Daily Archives: January 14, 2014

rethinking resolutions

Last year’s resolutions were uninspiring at best. I think I’m a fan of setting (and keeping) goals, and I do find that it feels like it’s time to reevaluate things at the start of a new year. But the general list of things I’d like to accomplish during the year feels more like a list of items that I’ve generally failed at completing in the past. It’s a rather defeatist attitude to carry into a season of new beginnings.

That’s just it – at the end of last year I was feeling really defeated. Everything in our lives turned upside down. Every morning began with this realization that nothing can be taken for granted, and the pressure of that feeling before the sun has even come up can be crippling. Every evening brought about real exhaustion, and that combination of deep to the core sadness and despair doesn’t lend itself to any sort of productivity. It required a very conscious effort to move slowly and choose wisely – determining where I could focus the little energy/drive/smiles that I had. The first week of December I mentally mapped out what I could do to get through the month – making very concrete lists of things that I could let go and let be. And because I was so very tired and sad about being tired and sad, I also made a very concrete list of things that I could do that would bring some peace and some focus and (maybe) even a little joy back into my outlook. 
 
The act of doing that was truly transformative for me. It felt like it worked. December and the holidays were still difficult, but I felt like I navigated those waters with something of a plan, and in the end there truly were some special moments in between all those tears.
 
As January rolled into town I thought I’d take a look back at my short term approach to December to see if maybe I could apply the same sort of tactic to the months of this year – instituting a different way of thinking about resolution lists. This was the list of overall goals I put into place for December, and the specific things that I did to implement them.
 
Chose a Focus
My focus for December was on the holidays – specifically trying to get through them on a personal level that wouldn’t reduce the amount of joy / happiness / traditions that my girls were excited for and deserved.
 
Named Feelings
At the end of the month I wanted to look back at December and be able to describe my general feelings as quiet, reflective, thoughtful, contentI did not want to have to describe them as anxious, harried, guilty.
 
Made Some Lists
First I determined what I had to do during the month as well as those things that were optional. I examined mandatory items first, and made a plan to engage in or complete those things is a way that would leave me feeling the way I described. Going to work was not optional, but I could put on headphones and listen to old archives of “This American Life” – something that helped me focus and reflect on the general absurdity of life in a way that often made me smile. I could offer to be the one to pick up the toys and gifts for the family our office was sponsoring, and I could take breaks from my desk to wrap up those presents or call a friend. 
 
Then I took a long, hard look at the optional things, and I marked many of them off my list, letting go of any lingering guilt about it at the same time. I could feel confident that I could organize a holiday concert reception and also feel confident that it would still run smoothly if I didn’t contribute something homemade of my own.
 
The first was an act of adjusting (priorities, approach, perception), the second was an act of subtraction (filtering and letting go). The third component was adding something(s) back in – things that were only allowed if they would bring about those feelings of quiet, reflection, thoughtfulness and contentment. I actually took my annual tradition of making holiday cards off the list in order to remove any sense of obligation or stress or deadlines that might have been related to them. And then I purposefully added them back in, pledging to myself – and out loud to my husband – that I would only work on them if they contributed those feelings to me – and I asked him to keep me accountable for that. (He did, especially on the evening that I started assembling everything and realized that I had grossly underestimated my production, and there was no physical way for them to be completed and mailed before the holiday.)

Which brings us around to the new year, and how I plan to approach it as it relates to resolutions or goals. Using a similar framework, I’m going to focus on something different each month, and then carry through with it on several different levels. So I’m choosing a theme for each month, and under that theme I want to accomplish several things:

First, I want to accomplish something that’s been on my to-do list for awhile. This will be a little like the 52 weeks projects I did a few years ago, but I’m giving myself the entire month to tackle something on that list. Second, I want to push myself to learn something or do something that I haven’t tried before. This might be in the form of taking a class, or it might be as simple as sitting down and reading online tutorials or just trying out a new technique. Third, I want to describe the way I’d like to feel at the end of each month, and then work at my specific goals with that end feeling in mind.

In addition to those three things, I’d like to intentionally set up at least one social event for the girls each month – make a better effort to help them connect up with their friends instead of just saying I’m going to do it and then realizing we’re through the weekend already and haven’t made any plans. I think we’re really good about getting out and doing fun things as a family, but I’m not the best at organizing fun play dates outside of the more typical school and scouting and sports activities. I’m also going to be more proactive about setting up date nights with M, and with other couples. I have a slew of restaurants I’m itching to go to, and I’d like to make going out a more regular thing.

Each month will be different, and (if you haven’t figured this out already) January’s theme is this blog.

Focus: third story(ies)

To-do’s related to that theme:

1. Migrate the blog to WordPress, and continue to tweak the design and features.

2. Schedule 30 minutes a week to upload the past week’s posts to Blurb as well as two old weeks to Blurb, with the long term goal of publishing the blog in hard copy each year. I loved doing that for the first year, but it’s unrealistic for me to set aside a large chunk of time each year to do it. I can, however, tackle it in small doses – one step forward, two steps back is what I’m calling it.

3. Back up the blog – at the same time I’ll do this, once weekly.

4. Publish posts on a more regular basis. I have about seven “regular” sort of post themes around here, and I plan to implement a loose sort of calendar of publishing. I’ll outline some of those ideas later this month.

Learn something new:

1. Migrate the blog on my own. Learn new things like web hosting, and domain names, and CPanels and DNS codes, and source feeds and .php files. Encounter a road block and then research until I get through it and onto the new one.

How I want to feel at the end of January: 

Organized, inspired, productive (and a little bit proud)

I plan to post at the beginning of each month about the theme and my plans, and then I’ll check back in mid-month and at the end as well. Hopefully this will be a little more inspiring and productive than Stop biting my nails. Yawn.

I’d love to hear what you are planning on tackling this year – even if it’s about your nails.

halfway to five

Birthday Boots

I took a photo of you on Thursday in your new snow boots, a novelty Christmas gift that quickly turned into a necessity this past week. You stood outside on the sidewalk and gave me all manner of non-smiles until I reached the appropriate threat level, my toes starting to lose feeling in the process of finagling. A few moments later I looked at the photos and remembered the pictures I took of you six months ago when you turned four… also in boots, this time for the rain. Another present opened and received in great joy, a necessity (in your mind) for a successful four year old party in the fountains. You celebrate the turning of whole years and half years in the most extreme ways – temperatures, weather conditions, precipitation, footwear choices.

What a fitting metaphor for you, this study in (extreme) contrasts. I sometimes read back through all of those letters I’ve written to you and I laugh because nothing really changes. Sure, you get taller, you have more teeth, you can write letters and crisscross balance beams and make rubber band bracelets, but any one of those tasks or any other can either lull you into quiet, sustained concentration and focus, or hurl you headlong into the crackling firestorm of despair – loudly vocalizing your displeasure at the absurd unfairness of all creation and your role within it. I’m convinced if you knew any swear words you would surely use them. Which reminds me of a funny story from these past holidays…

You started noticing nativity scenes around town and on our travels, and you had a very unique way of pointing them out to us. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” you would exclaim, and not in any sort of reverent way, but wholly in the manner of a swearing Irish character in a Frank McCourt memoir. You utter it at the same volume level as you announce each passing American flag – loudly. Just after Christmas this year we pulled into a parking space adjacent to a small town square in Iowa, decorated with the stars and stripes, jolly St. Nick and a manger scene. As you exited the truck for the sidewalk you let it fly. “An American Flag! A Santa Claus! Well… Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” and it sounded just like you might imagine it would, reading it here now.

Bridge Building

I get the added bonus of almost twenty-four hours together with you – just the two of us. Oh, how delightful it’s been. When everything slows down a bit, and the corners are rounded, and the distractions are removed – my, how easy you are. Willing to pull out a deck of cards and stomp me in a game of War, patient (and thorough) enough to study the diagrams and build four different bridge types without correcting my technique or involvement, funny enough to strike a pose in the coffee shop during the thirty seconds that it took me to top off my coffee, sending the entire restaurant into giggles while you didn’t even crack a smile until the joke was up.

Novel Reading

You push every single button you can, and you are completely, 100% worth it. Happy half birthday my sweet, sweet girl.