Looking Back, Looking Forward

I haven’t been writing as consistently as I would have liked this past month, but since we’re on the cusp of the new year, I did want to take a moment to reflect a little.

Photo by Malte Luk from Pexels

At the beginning of 2020, I decided that my word for the year was going to be more. I had big plans, and I was excited. I had survived year one of motherhood, was moving along in my career, and was feeling more confident in my own skin. But then…ah, but then. March hit, and all of our (the collective our, really) plans were shot to hell.

In some ways, though, I still did achieve more, albeit in ways I hadn’t expected or might not have considered achievements in the past. And in some ways, I really went hard, the opposite way, toward less. I spent more time with my immediate family, especially my toddler son, who seemed to change before my eyes. Since we didn’t go anywhere, we saved a lot more money toward future goals (despite me leaving my job halfway through the year!). I wrote a lot more, through various creative projects and journaling, and I read more than I had in years. And I was a lot more honest with myself about what I needed, and what was important for me and my family. Which really involved a lot less.

I quit my job, which resulted in less stress and anxiety around not being a good parent, if I was on the right career track, and what a year at home was going to do to our son. When I eventually started freelancing, I decided to take on less than my maximum capacity. I put less pressure on myself to figure it out and improve and be productive every second of the day. I started to care a little less about about what people thought of me – especially when it came to decisions about my career, speaking out for what I feel is right and against what is wrong, and about my creative pursuits. I started a blog (again), completed #The100DayProject (with really, moments to spare in 2020), and let myself try things even if I couldn’t finish them or they didn’t work out like I had hoped (not sure what I was thinking with starting a NaNoWriMo project in the middle of a pandemic with a two-year-old at home!). In doing less, I also cut myself more slack when something wasn’t achieved on my designated timeline – or at all.

If you’re reading this, you and me, we survived a terrible, terrible year. Not saying 2021 is going to magically be better, but we got through this one – by doing more, doing less, however – we made it. Maybe we learned something new – a new skill out of boredom or a painful lesson the hard way – either way, no one is leaving 2020 unchanged. I hope 2021 treats us all a little better, and that you have something on the horizon to look forward to.

You weren’t all bad, 2020, but I will not miss you a bit – Happy New Year!

Holiday Blues

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I normally love the holidays. Like, in a really over the top, cliché kind of way. I put up lights and decorations anywhere I can (within reason for a house with a toddler running around), as soon as I can. I will accept any excuse to have a festive bev – warm and wholesome or chilled and boozy, I do not discriminate. I crank up the holiday music as soon as it’s acceptable (Thanksgiving is my stance), and I plan out our month of holiday light tours as soon as festive events in DC are announced. I research recipes and bake as many cookies as I can, starting on December 1. In short, I am the Grinch’s nightmare.

But this year, I’m really struggling to create that holiday magic, as much as I want to, especially for our two-year-old son. I keep making plans to make our house and our holiday season feel festive, but then pushing them off, asking myself, does it really matter? I feel like I’m not alone in this though. For one, there is still a global pandemic raging. Even with a vaccine rolling out, we’re still so far from COVID being gone. And in doing our part to slow it down, we’re missing loved ones, our normal lives, and, depending on your situation, space to ourselves or human connection in any form. Secondly, we have an economy that is in the toilet thanks to said pandemic. While my family is doing OK, and we’re trying to do as much as we can so that others in our community are as well, it’s really hard to feel jolly when you know so many people are suffering. And third, we just came off a really rough election season, and while I am happy with the outcome, along with 80 million+ other folks, I don’t think anyone feels great about the lead up or the aftermath (which also is seemingly unending).

I’ve so rarely had holidays where I just wasn’t in the spirit that this really stands out to me. The only other years I felt like this were when I lived in Chicago and was at my getting-out-of-bed-is-hard lowest point depression wise. I remember commuting home from work on the bus, seeing everyone else full of cheer as the holidays approached, and just feeling nothing. I was so relieved to escape that feeling when I moved to DC (NB: changing cities doesn’t solve all of your problems, but sometimes a change of scenery really can help!) that when this feeling started creeping in this December, it was really noticeable. This year, thankfully, I don’t feel nothing, but I do feel tired, and worn down and disappointed that I feel this way, especially when I really want to make it special for our son (and selfishly, for me!). 

I don’t really have a solution or a neat resolution to this blog post, but I figured I’m not the only one feeling this way. Are you struggling this holiday season or are you somehow full of your usual cheer? Are you doing anything to make it special, despite this year being extra weird?

PS- In the spirit of giving it the old college try when it comes to holiday cheer, and not ending on such a bummer note, I’ll leave you with my top seven favorite holiday songs, in no particular order. There are very few holiday songs that I don’t like, but these are the ones I never skip. Happy(ish) Holidays!

  1. “This Christmas”: will listen to pretty much any version
  2. “What Christmas Means To Me”: strong preference for the Stevie Wonder version, but John Legend’s is also acceptable
  3. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”: Darlene Love is the original and the best, but I also love The Eagles version
  4. “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy”: this David Bowie and Bing Crosby song just checks all of my holiday song boxes. Also, please watch the entire cheesy skit from the 70s Christmas special to get the full effect.
  5. “O Holy Night”: any version by a powerhouse female vocalist. Partial to Christina Aguilera’s version, even if there are a few unnecessary runs in there.
  6. “Night of Silence/Silent Night”: my Catholic school choir kid is showing with this one, but it’s just so beautiful.
  7. “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”: Harry Connick Jr.’s version tops the list for me.

Cool Friends

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We’ve all got those friends, right? The ones with an interesting POV or who always know the best thing to eat/wear/read or who are always out doing something incredibly exciting (in the before times) that you never would have heard of. The ones who seem 100% confident in their opinions and comfortable in their own skin. Do we think they know how cool they are? I’m sure some do, but I often wonder if some of my friends realize their level of cool.

I’ve been thinking about this because I have some really cool friends, and even though my communication hasn’t been great in 2020, they are still seemingly happy to hear from me when I do reach out. One friend has impeccable taste, and a witty, wry sense of humor I can only aspire to. Another is an author a few times over, and always has the best recommendations for making your home your favorite place to be. Another has such energy and zest for life, constantly completing athletic feats and randomly appearing on national TV on top of her full time job, that I really don’t know how she fits it all in. And that’s just a few of my cool friends! Yet, when I text or email, all of them respond with enthusiasm, expressing excitement about when we can get together in 2021 (fingers crossed!) or asking to make plans to Zoom.

To be clear, I am not a bad friend (at least usually, but who hasn’t had a not-great period of time or two?), or even the token weird friend, and this is not a post where I am going to wonder aloud, “wait, what if I am also the cool friend and I don’t know it?” I think it’s important to know yourself, and I am not, have never been, nor will I ever be, the cool friend. I am many things, but “cool” has literally never been a word anyone has used to describe me. Maybe fun, or thoughtful, or bookish, or talkative, or sometimes athletic, or easily excitable about kind of nerdy things, but, again, never “cool.” Which is why I think I’m still so surprised that cool people want to be friends with me, ya know? Sometimes I even want to ask them, “do you know how cool you are? Do you know how surprised I still am that you still want to be friends with me?!” But, of course, in the spirit of playing it cool (see what I did there?), I don’t.

Under the Weather

This entire past week, I have felt terrible (not COVID, don’t worry!).

As someone who rarely gets sick, this was pretty jarring. I’m used to getting the sniffles, powering through, and then being back to 100 percent in a couple days. But this time, I was confined to the couch, living on Saltines and Vernors while trying to keep an almost-two year old entertained. Luckily, we ordered in on Thanksgiving, and my husband had a good chunk of last week off, but it was still quite the blow to all the plans I had.

I wanted to write more, make fun desserts for the holiday, clean our closet, do a little yoga, go for walks with my son. Instead, I can’t tell you how many afternoon couch naps I took or how many bad holiday movies I watched or how little I actually moved. It was like I was shutting down all functions that didn’t have to do with absolute survival.

But…this year, in 2020, I was oddly OK with it. Pre-2020 me would have been really upset, would have tried to go into overdrive the following week to make up for everything I hadn’t done while sick. But 2020 me? While a little annoyed that my plans were messed up, I kind of shrugged and am now moving on. Not going crazy trying to play catchup, but just…starting where I left off.

This year has been terrible for so many (and some much more than others), so I won’t tell you that we should all be looking for silver linings and lessons learned. But for me, if this year has taught me anything, it’s this: it’s OK to step back – in your career, in your social life, in your weird household organization ambitions, even in your holiday cheer. One year seems really long (especially this year), but in the grand scheme of things, stepping back for one month, one season, one year, in order to survive, in order to make sure that the necessary parts of your life are still functioning, is not going to be the end of the world. Everyone’s situation is different, but if you step back in an area that isn’t absolutely essential, you might even be better for it.

I’m not totally back to 100 percent over here, but right now, I don’t need to be.

Why I Blog

I know everyone who blogs has their own reasons for doing so, and I don’t think any are better or worse than the others (unless you’re using your blog to spread misinformation or cause harm, but let’s assume for the sake of this post that that’s not the case, OK?). 

But let me tell you the reason I blog – and the reasons I don’t. 

I didn’t start a blog (this one or the many other blogs now peacefully resting in the blog graveyard) for fame or acknowledgement. 

I didn’t start a blog to become an influencer – I also don’t buy or recommend enough stuff for that to make sense, but that’s besides the point. 

I didn’t start a blog to show the world what a brilliant writer I am or to put out a perfect product. 

I started a blog, specifically this blog, to create a habit – consistency in a time where nothing feels consistent, some routine in a time when everything feels upside down. I started a blog to build my creative writing muscle, to keep it in shape, to remind myself that when I’m not struggling with writing, I actually really enjoy putting words on paper in my own way. It’s public practice, a forum where I put out imperfect work and work on getting over my fears that if I release something flawed into the wild that I’ll be incredibly embarrassed or mad at myself or that someone will hate it and tell me so (none of these things, for the record, have happened – yet). I started a blog to hold myself accountable, to finish what I started in a very public way, even if no one else actually cares. In short, I started a blog for me. 

Why do you blog? (Or why don’t you?)

The Six Podcasts Getting Me Through the Pandemic

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I don’t know about you, but before COVID-19, I was not a huge podcast person. I had a few I listened to if I was out walking or when we took long road trips, but on my commute or when I was relaxing at home, I preferred reading books or listening to music. However, being stuck at home all day, and, now, not having a full-time job, I have leaned into listening to podcasts while I take care of stuff around the house or draw really bad crayon art with my son.

Here are the podcasts that I’ve really enjoyed the past eight (!!!) months:

  1. What Should I Read Next?”: I am a huge bookworm, and this podcast is the perfect escape during these unprecedented times (do we think that’s going to be called as the phrase of the year?). The host, Anne, has the most soothing voice, never fails to tap into what her guests might like to read, and I finish every episode with at least four new books I want to read (the library has stopped letting me put books on hold). 
  2. Up First”: As a person who lives in the nation’s capital, I am surrounded by news, and I have a hard time really shutting that off. But lately, while I want to stay informed, I can really only handle so much, so earlier this year, I turned to an old favorite. With most episodes clocking in under 15 minutes, NPR’s Up First is the perfect little hit of news every day so I know what’s going on, but don’t spiral over all of the details.
  3. Be There In Five”: If you like pop-culture deep dives and reminiscing about the 90s and 2000s as only millennials can, then this is the podcast for you. This one-woman show delves into all of our fluffiest interests in the most intellectual way, and I always feel a little smarter after listening, or at least a little more seen, than I did before I started the episode. The episodes are pretty long, so I never had enough time to really get into these eps before, but now, with longer stretches of time in my days, it’s one of the podcasts I look forward to most.  
  4. The Slowdown”: Feeling stressed? Over stimulated? This short podcast is one of my favorite things to turn on when I’m heading out for a quick walk around the block to get some fresh air and clear my head, maybe get my creativity flowing again. Each episode starts with host and Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, reflecting on life recently, and ends with her reading a related poem. Also, not for nothing, if Tracy K. Smith launched her own meditation app, I would download immediately. Her voice is that calming. This podcast is currently on hiatus, which makes me so sad, but I highly recommend listening to the extensive back catalog. 
  5. Forever35”: One of the first podcasts I really got into, and it never fails. Love the guests, love the friendly banter between Kate and Doree – this podcast just always makes me happy. Even when they’re talking about heavier topics, it feels like candy for my brain, and for that I am incredibly grateful. 
  6. Higher Learning”: I am not a Bachelor/Bachelorette fan, but I watched Rachel Lindsay’s season because I think she seems wonderful. So when I was looking for new podcasts to listen to during the pandemic, I gave this one a listen and have really been enjoying it. She and her cohost Van Lathan get into both current events and pop culture, but in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve just doomscrolled through Instagram and Twitter like you did before the election (oh, just me?). As I’m not a huge pro sports fan, I normally skip ahead on those convos, but I love hearing their takes and their banter on everything else.

New Pod Honorable Mention:

How Did You End Up There?”: Full disclosure, I was a guest on Jenn’s podcast (more on that later!), but even if I weren’t, I would still love to hear about all of the roads people have taken to get to the careers they’re in now. Quickly becoming a fave over here, especially as I work to sort out my own professional life! 

Are you a podcast listener? What are you listening to?

Can I Tell You How I’m Turning Into My Mother?

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Can I tell you how I’m turning into my mother? 

I remember weekend mornings, my mom the first one up. Carrying a mug of coffee from room to room, her hair not quite in place, wearing her terrycloth pink bathrobe over flannel pajamas, almost year round, as we figured out what to do for the day. As we got older, Saturdays and Sundays were more scheduled with swim meets and tennis matches and dashing off to see friends, but the image of these weekend mornings at home is seared into my mind. 

Nowadays, since we never leave the house, every day feels like a weekend, and I feel myself slipping more and more into that memory. The other day, my son asked me to play and we sat on the ground with blocks, him with his water cup, me with a mug full of no-longer-hot coffee. We built a train and pretended to race it along an imaginary track, as I breathed my coffee breath his way while we giggled. 

The other day, I ordered my second pair of flannel PJs for the holidays, after slipping into the first pair early, in the midst of my election anxiety, and discovering what a comfort they were. I also ordered a plush bathrobe for myself for Christmas (which my husband has agreed to wrap so I can pretend to be surprised and delighted in December), though mine is chenille and gray, because the idea of donning what amounts to a wearable blanket, during these months of endless, dayless days, sounded pretty good. Maybe Mom had the right idea. 

As much as I’m looking forward to a return to normal (whatever that will mean), with activities and restaurants and daycare, I’m trying to soak these mornings up, where I feel at least a little like my mom, and wonder if she felt like me, watching her children grow and figure things out as she sipped her coffee before really starting the day. 

I don’t know if this is just the circle of life doing its thing, or if I’m turning into my own special iteration of my mom, but I’m holding my lukewarm mug of coffee and these memories close.

Lately: A Few Favorite Recent Reads

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Whew. What a week, huh? Now that we’re all taking a collective breath and a short hiatus from panic donating to various candidates and rage posting on social media, I thought I might share a few things I have actually taken pleasure in reading recently. Partly because I like sharing, and partly because my brain is still mush. Enjoy! 

  1. The vicious cycle of never-ending laundry”: as someone who actually likes doing laundry (yes, I actually fold it the same day it’s washed!), learning the history of it and the lack of advancement over the last 50 years or so was fascinating. Laundry is still an endless chore that we haven’t really turned into a luxurious experience. But my favorite line?  “I always think about the change that came with the advent of electricity,” says Jessamyn Neuhaus […]. “Electricity could ease the burden of women keeping house, but also when they turned on those electric lights, a lot of people were like, ‘Shit, my house is so dirty.’” 
  2. For now“: I love Nora and everything she writes, but I really felt this. Doing less, or at least not doing more, in the middle of a pandemic isn’t exactly a new thought during this time, but the way she lays it out is lovely. I’m ok doing less right now and not adding anything to my to-do list. 
  3. 22 Ways to Make Thanksgiving Into Your Own Weird, Perfect Holiday”: after a lot of weighing the pros and cons (and now, surging COVID numbers!), we have decided to stay home and celebrate Thanksgiving as a family of three. So I love so many of these ideas, especially those related to giving back and learning about who lived where we live before it was “discovered.” And though we’re probably ordering in for the meal itself (pulling together a full spread in a tiny house with a very tall toddler who can reach literally everything on counters and the stovetop sounds like a nightmare), I’m definitely going to make a few pies so we can do a little dessert competition.
  4. Tenisha Yancey Is a Michigan House Rep With a Felony Record—and It’s Helping Her Design Legislation“: I loved this interview, partly because I’m from Michigan and partly because I think everyone deserves a second chance, and this shows the power of doing just that. 
  5. The One Dish: Thanksgiving 2020 and How to Deal”: Another Thanksgiving article. I loved reading what various food folks and entertainers consider their must-have Thanksgiving dish, the one that makes them feel some semblance of home or normal, even when times are as weird as they are now.

Have you read anything you’ve really enjoyed lately? Share with me so I can read something other than the rollercoaster ride that is political news in the US!

NaNoWriMo 2020: Third Time’s the Charm

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This November, I’m incredibly anxious about a lot of things. The election tomorrow is obviously a big one – I’ve donated, written letters, text banked, and talked about the importance of voting nonstop, but I am terrified and the pit in my stomach will not go away. We’ve also got Thanksgiving, which we’re not going home for this year, which brings its own kind of anxiety about letting people down in the name of keeping them safe and keeping us sane. And then, of course, the increasing number of COVID cases we’re seeing across the country. I sometimes wish I could be blissfully ignorant about everything going on, but I don’t actually think we do well as a society when that’s the case, so here we are. Me full of dread and you reading about it.

One thing I am not (as) anxious about this November is writing. I have decided, for the third time, to sign up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and this time I am really committed. I have an outline, some questions I want to try to answer, and some rough descriptions of characters. I am not totally at ease here since fiction is not my normal genre, but I am excited for a challenge. I also haven’t entirely decided if this was brilliant of me to sign up this year (great distraction, a goal to focus on!) or completely idiotic (how distracted are you going to be after the election!? And with a toddler at home!?). 

Anyway, it’s Day 2 and I’ve only written like 600 words after I got through brainstorming a few scenes yesterday, so we’ll see how this goes! 

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Share your tips or your topic for your project – I’d love to hear them!

Who I Am Right Now

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Who are you right now, in this moment?

I am a mom, a partner, a communicator, a freelancer, a daughter, a sister, an aunt. I’m a creative person and a writer and a reader. A curious person trying to soak up as much information and experience as she can, even when the world she is experiencing is rather small. I am an empathizer, a worrier, an anxious person who sometimes just needs to shut down to begin processing what’s going on around her. And right now, especially, I am uncertain. 

I am uncertain about so many things- the future of our country, what togetherness looks like now and in the future, who I’ll be personally and professionally in five, ten, twenty years. I am standing on a cliff, and can’t be sure whether it’s safer to stay or jump, because despite the precariousness of what’s below, everything racing at me from behind is incredibly scary as well. 

I wish I had a more definitive answer to who I am right now. I wish I felt firm where I stood, but the sands beneath my feet, probably much like that beneath yours, keep shifting. I am a person who, even after 35 years on this planet is still forming, still asserting and revising opinions, still adjusting the lens through which I see the world. In short, I am only certain that I am uncertain. 

Who are you right now, in this moment?

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working my way through the “Name Your Anchors” series of writing prompts from author Molly Caro May. The post above is a result of one of those prompts.