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Day 24 – Sabbatical

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.

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.

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.

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.

Day 20 – Cozy Office

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.

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.

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.

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.

Day 16 – Food

“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.

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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