goals · mindfulness

My Intentions For Winter Break


This afternoon, my winter break officially begins, and I am pumped.

I have two intentions for winter break: zero guilt and zero input.


Here’s the thing – I really love working from home. I love zero commute, and I love having my kids close by. I am comfortable and productive. I think that if I had the option, I could do this for a long time.

HOWEVER – I am a person very prone to guilt, and there’s a tricky guilt trap I can fall into while working from home. It’s the trap of I should be working.

I am disciplined and committed when it comes to leaving work at work. It’s something I had to train myself to do when I became a social worker, because I simply can’t do my job to the best of my ability if I don’t allow my brain, body, and heart some time to be at rest and recharge. But it is so much harder to leave work at work when you’re working from home. You don’t have the physical boundaries that you do when you commute to a job. Usually, I get in my car, I drive home, I stow my phone away someplace, and I am done – ready to be with my family and off duty from work responsibilities. Without that boundary, I sometimes feel like I am half-working 100% of the time, and that’s no good.

So this week, while I’m on break from work, I am excited to be present and enjoy my time with zero guilt about other things I “should” be doing.


My other intention is just a variance on a goal I often set for myself. I’ve been working hard, for a long time, to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my routine. Occasionally, it works and I love it. Often, I stick with it for a while and then I drift away from it, and that’s okay too. I’ve been trying to remind myself that mindfulness does not have to happen in just one way. You don’t have to be sitting on a yoga mat with your eyes closed to be mindful. You can simply bring full awareness to the activities of your day – washing dishes, reading a bedtime story, taking a walk.

But, here’s the thing: I am an input junkie. I am rarely doing the dishes mindfully, completely focused on the task at hand. I listen to a podcast while I do dishes; I listen to audiobooks while I fold laundry; I have music or TV in the background while I clean my room. When I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of minutes before I’m reading my book or listening to a podcast.

None of this is bad. But I do think my brain could benefit from opportunities to rest – to stop aborbing new information and just be. I’m pretty sure I got this idea from the book Digital Minimalism, where Cal Newport talking about solitude as a time with no input from the outside world. So, not just being by yourself – but allowing your brain time with no input from others, whether it’s live and in person or via a book or podcast.

So, my intention for winter break is: allow for time with zero input. It could be five minutes – it could be twenty. The point is to give my mind a break from the constant stream of information and noise. For me, the easiest ways to do this are having writing time with no background noise or doing household tasks (dishes, laundry) without an accompanying podcast or audiobook. Not all day every day – not even close to that! But just little pockets of time each day when I give my mind a little solitude.

Happy winter break to all who get it – and happy almost new year to everyone else!

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

New Year, New Phone, New Habits

After a cracked screen and a whole bunch of annoyingness, I ended up receiving a brand-new phone (and Otterbox case, no more cracked screens please and thank you) at the very beginning of the 2020/2021 school year.

Anytime there is a fresh start – a new move, a new school year, even a new day – I see it as an opportunity to reset and to change any habits that need changing. A new phone is no exception.

This summer, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my phone. During the time of COVID-19, my phone has been a lifeline – a chance to connect with friends and family at a time when it’s challenging to spend any time together. My phone has been my way of connecting with community service work, via text banking, calls and e-mails to government officials, SURJ tasks, etc. I use it to educate myself through articles, podcasts, and audiobooks.

I use it for freaking everything. And it gets to be way too much. I find myself getting annoyed when I see others obsessed with and absorbed by by their devices, and I realized that it’s because I know I do the exact same thing.

These are the ways I want to change my relationship with my phone:

  1. It is a tool; it is not the boss of me and it should not dictate what I do all day long.
  2. There are other devices that can be used for certain things. I can listen to podcasts on the Alexa in my kitchen. I can check e-mail on my computer. That’s still using technology – but it breaks the pattern of using my phone for anything and everything, which contributes to my feeling that I need to have my phone within arm’s reach at every second.
  3. Which brings me to – I do not want to have my phone within reach at every second. Too often, I find myself absorbed with something on my phone when I’d rather be fully present with my boys. And it’s often accidental – I glance down at my phone to check the time, and I see a text or an e-mail, something that has to be dealt with, and then before I know it I’m taking care of something that really could be dealt with later.
  4. There are better systems that I can implement for staying organized and getting things done. I tend to fall back on systems that DO NOT WORK – like setting alarms on my phone to remind me to do something. This system has never, ever worked for me, but my phone’s always close by, so when I think of something that needs to get done, I default to old methods. If I change my relationship with my phone, I believe new and more effective methods can be implemented.

The biggest reasons I want to change things up are actually my two biggest buzz words of late: intention and mindfulness. 

If I want to listen to a podcast while I unload the dishwasher and the boys play, that sounds lovely – as long as it’s done intentionally. The thing that bothers me most about my phone is that I often end up reading an article or going down a social media rabbit hole WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT’S HAPPENING. I can read an article on my phone. I can read an ebook on my phone. I can Face Time, or text, or WHATEVER – but it really bothers me when this all happens in a mindless and unintentional way, as if my phone is stealing away minutes and hours of my life without my even realizing it.

Which relates directly to the mindfulness aspect of it all. For years, I’ve been working on improving my ability to be mindful and present. When I am constantly checking my phone and multi-tasking, I’m not fully present in my day-to-day life.

It’s September 2020, and I have a new phone, an awesome new Otterbox Defender case, and the following new habits:

  • My phone will be plugged in on the kitchen counter while I’m in bed sleeping. No more checking social media as I’m falling asleep at night or immediately when I wake up in the morning.
  • My phone will be plugged in on my nightstand during the day. I’ll have the ringer on in case Tamara calls, and I’ll check it periodically when I decide to check it.
  • I’m going to try my best to diversify and use other devices (Alexa, laptop, iPad) for some of my entertainment or productivity needs. (My goal here is just to shift my total reliance on the phone for everything, so that it’s easier to set it aside and know that I can still get things done that need doing.)

It is going great so far, and it feels really good to be making this change. NEW YEAR – new phone – new habits! Happy September!

white smartphone
Photo by Cristian Dina on Pexels.com

books + reading · goals

Educating Myself + Getting Things Done

My plan for 2020 was to have a theme for each month, and to publish blog posts related to the theme. But, as I discovered, that doesn’t really work for me at this time in my life. My blogging this year is less planned out and intentional – it’s more, What exactly is happening in this crazy 2020 world this week that I need to process through writing?

Once I let go of the possibility of sticking to a theme, it’s been interesting to be reminded of what they were. They were GREAT. And for September, the theme I chose way back in December 2019 was Education + Awareness.

The funny thing is – the reason I chose Education + Awareness as a theme was that this was an area I cared about deeply but was struggling to develop. I’ve written often about my struggle to read nonfiction books. I constantly write down titles and even check them out of the library, but I am always more likely to pick up a novel than a nonfiction book, even if I sincerely want to increase my knowledge about a specific topic.

I also knew that I wanted to increase my involvement with community activism, service, and politics. I chose September as the month for this focus because I knew I’d be motivated and energized due to the approaching election in November.

Then this spring, with the world shut down due to the pandemic and the civil uprisings calling out for racial justice, I found myself more motivated and connected than ever before. I was able to connect with my local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and through my work with them I’ve been learning, growing, and contributing to local and national movements. I’ve been text banking and writing postcards and letters to support voter registration, vote by mail, and Democratic candidates for office.

Additionally, I’ve finally been able to push through my resistance to nonfiction reading; I’ve read or listened to a bunch of the books on my list. I also realized, with the help of a friend, that books are not the only way to educate myself about a topic, which seemed reeeeal obvious once it was pointed out but often had not occurred to me in the past. For example, I’ve been trying to learn more about housing segregation, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to reading The Color Of Law by Richard Rothstein in its entirety. So I’ve been listening to podcasts that feature interviews with Rothstein – i.e., getting the gist of his book without reading all 368 pages. I’ve done the same with articles; I read a few chapters of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, but then found I had to put it down to concentrate on other books. But I did some googling and found a few articles by Michelle Alexander; that helped me to educate myself on her subject (mass incarceration of Black men) without pressuring myself to finish the book right now. (Hoping to get back to it at some point, for sure.)

So, through a series of unpredictable circumstances, my original goals for September 2020 have been largely achieved already, and I’m sincerely grateful.

With the school year starting, one of my big worries is how I’ll maintain my commitments and involvements now that my day job has to fit back into my life. I have a feeling that certain things will have to take a backseat for a while, but I want to be careful and intentional about the choices I make, and I want to keep family, service, and writing at the center of my life. I’m glad to have a mantra – slow it all down – and I’ve been aware of this coming change all summer, and trying to be mindful of how much responsibility I have capacity for at each moment. 

I’m not happy about events that have occurred this year. I’m horrified by the murders of unarmed Black citizens, and I’m deeply concerned about the losses and changes we’re experiencing as a country related to the pandemic. It sometimes feels awkward to be grateful during a year like this. But I am grateful, nonetheless. I’m grateful because I feel connected and purposeful and aware. I’m grateful because I’ve made progress with my ability to educate myself, which was something that has frustrated me for a while. I feel guilty that I haven’t done more, sooner – like, why was I not phone banking four years ago, and why didn’t I find a group like SURJ sooner? Then I remember that the guilt helps no one, and I set aside and try to figure out the next right thing to do. And there’s always a next right thing to do.






Weird New Year

It’s naptime, and my boys are sleeping. It’s a stormy Saturday, and I’m enjoying the sound of the rain on the roof. Well, it’s making me want to take a nap, sort of, but I haven’t had much time to write lately, so I’m powering through. (For the moment.)

As I write this, the start of the 2020/2021 school year is two days away. I have butterflies about what this year is going to be like. It’s such an odd start to the year; I won’t resume my daily commute, and I won’t get the chance to catch up with co-workers in the hallways of our school. I won’t get that much more Adult Time than I’ve had over the summer. Edgar is starting an outdoor pre-school in a couple of weeks, and I’m excited and nervous about that; he’s had so much time at home with me this spring and summer that I’m a little worried the transition will be challenging.

I also am experiencing some nervousness about how all the different things I’ve been involved in over the summer, and how they’ll all fit into my regular-ish work/life routine.

And, to be honest – I’m a little sad about the Didn’t Get To Do’s of this summer. We missed out on a beach vacation because of a tropical storm, and we spent little time at the beach, which is usually the highlight of my summer. We didn’t get to do too many fun or unusual things, or even get to see that many family or friends. There is so much I’m grateful for – my family and my friends are healthy, we’ve so far been relatively untouched by COVID-19, and it’s really been just a lovely summer at home with my boys.

But – it’s just a tiny bummer to be starting the school year feeling like we didn’t all get the rich, fulfilling, novel, and refreshing summer that we sometimes get. Definitely #firstworldproblems – but I think it’s healthy and okay to acknowledge the little disappointments that we’re all experiencing right now, even the ones that are minuscule in the Big Picture of 2020 life.

That said – one of the consistent things about me is that I always love a fresh start. And a new school year is certainly that. I’m excited to get better at teletherapy, to re-connect with my students, and to appropriately incorporate some of the social justice work I’ve been doing into my day job.

I’m also excited to get back to a regular writing routine. That sounds a little funny, coming off of My Summer Of Not Much Writing. But Tamara’s work is slowing down now, and the start of the school year might be a good opportunity for me to stop staying up late and get back to my morning writing routine.

So much is happening; life is busy and full right now. More to come. Happy September!

dried leaves on brown wooden table
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

goals · mantras

August 2020: Keep It Simple

So it’s August. Yikes!

I love August, and it’s still summertime. But there’s something about changing the calendar from July to August. It’s a sad moment – a sign that the school year and regular fall/winter/spring life is going to return.

That said – what is “regular life” anymore? For me, it means the return of my day job. And that will definitely be challenging. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my job will be virtual until January 2021.  I’ll continue to do teletherapy with my students, and I’m hoping that I can continue to learn and grow in that area. I’ll be working from home, which means more time with my kids. That helps me, when it comes to the sadness of summer ending, because the hardest thing for me about the school year starting is adjusting to less time with my children.

The start of the school year is still a few weeks away. But I’m definitely thinking about it. My planned theme for August 2020 was Habits, Simplifying, and Adulting. Now, let’s be real – my themes have sort of been all over the place this year. Last month, I completely abandoned my theme of Traditions, Celebrations, and Rituals; in fact, my entire blogging schedule went totally off the rails in July and August.

I’ve decided that simplifying might be exactly what I need for August 2020. In fact, that thought also led me to think about what I want to do with themes moving forward, and I started brainstorming and getting carried away. (More on that later.) But for this month, my mantra has been (and continues to be): keep it simple. 

I’m not going to make a list of goals to go with my mantra for this month. I don’t have any big goals this month; I am very much taking everything one day at a time. Doing so is helping me to stay relaxed and present, and I’m grateful for that.