January 2018, check.

I LOVE the start of the year. January felt like an extremely long month. Everyone in my world agreed that when January 31st hit the calendar it felt like a year had passed. The combination of cold and snow delays and stuff, well, it made us tired out.

In life, though, things are good. Solidly good.

  • Exercise (make room for one non-WIP workout per week): 15 workouts plus one yoga class. An super active and productive month!
  • Allowance for the kids: Yes! Thanks to an abundance of single bills, we’re back on track. And this time, they seem motivated to save for something and are starting to see when they could use their own money for something they want in the short term. I don’t want to get too excited, yet.
  • Read 30 books this year: Read 2 books this month!
  • Write regularly: 1-2 blog posts per month plus external projects
    • Downtime
    • What’s It Really Like? Remember all of that writing I did for myself last year–it’s all coming due! Here’s the first in a series from Beyond the Professoriate
  • 1 hike per month, preferably with the kids: too cold for hiking this month.
  • 1 date night: We did it! One night out together for dinner and bookstore!
  • Donate blood 6 times: 1st blood donation complete!
  • Volunteer once a month: We attended the kickoff of an incredible woman running for state office and I met with her about helping her campaign. I also attended volunteer orientation so that my youngest and I can volunteer with a dog rescue organization. So far, so good.
  • Self care (once per quarter): Crickets.
  • Experiment with podcasting: It was a busy life month and we recorded two great Boy vs. Girl episodes together. I have been working on my first minipod of 2018 but it’s not yet complete. And I didn’t make any progress looking at new equipment. I DID have a new podcast idea. Stay tuned….
  • Find new opportunities to speak in front of an audience: Crickets.
  • Capture my “best thing all week” every week all year long (52 total): Four weeks, 4 best things recorded.
  • Financial planning for the household: I spent a good portion of January marshaling spending information to understand how to start savings. Two meetings with financial planners in February to keep the momentum going.
  • Get our unfinished rooms completed: Made our scouting trip to Ikea and decided on the things we need. Just have to return with the car and no kids to haul everything home. Once that’s settled it’s on to our office.
  • Crochet regularly: A few baby hats complete this month!

Other January highlights:

  • Kicked year off with fondue and friends
  • Hosted my nephews for the weekend and helped get them skiing with their uncle
  • Went to our first UConn game as a family
  • Launched a new workshop at work and seeing lots of potential for it

A long January and squarely into February.

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Downtime

Confession: I allow myself little time alone. It’s not because I can’t handle time by myself. I am an extrovert’s extrovert but even I need moments to myself. It’s not that I can’t face the idea of being with my own thoughts; I wrangle my thoughts minute to minute every day. I just can’t handle the idea of time alone because there are so many things I want to be doing. 

Time alone is often the result of something falling through and rather than enjoy the temporary idleness, I immediately fill the space with something in the queue of things to think or do or make or write. I can’t help myself.

This morning, after hosting my nephews, my plan was to send my girls to religious school, send the nephews home with my husband who was going out for the day and to exercise, shower quickly and race through the day. I made the grocery list and prepped the veggies to cook later and put away the dishes on the counter while the kids ate the breakfast I prepped last night. And even as I write this, I’m exhausted by my own inability to relax on a lazy Sunday morning. 

But, my stomach is upset. I don’t feel like exercising. I just don’t want to. So I bagged it and hung with my nephews for a little while longer and then they departed and Easy Listening Radio is playing in the kitchen and the dishwasher is running and I nuked my coffee and sat down at the kitchen table unable to focus my thoughts. I’m alone for two hours. I hadn’t planned on this. 

And my first instinct is to break things out of the cabinets and tackle the one thing I meant to make all week (granola). And then I unwrap the Sunday paper and see the article above the fold in the New York Times Real Estate section is about preschool and I want to read it. And I stare paralyzed at the clutter on the counters and the remnants of entertaining four kids last night and I want to fly from one spot to another tidying up. The gravitational pull of my bed is strong, though. And the thought of a hot shower totally uninterrupted also sounds like the right way to start this Sunday.

And so I did the most logical thing. 

I sat down and wrote my way out of this momentary confusion. And now I’ll spell check and publish and likely take a nap.

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Cataloging 2017: Revisiting the 2017 Plan

2017 threw everyone for a loop. In staring down the start of 2017, I may have amped up my resolution setting because I needed a little order in an otherwise chaotic universe. I have always cared deeply about resolutions, setting some sort of goal for myself nearly every year that I can remember. My dedication to being goal-oriented is perhaps my best and most insufferable quality. I have discovered, though, that I like a challenge, and setting goals helps me work towards something. My mother always said I was terrible as doing nothing.

I have posted cataloging items for 2015 and 2016 and the benefit of hindsight is seeing how I’ve approached each year. In 2015, I set a vague goal to be present and developed loose metrics to follow, but it wasn’t enough for me to make some changes in my life like getting back to exercise and writing. By the end of 2015, though, I had started to develop some good habits and I needed to sustain them. So as 2016 started, I gave myself tighter guidelines. Heading into 2017, I knew I wanted to stay focused.

This year most of my “resolutions” were really SMART goals and they were intended to help me pace the year. I often lament the passage of time and I didn’t want the year to go by and not be doing the things I have come to love–reading, exercising, writing. In pushing myself to meet my own goals, I sometimes felt like I was checking boxes for the sake of them. The tension between doing things and giving myself a break was tough on my brain.

The funny thing about goals: there were things I wanted to do that I didn’t act on ( like learning French or how to play 6 songs on the guitar) and things I didn’t realize I’d want to do that happened (like writing a book chapter and climbing a rope). Some things have become part of who I am (as me) and who we are (as a family). Reading is central to family life, but now if we go too long without a trip to the library, the girls notice. And I don’t know if that’s because we’re all readers now or because my youngest also loves reading or if we prioritized reading. But my goal of making regular library trips has certainly changed something in our family. Likewise, my goal to “commit” acts of kindness have spawned a new motivation to be of service in 2018. And writing blog posts, I didn’t make every month’s goal to post twice but I wrote my way out of some tough moments this year. There were draft essays intended for my eyes only and there was the month of November when I stupidly thought I’d write a NaNoWriMo novel.

Having the SMART goals didn’t magically transform my worldview or make me into a bionic human. But I did recalibrate what matters and found ways to prioritize the things I want to do to make me a better person for myself and for my family and friends.

So, to that end, a rundown of the progress for this year:

  • Exercise 4x weekly: Completed 206 out of 208 workouts. Not too shabby.
  • Allowance for the kids: Paid allowance for 16 out of 52 weeks before we gave up but have new energy to pursue this goal in the new year.
  • Weekly acts of kindness: Roughly 11 our of 52 weeks I was able to do something tangible for friends near and far. I was glad to reflect and reframe this for 2018.
  • Read one full length article a week: an abysmal failure. I read lots of short form journalism but tallied only a few long pieces.
  • Make regular library trips: I have a record of at least 13 trips to the library.
  • Practice yoga twice a month: Went to 5 total classes. Happy with my current workouts but want to integrate yoga into the scheme of things.
  • Read 2 books a month: I was always reading all year and felt adrift when I wasn’t. Completed 16 books and read several that changed my worldview.
  • Write two blog posts a month: Posted 16 total posts not including the monthly review of goals.
  • Choose outside 2 times each month: I have a record of 10 outdoor things we did and want to prioritize outdoor time with my girls in 2018.
  • Make time for one date night each month: I count 9 total date nights in 2017 but that includes the errant day date. Husband thinks these don’t count. We’ve already discussed how this needs to be a joint effort in 2018.
  • Donate blood 4 times: Super proud to have donated 5 times in 2017. 6 times is within reach for 2018.
  • Self care once per quarter: Three self care days on record for 2017. The last quarter of the year was toggling between worrying for and thinking about friends and entertaining for the holidays so I’ll have to double up in 2018.
  • One external writing project per quarter: I logged two projects total and did not pursue too many external projects in the back half of the year.

Highlights of the year:

  • Making 5 blood donations
  • Seeing Hamilton with my husband
  • Logging one of the biggest professional days of my life, giving my first ever keynote presentation and a big conference presentation on the same day. Close to 400 people in two states on one day
  • Invited to submit a contribution to a book project about leaving academia
  • My girls’ weekend with the daughters back in August while my husband was away
  • Made challah for the first time
  • Two B’nai Mitzvot and one wedding–totally thrilled to celebrate with family and friends
  • Great Wolf Lodge surprise weekend with the kids
  • Climbing the rope in gym class (!!)

And in 2018, I’ve got goals. Oh, do I have goals. But I have a better sense of how to manage them now. So I’ll track and update but I can’t say I’m going to push myself as hard as I did. Goodness knows I have nothing to prove to anyone except myself, and I’m doing just fine in that department.

So in no specific order, a few goals and resolutions for 2018:

  • Exercise (make room for one non-WIP workout per week): I want to continue with my exercise class and add in some variety. Thinking running, yoga, and spinning (after my most recent SoulCycle class).
  • Allowance for the kids: Trying this again.
  • Read 30 books this year: Not tracking this as a monthly goal anymore. I read constantly and I feel discouraged if I lock down one book but am reading two at the same time and don’t finish them. So I’m pushing to read many books, 30.
  • Write regularly: 1-2 blog posts per month plus external projects
  • 1 hike per month, preferably with the kids
  • 1 date night: Spoke with husband and we’re going to make this a priority.
  • Donate blood 6 times: This is possible if I manage my time and prioritize it.
  • Volunteer once a month: I know I can find time to help others. I want to engage with a program at my temple to feed people. I want to serve political candidates running in 2018. And I want to take my daughter to volunteer with dogs. 
  • Self care (mani, pedi, massage): Once per quarter is important and since I couldn’t lock it down in 2017, I clearly need to prioritize me time in 2018. With a big birthday on the horizon, I have a feeling I’ll have plenty of me time.
  • Experiment with podcasting: I want to acquire new equipment to allow for field recording and collecting oral histories. I’ll also be producing 12 minipods for Boy vs. Girl, and I have plans to record with my girls.
  • Find new opportunities to speak in front of an audience: I’m hoping to find at least 2 chances to speak publicly on data, on organ donation, or to pitch new stories. 
  • Capture my “best thing all week” every week all year long (52 total): Inspired by It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders I have to find a way to capture my “Best Thing All Week” for the entire year. I already capture every day so this should be easy.
  • Financial planning for the household: This was a goal in 2017 and we did have some emergent household expenses and now we’re working towards saving for this kitchen.
  • Get our unfinished rooms completed: We have some spaces in our house that we need to finish off. We need to settle our home office and to set up our (unexpectedly) new basement. We have a box of unhung pictures waiting for a space on the walls. It’s been a few years in this not so new house any more. Time to live here for real. I’d love to start the summer with the house feeling “finished” for now.
  • Crochet regularly: I’ve been making baby hats and my blood pressure is super low. This has to be a good thing.

Thanks for coming, 2018. So happy you’re here and can’t wait to see what you bring us.

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Resolution redux: Acts of kindness

When I set my goals for 2017, I wanted to capture the spirit of a late winter walk I took with a dear friend in 2016. As with many people I know locally, this particular friend and I cross paths once a week but we’re usually (literally) juggling the burdens of the moment–children tugging at our arms or our attention, backpacks spilling open. And like many friendships, we’re often struggling to find time for each other. But this one morning with little planning, we went for a walk in the woods and we talked and talked and the hour we spent together felt like a day. And so, I said to myself (and I think to social media), can’t I do this every week with someone new?

A weekly walk with a friend is a luxury (and a logistical nightmare), too, but it was a luxury worth trying to do consistently. The idea of the weekly walk morphed into simply doing something nice for friends. But to resolve to just do something nice for friends without some benchmark felt like I would never try. So I thought to myself, why not try and do something nice for friends (which may include time with friends) every week. The goal was lighten someone’s load. Do something to make them smile. Add joy to someone’s universe.

This was not an easy goal to achieve. I underestimated the spectrum of things that could happen in life. And life has been rough this year for everyone, really. The state of the world was dragging many of my friends down. Others were going through changes in their relationships with spouses or facing possible massive career choices. No one was immune to illness, either. For the first few months of the year, I was truly paralyzed with what might make a difference to anyone. A surprise coffee or flowers on the doorstep? It seemed shallow and material. What was I thinking?

Some time mid-year, I stopped worrying about what I was going to do and whether I could do something material every week. Instead of trying to do something remarkable, I focused on trying to be present, to pay attention, to check in periodically. There were only so many surprise coffees I could pick up or flowers I could leave anonymously. And I was not full of enough inspiration for a grand gesture once a week.

And then late summer, I was so inspired by a sorority sister of mine going through recovery from surgery that I couldn’t resist doing something for her. And over the summer, I started testing out a zucchini bread recipe and making loads of little loaves that I would hand out to friends. And when zucchini season ended, I moved to banana breads and granola. And then I during the last month of the year, I sent notes to some women in my life who inspired me. Acts of kindness didn’t have to be grand gestures, I didn’t need a note of thanks, I just needed the people in my life to know that they mattered to me and that they inspired me.

Heading into 2018, I already know of friends and family near and far who need extra love and support. And I’ve finally figured out how to offer support with smothering (I think) and to show appreciation and kindness and I think the answer for me is simply act. Don’t wait. Just do.

So in 2018, I’m not setting any kind of goal. I don’t care about tallying up because now I feel compelled to give and make and do for others. And that’s not to say that keeping track is a bad thing, but it took paying attention for me to realize I’m doing for others already.

So now, to keep going….

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Resolution redux: The Allowance Experiment

This year, I focused on achieving big and small things, and I tracked my progress. Sure, I was hoping to show I could meet those goals but I hoped I’d learn a few lessons about myself along the way. So in a few posts before year-end, I’d like to wrap my arms around some of the personal successes and struggles of 2017.

First up: the allowance experiment.

The whole idea of giving our girls an allowance started with a benign conversation about smartphones. My older daughter is obsessed with the circumstances that will facilitate access to her very own device. Plenty of her friends have their own devices and we have devices we share across the family, so we haven’t given the kids their own dedicated screens. My husband and I haven’t had a conversation about that in a while and I don’t think there’s any smug convictions behind that decision. It’s just not time yet in our family.
So one day, she asked innocently, “If I save for an iPhone, can I buy one?”
And I answered swiftly, “Sure, honey, but they are very expensive.”
The only issue: she is motivated (or at least, at the time she WAS motivated).
So I thought, if I can capture this willingness to be helpful, to be engaged in the household, then maybe it will be good for everyone.
What a rookie mistake.
I did some research about allowances, the best age to start, appropriate amounts, among other things. Like any parenting quandary, ask one question, you’ll get seventeen answers. It was like asking about best practices in potty training. There seemed be a few points of agreement: best not to tie allowance to chores or kids could decide later to boycott chores (especially then they earn their own money), be consistent, and encourage savings goals. There was loose guidance about appropriateness of allowance amounts. And that was all.
I made a plan to give the girls an allowance every week, I took out tons of one dollar bills and arranged envelopes for the first six weeks of the year. And then I patted myself on the back and waited until the first of the year. I was so excited to help them save, spend and give.
There were some short-term and medium term issues with this plan.
First, I did research but not the math. The girls were 7 and 5 when we started this experiment and conventional advice said pay them either $1 per year they were born or $.50. With odd ages, I didn’t want to be dealing in quarters so I just made up little envelopes with seven singles and five singles in them, neatly dated in the corner (and sealed with stickers). I didn’t do the longer term math–$12/week amounted to $624/year. That was just too much money for two little girls to handle. And if I gave them a raise on their birthdays (which was my original plan), we would exceed that total for the year.
A second issue: setting savings goals for some children is a challenge, requiring a level of patience that my own daughters don’t currently possess. We knew we might have to match some savings in the beginning to help them feel as though they were making progress towards their goals, but my youngest quickly got frustrated because it was taking her a long time to save for the Lego toy she wanted. I had forgotten that my oldest had a head start with savings from tooth fairy visits as well. There was also the tension between saving everything for one big goal and leaving nothing in reserve, which we didn’t want them to do. I tried to mitigate the frustration by picking super small items they could use their allowance to purchase that would allow them the satisfaction of having paid for it themselves without blowing the bank. We had limited success using this strategy,
Third, while experts may say that children can handle money math early on, my children were not quite there yet. For us, there was too much confusion over what the money represented. Our oldest has learned some money math but our youngest is still working on the basics so she didn’t understand that a stack of 5 one-dollar bills is the same as one five-dollar bill. So ones would pile up in her wallet making it impractical (and slightly unsafe if we lost them) to take her wallet with her out in the world.
Fourth, helping children learn to be philanthropic is a new experience. The idea of giving to something is not a new concept–they have been giving tzedakah since they could walk–but they have never been able to direct their charitable giving. I helped them identify a charity that they would support, but it took a lot of coaxing and explaining. After a few long conversations, my oldest picked Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and my youngest picked “an animal shelter.”
Finally, a little competition emerged that defeated the entire purpose. It is natural (I hope) for children to compete and compare to their neighbors and friends and sisters. And after a few weeks, I did see the girls counting their savings (to see if they were close to their goals) and getting frustrated (especially the little one) if they fell short. And I also saw a few ugly moments of competition over who had more money–this was not the plan!!
Needless to say, my diligence fizzled out after a particularly fiery Friday night allowance distribution situation. I can’t remember when I needed to put the brakes on the experiment but something about the confusion and the crying, I thought it was time to take a break.
So in summary: Started allowances too high, didn’t allow room for growth, confusion and competition.
2018 is around the corner and I’m ready to try this again….

 

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November update

November. It happened. The front half of the month was work-focused and the back half was family-focused. We were surrounded by good energy most of the time. So the year is winding down and I’m getting ready to round out a year of resolution tracking. Here goes….

Things I want to do weekly:

  • Exercise 4x a week: 17 things. Particularly proud of working out while we were on vacation. We logged a few days of long hauls around Washington, DC. It was an active month.
  • Give kids weekly allowance: Nope. Reframing for 2018.
  • Do one act of kindness each week: This was a great month for kindness. Sent a surprise gift to a friend. Made dinner for our friends going through medical issues.
  • Read one full length article in a magazine every week: This has been a challenge–I do so much either short form reading or novels that the long form gets lost. So, nope.

Things to do every month:

  • Regular library trips: The library is a part of our routine now.
  • 2 Yoga classes: Zero yoga classes.
  • Read 2 books: 2!
    • The G-d of Small Things by Arundathi Roy
    • The Dinner by Herman Koch
  • Write 2 blog posts: A few weeks ago a friend suggested we try NaNoWriMo–the National Novel Writing Month. So I wrote no blog posts but I wrote over 12,000 words. And I’m not proud that I wrote only 12K words because a novel is closer to 60K words. But a blog posts is typically 1K so it’s like I wrote 12 blog posts for just me. And, I started to think about how it feels to write fiction and I’m not sure what i think about it. So, I know I can get into a writing routine and on the days I haven’t been writing, I feel itchy. That’s a good thing.
  • Choose outside: We spent much of the month outdoors. We had great, albeit chilly, weather for a few days in Washington, D.C. with the girls. The girls had a great outdoor running fundraiser at their school, and we fit in a nice hike.
  • 1 date night: double date night did happen but a just us night did not happen.

Some other great stuff that happened this month:

  • Gave a big speech at work (and husband caught the tail end)
  • Dog-sat the cutest dog ever (and watched my littlest swoon non stop for two straight days)
  • Had an incredible family photo session
  • Went to DC for family bar mitzvah and vacation
  • Hosted Thanksgiving
  • Made my 5th and final blood donation of the year
  • Got back to crocheting: Made some hats (for a buddy and two babies) and almost done scarves for the girls

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Lincoln Memorial close to sunset


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My daughters and all of their cousins on Thanksgiving Day. Basically, a dream come true.


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1st helping of a gorgeous Thanksgiving meal with my family.


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5th blood donation of the year!


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Freedom–the statue atop the Capitol Building. Freedom is a woman.

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October update

I’m posting this update on October ten days into November because I wish October never happened. There may have been a few high moments but it was mostly a month of worry and stress. The month started out peacefully enough and then without notice, we learned our daughter’s best friend was diagnosed with cancer. This little girl (and her entire family) is dear to us–hearing this news felt like we were hearing news about our own daughter. While they are on their treatment journey right now and everyone feels hopeful, there was a confusing two weeks where no one knew what would happen. For now, it’s a continuous cycle of loving, supporting, waiting, and let’s be honest, periodically drinking.

October was terrible. No two ways about it. So I’m happy that we’re on to November even if it’s super cold in New England.

So, October….

Things I want to do weekly:

  • Exercise 4x a week: 14 visits to my exercise class. I came down with a serious cold that knocked me out for a week. So getting back to 5am workouts was tough.
  • Give kids weekly allowance: Nope.
  • Do one act of kindness each week: I baked for people. I brought bagels to my friends in the hospital because I didn’t know how to help. I helped organize meals. I tried to help my friends. All I did was try and be kind (when I wasn’t busy being angry)
  • Read one full length article in a magazine every week: I read one incredible article after hearing its author interviewed on Another Round.

Things to do every month:

  • Regular library trips: The library is a part of our routine now. The girls have books everywhere. I’ve taken all of my book club books out of the library. The girls ask about going to the library after school on Fridays. It’s AWESOME!
  • 2 Yoga classes: Zero yoga classes.
  • Read 2 books: 1!
    • Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. There’s no way I can convince you to read it because it has math in the title. But this is a book about how racism is encoded in big data and it was fascinating and depressing and important.
  • Write 2 blog posts: Yes!
  • Choose outside: I know I was outside a lot. I don’t remember all of the times I was outside but summer never ended in New England so I was outside as much as possible.
  • 1 date night: date lunch but no date night

Some other great stuff that happened this month:

  • Celebrated dad’s 73rd birthday
  • Took kids to Great Wolf Lodge and survived
  • Took kids to see School of Rock and they loved it
  • Survived a solo trip to IKEA
  • Attended a great training in Boston (Tufte)
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