One day a few years ago, I was at a training and we were prompted write down a list of our values.

I paused, and I felt puzzled. And then I felt surprised at how puzzled I felt! For someone who reflects as often as I do, you’d think a list of my values would pop into my head immediately. But it took time, and even when I’d written my list, I didn’t feel confident that it was accurate or complete.

I started to think about this again recently when considering my digital minimalist diet. I’ve stepped back from my phone and social media and several other apps for 30 days. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, advocates taking a 30-day break from social media and then gradually adding things back to your digital life that support your values.

So that left me, once again, which a simple but complicated question: What are my values?

This is the list I developed, in no particular order –

  1. Kindness. I want to embody kindness in all areas of my life.
  2. Laughter + joy. I want life to be fun and enjoyable.
  3. Books, reading, and writing. Writing and reading are two of my fundamental hobbies and joys; I value them immensely.
  4. The outdoors. I believe fresh air and physical engagement with the outside world keep me healthy and sane.
  5. Family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me.
  6. Friendship. My friends, too!
  7. Connection + community. This is related to family + friends, but also different; I want to feel connected with my community. I don’t always feel like I have that connection – but I want it.
  8. Peace of mind. I want to feel peaceful and on top of things as much as possible.
  9. Creativity. I am at my best when I have a creative outlet and ongoing creative projects.
  10. Presence. It’s important to me to be fully present in my life.
  11. Flow. I love it when it feels like my life is in a state of flow – everything making sense and happening in a natural and smooth way.
  12. Positivity. I value a positive attitude and optimism whenever possible.
  13. Wellness + sobriety + recovery. I value my sobriety and my overall wellness above just about everything else. (Because, well, if I don’t have sobriety, then I don’t really have anything else.)

That’s my list, and I love it. I feel proud of it. It’s not fixed; it can evolve. At times, I think certain values will rise in importance and others will take a backseat.

I’m so glad I did this exercise. I think it will help me, in a few days or weeks, to be able to look at my digital life – my phone, my iPad, my laptop – and be intentional about what apps and other digital tools support these values. Stay tuned.

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Slow Down

When I do an inventory of how things are going in my life, I almost always end up resolving to do one thing: slow down. 

I have a tendency to move quickly through life. I’m a fast walker. When something tough is happening, my goal is to get through it ASAP so that I can recuperate and move forward. I’m impulsive. I often start getting ready for the next event on my schedule before the current one is even over. I love getting prepared ahead of time for things, even if it means scrambling a bit.

Lately, it almost feels like I’m too busy to even remember to do all the things I want to do, let alone to actually get them done! And it gets overwhelming. When I am overwhelmed, my tendency is to move even faster than I usually do – I race around, buying things, doing things, anything to feel in control.

That’s not how I want to live my life. I want to slow down. I can feel a visceral difference when I intentionally slow my walking and my talking. For a few days in early March, I had a cold and low fever, and I found myself moving slower and more intentionally throughout the day. As bad as I felt physically, it felt lovely to be living life at a slower pace. It’s so easy to forget this; the world moves fast, and I find that the more stressed I am, the faster I go.

When I slow down, it helps my boys to feel calm and safe. When I slow down, I can think more productively. When I slow down, I can process input from the world without reacting too quickly. When I slow down, life goes better.

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balance · family · writing

Thoughts On Time

Sometimes Tamara takes the boys out to the coffee shop or the library so that I’ll have time to write. When this happens, it takes time getting used to having the house to myself – for the first thirty minutes, I keep looking around, expecting to spot J.J. asleep in his bouncy seat or Edgar quietly munching on Goldfish crackers. But they’re not here – they’re out, having an adventure, and I’m at home with a crackling fire, a cup of coffee, and my computer on my lap.

It’s always a challenge, finding time to write when you’re a working parent with two kids under three. And it’s really important to me to make time for writing. I haven’t made much progress with my novel – I blame the boys’ sleep needs for this – but I have managed to post on the blog twice every week since 2019 began, and I’m determined to stick to that routine for as long as possible.

I’m delayed on my novel – my goal is to finish a draft by the end of 2019, and I’m not as far as I’d like to be. But my delay is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel, and planning things out, rather than writing it. It feels a little uncomfortable, at times. I’d much rather be writing than planning. But as I page through the book Story Genius, I find myself wondering if this whole novel writing gig requires more planning than I’ve ever tried before.

There’s a debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing. The plotters map out the entire story of their novel before they write it, and the pantsers just start writing and see where their story goes. I have always been more of a pantser. But the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron is arguing something in between; I’m not done with the book yet, but I think she advocates that the writer should know the story of what is going to happen ahead of time, though the writer may allow themselves to be somewhat of a pantser when it comes to the hundreds of little details that make up the eventual plot. (I’ll let you know when I finish the book if this is an accurate representation of the Story Genius method.)

So, the boys are out with Tamara, and here I sit, with a rare few hours of alone time to write and think. And one of the things I’m considering is re-evaluating the way I spend my time.

I’m going to have more flexibility with my time now that Edgar is, thank goodness, going to sleep by himself in his bed after about six weeks of bedtime struggles. That means that I’ll have a little extra time in the evening after Edgar goes to bed, and a little extra time in the morning before the boys wake up. I’ve been pondering what routines I want to create.

I thought about this in terms of the WHEN – like, when are the little pockets of time that I have available for exercise, writing, reading, self-care, etc? There are the mornings – the wee bit of time I can steal if I wake up early enough. There are the evenings, after Edgar goes to bed, when I can write or read if I have the energy. There are the weekend afternoons during nap. And there are the times like today, when Tamara takes the boys out for an adventure on a weekend morning and I have a few hours to use for whatever I need.

That’s what I have right now – little pockets of time. It can feel frustrating sometimes! I really wish I could start building up my writing stamina, spending 2 or 3 hours at a time sitting down to write. But it is what it is for the moment, and I have to accept that, enjoy my baby boys, and be ready for the pockets of time when they pop up.

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Lower Your Expectations

I was thinking recently about the 2018 holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and everything that goes with it. I had a pretty fantastic holiday season this past year, and I think the secret was this: low expectations.

That sounded a little sad to me at first, but it’s really not.

I have always had a tendency to romanticize and fantasize. My expectations of life and love were tainted at a young age by television and movies with scripted, well-lit scenes that make you feel warm, fuzzy, and inspired.

This has gotten in my way at different moments in my life. I find that I get extremely emotional during significant life events – graduations, weddings, holidays – and it often is because my expectations for myself, for others, and for life itself have been high. I want every moment to be magical. Many moments are magical – but not all of them are. Combine high expectations with a highly sensitive person, and the result is often disappointment which almost always (in my case) involves ugly crying.

A month or so ago, my sister gave me some good advice. She told me to stop trying so hard. This was unrelated to the holidays; I was stressed about something very different. And she basically advised me to stop caring about it so much. Which is really hard for me to do, because I care about everything and I think that if I do things a certain way, then things will work out a certain way.

But, this advice sort of sounded good. So I moved into the holiday activities, reminding myself before each event: This activity might just be sort of okay. And it worked beautifully. Not every event has to be perfect; not every moment has to be life-altering. It still sounds a little sad to me, even as I write this! But I think it’s true. And I think it’s a key to happiness.

Lower your expectations. It will actually help you to squeeze as much joy out of life as you can. And isn’t that just a little bit wonderful?

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adoption · family

Happy Adoption Day

On March 3rd, we celebrated our oldest son’s Adoption Day.

For our family, Adoption Day is the anniversary of the day we went to court, met with a judge, and had Edgar’s adoption finalized. I think that for many adoptive families, this is what they mean as well when they discuss Adoption Day; of course, I’m not certain, since every family is unique and celebrates adoption in their own way. Many families celebrate Gotcha Day in addition to or in lieu of Adoption Day; Gotcha Day refers to the day the child physically comes home to their forever family.

For me, an event like Adoption Day means a complex contest: celebration and joy versus stress and pressure.

I believe that it’s important and valuable to celebrate moments and meaningful anniversaries. However, this is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m not the friend who’ll plan your baby shower, and I’m not the one who’ll handle the details of an outing, whether we’re meeting for a movie or going on vacation to a foreign country. I’m thoughtful and kind, but I’m not a Pinterest mom who excels at making the special moments beautiful. I’m the kind of mom who desperately wants for the special moments to be extra-extra-extra-special, and who often twists herself into a tizzy trying to figure out how to be my authentic self while also facilitating moments of celebration and joy. I often find myself racing around (’cause I’m not really the “plan ahead” kinda Mom either!) and spending money I don’t need to spend trying to find gifts, or balloons, or whatever sparkly thing I think will make my family smile.

WHEW. I get stressed just typing the words!

The thing is that when it comes to Edgar’s adoption day, I didn’t stress at all. On Edgar’s first Adoption Day – the day we went to court and cried for joy in the judge’s chambers – we went out to breakfast afterward at the Towson Diner with our extended family. Shortly before last year’s Adoption Day, Tamara and I decided that Edgar’s celebration each year would start with breakfast (pancakes FTW) at the diner – at least for now. (I’m sure the day’s events will evolve as Edgar grows older!) This year, we ate an early breakfast at the diner and then went to a playground, and Edgar was overjoyed.

It was sweet, and it was simple. We didn’t want Adoption Day to be about gifts or a party – just family time and an outing that aligns with something Edgar enjoys. For me, I think that the key to facilitating celebrations without stress is to keep it simple. Adoption Day is pancakes at the diner; my birthday is a coffee shop and ice skating; Valentine’s Day is decorating the house with construction paper hearts that say reasons why we love everyone in our family. SIMPLE, and sweet. The next time I am stressing over planning something, I’m going to try to find just one simple event or gesture that can be the center of that special memory.

An added bonus of our adoption pancakes tradition is this: Edgar knows that his Adoption Day is a special event that involves pancakes. That’s a simple connection that he can understand, and it’s one of the only connections related to his adoption that he can make at two years old. We talk with Edgar all the time about the story of how he came home to us, but he can’t process things like biological parents and pregnancy and all the other big kid concepts you need to understand in order to fully comprehend what it means to be adopted.

But Edgar knows this: on Adoption Day, we go out as a family and we eat PANCAKES and we smile because it is a great day.

Happy Adoption Day, Edgar!

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My Digital Minimalist Diet

This is it – March 2019. The month when I spend 30 days observing a digital minimalist diet and taking a much-needed step back from my beloved iPhone.

I don’t know exactly where I fall on the spectrum of addiction to my phone. I’m probably not the worst phone junkie in the world, but I definitely use my phone more often than I’d like to. The idea of cutting back on my phone usage came from a few different places: this NY Times article by Kevin Roose; this Ezra Klein interview with Cal Newport; and just the general feeling of YUCK that I get when I know I’m not living my life in a healthy and present way.

When I decided to try out this digital minimalist diet for 30 days, I got excited and a little nervous. I got nervous because I use my phone a LOT – especially when I’m anxious. I find myself checking it even more frequently when I’m in a nerve-wracking social situation, and it sometimes helps to calm me down when I’m sad, frustrated, or nervous. I got excited because deep down I KNOW I want to change my relationship with my phone, and it’s exciting to think that maybe with hard work I can shift some of my daily digital habits.

A few days before this endeavor began, I sat down and tried to think through the logistics. I definitely was not going to live completely without my iPhone – not even close. We don’t have a landline, so my phone is my only connection to Tamara, the boys, and our extended family when I’m away from them all.

I also was not going to live without other tools for technology. I’d use my laptops, both at work and at home, and I’d use our iPad. In fact, my guess is that I’ll be using the iPad more often than I usually do; I think by shifting some of my digital diet from my phone to the iPad, I’ll be able to decrease the time I spend using technology, since the iPad most definitely does NOT fit in my back pocket.

The big goals of these 30 days are as follows:

1. No social media.

2. Delete as many apps from my phone as possible.

3. Significantly reduce the amount of time I spend on my phone.

There are two major challenges I’m going to face with this digital minimalist diet. The first is my bedtime routine; I usually fall asleep listening to a podcast or a TV show on my phone, and I want to reduce or eliminate that habit. The second challenge is TV.  Recently, I’ve been using my phone a LOT – way more than usual. This is mainly due to watching TV via the Amazon Prime app on my phone.

Oh, television – I love you and I hate you. A few weeks ago, I was ready to give up watching TV indefinitely – but that was because I was so frustrated with my annoying habit of watching reruns of my favorite shows over and over when I’m anxious. I’ve been tired and stressed and subsequently watched almost all eight seasons of Monk on my phone over the course of the past month.

However, something shifted for me at the end of February. I started to remember why I actually love TV. If it’s a good show, then it’s smart and funny and highly entertaining. There are two shows  that there are 2 current shows – The Good Place and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – that I love to watch and am 4+ episodes behind on currently. I also started to watch 2 new-to-me shows via Amazon Prime – The Good Wife and House – and I’ve been enjoying them tremendously.

So when I sat down to figure out my plan for March, I got a little puzzled when it came to television. On the one hand, I want to cut down on my screen time; on the other hand, I enjoy TV and this time of my life (low energy, midnight feedings) is sort of a perfect time to enjoy some new TV shows. It would be lovely if I could just sit, holding and feeding J.J. mindfully, fully present and in awe of my baby boy – but that’s not really me. I am literally holding a sleeping J.J. as I type this blog post on my iPhone.

For now, my plan is to just focus on using my phone less. I’ll use the iPad if I want to watch one of my new TV shows, and I think just making that switch will help me  decrease my TV time. It’s harder to go get the iPad to watch a show than it is to take my phone out of my back pocket to watch something.

I’m excited, I’m nervous, and I’m ready. Expect updates on my successes and failures in my All The Things post at the end of March!

goals · writing

March 2019: Monthly Writing Goals

This month, we’re taking a little detour. There will be writing goals, yes – but one of my writing goals seems like it’s not related to writing. BUT IT IS.

Let me explain.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my down time. I’ve always been a person accustomed to ‘background noise’ – I half-watched a TV show while I was doing my homework in high school, I listened to music while I was writing papers in college, and I tune into a podcast or an audiobook while I’m doing the dishes now. I don’t like this about myself; I never have. Sometimes, I make an effort and I curb this habit; but I inevitably slip back into it when I’m tired or stressed or overwhelmed.

I checked a book out of the library recently. It’s called Deep Work and it’s by Cal Newport. The book focuses on what Newport calls ‘deep work’ – focused, distraction-free, high-quality, valuable working time. I didn’t read the book; nonfiction isn’t my favorite. But I was interested enough in the topic to check it out of the library, and then the best thing EVER happened: Tamara got interested in the book, and she read it cover to cover and told me all the tips she read about. WINNER! (I’m on the wait list at the library for Newport’s newest book, Digital Minimalism. I’m REALLY hoping that Tamara will read that one and summarize it for me, too!)

Here are the two main things Tamara shared with me:

  1. We all need “solitude” – and I put this in quotes because Newport has a new-to-me definition for the word. Newport calls “solitude” time when we’re not getting any input from the outside world. It’s not about whether you have people around you; if you’re alone and listening to a podcast, you’re receiving input that you need to process. When you have solitude, you’re receiving no new input – you’re just processing input you’ve received at other times. Newport advocates that we need solitude, or down cycle time, so that we can process all the input we receive at other times.
  2. One of the 4 main tips Newport suggests for how to incorporate deep work into your life is quitting social media. My understanding is that Newport recommends quitting everything for 30 days, and then adding things back in gradually if you feel they add some joy or meaning to your life. I LOVE THIS IDEA. As soon as Tamara told me about it, I decided I would start on March 1. So, for 30 days, no social media, and most of the apps on my phone will be deleted.

Now – how does all of this connect with my writing goals?

My theory is that when I cut away all this other stuff, I will have more mental energy and creative space for my writing. When I have little pockets of time – like my twenty minute commute, for example – I tend to fill the time with input, like a podcast. But I’m wondering – if I allow those little pockets of time to be about solitude, will it start benefiting me creatively? Will I be able spend that time thinking about characters, plot points, language?

I don’t know! But I’m going to find out.

Here are my goals for March 2019:

  1. Maintain my blogging, posting every Tuesday and Saturday.
  2. Finish reading Story Genius.
  3. Follow a digital minimalist diet. Use the extra time for rest, solitude, and productively creative daydreaming.
  4. Open up the document for the novel you’ve decided to write, and write at least 3 paragraphs, even if you know they’ll never be published.

I think this is an important thing for me to try, this digital minimalist diet – but I’m nervous! I use my phone a LOT – for background noise, to ease my anxiety, to keep track of my adulting responsibilities. AND I use it at bedtime; I usually fall asleep listening to a TV show or a podcast.  (That might be the part that is hardest to give up!) I know I can do this, and I’m excited about the creative space that may open up in my life if I do this. But it’ll take work.

Let’s do this. (Gulp!)

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