Friday, January 29, 2016

Seen, Heard + Bookmarked


It's Friday! Only, it's my Monday. As is the case when you work in the 24/7 world of critical care. Which helps make the case for a dermatology specialty. Truth be told, I actually enjoy working the weekend: the halls are quieter and the staff more relaxed. The work isn't any easier, but the vibe is.

Anyway.

May your weekend be filled with warm beverages, good company, restful sleep, and at least one doughnut.

Here's some of what I've seen, heard, and bookmarked lately:

// Five words: Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. Hilarious. It never gets old.

// I've been going through a slow and steady clothing purge in an attempt to pair down my wardrobe. I'm not capsulizing per se, but rather replacing so-so or ill-fitting items with fewer high quality pieces. Because one really good t-shirt can replace five mediocre ones. (Have you ever noticed you reach for that one perfect shirt over and over again anyway? I do.) I filled two large garbage bags with clothing and Husband hauled them to the local thrift store. Soon after I read this article (via Erin) which spurred my plans to minimize while giving me a lot to reflect on. I had no idea.

// This cactus wallpaper is adding a pop of color to my iPhone's home screen.

// Speaking of high quality clothing that will stand the test of time and trends, I think I've finally found my pair of forever shoes. The kind that will get better with time, last for decades, and are worthy of being resoled when the time comes.

// Adorable DIY felted pine cones.

// After seeing it all over Portland's local shops, I decided to pick up a bundle of palo santo. I have to be careful not to overdo it, but it imparts a lovely, woody scent in the house when burned in moderation.  Here's the scoop, if you're interested.

// Husband and I hired a cleaning service for the first time, something we've been discussing since I went back to work. We used the Handy app and had a great experience. Getting some occasional help around the house will mean less time spent scrubbing the floors on my days off and more time spent as a family.

// This maxi skirt (on order) and this linen bedding (on my wishlist).

// I'm not a huge fan of traditional cleanses, but this cleanse looks interesting. Wondering if it's worth the hefty price tag? I've considered doing Whole30 for a long time now. Any thoughts?

// The essay Your Life is Too Valuable to Live Like Everyone Else by Becoming Minimalist really hit home for me. (via Megan)





Wednesday, January 27, 2016

(Better) Realized: Resolving


The weather has been gloomy lately, and occasionally I can feel it creep into my mood. Rainy days are my jam, but an endless stream of gray for weeks on end can adversely affect even the most devoted homebody after a while. On the more woebegone days I up my Vitamin D intake and research apps like Headspace (already downloaded but yet to be used), Mindfulness Daily, and 10% Happier: Meditation for Skeptics (have you read the book? It's on my short list.). Even IG seems to want to cheer me up: when I scroll through my feed I routinely get an ad for a happiness app. Have I been using the melancholy filters more often lately?

January is a funky month. The frenzy and anticipation of the holidays is over in a hot second. The decorations are packed away and the gifts have found their place on a shelf or in a dresser drawer. Just a mere month ago we were wishing for a white Christmas, now we are begging for spring. Yet it's all these things that make gloomy January days the perfect time for reflection. What's working and what isn't? What makes you happy and what doesn't? There's nothing like sitting around the house with a case of ennui to make you realize just what it is you want out of the coming year, and life in general.


Last January, in an attempt to organize my restless intentions, I made some goals for 2015. None of them lofty, like learning to fly, but they were items taken from my bucket list or tasks I think about doing or things I've wanted to do but never got around to doing. I've never been a proponent of New Year's resolutions because they often don't strike me as too terribly self-loving, but I think going into a new year with intention is important.

Over the past several years I've started to stretch myself socially, creatively, and intellectually, and lists have really helped in that regard. They also help me navigate difficult periods that have the potential to rob me of a healthy perspective. (This job is awful! Why did I want to go into medicine?!) Breaking a big lifelong goal into bite-sized accomplishments helps tremendously in my case, and often prevents that What am I doing with my life? downward spiral. (i.e. Shadow a PA, take the GREs, start application essay, etc as opposed to just "Get into to PA school.")

I'll admit I didn't accomplish every task I set out to do last year. (Ten burpees a day = fail.) On the other hand, I learned and tackled things that were never even put to paper. Looking back on my goals, written just 12 months ago, can prove quite insightful. It gives me a glimpse into where my head was compared to where it is now, what I was hoping would happen, and what I wanted from life at that moment. It's an interesting practice to ask myself How do last year's goals match up with those I have today?. I'm a terrible journal-keeper, but lists I can do. Here are a few examples of how this year measured up:


Read 12 books this year, at least three of them classics // I read fifteen books and have 30 pages left of my third classic, Wuthering Heights. (My work schedule was crazy in addition to the holidays, so I'm giving myself a break on this one.) This was by far my favorite goal and the first I've ever followed through on for a whole year. I'm going to write a post listing the books I read and my current reading queue next week.

Take the GREs // I didn't take them! I don't know why I'm struggling so much to set up a study schedule and get it done already. If I had to guess, I'd say it's fear-based procrastination. When you want something bad enough, the fear of failure can be paralyzing. (Needless to say Procrastinate Less is a goal that carries over from year to year.) The next application period for my chosen grad school begins in April, so early spring is the deadline for taking the exam. I worked with my coworkers to establish more regular shifts starting this month, so my work schedule should lend itself to hitting the books better than the past 6 months have. Last week I signed up for Magoosh, which has a 2-3 month curriculum that will allow me to prep in time for my spring test-taking goal. I also downloaded all of their apps and an additional math prep app which will allow me to study on my work breaks, in the school pickup lane, etc.


Walk at least 10k steps 5 days/week  // Mostly. I started 2015 walking quite a bit, but once I went back to work I didn't make the time on my days off.  That being said, I joined my hospital's employee health program, got a Fitbit Charge HR, and started counting my steps and floors climbed. (I average 15,500 steps in a single shift which works out to roughly 10k/day in the average week.) I brown bag my lunch 99% of the time, cut WAY back on my sugar intake last month, and had a complete blood panel run so I know how my numbers add up. I seldom wear the Fitbit on my days off, but my iPhone counts my steps and flights as well. Overall my step count has improved drastically, as have my eating habits. I attribute a lot of this to the inherent schedule brought about by returning to work full time.

Meet people // This wasn't exactly a goal in 2016, but Put Yourself Out There is always an item on my list. I went back to work, which put me out there in a big way. In smaller ways, I took a kokedama workshop in October and a wreath-making class in December which exposed me to new people. For fun I took a social media/phone photography online course during my staycation earlier this month and met some fellow bloggers and instagrammers. I already have a short list of classes I want to take in the coming months.

Learn one new word a week // I always have ongoing goals regarding learning. I think I was drawn to this particular goal because the GREs have a hefty verbal reasoning section. I kept a pad of paper on my nightstand to jot down unfamiliar words in the course of reading, but I didn't get around to looking them all up. (The Scarlett Letter has a great vocabulary.) Still, 2015 was an awesome educational year: a new job meant learning all kinds of new skills, relearning old ones, and becoming familiar with a plethora of acronyms and medical terms. The nurses and doctors I work with are amazing at sharing their knowledge and letting me observe and assist with procedures. Outside of work I taught myself to embroider (a hobby I've come to enjoy very much), and acquired a number of new skills when it comes to plant husbandry.  I'm currently enrolled in an ECG class which is teaching me to read heart rhythms which is a great skill in healthcare + looks amazing on my applications. There is an advanced ECG class when this one is done which I'm already looking into.


This year I'm carrying over my reading and GRE goals as well as the following new and/or improved goals:

// Apply to grad school. (The time has finally come! Yay!) 
// Take more classes for creative + personal fulfillment.
// Learn new recipes. I want to add more mainstays to my dinner repertoire, eat for health and satiety, and organize + experiment with family recipes that were handed down to me after my grandmother's passing last fall. I order a recipe box to stow and protect her and my great-grandmother's beautiful handwritten recipe cards.
// Travel domestically and abroad. The time is now: no more waiting for the "perfect" opportunity or financial situation. Though Mario and I are fairly well traveled, I want Kiddo to see more of the world and mark places off our must-visit list.
// Blog regularly. Writing is an important creative outlet for me, and a way to document my journey, so it is integral that I not let life get in the way of posting on here more often.
// Learn to play the guitar. "Learn an instrument" has been on my bucket list since childhood, and 2016 is the year to do it.

An important part of making and keeping goals, for me, is writing them down. I have numerous lists going on a mini yellow legal pad at any given time, but for broader accomplishments is was important to have a devoted place to refer to these and other goals that come up throughout the year. A place to go back and reflect. Tools to facilitate regular reflection are also key. Below are some of my favorite go-tos when it comes to making and keeping my short- and long-term goals:

Mi Goals Hardcover Diary // I stumbled upon this planner in late 2014 and ordered their 2015 diary. It is hands-down the perfect planner for me. The first part of the book is devoted to goals with sections for the what/why/when/hows of the goal and plenty of room for brainstorming. I kept a list of all the books I read last year under the To-Do section and loved seeing my progress throughout the months. I pre-ordered the 2016 version so I wouldn't risk not having it again. This will be my planner from now until forever. (Please don't ever stop making them!) They also make softcover versions and several different mini notebooks like Bucket List and Get Shit Done. (I have one of each and have also gifted them to friends.) Their books are also great for planning and organizing blog posts if you're into that sort of thing.


The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration // I picked this up from a local shop and was instantly smitten with the idea. With lists like your favorite characters from books and movies and the favorite places you've been, it's a way to reflect on the happy things that often get pushed to the wayside. It's divided into four seasons and features beautiful photos and illustrations. It has offered me a moment in my week to sit and write without obligation while pondering life's joys. (The author also established the hashtag #52ListsProject so you can share photos and connect with others who are doing it, too.)

Papermate Flair Felt Tip Pens // I'm a lefty which means fast-drying ink is a must, lest I smear my  whole page of writing. These are my favorite pens in the whole wide world. They make me want to write things by hand. If they ever decide to discontinue them I'll be like Elaine Benes and her contraceptive sponges.


Why You're So Awesome // I spied this tiny book at Paper Source a couple months ago and thought it the perfect keepsake for Kiddo. Motherhood is an emotional minefield: the frustration and guilt can often feel overwhelming. I liked that this book offers the chance to document the funny things Jared says and does while focusing on his strengths and the awesome qualities that make him the quirky human being he is. I hope someday in the future he'll pick this up and come to understand just how much I love his guts.


101 Joys Make a Rainbow: A Gratitude Journal // This book is so darling I initially bought it on impulse. Realizing I had plenty of journals of my own, I gifted it to my sister and her kiddos for Christmas. Every time you write down something you're grateful for, you fold the page which eventually forms a rainbow sculpture. I just adore the whole concept.


Here's to a beautiful and productive 2016. 
Something tells me this is going to be a good year.





Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Diary of a Couch Potato

 

Earlier this month Husband was in San Diego for a over a week presenting at his company's big yearly conference. I didn't want to balance 12-hour shifts and single parenting so I said why not and took 7 days off of work, which ended up being 10 days when the schedule was all said and done. I thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to sleep train myself (morning person aspirations!), cross a zillion things off my to-do list, and hang out with my handsome but ornery teenage child. (Tell me they outgrow the sassy stage? Pretty please? Lie to me if necessary.)

The list of things I hoped to accomplish was looong. The list of things I didn't accomplish? Longer. Because in addition to getting almost nothing done, I found even more things that needed doing. The struggle is real, yo.


By day two I had burned through my scant DVR recordings and was this close to clicking on a Twilight movie. (Desperate times call for desperate measures.) I had started several embroidery projects that weren't clicking, which led to a growing fear that my interest in the hobby was rapidly waning. I wanted to be home, but idle hands and restless mind and all that. (#firstworldproblems) After a couple days I ventured into the city and began working on an online social media/phone photography course I had signed up for. One day I spent 5 hours at a coffee shop catching up on a weekly journal I'm doing and writing down my goals and intentions for the year. Oh, and I blogged again which was rather refreshing. 


The break is over and I'm (three 12-hours shifts in a row) back in the game. At the start of my staycation I thought I'd become terribly bored and look forward to going back work, but I was surprised to find that it didn't happen. I'm sure with time it would have, especially with Mario back home and working in his home office, but ten days was clearly not my threshold. I liked being available to Kiddo and home for dinner every night and free of all the workplace frustrations that have tempered over time but still plague me on occasion. When you are sitting home in elastic waist pants and fuzzy slippers midday on a rainy Tuesday, working seems like the worst idea ever. As are the things a burned out homebody tends to think when faced with the proposition of abandoning the couch cushion that has molded so perfectly to her bum.

The listlessness passed and the house got tidied, homemade meals were planned and executed, and the beginning of a closet overhaul occurred. I signed up for a website that will get me ready for the GREs in 2-3 months if I follow a 1 day/week study schedule. One morning last week, Mario and I grudgingly followed through on the two hour garage cleaning session we had agreed upon and put in our shared calendar. Progress: We're getting there. I'm getting there.

This post is an ode to taking time off when you need it. When it makes life easier. Even if it means I logged 24 less healthcare hours this month. It won't make or break my grad school acceptance. However, not taking it off might have broken me and so I have nothing but gratitude for a life and job that allow me to walk away when I need to. And so, here's a list of things that kept me out of my own head.

I'm in a bit of a television rut when it comes to shows I watch solo. (Mario and I have plenty of series we watch together: Quantico, The Good Wife, Arrested Development, Scandal...) Right now I'm enjoying Younger (binge-watched the first season, Season 2 is set to record...it's cute and fun) and Odd Mom Out (inappropriate + satirical + funny). And Fixer Upper, obviously. (I've grown bored with The Biggest Loser and Jane the Virgin, and last year I eliminated anything Housewife from my life which has been most excellent.) Kiddo became suddenly obsessed with the idea of watching The X-Files from the very beginning which is what we did last weekend. We made it to Episode 8 where that weird alien worm crawls under the skin of scientists in the arctic. Then he was all "Nope! That's disgusting!" and we moved on to something more lighthearted. iZombie is also a fun, silly show Kiddo and I watch, but it's currently on "mid-season break." (Mid-season finales: Why is that a thing now?) As a family we watch The Flash, Arrow (because, boys) and Castle. I've opted out of Agents of Shield and Scorpion, but the boys watch those together. I should mention that we watch very little television during the week, lest it seem we are a family of potatoes, so we always have a healthy DVR queue when it comes to family shows, which we work our way through on Friday nights while eating Papa Murphy's. Oh, and Making a Murderer is great, too. But you probably already knew that.

[I'd like to take a moment out of this post to discuss my new favorite show, The Vampire Diaries. I watch Pretty Little Liars so it came up as a suggestion on Netflix and I decided to give it a go during my semi-vacation from work. It was hands-down the best decision I've made next to getting my degree and marrying my husband. It's campy and sexy and everything Twilight could, no, should be. And there are six past seasons + the current season to sink my teeth into! (See what I did there.) I feel like a romantic teenager when I watch but with better skin and, oh yeah, holy hell are you even real Ian Somerhalder. You did me a solid, Netflix.]

 

I mentioned my embroidery funk, which was relatively brief and stemmed from doing things that didn't entertain or inspire me. I've since learned I have a type: whimsical designs, woodland creatures, and vivid colors. So I followed my instinct and went back to what I like and know and the joy immediately returned. It's one of the ways I am learning to let myself off the hook: to do things in my private life because they bring me pleasure, not because I feel obligated by a $5 pattern purchase. I've tackled nearly all of the most common stitches and no longer consider myself an embroidery novice. I plan to do a whole post on supplies, designs, etc soon.

Last year's reading goal went over so well, I've decided to make it a mainstay in my life. I didn't finish my third classic, Wuthering Heights, before the end of the year, though I'm on track to finish by the end of January. My in-laws gifted me the Puffin in Bloom Collection for Christmas, so I've already got a year's worth of classics to read. Mario also gave me many books off my Amazon Wishlist, so I'm set on new reads for quite a while. Last year's book recommendations is a post in and of itself, so that is also on my to-do list. I'm really proud of this goal: it brought about so many positives and is the first resolution I've ever stuck to all year, let alone continued into the next calendar.

In the audio world, I've been listening to The Discovery of Witches audiobook here and there for some time now, usually while I do household chores. There's The Weeknd's newest album (more explicit than I thought, so it's a solo listen), Kenny Loggin's greatest hits album (nerdy, I know), and of course Adele. Sia has a new album coming out Thursday, so that's on pre-order.


Other diversions:

Giant knitting. Worth the $240 price tag? (+ learning to knit?)

Got the supplies to make these Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

A renewed love of vintage bakeware thanks to the discovery of English Pyrex.

Kitchen science experiments.
 



Monday, January 18, 2016

Catching Up


Life lately has been good. Calm.

Things on the work front are much less hectic, and I'm starting to, dare I say, enjoy my job again. The balance is definitely teetering away from terrible. This month ushers in a more predictable schedule, so that should help in regard to the whole work/life balance thing. Learning to be less stingy with my PTO has also been a bit of an epiphany.

Kiddo's semester is coming to a close, so there are assignments to complete and such but he seems to be taking the reigns and that's nice. It was time to check our helicoptering and let him be the master of his own education. If he needs us we're here for him, always, but his homework is his responsibility. That perspective has been beneficial all around.

Mario is off to San Diego for those big conferences that happen every January. And while I miss him, I'm glad to have this time to recharge. Time for him to focus on work while I concern myself with the homestead. And, hashtag honesty, it's easier to still be in your pjs at noon on a Wednesday when no one is there to witness it.


December brought the Portland winter everyone talks about but we had yet to experience. I'm a fan of rainy days, but two weeks sans sunshine can take its toll on even the staunchest homebody. I found myself rather melancholy and unmotivated, especially in combination with a dreary work life. Fortunately, there have been sun breaks on both fronts, but I've learned the importance of dashing outside and leaning my face toward the sky when that bright orb makes even a momentary appearance. An unintentional metaphor for life in general, no?


I took 10 days off from work while Mario is in sunny SoCal, so the school days are my own. I had some pretty noble aspirations going into this break, and I've done very little to check things off my project list. Instead, I've caught up on the DVR and embroidered and, well, sometimes I'm not sure what used up all my time. I felt frustrated with my lack of productivity until I realized this is probably what I needed most: a few days to do nothing. To be an introvert and only worry about myself a few hours a day and enjoy the solitude I need to fill my bucket. Once I stopped beating myself up about it, I began embracing it for what it is: an opportunity to recharge. I'm off until Friday, so there are plenty more hours left to clean the kitchen and organize my closet. These last few days were for making progress within, which is a lot less tangible and therefore harder to gauge. (Yet equally or perhaps more important than scrubbing that stubborn water line out of the toilets.) I've been going full force since last July, and not without a healthy dose of frustration, self-doubt and worry; I needed this time to reset my intentions, while make new ones for 2016. Sometimes doing nothing is just as important as doing something.


As for the holidays, well, they were just as lovely as can be. It was a low-key holiday spent at home, just the three of us. The gifts were amazing, though not in their abundance. They were so meaningful. This year we didn't set a budget for the holidays, but we did limited the number of gifts exchanged. I hand sewed embroidery hoops for my mother- and sister-in-law. We gave experiences, as opposed to only tangible objects that would get tossed on a shelf. The boys took a page from my bucket list and gifted me a guitar so that I may finally fulfill my lifelong goal of learning an instrument. Tears were shed over that one, I tell you. Because that unassuming piece of wood and string showed just how much they believe in my dreams.

obligatory top-of-the-Space-Needle (grainy) selfie

The week between Christmas and New Year's we took a trip up to Seattle. It was a chance to explore the city's less touristy neighborhoods; to see it from more of a local's perspective. It was a lot of walking and eating and relaxing as a family. Though only a couple hours away from home, we needed to get away from the siren's call of work and chores and sitting around all day doing nothing. Seattle is a beautiful city: coastal and cosmopolitan; at times I could easily forget I wasn't in Boston or New York. The window displays in Macy's, the ivy-covered brick in Pioneer Square...it's a city of many moods. We bundled up and wandered mostly by foot; got all dressed up (Kiddo in a tie! Be still my heart!) and splurged on dinner at the Space Needle; and toured the Starbucks Reserve Tasting Room. The boys went to the EMP Museum (I've already been there 3 times since we moved here) and left me to explore on my own. Latte + camera + aimless wandering = true bliss. It was all rather magical and reminiscent of our many Christmases on the East Coast. Because, let's face it, they know how to do Christmas Back East.

I worked New Year's Day, which was actually quite calm and nice as far as workdays go, then Kiddo's post-holiday semester resumed. It's amazing how things just sort of pick back up and the holidays, after months of buildup, fade into memory. It is mid-January and Christmas already seems months ago. Life has a funny way of marching on.


This year, 2016, holds a lot of promise, I think. My back is against a wall, so this is definitely the year I suck it up and take the GREs. (Sooner, rather than later.) This is the year I finally apply to grad school, a milestone 6+ years in the making. It's the year I start letting go of old habits that bog me down and faulty thinking that holds me back. The shift started taking place last summer when I went back to work and checked a huge box on my to-do list, but I can see and feel that I'm on a roll. More yeses than nos while still empowering myself to decline unnecessary invitations and obligations. Last fall I took some fun classes which allowed me to learn new (non-academic) skills and meet new people. This year there will be music lessons and travel and things that will contribute to a richer life.

For the first time in my life, I'm learning to live in the now. Not the life I imagine 5 or 10 years from now, but the now now. Everything doesn't have to be perfect for me to find fulfillment. I don't have to own my dream house, work in my dream career, or obtain the perfect body (is there such a thing in real life?) in order to travel abroad or wear high quality clothing or decorate my home exactly the way I want it. Gosh that has been a mental hurdle for me. This year I vow to only keep objects that fit my life (and body) as it is today while bringing me joy. I vow to tap into my creative side whenever possible (that includes writing in this space more regularly). To pay off debt and use my added salary to do things we want to do and see places we want to see. I plan to elaborate on some of these things in their own posts which will solidify them as goals and allow me to explore them with more depth. They say that putting things in writing makes you more likely to do them, and since writing is a source of one of my deepest joys, it's a win-win.

Here's to 2016 being our best year yet...