gratitude

5 Things I’m Grateful For (March 2020)

Never could I have predicted what’s happened this month. Not in a million years.

There’s so much to be worried about, and there is so much to be grateful for.

  1. OMG – the new book by Glennon Doyle. It’s called Untamed and I freaking love it.
  2. My month of creativity. I’ve been listening to a Creative Live writing course, I’ve been writing. Never as much as I want, of course – but it’s happening. I’m so grateful.
  3. Now more than I ever, I am grateful for the health and well-being of my family.
  4. Great books. I’m currently reading Untamed and a novel by Clare Lombardo called The Most Fun We Ever Had, and I have several exciting reads on my bookshelf. Right now, I need books more than ever.
  5. Our home. I loved our farm and our little old farmhouse, but right now I’m so grateful to be living in a home with internet, good heat, and comfortable space for us to live and work and play.

It feels odd, continuing my gratitude practice at a time when so many are suffering. But I need it, and it helps me to maintain my perspective.

It’s trite, but it’s true: my heart and my thoughts and my prayers are with those who are suffering, ill, hurting, stressed, grieving. For myself, I pray for the strength, courage, and wisdom to do the next right thing, one day at a time.

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balance · self-care

April 24

The announcement was just made: April 24.

Across the state of Maryland, schools will be closed due to the coronavirus pandemic until April 24.

In some ways, it’s unsettling. There are several school districts that have closed until the end of the year, but our state is planning to re-evaluate and re-assess as the weeks progress.

I’m glad to have some information, but it does feel slightly uncertain. On April 20th, will I get another update saying we’re closed for longer?  Or will we be back to school?

No one knows. We all have to sit with that uncertainty.

That said – for now, for today – I have more info than yesterday. And that means that for today, I can set intentions for the following:

  • Every day, I will wake up at 4 a.m. to write. This will continue. I will write, write, write until my boys wake up!
  • At some point between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., one of the boys will wake up. We’ll get them dressed and have breakfast and then have some free time – unstructured playing, cuddling with books, etc.
  • This would be a good time to go running! 
  • Once everyone has eaten and dressed, we’ll head outdoors – to the Gunpowder River, to Irvine Nature Center, to Oregon Ridge – for a family hike and adventure.
  • When we get home, there will be several windows of time:
    • We’ll get home from our hike at around 10 a.m., give or take some time. So there’s a window from about 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. that is open.
    • The boys’ nap time will be from 1 to 3 p.m. I think that the boys’ naptime will be the best time for me to do work; if I have more to do, I can keep working past 3 p.m. until dinnertime.
    • There’s playtime between 3 and 5:30 p.m.
  • We’ll eat dinner at around 5:30/6 p.m.
  • The boys will go to bed at 7 p.m. After they’re in bed, it’ll be a good time for an AA meeting, cleaning, and reading before bed. I can write, if I can muster the energy, or I can finish up any BCPS work I need to get done.
  • I’ll try to get to bed by 9 p.m.

That is a glorious plan. I know it will change – the world is uncertain, and it’s not all up to me – but I like this plan a lot.

If we go back to school on April 24th, that’s 29 more days at home with my boys. The world is in crisis, and things are stressful. But this time is also a tremendous gift. The gift of time with my wonderful family. It’s hard and it’s wonderful. And/Both, as Glennon Doyle would say.

29 days. It is what it is. My thoughts and my prayers continue to be with – well, with everyone. Because this is a “whole wide world” kind of thing, and we’re all in it together.

inspirational quotes on a planner
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balance

Doing The Next Right Thing At This Moment (Whatever The Heck That Is)

Our little family is settling into a routine during this chaotic and stressful time.

We wake up in the sixes, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Then we go for an outdoor adventure – Irvine Nature Center, Oregon Ridge, Soldiers Delight, the Gunpowder River, etc. The boys splash through muddles or play in mud, and we get some fresh air and a change of scenery. Ever since schools closed on March 16, my social media feeds have been full of photos of families out exploring nature. It’s the thing we can do, since stores and museums and libraries and playgrounds are not options right now. Luckily, it’s also incredibly therapeutic – exercise and beauty and fresh air, all rolled into a family hike.

When our family gets home from our morning hike, we play in the backyard or the basement. At around noon, we eat lunch and start to wind down for books and nap. The boys nap (or have quiet time) until around three o’clock, and then we play until dinner time (around 5:30 p.m.). After dinner, we tidy, play, read books, and take a bath (some nights) before books and pajamas and bedtime.

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It’s been a good routine. I’m grateful that our boys are so small during this crazy time; the chaos of the world is not quite as impactful for them as it is for school-aged kids. Edgar (age 3) isn’t going to pre-school, but he usually goes only two days per week, so it’s not as much of a change as if he attended daily. He’s aware that there’s a “virus” going around and that it’s the reason why we’re not visiting playgrounds or the library. He’s a homebody and loves just being at home with us. For Edgar, this is (I hope!) an odd but not entirely unpleasant time.

And Jonas (18 months old) – that little bundle of joy is pretty oblivious, and just seems happy to have both his moms at home to play with all day.

The weight of what’s happening in the world right now is intense. For me, it’s coming in waves. And when it starts to feel overwhelming, I know I need to bring myself back to the present moment and just be with my boys. Preferably without intermittently checking CNN or listening to NPR podcasts.

I’m trying my best not to get swept up into comparison with other people and how they’re handling this time. I’ve definitely been spending more time on social media this past week or so; there are a few Facebook threads that I’ve been really enjoying (funny and timely questions from my sister and a new books-related question in my book group). And while I’ve been mostly enjoying the social media aspect, it does cause me to compare what I’m doing to what others are doing. Should I be following a schedule? Should I be having “academic time” with Edgar? Should I be doing more for my community? When you have a tendency to compare yourself with others, you have to really be intentional and conscious about your choices. Am I doing this because it’s the best choice for me and my family?  Or am I doing this because I feel like I “should”?

That said, I am contemplating trying to bring a little more routine to my days with the boys. Edgar can have a one track mind; his singular obsession of late is the Cars movie franchise, and he would happily play with cars and trucks all day long if allowed. I’m considering structuring our days a little so that there is a set (but flexible) time for various activities. An arts and crafts activity, perhaps; sensory or creative play, like play dough or rainbow rice; independent play – like, a set 15 to 30 minutes when Mommy’s going to do some tidying and listen to a podcast; puzzles or board games; listening to music; yoga; sports and games.

I like the idea of doing this. I’ve started a little already; just trying to bring a little variety to our days at home with alphabet games and bubble foam and salt dough and cardboard box coloring.

But also? I am feeling that weight – the uncertainty of what lies ahead and the anxiety about the state of the world. Concern for my family, my friends, my community.  It’s Sunday, March 22nd, as I write this – just over a week since we got the news that schools across Maryland would be closed. This week has been a roller coaster of contentment, connection, concern, contemplation – and worry. Fear.

I’m scheduled to volunteer at the food bank on Tuesday. I’ve reached out to community resources to offer support. I’m checking in on My People regularly, since this is hard on all of us.

But for today, I am trying my best to let go of the expectations I have of myself – the feelings of not doing enough, not helping enough, not taking advantage of this time away from work enough, not writing enough. Just for today, I am practicing contentment and I am letting go of all my goals and expectations. I’m going to do the next right thing, one thing at a time, and (a la Glennon Doyle) that will take me all the way home to myself.

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writing

Early Morning Writing Time

This week, I resumed my early morning writing routine, and it was glorious.

The thing that I really need for Writing Time is for it to be open-ended. I need to sit down to write knowing that I have a lot of time available. Not too much time, of course; if I have six hours to write, it would be super easy to start cleaning the kitchen or reading a book and think, I’ll write later. Ideally, I’d have two to four hours of writing time that would be uninterrupted.

And the thing is – it is most helpful if there’s not a Big Thing I Have To Do at the end of the writing time. And that is really hard to come by.

Usually, I wake up at 4(ish) in the morning, go for a run, and then sit down to write until about 6 a.m. It’s not as much time as I’d like – about 90 minutes at the most – but it’s a decent amount of time.

HOWEVER. At the end of the 90 minutes, I have to get dressed and ready for work. When there’s a Thing I Need To Do, my tendency is to want to get it done immediately so that I can focus. (This doesn’t apply to all areas of my life, but does apply here.) So I end up getting dressed and ready before I start writing, which eats into my time.

And then, still, I know that it’s not that long before I have to get myself going and out the door. Not to mention – at any point during this Writing Time, a small child may either start crying from his crib or come out of his room and climb into my lap.

So it’s hard to get into a groove on days like that. It’s hard to imagine waking up even earlier – 3:30 a.m.?  THREE?! – but I am hoping that someday, as much as I love my current school, perhaps I can transfer to an elementary school so that my work day will start a little later. (Also, I love working with younger kids!  Middle school has been wonderful, but elementary school is my sweet spot.) Right now, I need to be at work sometime between 7 and 7:20 a.m. If I work at an elementary school someday, I believe I’ll need to be at school later – more like 8:45 a.m. That won’t give me as much time as I’d like on the afternoon/evening side of the day, but it would give me valuable writing time in the mornings.

But this week? During my two weeks off due to the coronavirus crisis? I am able to wake up at 4 a.m. knowing that my early morning time is mine. If I get all the way to 6:30 a.m. and I haven’t gotten dressed yet, that is just fine. That’s a solid 2 1/2 hours of Writing Time, with no particular thing that has to get done at a certain time at the end of it.

I know my mornings for the next few weeks won’t always go like this, but it’s been helpful to me to realize how different it feels to sit down to write with Enough Time. I am constantly feeling the effects of a scarcity mindset – i.e., feeling like there is Not Enough of the things I want and need. And that definitely applies to my time. 90 minutes is not enough writing time – not enough to really sink into fiction writing, not even enough to really delve into anything serious or meaningful.

I want to shift that mindset; I know that a scarcity mindset is not the best thing for me or for anyone. It doesn’t help me to be positive, optimistic, energetic, and generous. It doesn’t help me to be happy.

But also? I sometimes beat myself up for not being able to do more, accomplish more. I get frustrated that I haven’t finished a novel yet. I get down on myself for not finishing and submitting short stories for publication.

So it is often helpful for me to get a reality check and realize: THIS IS HARD.

It is not easy to prioritize writing as a full-time working parent with two young kids. My kids come first; I am not willing or able to sacrifice too much Kid Time so I can write. That gives me these little pockets of time – and they are little! It’s hard to do the kind of writing I want to do this way.

The other reality check is: THIS WILL BE EASIER. When I do have a longer period of time, the writing flows. It doesn’t even have to be four hours. I woke up at 4 a.m. to write today, and I felt loose and nimble – like I’d stretched and jogged and was ready to run a brisk 5K. Image result for what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a whileThere is a someday, when my writing time and life and routine will be more productive. Right now, that someday is NOW. Eventually, that someday will be summertime. Beyond that – who knows?

And all of this really adds up to just GRATITUDE. Gratitude for the time I do get to write, and realization that there is benefit to having bigger chunks of time to devote to writing. For my Writing Life, I think that I need consistency AND dedicated time. I need to write every single day, for my mental health, self-care, and routine. And I also need to find longer stretches of writing time when I can – an early morning solo coffee date, maybe, or an evening when I soldier through my post-bedtime exhaustion and devote 2 to 3 hours to a project.

I’ll likely say this over and over again, but – I feel guilty when I feel gratitude for this Writing Time. The only reason why my early mornings have been so productive this week is my unexpected week off due to the coronavirus crisis. And I am not happy or grateful for the coronavirus – not at all. I’m scared for the world, anxious for us all. I wish this was not happening.

Yet I am grateful for my Writing Time and for time with the boys. And I do believe in focusing on the good and making the best of whatever life brings us.

So cheers to that. And if you have any suggestions for making time for writing, I am always eager for tips and tricks!

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writing

Cobwebs

Whenever I re-enter a writing routine after some time away, it requires a little bit of “clearing the cobwebs.”

When I haven’t been writing regularly, things build up. There’s so much in my mind that it’s hard to focus – difficult to know exactly what I want and need to write about.

I have never been able to go directly from “not writing regularly” to “productive fiction writing.” Never. And that’s where this blog comes in!

I have big goals about the kind of writing I want to do. But this blog? It’s public, yes – but it’s also my own little safe space. I use my blog as a way to process the world around me and the world inside my mind. They are both complex, chaotic, and extraordinary.

Today is my first day of two unexpected weeks free from school. There’s a lot happening in the world. I don’t think of these two weeks as a vacation. I’m not sure what’s going to be expected of me from my job – I work at a public middle school – and Tamara and I have been looking for any opportunities out there to provide able-bodied service to people who need it. I feel extremely grateful that I have a job that’s paying me during this coronavirus crisis, and I feel grateful that my kids are little enough not to feel the fear and anxiety that are vibrating through the world right now.

Yet, it’s still two weeks off. It’s a mandated slowdown. It’s a chance, for lucky people like me, to tackle things around the house, to be of service to others, and to be the best version of ourselves at a time that demands the best of us.

I have a tendency to get anxious and/or depressed. For me, this typically shows up more in everyday life than during a crisis. I can rise to the occasion during a crisis – I have to do it at my job almost every day. But during regular ol’ everyday life, I can get stuck in a rut or down in the dumps easily and periodically.

So, at a time like this, I try to check in with myself. What do I need, to keep myself calm, healthy, and productive? There are a lot of things – but writing is front and center.

I’ve been a bit burnt out at work lately. I’ve also been off my blogging schedule. Those two things nearly always coincide. So if I want to feel healthy and strong during this crazy and unpredictable time, I need to BE WRITING. Period. End of story.

My plan for the next two weeks is to get back into my 4 a.m. writing routine, which has slipped recently thanks to some sleep regression for Jonas and some tiredness for me. The gift of being off work is that those first two early morning hours can be devoted entirely to writing if I want. (Usually, I exercise and get myself ready for the day during that time, but since I’m off work, those things can happen a little later in the morning.) I wish I could utilize nap time or post-bedtime for writing, but they’re not reliable. Edgar sometimes doesn’t nap; he’ll have quiet time every day, but it involves him popping out of his room periodically, which doesn’t really allow me to get into a writing flow. And the evenings – I’ve been staying up a little later recently, but I am often just wiped. My evenings tend to be a time for reading (input) not writing (output)!

This blog post was written during a fairly successful episode of Quiet Time for Edgar. More to come. Stay safe and stay home (if you can), everyone!

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blogging

Looking So Crazy Right Now

Wow. There’s a lot happening in the world right now.

I’m thankful that I don’t have any family members or friends currently impacted by coronavirus. I’m experiencing some anxiety about events around the country and the world.

But also – with schools being closed across Maryland, I suddenly have a full two weeks off from school.

It’s a weird thing – being anxious and scared while also being excited and relieved. I’ve been feeling pretty burnt out at work. And while I would absolutely prefer that there were not a national health crisis happening, I am going to do my best to take advantage of these two weeks.

I want to exercise.

I want to be present, playful, and peaceful with my boys.

I want to go on mini outdoor adventures. (Easy to accomplish since everything else is unavailable at the moment!)

I want to be productive. I want to make a to-do list with Tamara and get things done around the house that need doing.

I want to rest. I’ve recently found myself caught back up in a cycle of too much work and not enough rest and play. I want to REST and PLAY!

I want to Slow. It. All. Down. I want to take my day as it comes rather than planning and angsting around everything.

I want to read.

I want to WRITE.

I’ve been feeling really frustrated with people who are talking about this social distancing period as if it’s a blessing from the universe – a reminder to slow down and connect with family. It’s a pandemic – not a speeding ticket. That said, I understand the impulse – for those of us who are blessed enough to make it through this time without (yet) significant financial or socioeconomic stress – to make the best of this time. To clean out our closets. To play with our kids. To wake up early and catch up on your blogging.

I’m hoping that this social distancing across our state and country slow the roll of this pandemic. I’m feeling grateful for the safety and security I am lucky to have at this moment. And I’m praying for people in need right now, and hoping to do everything I can to help those who need it.

sakura tree
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blogging

Happy Anniversary Playful + Peaceful!

I started this blog exactly five years ago – on March 11, 2015.

That is BONKERS.

Here’s what was going on then: We were over a year into the adoption process, and I was going crazy dealing with the wait. I was desperate to be a mom and feeling hopeless, and there wasn’t a great outlet for me to express my feelings. There also wasn’t a great audience for my venting. I had a lot of great listeners in my life – my best friend and my sister were the best ones – but ultimately, there was little others could say that helped with the wait. It was just hard, and I just had to get through it. It was always going to be worth it, and it was always going to be difficult. The blog became a way for me to write about my experiences honestly and openly. It was my therapy and my self-care during an extremely complicated time.

Here’s what the theme was then: Balance. Back then, I wrote a lot about the different ways that I nourished my heart, mind, body, and soul. (That was the name of the blog then – heartsoulmindbody.wordpress.com.) I still enjoy writing about balance, but it’s not my main focus anymore.

And now? I’m still a clinical social worker by day and an aspiring novelist by night. I’m a mommy to a three-year-old and an eighteen-month-old, and I live in a surburb instead of on a huge wild organic vegetable farm. Things are different – and yet, the same. I have the same ups and downs. The same pattern of weeks of thriving followed by weeks when I struggle to maintain good self-care. I’ve continued on my writing journey, and I love it – but I don’t have a published novel on my shelves. YET.

So much more to come. It’s a crazy week, and this is a rambling post, but I’m still here – showing up and writing out my life, five years later. Happy anniversary to playfulpeaceful.com!  Cheers to five more years.

pink and yellow flowers
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