So long, September

In a nutshell, I’d say that sugarless and sober was a success. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the month was so stressful. But I think I’ve proved to myself that the discipline isn’t what I lack.

Sober was easy. In my life, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt like I “needed” a drink (unless I’m forgetting something). When I’ve been stressed or grieving, alcohol hasn’t been my vice of choice.

Sugarless was a bit more challenging, but again, the discipline was there. Even if I was going for a coffee with a friend, I’d opt for the straight milk and coffee latte, rather than the fancy one with syrups and whatnot.

But during the power outage aftermath of the tornado, I did stop being strict about it. It was just so that I wouldn’t be avoiding perfectly edible food that otherwise would be fine, except for there being sugar as one of the ingredients.

Also, I was tired. This month was a lot. There was a lot going on, and a lot of exhaustion, stress, and then having to throw out everything in my fridge and freezer after 53 hours without power. That sort of just broke it for me. I decided that Sugarless September was done last week. And I enjoyed that Blossoming Rose tea latte.

But again, funnily enough, as I’ve come to realize at the end of most every month – the change had felt good. I will probably maintain a fairly sugar free diet, focused on fresh fruit and vegs, with good protein sources, and light on the breads and pastas.

What’s on tap for October? I had been toying with the idea of Educational October, where I’d sign up for those courses I had planned on doing (and finish the one that has been languishing for years). Except I’m still tired and there are still two weeks to go on a big deadline at work. So I think I’m going to go with Optional October.

Optional October will mean that every day, I will choose one thing to do – yoga, meditation, reading, art, journaling, gratitude exercise, heavy workout, staying off social media, sugarless, sober, and yes, even working on a course or two. This way, I’ll be able to work in some of the things I’ve learned this year about what makes me feel better, and I’ll still have a goal, it just won’t be as strict.


September midway point

With the documentary The Truth About Alcohol on, I thought I’d do my midway report on Sober and Sugarless September.

Not drinking has been really easy. So far, I’ve done our usual weekend away in Stratford and I didn’t want a beer or glass of wine. Also it made our dinner bills a bit lighter than usual. Then, this weekend has been a family get together with multiple dinners where I have been drinking water or sparkling water instead of the beer or wine everyone else has been having. I haven’t felt deprived or left out.

The sugarless aspect has been eye opening though. I didn’t realize how much of my daily diet had sugar in it.

For my morning meal, I’ve been using oatmeal, overnight oats (with unsweetened hemp milk or almond milk, and stevia-sweetened vegan protein powder) or a thawed-frozen blueberry/chia and hemp seed/plain yogurt mix with homemade muesli topping. My usual earl grey tea with milk and honey has been replaced with green tea or coffee with cream. That hasn’t been disruptive, except for the noticeable lack of sweetness.

For dinners (and therefore leftovers for lunch), I’ve been focusing on very plain, whole food – fish fillets, specific vegetarian protein analogues that don’t have added sugar. I was happily surprised by my favourite veggie patty (La Soyarie miso burgers) being sugar free, and unhappily surprised by how many veggie sausages had sugar as an ingredient. I was able to find one – Tofurkey spinach pesto sausages – that didn’t in my local produce store. I haven’t been making legume dishes yet but I might do a spicy chickpeas dish this week. Sides have been vegetables or salads. I was able to find three salad dressings without added sugar (one uses figs for sweetness). I also found a pre-packaged tomato sauce at my local store that was made without sugar so I might do a pasta night this week.

The condiments issue has been interesting. We’ve only been using Dijon mustard or homemade mayonnaise, as most everything else has added sugars! I’m thankful my second round of mayo tasted good, so that hasn’t been catastrophic (the first one was too sour and didn’t have that familiar tang that I wanted). Also, burgers have been topped with cheese, which has helped.

However, my body has been missing and, dare I say, craving that sweet flavour note. Desserts have been “local” peaches (potentially from southern Ontario) with plain yogurt, sometimes with blackberries. I haven’t cut out fruit because that’s at least a whole food with actual nutrients and fibre, despite the sugar content. But I’ve had to be aware of getting any sort of flavoured drink (no iced tea, lemonade, fancy frapp├ęs or lattes). I’ve politely declined getting dessert, or having a cookie or brownie at a gathering.

One of the major changes I’ve noticed is a distinct decline in my hunger. I’m not getting ravenous during the day, and I eat smaller portions of the food I have. That in itself has been worth the avoidance.

Unfortunately, this month was actually poorly timed because I’m also testing out sleeping with a CPAP machine and my sleep has been disrupted. As you may know, getting bad sleep is associated with changes your ghrelin and leptin levels (here, here, and here). Ghrelin, among other things, controls your appetite. And I find when I’m sleep deprived, I often crave the worst sorts of foods – chips and sugary things. Making this month much more of a feat of strength than I had originally expected. Add to that a work deadline and some elevated stress, to which I usually respond with emotional/comfort/treat eating (also focused on chips and sugary things), I’m kind of surprised I’ve done as well as I have. There are only a couple of instances of eating out that I expect I probably got some sugar, but otherwise I’m pretty confident that I’ve been avoiding it.

I’m determined to see it through as far as I can. I have a decision to make of whether to cut it short at the end, because a friend’s birthday is the end of the month and I’ve been invited to the party and bourbon tasting. I will also be finishing the month with a requested cake baking of the famous chocolate stout cake with mocha buttercream icing. But the aim of that is to have the cake in October, at least. We’ll see how it goes.

And to finish my update, here’s a picture of one of the morning glories outside the Stratford Festival Theatre. They were such a delicate creamy blue colour. Gorgeous. :)

Literary/Reading August

Gratitude July concluded with a reflection on how wonderful my life is, really, despite the sadnesses and hardships. It was a good month, with great people and essential challenges. I finished it off with face prickles because I have a lot of engaging work to do.

But I escaped the city this weekend and got to float in a lake for a couple of days, hang out with wonderful people, eat great food, and relax. And enjoy snuggles from a sincere and loving little boy.

I am reading daily this month, at least 30 minutes a day, so I hope to significantly add to my reading list page. I also hope to get through a lot of the books I have and clear some shelf space. I’ve started to give away the books I finish reading that I probably won’t read again, so that others can experience the stories I’ve enjoyed. Also to try to prevent myself from hoarding so much stuff that my house is packed to the gills. I do keep some things, but they have to meet a pretty high bar to be kept (i.e., acting as a reference, being a story I would re-read over and over, or being really difficult to find).

Towards the end of the month, I’m planning on sitting down and evaluating the books I’m keeping to pare them down a bit. Ideally, I will pass along 15-20 books to their next owners this month.

I’ll also be heading on vacation shortly to a place with no wifi, so my next update will be later than mid-month, so I might just do my end of month wrap up. Not unlike this post being late for end of month/beginning of month post.

Then, next month is Sober September, and my husband said he would do it with me too. I don’t think it will be too difficult, but I might mix in cutting out other junk, empty calories as well as the alcohol ones. Like sugar and chips. That will make it more of a challenge. ;)

Happy still summer! Stay cool and hydrated out there!

Gratitude July

Well, I had planned on introducing July previously but, life, y’know? :)

So, since this month contains the birthday that inspired this year’s approach, I decided that doing a gratitude practice every day would be a good way to cultivate the attitude I want to have about this milestone. I know that aging isn’t for the faint of heart, as pain and bodily breakdown seem to overtake any feelings of accomplishment and capability that should be front and centre for someone with a goodly number of adulting years under their belt.

But I do find that the in-your-face activity of day to day living often overshadows the opportunities to stand back and marvel at how you’re *actually* doing it. We joke about giving up on adulting and sitting around in pajamas all day eating a tub of ice cream, but believe it or not, that is a completely adult decision brought on by executing your adult duties otherwise. You are paying bills, managing money, managing your time, standing up to meet your responsibilities and you’re ending up with a moment where you can do what you thought being an adult was all about when you were 12 (or at least I did) – being able to stay up as late as you want and eat as much junk food as you can handle. The 12 year old just thought you’d always have the constitution of a 12 year old, and that Oreos and Doritos were always going to be no problem to digest. But that was because at 12, you didn’t know that much about nutrition, and healthy lifestyle, *and* you didn’t hang on to the negativity as much so you don’t remember that you always got a tummy ache after stuffing yourself with junk food.

I think that adults focus far too much on problems and negativity. And that’s why we get bogged down in bad knees and delicate stomachs and left versus right and the automatic terrified “No!” to any suggestion of doing something other than what’s safe and secure and predictable. Which leads you to stay in unhappy secure and predictable spots because change is uncomfortable.

Studies are suggesting that a gratitude practice helps in a similar way to meditation – it reorients your perspective to look for the positive rather than focusing on the negative. It helps to reduce blood pressure and other stress related health issues. And it might go as far as changing your brain connections. Meditation has been shown to help rewire your brain, building up the ability to the serenely observe what’s occurring around you from a non-attached state rather than “running out into the traffic of your ideas”. That’s an image from the Headspace app that really resonated with me in May. And gratitude might rewire you to connect with positivity.

When I was in the midst of my struggles with the unknown facial prickling, I was very much stuck in a negative and unhappy state. How could I not focus on what was happening in my face? I couldn’t find the energy to sit down and meditate, because I felt I was always in a gravity well, needing a certain amount of energy to get over the barrier to do any activity.

Contrast that with this year and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do yoga and weightlifting and other activities that I wouldn’t have expected. I’m still experiencing some prickles, but they are more warnings now than what my everyday life consists of. They let me know that my posture is terrible or that I’m tensing my jaw. And usually a change of position or activity or a little walk, stretch and shrug are enough to work me out of them.

So as I hurtle towards a milestone that many people mourn, I’m going to be grateful every day of small and big things, of strangers and friends and family, because I have made it this far and it is worth celebrating. Look for the light, as Chookooloonks says.

And yes, I’m still working on the journaling from last month. I’m at the vision page exercise, where you put together a collage of what you want the next twelve months to be or to bring you. That activity is day 16 of 21 so I’m almost done, but I’m taking my time to put together my pictures and to consider what it is I want in this next year.

So far, I have at least one (and sometimes more) gratitude points per day in July. My journal from last month is almost full, but that’s okay because I have a ton of empty books on my shelf, waiting for all sorts of interesting things to be written in them.

I’m also starting to pull together the books I’ll be reading next month. I was happy to tear through Neuromancer the way I did. I have a bunch of sci-fi books that I bought alongside it, one of which I’ve already assigned a bookmark.

I’m on a staycation this week so I’ll probably spend some time reading. I have a lot of magazines to flip through before they become vision page images too.

Sunset pansies on a rooftop patio to start my vacation. :)

Journaling June

Mindfulness May wrapped up with a few stressful days, and more scattered-feeling meditations, but I really liked practicing observing the thoughts running around in my head. It was really amazing to see myself following my breath, counting them even, and then realizing that I was suddenly planning what was coming next or reviewing what had happened that day. And then to be able to shift back to counting my breaths again and not getting upset with myself was really good. A weird aspect of the Headspace meditations was that they give you a moment of just releasing the focus and letting your mind do whatever. Almost every time, my mind just kind of went blank when I could “let my mind wander”. It was neat.

This month will involve journaling every day. I signed up for Chookooloonks Glow e-course, where she sends a journaling prompt every day to lead you through an introspection exercise to work on recognizing strengths and maybe even making room for changes to happen in your life. She also recommends to use your journal for everything – writing down notes, shopping lists, ideas, doodling. I’ve enjoyed that today already. I’ll probably play with my writing utensils, but I started with my fountain pen and a number of coloured ballpoint pens for fun doodling, outlines, and checking things off my to do list.


Of course, these month themes aren’t the only things going on in my life these days. My husband has been dealing with lower back issues, which have been really debilitating. It’s funny how you can take your relative mobility or lack of pain for granted until it gets ripped away from you. It’s been a good reminder for us both to not ignore those initial signs that something has been tweaked. He’s heading to physiotherapy now, and I won’t be far behind him, once I check with my doctor about a stubborn hot/pulling sensation in my quad. Unfortunately, I figured out another yoga pose that it’s showing up in today – “sleepy pigeon”, but when that leg is straight back, not the bent one that you lean over, so that’s annoying as pigeon is one of my favourite poses. It seems very related to trying to release my hip flexors/psoas… like I say, annoying.

This month is going to be busy, with family visiting, solo trips, and travelling to visit family. I’ll try to blog my work trip to Norway at the end of the month, though I still owe a quick post about my February Quebec City trip… or is it too late now? Hm.

And sprummer is upon us here, after a pretty typical winter. Today, it’s humid and hot and the clouds look like they could storm, but the sun is out as well. We’re well into blooming season. :)

Some little irises I found on my sweaty walk home today from errands. :)

Mid-May check in

More like latter half of May check in, but that’s okay.

The meditation every day is going well. There have been a couple of busy days where it was a last minute “oh yeah!” before going on to another activity, but I got it done. Yesterday was the first day I missed, but I just finished my meditation for today right now.

One of the things I was hoping for was to build up that mental distance between issues and stressors and my reactions to them. I’ve been using the Headspace app for my phone to guide my meditations and they have a really great mental picture for what I’m going for. Imagine your thoughts as a busy road, and you are sitting on the side of the road, watching them pass by. And that’s what we want to do, just let them pass by, instead of running out into traffic and frantically chasing them or getting upset. I’m trying to build that into my psyche.

So, only one day missed in 21 so far is pretty awesome. I’ve been doing either 10 or 15 minute meditations, although I’m not sure how long some of my early May ones were, as I was doing a mindfulness break at work with my friend M and she had a Deepak Chopra session that we were listening to. It was also good.

I’m also trying to plan the next three months of stuff and things. Not just themes, but also trips and vacations and get togethers. I think August will be my reading month, and June will be journaling each day. I’m leaning towards July being a month of gratitude, since it will also be my birthday and that seems like a good theme to have on your birthday. :)

I hope everyone is having a very good spring!

Another month theme done?!

And so ends Artistic April. I wasn’t able to rouse any creativity while I was ill, so I lost a week, sadly.

But even so, I got a short story finished, another one almost done, and some writing done on two existing long stories as well.

I also worked on my one canvas and made some good progress that I’m happy with. That was what I did on this final evening. I did four sketches, and attempted a fifth while I was feeling ill that didn’t really get very far.

And lastly, something that I did count towards creativity was building some Sylvaneth miniatures – my Spirit of Durthu and some dryads. Although I didn’t entirely make them myself, I did choose which bits went where so there was some creativity associated with it.

So, all in all, this month seemed more challenging, surprisingly. I think because I was fighting against my normal deprioritizing of doing my art, and because it is work to create things. It takes energy, and sometimes I didn’t have much. It helped that I mostly had a plan for what I wanted to do, so I didn’t have to think things up on the fly too often. The couple of times I didn’t have a plan were tougher to get through, and I wasn’t as happy with the results.

And May? I’m going to do a Mindfulness May. No, not every month has to alliterate. But I’d like to challenge myself to incorporate meditation into my daily life. It’s another one of those things that I have been deprioritizing.

One of my sketches, inked and cleaned up – a replica of one of the pages in a quest item from Skyrim. I really enjoy the designs they developed for the game.