Add a Time Constraint

In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg gives a helpful piece of advice to the friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances of a person who is facing some form of adversity, whether it be grieving the loss of a loved one, struggling with unemployment, or fighting a bad diagnosis. 

When you ask how the person is doing, add a time constraint.  How are you feeling, right now?  How are you coping, today?  How are you doing, this moment?

Sandberg explains that the time constraint acknowledges that a person is going through something hard and living from moment to moment.  “How are you doing today” is a less generic question (let’s face it, how many times a day to we say to people, from close friends to near strangers, “how are you?”) and therefore it doesn’t presuppose a generic answer (“I’m fine.”). It’s a more spacious question, inviting an honest response, which makes it a kinder question, too. 

I think “add a time constraint” is a really sound piece of advice, and one that stretches beyond interacting with grieving or otherwise struggling individuals.  It also helps me to consider my perennial quest for self-improvement, my preferences, my goals, and my ability to find joy in the present moment.

For an example, when I’m occasionally asked a question like “What are your career goals” or “What are you favorite books” I draw a complete and total blank.  These questions are overwhelming, and I don’t know where to begin answering them.  However, if someone asks me “What’s a goal that you have in your professional life right now,” or “What’s the best book you’ve read recently,” I leap on the opportunity to reflect on my current situation and I am able to provide a thoughtful answer. 

I firmly believe that examining our lives and reflecting on our experiences makes for a richer and more meaningful existence.  Reflecting helps us cultivate gratitude for what’s good in our lives and make change where change is needed to improve our lives.  It helps us grapple with our challenges and rejoice in our successes. 

I also firmly believe that we need to set ourselves up to do the things that are good for us — like reflecting.  If something is too hard, we’ll put it off.  If a task is too overwhelming, we won’t begin.  Adding time constraints to reflective questions can help us examine where we are, in the moment. 

Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

Brainstorming

Caleb and I spent his Spring Break in Costa Rica visiting my Uncle John, who is spending the semester teaching geology at a university in San Jose.  It was our first time in Central America, let alone Costa Rica, and we went into the trip with a plan to actively explore both San Jose and a few destinations outside the city, accessible by bus. 

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Caleb and my uncle, and a pretty street near UJ’s hose, in San Jose

Highlights of the week included a day-trip to Jaco, a beach town on the west coast of the country, a long weekend spent in La Fortuna, the small, gateway town to Arenal Volcano National Park, and an afternoon at Sibu, a chocolatoeria and cafe that uses organic Costa Rican cacao to craft the most divine chocolates and desserts.

Jaco

Jaco
Jaco — the beach town we visited on the west coast
Sibu Chocolateria
Enjoying our desserts at Sibu Chocolateria

Unexpected highlights of the week were the early morning and evening hours that we spent huddled around the kitchen table with Uncle John, talking about everything from memories of past trips together to updates on various family members to books and current events.  A good conversation never fails to leave me feeling nourished and invigorated, and we had some stellar talks with Uncle John.

During our many hours of conversation, Uncle John (my mom’s younger brother, a Ritter) made a comment that stood out to me about my Coda-family aunts and uncles, whom he has gotten to know through backpacking trips that include the two sides of my extended family.  He observed that a conversation with one of the Coda brothers is like a brainstorming session: a free-form and spontaneous discussion that (hopefully) leads to unexpected connections, new ideas, and creative solutions to problems.  Uncle John commented that he sometimes feels compelled to take notes during a conversation with my Uncle Tom, for example, because the movements of Uncle Tom’s mind lead to all sorts of new ideas. 


I nodded along in agreement with Uncle John as he made this observation; I’ve often been struck by how thought-provoking and fascinating conversations with Dad and his brothers are.  More than recalling a positive quality of my extended family, however, Uncle John’s comment reminded me of the importance of brainstorming, a term that I loved how he used to describe the high-energy dialogue with my Coda uncles.

Brainstorming is the sort of activity that I’ve done formally in school and work settings in the past, but haven’t necessarily given much thought to in my personal endeavors and more self-directed recent work.  Unlike my Coda uncles, brainstorming isn’t something that comes naturally to me; I’m much more inclined to follow a to-do list than to let my mind wander in uncharted direction.  Uncle John’s observation reminded me of the fruits of brainstorming and inspired me to prioritize making time for the activity.     

Reflecting on brainstorming led me to realize that brainstorming is part of (if not the primary) reason why I blog.  Because of my inclination to follow an ordered to-do list, I can’t count on brainstorming to happen naturally in conversations that I have with others and thought-processes that I go on alone.  I need to devote particular time to brainstorming — to thinking about one idea and letting it take me to new thoughts, considerations, places and ideas.  Writing  helps me to do this, and blogging forces me to write. 

When I write a post, I generally have three pages open on my computer: the document in which I’m writing the post, an internet browser where I fact check and utilize the dictionary, and a separate brainstorming document.  In the brainstorming document, I capture the new thoughts and fresh ideas spring from the idea that I’m writing about in my post; I’m then able to return to these ideas at a later time. This method of brainstorming has helped me tap into my creative side and has made it so that I’m never at a loss for an idea of what to write about.  It has also given me a place to note ideas that come to me at other moments in my life.  Possessing a brainstorming document is like having a camera on my phone; I’m always prepared and ready to capture what might otherwise be a passing thought.

Volcan Arenal
Volcan Arenal

Hostel Arenal
The courtyard of the fabulous hostel we found in La Fortuna

Hostel Arenal

Hostel Arenal

Hostel Arenal

Doing things and not doing things

From graduation speeches to self-help articles to general words of wisdom from relatives, celebrities and historical figures, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment that you should grab life my the horns and dive into it, to mix metaphors terribly. In the words of Mark Twain, which I’ve heard reiterated in numerous different manners over the years, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”Day Away

This is advice that I typically follow.  As much as possible, I try to say yes to experiences and events that I know will expand my world view, provide fun in the moment and memories to look back upon, and enrich my life at large.  A friend in Divinity school referred to this way of being as a “Yes Philosophy.”  I really do believe that it’s through getting out of my comfort zone and saying yes to opportunities that I develop, grow, find joy and live life fully. 

And yet, my two favorite days of the year are Christmas and my birthday, in part because there are great celebrations attached to each (festive meals and time with friends and family and gifts and sweets galore), but also in part because they are the two days of the year that I have no expectations of myself.  I refuse to make a to-list — even a “for fun” to-do list — on either day, and in fact, it would seem sacrilege to assign tasks to either day. 

Basking in the openness, the relaxation, and the coziness of the present moment never fails to be both enjoyable and restorative.  I end the days feeling refreshed and with a greater sense of clarity about who I am and what I am doing with my life.  And I am able to have these gloriously spacious Christmases and Birthdays precisely because I don’t say yes to doing things on those days.    

In a similar vein, I’ve said yes to a few travel opportunities recently: Caleb and I have a trip to Costa Rica planned for his spring break, and we’re spending the month of June in Europe.  These will be action packed weeks and I am thrilled that we have the chance to embark on adventure together.  I’ve also scheduled a retreat for myself, in the beginning of May, during which I’ll spend four days in silence (with the exception of a morning, afternoon and evening chapel services) at the country home of a monastic order.  Excited as I am about Caleb’s and my planned trips, I am noticing that I feel most eager for four days of silence, reflection and solitude. 

I think it’s worth paying attention to these feelings and worth considering what they are telling me about what I desire and need to live the life I want to live.  I’m going to keep saying a hearty yes to experiences and opportunities and to doing things, but I’m also going to make time for not doing things. 

Taking Advice

I take most advice that I receive with a grain of salt. 

First, there’s the most frequent form of advice I collect: unsolicited advice.  When bestowed unsolicited advice, I take it with a handful of salt in two senses of the expression: I’m not likely to take the advice very seriously, and I’m salty — inwardly eye-rolling and a tad-bit annoyed — that people feel entitled to share their opinions and suggestions for my betterment with me, without my asking for it. advice

Remembering words from Chicago Tribune Mary Schmich’s hypothetical graduation speech “Wear Sunscreen” helps me feel less annoyed than compassionate toward advice-giving enthusiasts, but still un-inclined to incorporate their “words of wisdom” into my life.  She writes, “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

The second type of advice that I often receive is advice that I’ve requested.  I have my go-to advisors for everything from work to relationships to my emotional and spiritual improvement: my parents, my husband, a handful of friends, my sister, a few former work supervisors and a smattering of mentors.  But even with all of these people — individuals whom I trust and respect enough to go to for advice in the first place — I don’t always take their suggestions. I weigh their advice, considering how it feels — at a gut level — and imagining what it would look like put into practice in my life. 

Maybe fifty percent of the time I end up acting upon requested advice that I receive.  This isn’t to say that I don’t take seriously the advice that I ultimately end up discarding; if I asked for advice, I’m going to listen to it and consider it carefully.  I just may end up deciding that it’s not the best solution for me, considering all of the other pieces of the puzzle to which only I am fully aware.   

If I am being completely honest with myself, though, deciding that it’s not the best solution for me only accounts for a portion of the advice that I don’t take.  Sometimes I don’t take advice that I sought, even when I know I would be better if I did, because it’s too hard to take.  Maybe I don’t have the discipline to put it into action, or I’m afraid, or I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.  Whatever the particular circumstances, these are not good reasons to discard advice. 

Seeing this tendency in myself to shirk advice that I actually know would benefit me to take, I’m trying something this year.  I am committing to taking all of the advice of one person: my spiritual director, Rosemary.  I’ve chosen Rosemary for several reasons: I completely trust that she has my best interests at heart, she is an intelligent, perceptive, and wise human being and so I know that her advice is good…and I only meet with her monthly, so there’s only so much advice that she can give me. 

I’m excited to see how this goes.  If she recommends a book, I’m reading it.  If she suggests a spiritual practice, I’m trying it.  If she tells me to lighten up, I will make my very best attempt. 

I’m curious to hear what others think.  Who do you go to for advice?  Do you always take it?  If you had to pick one person whose advice you unreservedly incorporated, who would it be?

Goal-Driven

I love setting goals in my personal life, as is obvious to anyone who has read my posts about New Year’s resolutions, words to guide my year, and summer intentions.  Goals orient my free time, give me a sense of purpose and enable me to stretch myself. 

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Given my affinity for goal-setting, it came as a bit of a surprise when I realized, through a conversation with a mentor, that I’m not particularly goal-oriented in my work-life.  I had given my mentor a call to ask for her advice about choosing a curriculum for Pre-K through 5 faith formation classes at the Church were I work.  It has become apparent to the faith formation coordinator with whom I work that our teachers are dissatisfied with the curriculum that we are currently using, but I don’t know where to begin in choosing — or advising our faith formation coordinator to choose — a new curriculum.  There are hundreds out there, and the thought of reviewing the pros and cons of each and making a decision to switch to a different one is daunting.

After explaining the situation to my mentor, I expected her to say: check out this publisher or that one; get this information from your teachers; consider this thought.  But instead, she posed a simple question: “What’s your goal?” 

My goal?

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about my goal.  I had gotten so stuck on the little details — whether a curriculum offers a book or handouts, involves using the Bible as a base, or the liturgical calendar, and so on — that I had lost track of the bigger picture, namely the question, “What is the goal of the faith formation program at my parish?”  Why do I want children to enroll in the program?  What do I think children and their families should take away from the program?  How do I hope catechists will benefit from volunteering for the program?

My mentor reminded me that my actions and decisions should stem from my goals — not from minuscule distinctions between various curricula options.  Without knowledge of my goal, I will be lacking a compass when making choices, and not only will I get bogged down in the details, I will likely make less wise decisions. 

I’m going to keep this bit of wisdom in mind as I move forward in choosing a curriculum, and also when considering other areas of my work and life.  When at a loss for what to do next, asking the question “What is my goal?” will almost always be a good place to start. 

Have you thought about the underlying goals of your work and personal life lately?  What are they?  How do they inform your decisions?  I’d love to hear how this looks for others. 

A Day-Off Strategy for Maximizing Enjoyment

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.    

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Making valentine garlands was an item on my “For-Fun” list

 

 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?

Resolutions

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. 

resolutions-image

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.

Perspective

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. 

Prayerfulness

  • 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

Poise

  • 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!

Words for the Year

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. 

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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. 

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Do you have New Year’s Resolutions?

Vacation Recipe

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. 

hike
A hiking trip this past summer with extended family

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 is  by having brunch or lunch out, and then a light dinner, or just snack or dessert in the evening.   

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The Riverwalk, a popular tourist activity in San Antonio. Meets several of my “criteria”: passive enjoyment of a place, exercise and social (walk and talk!)
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A fantastic Ansel Adams exhibition at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
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The San Fernando Cathedral, where Caleb and I went to a bilingual Sunday Mass, a spiritual and cultural experience!

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.

What I Read This Summer

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I was once very impressed when a former (beloved) supervisor of mine told me that he has a cyclical system for reading books, rotating through the genres: history, theory, fiction, biography.  Inspired, I decided that I would develop a system as well, though I had very little interest in reading books about history, and one in four biography seemed like a bit much.  I’m interested in “theory” (which, perhaps embarrassingly, I translate to broadly mean anything in the psychology/pop-science/self-help/case-study/spirituality umbrella) but I typically like to read theory alongside something lighter…namely, a novel or collection of short stories.

Taking all of this into consideration, the system that I developed was much less specific than my supervisor’s: I would try to balance fiction and non-fiction.  This framework turned out to be less of a system than a reflection of what I was already doing, because I have yet to consciously choose fiction/non-fiction based on what I last read…but still, looking back on what I read this summer, I’m evenly split.  And summer is an indication of my true reading tastes, because I give myself lots of freedom in the summer to read whatever sounds interesting in the moment of my library perusing, and I have less frequent reading group meetings in the summer than otherwise, so I’m determining a larger extent of my reading choices.

So, un-persuaded by other book group member’s requests, or by my conscience urging me to read something “deeper,” “more educational” or “useful for work,” here is what I read this summer:

  • My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
  • Object Lessons, Anna Quindlen
  • Tiny, Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  • French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano
  • The Nest, Cynthia Sweeney
  • When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams (Girlfriends Book Club)
  • The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison (Athenaeum Reading Group)
  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (Audio Book)
  • Heartburn, Nora Ephron

My favorite non-fiction: Tiny, Beautiful Things.  My favorite fiction: The Goldfinch.  I will highly recommend TBT to anyone who isn’t offended by talk of sex and drugs, and who isn’t afraid to feel deeply and likely shed some tears.  Likewise, I highly recommend The Goldfinch, though with caveats: it’s dark, it’s intense, and it’s troubling.  I finished it almost two weeks ago, and still think about it on probably a daily basis.  If you are willing to be consumed by it, though, it’s a gorgeous and captivating story.