Thanksgiving

Community, Food, Gratitude, Musings

I love Thanksgiving. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, I think the Black Friday hoo-ha is awful. Yes, that whole spiel about pilgrims and Indians seems kinda icky and colonialist when you actually learn some more U.S. history. But I still love it. I love the cozy feeling of cooking and eating and relaxing with loved ones — ideally, for me, Thanksgiving hits pause for a few days during all the craziness of this time of the year. I also love pie and Thanksgiving is the ultimate pie holiday.

Pumpkin Pie Slice

(Click for source.)

This year, I have a great deal to be thankful for. I’ve been fretting about money a lot lately (health insurance and student loan payments are both really expensive), but this morning I sat down and wrote about all the things I do have, instead of the things I don’t. It feels so cheesy and forced to try and work yourself into a state of gratitude, and sometimes that applies to Thanksgiving as well. But I’ve learned that cultivating gratitude takes work, and even when it feels cheesy, it’s worth it.

One of the reasons I started this blog is because my mom was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and that has a way of turning all your priorities upside down. She just finished her treatment this week. After a long, hard year, she’s on the road to being well. In fact, she will be just fine. Better than fine. Words cannot begin to convey how thankful I am to have her in my life. I can’t wait to celebrate with her and the rest of my family. Really, I say this without sanctimoniousness, but what is a tight budget compared to that? I have a home, a job that gives me time off for the holiday, a wonderful husband, and a loving family. I am thankful.

I hope you all have safe, warm, happy Thanksgivings.

Spontaneity and Middlemarch

Gratitude, Life, Musings

So far, this month has been the anti-goals month. Or rather, it’s been a more spontaneous month.

I did spend an hour drawing this week. The drawing turned out … okay, but I enjoyed myself. Did I hit my goal of three to four sketches? No, I did not. But I did start reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, a sweeping, substantial Victorian novel often praised as one of the great masterpieces of English fiction. I spontaneously decided to undertake this epic reading project thanks to The Toast, which is hosting a virtual Middlemarch book club. And, you guys, I am SO excited to read this book and talk about it online because I never did finish it during my undergrad Brit Lit survey (the shame).

So, I forgive myself for reading this book instead of sketching more. Just like how I forgive myself for not writing in my journal some mornings because staying in bed and cuddling with my husband for those precious 20 minutes before we absolutely have to get up seems worth it. I’m still learning to balance things. And I’m also learning not to fight my natural whims. I set a good goal, but it wasn’t “filling the well” the way I thought it would, and so I’ve let myself take down time and start other projects. And it’s okay,  because this month I really do feel grateful to have time to relax before the holiday whirlwind, to have time to tackle this book, and to have time to spend baking and chatting with my new friend. I need these antidotes to work stress and the last few (completely insane) weeks of my husband’s graduate program. So, I suppose I’ll try to make time to draw again this week — but maybe I’ll just read instead.

Today I’m grateful for: this amazing marbled pumpkin gingersnap tart recipe from my Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I know what I’m making for Thanksgiving.

Learning to Subtract

Uncategorized

Every so often, I like to have a day where I stay in all day. I pick a Saturday or Sunday to wear my pajamas and putter around. I read. I drink lots of tea. I admire the view from my living room windows. I might tidy up a little. Sometimes I bake. Mostly, I just do whatever I want, whenever I feel like it.

Slow Down

Click for source.

Yesterday was one of those days. It felt wonderful. And yet, here I am, fighting off guilt.

I had a busy, productive week. I went to the office every day. I packed healthier lunches and took long walks over some of my lunch breaks. I took a restorative yoga class. I journaled every morning. I helped a friend edit a story.  My husband and I had dinner with another friend and finally saw her new house. I went grocery shopping. By the end of each day, I was so tired that I crawled in bed at 9 p.m. to read and drift off to sleep. Why am I feeling guilty?

Well, I didn’t do the one thing I set out to do. I tried to draw one night, but I was tired and impatient. I didn’t get far, and then didn’t pick up my supplies again all week. And I didn’t draw yesterday, even though I wrote it down on my “to do” list.

Lately, I’ve made an effort to add things to my life and it’s been undeniably positive. I’ve added more exercise, made more time for friends, gotten more involved at church, and started writing every day. My life has been improved by these things. I’ve also been impressed with my ability to juggle them all. But that’s where the dark side sometimes asserts itself. I start to get competitive with myself. I start to think that even though I’m doing better, it’s still not enough. I could be exercising more, after all. I could be eating better. I could give more time to friends and family. I should keep my apartment cleaner. And so on. My creeping sense of guilt comes from the belief that I’m not making the most of my time, not setting the right priorities, not living up to my own expectations. Why set goals if you’re not going to stick with them?

Yesterday, though, I think a deeper, wiser part of my brain understood that I needed to set all that aside. That my goals, while noble and fruitful, had to be ignored for a little while. That it was actually good for me to be unproductive for a day, after a long week that was indeed busy and productive, just not in all the ways I’d planned. After all, how do you stay balanced and sane if you only add and never subtract? I’m still learning to subtract because the art of paring down is difficult and delicate. It involves discerning your priorities, setting personal boundaries, and not measuring your sense of self worth against a set of check marks on your “to do” list. But I do know that, even though I failed to meet my goal this week, sitting in my favorite chair yesterday with a hot cup of tea and ignoring the clock as I read for as a long as I wanted was the right thing to do.

Today I’m grateful for: hours spent around a bonfire with friends, lots of laughter, and piping mugs of hot cider.

Holy smokes. It’s November.

Gratitude, Musings

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My blogging output declined this month in proportion to my other writing. But that actually means I stuck to my goal pretty well this month. After a rocky beginning, I started getting up half an hour earlier every morning so that I could write three pages in my journal every day. (This means I’ve actually started getting up before 7 a.m. every morning, which really makes me feel like an adult.)

I write mostly about day-to-day things. Work. Weather. Things That Irritate Me. But in the middle of a whirlwind month, I’ve been grateful to have a few quiet moments to myself every morning. I’m attached now to my ritual of getting up, making a cup of coffee, and writing.

It’s helped me process some big events, such as my husband’s 26th birthday (him moving beyond 25 seems significant somehow, partly because it finally forced us to get our own health insurance), and a dear friend and coworker preparing to move back to California to be near her family (so bittersweet). I also made some new friends this month, and hosted more successful book club meetings. I struggled to make it to the gym. I had an epic Halloween that involved dressing up as Sonny Bono along with my boss who did her best Cher impersonation. We sang “I Got You, Babe” in front of the entire company.

Now it’s November, my favorite and least favorite time of the year. I love the transitional feeling of fall, but it makes me melancholy. I love the holidays, but they also stress me out. Time keeps slipping through my fingers, and I keep falling back on poetic cliches to describe how I feel. My heart is heavy. I’m a little jealous my friend who’s driving across the country next week. She is brave enough to uproot herself so that she can orient her life according to the things that matter to her: being near her family and finding work that she’s truly passionate about. I want to be like her.

I’ll keep up my new writing routine, but I’ve found that it doesn’t feel like a creative outlet so much as just a dumping ground. Putting my tangled, anxious thoughts on paper grounds me, but it’s pretty mundane stuff. In high school, I loved to draw, but dropped it in college. So, this month I’m going to dust off my art supplies and challenge myself to do at least three or four sketches a week. I’m also going to try and hunt down Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and work on some of those exercises as well. If they aren’t too horrible, maybe I’ll post some here.

Happy November.

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Today I’m grateful for: the leaves finally bursting into color. The trees outside our window fill our living room with golden light.

Why I Write

Life, Musings, Work, Writing

My friends, writing is hard. Hard to keep up with, hard to do well, hard to show to other people for criticism. It’s like But it’s what I want to build my career around. I might be a little crazy but I can’t help it — I love good writing. Why do I pursue something that’s so difficult and uncertain? Why didn’t I just get an engineering degree so I could earn the big bucks and not worry about job security? (Well, partly because I’m sure that engineering is also really hard, and I suck at math.)

Optima

What I wish I wrote with, instead of crappy rollerball pens. Via Flickr user John Morgan.

But there’s more to it than my poor math skills. This week I read a post by Penelope Trunk about whether we should pursue happiness or meaning in our lives. The post neatly outlines her argument with a simple but compelling story. After reading it, it made me think of Joseph Campbell’s exhortation to “follow your bliss,” another misunderstood philosophy. Following you bliss can sound like “follow pleasure” but that’s not it at all. Campbell meant that we should find our meaning and hold on to it. Finding meaning, following your passion, can be really hard and uncomfortable. Pursuing meaning sometimes invites stress and conflict into your life, as Penelope Trunk points out, but it doesn’t have to be negative. If you feel part of something larger than yourself, that can be its own reward. Problem solving can be its own reward. Making a living out of what you are most passionate about can be its own reward, even if doesn’t necessarily win you approval or financial stability. (Although I must admit, I do aim for financial stability.)

So, I guess that’s why I write. Writing has been my bliss ever since I was nine years old. I don’t know what that will always look like or what the future will hold, but I’m need to be reminded that happiness comes from meaningful work and relationships.

Today I’m grateful for: early morning meditation practice, and my friend who led it. I’m going to try and start my days out better.

Writing and Wisdom

Gratitude, Musings, Writing

No time for a long post today, but I do want to share some words of wisdom from Barbara, an amazing writer and long-distance friend. She just wrote a blog post about finding our passions and writing and editing as a metaphor for life. Well-timed for my own writing challenge this month, but meaningful for non-writers too:

“there i was, red pen in hand, poring over pages that are typed-out vessels from my heart. more like prayer cards, each and every one. it’s called editing, but really it’s distilling. distilling to the essence, paring away excess. cutting to the bone. it happens to be essential to the craft of writing, but really it’s essential in this odyssey called life.”

Read the whole thing — you won’t regret it. I’ll be carrying her words with me as I try to stick with my goals, which are (now that I think about it) an attempt to find out what’s essential to my life.

Today I’m grateful for: the wise women in my life, including my mom who I am visiting this weekend.

Not Wrapping Up Community (But Also A New Goal)

Community, Writing

Project 50 - Day #1 (Moleskine)

The problem with writing about a new set of goals every month is that life doesn’t fit neatly into that timeline. I could write about community — how we cultivate it, how much we need it, but also how frustrating and messy it is — for months. I’m just scratching the surface right now. Book club seems to be gaining steam. I participated in my first committee meeting at church. I wrote another letter. I won’t stop doing any of these things, and I also probably won’t stop writing about them. But before I move on to (or just add, really) new goals, I have a few more thoughts.

Putting myself out there, organizing events, and getting involved wasn’t easy for me. I have worshiped solitude for a long time. I’m a natural introvert. Being alone makes me feel peaceful and content. And truth be told, that will never change. Too much socialization makes me feel thin, like “butter scraped over too much bread” as Bilbo Baggins would say. On the other hand, when I don’t feel rooted in place, connected to my family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, I’m miserable and lonely. I’ve realized that this connectedness is about more than just gratitude — it’s about grace, and patience, and love, and letting go. There is so much more I want to articulate, so if y’all are okay with me coloring outside the lines, I’ll keep writing about that as the spirit moves me. Also, while we are talking about past goals, I am really getting on board with this whole eating more veggies and fewer animal products diet. I went on a business trip last week and I ate so much meat and eggs. Having a veggie burger for lunch today felt so good.

But it’s also time to add something new. October crept up on me and I’m feeling a little scattered, so I have one one goal for this month: write three pages every day. Doesn’t matter what it is but I have to write for myself and not for work. I will also use this as an excuse to do some creative writing prompts and maybe even buy some new art supplies for doodling/painting as well. I’m generally terrible at writing every day, so I’ll let you know how this project goes.

Today I’m grateful for: my new knitting project and Netflix (always Netflix).

[Image via Sean McGrath]

True Hospitality

Community, Musings

September has humbled me. This month’s goals have not turned out as I expected logistically, emotionally, or spiritually. At one point, I wished I hadn’t set them. Now I’m glad I stuck with it for another month rather than just glossing over them and moving on to something else — something more within my control. I was tempted to do that: Set new goals that were just about me and my personal development, rather than goals that involved actually inviting people into my home. But I didn’t, partly because I knew that this was an important project, but mostly because I had a glamorous picture of how this book club would go. A big group of my most bookish, intelligent friends gathered in my tiny (but spotlessly clean) apartment, laughing and drinking and sharing brilliant observations.

Instead, I cleaned all afternoon but was dismayed that my furniture still looked slightly ratty and lumpy. I baked a cake that didn’t set all the way through and I had to dump it in the trash. Many people that I thought were coming didn’t come. I worried about whether I picked a good story and if I was being a good discussion leader. My friends, of course, were brilliant and helped me see the reading in new ways. But after it was all over I sat on the couch and cried because it’s hard to invite people into your home when you are mostly focused on your own vanity. Does my apartment look nice? Am I a good host? Is everyone having fun? Why didn’t more people come?

I fretted over all these things for a while before I realized that I was a) judging the enterprise based on the first meeting and b) getting upset because I wanted this group to meet my needs and my expectations. Or what I thought my needs were. Hospitality isn’t all about the host, though, is it? Genuine hospitality is about the guest. And so I decided that I would continue to open my home to my friends, but this time with no agenda. Just some great stories and baked goods. If it fizzled, well, at least I tried.

And on the second meeting, everything was brilliant. Again, just a few folks came, but it felt like just the right number. We ate. We talked. We laughed. This time I was left with a feeling of contentment because I wasn’t putting as much pressure on myself or my guests. And I’ve extended the invitation to some new people, people that I don’t know as well. I’m not going to lie — that makes me nervous. What if we get too many people? What if someone shows up and dominates the conversation? Etc. etc. and so on. But I’m working on it. I’m working on being more open and acknowledging that I’m not in control of any given situation. And that if I want real community, it’s up to me to set the stage. It’s exhausting and challenging sometimes, but it’s better than unintentionally turning into a hermit.

Today I’m grateful for: my friends.

Busy Week

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Hectic week over here — but I’m still working on my goals this month. I hosted book club Sunday night, and am trying to choose a reading for next time (it’s so hard). I haven’t written any more letters yet, but I did buy some cute stationery a few days ago. And I’m giving a small presentation at my alma mater this week, at the request of one of my former English professors. Prepping for that has taken up my usual blogging hours, but I like to stay in touch with my former college community. I’ll be sharing sage bits of advice on professional etiquette with current English majors. And yes, I included some references to The Office in my power point. I couldn’t help myself.

Click for source.

Wish me luck!

Tapped Out

Community

The anxious fluttering of the hostess has set in. Book club starts this week and I keep thinking about it. What discussion questions? What to do drink? Should I bake a cake? (Okay, that last one is kind of obvious because of course I’m going to bake a cake. Probably blueberry.) Mostly, though, I am so grateful to have something mentally stimulating to look forward to. Right now I am writing, writing, writing for work about a topic that I just don’t care much about at all. It’s challenging and exhausting, but not necessarily very rewarding. I want to write creative, brilliant things on this blog, but I’m tapped out at the end of the day. I come home and stare at my laptop screen, willing myself to write, but mostly I end up just staring and eventually my eyes glaze over.

So I wrote about that. It’s all I got right now. But we are reading The Semplica-Girl Diaries by George Saunders this week for book club (short fiction club? I need a better name) and you should too. Enjoy.

Today I’m grateful for: this amazing recipe that I ate for dinner tonight. So good.