Too busy


I have to admit that I'm slowly growing to detest the phrase "I'm so busy."  "Busy" is a relative term, and one I'm realizing it is not necessarily synonymous with success or significance or even high achievement. Busy is a state of mind, and for me . . . in the last year or so I've conscientiously worked to be less busy. The absence of busy-ness doesn't mean idleness. It just means less going on in my head (and sometimes, hopefully, on my calendar). I loved this short article about competence, and how our desire to prove ourselves is making us miserable.

"I have to be honest and and admit that saying 'no' does not come easily to me. It feels far easier to blame my time- and life-management issues on 'The Curse of Competence' than it does to think of this as a situation I have created for myself. As I have reflected on this over the last few days, it has occurred to me that I might be under some other spells. I could be afflicted with 'The Curse of Wanting to be Liked,' 'The Curse of Wanting to Tackle Things That Seem Impossible,' 'The Curse of Finding Everything Interesting,' or even 'The Curse of Thinking I Am Uniquely Qualified to Save the Day.'"

I've been wondering about what "spells" I'm personally afflicted with. Maybe "The Curse of Desiring Perfection," or "The Curse of Pinterest," or "The Curse of Needing to Control Everything (which means delegating nothing)."

What about you? Any spells that are unnecessarily filling up your days?

This NYT article, "The Busy Trap," is an oldie but a goodie.


Guys, I'm a bit under the weather. Nothing major. . . probably just too little sleep over the last few days. But fear not, I'm posting a little essay I wrote last Christmas season on my personal blog (which I promised I would keep up after I started Nest & Launch, and therein proved that I'm a big, fat liar). This is the moment where I decided to poll the kids for their top Christmas activities. Also, here's where I show you that sometimes I'm materialistic, and sometimes I like to punish myself psychologically. And sometimes I just put it all down and take a nap. Enjoy! (P.S. I'm 87% finished with my Christmas shopping. What about you?)

wool felt balls.jpg

During our Thanksgiving trip we did some shopping near downtown Austin. There are a couple of places we like within walking distance to each other: Book People, Anthropologie, Paper Source, West Elm, and then Whole Foods for treats. The West Elm store is the BEST EVER. It's huge. It has more stuff than our West Elm...and it's merchandised in just such a way that screams in my ear. Want to know what it says?


And I really, really want to live my best life, so I listen so, so carefully. I plan little vignettes of West Elm-y stuff in my head. I exhort myself (forcefully) to CLEAR OUT and SIMPLIFY, so that every room is serene, and clutter-free, and studded with just the right amount of mercury glass and natural fibers. On that particular trip I got it in my head that I NEEDED a faux deer head mounted above my fireplace JUST FOR CHRISTMAS. Because then, under the benevolence of those faux horns, it would be the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

I'm going to come right out and tell you that the deer head was $99. The price wasn't necessarily a deal breaker -- seeing as how I somehow spent $74.23 just the other night at HEB on the stuff for homemade pizza, some chocolate covered pretzels, and shampoo and conditioner for the girls. But still, those $99 deer heads add up and pretty soon the serene and the clutter-free is completely covered up with faux animal parts and my bank account is suffering.

And so I find myself endlessly see-sawing between simplicity and excess, between practicality and frivolity, between meaningful Christmas and magical splendor. I talk myself in and out of each end of the spectrum several times a day...and it's plumb tiring.

Just last night I wanted the whole family to watch the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. Come on people, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Christmas carols, some sage words of advice about remembering Christ this season...all with popcorn. Now THAT'S Christmas, right? And it was okay. Except I yelled at one kid for texting and had to continually shush Parker and Sterling who were threatening to break into fits of rough housing. In the end I was grouchy. Hmmmm. Maybe the deer head would have helped after all.

After some thought this morning, here's my grand plan. I'm going to sit the kids down and we are going to orchestrate our BEST CHRISTMAS EVER. Meaning everyone gets to pick one or two favorite activities and then Sterling and I will do our darnedest to make them happen. Also, I settled for the (pictured above) wool-ball garlands in lieu of the deer head. Simplicity folks. That's what will make my best life ever, and I'm going after it with the vigor of Santa's elves the night before Christmas.

Except with a bit of mercury glass and natural fibers.

P.S. Here's a fun Christmas wall paper for your computer. I downloaded it and it's making me feel a bit festive.

Fail to plan . . .

I know that I shouldn't rush right past Thanksgiving. And I'm not; I promise. In fact, our second born is arriving home THIS SATURDAY from college, and after a three-month absence, I'm all a-twitter and chock-full of thanks. Sterling and I are firming up our Thanksgiving menu, so there will be more on that later.

For better or worse, Thanksgiving prep and Christmas planning must inevitably coincide, at least at my house. Cards need to be ordered. The shopping needs to be done. Decorations need installing. And then there are the thousand other miscellaneous Christmas THINGS that need a slot on the calendar: like gingerbread decorating, caroling and hot cocoa, school and church parties (that require small gifts -- so many small gifts), visiting, remembering, all manner of celebrating. 

I'm thinking of putting together a Christmas planner this year -- one that I can reuse or duplicate (in some way) for subsequent years.

The eighteen25 girls do a pretty nifty planner. Each year they update the tags with the new year. The instructions for assembly are here. And new 2013 tags are here. [Edited to add: Ha! Just saw that eighteen25 posted TODAY about 2013 Christmas planners. I'm so IN SYNC. Check it out here.

Nora from JustMakeStuff is a master of organization. I'd like to hire her to run my life, and if she'd consider working for absolutely free -- I think we could make things work. She even has an entire wrapping center at her house. (Last year, it should be noted, I put up a long table in my bedroom and stocked it with wrapping supplies. I left the table up for about two weeks, and was fairly successful at corralling my Christmas mess into that one location. Three cheers!) Nora's planner incorporates a Christmas section into an existing organizational binder. See here (click on links for all of the downloads and instructions). Also, she has an entire Christmas category (along the right side of her blog) that is super fun and instructional.

If you are more of a virtual planner, Real Simple has an "Ultimate Christmas countdown Checklist" that breaks tasks down for you by date . . . and you do get to virtually tick the boxes . . . which everyone knows is exceedingly satisfying.

There is an app (of course) called The Christmas List, which is primarily a shopping app -- tracking items to be purchased, wrapped, mailed, etc. The app also includes a budget feature which allows you track the amount spent on each person on your list. (But I hate budgeting . . . so THERE.]

Whatever organizational method I end up utilizing, I'm dead set on simplifying. Manageable -- that's going to be my mantra this year.

And guess what? Jordan's Christmas is already making it's way to France. ONE DOWN . . .

What about you guys? How do you keep Christmas simple? How do you focus your big kids on the real joy of the season?

Reading the yield signs

Since I've gone back to school--or back to dissertation, I guess--there's been this constant, nagging nudge that haunts me through the day: you should be reading something academic, should be writing, could be researching. While, sure, it's helpful to be motivated to work, I've noticed the constant internal preoccupation ends up robbing me of enjoying other good things in my life, including being present and attentive with my family. 

This week it feels like everything I see/read/think has been urging me to snap out of it already. To show up, slow down, and pay attention. 

photo origin unknown

photo origin unknown

There was that post On Slowness I read that referenced an art history professor who requires her students to look at a painting for three hours before writing about it. Despite initial grumbling, the students come away "repeatedly astonished by the potentials this process unlocked." She proposes that such deep attention and patience needs to be structured by teachers & professors (and, I would add, parents) since it's not cultivated "in the wild" anymore.   I loved that. And also: when was the last time I looked at something for three hours?

. . . 

A book I was reading ended with this quote: "I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride" (William James) 

. . . 

Finally, the ever-fantastic Billy Collins just released a new book of poems and this one captures this well:


This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

 - Billy Collins

Okay, universe. Aye-aye. Message received. (Of course, the irony is that I'm writing this as my kids get ready to head to bed and G just got home from a business I'll sign off now.)


A transcript of Billy Collins's recent conversation with Diane Rehm. 
 - A copy of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems would make a great gift, by the way.
 - G and I went to the movie About Time last weekend. It's funny and sweet and sentimental (some might find it overly so but not me! bring on the sentiment!) and I came away inspired to relish & fall in love with the wonderfully mundane moments that make up our lives. The music was really good, too, so I made a playlist.   This song is especially lovely. And this one


Clearing out

I want these guys. I sat out front my grocery store staring at them for a solid five minutes. I just kept wondering where I would store them. I couldn't come up with anything. Too much stuff over here!

I want these guys. I sat out front my grocery store staring at them for a solid five minutes. I just kept wondering where I would store them. I couldn't come up with anything. Too much stuff over here!

Unless you live in Texas, you've probably never heard of Round Top. It's a tiny Texas town (population 90) about an hour from where I live, and every year Round Top hosts this fantastical, over-the-top antiques fair. I'm not precisely certain about the genesis of the phenomenon, I only know that three times a year every antiques dealer, vintage goods peddlar, and flea market purveyor for 1000s of miles converges on Round Top, Texas. Miles of tents. More reclaimed wood, and 1960s ceramics, and old maps, and vintage linens than you can shake a stick at. I'm serious. It would literally take you all day just to drive through all the tents while stick shaking. It's so, SO much.

I'd never been to the Round Top extravaganza before, so Debbie and I loaded up in the big truck (to haul all of our giant purchases) and headed into the countryside. We stopped at several tent cities, parked the truck, and set out to find some treasures. We walked up and down the aisles pointing out cool stuff. But we didn't really stop. How could we stop? There were MILES of tents to go. Also, it was 90 degrees outside with 137% humidity. After about an hour we were like two lost castaways, stumbling along the sandy dunes. Looking for water. A place to sit. A crumb to lift my depressingly low blood sugar. Guys, our treasure hunting skills were subpar. There was no motivation to pluck the gem from the pile of junk. 

We went home with nothing. Well, actually Debbie bought one metal Santa (measuring about 8" high), so GOOD THING WE BROUGHT THE TRUCK! Yeehaw! 

Part of our lack of success was that we were plumb overwhelmed. But the majority of our reticence to purchase came from a feeling of TOO MUCH STUFF. There was too much stuff all around us and too much stuff in our homes. How could we fit more stuff? Where would we put it? 

With Christmas swiftly approaching (oh, so swiftly), I'm getting myself all worked up about stuff. Christmas, as the grand poobah of consumerism, could, and probably will, mean a whole new wave of STUFF lining up to enter our already STUFFed-to-the-gills closets and drawers. And don't even get me started on the garage.  

My point is that I need to pair down. In the early years of our marriage I wanted STUFF and more stuff -- to feather our nest, to prove we were making it, to appease that gnawing need deep inside that can only be satisfied at Target. And babies need STUFF. And toys. And exersaucer things. I'm feeling more and more that I need to teach my older kids about being content. About buying high quality goods that last, rather than shiny baubles that satisfy only for the moment. About avoiding a consumerist trap that requires so much money, and time, and UPKEEP. 

But first I'll have to walk the walk. I'm initiating project NO MORE STUFF (except for the stuff I really, really love or really, really need). I realize that if my movement is to catch on I'll need a more succinct title. Anyone want to join me?

I'm currently mildly obsessed with this blog post -- "Clutter-free Forever {Vintage Tips for an Organized Home} ." Ruth, the author, writes about the limitless spending and collecting that our postmodern cultural allows and encourages: "We live in a time of more excess and waste than ever before.  We think nothing of a closet full of clothes, where our grandmothers and great-grandmothers only ever had a few dresses and a single pair of shoes to get them by.  Holidays and birthdays are accompanied by piles of gifts rather than just one or two, while our kitchens and bathrooms are packed to the gills with gadgets, accessories, and products." And then she gives TIPS, and an entire PROCESS for becoming clutter-free forever. It sounds dreamy to me. Also -- a lot of work. But I'm game. I'm in. What about you?

Also, check out Ruth's post about taking away her kids' toys. Apparently this caused quite a stir (and I'm the last person to find out). I think her idea sounds FABULOUS.