Monday, November 2, 2015

November Happiness Project: Aim Higher

Okay.  It's time for me to face the music.  October passed in a blur of preschool, elk hunting, sniffles, and Harry Potter and it's freaking November already.

Here's something honest about the first month of my year-long happiness project: it was kind of a flop.  Yes, I took my vitamins more often than I didn't, and I got dressed most of the time, but the rest of it just didn't happen.  I tried mightily to wake up before the boys to have a little time to myself, but nearly every time Merrin woke up early too, and I just ended up frustrated.  So, very little yoga or writing was accomplished.   But on those totally aggravating mornings that I fought to get Merrin back to sleep (and in doing so, woke up Ronan) I reminded myself that it won't be like this forever.  I won't wake up to Merrin flopping his warm baby body across my neck for much longer, and soon Ronan won't come straight from his bed to mine for a snuggle first thing in the morning.  Drawing my awareness to how I wake up each morning has made it easier for me to remind myself to love it for what it is, while it lasts.  And I wouldn't have don't that if I had successfully popped out of bed alone each morning.  I read this post a few days ago, and while I can totally relate to the faux-thought thing Mel Joulwan is describing, what really stuck with me is her self-preservation mantra "Now is not the time."  I've been thinking lately about how oppressive it can feel to have goals, even if they're as simple as get up early every day, when you have small children in the house.  They take the control out of your hands, and that's infuriating.  But I've been reminding myself when I am confronted by the impossibility of what I want to undertake that perhaps now is just not the time.  I'm not incapable, my kids aren't jerks, I don't have to choose between what I want for myself and the kind of parent I want to be.  Now is just not the time for lofty goals AND great hair.  It's the time to raise little boys and do what I can.  And I'm happy with that.

November's Happiness Project theme is marriage in Rubin's book, but I'm holding off on those goals for a month less congested by other projects.  November is also National Novel Writing Month and I just joined a local writing group to push me in my writing, so I'd like to focus this month on "aiming higher" as Rubin puts it.  My goals this month are simple: participate to best of my ability and the limits of my kids' tolerance in NaNoWriMo (and thereby improve my writing), and reinstate regular meal planning/preparation sessions that keep our weeknights sane and our bellies full (and thereby run a tighter ship at home).  I said simple, but not easy; NaNoWriMo pushes you to write a 50,000 word novel in a month (!) and Merrin has learned how to climb on the kitchen stools so he is in ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME.  So, wish me luck.  :)

Let's catch up: how was your October?  Any happiness project success or failure?  Any sweet costumes or delicious pumpkin recipes?  Post pics and links on Facebook or comment below!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

October: Boost Energy (!!!)

Whaat?!!  It's already October!!!  That means two things: I don't have to wear shorts anymore (whoop whoop!) and it's time to dive into the Happiness Projects Jill and I have been brewing.

Wow, based on the number of exclamation points I used in those first two sentences, I'd have to say it's already working.  :) 

Here is my plan for the upcoming year (!) of Happiness Project posts: I'll outline my goals and the projects I'm planning at the beginning of each month, and I'll come back at the end of the month with some thoughts about how it went and what I'll be carrying forward.  Throughout the month, I'll keep up with my normal absolutely-random posting schedule in which we will discuss all the things.

Okay?  Okay.  Here goes.

October: Boost Energy
  • Remember my damn vitamins.  Every day.  They give me a nice little kick when I do take them, but I'm terrible at remembering.  Mostly I notice when I don't take them.
  • Drink at least a liter of water.  I am the worst at staying hydrated, and I know it takes a toll on  my energy level.  One liter probably isn't enough, but I usually have a few cups of (decaf) tea every day too.  One liter of just water feels attainable. 
  • Yoga every day.  This one will be tough; my kids think yoga time means time to use mom as a jungle gym.    I started my day off this morning with some (very stiff) sun salutations and I have to admit, I feel pretty fabulous right now.  I'd like to try this YouTube series:
  • Quit complaining about being tired.  I find myself saying this to Scott all the time.  Like he isn't tired!  Instead, I'd like to focus on a positive, like "I really worked hard today" or, in the case of multiple night wakings, "I'm parenting at night the way I choose to."  Rubin says if we act the way we want to feel, we will actually feel that way. 
  • Wake up earlier.  I know less sleep sounds like it will do the opposite of boosting my energy, but I've noticed that the less time I have to myself, the more drained I feel.  And when I get woken up by two rowdy boys climbing into my bed, I start off the day super grouchy.  My goal is to wake up at 6:00AM (waaaah!) each weekday this month and spend the hour and half before the boys wake up doing yoga, drinking coffee and writing.  In peace. 
  • Cut back to half-caff.  Also seems counterintuitive, but I've been drinking coffee strong enough to keep an ox awake for a week.  Not sure how that happened.  Of course, too much caffeine makes me irritable and then gives me a huge blood sugar crash.  So, less is more here.
  • Get dressed.  As a stay-at-home mom, I am free to wear whatever the heck I want, but I have noticed that on the days that I do shower and put on real pants, I feel more prepared and I procrastinate my chores less. 
  • Keep the surfaces of my house clear.  That means the kitchen island, the top of my dresser, and the bathroom counter.  When those places are clear of clutter I am way more likely to dive into my chores (which gives me a sense of accomplishment and therefore an energy boost) and to take on a creative project (which gives me a big mental energy boost.)  There are far more than three surfaces in my house, but these are the biggies.
  • Cut back on digital media.  I feel like I already addressed this with last week's experiment, but I want to remain aware of how much time I spend on my phone.  My goal is 30 minutes OR LESS of online reading/shopping/bill paying per day, not including time spent blogging.  Because blogging makes me happy, and that's the whole point.  :)
That's it!  No big deal, right?  Haha.  I know it's a big list but each task requires very little time in itself.  I'm not going to keep a chart like Rubin did, but I am going to write these goals at the top of my kitchen calendar where I will see them every day. 

Okay, enough about me.  If you're doing your own Happiness Project with us, weigh in!  What goals do you have to boost your energy this month?  What are you already doing to stay focused and clear?  How much coffee are you really drinking?  ;)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Turned Off My Data for a Week: Here's What Happened

Last week,  I downloaded an app that tracks my number of screen unlocks and total usage time on my phone. I felt like maybe I had been too distracted with my phone lately, and I wanted some accountability.  On my first day I clocked 30-some unlocks and over an hour and a half of time!  That's ridiculous!  The whole reason we don't have TV is because it's a mindless waste of time, but here I am with what amounts to a TV in my hand all the time.  The next day, I turned the data off on my phone and kept it off for a week, turning it back on only once a day to check for important email (like bills, boo!).  I wasn't expecting my mini digital breakup to be any sort of revelation, but you guys.  It was.  Here's what I learned:
  • I reach for my phone when I get overwhelmed with my kids.  They get irritating, and I look for an escape in Pinterest or Facebook.  They can tell, of course, that I'm checked out and not paying attention to them; they ratchet up their attention-getting behavior (rarely positive) and I get more frustrated.  I'd do better to take us all outside for a bit to reset.
  • A few minutes of scrolling here and there add up over a day.
  • When I'm scrolling Facebook or Pinterest, I'm rarely actually engaging in what I read.  Even the stuff I'm interested in reading I'm only skimming.  I get more of the intellectual stimulation I'm looking for when I choose just a few articles or posts to read and really read them. 
  • Alerts and notifications are incredibly distracting even when you don't pick up your phone.
  • Time spent waiting (at preschool pick-up, in the Dr.'s office, etc) is valuable transition time from one activity to the next.  When I fill it up with internet-ness, I don't get that transition, and my day feels far more draining and overwhelming.  I'm also way more likely to be flustered and forget things.
  • I hadn't realized how all that scrolling and scanning affected my mood.  I tend to be pretty anxious anyway, but being bombarded by tragic news, snarky posts and obnoxious ads really weighs on me mentally.  I felt much calmer and happier without all that.
Facebook and Pinterest seem to be the biggest "fluff" use of my phone time, and I did seriously consider just deleting my accounts and calling it a day.  But I want to keep my blog's page open so I can connect with readers there, and I do actually use the recipes and ideas I've pinned.  I'll keep them around, but on a leash; I'm leaving the app on my phone to make sure I don't get sucked in for too long.  My phone is useful, I'll not deny that, but I hate the idea of my boys remembering me hunched over a screen and oblivious to them.

On a related note, this article made me wince. 

Have you tried a digital break-up?  Would you?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Happiness Project News and a Little Light Reading

Thank you all so much for your supportive comments, texts, and emails Monday.  It was a thrill to see my work published outside of my own blog, but it was a far greater reward to connect with you all.  I'm working toward a few other publication possibilities, which is fun and feels so much more validating than folding clothes and wiping counters.  But it's also intimidating and makes me feel a little silly; at least folding laundry and cleaning counters is work that needs done, you know? I'm still sorting out how I feel about it all.

Several months ago (has it been that long?!) I shared a few thoughts about Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  Since then, I've read Happier at Home as well, and both left me itching to address happiness and fulfillment in my own life... in a totally systematic, type A way, of course, which is what I love about Rubin's books: she takes a smooshy, nebulous thing and hammers it with data and charts and experiments until she can measure real happiness output.  She's my kind of gal.  Anyway, I sent the book to Jill and after reading it she's feeling all itchy too.  We decided to take on our own happiness projects, following Rubin's yearlong outline but subbing in projects and experiments that have relevance in our own lives.  We'll start in October and keep you posted on our individual blogs. 

Some of you have expressed an interest in taking on your own happiness projects along with us.  Love that idea!  Do it!  No blog required, of course.  We would love to hear what you're doing and how it's working out; please keep in touch and let us know!  Comments on the blog mean everyone can learn from what you're doing, or stop by and we'll chat over coffee while my kids tear the house down around us.  What, that doesn't sound like a relaxing morning?  ;) 

I've been in a word-hungry, pensive mood lately, so I've racked up a serious pile of links to share if you're in a reading mood. 

I love these fall Waldorf verses for mealtime, bedtime, all the time...

I don't know much about poetry, but this poem hits the nail on the head.

Marie Kondo answers questions about how The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up applies to kids.

This approach to sharing makes so much sense.

Our children are literally a part of us.

This powerful post has me scrutinizing how much time I spend on my phone.  I confess: it's a lot.  I downloaded an app that times my phone usage so I can't deny it.  :) 

On that note, I'm starting my own digital breakup right now.  From now until October 1 (when I'll be back with the start of my happiness project) I'm turning the data off on my phone and focusing on writing and being present.  I'm still available by phone or text, and I'll check email once a day.  Otherwise, expect radio silence here until next week!

Have a lovely weekend!

Monday, September 21, 2015

To Ribbons

I am thrilled and honored to be featured today on Coffee + Crumbs

"Soon they will all be gone, my maternity clothes, and the newborn things too: the tiny yellow and blue infant gowns,...
Posted by Coffee + Crumbs on Monday, September 21, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

This is Three

Here's something honest: there are some Terrible Threes happening at our house, and I'm really struggling with it.  Sass, backtalk, constant (pointless!) argumentativeness, open defiance, and acute intermittent deafness!  I'm so frustrated!  I feel like every single interaction we have ALL DAY LONG is negative: I'm correcting, chastising, scolding, threatening.  Despite my best efforts to stay objective, I totally take it personally.  Two nights ago I was so furious with Ronan at the dinner table (for what, I can't even remember now) that I threw his dinner in the garbage and sent him outside to save him from my temper.  I was so steamed I was trembling and called Scott to come home and take over because I COULDN'T HANDLE ANY MORE.  All I could think was, "Why is he like this?!!  What are we doing so wrong?!! 

These were not proud moments. 

After I cooled down a bit, I was reminded of something my mother said to me once.  She said, "Good people make bad decisions, all the time." 

Oh, Mom.  Yes.  Yes, they do.  As I turned her words over in my mind, I could feel my anger fade.  My hands stopped shaking.  I put my head in my hands and listened to Ronan and Merrin giggling outside the kitchen window.

I make the bad decision to take Ronan's behavior personally.  I make the bad decision to let myself be quick to anger, to speak harshly, to blow up.  But I am not a bad parent, or a bad person. 

My feisty, funny, tender-hearted boy is not a bad kid.  He's three, and he sometimes makes bad decisions. 

That we are not the choices we make means we can mess up, and be forgiven, and still be loved.

When Ronan thinks of his mama, I don't want him to think of the dragon-eyed woman with red-hot words who chucked his dinner and roared at him to get outside.  I want him to remember the woman who called him back in, and looked him in the eye and said, "I'm sorry I yelled at you.  I was very angry, and I made a bad decision."  He looked at me with his huge brown eyes and nodded his head and said, "I'm sorry, too." 

I know the three-year-old bad decisions will fade, in time, to be replaced with evermore grown-up and complicated bad decisions.  That's who we are.  But I want to see past the frustrating stuff to what is awesome about being three.  I want the good person in me to see the good person in him, every day.  And I want him to know that whatever bad decision he could ever make, I will still see that good person in him, and love him.

So I remind myself, this is three:

And this is three:

And all this:
This is the boy I will look for when we are both making bad decisions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Yesterday, I sat down to write this post during naptime.  I had just finished writing about our weekend and how many times I had heard, "Maaaaaaaaahmeeeeee!!!!  I need a snaaaaaaaaaack!!!!  I'm soooooo hungry!!!!" during our trip to the mountains (many, many times) when Ronan woke up and came stumbling into the living room.  He went immediately to the pantry and flopped over the  kitchen stool and starting wailing, "MAAAAAAAAAHMEEEEEE!!!!  I'M SOOOOO HUNGRYYYYYY!!  CAN I HAVE A SNAAAAAAACK?!!" I kid you not.  And I hushed him, because the baby was still sleeping, and I told him I would get him a snack in just a second, please just let me finish this sentence.  But there was so much wailing and flopping I couldn't get a single word down, and I finally got all snappy with him because his wailing about snacks was interrupting my writing about him wailing about snacks.  Then I realized that I was snappy because I needed a snack, too.  I nearly choked on all that irony.

There are so many reasons why I need this list, not the least of which is inspiration for what to feed MYSELF so I am qualified to take care of my own kids.  :)

So here it is, as promised: a giant list of snacks that impart at least some nutrition and that kids will actually eat, organized by level of parental desperation.  I don't know about you, but what my kids will actually eat on any given day is a crapshoot, so this is a long list. 

1.)  I'M A BADASS AND PLANNED AHEAD  (a short list, for obvious reasons)
  • Frozen homemade meatballs
  • Hummus and crackers/veggies
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Green muffins w/ blueberries
  • Energy bites
  • Frozen smoothie popsicles
  • Sliced cold grilled chicken with dipping sauce (BBQ, peanut, guacamole, salsa, etc)

2.)  I HAVE THE PATIENCE TO MAKE A LITTLE EFFORT (if you ask with nice manners, please, Little Love)
  • Apple w/ peanut butter (add raisins or shredded coconut)
  • Peanut butter, raisins, shredded carrot in tortilla
  • Crackers (Pecan Nutthins are good) spread with Laughing Cow cheese
  • Deli meat and pickle roll-up
  • Deli meat and cheese roll-up
  • Deli meat and avocado roll-up
  • Cocoa almonds
  • Popcorn
  • Corn chips w/ cheesy refried beans
  • Banana slices w/ peanut butter
  • Smoothies
  • Cracker sandwiches, Lunchable-style
  • Cheese-plus quesadilla (chicken, black bean and sweet potato, chopped grilled veggies, etc)

  • Whole fruit: peaches, plums, apples, bananas, grapes, clementines
  • String Cheese or Babybel cheese
  • Lara Bars
  • Pretzels
  • Cheddar crackers
  • Cucumber slices
  • Carrot slices
  • Snap peas
  • Olives
  • Corn chips and salsa
  • Freeze dried fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Mini pickles
  • Dilly beans
  • Applesauce
  • Pistachios
  • Cheerios
In my dreams, I keep a few things from each category in the fridge/pantry at all times.  In reality, Category #1 doesn't exist, we eat A LOT of apples and peanut butter, and if Ronan digs deep enough he'll find Crunchy Cheetos in the pantry.  I'm hoping a list of options can nudge me in the right direction.  :)

Okay, now your turn: what's on for snacktime at your house?  Please help me add to my list! 

PS:  Here's a genius trick from my friend Sabrey: she leaves a plate of cut-up veggies on the counter and doesn't say anything about it.  She catches her oldest boy (3) sneaking veggies from the plate when he thinks she's not looking!  You're doing it right, girl.