Saturday, August 28, 2010

Taking the Pressure Off

Happy Saturday! I’m sitting here, sipping a giant iced coffee, looking out at Lake Michigan—she’s really sparkling today. I’m about to head out there in just a bit.

Tonight, I’m going to Ravinia, an outdoor concert venue, for the first time. I’ve heard that it’s one of those not-to-be-missed Chicago summer activities so I am super excited. Some friends and I are going to see Rodrigo y Gabriela. One of the cool things about Ravinia is that you’re allowed to bring food and booze, so we’re packing a big picnic. I told my friends that I’d take care of dessert.

I planned to whip up some brownies from scratch this morning using my favorite recipe. But when I woke up to such a gorgeous day, I wanted to be outside—not in my kitchen. After a few minutes, I realized that I didn’t have to make those brownies. I have plenty of stuff in my fridge (a fresh bunch of grapes and strawberries) and I can pick up some sweets later. Immediately I felt the pressure lift. Of course, it’s totally silly that I’d feel any pressure at all—my friends won’t care whether I made the dessert or not (although these brownies are to die for…sorry guys, I’ll make them another time!)

I think the larger picture here is that it’s so easy to put pressure on ourselves—even when it’s something as insignificant as this. The drive toward perfection is always there, marching in the backs of our minds, pushing us to be better. I don’t see this as a bad thing, necessarily. Instead, I am working toward finding the time and the place when it’s appropriate to wear the perfectionism hat, and when it’s okay to let it go. And this is the perfect (ha!) example of when it’s completely unnecessary.

I think that perfectionism is okay, maybe even essential, when it comes to work—at least for me (as my dad says, I eat what I kill). But it’s exhausting. And if I fail to discern when I need it and when I don’t, then I’m pretty much applying myself 110 percent to every little thing that I do. The result? I’m setting myself up for burn out. As most of us can attest, that definitely happens from time to time.

Ironically (or maybe idiotically) I even find myself with this gung-ho attitude on my yoga mat. For instance, I sometimes mentally beat myself up for not nailing a pose or wondering why I still can’t do a handstand or a drop back. What’s wrong with me? I should be able to do that by now! Recently, though, I have gotten so much better at this. Instead, I apply that energy toward finding the pure joy in the practice, knowing that the handstands and drop backs—and even the handstands into the drop backs!—will come in time. And when they do, they’ll make for cool party tricks, but they won’t make me a better human being.

It’s funny, actually. I suppose I was really meant to learn this lesson—easing up on the gas pedal, if you will—because the brownie situation isn’t the first time this week where I had to put my perfectionism tendencies to rest.

On Tuesday, I heard from some wonderful friends from Vermont that they were going to be driving through Chicago and wanted to know if they could stay with me. Even though I had three big deadlines that day, I didn’t think twice—of course they could! I was so thrilled that I was going to see them. Around 7pm, when I finally hit send on the final assignment for the day, it hit me: I had so much to do! I had to make my place spotless, restock with groceries, cook them a big dinner, and maybe even buy an air mattress. I called my mom (the epitome of the hostess with the mostest) to see if she had any idea what I should serve three vegetarians for dinner.

“Don’t you have all of those vegetables in your fridge?” she asked. Well, yeah. If you remember from my previous post, I had gone a little veggie happy while grocery shopping a few days earlier. In fact, there was no way I was going to plow through that bounty on my own. At first I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of serving them a salad for dinner, but she reminded me that my guests were expecting no more than a) getting to see me and b) having a place to sleep. I filled in some gaps (a loaf of cranberry walnut bread, a bottle of wine, and some vanilla ice cream) with a quick sprint to Whole Foods and threw together a giant summertime salad (two kinds of lettuce, corn that I cooked and cut off the cob, carrots, cukes, peppers, and chickpeas with a homemade garlicky vinaigrette). I ran the vacuum through the apartment, and before I knew it they were here. And we had a fantastic evening! It was so much fun and such a fabulous surprise. The truth is, they would have been perfectly happy if I had ordered a pizza. That’s not what it was about. (John & Jane, thank you so much again for coming! You guys are the best!)

Ultimately, I realized this: Perfectionism can be a good thing and can really get you places. The key is learning when to let go so you can fully appreciate what’s right in front of you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Healthy Kitchen’s Best Accessory

I kicked off my Sunday with my favorite routine. First, I headed over to yoga for a sweaty/challenging/exhilarating class (thanks Geri!) There’s no better way to start the day or the week. Apparently 40 or so other Chicagoans thought the same thing when they woke up this morning. It was fantastic—our mats were inches apart and there was plenty of shakti to go around.

Still surfing that high, I made my weekly pilgrimage to Whole Foods (who am I kidding? I go there about three times/week). For people who have been going to WF for years, this is no big deal. But I love it. And when I lived in Vermont, the nearest one was 157 miles away. Needless to say, I didn’t go. Now I live less than half a mile from WF and still feel like a kid in a candy store whenever I do my shopping.

There, I stocked up on heaps of fresh fruits and veggies—red leaf and butter leaf lettuce, pineapple, yellow squash, cantaloupe, string beans, beets, grapes, watermelon, carrots, peppers in three different colors, and so much more. I think I may need to recruit some friends to help me get through the bounty this week.

When I got home, I unpacked my Baggu bags and proceeded to peel, slice, and dice my way through my purchases. Which brings me to the point of this post: Stocking your kitchen with reusable plastic containers may be one of the healthiest things you can do.

We all know that we should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. However, I have spoken to lots of experts—particularly in the realm of cancer prevention—who say that that number should really be closer to 10. Yes, 10 servings of fruits and vegetables. I’m not sure that I regularly hit that mark, but I try to get as close as possible without making myself absolutely sick of plants.

The thing about produce is that you can’t just tear into most of it like you can a bag of pretzels. Sometimes you have to remove the skin, other times you have to cook it, and most often you at least have to cut it before eating. So, once I got home, I spent almost an hour prepping nearly everything that I purchased so they’re ready to munch when I want them. (Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it was the yoga buzz, but I find this process extremely meditative. I know my Mom and sister would agree--they're likely to be found peeling and slicing on a Sunday, too.) Once cut, everything goes into plastic Glad containers. I pre-cut most vegetables—carrots, cucumbers, and peppers—into sticks so they’re available for a quick snack with hummus, or I can give them one more chop and, voila!, they’re salad ingredients. I even pre-wash berries so I can throw them into my yogurt in the a.m.

It all comes down to convenience—when you make the healthy stuff as readily accessible as the not-so healthy stuff, you have no excuses when it comes to making each of your 200-plus food decisions every day. So this is why I crown the humble Glad container the healthy kitchen’s Jimmy Choo—its hottest accessory.

Is there anything better than a freshly stocked fridge?

Who the Heck Am I?

Fantastic and inexpensive wine at Whole Foods--it's possible! BIG thanks to Leah & Jason for introducing me to this rare gift. The cabernet is delicious, too!

I used to consider our sense of taste one of our defining characteristics like the color of our eyes or the sound of our laugh. But if that’s the case then I hardly recognize myself anymore.

It all began earlier this summer when I started eating blueberries. Of course, this is a very positive shift in taste—blueberries are one of the most nutrient dense foods available, filled with vitamins, phytonutrients, antioxidants, polyphenols, fiber, and all that good stuff. But liking them came as a surprise to me. I’ve tasted blueberries just about every summer, and always found them mushy and too tangy. But this season, something shifted and those qualities were no longer negative ones. I started noticing how every berry in the carton tasted a little bit different from the others—some sweet, some sour. And if you get a really good batch, they can be pretty firm. Ever since I started liking blueberries, I’ve began my day with a delicious heaping handful of those little vitamin bombs.*

I also started enjoying dark chocolate, which has made all the difference at dessert. For years I shunned the stuff, writing it off as being too bitter. If I was going to eat chocolate, I wanted the smooth, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth sensations that only milk chocolate could deliver. However, when I was going through a brief spell of sugar withdrawal earlier this summer after banning that godforsaken granola, someone very wise suggested that I try one square of dark chocolate to help take the edge off (thanks, J!) Although skeptical, I was verging on desperation. And it turned out that I loved it! We all know the research indicating that dark chocolate is a heart-healthy treat, so this is a big improvement. But the benefits don’t stop there. I have always been a religious dessert eater, and I’ve always given myself permission to enjoy this part of my day. (I have a magnet on my fridge that says, “Life is Short. Eat Dessert First!”) But it can be very easy to go overboard at dessert time—another scoop of ice cream, a third homemade chocolate chip cookie, or an extra handful of frozen Reese’s Pieces. With dark chocolate, I find a single square of Ghirardelli completely fulfilling. With the other stuff, all I ever wanted was more. And more. But once I down the dark chocolate square, I am good to go. Game over. I used to scoff at people who could be content with a single dark chocolate Hershey’s Kiss (I’m looking at you, Mom), but now I finally get it. Dark chocolate rules.

The last change that I’ve noticed isn’t a new item that I’ve started to like, but a behavior that I’ve adopted: Enjoying a crisp glass of white wine with my dinner. I have never, ever, ever been one to a) drink alone or b) drink nightly. And no, you don’t need to stage an intervention because I now do both. I actually see it as a good thing. About two weeks ago while I was cooking dinner (who remembers what I was making), a glass of Sauvignon Blanc sounded good to me so I obeyed my thirst. It was a very small glass, but it made the whole experience of my dinner feel complete. Ever since, whenever I get that inkling for a little vino, I pour away. I find that one glass is enough to enhance the flavors of my meal while making my shoulders descend just an inch or two away from my ears after a long day stationed at my computer. And here’s a sweet tip: I found out about a cheap-o bottle of wine (how does $4.99 sound?) at Whole Foods that’s great. It’s called Harthill Farms. I love their Chardonnay. (I generally don’t like Chardonnay – I think it tastes like pee—but this stuff, well, doesn’t and also happens to be fantastic. Or maybe I just like pee-tasting wine now? I don't know. Anyway, see photo at top.)

These three little changes have taught me that taste is not stagnant. It evolves over time (oh, I also like tomatoes—that’s new, too!) and I am totally open to discovering the other foods, flavors, and behaviors I might come to enjoy. Plus, each of these comes with its own host of health benefits.

As for my detest for cheese? Well let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.

*I have a confession to make. When I gave up granola more than a month ago, I said I was going to eat eggs for breakfast. And I did for a while. But eggs just weren’t working for me in the morning. They didn’t keep me full for as long as I would have liked (only about two hours) and I never felt satisfied after eating them. So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been scooping up this yogurt parfait in the morning:

1 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt (I like Chobani more than Fage)

1 tsp organic raw agave

½ cup Kashi Go Lean (it doesn’t taste much better than wood chips, but it’s very low in sugar and sodium, and I like it for the crunch that it provides in addition to a solid helping of protein and fiber.)

Heaping handful of organic berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries. When it comes to when to buy organic and when not to—if you have to choose—you definitely don’t want to skimp with berries. That’s because you eat their skin, which is very thin. When you eat conventional varieties you’re also eating the pesticides and other nasties that they’ve been bathing in because they penetrate the skin so easily. Organic berries, however, should be raised pesticide-and-other-toxin-free.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Good Problem to Have


I’m back sooner than I thought I would be—mostly because I need to take a little break from what I am currently working on.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a good problem to have. Namely, choosing between an activity that you love to do and, well, other things. For me, that often means deciding between going to a yoga class and meeting up with friends. I call this a good problem to have because there really isn’t a bad option in the mix. And, I completely welcome this problem. Less than three months ago when I was living in Vermont it wasn’t even on my radar.

But now that it is, I realize that lots of people face this dilemma. Whichever activity you love to do, you probably want to do it every chance you get. Plus, it keeps you fit, healthy, and sane so it’s important to do it regularly. But sometimes other opportunities come along and you don’t have time to do both. So which do you choose?

I’ve found that there’s no hard and fast rule, and it’s usually about making a decision that’s right for me in that moment. For the most part I try to keep a balance (fancy that) between the number of times I choose one and the times I choose the others. I don’t exactly keep score, but when faced with making a decision I take into account the choice I made on the previous occasion. I consider if I was happy with the outcome or if I should have gone with the other option.

I have also found that oftentimes the problem isn’t just that the activities happen to occur at the same time. For instance, say you love running early Saturday mornings, before the trails get too crowded and before the sun makes it too hot to push your hardest. But you know that if you stay out late the night before, you’re not going to want to crawl out of bed when the rest of the city is still asleep. So, sometimes you have to make the decision to bow out earlier in the evening—possibly risking missing some good times—so that you can get your run in at dawn.

There’s definitely a fine line between getting a little too hardcore about your activity to the point that you deprive yourself of experiences and opportunities and forgoing your activity too frequently. Like everything else, I’m working on finding a balance here--and it’s a delicate one.

The most important thing I can say, from experience, is that every single time you make this decision, it has to be all your own. If someone else makes it for you, even if you go along with it, you’re never going to be satisfied. Never ever. The choice has to come from you.

One rule of thumb that I apply, when making the choice, is considering which option is less likely to come along again. If you can go for a run, bike ride, or yoga class any day, but you only have the chance to meet a close friend for drinks once in a while, then spending that time catching up is probably the wisest decision—even if it means missing a workout. Of course, I’ve found that those types of decisions are typically no-brainers; it’s the time when both options are rare ones or both options are frequent ones that the decision becomes difficult. For those instances, I offer these suggestions: Make your decision. Be present with whichever one you choose. And enjoy yourself.

Oh, and whenever possible find a way to do it all J

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Eye of the Storm

I'm learning how to be the eye--not the storm

Hey Bleaders! (blog readers—I totally ganked that from Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia, one of my all-time faves.)

I’ve been a little AWOL this week, and will probably be a bit ghostly in the blogosphere for the next seven to 10 days. I am totally swamped with work, and I don’t think blogging is an acceptable reason for missing a deadline (unless I can find a way to get paid for this in a currency other than emotional fulfillment.) But, before I step away I thought I’d leave you with this…

I am currently experiencing a bit of...what shall we call it? Ah, yes: Stress. But it’s all good. A few weeks ago work was a little slow (mostly the result of people taking vacations, magazine cycles, and what have you) and I was worried then, too. But things have picked up BIG TIME. And this is what I want. I love what I do, and I want to keep this passion for what I do in the forefront of my mind as I make my way through this mountain of work. Really, there is nothing else on the planet (maybe with the exception of teaching yoga down the road) that I can imagine myself doing other than what I am doing right now. And what an incredible gift that is—to have identified what I love to do and to be able to do it so early on. I never forget that. But the reality is that sometimes, like anything else, it can feel like more than I can handle. In truth, it’s just going to be nuts for the next week or two, but it’ll be smooth sailing after that. (Side note: I'm actually going sailing in a week--how appropriate!)

So, I’ve decided to set some goals for myself during this crazy period to help keep my body and mind in balance. Since identifying balance as my definition of health, I think it’s important to maintain this state of being no matter what life throws my way. I also know that being in a balanced place means I’m better equipped to weather the storm—I can set my anchors and be the eye instead of getting swept away in the storm itself. With this in mind, here are my intentions:

Maintain an attitude of gratitude. When things were slow a few weeks ago, I was freaking out. Now that it’s busy, I’m freaking out (in a serene, uh, balanced way, of course). This is a pretty common situation for anyone who owns his or her own business. But which would I prefer? Simply put: Abundance. So while I may feel the pressure weighing on me to meet deadlines and to do a great job, I want to approach this time with nothing but gratitude for the opportunities I have right now. It makes me laugh because earlier this year I made a New Year’s resolution. It was just a word, actually: Opportunities. I didn’t know what I meant by that at the time, or what form it would take. I just wanted to invite opportunities into my life in 2010 and beyond and make sure that I took advantage of them. Well, ask and you shall receive. In fact, just this year I’ve added a slew of magazines to my resume – O the Oprah magazine, American Baby, Everyday with Rachael Ray, and Parents. Opportunities, indeed! So, instead of feeling any sense of negativity (i.e. stress), I want to get through this time with positivity and gratitude; I’d certainly rather be parked at my computer than twiddling my thumbs! Getting paid to do what I love doesn’t suck either.

Listen to my body and my mind. If I could make each day last for more than 24 hours, I would. But since I can’t, I’m going to have to pick and choose what works best for me. Work is my number one priority right now, but in order to stay healthy and balanced I also need to carve out time to fit in walks and to hit my yoga mat. Most days, I won’t be able to do both. (Well, I always need to walk the dogs, but it’s not always possible to go for an hour-long trek.) So, each day I will ask myself: what do I need today? I will do whichever my body asks for at that time. And, instead of focusing on the thing I am not going to be able to do and feeling badly about that, I will focus on the success of accomplishing the activity that my body craved most.

Do all the things my mom tells me to do. This includes taking time for me (even if that means zoning out mindlessly in front of the TV for an hour in the evening), getting adequate sleep, eating my fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, and all the other advice she’s ever given me. And calling to say hi, of course.

So here I go! I'm diving in! See you soon!

P.S. I already have a bunch of ideas to write about when I resurface, so look for them in the next few weeks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Filled to the Brim

Me and my sister with our gorgeous Mom on her 60th Birthday.

I’m typing this from seat 24F on the plane right now, on my way back to Chicago after a week in New York City with my family. Isn’t technology wonderful? I love living in the future : )

I’m feeling great. I never feel more emotionally and mentally balanced than I do when I’m with my family. Or happy, for that matter. But physically? Well, let’s just say that after a week of some incredible indulgences (from diner fries and New York pizza to three-pound lobsters with three kinds of drawn butter and paella), I’m looking forward to some fish and steamed veggies for dinner tonight.

The paella that my Mom and I shared at Compass. So good!!!

While on my way to the airport today, I was thinking about how, years ago, after a vacation like the one I just had—where the majority of activities revolve around what and where we’re going to eat and drink—I’d be thinking things like “diet” or “detox.” Well, these days those are four letter words in my book. (Oh wait…detox has five. But still...)

That’s the beautiful thing about living a balanced life: I can go away, stuff my face with all kinds of great and greasy goodness, and not feel an ounce of regret. I know that when I walk into my apartment, I’ll just go back to life as usual—lots of produce, lean protein, yoga, and walking—and my body will balance itself out in no time. The other wonderful thing is that since my body and mind know that those are the things that make me feel my very best, I’m actually craving each and every one of them despite having drowned my face in decadence all week.

However, this isn’t to say that my family just sat around the whole time. (In fact, the only time we sat was probably when we were eating.) Manhattan is such an easily walkable city and, despite the heat and humidity, we hoofed it every chance we got. On Saturday, we calculated that we walked at least eight miles over the course of the day. We certainly had the dirty flip-flop feet to prove it.

What’s more, I’m returning to my adopted home with a renewed zest for healthy cooking. As a novice chef, I realized before I left that I had started to feel paralyzed in the kitchen. It was as if I hit a wall in my cooking abilities and had grown a little bored with the handful of meals I was replicating in one form or another night after night. Tilapia and greens again? Ugh. Until last week, I had only ordered takeout a total of two times in the two months that I’ve lived in Chicago. But then I ordered it twice the week that I left (partly for convenience—I didn’t want to toss leftovers or unused veggies and was tight on time—but also out of cooking ennui.)

Well, the Thai food deliveryman won’t be seeing me for a while.

My week in New York began with the most unbelievable backyard barbecue I have ever been to. My family shared a beautiful evening on Long Island with friends that my parents have known since they were my age. (They actually introduced the couple back in the day.) In all, there may have been about 10 courses and each one was better than the one before it. And the wonderful thing was that just about every food that passed through my lips came from the earth—some of it from that very backyard. Although a lot of the food was grilled (so yummy!) I know that I can replicate some of them in my own grill-less kitchen (clams with sundried tomatoes, breadcrumbs, and other deliciousness, for instance, or salmon with ginger, or sautéed wax beans and string beans with toasted almonds, or curry shrimp over watermelon and cucumber salad…) My tastebuds were totally doing the Macarena the entire time—everything was that good.

(Lori, you made the blog! Thanks for a wonderful evening and for introducing me to so many fantastic dishes!)

Spicy curry grilled shrimp with watermelon and cucumber salad

Another day, I spent hours with my sister in her kitchen, snapping photos of the insides of her cabinets so I can restock my pantry with some new staples (rice wine vinegar instead of balsamic in homemade salad dressing is a religious experience), and talking through recipes. We flipped through recipes and discussed how I could adjust them to feed one person or six or replace a protein or vegetable and get an entirely different meal.

One big thing that I’m going to do when I get back is buy myself a giant three-ring binder with clear sleeves to put inside. This way, I can rip out enticing recipes from the stack of cooking magazines I receive each month (Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, Cooking Light, Bon Appetit and Every Day with Rachael Ray—btw, look for my articles in that one soon!) and file them in the clear sheets. Then, while planning my meals each week, I can leaf through it and pick out some new ones to try instead of feeling paralyzed by my limited repertoire. (Sure, I’ve met the concept of a cookbook before, but while I have looked through the recipes in the ones I own—including How to Cook Everything—a million times already, this binder will constantly grow so I’ll always be encountering new recipes while honing my chefing skills.) First, I just need to get over my aversion to ripping magazines...

All in all, it was a very busy, filling, and fulfilling week in so many ways. There’s nothing like family to make me feel recharged, refocused, and ready to take on the world…or at least my piles of laundry and overflowing inbox.

Oh, one more thing: My nails totally made it through the week! There’s a noticeable chip on my right pointer finger now (it was bound to happen eventually), but I’m going to go ahead and call my little experiment a success. I’m already picking out my next color!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pinky and the Brain

Yesterday, I did something wild. I mean, absolutely crazy…

I had my fingernails painted bright pink. Opi’s You’re a Pisa Work (above) to be exact. It’s fabulous. Not the adventure you were expecting? Well, for me it was a bold step—and not because it’s pink. Truth be told, I have more pink in my closet than black and neutrals.

It was bold because I tend to chip my nails within minutes of getting a manicure. No exaggeration here. With this in mind, I typically choose a pale color (like Ballet Slippers) so those nicks will be less noticeable.

But not yesterday.

Even as I type this, I can’t help but smile, glimpsing down at my fuchsia-colored fingertips dancing across the keyboard. I’ve been eyeing brighter hues for a while and finally decided to take the plunge.

I did it more as a challenge for myself than simply for the joy of color. The reason I chip my manicures so quickly is because I am always in a rush. I fly from one item on my agenda to the next—in a hurry to cross another task off my list—always sensing the pulse of urgency behind everything I do. Freshly lacquered nails be damned.

But recently, something has shifted and I’ve noticed that this frenzied pace isn’t exactly serving me anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not about to give up the pleasures and pitfalls of modern life for a hemp wardrobe and Birkenstocks (actually, scratch that—I already have Birks—it happens when you live in Vermont for a year and a half). But I feel like something’s got to give. I need to pull the brakes where I can, just a little.

So yesterday, while eyeing the wall of nail polishes, I knew just the thing to get me to slow down: Pink. Not one to do things partway, not only would I have wait for my nails to dry completely (20 whole minutes under the fan!) I’d have to be more mindful of how I use my hands once they’re set and I’d have to do this while packing for vacation.

It boils down to this: Mindfulness. I started thinking about the importance of mindfulness last week while doing a yoga workshop with Anusara superstar Noah Maze. Between all of the fancy balance poses and handstands, he asked a question that awakened something in me. He asked, “What’s the difference between how you stand in line at Whole Foods and how you stand on your mat in Tadasana?” (Tadasana, also called Mountain Pose, is essentially standing up straight, but with a whole lot of good alignment going on.) The answer? Intention. In yoga, you’re thinking about where all the parts of your body should be each and every moment. In life, you’re wondering how long it’s going to take the idiot ahead of you to pay for his sushi so you can rush home to respond to e-mails, walk the dogs, and cook dinner. Hypothetically speaking. But whether standing at the top of your mat or at the top of the conveyor belt, you’re doing the same thing with your body. Why not approach them the same way with your mind?

It got me thinking: If I just did things in life a little more purposefully, with a little more intention, and a little more mindfulness so that my brain could be wherever my body is, maybe I wouldn’t chip my metaphorical and literal nails all the time.

And so far, the experiment is going well. I can’t say that I’ve been mindful 100 percent of the time, or even 25 percent if I’m being completely honest. But this will likely be a lifelong challenge for me. Still, there were several moments last night when I consciously slowed down just a beat to fold a shirt a little more carefully, or took the extra nanoseconds to gingerly place my laptop in my backpack instead of carelessly tossing it in.

Although it has only been 12 hours since the paint dried, my nails are still intact. And that’s already a record for me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sleepy Time

I woke up this morning at 6 am, just as the sun was creeping through my blinds that don’t close all the way. And I woke up feeling fantastic—a rarity for a Monday morning. Want to know why I felt so great? Eight solid hours of shut-eye. I clicked off my lamp at 10pm last night, and I don’t think I moved a muscle until I felt a small pool of light gather on my duvet exactly eight hours later.

It’s no mistake that I spent so much time between my sheets last night.

Yesterday evening, I took Remy for a long walk and started thinking about all of the things—big and small—that help keep me balanced, as well as where I could make a few tweaks to feel even more in tune.

So I asked myself, “when do I feel crappiest?” Without skipping a beat, I answered, “when I’m exhausted.” And it is so true. When I feel tired, I find it almost impossible to keep anything else in check. I get stressed out, ticked off, and have the attention span of a gnat when my eyelids are weighty. It becomes difficult to motivate myself to do anything active and eating well takes a backseat to just about everything else. Namely, sugar and caffeine.

Luckily, I don’t feel this way very often. But I’ll admit, I have felt more tired than usual lately and I know it’s because I’ve been a little lenient with my bedtime. I know that eight hours is my magic number, but these past few weeks I’ve been getting around six or seven--and for no good reason.

For me, eight hours of sleep means that I wake up feeling as stellar as I did this a.m.—energized, happy, and productive. On the other hand, while I believe that you can never have too much of a good thing, sleep is one big exception. Any more than eight hours and I usually wake up feeling like my brain is filled with sand.

The thing is, getting to bed at a decent hour takes a pretty hefty dose of discipline. You basically have to stop yourself from doing whatever you’re doing. And, if you’ve spent the majority of your day doing things you don’t want to do (work, for some), then this is no easy task. I’ve also learned that if I don’t muster up this discipline shortly after I start feeling drowsy, the sleepiness passes and I don’t feel so tired anymore. But I know that I’ll pay for it when my alarm goes off the next morning.

Sleep is such a curious little thing, though. For some of us, it comes really easily. And for others, trying to get to sleep or stay asleep is more like a nightmare. It’s such an important topic, in fact, that I’ve written a handful of articles on sleep. (My latest were in Women's Health magazine and O the Oprah magazine.)

A large part of your ability to sleep happens to be genetic. (I definitely have my mom’s DNA to thank for my champion snoozing skills.) And while some people claim that they can get by on four or five hours per night, the reality is that very few can. (Just ask those folks how much coffee they chug to stay alert.) We can all eek by on a sleepless night here and there, but we become a walking hazard when we attempt to do that consistently.

So, last night, sometime after nearly burning the apartment down due to a major cooking faux pas, I vowed to become a little more vigilant about getting to sleep on time. And not letting the pan get too hot. I can safely say that getting into bed a little earlier was well worth missing Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami.

I can’t believe I just admitted I watch that.


If sleep wasn’t the first thing on your To Do list this weekend (not everyone’s an old lady like me), I came across a study today that you may want to consider for next weekend. The report found that taking one weekend morning to sleep in can help you catch up on Zzz’s from the previous week and boost alertness and attention span. In other words: Move your brunch date to 1 pm. Your friends will thank you.