Accountability April Ends

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It was a mixed bag this month, with some goals me, others ignored and some good observations. I was aware of them and that was good. Here are my charts, which I posted on the fridge, filled in daily and backfilled after I returned from my travels in the US:

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I'm thinking about my goals for next month - I did pretty well on eating veg and not too many cheese toasts, but I really went all out with the sugar  with mutliple chocolate and other sweets every day - so cutting back is going to be one of the May challenges. 

And practicing my skills every day so that I hit each one at least once a week. That is the main thing I need to work on. I hope that a chart to track that will help me achieve it rather than feeling like a nag...

One Day, Two Renovations

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The kitchen floor: after, in progress, and before

Sometimes it pays to pay for help. I had my friend, Masa, come over in his role as handyman to help me out with fixing the kitchen floor today. We did the work in record time and I feel good for ticking this off my list of projects and for helping a neighbor earn a bit of cash.

I did the project planning, which involved not actually repairing anything but covering the sagging floor with fresh plywood and vinyl. It's an inexpensive, temporary fix. I opted not to nail or glue the new boards to the old floor. I know if we stay here more than a year or two, we will properly re-do the rotting floor. Taking up two subfloors would be a real nightmare, so for today I made a jigsaw of boards resting on the old floor and then sort of held it together with glue and vinyl. It's imperfect and a horror to any professional, but it sure does look pretty and the floor feels much more solid that it did this morning. It took us four hours, half of which was driving into town and shopping for the vinyl. Total cost including materials and Masa's time, under 20,000 yen. Win!

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Goodbye, ugly compost bin. You were an eyesore. I hope you have a happy new life with Masa.

As a unexpected bonus, Masa dug up the ugly, creepy compost bin from the middle of the yard. When I mentioned that was on my list of projects to do, he lit up. "Can I have it?" Yes, of course! So with my newly purchased shovel, he dug down 20 centimeters and pulled it out of the ground. The compost inside was a mix of nice dirt, eggshells, and cockroaches (ick). It will be really fine after I dig it into the garden. And now I never have to see that dreadful bright teal plastic bin ever again. I'll make a less obtrusive new compost heap somewhere more useful, like outside the kitchen door.

Next up: amadoi (not amido or amado, which also need attention) - the gutters.

Practice makes perfect, if you do it...

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Today, thanks to a friend's share on Facebook, I read a great article on practice and how simply practicing isn't enough to achieve mastery. I recommend that you read it here: Not All Practice Makes Perfect by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

I found the article to be simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. Their main take away is that practicing with focus and purpose improves your skills sometimes to the point of doing what might seem impossible or has never been done before. That's pretty cool and we see it frequently enough with people who break records in sports or invent new things. Practice and improvement is what brings them to greatness in their field. 

Encouragingly, what they call "purposeful practice" is perfectly possible for anyone who wants to do it. There are three main points explained in the article:

  • Make long term goals and reach them by taking baby steps towards them
  • Get feedback on your practice so you can adjust and correct for improvement
  • Move beyond your comfort zone to challenge yourself
I have done this recently with bicycling. 

When we moved to Chiba, I was petrified to ride a bicycle. Six months later, I find myself cruising along with more power and less fear. My long term goal is to be able to ride all the way to the beach at Kamogawa and back (about 16 km one-way). I'm not there yet, but I have hit a key intermediate goal of riding alone to the market about halfway to the beach. My baby steps included short rides to and from local spots like Satoyama Design Factory and the post office. Tod gave me feedback about how to ride more effectively - focus on cadence, make good use of gearing, and encouraged me to get out and ride to build muscle memory. His feedback helped me to ride to the market with Tod many times. I set and met another small goal when I climbed the biggest hill without having to get off my bike. We took a few rides off the usual route that I considered extra challenges to push me out of my comfort zone. And finally I got myself to the market alone. So now I need to break down the remainder of the ride to the beach into small steps. And after that, I will set a new long term goal - maybe a ride into the mountains. Eventually I expect to become a proficient and even skilled cyclist.

My biking example was done from necessity but it came naturally to create small goals along the way to a bigger one. I find it encouraging to see that this process works. Hurrah!

And here is where the discouraging part comes into play for me.

I do too many things. Thanks to years of experience, I'm adequate or even "pretty good" at many of them. Real mastery and skill, though, requires time. I can't see how I can possibly practice all my activities to a level of being properly skillful in them. There is always SO MUCH to practice, and I have trouble focussing when I do. If I am juggling, shouldn't I be hooping? I love to draw but certainly yoga is better for my health in the long run. Singing brings me pleasure, but wouldn't I be wiser to focus on a skill that could earn me an income? Anyway, because I don't practice anything with commitment and purpose, I have stalled on all of my things at a level that is becoming dissatisfying.

Should I make a decision to drop some of them? To specialise? Frankly, that seems boring. And that is my disappointment and difficulty.  If I stick to a wide range of abilities, I rarely get really good at anything. I have come to terms with that over and over and over through the years. Being a generalist has many benefits. Now that I find myself in close contact with people who have specialised in a craft (all of my incredible neighbors and collaborators), I am feeling inadequate. 

Can I just practice everything more, somehow? Maybe in rotation: Mondays for music, Tuesdays for yoga, Wednesdays for circus, Thursdays for art, Fridays for writing, Saturdays for... Is it possible to be that disciplined? What if I've forgotten something? I used to make jewelry, to cook, to edit video. How do backstage performance arts get practiced? Curriculum development? How do I fit in all the other things that require my attention like gardening or laundry?

Perhaps I need a time machine, extra lives and a clone. Or I could try to lower my standards and develop more patience.

Honestly, I am not sure what solution is going to be easiest to achieve: rigorous practice, impossible technology, or personal growth. Maybe I'll just go have a nap now.

Cat from nowhere

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A few weeks ago, we were hearing a mouse or rat up in the rafters, scurrying and clambering around with great verve around sunset and at dawn. It ate the tops off come cookies I'd baked and left on the counter.

Friends suggested that a cat would keep away the rodents. But we're not ready for cats at the moment. However, whoever hands out cats from the great heavens had another plan. We now have a cat. Actually it has us.

A few days after the rat/cat discussion, I was taking a nap. I opened my eyes and saw...a cat in the hall.  Tod, in the room opposite, confirmed it wasn't a late afternoon dream. A cat was sitting in the hall grooming itself. Tortoiseshell markings, so female. I sat up to say hello and she bolted out the front door. Feral, but wise to houses.

A few nights later, there she was again. She opened the front door herself, walked quietly toward the kitchen. But I heard her, called out, and she stared at me for a bit before bolting. She snuck in another evening while we were out and ate a piece of bread. Poor kitty must be very hungry. Should we feed her? Despite a divided opinion, Tod brought home cat food a few days later. And then she snuck in again and ate half the butter we'd failed to put away.

So now, we close the kitchen door and make sure all the food is away. Good policy in any case.

She continues to visit so I've given her a name, Pel. Two days ago she peeked her head around the corner into the living room where I was working. I'm not sure who was more surprised. She gave me that, "It's it dinnertime?" look so I filled her bowl. She meowed when she finished.

Last night, she turned up at about 1 am in my bedroom. Pel has never been in the same room as me. She did seem a bit unnerved when I rolled over and saw her, but she didn't flee. Maybe she is gentling herself. We looked at each other for a while, then she walked out into the hall to pace a bit. She let herself into the living room, then climbed into the closet and deliberately knocked a small box off the shelf. Such a cat. I stuck my head out the bedroom door and she retreated to the end of the hall. We just sat together for a while, until I was too tired and crawled back into bed.

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Pel has a friend, too. I call him Pep. Similar colorings, but Pep is fat and doesn't come inside. He eats the other half of the cat food every night and does the same sitting and staring thing as she does. After eating the other day, he sat at the open front door for a while, then moved himself to a place at the end of the walkway where he could watch me in the living room.

These are strange cats, but I'm kinda happy to have them around. Maybe some day I will get to cuddle them - and take them to the vet.

Accountability April

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Tod left for adventures in India yesterday. He will return in June. 

After I returned from farewelling him towards the airport, I cried hot tears of abandonment and self-pity then fell into a funk. It would be so easy to stay there, depressed and lonely, bingeing on social media and movies, and eating nothing but cheese toast and pickles. But I do not want to spend the next ten weeks like that - it's really not me. So I am making the rest of this month into "Accountability April" for the following goals:

  • Daily workout plus an hour of activity (walking, biking, training, etc)
  • Decluttering via #minsgame and my Minimalism and Decluttering group on Facebook
  • Eating healthily, which means cheese toast <  once a day and salad/veg > once a day.
  • Drink fewer than 7 drinks a week
  • Decreasing my metabolic age to 35 (it's currently 42 according to my magic scale)
  • Pass my 原付 test and buy a scooter
  • Blog weekly or more (wow, right)
  • Complete one painting
  • Stay on top of work tasks and household repairs.
That is a lot of stuff for 26 days! But I can definitely do it. I will make some charts with stickers, because as childish as it may seem, they really work for me. I will report back here weekly on my progress and that also helps me stay accountable. Watch this space.


A new age demographic

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I feel I ought to have something impressive or profound to say about becoming 50. However, no wisdom has settled down like a crown upon my head. I have not grown eyes at the back of my head or turned into Janus overnight. 

I like fifty so far. It's a half century! I've looked forward to it for a year. I get to tick a different box in the demographic surveys. I can definitely say I am middle-aged and nobody disagrees. I am, in fact probably 5/8ths of the way to the end now, statistically speaking.

In a long-running annual ritual, I tried on the short brown dress from 1990s. It's not tight at all this year and my legs still look OK sticking out of it. Maybe better than usual, with all the bicycling I do these days.

Fifty is bringing changes, for sure. My mind is a little loose these days. I lose words and my focus drifts. Is it OK to blame Facebook for my attention deficit? Probably not.

My skin is looser, too. Drapey. It sort of hangs under my chin and around my eyes. Should I do something about that? No way. I'll do nothing but embrace it. My hands are rougher, too, and the finger joints ache more. That I can blame on technology. Smartphone arthritis. I can do something about that.

My spirit is as young as ever. Somehow, I think that is true for everyone, everywhere at every stage of life. At least, I hope so. I like being 8 on the inside. :-)

Equinox Creativity

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Our annual Spring Equinox barbecue was a great success among new neighbors and old friends. We were fifteen people with food for 30. There was an abundance of cheese from around the world, plenty of bread including some delicious loaves locally baked, mushrooms (we ordered 2 kg online!), herbed mayonnaise, dips, vegetable sticks, and lots of wine and beer. 6 hours of feasting ended with a cake. 

For me, the equinox is both a celebration and a solemn day as I note the anniversary of my father's death. And this year, our friend Paul, who attended many equinox parties in years past, was also in my thoughts. So I had a private cry as I missed these two good men.

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I cannot host a party without a creative activity and this year we drew postcards. All the guests wrote down addresses of friends and family who will unsuspectingly receive one of the cards pictured above - not necessarily one drawn by someone they know. I suspect there will be some very bemused recipients. "Equinox greetings from who? In Japan?"

One thing that I learned this year, is that living in Chiba completely changes the guest list. It's a long way from Tokyo and only one family made it. Which is fine, but it does indicate it is going to be challenging to keep old friendships going. 

Drawing Meditations

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A few months back, Tracey and I teamed up to make a new creative project. We launched something I think is unique to the world - or at least very uncommon so far - coloring pages with guided audio meditations. We call them Drawing Meditations

The idea takes two forms of meditative relaxation and combines them. Pairing coloring with meditation creates a powerful sense of ease and calm. Your left brain focuses on the technical aspects of coloring while your right brain enjoys flowing into the present moment with the meditation. It's pretty cool and it really works well to distract your busy mind and give you some space to "just be" without any other pressures.

I drew the coloring pages and wrote and recorded the narration for the meditations. Tracey sourced all the materials for the Drawing Meditation gift sets we sell on Etsy. They are gorgeous little things and I especially love the pocket-sized coloring books. 

We are hosting an event on March 12th in Tokyo - a live version of Drawing Meditation. I'll be presenting two new drawings plus a tutorial on coloring in techniques. It's going to be great fun. You are invited to attend! The details for Coloring-In Party feat Drawing Meditations are on Facebook, or contact me directly.

Busy in the Countryside

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When we moved from Tokyo to rural Chiba, I had no idea that I'd be so busy all the time. Isn't country life a laid-back relax-a-thon? Not at all.

First of all, Nature calls. She changes the weather and I adjust various household items - turning off water on sub-freezing nights, opening windows to release stale air - and chores like laundry and baking vary depending on sun and wind. And that's just daily life. Seasonal changes mean packing away or unpacking stored items, buying new supplies, and preparing seasonal activities like gardening or battling insects.

When I'm not considering Gaia's demands, I think about what projects I can do to improve my living environment. Paint the house. Fix broken things. Make a shelving unit. Deal with gutters.  I'm starting to buy tools and materials, so I think this will be a focus of busyness for a while. It's an old house and it will suck up all my time and attention if I let it. 

But I can't let it because to keep my hand in the economic game, I teach yoga classes, circus, and creative workshops, and I write books. Not that these are going to make me a millionaire, but they will bring in a few yen here and there. I enjoy them, too, so they are a pleasure as well as a product. As a newcomer in the area, I have to work hard to establish myself and that means networking and introductions, all in Japanese. So I spend time studying Japanese, too. Probably not as much as I ought to.

Transportation in the countryside is time-consuming. As I sit here writing this I am aching from a bike ride to the farmer's market this afternoon. It's less than 10k one way, but it's tiring. And we took the hilly way home. Pictured above, there's a gorgeous view across Senmaida at the crest of the ridiculously long hill that I have to walk my bike up. The ride down to our house was a thrill and a half, though. Almost worth the pain. As a side benefit, I'll get fitter because without a car, it's bicycle or ride the city bus to shops...or buy online, which is time consuming in its own way.

And on top of all these busy activities, we have a social life! I am more likely to see my neighbors here than I ever was in Tokyo. Neighbors who are becoming good friends, in fact. We get together and do things for fun - barbecues, themed parties, projects. It's great. And definitely a factor in being busy in the countryside. There are traditional community obligations which we have managed to skip so far, but I'm likely get roped into doing some of this duty work before too long.

So with so many things asking for me to do them, what do I actually do? In this cold weather, I curl under the covers and wait for Spring.


16 reasons it is good to be home

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  1. Enjoying meals lovingly prepared by dear friends 
  2. Realising it was 7 conveyances to get home (taxi-plane-bus-taxi-train-bus-car)
  3. Feeling happy that our friends are so kind and helpful
  4. Relishing the Oyama hillscapes
  5. Doing laundry on my own schedule
  6. Being surprised by the 5 o'clock bells
  7. Nomming anago sushi bento for lunch
  8. Sunning the futon on a beautiful afternoon
  9. Opening piles of mail that include personal letters
  10. Bundling up in cozy fleece and hats
  11. Bicycling to the grocery store
  12. Reconnecting with the community schedule
  13. Planning nothing for a week or two or three
  14. Dancing in the office because there is nothing to plan
  15. Uploading huge whacks of photos & videos over gigabit fiber
  16. Dreaming of all the things I could do next
I loved being in Thailand for seven weeks. It was a great adventure running a circus and doing good in the world, meeting people, teaching kids, and collaborating on performances. (More about that to come, don't worry.) But I am so happy to be home again. I didn't realise how good it would be to get back to this place.

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