February 17, 2016

Why a good habit can be bad for you.

Yes, there are some good habits

I don't think Nir Eyal (www.nirandfar.com) will mind if I mention that I read his blog today on one ritual that has brought him much happiness. I'm not sure if I should tell you what it is - (spoiler alert) - but it has to do with adult friendships. It's a good one! Well worth reading! And I agree with him, it's good to get into the habit of... oh no, I'll let you read it for yourself.

He's not the only one to mention how habits can be good for you. I recently had Melissa, (Sorted, by Melissa), an organization specialist, come to my house to help me declutter. She asked me, "How often do you throw stuff away from your school files/desk?" And I looked at her as if she had asked me if I still remembered calculus from university. 
"Throw stuff away regularly?" I repeated dumbly? 
"Like when you go shopping," she said, "and you clear out your fridge, and throw away the packaging from the tomatoes..."

She told me how having a good habit (of tidying up or throwing away things on a regular basis) can clear the brain for more difficult tasks it needs to do in order to get through the day. Apparently, our brains get 'decision fatigue' when we have to make decisions (LIKE I DO), about every single thing in our lives, like: Wake up now, or set the snooze? What should I wear? Eat first, or shower first? Have tea or coffee? What's for breakfast? Sweet or salty? Eggs, oatmeal or smoothy? What, no pancakes? Etc. You can see how fatigued I am by the time I get to work!

So, sometimes, habits can be extremely helpful things to have. Even for us 'questioners' who have to have a reason for everything before we decide if we want to do it. The author of 'Better than Before' Gretchen Rubin has a really fun quiz that will help you figure out why you can or can't keep up good habits.

But habits can be dangerous too!


And then again, today I was driving along, and daydreaming - as I do sometimes while driving down familiar roads - and I thought - 'Wait a minute' - I'm going to try out a new road now. I hooked a left unexpectedly (Luckily no one was behind me), and zigzagged along a new road, until  got to my destination. As I did it, I was no longer daydreaming. I was looking around, checking out the houses, looking at the trees, the bushes, the view from here, that was different from the view from there.

And I remembered how often I have told people, in my workshops, that in order to grow, we have to jump out of our comfort zones. By changing one small habit, like trying to brush your teeth with the wrong hand, you can experience that even such a mundane task can be done in a mindful - 'in the moment' kind of way.

And since we don't know how long our lives will be, but what we do know, is that we are here right now, at this moment, it might be a good thing to stop and just BE in this moment. And sometimes that can only be achieved by changing your habits!

A fine balancing act


I would say, since my life is a constant struggle between growth and comfort, that it's a good idea to set some good habits - like my attempting to write a few times a week in order to get into a regular writing habit. I actually felt myself craving doing some writing yesterday!

But it's also a wonderful idea to go crazy once in a while, and try something unexpected, go somewhere new, shake it up a bit! Last night I dreamt I was petting some tame lions. I was sure all was well, but then along came a lion who was rather unfriendly. When I realized I was in danger, I didn't run away (since, duh, lions can run much faster than I can), instead, I used my dream superpower, and took off in flight, right into the sky! (since, duh, lions can't fly, now, can they?).

Happy habit making/breaking!

February 15, 2016

Time Management on Survival Days

How do you do it all? I am a person who has wondered this about others, and mostly I feel that I have no clue at all. That's why I took Katharine Grubb's Time Management Bootcamp, which this week is about managing during "off days." 

Since we are renovating, packing, taking floors out of current house, keeping our jobs, raising our teens, it seems to me that lately, every day is a survival day.

Here's what I do to keep my sanity, and still get some stuff done in these crazy times:


Delegate or die

My dearest darling teens have just done the dishes and somehow, miraculously, the dishwasher is even running right now, as I take time to write this blog. Earlier, I sent my daughter to the garage to get the headlight on the car fixed. She not only did it, but afterwards came back fully energized, decluttered and packed up half her room!

Cooking healthy but fast(er)

Recently, after doing the exercise where I charted what I was spending time on, I realized that I spend far too much time thinking about what to cook for dinner, then shopping a few times a week, then cooking long elaborate meals. So, recently, I have found a few different ways to save time, without compromising on my many self imposed demands: fresh ingredients, warm food, tasty!, interesting and varied.
Chili and Corn bread! 
  •       Hello Fresh (much as I hate to give free publicity), this company has really saved me in the past few months during our busy times. The meals are pretty good – sometimes I have to add a few extra spices, and sometimes we feel they are a little too healthy, but on the whole, they satisfy all requirements. 
  •       An hour of research into “30 min meals” (Yummly ring a bell?)– and making a list in advance of what we’re going to eat that week – then an accompanying shopping list. In the extra busy days, I also delegate here too – both Naomi and Yoav are happy to make things such as Tacos, Pasta Carbonara, Sushi (not cheap but very yummy).
  •       Use local chefs. There’s at least one woman who has saved me more than once and her food is delicious and super fresh as well. Colleen Camastro in Amstelveen. She has a short, private list of customers, so to get in touch with her amazing food, you can ask me, and I’ll ask her…Otherwise, check Facebook: Amstelveen Buy/Swap/Sell site for other home chefs advertising their foods!

Saying “No”

Oh, I’ve become quite good at that. And also apologizing, and also telling people that in advance they should expect very little of me these days. And funnily enough, I still have amazing friends who are willing to come over, help me organize, listen to my kvetching and send me red hearts on whatsapp. It relieves me of so much guilt, that I don’t know why I didn’t start doing it earlier. Even my kids once said to me, “Mom, don’t say, “We’ll see,” cause that gets our hopes up. Just say no, it’s ok, and then we know.”

Being kind to me

Recharging your battery is essential in life. I learned that lesson, even in those hard years when I was caring for Yarden, and many mothers in such a situation would have been glued to his side 24/7.  Then, and now, I have learned that when I am fed (warm and healthy food – see above), have enough sleep and also am allowed some chill-out time, I am a much nicer person to be around. 

What I do to have fun:

When I have ‘no time’ – I still almost have time for these:
  •      An episode of House while making dinner!
  •      Listening to a podcast while on public transport on way to work.
  •       A long shower – often twice a day.
  •      Reading a few pages of a not too demanding book, before bed.
  •      A few minutes on the side of Naomi and/or Yoav’s bed, before they go to sleep. (That usually ensures that I still get a kiss – hard to come by with teens).
  •      Cuddle with my hubby. Usually these days one of us ends up snoring after a few minutes, but we still get all those warm happy feelings from the closeness. 


Bottom line

And yes, setting the timer for 10 minutes (or 30) really does help me sit down to get tasks done. I am a born procrastinator (there, my dirty little secret is out!), so I often have to trick myself to get stuff done.

And finally, THANK GOODNESS for my wonderful husband, Theo, who is an endless energizer bunny – a guy who very rarely complains, and ‘just does it.’ Where would I be without him!?


February 10, 2016

Renovation - # 2 - The chirping sound

What lies behind the walls!

Not a thing of beauty

Before I tell you about the spooky chirping sound from last week, let me just say that renovating a house that’s 3 years younger than I am is quite an adventure. The house, without its wooden wall panels, and without wallpaper is not a thing of beauty. If a surgeon peeled back my skin and teeth and took a close look underneath, would she be as horrified as we are at our findings?
New walls, new life!


New walls!

Today, as I entered the house, having missed a visit yesterday, I realized that a few things had changed. It seemed a little fuller – and I thought it was just the extra new doors downstairs - but it turned out that it was also the new 60 cm wall that I had asked for, and the frame for the ceiling that would be lowered downstairs.


Happy to see this rapid development, I bounded upstairs, only to be confronted by a cloud of rapidly descending dust.  I covered my mouth with my scarf and kept moving. The bathroom tiles were being removed (cough, cough), and a slit was being carved into the floor to accommodate some new pipes.

It’s true that the new door frames in the attic overlapped, but really, what’s a few centimeters among friends? Without losing our cool, we figured out a workable solution so both doors can open and close without blocking each other. 


A mysterious sound

Back to the chirp. Last week, I found myself alone in the house, after the workers had left.  Since the radiators had been dismantled, it was pointless to keep the heating on and half of the light fixtures were missing, so it wasn’t too light there either. I had some measuring to do, and planned to draw a new sketch for one of the rooms. I was wearing my coat and working quickly to get it done before I’d have to put on my gloves as well.

As the silence descended, I noticed the sounds from around me. I could hear the neighbor's footsteps going up the stairs. I could hear a rattling sound from upstairs – that must be the spin cycle on their washing machine. And an unidentified chirp. Every few minutes. At random intervals, it seemed. It sounded like a living thing. Perhaps a cricket, stuck beneath the house?

I texted Theo. “Do you know what the chirping sound is?” “Oh yes, I think it’s the oven,” he replied. So, I contacted the previous owner. “Why does the oven beep?” I asked her. She replied, after a few minutes, “It’s the smoke alarm – battery dead – maybe your handy husband can replace it?”


The goose chase

I searched high and low, but could not find the smoke alarm, since the ceiling had been removed. The kitchen is covered in a thin sheet of half transparent plastic, so it was hard to see what’s what there. I crept around the kitchen, which is very dimly lit, in the dusk, searching for the damn smoke alarm. That day, I didn’t find it. The next morning, in the light, after careful listening, Theo found it on the kitchen counter.

I picked it up, with 2 fingers, almost afraid it would cause, rather than prevent fire. In small writing, on the back, it had an expiry date, which was more than a year away. And imprinted on the plastic was this sentence: Battery cannot be replaced. Funnily enough, all the time I had it in my hand, it refused to chirp.


All's well that ends well

View from our new bedroom! A good omen!
The day after that, I picked it up again from the shelf in the pantry. It chirped right away. “Into the container with you!” I shouted angrily at the round plastic object, and ran outside to the container with all our old tiles and rotten wood and sheets of wallpaper and I threw it in, as far away from me as I could. “Good riddance, horrible thing!”

It must have been the right thing to do, because, as I was about the leave the house today, this beautiful rainbow appeared through our new window!  

February 8, 2016

Renovation - end of 1st week!

Moving day is in 19 days. The house is now stripped to the bricks in some places, to the raw plaster in others. Insulation is being installed and electrical points added where needed. The bathroom wall upstairs is being reconstructed after we stole 30 precious centimeters from another room, to make room for a shower.

Just a little project
Last night, Theo and I got started on a mini-project which we hoped would be easy: removing wooden floorboards from our current house, so we could recycle them and use them in our new bedroom. Did I say easy?

As we looked around the room, we weren’t sure where to start. The floorboards are pretty long, and they seem rather “attached” to the wall, or at least to the elegant wooden baseboards that go around the edge of the wall. So, we started in the entrance hall. Since it’s a small area, it seemed doable.

I may have forgotten to mention a few minor details, namely, the fact that my husband had left his toolkit in the new house, and oh yes, it was 11:45 pm on Sunday night. Last but not least, the floor had been placed about 20 years ago, just after the house had first been rented out. And of course, the hall was filled with a side table, a radiator on the wall, and was rather a cramped place to work.

Considering these minor issues, we may have been slightly overly optimistic in predicting it a simple task to ‘get started on removing the floorboards.’  Let me jump ahead to around 1:00 am, where I have multiple splinters in my hand, we have succeeded in removing 5 floorboards, 4 of which we damaged in the process of removal.

Lessons learned:
1.     If the floorboards have been glued together, then it will impossible to remove them without breaking those wonderful grooves which would be necessary to place them in the new house, (Unless of course, you happen to be a carpenter and can easily put new grooves in these planks, all within a week, while working fulltime, and doing other things such as running every day to the hardware store for new things you just realized you need, such as a new doorbell, a new smoke alarm*, a new lock for the door, a new...)
2.     Do not remove floorboards without gloves. Did I mention splinters?!
3.     Since we cannot re-use these floorboards in our new house, then a crowbar may come in handy.

Keep Positive and Keep Moving Forward

I had taken some floorboards to the house and shown one of the workers. Despite his poor Dutch, and my poor Polish, the woeful look in his eyes, combined with a sad shaking of the head said it all. I called my husband, “Listen honey, do you want the good news, or the bad news first?”
“The good news,” he answered.
“So… I’ve got your toolbox,” I told him.
“And, well, the wood’s no good. Needs the grooves.”
“Ach, never mind ‘schat’ (darling in Dutch), that means we can just tear it out and have the same kind of flooring for the entire floor. It’s better this way, really.”

Who says that renovation will be the death of your relationship? We are growing through this process. Each couple of days we have a new (but minor so far) setback, and each time, we both muster up the ability to see the half full glass. It’s tiring, that’s true – and hard to focus on our work, kids, friends, life, anything in fact that doesn’t live in a hardware store these days, but that just means we sleep very soundly at night.

And soon, our dream castle will be complete. Or at least livable. We hope!



*Coming up in my next blog: The story of the invisible chirping sound