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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
It’s Labor Day, marking the end of summer and the beginning of fall, as far as I’m concerned. And also as far as I’m concerned, it’s been the perfect weekend for this transition. Saturday was warm and sunny, and Caleb and I spent the day in Keene, New Hampshire, soaking in one last summer day trip. We toured the Horatio Colony Museum (a fantastic tour! Engaging, informative, private, and free!), had a delicious patio lunch at Stage, walked through the town’s weekly Farmers’ Market, happened upon a special weekend art fair, went to Mass at the local Catholic church, and meandered through Keene State College (a beautiful campus, and, interestingly, one of the few liberal arts state schools). Today, on the other hand, has felt perfectly autumnal — cool, windy and grey — and I’ve spent the day inside drinking coffee, writing, reading, and organizing my life (cleaning out my desk and catching up on e-mails, mostly; it’s amazing how much inner order can come from having order in these two realms).
I love it when time and circumstances line up in this way, creating a special kind of space for transition and for paying attention to time (the passing of it and the looking towards it). It helps me to give thanks for the past, honor the present, and look forward to the future, and to overall cherish the sacredness of life.
Reflecting on the past and setting intentions for the future help me to cherish the sacredness of life, as well. And so now, to reflect on my summer and the goals that I set for it…
Take a day trip to a new location each week that doesn’t involve some other sort of travel
There were many trips, day and otherwise, this summer. In a whirlwind of the first weekend of June, we went to Port Clinton, OH to see Aunt Barb, to Cleveland for a dear college friend’s wedding, and to Columbus for our precious niece’s Baptism. Later in June we spent a glorious week in Kiawah with Caleb’s family (but first, a weekend in Charleston) and a special long weekend in Shady Grove for my sister’s pre-wedding festivities. We went to Bristol, Little Compton, Concord and Keene, and spent several individual days or parts of days in Boston seeing friends (and we hosted several different friends in Providence). And we spent a stellar seven days hiking in the Sierra Nevadas, with our very best of friends (cousins and siblings). We packed the summer with activity.
Eat/drink on the deck/patio of a new (to us) restaurant each non-travelling week
There was no shortage of good food this summer. Enough said.
Talk to an old friend on the phone/facetime/skype every week
Several weeks ago, I modified this goal to say that if, in the last three weeks of summer, I caught up with five old friends, I would call the goal complete. And that I did!
Write one blog post each week
I skimped on this goal these past few weeks, but feel satisfied with the time I spent writing for other, non-blog endeavors, so no hard feelings on this one.
Complete a few projects that have been on my list for ages:
Create a photo wall to display recently taken pictures
Complete a writing project
Written! Submitted! Accepted??? I hope! But, as I know all too well, I can’t control outcomes, only inputs. So, I’ve done what I can and am letting go of the rest.
Buy and fill in a birthday calendar
Hang artwork that has accumulated
Learn how to use Caleb’s camera
Yes! …with lots of practice needed, of course. And what better time and place for practice than in a New England autumn?!
A year ago today, Caleb and I packed the last of our boxes, watched as movers emptied our Somerville apartment, dropped our keys in the landlady’s mail box, and followed the moving truck to our new apartment in Providence.We carried boxes up to our third floor “Victorian Treehouse” (our tree-line view inspired this nickname), debated the ideal placement of our bed, and mourned our beloved hand-me-down red couch as we realized that it wouldn’t fit through our narrow doorway.At the end of the day, exhausted, we ate Indian food at a now-favorite local whole-in-the-wall gem.
While my predominant thought at the moment is how glad I am that we’re spending the day in a coffee shop writing instead of bleeding money, sweat and tears in the moving process, I’m also feeling reflective as I consider the year that we have had in Providence.Anniversaries, like holidays, endings, and beginnings, are a good opportunity to look back on the past, feel appreciation for the present and look towards the future.And I think that this act of looking back, examining the lowlights and the highlights, can help me to soak in the beauty of the present and move forward with energy, joy, and grit.
Hard stuff about my first year in Providence
I was homesick for Boston for much of the year, and if I am being completely honest, much as I have come to love Providence, there are things that I still miss so, so much about my old city.I miss the MBTA.I miss the vibrancy of my old Church.I just miss the specifics of Boston: the old brownstones of Commonwealth Ave and the lively activity of Harvard Square and the rarified air of the Boston Public Library and narrow little streets of Beacon Hill.
It was crazy hard to make friends, and so I felt lonely for a lot of the year.I’ve made some friends and am building relationships, but I still don’t feel at my old-social-level.
Working at a job that requires a significant commute and a significant amount of evening and weekend hours is less than ideal.It presented a stumbling block socially.
Highlights of my year in Providence
There is good, good food in this city.We could go to a new restaurant every week and still have more to explore.There is great coffee shop culture, and a huge variety of food, and lots of places with amazing ambiance as well as eats.
Being able to live in a place where we can afford a beautiful apartment is a gift.I love our sunny kitchen, and our spacious dining area, and our cozy living room.I love our gallery wall and my yellow desk and our little parking spot and our wood-paneled stair case.
I’ve found special, life-giving communities in my new city.The two that come to mind are the Chaplaincy Center, though which I’ve gotten the opportunity to work in a variety of clinical settings and meed a wide range of people whose work and ways of being I admire, and the Providence Atheneum, that gorgeous little library that also serves as a magnet for smart, witty and creative people.
Having a car (which we likely would never have in Boston) enabled Caleb and I to explore the New England area more, which brought us a lot of fun this year.Favorite trips included Portland, the Cape, Newport and Bristol.
I love living in a walkable city. Even though Caleb and I have a car, we more or less only use it when taking trips, or when I commute to work.This feels like a priority for me in terms of places that I live.
This city is clean and has beautiful architecture and landscaping.I really value being in an aesthetically pleasing environment.
Lessons that I’ve learned/Themes of the year
There’s no way out but through: moving is hard, making friends is hard, starting from scratch in terms of networking is hard.It will always be hard before it becomes easy.
Things take time: building a sense of community, making friends, and finding special places.
Distance relationships with people I love are worth spending time and money on nurturing.Having a car made driving to visit my family and friends in PA possible, and so I found myself going often.The time and energy are worth it.The same goes for friendships in Boston.It’s worth spending money on a commuter rail ticket to meet a friend for coffee; it’s worth driving in to the city to meet with my old book club.
“Going for it” with persistency is hard, but worth it.I have a hard time pushing myself to put myself out there.It feels scary and exhausting.But that’s the only way to meet new people, get integrated in a community and take on new roles.
“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” — Omar Khayyam
This past weekend, I went home to Pennsylvania for a weekend of my sister Clare’s pre-wedding festivities.On Saturday afternoon through Sunday, I hosted a bachelorette party (complete with a bridal party yoga class, dinner at a little Italian place, lots of bachelorette games and boozy punch, and a good-old-fashioned-sleepover in my parents’ home), and then on Sunday, the mother of Clare’s childhood best friend (who also happened to be my three siblings’ and my kindergarten teacher) hosted a gorgeous bridal shower in her home. After the shower, we returned to my parents’ house for a family cookout.
During the planning stages of the weekend, I called the shower hostess to rsvp, ask if there was anything that I could do to help, and thank her for offering to host.Graciously, she exclaimed that she was so happy to be able to offer a shower, saying “I am delighted by Clare and Katie’s lifelong friendship, and your family’s friendship means so much to me; celebrating these friendships and milestones are what makes life enjoyable.”
These words deeply resonated with me.Celebrating friendships, celebrating milestones — celebrating people and moments — are what make life enjoyable.We each just have one life to live, and that life moves quickly, and that life can be really hard at times.Why not make it a point to take the time and energy and effort to enjoy it through celebrating meaningful relationships and moments?