Incomplete. But not for long.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been working on my blog, putting in the time behind-the-scenes to make this space better.  I’ve been re-labeling categories and editing or deleting tags, which requires spending a lot of time in my old posts.  Lord have mercy, the graphics. Nothing humbles the spirit like the blog posts you wrote three years ago.

I have a lot of work to do before this first step is complete, but as I review and organize my old blog posts, I’ve noticed something.  Again and again I’ve told you about these great ideas I have, some new routine I want to adopt to improve some facet of my life or some new skill I want to develop — and then, nothing.  Nada.  Just a bunch of quiet, a mention of what I ate for breakfast or a quick photo of a fish I caught, until I’ve come up with some other new and different goal, skill, adventure to talk about.

I talk about things here as if I have everything under control and really believe in my success.  I write about a new idea or habit with the attitude that once I’ve written about it, it’s basically done.  But that isn’t how things work.  Writing down a goal or telling you I’d like to change my habits or patterns makes no difference in my actual habits or patterns.  Whether I post it on the internet or attempt to make some kind of related graphic does nothing to change that — I still have to do the actual work.

It’s easy to forget the work, isn’t it, when we’re so full of ideas?  It’s exciting at the beginning.  Those first few steps are pretty fun.  But now that I’ve re-categorized 50 blog posts and deleted the 100 tags, I am so over this whole blog-improvement effort.  I want to move on to the next step and start working on cool new content and moving my blog to a new host.  I’m tired of trudging through the muck of old blog posts that probably aren’t all that good anyway.

But if I really want to change anything, if I really want any of my ideas and adventures and attempts and habits to stick, to become part of my real life, I need to go deeper than the surface and really put the time in.  That’s true when I’m working to become a morning person, or plan our meals each week, or add a little sparkle to my daily life, just like it’s true when I want to make my blog work better for you.

This middle part — the part between starting out on a new journey and completing your goals — it’s kind of boring.  I’d like to skip right over this part and get to the good stuff, but I don’t have any good stuff right now.  Instead, I have long, steady, tedious work that continues.  So far, this work has created a new menu for you on my blog — a menu that isn’t quite finished.  Well, the menu itself is finished, and if you look up top you can see it right now(!!!).  It has drop-down menus to find content by category and sub-category.  The content isn’t fully aligned to the menu yet, so there might be a few surprises in there.  But I’m working, and I really want to finish this thing, to complete this task as well as others that will follow.  Only 350 blog posts and 800 categories to go.

On Powerful Words

chandelier photo

I connected with my law school mentor this week. It’s been a while since we were in touch. She shared some good news I wanted to hear, and I shared a link to the panel on creative writing projects by prisoners INCARCERATED PERSONS I attended last week.

It was just a few emails, sent back and forth while we were each doing our own regular work. Nothing important, really. I asked about her daughter’s first year away at college; she asked how my husband’s job was going and if we’d fallen in love with Chicago yet. [Quite well, and yes! a little more every day.] She asked about my current work, and I wrote back about my ongoing project and how I was surprisingly very happy even though I wasn’t currently practicing law. She replied,

Wow, [pink-briefcase] — that is amazing. Those are some incredible skills you are learning. What is the hardest part? Where do you see yourself after this?

We talked a little more, about law school rankings and the future of legal education and the flowers blooming there but not here, but those twenty-five words worked a powerful magic in my heart.

  .  .  .  .

I have a supervisor that isn’t my supervisor at work. He is kind of a mentor, kind of a boss, and kind of a friend. I’ve learned a lot working for/with him. Every now and then, when things get rough and I start to feel on edge, I read over an email he sent one day, which started off:

Your professionalism, persistence, patience, exemplary work ethic and positive attitude have been evident to all throughout this project.

On days when nothing goes right and all I can do is put down my pen and shake my head and pour the tea and start over again, this sentence waits for me. I look up and see it, hanging on my blue bulletin board right above the empty jar that once held black-raspberry jelly my husband’s grandmother made us for Christmas, which now holds pens and highlighters and a pair of scissors, and I read those words. I remind myself that one bad day cannot cancel out months of hard work.

  . . . .

I’m not sure that either of these mentor-friends knows how important their words were/are to me. I didn’t write back “HOLY COW THAT IS SO NICE I’M GOING TO PRINT OUT THIS EMAIL AND HANG IT ON MY BULLETIN BOARD AND LOOK AT IT EVERY DAY FOREVER.” I said thank you and continued on, slightly embarrassed about all of the fuss. No perfectionist really wants to be congratulated for doing a good job (don’t I always do a good job? I always try to do a good job! why is this time different? did I screw up something terribly last week?! . . . ). But as awkward as I may feel when I first receive these affirmations, I am completely changed by knowing that people I trust think these things. I am confident and brave and resilient because I trust their opinions of me to be true, even when my opinion of myself falls far short of their esteem.

We talk a lot online about how words have consequences, but we often really mean that words have negative consequences. We criticize and condemn each other too freely, with too little concern for the way another might feel to read a scathing review, a bullying comment, a snide remark. We forget too quickly that it could easily be the negative comments they are printing out and hanging up on the blue bulletin boards of their hearts. Negative words do have an undeniably strong hold on us, but I’m becoming more aware of the immense power positive words hold as well.

Dreaming of Spring

It’s been a long winter.  I can’t remember a day that I haven’t made the choice between snow boots or regular boots.  The snow boots usually win out.  I’ve worn my full-length eggplant purple coat nearly every day since the package arrived in our gym.  [We get packages delivered to the gym in our building.  It’s a little strange.]

There are a lot more weeks of winter-ish weather ahead, but I’m so ready to wear something different.  I’ve been online window-shopping like nobody’s business.  I know it’s better to spend your clothing budgets on quality, not quantity, but these items are just thrifty enough that I might pick up one or two to add a little spice to my sweaters and wool slacks while I wait for signs of spring.

SET: Dreaming of Spring

Old Navy navy shoes
oldnavy.gap.com

Forever 21 loafer
forever21.com

Necklace
shopruche.com

Pink scarf
shopruche.com

Except, probably not the shoes. I think it’s going to be a while before I can go outside without warm socks. But a girl can dream, right?

Winter living: like a boss

The sun is shining today, so even though it is literally 12* with a wind chill of 3*, I went out to grab lunch. I need to see the sun, my body soaks up the light and immediately converts it into happiness.

I’ve discovered this winter that while my calorie counts and daily food costs are lower when I pack my lunch, I really need the break that purchasing a meal requires. I need to stand up and physically step away from my desk. I need to bundle up and walk the block or two to grab warm food. I need to see other humans living and thriving in this cold to remind me that I can live and thrive too.

20140210-132652.jpg
Today’s lunch: teriyaki chicken on napa cabbage with two BBQ pork bao, purchased from Wow Bao. I love Wow Bao. The WordPress App has trouble embedding links now, but if you’d like to check out Wow Bao just visit http://www.wowbao.com.

This weather has reminded me that I am strong. Because honestly? It has never been so cold that I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Is it a little crazy to walk four blocks to yoga at 9 p.m. during a polar vortex? Perhaps. But I did it anyway.

My home-loving introverted self may be genetically predisposed to living in the freezing cold Midwest after all. (Please note I never have to shovel snow. This may be a factor in my overall assessment.). A Saturday spent indoors baking and watching movies with my little family? Couldn’t imagine a better way to live. It turns out this whole winter-living thing is a little harder on the extroverts among us.

My daily dose of sparkle

I’ve been struggling with writers’ bloggers’ block this week.  I wanted to write about my goal to change the way I define myself.  I wanted to tell you that I’ve noticed a change in how I describe myself to others: that I just introduce myself with a long list of plain boring facts without including any mystery or magic or hopes or dreams.  I wrote and re-wrote and edited and began again so many times, but it never felt right.  Instead of continuing to struggle to get the words in the right order and explain how I noticed this change and what I’m going to do to fix it moving forward, let me just tell you straight:

I want for my identity to be more than just a list of the things I do each day.  I want my hopes and dreams to be wrapped up into who I am.  But instead of trying to rationalize some alternative approach to introductions and self-awareness, I’m going to attempt each day to squeeze a little mystery and magic, some mini-version of those hopes and dreams into my agenda.  I’ll give those plain boring facts a little extra sparkle.

Would you like to join me?  Is it true, just maybe, that you would also like to have a little more magic in your daily endeavors?  I’ve been thinking of a few ways for myself, but would love to hear your ideas too.

daily dose of sparkle

In the mornings:

  • Make a special breakfast like my friend Osheta.
  • Write in your journal.
  • Stretch and use your joints for five minutes.  (My yoga teacher reminded me last week that the fluid in our joints only moves when our joints move – there’s no internal pump like there is for our hearts.)
  • Wear lipstick.  Dust off those hot rollers for a little extra bounce.  Pull out the nice jewelry.
  • Play some pump-up music.

At the office:

  • Make a cup of tea at 10 and again at 2.  Just because.
  • Hang an inspirational quote.  Write something funny at the top of the daily to-do list.  [While you are at it, write down the time and room number of all of your meetings.]
  • Drink that entire bottle of water before lunch.  Refill and empty again before you leave.
  • Take your lunch break.  Use it well.  Turn your computer screen off, look out the window, walk outside, or read a poem.  Promise to take at least ten minutes away from the screen.
  • Splurge for the nice pens.  Bring them to work with you.

In the evenings:

  • Cook something fancy, or scramble some eggs, but turn off the TV while you eat.
  • There are more than enough calories left for a little chocolate.
  • Dance party.
  • Dig those cute jammies out from the bottom of your drawer.
  • Brush your hair.  Apply lotion.
  • Light a candle and write in your journal.  (Or maybe something more like this?)
  • Read a chapter from that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for three weeks.

no more waiting

A few years back I was speaking with someone I care about, and he was telling me about his ongoing job search.  He said he wasn’t really going out of his way to find a better job, but he’d be very happy if something good fell in his lap.  He just wasn’t the go-getter type, and was waiting for the right thing to come his way.

And I thought: “THAT IS CRAZY.  HOW CAN YOU EXPECT THE RIGHT THING TO JUST FALL INTO YOUR LAP? YOU HAVE TO TRY TO FIND A JOB, YOU HAVE TO NETWORK AND GO ON INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS AND VOLUNTEER STRATEGICALLY AND, oh here’s an important thing, ACTUALLY APPLY FOR A JOB in order to get a job offer.”

But I probably said something more like “Oh, well, I guess that could work too” and then changed the subject.  It’s hard to disagree with the people you love sometimes.

 * * *

These past few months I’ve been waiting for Chicago to feel like home and waiting for inspiration in my writing and waiting for some kind of clarity to appear in my career path, doing exactly what I very clearly believe (see above) is not going to get me where I want to be:  stalling my life until something good happens, without making much of an effort to find what I wanted.  And while the rest has been beneficial for me in so many ways, it’s time to stop letting the seconds tick by without action.  You can only let so many seconds slip through your fingers before years have passed, and I want every single one of my years to count.

So, I’ve chosen a word for 2014 that is going to shake things up.  People do this “choose-one-word” thing all over the internet, but I’ve never done it before.  Until now.  Because right now I really need focus, and energy, and drive, and I think that one big word to rule them all [all the resolutions, that is] will give me a head start on making this year awesome.

So here it is, y’all.  My word for 2014.

OneWordBig

I’m going to try a little harder, do a little more, and do those things more enthusiastically.  And when I see something I want to do, or somewhere I want to be, or some skill I want to develop I will think about it a little less and DO IT a little more.

So, what about you?  Are you setting resolutions for the year, or choosing one word, or both?  I’m probably doing both, but this is where I am right now.  If you’d like, share your resolutions/words in the comments here. 

Creating a Warm Apartment

a warm apartment

We started talking about how to prepare yourself for a successful workweek last Sunday.  In my life, it’s so easy for things to spiral out of control during the week as you grow steadily more exhausted each day until you can collapse on Friday evening with a glass of wine or a mug of cocoa.  And when things start to spiral, my preparations can maintain my dressing and eating habits for a few days, but my apartment starts to show wear almost immediately.

It’s harder than it sounds to maintain a welcoming home.   And it’s hard to welcome anyone into your home while the shame and embarrassment you feel that someone can SEE your apartment like THIS echoes through your brain.  To stay happy and reduce stress, I know I need to keep my apartment a little straighter than I consistently do, and I need to spend some time on the weekends to make sure it is ready for the onslaught that the work week will bring.   The problem with this post is that while I know I need to do better in this area, and I really want to do better in this area, I haven’t really mastered this yet.  So, I’ll mention a few things that work for me thus far, but on this issue in particular I really covet your own success stories.

Over the weekend, I know that I need to focus on:

  • Actually putting my laundry away.  I am TERRIBLE at putting laundry away.  I don’t always take the time to put clean laundry in the proper drawers.  My biggest problem, however, is multiple wear items.  When I come home from work and take off my dry-clean-only pants, they should go into the closet to be worn again.  But I just can’t seem to do it.  Even now, as I am writing this post and as guests have just departed our apartment, my dresser is covered with half-clean, partially rumpled clothes that should be put away.  On the weekends I put it all away so I can start with a clean slate.
  • Putting books, mail, movies, laptop chargers, and all of those odds and ends that pile up out of sight.  I just use a basket but really, anything that will keep those things from cluttering up counters and sofas will be great. When my flat surfaces are clear, I feel calm.  When they are cluttered, I want to hide under the covers and never talk to anyone.
  • Vacuuming, sweeping the kitchen, windexing the bathroom mirrors, all that kind of stuff.  Dust accumulates even in rooms you don’t use.

The big kicker for me to make my apartment nice is doing a little something every day.  I’m lucky that H and I can tag team these tasks, with one of us making dinner and another doing the dishes or taking out the trash.  Each day, it is best if either H or I do the following:

  • Take 20 minutes each evening to do the dishes and wipe the kitchen counters.  It’s amazing how easy everything else is if you do only this.
  • Keep the dirty socks out of the living room.  We all do it, I think — take our socks off at weird times and just throw them down wherever.  I hate the way socks end up everywhere.  I try to find them and toss them into the hamper as often as I can.
  • Scoop the kitty litter.
  • De-clutter the coffee table and entryway table.

So, that’s where I am.  Still struggling to keep messiness at bay as my weeks get busier and days fly by.  Do you have any tips for maintaining a calm home in the midst of a busy life?  If so, please include them in the comments.

 

Tips for a Successful Week: Easy Meal Planning

This week, we’re talking about ways to make your work weeks easier by doing a little advanced planning.  Check out the introduction to the series here and yesterday’s post on planning outfits here

eating well

When I hear the term “meal planning,” I think of housewives with a half-dozen children driving from soccer practice to dance classes.  And that is so not my life.  A lot of online resources for meal planning are keyed toward families and children, but even if you are single or childless you can save a lot of money and time by planning your meals — and your grocery shopping — in advance.

Over the weekend, H and I take a few minutes to talk through our work weeks so we know when one of us is expecting to work late, grab dinner with friends, or eat lunch out instead of packing lunch.   Then, we throw out ideas for what we’d like to eat the next week.  I typically like to make one nicer dinner we can look forward to, but otherwise we like to keep it simple and 30-minutes or less.  Here’s what we’re eating this week:

mealsthisweek

As you can see, this is a piece of paper folded in half with the dinners written on the left and breakfasts and lunches written on the right.  It’s not rocket science.  We choose meals in advance but for breakfasts and lunches we keep options ready that we can grab and go if needed.  I eat the exact same lunch every day:  turkey or chicken soup packed with veggies, carrot sticks and hummus, and grapes; I take a LUNA bar for mid-afternoon snacks.  I change soups from tomato-based to broth-based or throw in an apple and pretzels instead of grapes and carrots when I need variety.  It’s a simple life.

We talk about what we want to eat, I quickly sort through the cabinets to see what we have and look in the fridge to pull out anything that’s expired, and then we write down our plans for the week.  We put the items we’ll need on our grocery list, and we don’t buy a lot more than what’s one the list.  Some, of course — is the beer we love on sale?  Are cranberries in season?  [I’ve been hoarding cranberries in my freezer like a crazy person.]  Did we just discover that there are Triple Double Stuf Oreos?  Then we’re totally buying that too.  But overall, we stay close to the list.

Using the paper method is helpful on the front end: we spend less at the grocery store.  Because we are working on managing our budget better, we’ve been trying to keep our weekly grocery bill under a set amount that is right for us.  It’s easy to over-spend at the grocery store if you don’t go in with a plan, but even if we weren’t saving money with this system [we are], I would do it because it is such a stress-killer.  Ever walk into your apartment/home and think “what should I make for dinner?”  Ever had someone you love ask you “what should we have for dinner?” Ever think that choosing something to make for dinner is too hard and even if you could choose something that sounded good it would be too hard to make, so you should just order a pizza or grab some takeout because decisions are hard?  That’s me pretty much every day.

When you have the paper on the fridge, it’s  easier to stay on track.  The answer to the question “what’s for dinner?” is written on the paper you taped to the refrigerator.  You don’t have to decide anything — just read.  It is a great plan.  Not feeling what is listed for the evening?  You have all of the other nightly meals you can choose from before you resort to the takeout option.

Do not think that we don’t ever resort to takeout even when we have perfectly good groceries in our kitchen.  We absolutely go off the list all the time.  But we do it less, saving money, time, and benefiting our health while being less wasteful overall.  It works for us, and even H agrees that it is a good idea.

Do you plan your meals in advance?  Do you eat the same breakfasts and lunches every day, or do you need daily variety?  Any other tricks for staying on-plan during the week?

Tips for a Successful Week: Arriving at Work Professionally Dressed

dressing professionallyI know what I like to wear.  It’s usually three, maybe four outfits that I mix and match.  I have less-loved filler in my closet too, but there is one pair of jeans I always prefer, a few pairs of wool socks that are soft instead of scratchy, the perfect tank to wear under a sheer blouse.  When I’m running late, I can never find the pieces that need each other.  Half-dressed I’ll realize something essential is missing.  That first outfit is thrown to the bed/floor and I try again.  Sometimes, it takes a few re-starts to get it right.

As much fun as this whole dressing-undressing-redressing experience probably sounds, it isn’t.  I end up later than planned to work, or else have to skip breakfast because my precious morning minutes have been used up frantically searching through drawers.  When I’m even five minutes later to work than planned, I fret on the bus instead of enjoying catching up on blogs, and my morning work time (which is my most productive time of day, when I’m not thinking about shoes and tights and sweaters) takes a hit.

There is a simple fix for this unnecessary stress:  planning ahead.  A lot of people recommend choosing your clothes the night before, but I know myself well enough to know that there’s always a night or two each week that I can’t be counted on to care about morning stress.  Perhaps we’re out late at a dinner or met up with friends for drinks or trivia; if I get in late, I’m pretty likely to go to sleep without choosing outfits or ironing slacks.

It may sound a little intense, but I’ve started choosing an entire week of outfits on Sunday evenings.  It has completely changed my morning routines.

First, I do the regular load or two of weekend laundry.  In a perfect world I actually put that laundry away, but if we’re being honest that doesn’t always get done.

Then, I check the weather.  I grab a post-it or an index card or my planner or whatever else is handy, and jot down the ballpark temperatures [lately, just “cold” or “really cold”] and take note of any days where it might be rainy.

Finally, I stand in the closet and pair tops, skirts/pants, and sweaters together and hang them in a group in the front of the closet.  I go to my drawers and choose the tights/socks/underneath layers necessary for each outfit.  I also think of what shoes will be necessary and make sure I gather up all of those shoes from where ever I might have stashed them and place them in my closet.

Over the last few months when I’ve been using this system, I’ve learned a couple of things:

  1. Always choose an extra outfit.  This is great for two reasons.  One, you can wear any outfit during the week that you’ve chosen, and if you decide you hate something at the last minute you have a back-up.  Two, if you fail to be responsible on the following weekend, you have an outfit nicely waiting for Monday morning and you can catch up on Monday evening.  I’m taking advantage of my extra outfit right now, wearing black tights, a black dress, and whatever cardigan is the least-wrinkled in my closet.
  2. Pull that blouse you never wear out of the back of the closet and try putting it back in rotation.  You bought it for a reason, try to remember what it was.
  3. Develop a balance between dry-clean-only and regular-wash items, so that from one week to the next you still have clothes to wear.  When I finally get to the dry cleaners, I have a slew of items I love that I haven’t worn in a while (because who goes to the dry cleaners regularly?  Not me…), and I want to wear them all at once.  Doing so will only result in them being back in the “please take me to the cleaners” pile right away.  Space those beloved items out so you have at least one thing each week you love.

Do you have any tricks for dressing well without stressing out?  If so, please share in the comments.

Tips for a Successful Week: Introduction

Successful Week One

When I announced my decision to join NaBloPoMo this month, I mentioned that using Sunday afternoons to prep a few advance posts for the week makes a huge difference in my ability to post daily.  The first week of November, I did this well and had a pretty great week, on the blog and otherwise.  Last week, I didn’t make my time count over the weekend and spent the entire week paying the price.  It is only half-way through the month and already I am frustrated with having to blog each day; the timing of my postings is getting a little later each night of the week.  So today, while the rain and wind and thunder and hail bounce against our windows, I’m putting in the time it takes to get things back on track.

While planning for the blog is a big part of what I do on the weekend to prepare for the workweek, it isn’t the only thing I need to prioritize if I want to be successful.  When I’m being responsible, I take a few minutes on the weekend to make some decisions in advance so that I can head to work each morning with minimal stress and spend my weekday evenings doing things I enjoy instead of constantly playing catch-up.

I know that doing these small tasks on the weekend makes me happier and more successful, but I don’t always do them.  I sometimes struggle to follow through on things I want to do, especially if they are good for me.  As we enter the busy holiday season, I must remind myself how important these small things are for my own satisfaction and save time on the busy weekends to take care of myself.  H and I have two special guests arriving mid-week and staying with us until we all leave for Thanksgiving in Tennessee, so I need to fit in all of my usual tasks along with the extra baking, cleaning, cooking, and shopping I want to do so we all have a wonderful, stress-free weekend and holiday with our families.

Since it’s timely and a needed reminder for myself, I’ll be posting a bit this week about how planning ahead helps me stay on-track in the following areas:

  1. Arriving at Work Professionally Dressed
  2. Healthy and Budget-Friendly Meal Planning
  3. Keeping your Apartment Comfortable and Welcoming

As we go through the week, please be sure to share your own weekly and/or nightly rituals that keep you on top of your game.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: