Checking In on Intentions

Back in February, I declared my intentions for the year. Not goals – intentions. (It’s harder to fail at intentions.) As we inch (or leap, as the case may be) toward the year’s midpoint, I thought it was time to check in on how I’ve done.


I wanted to read. On track.

Reading, formerly a favorite pastime, seriously fell by the wayside over the last few years. But I wanted to get back to it, both because I think to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader, and because I missed the feeling of losing myself in a book. As much as I love the excitement of knowing there’s a new episode of The Americans waiting for me in the DVR, it doesn’t come close to the feeling when you can’t wait to jump back into a book. I’ve gone in fits and starts this year – partially as a result of Katie stealing and hiding my iPad where it’s yet to be found, and partially because I’m a devoted listener of the West Wing Weekly podcast, which requires me to binge-watch old episodes — but so far I’ve read eight books, with four more in some state of “am reading” – and my to-read list is growing by the day.

I wanted to write. On track.

I’ve done less structured writing of what I think of as my “bigger pieces” in recent months, but my Three Good Things and Stitch Fix posts have kept me writing here on the blog, and I have an ever-growing list of ideas for longer essays. I’m planning to take a day off in July to use as a creative retreat, aimed at knocking one of them out. In the meantime, stay tuned for a piece I’ll have up in the next week. It’s one of the toughest pieces I’ve written and I’m glad it found a home.

I wanted to work out. On track-ish.

I believe I said in my original post that I wanted to stop treating my body “like a garbage heap.” I won’t proclaim to have revolutionized my diet (seriously, anyone want to stage a vending machine intervention for me?) but I’m still going to barre once a week and am walking on the treadmill a couple of times a week. Maybe the second half of the year will be my time to eat clean and pick up my pace.

I wanted to dress up. On track.

Not every Stitch Fix delivery has been a success, but overall the service has helped me think more intentionally and creatively about my wardrobe, and I count that as a win. I have a few new pieces in my closet, new day and evening bags to carry, and thanks to a quick stint with Rocksbox, even a few pieces of statement jewelry that I probably never would have bought on my own.

I wanted to get out, and get away. On track.

I made it back to Girls Weekend – featuring me as the only person happy to be in an airport, because I was by myself – and we’ve gotten babysitters and traded sits with friends for a few nights out. Nothing revolutionary but welcome changes of pace.

I wanted to get back to gratitude. On track.

I’ve kept up my monthly(ish) Three Good Things posts, and while I’m not writing in my gratitude journal every single night, I’m doing it more than not. Every time I think of five good things that happened that day – some as small as “it stopped raining” and even on seemingly bad days – I feel better.

How’s your year going? Are you showing yourself grace on the days (or weeks, or months) when things don’t go to plan?

2016 Intentions

Hey, would you look at that. It’s 2016. In fact, it’s been 2016 for some time now. I was “intending” to write this post at, say, the beginning of the year. But like Gretchen Rubin, who’s come around to the idea of sending Valentine’s Day cards instead of holiday cards, because that’s when she can get them done, here I am with my intentions for 2016. Because this is when I’ve gotten them done.

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I’m using the word “intentions” intentionally. These aren’t resolutions or goals. I know it’s a difference of semantics, but there’s something about the setting of resolutions and goals that just sets me up to disappoint myself. I mean, it’s mid-February. How resolved can I possibly be?

(On a related note, since I’m starting this with 10.5 months left in the year, do I get to pro-rate my success? To be determined in the year-in-review post.)

Last year, I did set a word of the year. It was “present,” and I failed miserably. I didn’t do much living in the moment, I let my gratitude practice wither, and my monkey mind sped ahead to the to-do list of tomorrow, next week, next month all too often. But I’m giving myself a break on all of that. In many ways, 2015 was a great year, but as I wrote in December, it was filled with its fair share of bumps, too.

So, this year, no word. But maybe a theme. And the theme is: me. I fell into a mom rut last year, consumed by everything that needed to happen while juggling full-time work and the baby and the toddler. I became a cliché – no time to read and little time to write, no time to workout, no time to go out.

It’s time to break those habits. Because cliché is sad, but martyrdom is worse, and I don’t want to end up there. So, a few intentions for a less clichéd 2016:

I want to read. I think I read a grand total of two books last year, not counting the kid sleep books I read over and over again (to no avail). I’d especially love to read some fiction, which I feel like I’ve floated far away from. I miss escaping into a book, that feeling when you just can’t wait to find a free minute to open the pages back up (or turn the iPad back on). I’ve already made a little progress on this point, in part by deleting Facebook from my phone. Time when I used to mindlessly scroll is now taken up with a few quick pages, which has helped me already to read Jessica Turner’s The Fringe Hours, on finding more time in your day (how meta is that?), and My Other Ex, an anthology about women’s friendships.

Other books on my reading list right now that I’d love to get through this year:

  • Anna Quindlen’s Still Life With Bread Crumbs (I started this, um, two years ago. An Anna book that I haven’t finished?!? You can tell by that very fact that reading took a nose dive for me.)
  • Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin
  • In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume
  • Kindness Wins, by Galit Breen
  • Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess)
  • Rising Strong, by Brene Brown
  • When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
  • Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler

If I even get through half of those, I’ll call it a win.

What books are on your nightstand, in your Kindle, or on your library waiting list?

I want to write. Writing makes me happy. But finding the time to sketch out a piece, edit it, and send it out into the world has been tough, of late. I spent a chunk of January taking a class on finding balance as a writer, and carving out time to create. I came up with some good ideas – and then fell horribly behind when the snow hit. I’m committed to finishing the class, and then to actually following through on my plans for making time to write on a more regular basis. The things that make my heart sing shouldn’t be last on my to-do list.

I want to work out. Isn’t this on everyone’s list? But at some point this year, for the first time in more than FOUR years, I will be neither pregnant nor breastfeeding. My body will be back to being mine, and it’s time I stop treating it like a garbage heap. I’ve coasted on nursing to help burn calories since Katie was born 15 months ago, but now it’s time to actually get back to some physical fitness if I’m going to be able to justify dessert. I’ve started barre classes once a week, and I’m aiming to run on the treadmill two other times a week. I’d even like to run a 5k this year. In the fall. Maybe. (It would be my first race in almost five years!)

I want to dress up. Stitch Fix has revitalized my wardrobe far more than the several pieces I’ve kept from the styling service alone would show. I hate spending money on clothes, a fact that my closet made painfully obvious when I took inventory back in the fall. But spending a bit on some good pieces turns out to be worth it for mind and body alike. I’m sticking with Stitch Fix. My next box arrives March 9!

I want to get out, and get away. Babysitters are expensive, and it’s hard for one parent to take care of both kids for a whole weekend. But there’s value in investing in date nights that require clothes other than yoga pants and entertainment other than Netflix, and in B getting some solo time with Teddy and Katie while I return to my annual Girls’ Weekend. (That’s right, ladies, Michele’s back! Look out, New Hampshire!)

I want to get back to gratitude. I kept up my monthly(ish) Three Good Things posts last year, but I found it easier to find things I’d loved and learned than those I’d felt grateful for. I think that’s because I stopped looking as intentionally for the good. This year, I want to get back to listing five things I’m grateful for each day. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over again: the more I look for the good, the more good I find.

What do you intend to do this year, and what have you already accomplished? I’ll be back in a few months to let you know how my intentions are working out.

Three Good Things [02.09.16]

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Holidays, sick days, snow days — they all combined to throw the second half of January wildly off track. But we’re back to a five-day work week (this week, at least), the colds are gone (for now), and the snow that was potentially in the forecast for today didn’t materialize (in my back yard). Let’s count up our good things.

Three things I’ve loved lately: 

  • The HerStories Balanced Writer writing class. Almost five years after finishing grad school and running as fast as I could away from classes, I signed up for one. But this one was a pure treat, part of my plan this year to invest more in myself and my writing (see as-yet-unwritten-and-also-ridiculously-late post on my 2016 intentions for more on that). Part of doing more writing is finding the time to actually write more. So this class was less about crafting a perfect personal essay (though I hope to take a class or two on that, soon!) and more about looking at my endless to-do list and figuring out how I can make writing – and by extension, me – a higher priority on it. Judging by the fact that the back-to-back sicknesses and snow days derailed my work on the class, it’s safe to say that a) I needed the class; and b) it’s all still a work in progress, but I loved the intentionality that the class brought to how I approach my writing. First step: getting up from my desk for lunch at least once a week to read or work on a piece of writing at a nearby coffee shop. I even bought myself a new laptop sleeve so I can bring my laptop to and from work more easily. Now, will I hold myself to it?
  • A Friday Night Lights reunion!?! No, it’s not the long-hoped for movie (which appears to be dead in the water), but the Austin ATX Television Festival is hosting a reunion 10 years after the show’s start. I do love Austin (and Riggins and Coach and Landry, but not Lyla or Becky). Wonder if there’s any way for me to be there…
  • Barre. I went into a gym (of sorts) and didn’t get struck by lightning! It’s been a long four years without any kind of regular workout routine, and it’s time to get back in the game (see, also, above-mentioned intentions post). I’m planning to get back to running, but I need something else to rediscover the muscle tone that’s gone missing. Enter barre, a Pilates- and ballet-inspired strength training class. I bought and signed up for a bunch of classes and enlisted a friend to go with me, knowing that investing the money and making a commitment to a workout buddy would get my butt off the couch when all I really want to do is watch HGTV. I freaking love it – not only the class itself, but that I have a dedicated time for something that’s good for me every week. And someday, when I find my missing muscle tone, my legs will like it too.

Three things I’ve learned:

  • How generations get their names. This showed up in my Facebook feed a day after I remembered that millennials used to be called Generation Y. I especially appreciated that it attempts to name MY sub-generation, which bridges Gen X and the Millennials. I never fit neatly into those BuzzFeed quizzes. The Atlantic suggests “Generation Catalano,” after My So-Called Life. YUP. Because Jared Leto and Claire Danes will always be Jordan Catalano and Angela Chase first.
  • Yay for sarcasm! Hmm, I wonder why stories about how awesome sarcastic people keep appearing in my feeds? It couldn’t be that these damn algorithms are on to me, could it? According to these, we (we being the cuttingly sarcastic) are successful, creative, and have good brain health. Obviously. We are also disproportionately from the north (yup), appreciate people who both tolerate our smart-ass comments and lob them back (yup), and are sometimes seen as playful but also hostile (whoops, yup). This explains a lot.

  • Metallica’s James Hetfield just got his Ph.D in astrophysics. Um, what? The guy who I used to watch on Headbangers’ Ball on Saturday nights? There’s some sort of Enter Sandman reference to be made here, but maybe I’d need a doctorate to put my finger on it.

Three things I’ve been grateful for:

  • A flexible job. Between sick days and snow days (and some that overlapped), the last two weeks of January were brutal on our schedule. School and daycare may have closed, but work didn’t – which meant that I was up early, editing late, and trying to cram in conference calls during nap time. Not the vision of hot-cocoa-and-movie-filled, idealized snow days of my imagination. I complained about it then – and I’ll complain about it again when the next robo call announcing a school closure comes – but I’m grateful to have a job that enables me to work from home and at odd hours to make up the time, and a team that understands that sometimes snotty noses and playing in the snow have to come first.
  • Adele. Katie hates her carseat. Actually, she hates being restrained in any shape or form, but especially in seats. This fact makes the otherwise-quick trip to and from daycare just as delightful as you’d imagine. It turns out, however, that my girl, like so many of us, has a sweet spot for Adele. Cue “Hello” at full volume, on repeat. People who see me rocking out as I roll to a stop in the next lane over: I have no shame if it means my kid isn’t screaming. And if she’s still screaming, I need the music even more.
  • The moon shot to cure cancer. I know curing cancer isn’t a one-size-fits-all event, and it won’t happen during a press availability with the Vice President. But I appreciate that the President took time out of the State of the Union, with Joe Biden, still grieving the loss of his son, right behind him, to bear witness to the hardship and sorrow that cancer has brought to every family I know. Including mine, too much. I appreciate that Joe Biden is committed to making curing cancer a priority – not just now, in the last year of this administration, but for the rest of his days. And I appreciate the many, many advances that are already happening in the field of cancer research. But we can do more – so, so much more – especially for kids, and for people with metastatic cancer. Let’s do it.

What have you loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately?

 

Right Now [the Halfway Through 2015 Edition]

Photo credit: Morgan Sessions

Photo credit: Morgan Sessions

Um, hey guys, it’s July. Just in case like me, you thought might still be the end of May, or maybe March. (I would say that March feels like it was a million years ago, and in some ways it does, but oof, March, this year. And again, that’s all I’ll say about that.)

Anyway, it feels like a good time to take stock and reflect on what’s happening in and around the Storybook Life house as we hit the year’s halfway point.

[testing] the dairy waters. Oh, cheese, how I’ve missed you. I’m not going full-bore back to dairy — I don’t want to shock Katie’s system or rev up my reflux — but damn, that first pack of M&Ms tasted good. As did that first piece of pizza, and the first real chocolate chip cookie. Yummm, cookies.

[sipping] Firefly and seltzer. John Dalys, the nectar of summer (well, other than margaritas and crisp beers and cold white wine). Now all I need is Erin, my Firefly buddy, to come over and help me dip into that Costco-sized bottle.

[thumbing] through the pages of Cook’s Illustrated and The Atlantic and Parents, and (mostly) being honest that I’ll never make any of the Cook’s Illustrated recipes, read a full issue of The Atlantic, or do any of the fun projects displayed in Parents. But it makes me happy to get magazines in the mail, and to have them to flip through when I want the comfort of printed words but not the commitment of a book.

[binge watching] Mad Men, still. Up to the middle of season 3, and I’m still loving it. I can’t wait to see how they use the JFK assassination as a back drop for the later part of the season. Also still reading Alan Sepinwall’s recaps of every episode; I feel like I haven’t “finished” the episode until I see what he thought of it. Am also sometimes cheating and reading one recap ahead, which is so dumb, because I hate spoiling stuff for myself, and yet I can’t help it. Can TV recap reading be considered a compulsion?

[listening] to my new (and old) favorite podcasts. When I’m not watching Mad Men, I’m listening to One Bad Mother and the Girls Next Door, and my newest faves, Happier from Gretchen Rubin and Totally Mommy from Elizabeth Laime. But my listening list is missing a good pop culture show. What should I listen to? Preferably something a little tongue in cheek that’s a half hour or shorter. Bonus points if there’s any discussion of the British royals. (Why don’t the Go Fug Yourself girls have a podcast? Topic for a different day…)

[eyeing] schedules for nearby yoga and barre and spinning studios. Barre and spinning totally intimidate me, so don’t go putting any money on the odds that I’ll actually take one of those classes, however good they might be for whipping my butt back into shape. And the yoga classes I’m looking at won’t, either — they’re more of the “good excuse to take a nap while wearing quasi-athletic clothing” variety — but a little savasana might do a mind and body both good.

[downloading] pictures and videos from my phone…but somehow never getting around to [uploading] them to Snapfish or [printing] any of them out. Which may be why people at work keep commenting on my four-month-old daughter, since that’s the picture of her on my door. Um, yeah, no. She’s actually eight months old. I’m just lazy, and she’s a second kid. Here, want to see my phone? I’m sure I have a picture that’s been taken within the last month…

[marveling] at the leaps that both Teddy and Katie are making, seemingly every day (even absent photographic evidence). Teddy’s out of his crib and into a toddler bed, and (mostly) potty trained, and capable of weaving funny stories. Katie’s sometimes now actually in her crib, and when she’s not, she’s happiest to be wherever her big brother is — but increasingly wants in on his fun (“no, Katie, that’s MY toy!”), and she’s found her voice to let us know when she’s being left out.

[counting] down to the start of school. As in NEXT MONTH. Um, what? Daycare “graduation” is at the end of this month. So if you’re looking for me, it’s safe bet I’ll be in the corner with some tissues. I’m so glad that our daycare friends are right around the corner, so goodbye won’t really be goodbye, but just “see you Saturday.”

[gearing] up for Katie’s first Fourth of July. A weekend of cold beer and loud fireworks and pic-a-nics, as Teddy would say, sounds just about right to me.

Reverb: A Summertime/Slightly Past Mid-Year Check-In

I recently found Sarah Bagley’s blog, about her “recovery from perfectionism” and her efforts at living a B+ life. That message has resonated with this recovering perfectionist, and I’ve been eating up Sarah’s posts and podcasts. (Gratuitous Listen to Your Mother mention: she was in the Baltimore show, where she talked about her very special relationship with her grandmother.)

Sarah also helps coordinate Project Reverb, which comes up with monthly writing prompts to help bloggers reflect on how things are going. I’m jumping in…with a bit of a tweak.

This month’s prompt asks how the summer’s going. I’ll take it a step further and take stock of how the year’s going so far. Why stop at just one season?

For the record, the goals I set back in January were:

  • Buy jeans that fit.
  • Turn on the crock pot.
  • Open (and finish) a book.
  • Hire a babysitter.
  • Get organized!
  • Get on the treadmill.
  • Let go of some guilt.

Now more than halfway through the year, all things weather-toddler-pregnancy-house considered, I don’t think I’m doing all that badly. Though true to my goal-setting nature, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Buy jeans that fit. Well, the new jeans fit for a couple of months, at least. Now I’m back in the maternity ones that do no one any favors, but if I’m not spending big money on good jeans when I’m not pregnant, I’m sure as hell not buying designer maternity jeans.

Turn on the crock pot. Check! Okay, I’ve pinned more crock pot recipes than I’ve actually made, but I consider plugging it in and throwing the same chicken-black bean-corn-salsa combo in there every week or so a success.

Open (and finish) a book. Check! I’ve opened more than I’ve finished, but it has been really nice to rediscover my love of reading. I actually have a D.C. library card! That I’ve used! Next step: reading books that aren’t just about kids and home-life balance (though, really, Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun and Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed are both worth blog posts in their own right). Any good summertime suggestions?

Hire a babysitter. Check! OK, so we’ve only gone out a couple of times. But that’s more than we did last year. We’ve gone the hired-sitter route, the friend-as-sitter route, and now belong to a neighborhood babysitting co-op. With the next player to be named later arriving in just three short months, though, we need to actually start using the co-op.

Get organized. Eh. We’re building two new closets in the basement. Does that count?

Get on the treadmill. Sorta-kinda? I did manage to run/walk a bunch of times before the first-tri exhaustion-nausea combo knocked me for a loop, and again a couple of times (walking, sloooowwwwly) once that let up but before construction started. Now? The treadmill is unplugged and sitting behind boxes of heavy floor tile in the unfinished section of the basement. So I’ve traded in my sneakers for a floatation belt. That’s right, people, I’m back to water aerobics. It’s just me and a handful of older ladies in bathing caps, floating around the pool. (Seriously, though, I love water aerobics and would do it regularly if there were actually a cool class to attend. But I can’t wait for the basement to be finished so I can resume my pathetically slow walks, too.)

Let go of some guilt. Shoulda, coulda, woulda might as well be my tagline. At the start of the year, I was feeling torn about not doing more to volunteer. But I had to take honest stock: right now, Teddy and B and kiddo #2 have to take priority. Being a facilitator for my thyroid cancer support group doesn’t feel like I’m doing a ton, but it’s what I’m cut out for right now, and that just needs to be enough.

And the summer? Yeah, the summer’s going great.

With treats like these, how can you go wrong?

With treats like these, how can you go wrong?