Growing Old Connections

I can feel the dirt sneaking its way into my gloves, leaving grit in my fingernails. The fabric is coated in rubber, but soil seems to happily ignore this feature. I pause and find gratitude for the small level of protection. Gratitude and slowness in the moments that are slow enough to notice have been my saving grace during quarantine.

While each day, hour, minute seems to jump in levels of uncertainty, moodiness, job duties, and needs, we’re now mostly able to ebb and flow as a family along with the fluctuations. 

For the most part, we’re sharing an inflatable life raft. When someone falls out, we’re nearby to pull them back to the reality of the boat. When one of us starts flipping out over homework or an infuriating social media moment, we’ll regroup and remind each other just to focus on the motion of rowing, together.

Togetherness will get us through.

Strangely enough, this doesn’t apply to being with anyone outside our raft. Right now, our mental health and ability to survive relies solely on keeping our little life boat afloat.

When we were first starting to get the hang of the situation, emotions ran high and we threw spaghetti at the wall trying to determine what would work for us to keep a semblance of normality. We had uncomfortable Skype and Zoom calls. Unnatural attempts at driveway-window chats. Facebook Kids. Anything to try to connect with nearby family, but none of it seemed to stick or work to form connections.

Turns out, what worked the most was us. Our closely knit group of hilarious, creative, passionate little people…and the two parents who are just lucky enough to get to share in their lives.

Emotions still run very much hot and cold; I can’t change who I am just as much as our two-year-old can’t change her own speech delay. We are who we are, and somehow we’ve all grown to accept each other with far greater understanding while being squished together in close quarters. 

But, while we miss the family and friends and connections outside our home (and, sure, chat via the window or a good, old-fashioned phone call), my connections have started coming from unexpected family members.

The ones that have long since passed.

As part of my quarantine birthday this year, my husband renewed my Ancestry account. I hadn’t worked on my family tree since our firstborn was still in diapers. Two more kids later and it seemed like no better time than to give me a distraction with doors into the past.

What can I say? He gets me.

So, while I enjoy the occasional chat with my own mom, one of my favorite connections is to people I’m revisiting or, better yet, meeting for the first time. My husband’s long lost family from Italy. My grandmother’s British side, leading me to wonder how they would’ve felt about the deeply rooted Irish contingency that took over most of my bloodline.

Having experienced the life-shaping loss of a parent at a young age, death and the relationships we share with the departed are large, looming life themes for me. The grandparents who stepped up helped mould my mind, my sentiments, and my philosophies, and gifted me with the perspective of history. 

Each time that I click a new leaf and discover a new name, I greet the person with excitement. I wonder a hundred or more things about their life.

I make assumptions about the difficulties that they must have endured simply to survive in a certain place at a certain time. I give thanks that they did, and know that the tough survival instincts many of us have lost aren’t truly lost; they were passed down, but have laid dormant until this very unique, challenging time. 

It’s here to slow us down, to make us sit with discomfort, and recognize our ability to do hard things in order to survive and thrive. I live my 21st century life, performing my job and teaching my kids through technology. But the historical passion and interest I’ve always had is bubbling to the surface like sourdough fermenting; I may not be living with such difficulties, after all. Seeing these names and reading my son Farmer Boy everyday brings it all home. A pinch of perspective can have soothing effects.

So, as I continue to turn the dirt in my hands and plant new seeds in my brand new raised bed, I’m feeling more connected than ever.

Hoping to see new leaves spring forth, a bridge between now and then.

I’m learning the lessons they teach from the grave. Their resilience. Their ability to create a life and survive with far worse circumstances. I yearn, more so, to know those lessons that have disappeared. The common sense connection to nature and the seasons. When to plant, when to prepare (always). How to sustain a family. 

My garden is late this year, but I will grow for them.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Together, Apart”.

Changing the Narrative

It’s funny. As a traditional Enneagram Type 9, I have an incredibly difficult time creating and maintaining habits.

Blogging. Exercise. Drawing and painting. Getting back to the piano.

Pretty much anything that I do for myself is a slog.

So, why the heck, amidst one of the most stressful times that most humans have encountered, did I decide to take part in an online writing challenge?

Maybe it was because it was, literally, a small challenge – haiku. Maybe it was because it flexed just the right amount of creative brain power. It gave enough structure to guide, enough prompts that I could lean into someone else’s theme with my own individual experience, and was short enough that it took very little time away from my burgeoning work, parenting, and teaching life.

Most days, it recharged my battery in five to ten minutes, giving me a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that I’d shared something of myself and for myself, before returning to others’ needs. And even those days that were particularly challenging (like the prompt “Made You Laugh”) or that seemed oversimplified or predictable, I still showed up.

I still. Showed. Up.

So, all of April, I created. By my birthday on May 1st, I had accumulated 30 days worth of haiku. Some days, it was one simple 5-7-5 poem. Other days, I made several separate poems or one long piece with 5-7-5 stanzas. I ended with what my husband suggested as my first book of Pandemic Poetry.

While I doubt I’ll do much with it, the time taught me much. My main takeaway is that writing is still my outlet.

See, there have been points where I felt no purpose behind writing anymore. I knew that I wanted to, but couldn’t see a reason. And then, as it tends to do, daily life took me away.

It’s so strange and surreal that this strange and surreal time is what brought me back to realize – sometimes just showing up is the reason to show up.

For this type 9w1 to announce publicly that she’s making a shift to this blog is scary but hopeful. Over the years, I’ve dug deeply into the sod of this site, sharing about the early days of marriage, of house projects, of philosophies and how-to’s and recipes. None of it is wrong or bad, but I’m hoping to flex my writing skills away from the “articles” of yore.

I’m hoping to grow new fruits. To try my hand at a new type of gardening. Of a whole new language. Still sharing my experiences and hopes and attempts at life, but telling it as the story unfolds.

And I’m hoping that you’ll find yourself nodding, or thinking, or laughing along, or maybe even feeling that your story is worth telling, too.

Here’s to showing up and telling our stories. 

Trying

I wasn’t going to post about the start of a new year. Lately, it seems like my previous few posts are sparked by the urgency of a New Year’s celebration; a “word of the year” or a philosophy to focus myself. I’ve started two, possibly three pieces about this very topic, and all have veered off the road only to land gently in the no man’s land of forgotten writing.

Don’t worry; it’s a comfortable, albeit irrelevant place to be.

But, something that I noted to my husband in passing shortly before the clock struck midnight that evening has bubbled up today, so I figured I’d share it. Why not?

Actually, that encompasses the thing: why not. (Statement or question, it goes both ways.)

I said that I’d like to give “trying” a go. Trying harder to follow through with goals I set last year. Trying out new types of creativity to see what sticks. Trying, all while finding a pared down, simplified life that works best for us.

So, while we’re both focusing a lot on purging, simplifying, and specifically bringing some of the old into our rather 21st century lives (in my case, in hopes of applying those principles to causes I find near and dear like environmentalism and minimalism), I’m “trying” to prioritize myself, as well.

Exercising more. Slowing down more. Searching for what fills my bucket more. 

In Fall, I joined Exhale, a place for creative moms to get (back) in touch with their own creativity and connect with like-minded women. I have virtually met several amazing mothers with varied backgrounds and enjoy bouncing ideas and accountability back and forth. But, as I often do, my mind wanders and I continue to look for ways to apply my creativity.

So, be on the lookout, if you’re interested, for some different means of showing myself, my family, our life. Shorter bursts of writing. Different subjects. Even blog hop-induced photo journals.

There are other areas that I’m considering some “trying” beyond the blog, as well. Perhaps knitting or sewing, painting or sketching, or even finally learning how to use my DSLR camera. But since I’m leaning into the fact that I, by nature, meander and follow my fickle passions, I’m not putting anything in a definitive manner.

And if you’re a creative – parent or otherwise – what’s your favorite outlet? Do you relish in showcasing your talents and interests, or keep them for yourself? I’d love to chat and hear more in the comments.

Focus Time

My phone is my lifeblood.

Fact. Truth. Sadness. Reality. But, for most of us these days, we are incomplete without our phones. They help put our daily puzzle pieces together, get us out of binds, solve a problem in seconds flat, and connect us to people that we might not otherwise be able to find the time to connect with. Add a thousand other uses for a cell phone, but you get the point.

On the other side of that coin, we often feel guilty for our phone use. Sometimes this is totally legit; we should be more active members of the world around us, specifically when it relates to our kiddos and loved ones. I can feel my body shift when I hunch myself over and bend my fingers to type out a message. And don’t get me started on texting while driving.

But, I’ve come to realize that we shouldn’t feel that immense guilty burden simply for our phone use. Personally, I think it’s the fact that I am not intentional with the time spent with my phone – or anywhere else, really.

Think of every time you have a question, or realize that your child needs new pants, or something breaks, or you wonder what the news is, or simply find yourself board and you grab your phone and instantly start searching. You open every email, article, or link in hopes of reading it…some time. How often do we get back to these ideas and, then, clear them away?  

I could consider myself an informational hoarder. I currently have 31 tabs open in Safari. Blog posts. Recipes. Organizational prompts (that should speak to my psyche right now). Articles. So many Christmas gift ideas. A closet organizer and search for a new bed for our girls’ room. The new Disney+ lineup. A writing group I belong to. Home DIY blog posts. Facebook. The local news. Resources I checked out while at a conference for work recently. Two grocery orders. A Black Friday ad that I have no intention of using. A new rug for our bedroom.

There’s a lot of hope in those searches. In perusing them, I can also see a desperately juggling mother who only has enough time for quick spurts of inspiration only to be pulled back to reality. “I shouldn’t be looking this up right now.” I (and many of us) spend free time going back and seeing what we can work on.

Let me repeat that. Our. Free. Time. Work. On. Those words are true and deliberate.

What is our free time meant to do for us, particularly as parents? Isn’t it meant to be time to recharge, to either get a task (or two) done and then have a moment of “me” time to feel whole again? At least, that’s the hope. Have you ever spent an entire nap time going down the online rabbit hole only to look up and see a child standing there; nap complete, mama frustrated.

Which scenario do you see in your life more? For me, it’s the rabbit hole. Sure, I usually do have to actually get something done, like an online grocery order or something, but it takes far longer than it should because I tend not to focus just on that one thing. Cell phones are turning us into multitaskers who instead of task completers.

This leads me to a new challenge for myself. You may assume that I’m going to say “No phone use…” but that defeats the purpose. I do, actually, need to get a task or two done. Like, I legitimately need to pull the trigger on the purchase of the closet organizer and a bed for my daughter’s room. But, it’s impossible with all the other thoughts going through my brain via my phone.

So, my ultimate goal is, with everything, to simplify. When it applies to my phone use, it’s to reduce the outside distractions. To only use my social media once a day, unabashedly, but then to ensure that my other use is during one of those “free times” and with a specific goal in mind. FOCUS TIME.

If you’re doing this along with me, it might help to make a prioritized short list of the things you “need” to do. For me, it’s ordering the bed and closet organizer. Then, to check and stick to our Christmas list before searching for a good price and ordering.

This alone should shave off all that extra time of looking things up only to see them pile onto the open tab grave site. 

I’d love to hear – what’s your biggest struggle when it comes to your phone use? What’s one step you can try to help battle this issue?

Pebbles

I have about two dozen posts I’ve either started or would like to write. Updates on Hannah (and all the kids, really). At least two chats regarding the Monkees, plus the details of eating dairy-free while on a glorious trip to NYC to see them in concert. Decluttering, simplifying, and general house posts are lower on the list, along with parenting topics. I’m sure I’m missing something.

But I can’t seem to finish a one. And it’s not for lack of will or trying.

Life’s just overwhelming…which seems to be the new norm. It’s not by any terms a complaint. Just how things are right now. Hannah’s up throughout the night, whether from teeth or an unknown allergen, and Beardslee keeps Dave awake with his own nagging. Add the daily grind and it’s hard not to feel either exhausted or down…or a mix of both.

The kids and I are finally on spring break, so I hope to do some spring cleaning with a mix of resting (I’ve had some health issues lately so this is a must), a bit of family fun, and, yes, maybe even writing. Or, maybe not.

But I recently found myself explaining how it currently feels to a friend, and then to Dave. It’s the best metaphor to explain life right now, and to realize how much we’re actually accomplishing each week, each day, each hour.

Maybe you can relate.

Every task that we accomplish, even those things that we do routinely that seem too mundane to add to our to-do lists, are pebbles. Some are small, quick jobs. Others are larger rocks that take multiple steps to complete. Then there are the boulders that you never seem to check off your list, leaving them to do at a later, less busy time.

These all drain our energies, both mentally and physically. We don’t realize the toll that day-in, day-out meal prep for 3 different diets (5 people altogether) takes, plus silverware, drinks, condiments, and clean-up. Multiplied by three meals. Or laundry. Or drop-offs and pick-ups. Or any attempts at cleaning. To say nothing of the tasks we face at work.

Then there’s the guilt. The guilt of not doing enough “extras” for our kids. The guilt of not keeping up with friends or sending birthday cards or seeing family as much as we’d like. The guilt of not finding a new eye doctor for way-too-many-years. I could go on…but these are stones that we keep pushing forward with us to the next day, hoping that we’ll finally toss one of those guilts away tomorrow when we cross it off the to-do list, finally.

It’s easy to feel the weight of all those pebbles and stones and rocks everyday.

But it’s just as important for us to turn around every now and then. To look back. What do you think you’ll see?

It’s the old stones of everydays past. The breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that your family won’t remember but that you know have nourished their bodies and souls to get them to today. The diapers changed, baths given, books read, tearful baby bedtimes soothed, meltdowns averted. The cat pans changed, vet visits accomplished, moments of petting that have added up to a loving, trusting furry friend relationship.

Speaking of relationships, those stones behind you are the connections, brief as they may be, with your spouse, that add up to that good, safe, comforting place you cohabitate together. The laughs you share amid the chaos, the rare conversations you’re able to actually finish, the shared side-eye over an irrationally screaming toddler, or the pat on the back to let each other know you’re on the same team. These pebbles matter, and they create their own hill, far different from the one you began laying over 10 years before, but far more fulfilling than you ever realized was possible. Your very own hill that will only grow stronger as you continue on together.

But that hill is part of a larger mountain of everyday pebbles.

Looking back, you’ll see the things you’ve forgotten but that your weary mind and body can’t. It, after all, lifted every one of those stones. It placed them, minute by minute, as you accomplished things both grand and minuscule. Day after day, year after year.

You’ve built yourself a mountain.

So, the next time you feel anxious or sad or guilty that you just can’t seem to keep up with life, let this be your reminder to stop and turn around. You’ve been far busier, moment by moment, than you may realize.

Allow yourself the chance to ease your body and mind. Rest. Contemplate. Embrace the slowness of the moment. Because when you get back up, the job of moving pebbles only continues.

And this, after all, is what makes up life. Your very own mountain.

The Common Thread Running Through My 2019 Goals

I recently shared a veritable brain dump of 2019 intentions. It was thorough. It was lengthy. It was kind of all over the place.

Or, so it seemed.

As I wrote, I started to notice a common thread weaving its way throughout each plan, aside from my overall hope to “focus” more (kind of hilarious with such a heady list of stuff to work on). It might be a very personal, invisible thread, but it helped solidify my focus for the year a bit more.

Overall, I need to be more like my grandparents were.

I’ve spoken a little bit before about my mother’s parents. While we didn’t live with them, they helped raise my 3 siblings and I and provided additional stability after our father died. When I think about childhood, many if not a majority of the memories take place at their house and in their presence. So, to say that they were an influence would be an understatement.

They also offered us a subconscious understanding about history. Whether family history or just a sense that there were people and events and “ways” before our existence, they were lessons about continuity, perspective, and our place in the world. Old movies and music, brief little anecdotes about those who came before, and even the smell of Grandma’s spice cabinet and Grandpa’s pipe tobacco taught so much. Warm and comforting, the connections we have to the past.

Needless to say, I take those two, both gone, with me everyday. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I somehow found a way to tie them into my 2019 goals. And the fact that I’ve found a man to share life with who values many of these lessons, values, and even ways to pass the time? Well, I’m a lucky, lucky person.

In my intentions for the year, there’s an overall sense of “do what needs to be done.” While some of the concepts, like mindfulness, are new, buzzy catch phrases, the ideas behind them are actually very much rooted in history. Here’s how it breaks down.

One thing at a time. While I’m sure that both Grandma and Grandpa faced amazingly stressful times (such as the time period when Grandpa worked 4 jobs or, y’know, their involvement in the war…), I never noticed them visibly taking on more than they could handle at any given moment. If we played a card game, the TV wasn’t on. If they watched a movie or the news, they WATCHED it. Reading was a quiet, almost religious experience. Jobs throughout the day were handled and there seemed to be an unspoken schedule – that there was time for work and time for rest and there was no mixing of the two or guilt when it was time to nap or relax.

So, while my day-to-day job and the juggling of kiddos may seem to require a natural need to multitask, I’m doing my best lately to look at my to-do list and prioritize what needs to get done first. I’m also not making apologies, real or to myself, when I feel the need to recharge with a mug of something warm. Like right now. 😉

Only enough, and household chores. I’ve wondered whether the idea of “purging” is something that only those “with enough” should be concerned with. But, I do recall how much stuff had been acquired (even though I wouldn’t describe my grandparents as hoarders or even collectors) when it was time to sell their house. Knowing that they both survived the Great Depression and very deeply felt the effects of it firsthand, I look at my glut of STUFF and shake my head, and have mentioned this reality to my son anytime he shrugs off the idea of “just buying a new one” when we lose or break something. We need to enjoy and cherish what we have, and let others enjoy the things we don’t have a use for.

So, simplifying and purging is the name of the game. I’m also interested in finally figuring out my outdoor landscaping and garden situation to better utilize the space and get the kids involved in some food growing.

And chores? Like I mentioned before, there was a schedule each day, even after Grandpa retired. Get up and putter. Some days there was a plan to work on something in particular (house painting comes to mind, which seemed to be Grandpa’s summer go-to when all other chores were complete); other days, we’d do a fun project like making a bird house or trying to solve a rabbit problem in the garden. Whatever it was, the day wasn’t wasted. When I look at my list, I think of my grandfather; it’s a greater motivator than any YouTube declutter video I could possibly find (although those sometimes help, too). Get up and JUST DO SOMETHING.

Journaling. People used to write in a journal all the time. I love finding an old one in an antique shop and seeing what a person’s day looked like a hundred or more years ago. Surprisingly, most of the diaries I’ve seen have only had a few words or a couple of lines devoted to each day. I think we tend to think of journaling as a lengthy, time-consuming activity, but it doesn’t need to be. While I’ve never heard or seen any diaries that my grandparents might have written, the fact that it’s very much something their generation might have done motivates me to try it out. I haven’t made it a daily thing, but I’m jotting down some thoughts here and there.

Finding energy. Grandpa walked several miles everyday. When my grandmother was more mobile, she used to take us on walks, too, in addition to using her stationary bike. They didn’t think about what exercise class to take up. They just DID. As I mentioned earlier with the chores, we simply need to just start DOING again.   

When we have time and simply think “I should do yoga…” or “I should go for a walk”…that’s the time to put off something for half an hour to simply DO IT. Not to steal Nike’s tagline, but it’s actually a pretty good one.

Oh, and if we wait for the kids to be older to do this stuff, we’ll never have energy. So, there’s a good chance they’ll be coming along for the ride or Dave and I will be playing “your turn!” to get some sort of movement in. We’re already starting to try some at-home family yoga. Not the best of workouts, but pretty fun.

Family priorities. Putting family – and family FUN – first is huge for us this year. I look at my high school students and wonder how much time they spend willingly hanging out with their parents. I whisper to myself that I truly hope our kids will WANT to spend time with us. But, the reality is that Dave and I don’t seem to have as much time for the kids right now as we’d like. In fact, Harper’s go-to playtime song is one she made up herself called “Grown-Ups Get Busy Sometimes.” As you can imagine, that’s heartbreaking to think about.

So, just as much as we realize, one day, our kids may not want to spend as much time with us, we have to realize how it looks when we find ourselves distracted by the day’s events or dinner making or chores. We must try harder, with family nights and game nights and fun excursions. And while those things, like folding clothes and meal time prep, may be imperative, perhaps bringing the kids into the activity will have a twofold effect; 1) increased independence for the kids and 2) making family memories together.

I’m rather certain that it was a general expectation that families share the load back in the day. I know that my grandfather worked to help his family afford the necessities when he was old enough to do so, and my mother and her siblings helped out on the farm. So, it’s not too much to get these littles involved in some simple daily tasks.

Self care and daily discomforts. While, again, a catchy phrase like “self care” might not have been the thought behind it, but something as simple as ensuring you have the nicest of socks and shoes was a lesson my grandfather brought home from the Marines (and all his time spent marching the islands of the Pacific). I can’t fathom the “daily discomforts” he saw, right down to the near-fatal illness he contracted, so when I say that I’m going to try to do something outside my comfort zone everyday (generally that’s good for me – that’s where self care comes in), I should be reminded that no discomfort is really too great for me to handle.

Perspective is a wonderful thing.

I’ll stop by with some more thoughts on how to live a modern 1930s life later, but for now just thought I’d share how they seem to be a running thread through my New Year goals.

I’d love to hear if any of you have noticed a harkening to the past in your 21st century life. Let’s chat in the comments, or follow me at Instagram or Facebook @megactsout to strike up a conversation.   

2019 Focus

For last year’s resolution, I was filled with “big ideas” encompassed by TRYING. Some of them were successful; others need work and are still on my focus list for 2019. And, speaking of “focus”, that might just be my word for the new year; FOCUS. Focus, mindfulness, awareness. Whatever it’s called, it’s a positive driving force for the new year.

It’s not to say that 2018 was a complete disaster; far from it. Sitting on the edge of my son’s bed as we discussed the past year and what’s to come, he showed concern and his trademark anxiousness that “last year couldn’t have been better, how can 2019 beat it?” And I totally get that.

Like many of us who read the headlines and take an emotional beating from them everyday, it’s hard to separate the outward realities from our personal experiences. However, sometimes for the sake of self preservation, the overall struggles of being the person your children need you to be, and a pure need to “keep calm and carry on”, it’s necessary. So, when I’m able to ignore the shadow cast upon it all, our 2018 was amazing.

We had challenges that showed us how strong we are and the fact that we can show up when necessary. My husband, the baby, and I all dealt with huge dietary changes and, while it hasn’t really gotten easier, we’re still going strong. Things could have been so much worse (and, admittedly, I’m trying not to have that feeling of impending doom that the other shoe will drop).

We also had to allow ourselves some leeway in the fact that we HAVE THREE KIDS. Big house jobs fell to the wayside and some days survival was the ultimate goal. I have a slew of outdated blog posts sitting in my Google Drive that will never see the light of day. Other days, we prioritized and did “enough” to fill our buckets and give joyful memories to the whole family. It was a year that we teeter-tottered and allowed ourselves wins and grace-filled non-failures – because, as always, our objective was the kids. I’m pretty sure we were successful in that, at least.

So, what it all boils down to in 2019 is a focus on mindfulness and lessening the static through simplifying. Doing what needs to get done with a solid sense of purpose but letting the unwanted or unnecessary fall guilt-free to the wayside. Continuing on a path of self care – with a healthy dose of daily discomfort heaped in for good health (which I actually did pretty well at achieving last year). Purging, purging, purging in ways both physical and mental. We already started on our journey last year but I definitely need more FOCUS, and here are some ways I’m hoping to achieve it:

One thing at a time. Sharing…but not sharing too much. While there are times that we simply have to multitask, I have read that the human mind simply isn’t meant to work at its best capacity when stretched in several different directions. I can hardly finish a single book because I have so many started. I don’t feel like conversations are conversations, but merely punctuation marks between social media check-ins and kid interruptions (okay, so THAT won’t be changing, but the other stuff can). For example, social media is a wonderful thing, but we’ve noticed (as have countless others) that the negatives far outweigh the positives. Anxiety, time sucked away from loved ones, a poor use of time, and just all the hatred and negativity. The list goes on. If it’s not improving our lives, there’s no reason for it.

Dave and I will most likely be trying a social media blackout at some point (which is harder for him since he needs to access it for work, but as a nursing mom, social media is my much needed escape when nursing or pumping), but overall plan on just setting some guidelines about when/how much we’ll check in, and how much we’ll be exposing the kids without their say-so.

Overall, the goal is to simplify. One book at a time. One screen at a time. One conversation at a time. One task on my to-do list at a time. Bam.   

Making the house a home with a place for everything. I’m hoping to get back to a modified Konmari method of purging in order to truly touch everything in the house. That’s. A lot. Of. Crap. I’ve heard that simplifying in this way allows us more mental and physical energy to for other activities and areas of focus. The fact that we’ll have fewer things to care for (to wash, fold, and put away or to give us mental static or to subconsciously stress us out) will hopefully lighten our mental loads.

And at the same time, since I feel like some of our household duties fell to the wayside with a needy infant around in the past year, I’m kind of chomping at the bit to pay more attention to our outside space and finish up a couple of indoor spaces that are in dire need. In other words, starting to putter more and make a concerted effort to paint our room, work on the basement, focus on our gardens, and buy a shed.

Last year, I hoped to achieve one big thing a month. It clearly backfired. This year, I’m reworking the list, analyzing what we actually need/want to do and WHEN would be a good time for each job (say, inside makeovers in the winter and outside work in the summer…duh, Meg) then assigning it a time.

Journaling. I originally didn’t plan on starting this immediately since I had hoped to pick out a journal with daily focus (I’m not always great at just jotting down the goings-on each day), but because we’re starting the year off with a “No-Spend January,” I found a perfectly beautiful and totally unused notebook to start jotting down thoughts here and there. I think there’s more of a self awareness when you journal. And, of course, you (and your relatives) can look back at that specific snapshot of time in your life in a very unique way. Just love it and the intentions within it.

Seeking energy. I hate to use the word “exercise”, but I definitely know I need to get more active in order to find more energy. I’ve become motivated by an influencer I love who suggests simply finding ONE active activity to do that brings joy. If you like walking, walk. If you like running, run. If you like dancing, dance. Then do it more. Before you know it, you’re motivated enough to seek other, more structured ways to get that adrenaline high.

So, between dance nights and a goal to get outside more with the kids, I’m hoping that a general “getting active” (and the use of my new Fitbit) will help boost my energy. Oh, and speaking of those fun times with the kids, we want to start…

Making family time a priority. We already have a family movie night date each week (that floats from Friday to Saturday or even Sunday, depending on the schedule), but we’ve told the kids we hope to start a family game night. Then, what does our oldest come up with? A DAILY schedule of things to do. Batman night. Monkees night. Screen-free night. I mean, it’s incredibly well-thought out.

While I don’t know if we’ll necessarily be able to do them all every day so structured, the idea is awesome…and a little tiring. But, I think that the investment of time in family is the best investment we can make. Oh, and we have a couple of family resolutions involving swim and dance classes, so we’ll see how that all pans out.

Continue on the path to self care (and daily discomforts). As I mentioned earlier, I chose to include self care and continue on my #dailydiscomforts sharing (I didn’t share them daily, but whether big or small, they were there). Sometimes the daily discomforts find you in challenges at work or at home that pop up and need you to face head-on; other times we seek them out by doing a social activity that might be good for us (rather than hunkering down at home) or cleaning something we’d rather not be cleaning. Things like that.

I like the thought that, as a friend and I were recently discussing, life isn’t meant to be perfect harmony and happiness every second of everyday. To have a little discourse added to your day helps you to appreciate the good and become better able to deal with the not-so-good.

And just for fun, here are the kids’ intentions, either as they’ve explained to us or simply as goals that we’ve set forth for us to achieve with them:

Hadman – His resolution is threefold: to learn how to swim, make it across the monkey bars, and treat his sisters more thoughtfully. The swimming thing gives us both anxiety but I greatly admire his focus.

HQ – She says she’s “looking forward to trying new things.” I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings for our smart, forward-thinking sweetie. She’s very interested in trying ballet, and we also plan on potty training.

Squish – I assume she’ll continue on her fabulous, full-steam-ahead path in her constant quest to keep up with the big kids. She’s a fun-seeking missile. That said…girl has got to get on a better sleep schedule.

I’d love to hear what your intentions are for the year. If you don’t set resolutions or goals, how do you assess what areas you need to work on? Let’s chat in the comments!

Mindful Autumn

Not very long ago, I lamented our lackluster summer. Well, with recent trips to the zoo and our luck at attempting a beach adventure (on a day when 90 degree weather called for a summer activity rather than the previously planned harvest festival), I can officially say…Mission Summer: Complete and I’M TIRED.

I’ll translate that. Our busiest time of year, like many families, fears up during the entire month of September (or whenever your school year begins), then kind of ebbs and flows until the next high tide at the holiday season. So, when I say that I (and we) are tired? That’s fall, baby.

While the weather is only just beginning to loosen its grip on the thermometer, I am actually more than ready to pull out my leggings, puffy vest, scarf, and boots, and snuggle up with some almond milk cocoa, a roaring fire, a good book, and a cat or two. Yup, I’m a walking cliche.

To paraphrase Captain Kirk, “Hygge me up, Scotty.” It helps counterbalance those nights that are heavy on the activities.

So, just as we made the best of the summer (and didn’t stress stretching our plans a bit in one direction or another – or scrapping them altogether), we don’t have to over-plan or try very hard to make the autumn a special season.

We have things that we’d like to achieve, like our recent comic book convention and visiting with friends who came into town for it, and fall festivals and family nights sponsored at our local school and library, but it’s more about the simple experiences that we undertake during autumn that matter the most. I’m hoping that we can be present and enjoy those moments and activities in a more mindful matter.

One of the ways that we can encourage mindfulness is by using our senses more and actually thinking about how we experience the world. So, here are just some of the ways I’m looking forward to “sense” the new season with our family…

SEE

What’s your favorite sight to view when the weather turns? If you’re like me (a total walking cliche…), it’s the changing colors. Bright rusty reds, mustardy yellows, cheerful oranges…it’s our favorite season for this very reason.

Our favorite way to celebrate our locale is with a road trip to Cooperstown. The rolling hills show off like crazy and it brings me back to my childhood.

Walking our neighborhood will hopefully bring about the same effect, as well, and giving the kids a simple sensory nature walk scavenger hunt (find an orange leaf, a red cardinal, etc) will help them notice more of the world around them. And even shouting out different fall-themed things to look for – a scarecrow, corn stalks, a happy jack o’lantern, a ghost decoration, and so forth – adds to the fun.

SMELL

My absolute favorite sense is smell. I’m one of those people who gets easily transported to another place and time with the whiff of a simple scent. So, this is SUPER important to me for making memories. 

That said, lighting an apple candle, baking some pumpkin muffins, lighting one last chilly night fire in the backyard, and savoring the crisp, sweet smell of decaying leaves will hopefully achieve this goal.

Oh, and popcorn. That’s a must in every season, but only when it’s lovingly prepared by my husband.

TASTE

This is a slightly more challenging sense with the dietary restrictions in our family, but I’m more than up to the challenge.

I can’t have apples (what baby is allergic, I ask you?!), but a dairy-free pumpkin treat like muffins will work in a pinch. Non-dairy buttery popcorn, again, is a must, along with almond milk hot chocolate. Spiced teas and flavored coffees help warm us up, too.

And don’t forget the comfort meals! Chili, stews, and a good roast will fill our bellies (and help the husband feel less deprived, too).

FEEL

This may be a tough one, as well, but I’d like to pose this challenge to the kids. On cooler days, we can feel the chill on our faces and fingers. We can feel the warmth and coziness of a fluffy blanket. We can feel the cold, gooey insides of a perfectly-picked pumpkin or the crunchy leaves after a perfectly timed jump.

And, oftentimes, this word has a dual meaning (especially for kids), so asking how they feel when we’re doing different activities (like walking through a corn maze or riding on a hay wagon) will inevitably help them become more emotionally aware, and attach to the moments they appreciate.

HEAR

Ahh, sound. It’s a great way to calm and quiet your mind by closing your eyes to focus on the world around you. Whether it’s listening to the gentle tapping of a fall rain storm, a fun spooky old radio show (we go between this and old ‘40s music, which somehow seems more appropriate on those dark, dreary days), the pop-pop-pop of popcorn shooting out of the maker, or the crunching leaves as you take a walk on a cool evening, there are plenty of ways to enjoy autumn sounds.

Of course, our absolute favorite sound is the boisterous laughter of our kids enjoying the moment, no matter through what sense.

I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to most about autumn, and which sense is your favorite for experiencing life! Drop me a line below or stop by my Instagram account (@megactsout) to join in the conversation!

Shedding That End-of-Summer Guilt

As a person who is aaaaaall about feeling life changes pretty deeply, the end of summertime is higher on my list of anxiety triggers than, say, the holidays. It’s pretty much tops. While I *generally* enjoy the change of the four actual seasons, the fact that there aren’t huge shifts in schedules, routines, moods, and overall stressors ties into those spring to summer to fall to winter changes is probably one of the biggest appeals. (That and the sensory stuff that accompany new seasons are delightful.)

The fact that I’m an educator is equal parts the joy and guilt of being able to be home with my kids during the summer, and still more joy, guilt, and, yes, anxiety about going back in the fall. Not only do we have the list of things to get in order for the start of school as far as my own work and the kids’ routines, but there’s a looming shadow that will take a mindset shift to slowly emerge from.

What is that unnecessarily stressful shadow?

That list of all the undone summer things.

Those promises that went unfulfilled (whether to oneself or a loved one). Those priorities that weren’t quite high enough on the priority list. Those projects that were unachievable. An overall admission that some (most) days, survival was simply good enough and it wasn’t a very eventful, memorable, or terribly special summer.

And it’s okay. It’s ALL okay. Every summer – and, for that matter, every holiday, birthday, special occasion, and…well, even those less-than-special occasions – doesn’t need to be tops.

I repeat: EVERY LITTLE THING DOES NOT NEED TO BE THE BEST THING EVER.

We are all held to insane standards today. In turn, this is one of the reasons, I feel, that kids’ complex problem solving skills and “think for yourselfness” have turned to mush. And, to an extent, as parents so have we. We’re all blobs walking around, not truly engaging in life, putting on airs and armors while making choices without fully knowing why or for whom we’re making them.

Sorry. I know that’s a lot to say and think about. And it TOTALLY doesn’t relate to all of us. I know we’re all trying our best in our own ways. Just observations to add.

And I’m not saying to change what you do or how you are. God, no. There still needs to be an occasional, pulled-out-of-nowhere moment of pure magic – it’s one of our rights as parents (oh, and allowing the grandparents or others who adore your kids to make their own magic ONCE IN AWHILE is a must, as well). And, honestly, it’s fun.

But perhaps we shouldn’t set the bar so high that inflated expectations are the norm. Kids get spoiled and dependent. Stacks of toys take over and become less important in their sheer mass. We adults get more and more stressed. And a vicious cycle continues.

Instead, let’s breathe and do what we can and want to do; not what we feel we should. And when it doesn’t happen, don’t stress. (I’m telling myself as much as doling out the advice, by the way!)

So, while you’re taking pictures of that amazing birthday cake for Instagram, ask yourself why you made it. Was it for the glimmer in your child’s eyes? Or was it to maintain an unrealistic standard (whether because your child has come to expect it…or you’ve come to expect it…or to impress your friends/followers)? Or, still, was it because you truly enjoyed putting the work in to help celebrate your special little person?

The same goes when you plan your next vacation. Or shop for Christmas. Or decorate a bedroom. Or take your back-to-school pictures. Or even when you make your next to-do list of projects.

My motto right now is that summer’s technically not over until September 20th, and weekends still exist, so if we can fit in a project or a quick trip to a lake to satiate that nagging “we didn’t do enough” feeling, we’ll grab the chance.

And, if not, I’m learning to be okay with the fact that every summer just won’t be a perfect one. There’s no such thing as perfection, and that’s a great thing to remember. Plus, the end of one time is the start of another.

Oh, and I’ll bet that if you ask your child what their favorite part (or parts) of the summer were, they’ll come up with something unexpected and totally sweet. Kids don’t look to criticize. And their memories are very much their own – usually seeing their parents as absolutely amazing despite our own worries that we’re not doing enough.

Do you ever suffer from the disappointment that you didn’t do enough (whether from self-criticism or feeling less than worthy by comparison)? Did you do all you had hoped to do this summer?

Daily Discomfort

Discomfort.

Not really a word that many would find pleasing, but it’s giving me all sorts of hope right now.

See, I suffer from anxiety. I honestly didn’t realize the diagnosis until about a year ago. It had remained buried under a lifetime of depression stemming from my father’s death. Since it’s less traumatic than depression (with its suicidal, overwhelming doom), it’s easy to miss.

When I was going through my usual back-to-school spiral of unknowns and changes last year, I had the epiphany. I shared my new realization with my mom and even a couple of siblings. The response was pretty similar: we thought you already knew (my siblings seem to have it, as well). And, honestly, I think that the norm these days for many people leans into the realm of anxiousness. Phones and social media and all that goes with it.

This coupled with the fact that I went to write down a list of issues I want to tackle only to lay my hand on a notebook which lists almost every single issue – untouched – from last year, brings me to my new beacon of exciting hope.

Discomfort.

I once saw a gif that essentially advised you to “do one thing everyday that makes you uncomfortable.” It was easy to ignore and even roll my eyes at. Who wants to do that?! Cheeseball.

But then I had an epiphany. Looking at my huge list of things I need to work on, the thought of each thing made me…uncomfortable. Changing habits tends to do that – put you in a place of discomfort, truly outside your comfort zone. Even the things that used to be enjoyable that have gotten challenging to do seem uncomfortable because they’re not part of my current norm and breaking the habit of NOT doing them would be tough.

Yet, the THOUGHT of getting on top of these things – of finally taking control over some things or putting myself out there more or finishing some projects or following through on some ideas – is invigorating. Initially, the list is daunting to look at and completely impossible without a direct how-to manual.

So, I’ve figured it out. As cliche as it sounds, I’m going to DO SOMETHING EVERYDAY THAT MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE.

Some days that already have built-in challenges (hello, first day of school) are non issues. I’m already beyond uncomfortable and padding myself with grace. Other days, it might mean perusing the list to remind myself to try something new.

Some days it may be simple – like avoiding a single use plastic item (hey, it adds up) or forcing myself to skip social media and work on laundry or do a workout. Other days, it’ll be more in-depth like getting a house project done, working on my website, or creating a new budget. Still others, it’ll fall somewhere in between, like decluttering a closet.

Whether tiny or large, it’ll chip away at not only the to-do lists but hopefully at my anxiety, as well. I realize that living in a cocoon of my own making may be comfy, but isn’t achieving a full, well-lived life. It’s also a crappy model for my kids. So, some of the activities may seem like a walk in the park to some people, but may be a huge feat for others (like me).

I hope to check in with my discomforts along the way, both to hold me even more accountable and also to grab hold of one of those discomforts – writing here more often! Ha. I also think I’ll actually USE my planner to jot down a word or two encompassing my daily discomfort for that day.

I’d LOVE to hear about things that YOU find to be filled to the brim with fear, anxiety, or discomfort? Anything in your daily life that you avoid regularly because of it? Seriously.

And if anyone wants to join, you are SO welcome! I may also hop onto Instagram (my favorite safe haven), so find me @megactsout to follow along. Share your own stories by using #dailydiscomfort.