Launch lab report: Date your dreams

A couple of weeks ago I proposed an experiment in dating dreams and, as promised, I'm here to report back on how it went. But first, a confession. My writing well is empty. Or broken. Something. I really owe some penance for missing two posts last week but here's what was happening behind the scenes:  I was just staring into the writing abyss with nary an insight, not a bit of wit. Blank white screen and flashing, mocking cursor.

But lab reports are notoriously dry, right? I like that low-set bar. So here goes...

Experiment: Date my dreams by trying out small doses of activities/things I think might be interesting to follow as someday dreams

Timeframe: Two weeks, which really isn't enough time to really do this lab justice. This is something more suited to a new years' resolution, in all honesty. But I did manage to try on a couple of dreams to see how they fit: a dream job and a new creative pursuit.

Trial 1:  Date my dream job. A few weeks ago I was offered a temporary position to fill in during someone's one-year maternity leave at exactly the kind of job I had always coveted: managing research at a non-profit/consultancy for children and youth programs, policy, and research. It felt scary but pretty exciting--and the three days a week (T, W, Th) schedule felt manageable.

I have some pretty good, relevant experience supporting me but I knew going in that it was going to be an opportunity to step up to a new level professionally.  In addition, I leapt in at just the moment of high-paced deadlines of the end of the fiscal year. There have been moments when I've had to give myself a pep talk, moments when I felt like doing a happy dance, and moments when I wondered why on earth I had wanted to disrupt my life this way! But it's also been exhilarating in that way that stretching beyond what you thought you could do brings a new sense of possibility. 

Exhibit A: On my third day I had the assignment to co-testify at Parliament to a senate committee on early childhood. Gulp.

Yes, it's been quite a ride so far, mostly exciting and rewarding with a dash of terror. (When it comes to fight-or-flight stress response instincts, I'm definitely in the "flight" category. I immediately start looking for an escape hatch. Or an avoidant nap.) What has saved me as I hike the steep learning curve is the mental framing of this experience as dating my dream and the notion that this is just an experiment to see if it's something I would want to do longer term. It's just a rehearsal, really.  A paid rehearsal no less!

Trial 2: Take on a new creative pursuit. I've mentioned before that I've been feeling the creative itch lately. These hands want (need!) to make things. Ideally, I'd like to be able to create while I sit around with my family, while we watch a movie or are on a roadtrip. I noticed I had been pinning an abundance of embroidery projects to my "make things" Pinterest board so decided to stop pinning and start stitching already.

Not my actual embroidery, just one of the many inspirations, via  here  and here

Not my actual embroidery, just one of the many inspirations, via here and here

I LOVE it. It's the perfect zen balance to the higher adrenaline of the new-job experiment. I'm starting with some easy projects in this Stitched in Scandinavia embroidery book but I'm hoping to do both of the above projects as I get more comfortable with the needle. So therapeutic and calming!

Results: The two experiment trials have been positive, overall. I'm keeping both activities for now and I highly, highly recommend the "date your dreams" mentality. 

Enough about me. Have you dated any dreams lately? Do tell!

Launch lab: Date your dreams

painting by Eugenio Viti

painting by Eugenio Viti

In this mid-stage parenting zone, many of us are watching our kids get ready to launch in the coming years--sometimes one after the next after the next. Sometimes it feels like we just regroup and reorient as a family (minus one) and then it's time for the next child to go! I know their departures match the intervals of their arrivals but somehow the time on this end seems clipped and the launches feel more sudden--despite the fact that we ready ourselves for them far longer than nine months. 

Right now I have one child away volunteering on a mission, one graduating in December (since it's Australia, where the school year matches the calendar year) and one home for another couple of years. Beyond here there be dragons, as the old map makers used to say. I try to resist leaping ahead and indulging in too much anticipatory nostalgia but I find it challenging not to start missing this stage of life before it's over. Truly, though, it's the looming scarcity of these days that makes them so sweet as we count down to take-off.

At the same time there's a kind of parallel pre-launch countdown taking place for ourselves, yes? No matter what our lives look like as parents of teens--whether you work at an outside career part time or full time, whether you work at home full time, or any other combination of school/work/home/hobby life--when the nest empties, there will be some adjusting. Though G frequently asks quizzically, "why do they call it an empty nest? I mean, we'll still be here, right?"

Yes, exactly. We'll still be here. This week I'm thinking about anticipatory launching, not of our kids but of ourselves. We don't really talk about it much, do we? This major transition from full-time, resident parenting to distant-but-supportive parenting invites a reconsideration of what the next chapters will look like for me, for each of us. It's what-do-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up, version 3.0. With a bit more time and fewer daily care giving commitments will I follow my curiosities into new hobbies? Will I dive deeper into current pursuits? What can I do now to start preparing for the next 50ish (pretty please, knock on wood) years of my life?

I love what Whitney Johnson, the author of Dare, Dream, Do suggests. She says "go ahead and date dreams, lots of them--you don't need to commit to every dream you date." In one of the guest posts on Whitney's blog (and there are many excellent ones there), Emily Olson adds "Finding your passion is a lot like finding a husband. Who wants to evaluate every first date, asking yourself if he is the one? It's far easier to ask yourself if you simply want one more date with this dude. So my advice? Go on dates with ideas, until you realize there's this one you just can't stop hanging out with...when you've found that, you've likely found your passion." 

So that's my launch lab for the next two weeks--and my challenge to you. Go date some dreams. Start exploring and figuring out what captures your thoughts, flies your kite, floats your boat. You don't have to marry those dreams just yet. Just date them.

Launch lab: reflections on planning

Planning notebook on top!

Planning notebook on top!

It's been two weeks now that I've been planning my day each morning and reviewing my planned tasks each evening. (See my original intent here.) Time to report!

Planning in the morning was relatively easy for me. Some days I was more thoughtful and methodical, while a few days found me dashing off a list while showering, making lunches, and balancing Becca's forgotten choir t-shirt on my head. The upside to the list making, as I imagined it would be, was that I worked further into my day. Rather than mentally checking out at 3 PM and then sludging through the rest of my day, I'd often have to do some real reading or writing in the afternoon in order to check SOMETHING off my list. So, that was good. 

An unexpected side benefit of my list-making is better meal planning. On days I scheduled grocery shopping, I wrote a menu on the back side of my planning page (this way I can keep track of and reuse successful menus). Also, because I conscientiously planned my shopping trips, rather than running out the door at 2:30, I was pretty darn good about getting a week's worth of supplies in one trip. The meal planning alone saved me bunches of time in last minute trips to the store. 

The downside? I wasn't so great at the evening review. If I waited too late, say after 9 pm, I was too tired to really give the list much thought. Also, a few evenings we had kid stuff -- church, orchestra concert, choir performance -- so it was really late by the time I made my way back to ye olde planner. On the other hand, when I attempted a review before dinner it seemed too early -- there were still things to do on my list! Even though I am getting old and forgetful, I found that I really don't need a morning AND evening reminder just yet. I think I might reserve evening planning sessions for particularly busy times -- like before trips or celebrations when there are many small details to consider. 

For now, I'm going to keep making my morning lists and planning my menus on the weekdays. I do better when I corral my thoughts and assignments together in one place. I feel less scattered anyway. Oh, and I should report that the list making helped me to remember Parker's after-school orthodontist appointment. I'm at about 70% on remembering those ortho appointments! Seriously.

What about you guys? Any successes to report with planning?

Launch lab: Planning to plan

Good morning Monday! I'm here with our second installment of lab work. (You can see Annie's first experiment here.) The idea is to try out new practices both in our homes and in preparation for the  launching / life-after-kids stage we are all flirting with at the moment. We want to DO things that are active and practical to see if they can better our lives in some small way. Play along with us (if you dare).

This is not ALL I plan on doing today. But I did need to get the picture taken. . .

This is not ALL I plan on doing today. But I did need to get the picture taken. . .

For the next two weeks I'm going to have a small-ish planning meeting (with myself) each morning and evening. With the relatively unstructured days of summer looming large, I have a desire to be more deliberate in my life. I don't necessarily want to accomplish MORE THINGS, but I do want to be more mindful and devote my time to those tasks that will bear the most fruit. Lately, I feel myself giving up on the day by about 3 in the afternoon (sometimes watching House on Netflix while eating chocolate doughnuts). But then I'm frustrated by my lack of progress in many areas of my life (on the upside I could probably diagnose Sarcoidosis or Wegner's Disease with just a bit of bloodwork).

I've bought myself a new, fresh notebook, and I plan to make a list each morning of things I want to accomplish throughout the day. I'm going to purposely keep my list short (still working on three main things a day), but I'm also going to focus on being more specific within those three big things (ie exactly WHAT I will research/write that day, WHAT I will do to entertain the kiddos). Then, in the evening, I'll evaluate what ACTUALLY happened during the day and make notes about what is working and what isn't. Hopefully, this will make me more productive and give me some insight into those activities that are trivial or redundant or just not working. 

In the past there have been times when I've been a semi-planner in the morning -- jotting down a rough list of to do's. However, I've never finished the day with an evaluation/planning session, so that will be completely new. I'm committed to trying this out for two weeks (M-F, and then Saturday morning and Sunday evening), and I'll report my findings on Monday, May 19th. I know you'll all be waiting with baited breath!

Nest Lab: Hail and farewell

Today we’re unveiling (imagine me flicking my wrist and gliding my arm in front of me, The Price is Right style) a new feature for Nest & Launch*. When we met and brainstormed some new ideas a couple of weeks ago, Sarah and I wanted to have a spot now and then for trying out ideas/research/advice. And so Nest Labs and Launch Labs were hatched. Each month one of us will choose an idea to try for two weeks and then follow up with a lab report—ideas related to either nesting (family, home, parenting) or launching (exploring, discovery, outside-the-comfort-zone, next stage sorts of things).  Sometimes we’ll take our cue from old wives’ tales, sometimes we’ll try out what research suggests, and sometimes we’ll just follow a crazy thought where it leads.

We’re not promising that these experiments will necessarily make it into our regular routine and repertoire, mind you. We’re thinking of these more like a dressing room for ideas—some will come home with us but some will end up cast off and crumpled on the floor after just not quite working in the three-way mirror in harsh fluorescent lighting. It’s an experiment and this will be our lab. Oh, and you’re invited to come along, too, if you feel inclined. The more the merrier!

For this first Nest Lab, I’m going with something simple—making better hellos and goodbyes. Sometimes our house feels like a train station; someone is always coming in or dashing out the door. As the unofficial train station manager I used to be quite good about making sure everyone got a good send-off or a focused hello but more often than not I toss an absent-minded “hi” over my shoulder as I hunch over something—a book, a computer screen, a stovetop. (Speaking of hunching, that is a lab for another month. Must. Improve. Posture.) Or I holler “bye!” from upstairs when I hear the jingle of keys. Hellos and goodbyes were easier and more energetic when the kids were younger; I think time, frequency, and routine have sapped them of their energy lately.

Hello, Dad! My dad and me, 1971

Hello, Dad! My dad and me, 1971

As I was writing this I remembered that Gretchen Rubin tried this very thing in her book Happier at Home (she enlisted her whole family in warmer hellos and goodbyes). She says, “somewhat to my surprise, we all began to follow the resolution (most of the time)…as a consequence, each day, several times, we had moments of real connection among all members of our family.” I also think this is a great skill for life: knowing how to give a good hello—eye contact, smile, warmth—and goodbye. Maybe this will spill over into other kinds of interactions. I don’t know. Will this really make a difference to my people? Will anyone even notice? We’ll see.

So for these two weeks, here’s the plan: I’m going to stop what I’m doing, go and look the arriver/goer in the eyes, smile big and give a genuine hail or farewell. It is a very small thing but many family and marriage counsellors believe that paying attention to small rituals like this make a huge difference in relationships and pave the way for a warmer family climate overall. (For example, here and here.) And, surprisingly, it’s often one of the first assignments for a couple in therapy.

Join me? I’ll be trying this for the next two weeks and talking about it in my “lab report” on April 21. 

* We're also happy to be returning to our schedule of posting every weekday starting this week. On the slim chance you're interested in the full rundown (hi, Mom!), here's the rough schedule of posts we're trying out, M-F:

  • Monday: Nest/Launch Lab post, essay, or parenting post
  • Tuesday: Focus on  food - books - movies - research - design - gatherings
  • Wednesday: Essay or parenting post
  • Thursday:   Focus on food - books - movies - research - design - gatherings
  • Friday: A Few Good Gems (fun fact: we were considering eliminating these but many of you mentioned them as favorites in the giveaway post so they're staying)