Tag Archives: self-care

The Epic Battle of Sugar Cravings vs. Vegetable Smoothies

This week I’m over at Turtleduck Press talking about vegetables:

My household has had a steady (but not overwhelming) supply of zucchini for the last month. Zucchini grow fast, did you know? We picked the first one a month earlier than we were expecting after last year’s tomato crop. And we could have picked it even earlier, only we didn’t notice it. They’re good at hiding. By the time we realized we had one, it was thicker than a baseball bat. Whoops!

Partly as a result of our vegetable garden, my household has been drinking a lot of smoothies lately, full of varying and tasty combinations of greens, celery, apples, ginger, and fruit. I haven’t noticed any Popeye tendencies yet, though. I admit I was hoping for a magic food that would give me 100% more energy, 150% better digestion, 98% fewer mood swings…and, I can’t deny, 33% less tummy pudge. But maybe green smoothies can only do so much against a desk-bound lifestyle.

I go through phases. I find that when my mood is lower, I crave sugar; but conversely, drinking (or eating) less sugar doesn’t seem to have an effect on my mood. Sometimes I drink more lattes, sometimes more soda pop, sometimes hot chocolate. When I wasn’t working, I drank sweet chai (Indian-style tea) because someone in my family makes a fantastic chai. For a while I bought red wine regularly and tried to become a connoisseur; now I’ve given up and only have alcohol at restaurants.

These days most of my fancy drink needs, and some of my dessert needs, are being met by smoothies. I drink regular coffee and the occasional cappuccino or pop, and that’s pretty much it.

But winter is coming (I’m a Stark at heart) and I know what happens then. I get cold and want warm, sweet drinks. And my NaNoWriMo drink of choice is mildly caffeinated root beer. We won’t even get into NaNo snacks.

So…

Your turn! How do you combat cravings and stay healthy? How much does varying your diet affect your mood?

Confessions of a Wannabe Writer

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I’ve been putting out inspirational posts like 10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job and After the Vacation: A Conversation with the Inner Critic.

But the truth is, my baby writing career is stalled like you wouldn’t believe.

I get home from work and the last thing I want to do is write or edit…even though I’ve been dreaming all day about how productive I’ll be when I get home. So I chat with my family, putter around on the Internet, and maybe squeeze out half an hour some nights, an hour if I’m lucky. Too many nights I get nothing done at all. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t write before work, and lunch hours disappear awfully fast.

My priorities are all wrong. I spend more time blogging and working on Turtleduck Press stuff than I do writing or editing my own stories. More time reading blogs than reading novels. I think Chuck Wendig has something to say about that. (See what I mean about reading blogs?)

Now, it’s true that I’ve had a busy and distracting couple of years. I bought my first house, went through another major life event that was all-consuming for months, and planned and executed a massive trip.

But all those things are finished and I’ve been back at work for a month and a half now, long enough to have gotten over the hump and back into the groove. Except…I struggled with these same problems before all the distracting stuff happened. It’s no surprise that they’re back.

I’m tired of not writing. Of taking weeks to edit a chapter because I’m only devoting a handful of hours a week to the thing I want to do most in all the world. (Don’t I?) Of still not having even one edited, polished novel ready to go out on submission, or out on Amazon, or out into the world somehow.

I feel like a poser. A master of self-sabotage. A wannabe doomed to failure because I don’t want my dream enough to work for it.

I don’t have any answers.

Help.

Your turn! Am I the only one who feels this way?

 

After the Vacation: A Conversation with the Inner Critic

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1Quick announcement: This week I’m over at Turtleduck Press talking about our new anthology and how far we’ve come in the three (!) years since we started.

This is my fifth week back at work after taking a six-month sabbatical. The feeling of my time off is fading quickly in my memory, and in its place is the Inner Critic. You know, the voice that goes “I had all that time off work! Why didn’t I write three novels AND decorate the entire house and garden AND run all those errands I keep putting off?”

(I’m reasonably good at shutting up the Inner Critic’s comments on my actual writing ability, thanks to NaNoWriMo. Most of the time, anyway. But that’s a post for another time.)

There are two sides to this problem. (1) My Inner Critic is really good at telling me how I “should” be doing more than I am, while ignoring the actual amount of time and energy at my disposal. (2) I am, in fact, really good at spending a lot of time at home doing nothing (but less time than my Inner Critic thinks).

So here are some of the things I did, in fact, do during my time off:

1. Spent almost 4 months travelling.

Roadtrip! The Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

Roadtrip! Coming up on the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

I spent 12 weeks in Asia and 3 weeks in Western Canada. During that time I wasn’t writing, except for irregular blog posts, because I was, y’know, busy. I did initially have dreams of travelling and writing lots of fiction at the same time but…well, see above comments about the Inner Critic. Not going to happen.

The Asia trip was planned long in advance, but the Western Canada trip was relatively last-minute; a family member was hitting a life milestone and I realized that hey, I wasn’t working, I could actually make it out to celebrate with her. Bonus: spending more time with my family than I’ve spent since I moved to Toronto in 2005. Am I going to beat myself up for that? No!

2. Edited novels.

Besides the travelling, my main goal for those six months was to further my writing career. No, I didn’t edit a whole novel like I was hoping (before I knew I’d be spending three weeks out west). But I did start a major content edit of one of my novels, got several chapters in, and didn’t run away screaming, which is more than I’ve ever managed before.

(If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t published any novels yet, through Turtleduck Press or otherwise, this is why. I have a ways to go yet before I’m ready for major publication! Short stories, though…you can see the ever-growing list over here.)

I also copy edited someone else’s novel in my capacity as editor for Turtleduck Press, wrote two parts of a serial short story for the Turtleduck Press website, and branched out into travel blogging. That’s not nothing.

3. Started a garden.

Baby tomatoes in our garden

Baby tomatoes in our garden

My significant other and I really wanted to grow vegetables in our new backyard. But we had only the vaguest idea of how to do it. We’re still very much beginners, but going from (figurative) preschool to Grade 1 took a lot of research and a lot of (literal) digging. (More about this in a future post!)

I took the lead since I wasn’t working and he was. We put some things in the ground, then I went out west for three weeks, and when I came back I had more planting to do and three weeks’ worth of weeds to get under control, all without knowing what I was doing (so everything took longer). That’s not trivial!

Of course, this project meant that my time, attention, and energy were divided. So even when I wasn’t travelling to far-flung locations, I wasn’t purely focused on art. But it made my physical world better and gave me some exercise to boot.

4. Relaxed.

Remember when you were in school and you had two months off every summer? And four months off during university (during which you were probably working, but at least that’s something different than studying, so it gives your brain a break)? I really, really miss that. I’ve been out of university for over a decade and I still miss it.

I’m thinking this is probably related to my being an introvert and someone who is easily over-stimulated (sometimes called a Highly Sensitive Person). I need a lot of down-time and peace and quiet. This year, I finally got it.

And hey, while I was  relaxing, I didn’t just stare into space. I read a lot (partly to make up for not reading much while I was on the road, but I came out ahead). I knitted. I bought garden implements. I tried to sort the many, many photos I took while travelling and write down some of the experiences I had. I got enough sleep for a change. And so on.

So STFU, Inner Critic. I needed that time, and I made good use of it.

And even now that I’m back at work full-time, my life as a writer isn’t over.

 

Your turn! Do you have an Inner Critic? How do you shut it up?

10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job

This week, I went back to work full-time after a six-month sabbatical. It’s going to be tough re-adjusting to the work schedule while still making time to do the things outside of work that are important to me.

Writing fiction is the biggest of these for me. I have other hobbies, but writing is my passion.

So I’m making a plan. Here’s what I’m telling myself…

Vancouver Island road. Copyright Siri Paulson 2013.

1. Cut yourself some slack.

I’m going to be exhausted — especially at first, but there will continue to be exhausting days when one job is all I’m good for. That’s okay. My tendency to beat myself up is not the best way to get results, no matter what my Inner Critic thinks.

2. Set SMART goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. (Read more at Wikipedia.)

I want to highlight two of them and what they mean to me.

  • Attainable means realistic. See #1. My Inner Critic has entirely unrealistic expectations about what I “should” be able to achieve. But she’s not the one in charge — I am. It’s okay to start small and ramp up slowly.
  • Relevant means identifying what’s important. Networking and marketing — Twitter, Facebook, even blogging — are all good, but they’re only supporting what’s really important: the writing.

3. Build habits.

Way back, before last year happened with its home-buying and trip-planning and other good stuff, I had a habit. 9 PM to 11 PM were my writing hours. Even if I didn’t write for the full two hours, I usually wrote sometime during that period. I want to get back to that.

I also had a coffee-shop-writing habit. It’s taken several different forms over the years — sometimes Friday nights, sometimes lunch hours. The more, the better.

4. Know your rhythms.

I’ve already mentioned my 9-to-11 evening writing times. I’m a bit of a night owl, but I know exactly when my brain cuts out.

As well, I’ve been experimenting with timed writing and editing — everything from 10-minute sprints to half-hour Twitter challenges (look for #wordmongering and #editmongering) to 3-hour writing marathons (incidentally, that’s about the length a laptop battery lasts at a coffee shop).

I’m still working on identifying the optimal length of a writing session for me. Right now I’m leaning towards 90 minutes.

5. Know your weaknesses.

The Internet is mine. So I’ve been trying out Freedom, a software program that locks you out of your Internet for whatever length of time you specify. It’s great…at least when I remember to turn it on! Amazingly, when I know I can’t just check that one site, the craving completely disappears.

I also avoid getting online at coffee shops, because I know what will happen. So I compartmentalize and pretend there’s no wifi anywhere except at home. Surprisingly, it works. The brain is susceptible to being tricked…and I’m not above doing so.

6. Find the time.

We all have busy lives. But there are plenty of corners in mine that aren’t being used for anything in particular. I’ve already mentioned writing while on lunch hour. (Though I won’t do it every lunch hour, because my body needs some time off, too!)

When I do NaNoWriMo, I spend my public transit time scribbling notes and outlines in a notebook so I don’t have to spend precious keyboard time thinking.

7. Remember that baby steps add up.

As I mentioned earlier, my Inner Critic thinks anything less than a superhuman effort is doomed to failure.

However, my Inner Critic chooses not to remember that I’ve already written several novels…some during the mass marathon that is NaNoWriMo, others during perfectly ordinary months. I’ve written, edited, and published more than a few short stories. I’m the editor and co-founder of Turtleduck Press. And so on.

All while, amazingly enough, not being superhuman.

I have a feeling that, to really get my writing career going, I’ll need more than baby steps…but then again, my Inner Critic has been wrong before.

8. Just keep swimming.

Yes, that’s a Finding Nemo quote.

What does it mean here? Keep moving forward. Keep doing something, even if it’s small (see #7). Do it again the next day. If I don’t have the brain to write one day, maybe I have the brain to do something related (though see #2 — anything except writing is ancillary).

9. Find a community.

I always wanted to Be A Writer, but I didn’t really buckle down until I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2005. The hard deadline helped immensely, but that was only part of the reason. The other part was the people. I met writers that year who are still friends today.

Since then, I’ve met a lot more writers. I have a group born out of that year at NaNoWriMo, a real-life critique group, a close-knit group on Facebook, and a variety of loose-knit groups on Twitter. All of them help keep me accountable and help me nurture my passion in various ways.

10. Listen to Joss Whedon.

Wait, what? Yes, that’s what I said. Go read this. I’ll wait.

Your turn! What are your best tips for following your passion while also meeting the demands of Real Life?

Long-Term Travel: 6 Tips for Mental Health

First, a quick note: I’m posting over at Turtleduck Press this week, talking about the “ooh, shiny!” of gardening and what happens when the initial obsession wears off.

Second, this is a travel post week. If you haven’t noticed, I’m alternating travel posts and general life posts on Wednesdays. Mondays are still for books and other media, and sometimes you get a bonus on Fridays with WANAFriday posts.

Last time we talked about planning for a long-term trip. This week, I’m moving on to what happens when you’re out there.

Your intrepid correspondent in the Malaysian jungle

Your intrepid correspondent in the Malaysian jungle

Long-term travel might sound like a dream come true, and in many ways it is. But it’s also exhausting, like running a marathon (er, not that I’ve done that…). If you’re travelling with a companion, you’ll want to avoid murdering each other. If you’re travelling alone, you’ll cope with loneliness at some point.

Here’s how we dealt with these challenges.

1. Have an idea of your travel style before you start…

Auto-rickshaw in Agra, India

Auto-rickshaw in Agra, India

For example:

  • We knew we didn’t want to go hostelling — been there, done that, wanted a room and preferably a shower to ourselves — but we didn’t need an international hotel chain to feel comfortable. We didn’t know at first where between those two extremes we would fall.
  • We knew we were okay with cheap-to-midrange restaurants, but wanted to avoid street food for the most part.
  • We wanted to take public or cheap transportation, but in relative comfort — in India that meant trains and auto-rickshaws rather than buses.
  • We identified the sorts of activities and sights we were most interested in — mainly seeing temples, forts, and other old buildings, but also some light adventure tourism and hiking, and just soaking up the feel of a place.

2. …But adjust your plans and standards as you go.

Breakfast area for our guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur

Breakfast area for our guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In Malaysia, our first guesthouse was a super friendly, family-run place…where the AC ran only at night, showers were shared (and out on the balcony!), and breakfast was DIY cereal. In India, our second guesthouse was another super friendly place in a historic home…where our 950-rupee ($20) room was right behind reception, so we could hear loud conversations for 16 hours a day, plus the attached bathroom was in a closet under the stairs, and the rooftop restaurant made all the construction noises from the back sound even louder.

In both cases, we decided to raise our rates a little and get a bit more comfort next time. (For this reason, we didn’t pre-book all of our accommodation.) We still stayed in family-run guesthouses that were a little rough around the edges, but that was part of the fun. We ended up paying about $30 a night (for two people) in Malaysia and Thailand, and $20-30 a night in India.

Conversely, by the end of our India and Nepal stint, I found myself getting a lot more comfortable with public squat toilets than I ever imagined I would. Turns out they are scary and gross, but nothing I couldn’t deal with.

Remember you’re in a very different country and culture. Practise being flexible!

3. Pace yourself…

Amer Fort near Jaipur. Amazing? Yes. But after six of them in a row? Maybe a little less amazing.

Amer Fort near Jaipur, India. Amazing? Yes. But after six forts like this in three weeks? Maybe a little less amazing.

If you’re measuring your travel in months rather than weeks, you can’t expect to see four sights every day and a new city every two days…you’ll burn yourself out! So mix heavy sightseeing days with quiet days, especially:

  • when you first get to a country — give yourself around 5 days to orient yourself in your first location, do a little sightseeing, and get used to the unique challenges of that country
  • after you’ve been doing a lot of sightseeing — give yourself at least 1 day of downtime
  • after you’ve been travelling for a while — give yourself 3-7 days of just vegging out in relative comfort

4. …And don’t try to see everything.

Six weeks in India might sound like a lot of time, but trust me, it’s not. You can’t see everything in a country. You probably can’t even see all the sights in a given city without burning yourself out after three cities. (Ask me how I know.)

So don’t try. See what you can, see what you’re interested in, see what you have time and energy for. It’s okay to let the rest go.

5. Know yourself and your needs…

Bukit Bintang 2

Open-air restaurant area in Kuala Lumpur — fascinating, delicious, and overwhelming

My travelling companion and I are both introverts, and Asia can be an assault on the senses (sometimes all five of them at once). We found we needed a lot of downtime (see #3). We also needed quiet spaces and solitude — another reason we didn’t want to go hostelling. So we spent a fair amount of time in our hotel rooms, on our respective netbooks. This confused people sometimes, but we were a lot saner for it. We even spent a few days apart, doing separate things.

On the other hand, when I went to Norway and later Ireland as a solo traveller, I got very lonely sometimes — even though I loved how liberating it felt (and yes, even though I’m an introvert). So if you’re travelling alone, you might need to seek out people. Hostelling is a great way to do this because there are lots of solo travellers. You’ll always meet people in the mornings and/or evenings. Sometimes you’ll even find travelling companions for part of your trip.

And yes, paying attention to your needs might mean you buy a hamburger once in a while because you miss Western food. That’s okay too.

6. …But stretch your comfort zone.

Deep-fried tofu in Bangkok -- yes, we ate street food after all!

Deep-fried tofu in Bangkok, Thailand — yes, we ate street food after all!

What is travelling for, if not for getting out of your comfortable routine and being open to new experiences — really living? Of course you’ll want to keep safety in mind. But being unsafe and being uncomfortable are not the same thing. Do try the squat toilets…or try the street food…or try haggling…or try ziplining. (We did all of those things — click through to read more.) Maybe you’ll love it!

You’re still going to be exhausted and overwhelmed and homesick at various points. That’s part of travelling, too. But if you follow these tips, you’ll enjoy yourself more and be less stressed.

5 Tips for Prospective and New Home-Owners

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

This weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of moving into my first house. To celebrate, here are some lessons from my first year of home-ownership — things I wish I knew going in.

1. When you’re looking for a house, be flexible.

We had specific criteria when we were house-hunting. We wanted a nice family home that was:

  • newly renovated
  • on the subway line and close to our jobs
  • fully finished in the basement (because we were moving my in-laws in…but that’s a whole ‘nother post)
  • …and, of course, within budget.

The house we ended up with, after viewing quite a few and rejecting many more listings, was:

  • unrenovated — some parts were done in the ’80s, others not at all
  • not on the subway line and no closer to our jobs than our previous place was
  • not fully finished in the basement
  • within budget (whew!).

But it was also:

  • unmarred by cheap renovations that ignored the age and character of the house (we saw lots of these)
  • on a dedicated streetcar line — not quite the subway, but close
  • big enough so my in-laws could live on the main floor, my significant other and I could live upstairs, and we could co-habitate without stepping on each other’s toes too much.

And…the truth is, logical or not, we kind of fell in love.

Our poor real-estate agent was flabbergasted when we bought the place.

So…what about all our initial criteria? Do we regret going off our list and buying the house we did?

Not even a little bit.

As you can see by the bullet points above, we dug deeper, identified the reason for each of our criteria, and found another way to meet them.

2. Renovate before you move in.

This was something we did right — and we were so glad we did. The renovations weren’t extensive, but they would have taken a lot longer if we’d been living there. It was painful to hand over the keys the day after closing, but a lot less painful than dealing with dust and paint.

We’ll do more renos in the future, but I’m glad we did what we could up front.

A tip for renovating — hire a general contractor who can oversee and coordinate specific workers like electricians and flooring companies. That way, the headaches are mostly his (or hers), not yours.

Another tip — if at all possible, even if you don’t do anything else, redo surfaces and a few cosmetic things. Get the floors refinished, the walls painted, or new light fixtures put in. The place will feel a lot more like yours.

3. Having an outside is more work than you think.

Sure, you’re mentally prepared for the recurring chores of mowing in summer and shovelling in winter. But there are bound to be other things that pop up, from a collapsing fence to rampant weeds. Those take a lot more thought and time and effort, especially if (like us) you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

4. Remember to have fun anyway.

While you’re busy weeding and mowing, plant a few vegetables or flowers so you’ll have a reward later. Even if you’re not the decorating type (and we are so not), if you have to buy a welcome mat to scrape dirty shoes off, buy a funky one instead of a basic, utilitarian one. Paint one room a strong colour just because you can.

5. Think long-term and short-term.

Assuming that you’re planning to be in the house for more than a few years, remember that you have time. You don’t have to get it all perfect in the first month or even the first year. Things will happen little by little, and that’s okay.

Sometimes short-term solutions are okay too — for example, don’t live without a patio set just because you’re dreaming of an expensive one. Get a cheap one now so you can enjoy your patio while you’re saving up.

Your turn! If you have a house, what did you learn as a new home-owner? What do you wish someone had told you?

Creative Cross-Training

Two of the ways I live a creative life.

Two of the ways I live a creative life.

I’ve been thinking lately about creativity, cross-pollination or cross-training, and living the creative life (or creativity as a lifestyle).

Renaissance Women and Men

The mother of one of my childhood friends is a weaver. But she has also been known to make puppets and design knitted dolls and many other things. Her husband is a musician. My friend grew up to be a fiber artist. Stepping inside their house, at age 12, was wonderful — entering a world of playful creativity.

One man I know is a music director, an opera singer, an actor, a writer, and a teacher — and he does all of them well.

A lot of the creative people I know don’t have just one outlet, although they may have a specialty. They’re Renaissance men and women.

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