Improving my to-do list

My to-do lists are awful. They are scattered everywhere in my house, like the random thoughts tumbling around in my brain. I’m guessing it’s a good habit to write so many of my thoughts down, but not so helpful when they become more clutter on the kitchen counter (and office, and living room and car…)

Still, for all my to-do lists, I often feel like I’m simply shuffling of things around, like I’m moving but not necessarily going anywhere or accomplishing much of anything. Even after a productive day, I feel like I missed something important that I really meant to do, though I can’t always put my finger on why I feel this way.

It occurred to me in the shower (as most of my discoveries do) that maybe what I’m missing is a more complete to-do list: one that will make me feels accomplished no matter how many dishes are still “soaking” in the sink.

The list became longer than I was expecting, but I still think each of these things is doable on a daily basis.

1. Do something that scares me. This one has to do with my efforts to venture outside my comfort zone as much as possible. I’m naturally a bit of a homebody, and now that I don’t actually leave the house to work (and some days don’t leave the house at all), my comfort zone seems to be shrinking. Big or small, I want to do one thing every day on the edge of my comfort zone to keep it from collapsing in on me.

2. Un-procrastinate. This one will be hard because I am an expert procrastinator and queen of making excuses to myself. My time management potential would go through the roof, I’m convinced, if I just un-procrastinated one or two things per day. The hardest part is never the task I am procrastinating. It is getting over the hump of making me start something.

3. Connect with someone. Back to the homebody thing—I tend to go too long without reaching out to friends and family. For most people, this one is a given, but for me it can be tough to get outside my own head and make sure I connect with someone every day. Whether a phone call, coffee date, or email (though email is a stretch for real connection), I think this one is crucial to add to my daily list.

4. Make a memory. Somehow, little guy is already 6 months old. My dogs are both 5 years old! I’ve been married for going on 6 years. I don’t remember much of what has been going on for the past several years or so—I can see why people seem to think times speeds up as we get older. I used to remember all the Christmases, birthdays, and vacations. Now I find myself questioning how old I am going to be on my next birthday. Not all days are gems, but I every day has at least one thing worth remembering, whether in writing or photograph. Then I’m going to make a scrapbook! (yeah, right!)

5. Do something that makes me happy. Ever since I started writing this blog, I think about it all the time. I’m thinking of ideas for the future. I observe life in a different way through a writer’s eyes. It makes me happy. I love reading other blogs on different perspectives. Every single day, I want to devote time to my own thoughts and writing and reading. I am humbled that people actually follow what I write and care to comment, but I would do it no matter what. It makes me feel like I’ve still got something for just me (and you too, of course).

6. Take a step back. Absolutely everything benefits from a perspective shift. It is so, so easy to get caught up in the way things seem at the moment. If I can re-frame everything and ask myself if the so-called disaster will matter in five years or next week, I will be so much better off.

7. Get outside. And not just dashing to and from my car. I live in the country and it is gorgeous here. Even on cold days. And little guy loves the outside. So if we need to bundle up and take a quick walk in our woods so be it. We have woods! Lots and lots of mature trees, with a footpath right in our back yard! Why am I not taking advantage of this every single day?! Fresh air is good for the lungs and the soul.

8. Let go. Each day that ends, I lament all the things I didn’t finish on my assorted lists. And usually the obscene amount of dog hair that seems grow out of my carpet no matter how many times I vacuum with my way-too-expensive vacuum cleaner (rant for another day). At the end of each day, I want to be able to let go of my expectations and disappointments and just be satisfied for another day lived.

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Great Balancing Act

“So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I love reading this book to my son. I received it as a high school graduation present, and to be honest, I don’t think I read a word of it until one night searching through our bookshelf for something new to read to little guy. The book itself is beautifully written, and when I reached the page with this passage, I got goose bumps. It is a stirringly simple observation about life, and has become somewhat of a mantra me.

Balance in life means something different than I thought it would. I thought balance would mean keeping as many balls in the air as effortlessly as possible. Making it all work–home, family, community, career, health–without feeling the stress of near-certain failure, or the strain of never-ending commitments.

I am beginning to understand that balance may mean something entirely different. I am learning that balance means making choices and living with the consequences. I may want to do and be many things to many people, but balance can’t be achieved with all those things on my scale. They don’t fit. In order to find balance, I have to choose what is most important to keep in the equation.

Choices are tough because when something wins, something else loses out. But then again, that’s the point. I can’t do everything and do anything well. I have to make choices. I have to accept that there are consequences to those choices. There is simply no way to make all the choices at the same time. If this is such a simple concept, why do so many women like me struggle with the guilt in their choices?

My desires for how my life would unfold would be forever changed by the new outlook that was born right alongside my first child. Priorities changed for me, and I never saw it coming. Instead of doing everything as I used to, I would have to make some choices about where I would focus my energies, or else spend a good bit of my life fighting a losing battle to balance more than what fits on my scale.

Then came the guilt.

If I continue working, between the commute and my 9 hours, plus weekend events, I would barely see little guy. I’ll miss so much. Guilt.

If I quit, I will no longer contribute to my family financially. I will push us off the edge of “comfortable” and into the realm of “cutting it kind of close” every month. Guilt.

If I work, I won’t give it 100% because I’ll be thinking about what I’m not doing at home. Guilt, once again.

If I quit, am I derailing my career as I know it? Am I giving up on my potential as an independent and driven individual contributor? Oh, make it stop.

I am still trying to come to terms with my decision to stay home with my son. I am not torn as much because it feels right for me at this point in my life.

That’s the great thing about balance. The choices, though they guide the direction of my life, don’t need to forever define it. When my condition or needs change, I can re-calibrate as necessary. And I think with experience I will learn to fit more on to my scale.

I have also discovered that balance is an intensely personal in definition. What constitute balance for one person is torture for the next. I’ve had several people comment on my decision, saying things like “you’re staying at home? trust me, you’ll be b-o-r-e-d,” or “As much as I love my kid(s), I could never stay home. I need my time away to stay sane.” These are valid points for these women. And there is nothing saying I won’t change my tune at some point and find that being at home actually starts to disrupt my ever-changing definition of balance.

I have to highlight that because in addition to guilt, many women (especially moms) I know endure another stressful and persistent state: the feeling of being judged.

I don’t judge what other moms do–honest. I know the mental and emotional gymnastics that can take place for moms to make the right decisions for their families. I also know many women are not afforded the choice I have–circumstances dictate what they must do for work, and my guilt-ridden tug-of-war must seem somewhat trivial to them. This is not a judgment on what I think is the best decision, just the best for my family at this particular junction in our lives. I commend women who successfully balance more than I do, and hope to learn from them.

I haven’t mastered the balancing act yet. But I know I’m on the way to understanding a lot more about my priorities and how to make the right things fit into my life.

I have not abandoned my ambition and pursuit of my own career, simply made the choice to change course for a while and focus on raising my son and growing our family. That’s a choice I’ve made, complete with consequences. My goal now is to see where it leads me and try to let go of the guilt. After all, I have places to go.

“…you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

–Side note, I’d like to thank Leoarna, whose post “Career Mum or Career Woman? Let’s just let each other get on!” inspired this post. I’m not quite sure of the proper blogging protocol for such a shout-out, but I wanted to make sure it was noted!

Veggies for thought

Forming new healthful habits is difficult for a number of reasons: defeating old habits, maintaining willpower, finding the time to exercise and cut up all those veggies. But the reason that I am finding most maddening is also the most surprising for me: staying healthy requires money.

Fruits and veggies

Adding extra veggies, fish, and a multivitamin to my grocery trip this week cost me a small fortune and a gym membership is out of the question; meanwhile, ramen noodles are $0.30, a McDonald’s McDouble is $1, and sitting on my butt for hours is virtually free.

Sure, there are more frugal ways to be healthy. Start a vegetable garden. Clip coupons. Go running outside. But for those already stretched for time and resources, maintaining good habits with any kind of regularity may be a fruitless (pardon the pun) task.  It’s no wonder so many people abandon New Year’s resolutions by January 2, when real life takes the place of our good intentions, and the majority of us are carrying extra pounds and filled with convenience foods.

I’m now working part-time from home and am more fortunate than many because we don’t rely on my income to make ends meet. However, we certainly don’t have the wiggle room in the budget for a bunch of wild-caught fish or organic apples. Plus, after trying to squeeze some kind of  activity into the vast majority of my day, the cheap and easy gratification of a fast food burger is so much more appealing than another hour of cleaning, cutting, and preparing a slew of vegetables.

Of course, I could buy the veggies pre-cleaned and sliced, but I will pay a pretty penny for them. Or I could buy them in a can, but what about BPA? Carrots are easy, but no one in my house will eat them. Screw it–I’m going to the drive-through! Preparing healthful, tasty, inexpensive, and quick meals is so complex it’s almost contradictory. Something’s gotta give.

OK, so nothing groundbreaking here. Life is a constant balance between time and money, healthful choices for long-term gain or quick and easy methods for short-term satisfaction. It just never hit me before how much our culture and lifestyle mangles the message by extolling, and even guilting us with the benefits of health and wellness as a way of life, then encouraging the quick, easy, cheap foods and lazy life choices.

For me and many others, eating better and getting in shape will always be difficult because my human nature seeks the path of least resistance to nourishment. However, the ease and perpetual allure of cheap, quick, low-nutrient consumer foods makes it even more difficult.

And least I know the challenges I’m up against when creating a healthier life are not entirely internal. In order to improve my health,  I will need to battle the culture that sets unrealistic expectations for our eating and exercise habits, then offers a plethora of easy ways around those expectations. And the first step in any fight is to know your enemy.

Having it all, or losing my mind?

The other day I did something I thought I would never do—I took a phone interview for a job I really wanted with a 4-month-old strapped to my chest.

Before you resign to thinking I’m crazy, let me explain. I recently quit my marketing job in hopes of truly having it all—staying home to raise my new baby while securing satisfying (not scammy) at-home employment, getting back my bikini body, and having homemade dinner on the table every night.

In hindsight, go ahead and think it. I AM crazy. In the first couple of weeks since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to take calls and speak with potential employers or clients at precisely the same moment my little bundle of joy starts to scream his head off. His crying may or may not be detected the person on the other end of the line, but for me it is slowly tearing away at my heart strings (and sanity) with each passing second and each labored wail.

“My baby needs me,” I think to myself desperately while not quite halfway engaging in the conversation. I lose track of what I’m saying, what they’re saying, and needless to say, I haven’t landed work from these fruitless and painful conversations. Luckily, he has remained asleep for enough of my work time that I’ve been able to get through a few successful calls and land a few jobs. But each call I wait with baited breath for the screaming to begin, and I can therefore never fully devote my thoughts to the matter at hand.

After all, as much as I want to be gainfully employed at the same time I stay home to raise my child, I always know in my heart that I’m a mom first. And it’s why his yells for me are so heart-wrenching—I feel just as I did when I was working a traditional 40 hours in an office—like I have to choose to put work before my son.

So that brings me to the baby carrier phone call debacle. My interview was at one, and like all my “phone call” days, I carefully planned his feeding and nap schedule to perfectly coincide with my phone call. But as anyone who has ever had a 4-month-old knows, they like to eat perfectly planned schedules for breakfast and throw them up all over your sweater.

Not me–this is a lovely model using the fabulous (and sanity-saving) Moby wrap

As the time drew nearer, I heard him begin to stir in his crib. I couldn’t bear the thought of enduring the entire (important) conversation with him progressively screaming louder and louder. I knew I would be useless. I needed a plan B.

As I frantically paced the house thinking of ways to make him happy for one full hour while I took the call, it came to me. The only time he is (usually) completely satisfied and calm is when he is tucked in his little Moby baby wrap: attached to my chest. I thought it was risky, but it just might work.
Initially, all was well. I could concentrate on the call because I knew my most precious job was taken care of. Baby was happy. Until he wasn’t.

About 25 minutes into the call, I notice the telltale signs of an impending tantrum. I panicked. What do I do if he starts to scream? What is my explanation? Here I am trying to convince this organization that I can easily balance remote work and maintain a professional demeanor, and I have an infant about to lose his mind directly into the phone.

Fortunately, the job to which I was applying involved mostly non-phone work and writing, so I thought it may be OK. And when the crying started, I dealt with it as graciously as humanly possible. He settled soon after I wrangled the binkie into his mouth and my interviewer seemed to accept my hasty apology.

I don’t know if I got the job, but at this point it’s not looking good. And that’s OK. I am continuing to learn how insanely tough and rewarding it is to be a mom, and how my strong motherly instinct continues to surprise me. As naturally ambitious as I am, I am far more passionate about being a mom than advancing my career.

Having it all may be tough, or it may be downright impossible. All I know is I am on a journey to find out.

Mommy Wars

This blog may be collecting dust, but I have made yet another promise to myself to get back on here and write about my journey (Hey, there is something to be said for continuing to make an effort after failure, right?)

That aside, I have some pretty big news: My husband and I are expecting a baby! This blog has been so neglected, that I am only writing about it now, 3 weeks from the little one’s due date.

And for all my musings about work and getting back to nature and what it is all for, there is nothing like the impending arrival of a child to turn all that philosophizing on its head. In fact, during this pregnancy, a lot of my old worries have been deemed completely self-indulgent/not important considering. Which is good. For now.

I have also discovered the mommy wars, and man (or woman) is it tough out there. There are so many opinions on the best way and the right way and the oh-no-dear-God-she-didn’t way. I would be easier to not let all the hoopla get to me if this wasn’t such a big deal.

To work or stay at home?
Natural birth or medication? Midwife or OB?
Breast or formula?
Glass or plastic?
Attachment parenting? Cry it out?
Cloth or disposable diapers?

It makes my head spin. And while I’ve manage to make my decisions on many of the looming questions. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and sad that modern parenting has been reduced to warfare of what is “right” and “wrong,” with staunch defenders on all sides of each and every tiny issue.

I feel disapproving eyes each time I make a trip to Starbucks. “It’s decaf!” I want to scream, even though my midwife told me caffeine is fine in moderation. I feel judged each time I walk into a store without my wedding rings because my fingers are swollen beyond recognition, and yet I am annoyed at my sensitivity since we live in the 21st century, and it is no one’s damn business if I am married or not. Nothing like the precious and vulnerable life of a child to bring out the most judgmental part of society (and self-consciousness in me.)

All I know right now is I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Nevertheless, I am beyond joyful for this new journey in my life, and will approach it with open arms and and open mind.