The balancing act 

I think balance is the name of the game I struggle with the most in life. I tend to be a lover of structure — not in the sense of having a spotless home or color-coded calendar — but in terms of how I seek to understand things. If X is right, then Y is wrong. I’m open minded on most issues, but setting parameters in my own life helps me feel like I know what I need to do to succeed.

Take money for example. I’m a saver, through and through. I’m not over the top, but I worry about financial stability a great deal. Despite the fact that we are in great shape and blessed with a comfortable lifestyle. Despite the fact that we have lots of savings as a cushion. Despite the fact that friends and family would undoubtedly help us out if we needed it in an emergency. I know ALL these things, but sometimes it’s hard to treat myself to something because there are more responsible things to do with the money.

I’m expertly skilled at defying logic to find ways to worry. This comes into play with my health, too. I work out almost everyday and make healthy food choices the majority of the time. Yet when I see someone ordering a salad when I got a burger, I will often question my decision.

It’s enough to drive you mad, the “shoulds” and the analyzing. Especially because I’ve seen what happens when people fall too far to one side of a behavior. They miss out on trips with friends because they can’t rationalize spending the money; they keep their houses uncomfortably hot in summer to save on the utility bill, they never see anyone because they are always working; they never order what they really want on the menu because of what the nutritional content  is, or they spend endless time in the treadmill that could be dedicated to family.

Everyone has their own challenges and quirky “things,” and we must be respectful of and embrace these in others, but we also must reach out when we see someone we love losing balance. Because life really is too short to focus on the wrong things. It’s a tried and true cliche, but if you consider what someone on their deathbed* (*what the hell is a deathbed, anyway? Sounds awful) might offer up as advice, it won’t be to spend more time at work or running laps, it would likely be to fill your days with the things and people you love.

I’ve lost friends suddenly –  lives cut short so unfairly and unexpectedly – and when I find myself struggling with balance I think of them, and what they’d urge me to do. Which is exactly why I just went and got a pedicure instead of catching up on work, going for a run or doing laundry.

 

my break up with the elliptical machine

I think most people either love working out or really do NOT love working out. I’m among the first group; exercise makes me happy and keeps me sane. It fixes bad days and continually reminds me how much room there is outside my comfort zone.

Over the years I’ve tried it all. Pilates, distance running, hot yoga, crossfit, circuit training and trekking up mountains. I’ve belonged to every gym chain in Phoenix and have more options for workout clothes than evening wear.

About six years ago I started having trouble with one of my wrists that really inhibited my ability to work out. It was consistently sore and weak and made my hand felt cold and numb. Resting it didn’t help, nor did wearing an expensive brace. I saw doctors, physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons. I spent hours in physical therapy, had x-rays and MRIs and one really unpleasant cortisone shot. And none of it worked. At one point, a reputable surgeon told me, “You might just have a bad wrist.”

Seriously. Six+ years of this.

A year ago it was worse than ever and I sought the advice of a different orthopedic office. At that point, my mobility was significantly limited and I had stopped many of the activities I loved. I learned I had a cyst in my wrist that had damaged the surrounding nerves and tissue. The surgeon wanted to remove it immediately, but was unsure how I would recover, based on how long I had been suffering without a proper diagnosis.

My surgery was in March 2013 and recovery was pretty painful. I was dismayed to discover much of the pain remained, and my numbness had increased.

That’s when I decided to try a different kind of work out. I broke up with the elliptical and Smith machine and I’ve never looked back. Check out this video or click on the thumbnail below to see what I’m talking about, I created it as a testimonial/thank you to the team. Let me know if you want to give it a try.

Cavemen didn’t eat Doritos, and other thoughts on exercise.

Everywhere I look there’s a virtual flood of articles, research and news headlines about the trouble with our food.

GMOs…organic vs. natural…gluten free and dairy free…paleo and raw food…meatless Mondays.

Are we watching sodium or calories or preservatives or trans fats? It seems to change by the week, and every new finding somehow contradicts the last piece of advice we were told was life-saving.

What about food coloring? Sustainable farming? Protein powder? Do I really need to be eating kale?

It’s hard to know what to focus on and how much obsession over what we consume is enough. In the past year, I’ve made changes to keep most of what we eat at home organic. We’re not perfect, not even close (there are absolutely Pop Tarts in our pantry right now). But, small steps have made it a gradually manageable change. I started with a focus on organic milk and meat, and now the majority of our produce and raw foods are organic, too. I’ve tried to eliminate processed foods where possible; instead of buying ready-made pizza crusts, I spend 10 minutes making one from scratch. I don’t buy Rice-a-Roni, I buy long-grain brown rice and season it myself. Soups are homemade rather than from cans. Baby steps, baby steps.

But with all this talk about what we’re eating, where’s the debate on how we exercise? If we’re reverting to a paleolithic approach to cuisine, should we also back off of running a distance of 26 miles for sport, because I don’t think many cave dwellers did that. And what about weight lifting machines? What real-world movements does a squat rack or BowFlex replicate?

I think that if we’ve taking a serious national mindset toward what we eat, it’s just as important that we evaluate our views on physical activity. The way most of us have been conditioned to view fitness is not only inadequate and impractical, but a recipe for overuse and repetitive-motion injuries.

Cavemen didn’t eat Doritos, but they also didn’t spend hours on elliptical machines or doing crunches. Today’s accepted views of exercise are as skewed from their natural state as our diets are. If we’re eating for optimal health and longevity, let’s exercise with that as a goal, too. The fitness industry makes us believe we need washboard abs and a tiny waist to be healthy, which is nothing short of nonsensical.

Without negating the very serious problems with our food system, I’m suggesting we take a more comprehensive mindset toward wellness, and re-examine what we’re trying to achieve through exercise. It’s incredibly important to consider what we put into our bodies, but also how we use, strengthen and protect them.

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What women want (?)

I’ve seen articles popping up all over the place proclaiming why women either can, or cannot, have it all.

It all.

Whatever that means.

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I suppose the way you choose to define “it all” is subjective, but from what I gather, it refers to achieving some sort of magical balance of a rewarding career, effortless motherhood, conflict-free marriage and Stepford-wife-esque home decor and manners. You might as well add lottery-winning skills and ownership of a unicorn to the list, because the standards don’t seem high enough.

I’m not sure why this has become such a hot button topic. I mean – trust me – I already analyze myself plenty, I’ve got it down to a science, so hearing strangers repeatedly list the ingredients required for success and happiness can get frustrating.

I’m discouraged by the way women are analyzed – and how we continue to analyze each other. We’ve got a lot more in common with each other than we think. We want the same things and share the same dreams. But we get bogged down by trivial details.

Any trips this summer? Why aren’t you having a baby? What does your husband do? Have you tried juicing?

Who cares.

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As the world continues to evolve into a cyclone of madness, let’s maybe focus on what really matters. Even if it’s just for five minutes a day.

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Let’s forget what we were taught to want, and how we’re conditioned to define happiness, and consider what actually fulfills us. Maybe it’s that easy.

Here are some of the things I’d place on the mythical list of “it all,” (if you asked me) (which you didn’t) (but, yeah).

1. A job where you are challenged and can learn, at least some of the time.
2. Male role models. Be it your father, brother, rabbi or coworker. We need examples of the way men should treat us.
3. A few good, solid, grounded girlfriends. Girls who don’t judge, aren’t flakes and who love you for who you are (regardless of how many times you call/text/cry/complain/etc).
4. A healthy habit. Zumba, guitar, running, yoga, scrapbooking, blogging. Something to put energy into that’s reasonably inexpensive and a positive outlet.
5. Women who inspire. We need women in our lives who encourage and support us. People who’ve gotten through what we’re going through and came out kicking.
6. Reasons to laugh. It’s a safer, cheaper medicine than booze. So find ways to bring more laughter into your life.
7. A way to give back. Volunteer. Get involved. Donate, be it your money, time or blood. Do something for people you’ll never meet.
8. Pampering. Every once in a while. A massage, a pedicure or a facial. Something to love yourself.
9. A modest savings account. A little nest egg goes a long way when you least expect it.
10. Downtime. Apparently … we’re trying to accomplish a lot these days. Don’t get too caught up in the everything to enjoy the small things.

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wednesday wisdom

If you know me, you probably read this quote and thought, “Jess, open to whatever? Pshaw! That girl’s a crazyface who has to plan everything.” And then you cackled to yourself.

But…I’m getting a little better.

Seriously.

While ambiguity was once my arch rival, we’re now mere frenemies. We even went out for coffee last week.

Maybe people never fully change, but behaviors can and do. So there.

 

 

(no) soup for you

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Think crockpots are just for old grandmas who reek of Chanel No. 5? Wrong. They’re the best thing ever.

Besides ice cream and puppies.

If you want to eat what’s in this photo, throw in chopped sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, cabbage, zucchini and yellow squash and add a chicken breast and a cup of water. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper, curry, sage, salt and oregano, and cook on low for 3.5 hours. Add a can of diced tomatoes toward the end if you’re feeling crazy.

Serve with grated Parmesan – serves 5-6.

*Don’t hide this recipe in an armoire.

We are more than stuff.

I loved this entire article by LZ Granderson, but this sentence really struck me:

We are more than stuff.”

Well, duh. Of course we are. So why does so much revolve around our work? Why is “what do you do for a living” often the first thing we ask each other?

My doctor makes me list my occupation on paperwork and even the Census Bureau keep tabs on it. It seems comically offensive to be defined so one-dimensionally: height, weight, salary…

I’d say the most valuable things in life – our family, friends, passions and interests – certainly do a better job describing the essence of who we are than our last pay stub. But those questions seem too intimate for passing conversations. Instead, the default topic is one that we can use to make assumptions about someone’s entire lifestyle. We use something as simple as a job title to gauge another person’s happiness and financial status.

The passage below is so powerful I read it several times before moving on in the article:

We may understand that money does not buy happiness, but over the past few decades that notion has been competing against a message that at every turn tells us we can’t be happy without it. This dichotomy has slowly disconnected the American dream from the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and attached it to one’s ability to move up the ladder.

I am absolutely, positively guilty of the type of exchange described in the next excerpt. I’m ashamed to say I think I do this daily. Despite the fact that I possess the logic to know this is a ludicrous way to draw conclusions, it’s still my natural instinct.

If you’re at a bar and someone’s response to that question is “I’m a lawyer,” the people around generally assume that individual makes a lot of money, drives a fancy car and is not living paycheck to paycheck. He or she is happy, if you will.

Obviously this is not the same rosy outlook people have about someone who says “I work at McDonald’s.”

 In our culture a person’s worth is tied to his or her profession — the higher the salary or profile, the more valued the individual is as a person, and the happier we assume he or she is.

And sadly the reverse is also true.

If it weren’t, women would not feel the need to defend their decision to be stay-at-home moms in the era of the career woman. If it weren’t, men would not feel challenged if they’re dating a woman who makes more.

Reading this article threw me for a ginormous loop. Mainly because it’s rare to read something so realistically eloquent. But also because it left me seesawing back and forth between the knowledge that salary and debt don’t define a person’s character any more than his hair color, but a life without financial stress might damn well be an easier, and dare I say it, happier one?

Maybe. But I think this is true only at the surface.

Money truly can’t buy happiness, and the quest to have more and more of it often ruins families, health and sanity. I don’t know if I can fully train myself to avoid asking new acquaintances about their careers, but I hope to transform the types of conclusions and instantaneous judgments I make as a result.

I’m going to round out these deep thoughts with a Dalai Lama quote my brother sends to me every time I stress about finances:

Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.