Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happiness is telling the time?

Isn't this Linus's line? I seem to remember something about him getting a new watch in the comic strip. For some reason as a kid I remember our bookshelves holding a few volumes of Peanuts books.

But why? Linus, I suppose, felt some new sense of power over his destiny, what with the ability to tell time. Plus, the watch was a gift, and it was a gift that he somehow felt grown up enough to understand and use. Now if I had a chance to chat with Linus about the whole thing, I would tell him to get rid of that watch, that time has a nasty habit of running faster and faster and pretty soon he would be able to tell it anything at all, he would be so busy running after it, trying to catch even a little bit of it. A clock of any type, wristwatch or microwave or alarm or the one hanging on the chapel wall on Sunday afternoons, really just has a way of dictating the hours and minutes and seconds left until we run out. Like the way the clock on my computer is telling me just how much time I don't have left to do stats homework, just how much time I have wasted doing anything other than stats homework, and just how much time I really don't want to be spending on stats homework. Maybe Linus was counting down to something else. He always did have a struggle when his blanket was in the dryer. Perhaps he was counting down the time until his trusty blue friend was returned to his arms, warm and static-y. Perhaps instead of counting down to finals and papers and that big stats grade, I would find more happiness in counting down to something good. Like ice cream or springtime or January 5th. Maybe I'll count down to when I curl up with my own blankie in a warm bed. Ah yes, there it is. Happiness is tellling the time.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happiness is pizza with sausage

Actually, I'm not really a fan of sausage. Particularly not on pizza. As a breakfast food it's a little more lovable, particularly if it happens to roll through a puddle of maple syrup, giving it that salty-sweet blend of greasy goodness... But in general, I could live without it. It's ham that I truly love, on my pizza, in my crepe, on a sandwich, and also laying in a puddle of maple syrup. Oh you dieting people, hoping to take off pounds before you start indulging in Christmas fudge or even trying to get a jump start on that ridiculous American tradition of failing at your new year's resolutions, I can hear you whining at me through my computer screen. I should quit talking about such fattening and tempting things, lest I inadvertently send you out on a rampaging search for the nearest piece of chocolate covered bacon. Well I say get over it. 2010 is a month away, I know you've already destroyed your 2009 goals, and 2010 will offer just as many months for failure. December is perfect timing really, for all of the holiday sweets and indulgences.

But of course, I say this all while reveling in dietary success. And I am going to say it loudly and proudly. Have you noticed that there is a lot of talk out there about diet failure, a cultural leaning towards negative dietary speak and a bevy of commercials aimed at capitalizing on such negativity. Think of it, when was the last time you heard a friend say "I love my diet! I get to eat such wonderful exciting things and I feel so good!"? And if you are snarky enough to tell me you've actually heard someone say that recently, then tell me this: did you honestly believe them? No, really believe them. Were you sitting at a restaurant, and a discussion came up about whether or not to split the dessert, and they declined even a bite of that chocolate molten lava cake all the while proclaiming the beauty of their diet? And I will bet you your thoughts were a blend of guilt ("I should probably....") and disbelief ("you protest, but I see you drooling and yearning for it"). Why do we do this to ourselves? Even if we do enjoy the cake, we do it in protest of all that will later land on our thighs, when in reality, its not our thighs that are complaining but the public image! All the while you are listening to friends put the same face forward, but you never really hear about or believe the success. You hear if it failed, you hear if they gave up, you hear all sorts of excuses, but you don't hear "why yes, I'd love to split the dessert with you, because I am comfortable with myself and my image and I live a pretty damn healthy lifestyle!" Why aren't we allowed to say that?

A number of people have asked me about my dietary success. They want to know just what I am doing, and they say it with a little bit of hope in their eyes. Maybe they are hoping that I found the one magic diet pill that actually works (nope) maybe they are hoping that I have landed on the perfect combination of pastries and french fries that leads to a slim figure (nada) and maybe they are hoping that I will plug some "slimfast" type program (I'm not going to waste my dollars, really). And mybe they are just hoping that I won't give an obnoxious person lecture on carrotsticks and treadmills, gym memberships and removing refined sugar from my diet. Well I promise, I won't give that lecture either. I won't spout some LA weight loss joke which will only cost $349 a month and I won't proclaim love for a personal trainer. I'm not what you would call slim either. Just slimmer and getting more so every day, slowly slowly but enough so that I feel good about the things that are happening. The reality of what I have discovered in weight loss secrets is so golden that I should truly be proclaiming it from the rooftops.

But its wintertime, my roof is slippery, and all I really have is this blog. So you, dear readers, will be the unwitting recipients of the gold mine that is Nancy Beth's diet. Are you ready?

I'm happy.

That's it. Its the key to weight loss and healthy living as I know it. It's not just a question of limiting the number of chocolate milkshakes I have in a week. It's also a question of allowing myself one when I really want one. It's not just about cutting out donuts and replacing them with carrot sticks. It's about acknowledging that I kind of like carrot sticks particularly if they are deep fried like a donut and then dipped in ranch dressing. It's not about 6 miles on the treadmill in the morning and a stroll through the neighborhood every night. It's about walking when I feel like walking and driving when I am too tired to walk anymore.

The other day I was in between classes and I suddenly wanted a donut. So I bought one. And guess what? I still fit into my jeans the next day. But also, on another recent occasion, I was eating a meal with my friends, and I thought to myself, "I don't really want to finish this" so I didn't. And on Thanksgiving, this weird and new thing happened to me. I fininshed a plate of amazing food and wandered back into the kitchen for seconds and stared at the marvelous pot still nearly full to the brim with mashed potates (mashed potatoes with crispy crispy bacon chunks and slices of leeks in them... so yummy) and I thought "meh. One serving was enough." And the morning afer thanksgiving, when I got up and found that pies were still strewn across the kitchen, I had a slice with whipped cream and a little scoop of ice cream. And I don't think that caloric intake was any more than what I would have done if I had planted myself in front of those potatoes the night before.

And this morning, for breakfast, I had a mini-Crunch bar. And a glass of milk. But yesterday I had a bowl of Chex (not the whole box... just a bowl). And I excercised this morning too. I put up a Christmas tree, wrapped it in lights, and then practiced the organ for a while. That burns waaaaay more calories than catching the morning show or loading new songs onto my ipod shuffle with the intention of running.

It's so easy, nobody would ever be able to sell it. But you heard it here from me, your friend. This holiday season, you should have that piece of fudge that you really really want. And if it is gross then you shouldn't finish it. But if it is good, maybe you should have another, because the next time the fudge is passed it might be that nasty whitish stuff with the nuts in it. And then when the holidays are over and you feel slightly bloated because it turns out that your friends are better at making fudge then you thought they would be, you should find something you love to do. Like singing or practicing a new instrument or walking in the snow or packing up Christmas decorations so that the lights won't be a tangled mess next year. And you should do those things with all your heart that make you feel happy. Because just breathing burns calories. And learning the cello will do more for your heart and head than forcing yourself to a treadmill in front of a television. And if you do feel yourself slipping into the chocolate milkshake stupor, with the cast of Glee keeping you company and an obscene number of empty gallon buckets collecting under your kitchen sink, you should do that thing that makes you happy instead. I'm not telling you to cut out Glee and milkshakes entirely, but one night a week is probably just enough time to give your walking feet or piano fingers or tennis elbows a rest before you return to actively making yourself happy. Order yourself a pizza while you are at it, it goes very well with chocolate milkshakes. And if you happen to like sausage, go ahead and double it. I guarantee you will still fit into your jeans the next day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happiness is finding a pencil...

If Charlie Brown truly is an allegory for the common man, then we should see that everyone has their struggles, everyone lacks a certain amount of confidence, everyone perceives the people around them as having the confidence that they lack, and everyone finds their own way of coping, like visiting Lucy with a nickel. I think Charlie Brown really has it sewn up, though, between his friends and his kite and his faithful pup, he finally figures out what happiness is.

School is keeping me pretty busy. I have a huge paper due next week, 10+ pages. And I have a stats project due Friday, presentation including regression lines and residuals and I have yet to figure out what those are. And I still have 4 concerts to perform before the semester ends (it's music that I hate, too). Not to mention that I was asked to finish out the Christmas season with the ward choir before I get released.

But I'm actually very happy with it all. Probably because my focus is elsewhere. Seriously elsewhere. It's pretty well fixed on January 5th. Of course, there are a lot of preparations to be made before January 5th happens. Those could be included in the above "to do" list as well, except for one thing.

I am really excited about doing the January 5th things. They don't hover on my list like the others, poking at my brain with dulled sticks, nagging and draining me of all energy as I procrastinate. No, no. These things are exciting adventures which take me to new places and feel like gold stars on the sticker chart of my life.

Included in my letter that started with the word "Congratulations!" was a list of instructions. First, everything I do that is related to choir activities is a part of my new missionary calling, and must be done in missionary attire. I'm busting out all those skirts and dresses I accumulated while I was teaching seminary, and I love it. Finally I have a reason to be wearing skirts again, and I don't feel like such a scrubby gross jeans and t-shirt kind of feeling every day. I know a lot of people love that, but its just not my style.

Next on my list of things to do was to go and get security badges and parking passes. I love that at this point in the letter there was a parenthetical reminder about the missionary attire. Don't forget to wear a dress when you go to the parking garage! I now have my precious badges and official stuff. I've decided that my official and permanent backstage pass works in heaven as on earth, and I promised Emma she could be my +1 as long as she is single. If she gets married then other single friends and family may apply for the position. Married people are on their own.

The third item on the list in the letter was to be sure and get released from any callings before January 5th. Frankly, I rejoice in that.

Now don't go thinking that my life is totally charmed and perfect as a result of the letter and all the instructions. For example, many of the skirts I got while I was teaching seminary are entirely too big for me, and they will have to be altered or thrown out entirely because they actually fall right off of my 3-sizes-smaller hips. See what a trial? Also, the parking pass includes a windshield sticker which I have yet to place, because there is a giant crack in my windshield, and I need to get it replaced but I'm not sure that I will be able to afford to do that before I need to actually use the parking sticker... oh what a quandry! And perhaps most troubling of all is that my bishop wants me to continue as ward choir director right up until January 4th! He's like Lucy, and my release is the football! He's tempting me, tempting me, but alas not yet!

(I hope you all see the facetiousness in my complaints)

Having accomplished all that I could on that "to do" list, I find myself answering the phone to more and more unfamiliar numbers. Yesterday it was a frantic sounding lady who told me that it was "imperative" that I be at the choir office in just a few hours for a session with a voice coach. "Imperative?" Ok. I had some stuff planned for the evening, but could be available for the timing she requested. You say "jump", I say "Really? You want me to? Can I? May I? How high, what time, should I be there early and how long would you like me to stay? Also, I'll bring cookies if it will make you like me more." Of course, then the lady asked me for my height and dress size, which I also gladly disclosed, including the information about the 3-size-too-big seminary dresses.

I went there thinking that it would be sparse as far as traffic and parking, since it was just a random Tuesday night. Of course, I neglected to consider the Christmas Lights factor. It took me a little longer to get there than expected, but I was still 20 minutes early. There was this sign on the door telling me to wait patiently and the vocal coach would be there shortly to let me in. I stood there next to door 25 listening to the recordings of the choir played on the loudspeakers while crowds walked past looking at the lights and then noticing me and staring at me and the sign as they walked past. I wanted to yell at them "I'm standing here because I get to sing with them! They want me and I'm good enough and next year that recording will include ME ME ME!!!!!" But I restrained myself, smiled calmly and waited. The door opened and my old voice teacher was waiting for me. You see, she's the vocal coach for the choir now. She remembered me and we caught up a bit and I sang for her. My 3 octave range is still 3 octaves (hooray!) and my voice is still just about the loudest most people will ever hear (it's a blessing and a curse) but my staccattos have come leaps and bounds and my marcatos are even and controlled and my decrescendo is smooth. Of course, I've also gotten lazy and my jaw tenses up and my chest drops. And she said to me "that was never a problem before, you are lazy!" and while I appreciated the correction I also began to comprehend a little better the standard that I am now going to be held to. I will always prefer participating in an ensemble that requires real effort and produces great sound, but that in no means diminishes the energy spent on such a project. I'm really in for it.

My time was up, I left with a list of things to practice before January 5th. And we walked out the door to meet the next person one her list of voice coach sessions for the night. Nobody was standing at the door, but she called out for her and a nice lady peeked around the corner at us.

"I was just listening to the beautiful music." She said.

And the voice coach replied "That's ok, but come with me now, because by next year you will be singing with them!"

And I waved at them at walked away with the biggest smile I've ever felt.

I am taking a page from Charlie Brown, and finding all sorts of joy in the mundane. I'm sure that there are very few people in this world who have gotten so much of a thrill out of signing for a parking pass. But I'd bet its about the same feeling as Charlie Brown had when he found that pencil. And I know there are people who get a thrill out of hearing the choir, but mine increased exponentially with that letter. The choir didn't change, I did. And the little red-haired girl that chews her pencil doesn't quite know what a gift she gave to Charlie Brown, when he discovered it and realized that she has her insecurities just like him. But it changed him just a little too. So this Christmas you'll find me in his corner. We'll be finding joy in pencils and letters and parking passes and kites and even in that football that keeps getting pulled away. Because eventually Lucy will give us a shot. Think of it this way. The first time you see me up there singing, you'll know that Charlie Brown finally kicked that football. And it went straight through the uprights. GOAL.