for all the committees at work.

I also know I need to be realistic. I’m starting grad school in January and that will eat up a good chunk of my time. I already work full time, work out 4+ times a week, and have my kitchen strewn about the upstairs while we finish its refacing downstairs (by we, I mean our contractor). I also have friends to see, a Facebook feed to scroll through, and a Netflix queue that won’t watch itself. I live with a man and a cat, both of whom would like my attention from time to time.

A master’s degree has been on my to-do list for years. I found this program and my heart started racing with excitement. It was just what I wanted. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the two-year time commitment and how it’ll impact all the other things I want to do.

So I did the math. There are 168 hours in a week. I need to spend approximately:

50 of them working or commuting

56 of them sleeping

20 of them on schoolwork

That leaves 42 for all the other stuff.

What’s your word?

This photo hangs in my home as a reminder of everything I want to be in life.

Two years ago, I asked my grandma how she would describe her childhood. We were in the car on the way back to my parents’ house after our extended family Christmas celebration.

Grandma thought for a second and then said, “It was happy.”

She posed the same question to me.

Without hesitation, my word was, “playful.”

I grew up with half a dozen cousins around my age in the same town as me. Until I was 7, my family’s house was walkable to 6 of my cousins’ houses. We all went to the same elementary school. Plus, I had a brother and sister in my house. We were always playing together.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the reason my childhood was so playful points right back to Grandma. Who was the one who always instigated going sledding, ice-skating, swimming, or playing a board game? Grandma!

I was about 10 when my grandparents bought a house on a lake with a huge backyard. They called it their retirement house, but let’s get real. It was their playground. Why else was the shed filled with sleds, water guns, and watercraft — by this I mean inner tubes and air mattresses?

Tonight I called my grandma on the way to the gym — because if I want to be as spry as her when I’m 89, I need to train for it — and wasn’t the least bit surprised when she started recounting to me her epic sledding experience from 18 years ago. She got all the way down the hill and onto the (frozen over) lake.

Too much, too fast, too competitive

Maybe it was the bench tricep dips?

I recently hurt my shoulder. I knew it was bad because chaturanga hurt so badly I wanted to cry out in the middle of an otherwise calm yoga class.

It’s the second time in two years that I found myself going to the sports medicine clinic for help.

My doctor felt my shoulder and diagnosed it inflamed with a restricted range of motion. It’s a common injury for yogis and anyone competing with their neighbor to do more pushups in bootcamp — something I admitted doing that last time I saw Dr. Paul.

The Rx was easing up on shoulder workouts while strengthening and working on shoulder flexibility.

I figured that wasn’t so bad. Pushups are far from my favorite anyway, so the silver lining of being injured was that I could focus cardio. So I logged extra miles trail and treadmill running.

Until I hurt my hip.

Again, it was a case of doing too much, too fast, too much incline. The Rx: More strengthening and flexibility work now on my hip. And throw in some anti-inflammatories.

My new go-to is home yoga videos. My favorite is Yoga With Adriene. I love it because I just go to YouTube and pick whatever I want to focus on that day. Yoga for hips. Yoga for booty and core. Anything! As an added bonus, there’s no one to compete with.

Sleeping with anxiety

Cat sleeping
Sleep inspiration

I’m an anxious person. You might not always see it. In fact lately I’ve been described as calm. I’m also a good sleeper, but I know those two things don’t always go together, and that millions of people out there struggle to get their 8 hours.

If you struggle to sleep, please allow me to share with you what works for me. Keep in mind I’m no expert.

  1. Talk about it. Tell your partner. Tell your mom. Call me. Let’s talk about it.
  2. Go about your day. Being alone is the worst for my anxiety. Being at the office or going out with friends helps me see that we’re O.K. I often tell myself, “right now I have everything I need.”
  3. Do what you can do. Call your lawmakers, stock an emergency bag. Tell someone you love them. Whatever will help you feel a little better, do that.
  4. Ask God to take it for you. This is a tool my mom gave me just after college graduation when I was alone and lonely in a new city. She advised me to have a glass of wine and ask God to worry about it for me for that night. It was so calming to feel like someone else was on it, and I could have the night off.
  5. Get lost in a story.

Let’s explore that last one more because that’s my secret weapon. When I was a kid and struggled to fall asleep, my dad gave me some advice. He told me to create a go-to story in my head that I could tell myself.

I think that’s why I’m a writer today. Thanks, Dad! I love telling myself stories. I’ve even started writing them down in book form to share with others. I’ll give them to you when they get to that point. 

I know most experts say it’s bad to watch TV or use a device before bed, but that actually helps me sleep, too. I usually save this for an especially rough time or if I’m at a hotel or somewhere unfamiliar.

I also love to read before bed. For me, a memoir, fiction, or magazine is best. I make sure it’s something calming and not the newspaper, something for work, or a class. Listening to a podcast or book on tape could also work. I find it hard to succumb to sleep, though, because I know I have to turn it off.

If your mind is racing with the what-ifs, I have a few more ideas that have been passed on to me over the years. See if any of them work for you.

  1. From my aunt: Say your prayers. It’s repetitive and fills your mind, plus you feel like you’re doing something.
  2. From a co-worker/friend: Go through the alphabet. Try to name all the vegetables, trees, exercises, or whatever that start with A. When you run out, try B, C, and so on. Pro tip: Don’t try something with a finite number, like states. You might keep yourself up trying to name all 50.
  3. From my sister: Count your breaths. Breathe in and out: 1. In and out: 2. If you get to 100, start counting back down. In, out: 99. In, out 98.

How do you get to sleep at night? Please share your tips in the comments.

Shake it off

Feelings have a way of sneaking up on us in the most inopportune of moments. Like when you’re going to lunch with your co-workers and realize it’s a restaurant you used to frequent with your aunt and you start crying in your car. Then you get there and consider texting that you can’t make it because you just need a <expletive> minute. But they’re all waiting for you. You’re already late, so you rally and go in.

My nephew has this move that I love. His parents taught him to shake it off when he would fall or whatever as a toddler. To ward off tears when he was fine, they’d tell him to shake it off. He’d literally shake his little body and move on with his day. He’s big now. He’s 5 and he still does it. Only now he often adds an, “I’m OK.” Which reminds me of this minion video that you should watch 5,000 times because it’s hilarious and will make you happy.

I keep trying to shake it off and say, “I’m OK,” but things just keep coming up for me lately. I’m talking emotionally. I’m not constantly falling down.

I think most weeks I could handle driving to Applebee’s without crying. Not all, but most. But the last couple of weeks have left me feeling emotional and vulnerable.

It’s been impossible for me to shake off the endless recounts of sexual misconduct that have been filling the airwaves, our Twitter feeds, and our lunch conversations. Even harder is listening to people justify actions that hurt others.

After lunch, my team went shopping. We were putting together gift bags for women in homeless shelters this Christmas. Walking down the toiletries aisle and trying to imagine what I would want if I were in that situation totally got me out of my own head. I thought about how luxurious some nice face wash and warm socks would feel if my whole life was turned upside down.

On this week when all the feelings seem extra powerful, doing that one nice thing for someone who could really use it felt that much more impactful to me.

Why I hate self-care, except I don’t really

Watching TV on my iPad because that big TV in front of the bed isn’t plugged in.
So convenient we might just leave it like this.
Looks better without the cabinet doors.

I hate the phrase, “self care,” but I do love self care.

If you’ve talked to me in the last six months or so, you probably know that Nick and I are renovating the kitchen and refacing the fireplace. We’re not talented enough to do this ourselves, so we did the logical thing and spent months interviewing contractors and getting on waiting lists.

One Monday, the chosen contractor called and said, “I can start tomorrow.”


Of course we were at work and starting tomorrow means clear everything out of your kitchen tonight. I didn’t think it would be that hard until I started doing it. Do you know how much stuff you can shove in those cabinets?

So everything from the kitchen, dining, and living room had to get moved upstairs. Believe me when I tell you there is stuff shoved in every possible spot. The alcohol is on the counter above the toilet in one bathroom. The other bathroom (yeah, we’re ridiculously fortunate to have three bathrooms in our house) has become a storage room/makeshift kitchen. The bathtub is storage. The coffeemaker sits on the counter. I even have wine glasses on my nightstand for lack of a safer (or more convenient?) place to keep them.

Can I just tell you that the clutter is stressful. Here you go. Here’s proof. 

We’re now three weeks into having stuff piled up all around us upstairs and the downstairs torn apart. I went into this knowing it would be stressful.

Now the reason I hate the term “self care.” To me, it conjures up images of well-to-do women spending the whole day at a spa. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. I just think there are plenty of women with neither the time nor cash to run off to the spa when life gets uncomfortable. Heck, spending two hours and $5 to rent a movie on Amazon Now isn’t accessible to many people.

So I am grateful that we have the time and the funds to show ourselves a little grace while we give ourselves the kitchen of (condo-living) dreams. I’m thankful to Whole Foods, which has a hot bar of delicious, healthy foods to choose from. I’m thankful to Comcast and their Stream TV app, so I can watch the Seahawks and This Is Now on my iPad. I’m also appreciative of the Goodwill, which happily took five bags and a box of donations from us this weekend when we just couldn’t take the clutter any longer.