You must remember this

Reverb10 Prompt 15 : 5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. by Patti Digh Author of Creative is a Verb: If You’re Alive, You’re Creative

The five minute part

Oh shit, 5 minutes.
  • I want to remember waking up at the cabin with my friends and the guys having beer for breakfast and me making pancakes for everyone.  I want to remember the kids all sleepy headed in their pajamas in the sunshine looking out through the door of the cabin.
  • I want to remember how I felt when I finished my novel for NaNoWriMo, the sheer energy and prode that surged through me.
  • I want to remember getting my Green stripe in Taekwondo, and watching The Boy earn his.  And I want to remember my competition and how hard it was but how it made me want to try harder, not give up.
  • I want to remember my brave Little Guy getting up to the mic at his school concert dressed as a Jedi Action Figure and saying his line as clear as anything.
  • I want to remember sitting by the fire on summer vacation cuddling the boys and sitting next to The Man.
  • I want to remember lying on our bed with The Man in the sunshine, with his hand on the small of my back, talking and laughing.
  • I want to remember doing the endless setlist in Rock Band with our friends last May.  It took forever but it was big fun, we had a sandwich bar for supper and we took turns singing.
  • I want to remember making the pirate movie with the kids in October.
  • I want to remember the love I feel when I look at my husband and my boys,  when I see them I feel as if I might burst with joy.

Thinking about the 5 minute part

Turns out 5 minutes is enough to remember a lot of the good things, but none of the bad or frustrating things I feel lucky that it was all lovely things that floated up first.  Once I finished the 5 minutes I tried to think of the bad things, just to see what would happen and all I could get was vague, non-specific frustrations.  That works out pretty well I think, keeping the moments of delight and letting the difficulties melt away.  Of course, to make changes for 2011 I’ll have to call up specific frustrating things, but as a general way of thinking about 2010 I’m happy to let them fade.

Un-needful things

I am totally intrigued by all the prompts for this week, and I want to do them all.  I’m just going to start with the most recent one and work backwards.

Prompt: 11 Things. What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?  Prompt by Sam Davidson author of 50 Things Your Life Doesn’t Need

Eleven things I don’t need, huh?  In no particularly order:

1. hassle

2. household clutter

3. guilt

4. emotional clutter

5. tiredness

6. junk food

7. bickering children

8. leftovers (stuff hanging around unfinished, not just food)

9. inconsistency

10. those old computers in the basement

11. toys the boys have outgrown

Okay, so those first nine are a little different than the last two but they are all valid, so I’m running with it.

I  love this prompt.  I got up this morning and thought about my to do list for today and then thought ‘To hell with it!  I don’t want to spend my whole day getting the house ready for Christmas and not have any pre-Christmas fun.’  This prompt ties right into that liberating thought.  I am ditching the guilt and embracing the fun of Christmas prep, instead of saving the fun for after the work.  I’m starting elimination of things on this list NOW, damn it! Whoot!


So how am I going to go about eliminating these things?

As for today, I am going to do some tidying – while blasting music and hanging with my kids – but I am also going to make some gingerbread with the boys and help them finish the Christmas cards.  And we are going to go for a walk in the snow.  Take that ‘work first, play later’ attitude!

As for my 2011 plan, I’m going to treat the list in groups.

Group 1: hassle, guilt, emotional clutter, tiredness, bickering children, leftovers, inconsistency,

These things all grow from the same seed, the same thing I identified in my first Reverb10 post.  I don’t set good boundaries in my life, I don’t have structure.  Without structure everything seems important all the time and my life is all about reacting to external things.

I’ve been re-reading Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to change things when change is hard and making notes about how to make it easier for me to adopt the structure(s) I have in mind.

Basically I know I have to make it easy and habitual to follow the structure by eliminating all the decisions about what should be done when, and I have to make sure not to tire out my will-power.  And I have to identify the things that really matter to me so I can use that identity as a means to automatically make other decisions (i.e.  ‘A self-caring person like me knows it is better to go to sleep when I’m tired than to stay awake reading.’)

When I get this structure in place, and hence eliminate all* of these things I don’t need,  I will  be better able to say no to things I don’t have time or energy for, and I will be building my energy all the time with good self-care habits.  I will have a consisent plan for getting my work done so it doesn’t seep over into other parts of my life, and I will be able to ditch ‘leftovers’ from other sets of past priorities.

Group 2:  junk food

Damn, I hate the way I eat and I hate the way I feed my family.  The structure I discuss above will help me with planning better things to eat, but that’s not the only source of this problem.

I have a lot of trouble with the notion that some foods are ‘bad’ and others good.  Even the ‘worst’ junk food has some nutritional value and I hate how foods come with moral values attached to them.

Yet I know that some food serves my body’s purposes better than others.  Some foods give me energy longer, some foods leave me feeling bad after I eat them.   And I want to feel good, and I want my family to feel good (and to be well fueled) but getting into complicated food rules.

So I am labelling food that doesn’t make us feel good as junk food, and I am going to find the easiest path to keep us eating food that does make us feel good.  And how will my life feel after that?  I can only assume it will feel GOOD.

Group 3: household clutter, those old computers in the basement, toys the boys have outgrown

Some ‘leftovers’ fall into this group as well, but this one is more specific, so I’ll handle this clutter group separately.

I feel bad about the things in this list.  I feel bad because a lot of it represents a type of person I thought I was, or things I thought I’d do with my kids, or stuff I meant to be better at.  And I feel bad about the idea of throwing these things out, so I’d like to find the perfect place to donate them.

I recognize the futility in this line of thinking, yet I haven’t changed it.

If I were to let go of the things that didn’t pan out, I could make so many other things pan out from what I know now, so I need a plan to ditch those old things.

I’m going to use Julie Morgenstern’s SHED principles and pick a time each week to go through some of the old stuff and pick the things I really want to keep and ditch the rest.

I think this is going to feel very freeing as I let go of things I meant to be, so I can decide where to go next.

*I know there is a limit to how much bickering I can eliminate, but I’m thinking of the kind that stems from boredom and lack of movement, not the basic sibling type bickering.

Not making much of anything.

December 6 – Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

This is a weird one for me.

In a way I make a lot of things,  I bake and I cook, but those things aren’t lasting.  I don’t even make fancy cookies or cakes that someone would want to take a picture of.  They taste good, and they look good to eat, but they aren’t something you’d want to record for posterity.

Last week I made Christmas cards with my kids, but that’s kind of misleading because I didn’t actually do any myself, I let them make a glorious mess while I organized the materials.

I write. All sorts of different things.  But while that is creative it is not something I would consider myself to have made.

I made a movie with my kids’ friends in October (I still have to edit it), but that was like making a play or writing a story. Still not a THING I made.

The truth is, I don’t make very much.  The details required for crafts and craft hobby confound and frustrate me and I lose any pleasure of creation to the notion that this thing has to go there.  For Christmas, my friends have decided that we will exchange 10 dollar gifts in an elaborate sort of game.  So we don’t know who will end up with the gift we bring.  Everyone else is making things,  I may end up baking.  I can’t really think of what I can make that would end up as something I would want to give as a gift.

I still have a while to figure that out though.

And since I haven’t really made anything lately, I’ll have to go with what I would like to do.

I’d love to be able to draw.  I’d love to be able to create with charcoal and pastels and put feelings into sketches instead of words.*

And on the one hand, I don’t need very much in order to be able to ‘make’ that.  I just need some paper and a pencil I guess.  But what I want?  Delicious cream coloured thick art paper, and the kind of pencils REAL artists use – the kind that you have to use a knife instead of a sharpener to make a point on.

I don’t know if I’ll do it though.

*My usual joke is that I don’t draw and I don’t take good photos, so I have to be really good with my thousand words. 🙂

Letting Go: No one cared about the cupcakes.

#Reverb10  Prompt for December 5 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)*

I’m not good at letting go.  Not in most senses of the word.  It’s hard for me to know when to stop, hard to know when I’ve invested enough time, hard to know when it’s just enough.

It feels to me like too many people are willing to just let go when things get challenging, to just let people and things drift away from them when with a little effort so many dear things and people could be kept close.  I err too far in the other direction, I think as a sort of counterbalance to how many people I know let things ebb away.

I’ve been working on it though, learning what to keep.  And I’ve been putting it into practice in small ways.

I have fairly high standards for myself in some things (and in others I have appalling low ones, but let’s stay on topic here).  I try to always bake things from scratch (a cake mix feels like cheating to me – stupid as that is), I try to minimize how much help I ask for, I try to make the things I care about as close to my vision of them as possible.  It’s fairly exhausting at times.

So this year I tried to figure out where the important things were and hold on to them.  I tried to judge how much I could get done in the time frame I had and yet arrive at my destination (event/activity/cake) unflustered and unrushed.  It has taken a lot of practice, since, on some level, I feel that if something is Christinely-possible then I should knock myself out to accomplish it.

I’ve had to give myself a stern talking-to on this and I’ve learned to say no to myself about half the time when I start to go into overdrive and want to cram more into the time before an event.  Just because I *can* make a fourth dessert doesn’t mean I should, and probably no one will notice anyway.

This has meant letting go of one notion of myself as a superhero, as she who can do the impossible (at great, invisible personal cost) and start my evenings/events/parties dressed up, with make-up on and ready to go instead of taking 30m after everyone gets here to get into party mode because I had to rush through my personal preparations in order to have everything ‘ready.’

What does a practical example of this look like?

Well, take my six year old’s party two weeks ago.  Last year, I would have knocked myself out to have all three floors of the house tidy, I would have bought a ton of food for the parents who might show up, and I would have baked the cupcakes from scratch (and made the icing from scratch ,too).

This year, I tidied the main floor (and forbid the kids to go up or down),  I told the parents that my house was small and there would be a crowd of kids so they should probably go home (in a friendly tone, not a snarky one) and I bought icing and made the cupcakes from a mix.

Here’s the thing, the cupcakes were a party ‘prop’ –  a reward for finding 10 chocolate coins at the videogame themed party – and only the kids were eating them.  They weren’t the main cake, he wanted chocolate dipped donuts** as his cake (they were great, held they candles perfectly).  Last year I would have really felt like I had failed if I served those cupcakes.  This year I focussed on the fact that by using a mix I had time to let the birthday help me make the cupcakes, and I started the party relaxed instead of overwhelmed. No one else noticed the cupcakes but me.

I think I made a good move there.

*I’m a day behind. Yesterday was wacky around here.

**Go ahead, muse about the crap I feed my children if you like.  Birthdays are for all manner of treats in my books.

Wonder Woman

# Reverb10  Prompt 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? by Jeff Davis

In 1994, I took a course called Myth and Art lead by an amazing professor named Richard Ilgner who could make connections between things I had never thought to connect before.  He introduced me to Kerouac, whose work I loved (love) despite the fact that the fantastic freedom he and his characters enjoyed depended on women giving up their lives and dreams to support that freedon.

In one class, we were talking about how Kerouac was accused of false naivete because he found everything so damned amazing and got caught up in the wonder of the world around him.  I was totally intrigued, because while I was a fairly practical person, I did see cool things everywhere.  I watched for butterflies, I noticed rainbows in puddles (when I’m not jumping in them), and I thought these things are pretty neat. It hadn’t occurred to me that these were things that ‘grown-ups’ shouldn’t do.

Sixteen years later,  I’m not quite as good at doing these things naturally.  I feel like I have so many things to do, and so many responsibilities that I can’t tap into that wonder as easily.  And it’s true that ‘grown-ups’ can’t spend all their time floating about from one marvellous thing to another or their children won’t have all the skills they need to make their way in the world.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t do it though.  I have to flip the switch more consciously most of the time now, but I still try to smell the air, and see the rainbows and touch the tree bark.  I marvel at people and how their brains work.  How do I do that?  By letting myself be curious, by asking ‘why’ and by thinking of how my children are processing the things around them.

Especially that last one.  When I imagine how they are taking in the information the world is presenting, it seems natural to point out new information for them to absorb. I care about them finding their own way, so pointing out what the world has to offer has to help with that.

I want the structures I’ll develop in 2011 to give me much more time for wonder, much more time to let my kids wander in wonder and take me with them.