I love plants, I love gardening and I am always growing something. Every place I have lived has offered a new gardening adventure. And every place reveals a plant that, frankly, kicks ass in the garden.
In the Pacific Northwest, I’m going to say that plant is the hellebore.
Helleborus, commonly called Lenten Rose, is an evergreen perennial flowering plant. That’s garden speak for it looks pretty good all year round. But the really unusual characteristic is that it blooms in January-February. Yes, it blooms in winter. Showy blooms! Long-lasting blooms! It’s been a pretty mild winter here, so all of my hellebores look particularly good.
Pacific Northwest winters are rainy, and everything turns to a rather unattractive greenish-brown mush. But the hellebore keeps it’s good looks and rewards you with flowers well before most other plants. (Only the crocus can keep up with hellebores.)
Any plant that blooms outside in winter has my unconditional positive regard. Any flowering plant that deer don’t prefer gets an extra gold star. And another star for being shade tolerant. It’s a helluva plant! There are many colors, some with variegated leaves and others with double flowers. A Google image search will reveal the incredible variety.
After reading The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by the legendary dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, I feel like I received a masterclass in the merits of failure. I’m neither a dancer nor a dance fan, but I am interested in habits and learned about her daily workout ritual while reading Atomic Habits by James Clear (one of my top book recommendations from 2019), and I tracked down a copy of her book.
Dancers and dance lovers will appreciate this book, but it’s
a book for all creative people who want to develop and deepen their creative
Setting my intention for the year: Fail a lot.
The last chapter of Tharp’s book is titled “An A in Failure.” This is timely for me because I decided that failure is one of my intention words for 2020*. I think Failure is a bold intention to set for the year, and it’s a bit scary. I don’t like to fail—no one does. But staying in a safe, failure-free zone isn’t conducive to a creative life. It doesn’t help us to learn and grow. All learning requires failure. I have spent too much of my life staying in my competence zone and eschewing anything that I wasn’t good at doing. Ironically, this includes dancing.
Fail early and often
So, this year, I’m embracing new things and preparing to
fail early and often:
Language instruction: Quiero hablar español.
Puedo esribir en español pero no puedo hablar espanol muy bien. ¿Lo que sigue? “¡Sí,
Dancing: I’m not sure where I want to go
with this yet, but I want to say, “Yes, I can dance.”
Expand my quilt repertoire: I do some
things very well. I want to go further. I want to find
my artistic voice. What’s next? Being able to say, “I am an artist.”
Writing: I am trying to write every day.
So far, so good. My 2020 writing goal includes publishing something once a
Be athletic: Much to my surprise, I have
learned to enjoy working out. My next stop is: “I am athletic.”
Share your intention
How about you? Where can you venture out of your comfort
zone this year? One of the ways that we hold ourselves accountable is by
sharing our goals with others. Share your
intention with me, and I’ll follow up with you later in the year to see how
things are going.
Need some inspiration to embrace failure?
Here are some of my favorite resources on embracing failure.
Trying to limit your sugar intake (dare we say addiction?) to the recommended daily allowance? Pull out a pile of pennies and let’s get to work. We can slay that sugar habit!
Nothing focuses the mind like stepping on the scale.
That and I signed up for the New York Times 7-Day Sugar Challenge right before New Year’s Day. The article linked to a lecture that I am familiar with but hadn’t watched, Sugar: The Bitter Truth with Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Yikes, it was the equivalent of a Scared Straight experience, especially right after my many sugary indulgences throughout the holiday season. Sugar addiction is real. Many companies use food scientists to make foods irresistible, and science works.
For the past year, my family has cut back on packaged foods, especially anything with more than three to four ingredients. But the cookies still came home with us. And I love chocolate and chocolate peppermint creamer. I love eating dessert twice a day. But you can guess where that leads.
Holy geez. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really, really not.
A serving of cinnamon rolls or dried cranberries exceeds 25 grams. And both of these items were in my fridge and pantry. The creamer that I like has 5 grams of sugar per serving (which is really a half serving when compared to half and half): 5 cups of coffee/tea, and suddenly, I am at 25 grams, and that is if I stick to the one tablespoon serving size, and it’s unlikely that I do. This is one of the ways that food labeling misleads us. We underestimate our consumption.
Calorie tracking: Not a Fan
I am one of those people who intensely dislikes tracking what they eat, especially calories and other nutritional information. Still, I knew I couldn’t count on my memory, so I came up with a visual system: 25 pennies, one for each allowed gram of sugar, and two small dishes. Throughout the day, I move the pennies after each meal or snack. Some days, the pennies are gone by noon. But much to my surprise, by Day 5, the cravings subsided significantly. Some days, I made the pennies last. On Day 7, I ended the day with 15 unused pennies! I felt rich. Suddenly, I felt like a bargain shopper. What could I eat that had no sugar (jackpot!) or under three grams?
Tapping into my bargain hunter brain
Using money has had an unusual side benefit: I find that I don’t want to overspend my allowance. High sugar items (read “expensive”) have become unappealing. I still get snack attacks, but it’s for fruit or nuts or cheese. The interwebs are filled with Keto/low carb desserts, and I am going to try a few. One of my challenges is that I need to eat a low FODMAP vegetarian diet, so a lot of sugar substitutes are off the table for me. But limitations spur creativity.
Approaching this challenge with a habits mindset
From a habit perspective, removing the high sugar options and replacing them with low/no sugar options helped tremendously. My supportive spouse put all the remaining holiday chocolate and cookies in the freezer. The low/no sugar options were set in easy reach, making it simple to make good choices. How about you? Do you struggle with sugar love? Have you found good substitutes? If you’ve cut back on sugar, what are some of the best outcomes? I’d love to hear about your experiences.
How I did it
I raided my piggy bank for 25 pennies and set-up two small dishes, one for the bank and one for the spend.
I repurposed some takeout condiment cups and they work great. They are small enough to make the 25 pennies look like a lot.
I work from home so I set the dishes in my kitchen and move pennies from the bank to the spend pile throughout the day. It would also work to move pennies from one pocket to another.
“Did you read Morning Brew?” is a common question in our house. It’s a great mix of tech news, business news, world news, and the quirky shiitake that I love. I get credit for referrals. I’m hoping to score a coffee mug someday.
Hyperallergic is an art and art news website with an email newsletter. I learned about it following a story about the largest private collection donation of African-American quilts to the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Three thousand quilts! I was trying to picture how the collector stored 3,000 quilts. I told Robert that I couldn’t picture it, but I was willing to give it a try.
Every year we set resolutions and every year we forget them, often before the shine is off the New Year.
As we head into a new year—and
a new decade!—maybe it’s time to approach this admirable but often fruitless
activity and work on forming new habits.
Habits are the less flashy
cousins of the showier resolutions. Resolutions are often BHAGs—big, hairy, audacious
goals; they make a statement. They say to the world, “I can do something that
matters.” Habits are smaller, quieter, more straightforward, and often far less
grand. But behind their modest exterior, habits are extremely powerful. Habits
can change our lives.
Depending on who you follow in
the world of habits, you might learn that it’s impossible to stop bad
habits—that our only real chance is to replace the patterns that no longer
serve us with new ones. This makes sense; habits are a well-worn groove in our
brains. Our best hope is to form a new groove.
Make incremental improvements; break down big habits into smaller ones.
Track your progress. Note that I said progress, not perfection. You are looking at the trend. If you miss a day, get back on track, and don’t look back.
Be patient and kind to yourself. Change takes time. When we rush, we burn out, and that can throw us back to square one.
As with resolutions, it’s
tempting to go waaaaay overboard and come up with audacious goals.
Stop right there.
I want you to think small.
Habits are building blocks for other larger habits, so trust me when I say that
little things pay off. For example, developing a habit of getting up on a
schedule can facilitate a whole slew of other habits: reading, exercise, quality
family time, and more. Some of these habits offer multiple benefits and enable
other habits that lead to accomplishing big goals. Whether you want to create a
painting, write a book, learn data science, run a marathon, become flexible,
all of these goals start with small habits.
So, here are 10 examples of
things that you can do to start small to go big:
Read for 15 or 30 minutes a day
Exercise for 15 or 30 minutes a day
Always take the farthest parking spot to get more steps into your day
Always return the kitchen to ready before you go to bed
Pick one habit and start with
that. When it becomes automatic or nearly so, pick something else and add it to
the mix. Most people select too many things and make them too big and too
complicated. RESIST that temptation. Cut it waaaaay down.
Last year I started with a ridiculous list of habits that I wanted to work on, 15-20! I started with 3×5 cards and then graduated to a spreadsheet. Don’t do this. Habit tracking became a part-time job. I realized pretty quickly that I could reliably keep track of three things in my head. (Three is a magic number, after all.) So, I focused on three things. Pretty soon, those things became a regular part of my day. I did them without thinking. They became habits. Honestly, I felt like I won the habit lottery! One of my goals was to read more, 50 books a year, or about one book a week. So, I started by switching on the light when the alarm went off every morning and grabbing a book off the nightstand and reading for about 30 minutes. Was it hard at first? Yeah, a little. But now the alarm cues the light and the light signals the reading, and I am happy and amazed to report that I have read more than 50 books this year, something I never thought I would do. We also make the bed almost every day, and I write in my journal regularly. The kitchen stays cleaner, I make and finish more quilts, and I exercise more. I get 10 thousand steps or more most days thanks to my workout Buddy.
Now I want to work on my
creative habits: quilting, painting, and writing. I also want to create a yoga
habit and exercise every day. I want to cook more and eat better. I want to
tackle some hard subjects. Plenty of habits to work on in the new year! This TEDx talk by Amanda
Crowell provides some
critical insights into why we don’t do what we say we are going to do. It comes
down to identity. If we don’t see ourselves as yoga practitioners, or writers
or artists or learners, we won’t be successful in making long-term change in
these areas. Take some time to reflect on how you see yourself now and how that
fits with your habit goals.
20/20 is the standard for good
eyesight, and as the New Year approaches, let’s put down those resolutions and
commit to seeing ourselves more clearly and practicing the habits that we need
to accomplish our goals.
Habits are habit forming! 🙂
Wishing you many good habits in
the New Year!
You can learn more about
developing habits from these great teachers:
One of my goals this year was to read 50 books. I haven’t read that many books in a year since I was a kid. Most of the books that I read now are non-fiction which, for me, has always been a different kind of reading. With some help from one of my top recommendations of the year, Atomic Habits by James Clear, I developed a rock-solid reading habit.
The three books that I read this year that I would recommend in general:
Coaching is my new jam, especially coaching for executives and creatives, so I read a lot of related books. I am also interested in how we can improve end-of-life care for ourselves and others so there are a few books on my list on that topic. And there’s still a little time left in 2019 for another book (or two!). Send me a note and tell me your favorite reads from the past year. I always appreciate a good book recommendation.
I am reading Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna. It’s not at all what I expected. It’s a deeply profound book about understanding who you are and the forces that formed you and your beliefs. If you are lost, temporarily or habitually, or you want to break out of a pattern than brings more sorrow than joy, this is a place to start.
My biggest takeaway so far: to see a shooting star, you need to soften your gaze. Focus will not help you.
‘Tis the season! I read today that on top of the regular waste produced, Americans generate an additional 25% more trash Thanksgiving and New Years, about one million tons more waste per week. I think we can do better: we can reduce consumption, buy gifts that last, give gifts that are experiences, and help others. Here are some ideas to get you started. These aren’t affiliate links, just 10 my favorite things, from free to $76.00+. Add your own and remember the Earth we share in all that you do.
Gift of time: One of my all-time favorite gifts is the gift of time. Take someone out shopping, to the movies, help around the house, do some Netflix binging (The Crown, anyone?) Free or nearly so, but you can make someone feel rich.
Gift of listening: Brush up on your active listening skills and give the people you love the gift of listening this year. Everyone likes to be heard. It’s a gift that keeps giving. Free but also so valuable.
Gift of story: Record family or personal stories in writing or with a video or audio recording. Use a composition book, your smartphone, whatever you have handy. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Additional resources available at the Story Corps website. Free and also priceless.
One Simple Wish: Grant a wish for a kid living in foster care on behalf of someone you love. You can sort by gender and geography to make the gift as special as your recipient. For extra fun, make or buy your loved one a magic wand and grant wishes together. Every amount counts.
Splendor: This may be my most-played board game of all time. Since early April, I have played almost every day. We play asynchronously, taking a turn when we have a free moment. One turn at a time has translated into hundreds of games. Check out The Rules Girl for the 3-minute video on how to play. Splendor is available at Target, but I suggest that you pick it up at your local game store if you have one. $40
Cutco: I have had Cutco knives FOREVER. Made in the U.S. and guaranteed forever. They are still sharp, and they are still my favorites. I think the Trimmer is their most versatile knife, $76.
Art Inc: I love this book by Lisa Congdon. Let’s squash the myth of the starving artist once and for all! Signed copy for $16.95
Let’s Make Art box: These monthly art kits contain four watercolor projects and access to online paint-alongs and tutorials. Yes, you can paint a watercolor painting on your first try. Sarah Cray helps the inner artist in all of us! $45 for a single box (and even the box is fun!). I like the Butcher Tray & Brushes Bundle for $20, too.
“If people refuse to look at you in a new light and they can only see you for what you were, only see you for the mistakes you’ve made, if they don’t realize that you are not your mistakes, then they have to go.”