This Christmas: Good Things I Don’t Have to Do

The last few weeks have felt especially rough. There have been lots of good moments peppered in but, honestly, life is feeling like a bit of a slog. I can’t put my finger on exactly why – most likely a perfect storm of renovations, work stressors, parenting challenges, hormonal fluctuations, and all this dismal/cold weather. I’m coasting where I can, showering at night, and trying to soak up festive cheer…but I’m feeling pretty low on motivation.

Back on (Canadian) Thanksgiving I wrote about “Good Things I Don’t Have to Do.

It turns out that most of the things I tell myself I have to do…I don’t actually have to do. I think I need to shake myself awake every few weeks with a stern: Elisabeth, you are an adultthis means you get a say in most of the things on your plate!

I recently mentioned to my husband that I had mailed off the Christmas photocards earlier in the day. He expressed appreciation for my efforts (bless him) and then said: “If it were left to me, I wouldn’t send out a single card.” I replied, in complete honesty, “And that would be fine!”

It really would be. Photocards are important to me (even if the process isn’t always entirely pleasant). There will always be a new ornament on Christmas Eve. And, if I have anything to do about it, I will watch White Christmas with my friend Joy every single year. But there are lots of other things that are good and on someone else’s agenda that simply don’t fall on mine (see also Grateful Kae – I’m not the only one!). This year, especially, I’m giving myself lots of grace and realizing what’s fun for someone else doesn’t have to be fun for me – at least in this particular season of life.

good things I don’t have to do this year

  • Make a family Holiday Fun List. Yes, I made one several years in a row. No I don’t have to do it this year. We can still watch Elf, deliver homemade cookies to the neighbours, and drink hot cocoa while looking at Christmas lights even if we don’t cross it off some fancifully designed list.
  • Buy matching family pajamas. This does not appeal to me (in. the. slightest), but I know this is a very common and happy tradition for many families. I track down second-hand (thrift or consignment store) winter/Christmas pajamas and give those to the kids on Christmas Eve. They rarely match (but have occasionally, by coincidence) and it’s just not a big deal. I honestly can’t think of something I’d want to do less than try to source matching PJ’s?!
  • Go see Santa. My kids have never believed in Santa. I think they’ve gone twice when we happened by a Santa in the mall, but were uninterested and never make any request to seek him out. Obviously we also skip the cookies and milk for Santa (and carrots and oats for the reindeer).
  • Elf on the Shelf. I once read about someone taking hours to make mini doughnuts out of Cheerios – hilarious and a great creative outlet, but definitely not for me. Levi did love his classroom Elf in primary last year, but she just moved around during the night – no mischevious antics. I’m sure this is loads of fun to some families, but I almost get hives just thinking about trying to pull this off in my own house day after day in December.
  • Make gingerbread houses. We’ve done cutout ginger cookies before but gingerbread houses? NO THANK YOU! The mess. The candy. The sticky icing everywhere. And then where do you store it? Again – a very fun tradition for many families, but doesn’t have to be fun for me.
  • Go see a live show. While I think this would be a great tradition (I love seeing live performances of just about anything), we haven’t made it our own. A local dance school puts on the Nutcracker ballet each Christmas and this is a must-see performance for many people in our town/neighbouring communities. I’ve gone once. And that’s okay! Although Abby is begging to go see it again this year as she knows a number of the dancers…
  • Wrapping gifts in matching paper. I love the aesthetic of “brown paper packages tied up with string” as much as the next person but when I read someone waxing eloquent about how they wanted their wrapping to reflect all the time and effort that went in to sourcing the gifts, I have to admit it doesn’t apply to me. My kids don’t care about these things at all. I buy whatever cute (or cheap) wrapping paper I can find on sale after Christmas, and that is what gets used. It could be blue with cartoon penguins next to red plaid. While I do love all the coordinating gift pictures…it’s not for me. And I honestly think the gifts still looks great in their hodgepodge under the tree. Twinkle lights do amazing things…
  • Cutting down a Christmas tree. We have done this in previous years but I have to admit I dreaded the experience. It was always cold or wet and it’s so hard to gauge the tree height accurately. Last year, when we couldn’t make it to the tree lot, I loved visiting the tree stand a 3-minute drive from our house and then paying $5 to have said tree delivered straight to our door. No saw or rubber boots required…
  • Holiday parties. I’m in introvert. I like to be home in my pajamas listening to Christmas music or watching Christmas movies with my family. Full stop. We do end up hosting a bit over the holidays but mostly at our place. No big office parties. No fancy to-do’s. Quiet and simple and at home.

There are always lots of “good” things, especially during a holiday season, but not enough time to do them all – so you’ll find me wearing my regular pajamas come Christmas morning. And, for the record, I still haven’t done those Pilates videos.

What about you? Any traditions you’re mindfully opting out of this Christmas? Any new ones you’re looking to incorporate for the first time?

Header photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

Flexibility Is Only Beneficial If I Use It

It is 10:28 am on Friday, December 3.

I woke up at 3:15 am (ugh, but I did fall asleep around 9 pm, so it wasn’t all bad). After resting for a while, I headed downstairs to tackle a work project. While I didn’t have a set deadline, it was one of those tasks that was going to hang over my head until I got it out the door. I also knew I need two solid hours of uninterrupted time. No contractors, no phone calls or texts or chasing the Inbox Zero dream.

So I put in my headphones and got to work. At 6:30 am, when the kids wandered into the office, I was done my main work responsibility for the day.

By 7:00 am, I was helping the kids get breakfast and prep their bookbags; we even fit in morning reading time around the table.

At 7:30 I hopped back in bed with some Magic Bags and dozed/rested until 8:30 while John drove the kids to school (it was raining, so we skipped the daily walk). I wasn’t feeling that tired, but I knew I’d handle the day better if I had a bit more sleep.

At 9:00 am I whipped up a batch of waffles for supper. By 9:30 I was on a virtual work meeting; it’s now 10:36 am and I’m heading down to the office to work for the next hour or so getting some strategic e-mails out the door.

At 11:45 am, I’ll head to the bus stop to get the kids (parent-teacher interviews, so it’s a half-day). Then we’ll have lunch, I’ll take them to drop off some local Christmas cards in person, and we’ll come home in time for me to finish off some week-end Friday work responsibilities, have supper (the waffles are all ready, hooray!), and then I’ll kiss everyone goodbye and head out the door for a Christmas pottery-painting session with a group of local girlfriends.

I have a lot of flexibility in my life.

For starters, I’ve been working from home for over a decade now. There are drawbacks to this – mainly the fact I never “leave” the office. Work and home management tend to blur and I don’t get to outsource the mess of working materials to another location.

But, for the most part, it’s a net positive arrangement. Long before COVID forced this lifestyle on the masses, my husband and I were doing it from our very tiny apartment (with two little ones in the mix).

And I’ve been thinking more about this flexibility lately. I have, overall, less than I once did in the sense that I have more working responsibilities, especially since I assumed another role at a local university. In another sense I have more than I once did – the kids are both in school and are increasingly independent outside of school hours.

Regardless of where the needle falls from one week to the next, though, this flexibility is only advantageous if I use it.

I’ll feel guilty about going to run an errand at 10 am on a Tuesday morning or fitting in a walk with a friend during normal working hours – but that’s the flexibility my life affords. I also have the flexibility to work a second shift from, say, 7 – 9 pm (or 4:15 – 6:30 am) to tackle a pressing work challenge. One family member, who works in a dental practice, has to be there – boots on the ground, so to speak – at specific times. There is no multi-tasking with home administration; she can’t switch out a load of laundry in between seeing patients (but it also means work doesn’t come “home,” so there is a tradeoff).

It can be challenging to work outside of normal parameters/social constructs (and adhering to them relatively closely has distinct advantages for staying on track), but when I give myself license to fit things in when it’s convenient, I make use of my flexibility muscles. And they’re a gift. When I don’t use them these muscles will atrophy – and what a waste.

Header photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

Life Lessons from the Hill – In Praise of Coasting

Our kids love to go coasting (we usually call it sliding or sledding). Living in Eastern Canada it’s one of the few perks of winter. We bundle up and grab our gear and head to the hill. Over and over and over again.

The kids have learned (as they get older and heavier – such that I can/will no longer help cart them or their sleds to the top of the hill) that to enjoy the downhill part of the adventure, there’s a lot of hard work that has to happen first.

I can’t believe we emerged from this hill with all body parts intact. So steep, so icy, and a blind crest so when you’re sliding you can’t see people walking up from below. Yet, this particular hill is always packed in the winter. I’m surprised they don’t hire a paramedic to stay on site. Never again!

Even on the tallest hill, the coasting element of the experience will last a minute at best. But the climbing? Oh, the climbing can go on for a looonnnggg time.

In addition to the elevation, you have to contend with the ice – slipping and losing ground is a frustrating, but common, occurrence. Then there is the burden of transporting the necessary tools. To slide down a hill, you need to bring something on which to slide with you to the top.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were walking home from school drop-off and were slogging up a particularly steep hill. Where we live, hills are unavoidable on the return trip.

I hate the hills.

It’s not because my fitness level isn’t sufficient, hills just take more work. I have to concentrate. I can’t ease into the conversation with my walking partner or get lost in my own thoughts. I start sweating (I loathe sweating).

But I set my sights on the prize – namely level ground at the top. Ultimately, my goal is to get home, so I do it. Sometimes the only way through is through.

On this particular walk I was wrestling with various life and work events and was feeling overwhelmed by it all. Ruminating over all these thoughts and then coming face-to-face with the inevitable climb – well, the hill suddenly felt like a metaphor for life.

Starting a new job can feel like climbing up a hill. So many processes with which to become familiar; lots of icy patches that send me careening back to the bottom of the hill.

Parenting always comes with new challenges. And sometimes it can start feeling like one continuous slog up the hill, one step forward before sliding ten back.

But, also, some of the hard work from before means I’m ready to coast in a lot of other areas. I’m easing back on Christmas this year – buying fewer gifts and starting later so I don’t keep seeing new things to buy (adding to the total bill and time commitment). I’m coasting with meals; I’ve gone from dedicating swaths of time to meal-planning to being someone who throws together last-minute one-pot wonders from whatever is hanging out in the crisper drawer or using up freezer leftovers I’ve been hoarding. No one has starved yet.

See, sometimes I force myself to keep climbing in areas when I’ve earned the right to jump on my sled and coast for a while. Scrambled eggs and bacon twice in a week is fine. (It’s actually great since eggs and bacon are two of the most delicious food items known to man). I don’t have to prove I can cook and I’m not competing for Best Domestic Housewife in the East. I’ll make the long, elaborate meals again. But it doesn’t have to be this week.

I know that coasting is short-lived. The downhill ends eventually and requires another climb back up to the top.

But, maybe, after I’ve coasted to the bottom, this time I’ll take a moment to sit and enjoy the view…from the bottom of the hill.

There will always be new hills to climb, but there are also opportunities for coasting, too.

And hurtling down the hill can be a pretty fun way to view the world.

Where are you currently climbing? Any areas where you’re coasting?

Saturday Bonus <> I Need to Heed My Own Advice – On Adding Buffers

After five years of organizing after-school pickup, I was beyond relieved to jump on the bussing bandwagon last year.

We enjoy walking to school and, pre-COVID, the hassle of after-school pickup (having to arrive 25 minutes early to find a parking spot) was offset by the fact that a large and dedicated group of parents + kids stayed after school to play and chat. This was my favourite way to pass the time between school dismissal and supper.

But then came COVID. We started the 2020 academic year with a wave of new restrictions – including shutting down the playground for an entire hour after school dismissal. Without any impetus to do pickup, I gladly signed our kids up for the afternoon bus.

The registration process went smoothly and I received notice of their very specific drop-off time. And, for over a year, the bus has dutifully arrived at that very specific time – almost without exception.

Then a few weeks ago, because of a mechanical issue, the bus arrived 30 minutes late. The next day it was 10 minutes late. And then, ever since, it has been arriving 3 minutes earlier.

Three minutes is a long time when my walk to the bus stop only takes a little over 3 minutes. If parents aren’t at the bus stop to meet children in Grade 3 and below, they bus those kids back to school and contact parents for in-person pickup. This has never happened to us, but the stress and disruption of that process would not be ideal.

So I make every effort to be on time.

The problem is I have had a very specific schedule for over a year now – I need to leave the house at 2:47 to make it to the bus stop with a few minutes buffer. This no longer works. With the bus arriving 3 minutes earlier, it’s a case of very simple math that I no longer have any buffer. In fact, I’m running late.

After having the same cues for over a year – 2:47 I need to be out the door; 2:48, I need to speed walk; 2:49 I need to run; 2:50 I need to sprint – I’m struggling to accept the reality that all those times are no longer relevant. In fact, now, a 2:47 departure requires a sprint, not a leisurely stroll.

So earlier this week, when I looked at the clock (after yet another afternoon of sprinting in my not-made-for-sprinting footwear) and saw it was 2:45, even though my mind told me I had buffer, I forced myself to get dressed and out the door. I enjoyed a leisurely walk to the bus and arrived early, with the perfect amount of buffer. Time for small talk with the rest of the congregants, but no time to get bored or cold.

Yet another reminder, adding a little bit of buffer can go a long way in making life more pleasant (and convenient – I really don’t want to have to drive back to school to rescue my child)!

Here’s to establishing more buffer…again.

A Day in the Life (Circa October 2021)

Years ago I was a guest blogger for a Day in the Life series (sadly, I can’t actually find the link to that post and don’t even remember the name of the blog). It was a lot of fun…and also a completely different season of life. Abby was still having milk in sippy cups each morning; Levi was just a dream in our future.

I don’t miss that season but also, I miss that season. The sweet little cheeks and zippered pajamas and morning snuggles and soothers and wobbly first steps.

Days now are busy in a different way. No sippy cups or diapers, but lots of activities to juggle. Extracurriculars are just starting to ramp up for the fall; I think we’re – comparatively – an unscheduled family, but even still our calendars fill up quickly

There are also no naps and as much as I loathed naps (literally the very first thought that crossed my mind when I found out I was pregnant with Levi was: “Oh no, I have to do naps again!”), they were a great way to break up the day.

Also, early bedtimes. I can’t believe a few years ago the kids were asleep by 6:30 pm each night. I didn’t know what I had coming. It’s not unusual for one of the kids to still be awake in their rooms when I’m falling asleep.

This post covers specific life happenings on 19 October 2021, an overcast and cool Tuesday, but I’ll fill in details about how our schedule generally shakes down during weekdays.

6:30-6:45: Wake up

We all woke up a bit early this morning, so while John got Levi showered (I am not great about staying on top of regular bathing for the kids), I set up shop in bed with my laptop and started clearing out the inbox accumulation from the previous evening/overnight. There was some low-hanging fruit that I tackled immediately and I read through the rest so I had an idea of what to triage when the dust settled from our morning routine. I also read my Bible for the day (using The One Year Bible). I checked the temperature (6 degrees, brrrr) and dressed appropriately for the conditions, made the bed, and was out the bedroom door before 7 am.

About once a week or so I’ll get up around 6 am, slip out to the living room and read my Bible or tackle some communications. But most of the time I succumb to the warmth and comfort of bed until close to 7 am. When I manage it, though, even getting up 15 minutes before the breakfast routine feels like a huge win. Apparently not enough of a “win” to sacrifice sleep, though. I know about all the early-morning high achieving types, but I have just never been an early morning person. In an ideal world, I’d sleep until at least 7:30 am every morning, but that is many, many years away.

I almost never set an alarm. We just always wake up (or get woken up by the kids). Someday we’re all going to wake up at 8:30 am, incredibly well-rested and late for work and school. Until that time, I just let the kids/the sunlight wake me up.

7:00 – 7:50: Breakfast + prep for school

Because of how our Atlantic time zone currently aligns with Australia, John has an important work call at 7 am Tuesday mornings. While he paced around talking (and helping prep bookbags), Abby emptied the dishwasher. I’m going to write more about chores soon, but this is Abby’s main household responsibility.

It was an oatmeal day, so I helped carry hot bowls from the microwave and prepped Levi’s (cinnamon, lots of banana, milk, a bit of brown sugar and a sprinkle of chocolate chips). Abby does her own from scratch now and I love this breakfast independence!

We needed laundry started, so I sent Abby down to put on a load, while I did some final lunchbox prep.

Getting up a bit earlier this particular Tuesday was great, but generally it feels like there is not quite enough buffer. It’s not because we have that much to accomplish (I almost always have lunchboxes ready the night before), but everyone is slower and more sluggish and no one is particularly keen to brush teeth or hair, load the dishwasher and put on socks.

Getting the kids in socks is a daily battle.

While the kids eat (most often oatmeal, their favourite, or cereal/toast) we go over their weekly memory verse for Bible Club, read a Bible story, and then I read a chapter from whatever book we’re working through or grab a few picture books from our weekly library haul.

Right now we’re reading Anne of Green Gables and the kids are all in.

7:50-8:30: Walk to school + return

From a different day (when Levi had a friend in tow), but I love to see the crew walking past the bus that could transport them to school. Fresh air and exercise and lots of laughing with friends is just such a great start to the day!

John is able to take his call while walking, so he set out with Levi first while I locked up and donned my headband and finger gloves. I get cold easily, so always need to be mindful of the conditions and wear lots of layers. I had to run to catch up with Abby which helped warm me up despite the chilly temperatures. We were quickly joined by one of her friends so it was a happy family crew +1. For 5 blissful minutes, I walked in the middle of the two groups and enjoyed peace and quiet. Then I caught up with John and Levi and since John was occupied on a call, Levi was happy to walk with me and we had a great chat the rest of the way to school, culminating in a footrace which left me extra toasty.

Finger-glove, hat, and puffer-coat weather has arrived in the East.

He beat me, as he always does. That boy is fast.

It’s about 20 minutes to get to school on foot, and we aim to do this every morning. It’s a huge source of happiness for our family and a great way to start the day. Plus, it means before I make the first cup of coffee, I’ve already walked about 5 km.

9:00-2:30: Work + home management

I take most video calls at the dining room table (because we can’t both be on calls in the office at the same time).

With a recent uptick in my work responsibilities, the time after getting home until bus pickup is all about work. I moved the laundry over to the dryer (the washer completed its cycle while we were away), heated up a mug of tea, and settled in to work on e-mails. I manage three different streams of communications/distinct working roles; while I try to keep the streams separate, realistically I am often toggling back and forth between these three areas simultaneously. I worked through to 10 am, and hopped on my first call.

This virtual meeting was wonderful. I had been confused and stressed by a daunting responsibility that seemed beyond my skillset. I got some much-needed encouragement, along with practical support which left me feeling better positioned to be successful on the project. We tackled everything on my meeeting agenda and I left feeling like I had a clear action plan for next steps.

I went immediately into another meeting, switching hats (figuratively) as I went. This second call was also great as I shared the results of months-long work and negotiations on a particular project. After I gave my presentation and assessment of the situation, one of the attendees actually awarded me “brownie points.” Am I too old to admit this comment boosted my mood for the whole day?

I typically don’t eat much lunch (I have struggled with energy issues for years and really do find that intermittent fasting helps me battle against morning fatigue), so try to power through lots of jobs in this time. This Tuesday I felt hungry, though, so had an apple, sparkling water (lime), a coconut flour PB ball, and about 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds. Just enough food to give me an energy boost, but not enough to trigger an afternoon slump. After 2 hours of intensive video calls, I actually took a lunch “break” and spent 30 minutes on creative writing projects, and then worked through my daily Bible Study (I’m participating in a 7-week study with my local church, which has 5 weekly at-home study sessions which take about 30 minutes to complete).

Then back to work, this time in the downstairs office, until 2:30, when it was time to completely shift gears…

My corner of the basement office. I often have my laptop going which functions as a 3rd monitor and helps me compartmentalize different work tasks.
John has his own corner (it’s a big room), and it’s really nice to have lots of space for each of us to work while maintaining a sense of closeness during the day. He spends a lot of time on calls, so noise-canceling headphones (for both of us) are a must. The picture cuts out the other half of the built-ins, all covered in Stars Wars LEGO (with one lone construction set from a corporate team-building exercise). Also: note the standing desk mat. We’ve had this for a few years and it is just so handy. It’s topographic so has ridges and bumps where you can stand and position your feet to relieve pressure while standing.

2:50-5:00: kids return + activities

I typically walk to meet the kids at the bus stop and then we’ll saunter home together. Abby often walks ahead and checks the mail. When we get home, we unload bookbags…and then comes the task of filling the time. The kids tend to be on the grumpy side with each other and want to play with friends (which only works if they stay separate).

Lately I’ve been trying to structure this time with off-site activities. We’ll go visit a friend, go for a longish drive, do errands. Instead of me fitting these jobs/duties/activities in while the kids are in school, I figure they might as well come along. Also, extracurriculars are ramping up in the next few weeks so 1-2 afternoons a week will be filled, for Abby at least, by different clubs/lessons.

This Tuesday, we had a birthday gift to deliver to a friend who lives out of town. Levi ended up arranging a spontaneous playdate at the bus stop, so Abby and I headed out alone. It was lovely. We stopped at the post office to deal with some packages that had accumulated. Next up was the birthday parcel delivery, which morphed into a relaxing 45-minute visit complete with homemade cake and warm cider. On the way home, we stopped at a consignment store to drop off a bag of toys and kids’ clothing. Hooray – another giant bag of things out of the house. Plus I had $25 on my account.

Our final stop was the grocery store. I like to shop at least twice a week; this way I can buy fewer things each time, it takes a lot less energy to put things away, and I buy less fresh produce in bulk, so things don’t spoil in the fridge (I love to have a near-empty fridge).

It is so much easier to do errands with only one kid in tow. Also, Abby is such a practical help at the grocery store. She asks to go off to get specific items, insists on pushing the cart (but can do this capably enough that she needs no supervision, so my hands stay free the whole time), and she loves loading items on the belt and then bagging scanned items. This grocery order also involved buying some newborn-sized diapers for a friend’s little baby. We dropped off the diapers, enjoyed some baby cuddles and collected Levi in time to get home for supper at 5:30.

5:00-7:30: Supper + cleanup + bedtime

If it’s Friday night…supper is waffles.

Supper this Tuesday was leftover meatballs, rice, peas, salad/raw veggies and hummus. The meatballs were in the slow cooker and I just needed to microwave the rest. Meatballs are a family favourite, so there was not a crumb left on anyone’s plates. Always a very satisfying feeling.

We try to eat supper by 5:30ish, depending on John’s work schedule. This never takes as long as it should – the kids usually devour their food so they can get outside to play with friends. Post-supper time tends to be unstructured and a lot more casual. While the kids help remove items from the table, I work on kitchen cleanup while they play. Depending on the weather, their moods, and my energy levels we start the bedtime routines around 7:15, but this can vary. I like to have them settled by 7:30, but that rarely happens anymore. They both love to come out for water, bathroom breaks, or to let me know some toy got broken, a tooth is wiggly, etc.

John works at least two evenings a week. This Tuesday was one of his working evenings, but after supper he had enough time to listen to Levi’s reading homework, help make Levi’s bed (we’d done his sheets in the morning wash), and see that he got dressed/teeth got brushed. Meanwhile, Abby headed off to find a friend and came home successful, so they worked on art projects in her room for an hour without any need for parental input.

While the kids were entertained – by John/a friend – I tackled prep of Wednesday’s supper: chili. We don’t usually have this much hamburger in a week, but I had bell peppers and spinach I wanted to use up and hamburger was on sale…so for about an hour I worked on prepping chili for the slowcooker (I turned it on Wednesday morning and let it simmer all day), clearing up all the dishes, and doing some lunchbox prep.

After John headed down to the office, Levi and I worked on a word search together at the dining room table, which was very fun! Once Abby’s friend headed home, I gathered the kids in our bed for some picture books and prayers and then had them head to bed (where they proceeded to talk to each other through the heating vents until I told them to pipe down).

8:00-10:00: Work/leisure/bedtime prep

By 8:00, I really want the kids to be in their rooms. This doesn’t always happen, but I start losing patience with interruptions about this point. I then either tackle lingering work tasks, do a bit more cleanup, or pursue some leisure activity. Writing for the blog, reading a book, texting friends, talking with John. When I have the energy, I love taking a hot shower before bedtime.

This Tuesday, I actually had a lot of work tasks that had piled up between 2:45 (when I logged off) and 8:00 (when I logged back on). I usually check in on things periodically throughout the afternoon and put out any urgent fires, but since I had been on the road with Abby, then supper, then cleanup and meal prep, I dedicated an hour in the office working on some reports, checking calculations, setting up calendar reminders for action items, and sending a slew of e-mails.

I wrapped up my computer time by spending a few minutes tackling a creative holiday project on Vistaprint.

I make family calendars for my parents + inlaws, and I had received some pictures from a sister and brother that needed to be incorporated. I did this and finished off the calendar! I had a coupon code that expired on Saturday, so I really wanted to get this done. *I finalized this order a few days later (enjoying 33% off + free shipping. Such a great feeling as I am officially feeling behind on holiday shopping, though I’m hoping for it to be extra minimal this year, focusing on experience-based gifts as much as possible.

John and I debriefed about the day while relaxing in the downstairs family room, and then enjoyed a scalding shower. When I make the time for this, I never regret feeling clean and warm before climbing into bed.

We often watch some sort of sitcom right before bed, and recently finished Parks and Rec for the umpteenth time. This particular Tuesday it was back to the very first episode of Seinfeld! Running 9 seasons, there is lots of fodder.

3-4 nights of the week I’ll read for 30 minutes or so, instead of watching something.

10:00-11:00: Bedtime

I have made a concerted effort to stick to a 10:30 pm bedtime and that’s exactly when I shut everything down this Tuesday.

That said, I’ve been realized it’s fine to aim for a range. I try to turn the light off between 10:00-11:00. Some nights I’m exhausted and fall asleep by 9:30 (actually Monday, 18 October, I was asleep by 9:15), but generally find I’ve managed to unwind enough to get to sleep at some point before 11:00.

When I have a hard time getting – or staying – asleep, I’ll tackle a project. Finishing a book, working on photo organization, getting ahead on work tasks.

*PERIODIC insomnia*

In general, I’m a good sleeper, but 4-5 times a month (often around the full moon cycle, which my Mom always swears is a legit sleep disturbance) I will wake up at some point during the night and won’t be able to get back to sleep. I always feel like there is too much I want to do and too little time (this is true!) and I actually count on having these nights of disturbed sleep to catch up. This particular Tuesday, I slept from 10:30-3:15 and then woke up feeling wide awake. I rested for 30 minutes or so and when I was sure sleep wasn’t coming any time soon, grabbed my robe and a fluffy blanket, and settled in on the downstairs couch to work on this blog post!

Why It Might Be Smart to Fail On Purpose

For as long as I can remember I’ve been aiming for gold stars and A+’s. Competitive at heart, I like recognition for accomplishments and have often worked harder for a commendation than for the result. Also, to my dying day, I will be able to hear my mother’s words ringing in my ears to always try my best.

This can be a good thing, but it’s a slippery slope that can lead to perfectionism and burnout. So I was encouraged by one of Oliver Burkeman’s key takeaways in Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.

Specifically where he talks about picking something to fail at.

He doesn’t say pick something to de-prioritize. He doesn’t say pick something to leave off your radar. He doesn’t say pick something to avoid. He doesn’t even advise quitting (though that can work, too).

He says to pick something to FAIL at.

I don’t know about you, but those words leave me feeling a bit unsettled. Not only am I failing at something, I’m willfully putting myself in that situation?!

Burkeman encourages readers to consider the brevity of life when they’re making decisions about where to invest their time; he also bluntly lays out that there is never – ever – going to be enough time to do everything we want to/need to/could do. So in addition to taking the time to identify my values and hone in on activities that nudge me toward a lifestyle that aligns with these decided priorities, I should consider failing at something.

This fall I can fail at:

  • inviting friends over for a meal.
  • shopping for groceries on sale.
  • getting the laundry done 3x/week.
  • setting up weekly appointments to run with my friend.
  • getting the leaves raked in a timely manner.
  • making homemade waffles on Friday night (frozen would suffice).
  • staying on top of the library holds list.

I wouldn’t naturally have chosen to “fail” at all of these items. And in reality, it is the same as simply acknowledging that I’ve deprioritized things that have no place (at least given present circumstances) hanging out at the top of my to-do list. But I think applying stronger terminology here – FAILURE is a very triggering word – helps put some weight behind it. And, in a way, it also feels liberating. Having the confidence to say: “I’m going to fail at this, and the decision to do so is my own.”

Isn’t so much of our energy often shunted into preventing failure? This is wonderful and necessary in many areas of life (don’t fail to pay the electric bill or you’ll lose power; don’t fail to put on snow tires or you might get in an accident), but we live in disproportionate fear of failure about things we shouldn’t give a flying you-know-what about.

One of my friends has a particularly unique outlook on life (I’ve been meaning to write about her parenting philosophy for ages now. Note to self – stop failing to write about this). During one particular conversation we were talking about school work and I mentioned the seemingly never-ending effort required to help my daughter stay on top of her daily reading log (which I found redundant and unhelpful). I guiltily admitted to this friend that I was cutting a few corners to make things easier. Her response was something along the lines of: “Oh, we don’t even do that. I told the teacher it was too much of a hassle. I’ve kept the reading log in a basket by the door all term and we haven’t touched it.

What now? You’re failing at this ridiculously tedious system that does NOT encourage me to have my child practice reading skills. Actually…this makes so much logical sense, but I would never have even considered the possibility of allowing my child to “fail” at a Grade 1 project. (Though, let’s be honest. Who is homework really testing at this point? The child or the parent?)

Fail at lawn care, but invest in a new job. Fail at the laundry, but train for a half-marathon. Fail at getting your work inbox emptied each day, but prepare a book proposal.

Or, just maybe, fail at a Grade 1 reading log, but read through the entire Harry Potter series with your kids instead.

Failing, on purpose, could be a way to score a big win.

Productivity Hack: Take a Walk

In what is probably the most simplistic hack out there, I’m recommending we all go take a hike. Literally.

Tired? Take a walk.

Feeling sad, lonely, or anxious? Take a walk.

Mental block during your workday? Take a walk.

Want to connect with a loved one? Take a walk.

Trying to improve physical fitness? Take a walk.

This summer I re-read Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artist’s Work. What I found most interesting about this book were the commonalities between so many prolific creative/scientific minds. Aside from the copious amount of stimulants and depressants (drugs, alcohol, and coffee were in liberal supply), a large proportion of people discussed the importance of daily walks, often of lengthy duration. 

We might not set up a private walking track like Charles Darwin or be able to escape to the woods of Massachusetts like Thoreau, but chances are we could all fit just a bit more walking into our daily lives.

The sights, sounds, and smells of nature might, sometimes, be able to cure what ails us.

This Thanksgiving: Good Things (And Good Things I Don’t Have to Do)

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving. We had all the trimmings over the weekend and today I’m going to enjoy chicken noodle soup and leftover pecan pie.

As we sat around the table yesterday highlighting things we were thankful for I felt…grateful. It may seem cliche to list health and family and our home but, really, can we ever be too thankful for these things? It’s so easy to take it all for granted; we assume our loved ones will be with us next year, assume we’ll still be living in the same home, assume we’ll still be enjoying the same level of health.

But, in reality, we’re all a single heartbeat away from a different life experience – from tragedy or disease; new jobs, a different home – and taking the time to reflect on all we have in the present can help, at least temporarily, to pin down that elusive perspective.

Chicken and stuffing and corn and parsnips/sweet potato and cranberry and gravy and punch; pecan pie and homemade cherry cheesecake for dessert. So thankful for delicious food. And name cards with prompts for gratitude.

It has been a relief to ease into the routines of fall and school. Cooler days, longer nights. Bedtimes are slowly nudging back to more reasonable timeframes. I’ve also assumed a new role – one that leaves me working nearly full-time hours. Surprise, surprise: working more hours makes time pass more quickly. I’ve had to increase my efficiency with certain tasks and will almost certainly have to eliminate others altogether.

I recently finished Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. I love a good time management book, but this one is a little different. For one, Burkeman spends a significant portion of the book talking about death; he highlights the only time we’re not going to have a long laundry list of to-do’s is when we’re six-feet under. And then he actually argues against many of the time-saving techniques we life hackers enjoy so much. His central tenet: there is never going to be enough time to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Accept this. Productivity, much of the time, simply leaves us open to accept more responsibilities.

I will never be able to get it all done. And yet, I think I’m often aiming for this fantasy state. I like to imagine that some morning I’ll wake up and be on top of everything. And then have it stay that way. Forever.

This just isn’t going to happen – I should know this by now. Children get fevers, check-engine lights come on, tensions flare. Inbox “zero” becomes full again. The trash I emptied on Friday will need to be emptied again. Taxes will need to be refiled. Such is life.

I also cannot do everything that interests me; there isn’t enough time for that either. I might be able to learn how to play the piano, but I’m probably never going to go through an astronaut training program and reach space (though one never knows when SpaceX might come calling).

Money, time – we face the reality of limited resources. And, ultimately, we’re all riding the sands of a draining hourglass. Four thousand weeks, give or take, by Burkeman’s estimate. This would put me just shy of my 77th birthday.

Which brings us back to good things. Despite what could be contrived as a negative tone (death, productivity is a hoax), Burkeman offers up a solution. Acceptance. Awareness. Perspective.

There is a lot of good in my life. I’m so fortunate to have a loving, supportive spouse; my children are healthy; my parents are alive. We live in a wonderful community surrounded by friends. We simply turn on the tap to access clean, running water. We have money to put food on the table. We worship freely.

But sometimes even good things can distract me from what I truly value in life and where I want to channel my energies. Learning the piano would be a great skill (I love music and I deeply regret my decision to quit childhood lessons) – but do I want to make the time right now? At this point, the answer is no.

And that’s okay.

With that in mind, this Thanksgiving, in addition to all the good things, I’m thinking of:

(good) things I don’t have to do

  • I don’t have to take my friend with a newborn a meal immediately after giving birth. I know I will, eventually, once the dust settles and everyone else has stopped with the official meal train. But I don’t have to this week, when we have company visiting and cross-country meets and a seemingly endless string of e-mails. I can’t do everything and while I could get an extra meal out the door, I’d be cranky and stretched thin to do so.
  • I don’t have to sign Abby up for choir. Yes it’s a great experience, but she doesn’t love it and, frankly, it’s a scheduling hassle. She will survive. There will be other opporuntities to sing.
  • I don’t have to cook from scratch. Boxed cookies will suffice. Mini-carrots are still a vegetable even if I don’t have to wield a peeler. And who are we kidding, I could never recreate our beloved (boughten) pecan pie. Why bother trying?
  • I don’t have to commit to a specific workout routine. I don’t have to run everyday or try the Pilates video my friend recommended.

Happy Thanksgiving. Cheers to all the wonderful blessings and here’s to making the most of our four thousand weeks. Not a single one is guaranteed, and I too often forget the miracle of each one.