Posted in about me, exercise, ebb & flow, motivation, mindset, mental health, tips, connections

Wandering and staying focused: a working plan

In a conversation on Zoom this morning, we chatted about staying on track with work and life. A system I guess-and-checked my way into is working really well for me right now and seemed to resonate with others, so I thought I’d share it with you. Take what resonates, leave the rest.

First, I made a list of things that in my ideal life, I would do every day. It’s not a to-do list—there’s no way I can actually do all of these things every day. I left the list out on my desk for a few days and added to it and made notes as I thought of them.

I edited the list and organized it by section. This is what I ended up with:

Body

  • foam roll
  • move (walk, run, bike)
  • body weight exercises
  • stretch
  • Alexander Technique

Writing

  • prompts
  • book
  • blog
  • newsletter

Household

  • laundry
  • food
  • paperwork

Other

  • photography
  • music
  • Spanish
  • read
  • Forward Link
  • connect

I printed the list and put it in a picture frame (surely I’m not the only one who has extra picture frames hanging around?), because dry erase markers work well on glass. I keep it on my desk. If my desk was located differently in my house, I’d hang it on the wall next to my desk.

Any time I do something from the list, I check it off. On Monday, I check on the left side; on Tuesday, I check on the right. On Tuesday, I make a slightly larger effort to get to things that were neglected on Monday. At the end of Tuesday, I erase it all.

Wednesdays, the schedule here is off, so I check things on Wednesday and then erase it at the end of the day. Thursday and Friday are paired, Saturday and Sunday are paired.

Why did I make this list?

Because I’m working from home in a self-directed pursuit, I needed some structure. But I know myself well enough to know that a schedule wasn’t going to work; it’s too easy to get derailed. I found myself finishing a task and wandering around the house, wondering what I was forgetting to do next, and looking for a snack.

The list keeps me grounded. There are lots of options, for a variety of focus levels. All of them are good ways to spend time—I won’t feel like I’ve wasted an hour on any of them.

How did I make the list?

The first two sections—body and writing—I broke down into specifics, because these two are the most important and the easiest to blow off. Funny how that works. All the body pieces and the first two writing pieces I strive to do every day.

The blog sees a new post three days per week, but I’m writing or editing more often than that. It’s nearly daily.

The newsletter is every other week (sign up here) but I kept forgetting about it until the last minute. So I don’t need to work on it every day, or even close, but this keeps it on my radar which improves the quality of both my time and the newsletter.

Household. Just things that get backlogged. Except food, these aren’t things that need to get done every day, but again, they stay on my radar, and it feels good to check them off when I’ve done them. “Eh, I don’t feel like doing any of these things, let me go throw in some towels” is still forward motion.

In the other category are things I want to do regularly but don’t need to be as specific about, because any variation within them works for me. For example, under photography, some days I’ll take photos, some days I’ll work on the online course I bought a while back, and some days I’ll work on editing. If photography was my main thing, I’d have those listed separately, but it’s not, so I don’t. A day when I do any one of those three things is a good day.

Connect is a reminder to connect with people outside of my house. This was a thing before COVID, because traveling teachers can easily make it through the day without interacting with other adults in any meaningful way.

I’m working on connecting more via phone or video call and not relying on text as much. I hate making phone calls (though I love talking to most people most of the time once we’re talking) and have been pushing through the dread of dialing. Sometimes the calls have been short—I only have 10 or 15 minutes and just call to check in—but still, they’re something.

In the frame, there is room around the list to write things I want to remember—specific tasks that need to get done, things that pop into mind and just need to be recorded somewhere obvious—and that has jogged my memory quite a few times already.

Using some of this, I’ve created a morning routine that doesn’t involve screens. 

We already have a “no screens in the bedroom” policy (unless The Kid is sleeping in our room and needs a sleep meditation to get to sleep), so I’m already not on my phone before I get out of bed.

In the mornings, I’ve taken to coming to the living room before The Kid gets up and the day gets busy. I’ll do some foam rolling and stretching (check off two things right away!), and then in my notebook, I’ll do some writing or a writing prompt (check a third thing!). The whole process only lasts 20 minutes or half an hour, but it’s grounding for the day and gets everything moving nicely before I get sucked into screens.

Could I spend more time than that on any of those things? Of course. But I’m giving them all some time, which I was not doing before, and if I want or need to return to them later in the day, I can. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Either way, it’s OK.

I’ve used this plan for two weeks and I’m very happy with it. Hopefully there’s something here you can use, too!

Posted in differences, mental health, mindset

Two old women

During the summer of 2019, I got to visit my great-aunt, the twin sister of my late grandmother, my biggest fan as I grew into being a musician.

Whenever I go back east, I make sure to visit Aunt Ellen. I learned on my last visit that she’s in an assisted living facility now—against her will—and lives about an hour away from where she used to live.

When we were young, Mom-mom was my grandmom and Aunt Ellen was The Other Mom-mom. When they reached a certain age, they had different updos and dyed their hair different shades of their former color, but otherwise, they looked the same.

My last visit to her house, I stopped by unannounced. I let myself into the back yard—she never used the front door, probably because the garage was at the far end of the back yard. She didn’t drive—neither did her twin—but her late husband did, and after years of going in and out the back, why change?

It was autumn. The weather was still pleasant, and the screen door allowed fresh air into the house.

I knocked on the door. No answer. I looked through the screen and could barely see the old familiar dining room, with the living room beyond. The same furniture had been in the same places for as long as I could remember.

I knocked again, hoping that my pop-in wasn’t going to give me the honor of finding she had passed. We were just past her 90th birthday.

Still no answer.

The yard wrapped around the far side of the house. A few large walnut trees stood in that space, as well as the totem pole her husband had carved at least a decade earlier. 

Rustling came from around that corner, so I went to investigate. Aunt Ellen was decidedly not deceased. She was raking up the walnuts and leaves that coated the ground; she had three garbage bags done.

We went in the house immediately and she fixed tea and cookies. We visited for hours, eventually taking the visit to one of her favorite restaurants for dinner.

She has fairly advanced macular degeneration and can’t see very well as a result. As is often the case with people in their 90s, she has some hearing loss and wears hearing aids.

While we talked, she said that everything was fine until she turned 90. Now, not so much.

On our most recent visit, Aunt Ellen was 92 or 93 and generally unhappy. The dissatisfaction she found in turning 90 hadn’t reversed—not that I expected it would—and being forced to move out of the house she had lived in for 70 years didn’t make life better.

She lamented her sensory shortcomings and life’s insistence that she remain a part of it. 

For Christmas, my ex-mother-in-law had dinner with us (along with The Tall Daddy, The Climbing Daddy, and The Kid). Grammy is 93.

She has some hearing loss but not as much as Aunt Ellen and doesn’t wear hearing aids. Although we were sitting at a distance, when we didn’t have masks on for the meal, she seemed to be able to hear everyone without issue. Masks made it more difficult. Masks make it more difficult for everyone.

She has her vision. She plays cards and Rummikub, reads books and writes letters.

When we visited Aunt Ellen, The Kid tried to show her a LEGO thing he had with him. She was happy to talk with him about it but didn’t really follow the conversation and couldn’t see the pieces very well.

After dinner with Grammy, The Kid brought out his new LEGO lunar lander and, masked up, gave Grammy a detailed tour. She followed, engaged in the conversation, and told him at the end that she had learned a lot from him.

Both were delighted to have this moment with The Kid.

It was striking to me, as I watched him interact with Grammy, how different it was than it had been interacting with Aunt Ellen. 

So many factors play into people’s dispositions as they age, but I wonder, in her position, how Aunt Ellen could be happier. She can’t see or hear very well and is displaced. Displaced I can see how to manage, but not without critical senses.

I’ve often thought about what life would be like if I lost my hearing. My right ear went deaf in a matter of hours, and I’m acutely aware that at any moment, the other could go and that would be that.

But I could still see. I could read and write and take pictures and watch my boy and see my husband and friends.

What would I do if I couldn’t see?

So much has happened in my life, and I’ve come through all of it. Losing my vision? I don’t know how well I would come through that. Compounded by losing hearing. Especially if I was 93 and displaced.

Posted in about me, audience participation, ebb & flow, gratitude, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation

The sun is setting on 2020

It’s easy to see the bad parts of 2020. They’re on the news, they’re in articles, they’re in memes, they’re showing up in expected and unexpected places in our lives.

For the overwhelming majority of us, there were good parts to 2020 as well, even if some of them are double-edged.

For example, both of my fifth grade classes were fantastic—the first time that’s happened since I’ve been in this position. The other edge is that our year got cut short. But the third quarter was still part of 2020 (we all seem to be starting 2020 in March…), and teaching those kids was great.

Even though school was a mess, they were great sixth graders this year.

It seems to me that in some homes, there is a lot of complaining, a lot of gossiping, a lot of seeing negative, expecting to be cheated, swindled, taken advantage of, stolen from. Try to raise ourselves by making others lower.

Other homes are more loving, seeing the good in people, reliving the best parts of their days with each other. (This is not to say that they ignore bad things—that’s just as toxic as focusing on them—just that they don’t marinate.)

My house growing up was definitely negative. Good things spoken of others were few and far between, and every compliment had an asterisk. Most commentary was degrading and judgmental.

And so to some extent, this became my outlook. Judge, put down, roll eyes, cluck tongue. Be aware of our superiority to them.

Little pieces of how this is dysfunctional came into my consciousness over time, and today, I am happy to say that much of the time, I see positivity in many things, I can wonder what in people’s story leads them to where they are, I can give benefit of the doubt.

I am certainly not saintly and still have more negative undercurrent than I’d like, but it’s much better, and I’m much happier. I actively work to make my household one that sees the good.

My life is better with this shift.

Experience combined with introspection have also given me the solid knowledge that challenges are opportunities to grow, and that life-upending challenges are both the hardest and have the biggest payout. Sure, occasionally you win $1,000,000 on the nickel slots, but not often enough to make it a financial plan.

Enter pandemic.

I’ve been frustrated for nine months that we, culturally, are smashing our heads against the proverbial wall, trying to make things as close to “normal” as possible, missing so many opportunities to redesign the systems, to redesign our lives for the better instead of for the “have to.” Especially when our cultural “normal” wasn’t all that great to start with.

So tell me: what was good in 2020? Whether a result of pandemic or not. I’ll go first.

The Kid and I got to spend way more time together than is normally available. We did projects together, learned new things together, ran together, and still had time to do our own things off in our own corners.

Friends who don’t live nearby were part of game night, along with the usual crew. We’re really restricted on what we can play online (do you have any suggestions?), but we always had a good time.

I learned so many new technologies! (Definitely double-edged.) I got to figure out ways to try to engage with kids through the computer.

I took the opportunity to teach bucket drumming. It was so much fun (and so much work to figure out) and something I wouldn’t have done if not for necessity.

Through a weekly Zoom call, I got to talk with a small group of friends every week. It was more than I would have gotten to talk with these lovely ladies in regular real life.

I participated in The Creative’s Workshop, which was truly an amazing experience. I met people from all over the world, got to see other’s work, got feedback on my own work, made friends.

Related but deserving of its own paragraph: I wrote a book. Beginning the process of editing now. It’s been in my head for at least a decade, and now it’s out.

We had a pool put in, just in time for the record number of 110-degree days and 100-degree days. The joy of The Kid—both in watching it be built and in using it—was infectious.

Taking the same walk around the neighborhood and up the canal most days in the spring, I got to see the duck families born and grow.

That’s off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more, but this is a good start.

So tell me—what was good for you in 2020?

And then tell me—what’s good for you today?

Leave a comment, send me an email. Do it today. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. What’s good? There’s no avoiding what’s bad—but is marinating in the bad really where you want to live?

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, vulnerability

Political ads—a long series of teachable moments

Like everyone (I assume) in the US, we’ve been inundated with political ads.

We don’t watch TV, so that helps. But the volume of postcards has been ridiculous.

In particular, we received a postcard most days for several weeks, telling us the evils of one specific (not presidential) candidate.

If I didn’t know the state-level politics, I wouldn’t even know from all this mail who he was running against.

We pulled another one of these pieces of trash out of our mailbox, and The Kid shared what he’s learned about these ads:

“It’s not good to say all bad things about your opponent. It means you have nothing good to say about yourself.”

Good call, little dude.

We expanded that conversation to include other kids being mean and having nothing good to say about you (or others).

“Because they have nothing good to say about themselves?”

Yep. Which doesn’t mean they have nothing good about them, just they don’t see it in themselves.

You know how sometimes, you feel like everything about you is wrong? Everyone feels like that sometimes. But some kids have parents who don’t tell them that those feelings aren’t true, and they start to believe them more and more. Or some kids have parents who tell them that those things are true, which of course is incorrect, but you can’t expect a little kid to know that, and they grow up to believe there’s nothing good about them.

He understood.

Those kids grow up and become adults who have nothing good to say about themselves and instead rely on saying bad things—true or untrue—about others. We don’t need political attack ads to see this daily. We do need to do two things to remedy it.

One: teach children that they’re worthy and lovable, even when they make mistakes, even when they make bad choices, even when you’re impatient—because it’s not about you.

Two: help people who haven’t learned that heal. Whether you think they deserve compassion or not (again, not about you). Because we’ll all be better if more people feel whole.

Posted in exercise, mental health, mindset, parenting, physical health, podcasts

Running with The Kid

The Kid has an enormous amount of energy.

To be honest, it’s exhausting.

But it’s who he is and, for the most part, it’s good for him. As a general rule, we all are too content to sit. He often can when he needs to and the rest of the time? In motion.

He received a small indoor trampoline for his birthday last fall, and while not aesthetically pleasing, it was a welcome addition to our living room. He used it frequently.

By mid-July, the beginning of our 5th month of shelter-in-place, I noticed that his energy was waning. He was more content to sit and almost never used the trampoline. Easier for me, sure, but a definite red flag.

School started online in early August, and while he doesn’t have hours upon hours in front of the computer, he does have hours of school work, and no playground to run around on.

This is not evidence that we need to go back to school. This is evidence that I need to do more to keep him moving.

I decided to bring him in to my morning running routine. We started with a plan of two weekday morning runs per week and one run on the weekends. We chose a short loop in our neighborhood dubbed The Cat Lady Loop and two mornings each week, we’d go out and run three quarters of a mile. He can usually do that distance without complaint and we didn’t need a ton of time to get it done.

We did two runs as planned that first week, decked out in bathing suits so we could swim for 10 or 15 minutes when we got home.

Over the weekend, we ended up hiking instead.

The Kid has a couple of podcasts he listens to regularly, including one called The Big Fib. The Big Fib is in the midst of a several-part series and he was anxious to hear the next episode, telling me he couldn’t wait until Thursday when it was available.

Thursday morning last week, I downloaded the new episode onto my phone and we listened to it while we ran a new route.

Together, we easily went just over a mile without any of the usual “this run is too long” complaints.

“Mom! That wasn’t even hard!”

In our post-run swim, we talked a bit and he suggested we go three mornings before school instead of just two. At first, we decided Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but then we decided to change Friday to Thursday. So we could listen to the new episode of The Big Fib on our run. The episodes and our time running nearly perfectly line up.

Yesterday, we easily ran a mile while listening to the new episode. Wednesday, without a podcast, we ran a mile on a new loop, as yet unnamed. No problem.

This weekend, we’re going to try the Starbucks loop (without a stop for a drink)—1.6 miles. He’s done it quite a few times with a fair amount of walking. I will definitely bring podcasts for that one but with him running more consistently, I’m curious to see how he does compared to last time, maybe a month ago.

This week, his energy is higher. He’s bouncing on his trampoline again. He’s walking around to tell stories again.

I’m relieved. And I’m happy to have a morning running partner. Even if we’re only running a mile.

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦

As an aside, here are the podcasts he listens to:

  • The Big Fib
  • Brains On!
  • Smash Boom Best
  • Big Life Kids Podcast
  • Eat Your Spanish
  • Tumble Science Podcast
  • Wow in the World
  • Stories Podcast
  • Storynory
  • The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian