Archive for the ‘31 Days’ Category

I can actually smell this picture.

One of my hesitations with choosing lush as my theme for the year was that it might get expensive. When I think of what lush means, I imagine extravagance and living my best life (whatever that means). I was concerned that I would be tempted to spend more money than I needed to in order to turn my life into what I imagined it could become.

I am delighted to find, however, that a truly lush life is for everyone. In fact, an obsession with consumption and spending beyond my means is, in most ways, in direct opposition to the life I actually want.

I think what attracts me most to hygge is how egalitarian it is. The goal is not to impress with fancy parties or expensive things. In fact, according to Wiking, “the more money and prestige is associated with something, the less hyggeligt it becomes.” There’s nothing wrong with toasting your friends with champagne, but if you’re going for warmth and comfort, a simple cup of tea or hot chocolate is better suited to the task. I think having a lush life is the same way. I’d rather chop up a ton of veggies and invite everyone over for soup than have to be stingier with the guest list to keep my grocery bill in check.

Many of my thoughts about what having a lush life means to me come back to community care. Everyone has something to contribute, and someone can always benefit from your excess. Growing up in a small farming community taught me this. When someone grows more peas than they can eat, the neighbors get fed, too. When our fruit trees were full, our friends were welcome to help themselves. One of my favorite holiday memories is getting to eat homemade tamales from Mom’s friend Bertha in exchange for a couple of Mom’s meringue pies.

Of course, community care goes beyond feeding each other, but it’s a good start. The joys of sharing a simple meal or talking over coffee are part of a lush life that everyone can experience.

I’m musing about the lush life this month.

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Words, books, and mugs. And bats (because Halloween).

My desk at work is typically sparse and no-nonsense. This is likely a residual effect from working for so long in shared spaces where I didn’t have any personal space that was just my own. But this month, I’ve actually decorated the space, and it makes a big difference in its coziness. It’s still not a great location, but at least I am surrounded by things I love.

My home office is one of my favorite spaces in my apartment. Even when it’s impossibly messy (as it is now, which is why there’s no picture), it’s still cozy. It sparks creativity and excitement about whatever project I happen to be working on. I occasionally take my laptop into the living room because I think it will be more comfortable, but I almost always end up back in the office before my task is complete. I write faster and better in the office.

I think one of the reasons for this is that I have purposefully designed my home office to represent the life I want to eventually have. Once I’m retired from UNT and have more time to write and create (and perhaps actually make a dent in reading my gargantuan collection), I imagine doing so in a place that looks just like this room. So when I step through the door, I can almost pretend I’m already there.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the perfect bookshelf. I lean toward the tall and simple, but I have to admit that I’m mesmerized by the more asymmetrical pieces. I really love the look of them. Maybe I’ll have more of them in my home if I ever move into a larger space. One of my bookshelves is sort of like that. It folds into the corner, and it’s not as tall as the rest, so the top shelf is more decorative with a cute bookend and a large cup and saucer planter.

Imagine an elephant holding up the books on the left. So cute!

I have old coffee cups and mason jars scattered throughout the room, holding everything from pens and pencils to binder clips or bookmarks. My current knitting project sits at my feet by the desk so that I have something to do with my hands during meetings.

And of course, I’m surrounded by books. That alone would make it a hard space to beat.

In seeking ways to create a lush life, it’s been amazing to discover that just tweaking the physical environment is enough to put me in a more extravagant and abundant headspace.

Do you have a particular space that fuels your creativity? What’s it like?

I’m writing about the lush life all month.

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Dang, I love a clean, shiny floor.

When I think about my ideal lush home, I see fresh flowers on the table. Endless bookshelves. Oversized, comfy chairs with warm blankets draped over them and plenty of large throw pillows to cuddle or use as floor cushions. A place to put my feet up.

Then I look around me, and I see a side table full of tea cups that haven’t quite made it to the kitchen to be washed yet. Dishes piled up in the sink. Dust bunnies lurking in the corners. And omg, the piles and piles and PILES of paper.

I was talking to my friend Stephanie lately about the challenges we both face when it comes to maintaining a clean and tidy living space. It was a cathartic conversation, and she shared some helpful resources she’s been using lately. I’ve also been reading Susan Pinsky’s Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, and it’s been useful, too. This step-by-step approach is helping me work through my overwhelm, and I’m so grateful.

Because nowhere in my vision of a lush life is a messy apartment. I find mess distracting and frustrating, but I can’t quite seem to get a handle on it. I’ve had problems with this for as long as I can remember. Every Saturday, I would complete my assigned housekeeping task for the house (vacuuming) and then spend the rest of Saturday working on my bedroom. And it would look very much the same hours later than it did when I started. I always thought I was just lazy or too busy, but I’ve since noticed that I spend just as much time (if not more) working on my home as others. I get distracted, so there are a lot of half-done tasks strewn throughout my space. Then I get overwhelmed and suddenly every unfinished job seems to have ten times the number of steps than it did before. Then I sit down and binge-watch a familiar show until the pressure subsides, at least until I notice how much is still left to do. Then the cycle repeats.

Part of my goal this year has been to find ways to break this cycle and create a maintenance plan that works for me. I track six general cleaning categories – dishes, laundry, trash, bathroom, tidying, and miscellaneous (which includes any task, such as dusting or vacuuming, that won’t ever need to be done every day) – and I try to check off at least four a day. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend on each of them as long as I can see that none of them are being neglected for more than a day or two. It’s been working much more slowly than I would like, but it has been working, and that’s the important part.

Another resource that helps is this post that reframes cleaning as a hygge activity (there’s also a Facebook group). Lots of inspiration and motivation. My perfectionist brain tells me, “You shouldn’t have to be motivated to adult properly,” but my functional brain thinks my perfectionist brain is an unhelpful asshole and needs to shut it.

[It’s ok to tell the nagging, judgy parts of your brain to mind their business. Shame has no place in this plan.]

Trying to fix the things in my life that haven’t worked for a long time is challenging (and sometimes exhausting), but it’s all part of creating a lush life.

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Remember when I was going to post updates every quarter? What an ambitious plan that was.

I love reading challenges. In fact, I love them so much, I’ve got five going right now. I would not have picked up some of the great books I’ve read this year if I didn’t need them to fulfill a prompt from a challenge:

A lot of the prompts, though, just feel like homework. That’s fine occasionally – I am an avid proponent of reading outside one’s comfort zone. But I also get that from my book clubs pretty often, so I’m not sure I need an extra dose of it. I know for certain I don’t need five extra doses.

So I haven’t decided if I’m going to commit to a specific reading challenge next year, or just read for pleasure. I am currently leaning toward reading for pleasure, as I have a lot of books at home that feel neglected as well as a ridiculously long TBR list (curated according to my favorite genres). I may just decide that comfort reading is my focus next year:

  • Cozy mysteries (or mysteries in general)
  • Books about books (collecting them, reading them, writing them, solving mysteries near them, etc.)
  • Books about food (fiction, memoir, magical realism, cozy mystery set in a bakery – I love it all)
  • Romance (but only for characters I like. I will DNF a romance faster than anything if I think a jackass character is unworthy of the person the happy ending trope demands they end up with. I do not need this particular fiction to mirror real life, thanks.)

Also, I’d like to actually read all my book club books (not just the ones I actively discuss in person).

No matter what I decide to do, I know one thing will remain constant. Having a rich, lush reading life will continue to be one of my most treasured priorities.

I’m writing about all the things that make life lush for me this month.

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Matching pjs and silly socks – girls’ weekend with Maggie and Michelle

As I have already mentioned, I get peopled out pretty easily. My introversion is getting more pronounced/intense as I get older. Or maybe I just had less self-awareness and more energy in general that I mistook for the ability to be more social when I was younger. At any rate, there are very few people I can spend a large amount of time with without eventually getting to the staring-into-space overwhelm that I need many hours to recover from.

This may be why the concept of hygge is so appealing to me. Calling something a cozy gathering automatically implies that it’s a small one. Going to the farm to visit my parents, having a few people over for dinner – anything that allows me to enjoy time with others without high-impact social fallout. Ideally, this would be all my social interactions ever.

During the summer, I was discussing with Maggie how nice it would be to have a large house (with actual guest rooms and a huge kitchen) but also the time and resources to really enjoy it. Maybe even have a few people over for the weekend more than once every year or two. I feel like if I didn’t live in a constant state of over-peopled, I’d be a better host. Or at least a less reluctant one.

This week is busy, but the good kind. I have a couple of bookish gatherings, a practice for our performance coming up in November, and just a couple of meetings. All small groups. Then I am looking at a few days off! Socializing means also planning time for recovery for me, but it’s almost always worth it.

I’m writing about the lush life this month.

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“If hygge was a person, I think it would be Alice Waters.”
Meik Wiking – The Little Book of Hygge

From the moment I heard about Alice Waters and her connection to the Slow Food movement, I’ve been hooked. Maybe it’s because I grew up on a farm where we grew our own peaches and pecans and enjoyed the bounty of MeMaw’s robust garden. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always harbored secret fantasies of building my own version of Chez Panisse. It could just be the simple fact that good food, especially food grown or produced within driving distance and/or cooked with love, gives me a solid sense of place like nothing else can.

The fastest way to my affection is to cook for me. One of my favorite birthdays was one of the years I was vegan. I was having a hard time coming up with a restaurant that all my friends would enjoy and where I also could get food I loved and would eat. I was about to give up when my sister offered her house to host a potluck. My friends brought over such a feast of all my favorite vegan things. It was so kind and generous and the best gift I could have asked for. Another favorite birthday was the year I invited everyone over to my apartment and served three kinds of lasagne.

I don’t always love cooking, but I love sharing food. I doubt I’ll ever actually own a restaurant, but I love feeding people. For me, there’s no such thing as a lush life without shared meals.

I go through phases of different favorite things to make. Bread. Pie. Cookies. Risotto. A couple of times, Maggie and I put aside a whole weekend to bake and invite people over to enjoy what we made. Cookie weekend was epic. Pie weekend was pretty good, too. Maybe July wasn’t the best time to bake pies all weekend, but it was delicious.

I’m on a real soup kick right now. Yesterday, I did not want to go to the grocery store, so I did a pantry sweep to see what I could make for the week without running that particular errand. Imagine my delight at finding a goldmine of yellow split peas. With some onions and bell peppers and a few herbs, I now have a vat of one of my favorite soups to indulge in all week. Bliss.

Saturday, our church is hosting its annual Empty Bowls luncheon, and I’m looking forward to sampling soups from several restaurants in the area. Maybe I’ll even host a soup party of my own someday.

I am writing about all the things that make life lush this month.

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So satisfying!

It’s all well and good to create a home environment that is lush and cozy. For me, what makes decor even better is to have pieces made by beloved friends or things I’ve crafted with my own two hands. I use coloring pages to recover plain journals or as a backdrop to poetry written on scraps of paper in my art journals. All the blankets I have are either quilts made by MeMaw or Aunt Edna, throws I’ve knitted, or the large fleece blankets with knotted edges that my mom helped me make when I was sick enough to need to stay still but just well enough to be bored.

As an added bonus, a lot of the DIY craft work I do is mentally soothing.

As a writer and a musician, I am used to pouring my creativity into things you can hear. I have my favorite words, and I love exquisite phrases. I spend at least an hour a week sight-reading new pieces on the piano and practicing old favorites to keep my fingers limber. My friend Sarah has introduced me to the wonderful world of experimental sound, and the skills I continue to hone after decades of playing help me be more playful and spontaneous during improv.

One thing I have discovered in the last few years, though, is that I love being surrounded by things I’ve created that I can see or touch. I adore making my home a place that tells my unique story to anyone who walks in. Both the process and the outcome of crafting are therapeutic. It quiets my soul, and that is a very lush feeling.

I’m writing about the lush life this month.

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Day 14 – Nooks

Favorite reading spot

One of my favorite parts of the day is coming home, taking off my shoes (and if I’m staying in for the whole evening, putting on pajamas or loungewear), and settling into my reading chair. I love days when I don’t have anything planned or I at least have a couple of hours to spare before I head out again. That means I get to take a reading break (or a small nap – reading chairs are good for that, too) before supper.

Small, cozy nooks are the easiest way I’ve found to add little pockets of lush to my life. While any nook is bound to become a reading nook for me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I like breakfast nooks. Music nooks. Puzzle nooks. I once had a friend who had a tea corner that consisted of a cupboard with a vast selection of tea, a kettle, and a small table and chairs, and she started every morning there with a strong cup of tea and a crossword.

When it comes to creating cozy reading nooks, I bow to the expert – Modern Mrs. Darcy. Let’s see how mine stacks up:

  • The right spot – Most of the year (except during Christmas when the tree is there), my chair sits in the corner of my living room next to the patio door. I love this space because, while I have a lamp behind the chair for extra light, on weekend mornings, just enough sunlight comes through the blinds to cast a soft glow on the pages.
  • The foundation – This blue chair was a hand-me-down from my sister. It’s the first place she heads when she comes over. It’s the perfect size for me. It is firm but comfortable, and it reclines for optimal napping if the mood should strike.
  • The comfort factor – Not only is the chair comfortable, but it’s also easily movable, as is everything around it. I have a small TV tray that acts as a side table, and there’s always a blanket nearby.
  • The textures – The only thing I don’t like about the chair is its texture. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s just not as soft or lush as I’d like. When I need more coziness, I compensate with a velvet pillow or soft knit blanket.
  • A pop of color – There are pops of color all over the apartment, and the area surrounding the reading nook is no exception. I have a red glass bowl on a nearby bookshelf, and the box where I keep my pens and note tabs is bright pink.
  • The storage – As with most of the apartment, bookshelves abound near the nook. I have a short one where I stack up the month’s TBR selections and a larger one that holds the TV on one shelf but mostly books on the others. Extra pillows are within reach under the coffee table.
  • Signs of life – “Lived in.” That’s a nice way to describe the state of my apartment. As I sit in my reading chair, typing this sentence, I can look to my left and see last night’s tea mug. To my right are the shoes I pushed off as I sank into the cushion. I think I shall adopt this description when I get overwhelmed by the mess. It has a perpetual lived-in feel.

What kind of nooks do you have where you live? What kind of nooks do you want to have?

I’m writing about creating a lush life this month.

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Sunday sustenance

This could be a short post, because while I feel complicated about changing how I volunteer at church in order to carve out more space for other important things (and give other people an opportunity to serve in my place), it’s not actually all that complicated. Technically, all I have to do is decide which things to drop and set an end date for them.

I think we all know this is not going to be a short post.

I like being involved. If I’m going to go to the trouble of being a part of an organization, I want to be a real part of it. I don’t always see the line between “being a part of” and “doing too much,” though. For reference, here is a list of the teams, classes, responsibilities, etc., that I’ve taken on at church (and bear in mind – this is just with one of the organizations I belong to):

  • Outreach team
  • Fair trade product purchasing/organization
  • Library team (organizer)
  • Book club (secretary)
  • Choir (member and occasional cantor/soloist)
  • Assisting minister for early service (on rotation – not every week)
  • Monday night Bible study (attendee)
  • Sunday school (attendee)
  • Writers group (leader)
  • Communications team (writers group liaison and Facebook admin)
  • Church council (current president)

Every single one of those things is a worthwhile thing to do. Every single one of them is something I – to some extent – enjoy. It’s difficult for me to admit that doesn’t automatically mean it has to be my responsibility.

Thankfully, one item on the list – church council – already has an end date. My term is up at the end of December, and I am ready. I’ve enjoyed seeing how things work behind the scenes, and hopefully, I’ve been a little helpful. But I am TIRED. So much so that I don’t really trust my judgment right now about what else to step back from, because my gut reaction is “everything but choir and book club.”

A therapist once called me out on my affinity for making big decisions when I feel overwhelmed or burned out or when I experience a sudden surge of energy or angst, all of which almost always result in regret. “Consider that when you feel left out, used, or put upon by others, it’s often at least partially your own doing.” Ugh. RUDE.

And accurate.

This year of reflection on what a lush life would look like to me has highlighted this tendency even more. So many things that I do were born of a jolt of excitement or an acute and sudden recognition of a need that quickly fizzled while my commitment to them did not. And now I do them out of habit or obligation, but there’s no real passion there. That would be bad enough on its own, but this phenomenon also has the unfortunate side effect of almost constant longing for more time to do the things I am passionate about and a lingering sadness every time I say no to them due to a prior lackluster commitment.

My ability to make decisions easily is something I like about myself. I’m good at gathering information and strategizing, and I can do both pretty quickly. That infuriating “Where do you want to eat? I don’t know where do you want to eat?” conversation? You don’t have to worry about that with me. After taking a general poll about what everyone has already eaten that day (because people get weird about repeats), eliminating things people don’t like at all, and settling on a price range, I can give you a ranked list of places within a 10-mile radius that are sure to please most of the group. And if no one has a clear preference, I certainly do and will have no problem deciding that’s the place.

But I have learned that there is such a thing as being too decisive. I need to make space for choices that have repercussions beyond the day I make them in order to ensure that I’m responding to actual needs or desires rather than reacting in the emotion of the moment.

So I’m giving myself a decision vacation. From now until the end of January, I’m not agreeing to anything new. I’m also not making any choices about what to move on from. I already have a schedule in which everything (technically/barely) fits, so it’s not any extra work to keep doing what I’m already doing. And a big part of what I’m already doing will naturally come to an end by the new year. I’m going to let the dust settle and decide from there.

Sometimes creating a lush life is hard. I’m writing about that all month.

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The best thing about that sake was the bottle.

I love design books, websites, and social media accounts. They’re so visually satisfying. Even if they don’t reflect my personal style, I love seeing what people do with their spaces (or the spaces of others who have paid for their services). For example, I could watch videos of Anna Page’s New York apartment for hours. It’s so soothing. 

In my lush fantasies, I know exactly what I want in a home. When I’m daydream shopping for houses, the ones that stick out to me are those that have large, open kitchens, a nice backyard (swimming pool preferred but optional), a small additional kitchenette/wet bar (especially if there’s an upstairs), and an extravagant laundry room. I once saw a laundry room with an overstuffed chair and bookshelf in it, so now, of course, I need it.

For many, home is their social center. I’m not sure that’s the case with me. I prefer for my home to be a bit of a getaway from social activity most of the time. But even if I’m the only one who usually sees it, I still crave good design and order. I want nooks – for reading, napping, daydreaming, creating, snacking. I like ceramics and glass – bowls made by local artists for our annual Empty Bowls luncheon and makeshift flower vases in the form of white pitchers, wine or sake bottles, and Mason jars. I enjoy soft and luxurious fabrics. I adore art made by beloved friends. Kitschy items with nostalgic stories attached. Good lighting.

My main home design strategy, though, is to be surrounded by books. Decorating is just another term for acquiring more bookshelves. At one point, there was a meme going around with a home layout that was a small kitchen, a small bathroom, and the rest of the space was labeled “library.” It was meant as a joke, but I would definitely live there.

According to Meik Wiking (The Little Book of Hygge), every home should also have a hygge emergency kit. If I were to catalog mine, it would look something like this:

  • Unscented candles
  • Good chocolate
  • A robust selection of teas
  • A full wine rack
  • A shelf of cozy mysteries or foodie fiction/memoir or this month’s TBR selections next to my favorite reading chair.
  • Comfort TV or movies (my frequent go-tos are Pushing Daisies, The Good Place, Gilmore Girls, Chocolat, and Under the Tuscan Sun)
  • Good bread with Irish butter, goat cheese, and/or homemade jam 
  • Warm socks and blankets
  • Journal
  • Soothing playlist or records

Just reading that list makes me want to cancel everything for a week and stay home.

I’ll finish up tonight’s post with a few books about design or making a cozy home that I’ve either enjoyed or are on my design TBR list:

My Hygge Home by Meik Wiking

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women by Robyn Lea

For the Love of Books: Designing and Curating a Home Library by Thatcher Wine and Elizabeth Lane

Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Ryan

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Why Design Matters by Debbie Millman

The Kinfolk Home by Nathan Williams

Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating by Summer Thornton

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

I’m writing about all things lush this month.

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