A week of lunch break adventures

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Monday: View from the forbidden parking lot (well, not so much forbidden as highly discouraged). Slight lunch disaster when my blackberries bled into my lunchbox, but on the upside, I read two chapters of a new book. It was cool and windy outside, but perfect inside my (dusty, I’ll admit it) vehicle. Duration: 40 minutes.

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Tuesday: Another day, another salad. The weather ended up being nicer than expected, so I went to the park next to the library.  Read one and a half chapters of my book, then went to have coffee with a friend. Duration: 2 hours. LOVELY.

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Wednesday: My parents’ backyard. Weather is definitely cooling down, but it was pleasant in the sun. Bonus: My mother got me a Trisha-friendly treat for dessert and let me vent about life. Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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Thursday: I decided to come home for lunch because hello, I have a nice porch and a mountain view. Plus the kittens were terribly excited to see me. Also, I finished my book and have no idea what to read next so I’ve started Harry Potter. Again. Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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Friday: Trisha-friendly salad in a favorite coffee shop to reward myself for kicking ass all week. The place was PACKED and I was self-conscious about taking a photo, so you get a super extreme salad closeup. Duration: 25 minutes. (Too crowded, left my Kindle at home and Frieda ran out of battery so I couldn’t even surf the web.)

Epilogue: I ended up being slightly behind in my hours this week at work, thanks to long lunches, but I have no regrets — it was a great week, and I noticed my overall mental stability grew with each passing day. I also noticed I’d come back ready to tackle my next task and felt generally happier. I’ve written “Take a real lunch break” in my planner for the coming week … so obviously now I have to.

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The life-changing magic of taking an honest to God lunch break

In my last post, I wrote about how I chose to bring one measly plate of deviled eggs to a family reunion so I could take a much-needed break after a busy week at work.

And then, I immediately forgot everything I’d learned (the world will not end if you take care of yourself!) and basically ran myself into the ground once Monday hit.

You know, it’s alarming how often the lessons that show up in my life repeat themselves. I am an incredibly slow learner.

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That awkward moment when you’re the idiot.

Months ago, I discovered that my whole day goes better when I take a designated lunch break. I don’t need to go anywhere exciting or eat anything special; I just need to get out of the office and away from that noise. When the weather is nice (and wildfire smoke isn’t an issue — sad but true reality), I like to take my lunch to the library park and read. When the weather is terrible, I get in my car, drive to a nearby parking lot (with a sign that clearly states no loitering is allowed, oops) and read. (Sensing a theme?) Sometimes I’ll go to a favorite coffee shop, order an Americano, and eat in the corner. Or go to my parents’, who have a park of a backyard (bonus: Mom makes me coffee. Why don’t I do that more often?).

Again, it doesn’t matter what I do, just that I leave the office.

When I don’t make an effort to take a lunch break, I end up eating at my desk. And that involves editing, answering emails, taking phone calls, dealing with people who come to the front counter without an appointment, sending pages to the composing team (that’s who lays the paper out for us in actual paper format. Magic!) and printing finished pages to edit … and then the cycle repeats until all of a sudden, it’s 5 p.m. and I’m useless.

I go through phases with this: I’m either really good at stepping away or I simply don’t. And for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t. By Friday night, I was sick — exhausted and dizzy, anxiety sky high and stomach hurting. As I lay on my bed, I wanted to slap myself for being so thick and stupid. I KNOW that the world — let alone the office — will not end if I take a lunch break. I KNOW that I need to take one. I KNOW what happens when I don’t — my body makes sure that I don’t take on too much by making it impossible to function when I get to that point. I even KNOW that it’s all vanity that makes me think I’m so important and instrumental that I can’t even leave for an hour.

And yet.

So my goal this week: Take all the lunch breaks. I’ll be back next week (next weekend?) with a photo gallery of my adventures. Um, because I’m afraid I will start out strong and then peter out by Wednesday, and I know that if I make this into a blog assignment, I’ll actually do it.

Be prepared for a lot of photos of my Kindle, I guess.

P.S. Bonus tip: The easiest time to make my lunch for the next day? Dinnertime. Two birds, one stone.

In which I go to Eric’s family reunion with only a plate of deviled eggs

Life has been interesting lately in the Walker household, and by “interesting,” I mean “busy” and “stressful.” Eric has taken on an expanded role at his office (hopefully just until the end of the year because he’s essentially doing two jobs) and the newspaper has instituted deadlines that are impossible to actually achieve … unless you’re okay with living in the office, sleeping under your desk and ignoring absolutely everything that makes life worth living

I’m not okay with that.

Coincidentally, I’ve been working on pacing myself this year, both at home and at the office, as well as instituting boundaries. I need a certain number of introvert hours each week or I get cranky as hell. It’s like I’m 3 instead of 46, and that’s just embarrassing for everyone.

Both the pacing myself and the instituting boundaries strike me as fairly minimalistic practices, although really it’s just self-preservation. I cannot do everything and I cannot have it all. That was a hard lesson to learn, but it’s made life so much easier since I’ve embraced the fact that work-life balance does not exist and perfection is unattainable.

I’m either at work or at home. I’m either writing articles or filling inside pages. I’m either cleaning my house or prepping/cooking meals. I’m either focused on self-care or focused on my family. I get to pick one off that list at any given time. I’m skating through an obstacle course, and most of the time I’m brushing myself off after taking a terrific spill, but the point is that I get up again.

I guess?

Anyway, all of that is to say that, coming off a stressful week and into a busy weekend, I decided to take care of myself first and my duties second.

Um, which is how I ended up at Eric’s family reunion with only a plate of 12 deviled eggs. (Or six actual eggs. I didn’t even double the recipe.)

I let Johanna decide what we were going to bring. She requested a raspberry salad — one of those 1950s kind of things with a pretzel and sugar crust, a cream cheese and whipped cream center, and raspberry gelatin on top. It’s her favorite. I love my child, but I did not have this particular dish in me, so I asked her to pick something else. She did, and good naturedly, too. I hit the jackpot with that kid, honestly.

Because Johanna has an eye for detail and is always up for a project, she did most of the work on putting the eggs together. She did a beautiful job, not that I’m biased. And also not because I didn’t have to do it myself.

I’m not going to lie, I had second thoughts as the reunion time drew closer Saturday, but it was too late: All I had was my plate of deviled eggs, the lunch I’d packed for myself* and our reusable tableware. I had to push down the negative litany running through my head — I should have done more, I should have planned better, I should have picked something more substantial, I’ve embarrassed Eric, everyone is going to think I’m a loser — and remember that I DID THIS ON PURPOSE because, hello, I HAVE BOUNDARIES.

All caps so you know I was serious.

Yes, I chose sleeping in and reading to killing myself on a dish I can’t eat just to impress a bunch of people who aren’t going to judge me anyway.

So I shook my head, decided it was all just immersion therapy** and walked into the reunion with my head held high.

And here’s the thing: The deviled eggs looked right at home on the buffet table. They all got eaten. No one commented about it at all. Eric was certainly not embarrassed. And Jo was super pleased to be able to enjoy deviled eggs that weren’t “ruined” by the addition of relish. (She’s a purist.)

It was a good lesson, really.

*To review, I have sensitivities to wheat, gluten (and gluten free items, which I find slightly hilarious), corn, cane and maple sugars, lactose (but not dairy, explain that to me), nightshades, yeast, peanuts and almonds, and anything artificial. Even things like apples and pears, which is a major bummer. So a potluck situation was not happening. Yeah, I could have made a dish I could eat instead of just packing a lunch … but why punish everyone else?

**Every time I get into a situation where I start to feel anxious, I pretend it’s immersion therapy a la “What About Bob?” (Actually, I think that was death therapy, but let’s not go nuts.) Eh, it works.

Embracing the space

“In the west, making a space complete means placing something there. But with tea ceremonies, or Zen, things are left incomplete on purpose to let the person’s imagination make the space complete.” — Naoki Numahata

I was cruising around the internet recently*, randomly searching links on minimalism (like you do) and came across a couple interesting posts. One was AN ARTICLE on Japanese minimalism, and one was from ZEN HABITS about what a minimalist space might look like.

The first struck me because it’s minimalism in the extreme. It’s the sort of thing I fantasize about because it seems so … peaceful. It’s not do-able in my particular world, at least not at this time. And maybe never. Although if I say that out loud, the fantasy goes away, so shhhhhhhhh.

What I liked about the quote above, though, in particular, is that it forces the question, why do we feel the need to fill our spaces with so much stuff?

Why are we so afraid of blank spaces? Of leaving things incomplete?

From the same article:

Definitions (of minimalism) vary, because the goal is not just decluttering but re-evaluating what possessions mean, to gain something else …

I liked this because I think a lot of times, minimalism articles talk about the what — shedding stuff — without talking about the why. Maybe because it’s so much easier to concentrate on one thing at a time, or maybe because everyone has different reasons and they aren’t all tangible, the way that decluttering is. But the why is really the crux of the whole thing. Before you can declutter, you need to find your why.

I know, I know. But so much of this is mental. You can declutter all day long, but if you don’t define your why, then more stuff will come in.

Sometimes I worry about articles like this, though, just because they’re a bit of minimalist porn — those pretty pictures of clean, organized spaces can bring about feelings of inadequacy — but I liked that this one made me think about minimalism in a new way. I liked the suggested questions. The hinted answers, maybe not quite as much. It’s hard to be so truthful with yourself.

Because blank space is scary, yo. (That’s why I am a meditation failure, incidentally.) Although I can tell you this: When my mother comes to visit and inevitably comments on how clean my house is, I get a big kick out of that. My house isn’t clean — there’s just not a lot too look at, which makes it seem tidier than it is.

There’s one of my whys right there.

*

The second article is actually an example of the sort of posts I just … I don’t know. There were many times when I started my minimalist journey where I stalked blogs like this, looking for an idea of what a minimalist lifestyle would entail should I jump off that cliff.

It’s another sort of minimalist porn.

But here’s the thing: You don’t need anyone to tell you what they have in their house and what you need to do to get there, and you don’t have to justify your lifestyle to anyone, either. That’s why I don’t write about “The Seven Kitchen Gadgets You Should Give Up Right Now” or “How To Have A Minimalist Wardrobe.”

Minimalism isn’t hard and fast — remember the quote above, about reevaluating what your possessions mean and what you’ll gain from discarding or keeping them? DO THAT.

No, I’m not oversimplifying it. Grab a notebook, or a blank blog post, or the back of your hand or whatever, and ask yourself what you’d like your space to look and feel like, and how you want it to function. Then make it happen. Edit or don’t edit. Reread what you’ve written when the going gets tough (it will) and you want to give up (you will).

THAT’S how you have a minimalist home. And the beauty of it is that how it looks is completely up to you. Minimalism isn’t a game or a competition. We’re all winners as far as I’m concerned.

And if you do find articles like the one above helpful, awesome! There’s more than one way to figure this all out.

* I started this post in June and have been meaning to get back to it since. Still find it fascinating.

P.S. Summer is winding down in the Walker household — Abby has been back at college for a few weeks now, and Johanna is getting ready to go back after Labor Day (we tend to start classes late in Oregon, no idea why). I love summer and am sad to see it wane, but I’m also looking forward to a more defined … routine, schedule, purpose, can’t think of the exact word I want … that fall tends to bring as the days get shorter and cooler.

Ah, time. It just keeps marching forward.

‘Piling up: Drowning in plastic’

“There is plastic in your food. Plastic in your sea salt. And there is plastic coming out of your tap.” — Roland Geyer, professor of environmental science at UC Santa Barbara

Eric and I just watched “Piling up: Drowning in plastic” on CBS Sunday Morning, reported by David Pogue, and I knew I had to share (HERE — both video and written story).

This is a comprehensive look at why plastic is such a problem, not only in the United States, but worldwide — how plastics got their start (I had no idea it was invented in the ’50s), how they’re recycled, why China stopped taking co-mingled materials, plastics in the ocean, how much is recycled …

It was eye-opening, and I consider my eyes pretty wide open to begin with.

It ended on a hopeful note, which is another reason why I knew I needed to share. From our buddy Professor Geyer, above:

“We banned leaded gasoline; we managed to tackle ozone depletion successfully. So, I think humankind has a long history of creating big environmental problems, but I think we’re also starting to have a track record of solving environmental problems.”

The takeaway: There ARE solutions. We need to take personal responsibility for the plastics we consume, but corporations do, too, and many already are (which means it’s more likely to succeed). And it’s not a hopeless situation (although when I see photos of plastic “islands” floating in the ocean, it certainly feels that way).

If you watch/read the article, let me know what you think. I’m all hyped up about this.

A very minimalist summer

The calendar is telling me that I have less than a month left with Abby at home before she heads back to college … and I am so grateful that it’s THIS year and not last, when we were all so sad with the prospect of her leaving. This year, she knows what to expect. She has a class schedule she’s excited about. She has friends. She knows the ins and outs of campus.

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Vacation patio views.

And we all know that it’s okay that she leaves because she will come back. It’s been wonderful having her home, but she has a life that she needs to lead and experiences she needs to have … not here. She’s looking forward to going back — which makes it so much easier to let her go.

That’s not what I wanted to write about at all! I see the words are doing what they want this morning.

Here’s what I planned to write about: This has been a very minimalist summer and I could not be happier.

I have purposely kept the calendar light with the intent of enjoying the simple pleasures that come with an Oregon summer: Reading on the deck, taking walks around the neighborhood, spending time with family, picking blueberries in the garden, lots of coffee, meals outside on the porch (or in the park across the street from my office), going to the farmers’ market and weekend naps. I’ve been working on setting boundaries and pacing myself — not trying for 24/7 productivity — and I’ve found this has greatly helped my general state of mind.

I’m having fun. I’m balancing what needs to be done with what I want to do. I’m putting what’s important to me (family, health, creative pursuits) at the forefront and letting the rest take care of itself.

What’s helped me do this: I wrote a journal entry about my best memories from summers’ past. From there, I made a list of realistic summertime pleasures I could fit into everyday life (so basically everything I listed above). It’s not going to win any prizes for excitement, but I do feel like I’ve been able to enjoy my favorite season this year instead of watching it slip by.

“It feels like summer,” Johanna said yesterday afternoon as we sat on the porch. Totally agree, kid. This is the best summer we’ve had in years.

P.S. We just got back from our annual trip to Sunriver — another tourist trap of a town — where we spent lazy days reading on the deck, taking walks and visiting coffee shops. It was fantastic. And I’ve been working to incorporate vacation vibes into daily life now too, fresh off this particular experience.

I’ve read several articles on how the key to a simple life is to accept where you are, work with life’s natural rhythms and stay in the present. And I believe that’s true. Right now, I’m on the cusp of turning 46 (my birthday is Thursday) with one kid halfway out the door and the other starting eighth grade, working fulltime and living in the most beautiful area ever (not that I’m biased). I cannot be everything to everybody, including myself, but instead of raging against the machine, I fight the battle of just one day and accept what I have to work with in the moment.

I don’t know, that sounds maybe too simple, but on the other hand, I’m not sure why it has to be hard. 😉

Here’s hoping you’re having a great summer, too!

Simple Year on Instagram

Hello internet friends! Some of you know that before I began writing in this little corner of the blogosphere, I was at The Simple Year, chronicling our family’s attempts to go zero waste in a small town with limited resources.

Which is why I wanted to share this rather exciting news: The Simple Year is now on Instagram (thanks to Hannah, Year 6). Kerry (who started the blog), Kandice (Year 2), Tracy (4), Hannah and I (5) will be sharing our continuing journeys on the various projects we’ve undertaken. You can check it out HERE.

Turns out I may not be taking much of a break this summer after all, but that work will mostly be in a different space. I’ll keep you posted.

And happy summer!