Category Archives: resolutions

A Year of Yes

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Dear Baxter & Lyle:

I have never been so sad to see a summer end.

It was a pretty fabulous one. We got to spend a whole lot of time together and I loved every minute of it.

It was our Summer of Yes. If the three of us wanted to make it happen, we did. We went on our first of (I hope) many camping trips together, road tripping to Northern Michigan and camping in the woods with friends for four days. We canoed and swam and ate ice cream and explored and listened to great music and podcasts for hours and hours on end in the car and came home smiling. I pulled you both out of a scary river current and let Lyle poop at the side of the road when we ran out of options. Those are the things you’ll never forget, while I will always remember the laughter, cooking over the fire, waking up under the tall oaks, twinkling fireflies, and the deep sense of empowerment I felt by the end of the trip. I want to cover some real distance with you one of these summers because I see now that we three can do anything we set our minds to and there is so much to see in this world. Let’s do it.

We also had a wonderful week in California where I went in another direction for a few days so that Nana and Papa could spoil you epically, away from my watchful eye. You swam, saw movies, ate insanely syrupy breakfasts, and went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where you rode all the wildest rides together, screaming, over and over. When I joined you we hiked and climbed rocks along the coast, visited with your great-grandmothers, and had lots of laughs with Nana and Papa. You met your newest cousin, tiny baby Oden, and fell in love with him. You didn’t want to come home to Chicago, you were so happy there.

But we did make it home and then it became the summer of Spot the baby leopard gecko, whom we added to our family as a birthday gift for Lyle. You both adore that cool little guy and take good care of him.

You didn’t get along every minute, god knows, but the two of you are real pals. When Lyle returned a gift at Target yesterday that he couldn’t use, he turned around from the register and gave Baxter half the money he got from the cashier. Baxter hadn’t asked, nor had he complained as he watched Lyle get so many special gifts, but Lyle showed enormous empathy, remembering what it feels like to be the brother not getting anything on a birthday and simply said to his big brother, “Here, Baxter. You can get something, too.” There was so much love and generosity in that exchange.

Although we have wished aloud for this summer to last forever, the final day arrived today. We wondered how it could be, that today really was the last day and that you’d be back at school tomorrow. But walking up to our beach blanket after playing in the lake this glorious afternoon, you both agreed that you were ready. You want to see your friends and to know what’s in store for you in fourth and eighth grades. And so after dinner you made tomorrow’s lunches uncomplainingly and have headed to bed early to read for a while before I go in for snuggling and lights out.

Let’s make it a whole Year of Yes. Yes to new classrooms and friends and learning and new experiences, to travel and time spent relaxing at home and snuggling in bed at night. Yes to reading funny chapter books aloud and baking together and Jedi training in the basement and feeding live crickets to the lizard. Yes to watching you two, who have all my love, growing up more beautifully each year.

Love,
Mommy

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26 Acts of Kindness

IMG_0920Yesterday was the last day of school here in Chicago before the winter break. In lieu of a cheesy holiday movie on that last interminable day of school, my seventh grader’s teacher made the decision to show the kids a video about Ann Curry’s 26 Acts of Kindness campaign, created to honor the 26 children and adults who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT one week before. My son and his friends were very aware of the tragedy in Newtown, pulling together the following Monday to wear blue in honor of those killed, and talking about it quite a bit. The kids were inspired to go out and engage in 26 Acts of Kindness themselves and then come back to share what they’ve been doing in person and on their class’ private educational social media site. The students have been posting their acts of kindness this weekend, and they’re quite uplifting.

My son came home with the idea to bake cookies for 26 people and deliver them around the city this weekend; his 8-year old brother jumped into the idea with both feet and they were off and running. I can’t express enough what a joy it was for us as a family to do this together and I believe that it is especially important for school children to feel that they are helping in some positive way during a time that is so sad and scary for them. I am very grateful for the teacher’s idea to share this with the kids; it’s a perfect example of ways teachers impact our children for life. I can point to specific ways my teachers positively influenced my thoughts and actions as I grew up and now I see the same thing happening for my kids.

For me, the heart and energy I saw the boys pour into this project, and their interactions with strangers around our neighborhood, was all the gift I needed this Christmas. Below are photos of our adventure as the four of us worked together to make this happen today. Here is our story (click on any picture to see it enlarged):

Each of the boys made 13 cards to attach to their plates of cookies…

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We all worked hard making a huge batch of sugar cookies while listening to music DJ’d by the 7th grader.

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Here we have the requisite Gangnam Style dance interlude while one batch was baking…

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Next, the kids assembled 26 plates of cookies, covered them in plastic wrap, and attached their notes to the top of them. They each carried a bag of 13 plates out into the neighborhood.

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Starting with our mail carrier, the boys approached every person they passed in our neighborhood, asking if they’d like some free homemade cookies. We walked the couple blocks to our local El stop and gave them out to people coming and going from the train, including a failed attempt to give some to the CTA worker inside. We all had our favorite recipients; mine was probably the runner who jogged the rest of the way home carrying his plate of homemade cookies. He gave each of the boys a high-five, exclaiming to each of them in turn, “You my man!” 

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Our New Year’s resolution is to think of more random acts of kindness all year long. Happy Holidays to you all!

(For more information about this campaign, here’s a video about it; you can also find plenty of inspiring ideas by searching the #26Acts and #20Acts hashtags on Twitter!) 

Cobwebs and Open Spaces

For the past six months, the adults in this household have been doing some real work. Not so much the work we get paid for, or the work that keeps us up late at night meeting deadlines. Rather, it’s been the sort of work that forces you to dig deep, to look inward with the piercing flashlight that is the mind’s eye, lifting out the cobwebs and shifting things around in there so that your heart, soul, and spirit have the space they need to breathe.

And so I have discovered what happens when you commit yourself to taking the risk and spending the time required to go on that long, arduous journey: you discover that you are looking at the world through an utterly different lens, one that has enormous clarity and that contains space for new experiences and perspectives to enter. Turns out, once the cobwebs and clutter are bundled up and moved aside from within, it is nearly impossible to tolerate them on the outside.

For me, that has manifested itself in a great many ways. It seems that nearly everything I encounter in my day needs paring down, trimming back, clearing out. I crave open space. Each time I open a drawer or cabinet in our house, I sit down for a minute and organize it, making a pile of things I can throw or give away. When I open my closet, I pause to clear out the clothes I no longer like or need. I can’t take earrings out of a jewelry box without pulling out all the jewelry in there that I don’t wear anymore. Stopping to get a tupperware container for one of the kids’ lunches, I end up with a big pile of mismatched pieces to toss out. I have carted carload after carload to donation centers.

Opening Facebook on my computer, I am bothered by “friends” in my newsfeed who I honestly can’t even remember from my past, and I simply unfriend them. There are no bad feelings and no guilt. Those perfectly nice people are certainly not cobwebs, but their information is not actually pertinent to me and interferes with me seeing news from folks I have actual connections with. It’s a no brainer.

This Christmas I had no need to put up all the decorations we’ve used in the past. In fact, I packed up a whole box of them to give to Goodwill. As a result, I have not felt so claustrophobic about holiday decorations that I’ve wished to take them down the second the Christmas gifts are opened. I also see excess holiday snacking and desserts as its own kind of clutter, as is excess weight. I look at a platter of cookies and after having one or two I think, “I don’t need all that.” The rest are cobwebs, really.

I know from experience that bad habits can be broken — they can be undone. Resolutions can be kept, if we work hard at them, one at a time, and harness a lot of will power. But what I am not sure about is whether we can stick to those new habits long term if we aren’t actually seeing and feeling differently. I’ve stopped eating excess cookies before, I’ve cleaned out closets, and I’ve dumped the old medicine in the bathroom cabinets, too, each time feeling so satisfied by the changes that I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t let the cobwebs creep back in. That’s not always the way it panned out.

It is no coincidence that my career has suddenly reached new heights, that my husband has renewed energy and interesting opportunities coming his way, that the kids are moving outside their comfort zones in significant ways right now. When any one member of a family shifts in perspective, things shift and grow for everyone. When two make that change, it’s a whole new world.

It is therefore no surprise that we cleared enough physical clutter out of our house that we were able move a few things around and create an entire new room, a family room, that did not exist a month ago (pictured above).

This New Year’s Eve, I wish for all of us that we might make the time to clear the cobwebs and clutter – both internally and all around us – opening up space for all good things to come in and give us exactly what we need.

May all your wishes come true in 2012.

Resolute.

Last year at this time, I resolved to get more sleep in 2008.  Not quite remembering how much sleep I was getting in 2007 (probably because of the tired, blurry haze surrounding it) I am not altogether sure that I achieved it.  However, I don’t feel that I’m lacking sleep in particular, so let’s say I improved upon it – that, or I simply got used to the sleep that seemed unsatisfactory in 2007, which is also a distinct possibility.

There are a few things on my resolutions list this year.  I’ll share them here so that in a year I can come back and not remember if I’ve achieved those, either:

1.  Thank you notes – I am a very grateful person.  I swear this to you.  But I cannot seem to get a thank you note out the door to save my life.  At this point, there aren’t too many that I feel I need to send as an adult when I can make a call or send a special email note to thank people, but I do feel that I need to teach the kids to do them.  I almost got them out after Lyle’s birthday party – I even had him write the word “THANKS” on a piece of paper, scanned it in and made cards out of the pages, enough for all of his gifts.  And then did I find the time again to sit down and write them?  No. I finally gave up on them around the time of Baxter’s birthday, three months later.  I managed to work with Baxter to send a few critical ones before we ran into the holidays.  If you have a good solution to kids’ thank you notes, I’m all ears.

2. Call My Grandparents – As I have mentioned, I am fortunate enough to still have all of my grandparents  living on their own.  Some of them even love to talk on the phone.  I am well aware that as soon as I lose one of them, I will be acutely aware of how infrequently I managed to call them to say hello and chat.  It can be tricky with some on the East Coast and one on the West Coast but I should be able to work around the time zones, it’s just not that hard.

3. Health and Well-Being – I was determined to improve this before the holidays and now I’m desperate to do so.  I’ve already used my Wii My Fitness Coach program four times this week, getting up early in the morning to do a seriously challenging aerobics workout in my living room.  I love it!  I was already going to the gym very early in the morning, so I don’t mind setting my alarm and getting up to exercise; what’s amazing for me is just walking into the living room instead of going out into the cold, dark morning to drive to the gym.   I’ll still go to the gym for Tuesday yoga and to do a weekly cardio work out with my friend, but I can add the home workout on the off-days and be quite happy.  Further, Matt and I have cleared the cookies and pie out of the kitchen and are embarking on a hard-core food plan tomorrow.  I don’t plan to report on this here, but if you want to know what we’re doing and how it’s going, feel free to email me.  Suffice it to say, our fridge is seriously packed with produce.

So there you have it: the Big Three.  What’s on your list this year?

What Happened to that Cereal?

Lori asked a couple weeks ago how things were going with those simpler breakfasts I was committed to making this year.  “CEREAL ON SCHOOL DAYS!”  I had proclaimed in the fall, suggesting we’d be doing “breakfast boot camp”.

Ha!  I can’t even tell you what went wrong after the first week or so, but I had to laugh when I put this breakfast out for Baxter yesterday:

 

And then I laughed just a little bit harder when I put a plate down on Lyle’s placemat that was similar except that the mini bagel was just a bit more toasted and had cream cheese on it.

 I mean, it’s a great breakfast and all, but the time it takes to put two meals like this on the table on a day when we’re getting two kids ready for school and two adults out the door for work is simply ludicrous.

So.  Maybe next year?

Organizational Review

As I mentioned on Friday night, I am beyond excited for summer vacation to begin.  I am organizing again, which I suppose is a signal that I’m preparing the house and my schedule for the big upcoming change.  I don’t want to spend the first half of the summer cleaning up the mess left behind by this school year, so I’m getting that done now.

I wrote a post over Labor Day weekend last fall about some organizational strategies we were putting into place around here in order to manage the chaos of the school year better.  Memorial Day weekend seems to be a good time to let you know what worked and what fell by the wayside this year.

1. The meal plan. We kept this up for a good 6-8 weeks.  To be fair, we remembered to do it once in a while, here and there, throughout the school year.  Without a doubt, writing down a list of dinners at the beginning of the week makes all the difference in the world for us – we can come home from work and the right ingredients are in the house, defrosted when necessary, and ready to be cajoled into a quick meal.  Unfortunately, we have not made time to do this consistently, but we both agree that it’s worth doing and I’m sure we’ll get back into it at some point.  Probably right around Labor Day, if I have to guess…

2.  Google Calendar.  It is safe to say that this has been the greatest break-through for us in terms of staying on top of things.  I love Google Calendar.  This works a million times better than trying to maintain a central kitchen calendar because, well, neither of us is home much during the week but our laptops and iPhones are never far away.  (Also, I can record an event that is coming up a year from now if I want to, rather than waiting for next year’s calendar to arrive before adding all those little future notes.)  With an online calendar, I can read an email letting me know about a meeting that will require me to work late, something going on over the weekend, or receive an Evite, and just open the Calendar on my desktop and add it immediately.  And with Matt doing the same, we keep things coordinated really well.  We always have 2 months printed out on the fridge for quick reference when we’re home.  This system has worked wonders for us!

3) The Accountant.  I fired that accountant just as soon as it became clear that she was either dumb as a rock or purposely dawdling over my accounts to beef up her paycheck.  I never did figure out which one it was, but it didn’t matter.  Out she went.  However, I did keep up well with the condo treasury using QuickBooks and have gotten my neighbors in the habit of paying their assessment fees on time, so that’s gotten a lot easier.  And I just last week hired a new, very professional accountant who I am thrilled to be working with for my practice.  Hooray!  (I find the fact that I have a lot of financial work as part of my life quite hilarious – and a little bit scary.)

4. The notebook.  I have liked my Circa notebook, for sure.   It was especially useful at the beginning of the academic year when everything was getting ramped up at once and I wanted a way to organize my notes and to do lists.  But I can’t say that I’ve found a sure fire way to deal with my to do list yet.  That worked for a while, then I switched to using Stickies on my MacBook desktop for my most pressing to do lists (one for personal, one for professional), and at times I’ve also toyed with the To Do List feature in the Apple Mail program.  That’s kind of handy, too, since I’m in Mail so often.  I’m not sure if the problem is actually the strategies I’ve tried or simply that I don’t like having to deal with my to do list.  I think I know the answer to that.

5. The Container Store booty.  All of the stuff I linked to last fall was great.  The file folders are so colorful and fun and those file boxes were very helpful in keeping my paperwork for church and the condo association organized.  Very.

6. The gym.  I’m not sure that this belonged in my organizational list last fall, except for the fact that taking care of myself is critical in having the energy to do all of this.  My gym has been great, and although I haven’t gone as often as I’d have liked to, I have been able to go regularly.  Right now I’m into biking over there for my early morning work-outs, which means I’ve enjoyed both a bike ride and a cardio/weights work out when I get home at 6:50 AM.  I know.  Loco.  But good.

Have you tried anything new this year that’s been helpful for you or  your family?  Do tell.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

In my head, I have been excitedly preparing the first post in a new series for today. “Materialistic Monday” will bring my fair readers some of my very favorite stuff, new and old, each and every Monday. I’m going to start out by sharing my super-amazing new eye concealer, because what it does for me – for which I shall kiss it every morning – is to conceal those tired circles under my eyes quite perfectly! I mean, really, who doesn’t want to read about that??

But then it hit me: today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I simply cannot write about eye concealer, for God’s sake, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Bad enough that I am doing the opposite of commemorating it by going to work – I cannot make things worse by using this space to talk about cosmetics. You’ll have to wait another week for that.

So here’s what I want to say to you all, kind and thoughtful Wonderwheel readers near and far:

On this day, I am going to think about how I am using my time in this world.

It is imperative that I see the people around me, and do what I can to make the world safer and more comfortable for everyone, not just my little family, starting within my own community and moving beyond it.

I need to continue to serve the families I work with to the fullest. I need to continue to reach out to those less fortunate than me, and hug the panhandlers in the grocery store parking lot, even when I don’t know if their problems are as they describe. And I need to do more. A lot more.

I refuse to lead a small life. I want my life to be big, and full, and exciting. I will continue to seek out new experiences and learn new things, and then I will share all of that with whomever will listen. And a few who won’t. In light of that, I am going to share a quote that I’ve kept posted over my desk for years. It’s by Marianne Williamson from her book, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.

We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not in just some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., let your own light shine today and every day.

And may we all be liberated from our fears.

True Confessions of a Late-Night Reader

I’m having, you know, just a wee bit of difficulty keeping to my New Year’s resolution to get more sleep. You can call it lack of will-power – or, perhaps, ambivalence – but I am blaming it on the really, really good books I’ve been reading lately.

You see, for Christmas I received Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs – I mean, seriously, folks, this book is uniquely compelling. “Will this kid actually survive his own childhood? Is it possible for so many people, all these families, to be this dysfunctional? Turn the page to find out, because it is about to get worse!” I loved reading about this family from the perspective of the other sibling – his older brother is John Elder Robison who wrote the wonderful Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s which I reviewed here last fall. Very talented brothers, those two. I’m not sure if Running with Scissors ended up more heavily weighted on the hilarious side or the heartbreaking side (probably the latter), but it was well-written and kept me reading long past my new-and-improved bedtime, whatever that’s supposed to be. (Hmm, maybe that’s my problem!) The day I finished this book I stopped at Black Oak Books in San Francisco and picked up another of his books.

But then, the next one I read (also a Christmas gift) was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Holy moly, have you read this book? If not, go out and pick up a copy – you won’t be sorry. Amazing story, beautiful writing. What a tale. I learned more about Afghanistan from that book (and A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I read recently by the same author – also an excellent read) than from any other source. I am now extremely frightened by photos of the Taliban, which is an appropriate response, let me tell you. When I got to the last quarter of The Kite Runner, I couldn’t put it down. I ended up reading it well past 1:00 AM on Saturday morning to finish it. I cannot remember the last time that I read the conclusion of a book sitting up in my bed in the middle of the night, hand half over my exhausted eyes out of fear for the protagonist. This, like Running with Scissors in its own completely different way, was a story of survival and redemption.

Page-turners, I tell you. They’ll keep you up past your bedtime. And that’s a very, very good thing.

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And now it’s time for an Internet vote! Which of these books on my nightstand shall be next? Submit your vote now (quick!)

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

or

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For by Henry David Thoreau

Let’s Sleep Away the New Year!

Do you want to know one of the best things about this vacation?

(I thought so.)

I have been reintroduced to the concept of sleep. Actual sleep! Okay, so my eyes still pop open at 6 am every day with or without the kids, but the difference is, I have been going to bed at a decent hour! Like 10 pm! None of this late-to-bed and then up-at-the-crack-of-dawn crap.

It being the time of year for such things, you might think you feel a resolution coming on.

But instead of making a formal declaration, I think I’ll just head off to bed.