Everyone has read The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin by now, right? Did you love it? I loved it. I feel kind of nerdy for loving it, but it was just so accessible and natural and above all, SO easy to relate to and become inspired from (Thanks Gretchin!). I just now pulled it off my “reference/frequently-used books” shelf when I saw that the founder of one of my favorite design blogs, Grace Bonney, of Design Sponge, was interviewed on the Happiness Project webpage. I immediately thought “this woman and I have SO much in common (aside from the fact that she is AMAZINGLY successful, talented, stylish, and creative, and very short)”. When asked about a simple activity that consistently makes her happier, she responded “Sleep. It is the thing in my life that’s most lacking right now, and when I get a decent amount I am a completely different person. I’m happier, more energetic and better able to tackle just about any problem that comes my way. Also, spending time with animals. I’ve always been someone who felt more comfortable around pets than people and spending time with my cats always calms me down and makes me feel at ease. Something about the way they blink slowly instantly relaxes me.” Reading her interview was virtual serendipity for me this morning. Sleep. And animals. (And I learned that Gretchin Rubin is working on another book called Happier at Home coming out in August of 2012. Woohooo!)
(This is Rogelio, my sweet, grey, not-to-be-confused-with-a-mop cat. He is abundantly friendly, vocal and opinionated. He prefers not to use his cat box to go number 2)
What’s a simple activity that consistently makes YOU happier? Do you feel that you are happy most of the time? Take a sec, let your eyes water up, and watch this quick photo video by Gretchin Rubin to remind you about how we really need to appreciate the NOW www.theyearsareshort.com/
(Note: someone needs to start a website/blog about humans that like to give important-sounding human names to their pets, with funny pet pictures)
Honestly, at this point in my life, I would vie for women’s nights over women’s rights. So I wouldn’t be able to vote? So my bodily integrity wouldn’t be that important? So maybe I wouldn’t be able to work (or be paid for it)? So I couldn’t purchase or own property, seek education, enter into legal contracts….
I don’t give a BEEEEP! I just want to sleep. I just read this in the New York Times about women’s sleep and how the z’s we start losing throughout pregnancy are never, ever, ever regained. Pregnancy sleep loss (oh yes, that HUGE belly, that tiny bladder, those extra gallons of liquid cursing through our veins with kidneys on over-drive) leads to infant-caused sleep loss (is the baby okay? the baby is crying. How can my husband not wake up through these endless night tremors? the baby wants to eat again. Should I let her cry? Am I a bad mother?), leads to young child sleep loss (I’m yet to experience this, but I can only imagine) leads to a lifetime pattern of stressing about the minutiae of our day-to-day lives at the darkest hours. Work, children, our partners…our mental health, our aging bodies, our aging parents. The house, feeding the family, professional development. Meetings, events, dinner parties. Making ends meet, getting the dog to the vet for her yearly vaccines a year late, forgetting to take that beer out of the freezer (POP!).
(Maybe I just need a bedroom like this one, with my favorite bed linens from The White Company)
Sleep is FUN-DE-MENT-AL. Without sleep, our bodies feel like sh@t, our minds turn to slush, and our tempers soar to new levels. Patience dives to minus 7. Energy sinks to minus 20. And overall woman craziness bee-lines for the skies. Large quantities of chocolate of any quality are desired, and a glass of red wine becomes not only interesting at 9am but necessary.
Can you tell I had a bad night last night? Baby wake-ups turn into an endless accelerated cycle of thoughts, concerns, anxiety, mental lists and frustration at not sleeping when one needs to be sleeping.
How do you other women handle this? Or maybe you are one of the lucky few who doesn’t experience some kind of insomnia? Do you take (gasp!) drugs to help you sleep? This is where you share your eye-opening/life-changing secret strategy to getting back to those 8-9 hour nights of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. And how does anyone have more than one child after experiencing all of this?
My husband just asked me for a hug. My response: Your hug quota has already been met for the day. Indicative of the current state of affairs. Poor guy.
When I wake up in the morning, and this is what I see from my office window (home office, that is), sometimes I just have to go surfing. Surfing first thing in the morning is the MOST invigorating activity in the world. It’s physically strenuous, it calms the mind, and it somehow cleans the spirit (especially if there are big wipeouts that include large quantities of water in nasal cavities). Like horse-back riding, the act of matching and adapting your movements to those of another force is exhilarating. Afterwards, my shoulders and upper arms are happily tired and my abs and lower back have had a good workout. After a quick shower and a large, healthy breakfast, I am ready to do battle with any and all tasks that the day may bring.
Do you exercise in the morning? Do you have a secret anti-stress/depressant activity like morning surf sessions?
(Note to all you big bad surfers out there: 1) although these waves LOOK small, they are about 1.5 meters tall; and 2) I am what I call a “small wave surfer”. I have a large wave phobia and I’m ok with that. As long as it is well formed and has some power, I prefer those little (insert: safer) waves. I’m 30, I have a baby, and much less strength than I used to.)
Eating a balanced, healthy breakfast is probably one of the easiest ways to feel better on a daily basis and improve your performance or output throughout your busy days (whether at work, with your family or to pursue recreational activities). After sleep, your body needs nourishment, and before expecting our body vessel to behave properly moving swiftly from one task to another over a span of some 16-18 hours, it needs fuel. Eating a quick bowl of sugary cereal with a giant cup of coffee is like adding water to your gasoline and expecting your car not to notice while cruising at 80 miles an hour on the freeways surrounding Los Angeles. Too much sugar, not enough good fats, too much caffeine, not enough slow-burning carbs, not enough protein…these are obvious recipes for feeling blaaaa some 45 minutes after consumption, not to mention the lack of vitamins and minerals. Where are you 45 minutes after breakfast? And what are you expecting from your body at that point?
Before living in Spain, fat at breakfast meant bacon or fried eggs or butter, all of which were off-limits in my “healthy” diet. I ate oatmeal or homemade yogurt shakes with fresh fruit, or my dad’s famous homemade multi-grain bread with peanut butter. Not bad. However, I still felt hungry or sluggish soon after eating. Since I’ve been here, I’ve found that incorporating good fats and less to no sugar (including that from fruit) makes me feel better for longer in the morning. My all-time favorite is a good, freshly baked “heavy” multi-grain bread (with visible seeds and nuts) topped with olive oil and avocado slices with 6-8 walnut halves on the side and a large half-caffeine soy latte (no sugar). When it’s not avocado season, I have tomato slices. The “good” fats from the olive oil, avocado and the walnuts (and the seeds/nuts in the bread) keep me going for hours and the lack of anything sweet helps me to avoid any sugar cravings later in the day. The slow-burning carbs from the multi-grain bread also propel me through my activities without any glucose peaks and valleys. The walnuts, the seeds and the soy milk provide proteins, and the avocado and the seeds provide essential vitamins and minerals.
I used to fear fat in all its forms, but following Spanish traditions, I’ve learned that olive oil dripping from anything is a good thing (extra virgin please).
What do you have for breakfast? Would you try my breakfast? Does your breakfast make you feel full for various hours after eating it? Do you feel light and energetic and ready to face your day? What do you give your children for breakfast?
I’ve mentioned my Lady that I have Lunch with at my Ladies Lunches in a previous post, but what I didn’t mention is that she is a yoga instructor (and just happens to be SMOKIN’ hot AND forty AND have the body of an 17-year-old high school cheerleader!). At Ladies Lunch yesterday we talked a lot about health and yoga and creating more awareness in our ever-fattening communities about the importance of movement, proper nourishment (of both stomach and soul) and understanding the connection between our emotions, our environment, our actions, our thoughts and our physical vessels–our bodies. I am new to yoga but I’m finding that many of my thoughts, beliefs, feelings and opinions about health and happiness are those found at the base of yoga. It’s like meeting someone new and feeling like you’ve known them your entire life! Hello yoga! Where have you been all my life? Wanna be best friends?? So, after feeling recharged from my weekly dose of Ladies Lunch yesterday, I woke up this morning, grabbed my tall, awkward, shy greyhound, threw on some flip-flops, and we bee-lined (b-lined? be-lined?) to the beach. The tide was out, the moon was still up and the temperature was perfect. I let Sammy go (“run, Sammy, run!”-I love watching her run, pure energy, happiness and grace), I found a good spot, and I did 10-12 Sun Salutes (confession: its pretty much the only dynamic posture-asana-series that I know how to do so far). Uuuup. Doooown. Hold. Breeeeath. Uuuuup. Streeeeetch. Hold. Breeeeath. Sammy came back to me, propped down with curious eyes to watch me go through this new set of movements. I stopped, I brushed the sand off of my feet, my thighs, and my chest (later, in the elevator mirror, I noticed I had a spot of sand right smack in the middle of my forehead…), and we leashed back up and headed home. This, my cyber friends, is health. This is feeling like I never need coffee again. This is flexibility, peace, strength and concentration and the PERFECT way to start the day. THIS is QoL. And it’s powerful.
And now I’m going to go have my coffee and toast with olive oil and tomato…what’s that you say? Lack of coherence?
Do you do yoga? Do you ever think about how your health is directly linked to your thoughts, your movements and what you eat? I know it sounds simple…but do you? Do you make an effort to put energy into being healthy?
Are you happy? You know, in a most-of-the-time kind of way? What is happiness for you? Is it a state created by fleeting moments of laughter or euphoria, or an overall situation of positivity and pleasure? Is your happiness based on your professional achievements? On your children? On finding more time to NOT work? Dolce far niente? Is your happiness about watching a sunset over the ocean in some remote location? Is it about being with those you love? Or simply that those you love are happy and healthy? A little bit of all of the above mentioned? Is it about finding time for a special hobby? Or feeling challenged and existing in an environment of growth?
And what is Quality of Life for you? What is the Quality of your life? Do you live well? Are you taking care of your mental, emotional and physical health on a daily basis? Do you nourish your body and mind with good stuff? Good stuff. That’s a technical term. You know, brussels sprouts and reading Voltaire, stuff we all do.
I left America many years ago to a new situation and a fresh start in a foreign land. Due to the fact that I couldn’t work in anything remotely similar to what I was previously doing (not much opportunity in little Cadiz-40% unemployment rate), and not without strife and sadness and lots and lots of questioning, I took advantage of my new situation to make my professional life fit my personal life in this beautiful area of this amazing country, in a direction that I never would have imagined (it has taken 8 years…). I still work my 8 hours a day, I’m still American and Max Weber would still approve of my protestant work ethic, but I don’t commute (I hardly use a car), I walk everywhere, I work for myself, from my home office, no grumpy boss. I have time for my family, we have lunch together almost everyday (and dinner) and I’m able to cook fresh, healthy meals daily. I feel very, very fortunate. There are definitely negative aspects to my situation: I miss my family and friends so much it hurts, I miss America and American cordiality in random, everyday situations (supermarket, gas station, etc.–Spaniards aren’t known for their customer service), I miss garages connected to houses, and living in houses, for that matter. But my good Quality of Life makes me happy on a daily basis.
One of my star QoL routines here in my little coastal, Spanish life happens every Tuesday and Thursday, from 330pm to 530pm. I toss on my running sneakers, I grab my ancient ipod, I elevate down 7 floors to the boardwalk (yes, we live right across the street from the beach…not bad), and I trot 3 kilometers along the ocean to my Pilates studio (it also overlooks the ocean, not bad and a half) listening to the same three songs from Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium album the entire way, every time (creature of habit?). I do my hour of machine-pilates, oxygenating my muscles, loosening and stretching my joints, firming up my core, and then I trot back 3 kilometers to my apartment, jump in the shower and get back to work for a few more hours. It’s alone time, it’s breathing-fresh-air time, it’s time to think, reflect, or to be absent. It’s time to just listen to my breathing and appreciate my body as a vessel that transports me through the tasks that I require of it on a daily basis. That, for me, is a HUGE part of my QoL.
Do you have any similar routines? Do you exercise regularly? Do you do it to release stress, to burn calories or just because you enjoy it?
Ladies Lunch. Lady’s Lunch. It’s just something we do. I’m not going to tell the real story of how the name of this event came about, but me and another persona-sin-patria (aka “expat”) girlfriend get together once a week, sans babies, sans partners, and we have fancy tapas and a drink or two too many, and we talk, like chickens in the coop, for hours. This lunch is as important to my health (albeit with its excessive alcohol and calories, cholesterol and sodium) as any other activity that I intentionally carry out to be “healthy” (insert run, sleep 8 hours, Pilates, brush my teeth 3 times a day, take deep breaths, keep my home clean, fight stress, etc.). I cherish my Ladies Lunch, as I cherish my Lady that I have Lunch with. My husband, el Doctor, is curious and somewhat skeptical about Ladies Lunch. He will never know (he may just think that we get naked at bars or do some other similar inappropriate act). He cannot come. He makes fun of it. Our conversations flit from politics to lip gloss to yoga asanas to diapers to sex and back again. I leave inspired, comforted, sassy, happy, giggly, a little bit tipsy, and feeling understood. We always dress up and put makeup on (well, not always…). We cross our legs and bat our eyelashes at nobody but ourselves. We probably talk too much and too loud about things that are too intimate.
All mothers should find the time and resources, as meager as they may be, to separate a small window of special time with a good friend on a regular basis, without their offspring. And if they don’t currently have that good friend that is a good Ladies Lunch partner, its time to find one. It’s easier than you think. Smile. Open up. Ask where they’re from or how old their child is.
Do you have a weekly girls-only ritual? Are you thinking right now that I’m mean and sexist and a bad mother? (Am I that obvious about my insecurities?) What “rituals” really relax you and make you feel better? Do you NOT do something like a Ladies Lunch because you feel like you don’t have enough time or money or someone to watch your children?
This is it! Here it is! I’m finally revealing the identity of this name that keeps popping up in all my posts! (I think my first sponsor of this blog is going to be….drum roll please….CRUZCAMPO! That would be dangerous). Cruzcampo is a clear Pilsen lager beer from Seville that has somehow infiltrated itself into my life…Here in Southern Spain, it’s part of the culture. This fresh, light beer can be consumed at any time. It is not unusual to see people drinking a small glass (una caña) at 10 o’clock am, or anytime thereafter. My favorite time for a Cruzcampo is at 1 o’clock pm, before lunch, sitting at a little terrace, looking out over the sea, with a few olives. The first sip of that Cruzcampo is indescribable. This beer, when on tap, is served at -2º C (that is COLD and REFRESHING). Spaniards drink Cruzcampo with food, without food, while watching fútbol, while cooking meals for their families, with others, alone, reading the newspaper, in their homes, at bars, in restaurants…
How do you feel about drinking little beers at one o’clock pm? On a workday? With lunch? Do you think Americans have a healthy perspective about alcohol and social drinking? What is your idea of how Europeans drink? Is one beer a day healthy? What about 3?
This is quite embarrassing. But I feel I need to show the “before-after” so that you can truly understand this situation. I love uniforms. I have always loved uniforms, wether official and imposed, or self-constructed and strange. I like having fewer things, feeling great in them, and wearing them essentially everyday. My first female best friend, Katie (Katie! Where are you?), went to the catholic elementary school right next to my run down, janky public school. She was cute, and small. She had hairy arms and long thick bangs. She wore a uniform to her proper catholic school, across the street from my janky, public school. We both loved horses and dogs, and interior design (at 5 years of age). I wanted to be more like her: feminine, quiet, introspective, intelligent. I always felt big and boisterous, boy-like and silly. So she had lots of arm hair? I wanted lots of arm hair. And I wanted that damn uniform! (My mom will probably leave a comment about how my first self-constructed uniform was a pair of old sweats and a T from my brother’s giveaway pile, flip-flops, and a ragged pony-tail. So much for bows and pink and cute! Sorry mom).
Such forced reduction came in the form of a journey that I had wanted to make since I was very young. My father always told me (and even had me sit through slide shows) about his backpacking journey to Europe when he was 19, all by himself. I wanted to do the SAME thing! So I saved my money, and worked my Eurail trip (traveling around Europe with a train pass) into my plans to study abroad and I scooted all around Europe for an entire summer before landing in Cádiz, where I would attend the Universidad de Cádiz for a year, before heading back to my normal life at the University of Washington, in Seattle.
While traveling through France and England and Holland and Germany and Austria and Italy and… I carried one extra pair of shorts, one pair of pants, one black dress, one bikini, two tank tops, two tee-shirts, one sweater, a light rain coat, 2 pairs of socks, a few more pairs of underpants (insideoutupsidedownrightsideoutnowdoitagain!) and a brassiere or two (hehe, who can say brassiere without laughing?). I had the shoes I was wearing (big, skater-like shoes…oh dear), and a pair of flip-flops for strange showers and hot days. Accessories? A red bandana and a pair of Britney Spears sunglasses. I stopped brushing my hair. I wore no makeup. I was lucky if I showered once every three days (if you DO the summer Euro trip, you have to DO it right! Get smelly!).
And I had FUN. I was young, carefree, curious, adventurous, fearless and smelly and ugly enough to keep danger away. My light bag enabled me to jump trains and hop fences, climb hills and slip into bars, meander through museums, sleep in parks under the sun and meet lots and lots and lots of neat people from all over the world. I didn’t worry about the weight of my bag, or what to wear (which tank top is “cleaner”? was the question). I wasn’t especially concerned with my appearance at this time, but rather to have a wonderful time, to learn as much as possible and to soak up everything European (including the Venga Boys and Magnum bars).
However, after reaching Spain, and seeing how fancy people were (people are FANCY here compared to the West Coast of the grand ol’ USA), and that I was actually going to be staying in the same place for longer than 3 days, attending classes, and living with a Spanish family, I decided it was time to start brushing my hair again, and tossing the dirty tanks and T’s out for something more presentable. I clearly remember having a few days alone in Madrid before catching my train down to Cádiz for my 9 month stay (ha! 9 months that turned into 8 years, a baby, a husband, bla bla blaaaa). My budget was limited, but I had time. I threw away my entire backpacking wardrobe (it was disgusting by then…absolutely disgusting) and I bought myself 20 items that would serve as my wardrobe for the entire 9 months that I would be living in Cádiz. I spent as little as possible, but bought the best quality I could find. I even went to a hair salon, and through exaggerated hand movements, giggles, and some divine intervention, three Spanish hair stylists turned me from Ras Trent’s (http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/digital-short-ras-trent/787201/) sister to a sexy, Spanish-wannabe (a true miracle, they couldn’t believe themselves, and wanted to take pictures and tell their friends). I tried on millions of garments and enjoyed every second of creating this fresh, new wardrobe for this exiting new chapter in my life (um, moving to a small Spanish city without knowing how to say more than “me llamo Anna” with a horrible accent). Everything “went” together, more or less, and by layering and un-layering, I could cover all seasons. I could go from fancier events to school days to dinners out without blinking an eye. I strategically bought two scarves, two pairs of earrings, and one purse that went with everything. I even *gasp* bought some mascara and a new hair brush (because I didn’t have one…gross). From the day I arrived to Cádiz (with tears in my eyes, gosh it was so gorgeous–the train reaches the city between the bay of Cádiz and the Atlantic ocean, it really is breathtaking), to the day I left Cádiz (again, tears in my eyes, but not due to the breathtaking aquatic views, but rather, from leaving my Spanish rock star novio behind), I felt attractive and put together and appropriately dressed. I loved getting up in the morning and opening my closet to so few items. It was very refreshing and all a part of this year that ended up changing the rest of my life so drastically.
(This is me and my father on Christmas during my first year living in Spain. That was my Spanish Uniform).
So this might all sound petty and silly and boring, but the moral of the story (insert nasal voice) is that having less, just a few pieces of things we love, can be very liberating. No clutter in your closet, no time lost trying to decide on the right outfit (which skirt of the 50 hanging haphazardly in my closet should I wear tonight? Or should I wear one of my 46 dresses?), and even a better sense of your own style (of ALL those pieces of clothing, which ones do you REALLY wear? And which ones REALLY make you feel good?. I crave getting back to that initial uniform (which is actually what I wear to work, (yes, the old sweats + tee + flip-flops) and keeping things elegant with that second new Spanish life uniform (black + interchangeable basic pieces + the right few fun accessories + layers). I’ve seen other projects out in the Cyber World about minimizing your wardrobe and your life, about de-cluttering closets and our heads, about wearing only a certain number of pieces of clothing for a certain number of days while hiding the rest and pretending it’s not there. Some extreme, some not, some really helpful, others not so much. BUT, I believe we could ALL benefit from slimming down our belongings, and especially our wardrobes to not only free up space, clutter and an excess of consumerism, but to feel better about what we have, to take better care of it, to make smarter purchases and let our true style shine through with those few, cherished pieces.
I’m ready to do my annual fall edit of my closets, products, accessories and shoes. I get excited about this. And this year, I’m even going to try to sell a few pieces (I will also give tons away). I’m going to try to be ruthless with myself by getting rid of EVERYTHING that I don’t wear on a regular basis (except for seasonal things like winter coats, hats, bikinis, really fancy dresses, etc.). I’m ready to match my wardrobe to my needs (I’m a freelancer, I don’t have to get dressed for work, I walk my dog and baby all over the city to buy fresh produce every day (in Spain this can’t be done in sweats, hehe), I have lunches and dinners out with clients, friends and my fancy Sevillian family, and I have lots and lots of sport-related activity). If I divided my needs into percentages, I would see that most of my time is spent either working at home, doing some kind of sporty activity (pilates, running, horse-riding) or walking around with my bebé and my pooch, taking care of errands, etc. Wouldn’t it be great to have just a few things for THOSE activities, that I felt attractive in? (And not try to avoid the neighbors as I cruise around the hood in my strange clothing). Will I actually be able to wear prettier “house-clothing” instead of my husband’s old boxers and an old, huge stained T? Are people out there in the Cyber World screaming at me to do so to save my marriage?? Also, I will make a list of Absolutely Necessary Items that need to be sought out and purchased, this part is always fun.
This dress, for example, has made it through several seasons, on several trips (the stuff we take on trips is the stuff we should really focus on, it’s always the best stuff), and it serves many purposes (it can be fancy with heels, it can be worn as a cover-up to the beach, or with flat sandals to scoot around the city running errands). Also, it cost me about 5€ on sale, and makes me feel happy and remotely attractive (it’s kind of transparent, I like transparent…hehehe).
What does your wardrobe look like? What’s your style? Are you bogged down by too many clothes? Just how many pairs of shoes do you have? How many do you really wear? Do you keep things because you feel guilty about how much you paid for them? Do you keep things because you think you’ll wear them “someday”? Do you really understand your “wardrobe” needs? Do you store your “good” underpants for those special occasions that never seem to happen? Do you find yourself always buying the same kinds of new items that maybe aren’t truly appropriate for your real wardrobe needs? Like another 10 pairs of blue jeans when you have to wear business attire to work?
Do you want to join me for this fall edit? I’d love to hear all about it! I want to slim down my closet contents, have activity-appropriate outfits that make me feel good and serve their purpose (no 8 inch heels for 10 km walks each day…no no no), have (and use) good stuff (as opposed to saving it for “that” occasion) and take good care of it. I also want to tear down my current closet and build up a new, simpler one that will force me to stay organized and limit content. Time to dive in with both feet!!
ps. I don’t have hair anymore. I cut it all off. That, too, is liberating.
Nothing like a few poor-quality blackberry camera pictures to portray our experience in the Carrera Nocturna de Sevilla (see previous post). What is the saying? A photo is worth more than 392 words? We did it! We finished the race! 12 k in about 1:15. It was fun, long and warm. People. People everywhere. Funny people. Nice people. Fast people. There was even a man dressed up as a cruzcampo (who completed the 12 k faster than I did…). Only in Spain. There were also two men, dressed up as oxen, pulling a carriage (as per tradition for the Rocio pilgrimage). Very funny.