a painter's approach to New Year's resolutions

I've been mulling over so many blog post ideas lately with little time to sit down and actually hammer them out. That's one thing that's somewhat maddening about being the primary caretaker for a baby, as I have been for just about a year now (babe #2 turns 1 in less than two weeks!) - I have so much time to think and look around the house and at my life and make these mental lists of all the things I'd love to work on but without the kid-free time or, when the kids are finally conked out for the day, the energy to get much done. And I wish I was better about letting that kind of stuff go. I think I did pretty well for about ten months, letting things go, putting things off, ignoring things that could wait and focusing my energy instead on a baby quickly turning into a toddler and a big kid transitioning to "real school". But over the past couple of months, maybe because of the holiday clutter added to the usual clutter in my life, the list of things I'd like to work on has really started to bug me. Fortunately, said baby is headed to part-time daycare in a few weeks, which will give me part of the week to work and, while work is getting back up to speed, hopefully tackle all of the lists I've been making over the past year.

All that said, and before we venture much further into this New Year, I thought I'd write a little something on the topic of resolutions. It seems like the trend lately is to forgo resolutions, or at least avoid making them public. I guess the idea there is that if you've been doing what you want to do over the past year why change anything? I totally disagree. For starters, you could always be doing better at something or more of something else. Maybe you need to be doing less of something. There is always room for improvement, friends. And I approach resolutions the way I used to approach painting - make 20 paintings and 2 or 3 are bound to be pretty good. If I take this opportunity to reflect on where I am in life and I come up with a long list of areas where I can improve, I'm bound to be successful in at least a few of those categories, right?

And yet, the one resolution I'll share here is a total cliche among resolutions: eat better, exercise more, lose weight and get back in shape. But I stick with that one resolution (or is it 3 or 4?) because a) it's been a couple of years since I felt really healthy, getting pregnant right after running the 2012 Oakland Marathon and having my second and final baby almost a year ago - it's time to lose those last 10 pounds of baby weight and get back in half-marathon shape (I don't think I'll ever attempt a full again but I love the idea of being always physically able and ready to run an "easy" 10-miler or a half-marathon race. Plus, you know, zombie apocalypse.). And b) focusing my energy on that one area of my life will trickle down to everything else. It always does. When I'm eating better and moving more I feel better, I have more energy, I'm a happier and more patient person and therefore a better partner and mother. It's a cliche but it's true - when I'm living a healthier life, the entire family benefits. I'm putting my oxygen mask on first, or something like that. Heck, it's been scientifically proven to increase one's happiness. (Love that happiness checklist, by the way.)

Thus, I present to you, my Rules for 2014 (I'm a big fan of rules; life is just one slippery slope otherwise):

1. Avoid the 4 Cs. I'm stealing this one from chef Alton Brown - I'm pretty certain this was one of his diet rules when he lost all that weight a few years ago, although I can't find it anywhere in web writing. Anyway, the idea is that eating well starts in the grocery store and there will be no candy, no cookies, no crackers, no chips in my grocery cart. This mostly goes for the kids, too, except the budding toddler loves Ritz crackers so we'll allow her to indulge a bit longer. Also, the big kid has a "treat bag" that seems to always have candy in it, between holidays and birthday party pinatas year-round, so he's usually allowed one small item from his treat bag after dinner most nights. I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to sweets (which is why they simply cannot be in the house in order for me to be successful here) but somehow I manage to respect the boundary between his treats and mine and his stash doesn't tempt me at all. The one caveat here is I simply cannot live without dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the better I am at limiting myself to a square or two a day (about an ounce max satisfies my craving).

2. Curb snacking between meals. I've tried the whole eat six small meals idea and it never works. It starts out well enough but eventually my snacks and small meals turn into, basically, six regular meals. That's too much food. Better to avoid eating between meals altogether. But if I must have a snack to tide me over, my snack rule is this: if I need something between breakfast and lunch, I can have fruit. If I need something between lunch and dinner, veggies it is. Hummus is okay, too, because chickpeas are kind of like veggies, right? Whatever, if it gets me to eat carrots every day I figure it should be allowed. Spreading a little peanut butter on celery is also okay but I draw the line at Ranch dressing. There will be none of that.

3. No dessert during the week. I'll allow myself 3 cups or so of stove-popped popcorn and one See's Scotchmallow cut into teeny-tiny pieces. It worked when I did Weight Watchers a few years ago, so I'll allow myself that treat once or twice a week. Otherwise, I'll try to enjoy a cup of tea in lieu of a more caloric nightcap. On the weekends I can treat myself to one thing, but I can't go to James and the Giant Cupcake, for example, and splurge on a half-dozen cupcakes. Just the one.

4. Say NO to liquid calories! I remember reading this in a fitness magazine some years ago and it always stuck with me because it sounded so silly, as if the calories from beverages can be likened to drugs or something. But they are sneaky and addictive. And while I don't drink juice, sugary sodas, or even much alcohol on a regular basis, I do enjoy coffee beverages every now and then and since I'll be laptopping it at cafes for some of my dedicated work time going forward, I have a feeling this rule will be an important one.

5. And finally, exercise. Every day. My goal is to do something active for 20-30 minutes every day with one total rest day per week allowed. I've been running again for a few months now but very slowly and very sporadically and so far at least always with at least one kid in tow (usually the baby in the jogging stroller which is a little like running through molasses; occasionally the big kid will ride his bike ahead of me as well). I'm glad I can squeeze in exercise this way but it's not the same as running solo early in the morning. That I hope to add in this spring, once the sun is rising a little earlier and I'm no longer breastfeeding first thing in the morning. In the meantime, I've been doing 30 Day Shred as often as I can manage, either during the baby's nap or after both kids are in bed. I can't wait to add those early morning solo runs back in - doing so will check off 2 items from the happiness checklist (#s 1 and 5)!

Speaking of that happiness checklist, my bonus resolution for 2014, of course, what with the youngest member of my family soon headed to someone else's care for a few days each week, is to spend more time doing my own thing, that thing being primarily design work for which I am paid but also, hopefully, maybe, if I can squeeze it in, some of my own creative work. On a recent road trip to visit family in Southern California, I was able to find, thanks to my big brother's amazing memory, the house where we lived in Escondido for about two years when I was a toddler. I've been feeling pretty nostalgic lately, and this kind of thinking has always lended itself to my creative work. It's been awhile since I started on a new project but a really specific idea came to me after this trip (it has a little something to do with #8 on the list - "plan a trip - but don't take one") and I'm hoping to carve out some time to work on it once I'm over the hump of this next big transition coming up. Stay tuned and cheers to a healthy and productive 2014, y'all!