Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Encounters An Unexpected Challenge

Just when I thought saying Yes was going to be easy, a ticket straight back to the more carefree me, I hit an obstacle.

The obstacle was called Bagby Hot Springs.

We live in Oregon. Portland, Oregon to be exact. Oregon is a funny state. It has pockets where people are conservative but the cities are, well, significantly more liberal.

Bagby Hot Springs is about an hour and a half from Portland. We'd never been there before but it seemed like the perfect kind of activity for a long rainy weekend. We drove up into the mountains and then hiked about forty minutes through old growth timber covered with emerald colored moss. One one side of the trail was a small river that alternated between shallow rapids and deep rock lined swimming holes fed by waterfalls.

It was beautiful. The air smelled like pine trees. The kids ran ahead, hiding behind trees and walking on logs. We reached an old stump covered with glitter dust, graffiti and a few beer bottles. "Fairies must have been here," said my daughter but I had a different thought.

An hour and a half from Portland (the home of the naked bike ride) isn't that far. It was entirely possible that there might be other people who had already hiked into the hot springs. It was also possible that those hypothetical people might be clothing optional.

Three years ago I wouldn't have given this a second thought. Three years ago my daughter was regularly clothing optional herself. But a lot changes in three years. She's a fourth grader. She's modest, screaming at her brother if he comes in her room while she's getting dressed and making vomiting noises if she happens to see anyone kissing. I wasn't quite sure if she was prepared for what might lie at the end of the trail.

My options were pretty limited. I could cut the hike short (and disappoint everyone) or I could say Yes. This was my week of saying Yes so instead of shutting down the hike I ever-so-casually mentioned "You know there might be some people who choose not to wear swimsuits at the hot springs."

"They wear their clothes?" asked my daughter.

"No," I said, still casual. "They might not wear anything at all."

"Are you going to wear a swimsuit?"

"Oh yeah, it's just a personal choice kind of thing. I'll definitely wear a swim suit."

"And dad?"

"Yeah, dad too."

"Okay," she said and skipped off down the trail after her brother.

Say Yes to stopping by tomorrow! If nothing else, you'll get to find out what we discovered at the end of the emerald trail.

Monday, November 14, 2011

T is for Television and Twinkies

The first morning of saying Yes was pretty easy. It was a no school day and my kids were attending an all day gymnastics camp with their friends. They were out the door before any of us had time to explore what it means for me to say yes.

We didn't have one of these.
It was a different story when they came home. They wanted to watch T.V.

At this point I feel I should explain something. My parents were transplants to Oregon, the kind that came from a big city in search of a better life, organic food and sustainable living. Part of that better life, according to my parents, included NO television. At some point before I was born, my mother kicked T.V. to the curb and it was about fifteen years before it made a reappearance in any form.

My husband, on the other hand, was the third boy in his family. By the time he came along, television was a foregone conclusion. If you wanted to watch television you turned it on, sat down and watched.

These weren't part of my childhood either!
The difference between our relationships with television is like the difference between Twinkies and Trail mix sweetened with carob. Because I suffered through a childhood of teachers assigning essays on the subject of your favorite Saturday morning cartoon character and people regularly accusing me of not growing up in this country due to my complete ignorance about shows like the A-Team and Cheers, I decided to make a different choice for my kids. They would watch T.V. Not as much as my husband did, but more than I had. We would achieve a happy medium.

Still, every time they ask to watch T.V. I have a little pang. Shouldn't they be reading, playing with legos, sewing with hemp or something? Is watching Avatar the Last Airbender really the best use of their time? When they ask to watch T.V. I tend to stall. I say things like, "I suppose you could, but I was thinking we could all make cookies first," or "T.V.'s not really an after school activity. It's more of a Saturday morning kind of thing."

Okay, so cut to the chase. It's after gymnastics camp. They want to watch T.V. I take a deep breath and say Yes. They scamper down to the basement and I make dinner. Thirty minutes later they reappear. "Can we watch another episode?" Another deep breath followed by another Yes. My son kisses my hand. "You're the nicest mommy ever," he tells me. The realization begins to dawn that my T.V. based split-personality might be out of control.
Maybe I wasn't missing that much!
My husband gets home. "Where are the kids?"

"Downstairs watching T.V."

He goes down to the basement and, from the kitchen I hear him say, "Okay, that's enough T.V. Time to turn it off."
It feels good! And you know what? I do feel a little bit lighter, more joyful, maybe even more fulfilled. What remains to be seen is whether it's the saying Yes or just not having to be the one to insist it's time to turn it off. 

Author's note: Those of you who know me well, will also know I had to Google 80's television shows to come up with those references to the A-Team and Cheers. Those of you who don't know me as well, now understand the full extent of my complete cluelessness about late 70's and 80's media!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Fulfillment Project says YES

The last few weeks have made me think about the person I used to be. Sometimes I feel like the fun police, cleaning out refrigerators and giving out check marks. I've become the rule enforcer in our family. I'm the one who, upon hearing shrieks of laughter emanating from the basement, yells, "What's going on down there?!?" I'm the one who worries about biking too fast down streets coated with slippery leaves, consuming adequate amounts of vegetables, paying the bills and whether or not chores have been completed.

Basically, I'm worried that I'm no fun.

And the thing is, I used to be a lot of fun. I was the person who moved to France on a whim, who rode through Thailand on the back of a motorcycle piloted by an Israeli guy I met while swimming in the River Kwai. I came up with the idea of wearing nothing but red tape to a Halloween party. I was the one who wrote a law review article on prostitution rings, conducting my interviews in person, thereby breaking the spoken rule of pimps about talking to outsiders and the unspoken rule of law reviews, requiring everything they publish to be deadly boring.

Way back when, I was the kind of person who hated rules and conventionality. I was passionate about everything. That passion led me to do things like enroll myself at an all black college for a semester so I could learn what it felt like to be the only white face in a sea of brown. It was a different kind of education. One that taught me, not only to be more aware of my world, but also all the lyrics to Black Pussy, DJ Quik's infamous contribution to the modern rap catalogue. 

So what happened to that person? Where did she go?
I think she started to slip away just about the same time Child #1 came along. Child #1 came into the world with a bang (which if you knew her, wouldn't surprise you). But it surprised me. It made me realize how fragile life can be and with that realization came the worry.
When Child #2 came into the picture, the worry expanded to encompass the newest member of our family and, like an unwelcome house guest, has never left.

There are days that I find myself so completely in its grip that I will suddenly, in the middle of the day, try to remember what my children wore to school. You know...just in case. Sometimes, when they are doing something realtively safe, like dancing outside on the deck or jumping off the third stair I find myself inventing scenarios. What if the deck collapses? What if one of them lands wrong and breaks an ankle? Or even worse, what if they do a duck and roll that causes permanent injury to their spine? What if an earthquake hits and this moment, the one we're in right now is our very last together. What if, what if, what if?

I know these fears aren't rational, but it doesn't mean they aren't real. They cling to my life, like little barnacles, sucking out the joy and fulfillment and replacing it with constant scrutiny.

I'm always on guard.

I can't live on the edge because I'm too busy making sure no one goes over the edge. So, what if I replace my usual brand of what ifs with something else?

My whole life used to be one long series of Yeses. In fact, my only fear was that I might miss out on something. I wanted to say yes because I knew life was short. I knew that sometimes you only get one chance to do something and I never wanted to look back and wish I'd taken advantage of some mysterious opportunity. When I think about it, the job offer to teach aerobics in French at an island Club Med is probably the only job I ever turned down. And to this day I wonder what it would have been like.

It boils down to this. How can I rediscover all the joie de vivre that used to be my default position? What if I spend a week saying yes? Not no, I'll consider it, absolutely not, please don't bother me while I'm working, after you finish your homework, all those typical responses that seem to flow out of my mouth these days. What if all I say is YES?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Analyzes Check Marks

After two weeks of using the check mark system (lucky for me Halloween came along and replenished my kid's candy coffers) it's time to step back and think about whether it helped me accomplish my goal.

Does my system of check marks and sugar deprivation do anything to make my pretty good life even better?

In a word, YES, I think it does.

There's nothing magical about the check mark system, but at a time when I needed to up my game a little bit, it gave me one more tool in my parental arsenal. I've noticed I'm less likely to get sucked into the back and forths, the wheedling and the yelling than I have been in the past. One check mark and we all move on, which seems like a better response to many of the small (but annoying) things my kids do. This seems to give me more patience for the bigger things.

On a more basic level, I have to admit that there's a certain visceral comfort in grinding my kid's candy up in the garbage disposal. When you're faced with someone stretched out on the floor kicking the table leg or when someone has refused to put on their shoes after being asked no less than twenty times, the whirring of the garbage disposal is downright therapeutic. Does that make me a bad person? I don't know?? I think it probably just makes me human.

Which brings me to the next phase of the The Fulfillment Project. That's right! Me!

So far I've talked about reclaiming my refrigerator and behavior modification strategies for the kiddos. Both of these things have, in their small ways, helped to make my pretty good life better. In fact, the refrigerator reclaimation spawned a closet reclamation and a huge box of things being donated to the Goodwill this weekend.

But, as I've been going about all this tidying and doling out of check marks I realized that it wasn't just the refrigerator and kids who needed to shape up. What about me? I mean, after all, don't we each play the primary role in our own personal happiness? The path seemed clear. I realized I was going to need to put my money where my virtual mouth was and turn the focus of The Fulfillment Project onto myself.

Tomorrow, The Fulfillment Project takes a dramatic step.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Takes the Cake (and the Candy)

Day One of Child #2's candy deprivation starts out with me asking him to put on his coat.
And put on his coat and put on his coat.

"Okay, that's the third time I've had to ask you to do something. That's a check mark."

He looked at me and grinned. "I still get half my dessert, right?"

"Yes, but it's only 8:20." He didn't seem to mind. He skipped out the door after his sister. When I picked him up from school his teacher told me he hadn't been "making good decisions" on the playground. Another check mark for poor Child #2. After school he decided to sing at the top of his lungs while his sister was trying to practice piano. He got one chance to stop then another check mark which meant he had to hand over a piece of candy. There was no need for me to storm upstairs. He voluntarily relinquished a recent goodie bag and said, "You choose, mom."

I was a little worried.

Day Two: I asked him to put his shoes on twice. "Don't make me tell you again or it's a check mark," I added. He quickly put them on. There was no after-school chat about bad decisions with his teacher, but on the way home from school I turned my back for a moment and found him peeing on a tree, even though I'd made a point of asking if anyone needed to use the bathroom before we left the school. He got a check mark and then another one we got home for throwing pieces of pirate's booty at his sister. Again, no dessert. "That's okay, mom," he announced after dinner. "I don't like apple pie."

"I'll give you a bite of mine," said Child #1 who hates to see him suffer.

"That's okay," he said. Then he asked to be excused and slowly (and maybe a little bit sadly) climbed the stairs to his room.

Day Three was the charm. Instead of repeating myself multiple times, all I needed to say was, "I've already asked you this once." He listened. He made good choices and he stopped doing all the things I asked him to stop doing. In short, he was a very good little boy. Dessert that night was leftover apple pie. "I don't like apple pie," he reminded us.

"That's what I'm serving," I said.

"Mom," interjected Child #1. "He has worked so hard for dessert. Can't you dig up some chocolate for him?" She was right! Absolutely right, so that's exactly what I did.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fulfillment Project and Impulse Control

As promised on Thursday, today's post looks at how the check mark system works on a completely different kind of kid.

Child #2 is the polar opposite of his sister. Where she's intense, reserved and a little high-strung, he's easy going and affable. He has the ability to strike up a conversation with anybody, and I do mean anybody. He's the life of the party, the kind of kid that is usually in the center of things. Last year on our family vacation I kept hearing roars of laughter from the resort hot tub. I went over to inspect and found Child #2 dangling his feet in the water and holding forth to about thirty people.

"I'm so sorry. Is he bothering you?" I asked.

"No, he's like paid entertainment," I was told.

For the rest of our vacation everywhere we went people stopped us...to talk to Child #2. Life is exceptionally kind to Child #2 and when it isn't, he shrugs it off as an anomoly. Hence my dilemma with discipline. He's stoic about lost privileges, even going so far as to remind me to enforce any punishment I might mete out. Sometimes I feel like life gives him so much that he doesn't really care about punishment. Still, I was determined to stick to the check mark system with both kids.

As I said before, every kid has their touchy points. Child #1's are precise, like her, but Child #2's are more ambiguous.  On any given day, I go through a litany of things that I ask him NOT to do. Some days I feel like all I say is "please don't touch, shout in my ear, pour water over your head at school, feed strange dogs, put your hand down your pants, eat things you find on the sidewalk, destroy [fill in the blank], lick you sister, roll in the mud, play with toilet water, talk to strangers." It's a neverending list, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the common thread was impulse control.

The never-ending stream of chatter, the not listening, the going up to his room to get socks and returning empty handed after twenty minutes because he had to build something important with his legos, are all rooted in lack of impulse control. The question was whether candy deprivation would have any effect on him or whether he would shrug it off, and in his usual way, say, "I'm sorry Mom, but even when you're mad at me I still think you're beautiful."

Tomorrow, The Fulfillment Project looks at Child #2's induction into the check mark system.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Goes Crazy for Candy

That night, after my candy revelation (see yesterday's post on the perfect trifecta) I sat the kids down in the dining room. The plan, like most good plans, is simple. If I have to repeat myself more than three times, bad attitude, eye rolls, whining and tantrums (especially tantrums) will all result in a check mark. Two check marks will equal the loss of dessert. Any other additional check marks will require delving into my children's personal candy stash, one piece of candy for every check mark.

"I think I'm going to opt of this plan," said my daughter. "It doesn't sound like much fun."

"Yeah," said my son, which is his standard conversational tactic whenever he and his sister are arguing with me about something.

"It's not a corporate takeover. You don't get to opt-out or opt-in. I'm not asking your permission, I'm just making sure you understand the rules."

"Like a game?" asked my daughter.

"However you want to frame it," I told her.

Each child has their touchy spots. Child #1's is homework.

She's a classic first born kid, in that she's a perfectionist, competitive and a little high strung. These traits aren't pretty when they come to homework. A typical evening can go something like this: She screams for help. I attempt to calmly explain. She falls off the chair and writhes under the table. I walk away. She begs me to come back. I deny her request. She starts sobbing. I take pity on her and try to explain. She tells me I don't know what I'm talking about. I yell at her. She listens for the fraction of a second it takes me to explain her homework and then insists, "I get it. I get it. Don't help me anymore."

Given this pattern, I knew homework might be a time when check marks would mount up in a hurry. It was a Tuesday night and she was supposed to be calculating area and perimeter.

"Mooom, it's impossible," I heard her moan from the breakfast room.

"Need some help, honey?"

"Yes, but it's impossible!!" I sat down next to her but before I'd said two words she shrieked,  "How could our teacher ask us to do something like this? It can't be done."

"Uh-oh, that's a check mark for not listening," I said.

She glared at me. Things went downhill from there. In the space of a minute we had gone through the dessert check marks and were into her personal stash of candy. "Not the box of chocolates Grandma and Grandpa brought me from Peru," she shrieked as I marched upstairs. I left the Peruvian chocolates alone and grabbed the two year old tin of malt balls from Dylan's Candy Bar. After I'd ground one up in the garbage disposal I went back into the breakfast room where she was sprawled on the floor.

"It doesn't seem like you're ready to listen yet," I said.

She threw her pencil at me.

I ground up another piece of candy and returned to the breakfast room. This time she was in her chair, hair wild and a little tearful. Through clenched teeth she said, "Okay mom, I'm ready to listen."

Turns out the concepts of area and perimeter are pretty easy. She whipped through her homework in about five minutes. That night before she went to bed she said, "Mom, I think time outs are a lot better than check marks. You know, we need time to think about our actions."

That was the moment I knew I was really on to something. 

On Monday, The Fulfillment Project looks at the effect of the candy check mark system on a completely different kind of kid, the one who goes by the name (on this blog) of Child #2.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: Kids, Candy and Marbles

Kids + candy + marbles = the perfect trifecta.

Looks like Pump It Up is in my near future.
The kids part is obvious. If not, you can take a look at yesterday's blog post. The marble part needs a little explanation.

In our house we do a good job with positive reinforcement. Inspired by my darling friend Birdie, we created a marble jar. The marble jar is the physical representation of everything good done by either Child #1 or #2. Did you help your brother make his bed? Great, put a marble in the jar. Score a goal at the soccer game, memorize the multiplication tables, put someone else's feelings before your own, bring home a particularly beautiful art project, stick up for someone smaller than you or just about any positive thing a kid can do warrants a marble (or two).

There are only two caveats to the marble jar. The first one is kids can't ask for marbles and the second one is parents can't offer marbles in exchange for behavior. This ensures I don't have to thwart attempts at marble negotiation. The final rule about the marble jar, and this is a biggie, is that once the marbles go in, they don't come out until the jar is full and we start over. This is because, as I told the kids, "once you do something good it's yours to keep. No one can ever take your good deeds away from you."

When the jar is full the kids get to choose a fun activity to do together. The unexpected bonus to the marble jar is that now when they beg me to go to places like Chuck E Cheese or Pump It Up I can say, "Oooh, that sounds like a fun marble jar treat!"

The marble jar system has worked well for us. I love that it's a consistent positive reinforcement in our lives. However, I realized we haven't had any consistent negative reinforcements. As I said yesterday, time outs have run their course, spankings aren't an option and grounding seems like overkill most of the time.

What could I do?
And now we can add Halloween Candy.
A few weeks ago my daughter asked me to help her find something in her desk drawer. As we searched, I realized she still had the candy necklace and several lollipops she'd received on the last day of kindergarten. She's now in fourth grade. I looked around her room and everywhere were little boxes filled with uneaten candy. Downstairs in the snack drawer, I knew my son had a bag stuffed full of candy, the combined loot of many chocolate filled holidays, combined with treats found in goodie bags handed out a bazillion birthday parties.

A lightbulb went on!

My kids love dessert but even more than dessert, they like the possession of dessert. The knowledge they have a pumpkin full of Halloween candy is almost better than the candy itself. What if every small transgression cost them a small piece of candy? Maybe I could put aside my fears that I'm raising two little hoarders and use their tendencies to solve a problem.

Tomorrow, phase one of the candy plan.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Studies Problem 1 and Problem 2

Last week we fixed my refrigerator. This week, my life.

Just kidding, well sort of just kidding.

In Gretchen Rubin's, The Happiness Project she discusses her Secrets of Adulthood, her slightly goofy list specifically tailored to her. After the refrigerator redo I realized my first Secret of Adulthood was based on sales and economics. Here it is.

Secret of Adulthood No. 1: If I want my husband to do something consistently, I need to sell it to him in terms of dollars saved.

It's simple, really. I mean we're talking about the man who has bags of returnable cans in the garage. I know the coffee he buys with his $3.40 return from those cans tastes sweeter because it was paid for with deposit refunds. He is gleeful when he manages to use a coupon. A few years ago he got up at 5:00 AM on the day after Thanksgiving to get some kind of double down discount at Target. He still talks about that day, the way some men might reminesce about throwing a winning touchdown in high school. All of this is not to say he's not generous, because he is. It's just to illustrate my point. The man loves to save a dollar.

With my refrigerator beautifully organized (and my husband sold on helping me keep it that way) I had time to focus on other areas of our lives. What else could I do to make our pretty good lives a little bit better?

 I was pondering this question one morning last week as I tried to get the kids to school. I had asked Child #2 to put his shoes on four times. Child #1 came downstairs without her socks on and started to perform a Pygmy Puff dance which caused her brother to jump up, with only one shoe on, and join her.

"Let's put our shoes on guys," I said. They both ignored me. "Let's GO, shoes on!" I said more loudly. The dance continued. "SHOES ON, EVERYONE! NOW!!" I screamed.

"Why are you yelling, mom?" asked my daughter.

It's not smurfin' funny!
"Because you're not listening to me." She rolled her eyes and her brother giggled.

That was the moment I knew what needed to be done. Gretchen advises identifying the problem. The little eye roll, the ignoring me, the dance, the refusal to respond in anything but Smurfspeak, it all suddenly crystalized. I realized that in front of me stood two little problems.

Now don't get me wrong. I love my children. I love them with all my heart, in the I'd-gladly-pick-up-a- truck or take-a-bullet kind of way. Still, lately things have gotten a little out of hand.

It's hard to pinpoint when it began. Maybe it was when I overheard my daughter whisper to my son, "Mom doesn't understand time outs are just sitting in a corner. You should pretend not to like them though. It makes her feel better." Spanking isn't an option, long talks about expectations seem out of place for something like an eye roll and grounding or cancelling privileges often feels disproportionate to the crime.

However, and this is the important part, I needed to figure out something because my adorable children were managing to drain the fulfillment out of family life with alarming regularity.

Tomorrow, the Fulfillment Project discovers the perfect trifecta!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

The kids wanted to do a quick survey of the neighborhood in order to plan their trick-or-treating. First house on the list is one they refer to as 'Island of the Devils'

I'm not sure about devils, but the lighting on the sidewalk is definitely going to make this one creepy tonight. Not to mention their super cool pumpkins.

We walk by this house on the way to school every day. As soon as the cemetary goes in, our trip takes about five minutes longer. If you look carefully you can see some scary bones decomposing in front of a couple of tombstones.

This house gets wilder every year. Child #1 loves it when people jump out of the bushes. Child #2 is convinced this will be the year he goes up to the door by himself.

Of course, no one's Halloween decor is complete without a blood-filled bathtub.

Across the street, lives the mythical man-eating spider. I think it's got a little snack all wrapped for Halloween night.

Speaking of mythical creatures, we saw the mythical white squirrel, long rumored to live in our neighborhood. Now we have  photographic evidence that it really exists.

May your Halloween be filled with all your favorite mythical creatures and your treat bags full.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: Lessons from a Refrigerator

Someone even printed it on a t-shirt!
A big thank you to everyone who stopped by this week, left comments and reveled in my newly clean and organized fridge. Because this is The Fulfillment Project I need to assess how the refrigerator helps push me in the right direction. What does it do to make my pretty, darn good life, a little bit better?

While I'm not particularly religious, I've often heard the phrase, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." My interpretation of that phrase is, we all have a basic human need to be clean. We also have a basic need to eat. There's something soothing (dare I say fulfilling?) about the two needs being met in an unlikely spot like the refrigerator.

But is it sustainable?

Is there a point when my efforts to keep the refrigerator organized will outweigh the pleasing effect of having it perfectly organized? So far, keeping in mind I'm only five days in, it seems sustainable. Mostly because Rachel and I gave a lot of thought to how my family lives and organized the refrigerator around our lifestyle. My son likes syrup on his pancakes. But when he pours it, the syrup drips down the side of the bottle and leaves a sticky mess on the bottom which results in sticky refrigerator messes.  Solution, put a folded up paper towel underneath the bottle (which is now always put back in the same place). When the towel gets messy, replace it.

Clear fridge bin
Similarly, all the clear boxes contain food grime to a limited sphere. If my cheese box gets disgusting, all I have to do is pull out the box, stick it in the dishwasher and I'm good to go. And truthfully, I'm much more likely to go the dishwasher option than I am to go the full refrigerator clean out option. 

The second piece I looked at was the affordability issue. What's the price tag on all those clear boxes? All told, they were just under the $50 mark at Storables. My guess is it will take me about two months to recoup that $50. Here's why.

The newly organized refrigerator is visual. I can take a quick glance inside and see whether I'm running low on eggs, fruit, veggies or milk. At the grocery story that translates to more targeted purchases. I have a feeling I won't be buying extra packages of cream cheese, bunches of grapes or mustard anymore. Hopefully, the new system will help eliminate a lot of the slimy food waste which is synonomous (in my mind) with careless money waste.

Eliminating careless money waste goes a long way towards making me feel more fulfilled. It's also a huge incentive for my husband to respect the food zones and not undo my organizational work. It all plays into the goal of making our pretty good lives, slightly better.

Guess what's for dinner tonight? Leftovers! Because I can see them and I know exactly how much I have. Guess what else? It honestly makes me happy to know that food won't go to waste and I didn't over-buy yesterday at the grocery store.

Next week, The Fulfillment Project searches for ways to deal with those itty bitty, teeny tiny annoyances that don't quite rise to the level of a full grievance.  I know what mine are, and I'm putting a plan into place as of today.  The problems, plan and results will be discussed and analyzed to see whether they meet The Fulfillment Project's goals.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: Refrigerator Reveal

Before I reveal my newly fabulous refrigerator, I need to talk about the organizational process. Believe it or not, a refrigerator that leads to fulfillment is more process driven than you might think.  Remember yesterday, when Rach made me separate everything into use frequency groups? Immediately after we were done she gave me some great words of wisdom.

"You're going to have to think of your refrigerator in zones.  We're going to have the beverage zone, the cheese zone, the egg zone and the lunch meat zone.  Everything needs to be separated."

Rach's snack drawer: fruit leathers arranged by flavor.
Even though Rach is a master organizer (and no, this isn't what she does for a living) my refrigerator usage needs were tricky for two reasons.  The first reason is because I like to cook so there are almost always leftovers.  The second reason is also due to our lifestyle.  Because I like to cook different things I have, unwittingly, trained my family to expect an endless bounty of variety. 

In Rach's house she always stocks cucumbers and pears (hence the labeled boxes for cucumbers and pears).  Before my dreams of a perfectly organized fridge could evaporate, Rach saved the day by coming up with the idea of rotating zones.  Or, another way of putting it is organization with less specificity.  Instead of the grape compartment, I have the fresh fruit to be packed in lunches compartment.

The second, even more important concept, was marketing. "As soon as you bring the food home, you have to market it to yourself," she told me. Marketing it to myself means making it visible.  She removed all my exotic condiments, aka seldom use items, from their home in the fridge door and arranged them along the back of my fridge.  "You're sacrificing valuable real estate for things you use once a month," she reminded me.  "And this way you can't shove things to the back and forget about them.  Remember, market to yourself."

Infrequent use items populate the back row formerly reserved for slimy stuff.
She grouped my cheeses, including the three cream cheeses.  "You need a box for these," she told me. Rach loves the clear refrigerator boxes at Storables.  Her emphasis was on clear so you can see what's inside because, "if you can't see it, you won't eat it." She also urged me to take my eggs out of their space-sucking carton and load them into an egg container.  "Pull from the front, load from the back," she told me when I asked how she made sure some eggs weren't left to go bad. 

Empty fruit box on top, clear cheese box on right middle
 We struggled with where to place my tortillas.  They're awkward and bulky, but eventually we decided it made sense to put them underneath the cheese container.  It's a logical placement.  I hardly ever use tortillas without cheese so it keeps things separated while simultaneously maximizing my cooking efficiency.  Another example of logical placement was storing the peanut butter next to the jelly.  Genius!  No more time spent searching for the jelly or multiple jars of open jelly.

Finally, there were the leftovers.  How would we deal with the leftovers or large pots and pans that require refrigeration during dinner parties or holiday meals?  Rach whipped out a tape measure.  "We can turn the pot lids upside down and still have room to slide your big pot into the bottom shelf," she showed me.  The bottom shelf, left hand side was dedicated to leftovers and precut fruit.  It's going to become the go-to spot for my foraging husband and children.

Tomorrow, a break down and price assessment of the refrigerator remodel.  And, more importantly for purposes of my blog, how does having a streamlined, super-efficient refrigerator make my life more fulfilled.  But before I leave I need to show you with one more picture.  It's the beverage zone.  So easy, so simple, everything all grouped together in the door.  Opening my refrigerator still isn't like a day at the spa, but I have to admit I get a certain amount of pleasure every time I look at my beverage zone.  Look, it's all right there at the tip of my fingers!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Tackles the Refrigerator

I know you were probably expecting horseback riding pics today...and those will come.  However, I want to get back to my happiness cookbook, aka Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  In one of the early chapters of The Happiness Project Gretchen describes cleaning out her closets.  Her apartment is cluttered and tackling that clutter brings her a certain amount of happiness. 

It looks so tidy...until you open those white built-in cabinets.
 As I walked through my house I knew that clearing the surface clutter wasn't an option.  Mostly, because there is no surface clutter.  My husband hates clutter and so I've become a closet clutterer.  Out of sight, out of mind, right.  My house is well-equipped with LOTS of closets and every single one of them is full.  I tuck things away and years later discover the emergency flashlight in the basement bathroom vanity drawer or a ziplocked baggie of confetti in my overflow storage.  I considered devoting the weekend to just the living room cupboards but then I remembered my friend Rachel's refrigerator.

Rach's refrigerator is pristine.  It's a thing of beauty.  She freely admits that if she feels stressed out, all she needs to do is open her refrigerator door.  The labeled bins, everything in its proper place, it's the Rach equivalent to a day at the spa.
Note Rach's empty top shelf....for leftovers!

 Because she's a good friend, and finds her joy in organizing, she agreed to spend a few hours reorganizing my fridge (and when I say agreed, I actually mean jumped at the chance).  Here's what we started with at the Garth household. 
Luckily you can't see the slimy section hidden at the back.


And this!

I count 2 pickle jars in this picture alone.
What the pictures, thankfully, don't show is the build up of grime and the back row of forgotten items.  I am theoretically anti-food waste.  I make an effort to menu plan and use up all the food we buy.  However, often things don't go as planned.  We grab a quick pizza.  Someone invites us to dinner.  Vacations, soccer games and holidays, they all conspire to make sure the food I buy doesn't get eaten.  My way of coping with this is to ignore it.  I let the ignored food get pushed to the deep, dark regions of the fridge until they're unrecognizable and slimy.  Only when my organic tomatoes have turned to slush do I then feel free to toss them out, guilt free. 

Rachel sized my fridge up with a practiced eye.  "The first thing we're going to do is take everything out."  And so we did.  Everything!  We lined it up on my counter and she made me sort things into use groups.  If I used something every day it went into the often group.  Twice a week was seldom and less than once a week items went straight to the rarely used.  We discovered that I have four jars of pickles, three jars of dijon mustard and three containers of cream cheese.  There was no judgment about my jars of excess condiments, but when it came to the cream cheese she said, "You've got to promise me you'll stop buying cream cheese until you use these three packages."  I promised.  It was the least I could do for someone who gave up two hours of her Saturday to hang out with me and my slimy vegetables.  

Tomorrow we get into the nitty gritty of how we reclaimed my refrigerator.  I've got the after pictures and, even better, some amazing Rachel advice for how to avoid the slimy food syndrome.  It's a whole new way of conceptualizing refrigerator space.   


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: What Brings You Joy

It turns out the easiest part of following Gretchen's happiness recipe was figuring out what I didn't like.  My friends and I had a great time discussing what gave us the Internal Shudders or, as one friend named it, our Guilty Unpleasures.  But then they went home and I had to get back to the meat and potatoes of this project.  What makes me happy and leaves me feeling fulfilled?

I was stuck.  Again, I turned to my Happiness Bible (aka The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin) but it didn't help.  She talks about the process of putting together books filled with pictures and ideas.  This was her happy space.  To me, that sounded perilously close to scrapbooking.  Since scrapbooking is basically Arts & Crafts for grown-ups I was certain notebooking wouldn't work for me. 

But what would?

The first thing that came to mind was horseback riding.  I grew up on a farm that was adjacent to public timber land, so I spent a large portion of my childhood riding bareback and unchaperoned through the mountains.  I'm a good rider, someone who has the kind of skill that can only be gained from hours of riding bareback (and sometimes barefoot).  When we lived in New York City I'd started to ride again, but then my fancy black velvet riding helmet had to be shoved to the back of the closet to make way for maternity clothes. 

What would it mean to (literally) get back into the saddle?

My first reaction was a groan because I know exactly what it would mean.  It would mean time.  Not weekend time but school day time.  School day time is my most precious commodity.  It's my writing time.  Would horseback riding really let me tap into my inner joy if it meant I had to give up writing time?

The second obstacle was practicality.  Did it make sense?  I was going to have to drive at least twenty-five minutes to get to the closest horse farm.  Even when I got there, I was fairly certain I wouldn't be given a horse and free reign...which is kind of what I wanted.  It would be a lesson or a trail ride.  It might not live up to my expectations.

These thoughts had all been enough to dissuade me in the past, but in keeping iwth The Fulfillment Project, I decided to rethink my objections. 

What did I have to lose? 

At the most, one day would cost me 2000 words on my work in progress.  It wouldn't be the end of the world.  The second objection was trickier, but I finally hit on something I always tell my kids.  My kids are good swimmers and so they hate it when I suggest swim lessons intended to hone their skills.  Every time they object I tell them, "just because you're good at something, doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement." 

The same holds true for me.  I could take a lesson.  I was a good rider twenty years ago.  Skills get old and rusty.  On top of that, I never learned how to post properly.  Maybe I should carve out the time, suck up the objections and take one little lesson.  If nothing else it would be the chance to dig my riding helmet out of retirement.  Next up, back to the Happiness Bible and a different kind of joy.
Turns out I'm a sucker for accessories.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Responds to You

The first week of The Fulfillment Project has been amazing.  There have been so many thoughts and ideas posted on my blog and emailed directly to me that I wanted to devote a day just to you.

First off, I got to meet Shelly.   http://thebiglifeproject.com/ Shelly was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and decided she needed a way to focus on everything wonderful about life (I hope I've paraphrased that accurately Shelly).  This desire fueled her Big Life Project.  What inspired me most about Shelly was the way she has taken something difficult and turned it into a focus on joy.  I think that kind of focus will play an important role in The Fulfillment Project, and even though I haven't gotten to it yet...it will come.

cropped pic from Shelly's website
CP at Large on G+ recommended I read Flourish by Martin Seligman.  You can check out her blog here:  http://cpatlarge.blogspot.com/  Even though I promised you this blog would be, the not very well researched account of one woman's search for fulfillment, I have trouble resisting a good book recommendation.  Flourish is now on my holds list at the library.  I have the feeling it'll be filled with some irresistible quotes. 

I also loved a comment by Hart at http://waterytart23.blogspot.com/  She brought up the blessing of having enough, not so much that you don't appreciate the good things in life, but enough so you aren't miserable.  I love this idea, which is essentially about balance.  I'm quite certain balance is going to play an essential role in The Fulfillment Project.

Finally, the two comments made by almost every guy I know, including my husband are as follows:
1.  You seem pretty happy; and
2.  Why are you doing things you don't like (in response to my Internal Shudder post).

At first I was tempted to frame this as a Mars/Venus response, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was too simple.  The first comment is valid.  Why should I try to make my fairly happy self, even happier?  Is it a self-absorbed, waste of time?  There's a substantial body of research that shows it isn't, but maybe the best way to make that point is to follow the age old writer's advice and show instead of tell.  Going forward I will make a point of showing why it's important for me (and you) to push ourselves to the top end of the happiness spectrum.

As for the second point, either every guy I happened to talk to this week is way more self-actualized than every woman I know, or it really is a Mars/Venus kind of thing.

Next post will be published on Monday.  It asks the question, what brings joy?  My answer pushes me back towards an abandoned passion.  I can't wait to hear about all of your passions (abandoned and otherwise) that bring you joy. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Internal Shudder at The Fulfillment Project

My task for the weekend was simple.  All I had to do was follow Gretchen's first commandment, which is technically Be Gretchen, but for my purposes, it's Be Johanna.

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen talks about giving herself permission not to like certain things she wishes she liked more.  For example, she says she wishes she were the kind of person who likes to play chess, go out to hot new restaurants or talk foreign policy, but she's not.  For Gretchen, being Gretchen means she needs to accept that she is never going to enjoy those activities and focus on what she does enjoy.

This was hard for me, maybe because I was using Gretchen's list.  I kept thinking, it's true I don't like to talk foreign policy but hot new restaurants, I LOVE hot new restaurants.  Fortunately, I remembered that this task was not Be Gretchen, it was Be Johanna and then everything began to fall into place.

What are the things that I do, not because I enjoy them, but because I wish I was the kind of person who enjoyed them.  I realized the best way to test this was to see if the thing in question made me shudder internally.  If it was something that I hated to do but did anyway (with an internal shudder) because I felt like I should, then it went on my list. 

I'm the one checking my phone.
The first thing on the list was professional sporting events.  Last year I attended a Blazers basketball game with my family.  While everyone else watched the game, I checked my watch, played on my phone and was quick to jump up to get snacks if anyone displayed the slightest desire for cotton candy.  Professional sporting events are a classic example of something that triggers my internal shudder. 

That being said, it feels vaguely unpatriotic to not like sporting events.  "You should go to a Timbers game," people tell me and they are so enthusiastic and certain I will love it, that it's hard to disagree.  But the internal shudder tells me that no matter how many sporting events I attend they will never make me happy.  Which is one of Gretchen's Secrets of Adulthood--What's fun for other people may not be fun for you.  Even though I wish I liked sporting events, I need to Be Johanna and accept that I don't.

What else triggers the Internal Shudder?  Foreign films (they feel like the movie equivelent of eating my vegetables), Interpretative Centers (disembodied voices talking about magma and lava flow make me really, really cranky), Anthropological Exhibits (I know, I know, I should care more and I really, truly wish I did) and Arts & Crafts Projects (any time the glitter comes out I get heart palpitations to go along with my internal shudder).

The list could go on, but I won't bore you.  Instead I'll confess that the hardest part about making this list is realizing how much I desperately wish I was the kind of person whose perfect day would be a morning Timber's game, followed by a quick trip to an Interpretative Center, a little Arts & Crafts in the afternoon, capped off by the newest, award-winning movie from Holland. 

I wish I could be that person but instead I'm Johanna. 

Next assignment, forget the Internal Shudder items and focus on the things I like to do. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: Week One

I announced the Fulfillment Project to my family at dinner time.  When I say I announced it, I mean I squeezed it in between one of Child #2's endless stories about Star Wars. 

"And then I said I was going to be General Grievous but Daniel said General Grievous isn't part of the rebel forces except if you know that Count Dooku is a Sith lord than that actually makes him part of the rebel forces because..."

Our dinners aren't this cheery.
 He paused for breath giving me time to say, "I have an announcement."

"Mom, you interrupted!"

From the top of the basement stairs where Child #1 was pouting about what was being served for dinner, a voice shouted, "I don't care about any announcements unless you're going to say dinner isn't pasta with mushroom sauce."

"I want to hear your announcement," said my husband so I quickly outlined the basics.

"Hmm," he said.  "I'm a little worried about how I'm going to be portrayed."  I started to tell him more about the book but we were interrupted by Child #1 who had made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and decided to join the rest of us. 

Later, that night I thought about our dinner.  Family dinners.  They're supposed to be the key to happy fulfilled families, right?  How could I organize our lives (or at the very least, our family dinners) so they don't leave me feeling tired and grouchy.  I consult the book, my happiness bible and note that Gretchen started her project by creating Twelve Commandments as the guiding principles for her happiness.  I read them over and have a miniepiphany. 

Gretchen and I are going to have our very own Julie and Julia moment.

Gretchen Rubin has written the cookbook for her own happiness and so, given our similarities I'm willing to bet many of her recipes will work for me.  The first of her Twelve Commandments is "Be Gretchen".  I think about this.  It's really just a twenty-first century version of, "To thine own self be true."  How can I put this into action and how will it help to push me to the upper end of my happiness range? 

Next up, Johanna thinks about how she can better "Be Johanna."  And yes, I promise that's the last time I'll refer to myself in the third person on this blog.