gratitude

5 Things I’m Grateful For (January 2020)

Let’s do this: the first month of my year-long 2020 Gratitude List.

  1. So much reading! So far in 2020, I’ve read 7 books – 4 novels, 1 YA novel, and 2 nonfiction/memoir-type books. All seven were wonderful, and I’ve been reading like crazy. Currently I’m reading a book about habits, reading a novel, and reading another YA book, The Name Of This Book Is Secret, for book club with my eleven-year-old nephew, which is the most adorable aspect of 2020 so far.
  2. Jonas sleeping through the night! We had a little backslide in late fall, when Jonas started waking up frequently and drinking part of a bottle. A few weeks ago, we stopped using the bottles altogether and now he’s sleeping through the night consistently, with occasional wake-ups when he throws all the pacifiers out of his crib accidentally.
  3. Our house is getting closer and closer to being unpacked. Our guest room is starting to resemble a place where young children could hang out safely, and we’ve been contemplating hanging things up on the wall, which is a big step for us.
  4. My sister bought Edgar a box of the Mr. Men books for Christmas and he loooooves them. He’s always been into reading, but especially lately. He loves curling up on the couch with one of us, his head resting on our arm, enthralled with a book. (He also now knows when I try to skip pages in long books, and stops me, saying, “Mommy, you’re reading it backwards.” Hilarious.)
  5. When Edgar wakes up in the morning, he opens his bedroom door and walks into the living room, squinting. He asks, “Is today a school day?” If I say, “No, today is a Mama/Mommy Day!”, he breaks into a big smile and comes over for a hug. Then he sometimes says, “I’m so happy to see you!” AND THAT IS PRETTY STINKING CUTE.
  6. This is a bonus item, and it’s really a continuation of #1 – I am really enjoying the book about habits I’m reading. It’s called Atomic Habits and it’s by James Clear. I’m finding it so helpful already, so please forgive me for the multiple blog posts I expect to write related to Clear’s habit strategies.

Happy 2020! So much to be grateful for.

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habits

Habits 101

I read Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before years ago, and I just loved it.

I’d read Rubin’s other books previously and enjoyed them a lot, particularly The Happiness Project, which was a book that follow a year-long experiment Rubin undertook focused on making small changes each month (in accordance with a monthly theme) to try to make her life happier.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Better Than Before recently, because I’ve been contemplating all the habits I am trying to form or maintain. This is fresh in my mind since we just moved to a new home. A big move like that allows for a strategy that Rubin calls “Blank Slate” – using a big change to start fresh with habits you want to keep.

One of the hard parts for me about Rubin’s Better Than Before is that many of the strategies she suggests are not helpful for me. She classifies all people into four different categories when it comes to expectations and habits. Upholders meet all expectations, outer and inner; Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations; Questioners meet inner expectations but question all outer expectations; and Rebels struggle to meet outer and inner expectations.

I am a Rebel, for sure. I’ve taken Rubin’s online Four Tendencies quiz several times and I always come up Rebel. It’s not a perfect fit, but it’s pretty close. I am not the best at following through with expectations, whether they’re coming from my mom, my boss, or myself. The positive side of this is that I am good, especially as an adult, at knowing that I can say no to things. I’m good at evaluating expectations from others and judging whether or not they are appropriate or fair. Not always, but a lot of the time, I am able to better deal with unfair expectations from others than an Obliger would.

The problem is that I really struggle with meeting my own expectations, and Rubin’s books don’t offer a ton of advice for Rebels. She does recommend the strategy of Identity for Rebels, and that sometimes works for me; thinking to myself that I am a Runner or I am a Healthy Eater is sometimes helpful. But not always.

Currently, I am sort of 50/50 on my January health-related resolutions. I’ve definitely cut back on my caffeine; I’ve been running every day; I’ve been meditating consistently. But I’ve been struggling to maintain healthy eating, especially when it comes to late night snacking, and that’s really frustrating. This week, I am going to consider two things: 1. Should I stop worrying about this habit?  Sometimes I try so hard to break a habit that I actually reinforce it! 2. Do I need a little more education (or a refresher on what I already know) when it comes to habits? This morning, I’m going to start listening to either The Power Of Habit or Atomic Habits on audiobook, and see if there is any additional insight that will help me on my quest to eat less sugar.

I’m not feeling confident, but I AM hopeful and motivated. Stay tuned.

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meditation · mindfulness

Getting Some Headspace

One of my 2020 Happiness Project tasks for January (my month focused on health and longevity) was to meditate every day. And it is actually going well!

I’ve been an aspiring and occasional meditator for years. I have often felt frustrated by my inability to make it a daily habit. Monthly, for sure. Weekly, I’ve had some success with sticking to it. Daily? Pretty much never. And I’m not meditating daily now, either. But since 2020 started, I’ve meditated 10 times. That’s approximately every other day, and that is success.

One of the tools that’s been helping me is the Headspace app. I’ve used it previously, and enjoyed it, but that was several years ago. Then, in December 2019, I found out that Headspace is free for educators. I’m a school social worker, so I was able to sign up for the full version of Headspace for free. Every time I sit down to meditate, I click on the next guided meditation in the app. The meditations were initially 3 to 5 minutes, and now I’ve worked my way up to 10 to 15 minutes. To be honest, that jump has been hard. There’s a big difference between sitting to meditate for 3 minutes and 10 minutes, and it’s been a challenge. But I’m working through it. I typically meditate in the mornings, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Overall, my health and longevity goals are going okay. I’ve been meditating, and I’ve been exercising. Those two resolutions have been going great. But I’ve been having trouble keeping some of my other resolutions. It’s about halfway through the month as I write this, so I’m going to make an effort to either change up my resolutions or re-commit to making these ones happen.

But the meditating?  I am loving it, and I’m proud of myself for keeping that commitment. Onward.

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writing

An Update On My Writing Life

For the fall of 2019, I made a conscious choice to take a break from writing fiction.

It’s January 2020 now, and I want that break to be over. For the first time in several months, I’ve been feeling like I have the energy, the creativity, and the bandwidth to dive back into the endeavor of fiction writing. I am excited. I am PUMPED.

I’m also not exactly sure where to start.

My daily morning routine is great but needs a little tweaking. I wake up at around 4, and I have to leave for work by 6:30 a.m. Usually the last 30 minutes of that time (or more) is devoted to hanging with my kids; they wake up at around 6 a.m. if I’m lucky, or at 5/5:30 a.m. if I’m not. In the best case scenario, I use around 30 to 45 minutes of that time for writing, but oftentimes it’s more like 15 or 20 minutes. That’s not really enough time to dive into a fiction project, so that writing time is usually centered on blogging.

For the past week or so, I’ve been scheduling pockets of time to devote to writing fiction – or rather, time to think and plan related to fiction writing. This time has mostly been centered around a writing course by Jennie Nash that I purchased over winter break. It’s called Write Your Book: Start Strong and Get It Done, and I purchased it via the website Creative LiveThe course, so far, seems to be closely aligned with the Story Genius method, and I’m liking it a lot. Exploring the exercises Jennie Nash “assigns” is helping me to reacquaint myself with the novel I started writing last summer. I had forgotten so much of it, and because of that, I’d convinced myself that the novel was boring and should possibly be abandoned. But once I started to re-read some of the prep work I did last July, I realized that I am excited about it, and that this is definitely a project I can jump back into.

So, the tricky thing about fiction writing is that I need to schedule it intentionally; it’s not going to just happen in the little random half-hours of time I discover in the middle of a busy day. When I sit down to write fiction, I need to be READY. I need to have at least some idea of where I’m at with a project and what I want to tackle next. That’s not how it works for me with blogging; with blogging, I can just sit down and GO and produce something, even if it’s not perfect.

I am learning to find the time. I’m scheduling time to write during my post-bedtime routine or during weekend nap time. I plan to listen to Jennie Nash videos while I’m doing household tasks, like tidying or unpacking.

And I am PUMPED. Pumped to get some fiction writing done and to be ready to REALLY dig into it during my summer.

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books + reading

25 Books

I use Goodreads to keep track of the books I read each year, and during 2019, I only read 25 books.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading 25 books in a year. That’s approximately  a book every two weeks. Nothing to be ashamed of.

And yet – this is unusual for me. During 2018, I read 56 books. During 2017, I read 42. During 2016, I read 44. And these numbers weren’t the result of any kind of effort to meet a challenge on my part; I just love to read. The only reason I have access to the numbers is that I use Goodreads to keep track of the books I read, so the data is readily available.

Now, I hate to blame things on my children, or to use them as an excuse. (Just kidding, I do it all the time and I’m fine with it.) And to be clear – Edgar is blameless in this situation. He was born in 2016. The number of books I ready during Edgar’s babyhood and early toddlerhood was pretty much the same number of books I read before I was a parent.

So, if there’s any blame to be had to here, it is going to be lain right at the early-walking feet of my SECOND CHILD. Baby Jonas, who started walking when he was 9 months and 4 days old, and started running pretty much the next day. Baby Jonas, who is lovable and kissable and tries his best to defy the laws of gravity every single day of his life,

JONAS, I OFFICIALLY BLAME YOU FOR MY LOW BOOK COUNT IN 2019.

I am laughing as I write this, but it’s true. I believe my limited reading time in 2019 was due in part to life with two young kids. When I was the mother of one, I could conceivably read a book while my toddler played happily with a toy, even if it was in five minute increments of time. It also was easier to trade off Me Time with Tamara – like, you watch the baby for the next 30 minutes while I read. Now, we do a lot of tag teaming, so that we get one-on-one time with the kiddos. And, just in general, having two kids feels like it requires way more than twice the work, time, and energy that having one kid requires. Plus, it takes Jonas approximately four seconds to go from playing safely to climbing on top of the highest piece of furniture in the room, so there’s limited time to squeeze in a few pages.

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Even though there is definitely nothing to be ashamed of, I was a little bummed about my number for 2019. I take pride in reading a wide range of titles and making reading a priority. I prioritize reading over TV and movies, and I simply love books and reading.

So, while I’m not beating myself up about “only” reading 25 books, I am hoping to read more in 2020. I’m hoping to choose books over scrolling and Netflix more consistently, and I’m also hoping to challenge the other big impediment to my reading: INDECISION. My indecisiveness is nowhere near as much to blame as Wild and Crazy Jo Jo, but it does play a role. There are time when I angst over what I am going to read next with a level of stress that could be associated with deciding whether or not to have a baby. (Please see my post What To Read – An Ongoing Dilemma for a little glimpse into my first world struggle.) This indecisiveness is especially problematic when it comes to nonfiction and audiobooks. When I’m choosing a nonfiction book to read or listen to, I think of it as an opportunity to educate myself about parenting, mindfulness, adoption, race, social justice, writing, etc, and I can get really caught up in my head deciding which book or topic to prioritize.

Thanks to a few amazing books, my 2020 reading list is already off to a great start. I’ve read four books so far, and they were all fantastic; Such A Fun Age, So You Want To Talk About Race, Dear Edward, and The Nickel Boys. My Reading Challenge a la Goodreads for 2020 is to read 52 books over the course of the year. I don’t really feel any pressure to actually achieve that goal, but it does feel satisfying to see my book count increase and creep closer to that goal; it’s a sign that I’m prioritizing reading over Netflix, as I am this morning. (Listening to Catch And Kill on audiobook while making my coffee!) Happy 2020 reading to all!

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2020 Happiness Project

January 2020: Health and Longevity

For 2020, I’ve scribbled out a happiness project that I’m going to implement throughout the year.

I’m so excited about it. I love making resolutions and setting goals. I love giving myself time to reflect on who I am and how I strive to live my life.

For the first month of the year, I decided to focus on Health & Longevity. I spent a long time debating what theme to focus on for the beginning of the year. The other top contenders were Service and Mindfulness. Those two are really important, and they’re coming – but I ultimately decided that focusing on healthy habits would be the best way to start my year.

Ever since Edgar was born, I’ve felt an awareness of my mortality and my health that I never had before. I never worried about my own health in the past. I sometimes worried about the health of people I love, but not mine. Once I became a mother, I think I became aware of the loss my children would experience if something happened to me, and it caused me to think about my health in a completely different way.

I also care a lot about feeling healthy and strong, and I don’t feel as healthy and strong as I’d like to. I’m aware of this as Edgar gets older and bigger; sometimes, picking him up or carrying him briefly causes me to lose my breath, and that’s frustrating. I also feel this motivation to want to run fast and be strong for the safety of myself and my family. Once again, that’s something I didn’t think about before becoming a parent.

My final reason for wanting to focus on health and longevity is because I know how wonderful I feel when I am exercising, eating well, and feeling strong. I want to have that feeling, that strength – it helps me to be able to do the thing I want to do, to have energy the be the best version of myself.

Here are the resolutions I’ve come up with, for my month of Health and Longevity:

  1. Use medication less frequently. For years, I’ve experienced insomnia,and I often utilize medications like Tylenol PM or Simply Sleep to combat it. I worry about this habit and its effect on my long-term health. So I resolve to use medications less frequently or to stop it completely.
  2. Exercise every day. The effect of exercise on my health and my mood is significant. I really want to make exercise a daily priority.
  3. Go to two AA meetings a week. This may seem unrelated to health and longevity, but it’s not.
  4. Healthy vegetarian eating with limited sugar and sweets. ESPECIALLY after dinner. I have a ridiculous habit of wanting to eat something sweet right before bedtime – basically, as I understand the science of the human body, the worst time to eat sweets.
  5. Meditate every day. 
  6. Eliminate diet soda and limit caffeine. 
  7. Do the adulting tasks that are necessary for your health and longevity. Take your medicine. Make all important doctor’s appointments – physical, dentist, orthodontist, GYN.
  8. Put your phone in your purse while you’re driving. You will not be healthy if you crash your car because you’re using you’re phone while operating a moving vehicle.

This might seem like too many resolutions, but when I tried, I could not eliminate any. As I type this, it’s January 3rd, and I’m eager to get these January resolutions on paper so that they feel more “official to me.” Additionally, Edgar just woke up, so my writing time for today is done.

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goals

All The Resolutions

This is the time of year when I make a hundred goals and resolutions for myself, and then I forget them all by February.

THAT’S OKAY. I’m going to make them all anyway. With a minor twist.

I’m utilizing my 2020 happiness project to make small resolutions throughout the year. But as far as my overall Official New Year’s Resolutions For The Year 2020, I will have two. Exactly two. No more, no less.

If I have two resolutions, then I will remember what they are.

And for my bigger goals (finish your novel, stop multitasking) and my smaller goals (better bedtime hygiene, less caffeine), I’ll use my happiness project to keep those resolutions front and center.

Ahem – presenting, my two new year’s resolutions:

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  1. New photography habits.
  2. Think and plan ahead.

BOOM. Done.

Just kidding. I am of course going to elaborate.

My first resolution is new photography habits. My digital photo life is a mess. I have thousands of photos. and I do almost nothing with them, other than the occasional social media post or text. The new habits I want to form are:

1) Deal with photos right away. Delete the ones that are blurry. Decide on the best one. You don’t need 19 pictures of Jonas with yogurt on his face that looks like a Santa beard; pick the best 1 (or 3) and delete the rest.

2) Set up an automated system for where you’re going to PUT the photos. Are you ordering prints? Are you making a baby book or a memory book? A calendar? Put them somewhere purposeful. 

This resolution falls under the label of “simple but challenging.” I’m really hoping that I can form these new photo habits by setting this intention, but I know it will be difficult. I have friends who do this automatically, and it seems like magic: Picture taken. Album made. Photo shared with or texted to me (if the boys are in it) within hours of when it was taken. But those friends who do this are also way more organized than me in general, and tend to be better at adulting than me. I am accepting of the fact that I’m not uber organized about many things – but I would like to target this specific habit and try to handle it better.

My second resolution, which is related, is to think and plan ahead. This is another area that is not my strength, and I really want to work to improve this aspect of my life.

I don’t think ahead, and I’m not a huge planner. I’m not a completely fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person; I used to be, more so than now, but I definitely plan more now that I’m a parent. I pack bags ahead of time, and I make packing lists and grocery lists. Honestly, though, I am HIGHLY motivated in that area, because if I forget to pack snacks, then it’s ME VERSUS TWO HANGRY TODDLERS OUT IN PUBLIC. That’s terrifying.

But, for non-terrifying circumstances, such as a friend’s birthday? I rarely think ahead. This is problematic to me for the following reasons:

  1. I would love to do small, meaningful things to celebrate others. However, I rarely think about other people’s birthdays or special occasions until the day of or the day before, which doesn’t give me much time to do something sweet or surprising for their special day. I can call – I can text – but I’d much prefer to think ahead and write a meaningful card that they get in the mail or via e-mail that day. If I plan ahead, I can be intentional about showing love and gratitude in meaningful ways.
  2. When I don’t think ahead, I’m pressed to do things in not ideal ways. For example – for my sister’s birthday this year (December 10), I didn’t really start thinking about a gift for her until the 6th or the 7th. I decided to get her some books, which is great. HOWEVER – my sister loves to shop locally, and tries not to support big companies like Amazon when possible. So it would have been way more meaningful for me to find her books in a local bookstore, or from a site like Thriftbooks, and mail them to her via USPS. But, I didn’t have time! So I used Amazon Prime. (Also, it was a cluster and didn’t get there in time, but that was user error.) If I thought ahead – like, in November – I could do something for her that was actually as thoughtful and intentional as I strive to be.
  3. If I don’t plan ahead, I sometimes miss out on things I might enjoy. I hate the feeling of a weekend day that sort of falls flat because we didn’t go out to do anything special. Don’t get me wrong – I love a rambling Do Nothing Saturday, when the boys just kind of play and frolic and we putter around enjoying that we don’t need to be anywhere. But I don’t like it when I realize we need an outing, and haven’t had the forethought to look into any special events in the neighborhood that we could enjoy.
  4. Not planning ahead gets equally difficult at work. There are things I’d love to do for the children and families I work for, but I get so consumed by the day-to-day that it’s challenging to think ahead. This will get better as I get more efficient in my job – I’ve only been there a year – but it’s definitely an area I want to improve.
  5. I’ve been getting so sick and exhausted by all the STUFF in my life and in the world. Ideally, when it comes to clothes and toys and gifts and household items, I’d like to buy them secondhand. That feels more sustainable and better for the world. However – that definitely requires thinking ahead. I bought Edgar a couple of Christmas shirts this year, and I really wished I’d started looking for them in secondhand shops back during the spring or summer. I’m sure I could have found a few things, and they would have been cheaper. And I would have felt way better about the purchase, because it would have supported a secondhand shop and a local business, and not contributed to the production of more STUFF in the world.

WHEW. That was a lot. But it shows pretty clearly what my motivation is, when I talk about planning and thinking ahead of time. I want to be able to be more intentional with my choices, and I want to maximize my enjoyment of my time and the world.

I’m really excited about these two resolutions, and I really want to stick with them. I really, really do. Help me out, Universe. Help to make my 2020 a year of awesomeness.

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