Thursday, April 16, 2015

Project Life Update / Work/Life Balance Update

After spending 2 1/2 months, mainly at home, chipping away at my long to-do list, which included work projects, family obligations, home organization, and lastly hobbies, I FINALLY got around to working on Project Life 2014 in the very last week of spring vacation. During this final week of vacation, I was also in throes of lesson planning, but by taking my laptop to bed with me, I was able to slog my way through it. The album was printed by Blurb and is likely already at my mom's house. I told her she could read through it first before sending it to me, as is our annual tradition. This year's book was 140 pages, but the price turned out to be the same as past year's books, so I am assuming that all my PL albums have come to about 140 pages. Now to catch up on 2015's pages so that I don't fall behind and live to regret it again.

Here is the link for my 2014 Project Life. You can see some of the pages here.

In March, I decided to quit Central Fitness Yogapis (I know, much like Calpis, this name is hilarious!) and take on a membership at Lava Yoga, which is a chain and has studios all over Japan. They are open daily, have a more flexible schedule, shower facilities, and a variety of classes. You don't have to commit to the same time/day every week like CF. I thought I was being so smart when I located a studio two blocks away from my campus in Tokyo. I decided that since I am free on Tuesday mornings, I would take their 9:30 class, shower, dress and prepare for work at the studio and be at campus in plenty of time to eat lunch and attend my shift at the English Lounge.

This was a great plan before classes started. After two weeks of this though, I realize it is not such a good plan. I have 1st period on Wednesdays, so two days in a row, I have to take a 7:30 train. Get Luka to daycare by 7:00. Carry a heavy gym bag to and fro on Tuesdays, my obento on both days,  along with my regular backpack. I am limited to this Tue 9:30 class because of my work schedule also. It seems illogical now that I think about it. Lava has a studio in Inage, right by the station. I can drive there or even take a bus. Or just ride my bike. Or walk. It's not my regular station, but my condo is located halfway between my regular station and Inage station. Lava is open on Mondays, my work- at-home day. I can go on weekends, or even other days, like Tue mornings or Thursday afternoons, if I want to. WTF was I thinking? So, I've decided to try and switch studios. We'll see if Japan allows this or not.

Classes are going well. Better than I thought, but I still struggle to make time to plan and coordinate all the different classes. Mondays are for Tue/Wed classes. Thursdays are for Friday classes. Luckily, one of my colleagues made the first unit handouts of my N2 class (Thursday's class) but that won't happen every time. I was making a Power Point slide show for my Friday morning lecture morning...during dinner last night. So, I'm not always able to compartmentalize my life. The Widgets book is harder for my sophomores than I thought it would be. But it would help if they had the textbook! Apparently, it's still not available at the university bookstore. Marathon Mouth is perhaps easier but in a welcoming way and I'm enjoying this style of class with my re-takers. N2 is delightful and we laugh a lot during our classes. K7 and K8 are brilliant and enthusiastic, and so far, I am quite impressed by them. Stretch for my sophomore English majors is going well now that I have a plan of attack. Oyo Writing for my juniors and seniors may be my biggest challenge as I had more students than I expected on the first day, but we'll see what happens tomorrow because not everyone will actually register for the class. I think I can do this for 13 1/2 more weeks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Project Life 2014

Project Life is not going to so well this year. I had planned to keep up each month as that is my dream goal every year, but I didn't even touch it until August last year. Doing 6 months of lay outs in such a short amount of time was nearly impossible. I never got back to it until winter break, but since I was quite busy during winter, I only made it as far as the end of July. I figured that I would have plenty of time during spring vacation to do more, but that didn't really pan out.

Finally, last weekend, I spent the night at Louise's with the intention that I would plow through the second half of 2014. I made it to the end of September. This is really not the way Project Life is supposed to be! It is frustrating. The last two years, I was finished before mid-February! What is my excuse this time?

Since returning from Louise's house, I have been more motivated and have been taking my laptop to bed with me. Instead of reading before sleepy time, I am scrapbooking a few pages before nodding off. This seems to help. I am now working on December pages.

This is only the first step of power scrapbooking though. Once all the photos and journaling are in place, I will have to go back through each lay out and put in the digital papers and elements. This shouldn't be too challenging since I have chosen two kits to use for the whole album. (Last year, I used a different kit for each month, and that took a lot of time and memory!)

Today is March 19. Can I really finish by the end of March? Is that a dare?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

One Little Word 2015: Nurture (February)

This is my vision board collage for February's assignment in Ali Edwards One Little Word class.

I collected images from magazines that I had lying around the house, but I had bought one Brit Women's magazine and a foodie magazine for just such this occasion.

I found that images of nature inspire the word "Nurture" for me, and I wondered if perhaps I need to get outside more. I like nature, but more than that, I like to get my work done, so I stay inside a lot using the computer, reading books and other materials, keeping up with housework, etc. What is that all about? That is NOT nurturing anything really!

So, I tried to think about my five best and most vivid memories from my childhood:
1. Playing on my tree swing
2. Swimming at the lake
3. Walking/skiing in our woods
4. Riding my bike
5. Girl scout camp

And, then I tried to think about my five best and most vivid memories from my 20s.
1. Skiing in the moonlight
2. Long, long walks at night
3. Riding my bike
4. Road trips with friends
5. Long drives into the countryside

And, now. What? I have barely been outdoors this entire spring vacation, and I am now entering my third and last month of vacation. Granted, I have tons of work to do, and I had several kid-related and volunteer projects on my plate, but one thing is clear.

I was really good at nurturing myself when I was younger. I knew what I needed and I allowed myself to take breaks. I allowed myself to enjoy the outdoors alone and in the company of others.

So, yes, while I may be a scaredy-cat about traveling to other countries, and even if I wasn't, I have to save all our money to go to Wisconsin every year, I can still make an effort to enjoy nature locally.

Other nurture-related issues that come up on my vision board relate to nurturing my family and nurturing my own body.

First, my family. I think I should win "Super Mom of the Year" award for all that I did for Ailin during the month of February. First, I cancelled two sets of plans (one was to travel to Sendai for an AFWJ Convention and the other to travel for a Cambodia for a teachers' conference) so that I could stay here and support her through a big dance event. Second, I spent basically the whole month, getting her ready for it - taking her to extra dance practices, re-making two costumes for her, buying stuff for her accessories, listening to that god-awful music over and over. Oh, it wasn't so god-awful, but let's just say it was a mix of 10 different songs and it was long, loud and repetitive. But, we did it. She enjoyed the big day, and she looked good, and she wrote me a few thank you letters this week - the heartfelt kind that took a long time to write and color. Oh, and did I mention that I hosted a birthday party for her? For the first time in five years? I am a brave and nurturing soul!
Ailin was in the "Fine Day" Group.
The costume for the ending number.

The Fine Day Group. Ailin is back center on right.

The ending number. Ailin is on right in the back. Very hard to see her here though.

Birthday party for several of her classmates

Second, my own body. I took up yoga (hot yoga) in January to see if I would like it. Luckily, I did like it and have decided to continue with it. The teacher made two yoga CDs for me because I commented on how great her choice of music is, and listening to those CDs helps me relax a lot. Unfortunately, due to my class schedule and commute, I will have to find a different studio. There is a hot yoga studio about one block from my campus in Tokyo, so I may decide to go there from April.

Three major areas of my life appeared in my vision board. Nature, which needs some work. Family, which went well and now I need to keep the momentum going. And my own body, which is still a work in progress but at least I have found something that is not only good for my body but also for my mind.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Week One and Two on Whole 30

You may be wondering how I survived two whole weeks without four of our major "food groups": Sugar, Legumes, Grains and Dairy.

A Sunday lunch for the family. They got Cheese/Meat Doria while I got just the meat part with an egg baked on top.
First, the good parts.
I learned some great new recipes. I even made mayonnaise (a little challenging) and pesto (super easy). I also made salsa that I can use for some meat/fish dishes later. Today, I am planning to make a cucumber salad. Yesterday, I made chocolate chili, which was a big hit. The day before, I made three garlic-based dishes, which everyone loved. Even Y is loving all of these new dishes and he eats his share when he returns home from work.
Garlic-based dishes that the whole family can enjoy.
Homemade mayonnaise using Olive Oil

I read up on the rule about omitting legumes, including soybeans, because my husband was so concerned about it. I found out that soybeans, in their fermented form, are totally okay, and like Kimuchi and other fermented foods, are quite nutritious. So, soy sauce, miso and natto are fine, and Japanese people typically eat these daily but in very small quantities. Unfortunately, tofu, fried tofu, and other tofu products are not okay.

I did just fine with skipping the white carbs (rice and pasta) at meals and felt filled up with my meat/seafood and veggies. The kids still got to eat rice and pasta, but they also tended to eat more veggies...because they were there.

I found some easy recipes. I used the pesto for marinating chicken and later for a fish dish, so I found the pesto be very versatile.

A typical lunch for me at home. Pesto-topped scallops, some bits of marinated steak, nice big salad.
I tried the cauliflower (mashed potato form), and it was easy to make, tasted good and even the kids liked it. I have tried some other veggies, such as that cauli/broccoli high bred that has a nice, nutty taste.
Ground meat sauteed with mushrooms, basil and onions with a side of mashed cauliflower.

I experimented with making coffee at home, using coconut milk and some flavored extracts. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not. But, it was fun to experiment.

When I went out to cafes to meet up with friends, I managed to avoid the heavy mocha cafes, and made do with a coconut milk steamer at one place and an oolong tea at another place.

I felt more energetic. I thought I could do more and accomplish more in one day. The only time I felt truly relaxed was when I attended my weekly yoga class. This was not such a good thing. One hour per week is not enough relaxation time!

Now, the bad parts.

Have you ever drank coconut milk straight? No? Okay, have you ever put it in coffee? Yeah, I thought so. It takes getting used to. Even one of my friends grimaced when I told her I had resorted to putting coconut milk in my coffee.

My emotions began to get the better of me too. Because I was not numbing myself with sugar and carbs every time I felt any kind of stress (or anger, sadness, frustration...), I was feeling every emotion very intensely. This was really hard on me, and I felt like I was going through withdrawal. After the first week, this started to go away, and I began to feel more positive in general. In the end, I found that coming to terms with my emotions and understanding where they were coming from, and also talking it out with friends really helped.

The one thing I could not give up was chocolate, so I resorted to 72% cacao, which is satisfying enough, but watch out...slippery slope there!

And the dairy...I knew that it would be hard to give up dairy, but I have been able to avoid cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. The main issue is that I still want milk in my coffee. So, I have been putting a couple tablespoons of hot milk, a few table spoons of hot coconut milk, and then hot water. This combination is WAY better than my old combination, which was more like 2 cups of milk each time.

There are times, when out and about, that it is really hard to avoid these four food groups. Last weekend, I went on a women's retreat, and somehow, I was able to stay on my diet while there. I was very proud of myself. We even went to a nice restaurant on the way home, and I had German style carbs, lots of veggies. But, the next day, I had to take Ailin to a dance practice from about noon to 8pm. I didn't have a chance to eat lunch before leaving, and the timing of the practice sessions meant that I couldn't nip off and get something to eat right away. I couldn't eat lunch until 3:30pm. By that time, I thought I would die, but the choices were really limited. So, I ended up getting a KFC chicken burger. KFC is my least favorite restaurant on the planet, but that's how limited my choices were. Then, I topped it off with a donut from Mr Donuts. Call it stress combined with extreme hunger. I should have brought some snacks along at least.

This weekend is Ailin's birthday, she requested me to make Italian dishes for both her family party and her friend party. I haven't decided what to do for the family party yet ... should I sit down and eat with them, or should I make some alternative dishes for myself? I will likely just eat smaller portions and focus more on the veggies. For the friends party, it will be easy to avoid eating with them because I know I'll be busy hosting the party.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Paleo Starts on February 1st

Originally published on 1/31; Updated on 2/1

Wow, this is exciting. I got to the point in the book "It Starts with Food" where I am ready to choose a start date and get my kitchen ready. I also called a family meeting for tomorrow morning so that I can "break" the news to my husband and kids. My kids already seem to be sensing something is up because of the exceptionally healthy meals we have been eating the past two weeks, but I'm about to take it up a level.

Family Meeting
I think that by telling my husband that I am trying to get clean so that I can figure out why I have psoriasis (an auto-immune condition that started a couple years after moving to Japan) and why I have such a hard time losing weight, he might get on the same page. Luckily for him, he rarely eats meals with us during the week...though recently he has been asking me to set some food aside for him to eat when he gets home.

I can almost predict what he will say:

Y did indeed ask all of these questions and made a lot of know-it-all comments. These are the things I have to listen to from the person I am sharing my life with.
Make sure the kids are still getting rice and miso, tofu and other important, nutritious food even if you can't eat it yourself. 

Uh huh.

He understood about rice, bread and pasta because he is aware of the low-carb/no-carb diets that are out there, but he doesn't have a clue that they might be unhealthy for people in general, even for people who are not trying to control their weight.
And of course, he commented that I still need to feed all this stuff to the kids on a daily basis. I wanted to laugh, not only because I predicted it, but this because this is the guy that always insisted on eating WHITE rice, thick WHITE bread, and WHITE pasta because whole-grain stuff tastes gross.
Still, my job is not to insist on anything but to just take care of myself. If he and the kids want all that stuff, I am happy to make and serve it to them, but it annoys me that he seems to feel that MY EFFORTS to eat healthier impede so much on HIS EFFORTS to NEVER EVER CHANGE ANYTHING AND STILL ACT LIKE AN IGNORANT, NAIVE CHILD.  

Are you sure you have to go this far?

Uh huh.

Again, he admonished me having to go to extremes, and suggested that just by cutting out my morning mochas (which were mostly skim milk!) and by exercising more, I would have seen a big difference in my weight.

Now, I did begin the explanation by saying this wasn't just about weight, it was also about my other health issues, issues we have been dealing with for years but with no relief. But still, he says, "I have always been saying this. Stop drinking those mocha coffees and get out and exercise more." Yes, so easy, isn't it? 

Don't you think you should just exercise?

Yes, of course, and I am exercising.

Coming from someone who mostly sits on the couch, eating junk food and watching TV, I think it's ironic that his advice is so simple. However, he does often remark that UNLIKE HIM, I rarely veg out on the couch surrounded by bags and boxes of junkfood, and that in general, I seem to eat quite healthy, but that I don't move my body enough. Well, I have tried this route (and I still am trying), but not much progress gets made.

Does this mean no more going out to eat? 

That depends on where you want to go.

Yes, he did whine about this. He even said that I should have considered the family when I decided to go on such a restrictive diet because now how/when/where will we go out to eat. I told him that it would depend on the place. Restaurants that serve fast food or instant food are out of the question, but there are some restaurants that serve dishes made from scratch, and as long as there is a nice salad bar and I can avoid the pasta/rice/bread that often gets served with the meal, it would be fine! To be honest, I didn't get that far in my explanation because I was already so frustrated with his attitude.

What about Ailin's birthday parties in February?

Her birthday party is the perfect chance for me to test out my skills at not succumbing to peer pressure. It also gives me a chance to discuss with her which types of foods she should NOT request for her birthday dinner because if she chooses, for example, LASAGNA, Mama won't be able to eat it with the family. I am steering her towards choices that are acceptable or that I can pick around.

He did not ask about this specifically.

Finally, what about tofu? It is SO HEALTHY?

Well, actually, it's not. I'm supposed to stay away from all soy products because apparently they cause a lot of problems, and they very well could be the explanation of my psoriasis issues developing AFTER moving to Japan. This is something I need to test out and make sure of.

But seriously, imagine all the various forms of soy beans that we eat in Japan!!! This will be the most difficult thing to avoid/explain/deal with!

He was most shocked and incredulous about the notion that I have to cut soy products out of my diet, even if it's only for one month. He insisted that Japanese food is so healthy and Japanese people are healthy, so obviously any soy products (miso, soy sauce, tofu, edamame, etc.) are extremely healthy, and I shouldn't eliminate it from my diet.

He also commented that I should stay away from MEAT, EGGS, and OILS. I told him all these were fine but that I needed to be careful about where it comes from, what type of oil, etc. Then, he said, no, you should just eat FISH. Well, of course, I would include fish and seafood in the diet, but not only fish, every single day.

I can see he is confused, and even going to AEON soon after to go shopping, he insisted on buying margarine, and I said, we have plenty of butter at home, so why buy margarine. He insisted that margarine was healthier and then he ran back to the other side of the store, supposedly to pick up some margarine, but I didn't see it in the basket when I paid for the groceries, so I am not sure if he changed his mind.

Later on the way home, he seemed to sense my obvious frustration. He said, "I bet you wish you had married a cooler guy, but YOU married me and this is what you got!" I replied, "No, I wish you were smarter and read books and kept up to date on new research so that I don't have to argue with you about such stupid things. Your information comes from very old ways of thinking." He then insisted that he is smart.

Well, good luck to me this month.

Today,  I put together a grocery list for AEON to restock my cupboards with items that I can buy easily and will be useful in our menus from now on. I also put in an order at iHerb to get some organic items that are not available at AEON.

If anyone would like to shop at iHerb, use this discount code. They ship to Japan fairly cheaply.

Here is my iHerb order in case you are curious. Lots of coconut products. The chocolate bars are for a friend as I plan to send her a care package next week.

 Wish me luck!

Resources that I am using include the following three books:

And the following web site:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

One Little Word for 2015: Nurture (January)

 As part of January's OLW assignment, we need to explore our word by looking up the various definitions, synonyms, nuances, etc., and we also look for some quotes that speak to us, whether they actually make use of the word or not.

Before I chose the word "nurture", I had actually been contemplating the word "care", but soon realized that "care" carries with it a heavy, sometimes negative, load, such as "careless" or "suffering of the mind", which essentially means caring too much about something. I didn't want to a word that carries these connotations for an entire year.


In the end, "nurture" seemed like a right fit, especially when I decided that nurturing my body would be a priority this year. That is why I used "Nurture Your Body" twice in the above lay out. This lay out conveys the aspects of my life that I want to improve upon this year. I think these phrases go well with the intentions I have set (on a separate worksheet), but they are easy to remember. If done this way, you can spend one or two months focusing on each one, or you can mix and match, spending as long or as little time as they need.

I will hang this lay out up on the bulletin board in my kitchen so that I can see it every day as a reminder. It also helps to use it, and the other lay outs, as desktop backgrounds or screen savers.

Finally, we were asked to reflect on how we are currently successful with our word (I find this to be difficult to do!), our fears, what we want more of and less of, and why we are excited about what this word might bring into our lives. 

I added a photo of me and Baymax because to me, Baymax represents the perfect nurturing soul, who has some faults. He cared so much about others' well-being that he sacrificed himself. (Oh my, did I just make an accidental religious reference here?) However, as a mom, wife, friend, teacher, and colleague - I have to take care NOT to sacrifice myself too much. I have every right to nurture my own soul (and body) back to health. I have to remember to nurture others (like Baymax) but to also nurture myself.

Note on the digital kit used here: A Beautiful Mess (Turquoise) by Libby Prichett of Sweet Shoppe Designs. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Going Paleo

Me, circa 2006

Me, circa 2015
I have struggled with my weight for years, but it wasn't until 2 1/2 years ago that things came to a head. A strange shadow found on my annual chest x-ray, as part of my health check for work, lead the doctors to notify my school. The vice-principals sat me down to have a serious chat about this shadow, and they advised me to see my doctor as soon as possible. At that time, I didn't have a regular doctor that I was seeing, so my first chore (after totally freaking out and crying on the phone to my husband) was to find one. An old friend recommended her doctor, not because he was this great specialist in chest x-ray shadows, but because he was a caring man who even spoke a little English. She offered to go with me for my first appointment.

One more chest x-ray, electrocardiograph, blood work, with an MRI at a nearby large hospital later, the doctor sat me down to inform me the "shadow" in lower region of my chest, just below my heart, was a Morgagni Hernia. A small opening in the center of my diaphragm had allowed a blub of fat to move up into my chest cavity. This triangle-shaped fat mass, about 4 cm in size, was taking up space in my chest cavity, which should be empty and reserved for expanded lungs. It sits just above my diaphragm and below my heart.

He advised me to lose weight pronto, 25 kg (that's about 60 pounds) by Xmas. It was only September.

For about 1 1/2 years, I worked hard to lose the weight. I joined a gym, paid through the nose for a personal trainer, started taking long-ass walks on the weekends, and began cooking low-carb meals. When these things didn't work and I ran out of money to pay the personal trainer, I decided to start a more aggressive diet using Vemma products. This involved an iPhone app, daily menus and reminders to eat, an exercise program (which I didn't use at all but instead just kept walking), morning smoothie powder mixes, and an energy drink for mid-afternoon snacks. When I ran out of money to import the energy drinks, which were heavy and expensive when shipping and duty taxes were figured in, and when I admitted to myself that I hated the taste of the energy drinks, I gave that up too. But I liked the idea of smoothies, so I bought a smoothie cookbook and started making them for breakfast and dinners. Then, I got sick with some kind of horrible virus that took over my body for 4 days. After I recovered and could eat normal food again, I never went back to the smoothie regimen.  But at this point, I was down 10 kg (about 22 pounds). For the next few months, I did nothing but watch the weight slowly creep back on.

So, you can see the pattern here. I try something full-force. I realize later that it's expensive and difficult to maintain. The results are very slow. (10 kg in one year is not all that motivating to someone who is meant to lose 25 kg.)

I am not going to go into my all my excuses, but I will list some reasons why I may have failed time and time again.

I was keeping it a secret. People knew about my hernia issues, but they did not know about my methods for losing weight. I was ashamed about my chosen methods and so kept them quiet and hidden, even from my husband.

It was expensive. Expensive, imported energy drinks, personal trainers, expensive health clubs - it was hard to maintain it all for such a long time.

Weekends Vs. Weekdays was a huge issue. I could do very well on week days when I cooked our meals, but my good behavior would also go to hell in a hand-basket on the weekends when my husband was in charge of cooking and shopping. I had a hard time explaining to him that his wonderful family meals were doing me no favors. We often eat Japanese family-style on the weekends, which means a big pot of something is placed on table and as it cooks, we eat it. We used tiny plates and add the ingredients to the pot or teppan, cook it, and eat until the food is gone. Examples are nabe, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, yaki niku - you get the idea. He sometimes made stews, such as curry or cream stew. Wonderful and amazing way to share family meals, but the problem is you never know HOW MUCH you are eating. It's rather difficult to control your portions, and Y was always encouraging us to not waste the food, there would be no leftovers, just eat up til it's gone. This is quite normal for a Japanese family (I think!). A couple weekends a month, Y would opt to eat out instead or he would arrange for us to have dinner at his parents' house. In this case, the cooking the meal on the table was also the norm, but add in the fact that his mom always laid out several other side dishes to go with the main entree, and again, we were encouraged to eat, eat, eat. Every Monday morning, I started at ZERO and it got so frustrating that I lost motivation quickly.

Peer pressure does me no good. Because I kept my weight loss issues a secret, I couldn't just belt out, "I don't want to go out to lunch with you because I can't control myself!", so I would just keep quiet and go out with my friends and have a good time...and eat and eat and eat.

Trapped at home. As a mother of two small children who is working full time and doing all the evening care by herself because her salaryman husband returns home so late, I couldn't just pop out for a walk or a jog after dinner. I have heard of Japanese housewives leaving the house after dinner to pop into an aerobics class or whatever, but I couldn't do that. Perhaps their husbands came home by 6pm and were willing to help with the kids. Anyway, once we got home from daycare/school pick-ups and after-school lessons, I was basically trapped there until the next morning. This is still the case, by the way. 

I am sure there are more, deep-seeded reasons, but these are the basic issues I have had over the past few years.

Last year, in 2014, I decided to ignore my weight issues. At the beginning of 2014, I discovered that my lifestyle was in for some big changes due to a job change. This was great news, and I assumed that somehow the weight would fall of me because I had always blamed my job and related stress to my weight gain. (Of course, it really was because of two pregnancies and 3 years of grad school within a 6-year period in addition to my job!)

This period of non-action didn't help. In fact, it made things worse. As the weight piled back on, I became more hopeless and less empathetic about my health issues. My M. hernia was being unjustly ignored. It's not that I was out partying and eating copious amounts of food, but I certainly didn't make any efforts to exercise or improve my eating habits.

In late fall, M. hernia began to rear his ugly fathead again. I was starting to feel that something was not quite right in my chest cavity. Something was in there. Was it getting bigger? Had it broken apart and was floating around my chest? I started to get scared, but I didn't tell anyone.

Instead, what I said was this:
I am not feeling good today.
I just need to go home and rest.
Just let me lie here for a little while. I need to rest.

And that is very unlike me.

But, even lying down didn't help much because I felt a strange discomfort in my chest cavity. So I really began to wonder what M. hernia was doing. And, then I remembered that I was supposed to see my doctor some time in 2014 to have my blood checked again. Last time, he had threatened to put me on statin medication if my cholesterol levels didn't improve by July. I was happy to report that at my annual health check in September, my cholesterol levels were indeed in the normal range, so no need to go back to him right? Wrong! M. hernia wanted some attention and he was gonna cause trouble until he got it.

So, in January, I decided my word for the year would be NURTURE. It's a great word to help me nurture my body back to health, and in choosing that word, and I needed to face my reasons for doing so.

But, choosing this word carried a a lot of weight.
Did I really want to take care of myself again?
Could I really make time for such a thing?

For the first three months of year, I am mainly working from home and keeping my own schedule, so I felt that if I was going to tackle my weight issues, NOW IS THE TIME.

First, I decided to take up yoga, which was something I always wanted to do. I signed up for weekly classes and took my first class last Thursday (and loved it!). But, I am not doing yoga to lose weight. What I needed was something to help me center myself, relieve stress, work on flexibility and get more confident about using my body again.

Second, a good friend recommended using Jillian Michaels DVDs to work out at home. I have been a fan of JM for a while, but I had never tried her DVDs. I got an easy one (the kind for people who have not been very active in a while), and I started the daily 20-min workouts. (Loving it.)

Here is where PALEO comes in. I have read several books about food and nutrition over the years. Some of these books mentioned Paleo. Last week, I saw a post on one of my Facebook groups about skin issues, and I asked another commenter for more information after she said she had found a way to resolve all her skin issues. I, myself, have psoriasis and have been suffering for the past 10 years, so I wondered if her "way" could help me, so I asked her to message me and tell me all about it. Turns out she was talking about Paleo. We chatted for a while, and she recommended a book and some cookbooks. I decided to read more about it.

So, here I am, partway into the Paleo book and wondering if I can do the Whole 30 thing and then see if there are improvements with my psoriasis and my weight. Haven't started yet because I'd like to finish the book, but the excitement is growing.

Finally, what happened with M. hernia? Over the weekend, I decided that the most important issue needed to be dealt with - HONESTY. Though my husband knew about my struggles and he knew about M. hernia, he barely gave it a second thought after the initial scary diagnosis. I called him into the bedroom for a private talk, and I cried as I told him how scared I was and how I needed help and support, and that I needed to see the doctor again but was afraid to go alone. He agreed to go with me.

M. hernia is not getting bigger, nor is he breaking apart and swimming all over my chest cavity, but he is still there. The discomfort I feel is because my diaphragm moves up every time I breathe, and M. hernia is kind of in the way. The only way to get rid of M. hernia is to lose weight, and after examining all my numbers, he said, "You need to lose 37 kg," and then he laughed quietly to himself, probably because he knows how damn hard that is.

So, here is the 80-pound overweight me looking at old photos of myself BEFORE KIDS and BEFORE GRAD SCHOOL wondering if I can do it this time.

M. hernia, I can beat you.
You are no match for the likes of me.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reflection on 2014 One Little Word: Simplify

When I first chose my word, late in 2013, I was in the midst of an overwhelming state of, well, being overwhelmed by life. In short, I was kind of depressed. I had graduated with a Masters degree in TESOL (one dream ticked off my list). Suddenly I had a lot of free time, but really I didn’t because everything and everyone wanted to fill up those gaps of free time. These little things were chipping away at me. “Chipping” is not quite the right word, but let’s imagine a woodpecker pecking away at a tree.

No, let’s imagine that every aspect of my life was a woodpecker, so 15 or 20 woodpeckers pecking away at my newly available free time. Pretty soon, I had none left, and I was drowning. In fact, when I say drowning, what I mean is that I felt nothing. I was happy to be done, but what had I achieved? I still had the same job, but I had no job prospects. No one would even consider me because I had no university teaching experience yet, and I was starting to feel hopeless. Instead of going out there and networking, I was spending all my time checking essays for my current students, amongst other job duties, of course. I felt like I couldn’t say no to any social invitations or suggestions from family members about what I should do with my kids. I attempted to carve out some me-time, to explore my own needs, but this wasn’t happening to the extent that I wanted. In fact, my Project Life album was on the back-burner until winter vacation. In the end, I quit the gym because it was a waste of money (7000 yen per month) as I had only been there twice in the last six months. Even after graduating, I didn’t go in those first two months of freedom. I took up art journaling instead because I had always wanted to give it a try. I made a few pages and displayed them at home to remind myself of my creative aspirations, but I never even attempted to apply for jobs, which should have been my first priority. Instead, I said out loud, to anyone who would listen, “I am hoping a job just falls in my lap. The perfect job for me.” I chose SIMPLIFY as my word of the year for 2014 as it was the one word that kept popping in to my head.
Following is a reflection on how 2014 went in terms of my word.

Did I Pass the Woman Test?
I felt that I had too many obligations, problems, goals, and ideas – something I tend to attract into my life because I like complicated situations. I desired to pare down my life to the essentials by re-organizing my priorities. One striking sentence from that first scrapbook page in January – “I hope to figure this out while being the best mom, wife, friend and teacher that I can be.” Wow, what a hopeful, yet impossible dream! The best that I can be doesn’t necessitate perfection, so that is good. But, why put all this pressure on myself to be everything to everyone? Does my husband ever say to himself, “I want to be the best father, husband, friend and movie marketer that I can be”? I doubt it! He is just trying to survive each day without thinking too deeply about it. A year later, as I reflect on SIMPLIFY, this is what I wonder about. We, women, associate ourselves with so many roles, and we strive to do our best in each one. It’s like a test we give ourselves. How did I do? So, in 2014, was I the best mom, wife, friend and teacher I could have been? Let me address each role briefly, and excuse me for focusing on the negative for a bit here.

The best mom? No. I yelled at my kids a lot. I developed this kind of sharp tone in my voice when yelling at them, and it annoyed even me. At some point, my husband called me out on it. I tried to watch my tone of voice after that. Calmness. Simplicity. Tell them simply what they did wrong and suggest ways to fix it or at least apologize. This is something to keep in mind for 2015. (Score: 65/100)

The best wife? Well, sort of. I tried to be kind and sexy most of the time, even though I undoubtedly failed more times that I can even recall. Mostly, I tried to be supportive and generous, but when my mind is pulled in all different directions, I didn’t necessarily pay attention to his needs. When all was said and done, he wrote me the most gorgeous Xmas card thanking me for my “tremendous love and support” for our family, and that was the best compliment he’s ever given me. The word “tremendous” keeps coming to mind, though that probably wouldn’t make a good word for 2015. Yes, I did spend a lot of time supporting everyone else, including my husband. (Score: 85/100)

The best friend? Well, no, in fact, I lost a friend early in the year. We have minimal contact with each other now, but perhaps that is part of simplifying one’s life. (It was not my choice, by the way.) Another friend was having a major crisis, and I couldn’t do much for her from across the ocean. Sending care packages filled with junk food and small toys for her and her kids were, perhaps, appreciated, but it would have been way better to go over to her house and clean for her or cook for her family. For another friend, I was consistently late to meet her for our meetings. Not just once, but every time we met up in 2014. Was my life so important that I had to make her wait? By the end of year, in the heat of the moment, she said she was ready to end our friendship just based on that. She soon forgot about this minor blip as she launched into her most recent gossip stories, but I didn’t. I would never want to lose her friendship, especially over something that I could have controlled. So, yeah, I need to work on the friendship thing. (Score: 65/100)

The best teacher? Well, first I quit the teaching job I had had for 11 years, where I loved teaching my classes but hated the administration, the rules and some of the other job conditions. I was an awesome teacher, and this I would never downplay. But saying good-bye, especially to students who seemed excited to continue their journeys with me until graduation, was like punching a whole bunch of people in their guts at the same time, which wouldn’t be possible unless you had 400 arms, but stay with me. Is that was a “good” teacher does? No. But, sometimes, you have to do this, and as part of my word “SIMPLIFY”, it was the best choice for myself and my family. At my new job, I floundered a bit as I found my way, but I did all right, and I developed good rapport with my new students soon enough. Starting new with brand new classes and students meant that I could pare down some of my procedures, and in this way, I think I did well with my classes. I was probably the best teacher that I could be in 2014, yet by the end of year, my mind was overflowing with ideas and excitement about how I could improve my classes for the 2015 school year. Teaching is the easiest to control, it seems. The other roles still need some work. (Score: 90/100)

Six Aspects of SIMPLIFY
In the first month of One Little Word, I chose six areas of my life that I wanted to focus on. I planned to spend time focusing on each one, maybe a month or two here or there. Some things were really easy to figure out, while others, I just kept them in my mind and hoped that simply thinking about it would help. (Note: It really helped to have a poster of these six aspects hanging in my kitchen, so I could see it and briefly reflect on them while cooking or washing dishes.)

These are the six aspects:
Simplify menu planning
For years, I have always done menu planning and shopping on the weekends, but I usually get bored about halfway through the year and tweak my system. In 2014, my hope was to come up with a simplified plan that wouldn’t take a lot of time to plan and shop for each week. Also, I wanted to focus on simple, if not healthy, meals. The fact is my menu planning went out the window. How about NOT planning a menu and seeing what happens? How about NOT making a huge shopping list and just buying the ingredients for dishes we like and making stuff from memory? Thirteen years of marriage and 6 years on my own before that means that I have a lot of recipes up my sleeves. Why not just trust my gut and go with the flow? Though I did not have this in mind when I chose this aspect to focus on for SIMPLIFY, this is what seemed to be happening over time. I became more and more comfortable with this non-planning, simple way and for the entire year, did not once sit down and contemplate and new way to plan and administer weekly menus. Oh well. What are the results of this? In general, I was surprised to discover that I actually don’t NEED a plan. However, I should make a list of all dishes I know how to cook (or could easily cook if I look at one of my old recipe books), and I should put the list on my kitchen bulletin board and in my iPhone. I think that would be the simplest way to get more variety and be able to shop on the go.

Simplify goals and plans
Focusing on this aspect was really helpful because it gave me the excuse to say NO to things I would normally blindly say yes to and then regret it later. It is hard to talk about this aspect in one paragraph, but basically, getting the entire family to agree on our goals and plans was not always possible. At a couple points, Y and I had a conversation about this topic, and that helped to clarify some things though we did not always agree. Just the act of talking helped. We talked about our travel goals for the year, the kids’ lessons, etc. We usually have this conversation in January of each year, but in 2014, we made time to discuss it again in September and that helped to get us through the remaining months.

Simplify our priorities
Another reason to be able to say no to things. When I was able to clarify my priorities in my mind, I found it a lot easier to just say no or to be honest about my limitations. For sure, my children floated to the top nearly every time, and that was how I wanted it. My work, during the semester, was also a priority, so I didn’t make a lot of social plans or promises to people that would have affected getting my work done, which in turn would have affected my family because it would have been at their expense. Now, I have a job that keeps me very busy during the semesters (that’s 28 weeks of the year), and the rest of the year, I can focus on my job as much or as little as I choose to, and I can also focus on other things that are important too. The weekends belong to my family, rather than to my job, which is a new and welcome change for us. The holidays can really be holidays and reserved for family time. We have more money to do things, so I am not always feeling pinched.

Simplify our routines
I feel that I achieved this by changing jobs. Most days, I don’t need to leave the house until after 8am, so we have more time in the mornings. Also, Luka transferred to a daycare closer to home, so I don’t have to go so far out of my way to take him and pick him up every day. Of course, it helps that the kids are getting older and can do more for themselves.

Simplify our paperwork
I hate to admit it, but I never found a good way. Avoiding it certainly didn’t help! The school papers just kept piling up whether I wanted them in my house or not. In order to put the Xmas decorations up in December, I had to go through a big basket of papers, and most of them were past-date, so they were trashed. But, the ones I kept were put on a hidden bookshelf and that is where they remain. I am up to 10,000 unread emails. I started the year by deleting a bunch and then suffering for it later. So, the email issue is still a problem.

Simplify our lifestyle
In general, this has been achieved. I always have to keep it in check by not taking on too many activities, saying no to many things, avoiding others. Weekends are more relaxed, and because I can keep up with cleaning during the week a little better, it doesn’t get so piled up on the weekends. How I use my relaxing time – now that is a different story.

In April, we had to make a series of "_____ means _____" statements for our words. This is a great way to personally define your word using photos and statements.
Initial hopes and fears for SIMPLIFY
  • As part of our planning process, we were asked to make a MORE/LESS list. I wanted more of the following things. In parentheses, I’ll explain how well or not well I did.
  • More stillness (NOT ENOUGH)
  • More time with Yusuke (NOT ENOUGH, but I did move back into the bedroom officially and am no longer co-sleeping with my son.)
  • More cuddle time with the kids (DOING OKAY)
  • More playing indoors and outdoors (NOT ENOUGH, but we started out well at the beginning of the year. The last half of the year, we did very little playing together indoors.)
  • Less spending of our money (NO, I still seem to spend a lot, but I have helped Y not to overspend his allowance, and that has helped immensely.)
  • Less email (NO, still inundated, never delete)
  • Less processed, fatty foods (DOING OKAY, if you don’t count snacks. I do need to curb my snacking, but I did find some great alternatives for myself. I got hooked on mimolette cheese.)
  • Less arguing with kids and Yusuke (I think I argue with the kids more, but less with Yusuke)
  • Gain more weight (I did. I gained back every kilogram I lost in 2012 and 2013.)
  • Feel stressed out (I did well with this! I felt busy at times but never stressed out.)
  • Spread too thin (I did well. I was busy but never overwhelmed! I learned to really prioritize and no one was really telling me to do it differently or surprising me with new work tasks, like what often happened in my former job.)
  • Won’t be able to say no. (I said NO a lot!)
  • I want to wear my jeans again in 2014. (I did. I had to buy new, plus-sized jeans, but I wore them a lot on weekends. I hadn’t worn jeans in a long, long time.)
  • I want to enjoy weekends with my kids. (I did. We had a lot of fun and went on some adventures, even during the weekdays.)
  • I want to continue developing my relationship with Yusuke. (We did okay. I appreciate and accept him now more than ever before. We are growing closer and I enjoy having him around.)
Some Extra Questions and Answers
I found a web site that lists 50 questions to ask yourself as you reflect on your word for the previous year. I chose several questions to answer and reflect on.

What new things did you discover about yourself?
I can stop worrying about some things. They will happen naturally, like the menu planning.
I enjoy being with my kids and trying new things with them.
I felt lonely at my new job at first but I appreciated the balance between days when I could work alone and days when my colleagues were around to chat with.

Which of your personal qualities turned out to be the most helpful this year?
My ability to stay organized and write to-do lists and cross off tasks every day.
My ability to build and maintain a decent atmosphere in my classes.
My ability to meet new people and chat with them about pretty much anything.
My ability to be alone and still get things done.

What was the most important lesson you learnt in 2014?
I need to take better care of myself. Often these words are meant for my family members, but I also need to focus on my own mental/physical care. Also, I really want to reduce my screen time so I can focus more on myself and my family. I need to prioritize time for my hobbies, especially scrapbooking, too.
In the summer, we had to contemplate our lives from three perspectives, and I realized that I needed to take better care of myself because, frankly, I was not doing it.

Which mental block(s) did you overcome?
Sometimes we DON’T need a plan. I can trust my 38 years of experience to lead me in the right direction even if I haven’t written it down, made a list, planned it out, etc.

What was your biggest break-through moment career-wise?
Getting a new job! Presenting at JALT! Working on two publications for the university!

How did your relationship to your family evolve?
We had more time together. We supported Ailin at her dance events. Yusuke and I fought less. The kids fought more, but they are learning how to get through their battles, even if they just do paper-scissors-rock to decide things.

What book or movie affected your life in a profound way?
All of the Middle Eastern literature that I read. I enjoyed learning more about the culture and religion, but then I went back to Asian and Asian-American lit, my first love.
In August, we tried to choose songs or lyrics that inspire us in relation to our word.

What was your favorite compliment that you received this year?
“Thank you for your tremendous love and support for our family.” In a Xmas card from Yusuke

What cool things did you create this year?
Art Journal for Brene Brown’s online classes, Project Life 2013 at the beginning of 2014, One Little Word Album for 2014.

Which worries turned out to be completely unnecessary?
The new job and commute did not stress me out. I found great pleasure in all the changes.

In October, I wrote a letter to myself. It was supposed to be a positive letter.
What was the biggest problem you solved?
Transferring Luka to a daycare closer to home turned out to be a blessing. He now has a male teacher and plenty of friends right in our building and neighborhood. I also changed the family’s evening schedule so that the kids could go to bed earlier, I could move back into the master bedroom, and I started sleeping in until a normal time, 5:30 am.

What one thing would you do differently and why?
I would have tried to focus more on my weight issues. I learned how to say NO to events and activities, but I couldn’t say no to food. I gained a lot in the beginning of the year with all the good-bye parties and lunches, and it just kept snowballing from there. I certainly said NO to exercise when really I should have been taking better care of myself.

In November, we reflected on how we were making our word a part of our lives. Another chance for using recent photos that depict how this word is manifesting itself paired with "I am..." statements.

What or who had the biggest positive impact on your life this year?
Friends, who are trying to get healthy, such as Kirsten and Louise, impacted me to a certain extent. By the end of the year, I found that inspiring. Colleagues, who work hard and are really smart and professional, inspired me to try and do more reading and research. Students, who really enjoyed the final project “The Dinner Party”, inspired me to think of better ways to reach more students by having fun with English and using “real” items in “real” situations. My children, who by just being themselves, found joy in the littlest things and simply just wanted to play and cuddle. Friends, who were going through or had been through crisis in their marriages and were confiding in me, seemed strong and were able to pull through it. That really affected how I see my own marriage and life. All of these inspired me to choose “Nurture” as my word for 2015.
All of these inspired me to choose “Nurture” as my word for 2015.
Stay tuned for more posts about 2015.
I am hoping to keep up with my blog and nurture it back to health this year.
Related Links
  • Online Scrapbooking Class One Little Word is taught by Ali Edwards. 
  • Project Life is a scrapbooking concept for people who want to capture everyday moments. Albums are done in a pocket-page style. You can read more about it here.
  • All of the digital elements and papers I used for my OLW album in 2014 were from a digital kit by Libby Pritchett. The kit is called Be Awesome and you can purchase it or see more kits by Libby at the Sweet Shoppe Designs.