Beginning A New Decade

Like everyone else I’ve spoken to recently, I can’t believe that the year 2020 is beginning. I clearly remember ringing in the year 2000 with my parents (I had just turned thirteen years old): tasting champagne, eating caviar, and watching the news because my mom was convinced that the world would descend into chaos in the new millennium. Nothing happened, of course, and we ended up working our way through her supply of dry beans, rice, camp stove fuel, and distilled water for the next several years. At least it all came in handy when Florida was struck by hurricanes.

The turn of this decade might feel a little less momentous to me than the last one did. In 2009 I had studied abroad in England, definitively ended my relationship with my boyfriend from Tallahassee and applied to graduate schools. I thought that I would be leaving New College in 2010 to start a graduate English program somewhere. I was dating the person I would end up living with until the end of 2011. We spent New Year’s Eve in Knoxville, Tennessee with one of my best friends, and then returned to Sarasota for a month-long independent study period.

I had no idea what 2010 would hold, and it held a lot. I didn’t get into a single graduate school. I had no plans after college. I moved to Austin with my boyfriend and got a job in a bike shop. I applied to 16 more schools in 2010 and spent most of my time working and exploring the city. I had moved to Austin knowing absolutely nothing about it, sight unseen, and ended up with a cool job in a cool place. Even at the end of 2010, I had no idea I’d be in Austin for another five years.

The next decade of my life feels like it should hold fewer changes, fewer unknowns, fewer adventures, but that might be an illusion. I’m married and have kids now, so things are “supposed to” be settled and sedate. But that isn’t how life works. The next ten years could be just as exciting as the past ten—at the very least, the next ten years will be the most formative for my two children. I’ll play a huge part in two new people’s childhoods. That might be excitement enough.

Positive Changes in 2019

We moved to Texas. This is far and away the biggest and best change that occurred in my life this past year. As idyllic as I know our life in Utah often looked (and sometimes felt!), leaving was a good decision for our family. Even though we’re now in the process of finding an all-new set of in-person friends—we have lots of Texas friends, but none of them are in Dallas—I do think that it will be worth the effort to raise our family in a place without the pervasive religious issues we encountered in Utah. And we’re definitely enjoying living in a more modern, convenient house with a back yard and a park just a few yards away.

Issues to Work On in 2020

I want to work on friendships this year. Not just creating new ones in Dallas, but maintaining old ones from Florida and Austin. At this point in my life, age 32, I might not make new best friends, and I’m okay with that. I’d love to have friends in town I can ask over for dinner and have a great time with, but if we don’t end up being super close, that’s fine. I want to invest in my friendships that are already close, even if those friends are far away. More texts, more phone calls, hopefully some in-person visits.

I want to work on being calm and patient. Having two small kids is incredibly trying on anyone’s patience, but I could do a lot better. I find myself snapping at my kids more than I’d like, rolling my eyes, and just not being particularly warm after frustrating days. All of that is totally okay—kids do not need perfect parents!—but it’s been bothering me and I want to improve, for my own well-being as much as for theirs.

I want to work on my health. I’ve always been a regular exerciser, but my diet hasn’t been fantastic over the past few years. I often reward myself with food, which isn’t a good idea, and I definitely get too many extra calories from beer! My husband and I are not drinking at all in January to try to cut back on the carb-y beverages, and we’re also simplifying our diet by doing essentially a Mediterranean diet for the month: less red meat, no fried food, more vegetables and fruits.

I want to write more. My goal is to write 500 words every single day. They can be parts of various writing projects I have going, they can be journaling, or they can be blogging. I am hoping that this will give me an outlet for any frustrations I have, give me a good record of the year and my feelings during it, and hopefully produce some progress on projects that are important to me.

I want to develop my gardening hobby. I have a lot of plans for our yard this coming year, both when it comes to maintaining the landscaping that’s already there, and planting new things to make it more our own. There are some landscaping choices in the front yard that are too fussy for me, and a couple of plants that have actually croaked; I’d like to simplify the front and plant some things that are lower-maintenance. I also want to do basic maintenance like re-mulching the flower beds. It sounds easy, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find time for this stuff!

My 2020 Values

At the end of every year I do an exercise to identify the values I want to focus on in the coming year. I won’t elaborate on these because their specific meanings are very personal, but my core values in 2020 are:

Grace | Warmth | Faith | Balance | Teamwork

Working Mom Diaries: Working From Home

I’m lucky: I’ve worked partly from home ever since my first child was born in January 2017. My company is amazing—and unusual—in that they do not demand that I am physically present in the office when I am doing my job. I wish that more employers were open to this idea. Trust me, the average employee is not looking to take sneaky advantage of the opportunity to work from home! For many of us, eliminating a stressful, time-consuming commute actually gives us more time to complete our work, and frees up time for things that help us be more productive overall, like going for a jog and making breakfast.

Work-from-home flexibility is also very important for parents. As someone with two small kids, it is a massive weight off of my mind to know that if I get a 1pm call that one of my babies is sick, I can go pick them up, bring them home, and still be on my 2pm conference call. I often have to take some PTO when home with a sick child, but I don’t have to be left completely out of the loop on my projects and lose traction on my work. Again, for the most part I think that this makes me more productive, not less.

Since we moved to Texas, however, I’ve been working from home full-time. This is partly because my boss and I were unable to establish a work space for me here before I moved, and now it’s because the company is actually in the process of switching offices! In a couple of weeks, I should have an office to go to when I need it. It’s not super convenient to my house, but it’s not ages away, and it should be a fresh new space in a part of town I haven’t had much chance to explore.

So when do you actually need to go into an office? In my case, I almost never need to. But I am finding that I sometimes want to!

Most significantly, an office outside the home gives you a less distracting place to work. Sure, offices have their own distractions: coworkers, coffee spots, overheard conversations, etc. But they don’t have curious pets, tempting household chores, and doorbells. Once I have my office, I’ll probably use it for my 2–3 most call-heavy days of work per week: days when I’d rather not have my dog barking in the background, someone knocking on my door, or a pile of laundry calling my name. There may be distractions at an office, but it’s an environment that respects when you’re on a conference call or when you’ve got your headphones on. It can be hard not to run around accomplishing little household tasks in between sessions of work, but those frequent breaks can actually make my projects take longer overall.

Plus, I miss having coworkers! Sure, I spend a lot of time on calls with people in Seattle, Atlanta, Orlando, and Provo—people I won’t see in person anyway!—but I am looking forward to meeting my Plano coworkers and adding a little more socialization back into my weekdays.

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Yes, that’s a balloon in the atrium. Kids.

But before I sign off, there’s a big reason why I’m able to work from home now: I have a home office! Our new house has a funny little rectangle in its very center, half of which is an atrium (how cool is that?!) and half of which is a small office. I have two big windows that look into the atrium, beyond which is one of the living areas and then windows to the backyard. I love how small and cozy it is and how open and filled with light it is. Like my part-work-from-home part-in-office schedule, it’s the best of both worlds.

 

Back in Texas

I can hardly believe it, but we managed to move our family of four + dog from Provo, Utah to Plano, Texas. We’re settling into our new house, and absolutely loving being back in Texas.

Let me just say that buying and selling homes simultaneously is not for the faint of heart. I thought that buying a house was difficult, but it’s nothing compared to the complex timing processes involved when you have to sell one, too. We had three (three!) sales fall through before we finally landed a solid buyer for our place in Provo. Luckily, we ended up with an amazing, hardworking agent in Texas who managed to get us a rental contract on the house we wanted to buy, which gave us a cushion when our third sale fell through. We only ended up renting the house for two weeks before our purchase could go through, which felt great. We’re homeowners again!

The best things about our new place are that I have an office, we have a fenced yard, and we have few multi-use spaces in the house. By this I just mean that our house is divided up like most modern homes: there’s a garage, a shed, a laundry room, etc. Our old place, because of its age, had a ton of multi-use spaces. The driveway was also the shed and the garage. The master bedroom was also the office. The laundry nook was, well, a nook, so the living room was also the laundry room. For someone like me who loves to be carefully organized, the new house is a huge improvement. We all have plenty of space. Plus: closets! I had to be without them to truly appreciate them.

Right now, in September, I’m trying to take a deep dive back into digital minimalism. I’m re-reading the book (by Cal Newport) and attempting some changes. I’m realizing that our move will enable me to enact many, many more of the “high quality leisure activities” aspects of Newport’s digital declutter plan. I have more opportunities to socialize here, for one thing, but what really stands out to me is that I have space to pursue some hobbies that were recently crowded out of my life, partly by the new-baby phases and partly by the lack of space we experienced in Utah.

There’s already a hobby taking up increasing amounts of my free time: tending to plants. We have a large yard here, and the front is very nicely landscaped, which takes maintenance. The back I want to landscape better, which will be a fun project. And, most interestingly, the house has a fairly large atrium in the center, brightly lit by a skylight. Right now it just contains two boring ferns, but I have plans for two large hanging planters and a collection of herbs and succulents on plant stands on the floor.

An upcoming challenge that my husband and I will take together is to watch less streaming television, too. Our youngest child is now sleeping much better than he used to, which leaves us free to stay up a bit later after dinner. That time has usually been filled with TV, which we often talk over. But now that we’re less tired, I want to fill some of the evenings with board and card games. We have a big collection, some of the board games completely unopened, and it would be really fun to do something interactive together even when we can’t leave the house due to sleeping kids.

My personal biggest challenge at the moment is cutting back on podcasts. Don’t get me wrong: podcasts and wonderful, and I love listening to them while I drive the kids to preschool or fold laundry. But I’ve reached a point where I want to be listening to something all of the time, even when I’m working in the yard or taking a walk, and it’s super distracting. I’m not actually “multi-tasking,” I’m just filling silence. It’s encroaching on the small amount of solitude that I do get to experience.

Here’s to some positive progress in September!

Digital Minimalism Weeks 11 & 12: Reset

I haven’t written anything here since April, and for good reason! We have been incredibly busy figuring out the logistics of a huge change for our family: We are moving to Texas! Starting in August, we’ll be in the Dallas area. My husband has a new job, and I’ll be keeping my current one and working primarily remotely (although we do have an office in Plano).

Unfortunately, the logistics of a move like this with a family of four are insane and ongoing and very stressful. And I’ve found that the stress has made me turn to social media, which distracts me but doesn’t actually reduce my anxiety.

So I’ve publicly announced a social media break and gone back to reading Digital Minimalism. I never actually took 30 days off of social media when I read it last time, and I think that now I can. I have plenty of stuff to occupy my time over the next few weeks: packing, work (that doesn’t stop!), financial arrangements, and even a couple of quick trips to Dallas to look at houses and daycares.

This is probably the first time since I finished my dissertation that I actually don’t have time for social media. I could always be doing something more helpful, or more relaxing (playing with kids, reading a book, exercising).

So here we go… navigating a stressful period of time without the mindless crutch of social media. This is a great opportunity.

Digital Minimalism Week 6: Honesty

I’m currently practicing two forms of pretty rigorous honesty with myself:

  1. Time honesty. In an effort to be more mindful about my time and spend less of it online, I’m on my fourth week of logging my time by the half hour using Laura Vanderkam’s tracking sheets.
  2. Food honesty. In an effort to lose some “baby weight,” I’m using My Fitness Pal to track my calories and exercise.

Both of these forms of honesty are proving effective, especially calorie-logging. It can be depressing to realize that your “healthy snack” of mixed nuts is actually a gigantic unnecessary calorie bomb, but that knowledge also grants you the ability to accomplish your goals without the shady ability to hide your self-sabotage from yourself (if that even makes sense). Instead of telling yourself that you’re eating so healthfully and you just can’t lose weight, being honest with yourself makes it possible to reach your goals despite your own wishy-washiness. You’re forced to take full responsibility, and the sobering numbers staring you in the face are much more motivating than the vague feeling that you’d feel better five pounds lighter.

Tracking your time does help you spend less of it online… but it’s not as firm a deterrent as calorie tracking is. Why? Mainly because, thanks to smartphones, “using social media” or “playing on the Internet” is almost never a primary activity, the kind that you’d log in a timesheet. The time you spend online instead hides from you under labels like “work,” “watching TV,” and “conference call.”

One solution is to be really honest with yourself about your phone usage. And that means writing down “work/social media” instead of just “work” if you actually took a Facebook break in between tasks, and “TV/Internet” instead of just “watching TV” if you got lost in a Wikipedia rabbit hole while you were watching Netflix.

Yes, it will probably be alarming and depressing at first. But seeing all of those hours laid out in black and white might give you the push you need to cut back.