Five Day Discipline: Spend thirty minutes each day working on a puzzle. I didn’t have to finish a puzzle each day I just had to spend time on one.
The idea behind this week was that puzzles are fun and relaxing and I was starting a new job this week so I wanted to be able to relax at the end of each day and not be thinking about the new job.
Day 1 and 2 went according to plan. I chose a Mickey Mouse puzzle and an animal puzzle from my childhood and put the pieces together. They were fairly easy so I managed to complete them each on the days that I worked them. No funny business.
The first word Mickey Mouse ever said on-screen was “hot dog” (also spelled hotdog). The more you know…
Seagull sound effect. Missing puzzle pieces is annoying. More Seagull sound effects.
Then my week took a turn. Do you recall from two paragraphs ago when I said this week was supposed to allow me to relax? Well, on Day 3 I chose poorly. I picked a puzzle called “Hand With Reflecting Globe” that was a picture of M.C. Escher’s “Hand With Reflecting Sphere”. Why the puzzle used “globe” instead of “sphere” I can’t say but the internet tells me it should be “sphere” and the internet is all-knowing. Anyway, I cracked into this thing not knowing that it would be the hardest puzzle I had ever done. It wasn’t the piece count (551) but the fact that not every piece had hard edges and that there was no color and only stippled value (a term I (re)learned this week).
Around the same time I chose this puzzle I started getting headaches and being unusually tired. Now, I’m no doctor but my theory is that my new job of staring at a computer screen all day was messing with me. That, plus coming home and then staring at these cursed dots. So, medium story short this week was actually pretty exhausting to me and didn’t end up being relaxing at all.
BUT-it actually had a pretty cool unintended consequence. That Escher puzzle taught me to rethink my approach to difficult puzzles. Because there was no color I eventually realized that what I had to look for was shape instead. By the last day of working on it I had organized all of the pieces into groups by shape. I’m sure this isn’t a new technique to you, dear reader, but for me it was the first time I had done this. Likely it’s an ancient approach that was created by cavemen and cavewomen and has some clever name and I am a great fool for not knowing it already. Lob your virtual stones upon me. Such is life. Now I know. Next time I won’t be so stifled by the stipple.
Hello Darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again. Well, when I say “again” I mean “for the first time in longer than I can remember.” I never purposefully spend time in silence. I like noise (which is a good thing because I have four kids). When I get into my car the first thing I do is decide what I am going to listen to. The answer is never nothing (OR “always something” for those of you who don’t like double negatives). Why would I sit in silence and have to listen to my own thoughts? That sounds dangerous.
Five Day Discipline: Drive in silence. No radio. No CD player. No tape player. No auxiliary jack. No piping anything through my phone. No podcasts. No music. Nothing but the sound of silence.
Now, I didn’t outlaw the sound of my own voice which turned out to be a good thing. On the first day I ended up singing out loud or talking to myself for most of my hour-long drive. I am so used to noise that when there was none my instinct kicked in and I made my own. Eventually though, somewhere near the end of Day 2, I was able to drive and keep my mouth shut.
What I Missed: Talk radio about the Super Bowl and the NBA trade deadline, a few podcasts that I have taken a liking to (thanks, Week 38 Five Day Discipline) and music. All things that could easily be caught up on.
What I Gained: Loooots of quiet time. My drive time ended up being about 12 hours this week so when I wasn’t cursing drivers in traffic my mind had plenty of time to wander. During those first two days of talking out loud I wound up brainstorming several ideas for podcasts. I can’t tell you what they are because the ideas are proprietary (read: probably lousy and I don’t want to embarrass myself). Now, I don’t know that a podcast is necessarily in my future but regardless without this week of silence those ideas never would have occurred. There were other ideas and thoughts not related to podcasts as well. Nothing life changing or earth shattering, but my mind was free to bounce wherever it wanted, instead of focusing on what someone else was saying or singing, and so it did.
It was frustrating at times to be stuck in traffic and unable to pass the time with music but this week was actually much easier than I expected. I really thought it was going to be torture but it ranged from merely mildly annoying to refreshing and useful. Will I be keeping a “silence in the car” policy forever? No, but I do think I am going to experiment with mixing silence into my routine just to see what happens.
P.S. A friend of mine saw my mention of podcast ideas this week so he reached out to me saying that he’s been wanting to get into the podcast world and now we’re set for a lunch to discuss ideas and a potential collaboration. THIS IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT WHEN I SAY YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU SWITCH THINGS UP. Sorry for yelling. I hate to yell. Really I’m quite mild-mannered. But my point is that without this week of Five Day Discipline this friend and I would not be getting together for lunch. Maybe we’ll podcast together, maybe we won’t. But we’ll definitely have a fun lunch that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.
P.P.S. The previous postscript could easily have been integrated into the blog post I just like postscripts so I figured I’d make it one. Cheerio.
Five Day Discipline: Play Solitaire every night. I hadn’t played in years so I actually had to look up the rules of how to play. I chose the “draw three” version because it is supposed to be more difficult. I didn’t want easy wins I wanted something worth savoring. Well, as much as a game played alone (where the outcome is almost completely determined by random chance) could be savored.
Now, when I originally came up with this as my Five Day Discipline I didn’t give it a time requirement so, in order to not cheat myself, I ended up playing each evening until I won at least one game. That kept me from haphazardly dealing, playing one quick and losing hand and then going to bed. It also meant I was up late on a Friday night playing for an hour and a half because the cards weren’t going my way. Curse you, Random Chance!
I played using different decks of cards that I got from my grandparents after they passed away. This made it more than just a game of Solitaire. I was holding cards that they had held and used for years. The cards even smell like their old house still. I’m a pretty sentimental person so this was special for me. I’ll say nothing else about it because even virtual tears are hard to watch.
The game itself was pleasant enough. I expected to be bored because, come on, this is 2018. We have virtual reality and hoverboards and we’ve been to the moon (allegedly)! But sometimes going back in time isn’t going backwards. Solitaire was a nice, slow way to wind down my day that didn’t require too much brain power but still kept my interest.
As I am going through different Five Day Disciplines I am noticing a trend: if I end my night looking at a screen then I don’t sleep as well. Curse you, Screen Time! The weeks where I have finished off my day with journaling or playing piano or crossword puzzles I have woken up more refreshed and ready for the day. I am more joyful and feel more accomplished. This week I am glad to add Solitaire to that list of things to do late in the evening that allow me to be at my best.
Five Day Discipline: Floss each day. Just like the dentist tells me to do every single time I get my teeth cleaned. Advice I acknowledge and then completely ignore.
Now, I chose to use the string dental floss (because I am a purist) but I don’t have any issue with those of you who use those floss-stick-things (technical term). The stick-stuff is more convenient and can be done with one hand so I’m not actually sure why they even make the string-stuff anymore. Old technologies die hard, I guess. However you’re fighting the great gingivitis battle I say more power to you.
But seriously, why is flossing such a pain? It doesn’t take very much time and isn’t hard but for some reason I can’t seem to motivate myself to do it. I did it this week for five days and that is about as much as I intend to do. I hoped this week would turn me into a flosser but alas it has done no such thing. When I go back to the dentist and they tell me to floss I will lie through my (freshly cleaned) teeth and say, “oh yes, I’ll get right on that.” But I’ll know the truth. And they probably will too.
Five Day Discipline: Watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie that I had never seen each night. The only Hitchcock film I had seen prior to this week was “Rear Window” (which I love).
Before I go on let me dispel any fear you may have about reading further: I am not about to review the films I watched. I have opinions on them, but I’m not an educated cinephile and my tastes are anything but refined.
Day 0: To Catch A Thief. I don’t normally start a Five Day Discipline early but I had rented six movies and I didn’t want to leave any of them out.
Day 1: Vertigo. When I mentioned that I was going to be watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie each night several people told me that this one was their favorite.
Day 2: The 39 Steps. I chose to watch The 39 Steps because several years ago my wife and I had seen a stage adaptation of it and it was hilarious. It was also one of the more memorable nights of my life. We bumped into friends at dinner and when I asked our waiter for the check he informed me that our meal had already been paid for, by our friends. As if that wasn’t enough, when were standing in line to buy our tickets to the show an elderly gentleman offered us some extra tickets they had for free. Two acts of kindness, one from friends one from strangers, in the same night! I’ll never forget that.
Day 3: Psycho. I don’t like to be scared so I was anxious to start this one. I was surprised by many elements of this film (most of which I can’t describe without spoilers) and I enjoyed it more than I expected. Plus, I’m glad to finally know where that “wreak, wreak, wreak” sound came from. I’m not going to mention that I actually sympathized with Norman Bates and liked his character quite a bit because I don’t want to frighten you or make you think I’m unbalanced.
Day 4: North by Northwest. I went into this movie blind knowing nothing other than the fact that at some point a plane would chase Cary Grant. This movie turned out to be right up my alley and had humor and espionage and chase scenes. There is a suspenseful scene at the top of Mt. Rushmore and here is where the beauty of Five Day Discipline happened: I posted a picture saying that I was watching North by Northwest and my mom commented that this movie made her want to visit Mount Rushmore but she’s never been. In fact, she said it’s on her imaginary bucket list. Her family traveled a lot when she was growing up but mostly to the east or west coasts so they never made it to see Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Well, we’ve already started talking about taking a family vacation to see it this summer. This is what I mean when I say things like, “You never know what might happen when you do Five Day Discipline”. I expected this week to be a fun week of watching classic movies but I never could have guessed that it would end up triggering a vacation I took this summer. Lifelong memories made because I watched Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”. Go figure.
Day 5: The Man Who Knew Too Much. Apparently, and I didn’t know this until right before I watched this film, Hitchcock made two films titled “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, one in 1934 with Peter Lorre and the other in 1956 with Jimmy Stuart and Doris Day. Well, I got the 1934 version and feel like I need to see the 1956 version now. I want to know what the differences are and what would possibly drive someone to make two films of the same name 22 years apart.
Bonus Day 6: The Birds. It didn’t feel right to spend an entire week dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock and not watch “The Birds”. For some inexplicable reason the city I live in has five libraries and zero copies of “The Birds” so I had to rent this one off of my TV (thank god for the fancy, have-whatever-you-want-instantly world we now live in). Again, I went in blind and was thrilled to find out that Rod Taylor is in this one. I love him most as the voice of Pongo in “One Hundred and One Dalmations” but also in “The Time Machine”.
This week was actually one of the more difficult Five Day Discipline’s I have done. It was really tiring and time-consuming and I didn’t get anything done this week outside of watching a Hitchcock movie each day. I won’t be doing a Five Day Discipline like this again, and I don’t recommend it for others, but I’m glad I did it. Now I’m caught up on many classic films and can join in on the conversations about them but most important of all is the family vacation happening this summer to Mount Rushmore that never would have happened without this week. You never know what will happen when you try doing new things.
Five Day Discipline: Practice the harmonica twenty minutes each day. I had no experience playing the harmonica so this was practicing to learn not practicing to get better. My mom gave me a harmonica kit for Christmas with Five Day Discipline in mind so I was going to work through the instruction book it came with.
I did my twenty minutes of practice each evening but I also kept the harmonica with me most of the day and wound up playing it at random times. If you saw a guy playing the harmonica while he sat in traffic, that was me. If you saw a guy playing the harmonica and picking his nose while he sat in traffic, that was not me. I have a very familiar look, okay?
The advantage of such a small instrument is that you can easily carry it around with you (car, pockets, restaurants!). In fact, according to my “Play The Harmonica” instruction book, President Abraham Lincoln always carried a harmonica in his top pocket, that includes during his time at the White House. The internet backs up this claim. Now, I’m not going to assert here that Mr. Lincoln and myself are now peers to some degree but if that’s the conclusion you draw then so be it.
Anyway, enough about me and Abe’s similarities and back to the harmonica.
My instruction booklet claims that the harmonica is “the easiest musical instrument you’ll ever get to play.” That’s probably true, but the only song I memorized by the end of the week was “When The Saints Go Marching In” and I didn’t get good enough to use the harmonica holder I had borrowed from my dad (so I could play guitar and harmonica simultaneously). But getting good at things takes more than five days. Five Day Discipline is about giving something new a chance to impact you somehow. As far as the harmonica goes, now that I own one I might as well continue playing it. It’s fun and I can keep it in my car to entertain me during traffic.
It’s not how well you can play the harmonica, but how many you can have strapped to your waist that matters most.
Five Day Discipline: Eat fish every day. Over the past two years my calculations tell me that I have eaten zero fish. For whatever reason fish, and seafood in general, just doesn’t come into our lives very often.
I’m just going to come right out with it: the greatest impact from this week may have been discovering that Long John Silver’s is actually a viable option for me and my family. There, I said it. I’m not ashamed. I’m not proud, but I’m not ashamed. My original purpose for choosing this Five Day Discipline was to see how my body felt when eating fish vs. other kinds of meats but I didn’t anticipate a trip to Long John Silver’s entering the equation. Obviously their fish is fried and nothing fried ever feels good to my body but I didn’t feel as sluggish as I normally do after something like a cheeseburger. My kids were hesitant to try it (yeah, you know kids they can be very perceptive) but once they did they kept coming back for more.
I didn’t just eat fast food fish though. My wife made a few wonderful meals like tilapia fish tacos and salmon steaks. The fish tacos were marvelous, the salmon not so much. It is important to note here that me disliking the salmon steaks had nothing to do with my wife’s cooking, salmon just isn’t the fish for me. My wife’s cooking is perfect and delicious and hi honey please don’t make me sleep on the couch (just kidding, our couch is super comfy).
Another thing that came out of this week was that I finally tried an anchovy. It is said that until you have been in a fight you can never truly know yourself. I would argue the same should be said for eating an anchovy. Actually, I would first argue that the original saying is dumb, that violence is bad, that knowing who you are has nothing to do with a physical altercation but also that misquoting Fight Club for the sake of a blog post is equally silly. Anyway, despite many lessons early in life by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to avoid anchovies, I thought fish week would be the perfect time to try this small forage fish. I have zero regrets but I will say that it tasted exactly like I thought it would taste (like salty, condensed fish smell) and I don’t foresee any circumstance that would compel me to eat one again. You can see my reaction in a video below. I only need to live that once.
But more important than my feelings about anchovies is the fact that I actually tried one. The process of trying new things is a relatively new concept for me and for that I am grateful for and indebted to Five Day Discipline. Also, Long John Silver’s. Who knew?
I play this game with my kids where we each take a turn leaving the dinner table and screaming as loud as we can. My wife hates it, doesn’t participate and only allows us to behave this way on the rarest of occasions. When it’s my turn I choose to impersonate Robin Williams and yell out “Good Morning, Vietnam!” It is incredibly therapeutic. You should try it. Not the point. The point is that I am what many people would describe as “loud”. I personally don’t describe myself that way (and realize that “loud” is often a veiled way for people to say “obnoxious”) but those are the facts. As Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.” Whatever I am, it is most certainly NOT quiet or reflective.
*Honest to Abraham as I was writing this post I got sidetracked by a Jim Carrey gag reel and my wife says to me, “Goodness gracious you are so loud.”*
Five Day Discipline: Spend 15 minutes each day in silence and meditation. In the dark. I almost don’t want to use the word “meditation” here because I think there are different ways and levels of meditation and I don’t want to pretend that I was doing some great mind exercise. I was just sitting in a room. In the dark.
I chose to do this in the dark because I thought if I had lights on I’d look around and my mind would focus on the things in the room. Turns out, lights might have been a good idea. My schedule this week meant that the only realistic time to do this if I didn’t want to wake up at 5am (Spoiler: I didn’t) was in the evening after my kids had gone to bed. On two occasions I ended up having to work hard to keep myself from slipping into Slumberland.
But other than that, it was a good exercise for me. I’m nostalgic (no school like the old school) but I don’t normally reflect on recent events. I’ve never looked back on a year and taken stock of the good and bad that came from it. I did that this week for the first time and I enjoyed it. Not everything about 2017 was great for me but in many ways it was a banner year. I’m glad I took a few moments to think about it before I plow ahead into 2018.
Another fun thing that came out of this week was that the time I spent on social media plummeted, and nothing exploded. Typically I try and post twice a day to the Five Day Discipline Instagram and Facebook accounts and I get on way more than that to comment and like posts and interact etc. A necessary evil of the digital age. But this week I didn’t have very much content to post because my intuition was telling me that even ravenous Five Day Discipline fans (AKA my mom) wouldn’t want to see post after post of me sitting in the dark. You better believe I thought about it though. Anyway, I only posted once each day and I hardly got on if I wasn’t posting. It was a nice slowdown and one that wasn’t planned. Different weeks will bring a different number of posts and require more time on social media but everything in moderation. The internet doesn’t need me and it’s important that I don’t ever need it.
In conclusion (because I like to write with proper, rigid form) my week of silence and meditation was fruitful. I reflected on the good and bad of the past year, reduced my social media usage and didn’t fall asleep. I won’t be spending time each day in silence (because: loud) but I’m glad I did it for five days and now I’m ready to face down the new year.
Five Day Discipline: Spend time learning calligraphy each day.
Much like I wasn’t going to become bilingual in one week I wasn’t going to be able to master pen and ink and start selling my services as a great calligraphist after just five days. But the point of Five Day Discipline isn’t to master something the point is to dip your toe into the water (or your pen into the ink) and see if it’s the kind of water you’d like to swim in. I gained very little actual calligraphy skill this week. Part of that was because it was the week leading up to Christmas which means the time I was able to commit was limited, part of it was that my practice book was delayed until Friday because of shipping chaos but probably most of it was that fact that calligraphy requires a ton of skill and practice.
I did gain a little bit of skill with the pen this week but more importantly I gained an interest in calligraphy (and an actual pen, nibs and ink jar). I’m planning to use these new tools to write thank you cards after Christmas (yes, I am being presumptuous in assuming that I will be receiving Christmas presents but in all of my 32 years I’ve never come home empty so the odds are with me). The writing will probably be awful on these thank you cards but it’s good practice and it’s the thought that counts. Please tell me it is still the thought that counts.
What I enjoy about calligraphy is the same thing that I enjoy about listening to a vinyl record. It forces you to slow down and actually focus your time on something. A record player requires someone sitting near by paying attention to when the record needs to be flipped, writing with pen and ink requires that each stroke to be considered.
We live in a world that moves at light speed and from time to time it’s incredibly fun and liberating to unplug the hyperdrive and take things one stroke at a time.
If I had a dollar for every time I baked something growing up I would probably have 10 or 15 dollars. If I had a dollar for every time I baked something since getting married eight + years ago I would probably only have a dollar or two. In quarters. My wife enjoys baking more and does it much better than me and that’s alright by me. But with the holidays in full swing and baked goods being a part of the Christmas cheer I thought it might be a fun Five Day Discipline to get in the kitchen and see what I could cook, er, bake up.
Five Day Discipline: Bake something every day.
Day 1: Alfajores de Dulce de Leche. Sounds like a fancy cookie for someone who doesn’t bake, huh? I hadn’t heard of this cookie until Day 1 of this week. I didn’t even know what Dulce de leche was. That should have been my first warning sign. I have a great talent for ignoring warning signs though. It’s one of those “he’s either really brave or really stupid” sort of things. I found this recipe in our Martha Stewart cook book and as I started reading I was dumbfounded to discover that the process for making Dulce de leche was going to take five hours. I thought I was misreading. I mean, who would invent a filling that takes five hours to make? It’s a twisted world we live in. Conservatives! Liberals! Dulce de leche! Anyway, undeterred I pressed on and proceeded to spend the next two hours completely botching the Dulce de leche. Somewhere along the way the simmering water that was heating my bowl of sweetened condensed milk evaporated and I was just using a dry heat to warm (in my case burn) the milk. Honestly though it was a bit of a relief when I ruined it because that meant I could move on and didn’t have to spend any more time on it. If you’re going to fail I think it’s best to fail as quickly as possible so you can move on.
The best part of this saga is that I was informed during the process that I could have just bought canned dulce de leche. Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have done it any other way though because I wanted the full experience no matter how time consuming and painful.
Oh, and did I mention the cookie part wasn’t very tasty either? None of my kids would eat them. All the time I spent wasn’t a loss though now I’ve got a freezer bag full of alfajores dog treats (for a dog we don’t have).
Day 2: Brownies. Something I am familiar with! A friend of mine sent me her favorite brownie recipe and things went fine. No crazy issues to report. I did undercook the brownies but I would rather undercook than overcook any day. Also, I realize since this is baking and not cooking I should be saying “underbake” instead of “undercook” but it feels weird to say so I’ll stick to what I’m used to. You can judge my word choices but just know that I judged them first. #booyah
Day 3: Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes, I should have started with Chocolate Chip Cookies. Some of you warned me to start easy but see above about my reaction to warnings. I used the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag but I used half crisco and half butter at the behest of my wife. My secret ingredient though was using Kerry Gold butter. It’s the greatest tasting butter in all of Christendom and we never use it for baking because it is so expensive. I could taste a slight difference but probably not enough to justify the additional butter cost. But, another successful bake that my kids actually liked.
Day 4: Cinnamon Cookie Scone. I don’t normally care for scones but when someone on social media suggested this one I went for it because my wife likes them.These turned out to be more like sweet biscuits than what I normally think of scones as. Either way, they were delicious. The only issue I ran into on Day 4 was that I ran out of confectioner’s sugar for the icing (only an entire cup short) and so it had a stronger cinnamon flavor than it was supposed to. These wound up being breakfast for my kids the next few days and they were a hit. If you’re interested here’s a link to the recipe I used that the blogger sent me: http://www.thedosomethingproject.com/home/favorite-cinnamon-orange-cookie-scone-recipe
Day 5: Bread. Plain, generic white bread. By Friday I was so tired of sugar that bread was the only way to keep sane. I wouldn’t call bread complicated but I would call it nuanced. The recipe I used called for three different phases of rising at various, inexact times. For example, “let rise 45 to 60 minutes or until the bread has doubled in size”. Uh huh. My bread tasted fine but was a little dense which I’m guessing had something to do with how long I did or didn’t let it rise. It made for a fantastic grilled cheese the next day though.
There were a lot of firsts this week. There were also a lot of lasts. I don’t imagine I’ll ever attempt Dulce de Leche again. I don’t know that I would make bread from scratch either. There is something to be said for putting in the work and making something with your own hands but I’d argue that there is also something to be said for going to the store and buying a delicious loaf from an expert bread maker and using your time in other ways. This week was exhausting. It’s far more labor intensive than I expected and my respect for those of you who bake often and well has risen (yeast jokes!) significantly. As for me, I gained a lot of baking skills this week but the next time I’m craving something sweet I’ll probably just buy a package of Oreos.