In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


1 Comment

Ode to Self-Help Books

You may be wondering why my blog posts consist of a random mix of self-help / self-improvement / lifehacks and gardening / foraging. No, it’s not a symptom of multiple personality disorder, I promise! (Or is it?)

I am struggling to find (make) time to write. My weekly foraging series (while mostly unread) has created a firm commitment that I will post something, however short, at least once a week. But I have so much more to share.

I keep thinking… just one more technique from one more self-help book, and I will at last discover the ultimate trick to unlock my true gifts and unleash my creativity on the world. I will finally overcome (or embrace) the resistance, and be able to write.

Just as soon as I am done getting things done, papers filed, inbox to zero, boxes checked – then I will finally be have all the time I need to write.

Maybe I can change my life by tidying up, which will help me cultivate an uncluttered mind, and then I will finally be able to write.

You know, I need to manage my budget better, and when I am less concerned about finances, then I will have the spare brain cells to be able to write.

I must exercise, and eat healthy (including cooking meals from scratch), and take all the nutritional supplements because when I am at my peak, physically speaking, my mind will be as well and then I will be able to write.

If I could just lifehack a little more free time into my day, then, well … you know.

If I could only perfect my sleep so I could survive on less thanks to the amazing quality of the sleep I did get, then … sigh.

…are we noticing a theme here?

“Is there any chance that the healing you seek is just another form of resistance?”

–Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

My friend Kristen at The Sojourning Spinner recently suggest that for at least a month I try – get this – rather than spending time on lifehacks to free up time to write, I just (gasp!) write.

It’s a great idea. And I’m going to give it a serious try. But first, I need to find my “Flow Pattern” on the Flow Genome Project so I know I can really maximize those precious few moments to write.

…. oh wait. Oops.


1 Comment

And Now for Something Completely Different

This is not a foraging blog.

Yes, I have recently written many foraging posts. In fact, mostly foraging posts. I discovered that committing to a “weekly series” helps motivate me to post more regularly. And there are always new developments in the realm of wild edibles, particularly this time of year.

But foraging is just one element of what the Lean Six Life means to me. I am seeking ways to reduce waste and clutter in my life, and to reduce variation by bringing my life closer into alignment with my values. (I know, I know, I really need to update my About page.)

Health is also important to me, but historically I have neglected the “fitness” aspect of my well-being. Focusing on food is so much… well, tastier. To address this, recently I started a new workout routine loosely based on / inspired by some exercises and concepts from The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. (From my local library. I have a moratorium on book purchases until I declutter my current collection … see previous description of my Lean Six Life.) Here’s what I am doing, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays before work:

hip flexor stretches – 30 seconds per leg (p. 179)
kettlebell swings (although I hinge instead of squatting, based on independent research, aka lots of YouTube videos) – 25 reps (p. 165 & 166)
jump squats – 30 seconds (not in the book – I added this for additional toning)
flying dog – 15 per side (p. 164 & 167)
cat vomit (hey, blame Tim for the names, not me!) – 10 reps for 12 seconds each, with a 10 second rest between reps (p. 177 – 178)
kettlebell swings – 25 reps
jump squats – 30 seconds
bridge – 20 reps (p. 164 & 167)
planks – 30 seconds front and each side (p. 179)
kettlebell swings – 25 reps
jump squats – 30 seconds
myotatic crunch (or as I prefer to call it, the myotatic couch … since I don’t have a proper exercise ball) – 10 reps with a 4 second-hold at the top of the movement (p. 175 – 177)
collapse in a quivering pile

This whole routing takes less than 25 minutes, so less than 1.5 hours per week. It’s short enough that my usual cop out (“But I don’t have time!”) holds little weight. (Haha, get it?)

However, I have veered from the book’s guidance in one major way. I have NO before photos, measurements, weight, body fat measurement – no metrics at all by which I can assess my progress towards being more “fit” or “toned.” Yes, Tim emphasized repeatedly the importance of having starting measurements. I’m sorry, Tim. I didn’t listen.

See, over a year ago, I stopped tracking. Yes, really. Yes, everything. I ditched the FitBit activity tracker and the scale, and even abandoned food logging in LoseIt. After reading Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein, I decided to listen to my body and be more in tune with its messages rather than blindly tracking metrics hoping that some perfect combination of macronutrients and calories would lead to some kind of physical perfection. And I don’t (often) regret it. The human body is more than the sum of its measurements, after all.

So I define “success” for this workout by my experience. How easily does it integrate into my daily routine? Can I do it at home with simple equipment? Does it wipe me out by the end of the workout, i.e., continues to challenge me physically – and when it no longer does, how easily can I increase the intensity again? Do I dread exercising or look forward to it (at least enough to haul myself out of bed)? Do I feel changes in my muscles, like a tighter core that helps support my posture?

No, it’s not scientific… but by focusing on my experience, I’m hoping establish an exercise system rather than achieve a specific goal.


Leave a comment

Well… Chit

If you read my post yesterday (but missed my reply to Carolee, of the Herbal Blessings Blog), you might be wondering why I would ever have planted peas last Sunday, knowing there was a snow storm in the forecast.

In a word: chit.

That’s right. I said it. In my blog, no less.

After reading (most of) Steve Solomon’s Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, I decided to try chitting as a way of jump starting seed germination. The approach is similar to sprouting seeds to eat, except when the roots are just becoming prominent, you plant the seeds in prepared soil. If you wait too long, the fragile roots grow increasingly susceptible to damage when planting.

Chitting takes three to four days, and in the Mid-Atlantic you NEVER know what the forecast will be in a few days, much less a week.  In other words, when the seedlings are ready to plant, you plant – oncoming winter storm or no.

… or you let them fully mature into tasty pea sprouts, and try chitting a new batch in another week! (That’s probably what I’ll do next time.)


2 Comments

Terrible Names for Good Ideas

I’m listening to the audiobook version of How to be Alive by Colin Beavan. So far it has been enjoyable with lots of interesting perspectives and insights. And the book is read by the author, which I definitely prefer.

[Side note – the audio is free through hoopladigital.com in partnership with my local library, and it does NOT include all the “enhanced digital content” that would have been on the actual disks if I had purchased them in the store.]

Anyway, while I like a lot of Mr. Beavan’s ideas, I find his names for them, um, less than inspiring. Take for example, the “Ukulele Approach”. This is his term for small, easy actions that one can take to help bring your life more in line with your values. Even if you can’t solve big issues like world hunger or universal clean drinking water, anyone can smile more, help an elderly person carry their groceries, etc. He provides a list of 19 examples and they are all great suggestions. Just … the name for them … hmmmmm …

[Side note 2 – I finally know how to spell ukulele after writing this post.]

But the point is, Mr. Beavan’s list inspired me to compose my own. Some of the items are on his list as well, because I liked them so much. Without further ado, my own list of 19 easy small steps I can take to live a life better aligned to my values:

  1. Pick up litter while walking
  2. Eat a more plant-based diet
  3. Feed my family more locally sourced food
  4. Forage more to learn about my local ecology
  5. Drink less booze
  6. Eat less sugar
  7. Eat more fermented / cultured foods
  8. Buy more clothes used
  9. Shift what clothing I do buy to be more natural fibers rather than synthetic
  10. Improve the energy efficiency of my home through insulation foam, caulking and weather stripping
  11. Watch TV less
  12. Buy less stuff, especially things which are ‘labor saving’ gadgets or ‘convenience’ devices, or only serve one highly specialized purpose
  13. Spend my dollars at local and / or ethically and socially conscious businesses
  14. Give more complements
  15. Smile more
  16. Support my daughters’ unique personalities and individual traits and empower them to be strong women
  17. Buy seeds evolved for my climate so the garden needs less energy to support
  18. Participate in seed exchanges
  19. If given the choice, use and buy things that can be ‘returned to the soil’ at the end of their functional life

How will it go? Only time will tell, BUT I can definitely say, it has been a while since I last composed a list that made me feel excited, rather than anxious!


Leave a comment

Ceci N’est Pas Une Diet Blog

I know, I know, I’ve been blogging about food and diet a lot lately.

Just a reminder, this is NOT a diet blog, even though it looks like one from time to time.  Or a lot, even.

This is a personal productivity and effectiveness blog.  It’s an exploring-ways-to-be-more-awesome blog. It’s a getting the most out of the short time we have on this planet blog. Finding ways to do things smarter, not harder.

The best way to know if things are getting better, is to have metrics that you can record over time. This allows you to make small adjustments, measure results, and then change accordingly to see if the numbers are reflecting the desired change. To do this effectively, you need to have a good starting baseline.

One my consistent failings in all my year’s gardening has been tracking yield. My beloved journal/calendar/diary keeps me straight on timing, but I have no way to know if things like succession planting or different vegetable varieties is really impacting my yield.

This year, I’m committed to better tracking to establish that baseline. To that end: behold! My first measurable garden output of the year!

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

(Note this is not “subsistence farming” or even significantly impacting my grocery budget – this much asparagus sells right now for probably 5 USD or less.  Frankly, if it’s in season for your home garden, it’s in season for the farmers around you, and they have economies of scale which allow them to sell the same produce for WAY less than it costs you to grow it yourself. But a backyard garden is noble and worthy for other reasons… probably that will be (yet another) future blog post.)


Leave a comment

A Dream of One

Funny how sometimes you don’t realize you have a dream until someone else is living it.

This week, I learned that person is Daniel Markovitz.

OK, not literally.  I don’t actually know Mr. Markovitz is, or what his life is like. But I learned of his book, Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance, and I wanted to cry. With joy at finding such an awesome book, and with despair at realizing I wanted to write that book.

And it’s a good book so far. I can’t even pursue the “well I’ll do the same thing only better” angle.  Sigh.


Leave a comment

Annual Garden Update, The Third

I’m falling behind with my posts. Again. I have so much I want to write, and so little opportunity to sit still at a computer screen. Luckily (I guess?) I recently decided to make my blog more focused on content which is either informative or inspirational, because that’s what I like to read on other people’s blogs. Less of the navel-gazing, more useful content. At least, that’s my plan!

Anyway, this garden update will cover my various berries endeavors.   Starting with: blueberries!  (And a fig.)  Last year, these guys were all in containers.  Then the particularly cold winter killed them all… well, OK, truth in blogging – it was the cold winter plus the fact that the containers did not have any holes in the bottom for water to drain out. So the plants were already compromised health-wise, and then the winter basically did them in.  All but the “Farthing” blueberry in the back. The rest are replacements.

Blueberry bushes

Blueberry bushes

Same for the fig in front.  He is the only one planted in a container still, though sunken into the ground.  This helps constrain the root growth so the fig puts more energy into growing the branches, leaves and fruit. The previous fig also died from the cold winter.

Here’s a side view of my raspberries. This year I have much more aggressively pruned them and trained them in tight rows, held in place by wire. This approach has increased my harvest HUGELY because it’s so much easier to pick the fruit in the middle of the bed without getting scratched to death. I have had much fewer “raspberry kisses” this year than previously. “Raspberry kisses” is my term for those teensy splinters that you can’t see but make your flesh swell up around them so a day or so later you know exactly where they are.

Trellised Raspberries

Trellised Raspberries

I use a pruning method that produces two crops a year, described on page four of this article.  The spring/early summer crop just wrapped up, and the fall crop of  berries are already getting huge but not yet turning ripe. Any day now!

New this year: blackberries! Well, not technically new.  Last year we planted to blackberry bushes, and the instructions clearly said not to let them fruit the first year. So this is the first year with fruit. I tried training them the same as the raspberries, but blackberry canes grow in all sorts of weird directions from all sorts of unlikely places, so they became quite chaotic as the spring went on. Also, they were/are so heavily loaded with fruit that the branches often break and the fruit dies. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any sites about how to deal with too many blackberries!  Next year I may prune off the weaker canes so there isn’t as much fruit. Maybe.

Loaded blackberries

Loaded blackberries

The blackberries started ripening just as the raspberries started petering out, so the timing was impeccable.

Also: blackberries really are weeds. So wherever the canes grew so long that they bent over and touched the ground, that spot developed roots and became its own plant! So now I have two beds of blackberries, plus at least one plant in the walkway between.  So next year we’ll have as big an area producing blackberries as currently produce raspberries. Oh, and because of the chaotic nature of blackberry growth I have NO clue which plants came from the Navajo and which from the Cumberland.

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

Not pictured: my strawberries. The ones in front of the house started producing ripe fruit in mid-May; the ones in the garden, late May to early June. The crops weren’t great due to bugs and the very wet spring which created a lot of mold issues, particularly in the raised bed which never seemed to dry out.  The strawberries plants look awful this time of year – all sunburnt from hot days and chewed up by the terrible Japanese beetle infestation we’ve been suffering.  Next year we’re going to grow strawberries in elevated containers, so the fruit hangs from the side rather than sitting in dirt and ick. I need to start catching the daughter plants so we’ll have our own cuttings to help fill in the new structure.