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We’re all mad here.

I love costumes. I usually dress up as food (e.g., one year for Halloween, I was a strawberry milkshake), but this year, I am the Mad Hatter. It’s so much fun. The spool sash took forever but is definitely my favorite part of the outfit. One of my coworkers squeals, “You’re so cute!” every time she walks by. I enjoy that.

I can be fairly sensitive and serious, but any chance I get to insert a little whimsy into my life, I jump at it. I love opportunities to be creative, and I notice that I do better mentally when I make an effort to seek them out. To that end, I track creative tasks as part of my ongoing goal-setting for the year. This year, I have eight categories I’m tracking, and while I have specific goals for each (see parentheses below), I try to work most of them in as often as possible:

  • Writing – My writing job and blogging basically track themselves, so I limit this category to other projects, such as poetry, fiction, and newsletter or journal submissions (at least four times a week).
  • Needlework – Most of this is knitting, but I also have been playing around with embroidery and cross stitch (at least twice a week).
  • Piano – I have been working through a book of sonatas, trying to keep my sight-reading skills fresh, but I’m also (slowly) composing a piece. It’s the first song I have written since I busted out “Texas Is the Place for Me” for a piano recital when I was in junior high, but unlike that little gem, this one is strictly instrumental (at least twice a week).
  • Art journal – I have a lush-themed art journal for the year as well as an ongoing scrapbook sort of thing. I also include coloring in this because most of those pages serve as page backdrops or cover art for my various art journals (at least three times a week).
  • Cooking/baking – Is cooking creative? It is the way I do it. Also, have you seen Pie Lady Books? But even if it’s not that elaborate, I like playing around with ingredients and seeing how it turns out (at least once a week, but usually more, especially if I have several free days/evenings).
  • Collaboration – Creative tasks are even more fun with other people. Choir practice and jam sessions are typically how this pans out, but the occasional studio or art party counts, too (at least once but often twice a week).
  • Performance – I usually sing with the choir in service on Sunday mornings, but I’ve been dipping my toe into being on other stages for the last couple of years. I have a performance coming up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned if you’re local (at least four times a month).
  • Miscellaneous – Dang, I love a craft project. I like figuring out how to build or make things, especially if I can use them to decorate or accessorize. At any point in time, I likely have three or four projects in process, and the only reason there aren’t more is that I am limited on space (at least twice a week).

Speaking of goal tracking, I would be remiss if I did not wrap up this month of writing about creating a lush life without revealing the specific things I have been trying to put into practice on a regular basis this year. I didn’t set a specific goal number for them; I’m mostly just logging them for informational purposes. There are five main categories that I use to track lush living:

  • Cozy – Big surprise there, I know. This category is super broad. Any day that includes sufficient cozy elements (this category is also super vague) gets a check mark. Mostly, this is an opportunity to reflect at the end of each day on whether I have made time for myself to relax.
  • Pleasure/self-care – Closely related to cozy (and sometimes they do overlap), this category is more for specific self-care actions like facials and getting my hair done and foot soaks.
  • Socializing – If left to my own devices, I will hermit away and hardly ever leave the house. But several things I’ve talked about this month involve actually connecting with other people, so I give myself a little shout-out in my goal chart when I do something social.
  • Journaling – Sometimes this seems like too much navel-gazing (particularly this month when I’m also journaling daily-ish online), but it is vital to my mental health. I’m so much more grounded when I take a little time every day to write my thoughts out. My journals bounce between total stream of consciousness and well-organized, multi-tiered arguments. It’s a wild ride. I may have to appoint someone to burn them when I die.
  • Adulting – For lack of a better term. I tend to procrastinate unpleasant tasks until I am desperate to get them done. This is unnecessarily stressful and counterproductive when it comes to living a lush life. In addition to putting the week’s to-do list in my planner, I give myself credit for each task in my chart, and it’s working so well that I’m going to keep doing it next year.

And that’s the end. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series of posts on creating a lush life as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Hopefully, you found the occasional nugget that can help you make your life a little lusher, too.

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Aw, Advent candles and pockets. Ignore the ash on the table.

Advent is soon! I’m considering Celtic Advent this year, because the four-ish weeks never seem long enough.

Cozy is the main reason I like Advent and Christmas. The lights, presence, pleasure (coffee, tea, wine, cake, etc.), communal/equality, gratitude, comfort, togetherness, shelter/home of it. I get why this season is hard for a lot of people, especially those who live here and don’t celebrate Christmas, especially if they work or have worked in retail where they play the most annoying Christmas songs ad nauseum for months on end. And in some ways, it’s hard for me, too. But a spot of melancholy hardly ever keeps me from enjoying something.

I do feel compelled to keep a lot of my joy about the season under the radar (except here and now on the internet, of course) so that I don’t become part of the intense way that others try to shove the holiday down everyone’s throat (looking at you, Starbucks cup zealots). Luckily, I’m usually so caught up in preparing for services at church and other fun things I enjoy this time of year that I miss a lot of that, especially during Advent. Because of the way it falls around work schedules and family gatherings, the twelve days of Christmas partly become a transitional time of letting go and tucking in to prepare for the new year. It’s the time of the year that I’m most likely to enjoy getting by on as little as possible and appreciating what I have.

I don’t know if it’s the start of the church year or (some of) the seasonal music or the (mythical) sweater weather, but the season is very cozy to me. Some of my traditions include going to the farm, reading night the night before I leave (I often buy new pajamas and book specifically for the evening), and coming home to rest. Then there’s the best week of the year (Christmas to New Year’s Day) with goal-setting and shopping and catching up with friends but not really planning anything. I used to plan a lot before the week but I’ve found that it’s even more relaxing if the weeks leading up to it are calm, too.

I tend to celebrate seasons more than holidays, so I don’t know that I have specific traditions for certain days. What are some of yours?

I’ve been talking about living a lush life all month.

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If spring and summer are water months, the fall and winter are for fires.

Well, outside fires. I’m clearly in the hygge minority when I say that I don’t like fireplaces. They’re smelly and dirty and are more likely to make me sniffly than cozy. If I ever find a house that doesn’t have one, I will know it’s the house for me. I’m pretty resigned to never finding that, though, because it seems that all the newer houses have them. Apparently, it’s a big selling point. In Texas. Where it often reaches the upper 60s and 70s even in the dead of winter.

Anyway.

I do appreciate the glow and warmth of a communal fire when the air is crisp. I’m lucky enough to have several friends with fire pits in their backyards who generously invite me over to enjoy them. A warm blaze, a little cozy beverage, and camaraderie. Happy.

In addition to actually being able to walk from my car to my office without ending up a sweaty mess, there are many things I love about fall and winter. Boots. Sweaters. Soup. Cider. I enjoy baking in the winter, so I often have biscuits, scones, cookies, and cake lying around. Occasionally I get industrious and even make a pie.

I like warm beverages all year long, but they feel especially soothing when it’s cool outside. My go-to adult beverage is typically wine, but I also tend to keep Southern Comfort and peach schnapps around (don’t scoff until you try it – mix equal parts and enjoy) during the winter. I often drink it cold, but it’s better warm. Add apple cider or cranberry juice if you really must. Downright medicinal.

Shorter days make it easier for me to slow down and relax. I occasionally experience a little seasonal depression, but it doesn’t happen every year. Perhaps that’s because I actually rest in the cooler months. I typically sleep better in the winter than at any other time of the year.

I’m excited that we’re entering the time of the year that I find the coziest.

Cozy seasons are an important part of lush life.

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When I think of the things I like about spring and summer, it’s a short list, and it’s mostly food. The fresh produce in Texas during summer, y’all? Amazing. I mean, it’s good all year, really, because we don’t have proper seasons. But that first bite of ripe peach in late June/early July almost makes me forgive it for being 14,000 degrees outside.

During childhood, summer meant swimming lessons and the occasional church camp. Mostly it meant more time to read and being locked outside to “enjoy the sunlight, dammit.” We have a big backyard at the farm, so there were often games set up for the family or whoever else moseyed on by to play. I still have a scar from running into the horseshoe post while playing frisbee. My favorite game we played was croquet. Spoiler alert for my 50th birthday coming up in a few years – I may have a Wonderland party, complete with an ongoing game of croquet. That seems like a fitting way to end half a century and kick off the spring.

Summertime is synonymous with play to me. I never quite shook the summer vacation vibe, even though I no longer work in a job where I have summers off (or at least with a lighter workload). I’m more spontaneous during the summer. I’m more likely to say yes when people say, “Hey, if you’re not doing anything tonight, join us for ___!” Unless it’s outside. Because WHY. What about Texas outside in the summer is fun at all?

For the last few years, I’ve posted a summer bucket list that is often full of fun things that I want to remember to enjoy, like farmers’ markets, swimming, fresh flowers, and snow cones. My food staples are typically fruit, salad, and sandwiches because it’s too hot to cook. I make several batches of sun tea, and I usually have a signature potion or two that I particularly like that season (this past summer was a toss-up between hibiscus and fresh mint).

I’m also more likely to adopt a signature cocktail over the summer. Some of my summer favorites include:

Summer hygge is capturing that perfect lazy afternoon by the pool with a good book and an umbrella drink. Days like that almost trick me into forgetting the weather.

Every season has its lush moments.

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(Disclosure – some of the links in this post get me some sort of bonus if you sign up. No pressure – just seemed right to let you know.)

I’m not sure when I went from viewing shopping as a nice outing to absolutely despising it. But I’m fully entrenched in avoiding it at all costs these days. I have eaten some of the weirdest concoctions for dinner just to put off going to the grocery store another day. Shoe shopping, one of my former favorite pastimes, is nothing but a chore. And trying on clothes? Forget it. I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing if something will fit so I can just grab it and go.

The only type of shopping I still like is browsing a bookstore, and unless I have a few hours to look around, I usually need the motivation of picking up an online order or meeting a favorite author who’s signing their books to get me there.

But luckily, services such as automated shipments and subscriptions exist. They make my life so much better.

I am part of three book clubs – Literati, Fantastic Strangelings, and Happy Endings – that ship me each month’s selection. All the paper goods I used – toilet paper, facial tissues, the occasional roll of paper towels – are on timed shipments. So are most of my toiletries and cleaning supplies. I order coffee and tea online (or pick up supplements at church). I don’t remember the last time I went inside the liquor store, because as it turns out, they will all bring my order right to my car, as will the grocery store (when they manage to get the order right).

I’m looking for a reliable way to have all my pantry staples routinely sent to my doorstep. Do you have a service you like? Leave it in the comments. Pretty please.

Part of having a lush life is finding ways to make tedious chores easier (or outsource them altogether). Subscriptions take so many errands off my to-do list, and I love that.

I’m writing about the lush life this month.

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I have a lot of mementos of past achievements hanging around my apartment. I keep the ones around that hold mostly good memories that helped to guide the path I’ve taken and to shape the person I’ve become. I’ve had to get rid of others that hold bad memories or simply prompt the question, “What was I thinking?”

I know exactly what I was thinking. That I did it because it would be a nice thing to do. Or because it was something to achieve that would look good on a resume. I did it because I could.

I’ve talked a lot with therapists about how could and should are not the same word.

We’ve also discussed my issues as a former gifted kid. Turns out, it wasn’t just perfectionism and undiagnosed anxiety and depression. It was also an almost constant state of burnout. I just thought that was normal. If I wasn’t exhausted, I must not be working hard enough. Who knew that wasn’t healthy? Oh, everyone knew that? OK, then.

[PSA – I’m fairly confident you’re working hard enough. Why don’t you take a break? Maybe have some water? When was the last time you ate something?]

One of the hardest parts of this unraveling is figuring out what constitutes a reasonable expectation. It’s been over twenty years since I earned that last tassel, and taking the highest possible level of achievement and internalizing it as an expectation is still one of my biggest struggles.

I have made a lot of progress. It’s gotten pretty easy to see when other people’s expectations of me are unreasonable, and I often have a visceral reaction to them, especially when they don’t align with my values. The example that springs to mind is when someone said to me, “Oh, so you’re not really using your degree at all?” when I talked about my job. First, my degrees are in communication, so the fact that I had the superior diplomacy skills necessary to refrain from imitating a velociraptor when she said that was itself an example of using my degree. Second, the idea that something is only worthwhile if it can be used to earn money disgusts me. Especially something as rich and formative as the whole of my college experience was. The very idea that I am somehow obligated to capitalize on all my knowledge, talents, skills, and connections doesn’t live up to my standards at all.

[Another PSA – If your college experience was not rich or formative, you didn’t necessarily do it wrong. As someone who has spent her whole career in higher education, I’m fairly confident it was them, not you.]

Most of my struggles lie in overcoming my own unreasonable expectations of myself. I still say yes way too often simply because I can. Because I know I’ll be good at it. Because I know it will be helpful. Because I know it would probably take me less time to do it than it will take someone else with less experience. And if it ends up taking me longer than I think it should, I am brutal with myself. Once, I was berating myself for turning in something later than I wanted to (still before the deadline, mind you – just not as early as I had planned) and my boss said, “You know you are still the first to turn it in, right? No one else has finished yet.” And without missing a beat, I responded, “Yes, but I’m extraordinary.” To his credit, he did not laugh in my face. He just let it sit there and marinate. And I took a much-needed walk.

As I’ve been trying to cut out the things that I’m involved in that don’t really bring me joy or stress me out, I’ve been bumping up against all the expectations I’ve taken on. I suspect that’s why the process is harder than I hoped it would be. But if I want the lush life I envision, I must work to move on from these responsibilities and the expectations that hold me to them.

Sometimes you have to fight for the lush life you want.

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Now I’m going to take the question about the month-long paid sabbatical and daydream about what I would do if resources weren’t restricted by my current reality.

Most of the month would probably stay the same. I’d still visit friends and family, take day trips, hang out in bookstores and coffee shops, caffeinate significantly, and enjoy having more writing time.

My day trips might turn into longer excursions, though. I’d like to revisit my bookstore or coffee shop road trip idea (still open to guest posts, by the way. Click the link in the previous sentence for details.). Add to my coffee cup collection. I’d also like to spend a week or so in a cabin on the beach, reading and writing and listening to the waves. Or maybe I’d finally cross one of the countries that intrigue me off my bucket list.

Hmm. I might need more than a month.

As long as we’re making wishes, I’d also like a partner who is there for all of it. Well, most of it. I’m still going to need some me time, although probably not as much. Someone who is a good match for me would be one of those rare folks I’m so comfortable with that being with them is almost as relaxing as being alone. I imagine having someone like that to share my everyday life with (sabbatical or not) would up its lush factor a bit.

Because even when I take a week or two off and spend the time the way I’ve outlined here, it’s bittersweet. I haven’t talked about loneliness in a while, but it still permeates most of my days. It’s not as bad as it could be. I’m rich in friendships, and I have good relationships with people at work (which some days, is the only reason I stay). But while friendships are just as important as romantic relationships, they’re not the same. There’s still a specific something missing.

So my lush, unrestricted sabbatical would not just be me and a bottomless bank account. There would also be someone to wake up to and someone in the passenger’s seat, happy to be along for the ride.

I’m daydreaming about a lot of things that make up a lush life this month.

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Actually sitting down to have a leisurely breakfast is one of my favorite parts of any day off.

Prompt from Montana Happy – “If your boss gave you a month-long paid sabbatical, what would you do and where would you go?”

I’m going to take the question at face value and assume current resources, relationships, etc.

If I had a month to do anything, and both my jobs continued to pay me my full salary, I’d use part of the time off to go see friends I haven’t seen in ages. Drive down to Houston to see Maggie and to San Antonio to see Hope. An extra trip to the farm.

I’d also enjoy day trips to local-ish bookstores that are just enough out of the way that I hardly ever have time to go, like Wild Detectives, Deep Vellum, Interabang, etc. Maybe an overnight jaunt with Sarah up to Magic City.

Otherwise, since all the resources I have would still have to be used to pay the bills, I’d probably keep most of the rest of my schedule, which would keep me in town for the most part. But a few things might change. Since I wouldn’t have to get up at a specific time for work, I’d probably get to see more friends’ shows. Driving down to Dallas mid-week (or, let’s be real, even staying out late in Denton mid-week) wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I’d have leisurely mornings and drink a lot more coffee without worrying about whether it will keep me up too late because there’s no such thing as too late when you’re on sabbatical. I’d get to devote large chunks of time to working on several of my WIPs and doing creative things. I’d probably get my house in something closer to order.

Even assuming no extra resources, just thinking of this possibility has relaxed me.

This idea is sounding better and better.

I think I’m starting to grasp what a lush life looks like to me.

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I am spending time with my parents at the farm for a few days. The pictures speak for themselves.

I’m musing about the lush life this month.

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Self-care corner

Several posts over the next few days are inspired by some of the hygge journal prompts from the Montana Happy blog. Today’s question –

“How do you pamper yourself? What are some other things you can do to give yourself more love?”

I used to be really good at this. I scheduled regular manicures and pedicures. In addition to regular hair appointments, I also got frequent massages and facials. I had specific days of the week set aside for all the pampering I did for myself, and I made it a priority.

It’s no mystery why I stopped. These things take time, energy, and money. I simply had more time and energy in my 20s, and I definitely had more disposable income when I split major bills with a roommate or two. Additionally, I have felt like I was in constant survival mode for many of the years between then and now, and it’s really easy when you’re in that frame of mind to see self-care as something extra you do if you have time.

But real self-care isn’t extra. It’s essential.

I don’t want to go back to most of those habits. I had a manicurist/pedicurist I really liked then, and no one else I’ve tried since she quit to open a real estate business with her friend provides the level of service she did (PSA to service providers who touch people for a living – don’t just dive in and get started. Ask questions. Is the pressure ok? Can I use this lotion/oil? Do you prefer a different scent or no scent? How is the temperature? Do you prefer conversation or quiet time? Etc.). In fact, while I still enjoy the occasional manicure, after several lackluster appointments, I had one particularly bad experience during a pedicure (there was bleeding involved) that pretty much soured me on the whole concept.

I do have a colorist/stylist I love. She takes good care of my curls and creates an absolutely serene environment during the appointment. But I need serenity more often than an hour and a half every eight weeks.

In addition to basics like finding a therapist I like and buying quality toiletries (I’m particularly picky about hair products and facial cleansers/moisturizers), there are several other habits I am trying to work back into my weekly schedule:

  • Dinner by candlelight
  • Luxurious foot soaks
  • Face mask (focus on deep cleansing in the summer, hydrating in the winter)
  • Exquisite pastries
  • Daily stretches (morning and bedtime)

It sometimes stresses me out to put these things on my to-do list (ugh one more thing to do), but when I manage to fit them in, I never regret the time I spend showing myself a little more love.

Loving yourself is definitely part of having a lush life.

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