Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2016 | Create

We are more than a month into 2016, but I feel as though I am only just now finding my footing. January was rough going at our house. Stomach bug, freezing temps (I took E to a well-check in "feels like -10" degree temps), and then all four of us being struck down by another illness that just wouldn't quit. I know it will still be wintry and cold for weeks to come, but it feels like a victory just to have made it through January. February, welcome!

When I tried to think of a word or intention for 2016, I had trouble narrowing it down between create and connect. I have taken big steps back from social media this year so I can better focus on the things I love. A logical next step would be to prioritize connecting to friends and family through more personal forms of communication. But as I continued to contemplate the year ahead, I decided I didn't want to put that pressure on myself. As an introvert who spends all day "on" with my children, when bedtime rolls around I need to disappear into a book and have some time with no social input. I have still set goals for myself to reach out to close friends more often via email, texts, and phone calls, but I don't want it to be the overarching focus of my year.

Instead, I decided to turn my attention toward something I used to do all the time--create. My creative projects have fallen by the wayside since having children. I used to play the piano, collage, write, knit, etc. Now? Almost never.

So here's where I'd like to be at the end of the year:

Have a basic grasp of calligraphy and/or hand-lettering
I want to eventually create art for my home by putting quotes on canvas (similar to this). I know it will take a lot of practice to get to the point where I want to showcase my work in our home, and I'm ready to begin.

Writing regularly
I would like to write more for the blog, but also just for myself. I used to write at the time as a way to sort through my thoughts, but I haven't made time for that kind of personal writing in years. I miss it.

Playing piano again
This one won't happen until after we buy a house and either (1) bring my childhood piano to our new house or (2) buy a piano off Craigslist. I am not sure which we will do, but once we have one I want set up a plan to play regularly--maybe even taking lessons. This will be a project for the second half of they year as I don't want to figure out the logistics of moving and tuning a piano twice.

Collaging
I used to make collages for myself and friends on a somewhat regular basis. I find the process incredibly soothing and the end result satisfying. At times, it feels a bit silly, but it is the kind of silliness that I love. Back when I was trying to woo Neil I made him a collage for his birthday. Less than two months later, we were dating. Do I need further proof of the power of the mighty collage?

So when exactly do I plan on fitting in these creative pursuits? The evenings have never been a good time for to do anything beyond reading and talking. I don't have the mental bandwidth or desire to schedule these activities after the kids are in bed. Mornings are ideal, but my children wake up so early that I don't think I can regularly get up before them without crashing in the afternoon. I see three windows of time to make it happen:

(1) Naps are long gone for my eldest, but HP is once again resting in his room for an hour every afternoon. There was a dark period of our lives where that rest was not happening for a variety of uninteresting reasons, but it is over--all the rejoicing!

(2) E has decided to tolerate the childcare at our local Y (!). Now on the two mornings HP is in preschool, I can drop her off and use the time read, write, or craft.

(3) The weekends already feel full with family time and procuring and prepping food for the upcoming week, but I know I could carve out some time for myself if Neil and I planned it in advance.

I am excited to make more time for creativity after years of neglecting that part of my life. 2016, let's do this!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Best books I read in 2015

It's my annual reading round-up time! I read a lot the first half of the year, then had a two month slump where I read almost nothing (thank you, moving!), then got back into it last few months of the year. Here are my favorites, in the order I read them (titles with an asterisk=five stars, ones without=four):

*Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Gawande's latest book may be the most thought-provoking book on my list. Immediately after I read it I had Neil do the same so we could discuss. It explores the state of eldercare in the country--what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, why it is the way it is, and possible solutions. The most interesting question to me was how to balance what children want for their aging parents (safety) and what the parents want for themselves (freedom and autonomy). It made me think about how I want to age and die in a society that prefers not to discuss those topics.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

This one is the third book of four in the Raven Boys series (the fourth comes out this spring!). I read all three in early 2016, and it is a rare series where each book is better than the last. It is YA fantasy fiction, so if that is not your jam, then you should skip this series, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Funky, interesting characters, an unusual plot premise, and quality writing.

*All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

It is no surprise that this book one the Pulitzer as I found myself savoring every word as I read it. It is a WWII story, but so much more. Who is good? Who is evil? How would we respond to the kinds of moral questions that defined that era? It is depressing, but in a way that connects us more deeply to humanity. Beautiful, beautiful prose that elegantly wove together multiple story lines.

*Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This one was a book club read for two different book clubs (one in Austin and one in Bloomington), and with good reason. It was well-written and provided plenty of fodder for discussion. The premise: the world's infrastructure collapses after a flu epidemic kills off most of the population--what does civilization look like twenty years later? In reading the book, it became clear to me that I would not be a survivor; I do not have the instincts and quick wits required. Neil on the other hand would make it through unscathed.

*Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Genova tells the story of fictional Alice, a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's. I have thought about Alzheimer's from the perspective of loved ones before, but never from the point of view of the person experiencing it--at least not as deeply and intimately as I did through this book. Heartbreaking, but worth the read.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I have enjoyed all of Rubin's books, but this one more than most. It is a quick read with many useful tidbits, strategies, and anecdotes on how to make the type of changes you want in your life. I love that she doesn't have a "one-size fits all" approach, but emphasizes knowing yourself and what strategies would work best for you. I also recommend her podcast, Happier.

*How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber

Oh, parenting books, how I both love and hate you. But this is one of the best. So much of it is in line with RIE philosophy (see Janet Lansbury's site for more on RIE). Reading the book was just what I needed after the move to realign my actions with my values in the parenting realm. I think it is one that I will reread every few years to remind myself of the kind of parent I want to be.

*Alif the Unseen by Willow G. Wilson

I likely never would have read this book if it had not been the pick for my online book club. Abby's pick was such a pleasant surprise. It explored the themes of religion, tradition, and feminism in an unnamed Middle Eastern country from the perspective of a teenage hacker. You have to be willing to suspend disbelief and commit to the story, but if you do, you will not be sorry.

*Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Friends, if you have not read this book, run to your nearest library and remedy that situation immediately. It is without question the best book that I read in 2015. Every person I know that has read it has also loved it. The book explores the idea of virtual reality and life lived online. Are we more of our true selves online? Or less? How well do we know people virtually? It is filled with 80s trivia and references, so I think it would be most fully appreciated by a video-game lover born in he early 70s, but I had no problem loving it with limited cultural knowledge of the era. What else can I say? Interesting, diverse characters, beautiful storytelling--I couldn't put it down.

The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

This is the book that had me talking about microbes and poop for weeks on end. The book itself was really well done for a health/science book. The authors were upfront about what we do know about the microbiome and what we don't. They clearly explained the limitations of the research, while still stating what we can do with the knowledge that is available. After reading it I was inspired to start brewing my own kombucha (again--we did this before HP was born but then haven't since), making our own yogurt, and culturing kefir at home. Also, lots of fiber. For my birthday I want to get my poop tested by the American Gut Project. Happy birthday to me!

Honorable Mention (other books I gave four stars):

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money by Ron Liber
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Fire by Kristin Cashore
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielson
Trash by Andy Mulligan

For more, see my favorite books from 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2015 | A look back

Before I started writing this post I went back and re-read my post about my intentions for 2015. I was surprised by how spot on I was with what I expected. There were many, many wonderful moments and I feel like I did my best to soak up the good in this stage of life. But it was also very, very hard. Here are some highlights from the year in list form:

  • Neil and I both turned thirty.
  • Neil applied for and got a job in Bloomington, Indiana.
  • We celebrated six years of marriage.
  • HP turned three.
  • We moved across the country.
  • We sold our house.
  • E turned one.
  • Neil studied for (and passed!!) the Professional Engineering (PE) Exam.

If I were to summarize the thoughts/sentiments/activities that dominated 2015, they would be:

Parenting two small children

Raising an infant and a three-year old is hard work. I frequently needed to remember my words for the year (this moment), take a deep breath, and embrace what was right in front of me: exhaustion, joy, craziness, frustration, sweetness, and chaos--I experienced them all, often in the same day (or hour).

Having a baby again was both a challenge and a joy. So many things were easier the second time around (we know what we're doing!), and also harder (there are two of them!). We know that E is our last child, so were able to appreciate her in all of her lovely infant-ness. One of the biggest highlights of the year was watching her and HP interact as she has grown. As much as I loved her infancy, I am thrilled to be leaving the baby days behind and moving into the next phase of life as a family of four.

Moving

At the start of the year, I had no idea that our days in Austin were so numbered. Early in the year we decided that Neil would start actively looking for jobs elsewhere (here are some of our reasons why), but we were very particular about the type of place we wanted to move and did not know when the right thing would come along. But here we are, and happily so.

Solo-parenting

Neil taking the PE dominated the last half of our year. From August until the end of October he was studying in every spare moment. I wish that statement was an exaggeration, but it's not. Every night once the kids were in bed he would pull out his books and study. Same thing on the weekends. I ended up picking up the slack around the house, taking over dish duty (usually his responsibility), and doing more parenting on the weekend so he could study. 

Really, the whole year felt like a lot of solo-parenting. In Austin I took on more childcare because he was applying for jobs, then applying for the PE, then fixing up the house to sell. Once we moved, he went right into studying for the PE. It is only in the last two months of the year that we've found any kind of new normal. I am looking forward to continuing to find a better balance in the evenings and on the weekends in the upcoming year.

Sleep deprivation

So very, very little sleep was had in 2015. A week or so ago both kids slept through the night and I turned to Neil and asked, "Has that ever happened before?!" I know it has, but I can count the number of times on one hand. And I wouldn't need all the fingers. E has been our early riser (oh, hello 4:45 a.m., how are you?), and HP has been waking up multiple times as night. Sigh. I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. 2016, may you be filled with many hours and nights of uninterrupted sleep.

The next thing

There were many times this year where it felt like we were waiting to get through "one more thing" before life could return to normal. Applying for jobs, packing up the house, applying for the PE, moving, unpacking the house, taking the PE... And now we've arrived. Thank goodness.

Good

Despite all the craziness, the lack of sleep, the big life changes, and the never-ending needs of two small children, things have felt good. Sometimes in the evenings I will just look at Neil and say, "Isn't life good?" We have two amazing kids, we have found the place where we want to put down roots, we have a supportive community of friends and family... Quite simply--we are happy.

So if 2015 brought that much happiness and joy, I can only imagine how amazing 2016 will be. Right now, it looks shiny, new, and full of possibilities.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Social media: A new approach for a new year

Just before the holidays, I decided I needed a break from social media. I noticed that after I had spent any length of time staring at my feeds, I felt worse than I did before. It is so easy to sit down after a long day of parenting and mindlessly scroll. But when I stopped to ask myself if I was gaining anything from the experience, the answer was no. So I deactivated my Facebook account and uninstalled Instagram from my phone.

One thing I have learned from reading Gretchen Rubin's books is that I am a textbook abstainer. It is much easier for me to not get on Facebook at all than it is for me to regulate myself. Taking a break showed me that I don’t miss it when it's gone. Now, instead of falling into the rabbit hole of my feeds, I find myself picking up a book, or writing, or texting a friend, or talking to Neil--all of which are preferable to spending time on Facebook. This last weekend, while talking to my wise friend Abby, I decided to delete my account altogether. It may seem a bit scorched earth, but I am confident that it is the right decision for me.

Facebook is touted as a great way to keep in touch with friends near and far. I do know more about acquaintances lives through Facebook, but I haven't found that it helps me deepen those relationships. I keep in touch with a good number of out-of-town friends over the phone and email, which I plan to continue. If anything, I think being off of Facebook will help me connect more to the people I love because when I am seeking connection I am going to call, text, email, or (gasp!) arrange to see someone in person.

Facebook has permeated so many aspects of our lives that even though I wanted to quit, I kept thinking of reasons I should stay on. For example, I have found that here Facebook is used more than Craigslist (which was not the case in Austin) to access the local secondhand market. Solution: before deleting my account, I added Neil (the very definition of a moderator) to a handful of  local buy/sell/trade groups.

So here's where social media and I stand right now:

  • I deleted my Twitter and Pinterest accounts, neither of which I ever used.
  • I deleted my Facebook account, which I used far too much.
  • I culled the list of blogs I follow on Feedly to the ones I am truly excited to read.
  • I deleted the Instagram app from my phone, with the intention of reinstalling it in the future.

I have not deleted Instagram because I do find enjoyment from that feed. When I go back to it, I plan to be even more intentional about who I follow. For example, I follow several healthy food blogs. I love the content in theory, but I always move right past the photos. When I want food inspiration, I prefer seek it out rather than have it come to me. I am trying to be honest with myself about what I really love in my feed, and what I scroll past, then seeking out more of the former.

Before I go back to Instagram, I want to set some clear boundaries with myself about when I will use it. Ideally, I would scroll through just once a day. I like the idea of doing it in the evening once the kids are in bed and the house is picked up, but I find that when I pick up the phone it becomes hard to put it down. Perhaps that will be less of a problem now that Facebook will not be an option? I am waiting to go back to Instagram until I can find a sustainable solution for myself.

At this stage in my life I have precious few moments to myself and I want to use them in ways that truly bring me joy. I know that my approach is not for everyone and that other people find a lot of value in Facebook. For me, Facebook was becoming a distraction and a net negative in my life and cutting the cord altogether works for my personality. In a few months or years I may change my mind, but for now, I am happy to be spending less time on my phone and more time engaged with what's right in front of me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Life lately




Friends, it has been a rough start to 2016. A stomach bug has been going through our family. I won't go into details (because who wants or needs to hear that?), but let's just say I'm ready to erase the last few days from my memory. E has somehow remained unscathed (may it continue!), but the rest of us have been limping along. One upside: both HP and E are napping right now, which never happens.

In happier news, Christmas was low-key and lovely. HP is still so sweet about opening each gift and wanting to play with it for awhile before moving on to the next one. It was just the four of us so we had a lazy morning and took our time. When E needed a nap, HP and Neil headed to the park and played for a solid two hours before returning home to do more presents. The biggest hit was the used wagon. Both kids loved to ride in it. I loved hearing HP say, "E, get in, E! I'll give you a ride! I'll hold it still for you to climb in!"

I recently finished reading The Last Child in the Woods after reading Kelsey's list of parenting resources. Many of the books/sites I have found most helpful were on her list, so when I ran across one I hadn't read I put it on hold at the library. To be honest, I found the writing to be a bit of a slog to get through, but the content was fascinating. We've always loved being outside with the kids, but reading it has renewed my desire to find nature in our neighborhood and explore. It has also made me think about the type of property we want to own in terms of access to natural places.

Speaking of buying a house, we are in the process of getting pre-approved for a mortgage and comparing closing costs and rates across companies. Not exactly fun, but exciting to think about and plan for buying our (hopefully) forever home.

And the biggest news: I am taking a three-day trip away from both kids to visit a good friend from college. This will be the first time I've spent more than a handful of hours away from E. She will be 15 months, which is about the same age HP was the first time I left him (also a three day/two night trip, that time to NYC). I cannot put into words how excited I am to talk, eat delicious food, go on walks, and talk some more. Of course the best part will be catching up with Abby, but I have to admit that I have been day-dreaming about the plane ride (no wrangling kids! the luxury!) ever since I booked my ticket. Also: two nights of uninterrupted sleep. Priceless. Sleep has been less than ideal (read: terrible) at our house and I am not sad to be leaving that behind for a weekend.

I have lots of thoughts on 2015 and goals for 2016 that I'll share soon. The turning of the new year always carries with it such optimism and motivation. Our family has gotten off to a slow start this year, but we are now on the mend and I am ready to turn my focus to harnessing that positive new year energy and making some changes.

Happy 2016!