Inspiration and Looking Good on a Cereal Box

If you’re into an activity, you probably have people you look up to. You know, role models. And, of course for swimming, I do.


One of them, I do have a hard time really calling a role model. No, not because of anything bad. I grew up around the corner from him, and he’s a little younger than me, so I mentally tagged him as a kid until well into high school when he got a LOT taller than I am! Jeff Rouse went to the Olympics a few times in the 1990s and won several medals.

I remember him as a skinny little kid regularly winning at backstroke in the Ferry Farm pool. We were on the same swim team, but I was never a particularly fast swimmer (I got a second place ribbon in back stroke once) and gave up the sport after a couple of years. Jeff went on to be a highly successful competitive swimmer. And that’s not the impression that I was left with, either.

Jeff taught me that you didn’t have to be a jerk to be a successful competitive athlete. Even when other people were being horrible to me, Jeff was always gentle and kind.

And he’s the sort of athletic role model you see often in the magazines.

The next swimmer who really caught my attention was not an Olympic athlete, and wasn’t someone young and hot that they’d use to sell cereal and razor blades. He caught my attention in the spring of 2007 because of the swim he was going to attempt.

He was going to swim the length of the Amazon River.

Friends, Martin Strel is insane.

He’s a distance swimmer. He didn’t exactly start with the Amazon, but he did a lot of crazy, long-distance swims before he did this one. He survived, but just barely. There were many days when he was doing his Amazon swim that when I was faced with a workout I didn’t want to do, I’d be telling myself, “Woah, Strel is swimming with piranha and goodness knows what else in the hot sun from dawn to dusk. I can take twenty minutes on my lunch break and knock out 800 yards, for pity’s sake!”

He also made me realize that being physical wasn’t just the province of people who wanted to look like models, nor is being active going to automagically make you look like one. There are other reasons than wanting a specific appearance to be physical, and they’re just as valid as the ones you see in magazines trying to make you feel insecure enough to buy their crap.
The person I look to most these days as a swimming role model swam the English Channel several times, swam the Bering Strait during the Cold War, swam a mile in Antarctica, and survived swimming in below-freezing waters in Greenland. Lynne Cox a freak of nature in terms of cold water survival, and I have no real intentions of trying to reproduce any of her accomplishments. (Well, *maybe* the Channel swim, if I do the Alcatraz swim and don’t chicken out due to fear of the marine wildlife. I have a great imagination and visualizing sharks and seals bumping into me in the damn pool is bad enough!)

Again, she’s another athlete no-one’s putting on cereal boxes even though what she does is so hard-core and scary that few people can even SURVIVE what she’s done. She’s taken swims in waters so dangerous that fishermen in the area don’t even carry life preservers because once you’re in the water, you’ll die of hypothermia before you can be fished out.

I’ll certainly never win an Olympic gold, swim the Amazon or swim in Antarctica. Honestly, I don’t even want to. But in the case of each of the people I’ve mentioned, they got to where they did and accomplished what they did from steady perseverance. Jeff had some serious disappointments before he got that backstroke gold. Strel trained for three years to do the Amazon swim and nearly had a heart attack towards the end. Cox kept going in Cook Strait even though storms slowed her down enough that she was swimming in shark territory in twilight* to get it done.

Honestly? I don’t have that level of sticktoitiveness. For my own modest goals, I don’t even need it. But do I ever say to myself, “Lynne Cox kept swimming during shark feeding time. You can get up and get in the safe, warm pool for half an hour today, can’t you?”

You bet I do.



* Sharks tend to feed at dawn and dusk

Mascoma River Greenway Route Tour

So, here I am on a disused train trestle bridge having my hand held like a daggone three year old while my heart is trying to pound through my chest and I can’t stop myself from looking down through the gaps in the trestle to the Certain Death below.

No, in Real Life, I was in almost no danger. The ties were less than a yard apart and were mostly steady. Even if I’d fallen, there was no way in the world I would have fallen through ties that close together and strong enough to hold a train. Ah, irrational fears. Silly me, I thought to mention my fear of strange dogs to the organizer of the Mascoma River Greenway when I went on a tour of the prospective route. What I did not mention was my strong distaste for unprotected heights.

Lebanon, New Hampshire, never let it be said I do not love my adopted city. Virginian I may be, but I’m doing this for you, Lebanon. You need a greenway.

Most of the work for this greenway has already been done. See those railroad tracks? Railroad tracks mean a graded rail bed, and a very strong fill. You need that to support the locomotive. As you will see in this series of pictures, we do not have intercity rail to any great degree in rural New Hampshire. Like most of the rural US, we drive when we want to get somewhere quickly.

So, there’s all this work that was done at least fifty years before I was born, and that work still stands. The cuts and fills are still there, the structure of the bridges are still quite sturdy, despite Miss Scaredy Cat having trouble keeping her heart rate down going over one of them. This means all we need to do is get those rails up and make the surface smooth enough for bikes. Smooth enough for a bike means smooth enough for a pedestrian.

Lebanon is full of enthusiastic bikers and walkers. Many of us move here because we like The Great Outdoors, we’re relatively health-conscious, and most of us would just as soon keep down pollution using green methods of transportation.

Enthusiasm for safe and pleasant walking or biking, as well we recreation areas, can be seen even among the improvements put in by locals. At the beginning of the Greenway, just outside of the tunnel under Hanover Street, a young man chose to create a “pocket park” as an Eagle Scout project. As you can see, it looks wonderful and is a great place to hang out and enjoy a little piece of the Mascoma River.

There is also local support for the Greenway. As we were walking on the stretch of the trail between High Street and Slayton Hill Road that is open to the public, we saw an elderly local, cane in hand, who urged us most emphatically to get moving on the project, as she’d like to see it completed!

While we do not have the extraordinary work that would be required were we to be starting from scratch, there is still (in my own profession’s parlance) a non-trivial amount of work to do. Check out the picture to the left. As we crossed over the bridge over Slayton Hill Road, we moved on to the areas of the trail where the rails are still lying disused. See the trees growing up between the rails? Since the railroad hasn’t been active for a long time, plant growth is taking over. However, Greenway. This means that while we need and want a place to walk and bike, we also want plants and growth around us. This is intended to be a multi-use trail that will retain the natural beauty that our area has in such abundance.*

There is serious evidence that even the parts of the Greenway which have not yet been properly constructed are being used by residents. There are clear paths beside most of the overgrown rails and informal access points worn smooth by many feet. Even in advance of the trail opening, it is being used, telling us that improvements in walking or biking conditions would open it up to even more pedestrian and bike traffic, safely away from busy roads.

The estimated cost of the project is $2.1 million. Yes, that’s a fair amount of money to raise, but the payoff in terms of walkability, property values and safe, green transportation will be worth it.

You don’t think so?

How would you rather get somewhere?

I took the picture on the left today as we were walking over the 89 bridge. I know how I’d rather have gotten to the movie theater or Price Chopper!


* In fact, though I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to show it to you, I saw quite large and beautiful deer bound across the trail we’d just crossed towards the end of our hike.

In Praise of the Short To-Do List

I like making lists and planning. It’s just one of those weirdo things.

Following through? I’m okay at it, I guess.

The thing is, I can plan life down to the minute and I think I’m gonna be so very very productive. Seems cool when you lay it out in your planner. But it’s not so cool in real life when you’re actually trying to get real work done.

I’ve found that instead of showing more discipline, what I do is place a hard limit on how much I will put on my to-do list.

It forces several things. It makes you prioritize. It also forces you to focus clearly on what it is you really want to do.

Believe it or not, I try to keep my to-do list under ten items a day. Some tasks are bundled, yes. My morning routine consists of getting up, swishing and swiping the bathroom, making my bed, getting dressed, going downstairs to empty the dishwasher and get breakfast. Thing is, that bundled “task” takes less than fifteen minutes. My rule is that bundled tasks have to take less than fifteen minutes, or they have to be listed individually. I also only allow them for daily routine type stuff.

So for me yesterday:

  1. Morning routine
  2. Clean kitchen faucet with a toothbrush (I do this every six months or so. It was getting grody)
  3. Write handout for Project Basic Unit 6
  4. Write 750 words on novel
  5. Write script for Nifty Excel Tips video
  6. Take car to the shop
  7. Install comment form on website
  8. Write Ask the Misanthrope blog post
  9. Poke client about server info
  10. Evening routine.

Is this an overwhelming day? ‘Course not. I’m sure it doesn’t even look very impressive to many people. But I’ve found that if I have that ten item limit to my to-do list, I get more done because I don’t procrastinate and get overwhelmed. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll do bugger all. And yes, I did everything on my list.

I Have Come to a Decision

I’ve been reviewing my work Screw Skinny, Get Fit and I realize that I’ve been messing around on this project for too long.  I need a big, huge deadline that’ll embarrass me if I don’t meet it to get my lazy butt in gear about this thing.

So, here’s the deal.

I’m going to be offering ScrewSkinny for sale in PDF or PRC (that means you can read it on a Kindle, or in Mobipocket) starting April 1, 2010.   I  haven’t set a price yet, but it’s going to be under $10.  If I get another big contract, I’m just gonna have to give up some knitting time.  This is gonna happen no matter who else wants my literary excellence.

This book is not for the athlete.  It’s for someone who is sedentary who wants to build or maintain health and fitness.  If you have an active, outdoor lifestyle, you’re all good and don’t need this.  It’s for someone who’d rather knit or play WoW.  Yes, there is a strong geek focus.

I discuss levels of ability, including handicaps of various sorts, and explain why The Perfect Workout is nonsense.

Giving Up Hard Core

I’ve gained more weight than I’m happy with.  I’ve not been as active as I should be, and I’ve been doing a lot of snacking on bread in spite of the bentos.

So, back to No-S, and getting in at least a small workout every weekday.  That’s sustainable and non-invasive and doesn’t have the Forbidden Food Fallacy.  I recognize allergies and medical conditions are one thing.  I don’t have that problem.  My problem is a simple problem of mindless snacking, especially in the evenings. No-S solves that problem quite well.  If it hurts when you do that, stop doing that. Simple. (Y’all know simple and easy aren’t necessarily the same?  Yeah, figured you did!)

For exercise, I can:  Go for a walk, put in a swim, do a shovelglove session, do a weights workout at the gym or do bodyweight exercises.  Any of those counts, and I’m allowed to follow whim as long as I am doing something. I can go hard or not as I like.  It’s the consistency I’m worried about rather than any progress issue.

My goal here is habits rather than progress.  That’ll take care of itself, but going hammer and tongs at fitness and lifestyle goals doesn’t work. I know it.  And still I keep trying to do it.  Why I keep doing it when it doesn’t work, I don’t know.  Well, yeah, I do.  I’m an intensity junkie.  That’s dandy for some things, but it’s not serving me here.

So the goal itself is consistent habits.  I may eschew even weighing myself.  Eat three full meals a day (if you don’t snack, the meals need to be comfortably substantial to get the right amount of food), and have a treat on weekends or holidays if I want them.   I won’t track what I eat or the calorie content, but simply eat three single-plate (or bento box) meals a day.  Honestly?  My meals are pretty decently healthy, so it’s not really a concern.  It’s all that nibbling that’s the real problem.

I won’t track my fitness progress other than whether or not a workout happened out every weekday.  Right now my real problem is that I get all excited about a goal and get all into it and then burn out.  That’s not serving me.

The point here is that I’m spending far too much mental energy on problems that could be solved simply with consistent moderate habits.    Goodness knows it worked with housekeeping.  My house is adequately neat and I do not spend my life cleaning house.   So I expect it’ll do nearly as well with my body as well.

Just Keep Swimming

I swam my 1500 today.  That’s a challenge still, and took me about 45 minutes1.  But that’s okay.  Come June, I don’t think that’ll be a challenge any more!

I’m even using a cute widdle fishie ticker.  Ain’t that sweet?  I note, however, that the progress bar is hardly to scale.

Apparently an aquafitness class counts as 2,000 yards.   I think they’re figuring a certain fitness level2 takes about an hour to swim 2000, so that’s how it’s figured.   Fair enough.  Plenty of people find lap swimming mind-numbing.  I don’t, but that’s because that’s my time to work out plots for stories, plan how to pitch projects or plan classes.

In fact, I spent most of today’s workout working up a proposal to try to teach a bento class that the gym where I work.  It’s a community/rec center more than a classical gym, even if the exercise equipment is really good.  They have all sorts of fun classes, so if I can figure out a structure for it and pitch it right, they might let me.   I was figuring an end of summer-type deal where I have the class and give away to each student a cheap bento box (you can get ’em for a buck through Ichibankan), a colorful bandana and some cute chopsticks as well as a few lessons on how to make and arrange some basic bento food.  I’d have a handout with some basics, a list of local stores that sell good Asian food and some places where people can buy bento boxes.

For the local gym, the pitch would have to be the “healthy lunch for your kids” thing, I think.   There’s also the frugality hook.  But I’m going to have to figure out a way to pitch it as not particularly time-consuming.  The way I do it, it really isn’t, but you can go overboard with the cute.

I’ve had the idea for this class in the back of my mind since I started bein’ a bum, but it’s fleshed out a lot more in my mind lately, and I have a considerably better idea of who to talk to for getting this class on the program as well as how the class really ought to be structured.

1Go ahead, competitive swimmers. Laugh it up.

2Hmm, close to my own, now that I do the math.

Work From Home: A Fair Warning About the Course

The next lesson won’t be until next Wednesday, but I really feel this needs to be said and soon about the course.

You probably won’t follow through on this.  Chances are good you’ll quit.  Either you’ll decide that the insecurity is too much to take, you’ll look yourself in the face and realize that you need a boss to tell you what to do and when to do it, or you’ll get discouraged and disgusted and think I was “lucky” or am blowing smoke about this.    I doubt that more than one in a couple of hundred have the requisite character traits and skills to make self-employment a genuinely viable option.

Thing is, it’s not necessarily about self-discipline.   Certainly not in my case, as I’m hardly a self-disciplined person.  It wasn’t self-discipline, it was desperation.   I had a secure job with the best boss I’ve ever had, fantastic benefits and cool people to work with.  And the idea of spending the rest of my life in an office, even in what was genuinely a great working environment, made me gag.   I was willing to crash and burn hard if only I could say that I made a real, genuine, honest effort to be my own boss.  If you’re desperate and there’s Just No Other Way to bring in money, you might very well succeed.  “Root hog, or die!” has spelled the success of more than one entrepreneur!  But, I wouldn’t risk a nickel that anyone reading this will actually do it.

This is not something you can do because you’re looking for the easy way to do something.  If you are out of a job and you’re not combing the want ads for work, pounding the pavement and knocking on doors and willing to turn your hand to anything honest, if you turn down jobs that aren’t “good enough”, skip it.  Stop reading.  This isn’t going to do you a bit of good.  You have to have a passion to work – either for the idea, or because you don’t want your kids to go hungry.  If you’re thinking, “Oh it might be nice if…”  or  “I could pick up a little money doing…” you’re not coming from the place that will really work.  You need all the focus of “I WANT” that you did when you were two.  You have to be on fire to make this work.  Though, sometimes that fire can be banked coals…

To give you an idea of what I mean, I’ll give you a little story.

My family goes to Virginia Beach every summer.  We’ve been doing it since I was a small child.  So, this was our week at the beach.  I was sitting on the balcony about sunrise, with the bright orange disc beginning to push over the edge of the water, lighting a glistening golden path between myself and the horizon.  It was a clear morning with a gentle, rhythmic surf, and weight of the damp, bone-soothing heat you get on Southern beaches in August.  I had a cup of coffee at my elbow, laptop in my lap, writing an email to a client while my family slept behind the sliding glass door.

My father came out on the balcony with his laptop and a cup of coffee[1].   He opened up the machine, looked over at me, nodded to my computer and grinned, commenting, “That’s been a lifelong dream, hasn’t it?”

Yes, it was something I’d wanted and worked for from childhood.  That’s passion.

[1] Yep, I’m second generation work  from home.  Part of my unsuitability for offices was probably a result of specific training!

Intro to Work From Home Course

A Fair Warning About the Course

Leechblock and Time Analysis

Yesterday, I commented that I’d been told about a blocking add-in for Firefox called Leechblock. You enter the sites you think you shouldn’t visit and when (or for how long). I mentioned that I was going to do an experiment and see what happens.

I’m gonna be honest, I’ve only been doing it for a morning and the results are already embarrassing. I’ve discovered that for a woman in my profession, I permit myself to context switch far, far too often! See, context switching kills concentration, and what does a writer do most of all, boys and girls? Right.

While I didn’t get a whole day’s worth of work done in a quarter of the time, I certainly did get a lot more done than I ordinarily would if I were hanging out on LJ, Tribe, Twitter, and Facebook all day – jumping online between paragraphs. I’ll probably finish up the day a little early, but I’ve got a project that’s been hanging fire for weeks that I’m going to get to, anyway. It’s not paying work, but might turn into paying work, and if I’m gonna set myself strict office hours, I suppose I’m allowed to work on projects when I’m done with my paying work, right?

I have also been using Rescuetime to analyze my computer usage and have discovered that what they call time-wasters are actually often genuine research for me. I’ve also found that I’m spending considerably less time on email than I’d estimated – less than an hour a day. That shocked me, but I realized I won’t have a clear picture until someone starts a heated discussion on PolyFamilies again!

Need Some Help with Self-Control? Try Leechblock

A friend of mine on LJ1 turned me on to a Firefox plugin of epic usefulness – Leechblock.  It prevents you from accessing sites that, in your judgement, are timewasters during specified periods of time.  It’s not like a nanny software that blocks sites forever, but gives you the option of limiting time on a specific site or banning those sites from being accessed during certain hours.  If you’re really worried about self control, you can also choose to set it to prevent you from accessing options until the banned time is over.

Now part of my job really kind of is to screw around on the net.  Most of my clients want me to write for the web, so I have to be aware of web trends, understand what makes a good blog post or not, and other things of that nature.  Not only that, but I do use the Internet for research.2 However, when you’ve hit refresh for the fiftieth time in an hour on Livejournal, are grinding your teeth at the stupidity Facebook’s latest TOS fiasco, or have posted that you’re clipping your toenails on Twitter, things have gone a bit far.

I consider myself reasonably self-disciplined.  I meet deadlines.  I finish my to-do list for work.  I manage to scrounge enough money to keep me from having to get a “real job” and that really does take some self-motivation.  But I’m going to try an experiment.  For the next week, I’m going to block some sites from my browser during office hours3 with an hour break for lunch and see what it does to my productivity and client base.

I’m guessin’ we’re gonna see some positive results.  Whatcha think?

1 (Thanks sheelangig!)
2You’d be amazed at how inexpensive a single PDF download of an article from a technical or medical journal can be sometimes!
3 6:30-3:30 is usual for me to work.

Working at Home and Self-Discipline

I’ve had people comment from time to time that they don’t have the self-discipline to work from home or be self-employed.

Ironically, it’s not unusual for me to get this comment from people I consider more self-disciplined than I am1.

I think that it has a lot to do with one’s view of  “should” v. “want to”.  I like working from home and having the freedom that I do a whole lot.  I might be a good writer, but to explain how much I like it would be difficult. I don’t know, necessarily, how much self-discipline it takes to do what you passionately want.  In fact, I’d say it doesn’t take all that much discipline, really.

That’s something I think we often miss in our lives.  We don’t separate out what we think we should be doing or should want from what we passionately want with all our hearts and souls.

Does this mean we should necessarily make our livings from our passions?  No, not really.  When you can, it’s really cool.  I’m not gonna lie about that.  Thing is, it looks a lot more virtuous than it is.  When you wake up excited about doing something, and that something is your job, you look all focused and motivated and virtuous and disciplined.  Friends, going into a toy store and grabbing everything in sight is about as far from disciplined as you can get!

I’m going to be taking a trip down to visit my family soon.  I’m taking the train at least in part so I can work on the way down.   I love being able to do that.  It’s hard to describe the kick I get out of it.   The kick I get out of sitting here in my writin’ chair listening to Dire Straits (playing Money for Nothing, ironically enough), and working on a project for a client feels so very good.  I used to dream of being able to do exactly this when I was a kid.  I’d read science fiction stories about people with hand computers (and remember these were written when computers were as big as a bedroom!) able to access datanets anywhere, write stuff, do work and go anywhere while they were doing it.

I wanted that so badly.  It’s part of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.  When I was a kid, it was the only portable profession I knew about.  Being a computer professional wasn’t yet all that portable — as  I well knew when I watched my father leave the house as I got up to get ready for school.  But I’d take my notebook into the woods behind my friend Mindy’s house, write, and fantasize about the day when I’d be making a living doing that.

When you want something that badly, when you dream about something so much that it stops being a dream but just an internalized part of you waking and sleeping, discipline isn’t the issue any more.  It’s just… what you do.

1 I actually consider myself pretty undisciplined, really. I’m just pig-headed.