Reviving the Gratitude Project

Gratitude, Life, Musings

The other day, I was talking to my mom on the phone. I won’t repeat most of the conversation — it was convoluted and angst-ridden — but the general feeling was, “I don’t know what I want to DO with my LIFE and it’s TERRIBLE”

“Maybe you’re overthinking things,” she responded. “Noooooooo way,” I said. “I never overthink things.” And then we both laughed because I’ve been doing just that since I was 16.

I’ve had a lot of time to think, lately. In between job hunting, freelancing and day-to-day chores, I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and why. The narrative we build out of events and relationships is powerful, and I’m trying to stay aware of how I talk to myself. There’s a big difference, for example, between thinking, “I’m an unemployed slob who stays in her pjs until noon every day and I’ll never find another good job,” and, “I’ve always worked hard and now I’m patiently waiting for the right opportunity.” Some days I feel like my 19 year old self, searching for her sense of self worth in straight As, only now good grades have been replaced with “money and a good job.” But I’m not 100 percent sure what that even means, because no one hands out grades on how well you’re doing adulthood. This terrifies me a little, but it’s also liberating, isn’t it? It makes me think of Anne Lamott’s observation, “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to stop staring at my feet so much.

Which means that now seems like a good time to revive my gratitude goals. Remember those? For those of you who are catching up, I was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s assertion that sometimes you have to act the way you want to feel. In a similar vein to her Happiness Project,  I embarked on a series of monthly challenges aimed at cultivating awareness, gratitude, and contentment. This month, I want to talk about food. Not in a “get healthy” way (been there, done that), but as a way of exploring how our favorite recipes can make any place feel like home, something I’ve been meditating on ever since I read this piece on NPR. So, this month, I’ll be sharing and reflecting on my best loved recipes and I’d love to hear about yours, too.

Twenty-Five

Life, Musings, Uncategorized

Today I am 25 years old. Last night, I celebrated with friends (pizza, booze, and Cards Against Humanity were all involved). My friends conspired with my hubby to make a birthday cake from scratch as a surprise. It was delightful. While I was chatting with another friend who’s also turning 25 next month, we joked about having a quarterlife crisis. “The next big birthday is 30, and that’s really scary,” he said. “Thirty sounds so adult. Like, by then you really can’t afford to make any more big mistakes. Really the only perk of turning 25 is that we don’t have to deal with those dumb fees when renting a car.”

25 Signs You're About To Turn 25

This is the year you officially cross the line and relate more to Squidward than to Spongebob. Via Buzzfeed.

It seems like we’ve been primed to freak out by turning 25. There’s lots of advice out there about lessons learned and things you apparently should have done before 25. But the more I thought about it, I realized that turning 25 isn’t all that scary to me. It’s effing awesome.

Honestly, my early twenties were plagued with insecurity and doubt. After graduation, I spent a lot of time worrying about the future as I tried to make the right decisions. At work, I took every little criticism as a sign that I just couldn’t hack it. I cried a lot. But I got through it. I married the best man I’ve ever met, gained experience and confidence in my abilities, and generally calmed down about things.

Now, this sounds cheesy even to me, but I feel like 25 is going to be the best year. Not because I know what’s going to happen, but because I’m finally okay with NOT knowing what’s going to happen. I’ve put that lingering teen angst and insecurity behind me, and I’m ready to have some adventures and generally enjoy what I’ve got. And maybe even make some mistakes, because I think that’s okay at any age.

So, here’s to being a quarter of a century and not freaking out about it.

December Cheer

Musings

At my house, it feels like a fever has broken. My husband just submitted his last grad school assignment today. His makeshift office in our living room is dismantled, and he’s starting to relax. It’s been a mad, stressful whirlwind for weeks, but now we get to celebrate his graduation. While I wasn’t the one racing to meet deadlines and grappling with complex problems, his stress seeped through the whole house. I did a lot of things by myself while he was busy. But no more grad school widow here! And just in time for us to shop, clean, and decorate for the holidays.

Candles

Click for source.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’ve decided to take this month off. Partly because December is the busiest month and partly because I’m content with trying to focus on enjoying the good parts of the holidays. Lighting Advent candles, singing hymns, decorating the Christmas tree, baking cookies — little rituals that brighten the shorter, colder days (I’m still getting used to walking out into darkness at 5:30 p.m. when I leave work). And, of course, time with family and friends. I’ll update as I can and start fresh with new goals in January.

In the meantime, what traditions brighten your holidays?

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.

Holy smokes. It’s November.

Gratitude, Musings

IMG_3746

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.

IMG_3753

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.