5 Things I’m Grateful For (December 2019)

For my December gratitude list, I thought about writing a list of Things I’m Grateful For for all of 2019. I decided against it – TOO OVERWHELMING. There’s so much to be grateful for.

  1. My job. This school year, I feel so much more comfortable and connected at my workplace, and that’s invaluable.
  2. Great books to read – just read The Sentence Is Death recently, and am currently in the middle of Conviction. And I am pretty sure Santa is going to bring me a new book I am dying to read!
  3. One night last week, after Edgar was in bed doing his nightly stalling routine, we heard sirens outside. I grabbed Edgar and we ran to his window to see several fire trucks and ambulances riding by, one with Santa Claus riding on top of it! We watched and waved and then ran to tell Tamara. Edgar’s sweet, surprised smile was amazing, AND the sirens didn’t wake up Jonas, so it was a win for everyone. Such a sweet treat from the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company.
  4. WINTER BREAK. Having twelve days off for rest, relaxation, and festivities is just amazing. I’m loving it so much.
  5. This past week or so, I have been daydreaming and wondering, and I feel like I am finally, after three months off, starting to have the bandwidth to attempt writing fiction again. I haven’t written a word of it yet, but I can feel it bubbling and it feels delightful. Stay tuned.

Every year, every week, every day, there is so much to be grateful for. I feel incredibly blessed, and glad to be aware and appreciative of it all.

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2020 Happiness Project

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to do a Happiness Project for 2020.

A happiness project, a la Gretchen Rubin, is a yearlong effort to make monthly resolutions with the goal of increasing personal happiness. I’ve attempted happiness projects previously, but I’ve never stuck with them for an entire year. I’m not sure I’ll stick with this one all year long either. That might sound pessimistic; I don’t mean it to be. I’m realistic about my follow-through on projects like this, and I think mapping it out is as valuable and fun for me as following through on it would be.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, she chose a theme for each month and then made 3 to 5 small resolutions related to that theme. Her themes included topics like Energy, Parenting, Marriage, and Play. I love the idea of using a theme for each month, and also tying that theme into my blog posts for the month. (This, too, I have attempted previously – having a monthly blog theme.)

For my 2020 themes, there’s not just one word for each month; it’s often a pair or a trio of related words, all related to the resolutions I plan to make, try out, and write about.

These are the themes I’ve come up with for 2020:

  • January: Health and Longevity.
  • February: Service.
  • March: Mindfulness, Meditation, and Presence.
  • April: Minimalism and Decluttering.
  • May: Writing. (Get geared up for Summer Writing!)
  • June: Traditions, Celebrations, and Rituals.
  • July: Community and Friendship.
  • August: Habits, Simplifying, & Adulting.
  • September: Education and Awareness.
  • October: Laughter, Fun, & Play.
  • November: Being Intentional.
  • December: Life Alignment.

The topics I didn’t have room for were Balance; Rhythm & Routine; Travel & Adventure; and Goals. I’m including them in case I end up deciding one of these themes doesn’t work.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to make resolutions, or just reflect on the ways you’d like to live your life, a happiness project can be super fun and helpful. As I’ve been crafting this post, I’ve been drafting my posts for next year – developing resolutions that relate to each theme. I’m pumped to get started, because, as you can probably tell if you’ve been reading for a while – I love a good fresh start!

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Merry Whatever

Today is Christmas Eve, and I am so grateful to be celebrating with my family.

This holiday season has been lovely. I’ve had so much fun getting things ready for the boys. Tamara and I don’t go too crazy with gifts, but the boys will each open a few presents on Christmas morning, and their stockings will be filled with tiny delights. We’ll eat cinnamon rolls tomorrow morning and curl up by the Christmas tree with books and coffee.

There’s so much more I want to cultivate for our family as the boys grow, and not everything happened as I’d like it to this year. I did not achieve my goal of pondering gift ideas throughout the year so that every gift I give is thoughtful and intentional. If I am giving a gift, I’d love to buy it secondhand when possible, but that requires forethought and that’s not my strength. I also did not incorporate service into this season the way I’d like to. I did a few small things for others – toy drives, adopting a family, donations – but I’d like to do much more next year, and I’d like to incorporate the boys.

For now, I’m so grateful for this Christmas, just as it is. Merry Whatever to you and yours.

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family · traditions

How To Be Santa Claus – Part 1

Every December, I think a lot about Santa Claus.

My kids are still little enough that our family approach to Santa is evolving. Tamara and I talked a lot before having kids about how we would handle The Santa Claus Thing, and it raised a whole bunch of issues that I hadn’t thought about previously.

For example: Did you know that there are different ways to be Santa Claus? I only found this out a few years ago, and it was like Finding Out The Truth About Santa Part Two!

When I was a kid, I thought every family’s approach was pretty standard. There is a Santa; he’s a strong presence from birth until sometime during the school-aged years. He flies around the world magically on Christmas Eve and he delivers presents to all the “good” boys and girls. His arrival at your house is ALWAYS sometime between your bedtime and the time you wake up in the morning, even if you only sleep for four hours. You leave out a letter for him asking for a certain list of gifts for Christmas, and you leave out milk and cookies.

Pretty standard, right?  I think my family had one of the more common approaches to The Santa Claus Thing, although maybe I just think that since it’s the way I grew up. But it turns out that there are families who make different choices about how to be Santa Claus and how to treat Santa Claus in their homes.

The first time I learned about this was in college. My friend from the Midwest told me that she’d always opened her Santa gifts on Christmas Eve, and that her parents had explained to her that Santa’s task – delivering toys to every kid in the world while they were sleeping – was so challenging that some kids had to get their presents on Christmas Eve. (I am pretty sure her parents liked to sleep in on Christmas morning, and A+ to them for figuring out how to make it happen!) When she shared this, I thought it was interesting, but didn’t think much more about it.

I may have heard about other family versions of Santa over the years, but the next time I really thought about it was when Tamara and I discussed how we’d handle the Santa thing. She explained that in her house, Santa filled the stockings, and maybe brought one other present. The rest of the gifts were from her parents.

I thought that was interesting, too. In my childhood home, every thing we opened on Christmas morning was from Santa. We opened our Santa gifts on Christmas morning, and then our Santa stockings on Christmas evening when we got home from celebrating at my aunt’s house. It never occurred to me that you could decide, as a parent, which presents Santa brought and which presents your kids knew were gifts from you.

Once I started thinking about it and asking about it, I found so many different versions of Santa. My sister’s close friends have exactly one present under their tree from Santa – THE present that the kid asked for when he went to see Santa and sat on Santa’s lap. A lot of families do this, and the ONE Santa present is based on what they tell Santa in person or what they write in their letter to Santa. I talked to another parent who handles Santa this way, and says that it really helps with the gift wrapping process; if the kids know that they are going to receive several gifts from their parents, then you don’t have to be quite so undercover. You can honestly say to the kids, “Don’t go in my closet,” without raising suspicions about Santa – because they know you’re buying and wrapping certain gifts for them. Of course, the other reason to only have one gift be from Santa is so that you get CREDIT for providing joys and toys to your kids on Christmas, and that’s legit as well.

Tamara and I have sort of settled in on Santa bringing stockings and maybe one gift to our boys. We decided that last year, when Edgar was 2 and Jonas was three months old, and it was pretty funny. I didn’t really think about which presents would go into Edgar’s stocking. For me, it makes the most sense for things to go in the stocking that are small or squishy. So last year, Edgar’s presents from Santa included socks, underwear, and a toothbrush, because THAT IS WHAT FIT PROPERLY IN HIS STOCKING. This year, I thought ahead a little more, and Santa is going to be much less practical.

Edgar didn’t write a letter to Santa this year – maybe next year? – but every week he makes a semi-formal announcement letting me know what he’s getting for Christmas this year. It changes periodically, but I’m not too worried about it, because he’s three and any pile of presents is going to be well-received on Christmas morning.

I have many, many thoughts about Santa, which is why this is Part 1 in my How To Be Santa series. I wish I could tell you when Part 2 would be posted; I can promise it will either by this coming Saturday, later this month, or the end of next year. Stay tuned!

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Intentional Homemaking

Last weekend, we visited the Habitat For Humanity Restore and we bought a couch, an armchair, kitchen chairs, and a cabinet. Our Christmas tree is up and decorated, and our new home feels cozy and comfortable.

Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about minimalism. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a minimalist lifestyle, and now that we’re moving away from farming, it seems like a good time to pare down and really evaluate what we need and what we can discard.

However, it is a challenging time of year to be thinking about minimalism! It’s the holidays, and I’ve been busily making purchases for the little ones in my life as well as several adults. In addition to that, there are so many things that we’ve needed to purchase for our new home – towel racks and furniture and cleaning supplies, etc.

It’s overwhelming. I get stressed about spending too much money, on the house or on gifts. And when I approach these tasks – homemaking and gift giving – from the perspective of an aspiring minimalist, it’s hard to figure out how to navigate it all.

I was so happy when I thought of the idea to go to the Habitat ReStore to look for furniture. All or most of the items at the ReStore are used, and the proceeds are used to support Habitat For Humanity, an organization I’ve volunteered with many times. If we have to buy a couch – and we did, because story time for me, Edgar, and Jonas all squeezed into one armchair was getting dangerous – then it felt good to find one we liked that was previously owned and not too expensive.

Making intentional purchases like this is challenging for me. I’m impulsive, and once I get a notion for a purchase in my head – like the day I realized that I couldn’t successfully read a book with both boys on my lap on an armchair – then I want to buy the item I need immediately. After I buy it, I feel mostly satisfied, but not completely. I feel completely satisfied when I make a purchase that’s what I want and need in a way that feels responsible and intentional.

I have a lot of goals for 2020. It’s a great year to be setting goals! We have a new house and a new lifestyle, and I’m pretty settled in to my new job. And one of my goals is related to this whole process of making intentional purchases. I’m not great at planning ahead – but I want to be. I want to plan ahead, think ahead, and make choices and purchases with intention.

Meanwhile, I’m typing this while curled up in my new armchair, enjoying our charming Christmas tree and our living room that feels comfortable and cozy. I feel happy and grateful to have this house to call a home.




Monday Morning Ritual

Last Monday morning, I got an idea while I was on my way to work.

I was in a grumpy mood. Ever since becoming a parent, I have disliked Mondays. I don’t like leaving my kids to go to work. It sometimes helps if we’ve had a fantastic weekend doing fun things as a family – or sometimes that makes it even harder to get started with the work week.

This school year has been a little bit better than the last two years were. Prior to this school year starting, I also was struggling with the Sunday blues – that feeling of dread and anxiety some people get on Sunday afternoons when they realize they’re about to face five days of work starting Monday morning. But that’s been better since school started in September 2019. I feel a little bit more confident and comfortable at my job this year, and the Sunday blues have been eradicated.

But Monday mornings? Those still suck.

So last Monday, I was on my way to work and I started using speak to text to do some “writing.” I opened up a Word Press post on my phone, hit the microphone button, and just started talking – about Mondays, and about my goals for the day, the week, and the year. It was really helpful. It’s not the first time I’ve done this. Basically, by “writing” a blog post using speak to text while I’m driving, I’m sorting through my thoughts the same way I do when I’m sitting in my armchair at home with my computer on my lap.

That morning, it occurred to me that I really need a Monday morning ritual that centers me and/or gets me excited for the week ahead. And I realized something: a Monday morning is a fabulous time to set an intention for the week ahead.

Here’s a few things I know about myself:

  1. love setting a goal for myself. Be more present. Write more. Exercise daily. Whatever the goal, I love to identify it and write it down somewhere with every intention of achieving it.
  2. I struggle to follow through on my goals. I forget what I’m working toward because I’m distracted by the minutiae of day-to-day life.
  3. One of the only reliable strategies I have to form a new habit is using the strategy (a la Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before) of the Blank Slate. A new house, a new car, a new phone, a new job – I tend to use fresh starts like these as a jumping block for cultivating new and better habits.

When all of these things swirled around and came together, I realized: I can attempt to use my Monday morning commute as a time to reflect and set an intention for my week.

I love this idea. I have so many goals on my mind lately – partly because I’ve been skimming Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours and partly because I’ve been jotting down resolutions for 2020. But when I have lots of goals, it’s hard to bring them all to the forefront of my mind, especially as a busy working parent who’s juggling a lot of responsibilities. If I use Monday mornings as a time to (using speak to text) write about my intentions, I can narrow my focus and zero in on the intention that’s the most crucial for me during that particular week. I’m going to give it a try; we’ll see how it goes.

The funny thing is, writing this post helped me to remember something. When I was in my early twenties, I remember playing a game with two of my college friends. We were on the Staten Island Ferry, and we started talking about what our different friends who be if they were a (fill in the blank). For example: If Kerriann was a holiday, which holiday would she be? If Matt was a subject in school, what subject would he be? It was silly and fun and pointless. And one of the fill-in-the-blank categories we chose was days of the week. We decided that one of our fun-loving party-going friends would be a Saturday night; we decided that one of our even-keeled, reliable friends was a Tuesday. And we – well, it was either all of us, or just me – decided that if I were a day of the week, I’d be a Monday.

This made sense to me, at the time. I loved college, I loved the work I was doing. I didn’t have the pull of little kids at home that I wanted to be with. I invested a lot of energy and enthusiasm into every job, activity, or class I attended. The start of the week never bothered me, because I made the best of everything and I always found something to be excited about.

So funny. I don’t love Mondays currently – but I used to. And it’s because I have always been a person who loves a fresh start and a new week. I’m so glad I remembered this about myself, and I really hope this new habit helps me to start my weeks off with a better outlook on the week ahead.

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blogging · writing

Checking In

It’s been really challenging finding time to write recently, and that’s in part because my children keep waking up at five o’clock in the morning.

The funny thing is – it’s not like I’m losing sleep when they wake up at five. My alarm goes off at 4 A.M. every single weekday. But, at 5 A.M., I am usually just about to sit down to do some writing – and then, minutes later, a small child is cuddled in my lap.

On the one hand, I love this. I’m a working parent, and morning snuggles are precious. If the boys start sleeping until 6:30 or 7 A.M., then I might not even see them in the morning.

On the other hand – I wake up at 4 so that I can go for a run, get ready for work, and squeeze in an hour of writing before having coffee and breakfast with my family and leaving for work at 6:30 A.M. So, when the boys wake early, something gets abandoned and it’s pretty much always the writing due to the order of events.

It’s 5:11 A.M. as I type this, and I can hear Jonas stirring; I’ve already laid him back down to sleep twice since my alarm went off. So, I’m using this time to troubleshoot. How do I make sure I get time to write, which is important for my self-care, my mental health, and my overall state of mind?

The most obvious answer is to try to start writing at night. The boys go to bed by 7/7:30 P.M., and I usually turn off the lights at around 9. I could do that. It’s usually less interrupted time, and it would probably work.

However – I am such a morning person. My best creative energy comes early in the day. By 7:30 P.M., I am DONE. I feel productive if I’m able to use that last hour of the day to read in bed in my pajamas. To actually produce content, at the time of day? I don’t know if it would work.

I missed a post this week – there was no post on playful + peaceful yesterday. I always do a little check-in with myself when I miss a scheduled posting day. Not because I feel any obligation to a reading audience. I do feel that, a little, but it’s more about my obligation to myself and recognizing how this blog helps me to process my life and the world. If I miss a posting day, it’s usually a sign that things are feeling a little hectic and I’m not finding as much time to take care of myself.

Now, that said – I think that missing my Tuesday post is more about the holidays than anything else. I love the holiday season, and there has been a lot of shopping and wrapping and decorating going on in our home and our life. Not to mention all the unpacking, cleaning, and organizing that’s involved with settling into a new home. These are all GOOD things – good reasons to be slacking on the blog. Way better than when I miss a post because work is too crazy or I’m too tired to do anything creative.

But – is there a solution, to my lack of writing time? It’s 5:46 A.M. and Edgar just climbed into my lap, so here’s my hastily developed plan:

  1. SLEEP TRAIN THESE BOYS. Keep them in their rooms until at least 5:30, and then inch their wake-up times closer and closer to 6 A.M. (We got an OK To Wake clock for Edgar than I’m hoping will help!)
  2. Try out some evening writing. Set expectations low.
  3. Use your commute to do some brainstorming. (I obviously can’t write while I’m driving, but I’ve been using voice memo and speak to text to “jot down” some ideas, and it’s really helping me to keep my thoughts organized and ideas flowing.)
  4. DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT TOO MUCH. It’s the holidays, I have two kids under 4, we just moved, and it’s okay if my writing routine slips a little this month.
  5. BUT WORRY ABOUT IT A LITTLE. I don’t want to keep putting writing on the backburner. I haven’t done any fiction writing since August. I want to strike a balance; I want to prioritize writing while being reasonable with my expectations of myself. If anyone has advice on how to do that, please share!
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