I am this…

On the Sunday of May long weekend, seven of us girls piled into my SUV and headed over to Black Bond Book Warehouse. I’m not sure what other families do, but we are readers. In no time we all had piles of books. My sister decided that another person could add a book to your pile, giving you a reading challenge. That puts an interesting twist into things!

I had to admit that I was a reading baby. Even a book a month was a challenge. My Aunt was astonished. I think she reads one a week. Which is why she makes good use of the library. I often have to renew a novel from the library, once or twice!

But this day we were on a mission. Grab an armful of books and get back to the sunny patio. Not only could we more carefully look at our own purchases, but we had the added bonus of looking through the balance of the loot.

I am a sucker for books which are part self-help, part productivity, part management, maybe slanted toward business. That is why I came to own the latest addition to my collection titled, “Do More Great Work“, by Michael Bungay Stanier. What I didn’t realize when I bought this book is, it’s a workbook. Which is a huge added bonus for me. There are so few of these kind of books on the market, it was almost like finding treasure. In fact, the activities are called “maps”. Who doesn’t love to pour over a good map?

The first map was easy. I breezed through it so quickly, I thought I might just make it through the whole book in a weekend. (Given my track record, who knows why I thought that!) Anyway, turn the page to map two and that is where I came to a dead halt. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to complete the assignment. 6 days later, I dug down and pulled out the wisdom I needed.

That was today. Things were going so well, I went on to map three. This was equally tough to complete. These exercises require some serious soul searching. But the results are so worth it. OK, now I am gong to be very vulnerable and share this map. So be kind.

The first word describes what I am when I am doing great work. The kind of work that I love. The place where I loose track of time and when I’m in the zone. The second word is not necessarily bad, or the opposite, but it represents, at best good work, at worst bad work.

  • Visionary not task master
  • Analytical not routine
  • Earnest not complacent
  • Comprehensive not lists of half formed ideas
  • Organized not winging it
  • Knowledge seeking not taking it at face value
  • Engrossed not simply covering the bases
  • At ease not cautious
  • Mindful not quiet
  • Dedication not just 9 to 5

I think this is a pretty powerful list of words. The book advises you to keep a copy near your desk and have a laminated version to travel with. I’ll admit, before I completed this map, I immediately dismissed the notion of laminating. But, now that it is done, and I see it here in print, maybe I’ll pop over to Staples and create that hard copy.

The idea behind this list is to steer to the left. Staying on the left is where great work can occur. Tendency is to veer right. Although good work is still good, it is with great work that I feel most alive and vital.

 

Where is the list?

My husband posed this question to me this weekend. I think the nature of a blog, is really a list of posts. So I don’t see the literal problem with the name of this blog versus the content structure. But, in actual fact, it didn’t start out with this name. I changed it.

I started out with “The Good Stuff”. Over time that name, which was intended to be cheeky, just rang of consumerism. Not at all what I am going for. And then I wanted a .com URL, and those are hard to come by. So I had to modify the name of the blog. That is how we arrive at the list part.

Now that I think about it more, I really love lists. All of it. Creating them, checking things off, the sense of accomplishment. It is one of the reasons I stick with a paper planner, rather than moving to a digital version. The mental satisfaction. I’ll take that whenever I can.

Since I’m not a web designer, and don’t plan to hire one anytime soon, there is not a big design update coming to make this blog look like a list of entries. I’m about simplification right now, and probably always. But I think I’ve got an idea to start making future posts feel a bit more list-like.

See if you like the new feature of The Good Life List. 3 or more, (depends on how I feel that day), links, references, a small list related to the content of the post.

  1. Workflowy – popular technology platform for making lists
  2. Ray Bradbury on How List-Making Can Boost Your Creativity from Brain Pickings, (an amazing blog)
  3. The Amazing history of the To-Do List, (I love the Johnny Cash list)

Grad school

It occurred to me this past weekend, I’m kind of going to a type of grad school. I was looking through my personal email folders and realized I have taken a lot of courses over the past few years. Most of what I’ve read also has something to do with my education. I know a few things about these subjects I’ve been lucky enough to study. Maybe, I can even say I’m a bit of an expert. OK, maybe that stretches it too far. But I feel more knowledgable, for sure.

My husband and son went camping and my daughter and I had the house to ourselves. The weekend stretched in front of me like a blank slate. Uninterrupted time to go wherever my mind wanted to take me. When my husband came home, he commented how cluttered the bed was with all my learning materials. Books, computer, art supplies, iPad, journal, pens, coloured pencils, day-timer, etc. I was in heaven. He shook his head.

Saturday kind of evaporated. We had stuff to do, chores to finish, groceries to buy, my daughter wanted to bake. But Sunday, oh lovely, blessed day, we had all to ourselves. Since I was in bed so early Saturday night, I was up early. Weather looked poor, so I was going to read….

Rainy Day Books_web

Then I was inspired to complete an exercise from last week for my “Thrive” course being taught by Arianna Huffington. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time, was even on my list of goals for this year. Now a third chart needs to be completed, what do I wish the chart could look like?

Time Pie Chart_web

My daughter finally woke up and we had to be at the White Rock Farmer’s Market. Even though a chorizo hot dog is NOT on anyone’s diet, it had to be done.

Market Chorizo_web

Later in the afternoon, I just had to take this photo of our cat – snoozing in the boat. How cute is that?

Cat in boat_web

My next phase in education arrived today. “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta, a project I helped fund through kickstarter. What a wonderful world!

Zen Habits_web

Angel

The last of my family has departed the Vancouver area. They all arrived at different times, but we managed to get everyone over to the Celebration of Life for Tory Westermark on Saturday afternoon. The program that afternoon was requested by Tory – “keep it light”, which was a hallmark of his great sense of humour. That sentiment was echoed by many of the speakers who took the microphone to share. Lovely stories and thoughts, honouring Tory’s request.

When Tory’s granddaughter started to sing, (she has an amazing voice), I started to fight back the tears. I knew the song well, but had lost connection to the lyrics. They brought up all kinds of emotion that was laying dormant, anything but light feelings buried down there.

“Angel”

Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
for a break that would make it okay
there’s always some reason
to feel not good enough
and it’s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
oh beautiful release
memories seep from my veins
let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight

in the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

so tired of the straight line
and everywhere you turn
there’s vultures and thieves at your back
and the storm keeps on twisting
you keep on building the lies
that you make up for all that you lack
it don’t make no difference
escaping one last time
it’s easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

in the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

On April 26, 2015 at the age of 87 years, my great uncle Tory, surrounded by his family, passed away. I was half a world away, in a hotel room in Kragerø, Norway. It took some time for the news to make it over to me, through the channels of my family. I was immediately struck by the significance of distance. Both the physical distance from my loved ones and the eternal separation from my favourite great uncle.

I didn’t take the opportunity to speak about Tory on Saturday. I feared my thoughts were not well formed and I might not make a whole lot of sense. While I’ve spent some time thinking about it since, these thoughts might still seem disconnected.

What I know for sure is that Tory was a leader. He brought his family and friends together and created a very welcoming environment. Conversation was stimulating, yet humorous. I came to Vancouver as a plucky 21 year old and Tory watched me evolve over the last 24 years. He was never critical. In fact, he always had a sparkle in his eye, a curiosity. He would often ask me, “what is the news?” He wanted to be the first in family to have it. My friends and I were invited to cocktail parties where we hobnobbed with UBC Professors. We thought that was the height of sophistication. Tory made a wonderful speech at my wedding, recalling the long tradition in his family of vetting a potential suitor with “the questions”. I learned to embrace my Swedish heritage from the example set by Tory and his wife Vida. The daily kindnesses, acts of simple gratitude, I will never forget. I hope I am modelling these traits in my own house.

As the weekend unfolded, we had time to chat about everything. We shared. There was laughter and a few tears. We promised to get together again. The question was raised, “What do you want your end of life celebration to be?” Hopefully we have some time to answer that question, but one never knows for sure. However, we have pledged to recreate this weekend next year – same time, same place. Until then.

Skål, Good bye och god natt!

Q1 check in

I just had a look at my goals for 2015 and quickly reviewed what I had assigned myself to be completed by now. Hmmm, not quite there. There are reasons, of course. The main one being, I did not anticipate the extra workload from taking a new job. Adding 3 new people to my team. Bringing them into my little family, has taken more time than I could have imagined.

But I love it. I find this work extremely rewarding. My team has enriched my life. I would never have guessed it, either. I’m learning and growing every day. In fact, I am amazed at the new challenges being thrown my way. Instead of feeling tired and bitter, I feel energized and excited, ready to tackle.

It is strange how life works, though. I would never have imagined to be sitting in this position at this point in my life. That may have been because I didn’t really dream big when I was younger. Now I let my imagination run wild, both when I am awake and at night. My dreams are amazing.

There is a paragraph written by Joanne Harris in “Runelight” about dreams. I just love to think like this:

Dream is a river that flows both ways – a fact often overlooked by the Folk, for whom dreaming had always been considered territory best left unexplored. But Dream is far more than a river, os Odin One-Eye could have told her. Dream is the stuff of Worlds – all Worlds – and all things come and go from it, as water comes and goes from the Sea, becoming clouds, rain, snowflakes, tears – all so ephemeral, all so unique, always changing but never lost, a universe of possibility where any thought can take form.

Some of my goals may be unfinished as I start Q2, but I have faith. I’ll finish what I need to. I’ll dream new big audacious ones. It will be good.

The fine print

It is officially my last day. The end of 6 weeks to a new body. Having completed the program to the best of my ability, (I may have cheated a bit here and there), it is time to take stock of what I learned.

Bodies bounce back – even after 30+ years, muscles remember how to build up, they take shape, the body rewires itself, springs into a new way of being. A body is not tied to the failures of the past. It has no opinion on your exercise goals. It just responds in kind. I like that.

Difficult becomes easy (ier) – after only 6 weeks, nothing is easy, especially as the intensity ramped up weekly with the goal to keep you challenged. Each new set of exercises was doable. I was never left feeling so frustrated and despondent, like I could not go on. Maybe I was not in as bad a shape to begin with, as I thought going in.

Happy I started – as with any challenge, your future self thanks your past self for making the effort in the first place. Of course, it takes sustained effort, but I treated each day, every decision as a form of starting new.

Goals must be fluid – in the beginning I had the usual S.M.A.R.T. goals. Time bound, specific, realistic, measurable, yada, yada. The only thing I’m glad I did was to take body measurements. Because the changes have occurred a little bit each day, without the hard numbers to refer back to, I would have had a hard time understanding how significant the results were. I can also see how differently my clothes are fitting, but I have long ago adopted a style of dress to hide my waist. So when I get ready each day, the mirror image kind of looks the same. It is going to take more time and confidence to start dressing differently. In the final assessment, if I had used weight loss alone as my indicator of success, I would be VERY disappointed.

Now what? Maintenance. That is where the fine print comes in. The next few pages in the book explain several techniques to maintain this new level of fitness. I did not read this very well in the beginning. Or maybe I forgot. The fine print on this is to do another 6 weeks at the intensity of the ending week. Evidently people generally quit between the 2 to 3 month mark. So this lifestyle shift needs to be maintained for a full three months! So the title – 6 weeks is a little misleading. But I’m hooked now. Can’t turn back. This is my new life. It’s not all that bad, this exercise thing.

 

 

Every Decision Counts

I’ve just started into week 5 of the “6 weeks to a new body” fitness program. Just when the exercises are starting to become easy, the routine kicks up a notch again. And I’ve added another complexity to the situation, I’m on holidays. So making smart choices around eating is a bit of a challenge. 

I have a notion, or a routine around what I usually like to eat and drink on holidays. That means eating = a lot and drinking = beer. But I’m not going to reach my goals by eating a lot and drinking beer. So I’ve had to make adjustments. (At least for these 6 weeks).

I’ve been reading through my book, (also known as my coach, mentor and friend) and I came across the phrase, “every decision counts”. It was meant in reference to all the little things that keep you moving in the direction you want to go. In that one idea, I take comfort. I may not be doing everything perfectly every day, but I can keep moving towards my goals, one decision at a time.

I used to think that once a bad choice had been made, might as well – “throw the canary another seed”. What was the point of continuing to try and make a change when I had just eaten a huge hamburger? Might as well have another beer and eat all those fries as well. And show me the desert menu, please. Forget a workout, I’m too tired. That was how I lived for the better part of my adult life. 

Lucky for me, I am “all-in” on this 6 week experiment and I have given myself the grace to do this, one decision at a time. I will not be perfect. Rather, “every day in every way, things are getting better”. (Lovely saying my mother-in-law used to tell my husband as a child).