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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I am winding up the pause that typically is the week between Christmas Day and New Years. This is the actual most wonderful time of the year for me. I’m glad that I made my list of resolutions a few weeks ago, because that was Ambitious Me. Today, the person editing the list is Relaxed (and Slightly Feral) Me. With their powers combined, I’m more likely to end up with goals that are challenging but also attainable. 

I have certain things I want to accomplish at home, but they fall more into the category of ways of being rather than specific goals, so I’ll save them for my theme word post tomorrow. I’ve divided my six goals into three of the sections I use to track my progress and have stated at least one tangible, measurable long-term goal with each in bold.

Art/Words/Creativity

Read 180 books. This is quite a leap from last year (20% increase, to be exact). To the untrained eye, it may seem that I’m pushing myself too hard. But for me, picking up or tuning into a book is one of the best ways to relax. So in addition to giving me more time to embrace the simple joy of reading books, what this goal does is quietly beckon me to put aside space where I can be calmer and more at peace.

Set (and meet) weekly creative goals. I got away from this practice for a while, and I think that’s one of the reasons why my fiction writing and other creative pursuits have taken such a hit in the last few years. It may take a few (or six…or nine)  months to build the habit back up, but by the end of the year, I want to see not only a weekly plan but consistent follow-through (i.e., checking off finished tasks) in my goals planner (see the cute one I’m using in the picture above, gifted by my office Secret Santa).

Health/Wellness/Energy

Strength train three times a week. For a while in my middle adulthood, all exercise was a chore. But now? Cardio is no problem. I can cardio every single day. Dancing and brisk walks are my most common go-tos. But I dread strength training. I don’t actually mind it while I’m doing it, but getting motivated to start? UGH. The worst. It’s so, so good for you, though. And strong muscles (particularly core muscles) make it less likely that I will hurt myself during all that cardio. So three times a week – I can work up to that by the end of the year. And maybe as I get stronger I’ll learn not to dread it so much? I hope.

Take at least one weekly extended time out. This involves several steps to get started (some of which are mentioned as other goals in this list), but I think once I put all of them in place, I’ll love it so much that sticking to it will be easy. I need more downtime to rest and rejuvenate. The additional stressors at my full-time job are the most noticeable, but they’re really only part of the problem. My tendency to push toward what I think I should be able to do rather than what is actually healthy is also an issue. By the end of the year, I want to have established at least one major time out a week (that I actually plan and put on the calendar). This can look like a lot of things – a day off work with a fun or nonexistent schedule, a day in which I don’t leave the house at all, a completely work- and meeting-free evening, etc. 

Finances

Build a $1,000 cushion account. I am pretty frugal in general by necessity of my limited income, but I could sharpen some of my already decent habits to lessen some of my financial stress. Specifically, my goal for the year is to set aside a cushion for unexpected expenses. I can think of a lot of things I may suddenly need to upgrade or replace at some point within the next few years, but “unexpected expenses” covers all of them.

Identify one new way to save or make money a month. One reason I don’t already have a solid savings built up is that I have been content to meet my monthly budget and call it good enough (until something comes up, of course, and suddenly it isn’t anywhere close to good enough). I’m super anxious about money in general, but I think I have the bandwidth for one small change a month.

So that’s the list. Do you make resolutions? If so, I’d love to hear what they are!

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It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but there are several fun things I want to share.

To Listen:

  1. Usually, I’d rather chew my arm off than listen to someone ramble and “um” at me for long periods of time (i.e., most podcasts) (short periods of time are fine – it’s really the prolonged, coulda-been-ten-years-shorter-without-the-fillers monologues that get to me), but the Talkville Podcast in which Michael Rosenbaum and Tom Welling (and various guests) are watching episodes of “Smallville” and giving commentary on them is really entertaining. It will be more entertaining if you were in this particular fandom when the show aired, but I suspect others enjoy it, too.
  2. BILATERAL STIMULATION. So soothing. So engaging. Use headphones for the full (i.e., bilateral) effect.
  3. Tiger D – my friend Sarah’s show on Kuzu on Tuesday nights. You can listen (tonight!) from 8-10 (CST) on kuzu.fm. I’m typically book-clubbing or working during most of it, but I occasionally catch it on the drive home or if I have a rare night off when no articles are due the next day.

To Watch:

  1. In addition to rewatching “Smallville” with Lex and Clark, I’m also rewatching “Alias.” I think I’m at the part where I stopped watching the first time, because so far, nothing in Season 4 is familiar. I still heart Marshall the most.
  2. “The Good Doctor” is good overall. I will watch anything with Richard Schiff in it, so there’s that. I’m not very far in at this point, but it’s interesting enough to keep watching.
  3. And I’m not technically into this yet, as I have not started it. But I trust Maggie’s judgment, and she loves “The Sex Lives of College Girls.” So I may start watching that soon.

To Eat:

  1. It is gourd season. I am in the mood for squashes, and there is a significant pumpkin presence on this month’s meal plan. Specifically, Joy the Baker’s pumpkin muffins and some kind of pumpkin/cannellini bean soup. Maybe also pasta with pumpkin sauce. We’ll see.
  2. It’s also roasted veggie season. Most sheet pan dinner recipes contain some sort of meat, but I just don’t know how they find the room on the sheet pan with all the bounty of fall produce. A pile of roasted veggies (a warm salad, if you will) makes a quick, delicious meal with plenty of leftovers. And it’s a nice balance to the cheese-on-everything I tend to eat otherwise.
  3. Breakfast for dinner has been happening at least four times a week lately. It’s just so easy. I lean toward savory breakfast foods, so we’re talking egg and cheese burritos, frittatas, fried eggs over roasted tomatoes and rice, and toasted egg sandwiches. Happy.

To Do:

  1. NaNoWriMo! I have a new character and a new story, and I like both so much I may turn this into a series. I hope to get most of the first draft of the first book done this month.
  2. Performing with some friends at Rubber Gloves next week. Should be fun! You should come if you’re in the area!
  3. Quiet, quiet, quiet evenings. I remember now what a regular writing practice does for my schedule and my mental health. This has been good for me in so many ways.

What are you into these days?

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November TBR

God bless the library.

October was definitely a mood-reading month. What that means is that I started a lot of books and finished relatively few. So I’m hoping to finish some of those this month, and I’m also participating in NaNoWriMo (coffeesnob is my username, if you are also NaNo-ing and want to be writing buddies), which is why the TBR for November looks short (-er than usual).

Book Clubs

Reading Challenges 

I’m mostly finishing up books I’ve started already for my challenges (maybe this whole year has been chock full of mood reading), but the word I’ve picked for the GirlXOXO keyword challenge is “down,” so I’m going to listen to It All Comes Down to This by Therese Anne Fowler.

Library Books

Just a few I have checked out from the library that I want to return this month:

OK, so the list isn’t short-short. But this gives me things to read when taking a break from writing the first draft of my new novelette (more on this later. Hopefully. We’ll see how it goes.).

Happy November!

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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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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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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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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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My favorite part of this picture is the reflection of the sheet music in the black keys.

Other than the benefits and the frequent free food, one reason I stay at my full-time job is that I will be officially eligible to retire on August 1, 2030. That’s just eight years away (or seven years, nine months, and 27 days, but who’s counting). Assuming I am in a good financial position to do so at that point, this will allow me to dedicate significantly more time to what I actually want to be when/as I grow up.

An artist.

More specifically, a writer/musician/dancer, but I’m open to other forms of art. The relatively small amount of time I spend working on my works in progress, writing this blog, collaborating with Sarah and other friends, singing in the choir, and other artsy pursuits is what makes me come alive. It is my joy. Retiring this early will also afford me some flexibility in my schedule for attending performances (as well as performing in them) because there will be no office to report to the next morning. I can finally fully embrace the night owl I was born to be.

One of the most challenging realizations I’ve had this year while pondering what it means to live lushly is that doing a job that is consistent but doesn’t really allow me to use my strengths or do what I enjoy puts inherent limits on how much of such a life I can really have right now. Is it worth it? Is there something else I could be doing that would be more rewarding and still give me the stability I currently need? I don’t have answers to these questions yet, but the questions have prompted me to look for ways to incorporate my creative skills into the work I do and to be pickier about the things I volunteer for that don’t really fit my preferences.

At the very least, engaging in creative activities gives me something to look forward to, even if it’s not how I spend most of my time. I’m excited to go to choir practice tonight. And after taking a few years off, I signed up for NaNoWriMo next month. I’m going to try writing my novel in second person. That’s about as far into planning as I’ve gotten, which is actually good for this particular time frame because I write a lot faster as a pantser than a planner.

I’m writing about the lush life this month.

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Today, I want to daydream a little. Journey with me, if you will, to what a typical week of lush life would look like to me. Some of these things are already firmly in place in my life; some will have to wait until I retire (at least partially. Eight. More. Years.) and have the time to incorporate them. This life as a whole also requires a somewhat bigger, definitely steadier income (I really just need to make every month what I make in a good month). 

It’s good to have goals.

Overall, the things I think of when I imagine a lush life basically boil down to five elements:

  • Good balance of company and solitude
  • Good food
  • Cozy environments
  • Meaningful work
  • Lots of time for play

So let’s begin.

At no point in a truly lush life will I wake to an alarm. Each day starts with waking up naturally, whenever I am fully rested, as God and nature intended. As a night owl who tries (and perpetually fails) to overcome my natural tendencies in order to make life with a work schedule created by capitalism and sadistic morning people more manageable, I may actually have a ceremony where I dispose of my alarm clock when I retire. 

Even if I’m rested, any activities where I have to be dressed, social, and coherent before noon are just the worst. So my ideal day is one that allows me to ease into it. A French press of coffee and a good breakfast (mmm…veggie omelet with toast…or poached eggs over potatoes) are required. As long as we’re dreaming, I would like to insert the company of a partner who shares both cooking/cleaning duties and my preference for rampant lounging at the start of the day. Alternatively, I am content listening to whatever audiobook I’m reading, show I’m currently bingeing, or background music softly crooning from the record player. The rest of the morning is likely to be spent reading or working on a craft/art project such as knitting or art journaling.

Afternoons are for responsibilities, because no matter how lush my life becomes, someone still has to do laundry (and also I sort of love doing laundry so, by someone, I am happy to mean me). Having said this, I want the luxury of being picky about which work I do and which work I delegate. For example, I am usually pretty good about keeping up with most daily chores, such as washing dishes or tidying, but I fall behind on things like dusting and vacuuming because I can’t just do part of the house and be satisfied, so I find the size of the job overwhelming to the point of inaction. I want to be able to hire someone to do all the chores and errands that I dislike (and thus avoid until they’re really out of control).

Three or four days a week, my main goal for the afternoon is to write. Most of the time will be spent on creative works in progress, but I also want to maintain my current writing job or something like it to keep a steady income. On the off days, I’ll probably spend the non-chore time running errands, which includes frequenting my favorite local coffee shops and bookstores.

I will likely spend most evenings pretty much the same way I do now – book clubs, choir, attending (or performing in) shows and concerts, hanging out with beloved folk, or staying at home to read. Maybe this fabled partner and I go out dancing occasionally. How lovely that would be. Another habit I would like to resume as I mold my life into something more manageable is to have people over for dinner and drinks on a fairly regular basis. It’s a lot of work, as there are several things (many of which are mentioned above) that have to be in place for me to be relaxed enough to enjoy it, but sometimes I miss it.

Of course, there will be exceptions to this general structure. There will be day trips with friends, library book club or church in the mornings on some weekends, and doctor’s appointments that I almost always schedule at the beginning of the day so I can cross them quickly off the list. And at least three times a month, I’m going to need a mental health day in which all scheduling, planned productivity, chores, and socializing go out the window. Just a slow day spent in my favorite comfy pants that I don’t wear in public, enjoying copious amounts of hot tea, books, music, blankets, naps, and maybe a walk. Opportunities for extended rest are important even when I’m living my most charmed life.

There is more to lush living, of course, but this is the basic lifestyle I’d love to have.

I’m writing about lush life this month. Click here to see the whole series (so far).

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