Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Value of Persistence and Tracking

Persistence is one of those words that parents hold up to their children as an important life value. Why is it that we can be really good at persisting for some things, and then really bad with others. I've always been a persistent person. I tend to know what I want and keep striving to get there no matter how many roadblocks get put in the way.  I did this throughout my education--elementary school through university. I've been the same way with work choices.

However, there is one thing that has eluded me for most of my adult life. That is getting regular exercise. There have been times in my life when I did well with exercise. Those times usually involved an activity I loved (jazz dancing, tennis) or a boyfriend's passionate occupation (scuba diving). However, as I've become older and settled in my ways, it seems that days go buy easily without me hardly moving. Given a choice between doing something that takes a lot of mind work (reading, writing, researching) versus moving around, I'll always go for the mind stuff. I know I'm not alone in this. I have family and friends, and lots of author friends, who suffer from the same sedentary lifestyle I lead.

My doctor, and friends who have been successful with weight loss, have all told me all I have to do is walk 30 minutes a day. I'm a world-class rationalizer when it comes to non-movement, so it's taken me a couple years of hearing this again and again before I decided to actually put it into practice.  So, let me share with you a few things I've learned a long the way with the hope that you don't let these things top you.

First, forget that 10,000 steps a day goal. That is WAY too many to start with and if you go for broke in the beginning you will hurt yourself and just stop. Find out what your norm is and then work up from there. DO NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT WHATEVER THE INTERNET SAYS NORMAL IS. By the way that 10,000 steps a day is a myth.

Also, stay away from Internet ideas about what is "normal" for daily step counts when not even trying to exercise. I saw estimates ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day. One evcen claimed that 6,000 was the norm for just doing our daily routines. Well either I'm very abnormal or all the "normal" people are twice to three times as active as I am during their days. Given the obesity rate in the U.S. I have a feeling I'm in the majority and those 5,000 steps a day "normal" people are in the minority. However, it took me a while to throw out the guilt for being such a lazy butt.

I'm a tracker. It provides me daily statistics and, for me, information is critical to keeping me on the straight and narrow. So I decided to start from MY normal and work up from there. I bought a cheap pedometer for $12. No fancy fit bit for me. I wasn't going to be some athlete who was measuring her heart rate and miles walked or run and sharing it with the entire world to compete. Just so you don't feel bad I will share my first three days of tracking. I did 1,450 steps on Sunday, 1,040 on Monday, and then an amazing 2,375 on Tuesday. Who knows what happened on Tuesday I did another 1,000 steps than the other two days (I think I probably went to the grocery store that day).

Now that I knew what my normal was, I set some achievable goals for the first couple of weeks. That was to get to 3,000 steps every day, and to strive for 5,000 for two of those days. It wasn't so easy, but having the intention helped and tracking it every day made it clear to me. I learned that a 15 minute walk around the block yielded 800  steps for me. Wahoo! I also learned that if I set a timer and get up from the computer once per hour and just walk around the house for a couple minutes I could get nearly 150 steps each time--that's another 500 to 800 steps in a day. Before I knew it (okay three weeks of tracking), I was reaching 3,000 regularly.

After I could hit 3,000 five out of seven days in the week for two weeks in a row, I set a goal of hitting 5,000 three days a week and at least 3,000 the other four days. That took me another six weeks to accomplish. An important part of accomplishing that was to convince a friend of mine to become my walking buddy three days a week. If I had to actually walk for 30 minutes I needed someone to talk to along the way, and preferably someone who was not into speed walking. Then I color-coded my spreadsheet and put bright yellow highlights every time I made 5,000. Yes, I am easily satisfied with bright colors as rewards.

Now, I'm 13 weeks into my tracking and I'm aiming for 7,500 steps at least three days a week and 5,000 all the other days. 7,500 gets a pretty green highlight. :)  I don't know how long it will take me to make this next step. I'm guessing a month or more. It means really changing my daily life routines and adding that 30 minute walk into EVERY day, and something longer three days a week.

Will I ever make to 10,000 regularly or even 7,500 regularly? I don't know. I don't know if that is a reasonable goal or necessary (see linked article above). What I DO know is that I feel better and that I do look forward to my walks. In the meantime, I've lost ten pounds over the 13 weeks and that can't hurt.

I'm not saying, yet, that I'm persistent with exercise. I still prefer to stay home and read, work on the computer, write my stories. But the joy of walking is peeking its head into my conscious and the way I feel is making me better at concentrating when I am sitting. I just need to get to the point where that joy of walking is more than 50% of the time. Then I will achieve persistence.

If you are having difficulty with the whole exercise thing, or you've already found a way to keep yourself moving every day, drop me a comment here. If we all share what works, it can only get better.

In the meantime, if you see me walking in the Portland metro area, or at a reader event or conference, say Hi and feel free to join me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How Do You Choose to Read?

With the rise of ebooks, I've wondered if I was reading faster, slower, or the same as when I read a paper book.  I think that I read faster because I can scan ahead a bit and I can certainly turn pages faster.  But that is only a hypothesis. I don't have a way to prove it. I do love the feel of paper books, but as I've downsized over the past two decades I've realized that storing all those books was not an option. Now I read books almost exclusively on my ereader or tablet.

There are some things I still prefer to read in paper. My newspaper is one of those. I tried the digital download when The Oregonian tried to get everyone to switch. It didn't work. I'm even paying a little extra on subscription so I can continue to get it delivered to my door every day.

Reading the newspaper in the morning is a wake-up-and-face-the-world ritual for me. I like spreading it out on the dining room table as I have my coffee in the morning. I like taking my time, beginning with the "happy" sections and as a I wake up moving onto business reports and eventually world news. Also, both my husband and I like to work the NY Times Crossword and the Jumble puzzles. Impossible to do that digitally. He does Sudoku too. Not me.

I came across this reading test recently. It takes less than a minute. This would be a measure of your digital reading speed. Warning, there is a three question test at the end to see if you remember anything you read, so don't cheat by scanning unless you are good at knowing what the details are to remember in a scan.

As I survivor of the Evelyn Wood speed reading tests when I was in elementary school, I'm happy to say I did better than I did then. IN elementary school I was trying to improve on a 300 wpm speed in about fourth grade. I vaguely remember making it to 450 wpm and my teacher not thinking that was very good. The test above placed me at 517 wpm. I will never be a 1,000 word per minute reader. I enjoy the words too much and I do read aloud in my mind providing emphasis and inflection. So phooey on speed reading. :)

How do you like to read? Paper? Digital? Combination? What about audiobooks? I've heard that people who read fast don't care for audio books which tend to move at about 150-200wpm. I've never been a big audiobook reader because I can't control the scanning if I'm getting bored or want to know the answer to a question right now. I can scan a page when I'm reading on my ereader or in a paper book.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day as a Celebration for Peace

I did as most people in the U.S. did, that is celebrate Mother's Day with my mother.  I traveled to my mother's home, brought her flowers and took her to dinner. Every time I visit with her, I learn something new about who she is, what she wants, and what she sees as her life moving forward. Though my father died last December, she is still a vibrant woman who loves life. At age 82 she still has that openness and agility to accept whatever life may bring her way. I must admit I admire that immensely.

Mothers Day as we know it today was founded in 1908 by Anna Jarvis who wished to commemorate the memory of her mother through small rituals performed in church and in towns. She later wanted to expand it across the U.S. What propelled the celebration forward was getting the financial backing of John Wanamaker, a wealthy Philadelphia department store owner. It took years of campaigning, until 1914 when Presidentt Woodrow Wilson finally signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Soon after Wilson's signing, commercialization of the holiday became the norm and, in later life, Anna Jarvis tried to get the day removed from the calendar because it had morphed into such commercialization that she no longer believed it served the purpose she had conceived.

Julia Ward Howe

However, I would like to talk about an earlier idea for the celebration which was initiated in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette. Her idea for an official celebration of Mother's Day in the U.S. was not as a day for exchanging cards, going out to dinner, or sending flowers--not even as a day of memory for mothers. But rather it was a day asking all women to exercise their moral and political responsibility and stand up for peace. She exhorted them to use their minds and will to find a way to stop war by convening an international congress of women to actively look for ways to bring peace.

Howe, also a poet, was the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic used in The Civil War. She was devastated by all the death and destruction of the war and wrote a passionate appeal to women, popularly called the Mother's Day Proclamation.  She requested that June 2nd be the designated day of the international congress of women. Unfortunately, this day was celebrated most in Boston each year and did not ever have a chance to become an official holiday. As you can imagine, in 1870 women were still not allowed to vote and held little power. Yet, I marvel at her belief and consistent activism in trying to make a difference.

In reading her proclamation I can hear her voice bemoaning the carnage of war, and her belief that women had both the political and moral responsibility to stand up and find a way to stop it.

Here are her words:

Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.

Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace. 

—Julia Ward Howe
 Julia Ward Howe (September 1870), "Appeal to womanhood throughout the world.", An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera (Library of Congress)

Today many women still celebrate Mother's Day with a march for peace. As we continue to live in separateness from one another--to not understand or even try to understand other races, cultures, belief systems, then I fear we will continue to support violence.

I believe that woman around the world have more reason than ever to make a difference and have the unique ability to do so. I do pray that one day we do find a way to stop war.