Looking forward: Simplify

The word I’ve chosen for 2015 is simplify. I want this year to be the one in which I figure out exactly what I need to do, and do nothing else. I want to fill my calendar with fewer commitments and enjoy more spontaneous social and relaxation time. I want to deepen the friendships I have. I want to think carefully about what my work life will look like at the end of my one-year postdoc contract in July. I want to prioritize family. I want to move into a smaller, cheaper place. Inspired by my friend Sarah, I want to take the first part of this year to get rid of all.the.stuff we don’t use, from kitchen to furniture to craft supplies. I want to spend less time mindlessly and more time mindfully.

It’s already begun. I spent an enforced last three days in bed with a nasty cold virus, and it’s a wonder how much of my hectic life I didn’t miss (and didn’t miss me). I’ve also started a Facebook diet where I check it once a day (or less) and deleted the app from my phone. I am being really careful about not committing to too much in the evenings, so that Hubs and I can spend that time together. But I am already feeling the pull to do more, have more, buy more, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

What is your word for 2015?

Looking Back: Peace

My word for 2014 was peace. I’m not sure what I had in mind when I picked it, and I don’t know if I can say that I “achieved” it over the past twelve months, but I definitely feel as though I live more of my life in a peaceful state than I did a year ago. What helped me get here?

YOGA. In March 2014, I started a 200 hour yoga teacher training program at my studio in North Carolina. Leading up to the training, everyone who had done it before told me it would change my life. I politely nodded to these folks, but didn’t expect the transformation that has manifested itself in every aspect of my life. Thanks to a daily asana (physical poses) practice, my body is healthy and strong, and my physical self-image is the most peaceful its ever been. But more than that, learning ancient yogic philosophy (some of which really resonates and some of which doesn’t), combined with growing awareness of and love for my physical body and a daily practice of devotion through breathing, chanting, and asana, has lowered the level of emotional reactivity on which I typically function and led to much more equanimity and peace in my daily existence. Drop (and break the dishes of) two quiches in the parking garage stairwell on the way to an office brunch? Oh well, better stop at Dunkin Donuts to have something else to bring. Possibility of a move to various far away locations based on spouse’s job? Just wait and see. These are just two (fairly trivial) examples of how I feel greater peace in my life. As a highly sensitive person, the level of emotional reactivity with which I have functioned throughout my life has been exhausting. I am so relieved that these yoga tools came into my life in 2014 in such a big way.

TIME. I blogged about our emotional move in October, and the peace that I now feel in our current home is certainly due to time. Having more distance in time from other challenges (my parents’ 2013 divorce, graduate school, rough spots in own my marriage) continues to be something that I can rely on to bring greater peace into my life. Not doing so well with something? In time it will be over; time will pass and the hurt will be less immediate and, almost certainly, less intense.

RELATIONSHIPS. Some relationships have been less peaceful this year, it’s true. But the vast majority of the people with whom I choose to interact, the contacts local and non-local that I keep, are a huge part of feeling peace in my life. Whenever an unsettling event happens, or work is shitty, or I need some perspective, I have it in the form of dear family and chosen family for whom I can reach. My deepest relationships always offer me peace in the midst of whatever other stuff is happening. I am so grateful for all of these people.

Thoughts lately

I’ve overscheduled myself this December. I tend to always overschedule myself during the holiday season. Next year, I am going to set a calendar reminder for late October to not schedule too much. Even though I’m an extrovert, I need time at home with my husband and pets to recharge.

Along with feeling overscheduled comes a general reflection on my values. Such as: Is it in line with my values to be away from home 11 hours a day (including my hours at work and commuting)? Is it in line with my values to live in (and pay to rent) an 1800 square foot house? Is it in line with my values to put future, as yet hypothetical children in daycare? For many people, these things are exactly in line with their values, and work exceedingly well in their lives. For me, I’m not sure they are. I like to read the early retirement blog Mr. Money Mustache*, and MMM made the point in his most recent post that

It is almost always possible to avoid the two-commute family with kids if you make it a priority.

I’ve been considering lately whether I might want to make it a priority while our kids are still hypothetical, and before we’re stuck for another year renting three times the space that we need.

But then I read something like this article on spoiled millenials, and I wonder if it is hard for me to commit so much of my time to an occupation (I certainly don’t have “company loyalty,” as they mention in the article) because I am spoiled and I feel entitled. Maybe. I am certainly spoiled a little, definitely privileged, and sometimes I do feel like I have worked hard to earn a PhD and that I do “deserve” more money. But then I also think that it’s not the job of the companies/academic institutions to pay me more, it’s my job to figure out how to find a balance in my life, so that I can be true to my values. And maybe that means finding a cheaper place to live, so that I can work less and enjoy the things that already make my life rich.

*MMM can be a little preachy. Avoid if it’s possible it will piss you off.


Family MVP

Our current rental house looked so promising at first: yoga room, brew room off the garage, dining room, large kitchen with ample storage, fireplace, two baths, and a fenced-in yard, the cherry on top for our sweet pup. In many ways, all of these allegedly awesome things have been awesome, but with a house this big, I’ve found us accumulating stuff, and it’s expensive to rent and to heat and cool. These are obviously minor problems and within our control (buy less stuff! turn down the heat and grab a blanket!), but it’s the out of our control things that have been more problematic.

Getting the management company to clean up broken glass from the previous tenant in the yard–something they said they would do when we moved in almost a year ago–was a nine month battle that we gave up on and just cleaned the glass ourselves. On Sunday, an outlet that had a small piece of something permanently broken off in one of the plugs spontaneously caught fire. Hubs was there and turned off the breaker before the fire went anywhere beyond the outlet itself, but if he hadn’t been, who knows how far it would have spread. But the most special part of living in this house has been the mice, which brings me to today’s story.

Shortly after moving in, I noticed that there were mouse droppings and one chewed food package in one of the kitchen cabinets. I was obviously totally grossed out, so I pulled everything out of the cabinet in question and its neighboring cabinet, found more evidence of mice, threw a bunch of stuff away and cleaned a bunch of other stuff, including the cabinets themselves and my arms up to the elbows multiple times. Then did my best to block the entrance to the cabinet from the gaps around the stove hood exhaust that go up to the attic, where it looked like they were coming in. After showering extra-thoroughly, I felt that my job was done.

That night, Hubs and I were sitting in the living room watching a show, and Zeda came walking in. I tend to praise the cats for carrying around their toys, which likely sounds ridiculous to anyone not as into cats as I am, but so be it. So when I saw she had something in her mouth, I said, “Goooood kitty, do you have your–SHE HAS A LIVE MOUSE!”

Hubs grabbed her–with the mouse still in her mouth–and ran for the front door to carry her out. I asked him to stop so that I could take a photo of Z with the mouse and OF COURSE she dropped it. In the yoga room. What ensued looked like Zeda hunting the mouse, while Duncan sort of herded it, and Tonks enthusiastically, albeit unhelpfully, sort of jumped around and thought that Dunc and Z were playing with her (bless). Eventually Z recaptured it and then Hubs actually got her outside and made her drop it. A week later, Z also caught a bird that ended up inside. She is, without a doubt, the family MVP.

Family MVP

No sugar wrap-up

Monday was the last day of my six week sugar fast, and I went a little crazy. That morning we had a work birthday party, and I ate a chocolate chip cookie, a mini cupcake, and a piece of coffee cake. I felt terrible. I didn’t feel hungry for real food ’til about 3 that afternoon, and my digestive system was a mess. Not eating sweets for six weeks has helped me be more mindful of my eating overall, which was the goal, and has changed my response to my cravings for sweets. My body also feels stronger in my yoga practice and less puffy, and I even got a sweet compliment from a yogi whom I hadn’t seen in a while. My sugar abstention also seems to have generated much more sensitivity in my body (or maybe actually in my brain, where I’m MOST sensitive) to large amounts of sugar.

Over the entire six weeks, I ate one doughnut and one blonde brownie. I mindfully chose to eat each of them, and I didn’t feel bad physically or emotionally afterwards. But both of them tasted so so sweet to me that I didn’t want any more sugar for a while, and in the case of the brownie especially, I didn’t even enjoy it that much.

Moving forward, I’m sure that I could work back up to eating the levels of sugar that I was before, but I think a low sugar existence is going to work best for me. I like the idea of enjoying treats sporadically, when they’re really special. Last Thanksgiving I made pumpkin crème brûlée, which was totally incredible, and not too sweet, so I’m looking forward to that again.

Emotional move

In May, my friend Jen wrote a blog post in which she poignantly differentiated between a physical move and an emotional move. What she wrote–and what I have also found to be true–is that the physical move happens and then the emotional move keeps happening. We moved to NC 13 months ago and for the first six months, I felt pretty much uniformly bummed, lonely, and pissed.

Being in a new physical place is hard because the comforts of knowing your physical geography well are absent. It is just unsettling to not know where things are, to get lost going to Target, and to get stuck in traffic and not know any better. It’s also hard because you don’t run into people you know, you’ve left behind an entire community available for spontaneous social interaction, and even if there are people you know in your new location, they have their own social rhythms established. Sometimes they want to incorporate you into them and welcome you to everything (in these cases their kindness overwhelms you to the point of tears) and sometimes they don’t. The emotional move is less financially expensive and physically taxing, but it lasts much longer.

But it does get better. At 13 months out, North Carolina feels like home. Our animals are settled and happy. We have art hanging on the walls. Communities around yoga, work, the gym, and our town have emerged. In some ways, we still really miss Nashville, especially the food and our family and family of friends, but our life here is rich and, for the most part, lovely.

Dry laundry for free

Clothesline | InvitingJoy.net

When we moved into the house we’re in now—a rambling, 1970s rental ranch-style home, complete with dark wood paneling and the occasional mouse—one of the features that sold us was the amazing yard. It is a long rectangular lot, but it is completely fenced, which is perfect for the doggie, and it also came complete with clothesline poles.

Eager to start drying clothes, I chose a bad type of cable that started to fray, which we replaced with just regular clothesline (duh! should have done that from the start). Then, one of the poles started to lean due to a mud patch made by the constant condensation from our house’s ancient heat pump as it struggled to cool the house this summer, so we moved the poles to a different and better-suited part of the yard. After a visit from my dad, who led an expert concrete mixing and hole-filling operation, it seems like we’re done messing with it. In spite of the various clothesline iterations, we’ve been drying clothes out there since the late spring, and I am thrilled with the double savings that come with neither using the dryer nor running the AC to combat the heat the dryer makes. Plus, our laundry smells delightful.