Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Most Effective Workout Mantra

News Flash:

I'm insanely sore from my group aerobics/hip hop cardio class last night. (Think hard-to-walk-up-stairs and cringe-anytime-my-trunk-twists kind of sore). Note: This is a news flash because it means I am unable to help anyone move any large pianos or participate in any push-up contests for the next 48 hours or so, and I'm just giving a heads up beforehand so you know I'm not a total snob. Normally I wouldn't achieve this level of body tenderness after this particular class, but my regular teacher had called in a sub, who admittedly liked to say things like, "I want you to HATE me tomorrow" throughout the class.

It's nice in some ways, though; I've always thought that a bit of soreness is a vivid reminder that whatever you've been doing must be challenging your body in some way, which will eventually bring you the fitness results you want. (At least that's what I try and tell myself as my eyes tear up at the thought of going up another ten steps to get into our apartment.)

When I first started doing this particular hip hop aerobics class a year ago, I could barely make it through. In fact, 15 minutes into that first class, I was basically only doing the moves half-heartedly (or even quarter-heartedly) and repeatedly checking the clock to see how many minutes I had left to endure.

But, despite my less-than-stellar performance that first time, I stuck with it, pretty much week after week after week after week. And eventually, once I started being able to actually keep up for the full hour, I sometimes started looking for other ways to push myself even more, like saying, "Okay, today I'm going to do the harder version of that squat," or "Today I'm going to elevate my aerobics step to the next setting up."

And then sometime earlier this year, I was watching a Biggest Loser episode and heard for the first time what is now (and maybe forever) my most effective workout mantra:  

"Talk yourself into it, not out of it."

Like 99% of humans, I don't always want to exercise--sometimes, my mind tries to convince me to sleep in instead of waking up to do my long run, or sometimes my body, when I'm trying to get it to squat lower or hold a plank for longer or keep on going despite a sideache, threatens to quit on me if I keep on going. But then I just repeat in my mind:

Talk yourself INTO it, not out of it.

And the rush of positive thoughts that follows, like "You are way too strong to be wimping out on this move" or "You can do this!" gets me to push through, and after months and months of repeating this to myself, I've noticed big gains across all fronts---weight loss, endurance, strength, aerobic capacity, etc. etc. etc. 

So last night, when we were doing the routine from purgatory and my body screamed that it could not possibly do one more squat jump to save its life, I talked myself into it instead of out of it. (Spoiler alert: I did not puke, pass out, or have anything remotely terrible happen to me as a result, unless you count a medium-ish amount of soreness today.)

All in all, my fitness over the past 12+ months has been a series of hard-won battles that I'm proud of myself for sticking with, and every time I can convince my mind to talk my body into doing something more challenging than it wants to, I count that as a pretty solid victory.

Next time you notice you're trying to talk yourself out of something that will benefit you in the long run, try repeating this mantra to yourself---

Talk yourself into it, not out of it.

I promise it works. 

What are your most effective workout mantras for getting you to push yourself? 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Strawberry Fields Forever: Michaelis Farm

I can credit an ex-boyfriend actually for my interest in the Beatles less-well-known stuff--as a child, I was familiar with all of their #1 hits, but I'd never ventured into their actual albums (just the compilations of their top songs or whatever the oldies station played). To me, the Beatles were synonymous with "Love, Love Me Do" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and their worth basically ended around there.

But, when the aforementioned ex gave me a few copies of their albums (which included the familiar songs as well as everything else released alongside them), I became hooked not to the hits, but to the slightly less well-known stuff (although I still think "Octopus's Garden" is a little too bizarre for my taste).

That is why, as we drove to my old stomping ground (aka, where I was a teacher not too very long ago) to go to a u-pick berry farm, "Strawberry Fields Forever" was playing on a loop inside my head.

I've mentioned before that I started trying u-pick farms because "all the other bloggers were doing it," but now, I continue to seek them out because I like knowing that my dollar is going right to the source of it all. Plus, it's one of the few times I can actually say a personal thank you to people toiling away in sun and rain and endless fields of dust and dirt in order to provide me and mine with "real food."

And the Michaelis family? (The family who ran the farm we went to?)

The very definition of hospitality and graciousness.

For, in addition to letting us try the berries off the vine and involve our very excitable almost-toddler in the process, they also enthusiastically answered all of our questions, offered a brief synopsis of their growing methods, let Raven "pet" the cat (really, they let Matt pet their cat while Raven cowered in terror), and, best of all, they asked if Raven wanted to come into the back and feed their goats. (Secret--Raven was undecided about the whole thing, but her daddy sure enjoyed himself!)

Truthfully, I harbor a secret dream of living on a small farm--not necessarily a farm where we would try and make a ton of money off of it or anything, but a farm where we could raise chickens and maybe have a milk cow and of course, fields and fields (okay, rows and rows) of berries and peas and potatoes and maybe one or two just for wildflowers.

But, as Matt and I remarked to the Michaelis family as we were chatting with them, the notion is probably more work in reality than it is romantic in theory.

Ah, but it's such a beautiful theory!

Maybe to see if I can handle a farm, I should start actually getting up when my alarm goes off between 6:30 and 7 every day instead of shutting it off and sleeping in an extra 20-30 minutes. Maybe I should do an additional test where I say that if I can use Raven's naptime totally productively every day, I could own a farm.

(But let's be honest--such tests would mean I would probably never get my farm. I guess that's kind of the point--I'm probably not ready for such responsibility!)

If you're looking for a friendly, well-priced, high-quality organic berry farm, definitely check out the info below:

Michaelis Family Farm
Address: 13760 N 5400 W Garland, Utah
Products: corn, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, honey, fresh eggs
Hours of Operation: Monday - Saturday 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Good Things to Know: bring your own containers to hold what you pick, and make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen--it gets hot out in the open fields! Also, since it's a family farm, it's best to make an appointment beforehand (although you can just show up, too). 

For more info, check out this page.

When all was said and done, we walked away with just over two pounds of strawberries, two pints of raspberries, and two dozen fresh eggs (some of which were duck and turkey eggs, which I'm excited to try out!) for $20. Plus, we had the the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the fruit was all organic and grown under the best farming practices and that the eggs came from creatures who were well-treated and taken care of.

Thanks, Michaelis Farms, for both a fabulous day and for the perpetuation of my future own-a-small-farm dream!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Paying the Price of Improvement

Whenever I get an extra chunk of income in one swoop, there are only two things I'm tempted to spend it on--laser hair removal, or new photography equipment.

With the income I just received for putting in extra time all school year to attend a professional development course, I'm leaning towards buying a new camera lens this time--a 50mm/1.4 lens to be exact (for those of you who are interested). Two summers ago, if you had given me the same chunk of money, I wouldn't have hesitated before buying the new lens. The reason? Two years ago, I was convinced that the reason why my images weren't coming out as I wanted them to was because I didn't have the same level of equipment as the pros that I was admiring.

While it's true I lacked the equipment (and while it's true that the quality of my pictures would shift upwards with a nicer camera/lens), I was too naive to realize that more than anything, I lacked the experience and the knowledge, not the equipment.

Last night I happened to be looking through some old blog archives, and I stumbled across my post where I talked about what I'd learned from taking a picture of Raven every day. At the time I created that post, I distinctly remember looking back at all those photos and thinking that I had visibly improved in the few months since I'd started, and I was proud of a lot of the pictures I included in that.

Looking at that post now, I see a lot of overexposed highlights and places where I needed to work on my sharpness (perhaps with a faster shutter speed). I compared that post against my latest 10 on 10 post, and overall, I noticed a pretty drastic difference in the quality of my work.

My initial reasons for taking a picture of Raven every day weren't to improve my photography skills, per se--it was simply an effort to document my perfect baby girl in one of the best ways I could think of. Now, looking back, it's kind of astonishing what a difference it's made in my work, and it's required a minimal time commitment on my part--often fewer than five minutes a day.

I'm not where I want to be in my photography, of course (I haven't met a single photographer yet who is). I still study other photographers daily and marvel at how they got that particular shot, thinking I'll never, ever get there.

But this latest revelation about my own progress has turned up the fire that's already been burning for several years now, and I was thinking--what if I extended my "picture a day" to subjects outside of Raven? What if I made myself wake up early each day and do a little extra photo challenge, even if it was just for 10 minutes?

Imagine if I did that every day for just 10 minutes--what would I then be able to see as I looked back on this very photo shoot I'm featuring in this post (of my new baby nephew)? What would I notice?

One of my all-time favorite bloggers (who, coincidentally, doesn't keep a regular blog anymore) once said in one of her posts that she wakes up at 4:30 every morning so that she can be up and working for a couple hours before her kids are up. I have long been an admirer of her photography, and for some reason, I had just assumed it was something that must come naturally to her, that she probably didn't have to work too hard for it because she made it look so effortless.

Then I looked at my own mornings, where I was drowsily being dragged out of bed every morning as late as 8:00 or 8:30 by Raven's babbling or by the sounds of Matt as he finished getting ready, and I felt like I was slogging through the rest of the day as a result (unless, of course, it was one of the three mornings a week that I went on my run).

What was I willing to do to attain the improvements that I was seeking? Was I willing to put in the extra energy and effort (not to mention the earlier waking hours) that that blogger must have in order to get to where she is?

So I got up intentionally this morning (not at 4:30, but earlier than I have been, before the baby was up). I went outside. I took lots of pictures. And while it didn't seem revelatory in the moment, I kind of can't wait to look back in six months after doing this additional practice each day and say, WOW.

Because if I keep this up, I know that I WILL be able to look back and say WOW.

Now I just kind of hate that it's taken me so long not to be an idiot.

But then again, isn't that kind of the story of what life is like when it comes to self-improvement?

Of course, now I still need to decide what to do about getting that lens or not...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Necessity of Routine in the Stay-at-Home Life

Several times in the last few weeks (since I've quit teaching, maybe forever), I've been asked the following question:

"So what do you DO now? How are you filling up all that spare time?"

First off, I always have to inwardly chuckle a little bit at the question, especially when I get it from moms themselves, who should know better--

Much of my days at home are hardly "free time"--basically, if the baby is awake, I am not in "free time" mode.

But I think the people asking me the question already know that. What they mean, I think, is what am I doing now that I'm not automatically busy with a full-time job between 5:30 A.M. and 3:15 in the afternoon?

Well, I'll tell you exactly what I'm doing now with all that "free time" because I happen to really believe in the power of a good routine.

Let me back up a bit though--

In the few weeks leading up to the end of the school year, in the rare moment when I actually had time to think, I would make comments to Matt to the effect of this:

"You know, after giving myself a good 24 to 48 hours to do basically nothing once I'm done with teaching, I really want to sit down and lay out a routine for the foreseeable future because I want to get into good habits early on instead of being lazy from the get-go. Basically, if I start off lazy, I'll continue to be lazy. So I need to figure out what I want my 'ideal week' to look like and go from there."

(Yes, that is actually the kind of out-loud musing that Matt is constantly putting up with.)

See, before, when I just had summers off (but knew I'd be returning to the classroom come the end of August), I would still set routines for the summer, but they were pretty lax. Basically, summer was my time for recharging and for trying out new experiences and reading a lot of good books, so it wasn't all that important for me to work out a productivity plan, per se. Now that THIS is how I'm spending my time for the foreseeable future, however, I knew it would be more beneficial for both me and for Raven (and for Matt, too, in all honesty) if there was some sort of definite structure in each day and certain variables that could be counted on to be more or less unchanging (like meal times).

To figure out my ideal weekly plan, I first took a look at my short- and long-term goals, which are largely based around the new year's resolutions I set for myself back in January. In addition to these, I thought about some "big picture" things, like the type of mom I want to be, the type of home I want to run, the kind of woman I want to become in general. I also looked at some of my talents and skills and thought about ways to develop those where possible, too.

Next, I looked at possible pockets of time to really get things done (aka, times when Raven is sleeping or being cared for by Matt). That meant that I had some time in the morning up until 9 when Matt leaves for work, the time during her first nap of the day (usually starting around 9 or 9:30), her afternoon nap (around 1 or 2 in the afternoon), and after she's gone down for the night (from about 7 p.m. and on).

Then I started to hammer out a schedule.

Lest you think I am a spontaneity-killing monster, however, I will take this moment to point out that while I do have a loose routine every day, I recognize that not all days can follow this pattern exactly, so I allow myself some flexibility. However, this little routine DOES make me feel productive and like I've spent each day well, even if I only complete the bare minimum outlined for the day (instead of any other to-do items I've stacked on top of those).

Here's what I've come up with so far in our weekly routine:

*Make bed
*Put on makeup (still working on the "get dressed in real clothes" bit, lol)
*Do dishes
*Prepare meals
*Nightly "tidy" (see this post for more details)

*Do meal planning/meal options
*Go grocery shopping
*Go on a run
*Do blog post

*Do laundry
*Write in novel (at least 500 words)
*Attend exercise class

*Declutter/Organizational Projects
*Do blog post
*Do strength training workout

*Go on a run
*Write in novel
*Run miscellaneous errands

*Clean bathroom/vanity area
*Do blog post

*Go on long run
*Family fun

Other Daily Things I Try to Fit In
*Reading at least 40 pages
*Practicing piano for 10 minutes
*Photography practice/work/instruction
*Taking Raven outside for a long walk

Like I said, this has been really effective for me so far because it gives me both time to relax as well as a feeling of accomplishment each day, even if I just accomplish the bare minimum. 

I'd love to hear from other people who stay at home on a daily basis---have you also created a routine? How did you go about creating yours?


Monday, June 20, 2016

Matt & Raven's Early Hits & Rarities

As official Keeper of the All the Pictures in the Meidell house, I am basically the one in charge of making sure Matt sees any particular gems as they come through the magical conduit from the camera into the computer (or post said gems to this here blog so that he can be sure to swoon and laugh and giggle, as appropriate).

Well, one aspect of taking a picture of your baby every day is that you end up with a LOT of pictures, and there is pretty constant downloading of said pictures going on. Since most of that downloading and transferring and browsing through pictures happens when Matt is not around, there are literally thousands of pictures he's probably never seen.

Well, in honor of one of my favorite fathers of all time, I figured I'd give him a little surprise and post some pictures (70% of which I'm fairly positive he's likely never seen).

Happy Father's Day to you, Matt! Our baby girl is the luckiest.

 //Freshly home from the hospital

 //Four Generations, Maternal Side

 //Four Generations, Paternal Side

 //Long rocking episodes call for good reading material

 //Getting ready to go out to Daddy's graduation ceremony

 //Mommy checking the settings on the camera (this is pretty typical of the kind of shot I'll get)

 //The Sweetest. (Note to self--HOW DID I NOT POST THIS BEFORE?!)

 //See Matt, she's always been a little unsure of kisses...

 //Stargazing. Or a staring contest. (I'm not sure which.)

 //What do you mean, I get my weird faces from Dad?

 //Incoming fuzz-head with possible drool trail...
 //Daddy home from his extra church meetings finally.

 //Awesomeness all around.

 //Good dads know how to fix hairbows.

//This is what pure love looks like.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How to Enjoy Running More

One thing I was most excited about when it came to quitting teaching was the opportunity it would give me to start running more, especially more in the mornings.

If you would have told me that fact six years ago, though, I would have laughed in your face and called you a liar-liar-pants-on-fire. You see, I'd DREAMED about being a runner for a long time--I dreamed about being one of those people who would just lace up her sneakers and go out in the drizzling rain for a six-mile run when she was upset, or the kind of person who would run along deserted trails on the weekends just to get a sense of conquering the mountain within (or something crazy like that)--but I'd never even come close to pursuing it because to me, runners seemed born, not made, and besides, running just seemed, well, hard.

The dream got worse when I saw a girl from my high school who seemed to be just that kind of runner--wiry and petite and caramel-skinned, I saw her running up and down all the streets near the high school, near the shopping square, along The Boulevard...everywhere I drove, there she was---Running (with a capital R).

And I envied her.

But because I was far too busy during high school to pick up one more thing (no, really, I was---ask anyone), I never got into running and brushed it off as one of those silly dreams that you dream sometimes, like how I used to want to be a famous landscape architect and design European gardens.

But then I got my first set of "real" running clothes from my new in-laws for Christmas the first year after we were married, and on a whim, I signed both Matt and I up for a marathon four months out from that date.

And while I'd like to tell you that it was all hunky-dory from the beginning and that I always knew that it was one of my Real Loves in life, that's not *exactly* true. In fact, before I started marathon training, I positively DESPISED running, and it was just something I did at the gym first thing to "get it over with" until I could get to doing what I really wanted to do (which was lift weights with all the muscle heads). And once I did get into the whole marathon training plan, it only took until the second week in for me to think I'd possibly just made a very expensive mistake (since we'd already dropped the $200 to save our place in the race).

But now I've been running consistently for almost five years, and I can honestly say that I love it---maybe not every single second of it all the time, but I love running in general, and I hope to continue running until my body no longer lets me.

So, to help pass along some of the wisdom I've gleaned over these many years of being a runner (and being able to commiserate with people who consider themselves "non-runners" and who think they hate it in general), I've put together a little guide with some tips to help you to enjoy running more. Hope you find it useful!

How to Enjoy Running More
1. Get outside.
The number one way to enjoy running SO much more is to stop running on a stinkin' treadmill already. For years, I was a treadmill runner who would put in 1-3 miles every time I went to the gym and hate every single second of it. Once I took my first run outside, I was astonished at how much faster the time passed and how much more pleasant that time felt. There have been countless studies linking being out in nature with greater wellbeing, so do yourself a favor and stop doing your running at the gym (unless the weather absolutely forces you to).
2. Run with someone else.
Something that really helped me at the beginning of my journey as a burgeoning runner was that Matt was running alongside me for much of it. Having someone to talk to while running  (and someone to moan to who actually understands about how sore you feel) is priceless. Also, having a running buddy makes you much more accountable so that when one of you feels like skipping, the other one can act as a motivator, and vice versa. It's also helpful to run with someone who's just *slightly* faster than you are (like Matt was compared to me) because it forces you to push yourself and pick up your pace more, which builds muscle faster and challenges your body more. Now that I've learned that I love running period, I don't need an accountability partner so much, but it was absolutely crucial for me at the beginning of my journey.
3. Sign up for a race.
I have found over and over again that unless I have a race I'm working towards, I tend to go a bit easy on myself on my runs. For instance, I might have the intentions of going out on a five-mile run on Saturday, but if I don't have a race I'm prepping for, that 5-miler might turn into a 3-miler (or even a no-miler). The fact is, signing up for a race is motivating because it gives you a deadline to work toward, a distance to work toward, and a sense of excitement/anticipation around the whole act of running. And maybe this is just because this is how I went about it, but I actually go against conventional wisdom that says to just sign up for the smallest (read: shortest) race you can, and I say sign up for a race that scares you. The first race I ever ran was a marathon, and it was the terrifying nature of an-almost-impossible-sounding challenge that really brought the runner out of me. While I wouldn't necessarily tell everyone to just jump into the marathon like I did, check out this checklist of how to know if you're ready to sign up for a half marathon.
4. Run with music.
I actually never ran with music for my first couple years as a runner, but when I did pick it up one summer, I was astounded at how much more fun it made everything. Because I don't often listen to music at home anymore (and I basically only listen to audiobooks in the car), running was my one time to really just jam with my tunes. And if you're the kind of person who listens to music a lot, I'd say to download some of your absolute favorite new songs onto a running playlist and only let yourself listen to them while you're running. According to some studies, running while listening to music decreases your perceived effort by 15%, so if you're all about making running easier, try it out. (On the same note, sometimes running without music can be incredibly mind-clearing, too. For more info on running with or without music, check out this post.)
5. Start with no expectations.
When I started training for the marathon, I set absolutely no time expectations for myself whatsoever, which, in hindsight, was probably one of the smartest things I could have done. Because my only goal was to finish (and eventually, to do the whole thing without stopping to walk), I could just go at a pace that felt natural and easy for me, which allowed me to gradually build up my distance without injury and without *too* much soreness. Of course, I gradually got faster as I went along, but just being able to go out on a run with absolutely no expectations was really liberating, and it let me just find my own rhythm and settle in without stress. So, if you have a running watch or some other similar tracking device, leave it at home or don't look at it until the end. (For more on the perks and pitfalls to running sans technology, click here.)
6. Challenge yourself.
Seemingly against the advice I just gave in #5 is the tip to sometimes challenge yourself and push your body past its limits, and I like to do it in the form of small "games" while I run. When I feel like I'm too tired to keep on running and want to walk, I tell myself that I "just need to get to that next lamppost" or that I'm going to full-out sprint with all I have left until I reach the trash can up ahead. Even if I do end up walking at the end of my self-set marker, I still have pushed myself more than if I'd just given in immediately to my body's impulse to stop. The fact is, sometimes (many times, really) there are times when even runners who love it don't feel like running. That's when you say, "I'll just get my running stuff on and go for 5 minutes. That's it," or I'll head out the door and tell myself that I don't have to go for my expected 3-mile run and that I can just go for as long as I feel good. (Spoiler: I almost always go out for the intended distance because once I'm out, I'm usually in it to complete it.) So don't let yourself off too easy when the going gets tough.
7. Run longer distances to get in the zone.
This is so counterintuitive, but running for longer distances might very well make you like running more. When I first started out, I just wanted to get my running over with as fast as possible, and I ALWAYS quit before I'd gone anything over 3 miles. Basically, cardio was the necessary "medicine" I made myself swallow before I got to the real "treat" of exercise I'd come to do, and I hated running for YEARS (although I still made myself do it). But, aside from taking my runs outside (which made the biggest difference), the thing that made me love running the most was finally experiencing "runner's high"--the rush of endorphins and feeling of body-numbing that ONLY COMES (for me, at least) when I hit at least the 3- or 4-mile mark. Once I'm into mile four, I can basically keep on going until my next "wall," which doesn't usually hit until mile 8 or 9. So, once you've worked yourself into good enough shape to do two or three miles without stopping, you've worked yourself up enough to start doing longer runs of 4 or 5 miles, which is where you'll really start to feel the endorphin kick (especially if you're just doing easy, slow miles with no time expectation). 
What tips do you have for enjoying running (or exercising in general) more?
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