More?! You want...MORE?

Please sir may I have some more.jpg

Around the turn of the New Year, I read a post by Becca Wihite: "Instead of resolutions, this year I'm giving myself gifts...the gift of words. Mine(!) and other people's."  This sounded brilliant to me. I do love making resolutions but my goal-making persona tends to veer wildly from my goal-doing one. "Planning Annie" can be puritanical and rigid, highly optimistic about my time and willpower, and deeply disappointed in "future Annie" when she (or I--that is, regular old sometimes-tired-and-likes-her-comfort-zones Annie) doesn't comply to the high standard. 

So Becca got me thinking. What gifts can I give myself? So many of my goals are about deprivation or limiting--or at least that's how non-planning Annie thinks of them: Impositions. Style-crampers. Buzz kills. What if I thought in terms of gifts and what I want MORE of? 

So that's how I came up with my 2018 S'Mores. Of course I want serenity and wisdom and love but the actual items are concrete, quantifiable things I can give myself and others. I mentioned a couple of these in an Instastory yesterday and Sarah texted to ask what the other Mores were. Here we go:

  • More water
  • More books--real hold-em-in-my-hand-and-turn-the-pages books
  • More candles, more often
  • More cards & letters
  • More gatherings
  • More words 
  • More (camera) photos
  • More hugs and affection

What about you? What are you wanting more of in 2018? What can you give the world and yourself? 

p.s. This photo reminds me. Have you seen the 1968 vintage Oliver movie? Growing up my family used the line "MORE?!!! You want [pause]....MoooOOOOORRRRE?" over and over again to great and humorous effect. But I just went to find a clip of it and he just says "MORE?!" We must have embellished it over the years, ha!

Launching notes: This is love to me

It's kind of hard to believe it's been 25 years today since that snowy day in Logan, Utah, when these two kids launched into the crazy glorious challenging leap-of-faith venture of marriage. The snow had closed the canyon by the end of our reception so we were stranded in the valley and delayed in leaving on our honeymoon. Instead, we stayed in our newly rented tiny tiny basement apartment on 4th North and the next morning we went back to my parents' house and ate leftover reception cream puffs with my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins and opened presents, complete with mildly raucous comments from the spectators. Love and happiness was all around and we felt it.

As my kids get closer to marriage age (but not that close, mind you) I think as much about them on my anniversary as I do about my own marriage: what I hope for them, how I hope they find a partnership that brings them as much joy as possible amidst the challenges and everyday work of life. In that spirit, here are a couple of passages I think beautifully sum up what I hope that most intimate, vulnerable of relationships will be for them--a kind of liner notes/launching notes on marriage and intimacy. It's about as far away from the however-many-shades culture as you can get but it's worth waiting for and hoping for and working for, the room you build together within a marriage:

"The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all in your arms, it goes away, and there you are where giving and taking are the same, and you live a little while entirely in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room? If you want to know why even in telling of trouble and sorrow I am giving thanks, this is why." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"But you may have a long journey to travel to meet somebody in the innermost inwardness and sweetness of that room. You can't get there just by wanting to, or just because the night falls. The meeting is prepared in the long day, in the work of years, in the keeping of faith, in kindness." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that’s lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, love within which all other love finds speech.  This love is silent." (T. S. Eliot)

Title stolen from this love song from The Light in the Piazza, which I loved from the moment I saw at its Lincoln Center debut. Swoon.

p.s. Full disclosure: A version of this post was cross-posted at Basic Joy. You know, for posterity.

First sleep, second sleep

"Last night" by Konstantin Kalynovych

"Last night" by Konstantin Kalynovych

Around my house the first question we usually ask each other in the morning  is "how did you sleep?" Sure, it's partly just politeness but it's also an indicator of how much we love us some sleep around here. I'm a big believer in the restorative power of a good night's rest.

So it was with a bit of panic that I've noticed that my sleep patterns have slowly morphed into a broken pattern where I'm restless/awake in the middle of the night ("slowly morphed" might just be the best euphemism for aging ever, haha). I became especially aware of this when I got a Fitbit for Christmas last year and was astounded to see how often I awakened or was restless in the night. I thought I was getting a good eight or so hours but the Fitbit on my wrist that was tracking my movements said differently:

sleep pattern.jpeg

186 minutes restless. Yay, me!

Mostly I just wake up for a bit in the middle of the night. Sometimes I get up and go downstairs and read a while, sometimes I sit in bed and think crazy-tinged thoughts, fretting about things that seem absolutely ridiculous in the light of morning.  In particularly Inception-like meta moments, sometimes I'm awake worrying that I'm awake.

A month or two ago I was watching a historical Revolutionary War drama and the characters talked about "first sleep" and "second sleep." This sounded exactly like me! Intrigued, I looked it up.

It turns out that first sleep/second sleep was a thing for centuries: people would go to first sleep a couple of hours after dusk, wake up for an hour or two, and then return to second sleep until morning (often with a quick nap in the afternoon, too).  Historian Roger Ekirch found over 500 references to segmented sleep, dating back to Homer's Odyssey all the way up to the 19th century. It seems to have disappeared in the 1920s. This was, of course, probably related to the fact that in a pre-electricity world there were so many hours of darkness and the body only needed so much sleep. 

A psychology study in the early 1990s  had participants in absolute darkness for 14 hours a night. By the fourth week, the participants' sleep had slowly morphed into a distinct, segmented sleep pattern, sleeping for four hours, waking for an hour or two, and sleeping for four more. 

Fascinating! It made me wonder if I should just stop fighting my mid-night wakings and just embrace them as what my body wants me to do. Or at least stop fretting about them. did you sleep? Do you get enough, too little, too much? Have you noticed a tendency toward fragmented sleep?

It's a chipper

Do you know how I wrote about losing my Fall mojo? Part of my reticence to JUMP right into Fall is this certain and unalterable knowledge that the school year is LONG and it's a big commitment. I feel like I've been running a marathon for oh, let's say, fifteen years, and I'm approaching another big hill. Except my previous experience of fifteen years of running is screaming at me, "NO MORE BIG HILLS." And then my previous experience whispers in my ear, "You just can't take the hills honey."

Am I being unclear? It's simple. I'm loathe to wake up every morning at 5 AM, and make the lunches, and monitor the grades, and keep everybody hopping and happy. It's a big job, and right now . . . momma is tired.

Also happening right now? Momma is relearning a handy little mode of operation known as THE CHIPPER.

THE CHIPPER is nothing revolutionary. It's good, plain common sense. Also? It's from Crossfit.


Don't click away. I'll be quick with the Crossfit portion of this public service announcement.

You see, in Crossfit, from time to time, we get a workout known as a 'chipper.' It's usually a long laundry list of exercises -- like 25 pushups, then 25 air squats, then 25 pushups, then 25 sit ups, then 25 push ups, then 25 goblet squats, then 25 pushups, then 25 med ball sit ups. On the surface it seems terrible. (And underneath the surface? It is terrible.) But the reason it's called a chipper is because in order to make it through YOU JUST CHIP AWAY AT IT.

One push up at a time. One movement. Then another. Then another. Every movement takes you one step closer to being DONE. Keep going. JUST CHIP AWAY AT IT.

My Rebecca, a high school junior, is taking a heavy course load this year. She has mountains of homework which, when piled up each evening, are overwhelming. I tell her, "Just chip away at it. One set of notes at a time. One reading assignment at a time. Fifteen minute blocks of studying. Each movement brings you closer to being DONE."

It's not a magic pill, but it's something. And it works.

For me? I'm chipping away at the new school year. One early morning at a time. One track meet. A day of lunches made. A chapter read. Two pages written. Three loads of laundry folded. 

My favorite new saying? When I come across a difficult task (or something I plain don't want to do), I just think to myself, "It's a chipper." And somewhere, back in the foggy recesses of my mind, I remember that I can do hard things if only I'll take a step forward.

The chipper method is akin to Anne Lamott's bird analogy, which I love. Annie wrote about that here.

Virtual mentors and finding your thing

Doesn't everyone dream of packing up and moving to Paris? (Raising my hand and nodding vigorously.) A few years ago Sharon Eubanks decided to do it.  Just like that she quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Paris to find her dreams. Live it vicariously with her in this TED talk where she talks about "slowing down the frantic pace of modern life to find creative energy, purposeful acts, and meaningful relationships." And she realizes in the process that you don't need Paris to get there:

"I'm on a train, it's early spring and I'm looking out the window and I see men and women out in fields and they're getting the ground ready to plant and they're trimming vines and they're getting ready for this great act of faith. They're going to plant. They're going to plant olives and they're going to put in grapes and they're going to have this harvest, which would be later on. As I look at them, I realize: I feel like that. I feel like I'm ready to do some great act of faith where I've kind of thawed out, I've kind of prepared the ground. I'm ready for it. But what is it? What is that thing? And as I thought about that conscious "I'm ready" all of the sudden--you know how the Salt Lake valley gets inversions...and then you wake up the next morning and it's just crystal clear?--it was like that. It was just crystal clear....And it didn't have to do with an exotic place. What it did have to do with was slowing down."

. . .

I have this mental list of virtual, long-distance life mentors. I draw inspiration from their examples and think of them as my pantheon of enlisted advisors, an imaginary council of women (mostly) and men who provide a wide range of inspiring examples to follow and motivation to proceed. Learning about their struggles and paths and processes helps me keep trudging along on mine. Maira Kalman, Madeleine L'Engle, Esther Peterson, Julia Child, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen, Catherine Thomas, Brene Brown, Louis Armstrong, Eugene England, Samantha Power, Lowell Bennion, Emma Lou Thayne, Madeleine Albright (the list goes on and on and of course includes people I know in real life, too) all have a seat at the table.

I think Sharon Eubanks might be the newest candidate. She has a really cool and meaningful job as the director of an international humanitarian organization, speaks articulately about my religion's doctrine regarding women, and just seems to be an all-around cool human. 

What about you? Who are your virtual life mentors?

Settling in

Annie's post yesterday struck a chord with me. I love Fall -- not that we get a whole lot of changing leaves and sweater weather in Texas. But we get enough, and what doesn't occur naturally we create for ourselves -- orange wreaths on doors, soup simmering in the crockpot, a bowl of apples on the kitchen table, football, football, FOOTBALL everywhere. I love the sights and smells of Fall, but it's the return to school that brings me home -- back to myself. School always was (and probably always will be) a place of purpose and confidence for me. I love the learning, the performing, heck -- even the testing. I love the schedule -- everyone back in their appointed places after the meanderings of summer. "Let's all roll up our sleeves (gird up our loins?) and get to work!" That's what Fall says to me. Mostly, I happily obey.

Road trip to Utah. Somewhere near Shiprock, NM.

Road trip to Utah. Somewhere near Shiprock, NM.

Last week I was in Utah helping Maddie get settled into her apartment near BYU. This is her sophomore year, and after an entire summer on her own in NYC she's far more settled and prepared than those first shaky days of her freshman Fall. And still, I know my kid . . . and she doesn't take kindly to transitions. She's living somewhere new, with new roommates, new classes, and (hopefully) a new job. I could sense her anxiety, and being the empathic person I am, I took all of her anxiousness and set it right next to my heart -- alongside her sister's ailing foot in France, and Becca's three AP classes, and Parker's desire to be a star football player even though his promised growth spurt hasn't materialized (yet). 

Morning view of Timp from Heber.

Morning view of Timp from Heber.

When I returned home from Utah, I intended to claim my Fall. My back-to-school mojo. I woke up bright and early Tuesday morning (after Labor Day) to get Becca off to seminary. I dropped Parker at cross country practice and arrived at Crossfit by 7. By 7:10 I was having this conversation with myself, "I can't do this. I'm too tired. And I can't get up at 5 AM everyday. I can't make lunches everyday. Or dinner. WHAT ABOUT DINNER?" My mojo was mysteriously gone. 

Later that day, still feeling anxious and blue, I bought Halloween stickers at Target. 

The next day I wrote three letters, bought a dirty Diet Coke, and sang loudly in the car. Maddie called to tell me she had two job interviews and had made spaghetti in her apartment. Becca wrote a lovely and well-thought out essay about her seventh birthday for English class. I picked up Parker from football practice, and he smelled like a sweaty, eighth grade boy.

Open the sun roof even if the sun scorches your head. It makes you feel alive.

Open the sun roof even if the sun scorches your head. It makes you feel alive.

The next day I got an e-mail from a kindly French gentleman to tell me Jordan's appointment with the vascular surgeon had gone well, and she'd received a clean bill of health.

I slept through an entire night without waking up once.

I've decided that Fall isn't necessarily a magic pill. I mean, I adore candy corn and all . . . but I think I'm going to have to make this one work on sheer will power (and caffeine). And sure, maybe a little sugar.

My essential eight

Illustration by  Linzie Hunter

Illustration by Linzie Hunter

After about 44 years of living, I've realized that sometimes my good intentions aren't paving the way anywhere. They just sit there on the kitchen counter, sighing and rolling their eyes at my outright neglect next to the pile of envelopes I've been meaning to mail. I mean, for instance, I know I'm a happier person when I get out and move in the fresh air every day so you'd think I'd get around to doing it more often, right? Nope. Instead too often I let the triage of my daily to-do list dictate what's urgent, bullying what's nourishing or essential to the bottom of the list.  In fact, somehow over the last decade or so, my to-do list has evolved to be a kind of stoic, humorless Calvinist taskmaster, judging and intimating that if it doesn't feel self-sacrificing and stressful, I'm not being productive. ("Do this. Now go here. Call this person. Clean this. No! you can't go on a hike. That'll put you way behind schedule.You have to do the next 19 things first.")

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling frustrated at the end of a terrible, no good, very bad day. What would have made this a better day, I wondered? I thought about Sarah's three things philosophy and I jotted down a few things that I know consistently shine up my day. They were remarkably simple and yet too often neglected:

  1. hiking 
  2. sunshining (i.e., bringing some kindness into someone else's day--in the family, neighborhood, writing a letter or email to a friend, etc.)
  3. drinking enough water
  4. sleeping (both quantity and quality)
  5. meditating (scriptures/prayer)
  6. creating 
  7. reading
  8. working (i.e., putting aside some guilt-free time to get some studying/writing done)

Now, I'm not claiming I'm able to do all of these every day--I'd say hitting four or five would be doing pretty great. And I'm definitely not suggesting these are or should be your eight things. But:

insight #1: I've noticed that when I give myself permission to focus on these eight things I'm in a better zone than when I'm not.  You know the old object lesson with the rocks and the pebbles and the sand? These, I've learned, are my rocks. They go in first. So obvious in theory but, in practice, such an epiphany!

insight #2: Hmmm, mindlessly surfing the internet/Facebook/instagram isn't really on the list. Interesting. 

I'm curious: Does your daily list include things that nourish you or is your list as grumpily withholding and allergic to pleasure as mine had gotten? What would be on your daily nourishing essentials list?