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My Pandemic-Friendly 2021 Goals

Oh thank goodness, 2020 is about to be over. Mr.-7-year-old asked me today if that meant the coronavirus would be gone after tonight. I wish, kid. I wish.

I’m excited for today because I feel like the entire world will unite (virtually, in their own homes) to make sure 2020 leaves and welcomes 2021 in with the hopes that it is just not as dramatic as 2020. I’m under no illusion that 2021 will be significantly different from 2020, at least for a good portion of the year. The bar is low for 2021 to outperform its predecessor.

Although my 2020 goals are laughable now with hopes of increased travel and tons of date nights with my husband, that’s not going to stop me from creating some plans for 2021. I did, though, geared my 2021 goals so they are more pandemic friendly.

  1. Continue my daily gratitude journal entry – Earlier in December I started writing three things I’m grateful for every night before I go to sleep. I didn’t get any fancy journal or spend time making it look pretty. I picked up a $2 little fat notebook from the supermarket and leave it on my bedside table as a reminder. It takes 60 seconds to write my thoughts. I have to say that it’s been doing wonders in making me feel better already….though my two-week vacation from work may be helping with that too. Time will tell!
  2. Read 50 books – I had a goal of 25 this year and blew it out of the water by reading 72 books with so much unplanned time at home. I feel like 50 books will be doable. I’m hoping to weave more classics into the rotation this year too.
  3. Explore 4 new hiking trials – One activity we can still do it get outside, and boy am I tired of walking around our neighborhood! Having this goal will help me to get out and explore more. (Plus, I think this will be an easy one because the kids’ Cub Scouts have several planned trails picked out for families to hike each month, so I won’t even have to do a ton of research.)
  4. Have Mommy/Son days – I want to have mommy/son days at some point this year, assuming my husband is up for it. I rarely get any one-on-one time with the boys anymore because we are always all home together…24/7…morning, noon, and night. By scheduling “Mommy/Son days” with each kid, I’m guaranteed to spend some focused time with them. Perhaps I can weave this goal in with the new hiking trials I want to explore.
  5. Try six new meatless meals – I’ve been trying to add some tofu or veggie meals into our rotation. It’s been difficult finding recipes that all of our like, though that’s a challenge even if it’s not a meatless meal. I want to dedicate some time to exploring new options here. I may leverage a service like Hello Fresh to make it easier. We haven’t tried one of these food services yet. It might be a good substitute for takeout.
  6. Walk at least one mile per day – I recognize this isn’t much, but I want to make an effort to get on the treadmill or walk around the neighborhood more often. The thought is that if I can motivate myself to get started because I only have to walk a mile, I may decide to walk longer or perhaps jog instead. If I just want to walk for a mile, great! It’s better than not moving at all.
  7. Meditate for at least two mins a day – Again, this is another small habit I’d like to start that may grow over time. It’s two minutes. I have time for two minutes, even if it’s right before bed after thinking about what I’m grateful for that day. It sounds like a wonderful way to wind down.
  8. Increase our savings and monetary charity donations by a set percentage – This goal helps to keep me focused on watching our finances and knowing that if/when there’s extra money available, we know where we want to put it. If we are offered raises at our jobs this year, then we’ll add the extra money to these goals.

That’s it! Though I feel like eight goals is a lot, I feels achievable. My perspective has changed over the years, though. Even if I only reach half of these goals, I’m still better off and have made progress over inaction. I’ll take that.

Happy New Year!

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

My Top Ten Reads in 2020

I started 2020 with the goal of reading 25 books throughout the year. Little did I know that I’d be home so much and able to get in significantly more reading time. With just a few days left of 2020, I’m up to 72 completed books! Thanks to the Goodreads app, I know that’s 24,389 pages read. Certainly my highest number ever.

Apparently, I rate books highly. My average rating is 4.2 stars out of five. Even though I read a book as short as 144 pages (Laura Vanderkam’s Juliet’s School of Possibilities) and one as long as 818 pages (Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton), I average books with 338 pages. I will admit that books in the 300-400 range are my preference. There’s enough time to set up strong characters and a good plot without dragging it out forever.

So, which were my favorite out of the 72 books I read? I gave more books than just these 10 five stars. I’m calling these out in particular because I still think about them. I remember their characters and story, plus the way they made me think or feel. If you are looking to set a 2021 reading goal or add to next year’s “to-be-read” list, consider these.

Historial Fiction

The Nightingale – I’ve always had a fascination with World War II stories, particularly those related to the Holocaust. I think it’s largely because I just can’t imagine how people can allow something like that to happen and the great admiration I have for those who endured and risked everything to help the Jewish people. I picked up this book after I really enjoyed We Were the Lucky Ones when I read it in 2019. The Nightingale is about how the Nazi invasion of France impacted two sisters and their relationship.

Fiction

  • Verity – Here’s a caveat from the get-go. I haven’t read a thriller in years before this book in 2020, so I haven’t explored this genre since my high school years of devouring Stephen King novels. However, I’ve read a few other thrillers since in 2020, and Verity still stands out as a favorite thriller and overall book for 2020. I don’t want to give much away, but it’s about an author who goes to live with a family. She moves in to help finish a novel the mother of the family (Verity) started before she had an accident and couldn’t finish it.
  • The Hate U Give – This is a novel written for young adults, but I suggest a broader audience. It’s about a high school girl of color who lives in a poor neighborhood and goes to school in a neighboring fancy school district. She is forced into the public light after her best friend is murdered in front of her eyes. It’s a thought provoking and moving read.
  • Little Fires Everywhere – I enjoyed the interconnectedness of the characters in this novel as a single mother and her daughter move into a progressive, planned community. You see how this family reacts to and intersects with the Richardson family.
  • Such a Fun Age – It’s a realistic tale of how a young Black babysitter and white suburban mother react and relate to each other when the babysitter is accused of kidnapping the baby one evening at the supermarket. Disclaimer: I cringed reading the perspectives of multiple characters in this book and didn’t really like any of them, which is why I initially gave the book only four stars. However, the plot and points I walked away with afterward jumped it to five stars a few months later.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – This is a classic book I read in high school years ago. I sort of remembered the plot and the main takeaways, but I wanted to reread it. I’m so glad I did! It is a powerful story of life in a small Southern town in the 1930s through the eyes of a young girl named Scout. The story is in many ways a coming of age tale as Scout sees how her community reacts to the trial of a Black man. Now I have to decide whether I’m going to read Go Set a Watchman or not because I’ve heard mixed reviews of it.

Nonfiction

  • Alexander Hamilton – This is a lengthy and detailed biography of Alexander’s incredible life and exploration of his accomplishments. It’s dense and long, but a thoroughly good read. I’m not typically the type to pick up a nonfiction title like this, but after being swept up in the Alexander Hamilton musical craze this summer with many others, it was a great deep dive into one of America’s Founding Fathers.
  • Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy By Getting More Done – This is another title by Laura Vanderkam that details time management strategies and time tracking in a way that makes sense to me as a busy and structured working mother.
  • The Four Tendencies – Rubin’s book details four main personality types that give some insights on how you may respond to expectations. This book really helped me relate to others and see their perspectives of work and expectations. It led to some great conversations with my husband, even though he didn’t read the book himself.
  • The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 – Out of all of the books I read this year, this one was the highest rated on Goodreads. I’m not surprised. This book provides accounts from hundreds of individuals significantly impacted by the events of 9/11. You are hearing directly from those involved. Each chapter takes you to a different place as the day progresses, ranging from the Twin Towers, Pentagon, PA, and the President’s plane. It was not an easy read, but it was impactful and well done.

Well, geesh, this exercise was enlightening. I seem to have an interest in exploring the many facets and manifestations of hatred: where it comes from, what people do with that conscious or unconscious hatred, and how we can overcome it. Hatred can be covered by how people view each other so differently (all of my fiction titles), what people do with hatred directed toward them (Alexander Hamilton), or how to help others when they are being targeted (The Nightingale and The Only Plane in the Sky).

My 2021 list is not particularly long at the moment, and I’m hoping to read at least 50 books next year. Please share any particularly good books you’ve read that others should check out. I’m always looking to add to my to-be-read list!

Posted in Blog

“Varsity-Level” Self-Care

You know that feeling you get when you’re back from a vacation and seem to have the right perspective on what’s truly important? After a weekend of cabin camping in the woods this weekend with my family – our only true “vacation” in 2020 – I’m hoping to hold on to this feeling for as long as possible.

I had a to-do list a mile long when I returned to work this morning, but today it didn’t bother me. I took it one step at a time, recognizing that it will all be sitting there waiting for me tomorrow…and the next day…and the next day. I want to prioritize being with my family and taking time for activities I enjoy.

Always the early bird, this weekend I was up before the others and able to sit outside in a rocking chair watching the sun come up between the trees with glimpses of the lake down below. It was chilly with my breath dancing in the air between sips of coffee. I enjoyed the silence as the clouds completed their metamorphosis from blue to pink to white.

As I was sitting there, I was thinking about a Reply All podcast I’d listened to recently called Happiness Calculator vs. Alex Goldman. The episode talks about a scientific attempt to measure the world’s happiness and sadness, but it ends with a discussion of self-care. The podcast hosts discuss their newly found ways to provide self-care, ranging from scented candles to baths, but they ask for “varsity-level” self-care tips.

Here’s my take. Scented candles, baths, lattes, and mani/pedis are all great, but they are not where it is at. Not for me anyway.

True “varsity-level” self-care is simple in theory but difficult in practice. It comes down to eating well, exercising, getting good sleep, and finding some daily time to unplug. It’s hard to go to bed at a decent hour when you just want some alone time. It’s hard to spend time making a healthy meal when it’s easier to call for takeout. It’s hard to work in time to exercise when you feel like you’re either working or watching children from sunup to sundown.

However, I feel better when I’ve slept at least seven and a half hours, eaten a plate full of veggies, or taken a walk with my pup.

I sometimes need to convince Present Me that Future Me would really appreciate this type of self-care. It is too easy to fall into the trap that Future Me will be strong and go to bed early, mediate, skip dessert, and take a walk. I’m not always able to convince myself to invest in Future Me, and I just skip it all to binge Netflix while snacking all night.

I have made strides though, in large part because I’ve made minor adjustments to my bad habits.

Have a hankering for an evening treat? Try drinking sparkling water first to see if that satisfies. If not, try some nuts or fruit.

Don’t feel like exercising? Walk on the treadmill while watching a favorite show or make laps through the neighborhood while walking the dog.

Want to eat better? Make one meal a week meatless. Once this becomes a habit, then add one more fruit or vegetable than you normally would for the day.

This approach takes time and discipline, but it’s certainly easier when I don’t have to think about it. When I always put some type of fruit on my morning cereal, it doesn’t become a choice or something to think about each morning. It’s just what I do, and I’m better off for it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting close to bedtime. I’m going to read (and hopefully FINALLY finish up Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton) before I pass out.

Take care of yourself out there.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Google Password Breach Alert

Well, I’m glad I froze my credit recently. On Monday I was notified by Google Chrome that several passwords I use for various websites were compromised in an app or company data breach. Apparently this is a new feature Google offers. So, although I’m not a fan of the data breach, my Friday Fav is definitely Google’s password breach alert.

The way I understand how it works is this. If ABC Company’s data was hacked and my online account password is now known, then Google informs me of a breach and suggests I change the password for all sites that use that same password. I don’t know where or how the data breach occurred, but Google identifies every site password I need to update.

It appears several of my passwords used across dozens of sites were compromised, so it took several hours on Monday to get all of my passwords changed. But, I’m done and feel a bit more secure again….for now.

Posted in Blog

Work/Life Balance Will Come Another Week

Woah, this week has been crazy.

My husband has been in training. It’s virtual, so he’s still home, but he’s been totally out of commission to support the kids during virtual learning all day. I’ve gotten used to working in our prearranged two-hour shifts so I could do some level of focused work throughout the day while my husband is in charge of the kids, and that’s understandably not happening while he’s in training.

This has in turn made my days so much longer. I continue to get up before the sun to focus before people begin to stir. This remains my best chance to get any deep work done for the day.

From 8am to 5pm I’m running around like crazy feeding people and animals, guzzling more coffee, picking up, answering email, doing laundry, getting myself ready for the day, attempting to get through my work to-do list, washing dishes, helping with virtual school, and jumping on conference calls. It’s a lot, and I get frazzled easily these days.

Yeah, yeah. I hear you.

“Forget about cleaning up, leave the dishes, and let the laundry pile up. It will always be there tomorrow.”

That’s true. However, chores are about the only thing I can do well while being repeatedly interrupted by children in virtual school. Plus, you know, they have to get done at some point.

I’ve also heard the advice to “just pick one to three work tasks to complete a day, get them done, and call yourself accomplished for meeting your goal. Don’t overdo it right now and coast.”

Well, do you even know me?!

My largest hang up with this advice is that as a consultant I’m billing my time to clients. I’m not sending an invoice requesting payment for an hour of my time if in that time period I’ve had to stop seven times for multiple minutes each time. So it ends up taking me all day to get a justifiable number of measurable and meaningful work hours in each day. And I’m already working a reduced schedule of 30 hours a week!

I’m spent and tired. I’m finally getting a few minutes to write a blog post now because it’s Wednesday and it’s “my night off.” I’ve banished myself to the basement to watch a shirtless Kevin Pearson on the big screen since I missed last night’s episode of This Is Us.

Lesson learned for the week: Duel parenting during a pandemic and virtual school > single parenting during a pandemic and virtual school

But, I already knew that before this week started, so I feel like I should have been allowed to skip this lesson.

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

A Slice of Life View of Working from Home with Two Elementary Kids

I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday, so I’m going to skip the money series post this week and pick it up next Wednesday instead. Today I wanted to share a glimpse of what it’s like to work from home with two young elementary kids in virtual school all day. Here’s a day in the life of this working mom:

  • 1:30am – Woke up to my alarm to take Mr. 4 year old to the potty
  • 6:15am – Woke up to Mr. 4 year old wanting snuggles
  • 6:30am – Up with my alarm to start working after Mr. 4 year old fell back to sleep
  • 7:30am – Get kids and myself fed and ready for the day
  • 8:15am – Take the kids outside to walk and ride scooters
  • 8:45am – Get the kids logged into school and clean up the kitchen
  • 9:30am – Take a work call while sometimes answering kid questions and baking banana bread
  • 10:15am – Eat said banana bread snack with kids during their school break
  • 10:30am – Back to work
  • 12pm – Make, eat, and clean up lunch
  • 1pm – Bathe Mr. 4 year old who got covered in mud while playing outside in the rain and mud puddles
  • 1:15pm – Kids log back into school, while I write a blog post and respond to personal emails
  • 2pm – Back to work
  • 4:15pm – Read with Mr. 4 year old
  • 4:45pm – Make dinner and talk with husband
  • 5:45pm – Eat then clean up
  • 6:30pm – Scroll online
  • 7:15pm – Kids and I read together
  • 8pm – Kids to bed

From 8pm to my bedtime (which is anywhere from 9pm to 11pm) I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. I sometimes write, like tonight, but typically I watch a show or read a book. I’m spent and need to recharge.

Overall, this schedule is doable. We’re making it work with employers who are being flexible and two adults at home, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

In the past, I wrote about my experiment with time tracking. I don’t continue to track my time each week. However, in the future I’d like to take another week to track my time, then compare it to a pre-COVID week. I have a feeling that, although my days are more fragmented than ever before, the percentage of time I spent in each category (e.g., family, self-care, work, etc.) is likely the same. We shall see!

Photo: Today’s visitor while I was answering personal emails this afternoon.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Self-Care Products

Given the sameness of every day, I have found that “spoiling” myself with some self-care products has been a nice stress relief. Here are some of my favorite products for an at-home spa day.

  • Sally Hansen’s Diamond Strength nail polish, particularly the Brilliant Blush color. It’s under $4 at Walmart! I love how long this brand lasts and its light shade with a shimmer. I’ve even attempted my own french manicure with this color as the base. I need some practice, but it’s certainly cheaper than a spa manicure.
  • Baby Foot Exfoliation Foot Peel is awesome! Stay with me here. It is kind of gross, but it’s so worth it. This is the best brand I’ve tried. You wrap your feet in these booties with “6 types of natural extracts” for one hour, wash it off, and wait for your feet to peel over the next several days. (You’ll want to wear socks.) Afterward, your feet are extra soft and worth the gross peeling feet stage.
  • Jergens Wet Skin Moisturizer keeps my skin moisturized without feeling sticky like you can sometimes with lotion. It is quick and easy with a sweet subtle scent.
  • Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Water Gel is a great facial moisturizer that is light and feels hydrating. A little bit goes a long way, which makes the small bottle last a while.
  • The Bow Ties and Bourbon scent from Bath and Body Works is one I love that my husband even tolerates well. It’s a seasonal scent, which means when I see it, I need to grab it immediately. I particularly like the “wallflowers” room air freshers and leave them in my bathroom so every time I walk in I get to smell the scent.

Husband, if you are reading this, bookmark this page for Christmas! *wink*

Happy Friday!

Photo by Camille Brodard ~ Kmile Feminine Creative Designer on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Staying Prepared with a Medical Information Printable

As a planner, I like to be prepared for possible emergencies. I’m that person who packs medicines for kids when we take trips and has an emergency kit stashed in the house in case we need it.

One of the ways I prepare is by having a one-page print out of my medical information in my wallet in case I need it. I can’t tell you how handy it’s been to have at doctor visits to either help fill out paperwork or to give to the doctor for reference. My husband knows it is there as well, so he has all of my information available if I’m incapacitated.

I made some updates to the file this weekend. Now I’m inspired to make one up for both of the kids too!

In an effort to help others avoid reinventing the wheel, feel free to download an editable Word template of the medical information printable below.

Template of my medical information printable
Template of my medical information printable

The printable includes the following sections:

  • Personal Information: List what you want medical professionals to see right away and they most frequently ask for: blood type, allergies, contact information, etc.
  • Medication and Purpose: List the medication taken regularly, what it’s used for, and how often/what dosage you take.
  • Personal Medical History: Here I include dates and my age when I had various medical procedures, but I could see others listing different relevant information here about illnesses or diseases.
  • Vaccinations and Tests: Here are the dates and results of various tests run and vaccinations received. In the printable template provided, I left in the vaccinations and tests in my file, but there is space to add others.

Of course, the glory of having a Word document printable is that you can edit the form as you see fit. This is a starting point to think about what information you think is important to caption for you, your loved ones, and your doctors. If you adopt this tool, I encourage you to customize it to fit your needs.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Comfy Outfits 24/7

I’m so behind on this “fashion trend” of wearing loungewear or athletic gear as the day’s outfit. Even though I’ve exclusively worked from home for years in my consultancy role, I’ve always taken the time to put on a decent outfit, perhaps a touch of makeup, and “put myself together” before logging into work for the day. It has helped me feel confident and ready to tackle my work tasks.

Once COVID hit our area in mid-March, I ditched all of that. I’m rolling out of bed at 5:55am to get a few hours of uninterrupted work time in or some exercise before the house begins to stir. I’m lucky if I’m out of my pajamas by 9am. I never wear makeup anymore.

When I get around to throwing on fresh clothes, it’s all leggings, sweats, t-shirts, and hoodies. I’ve purchased several of Costco’s 32 degrees clothes in the past few months, including the lightweight hoodies and ladies shorts. They are great for working out in or just wearing around the house. Who is going to see me anyway?!?

The 32 degree shirts work well for work video conferences. I can throw a nice blouse on overtop for client video conferences, and they work just fine alone for my video calls with colleagues who don’t care what I’m wearing as long as I’m dressed. (I totally have a nice shirt stashed in my office space that I can quickly thrown on if I need to unexpectedly join a video conference.)

I doubt I’ll keep this trend of wearing exclusively comfy clothes every day when some more formal sense of “normalcy” returns, but it works for today. Whatever gets us through each day is all that matters to me right now. I might as well be comfy while I transition from making erupting volcanos with the kids one minute and presenting a multi-faceted plan for teaching a three-day training exercise the next.

I’m so glad it’s Friday. I may need to celebrate the end of the work week with some dessert…. Yet another reason I love my comfy clothes. They stretch.

Photo by Mnz on Unsplash

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Contemplations and the Complexities of Getting Older

This weekend we celebrated my birthday, and since it fell on a weekend day, I claimed Friday evening through Sunday as mine. We kept it low key, because ::gestures wildly:: but we were able to snag some scheduled time at our community pool and hang out with a few friends. All in all, a great weekend.

Getting older always seems to result in complex feelings for me. On one hand, I’ve never been bothered by the fact I’m getting older. I’ve always felt like a 45-year-old woman, so my age is just starting to catch up with my brain.

I’ve always been that person who wants to get a job they love (done!) and have a husband and kids they adore (done!) with a sweet dog at her feet (done!). As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got it all and hopefully many years to enjoy it. So, I don’t look at my birthday as a reminder of all the things I wanted to do with my life and haven’t yet achieved.

What I always find myself thinking around my birthday is how strange it will be to age passed my brother who died when he was 42. I don’t think he got all the things he wanted to accomplish in life. It’s been almost ten years since he died by suicide. Although time teaches one to deal with the loss, the pain never goes away. Most of the time, I’m able to deal with the ache of his missing presence. Since we were adults who lived far away from each other, we weren’t a daily part of each other’s lives. Birthdays are rough though. My brother never got to meet my boys or visit me in our current home. He has missed so much. He is missed so much.

I remember one birthday he promised to buy me the best present if I picked chocolate cake with chocolate icing for my birthday. That wasn’t a hard sell since it is my favorite. I really wanted a bike that year. My parents gave me enough money to buy one, but my brother bought me a helmet. I was young and thought to myself, “Huh? A helmet is the best present?” But it really was! There’s no way that my parents were going to let me ride a bike without one, and I definitely didn’t have money in my budget to get it. I’d forgotten all about the need for a helmet. And, anyone in my family will attest to the safety equipment being the epitome of the type of gift my family gives. We are a protective bunch.

Well, this post took a turn, but it captures how I’ve been feeling about my birthday this year. Here’s to remembering those we love, making more happy memories today, and looking ahead to better times. (Is 2020 over yet?!)

Photo by Becky Fantham on Unsplash