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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The little things giving me life right now

The longest of weeks feels like a month when the alarm sounds at 5am on Friday morning. Two weeks of life sucked away by illness and ambient worry and this week was the chance to get back to routines.

But the week was full of small moments that are giving me life, lifting me up, making my heart sing. Even though there is plenty to worry about in the big, broad world and in my local world, there are still many moments where I catch myself and wonder how I got to be so lucky. Then I make a mental note of the little things. Then I promptly forget. And at the end of the week, they all come tumbling out of my mind and I want to catalogue them because I know I’ll them another day.

So, in no particular order:

I traveled round trip to Boston for a workshop led by a giant in our field. I filled my head with loads of ideas. My brain hasn’t stop churning.

I had the chance to explain what I do to total strangers at a work event and the most common response I heard: I can tell you’re really passionate. My response, “It feels good to love what you do.”

I sang our wedding to song to one of my daughter’s as we snuggled in bed one night. I probably sang it to her as a baby but never as a big kid. I had been talking all day so my voice was warmed up and I didn’t miss a word or a note. When I finished, she said, “That was really pretty” like it was a brand new thing.

My little daughter demanded “You are my sunshine” and I sang that, too. Then she asked for opera singing and I belted la la las and she cheered. I felt ten feet tall.

I taught a workshop, addressing a room of professionals doing totally different kinds of work and they all seemed to appreciate the discussion. I am always inspired by the opportunity to help people do great work.

The trees are all changing colors. There is always a big storm that expedites this gorgeous time of year but for now, it’s technicolor and I’m loving it.

I got to see my husband during one work day which is always a treat. We actually saw each other all week even though it often feels like we’re ships passing in the night.

I got back to my exercise class. After a week off, I was worried I’d slog through but I can still do super pushups and the energy I get from a room full of people at 5:30am in the morning has carried me through the week.

I stayed tuned into friends all week. Text threads and social media connecting us over time and space and grounding me in the comforting notion that I have people that I love close by and far away.

I got to see my baby nephew crawl (really scoot) via video chat. He’s so grown already and I know it’s a downward spiral into toddlerhood. For the moment, I love his joy in getting to move in the world.

It rained fiercely overnight midweek. The rain was loud and powerful. It rained sideways. It pressed down on everything. The sound was incredible.

The weather was moody in a way that made the world pulse. The sky was gray, then bright than gray again. The sky was striped, clouded and today, shiny.

I got time on the couch to catch up on life. Didn’t tie up all of the loose ends but came close.

I consumed every inch of political news until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then one night on my drive home I switched on Hamilton and belted every song.

We ate well. We slept well (mostly).

Simple things. A busy week full of simple things.

 

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The accidental social experiment

I have longed wondered whether our ability to vet and consume information is weakening. In this age of endless information, streaming constantly, it’s a hypothesis I never meant to test, but I ended up testing it by accident.

Last month, there was a little Rogue Cheerios blogging snafu. I decided to sneak a post onto the blog–or I tried to sneak one in. My approach to blogging is to write and complete polished essays. Some of those essays can take time, and so I often start an essay that remains in the “Drafts” section of the WordPress Dashboard for a long time. Sometimes I start a blog post, commenting on an event or a milestone and I don’t finish it for another year. There’s no way to predict delays finishing essays–I could have been pressed for time or I couldn’t find the right words. In the end, it’s my own process and I recognize it’s benefits and drawbacks.

WordPress has this feature, though, whereby it timestamps the blog post when you start it. Sometimes, if you forget to change the timestamp, when you publish the blog post, it ends up in chronological order on the blog based on that start time even if you click publish weeks or years later.

So, a few weeks ago, I realized I never published the post I wrote on my birthday but I’d put enough time into it, had curated some photos to go along with it, and I wanted it to look back in next year when I turn 40. So early in the morning, I quickly skimmed it and clicked publish and walked away.

An hour or so later, I saw that I was getting some notifications on Facebook and Twitter. The timestamp feature had somehow failed to post it in chronological order, so the post had been shared to Facebook as though that day in September was my actual birthday. My birthday is truly in May. And as it goes with Facebook and birthdays, I immediately started receiving “Happy birthday” messages.

I was a little mortified. It was a simple mistake and I didn’t hurt anyone by accidentally convincing everyone it was my birthday.

And yet, people believed it was my birthday because the Facebook post said so. All they had to do was look up at that little section on the navigation which alerts users to their friends’ birthdays that day and they would not have seen my name. Better yet, if they knew my birthday was in May (which some commenters did know because they’ve known me long enough), they could have put two and two together. I added a comment to the thread which said something like, “Oops, not my birthday” and people continued to wish me a happy birthday.

A few people did comment in confusion. What was happening? Is it your birthday and we missed something?

We’re all reasonable people, right? Well, this was our test. Are we paying attention? Do we question our sources–even the reliable sources of information? And do we push back when we think something is off?

I’m not judging people–I was happy to get a few extra Facebook messages and an actual hug in person even though it wasn’t my birthday. I was even happy to be ribbed by my husband about wishing it was my birthday ten times a year (because that would be amazing). But what worries me is we’ve lost the ability to slow down, make sense of information, and question its reliability and validity.

We’re looking for sensational news or constantly reacting to crisis that we fail to do the basic due diligence like checking the publication date, the source, the author, to ensure what we’re reading (and ultimately sharing) is worth knowing. Everyone has their strategy: some click everything, some click nothing. Some engage with specific sources of news and some only a subset of news outlets. Some people will share content regardless of its age (like if it’s old). But having a filter or a strategy for engagement might be necessary as the news space floods with content and photos and statistics and stories. It’s overwhelming.

As our attention span slims down over time, I wonder whether we’ll become completely dulled to sensation and whether our filters will shift to autopilot. As it is, I rarely engage with news on social media because it takes time to do the due diligence. I have other seemingly unhealthy ways of finding news (like chain listening to politics podcasts and watching White House press briefings–it’s an affliction).

Rumors start with mistaken or erroneous information shared on Facebook and there are some rumor mills I want to avoid. Know this: my birthday is in May. Start all the rumors you want about my birthday being in September because I would love a quarter birthday celebration.

Who wants to wait for a half birthday anyway?

 

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September update

September was a pretty big month. Reflecting now, it’s hard to believe that Labor Day was just 30 days ago. I knew that the month would be busy between work and the holidays but I didn’t know how much energy we would have to sustain to keep everything running. But we did it. And now it’s done.

Things I want to do weekly:

  • Exercise 4x a week: 16 WIP classes. I’m most proud that I motivated myself to exercise on the road which is a major challenge for me.
  • Give kids weekly allowance: Nope. We just had a discussion with our girls about the idea of allowance, how we should save and share with others before we spend. So I think we’re going to get back on the horse this month.
  • Do one act of kindness each week: One act of kindness in preparation for the holidays, I sent letters to lost connections and I know at least one landed.
  • Read one full length article in a magazine every week: Nope. This has been tough over the last few months. I read so many small things that I don’t engage with long form journalism. But I need to.

Things to do every month:

  • Regular library trips: I know we’ve been engaging with the library. Our trips haven’t been the lazy kind–they’ve been more efficient. I am happy to report that my book club procurement is totally library focused now.
  • 2 Yoga classes: Zero yoga classes.
  • Read 2 books: 1!
    • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel: This might be one of my favorite books in a long time. It’s a simple story about complicated choices in family life. It felt all too real even though my family is different from the one in the story.
  • Write 2 blog posts: Yes!
  • Choose outside: This month has been a busy one getting the outside of the house ready for the fall and winter season. There has been planting, cleaning up from some work over the summer, and neatening up. So we’ve been outside but not always for fun purposes. We did get a super hot day outdoors at a festival visiting family in New Jersey.
  • 1 date night: We had a date weekend away celebrating at a wedding over Labor Day weekend. That feels like ancient history but it was a truly fabulous two nights away to ourselves (with a major party thrown in). We also finally figured out how to spend time together while the girls are at religious school so we spent one morning at the diner. Breakfast at the diner is not super fancy but I’ll take any alone time I can get with my husband.

Some other great stuff that happened this month:

  • Labor Day weekend celebrating our friends’ wedding
  • 80th birthday party for one of our cousins
  • Work trip to Washington DC to present at a national conference
  • Jewish holidays–made Challah for the first time with the girls, hosted dinner for friends and read a Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah
  • Visit to New Jersey to see my sister, brother-in-law and our nephews
  • A huge work week–4 presentations in 7 days

We’re off to the final quarter of the year!

October is underway….

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