A February First

I’m not sure when I’ve been quite this chipper on the first day of February — especially with no snow on the ground. I’m finally shaking a week long sickness, I’ve hit the ground running with a revision of a work-in-progress, and the birds have been singing their springtime songs. Yesterday afternoon (and into the evening) I cleaned out and cleared off my desk while bingeing on Design on a Dime. (Aside: Do you know that both bingeing and binging are acceptable, yet WordPress claims both are misspellings?)

Perhaps I’m feeling peppy because my own personal new year starts today. All of my overwhelming activities I stepped back from last year are truly done now and I have the delightful feeling of a carnival pony that’s been released from the wheel that kept me going around in circles and I can now follow where my fancy leads me. And this month it is leading me to get my next manuscript in shape, get the house in order, and check off a couple more items on my list of things to do before we possibly put the house on the market later this year.

The January thaw has us delirious with thoughts of spring even though we know better. Still, it was lovely yesterday to wear a light jacket to church and imagine the season to come. It should be in the low 40s the next few days, with wind and rain, but winter should return later this month. And that’s all for the good. I have firewood yet to burn…

New Year, Same Me (and That’s Okay)

A thin blanket of silent snow has freshened my world. The last gift of what has been a busy and (mostly) joyful few weeks of holiday celebrations. December, that hasty month, is over, and I sit in the sunroom in the early morning dark, heater buzzing, sipping dark roast coffee, and contemplating the year to come.

This post might seem to be a few days late by worldly reckoning; all of the New Year’s posts have already been rapturously read and promptly forgotten, after all. But who has time for deep thought when the kid is home from school and the house is still in shambles? And anyway, my holidays don’t end until my anniversary (Dec. 30th) and my birthday (Jan. 2nd) have come and gone.

I’ve felt no burning desire to make resolutions, but I do intend to do a few things this year nonetheless. One of those is paint a self portrait. Another is to learn to play bar chords. Another is to get up early five mornings a week to read and write. I’d like to learn how to do one or two interesting hairstyles with my ever-lengthening locks. I’d like to spend less time on Facebook, more time reading articles that feed me as a writer.

But I haven’t any hard and fast goals — write 1000 words each day, lose fifty pounds, quit this, start that — beyond these vague ideas. The whole idea behind letting some commitments go was to invite more white space into my life, not to then fill that extra time with obligations of my own making. So on those early mornings, my only agenda is to get out of bed and enjoy the quiet time to read, journal, write, edit, blog, and the like. Maybe watch an interview with a writer on YouTube. Something that enhances my life. Something that makes me content.

I’m excited by the possibilities this new year brings, aware of potential disappointments. There’s no “brand new you” I’m working on. Just another year being me, another 365 days to love my family, do my art, and reflect my Creator.

On the Beauty of Stepping Back

A Rose Blooms on Veteran's DayLike it or not, twenty-four hours is all you get. Subtract sleep (eight hours if you’re lucky) and work (another eight hours if you work full time) and you have eight left. Personal hygiene, prepping and eating meals, doing dishes and laundry and picking up after yourself, gassing up the car, driving to and from work, getting the kids off to school and activities, church and volunteering, hopefully getting in some reading time or an episode of Brooklyn 99 or The Man in the High Castle

Friend, your day is slipping away fast. And that means your week is slipping away. In aggregate, your life is slipping away and you probably don’t have the time to properly lament that fact.

I have been asked on more than one occasion how I “do it all.” Work, kid, writing, gardening, canning, sewing, teaching, etc.

Well, here’s the dirty little secret: I don’t. Not all at once, at least. I haven’t sewed a piece of clothing for myself in well over a year. I didn’t manage to can cherries, raspberries, pears, or apples this year. I did the absolute bare minimum in the garden this summer. I also barely manage to keep my house in working order. I often go to bed with dishes in the sink (and on the counter), with laundry getting wrinkled in the dryer, and with toys strewn all over the house.

And every once in a while I have to step back, look at where I’m spending my time, and reevaluate. I did this back in 2007; the result was quitting grad school. I did it again in 2012 and decided I needed to quit being a docent at the zoo. Suddenly during this crazy fall, I felt the need to reevaluate once more.

I realized that I was overcommitted in general, but specifically in two places: in my local writing group and at church.

As a board member and the marketing/communications chair of CCWA, I was committed to monthly meetings, but also to developing and keeping up the website, helping to plan events that required extra meetings, attending as many organizational events as possible, blogging and asking others to blog, trying to remember to tweet, developing and giving talks, etc. It wasn’t an everyday commitment, but over the year it amounted to a lot of time away from family and, ironically, from writing.

At church I have been prepping and teaching an adult Sunday school class, serving as a deacon, practicing and singing in the choir, attending two worship services, doing building renovations, and often leading singing, lay leading, prepping and serving communion, and trying to be a semi-decent pastor’s wife type person on top of that. On Sunday mornings especially I was rushing from activity to activity with not a moment to stop and chat with church members or visitors on the way. On some weeks, I might find myself at church three or even four days out of the week.

At an especially busy time, I realized that my entire week was spoken for by these two very worthy, fun, and rewarding aspects of my life, plus my son’s one extracurricular activity:

  • Monday night: deacon meeting during which my son had to entertain himself at church (family grabs fast food on way home, son gets to bed too late)
  • Tuesday night: take the boy to karate (family eats whatever I can scrounge up and make into a meal at home)
  • Wednesday night: choir practice and midweek service (husband takes the boy to karate; family either scarfs down early dinner at home or eats separately)
  • Thursday night: CCWA board meeting (family eats out again, again separately)
  • Friday night: take the boy to karate (family would eat at home but no one has had time to plan meals or cook, plus the kitchen, somehow, is still a disaster even though we’ve eaten out nearly every night)
  • Saturday: spend 9 hours at church sanding floor, prep for Sunday school at night
  • Sunday: teach Sunday school, practice choir number, sing choir number in service, come home to crazy-messy house and try to reacquaint myself with my husband and son

It was easy to see that this was just too much, despite the fact that, taken individually, I valued each of these things. I had no margin, no white space, no mental rest or physical rest, no time to let my mind breathe, no time to take care of myself or my family or my home.

So I looked at all of the things I was doing and found the ones that could be done by others. No one can be my husband’s wife but me. No one can be my son’s mom but me. No one can write my books but me.

But could someone else be a deacon? Absolutely. Could someone else serve on the CCWA board? Absolutely. Could someone else sing soprano? Absolutely. And probably there is someone out there dying for the chance to do those things, looking for an open spot, for a need to fill. Me stepping down could create that open spot.

So that’s what I did. I contacted the leaders and supervisors and directors of those groups and let them know that, come 2016, I was stepping back. Not one of them was upset with me. All of them understood. And once they had all been told, a weight lifted off my shoulders I hadn’t realized was there, even though I hadn’t really gotten anything off my plate just yet. There are still Christmas baskets to distribute as a deacon. There’s still the Christmas cantata and all the extra practices that entails for choir. There’s still the annual writer’s conference (Write on the Red Cedar) to advertise and execute for CCWA in January. But just knowing that within a matter of months those commitments would be over put my mind at ease.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation — overcommitted and exhausted and wondering where each day is going, unable to find the time or mental energy to serve your family, take care of yourself, or pursue your passion. Why not take some time as this year draws to a close to reevaluate where you’re spending your time and energy. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I doing this out of a sense of obligation?
  • Does this bring me joy?
  • Is this good for my family?
  • Could someone else do this?
  • Is this how I want to spend my time?
  • What do I really want to do — both now and in the future — and how do each of my current activities feed that dream or drain time and energy and imagination from that dream?

I think you’ll find that the answers you give will tell you what you can step back from and what you really want (and need) to do with your precious twenty-four hours.

The Hits Just Keep Coming

2015 doesn’t seem to like me much. My stitches are gone–removed by yours truly when I just couldn’t stand them anymore. But I’ve recently been laid out by tonsillitis and a sinus infection. Boo. I’ve just started antibiotics and the doc says I should be able to talk like a normal person soon (which is good since I’ll be doing a heck of a lot of talking on Friday and Saturday at Write on the Red Cedar). I’m hoping that perhaps the year is getting all the bad stuff out of the way early on and after this it will be smooth sailing.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far from this experience:

  • Any time you’re offered an antibiotic, you should take it, even if the PA at the urgent care says she’s not sure it will help.
  • I don’t like seeing a medical professional who asks me what I want her to prescribe (see above). Seriously? That fills me with confidence.
  • You should take the extra effort needed to make an appointment with your real doctor rather than going to the urgent care that is two minutes away (see above again).
  • There is something about being in bed for days that really makes my hips and lower back ache.
  • I have the sweetest and most helpful husband in the world (I already knew this, but it just reinforces it).

If you’re reading this and you’re a praying person, I would appreciate a prayer that I’ll be in top form on Friday and Saturday, not just for the workshop I’ll be teaching, but to get the most out of the sessions I’ll be attending as well!