Habits I’m Keeping for the New Year

Our year started out wobbly. We all got sick and have passed around a terrible cold that’s going on three weeks. We’ve canceled plans, hunkered down, and lived on a soup diet. While our routines have been off, I’ve been thankful for habits I’ve formed over the past year or so.

While the new year is often a time to start new habits, I wanted to reflect one ones that have been working and that I’ll continue using in this coming year.

Mapping Out My Time
I’ve only done this twice so I’m not sure it can be included as a habit yet but in September and then again last week, I spent a few minutes creating the ideal week. My week rarely goes as planned but I like blocking out times I’ll have to myself and listing possible things to do. I block out other times when I know I’ll be with Elle. Blocking my week like this helps me manage my expectations and keeps me on track when I have moments of space.

Getting Up Early
I feel like I need to start with this one because for so many years, I wanted to create this habit and it felt as if the universe was against me. I’d read books about waking early to write or spend time with God or just to be and I found all the advice so discouraging. But then something shifted. The girls, while still early risers, learned to stay in bed until 6:30. With Bea starting school at 8:00, I found that being ready for the day before everyone rose made such a difference. I get up just 45 minutes before the girls an in that time am able to read, sometimes journal, get ready for the day, and have my bed made. I love knowing that the rest of the day could go completely wrong but those having those things done first thing means even the worst day has started with successes.

Starting the Day with Water and Ending it with Tea
I’ve been drinking a glass of water first thing since I was pregnant with Bea but this year, I started keeping a covered cup next to my reading chair in my bedroom. I fill it up at night and it’s ready to go when I wake up in the morning. Sipping this first glass while I read has changed drinking water from something I need to do quickly before I have coffee and breakfast to something that is slowly part of my wakeup routine.

At the end of the day, after putting the girls to bed, I brew a mug of tea. I started doing this when I went through a bout of insomnia a couple years ago. I was trying anything to trigger nighttime feelings. While the tea wasn’t a magical cure, I did like the way it signaled the end of the day. I sip that mug and either check my phone on last time or read a bit in a book before Frank and I watch an evening show together.

Using Screentime Settings
I’ve started using Screentime and Downtime settings on my phone and they’ve helped me be more aware of my consumption. For apps I enjoy but also know can be a waste of time, I set limits for the day’s usage. At 8:00 all my apps go to sleep and Frank and I spend that hour before bedtime reading or watching a show together on our television in the basement. Staying off my phone for that hour and a half before bedtime has helped in the wind-down process.

What about you? What are some old habits you’re keeping for this new year?

Starting the Year Without a Guide

Last week, Frank and I were sitting at the chef’s table at one of our favorite restaurants, watching pizzas being thrown together, Brussel’s sprouts slung in and out of the deep fryer, and zesty cannoli shells filled and plated for desserts. Our backs were to the rest of the diners and we were able to really focus on each other and our conversation.

Frank asked if I had a chance to think about my “one word” for the year. It has been a wonderful break but one in which I just never found much time for journalling and reflection. I took a sip of my white negroni and shrugged. “I don’t know. Next year feels like there are a lot of unknowns. Maybe my word should be status quo.”

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

My eyes got teary as soon as I said that. I don’t really think my life needs to remain at status quo. We talked about other words that could embody the idea of rest, peace, and contentment. But none of them really rang true or sparked excitement.

This coming year is full of change for our family. Nothing major but as the girls grow older, our schedule seems to get fuller. And then, Elle will be starting full-time school at the end of summer. While that’s still eight months away, it adds a major layer of unknown to my own plans and dreams.

As a planner, I love goals and ideas and dreams. It’s hard to simply live in the moment and not prepare for what’s next. But maybe this is what I need to do, at least for the first part of the year. This doesn’t mean I’ll just ignore things that come my way, but I think I need to live right in this moment, not in the future – even if the future is just months away.

Reading through this essay, I see a handful of words that would be perfect for a “one word” of this year but I think what I need to do is not even assign an intention. Maybe part of my challenge for the year will to be a bit less intentional, less focused, less goal-oriented.

We’ll see how this goes. A word or intention could hit me mid-February and I’ll run with it. But for now, I’m going to enjoy this moment. I’ll volunteer and write and dream. I’ll spend my Thursdays enjoying a day without commitments with Elle. I’ll read and pursue ideas. I’ll get discouraged by the monotony and encouraged at just the right moments.

I think this year is going to be one of discovery. It may be the year I step over the threshold – my word of 2019. When I think about stepping into the new year without much of a plan, I feel open and relief. Maybe this is exactly what my perfectionist tendencies need – a chance to go with the flow.

What about you? Do you pick a word to guide your year? How do you start the new year?

The Swirl of New Year’s Resolutions

For the first time in years, I started a new journal at the beginning of January. It just kind of worked out that way but it felt a little odd literally opening a new page at the beginning of a new year.

I absolutely love January and all the hope it brings. I know I’m the same human I was on December 31 but there’s something incredibly communal about society recognizing the value of assessing hopes and dreams and new possibilities.

In the midst of reset and choosing guiding words, I’ve seen more pushback this year than in the past. There are posts and articles about just living life – that we are enough without our resolutions.

On the one hand, I completely agree. Too much emphasis on a goal or hope can be debilitating. For this reason, I use an academic calendar to plan my writing and year, so that I can have a fresh start in August when there’s less pressure. I keep my journals going until the last page or so, rather than starting fresh each year. I reevaluate my goals as we approach summer and again as we end because those offer natural points in our family’s rhythm. I like being reminded that goals can happen at any time, regardless of time or season.

Our girls went back to school on Tuesday and we’re settling back into the rhythm we had established over the fall. In the space of my two free hours, I got the chores that had been hanging over my head during the break finished. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I only have myself to buckle in and out of the car!

While we were ready for a routine, I do love extended breaks. Turning off my alarm, having coffee in my pajamas, and creating space for spontaneity are all refreshing practices. Although I do look at people who take a day of quiet to reflect on the past year and feel a twinge of envy – most of my reflection is in my head while listening to a harmonica concert or a puppet show that would rival a Dada production.

Ultimately, I’m thankful that I have a full week between turning a page on a new year, filled with possibilities and hopes and visions and actually having time to reflect and let them sink in. Because that’s how life is – it’s so rare that we get to end one thing neatly and begin a new thing fully attentive. There’s a bleeding of the edges and a natural swirl around any transition. Not being able to cleanly begin the new year is a reminder for me of how these hopes and goals will most likely play out – in a messy, swirly sort of way.

But I do pick One Word to define my year. I also pick a handful of loose goals that I have – writing daily, learning French, practicing calligraphy, working out consistently. I don’t put a timeline or number after these goals – maybe hopes or ideas would be a better term for them. But I love starting each year with these at the back of my mind.

Even though those last few days of the break weren’t as magical as I envisioned (are they ever?) and even though our transition back to school hasn’t been as sweet as I had hoped (is it ever?) I’m hoping to take that lesson with me through the year. That, as I set goals and reevaluate throughout the year, I remember to give each transition and hope time and space. There’s going to be that awkward, messy, often frustrating transition but things often shake out and I’m so thankful for those steps, goals, and dreams that were simmering through the chaos.

As we set goals and visions for the new year, I hope you find space in the natural chaos of life to lean into the transition as well.

One Word: Threshold

Maybe it was early last year when the word threshold first came across my radar. My brother and I were chatting about life and that feeling that, when looking back on this particular season there will be a sense of, Oh! That’s when it all happened! You don’t see it at the moment, only in hindsight.

Months later, a friend and I were talking about all sorts of things – from books to motherhood to writing to teaching to travel and everything in between. She commented that it felt I was on the threshold of something.

I’ve been picking “one word” to guide my year for about five years now. I’m always amazed at how the word really does infuse itself into my perspective. (I think I write that sentence every year…) I’ve never had a word come to me so early, though. Usually it’s as I’m reflecting about the year gone by that a “next step” sort of word jumps to mind. But this year, threshold came early and often.

I think what I love about this word is that it really does feel like I’m the threshold of something. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s activism. Maybe it’s the next phase of mothering and career. Maybe it has nothing to do with ambition but more of the idea of opening our home in new ways – of inviting people across our literal threshold. I suppose that’s the thing about choosing a word – I really don’t know what it will look like.

In a lot of ways, I’m heading into this year with much more openness than I have in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to think about bigger changes in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it’s because I’m finally learning to live in the moment, with less rigidity. Maybe it’s that threshold is an invitation to offer myself more hospitality.

In any case, I’m excited to see what this year holds and how I find this word throughout my days.

What about you? What’s your “one word” for 2019? Or what’s your one hope or one goal? I’d love to hear!

Gathering Fragments of a Mosaic

It’s been quiet around here the past couple of months. I think I haven’t acknowledged the toll on my own emotions, energy levels, and creativity the past two months have taken. It’s easy to say that there are seasons of productivity and seasons of rest but in the midst of dormancy, it’s hard to remember to lean into the quiet.

A friend recently sent me this quote:

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anaïs Nin
Two girls playing in the background; a stack of books on a table in the foreground. The scene is quiet, peaceful.
My view, more often than not.

When I first read this, I thought of the external experiences of the past couple months – of the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, of hearing Dr. Wilda Gafney talk about infusing womanist theology into the narrative, of listening to an “intimate conversation” between Michelle Obama and Reese Witherspoon. Each of these days and evenings is weaving a thread that I can’t quite see. I know it’s there and that it’s important but I don’t have the necessary perspective yet.

I like to intellectualize quotes and seasons. When I read about receiving truth, I think of all that I’ve learned and all the ways that I’ve been changed from these experiences.

But sometimes the truths we receive are small and gritty. My “One Word” for 2018 is lean in. I expected this to mean that I would lean into writing and creativity. And in some very important ways, I have. However, I’ve also been leaning into this season of parenting – of having a little more time and space in my schedule while filling it with things that grow our community. I’ve been leaning into relearning French in preparation for our anniversary trip to Paris next year and learning to redeem some untruths I had internalized about myself in the initial experience of working toward fluency. I’ve been leaning into dreams about the next phase of life – of what my days will look like when, sooner than later, both girls will be in school fulltime.

I don’t like leaning into the mundane. It doesn’t sound as cool as leaning into big ideas and incredible opportunities. But I’m also finding some important truths in those mundane experiences. I’m remembering that redemption so often starts small, often with an hour a day of French or of putting aside plans for creativity in favor of snuggling with a book in front of the fire with my emerging readers.

In these twelve days of Christmas, after the presents have been opened and before we take time to celebrate and remember the Epiphany of the magi, I’m looking around our house. Scraps of wrapping paper and packaging are still out; decorations are still up though I’m starting to make piles of things to put away. We’re between seasons – still celebrating and feasting but also moving toward the quiet of January, when the light of the Epiphany candles seems even more necessary.

As this year comes to a close, I’m trying to approach my internal spaces in a similar way. I’m living with the clutter of celebrations while looking forward to all the new year has to offer. I know so many don’t like New Year’s resolutions and the weight they often carry but I love having a reason to reset and reevaluate in the midst of the dark winter. There’s something so hopeful about remembering that, even though it may not feel like it, the days are getting longer and light is shining.

In these last couple days of the year, I’m holding onto that one word even more closely and leaning into these small, quiet moments.

Did you choose “one word” for 2018? How have you seen it in your year? How are you embracing this last week between Christmas and a fresh year?

Setting Goals as an Act of Hope

A new year means new motivation for projects and goals, right? Ringing in the new year in the dead of winter seems a bit counterintuitive. We’ve put most of the Christmas IMG_8058decorations away – we’ll save the lights for after Epiphany tomorrow. We’re still on Winter Break from school so our schedule is wonderfully relaxed but it’s still thrown off. It’s dark out early and I find myself struggling to get motivated. (I realize this is a Northern Hemisphere problem – my guess is that our Southern neighbors have a completely different view of new year’s goals.)

Maybe we need to set goals while we’re in hibernation mode? Maybe ringing in the new year right after the shortest day of the year is a way of keeping hope and looking forward to a season when it’s just easier to be motivated.

What I’m learning about my new year’s goals and hopes is that they don’t need to be achieved in January. Setting these goals is an act of hope for the entire year – for direction during those cozy, lethargic winter days as well as those bouncy, energetic spring days.

Many others have linked the season of winter to our own spiritual growth – of letting our roots dig in without signs of life; of giving ourselves rest to produce fruit later. I’m learning to take this approach even more globally.

As I read and learn about global conflict and am motivated to examine my own participation in activism, I’m also recognizing this season of growing my roots, of setting down a foundation before I act. As I look ahead in our family’s next stages, I remember that this is a season of growing strong roots in our girls – that this time before we send them off is mundane yet incredibly valuable.

I’m learning to view my goals and resolutions and one word as a long-term vision, not a quick checklist. That I’m on a slow walk through life, not a spirit or even a marathon.

How do you pace yourself in January? How do you balance goals with resolutions; short-term ideas with long-term visions?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “motivate.”

One Word: Lean In

I wasn’t going to pick just one word to define 2018. This will be my fourth year using a single word to guide my year and I just wasn’t connecting with anything in particular. But as I reflected on this year of capacity and all the unexpected ways in which it has played out, I realized that a natural follow-up emerged.

Lean InThis year has been a year of changes for our family. I quit my job at the museum and almost immediately started volunteering as an editor with SheLoves Magazine. After years of feeling unsettled and one final year of stress, Frank made the decision to leave his job as president of a company to start his own business. Bea started full-day kindergarten. Even the best changes our stressful and this year, our family has been stretched to capacity.

As I think about 2017 and the ways in which I recognized capacity in my life – from time management to social justice to how I parent – I realized incredible opportunities rose when I said no to really good things in order to say yes to other really good things.

Some of those really good things have led to opportunities and other really good things that I never would have imagined a year ago. As the girls grow a little bit older and time looks a little bit different, I want to learn to confidently lean into those experiences and opportunities.

As I think about my own goals as well as those of our family, the phrase Lean In kept coming to mind. I want to lean into the next few months of Elle being home before starting preschool. I want to lean into social justice and opportunities to learn about peacemaking in our neighborhood and our world.  I want to lean into my community – to ask for help and guidance, to remember that life isn’t meant to be figured out alone. I want to lean into writing opportunities and experiences surrounding that. I know Frank is figuring out how best to lean into his business while also leaning into our family life.

As always, with picking one word, I know that this will take me in directions I could not possibly dream. I hesitated to pick lean in precisely because it seems riskier than my past words. But then, especially the past few years, I see how these words and intention have built on each other. I know that leaning in may take me outside my comfort zone, but I’m also realizing how incredible those risks can be.

Do you pick One Word to guide your year? How have your words changed your life?

(If you’re curious… My One Word 2014 was Grace; 2015 was Choose; 2016 was Enough, and 2017 was Capacity.)

Check out OneWord365 for word ideas and to find others with your same word.

One Word: Capacity

Last weekend, some plans changed and Frank and I found ourselves already dressed and packed for snowshoeing with a babysitter booked for the day. After the smallest of seconds of wondering if we should cancel, we decided to continue on. Instead of the planned hike, we decided to revisit the trail where we first met, nine years ago.

capacityThe weather was perfect: Snow enough to need snowshoes, cobalt blue sky that makes Colorado famous, sunshine to keep us warm, and a trail that isn’t too popular so we had plenty of time as the only two on the path.

We talked about goals and hopes and dreams and wishes. We wondered what this next year would bring. It will be one of big changes for our family. Hopefully, we’ll see the end of a long business plan come to fruition; Bea will start kindergarten; Elle is becoming more active and articulate; I am still seeking a way to blend mothering and teaching and writing and volunteering.

Last year, my One Word was Enough. I centered my choices and decisions on the fact that I am the right woman for the roles I’ve been given. I am enough of a mom for these two particular girls; I am enough of a wife and partner for Frank; I am enough of a blogger (though I would love to figure out a way to write more often!); I am enough of a teacher (though I’m learning to draw clear boundaries around my work and life); I am enough of a reader (even though I missed my goal last year).

This year, the word that kept coming to mind as I thought of an extension of enough was Capacity. We are finding our groove as a family of four. I’ve been working and volunteering long enough that I feel I have a fairly good understanding of the time commitment both expected and that I’m willing to commit.

I know there are some commitments and dreams I have that I have the capacity to spend more time cultivating. I know that other enjoyable, life-giving areas already have my maximum time and energy. My hope is that I make space to discern which areas really could have more of my time and which areas are realistic, or even could use less.

Knowing the way this whole “one word” challenge goes, I wonder how capacity will show up unexpectedly. I have goals and ideas, but I’ve learned that this word often takes on a life of its own; that I am surprised at the ways in which it helps me grow and learn throughout the year.

What is your One Word for 2017? How do you maximize your time and energy?

Check out OneWord365 for word ideas and to find others with your same word.

Beginning in the Middle

School started on Monday. Even though we’re still in August and September has the potential to be hot, the past week has been beautiful – low 80’s, nights into the 50’s. Windows open; Option of wearing jeans; Glimpses of autumn coming.

unnamed-1Our first day was a bit crazy. Lunches needed to be packed. I had to go to work. We started our Whole30 experiment. But in the midst of that morning frenzy, there was underlying excitement. New beginnings! New shoes! New year!

I just read in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Story of the Year that the sparrows think humans have it wrong: The new year should be in spring, not in the middle of winter. Every other plant and animal on this planet recognize that spring means new beginnings, not January.

And yet, autumn holds that same promise of fresh starts. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always operated on the school calendar: as a student, as a teacher, and even as a mom. And now with my own student, the next 20 years will be on this cycle: Beginnings at the end of summer.

While I agree with Andersen’s swallows, that spring makes the most sense, I like having a fresh start at the end of August. The year is over half finished. Perhaps the goals of January are still holding strong, but maybe not. Perhaps our hopes for the perfect summer were accomplished, but maybe not. Having a fresh start in this season – of long days getting shorter and weather that keeps me on my toes – is exactly when I need it. Right in the middle, right when it doesn’t make sense.

I’m learning that starting things on the first, whether it’s of the year or of the month can create more opportunity for failure. I attach a number to a project rather than looking at the project itself. I’m learning to start year-long tasks on March 19 rather than January 1. Who can remember March 19?!

So, as we are at the height of this first week of school, my love for fresh starts in the middle of the year is rekindled and I’m looking forward to this new season.

What type of calendar do you operate on? Do you still view August/September as a season of beginnings?

One Word: Grace

My name means “grace” and I’ve always thought this was inaccurate. Growing up, I perpetually had bruises from playing and, as an adult, from working among the shin-height desks and chairs of second graders. When I was 8 months pregnant, we were walking around our neighborhood park. I was looking at a newly constructed house and missed the curb. Normally, I would have stumbled, but since my center of gravity was so skewed, I tumbled down onto the sidewalk, skinning my knee and elbow in the process. Last summer, I had Bea in the Ergo and missed the first step of a flight of stairs, again tumbling down. Fortunately, Bea was tucked in tightly and I just hit my elbow and hip. All that to say, I’ve never viewed myself as a graceful person.

The word grace has about 15 definitions – from elegance of motion to mercy to honor. Grace has always been a struggle for me. I tend to hold myself and others to high standards and get frustrated when they are not met. In thinking about the New Year, I wanted to have One Word to define my year; one to meditate on, to strive to be better at, and to underlie my experiences.

As we move into our next year of parenting, I want Grace to define how I treat myself and Bea as we learn together. I want Grace to encompass my marriage as we navigate a relationship with a toddler in its midst. I need Grace for those moments when parenting is the last thing I want to do and for those moments when it is a taste of heaven.

I need Grace for my community. For my friends, both with and without kids; single and married. For people I see weekly and for those who live across the world. I need Grace for my church, for my neighbors, for the people in the grocery store parking lot. I need Grace for how I compare myself to other moms; for how I compare my life to those around me.

Mostly, I need Grace in ways I can’t even imagine. This year, I want to be open to the amazing power of Grace.

If you could choose One Word for your coming year, what would it be?