Monday, May 1, 2017

Making time to read


Reading books is a favorite pastime of mine. Over the years I have read with varying degrees of frequency, but it has been part of my life since the days of of Sweet Valley Kids.

I distinctly remember a time my freshman year of college when I took a break from studying and read The Secret Life of Bees. I hungrily devoured the pages in my dorm room and thought, I've missed this. Reading got me through lonely times abroad, kept me sane through graduate school, and gives me an anchor in these days of parenting young children.

I read because I love it, but there are side benefits as well. I firmly believe that if I want my kids to grow up to be readers, then they need to see me and Neil reading for fun--which basically translates into an excuse for me to read during the day under the guise of good parenting. #winning

I fit in reading whenever I can, but usually in the mornings if I manage to get up before the kids, during rest time if I am not writing or working on a podcast (rest time = what happens when your kids stop napping but everyone still needs down time), and post-bedtime. If I've had a hard day, then I often sneak off to read a few pages after dinner while Neil is with the kids.

Here are my tips to fitting in more reading into the busy lives we lead:

(1) Figure out what you can cut out. For me it has been television and social media. I still use Instagram and watch shows with Neil some evenings, but quitting Facebook last year eliminated a major time-suck.

(2) Always have multiple books to read. I like to read more than one at once so that whether I am in the mood for fiction or non-fiction I have something ready to read. I have also taken on the responsibility of getting books at the library I know Neil will enjoy too as I have discovered that if one of us doesn't have something to read, we are more likely to watch a show after the kids are bed, but if we both have something, we happily read instead.

(3) Don't be a book snob. Some books I read are more high-brow, while others are decidedly not. I read young adult fiction, fantasy, and even romance if the mood strikes. I also read Pultizer-winners and my fair share of cerebral non-fiction. But not all the time. Because sometimes, I just want to get lost in a story and turn my brain off.

(4) Have a reading goal. I was surprised to find how much I enjoy setting a reading goal for the year on Goodreads and then regularly checking in to see how I'm doing. It is not that I wouldn't read otherwise, but it makes me take note when I am in a reading slump and get back to it.

(5) Join a book club. I am a part of two book clubs and I love how they challenge me to read something I wouldn't pick up otherwise. They also make me to think about the books differently. I love how often my opinion on a book changes after discussing it at book club.

(6) Have a podcast that requires you to talk about books every two weeks. Oh wait, does this not apply to everyone? Knowing that I need to have a book to discuss on Friendlier has helped me prioritize reading when I otherwise might scroll through social media.

I would love to hear what you're reading and how you find the time to fit it in.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Embracing winter update

Thanks to Kady for this amazing piece!
We intentionally moved away from the Texas heat to somewhere with four seasons. I am happy to be away from the oppressive heat, but I still need to mentally prepare myself to face the coldest months. This fall I was inspired to try and live seasonally and embrace winter. To achieve that ends, I have been focusing on cultivating cozy and channeling the hygge of the Danes.

If you would have asked me two weeks ago, how I was coping with winter, I would have told you that I was doing extremely well. We managed to avoid the sicknesses in January that plagued us last year (though we have not been so fortunate this month). The temperatures were frequently in the single digits and teens--or lower with the windchill--but we were still biking and getting out of the house. The dark often felt harder to face than the cold, but even that it is easier to accept after the winter solstice. The days may be short, but we are moving toward the light.

Then this past week happened with its sunny skies and temperatures in the sixties. We were able to open the windows in the house, bask in the sunlight, hang laundry up outside, and spend as many of our waking minutes outdoors as possible.

Before this unseasonable weather, I had thought I was fine winter, but I think I had actually just forgotten what I was missing. Now that I have gotten a taste of the warmer weather, I don't want to go back to bundling up in layers every time we step out of the house.

I may be eager for spring's arrival, but I can still recognize the good in winter: the kids' excitement at experiencing snow, the holidays, books read by the fire, soups for dinner most every night, plenty of reasons for homebodies like ourselves to hunker down, and the fact that I am no longer in a place where the never-ending summer sucks the joy from my life.

Intellectually I can recognize the upside of winter. But emotionally I am ready for the warmth, new life outside, and entire days lived in the park. The beauty of four seasons is that none of them last too long; just when you are tired of the current season, the next one arrives.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On being settled. Or not.


I thought I wanted to be settled, to live with both feet firmly planted and no move on the horizon. When we were looking to leave Austin our goal was to find a place to put down roots. If not our forever place, then at least a place that had the possibility of being a forever place.

Fast forward to last week when I was looking into jobs in New Zealand, Canada, Montana (hello, mountains!), and Denmark. I was texting my mom--who enjoys discussing travel and new locations as much as I do--when she made this comment:
See, you really don't totally love being settled. There's always something else out there.
Huh. I had always envisioned myself as someone who would find a spot and stay. I thought once I found a place I loved, I would never want to leave. In some ways, that's true: the longer I am here the more connections I make and the more I "love where I live" to borrow a phrase from Melody Warnick's book. But the excitement I feel when contemplating traveling to and living in new locations has not faded the way I imagined it would.

The most compelling reason to stay is for our kids. Neither Neil or I moved cities until we left for college (or in his case, grad school) and would like to offer that experience to HP and E. At the same time, if we moved they might learn more quickly what I have found to be true as an adult: you can be happy anywhere and that there are good people everywhere.

Despite all of my Googling and daydreaming of foreign locations, we are unlikely to leave Bloomington anytime soon. We like the community, our church, our neighbors, and Neil likes his job. If we leave, it would not be to get away, but to explore and embrace a new adventure.

So far I have lived in five states and two foreign countries. Moving is hard. It is hard to say goodbye to friends, to find where you fit in your new community, and to make new friends. But all these moves have taught me something else: it doesn't take that long to feel settled.

The thought of moving again doesn't fill me with dread; it excites me. Maybe I don't need to be so settled after all.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Staying informed


I used to feel informed and in-the-know about what was happening in the world, primarily from regular NPR listening. In the year before HP’s birth I regularly listened to both Morning Edition and All Things Considered. My listening continued after HP’s arrival, especially in the evenings. Neil would come home and watch HP while I cooked dinner and listened to the news. Then E entered the scene, and it all fell apart.

I was woefully uninformed about current events the first year after E's birth. My world felt confined to the immediacy of what was happening inside the four walls of our home. In my sleep-deprived state I was both unwilling and unable to take on the world's problems in addition to my own. For a time, that was fine.

Then 2016 happened and the pendulum swung the other direction. Our family had settled into a regular rhythm, which gave me more time and energy to pay attention to current events. That extra time coupled with an election I couldn't look away from led to the opposite problem: I was consuming too much news and felt overloaded.

I am still trying to find that right balance. I want to stay informed and engaged--there is so much happening that requires information and action!--but I don't want it to take over my life in an unhealthy way. If anything I am still on the "too much news" side of things. It feels manageable, but could use some tweaking to make it more sustainable. Here's how I'm keeping up these days:
  • Subscription to Time magazine. I love that as a weekly publication, the news is pre-digested. There is more analysis, synthesis, and bigger picture thinking than found in the 24-hour news cycle.
  • Subscription to our local paper. We started this about six months ago but I wish we had subscribed sooner. How else I would find out who was running for the school board and other local offices?
  • The Skimm. This is a news-recap that comes to my inbox M-F. It gives me the headlines of what's happening in the world, both politically and culturally. It is geared toward millennial women, which is fine for me, but might be too casual an approach for others. I appreciate that they also recap big pop culture and sports news. Without it, I wouldn't even know when the Super Bowl was (not an exaggeration).
  • NPR politics podcast. I resisted listening to this for awhile, but now I can't live without it. It keeps me up to date on political happenings with insightful analysis and perspectives from journalists in thick of it.
  • Subscription to the New York Times online. Every evening I sit down and sift through the top stories and "most popular" section. Since the election it has felt even more important to support quality journalism like the NYT.
  • Watching John Oliver's Last Week Tonight on YouTube. It only comes out once a week (or less) and it is something Neil and I both enjoy watching. I find most all television news insufferable, but I find this to be funny and informative. It has been on hiatus since just after the election and I am looking forward to its return.
I am not able to keep up with all of the above all the time. I often end up skimming the front section of the local paper and let Time pile up for a week or two before sitting down and reading. I most religiously read the NYT and the Skimm and always listen to the latest NPR politics podcast.
How are you managing to stay informed without losing your mind in these crazy times?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Life lately


Struggling to write. The news of the world is so dark that what I have to say here feels trivial in comparison. I want to keep showing up and be in the habit of writing, but it is hard to feel like it matters.

Thinking about Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar. She took a critical look at many of the choices I have made (staying home with my kids, intentionally downsizing, DIY cooking, etc.) in a way that made me think, not get defensive.

Relishing in glorious, glorious sleep. My children now regularly sleep past six a.m. This has been the dream for so long and it is every bit as wonderful as I imagined it would be.

Working on a new creative project and feeling energized by the possibilities.

Excited to visit a college friend in Nashville to our celebrate our birthdays. It may still be four weeks away, but anticipation is half the fun, right?

Re-watching the final season of The Office with Neil. I loved the early seasons, but the last one is my favorite. Feeling all the feels about Jim and Pam.

Loving the imaginary play happening in our house. HP usually assigns roles (mommy bunny, baby bunny, and friend mouse, for example). E is adamant about declaring a role for herself if she does not like one assigned. If we call her "E" while they are playing she'll correct me: "No! I am not E! I am a CHICKEN!" Okay then.

Inspired to be politically engaged. I signed up for a reproductive justice workshop on how to advance women's rights in the current political environment, have been calling my representatives, and attended a local protest against Trump's executive order on immigration (pictured above). It feels small in the face of what is happening, but it is something.