March 2018, check.

March was supposed to be redemption month. It came in like a lion indeed with a bout of stomach sickness for me just after I recovered from the flu. And then life felt like a sprint until it didn’t, as March eased out, like a lamb, as promised.

I was able to get a few things done:

  • Exercise (make room for one non-WIP workout per week): 17 WIP workouts so even though I was sick, that’s not bad.
  • Allowance for the kids: We fell off the wagon a little but were saved by birthday money and tooth fairy visits.
  • Read 30 books this year: Read 3 books this month! All three were incredible!
    • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
    • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Write regularly: Cranked out a blog post that helped ease some sadness for me.
  • 1 hike per month, preferably with the kids: It was cold. No hiking for us yet.
  • 1 date night: We did have two nights out with friends. I’d like to count that since nights out are hard to come by.
  • Donate blood 6 times: 2nd donation of the year logged on March 24th!
  • Volunteer once a month: We volunteered at our first rescue event early in the month. It was amazing!
  • Self care (once per quarter): Crickets.
  • Experiment with podcasting: Still in a holding pattern on new and experimental but we did get some new content recorded.
  • Find new opportunities to speak in front of an audience: Crickets. I have some ideas for next speaking opportunities so I’m hoping April will be my month.
  • Capture my “best thing all week” every week all year long (52 total): Twlve week, 11 best things recorded.
  • Financial planning for the household: Crickets.
  • Get our unfinished rooms completed: Finally finally picked up the yogibo and got the furniture assembled. The basement room is done! Next up: the porch.
  • Crochet regularly: Working on a scarf for Sadie and it might be done before the winter is over.

Other March highlights:

  • Getting over the stomach nonsense
  • Throwing birthday bash for my now 9 year old, including a party full of girl AND a trip to the aerial ropes course
  • Bought some incredible flowers at the annual Elizabeth Park Greenhouse Sale
  • Got lots of family time with my sister and her family and with my married family
  • Attended the Girl Scout VIP Dance as a family where we cut many a rug
  • Hosted old friends and met their new baby
  • Testified expertly at a public hearing for work
  • Celebrated Passover with family on both sides

 

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Facing facts

There are facts in life. Irrefutable facts that no amount of argument or debate will ever change. Sometimes facts can be comforting when there is a dispute to settle or uncertainty in the future. I am certainly a dreamer, but I am also a realist. Realists prefer facts most of the time. Except when we don’t. Some facts gut me every time.

Exhibit A: 

People die.

When they’re gone, they are never coming back. 

They may find ways to intervene in your universe, but when people die, you keep living.

Facts.

In the living part, though, there are still times, little slivers of existence where the facts feel inconceivable. And it won’t matter if the facts were just established five minutes ago or five years ago or five centuries ago. It feels unreal to think that certain facts are true. And in the moment when I remind myself about their truth, I am sometimes crushed by the weight of those facts.

My mom died. It has been eleven years and she is still gone. Her birthday just passed and she would have been 71, but she’s not here.

Facts.

I don’t dwell in the bargaining phase of grief, wondering what could have been, wishing it would have been different. I might have a moment here or there where I see friends with their parents and wonder what life would be like if she was alive. But I rarely beg the universe for consideration of facts. It hurts too much. There is no alternate universe, only this one. Wishing is like suffering. So I don’t typically choose wishing. I choose facts.

But periodically, and when I am least expecting it, I rattle the facts. I tip them on their side and consider them from another angle. I think about that alternate universe where things may have been different. And in those moments, I feel completely lost.

This weekend, one of those moments popped up. It was a wildly, unremarkable Saturday. We had a litany of little things to accomplish: donate blood, pick up a birthday present, trip to the public library, pick up things for a trip we’re taking, birthday party, visit from family, meals. We tackled the list together as we tend to do, rolling from one spot to another. There was no space to think, really. So I didn’t.

We didn’t stop to take a breath until mid-afternoon when we got home. We were unloading and straightening and puttering around the house since we have been out of the house all day. I brought oodles of flowers into the house last week knowing spring was on its way. And here they had all bloomed in force. They needed water and as I drenched their little pots, suddenly the afternoon weighed down on me. 

It was any other Saturday, sure, but it was also my mother’s birthday. 

I knew it from the start of the day but kept it to myself. Running around, I’d hardly considered the date. But seeing the flowers all in bloom, listening to my girls in the next room, settling into the couch next to them as they colored and read books, I wanted to cry.

I looked at them and surveyed the room and thought to myself, “You will never get to see this.”

Facts.

I didn’t think, “I wish you could have known them.” It hurts too much to think that sentence. Even as I type it, I hate it.

And then, close behind, another thought cropped up, “You never get to see me be their mother. You never get to meet my family.”

Facts.

I change rooms. Being near the girls makes the pain of the moment more palpable. I find my husband in the sunniest spot and I rest my head on his shoulder and explain what’s happening. I don’t normally think this way. I feel like I have a good handle on where I stand with my mother. I feel lucky to feel settled with our relationship. My husband listened and mmm-hmmed in response.

Giving voice to those thoughts scares me. If I question those facts, I feel like I have to go back over lots of other facts. And maybe do some hoping and wishing. Wishing makes me feel like I have to question everything.

But there’s no time to think these thoughts out loud because the girls are upon us in an instant. I wipe away the tears welled in my eyes and start reading the first chapter of a new book to my youngest as she climbs over my body and rests her head on my collarbone. Her sister sits beside me. I am in the nook of the couch nearest to the three people who matter more than everything. Nothing can make me worry in this moment.

Facts.

So I don’t worry or wish. I concentrate on where I am. I read the new story and out of the corner of my eye I watch my husband work the Sunday crossword and I exhale.

She can’t see me now. She can’t know me now. 

But I know me. 

That has to be enough.

No, it is enough.

Facts.

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February 2018, check

February was a complete wash. I got the flu. It took me out for over two weeks. It started out unassumingly enough with a snow day. Before the snow started, I had been at the gym and I’d noticed a tickle in my throat. It didn’t seem to be anything much until three hours later, snow began falling outdoors and I was shivering under two blankets. Five days with a fever and five more days of getting my strength back.

So you can understand how it was kind of a wash:

  • Exercise (make room for one non-WIP workout per week): Shut up. I actually managed 9 workouts. I also slept a TON.
  • Allowance for the kids: Mostly. I think I missed one week. Getting into a groove.
  • Read 30 books this year: Read 1 book this month.
    • Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
  • Write regularly: Nope.
  • 1 hike per month, preferably with the kids: I was sleeping.
  • 1 date night: Indian dinner out!!
  • Donate blood 6 times: Not this month. Next month.
  • Volunteer once a month: We checked out the dog rescue organization’s volunteer event and got familiar with what we would be doing. It was awesome!
  • Self care (once per quarter): Crickets.
  • Experiment with podcasting: Posted a minipod and recorded two new episodes with Matt. Nothing new or experimental right now.
  • Find new opportunities to speak in front of an audience: Crickets.
  • Capture my “best thing all week” every week all year long (52 total): Eight weeks, 8 best things recorded.
  • Financial planning for the household: Flu.
  • Get our unfinished rooms completed: Got seating and table/chairs for the basement! Not quite all assembled but pretty darn close.
  • Crochet regularly: Working on a scarf for Sadie and it might be done before the winter is over.

Other February highlights:

  • Getting over the flu
  • Hosted husband’s college friends for a visit (that was supposed to happen earlier this month and we managed to reschedule)
  • Led the baking of 300 hamentaschen for Purim

March is redemption month. In like a lion….

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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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