Today was the first day of this...thing...that we are doing now. I needed to come up with a name for it, and here were my first two ideas:
March Madness - because we don't get actual March Madness, and this situation right now is legit madness. But the words made me anxious, so I didn't go with this choice.
Spring Sabbatical - Because a sabbatical seems like something that only fancy people do. (Side note: I tried to explain the meaning of a sabbatical to my nine-year-old boy this morning, and I made the mistake of using the example of a college professor taking a semester off to go to Iceland to study volcanoes. So now if you ask my son what a sabbatical is, he will tell you it's when a college professor goes to Iceland to study volcanoes.)
Anyhoo, I nixed Spring Sabbatical in favor of a more realistic description of this...thing...that we are all doing now, which is:
Janky Home School
Shall we begin? Today was day one of Janky Home School, in which I introduced the schedule that I swore I wouldn't make because schedules turn into straight jackets when my rule-following little hands get hold of them. But I caved and made a schedule late last night because I needed a security blanket, and mommies get schedules instead of security blankets. (Although I do have a security blanket that I keep in a desk cabinet and wear all day when I'm writing. No big deal, let's move on.)
I separately showed each kid the schedule and they each independently found it personally offensive that they would be expected to take a shower EVERY DAY. Other than that, they were cool with the schedule after their customary 9,536 questions about anything that involves them, ever. I just noticed that this schedule has just as much screen time as it does learning time. OH WELL. Life be janky.
Since we hadn't picked up our packets from their teachers yet, the kids got to pick what they wanted to do for learning time. Will chose to teach Emily division with remainders, and Emily was all about it. Better him than me. My earliest memory of crying about math (not my only memory of crying about math. My earliest memory of crying about math) had to do with division.
The rest of the day flowed along well, and we got a chance to pick up packets from their teachers, which was swell because the kids had no less than 5,765 questions about what would be in the packets, and it was a relief to be able to answer at least 4,567 of them. Seeing their teachers and their school was like another security blanket. Everything feels weird right now but their teachers are still THE BEST EVER and their school is still the sweet, old, stable, friendly place it's always been. Also, it smelled really clean, for the record.
After we got our packets we dropped off eight bags at Bags of Hope, a local nonprofit that supplies free food provisions to students experiencing food insecurity. Not because I am such a philanthropist, but because Emily's Girl Scout troop put together enough bags to feed eight children for a week, and I volunteered to keep the bags in my trunk, which turned into me driving a lot of food around to a lot of places without having my act together enough to figure out where and when and how to drop them off.
I finally had time, so we did it today, which worked out nicely because the kids got to be involved, and because these bags were supposed to be for Spring Break, which doesn't seem to be a thing right now, so we were happy to do one small thing to help children who rely on our school cafeteria (you know, the one that's closed indefinitely?) for meals.
After the Community Service portion of Janky Home School, it was time for Physical Education, also known as Dog Needs to Poop. We took a walk on a local trail and it was gloriously refreshing and beautiful, even with the gray mid-50s weather. We brought some friends and I was reminded that no matter what is going on, kids always find a way to have fun with sticks and dirt and water. It made my heart happy, if you want to get all schmaltzy about it.
This would be a good time to remind you (and me) that I have a job. I tried to squeeze in priorities whenever I could but I really have to figure out a better way to get work done while my kids are out of school. I am definitely the first and only person to have this problem. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
For dinner I made Change Your Life Chicken because The Lazy Genius is my life coach who doesn't know it yet. Emily in particular is a big fan of this dish because she likes the crispy chicken skin. However, I am not a big fan of the questions she asked at dinner, which included:
Is this chicken skin I'm eating?
Is this what human skin would taste like?
Are humans edible?
It's probably best if we move on now.
When Nora Ephron was growing up, her mother constantly told her that everything is copy. I take this to mean that everything will make a great story someday, even if it feels uncomfortable, or sad, or uncertain, or frightening. As someone who likes to have a schedule and a blueprint, I am not feeling particularly warm and fuzzy these days. But I am writing it all down, and I am looking around and noticing how my kids are taking all this upheaval and uncertainty like champions, and how my friends and neighbors are cheering each other on, and how strangers are offering free resources and support to each other.
It may be a janky home school, but it will make a great story some day.
For me, the idea of setting an intention is like Brexit. I don't really have a grasp on what it is, but I feel like I should, and I feel like everyone else does.
When the yoga instructor tells me to "set my intention" for the class, I honestly have no idea what she means. I know what a goal is. I know what a task is. I know what a wish is. I super do not know what an intention is.
Cut to yesterday, when I discovered 10 Things To Tell You, a podcast recommended by my new life coach (who's never met me and doesn't realize she's my life coach) Kendra Adachi of The Lazy Genius .
The first episode I listened to is called What are your intentions? In 17 minutes, host Laura Tremaine takes intentions from cloudy concept to useful tool. She describes setting an intention as "a way to get your heart in the right place." She also talks about how she sets her intention for the day during her morning routine, before events, and together with her family.
Laura's words inspired me to finally tackle the idea of intentions, and I came up with the Intention Chunk. (I love the word chunk. It reminds me of peanut butter and chocolate.) Instead of setting an overall intention for something big, I break my day into chunks, and I set an intention for each chunk right before it happens.
What does this look like in my day? When I sat down at my desk yesterday, I set the intention to spend 30 minutes submitting an article that was due. Then I spent 30 minutes sending some article pitches. Then I spent 30 minutes clearing out my inbox. Before each chunk, I set the intention. I said it out loud. Because I work alone and talk to myself a lot. Like...a lot.
When I was heading to the bus stop, I set the intention to simply be there for my kids. It was the second day of school and I was prepared for an emotional rollercoaster fueled by hunger and exhaustion. I set the intention to summon my patience, try to stay silly, and not look at my phone for the next few hours. (I totally failed at the phone one but I'm about to get another chance. Wish me luck.)
I will probably never be able to wrap my head around setting an intention for an entire day. My brain doesn't work that way. But intention chunks pretty much transformed my day and I'm excited to keep working with the concept.
One question for you:
Have you ever set an intention in a yoga class? If so can you share what it was?
Can you blogsplain Brexit to me?
One thing to make your day better:
Check out 10 Things To Tell You and The Lazy Genius next time you're looking for a short and efficient podcast. OK this is actually two things. Choose one or both. (BOTH? BOTH!)
I knew I had a problem when I took my kids to see The Grinch and it was like looking in a mirror. I recognized myself in his anti-Christmas antics. I related to his desire to just be left alone in his (awesome, in my opinion) cave lair. I sunk down in my movie seat when he freaked out about having to go to the grocery store the week before Christmas because it would be too crowded. I've done that. A lot.
I don't tolerate the retail experience well under the best circumstances. I'm such a grumpy bugger that I don't even go to Target or Walmart...like, ever. So when December rolls around, and all the fair-weather Trader Joe's shoppers turn my happy place into amateur hour, and all the parking spots vanish, I get crabby and kind of stay that way for the rest of the year.
Couple this with the other rituals of December, and my patience bucket empties out right quick. The Sign Up Genius emails bombard my inbox with their baked good demands, the germ parade starts marching around the neighborhood school, the days get shorter while my list of obligations gets longer, and I turn from Grinchy to Grinchier.
For me, December represents too much of everything. I long for the clean slate of January, when there's nothing to do except make goals and schedules and all that nerdy stuff that I like. Everyone goes back into their own lane, puts their heads down, and carries on.
So...yeah. I'm super fun to be around in December. Just ask my family.
Which brings up the number one (and only) reason I try, every year, to figure out a way to find the joy in the chaos: my family. Every year, I approach the holiday season determined to mitigate the struggle just a little more than last year. I make an honest effort to find a way to be a smidge more pleasant for the people who have to put up with me.
In 2016 I actually typed up and printed out a list called Things I Learned in December and pinned it to the December page of my 2017 calendar. The first item on that list? Don't be Class Mom. I'm in my kids' classrooms at least once a week. I put my name on every Sign Up Genius that comes my way. I try to help wherever I can. I have been Class Mom at least three times, and my oldest is only in second grade. But I know myself well enough to admit that being Class Mom during the holidays makes me less enjoyable to be around, and that's not fair to my People. So it's a Christmas Don't.
Want to know what else is on my list? I doubt any of you are as Grinchy as me, but I hope some of these things are helpful. I know I'm not the only one who struggles during this time of year.
1. Practice Saying No
This year marked the first time I ever put my name on a Sign Up Genius and then...didn't bring the thing I signed up for. It was a batch of baked goods for the service club my kids belong to. They were singing at the local police department. I love our local police. I love the fact that my kids got to sing Christmas carols for them. And I love all the other moms for bringing their homemade treats, because it made my lack of participation inconspicuous. You have to pick and choose what you bow out of, but I highly recommend you practice bowing out when it's harmless.
Homework: Look at these five research-based ways to say no during the holidays. They're practical and doable, even for all of us people pleasers. Pick one and use it before December 31.
2. Choose a Motto
Did I mention how much I hate winter weather? And I live in North Carolina. I have no right to complain. But here I am complaining. I won't run outside if it's colder than 45 degrees. But I also have to run or else I will get so irritable that my family will make me find a new house to live in. So, I've been using the treadmill, and listening to podcasts to counteract the crushing monotony.
On a recent episode of the Happier podcast, Gretchen Rubin and her co-host (and sister) Elizabeth Craft talked about choosing a holiday motto. The motto serves as a mantra to keep you focused on what you love about the holidays. It's also a way to decide which parts of the holidays matter to you, and which ones you can let go of.
My motto this Christmas is Comfort and Joy. I am such a task-driven person that I have to consciously remind myself that comfort and joy matter. Having the motto helps.
Homework: Choose a motto and use it to stay focused on what matters to you. You can also use your motto as a theme around your holiday activities and gift giving. Here are some examples from the podcast: Let it snow, let your heart be light, 'tis the season to be jolly.
3. Plan and Prevent
Every year we get up early on December 26 and drive ten hours to New Jersey to spend time with our family. It is SO worth making the trip to see with the people we had to say goodbye to when we moved to North Carolina.
We do a post-Christmas get together, catch up with each other, annoy the teenagers by talking about how much they've grown, and reconnect with the place we called home for eight years.
This will be our third year making the trek, and by now I've learned how important it is to plan and prevent, so we can focus on enjoying our visit.
Ain't no packing list as detailed as my December Road Trip packing list. Don't forget the Yankee Swap gifts. Make sure we bring the gift cards for the cousins. Pack some plastic bags for our road trip garbage. Do the final Highway 78 pit stop before we get past Harrisburg unless we want to use public bathrooms that require HAZMAT suits.
One aspect of being a grumpy bugger is not sleeping well when you're away from home. So I prevent sleep deprivation by bringing my "special" pillow (because I'm a five year old), my melatonin, my chamomile tea, and all my other fussy sleeping supplies.
No one wants to be sick on a road trip, so I try to prevent germ infestation by stocking up on Zicam for noses, antibacterial wipes, and my Aunt La's famous Elderberry Elixir.
Homework: This is actually homework for me but you're welcome to join. My goal is to plan for a simplified holiday season next year by getting all my shopping done by December 1, 2019. I hope this will prevent me from going full Grinch by the time Christmas rolls around.
Christmas is four days away, all the shopping is done, everyone has agreed to go with the easy option of Spaghetti Bolognese for Christmas dinner, and I got my annual meltdown out of the way yesterday, so things are looking up for the rest of 2018.
Therefore, I am currently being sincere when I say: Merry Christmas. May your holiday be filled with comfort and joy.
I wrote this little ditty for my friend Joanna, who is a talented business owner and proof that you can do what you love.
“I turned a compulsion into a career.” That’s how Joanna Clausen of NEST Organizing describes her path to small business ownership. NEST (short for Neaten, Energize, Simplify, Transform) came about when Joanna was transitioning from working full-time for the Charlotte Public Library to being a stay-at-home mom with her second son. “I realized I love being a mommy, but I also had a drive to work outside the home,” says Joanna.
She thought about how she could turn something she loved into a business, and it hit her: she was a natural when it came to organizing and de-cluttering her home, and she enjoyed helping her friends do the same.
The organizing service that started four years ago with a few client/friends has quickly grown into a thriving business that has allowed Joanna to find that elusive work-life balance.
Finding that balance is not easy. As NEST Organizing has grown, so has Joanna’s family. She welcomed her third son, Henry, in 2016.
“Being a mom, wife, daughter, and business owner is tough,” says Joanna. “By the time I get to a client’s house each day, I’ve been up for three hours and dropped off three children at three different places. But having my own business means I can set my schedule and I get to be home with my kids in the afternoon.”
Word of mouth has been the biggest factor in NEST’s growth, but Joanna does appreciate the value of having an online presence. “People want to check you out and get a feel for your business through your website and social media,” says Joanna. “But nothing beats friends and happy clients spreading the word!”
Four years of professional organizing have yielded some memorable experiences, including the time she found a pretzel in a box of Christmas ornaments. What seemed like garbage accidentally put in a bin turned out to be a memento from her client’s first Christmas as a newlywed, when they couldn’t afford ornaments and decorated their tree with pretzels.
“I will never forget the lesson that taught me,” recalls Joanna. “Never assume you know more about a person’s belongings than they do.”
By turning her organizing “compulsion” into a satisfying career, Joanna Clausen has found a way to gracefully juggle the moving parts of working motherhood. Her advice to any woman seeking small business ownership: “Find something you are passionate about and go for it! The fulfillment you get from doing what you love makes you better in all the other areas of your life.”
Visit nestorganizing.com to learn more about Joanna and her services. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram. Her before and after pics are kind of addictive!
...was the name of my column in Phillips' Finest, my middle school newspaper. If it was good enough for seventh grade, it's good enough for "adulthood."