Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 Goals - 6 Month Review

Me and my boy playing in the waves.

It's the end of June already. Can you believe we are already half-way through 2015?

I thought it would be a good time to review the goals I posted here back on January 1st, and check on my progress. Not that I think any of you really care whether I'm meeting these personal goals or not, this is more of a selfish exercise on my part to keep myself accountable and refresh my memory on what I want to be doing and working on. So anyway, here's my little progress report on my 2015 resolutions.

1. Eat Healthier and Cut Sugar - So, I actually managed to cut my sugar intake way down during the month of January... and then I started to lose weight, which as I mentioned was NOT my goal. Because I'm already well underweight, and because I am nursing, I just couldn't make up the calories in my diet that sugar provided, so I stopped trying to cut sugar. I'm still trying to figure out what "eat healthier" means for me. Right now it doesn't mean cutting things out, but I am trying to add more of the fruits and veggies. I should probably do some sort of food journal or monitoring to make sure I'm eating enough fruits and veggies everyday.

2. Get Enough Sleep - Ugh, never make this goal when you have a baby. And you're a grad student. My baby actually is a very good sleeper and consistently sleeps through the night. However, he has not been very consistent about when he wakes up. I'm never sure if he's going to be up at 5, or up at 7:30. I'll admit that I haven't been the most dedicated to my 10:30 bedtime (especially not when I was in school), but it feels like any time I go to bed early, that will be the night he wakes up at some insanely early hour. Anyway, this one is still a work in progress. I'm doing some time monitoring right now to get data on just how much sleep I'm actually averaging, because it does not feel like enough. I really want to work on getting that 10:30 bedtime to be a more consistent habit.

3. Research and Invest in Essential Oils - This was honestly the most likely goal for me to completely ignore, but then a random new friend started a random new job for some health company that was giving away free samples of their essential oil starter kits, so it kind of fell into my lap. I'm having fun playing around with the different oils in the kit (I really, really love me some lavender), but I'm not sure these are actually benefiting my health in any measurable kind of way. They certainly smell nice, but I'm not really a convert (yet). We shall see.

4. Read 25 Books for Pleasure - Goodreads tells me I've already read 20 books this year, so I'm well on my way to hitting this one out of the park. However, I know some of those books were school assigned novels, and I'm not sure I should count those as books for pleasure...

5. Schedule a Regular Time to Write for Pleasure - This one is still a work in progress. I've been playing around with what time of day and day of the week works best, and I'm not sure I've found the perfect time that I want to commit to this goal (especially since it doesn't feel feasible when I'm in school), but this is another area I'm trouble shooting with my time monitoring.

6. Redecorate My House - Also a work in progress, but one that I'm actually working on (see here). I've got big plans for this summer (actually they are kind of small plans, but it will be a big deal if I can accomplish them), and hopefully more things come together. I will post more on this later.

7. Early Morning Scripture Study - See #2 for a guess on how this one is going. I love the days when I make this happen, but with my baby's inconsistent sleep pattern and my own inconsistent bed-time, this has not become the habit I want it to be again. Still committed to it, still working on it.

8. Declutter - Ha! Resounding success, thanks to the serendipitous entrance of Marie Kondo into my life. Not finished with the process yet, but I'm definitely in a MUCH better place clutter-wise than I was six months ago.

9. Develop and Stick to a Budget - This one's been interesting. The biggest change I've made is developing the habit of monitoring our expenses, which, just like monitoring my time, is proving to be a most effective route for managing our finances. Every month I sit down and track every single expense in a nice little spreadsheet, highlight where we overspent and where we under-spent and whether we're coming out even while still saving enough. I go over all the numbers with my husband so we are both on the same page, and this simple act of monitoring has done more to help curb my financial anxiety than anything else. There have been a few months where we overspent and a few months where we under-spent, but here at the six month mark we are looking pretty okay for the year. I still think there are areas where we could improve and save or spend more wisely, but I'm feeling in control, which is the point of this goal.

10. Solidify Family Routine - At six months I'm feeling very good about our family routine right now. We've got all of my most important daily and weekly routines firmly in place (family dinners, family scripture study, family home evening, etc.). Our couple routines (date night, scripture study, etc.) are also becoming a lot more consistent, so we are making good progress. Of course, I recognize that a lot of this is because the baby is getting older, and everything will be disrupted again whenever the next baby comes, but for now I'm liking our groove.

This review was actually more positive than I thought is was going to be. I kind of thought I was failing miserably at all my goals because I keep kicking myself for failing at my sleep goal (which affects my early morning scripture study goal). But really, I'm making more progress on most of these goals than I thought. That's a nice discovery.

Did you make New Year's Resolutions? How are your goals coming at this half-way mark?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Makes a Book a "Beach Read"?

I took four books on our beach vacation last week, but it was only after I got back and made a trip to my local library branch that I realized I had taken all the wrong books.

You see, my local library had this cute little table set up with a big poster that said "Beach Reads!" and stacks of display books that all seemed to have the word "Beach" in the title, and all also seemed to revolve around light and fluffy chick-lit romances.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love myself a good fun chick-lit romance every now and then. And I love having some lighter books to break the pace in between heavy reads.

But why are these the only types of book deemed beach appropriate?

In my humble opinion, any book I happen to be reading while at the beach qualifies as a "beach read," and apparently I find it pretty okay to read some heavier and more literary stuff at the beach. But I'm not picky, I'll read some good children's lit there too. You know, I think I could just about read any book at the beach.

Honestly, there was no better time or place than our beach vacation for me to dive into some of these books, because I had lots of open hours to devote to reading that I don't normally have in real life. Also, there was family around to help watch and entertain my kids, which meant I got to do some uninterrupted reading. I even got one glorious hour alone on the beach while my husband took the boys back to the beach house for naptime. Seriously, that single hour made my entire summer. It was so luxurious.

Ideal reading spot.

I think it's time we do away with arbitrary definitions of what makes a book a "good" beach read. If it's a good book, it's a good beach read.

Agree? Disagree? What do you read at the beach (or the pool, or on vacation, or wherever)?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Here With Me (or, An Excuse to Trot Out Some Wedding Photos)

One of the books I read during our amazing beach vacation last week was The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. There were many, many reasons I loved this book--the serious treatment of Christian belief in a literary setting, the whole concept of religious proselyting on an alien planet, the writing, I could go on--but the aspect of this book that stirred me the most, and will probably stay with me the longest, are the letters between a husband and wife physically divided by thousands of light-years.

Yes, this book may primarily be a genre-crossing literary Christian Sic-Fi novel, but at its core this book was really about the relationship between this preacher/missionary husband and the wife he left back home. It was the anatomy of a marriage undergoing the stress of physical separation.

My husband and I celebrated our seven year anniversary this past Saturday, so marriage has been on my mind recently. Specifically, what makes a marriage last.

We were such babies. Such young, young babies.

My husband and I had been dating seriously for a semester before we faced an eight month separation. After finals, I jetted off for a summer study abroad in Paris, and before I returned my then-boyfriend Nathan left for his semester of solo travel around the world/tutoring gig in Africa. Eight months of separation was a long time, and we discussed how we wanted to handle it before the semester ended. Should we just break up? Be allowed to date other people? Or say that we were still dating and try to keep the relationship up?

Nathan voted for keeping our relationship open, letting me be available to date other people, and then see where things stood when he returned the following year. At that point, however, I was pretty head-over-heels for this kid, and I was bound and determined to keep our relationship afloat with a serious letter writing campaign. Not only did I write and pre-date nearly twenty hand-written letters for him to take with him and open weekly on his trip around the world, but I also set aside time daily to write a lengthy email epistle. Over the summer, Nathan returned my daily emails (as well as phone calls when we could), but during his time in Africa he only had access to the internet about once a week, so the ratio was one letter of his for every seven of mine.

All of that history is to say that while reading this book last week, I had serious flashbacks to that time in our relationship when physically we were miles and miles apart, and the only thing connecting us was the words on a screen.

I'm convinced Michel Faber has experienced a long distance relationship himself, because some of those letters between the husband and wife were so real, so true. Honestly I felt like Faber had gone back and read some of my email archives because there were so many moments when I was like, HOLY COW I REMEMBER FEELING THAT EXACT EMOTION HOW DID HE KNOW!!!!! Granted, we weren't married at the time, and I certainly wasn't facing the apocalyptic crash of civilization while my husband was stuck on an alien planet (like the wife in the book), but reading the book, and reflecting on my own relationship, left me contemplating the nature of long-distance relationships.

Is physical proximity necessary to keep a relationship afloat? To keep two people connected?

The book itself leaves some doubt to the answer of that question, but in my own case, obviously, things worked out. Nathan returned and less than a month later we were engaged. In many ways the separation actually helped to develop and deepen our relationship, because apparently I express myself much better in writing than I do in person (and crucially, Nathan himself is a very thoughtful letter-writer as well). So our relationship was able to develop throughout the separation and be at an even stronger place when we were finally together again. And obviously, couples all over the world survive and thrive during long periods of physical separation (think of all those army wives).

That being said, separation is HARD. I would NEVER NEVER NEVER want to go through a separation that long again. I can handle the occasional week-long business trip, but I would make a miserable army wife.

Why is that? Why is physical proximity so beneficial, and in most cases crucial, for healthy relationships?

Is that a stupid question?

All I'm saying is that I'm terribly, terribly grateful that since our wedding, there have been very few nights that I've spent away from my husband. Even on those busy days when he comes home in time to scarf some dinner down just to disappear into the bedroom to work for the rest of the night, having him physically home is a million times better than having him stay at the office. We don't have to be doing anything together, just being under the same roof makes all the difference. Just being able to kiss him goodnight before going to bed is enough to satisfy me on those busy days. I just want him physically near.

It's been a wonderful, amazing, fantastic seven years with him by my side. Here's to many more years together, physically and metaphorically.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Just popping by to say I'm on vacation this week, so while the beach reading will hopefully be plenty this week, posting around here might be light.

If you'd like to see more photos from my real life, you can find me posting on instagram.

Happy summer reading!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Preventing Paper Pandemonium

It's been a few months, but the great clutter purge of 2015 continues! This whole process is turning out to take much longer than I anticipated, mostly because the more I throw out, the more I tinker with everything that's left. I made my husband rearrange all the furniture in our bedroom last week because I felt like the new arrangement would feel less cluttered (which we both agree it does, but my husband ended up at the chiropractor from the back breaking labor, so he's getting pretty tired of this project).

My #2 biggest clutter issue (right after children's toys, which is by far the #1 cause of clutter around here) is definitely Marie Kondo's third category: papers. A few months ago, paper clutter covered nearly every surface in my home. The kitchen counter, the kitchen table, the dresser, the desk, both nightstands, even the bookshelves were repositories for random paper.

What were all these paper items? Well, there was mail that needed to be sorted, mail that had already been opened but needed dealing with (bills, etc.), coupons I wanted to use at some point, handouts and flyers from church, homework and school papers, papers from both our church assignments, grocery store ads, handouts from our doctor about baby development, scraps with various people's addresses and phone numbers written down, scraps with grocery lists written down, receipts... you get the idea. Basically, it just looked like our house was vomiting paper all the time.

For me, tackling this category of the KonMari method was less about considering what brought me "joy" (all those doctor bills and insurance papers bring me absolutely zero joy, but alas, I probably shouldn't throw them out), and more about developing a process for dealing with paper before it became clutter. This was actually a pretty huge revelatory experience for me, and one that I haven't yet perfected, but I'm getting better. Much better. And it's making such a huge difference in the clutter level of our home.

Now, some of this may seem insanely obvious to the rest of the world, but I'm learning as I go here, so this is what I've figured out about dealing with paper clutter.

Don't Let It In The House
Every day when we pick up the mail, I sort it as soon as I pull it out of the box. Any scrap that isn't super necessary, I throw away before we enter the house (it's convenient that our complex has a recycling bin right next to the mailboxes, I'll have to set up some similar system when/if we move to a house). If I get handouts or papers while I'm out and about, at the doctors, at church, wherever, I try to record the pertinent information in my phone calendar or notes app, and leave the paper there. It doesn't always work, but the less paper that comes through the door, the less clutter to deal with.

Ten Minutes a Day
This is an idea I've adapted from Gretchen Rubin, but I try to take ten minutes every day, usually as part of my nightly clean-up routine, and "deal" with paper clutter. That means pay any bills that came in the mail, file coupons, or simply take care of it so it can be thrown away. If I deal with it daily, less builds up.

You Don't Need to Store It
For some reason we had boxes and boxes and drawers of paper files. I went through it all, and instead of asking whether it brought me "joy" or not, I asked "is this completely necessary to hold on to?" Tax documents, birth certificates, and the like got a yes, while all those lessons plans from that one year I taught seventh grade English got a no (I have most of them in electronic files anyway). Basically, I discovered there are a lot fewer essential paper documents than I thought (I even questioned my husband on the tax documents, and while we have started electronic filing and storing all that stuff in recent years, we're hanging on to the paper documents from our early years marriage because of the six year audit rule). Basically, all our essential documents can fit neatly in one file drawer, no elaborate organization systems are necessary. It's all right there, easy to find when we need it.

Electronic Clutter is a Real Thing
Computers, phones, and the internet have made the biggest impact on reducing paper clutter across our entire culture, but I'm only just now figuring out that it's important to keep electronic clutter in check too. I LOVE using electronic files to reduce real paper clutter, but I want and need to be better at making sure my electronic files aren't overly cluttered. I got a new laptop for Christmas, and it was so refreshing to start over with this blank canvas, but six months in and the clutter is already there. It's absolutely not as noticeable the paper clutter in my house, which makes it easier to ignore, but I still feel very itchy about it. So, I'm slowly working through the process of cleaning up and organizing my digital files, managing my email inbox and calendars and to-do lists. It's an interesting process, mostly because I feel like there are a million apps and ideas and systems about organizing electronic "stuff," and I don't have it all figured out yet, but I'm working on it.

I know that as we pass through other seasons of life our paper clutter issues will change, and I'm still working to figure this all out. However, the big thing I've learned is that the best way to deal with paper clutter is to prevent it. I'm getting better at dealing with paper as soon as it comes in the house, not letting it hit the counter or the kitchen table but making sure it finds a home or gets dealt with immediately. So far, it's made a huge difference.

How do you deal with paper clutter? I'm all ears for other strategies that tackle this issue.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Destroying Books in the Name of Art

When I read The Nesting Place last fall, Myquillen Smith's message about perfectly imperfect home decorating really struck a chord with me. It's something I've been thinking a lot about lately, especially since we made our decision to stay in our current tiny apartment for another year. I've got a longer post planed about home decor and design thoughts, but I just couldn't wait to share my latest project.

You see, while I loved Smith's message, I don't exactly share much of her decorating taste. Disco balls, antlers, and giant fish? Yikes! Not my thing. But there was one item from her book that I instantly fell in love with and have been thinking about ever since: her book page wreath.

Maybe you've seen these around the internet, I feel like they started popping up all over as soon as I put the book down. As soon as I realized there were tutorials for how to DIY this wreath, I knew I had to try it out myself. Now, crafting and DIYing is not really my thing, so this project intimidated me a bit. I waited until school was over and I could dedicate a few focused evenings to this project (no kids around), and I finally got the finished wreath hung up last night:

I LOVE it so much!

It's not perfect, and I was pretty worried in the middle of it all that is was going to come out a complete disaster. I asked my husband what he thought of it after a few rows, and he paused for a long time before saying, "Yeah, I can see it has potential..." Once I had it on the wall, however, he thought it looked fantastic. The great thing about this wreath is that it really is quite forgiving, and looks super good even with a bunch of imperfections.

I used a mix of this tutorial and this tutorial, but also adjusted for my own needs and supplies. I went with a corkboard wreath and pinned most of my paper rolls into place with sewing pins, and only used a glue gun for the inner layers where pinning didn't work. I liked using pins because I could take them out and readjust cones as needed.

If you're curious, I used a 25 cent paperback book I picked up from my library. I wanted it to at least be a book I enjoyed and had read, but also one I didn't care about ripping up, so I settled for Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. (It helped that I don't own any other books in that series, because I don't know if I could've brought myself to break up a series).

The wall above our bed has been completely bare since we moved in almost two years ago (pathetic, I know), so this wreath provides some much needed pizzazz. Now I just have to figure out what else to put on this wall...

Monday, June 1, 2015

Books I Read in May

May started off poorly for me (that whole first week and half looked like this, so pleasure reading was low on the list of priorities). But once school ended, I dived nose first into more books than I could handle at once. I think at one point I was in the middle of seven different books, which is a lot for me. I usually prefer to take it one book at a time, but with the luxury of summer upon me I couldn't help over-indulging. Unfortunately, even though school is over, I still have this little thing called being-a-mom-of-two-small-children that tends to suck up A TON of time, so only three of those books actually got finished. But they were three mighty enjoyable reads.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

This is one of those books that you just can't describe to people. I know, I tried describing it to my husband, but as I did so I just couldn't find the words: "It's about this family, and they drive a trailer across North Dakota..." Yeah. Without giving away spoilers, that about sums up the plot, and even I think that sounds lame. But no! This book is SO GOOD!!! This book is beautiful, and deep, and touched those places in my mind and heart that only the best books can touch. This is what good literature looks like. This is possibly even one worth owning. I can't praise this one enough. Absolutely recommend this one.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Back in middle school, my dad introduced me to Isaac Asimov, and from then on I was super hooked on science fiction. It just really tickles that nerdy side of me that wanted to minor in physics in college (I minored in French instead, which lead to a study abroad in Paris, so I don't regret that decision at all). Anyway, I'm a little bit flabbergasted about how I managed to miss out on this one back then, because it is a CLASSIC of science fiction. I mean, people allude to this book so much I was already well aware of spice, and worms, and mind-bending travel before I cracked the spine. So what did I think? It was good. It was epic. I'm glad I read it. I'm not sure I feel compelled to read the rest of the series, but I'm glad to have this one under belt, if just so I can allude to it intelligently myself when I converse with other sci-fi enthusiasts. Do I recommend it? Eh, only if you're really into sci-fi. Otherwise, don't bother. But it was definitely a fun world to get lost in for a bit.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Oh, this one was beautiful. I LOVE this type of poetry novel (Out of the Dust was one of my favorites from my own adolescence), and I love even more the autobiographical nature of this one. Woodson's life story is poignant and powerful, and she is able to express such complex emotions in such a beautifully simple way. I loved hearing about her experience living through the Civil Rights movement, how the ideas and events of the time affected her young life. I used to fancy myself a poet, back in the angsty days of adolescence, and if I ever pick it up again, this is the type of poetry I'd hope to be able to write. Really readable, lyrical, succinct, but packing a punch. Good stuff.