First sleep, second sleep

"Last night" by Konstantin Kalynovych

"Last night" by Konstantin Kalynovych

Around my house the first question we usually ask each other in the morning  is "how did you sleep?" Sure, it's partly just politeness but it's also an indicator of how much we love us some sleep around here. I'm a big believer in the restorative power of a good night's rest.

So it was with a bit of panic that I've noticed that my sleep patterns have slowly morphed into a broken pattern where I'm restless/awake in the middle of the night ("slowly morphed" might just be the best euphemism for aging ever, haha). I became especially aware of this when I got a Fitbit for Christmas last year and was astounded to see how often I awakened or was restless in the night. I thought I was getting a good eight or so hours but the Fitbit on my wrist that was tracking my movements said differently:

sleep pattern.jpeg

186 minutes restless. Yay, me!

Mostly I just wake up for a bit in the middle of the night. Sometimes I get up and go downstairs and read a while, sometimes I sit in bed and think crazy-tinged thoughts, fretting about things that seem absolutely ridiculous in the light of morning.  In particularly Inception-like meta moments, sometimes I'm awake worrying that I'm awake.

A month or two ago I was watching a historical Revolutionary War drama and the characters talked about "first sleep" and "second sleep." This sounded exactly like me! Intrigued, I looked it up.

It turns out that first sleep/second sleep was a thing for centuries: people would go to first sleep a couple of hours after dusk, wake up for an hour or two, and then return to second sleep until morning (often with a quick nap in the afternoon, too).  Historian Roger Ekirch found over 500 references to segmented sleep, dating back to Homer's Odyssey all the way up to the 19th century. It seems to have disappeared in the 1920s. This was, of course, probably related to the fact that in a pre-electricity world there were so many hours of darkness and the body only needed so much sleep. 

A psychology study in the early 1990s  had participants in absolute darkness for 14 hours a night. By the fourth week, the participants' sleep had slowly morphed into a distinct, segmented sleep pattern, sleeping for four hours, waking for an hour or two, and sleeping for four more. 

Fascinating! It made me wonder if I should just stop fighting my mid-night wakings and just embrace them as what my body wants me to do. Or at least stop fretting about them. did you sleep? Do you get enough, too little, too much? Have you noticed a tendency toward fragmented sleep?

Launch lab, or 28 days without Diet Coke

Gratuitous cake photo.

Gratuitous cake photo.

Way back on June 30th I issued a no sugar (no artificial sweetener) challenge for the month of July. Friends, I'm here to tell you I've stuck with it. I know! I'm just as shocked as you! There has been no ice cream (not even on the 4th of July), no cake, no cookies, no treats of any kind. To tell you the truth, I've only marginally missed the sweets. I have missed (and continue to miss) the Diet Coke. Heck, I'd even take a tall glass of Crystal Light. But fear not, I am well hydrated. Turns out one of the side effects of only being able to drink water  . . . is DRINKING WATER. It's genius.

I have a few observations on the whole no sugar thing. Let's start with the good:

  1. One of my primary reasons for beginning this challenge was to increase my fitness level. I work out five days a week, but I wasn't seeing a ton of improvement, and I was suspicious that my nutrition (ie a bevy of sugar) was to blame. This turned out to be true. Not that I'm killing the Crossfit workouts now (because I'm old and non-athletic), but they feel better. I feel better while I'm doing them.
  2. Knowing I wasn't eating sugar was sorta peaceful. This one is hard to explain. In my normal (doughnut-laden) life, I fought with myself daily over what treats I would eat. And then I'd beat myself up about the treats I'd eaten. It was a long, exhausting monologue in my head of "Should I? or shouldn't I? I should. I will. Uh oh. I shouldn't have eaten that!" But because I'd already decided no sugar, none of that non-productive (and often abusive) diatribe was running through my head. Phew.
  3. I lost five pounds. There's THAT! (FYI, I was being pretty careful to eat very clean as well.)
  4. I completely defeated the 3 PM slump. I used to get so tired and grumpy around 3 PM everyday. I felt groggy and unfocused. But once I stopped eating sugar I felt fine and productive all afternoon. Generally, I even woke up in the morning feeling more refreshed.
  5. I'm not as hungry during the day. I'm hypoglycemic, so once I start riding the sugar roller coaster, I have to eat pretty frequently. When my sugar and carb intake is controlled, I'm free of the lows that include hunger, headaches, irritability, and the shakes. No one likes the shakes.

Here's the bad:

  1. No trips to Sonic. A few times, when I was with the kids, I ordered a bottle of water with the good Sonic ice. That is NOT EVEN THE SAME.
  2. No sugar can be boring. Desserts are fun. Heck, they can even be exciting. No alcohol, no coffee, no tea, no sugar. I don't have a lot going for me in the vice department currently.
  3. Ummmm . . . I can't think of any other bad things. But I'll keep ruminating.

In conclusion:

On August 1st I plan to drive myself to Sonic and buy a Route 44 Diet Coke with lime. But other than the occasional Diet Coke (nope, not going back on that full-time either), I don't have any plans to return to my sugared past. Not even for doughnuts, which I love from the very, very, very bottom of my heart. 

Anyone else complete the challenge? Do chime in with your thoughts.


Gone to live with the bears

Sarah's post about having special time one-on-one with her kids this summer came to my mind today because, over the next couple of days, I am having a special kind of special time. The solo kind. I'm writing this from an empty house, just me. It's winter break here and Maddy is away at Model UN Nationals this week and the boys have taken themselves on a backpacking adventure for a few days.

And they're off...

And they're off...

I'm kind of a walking contradiction about it. I miss them. And I love it. 

As much as I love time with my family crew, I completely believe in the restorative power of a good solo retreat. I think it's in my genes. My great grandmother raised nine daughters over several decades in the 1920-50s and, as you can imagine, her life was full of laughter and noise and laundry and teaching. Every once in a while (about yearly, I think) she would declare "I'm going to live with the bears!" and she would pack up and leave her daughters in good care with a relative (or with each other as they grew older) and check in at the swanky Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City for a week. 

She took a whole suitcase full of magazines with her (yes, I really am her great granddaughter in so many ways). From her journal: it was "my therapy. I could get a room for five dollars, and I read and slept and shopped and renewed myself for the next year...I'd sleep late, then out for a hearty breakfast, then didn't need to eat until dinner." Only a few select friends were invited to visit or lunch or shop with her and no one else was allowed to contact her. At the end of her stay, she would return to the house, rejuvenated and restored and ready to go on mothering. She sent the message, loud enough so I still hear it a couple of generations later, that it's okay to take care of yourself, no matter who you are or what you do.

I know this about myself: I need to go live with the bears now and then. (I know it's time when I start envying prisoners in solitary confinement for their "away time.") This new iteration is even better: everyone else goes and lives with the bears and I get to stay in my own bed, amidst my own bookshelves. There may be a movie or two, long soaks in the tub, and some good stretches of writing time in my future. Thank you, Grandma B. I get it.

Have you ever taken a solo retreat? What would you do with a few days all to yourself? Does it feel too indulgent and guilt inducing? (If so, I'll happily write you a permission note!)

Three things

via  ReinSign

I don't know about you guys, but towards the end of the school year I start to fall apart. Getting up at 5 AM becomes a real drag (because it's super fun at the beginning of the year). The after school routine is more tiresome. And on top of a general sense of fatigue -- activities and performances and end-of-year STUFF launch the calendar into warp speed. Somebody hold me.

Needless to say, I often find myself dragging, procrastinating, you know . . . just biding my time until summer. Sure, I know all of the tried and true solutions for better time management. Like, for instance, watching Law & Order in the middle of the day doesn't make for extreme productivity. Also, lying on my bed and staring at the ceiling isn't working well for me either. The other day someone (I can't find the original link) suggested THESE ten steps for making better use of one's time. All great suggestions -- except I'm too tired. Ten steps are too many for me at the moment.

I've pretty much whittled my daily existence down to three big things, and surprisingly, concentrating on the same three things everyday is really helpful. It gives me some focus! Who knew? Now, let's be clear, I'm not JUST doing these three things -- but I concentrate on making something substantial happen in these three areas. Everything else is just a bonus.

1. Crossfit (or some form of exercise): Sterling and I have been Crossfit-ing for five months now. It's been painful and hard and really, really painful. But it's getting better and is becoming an integral part of my day. Mostly, I'm just prioritizing exercise. In the morning, I Crossfit.

2. Read / Write: While the kids are at school I'm reading and writing on my dissertation chapter. I'm not crafting, or socializing (okay, the occasional lunch out), or reading for fun, or browsing Target. Just reading and writing.

3. Make dinner: Partly because of the Crossfit, but mostly because my family really loves a good, hot dinner, I cook just about every night. It takes up a decent block of time, but it's keeping us healthy, giving me time with the kids, and ends the day on a peaceful note.

Then it's just rinse and repeat. Every day. Crossfit. Read. Dinner.

Crossfit. Read. Dinner.

Crossfit. Read. Dinner.

Are you getting the idea? Of course, when I come back from exercising, I'll throw a load in the washer. After the kids get home from school, I'll put down my reading and take Parker to the orthodontist. Once the kids are in bed, I'll write a few blog posts for the upcoming week. I'm just sprinkling in the necessities, and cutting down on much of the extraneous activities that can take over my life.

I like it. I really like it. I'm finding that I can manage three things pretty darn well. What about you? If you had to pick three big things to work on everyday, what would they be?

Reading the yield signs

Since I've gone back to school--or back to dissertation, I guess--there's been this constant, nagging nudge that haunts me through the day: you should be reading something academic, should be writing, could be researching. While, sure, it's helpful to be motivated to work, I've noticed the constant internal preoccupation ends up robbing me of enjoying other good things in my life, including being present and attentive with my family. 

This week it feels like everything I see/read/think has been urging me to snap out of it already. To show up, slow down, and pay attention. 

photo origin unknown

photo origin unknown

There was that post On Slowness I read that referenced an art history professor who requires her students to look at a painting for three hours before writing about it. Despite initial grumbling, the students come away "repeatedly astonished by the potentials this process unlocked." She proposes that such deep attention and patience needs to be structured by teachers & professors (and, I would add, parents) since it's not cultivated "in the wild" anymore.   I loved that. And also: when was the last time I looked at something for three hours?

. . . 

A book I was reading ended with this quote: "I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride" (William James) 

. . . 

Finally, the ever-fantastic Billy Collins just released a new book of poems and this one captures this well:


This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

 - Billy Collins

Okay, universe. Aye-aye. Message received. (Of course, the irony is that I'm writing this as my kids get ready to head to bed and G just got home from a business I'll sign off now.)


A transcript of Billy Collins's recent conversation with Diane Rehm. 
 - A copy of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems would make a great gift, by the way.
 - G and I went to the movie About Time last weekend. It's funny and sweet and sentimental (some might find it overly so but not me! bring on the sentiment!) and I came away inspired to relish & fall in love with the wonderfully mundane moments that make up our lives. The music was really good, too, so I made a playlist.   This song is especially lovely. And this one


This water lives in Mombasa

My brother Matt gave me this vintage edition of Out of Africa for Christmas one year. I love everything about it: the graphic cover, the rough edges of the uneven paper, the library smell. The inside page says it's a Modern Library edition from 1952; there's even an old, folded up portrait of Isak Dinesen from a 1950s magazine tucked in the back pages. 


I came home from my hike/walk today and got the book out, searching for a line that had been running through my mind all morning. Scanning through, I saw that I had marked a different passage about an orphaned pet antelope they had on the farm.  It could easily be speaking to me, or you, or one of our children:

"Oh, Lulu," I thought, "I know that you are marvellously strong and that you can leap higher than your own height. You are furious with us now, you wish that we were all dead, and indeed we should be so if you could be bothered to kill us [note: well, maybe not that killing part...].  But the trouble is not, as you think now, that we have put up obstacles too high for you to jump, and how could we possibly do that, you great leaper?  It is that we have put up no obstacles at all.  The great strength is in you, Lulu, and the obstacles are within you as well, and the thing is, that the fullness of time has not yet come." (p. 72)

A great thought--but it wasn't the one on repeat in my brain. No, that line (it turns out) is in the movie version. In this scene, Karen Blixen is trying to establish the farm in the wild hills of Africa, to grow coffee and dam up the river to suit her needs.  Her head servant Farah shakes his head and warns Karen "this water lives in Mombasa, Msahib." (Later when the water breaks its banks, she concedes the point: "Let it go, let it go. This water lives in Mombasa anyway.")

Oh, I can relate to both of these dueling passages.  Yes, there are some things that, like Lulu the antelope, we have the strength and wherewithal to leap over and conquer. Go for it, great leapers!  

And yet, I think there also some things--in our kids, in our family life, in ourselves--that really can't be forced by our wills to be something else, not for long. Some things live in Mombasa, returning to their own courses despite attempts to change and control. 

So why was I thinking of this line today on my hike? It's that I keep trying to change, prod, mold, and whittle this body into something that, I've come to realize, it just doesn't seem to want to be.  Yes, I will be healthy, I will be strong, I will be happy with myself & keep working hard for the joy of it.  But my curves, my shape? They just might live in Mombasa, Msahib. 

(See also: some of my children and the state of their bedrooms. Mombasa.)

Taking care

Discovery Green, Houston

Discovery Green, Houston

Last week Annie posted about going to the movies (ALONE, during the DAY ) as a means of recharging -- a time of "assigned play." Even though this isn't my particular habit, I so identify with the reset feeling that a good movie experience can produce. In the midst of a good movie, or play, or concert I feel like I have a broader perspective. I feel more creative. I feel more ME.

And then a day later, I read A Blog About Love's practices for taking care of herself. Guys, she cleans and meditates and listens to music! And she eats healthy. (Just kill me now.) All of this to take care of herself -- her health, her mental and emotional state, her spiritual well-building. 

Both of those posts got me thinking about how I care for myself, a practice that often begins and ends with a pint of Blue Bell, a book, and my comfy bed. No doubt, the reading is balm to my soul. The ice cream and bed? While they are pleasurable and relaxing, I can hardly chalk them up to self-care.

One of the great advantages of my kids getting older is that I do feel I have more time to take care of myself. I'm always working on eating better. The less sugar I eat, the better I feel. That's a lesson I teach myself approximately every other month.  

When Parker was in about third grade our district discontinued buses in our neighborhood. Sterling would bike with Parker to school in the morning, and I would bike up in the afternoon to pick him up. This meant that right in the middle of a busy afternoon I had to put everything down, climb on my bike, and ride a mile to the school and a mile back. Surprisingly, I found that being outside and moving my body a bit totally perked up my day -- a shocker for this self-proclaimed indoor girl! Since then I try to get outside everyday -- a morning run, an evening walk, half an hour outside reading my e-mail. It really makes a difference.

What do you do to take care of yourself? Any ideas?