Because I work at a church, I often end up working on weekends, meaning that my days off are fragmented — say, a Friday and Monday, or a Tuesday and a Thursday, with work sandwiched in between.While I understand that working on weekends comes with the territory of church-employment, it’s not my favorite aspect of my job.Practically speaking, most other people have weekends off, so that’s when social events happen, and I often end up missing them.Less rationally, but significant in my mental-processing, is that I miss the ethos of a weekend: celebratory Friday nights, activity filled Saturdays, and lazy Sundays.There is no substitute for the joy, rest and energy that these elements provide.Two separate week days off just doesn’t offer the same restoration.
While there is no replacement for the traditional weekend, I have found that being intentional about how I spend my days off helps me feel more satisfied with the fragmented days that, for now, are my lot.Being intentional involves scheduling social activities, such as a lunch date with a friend who works from home, or an outing with Caleb (whom I am lucky to say has a fairly flexible schedule) and it also involves being really clear about how I am going to spend my time.It can be easy to fritter away time (on both weekends and weekdays) but the saving grace of a full weekend is that there are multiple days in a row: if I blow off Saturday by sleeping late and dawdling through the work I need to get done, I still have Sunday to do things that will satisfy me.With a day off here and there, I have to be extra-careful to fill the day with tasks and activities that will leave me feeling as if I have made the most of my day.
One way that I do this is by writing a For-Fun List that I make sure to attend to just as carefully as I attend to my To-Do List.I have found that my perfect day-off includes a mixture of productive — though not necessarily “fun” — tasks such as cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, going to the gym, and catching up on personal emails (these go on my “To-Do” list) as well as purely enjoyable tasks such as reading for fun, trying a new recipe, putting out holiday decorations, or calling a friend (these go on my “For Fun” list).
What kinds of tasks would you lay out on your for-fun list?
For my sixteenth birthday, one of my best high school friends got me this little pink polka-dotted journal, and since then, I’ve written my favorite poems and quotations in it.When I read something in a book or magazine that speaks to me, I copy it down.When a friend or family member says something that I want to remember, I record it.When I see a quotation inscribed on a memorial, or floating around on the internet, or in a church program, I snap a picture to then later transcribe into my book.
I filled up my pink journal a decade after receiving it, and around the same time I found an old journal of my moms that had been used for the same purpose, with only a few pages filled.I started a new “quote book” in it.I return to these books time and again when I am in need of motivation, inspiration, comfort or hope.
Over my holiday vacation, I spent several hours reading through the entire collection, and I picked out a generous handful of quotes to guide my year.(Can you tell that I’m into New Years?I’ve got words, I’ve got goals, I’ve got quotes!It’s very orienting for me. And interestingly, though I didn’t intend this, I realize that they can roughly be categorized within my words for the year…plus one more category: perseverance).
To use a quotation itself to explain my inclination towards quotations at guides: “One is pat to think of moral failure as due to weakness of character: more often it is due to an inadequate ideal.”I agree with Richard Winn Livingstone’s sentiment, and for me, quotes serve as an ideal — a model, an example — to work towards.
“For there is only trying.The rest is not our business.” —T. S. Eliot
A post or two back, I wrote about my words for 2017: Perspective, Prayerfulness and Poise.I’m letting those words propel me, like the wind behind a boat, into this year that I hope will be one of growth and goodness.
But, we all know that a boat needs more than a bluster to venture far.A rudder to guide it, a centerboard to balance it and a sail to catch the breeze are as necessary as the wind, and so, too, are some specific smart goals to accompany my words for the year.Smart goals are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based, and they’re meant to add focus and specificity to one’s actions.
I love the idea of having a word (or three, in my case) to give an overarching theme to the year, but I know that it’s the practicality of smart goals that will make living out my words possible.With this in mind, I have created a few smart goals to accompany each of my words for the year.
Most of my smart goals are related to Perspective, for a few reasons.First, it’s my primary word for the year; prayerfulness and poise stem from it and I hope lead towards it.Secondly, it’s a bit of a catch all.The place where I most need perspective is work (I need to not let the petty (and legitimate) frustrations, the causes for anxiety, the at-times-annoying people get to me the way I do), and I’m of the mind that focusing on all the joyful, successful, meaningful and life-giving aspects of my life outside of work will help me remember what is important, thus giving me perspective when I have to deal with the inevitable challenges at work.For this reason, I’ve crafted a whole slew of goals that will direct my attention outside of work.That’s perspective after all, right? (one of my favorite definitions: a true understanding of the relative importance of things).
Try at least one new recipe from each of my cookbooks.I have all these great cookbooks, but every time I want to try a new recipe, I look on pinterest or elsewhere on the internet, not in them.I thought this would be a good goal to help me enjoy my home more… and delve into a hobby that I always take pleasure in, cooking.
Read Middlemarch.I have a “Read Before I Die” list and, for the past several years, have tried to read one or two books off of it each year.This is the year for Middlemarch.
Go on one adventure a month (I have a list of adventures, which I’ll discuss in a different post).
Complete a full twelve weeks of BBG (this is the exercise plan that I use fairly consistently — I really like it — but hop all over with; having consistency and a sense of completion but completing the full 12-week cycle will be satisfying).
Decrease sugar consumption by taking sugar-free weeks, or weeks with sugar just one or two days.There is no reason that I should be having dessert every day, if not multiple times a day.With 28 upon me, it’s time to change this.
Acknowledge birthdays. Send cards, texts, emails or phone calls.Do something to celebrate and connect with the people I love.
Blog 50 times.
Connect with my siblings monthly, at minimum.My brothers and sister, along with Caleb and my parents, are the people who matter most to me in the world and I almost always have fun and feel lifted up when I talk/text/snap with them.And yet, I don’t do it enough.
Get organized with giving.I donate here and there, but in a highly disorganized fashion.I want to consider what causes and organizations I value and admire (and Caleb, too) and get organized about making donations to them.
Reflect/journal for at least fifteen minutes each day.
Continue to invest in Spiritual Direction, and integrate what Rosemary (my Spiritual Director) has to say to me into my life.
When I have a lull moment — in the grocery store line, or the shower or the car — give a “help, thanks, wow” prayer: ask for help with something I need, say thanks for something I’m grateful for, and lift a word of praise.
A feeling of skepticism accompanies most of my moments of prayer; let the skepticism go.
Wear heels more, because: look good, feel good, do good.Or, as William James more poignantly wrote, “Actions seems to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”In other words, if I look poised, I will feel more poised, and I will be more poised.
Floss daily and take vitamins at least a few times each week.Flossing is one of those things that I have known for a long time I should do regularly, but just couldn’t have been bothered about it.I figured that 2017 was as good a time to commit to this as any, and I knew that developing this healthy habit would help me feel on top of my life; the same goes for vitamins.These goals loosely tie into poise for the same reason as wearing heals.
Before going into situations that I know will push my buttons, prepare myself: take a deep breath and say a prayer for composure and remind myself that I have agency and the ability to be poised.Then go act accordingly!
I recently read this quote by Glennon Doyle Melton on her Instagram feed: “Life is hard.But love wins.”If I had to pick six words to summarize my philosophy of life, those might be them.
Challenge, struggle, grief, pain, frustration, annoyance, anxiety — these things are real.Informed by Internal Family Systems model, I am a big proponent of acknowledging and naming all our feelings, of giving the negative as well as the positive a voice, of normalizing the dark aspects of ourselves and our experiences that we so often want to hide or gloss over.Life ishard.And if not particularly so in the present moment, we know that it will be: we will all face losses and heartache and disappointment, in some capacity.As one of my favorite Divinity School professors said, “the one thing I guaranteed my children upon giving them life was death.”
And yet.(Those are two golden words themselves, offering the chance for a closer examination, a longer look, a turning over of an idea, like a coin in your hand, to get a different perspective.)
Hope, satisfaction, relief, connection, warmth, joy, kindness — these things, the many manifestations of love in its various emotions and flavors, are also real.
Caleb is visiting his parents and siblings in Ohio for our sweet niece’s first birthday party, so I’m spending the morning in bed, content with my laptop, journal, a stack of books, and a cup of coffee.I’m cozy under the weight of the quilt my mom made us for a wedding gift, with its “courthouse steps” and “Ohio star” patterns, mixing fabrics from my childhood — snips of halloween costumes and Cameroonian prints and my St. Andrew School uniform.What a gift of love.What a tangible reminder of the attention, time, creativity, discipline and tenderness my mom has wrapped around me — warm and protective, like the quilt itself — for the past almost-three decades.
I’ve felt anxious and sad about my parents this past week.My mom slipped on the ice — breaking her nose, jamming her shoulder and gashing her forehead — and then they’re also about to head off for six months in Uganda.I worry about them and I worry about me and what I would do if something happened to them.
The realness of love doesn’t negate the hardness of life, but maybe it makes it worth it.
New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap.I always begin the book group I facilitate with an icebreaker question — a way for the varied members gathered to get to know each other better, and a way for me to be reminded of everyone’s names — and this past week I asked after any New Year’s Resolutions.Not only did 90% of the group not have resolutions, they actively disdained the whole premise of resolutions.
Haters gonna hate/to each their own/different strokes for different folks/insert your chosen cliche here, and I stand firmly and excitedly by the premise of New Year’s Resolutions.Goal setting, in general, gives me a sense of order, the chance to self-examine — to reflect on where I am and where I want to be — and an opportunity for growth.Sure, January first is an arbitrary date for initiating goals and reflecting, but aren’t all holidays arbitrary dates for celebrating the things that matter to us (patriotism, gratitude, faith, love) and the things that make life fun (candy, autumn, warm weather)?And isn’t an arbitrary date better than no date at all?Having a set date ensures — for me, at least — that reviewing my life and making plans to improve it will happen at least annually.
Because I so enjoy the process of making New Year’s resolutions, and goal setting in general, I tend to make many resolutions.For the past few years, I have also picked a word as an overarching theme for the year.This year, I chose three words (all related) and each of my more concrete goals relates in some way to the words.The words are like the light at the beginning and the end of the tunnel, and my individual goals are like the path that stretches through the tunnel.The purpose of each individual goal is to help me reach the end, but the light at the end is also the light that propels me to move forward and illuminates the path.
This year, my words are perspective, prayerfulness and poise.I spent the afternoon journaling about the words to help me get a better sense of what they mean to me — how I hope they will frame my year, and what I hope they will guide me towards.
I was like a kid in a candy shop with my Christmas holiday reading — delighted, and a tad bit hyper-active. I bounced back and forth between three winners: Anna Quindlen’s Miller’s Valley, David Brooks’ The Road to Character, and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time.
Since its recent publication, I had been saving Miller’s Valley, and, much as I enjoyed it, I also regretted finishing it.For me, having an unread Anna Quindlen novel is akin to possessing a get-out-of-jail-free card.It’s comforting to know that when hard-times come I have an almost-guaranteed good read on the shelf…all I can say is that my girl Anna better be hard at work on her next novel and taking good care of her health.
The Road to Character is my kind of non-fiction: interesting, well-researched, digest-able, and relevant.I don’t read anything that I think is entirely irrelevant (is anything entirely irrelevant?), but hey, a biography of Marcel Proust is uncontestedly less applicable to my life than the insights of David Brooks. What I particularly appreciate about Brooks is his ability to, on top of presenting thought-provoking information, instigate self-reflection.I certainly wouldn’t consider his non-fiction “self-help,” but it prods me to examine my way of being in the world.
And Zadie Smith?Well, she’s just flawless.Swing Time includes almost all of my favorite attributes of R.F.P.P: it’s a coming-of-age story meets family drama meets tale of female friendship.On top of that, it’s an “expand your worldview” kind of novel, giving me the opportunity to look at the world from a new perspective.
I would highly recommend all three of these books.
Thanks to the generosity of my parents, grandparents, and now in-laws, I’ve taken many — and all kinds of — vacations over the course of my life.I grew up taking three primary forms of vacation: extended family gatherings (whether that be flying out to California to spend a week with my grandparents, a family reunion with my mom’s ten siblings and a whole slew of cousins, or spending a week with one of my aunts), site-seeing focused and educational road trips, and outdoor activities (camping/hiking/canoeing adventures).My in-laws added variety to the mix with their traditional family vacations falling more in the categories of beach weeks and Disney trips.
I will gladly take just about any free outing, and I’ve enjoyed each of these vacations in their own right.But the thing is, these aren’t necessarily the kinds of vacations I would choose to go on if I were paying for them myself. I say this not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, but rather, to reflect on just what it is that I would delineate “the dream vacation.”It’s worth considering, because as I get older, I’ll be planning and funding more and more of my own adventures. Why not know what will leave me feeling most satisfied?
Right before Thanksgiving, Caleb and I spent the better part of a week in San Antonio, Texas.The American Academy of Religion (AAR)’s annual conference brought us there, and Caleb spent at least part of each day at AAR related activities, but I was free to spend my time however I liked.San Antonio wasn’t my favorite city and I probably won’t go back there, but the vacation was ideal in than I spent my time more or less exactly as I would like to on a vacation.Looking back on my week in San Antonio, and considering the other vacations I’ve taken over the course of my lifetime, I’ve concocted a recipe for the perfect vacation…or at least, my version of it!
Dream Vacation Recipe
The Basic Outline
25% Active experience of the vacation locale: Learning about the place or local culture via museums, tours, other cultural activities (even just going to Mass in the city’s Cathedral).I feel as if I most experience a place when I learn about it.
15% Passive experience of the place of vacation, whether that means taking a walk, eating local food, or people watching from a park bench.
15% Personal time.This is a four hour window to spend on my favorite activities, like reading and writing.Unrelated to the particulars of a vacation location, these activities deserve dedicated vacation time because they are the things that I choose to do when time allows, but that I don’t necessarily get to spend significant amounts of time on in my everyday life.If you aren’t going to spend vacation time — time meant to maximize pleasure — on favorite activities, when will you?
10% Social.This is either time devoted to the people with whom I’m traveling — just sitting with them in the vacation house living room, or taking a walk together, or lingering over coffee — or time spent visiting local friends.Obviously, socializing can also occur during the other portions of a vacation, but time dedicated particularly to nurturing relationships feels very important.
35% Rest.That’s about’s 8.5 hours of non-planned and completely free time, most of which I imagine will be spent on night-time rest.I don’t want to return from a vacation feeling utterly exhausted, so adequate sleep is a must.
^^ Active Experience of the Vacation Locale in San Antonio. We toured the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. I LOVE the National Park Service and so appreciate the amazing job they do in educating and delighting tourists with their educational programming and affordable (free!) presentation of historical sites and information.
Other necessary ingredients
Exercise.I always feel best if part of each vacation day includes some sort of movement, like walking, hiking or cycling.
Good food.I’m a foodie and I love trying local restaurants and flavors, but I’m also happy to eat delicious home cooked meals, particularly when a vacation involves a rental house.I’m not a snob here: when I say good food, I include hotel breakfasts and hot dog stands.One of my favorite ways to eat on a vacation isby having brunch or lunch out, and then a light dinner, or just snack or dessert in the evening.
When looking at my recipe, I realize that some vacations are simply not reconcilable with the proportions that I’ve prescribed.For an example, hiking in the Sierras for a week will not include 4 hours spent daily on writing or cultural activities.That’s okay.I have full confidence in my ability to enjoy a vacation that doesn’t fit the recipe prescribed, and I have experience to confirm this (heck, some of my happiest memories are from outdoor adventure weeks, and I’m sure that I will continue to prioritize bi-annual hikes, as well as weeks spent in Disney World with my in-laws).The point of analyzing my imaginary perfect vacation proportions isn’t to determine whether or not to partake in a vacation (relationships matter more to me than having my exact vacation preferences met), but have a sense of what most satisfies me for my own planning purposes, as well as to set reasonable expectations when entering non-chosen family vacations.
As always, self-knowledge is key and thoughtfulness when attending to life and its happenings is never wasted.
Every other summer my extended family goes on a backpacking trip, a trip that will encompass a whole gamut of emotions and experiences: awe at the majesty of the mountains, annoyance at the hiker who doesn’t carry his weight, sheer joy at being with those nearest and dearest to us, disgust from the smells of sweaty feet and unwashed clothes, peace born of unplugging from the world, frustration with the inevitable knee-back-hip-foot pain, giddiness from laughter at stories shared around the fire.The ups and downs of the experience are as varied as the trails marked on our topographic maps.
And yet, the memories of the experiences always glow for me.The annoyance, disgust and frustration disappear along with the blisters, and I’m left with a solid case of rosy retrospection.I find this to be true in most areas of my life.Excepting one particular internship, my first fight with Caleb, the job search during my final spring term of divinity school, and a few other select periods, I look back on experiences both big and small with a sense of great content.
Why is that?
I imagine it like this: our minds have a way of distilling an entire experience into a bite sized portion, and a single memory is like a little glass vial meant to hold the distilled experience.The vial can only hold so much, and so our memory of an event depends on how we choose to fill the vial.“Choose” may not even be the right word, because perhaps how we memory-keep is unconscious.Through a mixture of biology and family and circumstance and personality, we’re each inclined to hold on to different aspects of an experience, so that two people may share a history, but have vastly different recollections of their shared past.We each pick up different pieces to be preserved forever in the little vial devoted to a particular experience.
When surveying my storehouse of vials — rows and rows of tiny jars labeled “Christmas 2002,” “9th birthday,” “sophomore year,” “half-dome hike” — I can see that they are, with rare exception, full of glitter.For better or for worse, I remember fondly, and so I enjoy wandering through the recesses of my mind, reflecting on the past and recalling previous moments.
It’s helpful for me to consciously acknowledge that I have a tendency towards rosy retrospection, because it equips me to deal with the drudgery of the everyday.Take this very moment as an example: I’m chilly, and somewhat dreading the presentation I have to give at work later, and I’m really missing my dear friend Angela.But.The Christmas tree glowing in the corner is magical, and the coffee I’m sipping is sublime.The candle burning smells delicious, and I’m about to meet a friend for tea.Hearing her life updates will be a delight, and simply being in her presence will sooth me.The glowing, sipping, smelling and delighting are the glitter that will later fill my vial, and, these aspects of my life are glitter in the moment, too.It’ harder to notice them when they are mixed in with the dust — the fear, grief, insecurity, frustration and boredom that are a part of any human life — but the sparkle is there.
I try to balance reading fiction and non-fiction, which for a long time gave me the false impression that I am a well-rounded reader.It recently became apparent to me, however, that I have not, in fact, exposed myself to a variety of genres and ideas.This conclusion came to me as I made my way through business journalist Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats, a 2012 examination of the rise of the new global super-rich and the fall of everyone else.This book was in such contrast to the non-fiction I typically read — self-help, spirituality and psychology — that it threw into light how narrowly focused my taste in non-fiction is. (Thanks to my girlfriends’ book group, which primarily reads novels and short stories, I am exposed to a wider variety of fiction).
Reading something new definitely had its perks.I learned all sorts of new words and phrases (plutocrat and oligarchs and BRICs and The Middle Kingdom), statistics (the top .01% of earners in the U.S. make an average annual income of 23,846,950, whereas the bottom 90% make an average income of $29,840 — youch!) and concepts (super-wealth used to come primarily from family inheritance/land renting; now… not so much… “In 1916 the richest 1 percent of Americans received only one-fifth of their income from paid work; in 2004, that figure had risen threefold, to 60 percent”) that I’m simply not exposed to in my day-to-day.Even more importantly, I was challenged into new ways of thinking… or, at the least, to question some of my taken-for-granted assumptions. Read more
Often, the books I choose to write about are the ones that make me think, the ones with nuggets of wisdom that I want to process more deeply (which writing helps me to do), the ones with beautiful sentences that I want to play with — to hold up to the light to get a better look — or the ones that resonate with my life in a personal way that feels worth commenting about. These are the books that expand my worldview, promote self-awareness and growth, and add beauty to my days, and I write about these books because I want to distill the ways in which they enhance my life.
But there’s also something to be said for the books that aren’t especially deep or moving (or maybe they are) but are just plain fun to read, the books that I can’t put down (and that I am unable to stop thinking about when work, meals, social obligations, and civility to the people with whom I live demand that I put them down), the books with characters and plot that induce an almost tangible pleasure.These are the ice-cream cones of literature: yummy, addictive, and easily absorbed.
After reading The Goldfinch (which was so, so, so, so good, but also emotionally draining and exhausting to digest — to continue the culinary metaphor, we’ll call it kale), I especially craved readable ice cream.And so I’ve been on Read For Pure Pleasure (R.F.P.P.) kick.
I’m listening to the Harry Potter series on CD during my commute.What a treat to revisit these books that are so inextricably woven together with my young adulthood.Because I’m not typically a “re-reader” and therefore haven’t read and reread this series in the decade and a half since I first encountered them, the stories feel largely new to me.There are loads of details that I had forgotten, making them freshly exciting and full of surprises.
My return to Harry Potter reminded me how much I enjoy Young Adult lit and so I decided to give The Hunger Games a try.While “easy to digest and pleasurable to read” isn’t the first phrase I would assign to my experience of reading this dark series (and in fact, they, combined with the hideous election we’ve just endured, have gotten me concerned that the apocalypse is imminent) they have certainly been satisfying to work my way through, with their captivating story lines, noble characters, and surprising plot twists.
Liane Moriarty is one of my go-to R.F.P.P. authors.I just finished The Hypnotist’s Love Story, which I enjoyed as much as I did The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies.Knowing that I still haven’t read several of Moriarty’s books is a very comforting feeling.It makes me think of Gretchen Rubin, happiness research and writer’s, secret of adulthood: Keep an empty shelf.She writes about how an empty shelf gives her the feeling that she has room to expand.Keeping a Moriarty (or Quindlen, or Franzen) book unread gives me the feeling that I have pleasure waiting for me, right at my fingertips.