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November Is For Self-Care

After an incredibly hectic and busy October, I’m looking ahead to a (slightly) quieter month ahead.  I do still have a lot on my plate at work, but it’s mostly writing, which is much more my jam – quieter, more deliberative.  And I am hoping that means that I can get a little bit of balance back.  After the month I just wrapped up, my life is in a bit of a shambles.  The house is trashed, the fridge looks insane, there are to-be-wrapped gifts scattered all over the dining room and a mile-long list of errands that I need to run.  I need to re-calibrate, take care of the life stuff that needs taking care, and get a little more time back for me.  To that end, my November agenda includes:

  • Hitting the gym at least twice a week, and running at least twice a week.  I’ve missed movement.
  • Cooking up a big batch of veggie stew, and not including any pasta.  I always forget how soggy and gross noodles get when I toss them in my homemade soups.
  • Getting a (sorely needed) haircut, and making an appointment with my dentist.
  • Prioritizing time with the kiddos.  I don’t like missing bedtime!
  • Related: family dinners.
  • Hopping back on the decluttering bus.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted anything to Buy Nothing.
  • Putting in a morning of organizing my calendar and files at work and at home.  It’s just easier to keep track of everything when those things are up-to-date.
  • Hiking at least twice.  I need regular nature time or I don’t feel like me.
  • Lighting candles.  I love their flickering glow.
  • Spending Thanksgiving with family and friends.
  • Baking bread again.  Having my hands in dough is good for my soul.
  • Getting a massage, because I think I deserve it.

Yes, October was a long and stressful month.  I’m glad it’s behind me, and when I get a little distance and the fog clears from my brain, I know I will be proud of the work I did.  I’m just really ready to feel somewhat balanced again.

How do you self-care?

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Tomorrow is the last day of October – Happy Halloween! – and with it will end the busiest, most hectic and most stressful month of my time at my current job, and possibly of my career.  Can’t talk about it, but it’s been a rough road – lots of long nights and high stakes debates.  Coming out on the other side, I’m still busy, and still stressed, but at least the worst is behind me (for now).  In the meantime, here’s what’s been saving my life in this busy season.

  • My Nationals!  I’ve been cheering for the Nats, mostly casually, since they returned to D.C. when I was in law school.  And it’s been a longstanding goal of mine to recruit Nugget to Nats fandom – a tall order, as I’m fighting against generations of New York Yankees devotion on both sides of the family, but I think I’m succeeding.  As the Nats have advanced through the postseason, I’ve been tuning in for every game I can – sometimes staying up later than I should, but loving every second.  (That Game 2 in Houston, what a ride!)  There have been some weeks in October when the Nats gave me the only joy I had all week.  (Cough-business-travel-cough.) Although I have to say – this past week hasn’t been all joy as a Nats fan. But still, they’re giving me something to look forward to, and something to think about besides work. That’s huge.
  • Coffeecoffeecoffee, as Lorelai Gilmore would say.  I really prefer tea, as you all know, but when you’re getting up at 4:00 a.m. to work, putting in full days of work and parenting with no break until 10:00 p.m. or later, and then tossing and turning all night – coffee is necessary.  I’ve joked that I’m going to set up an IV drip in my office and just take the coffee in directly.
  • Related: tea from my favorite mug, because sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference.
  • Recognition from my colleagues.  I don’t need thanks or accolades to do my job, but when your boss says things like, “Thanks for all your hard work; you’re doing a big job and we appreciate you.  Get some rest,” it’s a boost for sure.
  • Mountain pictures from a saner morning of hiking with my three favorite people, on my birthday.  I’m reliving that day as often as I can.
  • Minions gifs, which so often say what I mean better than I ever could in words.  Ask my co-workers.
  • The cozy grey sweater I recently unearthed from the bottom of my sweater drawer.  I’ve had it for years and it’s so soft.  Like wearing a hug.
  • Baby pics in my email from my mom’s best friend, who recently became a first-time grandmother.  I miss the snuggly potato stage… although I don’t really miss the sleep deprivation.
  • Hugs from my people, always.  After weeks on end of feeling like I’m at war, a big bear hug from Steve or a lap cuddle from one of my little wiggles is exactly what’s needed to snap me out of a funk.

What’s saving your life these days?  

 

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Another Trip Around The Sun

My birthday is next week.  It’s not a milestone or anything, but I never do particularly well with the idea of another year.  I’m extremely aware of the passage of time – to a point that it’s weird, Steve would tell you.  Since I turned 22, I haven’t seen the point of getting older – no new privileges to look forward to, just big questions like, have I accomplished everything I thought I would by this age?  Ugh.

This year, I’m adjusting my attitude.  For months now, it’s felt like there were reminders everywhere of the fact that none of us are guaranteed another day, let alone another year.  I’ve watched a dear friend grieve the death of her husband – he was in his early forties – in a workplace accident.  Another friend is back in chemo, and a neighbor died in childbirth.  I saw other friends reel from shock at Rachel Held Evans’ passing at only 37; I didn’t follow Rachel’s work, but I know she spoke to many hearts, and… 37.

So this year, I’m approaching my birthday with a grateful heart instead of with dread.  Rather than thinking, ugh, another year older, I’m thinking, yay! I get another year!

Another year to read books, chase two crazy kids around the playground, travel, mess around with my cameras, do yoga, bake with my favorite sous-chef, garden, soak up sunshine, make memories, sip wine, spend time with my favorite people, hike and paddle, watch elementary school concerts, pet the neighbor dogs, ride bikes, splash in the ocean, bug my family members by talking incessantly about killer whales, and give Steve and the kiddos ALL the hugs.  And so much more.  Another year isn’t something to moan about, it’s something to celebrate.

Here’s to another year.

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Re-Entry (Ugh)

Well!  I flaked on you yesterday, didn’t I?  Sorry about that.  This re-entry period has been a challenge.  I came back to a mountain of work and several urgent deadlines – yet all I want to do is ease back in, spend a morning restocking the larder at the farmers’ market, sit on my porch, take deep breaths, go to the library, and reflect on my trip.  I’d planned to write something thoughtful for Wednesday, but ended up working until 11:00 p.m. (so much for vacation!) on Tuesday, and then Steve needed the computer on Wednesday.  So be it.

So that’s my way of poking my head into this space and saying – hi.  I’m here, and I’m working my way back to full mom power after being truly away from it all.  I found enough vegetables in the fridge to make a lentil vegetable stew for tonight, I’m plugging away at my mountain of work, there will be a book-related post for you tomorrow, and it will all get done somehow.  Counting down to fresh farmers’ market flowers and veggies on Saturday, and the beach in August.

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Over the past couple of years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about decluttering my physical space – purging unused possessions, cleaning out the basement, and somehow (through a combination of diplomacy and cloak-and-dagger operations) paring down the kids’ outrageous toy collections.  I’ve thought about those things a lot, and done them a little.  (My Buy Nothing community on Facebook has helped, but I still have a long way to go.)  But what I haven’t thought much about, even as I have fretted about the effect of screens on my life and worried about unknown consequences of being surrounded by Wi-Fi signals all the time, is the idea of digital minimalism.

As a rule, I think I probably spend less time on screens than most people do.  Since I look at a computer screen all day for work, I try to limit the amount of time I spend looking at a screen when I’m not at work.  I don’t watch much television, and the only time I spend on the computer outside of the office, most weeks, is writing this blog.  And I am necessarily curtailed in how much time I spend on my phone, because if I look at it too long, I get debilitating headaches.  So I keep my phone use to a few select functions and try not to scroll mindlessly.  But lately, even this limited phone use has come to feel like too much.

In connection with my word of the year – element – I have been considering how to weed the overly complicated from my life and get back to what is simple, and phone use definitely falls within the “overcomplicated.”  But I hadn’t thought about the digital noise and distraction as clutter until I listened to Episode 184 of Sorta Awesome: How to find freedom from our screens.  (Fittingly, I listened to it in the car, while driving, so was not at all tempted to scroll through Facebook while the show played.)

In the episode, Meg and Kelly discussed a host of fascinating topics: charting the evolution of their own online lives, talking about the complications of being the only generation who remembers life before the internet but has adopted the online life fully (our parents are not in the digital universe in the all-absorbing way that we are, and our children don’t know a different way of life), discussing iPhone’s new screen time feature, and talking about their goals for digital decluttering.  I found the whole episode utterly fascinating, shouted “PREACH!” at the car radio about a dozen times, and placed a hold on the book they recommended – Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport – at the library.  (It seems I’m not the only one who is interested in these topics.  I’m fifteenth in line for the book in the holds queue, and the library only has one copy, so it will be awhile before I get to read it.)

Meg and Kelly also cemented my own plans to bring more intentionality to my online life.  Since iPhone rolled out the screen time monitor, I’ve been tracking my phone use (somewhat) regularly and, because I am a goals-oriented type, taking great satisfaction in seeing the numbers creep down as I pay more attention to what I am doing.

According to the screen time monitor, last week I spent an average of two hours and two minutes per day in using my phone.  (I suspect that number is skewed by the fact that I captured the data at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, when I had spent a grand total of 43 seconds on the phone checking work email and taking two screen shots.  But let’s go with it.  In any event, it’s still more than I would like.)

Here’s what I was doing during those two hours and two minutes per day.  (App use has been on my mind a lot lately, as I have consciously cut way down on Twitter, about which more in a minute.)  By far, my most used app is Instagram.  This doesn’t surprise me, as Instagram is the only social media app that I actually enjoy and that I use for pure pleasure.  Facebook followed Instagram, which did surprise me a bit, because I don’t think I’m on there very much.  After that – mail, which I mostly use for making sure I’m not missing anything important when out of the office.  Other honorable (or dishonorable?) mentions went to the kindle app (which I rarely use, but did actually read a long-form short story on last week); safari (mostly for reading articles); and feedly (my blog reader).  Since I usually have the screen turned off and the phone in my bag when I listen to podcasts, and I know I spent more than an hour listening last week, I suspect the time reflected above was in scrolling my downloaded episodes while deciding what to listen to next and deleting the episodes that don’t interest me.

As a part of this general pondering, I have been giving thought to what I consider the big three apps in the social media world – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – why I use them, and how I want that use to change.

Twitter: I have all but eliminated my Twitter use.  I was really only using the app to keep in touch with a couple of friends who are heavy Twitter users and to get the news (from reputable sources only, thank you).  But I’ve come to realize that Twitter was making my life worse, not better.  It’s tempting to scroll mindlessly through, and most of the time, I close the app feeling considerably less happy and less optimistic than I was when I opened it.  So I decided to wean myself off of Twitter (and it’s working – as you can see, it’s not one of my heavily used apps on the above list).  I moved the app to the last screen on my phone, so I have to consciously and intentionally navigate to it.  The next step will be letting the few friends I communicate with on Twitter known that they will need to text me instead, and then deleting the app.  That’s in the near future.

Facebook: Much as I would like to give Facebook the Twitter treatment, I can’t get rid of it as easily.  I use it for a few different reasons – mainly to keep in touch with friends and family who use Facebook as their primary social media and to participate in my Buy Nothing neighborhood gifting community.  (Ironically, my digital decluttering efforts are hampered by my physical decluttering efforts.)

Instagram: This is the one social media feed I keep because I actually enjoy it.  The opposite of Twitter, I usually close out of the Instagram app feeling happy and refreshed.  That’s a function of my carefully curated feed, probably.  My Instagram feed is about one-third nature photos, one-third bookstagram, and one-third pictures of my friends’ adorable kids.  (With a couple of food accounts, like Martha Stewart and Sourdough Schoolhouse, sprinkled in for cooking inspiration.)  I know that Instagram has had its problems with bullying and with people feeling inadequate because of unrealistic content, but I haven’t experienced that.  My feed has been a completely positive and relaxing place, and it probably helps that I use Instagram entirely for me, because I like the square pictures and the familiar filters.  My account is private, I don’t care if anyone follows me or not (although I am gratified when friends “like” my photos, so please don’t stop!) and I use the photos in my home decoration and family yearbooks because I think they look good.  I have shifted much more of my digital life and my social media activity to Instagram and I am happier for it.

I’ll have more to say about physical and digital decluttering soon, I expect, so I’ll end with this: I know I’m never going to be able to divorce myself from screens.  I use them all day at work, and the phone is just part of life.  But my happiest moments don’t include it.  Real joy comes from crunching through leaves or smelling fresh soil and flowers on the hiking trails with my family, from the satisfying work of kneading a loaf of sourdough in my kitchen, and from golden afternoon light at the library as I sit with a book while my little buddy plays in the children’s room.  My phone should be enhancing those joys, or it’s not worth having.

Are you trying to cut down on your screen time?

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No-Resolutions 2019

Here it is February 15th, and I’m just now getting around to talking about New Year’s resolutions, which should give you a clue as to how I’m feeling about them this year: ambivalent.  Usually, I love New Year’s resolutions.  I love setting them, planning out how to tackle them, and checking in with them all year long.  This year, I just feel meh about setting goals.  It’s been a hectic, roller-coastery few years, and I sort of feel like I need a break.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I didn’t set resolutions one year.  Well, that’s not exactly true – I did, but I only had one resolution.  The year was 2006, and my resolution was to pass the Bar.  That was it.  That was my only goal for the year.  Well, I guess that and graduate law school and find a job, but I knew the one was going to happen and I trusted the other.  Both worked out.  And so did the Bar thing.  And I remember the week after I took the exam: my friend Jenn and I drove up to our pal Seth’s house on Lake George.  We swam and paddled around in Seth’s kayaks and ate ice cream and barbequed and listened to the Minne-ha-ha fire a fake cannon at the next door neighbors and watched the sunset and I thought: “I have nothing else going on this year.”  It felt good.

When I sat down and started thinking about what I wanted my 2019 to look like, I realized that I didn’t want to make a list of concrete goals or resolutions, like I have the past few years.  It has been so hectic and exhausting, and to be honest, I’m a little bit burnt out and I need to refocus.  So I decided that this year, I am only going to have one goal: do more of the stuff that makes me happy, and less of the stuff that bums me out.

I don’t even know what that looks like, but I do have some ideas.  I would like to be more focused and present, to give my undivided attention to whatever I happen to be doing at the time.  Less worrying about the kids’ school performance or social calendars when I’m at work.  Less connected to the office when I’m at home.  (Hey – I’m a realist.  I know that I can’t totally disengage from work in the evenings, and that sometimes personal stuff pops up during the day and I have to deal with it.)  I’d like to be on my phone less, a lot less.  I’d also like to grant less mental real estate to the energy vampires.  What I’m saying, I guess, is that I want to get back to a simpler frame of mind and a less distracted lifestyle.

Along those lines, I did want a word for the year, and I think I have one.  It hasn’t stormed into my life the way home did in 2016, or whispered to my heart like gather in 2017, and it doesn’t feel necessary like begin in 2018.  But consistent with my one goal of focusing on the important and life-affirming stuff and whittling away at the distractions, the word that I seem to want to follow in 2019 is element.  Which means… what, exactly?  I’m not sure, but I look forward to finding out.

I’d like to strip away the unnecessary stuff and pare life down to its elements – to the important things and the things that mean something – to cut through noise and clutter and emotional adverse possession by people and situations that don’t deserve my attention.  I’d also like to spend as much time in nature as possible – that is to say, in my element, and out in the elements – connecting with what is true and meaningful and cutting out the digital noise and constant clamoring that makes me so anxious.  So I think that’s what that means, but we’ll see.

Did you set goals for 2019, or are you taking a madcap approach to your resolutions this year?

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We are entering the winter season, when so many of us find the days long and grim and difficult.  I am actually not minding winter so much this year – I’m not sure why, because it’s been a colder and snowier one than the last few years (although still mild compared to what we weathered in Buffalo).  But for whatever reason, the dark days and cold nights aren’t bothering me too much.  Maybe I’ve finally learned how to find joy in the season.  Or maybe I’ve just been too busy to notice.  Either way.

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share the things, little and big, that are saving my life lately:

  • Looking back at the golden sunrise pictures I snapped during a glorious hour of running on Miami Beach, then sticking my feet in a surprisingly warm Atlantic Ocean, during a magical stolen hour on an otherwise jam-packed business trip last month.
  • My cordless electric kettle, which my mom gave me for Christmas, after I complained to her about the completely untenable hot water situation at my new job.  I brought it to work and a colleague and I have gleefully brewed loose leaf tea every day since.
  • The independent children’s bookstore near my house.  We have a gauntlet of five (!) kiddo birthday parties to attend between mid-January and mid-February (we’re two down, three to go as of press time) but presents are all taken care of.  I walked to the store and bought everything I needed – they even do free gift-wrapping in store – and the gifts are sitting on my console table, ready to grab as I walk out the door with Peanut, Nugget or both in tow.  I always seem to find myself behind the eight ball when it comes to gift-buying for kids’ parties, and it’s been lovely to have one thing DONE and off the list.
  • The beginning of summer vacation planning!  We have one trip already booked, but there is a lot still to discuss – and gear to acquire – for that one.  And we have to decide where to go with the kids later in the summer.  We are having a delicious time weighing the options.  (Smith Mountain Lake is the current frontrunner, but it’s not a done deal.)
  • Kitten Purrlooza at the library.  You can’t even imagine.
  • Evening snuggle time with my baby boy.  Every night after Nugget’s three to seven stories (he’s a negotiator) he curls up in my lap and I rock him to sleep and then hold him for another 30-45 minutes – that last part is just for me.  The days in which he will fall asleep in my arms are numbered, and I am determined to enjoy EVERY SINGLE ONE that I get.
  • Celestial Seasonings honey vanilla chamomile tea.  I used to drink it all the time and recently rediscovered it.  I forgot how lovely and warming it was.
  • BOOKS, of course.  Always!  January has been a library-heavy month, but my own shelves are calling to me.  Sometimes I get lost in just looking at the books – but more often, I’m lost between their pages.  That never changes.
  • My new Rothy’s!  I finally took the plunge.  I’ve been hemming and hawing because they’re so expensive, but it occurred to me that my freakishly small feet might fit into the girls’ loafers.  They do!  Half-price Rothy’s?  As my BFF Rebecca said, I won the genetic Rothy’s lottery.  (I have the forest green loafers with the gold sunburst embroidery, and I am wearing them around the office every day, and they’re SO comfortable.)
  • My favorite gigantic soup pot, which is bubbling away on the stove every weekend, cooking up a huge batch of homemade soup for the week.  (My favorite thing to eat in any season, but especially in winter.)  Related: my Hydroflask food container, which keeps my soup hot until lunch every weekday.

What’s saving your life these days?

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