A small change that is transforming my days

A month ago I mentioned to my therapist that I had realized that as an Obliger I needed some accountability or coaching to help me meet my own goals, but was at a loss as to whom to ask. We had once met with an organizational/ life coach, but balked at the steep price; I’m pretty good at figuring out what changes I need to make, I just need someone to help me stay on track. So I was thrilled when she said she could add a component of accountability to our sessions. It’s not high pressure in any way, but knowing that I am expected to check in on my goals gives me the push I need. So I chose three small goals and made a chart: write for 5 minutes, exercise for 10 minutes, organize for 5 minutes every day– goals so small it’s hard not to do them, and I keep track of when I do extra. After several weeks, these habits are becoming part of my routine.

Last week, though, I decided to add a couple negative check boxes to my chart: I get to check a box if I don’t yell for that day, and if I don’t check my phone, email, or internet until I have had water, eaten, written for five minutes, stretched, and taken my vitamins. Already that second small change of delaying accessing media has had a great effect on my days. I feel calmer, more in control of my time, and more productive. The Power of Habit explains that we can’t get rid of bad habits, only replace them. So if I want to stop wasting time on the internet, I have to come up with a new behavior for when I get the itch, and starting first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. And if I can put off getting online in order to do some simple self-care tasks, I can put it off till I organize, read with the kids, get back from the store, etc. I’m starting to crave the feeling of accomplishing my goals first thing in the morning, feel more grounded knowing the morning hasn’t gotten away from me before I’ve done some things to take care of myself, and have been much more judicious about my time online.

What habits are you or would you like to work on?

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What I’m Into: December 2013

I’m participating again in the What I’m Into series.  Here’s my mostly-books edition of highlights for the month of December.

Reading:

Dinner: A Love Story:  Jenny Rosenstrach chronicles her journey from newly-wed to experienced mom through learning to cook.  I enjoyed the way this memoir/cookbook used quite an eclectic variety of formats (letters, diagrams, memos, traditionally formatted recipes, lists, “conversational” recipe format, and so on) to relate her experience (perfect, by the way, for keeping in the bathroom for flipping through while the tikes bathed).  I especially related with the strategies for expanding kids’ palates, and appreciated the perspective of someone who had made it through the challenges of dinnertime in the “little years.” It encouraged me, once again, that time and maturity will do their work.  I got some good ideas for dinners, though the only recipe I tried (Green Fries, essentially breaded zucchini) was just ok in my opinion.

A Year of Learning Dangerously, Quinn Cummings: This is the only book I truly finished this month.  A former child actor, Cummings is also a writer and entrepreneur who decides to homeschool her elementary-aged daughter.  From her descriptions of her own  quirks to accounts of crashing a fundamentalist homeschoolers’ convention, this book was just plain hilarious.  But Cummings is also a sharp, literary writer who clearly loves words.  Irreverent and and yet ultimately respectful of all the various tribes united by the common commitment to home education.  An entertaining and thought-provoking read, not just for homeschoolers, or even parents, for that matter.

Love in a Time of Homeschooling, Laura Brodie:  The other homeschool memoir I picked up this month, I’m only half-finished with this one.  Brodie, a professor of English, pulls her daughter out of school for a “sabbatical,” with the intention of giving her a year of educational renewal before she starts middle school.  An interesting and inspiring look at another of the many ways homeschooling can take shape.

Watch for the Light: This was my first time with a book of Advent readings, and I read about a third of them.  An eclectic collection, featuring poetry, essays, and fiction excerpts, from such a wide range of writers.  This was a great discovery–challenging and provoking– this year as I thought more deeply about Advent and Christmas.  The Kathleen Norris and Henri Nouwen essays were particular favorites.

Our Fave Children’s books this month:

The Long, Long Line, Tomoko Ohmura: both kids enjoyed this one, but the toddler especially loved the queue of animals waiting for we-don’t-know-what until the end, which is really imaginative and fun.

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The Lorax: I somehow missed this Dr. Seuss book growing up.  A couple readings into it with E., he declared it a favorite.  It is a kind of melancholy book, but with a glimmer of hope at the end.  The Lorax “speaks for the trees” and creatures in his beloved home, which are being destroyed by the greedy Once-ler’s business.  This was great springboard for talking about greed, stewardship of creation, and the importance of relationship over things.  In this book more than others of Dr. Seuss’ I have read, he seems to be channeling Lewis Carroll; I’ve always had a soft spot for made-up words like “gruvvulous,” “snergely,” and “biggering.”  This last word is incredibly useful.  One caveat: I did censor a couple phrases as I went, along the lines of s-t-u-p-i-d, since my preschoolers are not yet ready to use those words responsibly.

A Giraffe and a Half: A Shel Silverstein book I wasn’t familiar with, but the kids predictably loved, with its litany of repetition, rhyme and silliness.

Happenings:

We had a lovely and simple Christmas, just the four of us.  Q didn’t have enough time off to travel anywhere, and we enjoyed keeping it simple.  The kids, till now, have been blessedly unaffected by the commercialism of the holidays; they really didn’t have any expectations, although after a couple different people gave them presents before Christmas day, even the one-year-old was hip to what those packages that appeared under the tree were for.  We had a very nontraditional simple dinner of mahi mahi with roasted red peppers and roasted potatoes, and my favorite moment was singing “Silent Night” with the kids.

Looking forward to a fresh start for this New Year!

What I’m Into: November 2013

I’m linking up again with the What I’m Into series at Leigh Kramer’s blog this month.  Can’t believe November has come and gone already!

Reading:

*The Truth About Style, Stacy London: I requested this book from the library thinking I needed some advice on what to add to my wardrobe after a big closet purge last month.  I was surprised how engaging a read this was.  Stacy’s trademark acerbic humor made it hilarious, and her willingness to be vulnerable about her own struggles, all the while helping several different women with their style challenges, made it relatable.  And of course, I got tons of pointers for working on my own style.  It’s given me a lot to think about beyond what to wear.

*I’m partway through Will Write for Food, by Dianne Jacobs, which covers all aspects of writing about food–cookbooks, blogs, memoir, and more. When I read Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, a few years ago, I noted the scientific obsession with which she repeated recipes and took notes of her results, and I realized that as much as I love to cook I do not have the temperament for recipe development.  I appreciate accurate recipes, but I am not willing to do that kind of research and experimentation myself.  So, probably no cookbooks in my future (unless, like Gwyneth Paltrow, I get someone to follow me around the kitchen measuring things while I cook).   However, I still find myself writing about food often.  This book is full of great information, much of it just having to do with good writing, period.  I found the writing prompts useful, and recommend this for anyone who is interested in the intersection of writing and food in any way, shape, or form.

*A Year of Writing Dangerously, Barbara Abercrombie: this book is a collection of motivational readings and quotes intended to get you writing.  I confess that I can almost never read one day’s reading at a time, and I read most of this book like a novel, which pretty much defeats its purpose.  But in my defense, it was a library book that had to be returned, and I especially like reading about various writers’ habits and rituals.

*Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Poems About Food and Drink, edited by Peter Washington: I don’t read nearly enough poetry lately, so I took this pocket-sized book on our trip to the mountains this month.  It’s a very accessible and fun little collection.

*I’m almost finished with Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey.  It is not an argument so much as a celebration of how Jesus treats women, what women bring to His Kingdom, and how we can better reflect His great love.  Her conversational tone is inviting, her lyrical style inspiring, and her words encourage me to ask how I can love others better.

*My lovely friend Emily has started a new spiritual blog, A Feast of Crumbs, and it has been one of my favorite things to read this month.

Children’s Books:

*William’s House, by Ginger Howard: this was a wonderful find about a man building a house for his family in 1637 New England just like the one he grew up in back in England.  With each season in New England, they discover a new need and make adjustments to their house, until, finally, their home is entirely different, suited to their new home in America.  I loved this book because not only was it a sweet story, it occasioned so many discussions about what life was like hundreds of years ago, who the the first European settlers were, differences in architecture and homebuilding, and the development of our country…  I even learned that horn was used in windows when glass wasn’t available.  Who knew?

*Jethro and Joel Were a Troll, by Bill Peet: I have fond memories of borrowing Bill Peet books from the library when I was little, though this one was new to me the first time we borrowed it.  E. grabs it whenever he sees it.  A two-headed troll with two very different personalities goes on Joel’s long-desired rampage, and in making restitution they discover a new talent for building.  It’s a perfect illustration of how everyone needs creative, constructive work that makes use of their talents and energy (and keeps them out of trouble–ahem).

*We also (re)discovered Where’s Waldo this month.  E. has been winding down for bed with the one we borrowed from the library, and even fallen asleep a couple times with it.  I never realized before, though, that almost all the scenes are just big chaotic fights…

*The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Dr. Seuss: with how much we love the first book, this one of course has been a big hit the past couple weeks.

Listening:

*Audrey Assad’s Fortunate Fall: I’ve loved her music since her first album referenced a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem (!).  This worship project has been like a balm for me the past few weeks; the music embodies the peaceful waters of the 23rd Psalm woven throughout so many of the songs.   The album manages to bring together quite varied influences –hymn, contemporary worship, medieval sounding chords in at least one song, as well as Assad’s own singer-songwriter style; but all seem of a piece and fit well together musically.  Lyrically, she is amazing: lines like “strange and sweet collision of justice and mercy” create beautiful poetry and yet manage to be unforced and natural.  Just lovely.

*One of my college poetry professors, Jack Ridl, gave an inspiring TEDx talk!  It was a joy and an encouragement to listen to “Perfectly Imperfect.”

In the Kitchen:

*Well-Fed 2, Melissa Joulwan: I got this cookbook with the intention of cleaning up our eating before the holidays. Everything looks amazing, all made with real food.  So far, I’ve only tried a meatball recipe, which was delicious.  The book also inspired me to look into getting a spiralizer.  I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets, so I was wary of adding what is essentially a one-trick pony to my already-too-big collection.  But my vegetable-eschewing preschooler has eaten zucchini noodles several times since getting one, so it has been worth every penny.

Doings:

*I turned 32 this month.  31 went out with a bang, as I got sick with a nasty stomach bug the night before my birthday.  Come the morning of my birthday, I was just grateful I didn’t have to go to the E.R. (Thank you, Emetrol!)  E. and my sister were sick, too, so my valiant husband nursed us all on his day off.  Then, a week later, he and the baby got sick in time for Thanksgiving.  So we spent the last third of the month sick or recovering.  Hopefully we are done with illness for a long time.

*We got a snowstorm, and snow that stayed for an entire day, which is rare here.  E. exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting all year for snow!”  Me, too, Bud.  Me, too.

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What I’m Into: October 2013

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

What I’m Into: October 2013:

I’m excited to be joining along in this link-up at Leigh Kramer’s blog (thanks for the inspiration, Emily!) because I’ve been wanting for a while to record the books I read, including the best of the children’s books we’ve read.  It’s been fun and stimulating to keep track of what we’ve been up to this month. Here are some of the highlight.

Reading:

*I had to return Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly to the library since it was on hold for someone else, though I’d only finished about 2/3 of it.  But I wanted to mention it because it’s given me an entirely new and fascinating lens–vulnerability–through which to view both my behaviors as well as relationships.  I expect to write more in depth about it sometime; I’ve already started a few posts based on topics from the book.  Highly recommend, and hope to finish it soon.

*Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose: emphasizes the kind of close reading that demonstrates how the masters craft their writing; makes me feel like I’m back in graduate school, but without the pressure.

*I’m chipping away at Ivanhoe.  I saw a British film version in high school, but have wanted to read it ever since one of my college roommates claimed it as her favorite book.  I get into it at times, and then hit a slow patch and set it aside for awhile.

*Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath on Audible: Quint and I have been listening to this during car rides.  We’ve listened to several of his audio books on road trips and this one is really fascinating.  Based on the premise that what at first seems like a weakness can actually prove to be someone’s great advantage.  It has provided great fodder for our conversations.

*The Write Start, Jennifer Hallissy: E has started writing the letters of his name, pretty much out of the blue, and this book has great information and ideas for encouraging proper and creative writing at every stage of childhood.

Children’s Books: I’m pretty picky about children’s books; if I don’t enjoy it, I don’t want it in the house, because we’re going to be reading it at least 17 times a day till it goes back to the library (I’m talking to you, banal summary of a Batman movie that found it’s way into my canvas tote).

*Bedtime for Frances, Russel Hoban: The first couple times reading this to E at bedtime, I laughed out loud when Frances the badger sneaks into her parents’ bedroom and stands inches away from her sleeping father, staring silently till he wakes up.  Classic.

*Bee-wigged, Cece Bell: I didn’t have high expectations for this quirky book, but it had a surprise that made all of us laugh, and it is actually pretty sweet.

*Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel on Audible: This is E’s choice whenever I offer to play an audiobook during lunch or while he’s doing some sort of art or craft-type play.  I never get tired of hearing Toad say that he can’t chase after his wind-blown List of Things-to-Do because chasing after the list is not one of the things on the list!

Listening: I used to daydream about being able to cherry-pick songs instead of having to buy entire albums; now I long for the time to experience a whole album at once!  Oh, well.  I’m embracing this time in my life when stopping to really experience a single song is accomplishment enough.

*The Vespers: discovered them through a Pandora’s children’s songs station with “All I Want is You.”  Yay for children’s songs that are enjoyable for the adults, too.

*Raffi’s version of “Octopus’s Garden”: I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to catch E singing a song to himself as he works away on a paper project or building blocks, and this one has been his most recent favorite.

*Neulore: “Shadow of a Man.”  I just really like this song.

*Robby Seay Band: “New Day”: when I need to start the day over at 3:57 pm.

*Melanie Penn: her song “Turnaround” has been in my head since I heard it on the Under the Radar podcast; the song is so well crafted I keep thinking about the ways the words, images, music, and metaphor work together.

*Ben Rector’s cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” made me stop what I was doing in the kitchen and just listen.

*The Emerald City video series on Soulation’s Ruby Slippers blog: philosopher and apologist Jonalyn Fincher, whose book on the feminine soul was an engaging, inspiring read for me last winter, has been posting v-logs, some of them interviews, and I love tuning in when I get on the elliptical.  I love how she integrates the physical, cultural, relational and spiritual; her questions and insights are sharp and keep me thinking for a long time afterward.

In the kitchen:

*Indian Home Cooking, Suvir Saran: although I haven’t actually tried a recipe yet, I enjoyed reading  this cookbook and drooling over the recipes, particularly the vindaloo, which I plan to use as soon as I can get a hold of the whole spices required.

*Cauliflower Couscous: I’ve made Cauliflower “rice” a few times, but wanted to see if I could get good results with a simpler process, and I liked the results even more.  Just put some chunked-up cauliflower in the processor, pulsed several times till it resembles couscous, then saute for a few minutes in olive or coconut oil, maybe a little butter, and season to taste.

*I first tried these green olives a couple months ago and I am hooked.  They are fruity, kind of like ripe black olives, only fresher tasting.  I like them for a tide-me-over-till-dinner snack.IMG_0982

*flourless peanut butter bars (I’ve also tried them with almond and sunbutter) have been my go-to “healthy” treat this month: I decreased the honey a bit since our p.b. had some already, and they were great.

*It’s finally cool enough to use the oven, and so I’ve made pumpkin pies.  I usually use the recipe on the back of the can (Libby’s), doubled for two pies, but substitute one can of coconut milk for the two cans of evaporated milk (so about 1 cup of milk per pie instead of 12 oz.) and decrease the sugar.  I like the richer, denser filling that results from those changes, and even though Quint said, “Make it EXACTLY like this from now on,” last week, I’m experimenting with maple syrup and dates to see if I can get a version we like that’s free of refined sugar.

Doings:

*I purged my closet.  For.  Real.  I’ve made several attempts in the past year, always shutting down mentally and then returning most of my clothes to my closet and drawers.  This time I was ready to be ruthless, but needed moral support, so I begged enlisted my husband’s help and he empowered me to donate two garbage bags full of clothing that was ill-fitting, unflattering, unsuited for my daily life or otherwise Just-Not-Right.  He even cleaned the closet for me while it was empty.  It was a huge burden that seemed to be parked squarely on my shoulders for a long time, and now I know that I have exactly one pair of non-maternity jeans that have no holes and kind of fit.  I think I need a personal shopper.  Any takers??

*A couple weeks ago, I made the goal of playing my guitar every day, even if only for five minutes.  It’s been a gratifying outlet.

*We visited the pumpkin patch with friends.

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*The Spoonk: Quint’s sister had one of these acupressure mats when we visited them this summer, and Quint immediately ordered one and uses it almost every day to decompress.  I didn’t think I would get much use out of it, but I really enjoy lying on it and listening to a few moments of music after the kids go to bed to help myself relax.  It breaks up some of the tension in my back and helps me transition to bedtime.

*We’ve made story time at the library part of our routine, and it’s been great.  My high-energy preschooler sits engaged with the stories and finger-play songs, and brags to his daddy later that he’s the “quietest thing in the room!”  (quoting from recent fave Bedtime for Frances).  And just when his younger brother has reached the limit of his attention span, they break out the puppets, to his delight and my relief.

Looking forward to November!

PS, this post took me longer than I expected to complete; my husband says when it comes time to record what I did in  November, I can just say I did a blog post about October 🙂