All posts in: life maintenance

10 Mar 2019

34

It’s hard to believe that it’s my birthday.

It’s not hard to believe I am getting older. The amount of time I’ve spent Googling retinols and facial serums this year has been…well… steadily increasing. It’s also not hard to believe that time is passing. I happen live with two small Physical Manifestations of Passing Time. One has likely doubled her weight in less than four months. The other can spell “macaroni penguin” and has me thinking about preschools… which has me  thinking about kindergarten… which seems impossible, but is actually only two years away!

What’s hard to believe is that birthdays still exist. Or holidays in general. Any activities that occur regularly according to a date on the calendar, actually. Life with two children under 3 has me feeling significantly adrift from the scheduled world. I bought a planner for 2019 – a handsome Get to Work Book – but my days and weeks are entirely interchangeable. Take a Tuesday’s activities and move them to Thursday? Okay. Need to cancel Monday altogether? Sure.

It’s even harder to believe that a day that is special just because of… me. Me? Jessica? You mean, Mom, right? Mama? Mommy? I honestly don’t know if I exist right now. I want to. I wish I did. But I’m finding amount of physical and emotional labor required to care for two very little children (while also performing the bare minimum of household maintenance) too intense for something so frivolous as Independent Thought and A Stable Sense of Self. Sometimes this feels okay – like I’m taking a (probably much needed) break from being Jessica. Sometimes it feels obliterating. Most of the time it just feels… tiring. I feel tired. Fatigued. Sleep deprived. Sore and achy ready to sit down. Fed up and out of patience. Emotionally depleted. Groggy. Bleary-eyed. Gently exhausted. I’ve become closely acquainted with all flavors of tired.

Something magical is happening, though, right now in my house, as I turn 34. My second baby is three months old now and she is changing. She is bright-eyed and holds her head up. She smiles and laughs and can grab onto some objects. Her sleep is growing more predictable and she goes to bed at a normal baby bedtime. She has big eyes and a big bald-ish head and she just hangs out on a blanket on the floor while her big brother plays and I am repeatedly struck by something I had forgotten or maybe just couldn’t conceptualize yet – that she is part of the family now. She’s one of the pack, here for good, part of our sloppy, noisy, nonsense life.

She certainly won’t remember this dramatic, obliterating winter; her brother probably won’t either. It’s likely they will not remember anything at all but life with each other – brother and sister. And now that my hormones are stabilizing and my tired isn’t the up-all-night variety, I can occasionally look at these two little people in my house, take a few mental steps back, and see what we – my husband and I – are creating.

Today I am 34 years old. I am three months postpartum and nursing – day and night. I have two children under the age of three in my care most of the time; I am very blessed to have a supportive, involved husband who truly shares childcare responsibilities with me, and also part-time childcare for our almost-three-year-old. I am still on maternity leave at a time when many women are required to return to work or lose their jobs. I’ve read twelve books so far this year: not a ton, but not nothing! The days are getting longer, and the sun is coming out more often. This time next year there will still be a special day for me, and if I’m lucky I will spend it with a one-year-old and an almost four-year-old and my husband who I will have loved for sixteen years.

(And if I’m extra lucky, it won’t be sleeting *or* snowing and my postpartum balding will have subsided so my hair will look GREAT)

 

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30 Jan 2019

unnecessary spending: one month in

In January, I spent more than 850 dollars in at least 40 different unnecessary ways.

This “mostly frugal” girl is a bit shocked.

I’m not going to list everything I bought. Instead, here are some general patterns I observed in this first month of spending, in order of least complex to most.

 

Automatic payments for online services

Once upon I time, I signed up to give my money away to various causes and companies in regular, small increments. I’m old enough that this still feels like a novel way to spend money – kind of fun, but also kind of dumb? Over the past few years, I’ve felt like I’m in a cycle of wanting to cancel all of these automatic “deductions,” but then I end up signing up for something new to replace it.

Right now I spend 28 dollars a month of my personal money on such subscriptions. This month my Audible subscription reactivated – I paused my account a few months ago and forgot to “un-pause” it, so add 14.95 to that. I also purchased three months of access to an online exercise program. And of course, there’s Netflix – 10.99 paid out of our joint account.

I don’t necessarily feel bad about spending this money. Usually this spending brings me small, daily pleasures – like my NYTimes cooking and crossword subscription – or supports artists whose work I admire and enjoy. But they do add up quickly and definitely aren’t necessary.

 

Food products and activities that make life feel more fun – especially when hosting guests

This month I was lucky to have some of my immediate family members come and visit. We spent about 125 dollars this month while guests were in town… pretty much all on food products. Is it necessary to eat at restaurants or buy junky snacks when guests are in town? No. But it does feel celebratory – these folks might be sleeping on my living room floor and staying indoors most of the time with me and my crazy children, but it’s still their “vacation!” The reduced time spent on the household labor of preparing meals is also a plus. But to be honest, I mostly I feel called to provide a taste of the East Coast to my deprived Midwestern family members; aka, when in Boston, eat some good pizza, bagels,seafood, and – if you live in my neighborhood – Italian pastries. Food is our familial love language.

Celebratory dining doesn’t feel too problematic for longterm budgeting, as long as you don’t have guests too often. Celebratory Trips to Starbucks, however, feel more insidious. No, now that I’m on maternity leave I cannot go to Starbucks every day. However, I can – and do – go to Starbucks pretty much every day that I leave the house. Because a cold drink makes running errands feel less like drudgery. Because when my husband is with me going through the drive-through with peaceful children in the back seat feels a little like a date. Because I usually spend my own personal money, so I let myself be more frivolous. Because of habit, poor morning caffeination planning, or because I’m having a shitty exhausting day and maybe it will make me feel better. At any rate, I spent more than 50 bucks at Starbucks last month, which isn’t exactly a festive, once-in-a-while kind of expense.

 

Shopping or coffee to alleviate less-than-ideal scheduling

It’s Friday morning. I get up at 6:15, get dressed, get my baby fed and dressed, help get my toddler out the door, and head out the door as a family. Toddler daycare drop off at 7:30, husband work drop off at 8:00. Baby has a doctor’s appointment at 9:15. What do you do to kill the resulting hour? Drive all the way home so you can go upstairs and unpack a baby only to pack it back up again? Or do you sit in Starbucks for an hour with a book and a coffee? It’s not necessary, but three dollars seems a pleasant way to fill a scheduling gap – especially since you get a cup of coffee out of it.

 

But then the appointment is over and it’s 10:00 a.m. You need to pick something up at a store that doesn’t open until 11. You’ve already had too much coffee and the store is right next to a Trader Joe’s. You are running low on milk and eggs, and it’s always nice to stock up on TJ’s favorites, but you don’t exactly NEED to be in a grocery store… Needless to say, such a hapless individual would be impossibly fortunate to spend just three dollars to fill this particular scheduling gap. At the very least, this hapless individual should probably make a list before entering.

 

“Good Deals” (on items I may or may not buy either way)

The on-sale item is a stupidly common spending trap, and one that my cheap-ass self falls for too often. On one hand, nobody would fault a person for researching a necessary purchase, to find the product that meets your quality standards for the lowest price. On the other hand, “research” often results in more generic “shopping” – once I’ve decided to pull out my credit card, spending tends to beget spending.  Is it really a good deal to buy a 40 oz vat of hummus at Costco when you could have made it at home for pennies on the dollar… or when you then need to buy a giant bag of carbs for hummus dipping? Or when you walk out of Target having spent 75.00, no matter how many items were on your list.

In December, against my better values, I signed up for Amazon Prime. My justification: I have a new baby who will probably need some random baby items and also prevent me from doing much out-of-the-house Christmas shopping. I canceled it in mid-January, so naturally I wanted to place One Last Order (as though Amazon would be going out of business after they lost my 12.00/month?). 160 dollars later, I now have an adequate amount of my favorite pens in the house, many, many ounces of protein powder, a year’s supply of water filters for my coffee maker, and more items of dubious necessity.

 

Too often I find the line between what is necessary and what is just cheap to be rather blurry. I also don’t feel good about purchases born in a vague, consumeristic fear – if I don’t act NOW, then I’ll end up paying more later! But then again, my coffeemaker probably does need water filters, so maybe I just need to chill out?

 

Convenience Foods

I did not find a good way to track my unnecessary food spending this month for the following reasons. A) hanging onto and parsing out unintelligible grocery receipts is difficult for those who aren’t at home with very young children most days and B) diving into what form of calories are “necessary” vs. “unnecessary” is a much bigger challenge than other sorts of spending. If I am supposing this food dichotomy, I am supposing there is some sort of way I *should* be eating. As a recently pregnant, currently nursing person, I’ve been on nutrition autopilot, hoping that whatever I happen to cook or eat is good enough. It’s probably time to think more seriously about my family’s general nutrition again, but for now, I’m relying on habit and instinct – for better or for worse.

One category of calories that draws my attention, however? Convenience foods – especially convenience snacks. In this busy season of my home, this means Delicious (but nutritionally-questionable) Bars of All Sorts. Granola bars. Breakfast bars. Fruit and nut bars. Protein bars. Bars that pretend to be healthy but are really just Rice Krispie Treats dipped in chocolate with a peanut or two on top. Is any such bar a *necessary* part of anyone’s diet? No. But when that  inevitable moment where I am out and about with children and realize I have forgotten to adequately feed myself strikes, a one-handed snack is a really, really nice thing to have in my purse. Ditto to applesauce squeezes for grumpy toddlers. For now, in these Survival Mode months where experimenting with homemade granola bar recipes sounds like a laughably distant luxury, I’m okay with a little convenience, I think. Later this year, I may narrow in on this more complex area of my regular spending.

 

Impulse purchases, usually to solve a nagging problem (or generally make myself feel better about my life)

This is the the big one for me: the purchases that feel most fraught, that leave me feeling so conflicted about my spending judgment.

Usually, these are household purchases that fall in the middle of the unnecessary-necessary spectrum: less necessary than toilet paper, more necessary than a seasonal throw pillow. Usually, these household purchase purport to solve a problem or annoyance in my daily living. Usually, when I decide to pull the trigger and spend the money, I enjoy having solved said problem, but I also feel bad about it. Why, I’m not quite sure. Because I usually purchase such items in a sudden impulse? Because I feel guilty throwing money at minor problems I should either work around or just endure? Because I usually do such spending at Big Box stores, buying plastic contraptions made in factories on the backs of unprivileged populations that will end up, someday, in a landfill?

Obviously, this kind of spending will take some more unpacking. But yes, I did spend 100 dollars on a baby sleep course this month because I was sitting in the dark for an hour tending to a crying babe who refused to sleep and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. And I did spend 27 dollars on 4 new ice cube trays because I’m thirsty all the time and tired of having mismatched trays fall on me when I open the freezer and also pinching parts of my hands on the ones that are cracked and broken. I am both enjoying and feeling bad about both purchases.

17 Dec 2018

postpartum

A few weeks ago, I had a baby.

I’m still a little sore, still a little wiped out, still bleeding. But I can feel my body healing. Knitting itself back together. It’s recovering from the Olympic-level event that is childbirth, and also returning to a state of equilibrium I forgot I could exist in. I have a body that can bend over and can put on socks and shoes without getting winded. A body that can wear jeans without thick, stretchy waistbands. A body that can properly digest food! The transformation from not-pregnant to pregnant to not-pregnant, this second time around, was familiar yet still entirely startling. Everything changes so slowly while you are gestating – symptoms shifting week by week, belly expanding steadily but gradually  – until bam! It’s all over! Baby ejected. Time to lactate, to heal, and to rebuild.

My mind and my emotions seem to be on a less linear path. With my first, the only thing I could predict was the newness of it all, so – somewhat paradoxically – the tasks at hand seemed more clear.  Pregnancy, childbirth, caring for a newborn, raising offspring in general: it was all new, scary, exciting, and mysterious. Everything I knew was likely to be altered in some unpredictable way. My job was to hang on and attempt to enjoy the ride if at all possible, and that’s what I did.

This time, I spent my pregnancy with this lingering – almost haunting – image of what my life and body were like before we decided to have a second child. My firstborn was twenty months – smart and entertaining, pretty well-behaved and sleeping through the night. With a toddler, two full time jobs, and a side hustle or two between us, my husband and I never felt like we had enough time for everything we wanted to do. But we had a little time for some things. I felt moderately in control of my life. It was a good place.

For the 39.5 weeks, while I was nauseous and tired and excited and nervous, I also knew I would get back there, to that good place. My body would be returned to me, and so would my life. My first pregnancy felt like getting ready to jump into an abyss; my second, like taking a break from regularly scheduled life. My life, like my body, would be returned to me, eventually.

Eventually, but not yet. Yes, I’m an optimistic second timer who is used to living in Mom Mode and hoping to enjoy the benefits of my parenting experience this time around; more joy, less obsessive Googling, maybe? But I’m also a wizened second timer who does remember what happened in between my first delivery and that more comfortable time: sleeplessness, worrying illnesses, days and evenings lost to your child’s varying moods or ability to nap when he needs to. Just because I remember my okay-enough parenting life more clearly doesn’t mean I’ll get back there sooner.

And I’m also learning, trial-by-fire style, that there is an Abyss-Jumping element to any major family change. I expected night wakings, but I did not expect a newborn who refused to sleep in her designated safe horizontal sleeping space (this has improved greatly in the last three weeks, but heck if I’m going to get over-confident about anything now…) I expected regressions and behavioral issues with my smart, entertaining firstborn… but I did not expect a complete dissolution of his sleep schedule. I also didn’t anticipate how my own delicate hormonal and somewhat sleep-deprived state might influence my ability to parent a sleepless toddler. I’ve forgotten a lot about the early newborn days in the past two and a half years: one thing that’s coming back to me now with persistence is how you are forced to take each day as it comes. No matter how much you want to schedule, plan, and predict, you can’t know what a day (or night) will bring you until you get there.

But three weeks ago – back when I was still scheduling, planning, and predicting – I set some intentions for this postpartum time. I hoped that I could take adequate, deliberate rest during this first month, even with an active toddler at home. Despite a few busy days and rocky nights, I think I’ve been able to succeed here. I hoped that I might be able to deliberately enjoy getting to know my new baby. Again, sometimes this has been harder than I thought it would be (“just be happy! what is so hard about that?” said the world keeps saying to me, for 33 years and counting…) but I am definitely feeling more chill about a lot of things that stressed me out the first time around. I hoped that I could do what I need to nurture my oldest through this change – this has been the hardest part of this transition, so far, and no, I don’t no if I’m succeeding.

Looking forward, I had hoped to “bounce back” to feeling like myself more quickly. I don’t know if the baby brain fog is dissipating faster this time around because I’m already in Mom Mode, or maybe I’m just giving myself the grace to not do a whole lot right now. I also hoped to prioritize health and fitness as I recover and settle into our new family routines. I’m still feeling a few weeks away from feeling physically ready to exercise – and logistically ready? Who knows… – but I don’t want to squander the powerful clean slate that has been offered to me. I’m working these hopes into my 2019 NYRs, so stay tuned.

And that’s really it. I’m three weeks deep into this new way of life, but still… in between. Transitional. Liminal. I’ll be here for forty days? Six weeks? Three months? I’m not sure yet, but I know I’ll be here for awhile, mostly on the couch, trying to be nice to myself and taking it one day at a time.

26 Sep 2018

winter, spring, summer, and fall

 Winter

Now that three-quarters of 2018 has passed, I have learned something about seasonal planning: while it seems more intuitive than, say, Random Ass Planning, it is not magical. There is probably no magical system that will eliminate all of my stress while multiplying my productivity. No list of goals can conquer all of my innate tendencies in one fell swoop; no amount of concentrated, applied ambition can easily and immediately override certain ingrained patterns in my life, my body, my family’s lifestyle, and – in general – the condition of being human on this planet.

This Winter I started a quilt. I spruced up the office. I bought a lighter so I could light some candles and then my husband hid it from me.

In March – the earliest days of my Spring – I started sketching out a new plan.

Then I got pregnant.

Spring

Two weeks later I got exhausted and nauseous and stayed that way until some time in June.

I suppose I can look at it this way: I took one of those lofty Winter goals – to think about Kid #2 – and really gave it my all! Totally knocked it out of the park. I gave lying in bed and trying not to feel like garbage my complete and absolute focus. It was my One Goal, actually. Leo Babauta would be so proud.

Once the first trimester fog lifted, it was definitely Summer. Time for a fresh start. Time to relax. To get outside. Eat a lot of tomatoes. Start planning all that priceless warm-weather fun.

Summer

Or, perhaps, host a steady stream of out-of-own guests while your husband is on Planet Grad School!

In our spare moments, we squeezed in all of our annual travel desires and obligations (Michigan! North Carolina! Niagara Falls!), I attended my many mandatory doctor’s appointments, wrote book reviews, and parented my shiny new two-year-old. And by “shiny,” I mean high-energy, verbally demanding, and LOUD. Also, it was 90+ degrees with 90% humidity for the entire season, I swear.

For extra credit, I weaned my two-year-old from breastfeeding and, over Labor Day weekend, we started potty training.

Fall

So now I’m staring down Fall. September, October, November. Back to School season. My third trimester. What can I realistically hope to accomplish? What needs to change, even for this short while, to maintain household sanity? What is just going to happen: the inevitable that I need to prepare for? Or even just recline into?

There are plenty of women who can’t or don’t allow pregnancy to slow them down in any way: women who can continue their fabulous or ambitious lives while also gestating children. I’m pretty sure they all have Instagram accounts.But for me? Right now? It’s a real challenge. For many days, just showing up at work and at home with family feels like more than enough to expend all the energy I have. Plenty of hunker down and SURVIVE days. Is everyone alive and fed? Has Mom had more than 6 hours of sleep? Everything else is ignorable – water under the bridge of everyday life. Good job, Working Mom. Good night.

The good news? This month, I’m riding a modest wave of fresh energy. I’ve taken that good Back to School September mojo combined with Third Trimester Nesting/Manic Preparedness Urges and taken that to the power of a new planner. I’m getting up early again. I’m making – and tackling – to-do lists again.

I’m feeling like I have the slightest grip on my life, again. Even with a pants-peeing toddler under my watch. And the third trimester aches and pains and HEARTBURN oh, dear God, the heartburn.

The other good news: I’m still reading. Kind of a lot. I’m pushing myself to Just Read some of the 2018 kid’s and teen titles that will surely fall to the bottom of my TBR come 2019; I’m about to finish my 6th since August 27th. I also muscled through the end of All the Light We Cannot See (yessss) and snuck in Jenny Han’s 2015 P.S. I Still Love You, just for fun. Lara Jean ended up being my 100th read of the year.

Winter, again

I know it won’t last long – both the energy boost and this Fall in Boston. Fittingly enough, I’m due December 1st: I’ll say goodbye to the season and hello to a new life. In the meantime the aches and pains will soon get worse. The heartburn, too. Soon I’ll have to figure out what to do with my loud, crazy, awesome, barely-potty trained toddler while I check into the hospital and give birth to his new brother or sister… then, I’ll have to figure out how to live under the same roof with two children.

I’m so much less anxious than I was with my last pregnancy; I’m honestly excited to meet this little person and see how he or she fits into our family. But I’m still petrified of how painful the process will be; how long it will be before we can even start to feel normal again. Because these waves of energy will surely give way to fatigue, confusion, and frustration. That blurry, scrabbling feeling like my life is close to capsizing will return.

Then it will go away… before it comes back.

No magic plan or planner is going to save me from all that – the ebb and the flow, the hormones, this inconvenient human condition made all the more complicated when you create and live among your own offspring. I can’t transform these messy, less-than-planned seasons of my life, but I can always try to make incremental progress, to find ways to feel steady for just a few moments, and to fill my days, months, and seasons with good memories, big ideas, and great books whenever possible.

Sincerely yours,

Acid-Reflux-y-but-Optimistic Jessica, (who.is.possibly.in.deep.denial.about.what.is.coming.for.her.around.the.gestational.bend….)

05 Apr 2018

33

A few days before my birthday, I started writing a little something about what’s going on in my life. I mean, there’s nothing really remarkable going on – just work, commuting, family life, reading, and reviewing – so really it was more about how I *feel* about what’s going on in my life. The short and entirely unsurprising answer: I’m feeling a lot of complicated, conflicting things about what is, ultimately, a really good life.

The slightly longer answer is that I’m really struggling with managing time and energy. I know, I know. I have a full time job and an almost two-year-old. These are super hands-on months: the months of constant supervision and constant transitions and inconstant sleep. Building even a single good habit seems an insurmountable challenge, while bad habits seem to slip in without my permission or even notice. When I do occasionally have the wherewithal to make a plan or decision that doesn’t involve my family or my job, I find myself forgetting all about my conviction within days; or worse, I can’t remember why I ever wanted to accomplish that task in the first place.

I was writing about all of those feelings, and more, when I was about to turn 33. And then I reported for jury duty, and after being empaneled on a trial, stayed there for almost two weeks.

This was an unexpected life-shake-up. Like I said, I’ve been struggling. Amidst the struggle, I thought that I could really use a vacation. Not a trip, where I’d wind up exhausted and playing catch up at the end of my “time off” – but just a week away from my normal routine. I thought it, and it appeared – a pseudo-vacation! I mean, I still had to show up every day, but I also found myself with this strange thing called “down time.” Jury duty involves plenty of waiting, ideal for working on book reviews or reading, while the more relaxed schedule and 20-minute commute left me with a few hours a day by myself. In my own home. With nothing to do.

I used some of that down time to read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, a book that I might describe as… profoundly moving. His central message: arrange your schedule and train your brain toward the singular goal of doing the kind of work you have to concentrate on – and the kind of work you find exceptionally important or meaningful. It’s nothing entirely revolutionary, especially if you, like me, are a productivity book junkie, but there was something about the way Newport put it that really made a lot of sense to me. One reason I find concentrating on my work to be hard is because I don’t feel strongly about it: maybe I’m trying to work on things that I think I should find meaningful, but I don’t. Another reason: I’m of the Internet addicted era. My neurons are not necessarily wired to do deep work.

A perk of jury duty: ample time where I needed concentrate very hard on what lawyers and witnesses were saying, even though what they were saying might not be terribly interesting. I found it surprisingly difficult, especially at first, to avoid tuning out what everyone was saying in favor of running over my own quotidian concerns in my mind. Also, trials include all sorts of 1-5 minute breaks where lawyers speak in heated whispers and the jury just gets to… sit there. Without our phones. Torturous, but good practice for my neurons.

I enjoyed a cushy schedule for two weeks and happened to read a brain-changing book during the week I turned 33. All of that was nice. But after two weeks of hanging out with 15 other strangers in a very small room and thinking about the serious, unfortunate, and complicated case we were considering… and then the thoughtful, liberal introverted empath’s nightmare that is a Jury Deliberation? I was just so, so grateful, for basically every single thing in my life.

I’m grateful to live in a country with a justice system that operates so professionally.

I’m grateful to live in a community where a random selection of jurors can include doctors, teachers, PhD holders, psychologists, and other well-educated, considerate, and fair-minded adults.

I’m grateful to have a job that covers my pay while I’m doing my civic duty.

I’m grateful that nobody in my family has been a victim of a violent crime.

I’m grateful that my husband and I do not have jobs where we work unpredictable, dangerous hours or are confronted with violent crimes every day.

I’m grateful that other people do have those jobs.

I’m grateful for my family, for my husband, for my crazy-smart, delightful child, and for a life where I’m allowed the privilege of struggling over, of all things, my time, my energy, and my feelings.

 

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27 Jan 2018

winter plan | 2018

Winter Plan

December 2017 – January 2018 – February 2018

Welcome to my first seasonal plan! I am conveniently skipping over December, you see, since it is the past. Thinking back, I don’t know how I could have worked out any sort of goals last month except Feed Family, Acquire Gifts, and Survive Travel. Anyway, I am in the present now, as are you, I assume. It’s the end of January, actually, and I’m looking toward the near future.

When I started to narrow down my goals and plans for the quarter, I wasn’t quite sure if it was better to think about my goals in terms of topic or in terms of strategy. I ended up doing both. Dividing my list by topic – family, home, creativity, and (gag) self-care – helped my list feel balanced. Dividing by strategy ensured I wasn’t trying to change one million habits at once (you win, Babatua) or taking on too many big projects. I divided my plan into four strategic categories: habitsprojects, thinking and planning, and activities. 

As I write, I’m already three weeks into month – just into the second half of the season. So far, I am finding this plan to be a pleasant reference point as I make my various to-do lists, make plans for my free time, and find books to read at the library.

Habits

lifestyle and behavior modifications that take persistence. (this is silly. you know what a habit is…)

Strength train at home.

I wasn’t getting out to exercise much before the Cold and the Snow arrived (see: toddler + full time job), so it would be entirely foolish to assume I would start getting to the gym with any regularity now. I really hate working out at home, but if I want to exercise at all, I should probably make peace with it. I am hoping to find some sort of strength routine that doesn’t require much equipment – I liked following the New Rules of Lifting program a few years back, so something like that I could do in my living room would be perfect.

Upgrade my skincare routine.

In the exhausted hubbub of the holidays, I had a moment with the bathroom mirror where I realized that yes, my face is aging. And no, I’m not really doing anything to remedy it. I’m not yet 33, so I’m hoping I have a little time to turn things around. Oh, and perhaps deal with the acne. Acne and wrinkles, guys. This is 32/33.

Read with a pen in hand whenever possible.

I struggle with finding a balance between reading for pleasure and reading for more professional purposes, but I feel like there’s a simple compromise. Reading anything with a pen in hand encourages writing about what I am reading which encourages thinking about what I am reading. This may prove challenging given my current reading habits – see: standing up on the train, walking in the park, on the couch while a toddler climbs all over me – but I’ll try whenever I can.

Projects

 longer than a task + but shorter than a habit = a project!

Uber frugal month.

I have signed up for the Frugalwood’s Uber-frugal month challenge. This involves receiving daily emails about frugality and completing small assignments. I’m halfway through the month, and luckily, most of the assignments are things I already do. “Read an email every day” is a pretty easy project to accomplish! There’s also a “don’t spend money component, but while this is more difficult, it’s not at all time consuming to *not* do something, so that’s convenient.

Blogging.

In case you didn’t notice, I am trying to blog slightly more often than… oh… four times a year. Writing, posting, thinking about posts, figuring out when to do all this stuff… well, that’s a project.

Decorate two rooms.

As I mentioned in my NYR post, I am beautifying my home in 2018. Living room is up first, in January. I’m thinking of doing the office next, since I’d like to… oh… use this room for its intended purpose. Or even just see the top of my desk. Either of those things would be great.

Sew a baby quilt.

I have three friends/family members who are procreating this year, and guess what! I am trying to become an accomplished quiltress. Baby quilts are perfect to practice on, so I am going to sew some. I want to finish the first by April, so now is the time to start planning and working so I’m not trying to scramble at the last minute.

Thinking and Planning

areas of research, discussion, and contemplation to prepare for near-future events, activities and changes

Prepare for the transition to a toddler bed.

While we were visiting family for Christmas, my eighteen-month-old learned how to climb out of cribs. At first it was just a dinky travel Pack ‘n’ Play – then it was a full-size crib identical to his own. Since we’ve been home, the humble Sleep Sack (thank you, thank you, thank you Halo) has subdued our little monkey, but the experience was enough to put the fear of God into me. It’s only a matter of time before he figures out how to climb in it or, heaven preserve me, unzip the zipper. Game plans, contingencies, and strategies must be made NOW.

Prepare for a potential child-free vacation. 

My darling toddler is a decent sleeper. Unfortunately, he’s not the most *reliable* sleeper – while he’s been sleeping better and better since turning a year old, he’s still prone to periodic sleep setbacks, regressions, etc. Right now, he’s sleeping through the night, with a middle of the night wake-up maybe once a week or so, and it’s that random wake-up I’m concerned about. Because, you see,  my darling, decent sleeping toddler accepts no middle-of-the-night comfort except his beloved Mama Milk. And Mama and her Milk would like to take a child-free vacation this Spring.  I don’t know if the solution is Official, Once-and-for-all Night Weaning or All the Way Weaning or some intensive Dad’s Nighttime Toddler Soothing Boot Camp or what, but I’d like not to leave my kid overnight with someone knowing he is going to be a middle-of-the-night terror – and that he will be middle-of-the-night terrorized by my absence.

Baby #2 Discussion/Preparation/Creation?

I feel like this is uncharacteristically personal for this psuedo-book blog… but I have an 19-month-old, so I feel like having another is not really the world’s most surprising turn of events. I’m almost 33. We are in the desirable window for a 2-3 year sibling age gap. So it’s time to at least think and plan. Oh, and also frantically squirrel away money just in case.

Plan for Spring travel

As much as I might be fantasizing about another February trip to Mexico, we are not planning any Winter travel this year. Spring, however, is looking more promising. Now is the time to check schedules, request time off, and start looking for flight deals.

Activities

one-off tasks that either don’t take much effort or can be crossed off in an afternoon. preferably fun!

Bake sourdough bread.

Using and maintaining a sourdough starter was something I pulled off my List of 100 Dreams last Spring… and I’ve kept it alive since then! I wish my track record with house plants was so impressive. Anyway, while I feed my starter lovingly and faithfully, I’ve only baked with it a few times. I’d like to rectify that while it’s still sub-arctic outside and turning on my oven isn’t an offense to my soul.

Personal Read-a-thon!

I am officially done with my Book Reviewing Season! I can now read whatever my heart desires… except that sometimes when this happens, I end up reading nothing. However, I’ve found that girding myself from a reading slump can often prevent one, so I’m going to focus on tricking and cajoling myself into keeping the reading momentum going. So far, I’ve indulged in a few Grown Up Books – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng,  I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell, List: A Novel by Matthew Roberson – and it really does feel quite indulgent.

Light candles whenever possible.

It’s Winter. It’s cold, I don’t leave the house if I can avoid it, I have stacks of books to read, and I’m trying to improve the ambiance of my home. Prime candle time! Also, a low-ball achievement to check off my list… assuming I can find somewhere to put a candle that my rambunctious toddler can’t access.

04 Jan 2018

(a few too many) New Year’s Resolutions for 2018

A few weeks ago, I left my required reading book on the wrong side of the baby gate. Knowing that if I hopped over and back I would distract my toddler from his contented, independent play and thus lose my chance to read ANYTHING, I took a taste of the forbidden fruit that is Every Book On The Planet That Is Not My Required Reading; I read the introduction to Zen Habits’s Leo Babauta’s 2009 book, The Power of Less.

To succeed and thrive, Babauta says, you must focus all of your attention on one goal at a time.

To Google, I said, “Does Leo Babauta have a stay-at-home wife?” Why yes, he does. It must be nice to have someone to take care of the rest of your life while you focus all of your attention on One Goal.

It’s New Year’s Resolution season, which I love. The entire Internet blooms with writing about goal-setting and time management and habit-change, which are some of my favorite things to read and write about! But when it comes to my own resolutions, I am still… mmm… making peace with the process. My angst is well documented.

Okay, so I do have a tendency to make too many Resolutions. Shut up, Babauta. There’s a time and a place for making a series of sweeping life changes, but with its proximity to the holidays, notoriously nasty weather in the parts of the US I tend to hang out in, and hangovers, I don’t think January 1 is really an ideal date for changing your entire life immediately.

But even if I did have a stay-at-home-wife of my own to help maintain my household while I tackled One Goal, is a New Year’s Resolution an appropriate place to apply such laser-sharp focus? A year is a long time to focus on one task without getting bored or distracted. A year is a long time to let other priorities slide; giving up on, say, exercise or healthful eating while you focus on other goals just seems dumb.

I hope my first New Year’s Resolution will help me tamp down my desire to make 100 changes all at once by helping me apply a little One-Goal-ish focus throughout the year. My first resolution for 2018 is to Live (and Plan) Seasonally. Instead of a plan for the year, I’ll plan for the season. The rhythms of the weather, temperature, and amount of daylight will help me determine which goals and habits to focus on and when.

(This resolution was inspired heavily by Austin Kleon, and somewhat by Laura Vanderkam’s Seasonal Bucket Lists.)

So yes, for my first resolution, I resolve to make more resolutions.

Ahem.

In considering my various NYR successes and failures, I think I’ve decided that for me, the best resolutions are fun resolutions. Resolutions that don’t involve your major life goals or core competencies, because if you start to fail those, then the guilt settles in for the rest of the year. Resolutions that aren’t punishing or restrictive (unless, of course, you find restricting yourself strangely fun? Any abstainers in the room?) Resolutions that don’t involve your weight. So my second resolution for 2018 is to Play Twelve New Board Games with my spouse. We have been Aspiring Boardgamers ever since my sister’s boyfriend entered our lives at the North Carolina Beach House in 2014. That summer, we played Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, and more. Three years later, my sister’s boyfriend is my sister’s husband, and my husband and I ready to be Actual Boardgamers.

We are hoping this resolution will also help us acquire some Actual Boardgamer Friends, since most games are more fun with at least 3 people. This is not, however, stopping us from playing through an entire legacy campaign of Charterstone as a twosome. We are only on game 3, so we will have to play a little resolution catch up at some point. Oh darn.

My final resolution is really more of a project, but one that will last all year so I’m going ahead and calling it an NYR. My third resolution for 2018 is to Beautify My Home, One Room at a Time. I’ve been in this place for a year and a half now, and while we’ve made some purchases and improvements, I’m ready to go all in.

(Or at least as all in as you can go with a rental, a toddler, a minuscule budget, and a mediocre track record with resolution-keeping…)

It’s really killing me not to throw on ten more resolutions to this list. I want to read 100 books this year, but I *always* want to read 100 books *every* year! I always want to eat better, work out more, feel healthier, get more sleep, write more and write better, etc. My human hamster-wheel of desires will certain spin on, all year long. And I’ll probably tell you all about it.

 

15 Oct 2017

procrastinating upholders anonymous

Four years ago, I read Gretchen Rubin’s habit-formation manifesto – Better Than Before. That was a book I  enjoyed reading, just for the nerdy pleasure of reading someone else’s obsessive thoughts on an abstract topic and also thought would be useful for my own habit-forming endeavors. But while I’ve checked it out of the library many times in the last four years – mostly at time when I’m feeling habit-stagnant – I feel like Rubin’s plethora of habit analysis hasn’t yet helped me cross that important line between intention and action. I can scheme and dream all day long, selecting strategies from Rubin’s impressive toolbox, but here I am – years later – still absent of some of life’s most important habits.
(See: Writing. Exercise. Meditation. Flossing)

While all of Rubin’s habit-forming techniques seemed generally useful, none jumped out at me as THE technique that I would and could use to magically become a grown-up and floss my damn teeth achieve my goals of everyday life. Maybe, I thought, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my Tendency.

In Better Than Before, Rubin proposes a simple personality matrix that sorts people into useful categories based on how they respond to expectations; it’s useful quality to know about yourself when you are trying to form and keep habits, but it’s also a quick, handy, and usually apt way to sort out your personality and the personalities of those you love and work with.

(What I’m trying to say is that I’ve spent the last four year trying to apply this pop-psychology personality matrix to myself and everyone I’ve known. Trust me, it’s much easier than trying to Myers-Briggs a person!)
(Yes. I am probably an annoying person to hang out with.)

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who found Rubin’s framework fascinating: she just put out a follow-up book, all about The Four Tendencies. I was excited to read it so I could continue to annoy, analyze, and perhaps subtly manipulate people. (But only for the greater good, people! Consider me the Varys of any given organization, party, family, or other social group). But I really was hoping the advanced personality insights contained in this book would shed some light on my own personality/habit dilemma.

I’m an Upholder. Or at least, I think I’m an Upholder. Upholders respond readily to inner expectations AND outer expectations. They can set and meet New Year’s Resolutions. They meet deadlines, drive the speed limit, and show up on time. Upholders are rare and obnoxious (see above paragraph?). They respond readily to inner expectations AND outer expectations. They are generally annoyed by people who can’t get their shit together.

I read this personality description in Better Than Before and said, “Oh yes, that’s me,” and didn’t think much about it. Took the official quiz later and my score matched… but tbh, the official quiz is kind of leading and bogus if you already know the basics of all four types.
Then, a few months ago, I started to wonder why I couldn’t make myself write anymore. Or go to the gym. Or floss my gd teeth.

Am I a horrible, ineffectual Upholder? An Upholder who regularly bites off more than she can chew? A procrastinating Upholder?

Or maybe I’m an Obliger in Upholder’s clothing. Apparently it’s common. Obligers readily respond to outer expectations but even though they really, really want to respond to inner expectations, they can’t and will never be able to. Many of my significant life accomplishments have been born of outer expectations. I’ve made more New Year’s Resolutions than I’ve kept. A penchant for list-making and a well organized stationary collection does not an Upholder make. Am I an Obliger, obsessively draping myself in the trappings of The Upholder – the spreadsheets, the schedules, the lists, and index cards? Am I an Obliger in deep denial?

Unfortunately, Rubin’s Four Tendencies didn’t go quite deep enough to give me the answer to that question. Perhaps this a question better suited to, oh, some sort of professional therapist and not a random pop-nonfiction book. But one paragraph from the Upholder chapter did offer me one tidbit that stuck with me:

“Although Upholders can indeed reject outer expectations in order to meet inner expectations, they don’t always have a clear sense of what they expect from themselves. For an inner expectation to be met, it must be clearly articulated. Therefore Upholders must take care to define for themselves what they want and what the value – that clarity is essential.”

That’s more like it. I’m not having an identity crisis. I’m seeking clarity, which, as The Indigo Girls have assured me for years, is really just a normal human being crisis. I’m suspect to the typical foibles of Western living* – eating too much junk food, skipping exercise, giving into the lure of the Internet instead of pursuing my higher, more noble goals – while also probably having an Upholder tendency that tips toward Obliger (aka Oldest Child Syndrome?) I’m reading, writing, thinking, always seeking some bit of wisdom or idea that makes my path clearer.

As an Upholder, finding that clarity would be especially useful to my pursuit of health, happy living and flossed teeth. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find. And, apparently, that doesn’t mean that Gretchen Rubin is equipped to help me find it. Am I ready to move away from the “Self Help by Science and Good Living” section of the library and move onto the “Self Help Seeking Clarity by Woo-Woo Visualization and Spiritual Healing Crystals” section of the library? Not quite yet. I tried to listen to The Tools, thinking it was more about Science and Good Living, but I wasn’t ready for the Woo. For now, I’m still just a Rubinette. But check back in a few months; maybe I’ll have sought enough clarity to meditate myself to a higher plane and will have all sorts of Healing Crystal books to recommend.

31 Jul 2017

room to breathe

A few weeks ago, I completed my first full-time working mom professional review cycle. Since the last days of March, I’ve read and written short reviews for 30 novels and nonfiction books for teens and middle grade readers, plus a handful of picturebooks.

I’ve had this gig for almost five years now. From roughly April to July and October to January, there are books coming in to read and review. How I accomplish this task changes from cycle to cycle; I’m always trying to find ways to work more efficiently, write better reviews, and stick more closely to deadlines… while also, you know, sleeping enough, eating well, and not living in squalor.

Now, of course, I have a baby at home, which adds a variety of unpredictable activities to my day. I used to scrap together time for reviews here and there – a lunch and early morning here, a concentrated evening or a few weekend hours at a coffeeshop there. With a baby still waking at night, starting my day at the crack of dawn just wasn’t an option, and neither was staying up late – some night even my grandmotherly 9 p.m. bedtime was a stretch. And those evening hours between baby bedtime and mommy bedtime? For some they are a precious refuge for one’s sanity. For me, they are a precious refuge for cleaning bottles and pump parts and sippy cups and making lunches for not one but TWO people (cause that’s definitely not happening in the morning) and then collapsing on the couch for what must be the first time all day and hey wait it’s time to go to bed? Well you don’t have to ask me twice…

This time around, I wrote reviews almost exclusively on my lunch break – forty-five minutes while I was still pumping, an hour when I stopped in June. This wasn’t exactly what I’d call a universally successful experiment – I had to lug my laptop around town every day which isn’t easy on my grandmotherly back, and it added a another element of monotony to my already pretty rigid schedule. Also, I blew pretty much every deadline. BUT at the end of it all, the books got read (on the train, on the occasional elliptical session, on the couch with a toddler trying to feed me plastic toys, on a strolls through Boston Common), and the books got reviewed.

That was my first full-time working mom review cycle, and now this is my first full-time working mom review cycle BREAK and it feels like I’m a ten-year-old on summer vacation. I can read exactly what I want exactly when I want to! Right now I am taking that to mean Pick up Every Single Book and Read it. Here’s a brief but not definitive list of books I am currently in the middle of:

 

 

There are probably more that I read one chapter of and left lying around somewhere. I am feeling pretty book slutty, but I am definitely liking it.

I’m also finally feeling that sense of urgency with my time that I was hoping would come. This is it, Jessica! Your time off! You have from now until October-ish to… do all the shit you want to do with your time and life. The writing. The arts and crafts. The home projects. The writing. The socializing. The running. The binge-watching of television while you have an HBO subscription. The writing. The writing. The writing. The time is now! I’m going for it.

I don’t know if this is a related endeavor or if just concurrent, but I’m also in the midst of an impromptu digital fast. No Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Minimal mindless Internet trawling. Restricted podcast intake (only when I’m cleaning, exercising, or performing truly tedious work tasks). Again, I don’t know if this is correlation or causation or just a well-timed jostling of my usual routine, but it feels really, really great. Like I actually have thoughts in my head instead of to-do lists and free-wheeling worry.

See also: my baby is sleeping through the night. Except for, you know, last night.

So here’s to the rest of the summer – to a few more weeks of work, a few weeks of vacation, a few more months of sunny weekend morning walks in the park with my baby. To iced coffee, white wines, and summer beers. To grilled everything. To the analog life. To actual thoughts, restorative breaks, and stacks of unashamedly half-read books.

 

 

28 May 2017

everything that i am doing that is not writing

One. Dealing with my personal data situation. Aka, wading through the hundreds of GB of digital photography that are clogging up my various hard- drives. New personal mantra: “Never take 25 shots when 3 will do.”

Two. Night weaning my eleven-month-old. I wasn’t ready at six months, or nine months, but I decided I’d rather do it now than deal with a surly nursing two-year-old in my bed. We’ve moved him to his own room, are allowing more time for him to “settle” in the middle of the night (aka, letting him moan for 10-15 minutes at a time), and are gradually reducing middle of the night nursing sessions… when I can stay awake long enough to do so, that is.

Three. Sewing. My mother bought me a sewing machine for Christmas, and I’ve been trying to actually use it! I am almost done with one crooked baby-sized quilt – just need to finish tying it up – and I have sewed some uber-practical reusable mesh produce bags. Next, I want to do another quilt (I discovered Wise Craft and am obsessed), some baby bibs, some more produce bags, and maybe a dress?

Four. Celebrating my Nursing Mom Metabolism with baked goodsYes, I am still nursing, and yes, I am usually hungry. So much so that my usual 2 snacks-and-a-lunch at work were not cutting it. I started buying a pastry pretty much every day. This is not a bad way to live, but I started to go broke. My instincts said “cut back” but my metabolism said “Hey, Jessica, you why don’t you just bake some of those zillions of tasty recipes you keep on Pinterest but are always feeling too dietarily austere to create, and then take those to work!” I’m loving it. So far I’ve made Blueberry Lemon Cake, (Not) Derby Pie Bars, Date Spice Loaf, and some chocolate chip blondies.

Five. Listening to Reproductive Podcasts. Pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting have always been pet interests of mine, but interests I’ve tried not indulge too much because of some weird, pointless combination of superstition and shame. So now that I have entered my Official Reproductive Years, I am allowing myself to go to town. Favorites include The Birth Hour, The Longest Shortest Time, Matt and Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure, Pregnant Pause, One Bad Mother, and Common Sense Pregnancy and Parenting. Are there even any more good Reproductive Podcasts out there? If I’m missing any, let me know!

Six. Getting Things Done, David Allen-style. Full-time, out of the house, working mom life has got me feeling… dizzyingly swamped. So I started carrying around a little notebook devoted to writing down every undone task I think of, as I think of it. Then I started a formal “Next Actions” list in my main notebook/bullet journal. Then I started making project sheets. So I’m about 30% GTD, and I’m digging it.

Seven. Actively looking for things to let go. I have a natural tendency to take on responsibilities, projects, and moral imperatives fairly without discrimination, so I’m keeping an eye out for ways to make my life easier that I can actually stomach. Can I bring myself to shop more at Amazon or Marshalls, to save my weekends from errands? That would be nice, but no, I can’t do that.  Can I pack squeezy-food for my baby’s daycare lunches, even though I read somewhere online that feeding your baby squeezy-food is simply a terribly idea? Yes. I can save some time and stress and shovel some yogurt into a squeezy-food pack.

Eight. Thinking about writing. And how to do more of it. And trying to actually do some. Stressing, fretting, etc. But mostly thinking. Scheming. And trying to get more sleep so I can get up earlier, drink a cup of coffee, and do it.