Falling off the (resolution) wagon

Yes, already.  Things are still happening.  I’m still doing stuff, but just not in quite the way I wanted.  It’s amazing how much life gets in the way.  Here are the things I’ve done consistently and/or that I’m target for this month:

1. Meal planning.  The last two weeks, I’ve planned 3-4 meals.  Last week, two of the meals were enough to feed us for at least two days. So far, so good.  I’ve mostly been using AllRecipes to help with this process.

2. Reduce groceries and eating out spending by $100 each per month.  I’m on target to do this in both categories.  Item 1 helps with that, of course.

3. Reduce shopping spending by $100 per month.  Shopping is everything that’s not essential–clothing, books, random fun things.  I’m doing well here, even with some extra purchases.  I’m going to come in well under my average.

4.  I’ve put $500 into savings so far this month.  So that’s good too.


Okay, now for the stuff I’m not doing so well on.

1. Decluttering.  I could almost put this above, but my consistency sucks.  We did the big declutter and I haven’t decluttered since.  We have a guest staying with us, so . . . blah, there’s always an excuse.  This weekend, I’m going to take the books I’ve culled to the bookstore to sell.  That’s my goal.

2. Laundry.  I was doing a load every day.  This week fell apart.  Between the decluttering, the robotics competition, parent evening, it just hasn’t happened.  This is easy to pick back up again.

3. Yoga once a week.  Sigh.  The class I take is on Wednesday nights.  Yesterday, I had a parent evening, and last week I got stuck at school until 6:30.  I’ve signed up for a Saturday class.

4. Walk every day. So not happening.

5. Write a program every day.  Sort of happening.  But mostly because I teach programming.  I need to be doing more.

What does this tell me?  Some things are easier than others.  When I’m busy, quite frankly, I’m less likely to spend money, so it’s easy to keep that up.  Plus, I can check in with my spending and set a goal for each shopping trip.  If I know I only have $200 left for the month to meet my goal, I can try to keep the total grocery bill below $100 or put off a clothing purchase until next month, both good things.

What seems to be the hardest are the things that essentially create a new routine for me.  I think walking every day might be too large of a goal.  Perhaps I could walk twice a week and work my way up to more.  The decluttering every day shouldn’t be too bad, but like walking I can often find excuses for not doing it.  Unlike walking, the thought of trying to reestablish that routine doesn’t seem too bad.

There’s another week and a half left this month.  We’ll see where we are in 12 days.

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Doing things that are hard

Jackie and I have been having a bit of back and forth via our blogs and Twitter about keeping up with our resolutions.  She writes:

Newsflash: resolutions also often involve stopping doing things that are easy, and replacing with things that are hard.

Yep, yep, yep.  Decluttering has been hard but I’ve managed to keep it up so far.  The 15-minute limit helps.  And I have missed a couple of days–yesterday, for one–but I’ve just kept it up, imagining the end goal of a house filled with less stuff that I don’t like or don’t need and more stuff that I enjoy and use.  The thought of one day walking into my house and having it feel peaceful rather than crowded is keeping me going.

But walking . . . not so much.  One, it’s cold, and two, well, I don’t know what two is.  I just don’t want to do it.  Exercise is hard for me.  I can find forty million reasons I don’t like it and only one reason I do.  The one reason is that I know I’d look and feel better if I did it.  But unlike the thought of a clean house, that’s not enough to motivate me.  With the house, I feel somewhat sure that I will achieve that goal, if not completely, at least enough to feel like I accomplished something.  With my body, I just don’t trust that adding a small bit of exercise is going to help.  And did I mention I find it hard?

This whole idea got me to thinking about my students, specifically my middle school students.  Some of them give up when things get hard.  When it takes effort for them to wrap their head around something, they will often give up.  I wrote a little about this before.  Honestly, I know how they feel.  I mean, there are things I can’t motivate myself to do.  And I’ve been frustrated by many things in the past.  As an adult, when I’m learning new things, I know that perseverance usually pays off eventually.  But even as an adult, I know that it’s more fun to watch tv than walk, even if it’s only for a little while.

So I’m struggling to figure out ways to motivate my students.  Maybe a time-limit thing.  Maybe saying, “Okay, working on the robotic arm is hard, but work on it for x minutes and then take a break.”  I don’t know.  All I know is that some students just can’t find the fire in their bellies to forge ahead and I’m not entirely sure how to ignite it.  If I figure it out, maybe it will help me as well.

Resolution check-in

A week mostly down.  How did it go?

  • Laundry every day: check! So far, so good.
  • Meal planning: not so good.  I had my dad visiting through the beginning of my work week.  We didn’t make it to the grocery store while he was here nor after he left.  So it’s been leftovers and frozen pizza.  Which isn’t horrible, but still.
  • Decluttering: check! I missed a day because I literally wasn’t here, but other than that, I’ve made progress. I’m trying not to think about how overwhelming it is to deal with all the crap. I’ve got a pile to keep and a pile to give away–with even a pickup scheduled today! I’m also decluttering 15 minutes a day in my classroom. So yay!
  • Yoga once a week: check! I even brought a friend with me this week.  So far so good.
  • Budget stuff: sort of check! It’s too early to tell, but I am keeping a close eye on things.  I think this resolution should be changed to something like check accounts every day.  Knowing about spending leads to not over spending.
  • Walk every day: not so much.  I have walked the dog, but that doesn’t really count.  Frankly, it’s just too cold outside.  Mr. Geeky is talking about getting a treadmill, so that might help.
  • Write a program every day: check! A couple of these have been simple examples for class, but still.  And I’m writing my own version of an old game I used to play, just for fun and practice. It’s text right now, but I’m going to graphic-ize it once I have it functioning the way I want.

So not too bad.  I’m taking it a day at a time.  How are you doing?

Changing your life, emergently

As we all embark on the new year and face our resolutions, I want to offer some advice, both from an academic field I’m interested, and from some other smart people.  First, the academic field.  Emergence is a concept whose basic idea is that small changes, incremental steps lead to big phenomena.  Think about ants and how the operate.  They don’t know the big picture of what they’re doing.  Each ant adds a tiny amount to the life of the colony, and yet, the whole operation seems so amazing and efficient.  I think about this philosophy in my own life.  I take one day at a time.  It’s why I broke my resolutions down into daily activities: walk every day, do one load of laundry a day, declutter for 15 minutes per day.  Each day, I can ask if I’ve done those things and if I haven’t, I can tackle them.  And then those days add up, until, before you know it, you’ve established a habit.  Walking every day becomes just something that you do rather than a chore.  Which brings my to some other smart people.

In the video below, Matt Cutts, a Google engineer talks about doing something for 30 days, which is, of course, where you’ll be after doing your daily things.

Refining the resolutions

Over the last 24 hours or so, I’ve been thinking about what I really want to accomplish this year, and more importantly, why?  Here’s my list so far:

1. Keeping the house cleaner, more organized.  I find it stressful to come home to a messy kitchen with no food to prepare and piles of laundry to do.  I find the complete Flylady method a little overwhelming and too much to achieve if you work out of the home.  She does recommend a load of laundry per day, which I think I can manage.  I’d also like to get better at meal planning, recruiting the kids to do a little more in this regard.  Geeky Boy got a cookbook for Christmas, so I’ve suggested that he do the cooking on the night I have yoga.  Last year, and even the beginning of this year, I did pretty well on the meal front and had 3-4 meals scheduled each week, hoping for leftovers on at least one or two days.  Mr. Geeky does the grocery shopping, giving me some time to really think through the planning. So I think I can manage this.  I also want to really focus on decluttering.  Our house is a reasonable size, but we don’t have that much storage.  I feel that we have way too much stuff.  There are boxes of things we never use.  We have old cell phones sitting around that could be donated.  There are board games and toys that we’ve held onto for some reason. So, here’s my house cleaning resolutions in a nutshell:

  • Do a load of laundry every day. Wash, dry *and* fold.
  • Plan meals for each week and stick to the plan.  Also have easy backup meals on deck (pasta and sauce, sandwiches) for days when the plan falls apart or when the hoped-for leftovers do not appear.
  • Declutter 15 minutes/day.  At the end of the declutter session, make sure unwanted items are headed where they need to go–trash or donation pile.  I will start at the front of the house and work my way back, then move upstairs from front to back.  I think this will take the whole year.  I also think this will be the hardest plan to stick with.

2. Getting fit, developing an exercise habit.  For now, I’m not going to worry too much about eating.  Over the holidays, I’ve indulged in chips and snack food, chocolate, too much wine and beer, but during “normal” times, I’m much better and my eating habits are not that bad.  We eat mostly vegetarian and fish, not a lot of red meat and I try to incorporate vegetables as much as possible.  Though I think I should add more fruits and veggies, especially as snacks, until I’m set in my fitness routine.  Here’s my plan for that:

  • Yoga once a week, with a plan to increase to twice a week after 3 months.
  • Go for a walk every day.  I feel like I need to do something every day, and I like walking.  I don’t even need to put special clothes on.  I’m going to start with a mile, but work up to 3.  Time-wise, I’m not sure I can go further than that.

3. Sticking to the budget.  I must admit that I often hate dealing with money.  Always have.  In times when we had no money, we checked our accounts all the time, making sure we didn’t overdraw (not that we didn’t on occasion).  Now, we’re less careful, and though we don’t often overdraw, we do end up charging things or not buying things that we wanted to because we overspent.  So here’s the plan for that:

  • Reduce spending by $100/month in each of these categories: groceries, eating out (including fast food), and shopping.  The plan is to increase the reduction if possible.
  • Put the amount saved in these categories (up to $300/month) into savings.

Well, I think that’s enough to start with.  I have at least one more that I’m contemplating.  It’s kind of work-related.  Back in September, I promised myself I’d practice programming every day.  Though I’ve come close to that, it’s not perfect.  I need to make time at work to do this.  So I’m still thinking about how this would work.

Moving forward

So I went to a yoga class last night run by my old friend with whom I used to do yoga 10 years ago.  It was fabulous.  I am actually sore today, but in a good way.  I think I worked every muscle in my body.  The class is offered every Wednesday, so I think I’ll start going at least to that, and then maybe add another class later.

Another area I want to work on in the coming year is money.  We suck at budgeting.  We usually manage to come out okay, but every once in a while, we find ourselves resorting to a credit card, and, in general, we’re not saving enough.  I have made a good effort to pay off our credit cards, but need to do some work in that area.  One thing I keep talking about doing is canceling cable and our land line.  That would save us over $100/month.  We subscribed to Netflix streaming, and have used it a lot.  Geeky Girl and I spent our time over the break watching How I Met Your Mother from the beginning.  Though we’d seen most of the episodes, we enjoyed watching them in order.  Mr. Geeky watches whatever movies it throws at him.  He’s on a foreign film kick at the moment.

I have no problem canceling cable.  We have TiVo and frankly, if we didn’t, this decision would be a lot easier.  We’d just figure out whether to go with Apple.tv or Google.tv or Boxee, etc.  As it is, we’re trying to figure out things that will work with our existing box.  We can access Netflix and Amazon.  We could also go with Hulu plus, which is available on TiVo as well.  But newer services like Vudu are not available and you can’t really just go to a web site like Clicker.com to connect to your shows of choice.  We could connect a computer to our tv, but then we need remote control.  We’d actually lose some of the shows we watch regularly.  At least, we’d lose the convenience of being about to watch them in one place at the click of a button. So I think we’ll keep looking and thinking about it.  And I know, we could give up tv altogether.  Not outside the realm of possibility.

Mr. Geeky and I went over our budget the other day and most of our money goes to food (both groceries and eating out) and shopping (mostly for clothes).  We’re going to try to cut back a little in those areas.  I think that will have a bigger impact than getting rid of cable.  I’ve proposed cutting those by a couple hundred each.  We may have to start slow, but maybe we’ll get there.  We definitely like our food!

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Back to (house)work

Once the school year got into full swing, I found it really hard to keep up with maintaining any kind of semblance of order in the house.  I found it especially difficult to keep up with cooking and laundry, two things I really care about getting done.  Far too often, I found myself digging through laundry baskets and ordering pizza.  Jeeves, my new little robot vacuum, will help (well, at least with the floors):

I’m returning to some sort of Flylady method. I don’t think the whole system works for me, but I can adapt pieces of it.  There will be more goals for the year, but this is one I will be starting before the new year.  I need to destress my house.


Picture I made for my goals article
Image via Wikipedia

Mr. Geeky started off our before-dinner conversation by asking what everyone’s goals were this year.  Everyone was a little goofy at first but then got more serious.  Our goals include focusing more on school/work before doing “fun” things, spending more time together, walking every day, and getting up on time.  We also set goals for each other, many of which were things we would set for ourselves.  It will be interesting to see if we stick to them.  But it definitely feels like we have some accountability.

This time last year, I was on the eve of a new job, and didn’t really know what to expect.  This year, I know most of the kids (except the new ones), and I have a good idea what things will be like on the first day.  As I told someone in a meeting, my goal for last year was to survive.  This year, I have specifics.  In general, I want to do a better job.  To that end, I’ve done a heck of a lot of preparation for my new class.  I’ve established a grading scheme for my middle school classes, and I’m planning to really assess the middle school curriculum after this year.  I talked to some people over the summer whose curriculum was similar to mine, but arranged slightly differently.  I think I’m going to do some rearranging next year, but it needs some thought first.

I also want to connect more to the girls in my homeroom.  I think this will be easier this year because I know all the kids.  It’s this part of the job that seems easiest on the surface, but is actually the most difficult.  Every kid is different; every group of kids has a different dynamic.  Figuring how to deal with all of that in a positive way is a real challenge.  But I find it to be an extraordinarily important part of my job.

Personally, I have lots of things I want to do this year–staying relatively healthy among them.  I’ve pledged to watch what I eat–mostly food, mostly green, less sugar.  And I’ll walk every day.  And I want to keep working on my programming skills–which are coming along quite nicely.  I spent a lot of the weekend working on a pet project that has pushed my skill limits.  But it’s been fun, and every day, I feel a little more confident about what I’m doing.

All in all, I think we’re ready for the year to begin. Bring it on!

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Do what you love, not what makes you look good to others

I’m thinking about mantras, things that I can live by and that I can remind myself of whenever I find myself in a rut. It’s inspired by The Happiness Project. I’m kind of working on my own project, but I’m not sure how prescriptive I want to be. Gretchen has 12 commandments, and this is along those lines. It’s a phrase that keeps coming into my head lately. And I’ve actually written about this before.

I think I finished the Ph.D. this time and not the last time because I loved my topic. I had always loved it, but I didn’t realize it until I started working on it. I had chosen my former topic because people told me I was good at it and because I thought it would land me “a good job.” Once I realized there were no good jobs really, I just did what I wanted.

I have done many a thing in life because I thought it would make me look cool or look better to a particular group of people I was trying to impress. And most of the time it made me miserable. I’ve learned to recognize when that’s happening, of course, but there are subtle ways it often comes back into play. I feel like I ought to do things a certain way, read certain things, or watch certain shows. And now I’m stopping and asking myself if I’m doing something because I want to or because I think it makes me look “right.”

Now, I’m not eliminating doing things that I ought to, but don’t want to do–like eating well, exercising, or cleaning up–but I focus on what I want to obtain out of those things, not those things themselves or what they say about who I am. For example, long ago, I wanted to be seen as “the kind of person that exercises,” so I started jogging, tried to take up sports, etc. It. did. not. work. I am not the kind of person that exercises, but I can exercise if my goal fits something I really want for myself. Right now, I really do want to look good in a bathing suit, which I know sounds vain and all, but seriously, that’s what I want.

So I’m trying to focus on that as I think about what I’m doing, what I’m going to do, and not be drawn to things that might garner great comments at cocktails parties, but that would make me really unhappy.

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Resolution check-in

I was thinking this morning that I wasn’t doing so well on my resolutions. It’s true I’ve slipped a little here and there, but it’s not as bad as I thought. One thing I didn’t resolve to do was exercise, but now I’m rethinking that. But I really do hate exercise for exercise’s sake. While I want to be in better shape, feel stronger, and perhaps reduce stress, I have a problem plopping myself onto a treadmill to do so. And there’s only so much time in a day and right now, I’d be looking at probably sacrificing something that’s more important to me. But I’m contemplating it. We’ll see.

I’m doing the best in the career/work goals I set for myself, so maybe what I’m really feeling is a lack of balance in not working on the other areas more. I also think I’m still trying to get into some kind of routine now that classes have begun and the family being sick last week did not help that. So, I’m adjusting. And I must admit that winter really gets to me. I’m not as inclined to leave the house and I dislike the cold and the dreariness. Although Punxatawny Phil did see his shadow relegating us to 6 more weeks of winter, spring really isn’t that far away. All that’s to say to myself that it’s not that bad, and things will get better. Once again, I call on my friend Dory, “just keep swimming.”