Restarting routines

I am a creature of habit. And I know what they say about routines cutting down on decision fatigue, but really, my days are all the same because that’s the way I like it.

Surprises? No thanks.

Our lives have been, shall we say, a bit on the rogue side lately, with routine completely out the window. And that’s been hard. So this past week, the focus was settling back into normal life. And I mostly succeeded. I worked a full week and managed to cross a few projects off my list. While I didn’t do any FlyLady zones as planned, I did get some general cleaning done, which always makes me feel better. The sun was out and I took lovely lunches out on our deck, soaking it up with an army of cats.

There were a few glitches, like there always are: Jo called in the middle of a coffee date because she wasn’t feeling well and needed me to pick her up from school; not a glitch, just that my grandma was in town and I visited with her instead of doing all that other stuff that needed to be done (eh, sometimes the ol’ list can wait); and everywhere I went, people wanted to ask about my father-in-law and how the family is doing, which comes from a good place on their end, but it’s exhausting retelling the story over and over.

Part of my morning routine involves writing — getting out my planner and seeing what’s on the docket for the day, as well as my main journal to process thoughts and feeling and whatever happened the day before. I’ve been resisting this for the past three weeks, although the rest of my routine is fairly solid. I rarely reread what I write, so it’s not that I am afraid of bogging my future self down with bad memories. I think it’s more denial. Once I write it, it’s real.

This week I’d like to get back on track with ALL of my morning routine … and my evening routine, which I haven’t bothered with for quite some time. I’ve also completely stopped my walk break routine at the office, and that’s going to be a priority as well.

I want to feel normal again, that’s why. I want to feel in control. And I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.

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Let’s get happy*

Spring has never been my strong point.

I’m not one for change — give me sameness any day of the week, and preferably every day of the week — and this includes the seasons. Spring in Oregon is a mixed bag, and that’s hard to plan for: Do I need a rain jacket today or can I get by with a light sweater? Do I dare wear my pretty new mary janes or should I opt for my ankle boots AGAIN? It’s also a busy time at the newspaper because we put out a four-section special insert to coincide with blossoms on the fruit trees … as well as a home and garden insert, a review of business stories and, you know, our regular biweekly editions.

Spring break passes and everything I want is in the future: Abby will be home from school around Mother’s Day and I’m counting the days until the Walker Four is all under one roof again. I’m looking forward to the long, hot, lazy days of summer.

I strive for contentedness each spring — hey, winter is past! The hard part is over! The sun is coming! — but mostly I feel out of sorts, anxious, overwhelmed and detached.

I’m never going to be happy in the spring — I feel like I need to grit my teeth and just get through it — but this year, I am trying something different: Tackling a spring cleaning project.

I’m looking at this as a way to give myself something to focus on that produces tangible results but doesn’t take up a lot of time.

One thing that DOES make me happy is how my house looks when it’s freshly cleaned. We don’t have a lot in our house (thanks, minimalism!), but we live with three cats (hair and dust) and a kid (art projects). We have a woodstove (ash). We live here (a stack of my journals is currently taking up half of the dining room table)!

Which is how I decided on the spring cleaning project: A clean house makes me happy. I am feeling out of sorts. Plans and schemes help me feel more in control. Crossing items off my list makes me feel productive. And I don’t even have to think too hard about it, because the FlyLady already has.**

She has the entire house broken up into sections; each section is the focus of a particular week. The order of the sections never changes. You set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on one task in that one area each day. What you don’t get this time around, you’ll get next time.

I don’t know, I find that very comforting.

I found myself looking forward to setting my timer and tackling a job in the front entrance or dining room (week one zone). I detail-cleaned our main light switch. I cleaned out five drawers in our hutch and polished the (bottom) front. I dusted underneath the thing (and found a couple of cat toys, which Bean and Goose thoroughly enjoyed for 10 minutes before losing them again). I wiped down moldings and doors and knobs. I got rid of a couple of candles and a wobbly platter that I’ve been hanging onto out of guilt (I spent A LOT of money on that thing and have always regretted the purchase).

This week is the kitchen, and I already know which areas I’m going to focus on for some serious cleaning and decluttering: Two catch-all cupboards, one by the fridge, the other by the stove.

I may not be happy this spring. But I feel like I’ve at least got a plan to get through it until summer hits and I can breathe again.

*My title today comes from a song by The Cure: “Doing the Unstuck” from the 1992 “Wish” album. I like the manic hopefulness of it. Sometimes you have to talk yourself into being happy.

**When the girls were little, I found FlyLady — which is also what led me to minimalism. I haven’t followed her system in years, but I remember how helpful it was and am grateful to have it as a resource. I also like how it’s not about perfection, but about getting shit done. I can get behind that.

Paper vs. digital

We’re going to go a different direction with today’s post — and ironically, I’m going to use a digital platform to talk about paper.

I’ve never actually thought much about paper vs. digital formats, I guess because my life naturally involves both. I started blogging on my 39th birthday as a way to deal with having the 40s in my sights, but even before that, most of my working life has revolved around what I produce on a desktop computer screen.

Eric and I got our first home computer in 2001 — Abby was around 2 — and I immediately took to it. I am a fast typer (had to be: English major, history minor, there were a lot of papers going on in my college days) and I enjoyed being able to toss out my thoughts quickly and cleanly. Word docs look so organized!

I have also been an avid journal keeper for … most … of my life. I started at around 10 years old (I was also writing stories in earnest when I was 6, much to the delight of my first grade teacher, who just knew I’d have a writing career. I guess she was sort of right) and kept them religiously until I was 25 or so. Then I just got busy. When the girls were born, I kept journals of the funny things they said while simultaneously writing about how overwhelming young children are. (I’m so happy with my older kids, I can’t even tell you.) And I’d go through phases where I’d keep a personal journal — mostly that was anxiety control, and the thought of rereading any of it isn’t something I’m up for at the present time. I’m in such a better head space now.

All of THAT is just to say that I like and use both formats, the paper and the digital, and I can see the benefits both bring to my life: Sometimes writing longhand is therapeutic; sometimes I want to write quickly and get it all out.

My blogs have served as a bit of a journal from the get-go, and I never really thought about the possibility that any of what I’ve written would ever go away. Until I read “Raiders of the Lost Web” (HERE) about how the internet isn’t exactly forever.

My favorite parts of that article, written by Adrienne LaFrance:

Digital information itself has all kinds of advantages. It can be read by machines, sorted and analyzed in massive quantities, and disseminated instantaneously. “Except when it goes, it really goes,” said Jason Scott, an archivist and historian for the Internet Archive. “It’s gone gone. A piece of paper can burn and you can still kind of get something from it. With a hard drive or a URL, when it’s gone, there is just zero recourse.”

And, later:

“There are now no passive means of preserving digital information,” said Abby Rumsey, a writer and digital historian. In other words, if you want to save something online, you have to decide to save it. Ephemerality is built into the very architecture of the web, which was intended to be a messaging system, not a library.

She concludes:

But the thing unsaid, the fact that unravels even an optimist’s belief in what the web can be, is that the ancient library was eventually destroyed. Not by technology or a lack of it, but by people. Saving something and preventing its destruction are not entirely the same thing.

Huh.

I don’t know that I need to save everything I’ve ever written online right this second and for evermore, but I do like the idea of my grandkids, if I ever end up with any, being able to read my stuff. It’s vanity, of course, thinking that they’ll care or that I have anything to contribute in any possible way, but whatever, I still want that option. So maybe I’ll pursue some sort of paper version of my favorite posts someday.

Because my mother would totally read it even if my own grandkids never materialize. WORTH IT.

It’s interesting to me that right now, my Simple Year co-bloggers and I are working on an anthology that will take a digital media platform and translate it to paper. (Or maybe still digital format, since I wouldn’t mind seeing it available for eReaders.) So I know the process I’d have to undertake to get an anthology of my own work going for those future maybe grandkids. What ticks me off a bit is that had I just written this stuff down in a notebook and not gotten sucked into the idea that digital is better / anyone besides myself would want to read what I’ve written, I wouldn’t have to do anything else besides hand it over at the appropriate time. Um, not that I’m going to stop blogging. VANITY.

And there’s no way I’m transcribing any of those entries in longhand, I can tell you that right now. Plus my handwriting at this point is terrible because all I do is type.

I guess it’s a bit of a war with my minimalism, too, now that I think about it. Of course I’d prefer to write online — nothing physical to have laying around the house. But I also have three paper journals going at the moment: A planner, a bullet journal for daily brain dumps and notes, and a quote book. I like being able to play with these, make them pretty or just scribble. They are whatever I say they are, with no one to please but myself.

And damn! I love journals! I love that paper aspect and how I can go back and read whatever it is I thought important enough to write down without having to scroll through a bunch of screens. There’s a sense of possibility with paper that I don’t get from a blank Word doc. (Word docs symbolize work.)

I have no idea where I’m going with this now that I’ve come to the end of this post. But I like how this aspect of my life is coming to the forefront … that I read an article about the vastness yet limitations of the internet around the time I’m translating my experiences with my zero waste year to paper via the computer screen.

Well, I don’t have a lot of hobbies.

Um, thoughts, feelings, ideas?

Thoughts on Lent and kindness

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Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash.

What does a minimalist liberal devout Catholic who can’t eat anything anyway give up for Lent?

That actually sounds like the start of a bad joke, now that I think about it, and yet, that’s my life. Eh, it could be worse.

The answer: Social media sites (Instagram and Twitter; I have to be on Facebook for my job, but I only look at the newspaper’s page, not my personal account. And I am keeping Snapchat because it’s Abby’s primary communication method) and a game (Hay Day. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been playing that since Johanna was in second grade; my farm looks amazing). I spend a lot of time online after work just messing around. It’s a habit that I’ve been looking to break. I’ve given up a lot of sites, but I can’t seem to shake them all. The threat of eternal damnation is just the thing I need to make it stick.

I’ve also given up the non-dairy, no sugar “ice cream bar” that I’ve become attached to because … I don’t need one every night, that’s a lot of packaging waste, and that’s the only thing I could think of that would be truly a bummer. I look forward to that bar!

Anyway, Lent officially started March 6 with Ash Wednesday, and so far I’ve finished two books. I guess you could say my social media fast is working.

*

I am on Austin Kleon’s newsletter list, and I enjoy the posts he puts up. He’s a thoughtful, creative type that I’d like to have coffee with. All of that is just to say that I found his “You’ve got to be kind” post (HERE) on March 9 a breath of fresh air.

I am a judgmental type. This helps me in numerous ways: I am able to sense and defuse situations before they become awkward or heated, I can read people easily when we’re face to face, and I can make quick decisions that I’m able to stick to.

But I can also be unkind. Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, I shove them in a box, label them (usually “idiot”) and move on. I mean, sometimes they deserve it. (Thinking of you, driver who pulls out in front of me and goes 10 miles under the speed limit. There’s no one behind me, why not just let me pass? IDIOT.) But mostly, they do not.

Without going into too much detail, my mother shared with me last year an experience that made her see people differently: Sure, they just pulled out in front of her and are going under the speed limit, but maybe they’ve had a stressful day. They just cut in line at the grocery store, but maybe it’s because they’re preoccupied thinking of something that’s life and death. She resolved to be more patient — a kindness.

We don’t know the burdens other people are carrying. And while we are the stars of our own lives, we are merely extras in everyone else’s. This is something I have been trying to remember and act on. I have limited success on a daily basis, usually because I make a judgement against someone and then remember I’ve resolved not to. (Also, why are all my judgments negatives? I suck, you guys.)

Anyway, I copied two quotes from Kleon’s article above into my journal that I’d like to share because … well, they got me thinking that maybe I’m looking at Lent all wrong:

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

— Roger Ebert

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.

— Emily Esfahani Smith

What’s more beneficial in the long run: Opting to be kind or opting to give up a fake ice cream bar? (This is also mentioned in Kleon’s post — he’s linked a video by a Jesuit who talks about being kind for Lent. I don’t want you to be under the pretense that I’ve come up with an original thought here. No, I’m reporting on what I’ve learned!)

I’m too … Catholic … and it’s too ingrained in me that you give something up that’s concrete. (We’re also asked to be charitable and pray. It’s not just about abstaining from what we’re attached to.) But I really, really love the idea of working on my kindness muscle this Lenten season.

I just have to remember BEFORE I am unkind. Wow, that’s hard.

P.S. Our priest mentioned in a sermon that we could also give up someone who we’re too attached to, and I looked at Eric and was like, well, looks like you’ve got to go. He’s still here, so … I guess that one’s not on.

No shame

We are elbow-deep in basketball season. Johanna had an orthodontics appointment; I had a follow up doctor’s visit. Youth group happens every Wednesday evening. Our on-site printing press closed, so we’re now sending our newspaper to print at a place two hours away (as the crow flies, NOT as the traffic flows), which means earlier deadlines. Eric has a weekly racquetball game and work meetings. My cousin’s darling daughter was baptized and we ran from the after-party to my grandma’s apartment for a quick visit.

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Dude, I WISH. Photo by Sarah Shaffer on Unsplash.

It’s no wonder I’m feeling a bit burned out.

I’m sure we’ve all read the articles extolling the virtues of under-scheduling our days so the things we want to do can take place organically, whatever the hell that means. I’m not blameless here, either. During the holiday season, I had the audacity brag write about keeping events and activities to a minimum. (Sorry about that.)

I’m all for ending schedule shaming. But I’m beginning to realize that maybe there’s some additional shaming going on when you CAN’T under-schedule. Like it’s somehow your fault that everything falls on a certain day.

HA HA HA, I just got a text reminding me of a dentist appointment I scheduled for this month. I’d forgotten. I guess I need to add that to the calendar … (sob).

Anyway. I think instead of worrying about under-scheduling and schedule-shaming, we need to come up with a new plan. Like … not beating yourself up when things go nuts. Accepting the calendar for what it is. Allowing yourself to leave the dishes in the sink in favor of reading by the fire. Remembering that this, too, shall pass. Focusing on the appointments and then one or two other things per day and letting the rest go. Or simply being proud for doing that one other thing instead of feeling guilty about the other items on the ol’ to-do list that remain undone.

I mean, we’re adults! We can do whatever we want!

Um … that’s all I got at the moment, you guys. I don’t know. Thoughts, feelings, polar vortex stories?

New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately on New Year’s Resolutions and how to make them stick. The consensus seems to be to focus on themes rather than specifics, stacking new habits on top of old ones and priming your environment for success. To concentrate on the process instead of the outcome, and to know your “why” — the motivation behind the goal.

So: Getting healthy vs. exercising daily, making coffee and adding morning stretches or whatever, and packing a lunch the night before so you make good choices.

According to my reading, if you’re doing something because you think you should, you’re probably not going to get as far as you will if you’re doing something for a specific reason — otherwise you’ll see it as deprivation. It’s the difference between being reactive and being proactive, if that makes sense.

I don’t know, I find all of this fascinating.

I’m still trying to hammer out my goals for the year and what implementing them would look like. That is perhaps another post for another time, but I will say that I’m leaning towards a theme of health — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Taking care of my stupid guts. Connection and introvert time. 

That sort of thing. Eh, the year is long, I’m not rushed.

*

Just in random news, I’ve been asking for world peace or an iPhone for decades now (wait, have iPhones even been around that long?) and … it looks like world peace is going to have to wait because Eric got me a phone for Christmas. It’s a BIG step up from my flip phone (well, technically a slide phone). I’m alarmed by how much I love this thing. It’s been so much easier to keep in touch with friends and family. Um, which means mostly Abby, who also got a phone for Christmas. Eric and Johanna are keeping their “dumb phones” for now. Eric is anti-technology so I don’t see him upgrading to a smartphone until he literally has no other choice. And Johanna doesn’t care.

December 24: Grounded awareness

“We sometimes get so caught up in the world that we forget who we are. We need to return to a sense of grounded awareness rather than forcing our minds to be busy with worries, work and future obligations.” 

— Trevor McDonald
Photo by Sabri Tuzcu, upsplash.com

I am one of those people who takes too much on and then wonders why I’m stressed out.

You’re a wise dude, Trevor.

I’ve put some thought into how I can personally attain what seems to kind of a lofty goal (ironic though that is … lofty … grounded … uh, maybe it’s just me) and what I’ve come up with is this:

Instead of worrying today, I am going to simply notice my surroundings. Just for today, I’m not going to get caught up in the world. I’m not going to allow my mind to worry about what I’ve done in the past, stress about work or anything remotely out there in the future —not even Christmas tomorrow.

And when I find myself spinning off in that direction, I will take a breath, remind myself that I am choosing to notice RIGHT NOW, and then ACTUALLY TAKE NOTICE. Because Christmas Eve is actually pretty fun.

What would be awesome is if I could live like that every day. I could, of course, if I had a brain transplant. Or just paid more attention to the ground beneath my feet.