As 2014 draws to a close, I have been considering my goals and plans for the year ahead. When I mentioned to my husband that we should spend time this week making family resolutions, he responded, "I'm not so good with resolutions..."
His is not an atypical reaction to the idea of New Year's Resolutions. Somewhere along the line, they became synonymous with deprivation: I will eat fewer cupcakes, drink less wine, watch less television - or punishment: I will drag myself to the gym every day, I will only eat salad. While nothing is inherently wrong with any one of these resolutions, they all focus on lack rather than the abundance we inherently crave. If we instead focus on the goals we really desire - perhaps a healthier, happier self in the new year - we can more successfully chart a course to help us reach our destination.
As I look ahead to 2015, I desire more: More time with family, more memory making with my daughter, more reading, more yoga, more theater. And I am excited to establish goals that help me make these desires a reality. For the past few years, I have enjoyed mapping out my goals and plans with Crystal Moore of Serenity Place yoga studio. She is holding her inspiring "Awaken Your Purpose" workshop again this year, offering an opportunity to tap into the stirrings of your heart through journaling, discussion, and an asana practice. Online registration is available here.
Whether you share your goal setting journey with others or curl up with your journal and a cup of tea to dream in front of the fire, I wish you a year of abundance and joy...
I can't think of a more appropriate thought for today. At its essence, Christmas is about belief. Belief in a son of God. Belief in a jolly man in a red suit. Belief in time spent with with the people you love most. Belief in gratitude for what is and what is to come.
Merry Christmas one and all.
With a fervor I can't fully explain, I have always loved the idea of tradition. I long to immerse myself in the familiar, constant, and comfortable and take every opportunity to establish rituals - especially when it comes to celebrations.
When I think of Christmases past, my mind and heart fill with warm memories. I think of driving to small town Nebraska to celebrate Christmas Eve with extended family at a cozy community center where adults caught up on a year's worth of family news and happenings, kiddos prepared for the annual "talent" show, and a seemingly endless table of food was replenished throughout the night. We slept four or more to a room at Grandma Hall's house, waking early to the scent of blueberry muffins, egg casserole, presents from Santa, and visits to the cows and kittens in the barn.
I recall celebrating with my father's family, watching my grandmother set a beautiful table with linen and china, smelling the savory roast my Grandfather tended in the oven, and eagerly awaiting every opportunity the chance to sneak tender carrots and potatoes from the bubbling juice. I remember an elegant silver and white Christmas tree standing proud in the living room as I sipped my first taste of wine, a thimble-full served in a crystal glass I carried with me throughout the evening, feeling I had entered a new world.
I remember celebrating the New Year with my mother's family in my childhood home - playing board games with favorite uncles and aunts, snacking throughout the day, watching football, laughing, and thinking life couldn't possibly be any better.
And as my daughter nears the age of memories, I am eager to establish traditions that will color her appreciation of the season: visiting the trains at the Botanical Gardens, exploring the National Zoo under Christmas lights, enjoying latkes and dreidels with her Nanny and Saba and cousins, witnessing the live nativity at our church's Christmas Eve service, and ending the year tucked into a dreamy wonderland escape with her Grandmama and Grandpa. More than anything, I want her to know and feel love as she recalls - and looks forward to - the holidays.
What traditions can you enjoy - or establish - this season? How will you make the holidays special for loved ones?
For as long as I can remember, at the beginning of each year my mother has gifted me a Mary Engelbreit page-a-day calendar. The whimsical images and commonsense observations provide a gentle pause in my morning routine.
Some days the page is nothing more than a charming scene that brings to mind fond memories of childhood. At other times, the message seems almost prescient. The Must. Change. Attitude. reminder greeted me on a day full of obligations I did not schedule and about which I was not excited. I awoke prepared to grit my teeth and power through the day, inwardly bemoaning my woes. When turned the page and saw this image, however, I couldn't help smiling at the stubborn little girl and how perfectly she captured my likeness in that moment. None of us is immune to fleeting moments of self-importance and/or self-pity. And we all know better. Sometimes we simply need a little nudge to change our attitudes.
Turn that frown upside down - and move on!
I moved to Washington DC in the pre-smartphone era. In my first weeks and months in a brand new city without a single familiar soul, I spent most evenings and weekends exploring. If I heard or read about an interesting exhibit or restaurant or activity, I would hop on the metro, get off in the designated area, and rely on some combination of blind luck and the kindness of strangers to arrive at my destination. I looked up movies in the newspaper, researched churches in the phone book, and invested days getting lost - and found - in different neighborhoods in the city just to get the feel of them.
I was too low on the totem pole to be busy with work in the evenings and on weekends, and I didn't know enough people to have anything resembling a social schedule, so I thought nothing of leaving my flip phone in my apartment and being utterly out of touch for hours - even days. Whether riding the metro, sitting in a park, or losing an afternoon with a book in the cozy corner of a coffee shop, I looked...and listened...and engaged with the world around me.
Eventually, I gained more responsibility at work, created a community of friends, and became involved in activities and organizations. Alongside these natural transitions, technology advanced, and it became possible to be constantly connected to these people and things. At first it was curious and fun to be able to send a message to anyone at any time - and then it became an expectation. I took pride in being quick to respond to emails from colleagues, family, and friends. I found affirmation in being first to contribute a fact or opinion in a virtual work exchange. I became addicted to the thrill of seeing an empty inbox and adept at the rapid response that made it possible. It all came about so organically, I never stopped to think about the cost of being constantly connected.
While waiting for my dining companions at a restaurant recently, I found myself scrolling mindlessly through emails I needed to answer, confirming appointments for the week ahead, and skimming headlines. As I looked up from my phone to scan the room for a sign of my friends, my eyes stopped to rest on tables full of people similarly focused on their technology. Some were sitting alone; others were with friends, colleagues, or family; but not one of us was remotely engaged with our surroundings or fellow human beings.
My own email responses weren't time-sensitive, there was no immediacy to confirming appointments, and there was nothing remotely urgent in the so-called "breaking news" updates. I asked myself when I started reaching reflexively for my phone the moment I was not actively engaged in a conversation or activity. When did I decide scrolling through Facebook was a better use of time than perusing the room for a familiar or interesting face?
I decided in that moment to embrace being out of touch. I am giving myself permission not to respond immediately to every email. I am choosing to leave my phone in my purse - or at home - when walking from place to place. I am working to reclaim and re-purpose the margin in my life. Rather than packing empty spaces with "productivity," I am filling them with presence.
As you look ahead to a new year, can you find opportunities to be out of touch and focus instead on simply "being"?
As we pass the midpoint of December, the once distant, hazy prospect of a new year and all its accompanying plans and resolutions is hurtling toward us at a breakneck pace. While my past two New Year goal setting seasons were lost in the haze of pregnancy and being a new mama, I am determined to reclaim the steering wheel of my schedule and be intentional about my dreams and plans for 2015.
Something I have learned over the years is that if I don't claim the open spaces in my schedule, they will be claimed for me. This was a familiar refrain when I worked in a collaborative office environment in which assignments, objectives, and goals are shared, but I was certain that in transitioning into a solo enterprise, I could protect these oh-so important blocks of time (and energy).
I created a schedule in which I consolidated the different hats in my life into dedicated teaching days, writing days, "just mama" days, family days, and a day that was supposed to be available for life details and pursuing personal interests. But inevitably, a client will need to move their standing appointment, an opportunity to offer a workshop or lead a training will pop up, or we will find ourselves hosting a (welcome!) visitor. And before I realize it, I am right back to wearing every hat seven days a week and making little (read: no) progress on my personal goals and pursuits. Sound familiar?
In the new year, I want to be more firm about protecting space for these endeavors, so I am I am starting with a clear, defined schedule that incorporates a weekly ritual of setting (or revisiting) intentions and identifying how and when I will make space to pursue them. The lovely and inspirational Kimberly Wilson has provided a fabulous tool to help you with this process, or you may feel inspired to create your own. What matters is not the tool itself, but that you USE it.
Before you tie a bow around 2014, I encourage you to give some thought not just to your plans and dreams, but also how and when you will make them come true.
As I've mentioned before, I love this time of year. You don't need to celebrate a specific holiday to feel pulled into the wonder of the season. For this brief window, even the most rational, joy-killing curmudgeons find themselves indulging those of us who love to tell fairy tales about flying reindeer; ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future; and a grinch who we ultimately learn to love. We watch old movies that take us back to a softer, less cynical time. We sing songs - out loud - that we have known all our lives. We believe - if only briefly - in magic.
Can you allow yourself to tap into the magic of the season? What great secret might you find?
I love the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whatever your faith, at its best, the season allow us to carry the sense of abundance and gratitude we tap into around the Thanksgiving table with us through the end of the year. But if we neglect this foundation of thankfulness, it is easy to lose the beauty of this season.
As I look at my sweet, blank slate of a babe, I want the Advent season to be full or wonder and anticipation. I want her to associate December with family, friends, and warmth. I want her to know and understand she is blessed beyond measure.
That is why I was particularly excited when she and I were invited to join a group of mamas and kiddos last week to assemble "blessing bags." The concept - gathering small essentials to share with those in need - was new to me, but I loved the idea of including my daughter in a practical, hands-on service activity simple enough for her to participate in and one that would hopefully plant a seed of giving back during this time of year.
So I bundled up the babe for a stroll to our neighborhood hardware store to pick up hand and foot warmers, then joined the other families for assembly. Together we packaged the warmers along with granola bars, bottles of water, toothbrushes and toothpaste, tissues, chapstick, and cough drops. Each item by itself seemed almost trivial, but when finished, the bags offered the promise of some respite - however temporary - from a cold, hungry day on the city streets.
What small acts of service can you engage in to share your abundance? How can you bless others this season?
The final month of the year is a busy season for many people. Whether end of year work pressures, an avalanche of holiday parties, travel, or some combination thereof, most of us face a certain level of anxiety as December arrives. For me, December 1 is the moment I realize I have little time left to accomplish the grand plans I laid out so excitedly at the beginning of the year. It is when I must acknowledge the projects I was putting off until I had "more time" have yet to be started.
In previous years, I have responded to this recognition by diving into the stubbornly static projects, plans, and goals, determined to check them off the list before the end of the year. But by adopting this mindset, I neither enjoyed the process nor tapped into the enthusiasm that provided my initial motivation. So this December, I am instead stopping the frenzy before it starts. I am allowing myself to let go of certain plans and projects that no longer resonate and leaving open the possibility of carrying some with me into the new year. Rather than clinging to the need to be "finished," I am prioritizing the life in front of me: singing one more song with my daughter before bed, taking an extra yoga class, spending time in the kitchen.
Can you stop rushing and live the rest of your year more fully?
Regular readers of this blog know I am a collector of quotes, word pictures, and thoughts. Whether they uplift, challenge, or simply provide a unique way of looking at things, I enjoy identifying - and capturing - turns of phrase and filing them away for the moment when they will provide the perfect comfort or inspiration.
Earlier this year, my church engaged in a corporate scripture memory exercise in which we memorized a different passage from the book of Psalms each week. The task resonated immediately: how much better it would be to carry these thoughts in my mind and heart than to sift through my catalogue of options every time I found myself in need of encouragement.
I started eagerly, copying first one, then another passage down and repeating it to myself as I walked from one appointment to the next. But when the series concluded, I abandoned the effort, and within a few weeks, most of what I learned had faded away. It occurred to me that, like so many things, when we lose motivation and focus, the fruits of our labor disappear along with them. When I stopped playing the piano, I lost the ability to sit down and pick out a tune. When I stopped doing speed drills, my running pace slowed. This was no different.
I recognized that if I wanted to regain my lost knowledge, I would need to exercise the same discipline with which I acquired it in the first place. So I grabbed a stack of note cards, channeled my inner student, and created flashcards. This simple tool helps refresh my memory and keeps the words in the forefront of my mind.
You may not be struggling with memorization today, but the principle applies to anything you worked to attain, only to let it fade away. What simple tool can help you regain what you have lost?